Archives for category: cooperation

When I’ll learn what ‘the book’ should contain, I’ll stop looking for it.
And start writing.

A story opens a space.
An explanation sets limits.

A story empowers.
An explanation tells how those powers are to be used.

Neither are true. Each wants to be true but neither will ever reach the exact place.
‘Bull’s eyes’ are safe. We keep trying, although those of us who know their way around words are aware how elusive truth is.

The downside of the whole thing being that words, ‘storied’ words, might kill.
As in actually! And uselessly…

Unless accompanied by a valid explanation, of course.

The sole difference between the living and the non-living is the fact that only the living is able to die.

Which death is the prerequisite for evolution!

Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Get a vaccine, wear a mask…

“You can’t deprive others of their liberty without forfeiting your own. Liberty is lost with every person seeking to control others for their comfort and sentiment.”

Getting a vaccine and wearing a mask are sensible things to do, right?

Establishing a free environment, where all individuals might enjoy their liberties, is also a sensible thing!

For the simple reason that even a casual examination of history provides ample proof that freer societies fare far better than those which curtail individual freedoms.

Simpler said than done…
Mention the mandatory mask and the imperative advice to get vaccinated to those passionate about individual liberty and you have a hornets’ nest on your hands.

Or maybe this is an excellent occasion to discuss the ‘gap’ we constantly need to bridge between individual freedoms and a free society?

Can you have a free society composed of slaves?

The answer depends on who gives it to you.
I’d spent the first 30 years of my life under communist rule.
My country, Romania, was declared, by those who were ruling it at that time, as being free. Both domestically and internationally.
The only free individual was the ruler. Nicolae Ceausescu. He was the only guy who could do as he pleased. And only for a while… Until 25 December 1989…
In the end, the regime had crumbled and the only ‘free’ individual had met with the consequences of how he had chosen to use his freedom.

So no, you cannot have a free society when one individual, or a group of individuals, impose their will on everybody else.

‘Your liberty to swing your fist ends where my nose begins’

Otherwise put, if you refuse to get vaccinated/wear a mask you might be instrumental in getting me sick. Or dead.

‘Might’! It’s the ‘might’ part which troubles you!
Why should you shoulder a minimal risk/discomfort for my safety? Specially when you’re not convinced that my safety is in danger… Or, maybe, you’re thinking ‘let him take whatever precautionary measures he considers to be necessary!’

Because of India, that’s why!

Do you consider present day India to be a free society?
Do you consider that people currently living in India are truly enjoying their freedom? Today?!?

And no, I’m not going to contrast what’s going on in India with what the Chinese government had done.
First pretend nothing had happened then lock up the entire population.

No!
I’m going to contrast what’s going on in India with how the ‘other’ China had reacted to the Covid pandemic. Or with the South Korean response.

Different economic realities… Different cultures…
Maybe!
But also different levels of economic and social disruption!

Don’t tell me that what’s going on in today’s India won’t have repercussions!

For a while, after WWII, many in the Eastern part of Europe were convinced that, soon, ‘the Americans will come’.
And save them from communism.

At the end of the Korean war, most of those hopes were dying away.
Whichever were still alive had been buried at the end of 1956. When the Soviets had occupied Budapest. And nobody lifted a finger…

The erstwhile hopeful had adapted to the new reality. Changed tack …
Instead of hoping that America will eventually deliver them from communism, they saved themselves. One way or another, they left their countries and pursued the American Dream in America proper.

They somehow reached those shores – welcoming shores, in those times, set to work and made it.
You see, in those times the American Dream was not as much about becoming rich as it was about becoming ‘your own man’. Being rich was considered useful, indeed, only it wasn’t seen as a goal in itself.

As to how to do it, things were crystal clear. Luck was optional while hard work was deemed essential. And, often enough for people to become convinced, things went on as expected!

‘Find what you’re good at, work hard and, sooner rather than later, your dream will come true’.

And it did. For many enough so that achieving the American Dream was considered to be the norm rather than an exception.
Maybe not for everybody. But for many enough so that Regular Joe was convinced that hard work and determination will take you places.

