Archives for category: authoritarianism

A new pandemic is gripping us.
By our egos!
One which is a hell of a lot more dangerous than Covid….

In fact, narrow mindedness is a disease which occurs naturally. It probably affects some 10 percent of the population in ‘normal’ times.
When things are no longer normal – and people become nervous because uncertainty does all kind of ‘funny’ things to our minds, narrow mindedness becomes an opportunity.
A golden opportunity for those who ‘professionally’ fish in troubled waters.

“The Petersons weren’t wearing pro-police T-shirts,” notes Churchill. “They weren’t carrying a banner, holding a sign or waving a black-and-blue flag. They appear to just be listening. But merely listening to an opinion that some Skidmore students find objectionable is apparently enough to get a professor in hot water.”
Professor Greg Patton at the University of Southern California (USC) was telling students in a communications lecture last month about filler, or pause words, such as ‘err’, ‘umm’ or ‘you know’ in English.
Footage of his lecture, which has now gone viral, shows Prof Patton saying: “In China, the common pause word is ‘that, that, that’. So in China, it might be na-ge, na-ge, na-ge.”
Enunciated, na-ge sounds like the N-word, which led several of the professor’s students to complain to the university. Responding to the complaint, the dean of the university, Geoffrey Garrett, told students that Prof Patton would no longer be teaching the course.
“It is simply unacceptable for the faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students,” he said.

Society exists in two forms.
One in which the individual members have a certain amount of respect towards their peers.
And another one, where John Doe doesn’t give a damn about anybody else. Or even hates everybody else.

The first kind evolves. People talk – and listen, about their problems. Then find solutions.
The second experiences revolutions.

When too many individuals have never had anything ‘substantial’ on their name, and feel they have no chance of improving their lot – because ‘everything’ has already been appropriated by a small minority, that society has a marked tendency towards communism.

Sometimes, too many individuals see their fortunes go down the drain, for no matter what reason. From there, only God knows how, those fortunes go straight into somebody else’s pockets. Any society which experiences something similar has a marked tendency towards fascism.

The problem with both communism and fascism being that they have always failed. Crumbled from within before being pushed into the precipice by those who has seen the situation as an opportunity. As an opportunity too good to be wasted.
Then, if neither had ever survived for long, why are so many people who continue to profess either? So many intellectuals who try to convince their audience that …

Well…, first of all, because ‘intellectuals’ are nothing but regular people. With a twist! Not only that intellectuals have the same ‘passions’ as the commoners – ‘greed’ being the most intense, but they also have a very good opinion about themselves. Hence too many of the intellectuals consider that they are the ones who should be in charge. That they are the ones who know what everybody else need to do if they want to live comfortably.

In a nutshell, too many intellectuals fall into the trap of considering themselves infallible. And ‘deserving’!
Hence those would do everything needed to get what is rightfully theirs.

If a society is ripe for communism, one/a bunch of the ‘intellectuals’ I described above will, for sure, drape themselves in a communist flag.
If another society is ripe for fascism, in a similar manner, one or, probably, more ‘intellectuals’ will drape themselves in a fascist flag.

It’s up to us, who’ve experienced at least one of them, to blow the whistle.
And it’s up to the rest to listen…

Culture is to human communities what DNA is to biological species.

It transports vital information from one generation to the other. Hence providing a venue for survival.
Furthermore, both culture and DNA can change in time. Hence providing a venue for evolution.

The difference between culture and DNA being, of course, the fact that culture is way more fluid than DNA.
DNA changes only once for each generation – what you get at birth is what you’re taking to the grave, while culture is in constant flux.
No individual organism has anything to say about their genetic information but almost every human is capable of learning almost anything.

Now for the historical part.

Stage one.

Veneration of the elders. The elders were the depositories of the common knowledge. Hence everybody took good care of the ‘data bases’.

Stage two.

