Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’

Flux and Transformation

February 18, 2018

This is a comment inspired by a video whose URL is at the end of the post, about interconnectivity, and how the human body replaces itself, by absorption and excretion.

There are a lot of processes which demonstrate interconnectivity, however, far more importantly this argument really demonstrates the possible basis of reality is flux, change and transformation.

This is difficult to get, because the whole trend of western metaphysics is towards the idea that reality is eternal and unchanging, whether this is expressed in notions of the unchanging God, or the unchanging archetypes, or the unchanging nature of elementary particles such as atoms. All of these ideas can support interconnectivity, but it is the interconnectivity between things which do not change – at best it is about ‘flow’ of unchanging things.

This view of reality as fixed, seems to lead towards pathological behaviour, as action becomes setting up the perfect structures, the perfect reality and clinging to it. Spirituality is about clutching to peace, or growing in a particular way. Psychology can insist that we should always be happy or self-actualising or something. Politics is about holding to the structures you have pronounced to be the best – at the moment our politics seems devoted to maintaining the power of established corporations and their plutocracy rather than the survival, or gentle transformation, of the world they depend upon.

However, if reality is flux and transformation, then everything changes all the time. Furthermore, given complex systems theory, it seems that everything changes unpredictably in specific; we might be able to predict trends, but we cannot predict specific results. One of the properties specified by what we call ‘reflexivity’ is that if people think they understand the ‘systems’ they are in, then their behaviour changes and the system changes the way it works. This change may not be for the better.

In his book known as ‘metaphysics’, Aristotle points out that Plato accepted the world is flux, but insisted that real reality is fixed, because otherwise it is impossible to speak truth. If everything is constantly changing then you cannot say anything true about them, as they will have changed. Aristotle seems correct in his interpretation of Plato to me, and this is a classic example of a philosopher encountering an uncomfortable position (ie everything is flux) and deciding that because it is uncomfortable it is untrue.

There are other ways around this problem. Firstly it may not be possible to speak absolute truth, but that does not mean we cannot speak and think as accurately as we can (and that means accepting flux, misunderstanding and degrees of uncertainty). We can also speak in terms of flux, talking say of ‘patterns’ rather than structures, and temporary stasis rather than permanent equilibrium, we can give up expectations that we should know how things will turn out, and be prepared to learn from events as they happen. At the moment, if our actions produce bad results we are prone to deny this, and apply our actions more stringently and rigorously.

To reiterate, we are caught in and part of a series of largely unpredictable fluxations. However, if we think that things should be eternal and unchanging, or we think that good things should be unchanging, we attempt to imprison that flux. This generally adds to suffering and increases apparent destruction and disorder. A current example, is the refusal to deal with climate change, and the tendency in Australian and US politics of trying to accelerate and maintain fossil fuels, old styles of concrete, environmental clearing and de-naturing. This is an attempt to cling onto an old order which nowadays produces destruction, and will produce more and more suffering the longer it is clung to.

These points should be obvious to Jungians, as expectation of flux comes out of alchemy, and alchemy is the art and science of transformation. It tells us that the world is constantly transmuting, and that transmutation processes can look messy and chaotic, and that attempts to avoid the realisations of painful stages can be disastrous. It also provides symbolic guides for working with events rather than against events, or providing direction without compulsion. As such alchemy is still the radical way, and difficult for us to really approach, but it may be necessary.


U.S. Dictatorship

January 13, 2018

Can the USA become Fascist?

A lot depends on what you mean by fascism. After all Hitler and Mussolini’s ideas were significantly different from each other, and yet had significant resemblance to Stalin’s. If you mean a militaristic and nationalist state of the kind found in Germany and Italy in the 1930s, then yes its possible if the US keeps increasing military spending, militarizing its police, supporting arms manufacturers, threatening other States, or expelling inferior people who are not “real Americans”. If you mean a state which unifies and includes the established corporate sector, then yes its probable (if that is not already standard practice). If you mean a State in which it is respectable and beneficial to be a self proclaimed neo-Nazi, then yes. If you mean a state which sacrifices its people to fantasy, then we already have that. Fascism requires people have a flexible attitude to reality and truth; truth is what the party says it is.

