Archives for category: cooperation

Regardless of their ‘ignorance’, these dudes had somehow managed to put together a constitution which served well for more than 250 years.
It was under the guidance of this Constitution that the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” have been welcomed.
It was under the guidance of this Constitution that the “homeless, tempest-tost” have found the inspiration to learn about atoms, to heal disease, to unearth – and understand, dinosaurs, to master the light-bulb witchcraft… and to build machine guns!

Darwin was also a ‘rich dude’. He didn’t have to ‘work’ to make ends meet. It would have been enough for him to follow in his father’s footsteps and he would have led a plentiful life.
He had chosen instead to embark in a lifelong quest for knowledge…

OK, his theory was far from perfect!
Yet his breakthrough did put us on the right track!

I could go on for ever.
There are innumerable examples of instances when people have punched above their weight. And came out with wonderful results. Not only for them but mostly for us!

For us, to stand on their shoulders.

Are we up to the task?

Are we able to appreciate the US Constitution for its true value?
Are we able to understand, once and for all, that Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” is about way more than ‘the survival of the fittest’?

According to Ernst Mayr, evolution is about the ‘demise of the unfit‘. Which is a way more ‘inclusive’ reading of Darwin’s theory than that which ‘promotes’ the ‘survival of the fittest’.

Thurgood Marshall’s ancestors had been slaves. That was how the US constitution was read in those times.
And I’m sure that at least some of his fellow Justices’ ancestors had been slave owners.

Yet under the US Constitution the members of the 1973 Scotus had found it in them to sit together and read the principles minted by the Founding Fathers in a manner wide enough to encompass the women’s right to decide about their bodies. And every individual’s right to privacy. To a privacy ‘wider’ than that expressly formulated in the Constitution and in the XIV-th Amendment.

Fast forward to 2022. To when ‘survival of the fittest’ has almost been replaced by ‘the winner takes it all’.
To when a far more inclusive Scotus has determined that abortion is something which should be legislated by each state. That a woman’s right to determine what happens to/with her body can be influenced by somebody else’s opinion.

Are we going backwards?
Darwin gave us Evolution. We use his theory as a theoretical justification for why some people are ‘more equal’ than the others.
The ‘rich dudes’ had given us the Constitution. As a protection against abuse. As a shield for us to use whenever the momentarily powerful attempt to rule our lives. And some of our contemporaries use it as a Trojan horse. To open the door for very oppressive pieces of legislation.

How was this possible?!?

Both sides of the ‘divide’ have lost their ‘perspective’. Their focus.
The Constitution, which used to be the mortar which has given coherence to the entire building, has become a ‘bone of contention’.
Evolution – which made us what we are today, has become a cuss.

How wise is this?

Whence comes nihilism, the uncanniest of all quests?
by Lou Keep

Friedrich Nietzsche was most famously concerned with the problem of nihilism. All societies, in his view, rely on implicit value judgments. If the foundations of these are lost, he predicts terrible consequences: widespread apathy or violent, fanatical attempts to reclaim a sense of purpose, or perhaps both. We talk about values a lot, and we know they do something, but we have little idea how. Compounding this is uncertainty over their loss. Nihilism is not a choice or intellectual commitment, but a thing that comes upon you. As Nietzsche put it in 1885: ‘Nihilism stands at the door. Whence comes this uncanniest of all guests?’

Part of the answer comes from understanding how values connect to knowledge and action. In Seeing Like a State (1998), the political scientist James C Scott classifies knowledge in two ways: epistemic knowledge, which can be quantified, theorised and transmitted in abstract, and metis (from the classical Greek), which concerns knowledge gained from practical experience, such as personal relationships, traditions, habits and psychological states. Metis governs local experience: farming the family’s land, for example, rather than agronomic study. We all recognise it; it’s why we hire for experience. For instance, Jane and Martha have identical diplomas, but if Jane’s first shift was on Tuesday and Martha’s was in 1970, then Martha will have certain tricks and habits to expedite her work. Still, it’s not easy to quantify just what that is: Martha has metis, and metis can’t easily be reproduced. If it were trainable, it would have been in Jane’s training.