Is this assumption still valid today?

When so many of the well paying jobs have been exported?
When it’s far easier to make money by investing already owned capital than it is to work your way up the socio-economic ladder?

A lot of people point their finger at those who prefer to take hand-outs instead of accepting minimum wage jobs.
On the face of it, it doesn’t make much sense, does it?
No matter how generous, hand-outs will never be large enough for a comfortable life. While hard work will, eventually, take you there.
Are you sure about that? About hard work eventually taking you ‘there’? In the present conditions?

Furthermore, the former American Dream was about about giving your best before expecting Fate to reward your efforts.
Today’s mantra, ‘greed is good’, had completely altered the premises.
‘Get as much as you can, give as little as possible’ has become the new modus operandi.

What?!?

Maybe put in this way it will be easier to recognize.

Buy low, sell high.

‘Profit maximization’.

You see, using fancier words, those who prefer hand-outs to hard work do nothing but obey, intuitively, the law of the diminishing returns.

Then hand-outs should be drastically reduced!

That’s, indeed, one way of solving the problem…

Except for another ‘rule’.

You catch more flies with honey than vinegar!

But this is about ‘flies’, not ‘people’!

Yeah, right… as if people were less intelligent than flies…

You see, Henry Ford had found a way out. By dramatically increasing the ‘benefits’ extended to his workers he had managed to retain a stable work force. And, an unforeseen consequence, he had set in motion the wheels of the consumer society. The very economic set up which had made possible the fulfillment of the American Dream.

Currently, solvent demand is drying up.
Unnoticeably, for now.
For as long as credit will take up the slack, the evidence will remain under the radar.

But ‘evidence’ has the bad habit of hitting the fan.
Exactly at the worst possible moment…

It’s not necessarily a coincidence that this group of Goldman Sachs analysts chose the current moment in which to speak up, bucking the grin-and-bear-it culture.
There are a mix of factors at play: the ubiquity of social media, where the survey initially appeared; the rise of a generation more conscious of workplace toxicity and mental health; and a general sentiment of activism for equity.
The pandemic may have become a factor, too. Keenan notes that, from his experience, office camaraderie was one of the things that buoyed him through the worst days. In isolation during forced remote work, many of these tough experiences may be made even tougher, exacerbating their effects
.”

Meredith Turits, Is extreme working culture worth the big rewards?
BBC Worklife, 27th April 2021

‘Japanese’ logic:
If somebody can do it, I can too.
If nobody could do it, I will.

‘Romanian’ logic:
If somebody can do it, let them do it!
If nobody could do it, why should I?

These two capture rather accurately the respective Weltanschauungs.

There are two things which bother me, though.

Once a Romanian determines that something must be done, they will find a way. No matter how unconventional…
It’s not any lack of individual self-confidence which keeps Romania back…

Secondly – but, to me, far more important,
who gets to determine whether ‘it’ is worth doing?
The doers themselves or somebody else?
And what governs the relationship between the two?
Is any mutual respect involved there?

For some reason, this whole thing made me remember Oscar Hoffman’s words.

‘Logical correctness isn’t enough. For a sentence to be actually true, it also has to make epistemological sense’.

“First day of class.
The law school teacher entered the room and asked a student sitting in the first row:
‘What’s your name?’
‘Nelson.’
‘Get out of my class and never come back!’
Everyone was scared and outraged but no one dared to speak up.
‘Very well!’ said the professor after Nelson had left. ‘Let’s start!’
‘What do we have laws for?’
The students were scared but they tentatively answered the questions.
‘So that order may be maintained?’
‘No!’
‘For us to fulfill?’
‘No!’
‘So that trespassers might be punished?’
‘No!’
‘For justice to be made?’
‘Finally! And what is justice?’
The students were already pissed off but they continued.
‘When human rights are upheld?’
‘Not bad. Elaborate!’
‘To differentiate good from bad?’
‘Then was I right to throw Nelson out?’
Silence.
‘I want an answer!’
‘No…’
‘You might say and injustice had been committed?’
‘Yes…’
‘Then why nobody did anything about it?’
‘What do we want laws for if we don’t have the will to uphold them? Each and everyone of you needs to speak up whenever you witness injustice being done! All of you! Always!’
‘Go bring Nelson back! After all, he’s the real teacher. I’m nothing but a student here!’
‘We should all learn that whenever we don’t defend our rights, our dignity vanishes.’
‘That dignity is not negotiable’!”

