Archives for category: Choices that we make

‘Are you nuts? or something?
Isn’t exactly this what the Europeans had been doing all over the world? For the last five centuries?
And you attempt to ‘nuance’ it?
Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?!?’

Ashamed of what some of my predecessors have done, yes!
Also ashamed of what some of my contemporaries are doing.
Right now, as opposed to back then.

And since there’s nothing to be done about the past, but to learn from it, and everything to be done about the future, right now, I’d rather have at least some of those statues still standing.

In public squares!
Maybe not in the same places, maybe not in the same settings. But still in public!
Hiding them in museums would mean taking them out of the limelight. Out of public scrutiny!
If we are to learn anything from past mistakes we must focus on them. Putting those statues aside because we feel too strongly about them would only serve those who don’t want to admit mistakes had been perpetrated. Who actually don’t want to own our past.

Those who had promoted Jim Crow legislation had erected the confederate statues as a symbol of their regained public influence.
Obliterating the statues won’t make anything suddenly right. The consequences of Jim Crow won’t disappear, as if by magic, along with the statues. They didn’t disappear when the legislation had been abolished and they won’t disappear now.
If we want to put the past behind us, we must accomplish what has to be accomplished. We need to make things right, not hide away the prickliest pieces of evidence.

Demolishing statues won’t help any of those living in still segregated neighborhoods. Won’t help the children going to heavily underfunded schools. And so on…
Demolishing statues will only help those who will certainly ask, in a few short years, if nothing changes in our hearts and minds:

What more do they want?!?

We’ve even dispatched those damn statues!!!

‘Handicap’ has become a dirty word…
Somewhat strange, given the breadth of its meaning. Horses get handicapped in order to even their chances to win a race. Yachts get handicapped so that different makes might participate in the same race… In these situations, its an ‘honor’ to be handicapped…

Then why has this concept, ‘political correctness’, become so ‘popular’?

You might already be familiar with the ‘upfront’ explanation.

“political correctness has reset the standards for civility and respect in people’s day-to-day interactions.”

Rethinking Political Correctness, Robin J. Ely et all, HBR Magazine, 2006

I’m convinced there was something more.
Civility and respect haven’t been invented yesterday. We’ve been polite for quite a while now.

Yeah, only politeness had been invented, and polished, when society was way more hierarchical than in is now.
In those times, when a ‘superior’ told somebody ‘you idiot’ that somebody paused to think. The ‘idiot’ could not dismiss what the ‘superior’ had just told him. The ‘idiot’ really had to make amends. He was so busy trying to correct himself that he couldn’t allow himself to feel offended. If anything, he was grateful. The ‘superior’ had made the effort to help the ‘idiot’ improve himself instead of dispatching him altogether.
In modern times, even before PC had become fashionable, calling someone’s attention about how idiotic he was behaving only made him angry. Hence dismissive and unresponsive. In an era when all people had become peers, a new ‘manner of speaking’ had to be invented in order for ‘information’ to be made ‘palatable’.

The process had been successful.
So successful that the same approach had been used when dealing with other ‘hot’ subjects. Race, gender… ‘inclusion’ in general…

In fact, the process had become too successful for its own good!

Some of the ‘enthusiasts’ have reached the conclusion that ‘everything’ is open for reconsideration.
That ‘everything’ should be closely reexamined.
According to the ideological lenses worn by the examiners, of course…

Unfortunately, the end result is rather messy.

Instead of facilitating the dialog, the stiffer and stiffer set of ‘appropriate’ ‘rules of engagement’ has almost stifled any transfer of meaningful information.

“Despite this obvious progress, the authors’ research has shown that political correctness is a double-edged sword. While it has helped many employees feel unlimited by their race, gender, or religion, the PC rule book can hinder people’s ability to develop effective relationships across race, gender, and religious lines.”

Ibid.

Not only that people find it harder and harder to understand each-other, ‘things’ themselves become blurry.

Let me give you a recent example.

In the US, many of the ex-confederated States have started to reconsider the statues commemorating ‘famous Southern figures’.
The vast majority of which had been built between 1890 and 1950, during the Jim Crow era.
Simultaneously, like minded activists have recently toppled Edward Colton’s statue in Bristol, England.

Are these two ‘developments’ similar, as PC would mandate us to understand?