Scott’s genius is to compare metis to local traditions. Over a long enough time, habits and behaviours are selected for and passed down, just as evolution selects helpful traits. A successful group will institutionalise an irreducibly complex set of cultural tools that relate to its environment. Since these are metis, and not epistemic, they won’t always be obvious or quantifiable. Scott recounts dozens of examples of customs that might appear backwards, confused, unscientific – yet when they’re banned or discouraged, productivity collapses. He calls this the problem of ‘legibility’.

Epistemic theories rely on isolated, abstracted environments capable of taxonomy, but these are far removed from the dynamic, interconnected systems of nature and human culture. Metis, by contrast, develops within complex, ‘illegible’ environments, and thus works with them. But that also means its application is limited to a specific act, rather than a broader theory. Outsiders want to know why something works, but locals will explain it in a language unintelligible to them.

These practices and traditions are, of course, more than work experience. They’re used to efficiently solve political problems. In The Righteous Mind (2012), the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes Balinese rice farmers who needed to coordinate irrigation along a river. Since they were politically divided into small familial units – called subaks – they needed to rely on means older than governance to ensure cooperation:

The ingenious religious solution to this problem of social engineering was to place a small temple at every fork in the irrigation system. The god in each such temple united all the subaks that were downstream from it into a community that worshipped that god, thereby helping the subaks to resolve their disputes more amicably. This arrangement minimised the cheating and deception that would otherwise flourish in a zero-sum division of water. The system made it possible for thousands of farmers, spread over hundreds of square kilometres, to cooperate without the need for central government, inspectors and courts.

This still occurs. A 2017 paper by the economists Nathan Nunn of Harvard University and Raul Sanchez de la Sierra of the University of California, Berkeley mentions gri-gri, a magical powder that witchdoctors manufacture. In 2012, following a period of widespread banditry and state insecurity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, gri-gri came to a village elder in a dream. Applying this powder made the user bulletproof, and it worked so well that neighbouring communities swiftly adopted it. The reason was simple: groups fight better than individuals, and more people will dare to fight if they believe they are bulletproof. Hence, a village using gri-gri was more likely to survive.

Gri-gri and water temples are kinds of metis, but they require belief in larger structures: respectively, magic and gods. However these structures first developed, it’s critical that they rest on more than mere faith or tradition. Shared values provide conviction for greater actions, but those values are certified by the success of those actions. Gri-gri’s success is an empirical testament to magic, and its utility inclines one towards trusting more activities by witchdoctors. Nunn and Sanchez de la Sierra point out that

many of [the spells] appear to provide individuals with a greater sense of security and confidence, which could serve to … reduce their anxiety and thus improve their performance. For example, most of the spells provide protection, whether it be from drought, disease, attacks on the village or even to harm potential thieves – and thieves also believe in their efficacy, which acts as a deterrent.

In other words: these practices and institutions serve several different roles, all bound up in one another. This intermingling exacerbates the problem of legibility.

When we discuss changing values, we often think top-down: a new and persuasive ideology that took hold for intellectual reasons. What Scott and the adoption of gri-gri suggest is the opposite: the motive force of values requires a degree of certainty that is dependent on action. It was gri-gri’s empirical demonstration that allowed it spread it to neighbouring villages, not its poetry. The inverse to this is also important: we can improve on a specific task, but other roles need time to sediment and evolve. Trade the temples for a government, and you have zero-sum bickering. Explain the game theory behind gri-gri, and no one will fight with it. The utility of a cultural institution first allows adoption, but its maintenance allows metis ample time to tinker and perfect.

If we’ve lost faith in certain values, then I doubt this was because of academic debates. The 20th century profoundly changed labour, technology and social organisation in the Western world. It’s hard to imagine that this didn’t change metis, or render older forms of metis irrelevant. While the values of metis might still be desired – or even identified with – they lack the same certainty they once had. Nothing can prove them and thus justify the higher claims. ‘Faith without works is dead,’ as the Bible said, but faith without metis is unbelievable.

A top-down view of value implies that we can simply create new reasons for living, that the ideology itself is its own proof. But if values come bottom-up, then man’s quest for meaning cannot be separated from his labour. They are the same.

