Archives for category: democracy

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‘.

As a species, I mean…

We’ve ‘invented’ mutual respect.
Based on it, we created the two institutions which allowed us to get where we are now. Democracy and free market capitalism.

I’ll make a short detour for those who are not ‘convinced’.

Democracy, the functional kind, starts from the premise that it is impossible for an individual to know everything. And that together we know much more than each of us. This being the reason for any democratic process starting with an intense discussion. Whoever has something to say, takes the stand and whoever is interested in the well being of the community pays attention. To learn where to cast their votes.

Free market capitalism starts, too, from the premise that it is impossible for an individual to know everything. That nobody, be it an individual or a group of people, might be smart enough to call all the economic shots needed for entire society to ‘feed itself’ on the long run.

These two fundamental institutions operate on the basis of mutual respect between those who live within them. The people exchange ideas and goods on the principle that the transactions are done voluntarily and in good faith. That deception is just an exception.

These two institutions made it possible for us to cooperate into building the present reality. We have developed enough technology that we are able to produce enough food for everybody.
We went to the moon
We have enough weapons to destroy the entire planet.
Each of us can communicate, almost instantly, with almost anyone on the planet.

And? What do we do in these conditions?
Although there still are many of us who are starving, we throw away food. For various reasons.
Most satellites are used (and) for military purposes.
Although we could not have ‘arrived’ if we hadn’t ‘invented’ mutual respect, we currently use information technology mainly to spread fake news and ‘consume’ pornography.

Is this really okay?
How much longer is this going to last?

“Friedrich Engels in a thinker’s pose
The four-meter-tall bronze sculpture of the other philosopher of communism, Friedrich Engels, is a bit smaller than the planned Marx statue in Trier. This Engels monument in his hometown, Wuppertal, was also made by a Chinese artist and offered by the government of China in 2014.”

I grew up under communist rule.
We studied marxism in school.
At some point, I was about 16, the teacher asked us about the relative merits of the different brands of materialism he had mentioned during his classes.
My answer was ‘dialectic materialism is better than all others because those who apply it into practice constantly gouge the consequences of their (political) decisions and fine tune policies accordingly’.
Some 15 years later the communist lager had imploded simply because those who were supposed to act in a dialectic manner had failed to put the principle in practice.
Coming back to the original question, ‘was Marx a determinist’, the answer is yes.
Marx’s dialectics is only a procedure. Meant to help the communists exercise the dictatorship mandated by Marx in the name of the proletariat. And dictatorships are determinist by definition.
Why mandate one if you are not convinced that things can be ruled?
For the long run and in a comprehensive manner?

Some see here a herd of sheeple being led to disaster by:

The Democrats
The Republicans
The Government, in general
Any other con artists of their choice.

I see at least one guy who just figured out what was happening.
And who tries to share what they’ve learned!

I’m sure you’ve already learned everything worth knowing about how to flatten the curve…

My post is about something else.
About the need to think with our own heads.
Individually. Each on their own.

More damages are caused by the manner in which we have chosen to react than by the pathogen itself.

‘Then what should we do?’

I don’t know. And I just told you to stop taking cues, blindly.

There is something I do know.
Nobody can get out of something like this on its own. Alone.
And another thing. If we get out of it as a herd, we’ll very soon end up in another trap.

‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t… I really can’t figure out what you want to say….’

OK.
We, humans, are social animals.
We not only raise our young – all mammals do that, we raise them in a social context. We live in groups and we raise our children to belong there.

Living in a social context has consequences. From being prone to infestation to having adopted specific behaviors.
Humberto Maturana is actually convinced that our very conscience – ‘our ability to observe ourselves while observing‘, a paraphrase, is a product of us leading our lives in close community.

One of these specific behaviors is the herd instinct.
Whenever in a dire strait, the members of a group pay a lot more attention to the rest of the group than in the ‘peaceful moments’.
This has two bright sides and one huge drawback.

All members of a group paying close attention to the others makes it easier for those who need it to get attention. And help.
All members of a group paying close attention to the others makes it easier for the group to follow when one of them finds a way out.
All members of a group paying too close attention to the others makes it very likely that the entire group will dash out at the first opportunity. Without checking first where they’re going to land. Nor whether there are any other opportunities.

Another specific behavior is ‘opportunism’.
Some of us have figured out that by keeping their chill in a crises they are more likely to identify whatever opportunities might exist in that moment.
And the deeper the crises, the bigger the opportunities.