Somebody learned to write.
Elders were no longer indispensable. More and more information could be ‘warehoused’ in alternative ways.
A structure was needed to manage the new ways of dealing with the vital information.

Stage three.

The state is born.
At first the structures which insured that culture was passed from one generation to another had been rather empiric: kingdoms, monasteries, etc.
Soon after the Enlightenment things had become more rational. Cultured people became nations and the academic scholars gave us the state. As the structure charged to make sure that culture and people stay together. Hence providing for the nation’s survival.

States who had been in constant contact – read rivalry, kept each-other fit. Or else.
States ‘removed’ from reality – geographically, by becoming too powerful to care or both, had experienced a natural decay. The people at the top of the food chain had forgotten about those at the bottom and those at the bottom had lost faith in their leadership.

States too weak to survive – for various reasons, have succumbed while those too powerful for their own sake have eventually imploded.

Psychology to the rescue.

Culture is more fluid than DNA for a reason.
DNA follows exclusively the laws of nature while culture is heavily influenced by us.
We, men, are the measure of all things.
All life heavily transforms the place it inhabits.
So do we, humans. Only we do it willingly. On purpose, that is.

Now, that we have amassed so much information – about life in general and about how we relate, as agents, to the entire process, we have reached a reckoning moment. What next?

Are we going to choose the path of the cuckoo or that shown to us by Hokule-a?

During lock-down I had more time for my research regarding conscience.
Or, in Maturana’s terms, ‘self-awareness‘.

At first glance, evolutionary speaking, conscience – our ability to observe ourselves ‘in the act’, is about increasing the survivability of the individual having said ability. Hence increasing the survivability of the species to which said individual belongs.

Now, since humankind is divided in cultural ‘subspecies’ – and, according to Maturana, conscience is an ability which has been developed in social context, cultures have different chances of survival. Depending on subtle differences imposed upon the individual consciences during the ‘coming of age’.
Only there’s something which contradicts Darwin’s evolutionary theory. According to the classical version, individuals cannot adapt themselves. Individuals can only survive – and transmit their genes, or – if said genes are not good enough for the circumstances, expire and make way for other individuals/species. According to Darwin, only species can evolve.

The notable difference being what we call ‘free will’.
Not as free as some believe it to be, not as bounded as other think it to be, free will does exist. And allows us to evolve on an individual basis. During the life span of the current generation.

Only there’s a small problem here.
Cognitive dissonance.
No matter how conscient – aka aware of our own misgivings, each of us might be, our first tendency when confronted with arguments contradicting our previously held convictions is to rationalize away those arguments.
Change convictions according to the newly acquired knowledge? Maybe later…
Don’t believe me? How much time elapsed between learning that smoking is bad for you and actually quitting? See what I mean?

Hence my ‘impression’ that ‘conscience’ is more concerned about maintaining its own consistency than with the fate of the biological organism which actually supports it.

Want some more arguments?

Northern Italy. France. Spain. Bad Corona-virus outbreaks, followed by intense lock-downs. Currently the situations are, basically, under control. Suggesting that people do learn, fast, when confronted by really dire circumstances.
Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore… reacted immediately, had relatively few problems. Suggesting that people are able to learn from past experiences. The ‘original’ SARS, you know…
Germany had a less ‘dramatic’ trajectory. Suggesting people may, under certain circumstances, learn from others.
US and Brazil. The rest of the US, actually. The NE having experienced the North Italian scenario. Too many people concerned more with remaining consistent with their previous selves than with adapting to the new challenge. ‘Government tries to subdue us’ and ‘masks are an infringement to personal liberty’.

What about China and Russia?
I’ll let you be the judge of that. Only you need to remember that ‘free will’ is of a totally different nature there than it is here. In the rest of the world.

Same in India. With a twist. While in China/Russia free will is stifled from above, in India – and in too many other developing nations, free will is ‘conscripted’ by poverty. It is very hard to think about the day after tomorrow if you don’t know whether you’ll be able to eat tomorrow.
Even less so if you are hungry right now.