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This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

https://aeon.co/ideas/whence-comes-nihilism-the-uncanniest-of-all-guests

“legible” versus “illegilbe”…

After all, metis remains – for now, illegible simply because we haven’t yet found a way to ‘read’ it.

And to write it back in a teachable form!

Or, to put it in a more concise manner, we haven’t got, yet, to the bottom of it!

The key word here being we.
WE haven’t got to the…
It all boils down, again, to the limited nature of our consciousness!

Why is this happening to me?

Because you’re alive, because of the previously made decisions and because of ‘hazard’.

You notice what’s happening around you – not necessarily to you, because you’re alive. A sensitive animal. And you try to make something out of it – to find meaning, because you are conscious. A conscious human being.

Everything around you – assuming you live in the civilized world, is man-made. The consequence of previously made decisions. The consequence of culture – string of accrued decisions, and the consequence of culturally influenced present day decisions. Decisions which are being made, by us, as we speak.

Your life, and everything in it, has been shaped by hazard.
You could have been born a slave somewhere a few centuries ago or you could have been born as the only child of Kim Il Sun.
You could have been born healthy – I hope you were, or you could have been the victim of a rare genetic abnormality.

We can’t, none of us, do anything about ‘hazard’.
We can’t change culture. But we can reinterpret it. Learn more from it than blindly following rules.
We can make better decisions.

And, for starters, we may decide to stop killing each-other. To stop hurting each-other. To stop bullying each-other.
NB. ‘Stop killing’ doesn’t mean give up defending ourselves. ‘Stop hurting’ doesn’t mean giving up.
‘Stop bullying’ doesn’t mean the bully has stopped bullying because the victim caved in.

What we really need to do is to stop all forms of aggression.

‘On the face of it’, it makes perfect sense.

But why bother?

If I’m on the ‘right’ side, why would I make it easier for the other guy?
If on the ‘wrong’ side, why not just switch sides? Why would I bother to straighten the tree? Against the wishes of those who have a lot to lose in the process?

From the other side of the looking glass, things are a lot simpler.

‘Fiat justitia, ruat caelum’ is a warning, not a behest.

‘Make sure that justice is served, unless you want the heavens to fall on your shoulders’ is what any open minded reader of history makes of this ancient adage…

The fact that we concentrate our attention on what justice means for each of us is a measure of our individualism.
Of our nearsightedness…

Our respective individualities, each and everyone of them, have grown into what they are now in a social context.
None of us can exist for long, let alone protect and develop their individuality, in solitude.

We need the others.
We, each and everyone of us, need to belong. To a community.

To a functional community!
To a community where each individual is cherished.
Where each individual can develop its potential.

Where each individual has the opportunity and the tools to develop their potential.
For his own good, in concert with the main interest of entire community.

Survival.
Things remaining as they should be.

Us toiling here, on the surface of the Earth.
The heavens perched safely up there.

Justice must be served if things are to remain as we, each and all of us, need them to be.

To make sense of that we have already passed through?

What does ‘worst’ mean in this circumstances?
Until now, I was under the impression that ‘critics’ were good.
That in a democratic setting, the critics are those who pull at our sleeves when we go astray.
That the critics are those who bring us back to the straight and narrow.
How can ‘critics’ become ‘bad’? Let alone “worst”…

“”Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of mankind are debated” said Mr. Musk. “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by…””

As many of you already know, I grew up under a communist regime. In Ceausescu’s Romania.
That was were I learned to decipher messages transmitted using the ‘wooden language’.
Or, in Orwell’s parlance, “newspeak”…

Here’s what I make of Elon Musk’s words:

‘From now on, the “digital town square where matters vital to the future of mankind are debated” is mine. Mine to make what I see fit of it. To “make better” under my own terms. And if you don’t like it, keep ‘barking’. There’s nothing you can do to me. I’m going to make Twitter ‘private’. A.k.a. free from any ‘market interference’. Furthermore, your ‘barking’ will only increase the traffic. Hence the money I’ll be making on the back of your ‘free speech’.’

