Archives for category: Transparency

Cambridge Dictionary lists ‘riddle’ as being “a type of question that describes something in a difficult and confusing way and has a clever or funny answer, often asked as a game

What if there’s way lot more than this, hidden ‘in plain sight’ under the ‘difficult and confusing’ cloak draped over each of them?

“Black sheep on a white field;
He who knows them, leads them.”

“My father, the son of a subsistence farmer and his barely literate wife, used riddles to try to foster critical thinking in his daughters.”

This particular one is a classic in Eastern Europe and I stumbled on this version while Googling for an English translation. The quote belongs to Daiva Markelis, a Lithuanian American Professor with a PhD in linguistics… go figure… I included the part about the father because it illustrates perfectly the point I’m trying to make with this post.

That words, and letters, mean nothing by themselves.
We are the ones who attach meaning to each of them.
We are the ones who ‘lead’ them… even if sometimes unknowingly…

And precisely this is what riddles are for!
To tell us that languages, and letters, can and have to be mastered.
That unless we get to really know them, we’ll never be able to lead them where we want them.

But there’s an even deeper reason for riddles enjoying so much popularity.
Knowingly or unknowingly we somehow ‘feel’ that being familiar with letters and able to speak is not enough. That no matter how well we ‘know’ a language we’ll never grasp the full intended meaning of what is being spoken around/to us.

Yes, when speaking we should be forthcoming… to the tune of not becoming self detrimental, of course… and when listening we must remember to look for the intended meaning, not jump to conclusions according to our own opinion on the matter…

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Language is the tool we use when we consciously transmit, receive or glean information.

While the ‘transmitting&receiving’ part is rather simple, ‘consciously and ‘glean’ might need some explaining.

You’ve all heard about ‘body language’.

Actors use it consciously to convey emotion and sometimes even meaning while profilers use it to glean information unconsciously distributed by their marks.

Artists use specific ‘modes of expression’ – language, actually – to convey emotion/subliminal meaning to sometimes unsuspecting audiences.

Skillful ‘communicators’ have learned how to chisel a message – using most common words, printed or spoken – to obtain ‘maximum impact’.

By now I’m sure you’ve already gleaned what I meant by “‘consciously’ and ‘glean'”.
Contrary to popular belief, only one half of those ‘immersed’ in communication need to be conscious of what is going on in order for language to be in use.

Actors can influence their audience without the audience being privy to acting tools.
All of us freely distribute a lot of information about ourselves – through walking, eating, manner of speaking, etc., etc. – which can be ‘deciphered’ with ease by those knowledgeable in this trade.
All of us are inundated by all kinds of advertisement – commercial, political, religious, you name it – but very few of us are aware of the full picture which is being played for us.

In a sense, those of us who can sense anything are like any device connected to the internet.

If it’s connected, it can be hacked‘.

But nothing’s as bad as it seems.
Devices can be plugged off or fire-walled while we can stop watching crap.
And, of course, we can put our brains to work, in earnest, before buying into anything which is hurled towards us.

trump on corker

 

corker on WH

OK, let me wrap my head around this.

So Corker doesn’t have enough guts to run for re-election without Trump’s blessing but has enough to openly tweet his mind about what’s going on in the White House?!?
A reality show run by the supposedly most powerful man on Earth?
Who’s about to transform the “Great” America into the biggest laughing stock of the world?

Am I the only one wondering whether any of these can be described as “adult” behavior?

There’s a glimmer of hope though.

401K is way bigger than 65K. And big enough to rise above 65K+57K+62K… I know, adding this numbers up doesn’t make much sense – there is a strong possibility that many individual readers may have liked more than one of these tweets, but still…

For some people the fog may have started to rise.

The fog generated by the fake news manipulated by the ‘Great Deal Maker’, that is.
Compare the comments which accompany those tweets.

 

 

A whole century has passed since the events described in Erich Maria Remarque’s Nothing New on the Western Front/Im Westen nichts Neues.