For subjects to become free, they must first remain alive.
As soon as individuals die, whatever freedom they might have enjoyed vanishes.

Individual liberty is a matter of degree.
No matter what any of us might do, none of us – well, almost, will ever escape gravity. We are all pulled towards the center of the Earth and this is how things should be. Otherwise… can you really imagine us drifting freely through the Universe and still being alive?
There are some constraints we might escape for a while. While gravity stays with us forever, we need to breathe only once every second or so. If needed, some of us can go without air for almost five minutes. Most of us can go without water for days and without food for a couple of weeks.
Without friends… is more complicated.
My real point being that individuals will start considering freedom, in earnest, only after reaching Maslow’s self-actualization stage. Until then we remain subjects. Subjected to our needs.

Liberty, as a function, is a social matter.
According to Berger and Luckmann, ‘reality’ is a social construct.
Going one step further, we realize that freedom – like money, is also a social construct.
Something we all contribute to. Help building it. Or tear it apart by negligence/carelessness.
Help building it by encouraging others to become free. As in helping them to lead a decent enough life. For freedom to happen, the society – as a whole, must remain functional enough for each of its members to have the opportunity to reach the self-actualization stage.

We must constantly remember that each time somebody puts our lives in danger that somebody attempts to hurt our freedom.
Every action which ultimately reduces the opportunities for each of us to reach the self-actualization stage – or to remain there, is hurting the liberty of our entire society.

Weapons are nothing but repurposed tools. Sometimes ‘enhanced’ to fit the new goal.

Clubs had started as fruit harvesting utensils, then used for hunting purposes and eventually for bashing in the heads of those who had slept with the missus when the wielders weren’t looking. And so on…

As a tool, an implement is used to ‘put things together’. As a weapon, the same (kind of) implement is used to ‘set things apart’. An axe can be used to split wood in order to build a fire or to ‘split’ furniture during a fit of rage.
Generally speaking, a tool is used towards the ultimate goal of adding to/fine tuning a structure while a weapon is used to destroy/disable something which is meant to remain so.

Our ability to communicate was ‘the’ tool which actually transformed us into what we are today. Humans.
At least according to Humberto Maturana. His theory maintains that we’ve become self-aware social individuals through what he calls languaging.
In a nut-shell, he says that we’ve become humans – self conscious apes, by continuously expressing our thoughts towards the other members of the community. Hence simultaneously building an ‘agora’ and ‘walling in’ individual private spaces.

Yet the same ability to communicate can be used also as a weapon.
Instead of being used by individuals to mutually groom themselves, and ultimately adding to the overall resilience of the community, ‘weaponized’ communication is used to ‘downgrade’ susceptible individuals. Hence lowering their ability to coalesce into functional communities.

History suggests that, in the longer run, democracy – as a manner of decision making, increases the survivability of the communities which use it. Simply by pooling the decision making resources of the entire community instead of relying on the mental prowess – and good will, of a single authoritarian leader.
Only for democracy to be fully functional, the individual members of the community have to be able to share, in earnest, their thoughts.
This is why Freedom of Speech has been enshrined in the First Amendment.
That’s why whenever the public discourse becomes increasingly dominated by ‘fake-news’ things start to go south.

That is why whenever people allow themselves to be split into warring parties – with no real communication between the sides except for the misinformation hurled across the divide, both sides eventually end up wondering at the destruction they had allowed the ‘communication warriors’ to inflict upon them.

So, in the name of liberty and in order to protect the lives of the innocents, the government should not mandate wearing a mask in public – for the duration of the current pandemic, but should close the public funded ‘planned parenthood’ clinics forever…

Individuals – both men and women, are to be trusted to take, on their own, the appropriate measures to protect themselves – and the others, but women are not to be trusted to decide, on their own, about what happens inside their own bodies.