Twenty four years ago, in 1998, I spent a fortnight visiting Tunisia. I still remember the discussions I had with my wife. In our native Romania, we – the country, not the two of us – already had a couple of malls – which were quite new for us.
Each time that we entered a Tunisian suk – also known as a bazaar, we felt like strolling through a mall.

In the Middle Ages, a suk was the property of the local sheik. Even if each ‘stall’ was operated as an individual business, the whole thing was run at the whim of the local ruler.
According to the laws of the land, but still at the mercy of the landlord.

Each mall, the building, is owned by a company. And, the business, operated by another. Usually by a chain. Hence the ‘freedom’ of the individual businesses ‘housed’ by each mall is ‘defined’ by the rules put in place by the owners and the operators. Under the laws and by laws valid for the physical location of the building but still at the ‘mercy’ of those who own/operate the mall.

From now on, the “digital town square where matters vital to the future of the mankind” are ‘freely debated’ by us will be owned and operated by yet another one of Elon Musk’s enterprises.
Who, for now at least, promises to welcome his “worst” critics, whatever that might mean.

And an after thought.
A way shorter translation of Musk’s words might be: ‘Freedom of speech means being able to say ‘those who criticize me are bad people”. With the corollary that some are worse than others…

Just came across this meme.

It was shared on a FB-wall and somebody had commented that “Institutionally they are not your friends.”

My ‘jerked’ comment was:

“Institutionally, cops should be your ‘last resort’ friends.

The fact that too many of them are not, and the fact that too many of us consider them, as a category, to be unfriendly, is proof of how dysfunctional our society has become.

Cops used to be ‘unfriendly’ when I grew up. In communist Romania. When the cops were used, by the communist state, to preserve their power. The communist power over the entire society.

In the free countries of today, the cops are the sole barrier separating our persona and private property from the hands of the criminals.

Without their presence…

Or, putting it the other way around, we have but the cops we deserve. Train and motivate them properly and you’ll have good cops!”

At a second glance, I had an inkling.
Is it possible for the whole thing to be nothing more than a ‘marketing campaign’? Organized by the only people interested in increasing litigation?

Interested in altering the relative stability of our political establishment?

The police, by properly performing their duties – the world over, not only in the communist countries, contribute to the political stability of those respective countries.
For the police to properly perform their duties, there must to exist a proper trust between the general population and the police itself. The population must see the police as their friends of last resort while the police must see the general public as both their employer and their responsibility.
The population must be open in their relationship with the police while the police must treat respectfully every individual, including the suspects and the convicts.

In the communist regime I grew up, the police couldn’t fulfill its duties. Exactly between there was a ‘trust’ barrier between the general public and the police. Between the oppressed and the armed hand of the oppressor.
The communist regime I grew up under, in Romania, had eventually collapsed.
Exactly because of the malignant mistrust between the general public – The People, and the government. The police being nothing but a portion of the government itself.

Who is interested in the collapse of the democratic regimes?
Who is mostly interested in wedging apart the government from The People?

Putin advisers ‘too afraid to tell him the truth’ on Ukraine: US official
“Putin didn’t even know his military was using and losing conscripts in Ukraine, showing a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information to the Russian president,” the official said.

There are two ‘things’ which collide here.

Dictators tend to drive away really competent people and those remaining tend to put the entire blame on the ‘guy on top’.

As many of you already know, I grew up in the communist Romania. Ruled by Nicolae Ceausescu, the dictator who ended up being shot on Christmas Day, 1989.

At 28, I was already familiar with the notion of ‘yes-people’. Decision makers who ruled our daily lives were surrounded by people who provided the ‘right’ answers, effectively isolating the decision makers from the reality.
This ‘development’ being the fundamental explanation for how all dictatorial regimes, including the communist ones, ended up in abject failure. For ‘how’, not for ‘why’ – but this is another issue.

After Ceausescu was toppled, I was absolutely flabbergasted when I first heard

‘He didn’t know what was going on. Had his close advisers kept him in touch with the real situation, he would have taken the proper decisions to rectify things’

Really?!?

Who had selected his ‘close advisers’?!?

Who prevented him from asking ‘a second opinion’? From stepping out of his office and ….

Who, step by step, had ‘created’ the ‘atmosphere’ which had driven all those unwilling to lick where ‘he’ had spat to flee, living ‘him’ surrounded by sycophants?