Not that we’ve learned much during this time…

1968

Brezhnev sends Russian troops to freeze back the Prague Spring.
Ceausescu, the communist dictator who ruled Romania at that time, refused to take part. He had even summoned enough courage to chastise the ‘outside intervention’.

Ceausescu praga

“No excuse can be found for…”

1978

Ten years later he was driven around London in a state carriage by Queen Elizabeth.
As a pat on the the back for his apparent independence from Moscow, as an attempt to weaken the communist ‘camp’ … both at the same time…
Never mind… We, Romanians, were very proud at that time while Elizabeth – and her advisers, must have had quite a heart-burn… specially later, after Ceausescu had started flying his true colors…

Ceausescu cu Lizica

1989

Romania’s was the second to last European communist regime to disintegrate and the only one which had ended in a self inflicted blood bath.  Ceausescu, and his wife – ‘the Presidential Couple’!, were shot at the end of a very short trial during which both had been found guilty of genocide, treason and subversion.

1989 Cu excavatorul la revolutie2005 Niagara

2014

Twenty five years later, Russia’s rising star was lionized by some in the European media.

the emperors clothes

Hungary’s Prime Minister was jokingly hailed as “the dictator” by the President of the European Commission.

Orban the dictator

 

Currently the Americans are trying to determine whether Putin has somehow influenced their last electoral process,

Putin Trump Hamburg

while Orban continues to build walls around Hungary.

hungary wall

Small wonder then for these two to become bosom buddies, regardless of what drives each of them…

Putin honorary

“Putin will receive the honor in the Parliament during his visit to the 2017 World Judo Championships in Budapest on Monday.”
“Putin will attend the judo by invitation of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. It will be Putin’s second visit to Hungary this year.”

 

 

What can we make of it?

Momentous as it was the result was no landslide.
Only a little less than 120 million people bothered to vote – out of the 250 million or so who are old enough to do it – and most of them, 47.7% vs 47.5, have chosen the ‘looser’.

Actually I don’t like the notion of anybody winning – or loosing, for that matter, a democratic election but that’s a different subject. Stay tuned, I’ll probably cover it soon.

Then Trump is no Hitler, as some have feared.
Even if he is riding a similar wave of popular discontent like the one used by Hitler to rise to power, and uses the same political tricks, Trump is nothing more than the ultimate opportunist.
Check his body language.Turn off the sound and just watch him.

the-most-corrupt
While Hitler was a mad ideologue absolutely convinced of his own righteousness Trump’s only conviction is that he ‘deserves’ as much as he can ‘grab’.
Now, that I’ve mentioned ‘ideology’, in this respect it is Clinton who belongs to this category – people who conscientiously use an elaborated ideology as a compass to find their bearings and as a ‘looking glass’ to read the fine print on the maps they try to navigate. But this is a subject I’ll have to come back to at a little later.

No landslide but still momentous.

A lot of people who had not bothered to vote before have come out in droves.

Trump, the business man, and the Republican Party – which now controls both Houses of the Congress, cannot afford to forget this.
Also, they must not forget about the other half, the one which had chosen to remain silent, on Tuesday, of the electorate.
The fact that they didn’t vote, then, doesn’t mean that they didn’t have any opinion.
And they are simply too many to be discarded.

“How come we haven’t seen this coming?”

I keep hearing these laments from my fellow sociologists.

Well, the raw data was all there. Compiled in the opinion polls result sheets, only that we could not interpret them right.
Trump had felt it in his gut – and acted on this hunch, but we had not been able to see it coming despite our ‘scientific’ methods and hugely accurate number crunching machines.

Which brings me to the main topic of this post.

