Archives for posts with tag: Platonic fallacy

What on Earth is ‘itall’ and why would anyone bother about it?

Let me re-frame that.
Why on Earth are we so obsessed with winning in the first place?
It’s indeed nice to win from time to time but aren’t we overdoing it? Regardless of costs?

“Suppose that you are charged with selling a single food item to at least a hundred million people in a highly diverse society.  You can pick whatever item you wish, but you can pick only one.  If you fall short of getting at least 100,000,000 people to voluntarily choose your item over a rival item that will be offered by a competitor, you lose.  (Your competitor is playing by the same rules that you are playing by.)

Being highly competitive, you hate losing.  So you carefully go about selecting which item to choose.”

Already been there? You must surely understand where I’m driving at. Even if you are not ‘that competitive’ yourself you must’ve been wondering why hamburgers taste the same almost all over the world, and not only those mass produced by McDonald’s.

You see, there are two sides of the winning game. No, not those two obvious ones – the two players.
There are the players and the spectators. None could exist without the others but only the players, and the trainers, are aware of this.
Yet the very existence of the game and the manner in which it is played heavily influences the life of the people belonging to both categories.

As Don Boudreaux explains us in “Insipidness Guaranteed” our very fondness of winning big leads to the market being inundated by the very blandest – but generally acceptable – of products. Originality becomes stifled, contrary to the very fact that, from time to time, it’s exactly the original thing that gets the jackpot.

Three things concur to this.

I already mentioned the first.
Most players, or at least those at the top, know what’s going on while most of the (paying) spectators don’t. This leads to the spectators watching mesmerized what’s happening in the pitch while the players ratchet up the tension till it becomes unbearable least the spectators become bored and leave. So the spectators spend their time, and resources, watching instead of creatively using their brains to build something new – and potentially useful.

Our culturally enhanced obsession for winning.
Those players insist because they are plainly ‘hooked’. ‘Adrenaline is one of the most powerful drugs‘. This is true, if you don’t believe me check it on The problem with this particular addiction is that adrenaline is produced naturally in our body when we compete and that the winning moment is ‘scored’ in the brain by a powerful shot of dopamine, another hugely addictive natural drug.
On top of winning being highly pleasurable, and addictive, it is also positively sanctioned by the society. Drunkenness and being high on drugs are shunned by a considerable number of people while winning is applauded by all.

It also helps.
Yes, winning helps a lot. Otherwise ‘the quest for winning’ would have withered away a long ago by the very same mechanism that encouraged the advent of the moderate altruistic behavior – natural evolution.
No, this is not about ‘the survival of the fittest’ – that’s a mirepresentation of Darwin’s words, set straight by Ernst Mayr in ‘What Evolution Is: ‘It’s not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of those who cannot cope’.
So, competition is good in the sense that it’s telling the loosers ‘stop trying this and look for another venture if you want to thrive/survive’. The real winners are exactly those who understand something when they loose.

Just as we need to balance altruism with the need to preserve our own personae, both physically and psychologically, by constantly adjusting that balance according to the prevailing circumstances, we also need to understand where our obsession for winning has brought us.

When all we want is to win, we tend to forget that survival is, most of the times for individuals and at all times for the communities, more important than winning.
Darwin had titled his most important work ‘On the origin of species by means of natural selection‘ and had amply demonstrated there that ‘natural selection’ (= competition) is just a means toward the ultimate survival. Evolution, that is.
That’s why we are hard wired to compete among ourselves – so those more adapted to a certain environment might continue doing what they are good at while the others are ‘encouraged’ to look for something else to do. But natural selection never works on the premises that ‘the winner takes it all’: very seldom competitors that belong to the same species kill each other.

Ernst Mayr demonstrates in the book I already mentioned that overspecialization is bad for you. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is stupid precisely because of that. ‘Being the fittest’ – and doing it for any considerable amount of time – means gradually becoming unable to cope with the slightest change that might occur in your environment.
That’s why natural selection includes a mechanism through which small alterations appear haphazardly in our DNA – those who are benign enough survive and provide the individuals that carry them with additional capabilities, so that they might take advantage of slightly different conditions than those where their ancestors have evolved.

We, the humans, have raised this to a new level. By becoming self-conscious – ‘aware of our own awareness’ in Humberto Maturana’s terms – we have developed a certain individual originality – and the need not only to manifest it but also to convince those around us that our ideas are better than theirs. Sometimes by any means at our disposal.
If you don’t believe me read again Plato’s Republic: “Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all-they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.”

Maybe it is high time for us to understand that a 2500 years old fallacy is still a fallacy. Plato marked the pinnacle of the Greek civilization, not it’s start. After he published his works, and Pericles had finished building his architectural wonders, Athens went slowly downwards and gradually lost it’s significance. Telling people what to think is the sure fire recipe for disaster. Ask the Soviets if you think what happened to the disciples of Plato isn’t convincing enough.

Coming back to where we started, winning, I have to remind you that a fundamentally aggressive attitude leads to the complete disappearance of respect. The aggressor becomes so engrossed in what he does that not only ceases to respect those around him – “He who is not for us is against us” was how Lenin used to see the world – but also looses sight of what he does to himself and to where he is leading his followers.

At the end of the article that spurred me into writing this, Dan Boudreaux, the author, bitterly ejaculates: “No one should be surprised that candidates for the U.S. presidency transact mostly in platitudes and are forever performing deeds on the campaign trail that any self-respecting person with independent judgment and a genuine sense and appreciation of his or her uniqueness would never in a million years dream of doing.  And the closer a candidate gets to the political promised land, the more intense becomes the pressure for him or her to be the political equivalent of a Bud Lite.”