Theoretically, these two should work like a charm.
The opportunists keep their chill, look around, identify the best way out and the rest of the herd follows them to safety.
A win-win situation.

Yeah… but!

Wouldn’t it be a way lot better whether all (or, at least, ‘more’) of us would keep their chill? Wouldn’t we be able to identify even more ways out?
It would take a lot more time? We’d need to discuss things over, to negotiate… we’d have to exert a lot of discretion…
True enough. Hence we’d need to evaluate two things. First, how urgent the dangerous situation is and, then, whether a better alternative would be worth searching.

And something else. In a ‘follow me blindly’ situation there’s no going back. The consequences for a hasty choice might be tremendous.

We might end up with more people being hurt by our blunder-some reaction than by the cause which had spooked us.

Yet another specific behavior is responsibility.
Living in a social context means that, sooner rather than later, individuals are censored for their actions. By the rest of the community or, sometimes, by the stark reality.
Unfortunately, sometimes entire communities are censored, by the stark reality, for not behaving responsibly. For not imposing responsibility upon their members.

For not taking enough time before choosing between flight and fight.

Let me put things into perspective.
How many of you have chosen to continue smoking despite having been warned?
How many of you have emptied the shelves despite being told there’s enough for everybody? Or that there will be soon enough?
How many of you do not smoke in the presence of your children? Because you know it will hurt them?
How many of you have taken active measures to protect the elderly? For the very same reason…

As for the economy being the main casualty of the present scourge…
I’m afraid ‘the economy’, as we know it, has been dying for quite a while now. That’s why it is so susceptible to SARS CoV-2.

The Ancient Greeks had come up with the concept of ‘oeconomia’ as the art of making the ends meet. Adam Smith had described the free market as the place/environment where competing agents made it so that people – solvent demand, could satisfy their needs.
Nowadays, too many of us understand/accept ‘economy’ as the art of getting rich. ‘Free’ in ‘free market’ is understood as ‘free’ to do anything you want. Because very few are asked to answer for the long term consequences of their actions.

The economy, as the manner in which we cooperate towards fulfilling our needs, has fallen prey to our gluttony. And to our nearsightedness.
Greed is not good. And SARS CoV-2 is only an eye opener, not the cause for the current implosion.

According to Abe Lincoln, democracy is about “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

No photo description available.

But what if not enough of the ‘people’ care about who governs them? Nor towards what?

A couple of years ago a previously unknown author had come up with a “radical new theory“. One which maintains that “modern American elections are rarely shaped by voters changing their minds, but rather by shifts in who decides to vote in the first place“.

The picture above is proof that Rachel Bitecofer, the ‘previously unknown author’, is right.

On the other hand, Barend ter Haar, among others, ‘suggests’ that “democracy is a form of conflict management within states“.

The last proposition also makes a lot of sense.
Democracy, when functional, lowers ‘political temperature’ to levels where individual members of the community/nation may focus on identifying and solving the problems which might endanger the survival of the entire social organism.
Otherwise put, democracy dramatically increases the survival chances of the communities who are wise enough to maintain its true character. Who are wise enough to make it work. Properly.

What prompted me to believe such a thing?
Look back in history. All authoritarian regimes – a.k.a. ’empires’, have eventually crumbled under their own weight while no democracy has ever ‘folded its hand’ before loosing first its democratic character.

Which brings us to ‘what is the gist of democracy’?
Or, in ter Haar’s terms, who is responsible for maintaining it? Who ‘runs’ the “conflict management within states”?

This is where I part ways with ter Haar.
For me, democracy is something natural. It has to come from within.
There is no one who can, or should, manage it.
Administer it – as in accurately counting the ballots and making sure that rules are followed, obviously. Actually managing the process?!?. No! That would defeat the very purpose of the democratic process. For the people to find its own way.

But there are so many who can spoil it… Willingly or unwillingly!

First among them being those who decide to stay at home.
To keep mum.
For whatever reason!

Because those who keep mum are those who allow the ‘pirates’ to ‘steal’ the helm.
Just as keeping quiet is the worst attitude when somebody bullies you, staying at home on election day empowers those with less than fully democratic attitudes to ascend to power.

How often do you hear this expression?
Are you OK with it?
Because you’ve grown accustomed with it or because you are OK with the idea of politics being a contest? A game to be won?