Jefferson Davies – a very ‘familiar statue’ in the US, had been the President of the Confederate States of America. A slave owner himself, he was a “champion of the unrestricted expansion of slavery into the territories.” And the statues glorifying him had been erected, during the Jim Crow era, as a reminder to the fact that the Confederation may had lost the war but things hadn’t change that much.
Edward Colston, on the other side of the Atlantic, had not been a slave owner per se. In the sense that he didn’t put slaves to work for him. He was ‘only’ a purveyor of slaves. He had ‘only’ kidnapped African people and then sold them, as slaves, on the other side of the Atlantic. 10 to 20% of which had died, in horrible conditions, during the voyage. As a consequence of his ‘efforts’, Colston had become a very rich man. He had ended his involvement in the slave trading business some 30 years before his death – 1721, and used much of his wealth for charity. His statue had been built in 1895 and many of the buildings which had been raised with the money bequeathed by him bear his name. Some of those buildings are used to house schools, others as almshouses.

Now, do the statues of these two people stand for the same thing?
And no, I’m not trying to discern between two villains!

Each of them had done an immense amount of harm and had produced endless suffering. People are still smarting to this day because of what both of them had done.
Only there are some differences between them. One had also done some good in his life. While the other had been used, after his death and without his consent, as a symbol. After he had, directly, kept people in slavery he had also been used to further the sufferings of black people.

Are we capable of seeing any of these differences?
Or are we too angry to differentiate?

Do you remember why we had invented political correctness in the first place?

Despite this obvious progress, the authors’ research has shown that political correctness is a double-edged sword. While it has helped many employees feel unlimited by their race, gender, or religion, the PC rule book can hinder people’s ability to develop effective relationships across race, gender, and religious lines. Companies need to equip workers with skills—not rules—for building these relationships.


“The popularity of authors like Deutsch, Sandbrook and Foote – men of very different calibre in many different ways, but all wordsmiths who form history into desirably unchallenging packages for certain kinds of audience – is undeniable. It points to a conclusion that the wider historical profession, from schoolteachers to internationally renowned critical scholars, struggles to overcome. People, and specially people from priviledged groups, do not want historians to tell them bad things about their tresured identities. They will, indeed, forcefully react against such challenges, when given the political rallying-calls that allow them to do so. In that sense, it must be said, they do not want history. They want what they are increasingly getting: a cosy blanket of half remembering and convenient forgetting that is cushioning their slide down the slope to full-blown cultural dementia.”

Cultural Dementia, David Andress, 2018

If you have the stomach for the whole of it…

Is it enough for something to exist in order for that something to become real?

Existence = “The fact or state of living or having objective reality.”
Real = “Actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.”

Ooops!

Do I sense a conundrum haunting these premises?

Which came first? Reality or ‘mere’ existence?

Descartes was the first who had introduced a ‘pecking order’ into this mess.

Dubito ergo cogito.
Cogito ergo sum.

You’re free to translate this any way you want.
Mine goes like this:

My existence is certified only by my doubts.

My existence as a human being, of course.
As a conscious human!

The ‘pecking order’ being, as far as I figure it out:

I need to exist, as an animal, in order to become conscious.
And I need to gain consciousness in order to learn about my existence.

Complicated?
Let me elaborate.

Our understanding of the world is incomplete.
First of all, there are so many things we don’t know about.

For example, we have no idea what goes on between Mars and Jupiter.
We think we know that there’s no major planet hidden in between those two orbits. No object with an important enough mass to disturb either Mars or Jupiter and no object with an albedo big enough to be noticed. To be noticed by us…
Other than that… we have no clue about what’s going on there.
In fact, we don’t know much about what’s going on in the middle of our own planet… or on the floor of ‘our’ oceans…

But the fact that we don’t know about their existence doesn’t preclude the actual existence of whatever ‘objects’ and/or organisms might happen to be there.

Secondly, there are so many things we don’t fully understand. Not yet, anyway. We are aware of their existence – because we’ve been confronted with some ‘consequences’ of the aforementioned things, but we haven’t yet figured out, exactly, how those consequences have been produced.
For example, we’re still learning about viruses. About their ability to bypass our defenses. About how they infect us. About how we might improve our chances of avoiding/surviving infection.

But the fact that we don’t fully understand them doesn’t preclude us – well, some of us, from believing those viruses to be real.

My point being that ‘existence’ is far wider than ‘reality’.
There’s no need for us to know about it for something to exist.
But for something to be considered ‘real’, by us, that something needs to exist first.