Why, I ask all of you, would they – or any other of the putatively democratic candidates – do any different if we, the voters, continue to behave as hapless spectators and choose to watch as they fight for power instead of reminding them that they are being interviewed for a job, not wrestling for the privilege to take home the prom-queen?

And if they don’t get it – cause they’re too busy flaunting their feathers, we don’t get it – cause we’ve been hypnotized by those very same feathers as they are, how come the trainers – those close advisers who handle the players at every occasion – don’t get it that the whole bandwagon has started to go astray?!?

Real democracy means that the would be leaders put on the table the important issues, discuss them honestly till the voters develop a real understanding of what is going on and then some of them get elected by a knowledgeable community to implement a set of policies.

Where do you see this happening in our days?
Animal Talk: Breaking the Codes of Animal Language:

Karl Marx. The world is crooked – there is too much exploitation imposed by the haves upon the have-not’s – so it has to be righted by those who have the right answer to the problem. And because the world doesn’t know what’s good for it, the ‘enlightened’ – the communists who are at the forefront of the class struggle – have the duty to impose the revolution by force.
The crux of the ‘solution’ being the abolition of both private property and the state. The private property because it is the tool with which the haves dominate the have-not’s and the state because it is the tool used by the haves to protect their private property from the have-not’s who continuously try to steal it.
But what tool can be best used to enforce the dissolution of the private property and to insure that the misguided and the ill intended don’t revert to the ‘old and corrupt ways of the bourgeoisie’? The state, of course. Hence we’ll have to postpone a little its dissolution, only until the first chores would have been completed, of course.

Max Weber. The world is too complicated to be understood/run by a single man, no matter how capable. That’s why the decision making process must be rationalized. Weber’s main methodological tool was the ‘ideal type’, a mental construction that is to be substituted to replace the real problem that has to be solved or the real thing that is being studied. This ideal type being stripped of the ‘unimportant’ aspects of the reality will make it a lot easier for the ruler/decision maker/scientist to understand what is going on there and to come up with the ‘correct’ decision or ‘clear’ understanding of the matter. This means that Weber was convinced that individuals are able, in certain conditions, to reach valid conclusions. Which is, of course, OK. Furthermore Weber had ‘reached the conclusion’ that if larger problems are to be solved then the efforts of single individuals are not enough and that in order to fulfill this task in a satisfactory manner many rational decision makers (which have been properly trained in their strict domains) have to be inter-connected into a well structured ‘net’. This way the big problem will be sliced into more manageable sub-problems which will be analyzed by specialists and then the final solution will be re-assembled by people specially trained for exactly this task. Nowadays this entire concept is known as ‘bureaucracy‘. In theory it sounds right, doesn’t it? What could be better than an all encompassing net comprised of rational/professional decision makers who act according to a well considered and well intended ‘ideal type’? Whose ideal type? Good question, indeed. Just as good as ‘who and how trained the ‘decision makers’?’.
(There is something we must keep in mind when discussing Weber, as a person. He died relatively young, before having a chance to reach a ‘final conclusion’, or at least one to satisfy him. That also has to be the reason for which he hasn’t published much during his lifetime.)

Plato. Society (the city, the “Republic’) should be run by a specific kind of (dedicated) people and because “those with the philosopher’s natural abilities and with outstanding natures often get corrupted by a bad education and become outstandingly bad” this ‘special kind of people’ need to receive “the proper kind of education“. Meaning that ‘a true philosopher’ has to be versed in ‘the Forms of Good’, which are amply explained in ‘The Cave Allegory’.
The gist of the matter is two layered.
1. The reality is hidden behind some ‘veils’ (or in ‘shadows’ if you prefer the original metaphor) but properly trained professionals (the philosophers) can be taught to see what Plato describes as ‘the ultimate truth’.
2. These professional truth seekers have not only the right to lead the rest of the people ‘into the light’ but the obligation to do so! Furthermore, for Plato the ‘ideal political structure’ – the Republic – would be so organized as to ‘force’ into public duty those who have been specially ‘bred and trained’ to perform such duty:
“Observe, Glaucon, that there will be no injustice in compelling our philosophers to have a care and providence of others; we shall explain to them that in other States, men of their class are not obliged to share in the toils of politics: and this is reasonable, for they grow up at their own sweet will, and the government would rather not have them. Being self-taught, they cannot be expected to show any gratitude for a culture which they have never received. But we have brought you into the world to be rulers of the hive, kings of yourselves and of the other citizens, and have educated you far better and more perfectly than they have been educated, and you are better able to share in the double duty. Wherefore each of you, when his turn comes, must go down to the general underground abode, and get the habit of seeing in the dark. When you have acquired the habit, you will see ten thousand times better than the inhabitants of the cave, and you will know what the several images are, and what they represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just and good in their truth. And thus our State which is also yours will be a reality, and not a dream only, and will be administered in a spirit unlike that of other States, in which men fight with one another about shadows only and are distracted in the struggle for power, which in their eyes is a great good. Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.”

I believe that by now you have grasped where I’m headed to. There is not much difference between Marx and Plato and a very close relationship between these two and Weber. Still, the fact that Weber was not yet done thinking about this matter at the moment of his untimely death makes me believe that if he had some more time at his disposal he would have understood what Laozi taught us about the concept of “nonaction”:

And isn’t it very strange that the best (short) presentation I was able to find about Laozi is hosted by a site called “”?

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