Archives for posts with tag: Collective identity

Nietzsche was somewhat right only he went bonkers before he was able to shed some real light on what was going on.
The point is that God didn’t die on his own. We killed him. Twice. And while the first time we were capable to fix the situation now we seem incapable to ‘make the right thing’.

Let me explain myself.

I have no way of knowing if it was God that created us or not. That’s something for others to decide.
For me it’s enough that I see no evidence to support the first hypothesis except for some ‘testimonies’ provided by people with vested interests in the matter. I find those testimonies highly biased. Nor do I find any need for a Deus ex Machina kind of explanation for anything that exists in this Universe. Modern science has done a good enough job in explaining the world to me.
On the other hand the second hypothesis is absolutely impossible to demonstrate. So, why bother?

What I do know, for sure, is that at least one kind of God does exist. The one that has been created by us, people, a social representation whose existence stems directly from our mental relationship with Him – the One who supposedly created us.
The mere existence of this ‘virtual’ God had two very important consequences. It brought us democracy and it provided us with a coherent way of understanding the world – a common Weltanschauung in German terms.

I’ll make a short break here to elaborate a little. The common lore is that ‘God made us in his image’. This means that, basically, we are equals among ourselves – we’ve been all cast in the same mould, right? – and that each of us has a spark of divinity in him. Quite a heavy responsibility – being of a Godly nature – don’t you think? Hence the ‘do not kill/judge’ commandment. Who are we to play God towards other Gods?
Also partaking in the same Weltanschauung was what offered us the possibility to act as a community, to help each other. For a while at least but it was good while it lasted. After all none of us could have done much by himself.
In fact none of us is able to survive for long by himself, let alone thrive solitarily. Not even today, with all the modern technology that we now take for granted.

We gave birth to our first generation of Gods, made exactly into our image, good and bad together, during the Antiquity. The Greek, Roman and German Gods were our look alike-s and shared our unruly behavior. Some of them even occasionally shared our beds. Then, at some point, we got cocky and abandoned them. Our philosophers thought they knew better than that and that they could come up with comprehensive solutions all by themselves. That’s how absolute authoritarianism ended up having official blessing from the Academia while the adoration of Gods was left for the unsuspecting masses.
All hell broke loose from that moment. For some 6 centuries after Plato had wrote his Republic the Mediterranean Sea had been a string of empires toppling one another.

Until we came up with a different kind of God. One that first and foremost told us to stop quarreling – for we were all brothers – and start living in communion. Until we killed him also.

Not that we haven’t been forewarned. Pascal, the French mathematician, told us that it is completely irrational to reject the existence of God. If, in reality, God doesn’t exist the believer looses nothing and the non believer gains nothing – except for the lame satisfaction to be able to brag ‘I told you so’ after death. Conversely, if God does exist, then the believers are going to inherit the world while the non believers have dealt themselves the worst hand ever. Meanwhile, by living in a world structured by the presumed existence of God both believers and non believers enjoyed the two consequences I mentioned above – equality among people, even if only in theory, and the ability of doing things in concert, a lot more efficiently.

Now, that we’ve killed God for a second time – the murder described by Nietzsche – we’ve lost it again. Only this time we didn’t lose just the hypothetical after-life, we’re gradually transforming this one – the only life we have for sure – into a bloody nightmare.

And if you don’t believe me do as Lesek Kolakowski suggests.
“Let us simply compare the godless world of Diderot, Helvétius, and Feuerbach with that of Kafka, Camus, and Sartre. The collapse of Christianity that was so joyfully awaited by the Enlightenment took place almost simultaneously with the collapse of the Enlightenment itself. The new, shining order of anthropocentrism that was built up in place of the fallen God never came. What happened? Why was the fate of atheism in such a strange way tied to that of Christianity, so that the two enemies accompanied one another in their misfortune and in their insecurity?” (God in a godless time, 2003)

Now why can’t we make the small effort to understand what Pascal told us? Why is it so hard to understand that we are spoiling the beautiful life we might have if only we kept pretending that God existed and behaved accordingly?