What happened these days is yet another proof that the math used by the number-crunchers is nothing but a (very accurate) language and that ‘science’ is nothing but a (meta) tool that can be used to make sense of various aspects of the surrounding reality.
The results obtained, by us, through the use of this tool and expressed with the help of that language depend primarily on our skills and intelligence and only secondarily on the quality of the tools used in the process and on the precision of the language used to present them.
Not to mention the fact that it was us who developed the tool and formulated the language…

I ‘warned’ you I’ll come back to ‘ideology’.
This is yet another tool. As I mentioned before, we, all of us, use it as a compass with which we try to find our way through the world and as a magnifying glass with which we try to make sense of what’s happening to us.

‘But you just said we’re using science ‘to make sense of various aspects of the surrounding reality’?!?’

Well… we’re using both.
Whenever confronted with anything new we have to make a snap decision. Try to assimilate it with something we already know or investigate it.
It is our personal ideology which kicks in first and tells us what to do. And each time that we choose to look in our mental drawers for something that might fit in the new situation we remain in the ideological realm and continue to use ideology as a light beacon – what happens to be inside that beacon is brought to our attention while everything else doesn’t exist for us.
Only if we choose to investigate, science kicks in. But not even then we are not entirely free from ideology. Each time that the investigative process leads us to anything which contradicts something that had been already ‘filed’ in our ideological cupboards we find ourselves in a huge dilemma. How to proceed from there on. Continue to trust the scientific method or revert to the safety of the already settled?

This is why individual responsibility is hugely important.
And why no one should ever consider that he is the sole repository of the entire truth.

This is why we need to be constantly reminded about the limited nature of our understanding.
And the democratic process has been proven, time and time again, invaluable in this respect.
As long as it was allowed to proceed freely and it was conducted with respect towards all members of the community involved.

Unfortunately, sometimes essential meaning is lost not only ‘in translation’ but also during ‘interpretation’.

While reading an excellent article about Zineb el Rhazoui, a Charlie Hebdo survivor, I encountered the notion that “Islamophobia is not an opinion: it is an offense.

Come again?!?

Is it possible that anybody might be offended by someone who’s being afraid? Regardless of that fear being reasonable or not?

Since that notion was said to have been promoted by Collective against Islamophia in France I checked their site, hoping to understand what they mean by that.