Meanwhile, “The US and Brazil each recorded more than 100,000 cases over the seven days from June 15 to June 21, the WHO said, the only two countries with such high infection numbers.
Do I need to refresh your memory about the fact that neither of their presidents, Trump and Bolsonaro, have never been seen wearing a mask in public?

Charles Darwin gave us “On the origin of Species”.

We’ve summed it up ‘the survival of the fittest’.
And behaved accordingly. Including some of those who should have known better. “The world of the selfish gene revolves around savage competition, ruthless exploitation, and deceit, and yet, Dawkins argues, acts of apparent altruism do exist in nature.

I reckon all of you know – or at least have heard of, Richard Dawkins.
Compare his celebrity with the relative absence from the public scene ‘enjoyed’ by Ernst Mayr.

And what’s so special about this Mayr guy?
‘Evolution is not as much about the ‘survival of the fittest’ as it is about the ‘demise of the unfit’ ‘

Get it?
In fact, there is no such thing as ‘the fittest’ when we speak about evolution. ‘Fit’ is relative while evolution is a process. Fit is about ‘this moment and this place’ while evolution is about the ability to adapt. To change when needed.

And what has any of these to do with “exploring the consequences of our limited conscience”?

Well, it was us who had interpreted Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’ as ‘the survival of the fittest’ individual. It was us who had lionized Dawkins’ ‘Selfish Gene’ and left Mayr’s ‘True’ Evolution in relative darkness…

To sum it up, it is us who are are obsessed with something we call ‘success’.

It is us who keep forgetting that the mighty dinosaurs – maybe the most ‘successful’ animals ever, had been the first to disappear when ‘shit’ had struck. And that is was a meek mammal which had inherited the Earth.

It is our success craving conscience which is highly biased. And I’m not at all sure this is a good thing. In the long run, I mean.

We’ve arrived at a very interesting point in our evolution as a cultural species.

Having more or less solved our existential problems – food, shelter, companionship, we’re hard at work towards building ‘self esteem’.

Putting it in Abraham Maslow’s terms, a good portion of the humankind – most of those active on the internet, the netizens, have reached the ‘self-actualization’ stage.

The problem being that we’re so preoccupied with ‘expressing our true selves’ that almost nobody listens anymore. Truly listens…

The kind of listening needed when we try to learn something. To understand what’s going on.

As opposed to the listening used when educating somebody.

When attempting to learn, we listen opening our minds. We let information in and structure it afterwards.
When educating people, our listening is focused. We take information in with the sole goal of detecting dissent – in order to stifle it, and openings to exploit in our quest to implant our opinion about the world in the minds of our ‘targets’.

Take a breath.
And exhale carefully not to inflate another bubble.
There are already a lot of them waiting to burst.

What if our self awareness, otherwise known as conscience, has evolved in order to understand, accept and mitigate randomness?

There’s no evolution – hence no life, without randomness.
Yet life, anyway you look at it, is about maintaining a certain degree of order.

Whenever there’s so much randomness that life can no longer adapt to it… evolution stops.
Whenever structures become so big/rigid that they find it harder and harder to evolve, they eventually succumb to an otherwise survivable amount of randomness. Dinosaurs and too big to fail corporations versus mice and flexible operators.

In a nutshell, self-awareness is about not being ‘fooled by randomness‘.

And to avoid the deepest pitfall we’ll encounter during this never ending journey – randomness will always be wider than our individual ability to encompass it, we must keep remembering that conscience is selfish. Untrained, it is more about protecting itself than about helping the entire ‘individual’ to survive.

‘What?!?’

Yes, it’s hard to believe!
But what other explanation is there for so many of us continuing to smoke after finding out, the hard way, that this habit might actually kill us?
I use this example simply because I still remember the cigarette I smoked when I last visited the grave where rests a woman I loved dearly. And who is no longer with us because of lung cancer.

Too often our conscience will prefer to rationalize away new information than accept that past choices could have been better.

I’m certain all of you are already too familiar with ‘confirmation bias‘.

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