Archives for posts with tag: Cooperation

Two days ago, I did a very stupid thing.
I cleaned it, then I forgot to turn it back on.

A small freezer.

This morning, after throwing everything away and while washing the plastic containers, I realized – again, how much we depend on each-other.

The freezer itself was made by somebody else.
The electric current it uses comes into my home as a consequence of many people cooperating for this purpose.
The food I cooked and stashed away had been grown by an unknown number of toiling individuals and distributed, then sold, by yet another legion.
The garbage I made on this occasion will be disposed of by yet another team of hard working people.

I’m grateful to all these individuals!

All of them make my very life possible.

All of YOU, actually!

Thank you.

Happy Winter Solstice, everybody!

Let me make something clear.
Crystal clear!

Money, and its ‘derivatives’ – from ‘capital’ to ‘financial market’ and ‘stock exchange’, are the tools we used to get where we are now.
Without them we would be still foraging in the woods.

Only something rather insidious has started to eat the whole scaffolding from inside.
Same process has been happening with weapons. We invented them for hunting. Then used them for self protection. Against large beasts and fellow humans.
Finally, after using them to conquer and defend our liberty, we used them to subjugate others. To impose our will upon some other people.

In other words, we used guns to shoot ourselves in the foot.
Both as hapless individuals and as a cultural species.

Money – and its derivatives, have suffered the same degradation.
We used it, at first, to coordinate our efforts.
The Stock Exchange had been an excellent way to coordinate otherwise disparate means. Very few of the corporations who have changed the world into what it is now – for good and for bad, wouldn’t have come to life without the money which fuel them.
Nowadays, too many of those who trade on the Stock Market do it in a ‘barren’ manner.

They do not contribute anything but extract value.
The inside traders being only the visible part of the iceberg.
Which iceberg might tank the whole contemporary ‘arrangement’.

If we keep sleeping during our watch.
And there’s no one else on deck…

People tend to treat it as if it was a ‘point’.
A theoretical concept that has been put on a table, studied from all angles, found desirable/unacceptable and which is now aggressively marketed by fervent apostles/rejected by ‘die-heart fundamentalists’.

I’m afraid it should rather be treated as a continuum.

People belonging to diverse cultures who freely decide to live together will, sooner rather than later, generate a meta-culture based mainly on intercultural mutual respect.
People belonging to diverse cultures who have to live together, without previously being asked whether they want this to happen or not, will, later rather than sooner, generate a meta-culture fusing together various cultural segments appropriated from the various cultures that were forced to coexist.
I am fascinated by the fact that both ‘extremes’ can happen simultaneously.
Individuals, usually unaware of what is going on, find ways of cooperating with members belonging to other cultures to impose/reject ‘cultural artifacts’ upon/coming from individuals belonging to other cultures.
The key of all this being a simple matter of ‘perception’.
We find it easier to cooperate with people belonging to cultures which we perceive as  ‘friendly’ and to treat with disdain those belonging to cultures which are different enough to be perceived as inferior. Hence ‘unfriendly’.

Activists dismantle Ukraine’s biggest monument to Lenin at a rally in the eastern city of Kharkiv on Sept. 28, 2014. Photo: Igor Chekachkov/Associated Press

Wall Street Journal reports that Ukrainian people are somewhat baffled by  a new law banning the use of Soviet (and Nazi) symbols.

“While few outside Crimea and the rebel strongholds of eastern Ukraine want to join Russia, not all Ukrainians are ready to repudiate a joint history that remains dear to many across generations.

“I wanted to tell my child that there was ‘Uncle Lenin,’ and at one point Mama took part in a big celebration in Kiev” in honor of the first Soviet leader, said 37-year-old Svetlana Arshavina, who lives in this suburb northwest of the capital.

“Now what will I tell her? That they took Uncle Lenin and smashed him to pieces?” she asked.”

Isn’t it rather strange that the nephews of those who survived the 1921 Famine still harbor any respect for the likes of Lenin?

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:

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.

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?“:

This doesn’t catch the entire picture – each of us is heavily dependent on the environment into which we happened to be born – but clearly states the difference between us humans and the rest of the animal kingdom.
We are able to make conscious decisions and we love to apportion blame.

When engaging into our favorite pastime we’d better take into consideration two things: Our consciousness/rationality is limited and we can speak about blame only if intent was present.
We don’t have unlimited access to other people thoughts, nor can we see very far, so, in reality, we are aware of a very limited portion of the world around us. Moreover, no matter how confident we are in our minds, our processing power is also limited. So both our decisions and our ability to accurately apportion blame are not at all infallible. Far from it.
On the other hand blaming natural causes or even people who are not aware of (some) of the consequences produced by their actions for what has happened to us doesn’t make sense. A lighting doesn’t know that it frightens people and may wreak havoc in a city if the electric grid is knocked out of order, just as the ‘financial engineers’ who came up with the concept didn’t know, at first, what effects ‘securitization‘ will have upon the global financial markets.

Hey, you promised us something about manipulation and management, not another essay about financial markets manipulation!

True enough so let me discuss first what manipulation is: nothing but a psychological tool. Please note that I’m concerned here with the lofty notion of ‘thought manipulation’, not with the mere ability of ‘juggling’ objects into position….
Regardless of why or for what purpose it’s performed, manipulation remains a simple and very efficient tool that can be used even ‘pre-consciously’ – if you don’t believe me remember how toddlers manipulate their parents into buying them diverse things that are not only a complete waste of money but also sometimes dangerous for their long term health. In this case the manipulation is twofold: the merchandisers position certain items near the cashiers’ desks so that the children might not miss them.