“For the CCIF, Islamophobia has a clear definition:
It consists of all acts of rejection, discrimination or violence against institutions or individuals on the basis of their real or perceived belonging to the Muslim faith.”
OK, so they are not offended as much by the fear itself but by the heinous actions some people take against people belonging to the Muslim faith, on the basis of the real or faked fears felt by the perpetrators.
But this is far from being OK.
What these guys are doing is confounding people’s minds.
They keep preaching that ‘Islamophobia is bad’ to people who are very naturally afraid of the actions perpetrated by some wackos who pretend to be Muslim.
This doesn’t make any sense.
It’s like saying that people living in a seismic area should not be afraid of earthquakes. And instead of building their houses in a certain manner they should go to the shrink and treat their unreasonable fears.
If some people who pretend to be Muslim behave in a totally unacceptable manner it is not reasonable to expect that all Muslim will behave in the same way but after so many bad things that have been committed by people pretending to belong to the Muslim faith it would be unreasonable not to try to understand what is going on.
On the other hand those who strongly disagree with the CCIF, Zineb el Rhazoui among others, make the mistake of deepening the confusion instead of calling the bluff for what it is:
“This is very dangerous because it has even entered the dictionary as hostility towards Islam and Muslims. Yet criticism of an idea, of Islam or of a religion cannot be characterized as an offense or a crime. I was born and lived under the Islam of Morocco and live in France and I have the right criticize religion and this dictatorship of Islamophobia that says I have no right to criticize! If we criticize Christianity it doesn’t mean we are Christianophobes or racist towards the ‘Christian race.’”
In real life criticism is one thing while violence – verbal violence, even – and rejection are completely different things.
Confounding these two categories is feeding the very monster who is menacing all of us – militant intollerance.
The article about el Rhazoui also mentions her latest book: “Destroy Islamic Fascism“.
I don’t agree with all the ideas excerpted there but there’s one which should grab the attention of all Muslims who describe themselves as being moderate:
“As for mainstream or moderate Muslim clerics, El Rhazoui tells Women in the World that during the Burkini debate in France not one Imam stood up and said “Hey, wait a minute, you can be Muslim and wear a [regular] bathing suit.””
She also says that ““The Muslim religion has its place in the modern world if it submits itself fully to the laws that rule humanity today: universal principles of equality between men and women, sexual and individual freedom, and equality for all, no matter your creed or religion. Until Islam has admitted this and accepted that the freedom of men and women is superior to it, Islam will not be acceptable.””
I’m afraid there’s a small problem with this.
A religion exists only as long as it has followers and inasmuch as those who belong to it choose to make of it.
It is not ‘Islam’ that has to ‘admit’ anything but the Muslim people themselves.
In this sense it is counterproductive for us, the free thinkers of the world, to peruse the Quran in search of violent episodes and then use them to demonstrate that ‘Islam is not a religion of peace’.
What we need to do, if we want to destroy the Fascism which happens to be of Islamic nature, is to win more and more Muslims to our side.
Making fun of their main Book and of their Prophet won’t achieve that. On the contrary.
On the other hand, giving in to even the most unreasonable things in the name of ‘tolerance’ isn’t helping either.
The Federal Court of Canada ruled in February 2015 that the policy requirement for women to remove their niqabs during their oath swearing at Citizenship Ceremonies is unlawful, as it interferes with a citizenship judge’s duty to allow candidates for citizenship the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation of the oath. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration filed a notice of appeal to challenge this decision at the Federal Court of Appeal and the lower court’s decision is not in effect until the appeal has been decided by the Court.  As a result, women who wish to swear a citizenship oath may not do so with their faces covered.
What kind of oath is that which is pledged by a faceless person?
How strong is that person’s adherence to our value regarding ‘openness and transparency’ and how willing is that person – or her husband/father/mother/sibling who makes her wear a niqab, presumably against her will – to respect and promote our notion of gender equality?
PS I
And how about replacing ‘Islamophobia’ with ‘anti-islamism’?
PS II
Why is it that the spelling checker suggested me that I should write ‘anti-Islamism’ while ‘antisemitism’ is not usually written using a capital s?

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

Donald Rumsfeld (b.1932)

“Of all things the measure is man, of the things that are, that [or “how”] they are, and of things that are not, that [or “how”] they are not.”

Protagoras of Abdera (c.485 – 415 BCE)

“Making (political) decisions requires judgement and skill. It should, Plato urges, be left to the experts.”

Plato (c.425 – 348/347 BCE, ‘translated’ by Johnatan Wolff in
An Introduction to Political Philosophy, 2006)

“The Prime Mover causes the movement of other things, not as an efficient cause, but as a final cause. In other words, it does not start off the movement by giving it some kind of push, but it is the purpose, or end, or the teleology, of the movement. This is important for Aristotle, because he thought that an effective cause, giving a push, would be affected itself by the act of pushing. Aristotle believed the prime mover causes things to move by attraction in much the same way that a saucer of milk attracts a cat. The milk attracts the cat but cannot be said to be changed in the process! “

Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE)

“Give me a place to stand and I’ll move the Earth”

Archimedes (c.287 – 212 BCE)

“For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action”

Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727)

“As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form”

Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882)

“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.

The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer.
They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes.”
Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

“Einstein deduced that there is no fixed frame of reference in the universe. Everything is moving relative to everything else….
… space has three dimensions, and the fourth dimension is time.
Space-time can be thought as a grid or fabric. The presence of mass distorts space-time.”

Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

“”Heidegger’s analysis of Plato attempts to show that a transformation occurs in the nature of truth in Plato’s philosophy, as a consequence of which Being is subordinated to the correct perception of beings. This subordination, Heidegger maintains, characterizes the history of Western philosophy as metaphysics.
The allegory of the cave is, for Heidegger, an illustration of the nature and process of paideia. At each level of ascent — within the cave to the light, and out of the cave to the sun — the individual experiences a painful blinding. Each stage requires an adjustment and transformation in vision. This transformation in vision expresses the turning of the soul from what is disclosed in one region to what is disclosed within another. This is paideia, according to Heidegger. The relationship of paideia, in this new sense, to alétheia is not apparent because, as Heidegger sees it, we have not only misunderstood the nature of education but, more importantly, have misconceived the nature of alétheia by conceiving it as “truth.” If paideia is a transition from one abode to another, affected by the soul’s receptivity to what is disclosed within each region, then alétheia is disclosure itself: “At first truth meant what was wrested from a concealment. Truth, then, is just such a perpetual wresting-away in this manner of uncovering.
Heidegger indicates that what “truth” means is not so much a correspondence as it is a disclosure.”

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

The depth of the uncertainty principle is realized when we ask the question; is our knowledge of reality unlimited? The answer is no, because the uncertainty principle states that there is a built-in uncertainty, indeterminacy, unpredictability to Nature.

Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976)

“Contrary to the tenets of classical economics, Simon maintained that individuals do not seek to maximise their benefit from a particular course of action (since they cannot assimilate and digest all the information that would be needed to do such a thing). Not only can they not get access to all the information required, but even if they could, their minds would be unable to process it properly. The human mind necessarily restricts itself. It is, as Simon put it, bounded by “cognitive limits”.

Herbert Simon (1916-2001)

‘Evolution is not as much about the survival of the fittest as it is about the demise of the unfit’

Ernst Mayr, (1904 – 2005, What Evolution Is)

“We human beings can reflect on ourselves, on what we do as well as on what we do not do, on what we imagine and on what we do not imagine, that is, we are self-conscious beings. Yet, how do we do this has been, and still is a mystery for many philosophers, scientists, and mystics that reflect on the matter. So, the search for an explanation continues, with some people hoping to Þnd some unique entity, different from what we connote or intend to connote as we speak of our self, that by itself may provide us (that which we are without it?) with this ability. Others look for some property of the operation of our brain that realises in us the ability that we call our self-consciousness. The old dilemma entailed in these and other different attitudes can be stated as follows: Is our operation as self-conscious beings a property of our brain, the gift of some external agent, or does it consist in some particular manner of our operation as organisms in our interactions?”

Humberto Maturana (b. 1928)

” “Consider a turkey that is fed every day,” Taleb writes. “Every single feeding will firm up the bird’s belief that it is the general rule of life to be fed every day by friendly members of the human race ‘looking out for its best interests,’ as a politician would say.

“On the afternoon of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, something unexpected will happen to the turkey. It will incur a revision of belief.” “

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (b. 1960)

It seems rather obvious that humankind has ‘consistently’ oscillated between two opposing views on things.

Some of us are convinced that the (whole) truth can be achieved (and that ‘they’ had already done that) while others have reasons to believe that while ‘individual efforts’ are indeed the source of everything that exists, the final results of those efforts are always being shaped/conditioned/reacted to by the medium where they are exerted and by those who bear the consequences.

Coming back to Rumsfeld’s words it seems that the most important (dangerous?) category is, contrary to our first impression, the (presumptive) ‘known – known’.
We cannot do anything about the unknown-unknowns, except for preparing ourselves in a ‘general manner’, and we can always ‘dig up’ something fresh about the known-unknowns but it seems that nothing can convince us that what we consider to be the known-known is but a thin layer of ice floating on a very deep lake.

So the real question that awaits our response is ‘What are we going to do, now that so many have told us what’s been going on?’

Recep Tayyip Erdogan saved his political ass last week-end by urging his “supporters to take to streets in protest of coup

gettyimages-576527614

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan react to a Turkish military tank in front of the Turkish Parliament July 15, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Which they did and the coup eventually failed.