It is, however, probably better to scrap the term fascism and ponder about dictatorial governance. If, by fascism you really mean a personalized dictatorship in which everyone has to say how wonderful the dictator is, and there is constant heavy likelihood of war – then the US is also pretty close to that.

Conservatives often say that dictatorship cannot happen under the Republicans because they believe in individual responsibility and free markets. However, not all well-intentioned ideas work out in practice, or are even implemented by those who espouse them. To me, it often seems that Republican politicians primarily act to increase the powers of the wealthy and the corporate sector and remove any inhibitions on those powers – this is what they mean by ‘free markets’ – and this has nothing to do with freedom or liberty. Likewise conservatives are supposed to respect traditions and procedures. However, the Republicans seem largely to respect traditions and procedures when those traditions support their ‘side’. The difference between the way they have encouraged investigation of the Clintons over relatively trivial matters and seem to be trying to shut down investigations into this President on relatively serious matters is otherwise remarkable. Dictatorship encourages ‘sides’ and ‘allegiances’, and the idea that the other side is evil. To some extent, it depends on this.

Dictatorships often start off abusing people that disagree with them, turn blind eyes when people on their side try to threaten others physically, and then try to shut opposition down (Charlottesville). If a member of the party brings bad news or agrees with the other side (even once) then they are to be exiled and punished; setting an example and warning against independent thought for the others (think of Bannon). This seems to be the current US President’s only mode of debate. Fellow Republicans appear to be falling in line.

In accordance with the idea of allegiance being truth, dictatorships do not like the idea of umpires, neutral observers or scientists, if these people do not always obey the ideology and swallow the ideological truth. This position is never clearly enunciated, because the ideology must be true and disbelievers are criminal, so umpires are always potentially ‘biased’. Lies, confusion of knowledge, accusations of lies, false theories, common-sense that is wrong, and so on are part of dictatorship. People live in fantasy and denial (climate change, ‘free markets’). The position clearly does not respect individual rights, or reality. Dictatorships also try to stack positions of authority with people who are loyal and subservient rather than competent. This is true to a great extent of many of Trump’s appointments.

The Dictator is said to be a super-genius who everyone must look up to as their savior. He is unique, beyond the law and an exemplar for everyone, no matter what his real history, because he is the best. He knows more than generals. Knows more than scientists. Knows more than specialists in any field. He instinctively knows what is right…. criticism of him suggests the critic is an evil fool who must be repudiated and stomped on. Remind you of anyone?

This pattern is entirely in keeping with what social category theory would predict, and indeed suggests it may well be deliberately engineered. So how do you make dictators?

Firstly, you remember that people are more easily persuaded by people they identify with, who claim to be on their side. You deliberately increase the negative reactions towards people from outgroups. You take over the news media and make it more extreme. You say all other disagreeing media is hopelessly biased. You persuade people that other media is attacking our group. You make it up if you have to. You get people angry. Your audience is said to be abandoned by the other media and side of politics, they are the victims. This makes your viewers less likely to use other media. You lie shamelessly. You repeat the falsehoods continually so they become part of the background. You destroy any linkages with the other side, by making lack of linkage a matter of loyalty and of distrust of others. You expand into extremism, linking people together who are hostile to your ‘enemies’. This further destroys links between moderates, and moves people to defend extremists and separate themselves further from those on the other side. You pretend that your side is fighting against power, even when its policies do nothing other than support power. Everyone who argues differently must suffer or be exiled. This helps reinforce group loyalties. You gradually keep increasing the tensions until the system breaks and a savior from your group comes along, and its does not matter that he treats the outgroups badly, because they are the villains. You say you are defending the nation and tradition, while you tear those traditions down. You help this with abuse, force and violence, making the violence more and more natural. If corruption on your side becomes visible, then you argue that the other side is equally corrupt if not worse.

These are some steps towards making a dictator. They boil down to: reinforce group identities, together with group boundaries and exclusions. Control information, and build anger against outgroups.

What do you do to prevent loony personalized Dictators?