Why is it so hard at least to fake some respect for those who happen to share the planet with us?
Fake respect is not as good as the genuine one, of course, but is a lot better than the huge amount of scorn that is publicly traded these days.
Even more important is that if we won’t have to use so much energy in maintaining a force field to protect us from being drenched in scorn we’ll may be able to imagine a better world than the one we currently have to deal with.
And, who knows, maybe we’ll have time to discover how beautiful we really are, inside our armors.

A new (representation of) God would be born this way.


Lesek Kolakowski, God in a godless time, 2003,

Government officials throwing self serving smoke screens.
Everything here is true except for the last sentence.
As long as CEO’s, the rich and the corporations don’t understand this simple economic principle no amount of legislation will achieve much, except for further de-balancing the economy.
In fact minimum wage encourages employers to pay as low as possible instead of letting them pay so low as to see their working force disappearing in the dark.
The fact is that by setting this minimum wage the government suggests to the employers that: ‘it’s OK for you to try to pay as low as possible but you cannot over do it and we’ll tell you where to stop.’ That’s why the employers no longer compete among themselves to get the best available workforce – which, if well managed, produces excellent long term results. The competition on the labor market has been ‘degraded’ to ‘who is able to have the lowest labor costs’ only this policy sometimes generates good enough results on the short term but never fails to lead to disastrous results on longer term. The work force is demoralized, no longer cares to improve its qualifications and aggregate consumption goes down for  lack of solvable demand.

This concentration on costs instead on overall efficiency is malignant. Offering employees  a living wage and decent working conditions vastly improves efficiency and, ultimately, bottom line results. Henry Ford had understood that more than 100 years ago. How come we have already forgotten?

The Story of Henry Ford’s $5 a Day Wages: It’s Not What You Think:

Finally someone who got it right!

Children are born to us, their parents, and government is populated with regular people, just like you and me. Even more so, in a democracy they are supposed to do as we, the voters/tax payers, tell them to.

Just as parents bear the ultimate responsibility for the upbringing their children receive so we, the people, bear the ultimate responsibility for the way we are treated by our governments.

And just as responsible parents teach their children how to drink, how to drive and how to keep these two things wide apart, it is our responsibility to constantly teach our politicians how to behave.

People glimpse fragments from the surrounding reality and then use their newly found understanding to gradually change it.
They do this in three, successive, steps.
The first has a lot to do with happenstance – the right man at the right place, the second involves a lot of ‘due diligence’ and the third depends very much on how those who end up in command of the new understating relate to the rest of the people.
Sometimes some of the people who ‘happen’ to ‘stumble’ on new information/experience something really new feel the urge to communicate to others what has happened to them.
Usually the information gleaned/sentiments experienced during this first step are so new that there are no socially sanctioned symbols that can represent them faithfully so the individual trying to communicate the entire experience has to find a novel way to make it understandable for those around him. This is art.
The second step has less to do with actual discovery and is more about systematization of information already at our disposal. Something like charting a newly discovered territory. Even if we have to adapt our existing tools to the new task – some of them had been discovered during the first step but that means they are already here when we start the second one, here the job to be done is more about reason than inspiration. This is science.
And now, that new information is available – even before it was widely disseminated – people start to use it. Some of it is used straight away/as it is/honestly while some other is used to keep ‘the others’ in the dark or to alter their perceptions in order to fit the goals of the ‘user’/’entrepreneur’/spin doctor.
Usually this last way of using newly found understanding has perverse consequences. The ‘user’ becomes arrogant and starts to believe he has somehow become a (demi)God while the people kept in the dark/unwittingly exploited sooner or later become aware of what is going on – and sometimes express that in artistic ways.
At some point the equilibrium is regained, either through  a  a series of oscillations that ’embrace’ it – a revolution – or through small steps in the right direction – evolution.
(Usually, as the distance between a given state of facts and the perceived point of equilibrium becomes wider then people gradually loose hope in evolution and start to consider more revolutionary methods.)

A fact is just that, a mere fact.
An acknowledged fact asks for an interpretation, otherwise the human mind finds it hard to accept its very existence.