Leading some observers to salute the maturity of the Turkish democracy:
“The most valuable outcome of last night’s events is that many people who are not AKP supporters stood up for democratic values despite the recent crackdowns on the opposition, and despite the tension and the polarization of the country.” (Erol Önderoglu, Turkey’s Reporters Without Borders representative who is currently on trial on terrorist propaganda charges after participating in a solidarity campaign with a pro-Kurdish newspaper.)

“These people do not support Erdoğan, but they oppose the idea of a military coup. Turkey has a history of very painful, traumatic military interventions, so I was not surprised to see such united opposition to this attempt.” (an academic who wished to remain anonymous)

But ‘not everybody is happy in paradise’.
“Everyone spoke out against the coup last night and that gave me hope” … watching events unfold today this hope has shrunk quickly. Last night there was the possibility that the government would use this to return to a more unifying language, to return to the peace talks, to unite the country. But today it looks like they will use [the coup attempt] simply to consolidate power.” (the same anonymous academic)

What’s going on there? Is Turkey a real democracy?
Or, if we dare to look from the other side, ‘what’s wrong with contemporary democracy’?

Is it enough for elections to be held regularly and the votes duly counted for a country to be called ‘democratic’?

I’m afraid not.
Communist Romania did have regular elections, where a huge proportion of the people rubber-stamped the party line.
Putin is currently serving a third mandate as Russian president, after paying lip service to the Russian constitution and letting Dmitry Medvedev fill in between 2008 and 2012.
No major irregularities were noted at the time of the voting in Russia when Putin was reelected but somehow I cannot consider the process fully democratic.

Even in the United States things are no longer what they used to be. Both major parties have put forth candidates that are seen unfavorably by a majority of the people. So unfavorably in fact that 13 % of the registered voters would rather see the Earth being hit by a giant meteor than any of the two as President.

unfavorable trump clinton

Clinton trump unfavorable

clinton meteor

Public Policy  Polling, June, 13, 2016, Raleigh


So, again, what’s going on here?

I’m afraid that what has been known as ‘democracy’ is being slowly eroded to ‘mob-rule’.

You see, in a really democratic situation you get the ‘real deal’ with ‘all the trimmings’ while when having to deal with ‘mob rule’ all you get is some ‘window dressing’.
Or, as the Romanian saying goes, on the outside you are greeted by a white picket fence but once inside you’ll have to deal with a white fanged tiger.

Let me explain myself.
Theoretically democracy is a situation where everybody has some, even if minute, influence over the fate of the community to which he is a part.Practically it means “government by the people; especially :  rule of the majority”.

I’m almost sure that by now most of you have already figured out what I’m driving at.

‘Rule of majority’ can be more dangerous than a regular dictatorship if that majority has been improperly led into voting the way they did.
A ‘dictator’ might be wise enough to know that if he drives the situation way beyond the plausible something will eventually snap but someone callous enough to lie to an entire society doesn’t have such qualms. In fact this is the explanation for why not all authoritarian regimes end up in complete failures.

On the other hand most of them do exactly that while no democracy has failed yet, as long as it maintained its democratic character.

Why? Simple.

Running a complex system – and a country is a very complex system, is a matter of setting goals and avoiding making mistakes.

And while setting goals is important, avoiding mistakes – specially catastrophic ones, is paramount.

If goals are chosen improperly – not bold enough, for instance, or even misguided, that society will experience a ‘hiccup’ but if that society is led into a dead-end then it might never recover. The ‘funny’ thing here being that in many instances the authoritarian leaders were quite good at setting goals but almost always sooner or later ended up in a ditch because they were very poor at avoiding potholes.