Don’t think that because you are a nice person and well intentioned, that other people on your side cannot do bad things. Be suspicious of ingroups and outgroups, the more the boundaries seem forced.

Imagine your response if the other side behaved the way your side is behaving, and see if you are consistent. (ie what would your response be if the Russians had helped Clinton win, if they had had contact with high up people in her electoral campaign, if people in Campaign headquarters had lied about those contacts, and if Democrats where trying to shut the inquiry down claiming it was a harmful witch hunt). This helps restore perspectives and spread ‘evil’ around, rather than concentrate it.

Make sure powerful people obey the law and get punished equally to poorer people, and don’t have special exemptions for them – especially if they are identified with your side.

If powerful people look like they have committed treason or other crimes then it must be investigated, no matter how inconvenient it may be for your side’s victory.

Support traditional checks and balances, and traditional procedures – especially if they seem inconvenient.

Make sure you don’t strip away rights from ordinary people. (And recognize that rights always involve an inhibition of other people’s rights to take away those rights. For example, a right of private property depends against stopping the rights of others to take that property away, or paying a portion of that property to guarantee the rest of it. So rights are always in conflict, especially with previous privilege.)

Make sure you don’t help a powerful class of people get more powerful.
Do not support increases in military spending, especially if the threat is vague.

Do not support the expansion of weaponry sales elsewhere, as that just encourages instability and increases the likelihood of war.

Support candidates who actually listen to the other side, because not listening to any one else is a mark of dictatorial attitudes.

Don’t support people who argue by abuse or threat.

Support people who listen to science rather than ideology – they are more in tune with reality, and used to letting ideology go.

Recognise that Dictatorship, and ‘cult of personality’ is a particular form of intensive group loyalty and unquestioning allegiance. It usually comes together with scapegoating, intolerance and militarism. It seems well suited to large scale societies and requires vigilance to avoid.

Virtue is not easy. Organize, before you get organized.

Never think it cannot happen simply because of the virtue of your side of politics, and then it is far less likely to occur.

Humanities, Universities and Neoliberalism

January 1, 2018

The problem of the usefulness of the Humanities again. The problem is really “how do you do anything in a neoliberal age?” I’m not sure you can deal with the question of the value of the Humanities without some idea of what you are talking about, and some of the problems arise from this confusion so.

a) Humanities is the study and understanding of, and thinking with, the best works of art, literature and philosophy that we think exist. This list should always be challengeable, because tastes and appreciations change. For example, I personally do not think the absence of Virgil is a problem, it’s an improvement. In general, this understanding requires knowing something about the socio-cultural background and reception of these works. So humanities is bound up with:

b) Social Studies (note I’m not using the term social sciences, as there is massive dispute about the extent to which any social study can be a science in the way physics is, or biology is, or geology or astronomy are) Social studies inherently involves meaning and interpretation (so it requires (a)). Social studies is the study of how human social and cultural life works in general. Economics is a sub branch of social studies, even though it pretends not to be, primarily to protect itself from a criticism of its values.

c) Linguistics – not the learning of languages, which could be part of (a), but attempting to understand how languages work, what the impact on thinking is, and how they function in social life. For me this includes Rhetoric, because there is little language without attempts at persuasion.

There might be other divisions one can make, the categories do not have to be firm or bounded.

Humanities tend to be conservative and social studies tend to be leftist or critical. On the whole, neoliberals think both are a waste of time; subjects should simply support capitalism and corporate power. Ultimately humanities (a) cannot be justified in terms of profit; criticism (b) should simply be stopped as its wrong; and everyone knows how to speak (c) so all are vulnerable in corporatised universities.

Neoliberals control universities, as they control most things in our societies. They like building, restructuring and making money, more than thinking. Money goes into CEO and star performer salaries, not to the academic staff in general or student services. Making money is the only mark of value. The idea that a university exists as a space for independent thought, or for learning how to think is, in neoliberal terms, a pointless waste of money. If there is no job at the end of it, and no profit then subjects should go. Consequently, academics should teach paying students what they want to hear, or do research which is profitable and brings in money. I recently read of computer science academics who were not interested in supervising PhD’s that would not lead to a start up company; this may not be true of course.