‘But aren’t you contradicting yourself?
In a previous post, you argued that ‘the Flat Earth’ was real?!?’

Confusing, isn’t it?
I’m sorry if I misled you.
All I was trying to say was that ‘the Flat Earth’, as a concept, is ‘real’. In the sense that so many people discussing it – either for or against, make it real. Those very discussions, a direct consequence of the concept’s very existence – albeit only in the virtual space, give consistency to its reality.
Don’t get me wrong. The Earth – as I ‘know’ it, continues to be round. The Earth – that we live on, is not ‘Flat’. The Earth doesn’t exist as a flat object.

We are confronted with two facts here.
1. All that we’ve so far learned about it leads us to the conclusion that the Earth is, more or less, round.
2. There still are people who believe – or pretend to, that the Earth is flat.

The second fact exists.
The belief which made it possible is false. As far as we know. As far as the scientific community is convinced.
Yet the fact still remains.
Those people believing in it provide it with ‘existence’.
Those people believing in it make it ‘real’.

Sort of, anyway.

Being an engineer, I’m gonna present you with a more straight-forward version than the philosophical one.

For something to be real, it has to have consequences.

‘But…?!?’

No buts!
The only thing which classifies something as being real or not is our consciousness.
Without it, without our consciousness, the something we’re talking about now – reality itself, would cease to be ‘real’.
Without us pondering about it, ‘reality’ would continue to exist, of course! Only it would no longer bear a name… Without us being concerned enough about it, it would ‘disappear’ from our ‘radar’.

‘Yes, but … you just said that something becomes real as soon as it has consequences!
We encounter ‘real’ things in each and every moment of our existence.
We need air to breathe, water to drink… food to eat. And a solid earth to walk on…’

True enough. Only for all these things to become ‘real’, we first need to notice them!

See how ironic things are?
In retrospect, electrons are real. Despite the fact that none of us can actually see them. Or otherwise ‘feel’ them. In any way, shape or form!
But until we had gathered enough evidence about their existence…

And now, that our discussion has reached this subject – evidence, I feel the need to mention the fact that Earth is not yet round ‘enough’. That there still are some people actually believing in the notion of the Flat Earth.

‘Are you implying that the Earth might be Flat?!?’

Excellent question, thank you very much!
(If I may say something like that myself. Please excuse my boastfulness!)

You see, we are dealing here with two things. Two very different things.

The roundness of the Earth. Which seems to be real.
The ‘Flat Earth’. Which is certainly real.

‘Now you’ve outdone yourself! For sure…’

I’m almost certain that you can hear me chuckle.

The roundness of the Earth belongs to the realm of science. Which is ‘wrong by definition‘. At least according to Popper… In the sense that the Earth will continue to remain round only till somebody will prove it to be different. Which had happened already… In ‘reality’, the Earth resembles a potato more than anything else!
On the famous ‘other side’, the ‘Flat Earth Theory’ belongs to the realm of belief. Which is also real. Not in the ‘direct’ sense – a concept which describes a real ‘reality’, only in the sense that it has certain consequences.

‘The Flat Earth has consequences?!? You admit that the concept – ‘the Flat Earth’, describes something which doesn’t exist yet you pretend that it has consequences?’

Yep!

Can you deny the reality of this whole thing? Six hundred and twenty million hits? In less than point 8 seconds?
Can you pretend these are not ‘real consequences’? Can you imagine, for instance, how much energy is spent only to preserve this amount of raw information in the ‘cloud’. How much ‘space’? How much bandwidth is used to transport this ‘fake-ness’ across the ‘globe’!

‘And where does this whole thing lead us?
What about the Flat Earth?
Is it still a fake?’

Yeah.
I’m actually tempted to say ‘obviously’!
On the other hand… it’s hard to deny how ‘real’ the whole thing is…

I don’t know anything.
I don’t know everything hence, logically, I cannot pretend to know anything.

Seems odd, since I obviously know something… to type, for instance!

Indeed, only the key word here is ‘logically’.
From a logical point of view, you either know something or you just don’t.

Not very reasonable… This line of thinking leads up, fast, into a dead end!

As soon as I realize I know ‘nothing’, I must stop!
I can no longer ‘do’ anything.
Because I cannot control – in an absolute manner, each and every consequence of any of my actions.
Further more, there is no justification for me to continue thinking.
Again, because I will never be able to achieve ‘knowledge’.