But how come democracies are better at avoiding grave mistakes than centralized administrations?
‘Four eyes see more than two’, specially if they look in different directions.
Every authoritarian regime follows the cue of the authoritarian leader and tends to down-play, or even ignore, the rest of the problems. This tendency is accentuated by the fact that those positioned higher on the roster tend to be better insulated from the immediate effects of their decisions. So relatively small mistakes keep piling one atop the other until the heap cannot be balanced any longer.
On the contrary, in a functional democracy – where everybody has a real chance to bring his concerns to the attention of others, mistakes are not only easier to spot but also easier to avoid.
Only this cannot happen as advertised unless the members of a society have a healthy dose of mutual respect. Nobody is going to pay any attention to what is being said by a ‘pariah’. No matter how interesting, or important, that might be.

And this is exactly what happens in a ‘mob-rule’ environment. Nobody listens anymore to what ‘the other’ has to say. People allow themselves to be driven into separate herds and, once there, pay no attention to anybody else but their ‘own’ cattle-driver. Who not only that doesn’t have any respect for ‘his’ herd but usually doesn’t care for anything else but their votes. Reason would ask that he should pay close attention to the well being of his herd but since he is convinced that he can always attract new followers he will usually go for the ‘cheapest’ alternative – taking good care of a flock being more ‘expensive’ than luring some new ‘green horns’.

That’s how people become estranged from one another and end up with their eyes glued to the whip of the cattle driver. That’s how democracy becomes an empty concept.

That’s why an honest count of the ballots doesn’t mean much if the public discussion which preceded the voting wasn’t both free and meaningful.
That’s why reducing democracy to ‘rule of the majority’ is akin to putting the cart before the horse.

The real scope of the whole process being to openly examine as much information as humanly possible before starting to make decisions (vote), not to (artificially) build majorities around (charismatic?!?) political figures. Or should I rather call them by their rightful name? Con men?

 

nlm_o2_graphic10

 

“When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.” (Newton’s third law of motion)

For me, the most interesting side of this phenomenon being that the ‘reaction’ is innate in the nature of things. None of the two objects that interact need to do anything in order for Newton’s law to be obeyed.

paramecium-diagram

Google Paramoecium – the unicelular organism depicted here, and you’ll get a lot of pictures resembling this one. None of them even mentions ‘membrane’. That’s an eloquent enough proof about the fact that membranes are, unreasonably, taken for granted.

The next level of this is the ‘membrane’. That thing that separates the ‘inside’ of an living organism from its ‘outside’ and which not only distinguishes between these two spaces but also controls whatever enters and exists the organism – as long as all goes in a regular manner. If something irregular happens to that particular organism its membrane might be overpowered and the organism dies.
At this level also things happen according to some innate laws, without outside intervention and without any need for deliberation on the part of the organism itself. Even when we speak of evolved animals and even with us, humans, most of the inner workings that take place inside our bodies happen ‘under the radar’.

And it seems that what we call ‘deliberation’ isn’t that important after all. Newton’s laws have organized the Universe ever since mass has been around while membranes have made life possible on Earth for the last billion years or so.

The third level, what we call human conscience, has started to develop some 200,000 years ago. Approximately, of course. Humberto Maturana has proposed a very interesting explanation about how it came to be and you can read about it here. For what I have in mind, it is enough for me to mention that Maturana says that we are not only conscious but also aware of our consciousness.

And it is this awareness that has the most important consequences.

I started this post by quoting Newton’s third law of motion. I’ll go back to him and remind you of the first two:
“An object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a net force” Meaning that things have a tendency to keep doing whatever they are doing at any given moment until something from outside messes with them and
The vector sum of the forces F on an object is equal to the mass m of that object multiplied by the acceleration vector a of the object: F = m Meaning that the end result of an interaction is not commensurate only with the amount of energy spent during that interaction but also with the manner in which that interaction has taken place. The ensuing ‘vector sum of the forces on an object’ depends essentially on two things. How big are the individual forces at play and in which direction are each of them pulling at the object.