An interpretation that seems to make sense becomes an understanding and regardless of that understanding being right or wrong it generates a belief.
Until that understanding is proven wrong and even then… eventually a new understanding is generated and, in its turn, it leads to a new belief.

That’s why we should indeed reserve the right Patton Oswalt speaks about and then use it sparingly, only when other believers tries to forcefully impose their beliefs on us.

In fact Oswalt is right. We don’t have to respect other people’s beliefs, only their right to have their own beliefs.

So what’s new…

Not so fast. There is more to it than the classic complaints – that high taxes discourage the working people while government hand-outs, made possible by those taxes, encourage the lazy to stay home.
If taxes are collected evenly – from all those that should pay them – and distributed sparingly – only to those who really need those hand-outs – nobody feels cheated so no disincentive is felt.

There is a more malignant phenomenon at work here. If taxes are really high – as a percentage – then being able to not pay them becomes a huge competitive advantage.

Not paying becomes attractive only after you are due a certain amount of money – you have to hire a tax consultant, pay some fees and commissions, etc. – but once you belong in that league not paying becomes a huge advantage over your competition. For instance over your competitors that are smaller and who won’t gain as much, or anything at all, by doing the same thing as you do.

And this is why the market becomes so polarized, why some of the really big brass do not push, in earnest, towards fiscal discipline and how the middle class gets squeezed out.

Three questioned bothered me while watching this:
– What drove that crow to behave like this? Who was bored to death, the crow itself or the small devil that seemed to poses it?
– Why is it that so many of us think this is funny? (I couldn’t stop laughing myself!)
– When is it that a photographer should stop shooting images that might interest (or not) some future viewers and help those who were, involuntarily, ‘modeling’ for him?

Yeah, I know, it would have been rather strange to see a man defending a dog against a crow… and sometimes it is impossible to help everybody, specially during a war or a major crises… but…

Maybe we, the watchers, share some of the responsibility for what’s going on during our lifetime.

American political doctrine – rather voluntaristic if you ask me, despite it being already more that 200 years old – maintains that ‘separation of powers’ means that the three powers that need to be kept in balance – by carefully coding in the Constitution the role each of them has to perform – are the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary.

This arrangement proved to be resilient enough, otherwise it wouldn’t have survived for so long, despite it depending heavily on each of the teams involved performing their jobs with due diligence.

Watching a documentary about the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II – I just realized she’s been around for so long that the steamship that was christened in her honor, QE II, is already retired from service – I started to think that maybe things are a little different.

Farewell to the Forth

Sometimes after the ‘Recognition’, more precisely when she briefly curtsied in front of her subjects, it dawned on me that maybe those powers that need to balance themselves in order for the society as a whole to operate smoothly are the ever changing reality, tradition and will to change. Represented, of course, by the People, the Church and the Monarch.

Each of us is constantly bombarded by barrage of information, most of it getting through even without us noticing what’s going on.
At the same time our conscious mind is constantly prodded: ‘do this, don’t do that, behave, lay low, stand up, be proud of yourself, don’t be so cocky’…

And we need to choose. This is how we become who we are.
Our past choices have determined who we are now and our present choices pave the way towards who we are going to be tomorrow.

Meanwhile some of the most pervasive pieces of advice we get are “don’t judge”, “love your neighbor as you love yourself” and “take care, anger blinds your reason and eats away your empathy”.

The last one is a ‘piece of cake’, it is so reasonable that it make no sense to comment on it.

The second one is so classic that most of us forget it’s importance.
Helped by the fact that it’s not at all easy to put it into practice. Loving isn’t like judging, it doesn’t come as easily and one cannot make himself love another on the spur of the moment.
Yet, in practically no time, we can pass judgement on almost anything, sometimes even without giving much thought about it.

The third one, “don’t judge”, is the one I find the most interesting.

Had I been a cocky brat I’d tell you that those who dispense this advice so generously as if they were aspirin want to keep all the judgement power for themselves, after all the firsts to give it to us were the mythical sages of the ancient times…
I can’t vouch for them all but I don’t think this was the real reason. The authoritarian paradigm is so destructive for a society as a whole that if a community sticks to it for a significant amount of time it ends up badly so this advice must have survived for another reason.

