Archives for posts with tag: What goes around comes around

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

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

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

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

Actually yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me put two and two together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I’m not a Trump fan. How could I be? Just look at his face!

On the other hand….

“I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.” Abraham Kaplan

Or, in this case, convince a journalist of something and he will ‘dress’ the facts to fit his new conviction.

As I said before, I don’t like Trump.
If I didn’t have a lot of trust in the overall resilience of the American democratic system I would be scouring for a big enough rock to hide behind if/when he might ascend to power.
Unfortunately the present most likely alternative isn’t any better.

But that’s another topic.

Let me go back to the present one.

What we have here is a news/opinion outlet which has a clear political option.
OK, I can live with that. I have some opinions of my own and I love to argue and defend them. In private as well as in public.

But I do believe that the quality of the arguments used in a debate are of paramount importance.

Let me analyze the four I mentioned above.

“Within 20 seconds at a press conference on Wednesday, actual Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump went from suggesting that Russian President Vladimir Putin had once called President Barack Obama the n-word to saying he hopes Putin likes him.”

The apparent implication here being that Trump has trouble maintaining logical consistency inside a rather short discourse and that he is rather gullible – “For the record, there is literally zero evidence that Putin ever called Obama the n-word. It’s hard to say where Trump got this idea, but he has a long history of naively restating things he heard from one person — even random people on Twitter.

Hard to argue against this, specially since there is ample video testimony that he really said it.

a shocked again trump

Well… after actually hearing him, things are not so clear anymore.

“Putin has said things over the last year that are really bad things. He mentioned the n-word one time,” Trump said from his resort in Doral, Florida.
“I was shocked to hear him mention the n-word. You know what the n-word is, right?” Trump continued. “He has a total lack of respect for President Obama.”
Putin doesn’t like Obama, Trump told reporters.
“I think he’s going to respect your president if I’m elected, and I hope he likes me,” Trump said.
Earlier in the news conference, Trump claimed he had never met the Russian leader.”

Not a trace of either ‘gullibility’ nor of any logical fracture here. So why not call Trump for what he really is – a callous manipulator – instead of using convoluted makeshift allegations?

normal versus anormal

Absolutely impossible not to agree with everything written here, right?
No matter what side any of us belongs to…but wait!

“The Democratic Party’s convention was a normal political party’s convention. …”
“The Republican Party’s convention was not a normal political party’s convention….”

A new cleavage in American politics: normal versus abnormal

America’s main political cleavage is between the Democratic and Republican parties. That split has meant different things at different times, but in recent decades it primarily tracks an ideological disagreement: Democrats are the party of liberal policies; Republicans are the party of conservative policies.

But in this year’s presidential election, the difference is more fundamental than that: The Democratic Party is a normal political party that has nominated a normal presidential candidate, and the Republican Party has become an abnormal political party that has nominated an abnormal presidential candidate.

No, I’m not going to take sides here. Not only because I’m not an American citizen so I’m not entitled to vote. But simply because Democracy relies mostly on mutual respect. You cannot refuse to the other party the very right to exist yet still call yourself a democrat. Pretending that your opponent is ‘abnormal’ means that you’re convinced that your opponent should not exist at all.

The way I see it ‘America’s main political cleavage is indeed between normal versus abnormal’ only it seems that both the  Democratic and Republican conventions, if not the parties themselves, belong to the realm of the ‘abnormal’.

But wait, things are getting even more juicier.

When women speak, people tend to mentally turn up the volume

Women, and women leaders in particular, often get criticized more for how they say something than for what they actually say. They have to walk a difficult line of being assertive but not too aggressive, likable but not too much of a pushover.

Even though women are interrupted more often and talk less than men, people still think women talk more. People get annoyed by verbal tics like “vocal fry” and “upspeak” when women use them, but often don’t even notice it when men do.

The same mental amplification process makes people see an assertive woman as “aggressive,” which gets in the way of women’s personal and professional advancement. Women are much more likely to be perceived as “abrasive” and get negative performance reviews as a result — which puts them in a double bind when they try to “lean in” and assertively negotiate salaries.

These kinds of implicit biases are sexist, but having them doesn’t make someone “a sexist” — or if it does, it makes all of us sexists. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or whether you are a man or a woman; everyone has some implicit biases against women.

And that may be one reason why this is the first time a woman has ever won a major party’s nomination.

OK, so what should people do? Vote for Hillary Clinton simply because she’s a woman?

And no, I don’t have any implicit biases against anybody. I cannot vouch for anybody else but I cannot see myself as ‘abnormal’ so I expect there are others in my situation.
Hence I strongly believe that candidates should be evalued ‘all around’, without any biases based on their gender.

Or race.
Hey Trump, this one is specially for you.

barack is not the cause

I’m afraid that Dara Lind, the author of the article I just quoted above, has got her ‘butterfly’ wrong.
It’s not Obama that inadvertently caused any hurricane.
Do you remember the intensity of the birther campaign that had swept across America both before and after Obama was elected President?

And while it’s clear that Trump was one of the most vocal ‘birthers’  do you know who started the whole thing?

“You know who started the birther movement? Do you know who questioned his birth certificate, one of the first?” Trump asked.

“Hillary Clinton, she’s the one who started it. She started it years before it was brought up by me.”

Trump said he no longer talks about the issue because it always breeds controversy but promised to “raise it against” Clinton in a general election.

OK, we don’t have to take Trump’s word on this, even if he’s quite an authority on the subject – given his passion about the issue.

The last quote is from an article published on the CNN site. Click on it if you want more specifics.
OK, so where does all these leave us?
Scratching our heads while trying to figure out what went wrong around the ‘deep well of anxiety about America losing its culture and values’?
Or rather staring at those who drew from deep within this well and used the proceedings to stoke people’s emotions in order manipulate them? One way or the other?
It seems the he wasn’t the only one. Wannabe presidential candidate and ‘racial provocateur’.
So why keep on hoping that by choosing the ‘lesser evil’ we’ll ever reach the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’?
Why keep on trying to manipulate people one way or another instead of finally calling both ’emperors’ for what they are?
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