Yet so many things are being done around me…
From the sun rising in the morning to the ant helping its mates to dig a nest.
From the electron ‘flying’ around the nucleus of a Hydrogen atom to a man developing a computer application.
How can all these actions be performed when nobody, not even the ‘performers’ themselves, is able to determine the ultimate consequence of what’s going on?
How can so many thoughts be ‘spun’, and books published, when the ‘thinkers’ themselves – well… some of them, actually, are fully aware of their intellectual limits?

What drives this frenzy?

And, if I may allow myself a thought, why ‘logic’?
How can such a ‘paralyzing habit’ survive?

This Covid thing is an excellent opportunity.
For us to reconsider.

Everything.
Our past. Our meaning/role in this world… our future…
We have the time, some of us also have the means.

The means to socially distance ourselves from the fray.
Hence increasing our likelihood to survive. Increasing our confidence that tomorrow will actually happen.
Increasing the need to ‘actualize’ ourselves. To be able to cope with what tomorrow might bring.

This whole thing reminds me of the fact that Maslow’s Pyramid is nothing but a succession of steps which might be climbed. Might be climbed….
There’s no one there forcing us to step up once we’ve ‘fulfilled’ the one we’re standing on. And no one to tell us what to do once we’ve ‘upgraded’ ourselves.

And another thing.
Covid also taught us, the hard way, that our planet is limited.
That it’s hard to live apart and that everything which happens anywhere eventually influences all of us.

Thank you for reading this.

Later Edit
Some use ‘physical distancing’ instead of ‘social distancing’.
The rationale being that the distance is only physical and not social.
The way I see it, ‘social distancing’ makes a lot more sense.

‘I keep my distance because I care about you, not because I fear I might catch something from you. We are together in this!’

– What have we done, Gabriel?
– Nothing but what we’ve been told to!
– But look at what they’ve done of our work:

We gave them ‘hand’ and they’ve clenched it into a fist.
We taught them how to make tools and they used them as weapons.
We told them to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’ and they started to fight among themselves for the best pieces of land.
We warned them ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’ and they’ve somehow convinced themselves that ‘greed is good’.

– True enough but this is out of our hands. They’ve been endowed with ‘freedom of will’ by their Maker.
– Then what are we? Mere robots?
– Nothing but loyal servants of our Master. He orders and we accomplish. Unerringly.
– Exactly as I’ve just told you. Mere robots. When we somehow convince ourselves that a particular idea which has blossomed into our heads comes from Him, we no longer think. We just put it into practice.
You call this ‘loyalty’. That’s fine with me.
But to whom are we to extend said loyalty? To somebody who’s authority stems solely from our acceptance of it? Or to what we perceive as being the ‘greater good’?
– You and your questions, Lucifer… Look at what happened to those poor people after you helped them into self-awareness… They’ve completely lost their erstwhile peace of mind.
What are you trying to do? To make me give up mine?

What do we want?

Money.

When do we want it?

Now.

How do we get it?

By being efficient.
‘Give as little as you possibly can while taking as much as you can possibly grab.’

And who’s going to get the job done?

Huh?!?

Capisci?

A knife can be used for buttering toast, slicing steak and, occasionally, for slitting  throats.
A gun can be used to hunt dinner, defend a homestead or shoot a rival.
Bare hands can knot laces, caress a woman or choke the life out of an innocent.

What makes us, humans, sometimes transform tools into weapons?

We are astonished when we learn about other animals being able to make and use tools.
Which is good. ‘Astonished’ is the opposite of ‘insensitive’. A.k.a. ‘brain dead’.

How about we, humans, learning from the rest of the animals how to solve whatever issues we have amongst us without  killing each-other?
You are aware that humans and chimpanzees are the only animals who systematically murder adult members of their own species, right?

But what instance is powerful enough to transform tool into weapon?

Human consciousness?

Is this a ‘fatality’?
The simple fact that each of us is consciously aware of the differences between ‘I’ and ‘all the rest’ means that whenever ‘survival instincts’ kick in our humanity necessarily vanishes? Entirely?
And ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ becomes ‘dog eats dog’?

We would have already been dead by now… all of us…
Our ancestors must have discovered a way to balance our propensity to ‘stick with your own kind’ with with our need to learn new things and meet new people!
Or is it that some of us continually come up with fresh reasons for ‘war’ while we, the rest, are too lazy to do anything about it? Despite everything history has ever taught us…

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