If work ends up criticising the contemporary establishment, then it is usually treated as drivel by that establishment. Scientists have started to learn this point as well. We all know how climate scientists have been attacked for speaking unwanted truth to power. Nowadays pure science that is of no corporate interest, or which shows corporate ‘science’ is faulty, is unwelcome. It is seen as political, rather than as part of a search for greater accuracy. Humanities and social studies are automatically considered political, because they are about people and how people behave, and all politics makes assumptions about humans. Even historical research which challenges clichés about socially foundational events, such as Athenian democracy, the American Revolution, or the invasion of Australia, or the beneficence of capitalism, is inherently political, and therefore either to be ignored or persecuted.

Humanities and social studies are useful, if useful is worthwhile considering. Writers and media people, might find courses on poetry, literature, language and rhetoric useful, as might other people who want to gain some cultural depth and independence of thought, or who might want to persuade people of something. People who want to go into governance, management or journalism had better know something about social studies, if they don’t want to mess things up in normal ways. If values or ethics are important, then having an idea of the range of possible values and how they tend to function is useful as well – although again it will seem pointless to neoliberals as it conflicts with their decided understanding. In neoliberalism, ethics is always about making money, and that is pretty obvious and may need no complex thinking.

Finally, in neoliberalism there is no such thing as ‘community’, the only class positions that are allowed to exist should be marked by wealth, and human connection should be financial – everything else is simply false. The idea of a community of scholars of intellectuals has no meaning in modern politics. If neoliberals want thought they will set up a think tank, and know what they are going to get in advance; that’s value for money.

Basically the struggle everywhere is between life and neoliberalism. The more the neoliberal ‘free market’ mob win, the less there is to live for. And conservatives should know this as well; they used to.

Buying Green

December 29, 2017

We are sometimes told that we should use our money carefully and buy green, healthy and low polluting, and that way corporations will start producing more green, healthy and low polluting goods.

While this is obviously better than buying any old thing, it does not solve the problem, because it can just as easily shift business competition into making it harder for people to find out what is in products (for example rendering it not necessary to declare when food involves GM products), into claiming products are ‘healthy’ or ‘good for the environment’ when they are not, or into persuading people to show their bravery, or status, by doing cool ‘unhealthy’ things. “Guaranteed to clog your arteries, don’t eat if you’re scared!”

As well, if people don’t get paid enough to live comfortably, and if they are time poor with several jobs (and still not living comfortably), then it is very hard for them not to choose the cheapest, most convenient, thing irrespective of whether it is good for them or the environment or not.

Its easy under capitalism to defer responsibility to someone else. That is what the dominant factions do all the time. “People won’t buy healthy stuff, so we don’t have to make it”. So the strategy can be said to have the ultimate result of making the relatively powerless carry the blame for corporate depredation.

On Truth Part 1

October 3, 2017

Truth is a complicated process, which people often try to pretend is simple. And so this is a simple peice trying to pretend to be complicated.

Firstly, I would try not to use the term ‘truth’ at all, because it is a noun which implies an existent. And people do talk about Truth as if it was an existing thing, which I think is inherently misleading. Truth may not be something you arrive at, but something you work towards….

I would prefer to talk about the possibility (or likelihood) of making accurate or correct statements – assuming that we all roughly agree on the words employed and the intention behind the use of the words…. In other words we can ask whether a particular statement appears correct and to what extent it appears accurate. This process is not always immediately final.

I suspect that the idea of Truth as such may tend towards promoting ego-inflation and grandiosity. Compare, for example, the statements. “I know the Truth about the world” and “I can make some correct statements about the world.” The abstract idea of Truth tends to spread; if you know something is True then knowing the Truth implies you know not just something, but the Whole Truth… This is probably harmful to both discussion and finding out what is correct.

There may well be different types of correctness which it may also be worthwhile distinguishing.