In a certain context, I’ve been asked which game is a more ‘fitting description’ of politics. Chess or Go?

Both being, as I’m sure you already know, strategic games where all ‘tactical’ information is above the board, where the scope is to ‘control the territory through the smart use of available resources’ and where neither of the competitors have any real idea of what their opponent might have in mind.
Yes, there are rules and limitations. Of course. So each of them are able to divine a ‘probable course of action’ but …

Going back to politics, I’ll just quote myself:

“Politics like Go… very interesting question.
Go is a game. Something to play with. And play is very important, indeed. Through play, we hone skills used in real life. When playing, it doesn’t matter whether you win or loose. There’s something to be learned in both situations.
While in real life, loosing is not an option.
In playing, all that matters is to participate. In life, all that matters is to survive.
When playing, we improve our skills by competing against each-other. In life, we survive by helping each-other.
In this sense, politics is an exercise of cooperation more than a competition. A process through which the whole community finds its way forward rather than a beauty pageant where the next beauty queen is nominated to carry the torch through the dark. For a while…
The point being that all community/nations which had allowed personal interest – lust for wealth/power, to trump the collective need to survive have eventually collapsed. From Ancient Rome to Soviet Russia.
This being where Marx was hugely mistaken. While he understood history as a succession of class struggles – to be ended by the mother of all dictatorships, in reality is was a continuous evolution/honing of cooperation. From slavery to feudalism and to democratic capitalism people learned to do more and more things together. The status of the individual – of all the individual members of any given society, gradually improved while the communities have become more resilient and more productive.
And all attempts to revert to more ‘centralized’ alternatives – no matter how the ‘winners’ were supposed to be determined, have failed. All political and economical dictatorships – authoritarian-isms and monopolistic situations, have crumbled.
Not before incurring a lot of pain to those who allowed them to happen, helas. Contestants and spectators alike.”

Now go fight for your favorite political figure.
And allow hate to alter your perceptions.

My friend and coworker asked me the other day:
“Why do these people hate each-other so passionately?”

“Because they are rational. They have reached their present convictions as the result of a rational process. Hence they are convinced they are absolutely right. Then, when anybody expresses a different opinion, they interpret ‘dissent’ as a personal attack. My ‘truth’ having been reached in a rational manner means that all other opinions must be false. Defending them – against all ‘evidence’, means that these people are either provocative or, even, outright destructive.”

“But being rational doesn’t include being open to the possibility of being wrong?”

“I’ll have to rephrase. ‘They are convinced they are acting in a rational manner’. In fact, we, humans, are ‘rationalizing’ rather than ‘thinking rationally’. We use whatever arguments/information we have at our disposal to justify whatever conviction we already harbor. And only when reality slaps us in our faces we ‘open up’. Even science and justice work out this way.
“Innocent until proven guilty”. Only scientists and law-enforcers are already accustomed to the possibility that things may not be exactly as they previously thought they were. Politically minded people are still learning.”

“Please” is an attempt to maximize your chances to get something.
“Thank you” is an attempt to maximize your chances at ‘second helpings’.
“I’m sorry” is an attempt to ‘reconnect’ after committing a ‘blunder’.

All of them, simultaneously, serve the individual uttering them and knit the community.

But there’s something which sets one of them apart.
While “please” and “thank you’ are ‘upfront’, “I’m sorry” has a more ‘hidden’ nature. And is a lot less used…

Both “please” and “thank you” have a very clear message. “I want/am grateful for something’ and ‘I acknowledge the fact that I cannot function/exist by myself’.

“I’m sorry” is far more complex and a lot less upfront.
‘I acknowledge not only that something went wrong but also that I have anything to do with the occurrence’. And ‘please do not banish me for what I have done’!

If we dig deeper, we’ll find some more ‘intricacies’.

“Please” and “Thank you” are ‘face to face’. You know what you want/are grateful for and by uttering them you transmit that information to your audience. Those who might fulfill your wishes or have already done that.

“I’m sorry” identifies you as the ‘culprit’. Or, even worse, tells the ‘victim’ that something nasty is going to happen.

It is here that things become really interesting.
Conscience is a function. A feature which helps the individual. To survive and to thrive. In order to do that, conscience must – first and foremost, to take care of itself. To protect and cherish itself. More about how it does that in my next posts. The point of the present one being that is far easier for ‘conscience’ to ‘please’ and ‘thank’ rather than to ‘apologize’.