As with any tool it’s up to the user (a.k.a. manipulator) to set the standards, what’s acceptable and what not.

Really? But what if the manipulator is not fully aware of the consequences of his acts? (Remember my digression into the subject of limited rationality/consciousness?) Could it be that the entire world might be shaken, even worse that it has already been, by the yet unforeseen consequences of a manipulation already underway?
Well, as no manipulator is that skilled as to be able to avoid detection for very long, the sad part about the whole thing is that most of the time we know/feel that we are being manipulated and allow it to happen out of laziness or complacency… This being exactly the moment when we should start blaming ourselves for our own lassitude.

Even more ‘interesting’ is how we rationalize the daily use of manipulation:

“The uncomfortable truth is that when resolving all the different pressures from existing customers, your own organization, bids for new business, and the like, you are inevitably going to have to persuade people to do things that are not entirely in their own interests.”

So, how much ‘out of their own interests’ is it acceptable for us to manipulate the thoughts of other persons? Specially when they are, after all, our close associates – either clients, subordinates, bosses or even colleagues, friends, relatives, close family.

And, given that sooner or later everybody realizes at least some of the manipulation he has been subjected to, the survival of our entire social life basically depends on how much manipulation each of us is disposed to submit to.

Rather scary, don’t you think? Specially if we take into consideration the fact that manipulators do not always know exactly what they are doing….

Don’t despair. There are people, among the ‘movers and shakers of this world’, who have noticed at least part of what’s going on and have started to act:

“Fundamentally, I believe, the gap (between HR’s aspirations and actual role) arises from two complementary causes. First, executives and managers often think their job is to get financial results rather than to manage people. Second, when executives and managers neglect people management, the HR function worries about lapses and tends to “lean in” to right them itself. On the surface, this approach seems to meet an organization’s needs: management moves away from areas it views as unrewarding (and perhaps uncomfortable), while HR moves in, takes on responsibilities, solves problems, and gains some glory in the process.

But this approach is based on erroneous thinking. It is bad for management and bad for the company as a whole. When HR sees itself as manager, mediator, and nurturer, it further separates managers from their employees and reinforces a results-versus-people dichotomy. That’s why many HR teams refer to the rest of the company as “the business”; too often, they don’t really perceive themselves as a core part of that business.”

When more of us will get it that we’re all together in this, we’ll reinvent mutual respect and scale back manipulation to its natural status: a very useful tool for grabbing the attention of whomever we want to talk to. Used in this manner, like all decent advertisers do, manipulation becomes not only innocuous but also useful for both parties. One is able to get its message across and the other finds out easier what’s going on in this world.

There are costs to be incurred, of course. Those who refrain from more aggressive manipulation may loose some money at first and those who pay a lot of attention to the messages – precisely because they are no longer aggressively manipulative – may end up spending in this manner a lot more time than they used to until now. But if and when we’ll realize that long time survival is a lot more important than short time profit then we’ll foot the bill without much hassle.

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, “Everything you do…” :
Segoviano, M., et all, Securitization, Lessons Learned and the Road Ahead:
Case Study, The Colapse of Lehman Brothers, Investopedia:
Peeling, Nic, Principles of Management, Dorset House Publishing,
Allen, Peter L., Toward a new HR. Philosophy, McKinsey Quarterly:
Dolmanian, Sarchis, Profit, Might it be overrated?:

Bill Gates Alex Wong Getty Images

Bill Gates disapproves of Thomas Piketty’s method of leveling the play-field – levying a capital tax – and proposes a different tack: a progressive tax on consumption.

While I agree with both Gates and Piketty that extreme economic imbalances are bad for the society I profoundly disagree with both about how we should deal with them.
First things first. Extreme economic imbalances being bad has nothing to do with morals and very little to the fact that the poor feel bad when exposed to the excesses of the ‘filthy rich’.
They are bad simply because the dirt poor cannot express their creative potential and because the rich end up concentrating too much of the decision power. The society as a whole – including the super rich – looses, specially on the long run.
Taking the decision power from the hands of the super rich and giving it to the governments, through increased taxation, would only complicate matters. Not to mention the byzantine mechanism needed to enforce Bill Gates’ consumption tax.
Encouraging the rich to donate more would somewhat alleviate the problem but not much since until the money were distributed, if ever, the decision power would still remain too concentrated for our own collective good.
How about those same very rich people, now that enough of them have understood the perils associated with extreme economic imbalances, simply setting an example and start calculating wages using a completely different principle than is used today?
What if instead of ‘as low as the market allows’ they would ‘compensate’ their employees, all of them, as generously as their businesses can reasonably afford to? Somewhat in line with what Ford did back at the start of the XX-Th century, with more than excellent results for both sides? And does again now!

And how about the same rich and powerful individuals using their ‘political muscle’ and insisting on better governance? After all if their businesses and trust funds would have been run as most governments are run today they would have gone under a very long time ago…
And then, after the governments would have been ‘fixed’, and tax money not wasted anymore, how about the very same 1% start paying in earnest their ‘normal’ taxes, like the rest of us?

Surprise, surprise…

The real dangers of extreme economic imbalances:
Why Ford increased wages back then:
Ford increases wages now:

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