  • Definitional: 1+1=2 seems correct by definition and by coherence with other definitions. We can talk about Goedel’s theorem later 🙂
  • Pragmatic/functional: The words we use in the statement “the dog sat down” are vaguer than in 1+1=2, but we can usually agree as to what we mean, and as to whether this statement was correct at a particular time or not if we have observed the event, or if we trust the witness. The statement is good enough for practical purposes – if we want more accuracy then we can perhaps improve the specificness of the terms (“Jane’s cocker spaniel called Fred, perched on his bottom with his front legs holding up his torso” – this refinement is possibly endless). Because the statement is “good enough”, or “not good enough” for the use we want to make of it, this comes close to being a pragmatist theory of correctness or accuracy.
  • Inter-subjective: The “trusting the witness” part in the last point, tends to imply that at least some of what we accept as correct will be inter-subjective and social. A lot of fake news seems to arise from trusting witnesses, or trusting stories which seem plausible for social (or pre-existing bias reasons). I suspect this kind of thing becomes particularly important in situations of what has been called ‘data smog’ or ‘information overload’.
  • Symbolic/poetic: Jung and Tillich (probably among others) have argued that it is impossible to talk about some important things with complete accuracy because of the complexity of the situation, or the inadequacy of human perceptual and cognitive functions etc., and hence human discourse and feeling often depends on symbols. We may always need to talk symbolically to some extent. In which case the ‘accuracy’ can be said to be ‘poetic’. Poetic accuracy seems really important (sometimes I think it is primary in any complex set of propositions, but that is another argument). Sometimes poetic accuracy can move into more ‘simply’ based accuracy (of the kind stated above) with work and testing. I suspect this happens in science a lot, as we move from fairly vague conceptions and categories to more precise, accurate and testable categories and propositions.
  • We might often still be making symbolic propositions anyway – and again if Jung is correct then this may have as much to do with human psycho-social functioning as reality. There may always be events which are distant from currently precise definition – the field may increase as we increase those areas we can define – I’m not sure, and don’t know how you could test such a proposition. (And I have a sneaking regard for the idea that most propositions we hold to be accurate should be testable in some way, or otherwise we are close to talking about things which automatically may not be correct)

    This hedging does not imply no correct statements can be made, but it does imply that it may be impossible to *only* make correct statements or false statements. In which case correctness is also a continuum or even a plane…

    The basis for ethics?

    September 5, 2017

    This is just a question, and a relatively serious one….

    Is there a persuasive basis for any ethical position, that is not already an ethical position?

    For example Utilitarianism promotes happiness or contentment as the good which should be aimed for. But deciding to aim for happiness is already an ethical decision, putting the idea of happiness ahead of ideas of wisdom, power, love etc…. Making the target the greatest good of the greatest number is also an ethical decision. We might equally claim that it is better to make life good for a particular few (if you still wanted to benefit the greatest number, we could argue that these people could then have the freedom to improve things for everyone else). Arguments from fairness are likewise based on an ethical choice in favour of fairness, there is no intrinsic logic to this position and indeed many societies violate it as part of the way they work.

    Monotheistic people often argue that ethics cannot exist without the commands of God, yet obeying God beyond everything else is already an ethical decision. God may not want it…. It could be said to be a tyranny, if you took another ethical position. If God threatens those who do not obey, the position assumes violence to be the basis of ethics.

    Ethical systems based upon descriptions of how people behave, is just saying what they do, not providing an argument for its ethical base or superiority, beyond ‘what we do is what we should do’.

    Even saying that ethical behavior should contribute to survival is not useful as it implies survival is the ultimate good, to which all else must be sacrificed. Survival of whom and what?

    Likewise arguing that ethical actions should have ethical results is also a statement which relies on ethics, as it is clearly possible to argue that some actions are good even if they result in what we might define as evil events.

    So do you know of any basis for ethics which would seem to get beyond this problem of the initial decision?

    Jung and Gods

    July 23, 2017

    In his analysis of Nazi Germany in 1935-6 Jung argued that that the true symptom of what was going on was possession by an archetype; an archetype which had its roots in German history; the archetype of Wotan. It was a return of the Gods. Wotan was characterized by restlessness, movement, violence, sacrifice, ruthless heroism and so on. In this view Hitler was an unaware shaman who stirred these dormant unconscious forces into action.

    This leads to the question of what are the current archetypes being stirred up….