First of all, ‘gratification’.
1.0 versus 2.0.
Getting what you want/need versus avoiding punishment.
Which is never as direct.

The ‘buried head’ fallacy.
‘What if/maybe they never find out’?
‘Who did it’ or even that it had happened at all …

The ‘I cannot afford to appear weak’ fallacy.
Or the ‘I cannot afford to accept having been wrong’ situation.

That’s why it is far easier to say ‘I’m sorry’ after stepping on somebody’s toe than to leave a sorry note on somebody’s windshield after denting their fender in an unsupervised parking lot.
That’s why it is far easier to apologize to a a coworker than to admit guilt, as a CEO, in a shareholders meeting.
That is why it is almost inconceivable for a dictator to publicly admit an error which had been committed under their watch.

Hunters and growers.

Then fighters, doers and rulers.

Now, doers and ‘commentators’.

Some people actually do something – be it ‘fighting’, producing something or being involved in government, while other just ‘speak’. OK, their ‘speech’ does have consequences.
So we might say they also ‘do’ something… yes, true enough, only their deed is more than indirect. And no, teachers don’t belong here. Nor ‘actors’. Or even writers. All these people might do nothing but ‘speak’ only they produce something through their speech. Education, show, literature…
‘Commentators’ is very straightforward. Even more straightforward is ‘talking heads’. But ‘talking heads’ isn’t wide enough!

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it. ” Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach

We all know the consequences of people following Marx’s advice…
But what could have gone wrong? Weren’t philosophers supposed to be the brightest amongst us?
Wasn’t Plato – the founder of Western philosophy, advocating the very same thing? That society should be run by specially trained philosopher kings?

Let’s go back to the original division of work.
Not all people have become farmers. There still are a lot of humans who survive as hunter-gatherers. Some don’t need to bother – there’s enough food to be gathered where they live , while others couldn’t possibly farm anything. The Inuits, for instance.
Among the farmers, there’s further division. Some farm plants while others farm animals. Because of the specifics of local soil, geography…
Also, farmers need tools. Hence wood workers, metal workers, weavers… etc.
The farmers need protection. Hence soldiers.
Society, as a whole, needs organizing. Hence government.

Let me pause for a moment. These arrangements work simply because they are more efficient than each individual providing everything they need for their own survival.
The soldier protects so the farmer might plow in peace. Some farmers use better plows because of the woodworkers and the metal workers who have cooperated to produce it. The farmers with the better plows produce more than those who use a rudimentary one, built by themselves. And so on. But please remember that each of these people have a first hand experience in their domain of expertise. And that their livelihood depends directly on their expertise.

Now, the next level of analysis shows us that organized societies fare better than those who lack any ‘structure’. ‘Fare better’ in no other sense than having a better chance of survival, as a social organism.
Nota Bene! While an Inuit – or an Inuit family, has a far better chance to survive in the Arctic than you and me, we, together, have a better chance at surviving – and even thriving, anywhere on the planet. Including in the Arctic. But only as long as we act as an organism. Only as long as we cooperate among us.

And whose job is to organize this cooperation?
The government and the ‘commentators’, who else…
The government to act as a referee – to prevent the rogue among us from ruining the game, and the ‘commentators’ to convince us that behaving is a lot better than mis-behaving.

Yeah… only this is nothing more than an ideal… seldom maintained for long…
Usually, the ‘government’ becomes too powerful, the ‘commentators’ convince us – both ‘government’ and general public, that this is how it should be… tensions build up… and something snaps!

And the problem becomes even more acute when the ‘commentator’ pretends to become king. Pretends to have the ultimate truth. Pretends to be obeyed. Convinces us – this being his only skill, to obey him.

This being the moment for us to remember that the commentators have only indirect knowledge about the world. While each of the doers has at least some first hand experience about something, the commentators have nothing but second hand expertise. Everything they know, they know it because somebody has told them so. Or because they have read about it somewhere.
The commentators’ vision might be far wider than that of the doers but it is at least ‘once removed’ from the reality.

And this is the reason for which societies who have used Marx as their spiritual leader have failed. They have not respected the main principle which makes division of work function properly. Let those who know about it make it their job.
Let the doers do and let the commentators gather and aggregate knowledge.

Don’t mess up things.

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