I’ve been speaking about ‘three levels’.
At the first two levels the amount of force that was messing with our objects and its orientation relative to the objects (Vector sum) depends only on ‘chance’. The objects themselves – who have no say on the matter, the interactions following blindly some innate rules – can not influence in any way the outcome of the interaction. The results have already been settled at the moment when ‘chance’ had met with the individual characteristics of each object involved in the interaction.

The third level, though, has a very interesting characteristic. At least one of the objects involved – the human individual – is, at least somewhat, aware of its own existence and of its ability to interfere in the development of the interaction. To influence the outcome of  interactions that take place within his reach.

This very awareness, how ever partial, explains why most individuals do their best to survive: they are aware of their mortal nature so they do everything in their power to stay alive, in fact to respect Newton’s first law.
Also it is the same awareness that is responsible for our ‘rational’ behaviour. We have discovered that the results depend heavily not only on the amount of effort spent on the occasion but also on how that effort was applied to the task. Hence the conscientious manner in which we try to get as much bang for our buck.

And the same awareness makes me wonder how come so few people understand the difference between ‘reactive’ and ‘constructive’.
Why so many people, when confronted by a new situation, tend not only to fall back on the ‘tried and trusted’ but also to defend them as ‘the only valid option’. Not taking into account that it is the very novelty of the entire situation that is the most challenging aspect of the whole thing.

So instead of putting all the cards on the table in an attempt to find out a mutually acceptable solution for all – or at least for as many as possible – participants in a given interaction tend to jealously keep their cards close to their chests, negating any chance of cooperation.

 

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The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin, 2007  A good lesson about how to overcome this tendency.

 

they keep telling us.

As if it would always be obvious where ‘up’ and ‘down’ are…

In his efforts to figure up how society works Max Weber has introduced the concept of “ideal type”:

Ideal type, a common mental construct in the social sciences derived from observable reality although not conforming to it in detail because of deliberate simplification and exaggeration. It is not ideal in the sense that it is excellent, nor is it an average; it is, rather, a constructed ideal used to approximate reality by selecting and accentuating certain elements.”

In other words, Weber proposed that in order to better understand social interactions we should first divest everything we consider unimportant from whatever we are studying and then concentrate our attention on what, in our opinion,  ‘makes the world go round’.

Key words here, in my opinion, being “our opinion”.

Common lore, somewhat older than organized ‘science’, used to speak about ‘put yourself in his shoes’.

To me this way of putting it shows two different things.
Commoners are more humble than scientists – none of them pretends to know which are the aspects that have to be taken into account and which are those that should be discarded –  and, maybe even more important, a lot more ‘democratically minded’ – ‘put yourself in his shoes’ plainly states that both opinions, ‘his’ and ‘yours’, have equal value.

In this sense ‘look from above’ seems a rather ‘scientific’ attitude, don’t you think?
By telling somebody that he should search a vantage point and then examine the situation from there actually suggests him to construct one of Weber’s ideal types.

Now, please, don’t get me wrong.
Of course this is exactly how human minds work.
Whenever we look at something – no matter how open minded we believe ourselves to be about it – we do it from a personal point of view. There’s no way that we can reasonably pretend otherwise.

The real problem is what we do next.

When ever we try to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes we have to make a choice.

We can either try to understand/feel what we would have understood/felt if those things would have happened to us or we can try to imagine what the original owner of the shoes understood/felt then, when things were actually happening to him, in ‘real time’.

I’m sure you all see the difference.

This is why, whenever I’m asked ‘please look at this situation from above and tell me your conclusion’, I always start with ‘all I can do is offer my opinion on this, accompanied by a stern warning: My opinion is just that, an opinion. It can happen to be more accurate than yours but it can also be wrong. If you still want it I’ll gladly put it on the table and let us all discuss it.’

On the practical level Nicholas Nassim Taleb proposes that we should shift our focus from trying to determine which is the best option in a given situation to doing our best to avoid choosing the obviously wrong ones.

‘Obvious’ to those who do not allow themselves to become mesmerized by the illusion that ‘best’ can be identified, o course.

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