    I suggest two possibilities:

    First: the “killer god.” The God that demands wars, sacrifices, serial killings, while pretending that he protects his followers. He demands the suppression of thought, of any aspiration beyond death – making the dream of death, and the death bringer, the only valid reality. Face death, your death, your friends death, the death of martyrs, the death of society, the death of the planet. There is nothing but death. It is heroic to kill. Serial killers become dark and dedicated heroes. Kill while you have the chance.

    We watch endless deaths on TV every night as drama; Sometimes these lawgivers are as brutal as the killers, they demonstrate the virtues of death, even is they punish the original numinous perpetuator, death still wins.

    The message is to give up, resistance is futile. Good is death, evil is death. Death is all. Do not bother to listen. Death is all.

    Second: The other archetype we are likely to become possessed by is Hermes, God of communication, lies, theft, promises and magic; all of which arise from communication, yet we need communication. Hermes is necessary but ambiguous.

    Hermes talks all the time. He is the internet. He is the whisper that flies around the world. He is the force that gives you constant misinterpretation, and allows you to blame others for your own mistakes.
    He will steal things from you and persuade you he hasn’t got them, or you gave them to him – and you will love him for it. He is the god of smooth talk, the blatant lies we ignore, and endless advertising – he is the cunning adorable heart of capitalism, or priestly religion, that tells you if you just give him your trust, your life and your property, you will gain happiness and satisfaction.

    He is the god of “the Secret”; he espouses the idea that if you think, say and desire hard enough then what you wish for will be come true. And if you don’t get it, all you need to is give him more of your money, or listen to him with more attention, because he has your best interests at heart…

    Hermes is the magician, the conjurer, the quick of hand and feet. He is the person who promises esoteric knowledge beyond the ken of ordinary people. He is Nyarlathotep telling you that he is unambiguously the good guy.

    Conspiracy Theory?

    July 18, 2017

    There is a well known argument, that faced with historical and policial complexity, people tend to reduce that complexity by implying that events arose because of secret and hidden actions. Conspiracy is something that is imagined to make the world seem ordered when its not. A recent academic version of this argument can be found at:

    Now we know that one of the results of complexity is that prediction is incredibly difficult. It is actually quite hard to make a social or political result that one wants. The pessimist thinks it is harder to get a good result than a bad result – perhaps because there are so many ways things can go wrong and so few ways they can go right. This makes the idea that the world is controlled by conspiracy unlikely. However, that does not mean there are no conspiracies

    Conspiracy occurs pretty much day to day. We all conspire with other people to get results. This is what we call decision making or self-governance. It is also pretty minor. However, it seems unlikely that powerful people do not try the same thing, planning to have effects over your lives. Certainly they like decisions to be shrouded in secrecy. You can think of public/private partnerships where the reasons for spending taxpayer’s money on corporations is often held to be “commercial in confidence”. The capitalist State is not always open, so it is unlikely other States are open either.

    So it could appear some conspiracies are not purely imaginary. The difficulty is learning to distinguish between the imaginary and the real.

    Do businesses conspire to fix prices and lower wages? It was reported by Adam Smith. The answer is probably as often as they can. It makes more money all around and that is what counts. There are known cases of price fixing, price gouging and prices moving in tandem, and, in the absence of unions, wages for ordinary workers rarely increase. So it is probable, although it may not be deliberate joining together, people may just say to themselves; that is the standard price and leave it at that. It may even be normal. The usual idea is that business does things as cheaply as possible and charges as much as possible, and is occasionally constrained by competition: if people know about it.

    Do scientists uniformly conspire to tell us climate change is real for political purposes? This seems extremely unlikely. Scientists are not politically uniform. Scientists tend to like putting other scientists down and getting noticed for being innovative. When they get money from science grants they generally don’t have to produce particular results. However, it is quite probable that fossil fuel companies conspire to make it seem that climate change is unreal, or not urgent. Climate change threatens income and profit. It requires change. These big companies have a long history of conspiracy, when it comes to preserving profit and getting rid of inconvenient political challenges. They also sponsor think tanks, who give them the messages they want – or they don’t sponsor them anymore. Again we might wonder if this is not really conspiracy, but profit leading to misinformation. However, we know Shell knew about climate change but sponsored deniers. So it seem possible it was conspiracy.