How to refrain from judging and, even more important, what would we become if we gave it up completely?

Merriam Webster, the place where I go every time I have the least inkling that I’d be missing something when it comes to the meaning of words, defines “to judge” as:

: to form an opinion about (something or someone) after careful thought

: to regard (someone) as either good or bad.

So. Could we go through life without having opinions or preferences? Could we even preserve our individuality? What would happen if all of us would act as the members of a bee hive do?
OK, some of you will say now that we’d be easy pray for anybody who had managed to preserve a shred of his own individuality and who, presented with such an opportunity, would not be able to refrain itself.
As someone who had spent his first 30 years under communist rule I’d say ‘yes, you are right, only history shows us that such arrangements are untenable. Every time a society has given up too much of it’s power to choose and delegated too much of it to its ruler, situation know as an ‘imperium’ (dictatorship, absolute monarchy, monopoly, call it what you like), that society had passed through unpleasant historical periods’.

So what are we to do? To judge or not to judge?

How about using our common sense? How about reversing the order of those three advices?

What if we start with anger management and then work up our empathy?

After graduating from that stage we can start loving our neighbors. Not all of them at once, of course. If we keep in mind that our goal is to learn how to love – or at least to respect – even the most unpleasant of them we can start with the the one we like most. Only don’t forget to get to the end of the line.

And yes, while we go through the first two stages it would help to stop condemning people. Don’t kid yourself, you’ll never be able to stop judging, no matter how hard you’ll try. What you can do, quite easily, as soon as you catch yourself in the act of judging, is to consider the situation as calmly and compassionately as possible and then to halt the process just before it’s conclusion, before the ‘condemnation’ part.
Remind yourself that you don’t have all the pertinent information – we seldom do, even when we really need to make an important decision, and that your ‘sentence’ is, most of the times, irrelevant for the person you were judging.

You have, of course, noticed that I was speaking about the ‘casual’ and every day judgement we perform all the time, not about the instances when we do have to make a decision.
The point is that, very shortly after you start implementing the first two steps, you’ll notice a gradual shift in your general attitude towards the world.
And no, that will not happen simply because you’ve went through the motions. You will be able to complete the motions only after you convince yourself that being judgemental is actually bad for yourself, in the first and foremost place.

You see, every time you pass a harsh condemnation you actually coral yourself into a corner. Even when fresh information comes and refutes your judgement you feel the need to stand by your ‘standards’ – cause yes, every time you pass a judgement you do set a standard. So standard after standard, each time you pass a new judgement you erect a new fence between you, and those who agree with you, and the rest of the world.
And fences are strange things… some are good, those who keep the cattle in and the burglars out while some are so thick that prevent you from seeing what’s going on in the rest of the world.

After all our fences are our responsibility, we erect them, we maintain them…

Now please tell me how many of you did judge me for starting this post with a picture of a strange looking fence and how many figured out that that fence was in fact a very ingenuous play ground designed by Tejo Remy?

I don’t think the American Dream is in anyway toxic.
The real problem arises from what those who have fulfilled their dreams choose to do afterwards…
It’s one thing that if from some point on the ‘winners’ start helping others to fulfill their dreams and quite another if they keep fulfilling (gorging on) they own dream long past the ‘waking hour’…

Most probably Michael Clark is right, things started to go South from the moment the American Dream had been corrupted from ‘I dream to make it out’ to ‘I’ll stop at nothing in my quest to the top and nothing else matters’.

And no, I’m no fan of Big government.
If the urge to help doesn’t come from within it doesn’t help any if an outside agent keeps pestering you. It doesn’t matter who is ‘number one’, private or government, it’s the very fact that we, as a species, still have the obsession to reach that position that’s dragging us down.

Clark, Michael, “Is the American Dream toxic?“:
Dolmanian Sarchis, “Why keep wasting money on toothless constitutional monarchies?“:

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