Sycophants attempting, after Ceausescu had been toppled, to pile all the blame on his shoulders…

I’m afraid we are witnessing a replay, with Putin as the lead character.

There’s chess and there’s bridge.

There’s managing your resources – on your own, while trying to outsmart – out, in the open, your opponent.

And there’s team-work. An attempt to make the most of what lady-luck had put on the table by exchanging information. With your partner and in the presence of the competing team. This time only the conversation is out in the open, the resources themselves remain hidden. During the initial phase of the competition and, partially, during the end game.

Until WWI, war was more like chess than anything else. Resources were, more or less, out in the open. The soldiers had no other role but to do and die. The whole responsibility belonged to the guys who called the shots. One for each side…

WWI had ended indecisively. Hence WWII.

Each of the winning parties – there had been two victors, had learned something different from the experience.
The Western allies had learned the value of cooperation while the Eastern ‘block’ had reached the conclusion that brute force trumps everything.

The Americans had started playing bridge with the Brits and taught the game to the rest of the world.
The Russians had honed their skills at playing chess. Something they were already very good at.
For a while, the Americans have tried to compete with the Russians. Remember a guy named Fischer? Bobby Fischer?

Soon, too soon, the Americans had given up.
After building a computer smart enough to outsmart all human chess players…

The even worse part was that the Americans had given up bridge too!
And forgot the most important lesson of WWI and WWII. That the victor needs to take care of the vanquished if they want to enjoy peace. To actually win the peace process after they had already won the war.

Which brings us to the end of the Cold War.

Communism – and practically all communist states, had crumpled under its own weight.
The westerners assumed it was something they had done themselves. Declared victory.
And the end of history

Having already given up bridge, they forgot to take care of the vanquished… and allowed Russia – the party who had taken most of the blame over their shoulders, for reasons to be discussed some other time, to slide down the slope inaugurated by post WWI Germany.
Did I mention that Russia was still fond of chess? Very much in love with brute force? And not very fond of respectful cooperation?

Now, that we all try to peek into the future – attempting to figure out how the current aggression ordered by Putin will end up, we need some people to learn about bridge.

Putin cannot launch by himself the nuclear missiles he had been brandishing lately.

Now, can those around him reset the chess board on which they are but pawns into a bridge table?
And invite the rest of the world into the game?

Will the rest of us understand the invitation?
If, and when, it will come?

Now, that Putin had recognized Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states, I keep hearing that ‘if NATO hadn’t integrated the former socialist states in the Eastern Europe, Russia wouldn’t have occupied Crimea nor encouraged the ‘freedom fighters’ in Luhansk and Donetsk’.

NATO, and UE, are not perfect. Far from it.
Yet the former USSR had been even less perfect.

What drove me to this conclusion?
Well, both NATO and the EU are thriving. People and countries flock to join in. The very present conflict in and around Ukraine had been sparked by Putin’s ‘unhappiness’ with the Ukrainian people insisting in joining both NATO and the EU.
Meanwhile, the USSR is no longer with us. Had collapsed, under its own weight, some 30 years ago.

The second difference between these supranational entities – NATO and the EU on one side and USSR on the other, is the ‘small’ matter of how a member got to join the club.

In NATO’s case – valid also for the EU, a prospective member state has to ask for it first and then wait to be accepted.
The USSR had been organized under the ‘invitation only’ principle. If you were invited, you had to join. Regardless…

CSI, the Community of ‘Independent’ States, is organized under the same principle!


Btw 1.
Did I mention that the USSR had crumbled under its own weight?
By allowing self serving callous political operators to grab too much power?
Too much power for their own selves as well for their country’s well being?

Could we attribute the demise of the USSR on the fact that the bolsheviks were ‘house broken’ into ‘toeing the line’ while here, in the West, some people still dare to speak up their minds?

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., a Trump critic who he is targeting for defeat this fall, responded Tuesday: “Former President Trump’s adulation of Putin today — including calling him a ‘genius’ — aids our enemies. Trump’s interests don’t seem to align with the interests of the United States of America.”

Btw 2.

When will the internet make up its mind?!?

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