I’ve just read this on somebody’s FB wall.
And a couple of comments.
‘But why did you have to throw Nelson out?!? Couldn’t you have simply explained your point? Lousy teacher… you just enjoyed playing God!’
‘There is a small difference between explaining ‘something’ to somebody and making the same somebody actually feel that ‘something’. The same difference which exists between a lump of clay and the same lump of clay after God had breathed soul into it’.

This book represents Djuvara’s thesis for his 1974 Doctorat d’Etat.

There are two main ideas which are to be pointed out here.
A first one hidden under the distinction he identifies between ‘culture’ and ‘civilization’.
The second being the bread and butter of his thesis. That civilizations are initiated in one place, diffused/exported for a while and then replaced – or led further, depending on how one chooses to interpret the facts, by people until then living somewhere on the fringes of the civilization they are replacing/refurbishing.

Nothing really new, right?
‘Cyclical History’ wasn’t invented yesterday. And certainly not by Neagu Djuvara.

Well, Djuvara’s ideas – like everybody else’s, are nothing but ‘overgrowth’. Things which sprung in people’s minds ‘on top’ of what those people had already learned. Found out. Or, of course, both.

In a sense, what I’ve said in the previous sentence is the very condensed abstract of Djuvara’s second ‘main idea’.
The first, the ‘hidden’ one, – again, in an extremely abridged version, being that ‘history, as a narrative, is nothing more and nothing less than what historians choose to make of the facts they had learned about’.

Too blunt?
Well, first and foremost, I’m an engineer. Not a fancy pen-pusher…

OK. Let’s go further.
I’m going to illustrate, briefly, Djuvara’s main thesis by presenting his version of what had happened in Europe. What had started as an European phenomenon, more precisely.

The Roman civilization had grown at the periphery of the Ancient Greece. And, eventually, took over more ‘space’ than the Ancient Greeks.
The Russian civilization had grown at the periphery of the Byzantine/Orthodox one and eventually took over. Or, at least, attempted to…
The Holy Roman Empire of German Nation ‘recycled’ – or, at least, attempted to, the ‘ancient’ values and traditions.
Great Britain had grown at the periphery of Europe until it took over the whole world. At least for a while…
The US, which had started as a British colony, had grown into the most powerful nation known to man.

‘OK, I understand what you meant by trailers and trailblazers. Some of those who trail might end up trailblazing.
Do you want to add anything?
Is there an actual point to your post?’

Yep.
As they say about the market, ‘past performance is no guarantee about the future’.
The fact that things have happened as they did is no guarantee that they’ll keep unfolding in the same manner.

In a sense, Fukuyama was right, after all…
Even if not in the sense he thought it!

According to “The end of history” people – all over the World, had realized the relative merits of ‘liberal democracy’ and ‘capitalism’. Which were going to be put in practice, effectively marking ‘the end of history’.
Thirty years past that moment, it seems that things aren’t going in that direction.

I’m I contradicting myself? Who’s right, after all?
Djuvara? Since history doesn’t seem to have stopped?
Or Fukuyama, but for some other reason? Than the one advertised by him?

‘History, as a narrative, is nothing more and nothing less than what historians choose to make of the facts they had learned about’

Then, if history is ‘man made’, what about the future?

Can we really make it? Predict it?

‘Make it’, for sure!
If not us, then who?!?

‘Predict it’… that’s something totally different!

There are signs, though.

First of all, Djuvara had described something which can be compared with fire burning in a savannah. It starts in one place, burns for a while… and then starts up some place else. Until now, no fire – no fire known to man, had burned any savannah so thoroughly that nothing was left for a ‘second’ fire.

Secondly, Fukuyama said that history will end when all humankind will sync. When all ‘civilizations’ will be run according to the same paradigm. According to the liberal democratic and capitalist paradigm, in Fukuyama’s vision.
We’re still far from that.
Only there is one paradigm which is willing to play that role! To fill those shoes…

The ‘greed is good’ paradigm!
Or, if you don’t like to think in ‘monetary’ terms, the ‘my version is the only right one’ paradigm.

The problem being that these two work in concert.
They are two facets of something called ‘intellectual arrogance’.

I’ll come back to this notion sometime in the future.
Now I’ll end up telling that there’s not much left of the ‘savannah’.

When things were unfolding as Djuvara described them, the planet itself was more or less ‘virgin’. Unexploited. Unoccupied.
Human culture used to be diverse. Ideas were developing. Traded. From one place to the other. From one culture to the other.

Nowadays, much of the planet – our home, is occupied by the, more or less, same civilization. And by an increasingly similar culture.

Nothing inherently good nor bad here, mind you!

If we still have no definitive history, then the future hasn’t been written yet.
It’s up to us to choose the right trail.
For no other reason than the fact that there are very few trails left for us to burn!

Attempting to value individualism over collectivism is similar to trying to establish which came first, the chicken or the egg.

Having experienced both – collectivism and individualism put in practice as political principles, I have noticed that neither extreme is capable of working in a sustainable manner.

Communist regimes had fallen one after another.
Fascist regimes did the very same thing.
Pirate republics could never resist for long.

Coming back to what is happening in the US, I’m afraid very few people are aware of how much collective thinking had been embedded in the American Psyche. The good kind of collective thinking…
Americans go to church. A place where you go to to be together, not alone.
Americans used to help each-other. Charity used to be a big thing. Slowly, it had become a dirty word.
And so on.

Individuals can not exist on their own. They need each other to survive. And to thrive.
Collectives can not last for long unless the individuals who constitute them do respect each-other. Help each-other maintain and develop their individuality.

As simple as that.

Imagine having a festering boil. On your ass, for good measure.
You may take to the doctor, for treatment.
Or you may wait, hoping your organism will be strong enough to heal itself.
This being your call.
Nobody else but you has anything to say about this situation.
Let’s say you have chosen to go to the hospital.
Once there, the matter has gotten somewhat ‘out of your hands’. You still have the last word but the doctor calls the more important shots. Pun indended, of course.
He can simply open up the boil, put you on a course of antibiotics and send you home.
He might decide to check you up and see whether the boil is a symptom of something deeper.
He might attempt to rip you off by ordering, all at once, a host of complex tests and of fancy treatments.
Or all at once.
Cut up your boil, set you on a course of antibiotics, order a decent set of tests and still rip you off.
‘Is there a point to all these?’
Yep!
How the ‘good’ doctor will choose to treat you is the consequence of how you have chosen him. And of how the community you belong to had chosen to organise its health system.
But the more consequential decision, whether to go to the doctor in the first place, is yours.
I’m not going to analyse the factors you have to balance – we’d go back to how the community you belong to had chosen to organise its health system.
I’m only going to parade the possible outcomes.
A nice scar on your butt and a decent tab for you – or for your insurer, to pick up on your way out.
Acompanied, hopefully, by an otherwise clean bill of health.
A nice scar, and a clean bill of health, accompanied by an outrageous invoice.
These being the ‘good’ outcomes.
The doctor might find out, after reading the test results, that you also have, say, a blood disease. One perfectly treatable by modern medicine. But which would have easily killed you if you had waited much longer.
The doctor might also find out, after reading the test results, that the boil is the symptom of an incurable disease. One which will kill you for sure. Only now you’ll die in the relative comfort of the available paliative treatment you can afford.
Or you might choose to nurse your boil at home.
Get out fine. And a lot cheaper!
Die of an apparently unrelated disease six months later.
Or pass out because of a sepsis which had eventually became untreatable. Due to your own prevarications….
‘And what has the boil on my ass to do with Covid?!?’
Covid is a boil on our collective ass.
We might decide to treat it ‘on the go’, hoping that on the ‘other side’ our lives will return to normal.
Or we might decide to use it as an opportunity!
An opportunity to clean up our act….

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