    Did the Freemasons cause the French Revolution? Harder to say. If they tried they would not have succeeded without a lot of help. They may well have worked for it, but I doubt they liked the result. Did Lenin conspire with others to produce the Russian Revolution? Yes – but again they had a lot of help – there were other people involved. indeed some people say Germany sponsored them to get rid of Russia from WWI – certainly a more intelligent strategy than Hitler’s. Sometimes they worked with people who did not like the results being gained. Complexity again.

    We can use these latter examples to make further claims. If big results came from the actions of few relatively powerless people, then big events can certainly result from the actions of a few relatively powerful people.

    So the conspiracy, no conspiracy idea needs complication. The world is unlikely to be run by conspiracies, but it is equally unlikely there are no effective conspiracies, ever, or that really powerful people do not conspire to keep in power and disadvantage everyone else – just make sure that you are really identifying who is powerful. Good questions for that include: who is wealthy, or has economic power? Who controls organisations with wealth? who controls violence? Who tells others what to do and its done? Who controls communication?

    Why are experts less respected?

    July 6, 2017

    There seems to be some general argument that experts are now no longer valued because all opinions are held to be equal, and because of “the rise of popularism,” rage, or “anti-estabishmentism”. These positions both beg the question of whether these are separate conditions, whether anyone actually thinks that someone else’s opinion is as good as theirs and which ignore analysis of the question of the socio-psychological basis for these views.

    It seems to me that people judge information by information they already hold, which is backed up by the groups they are in allegiance with. This is the socially reinforced aspect of what is known as “confirmation bias” (where a person seeks evidence and opinions which agrees with their existing opinions), or of “belief bias” (where people first of all accept a conclusion as correct and then are largely uncritical of the arguments leading to that conclusion, or engineer arguments for the conclusion.)

    People who seem to be good members of groups that other people see themselves as allied with (ingroups) are always more persuasive than people who seem to be exemplary members of groups they are opposed to (outgroups). The more groups can be made to separate, and the more people can fear exile from their groups, then the more this group bias occurs. Communication and reasoning are more about group bonding than about the nature of the world. During our evolution, group bonding, cooperation with our ingroup and maintaining a good reputation, was probably far more important to human survival than anything else.

    Since the end of communism, we have had experts in one group (largely privately sponsored) claiming that free markets will produce liberty and meaning, which they don’t; in practice they produce corporate domination, distribution of wealth away from most people, unemployment, inflation of the economy to the be all and end all of life, and a less useful and participatory State. These results produce massive discontent, and thus risks disturbing actions.

    In self-defense, the elite of this group seem to have made a very determined attempt to use the above ‘facts’ about human communication to attack those experts who dispute the virtues of privatizing everything or who dispute the universal beneficial consequences of such policies: they do not belong to our group; they are politically biased; they are immoral unlike us; they are sick; they are engaged in socialist conspiracies to thwart human freedom; they are an elite with nothing in common with us; they are out of touch; they want to take your money, and so on.

    The aim of the process seems to be to separate groups and stop members of each group from talking to each other, and to stop trust in experts, by upping the abuse levels (see the Murdoch media), suggesting that talking with these outgroup experts means you are not really one of us (RINOs) and by engaging in largely distractionary “culture wars” – although the culture wars help reinforce the idea that the other groups are immoral and not worth listening to on anything. If there are other social processes reinforcing the separation of social groups into physically separate enclaves or conversational groups, then this move is easier.

    The more fantastical the propositions being defended, ie ‘free markets’ produce liberty, corporate power is always good, coal is great for ecological and public health, then the more this kind of process becomes the best way of winning arguments, and supporting established power – until it breaks down and violence becomes more necessary to enforce the order being defended.

    This movement against ‘experts’ is not an anti-establishment movement, it is a movement which is tied to an establishment which contradicts known things about social and ecological dynamics in the support of its power, even if it eventually leads to break down of that establishment.

    Attacks on experts are socially motivated and proposed solutions have to bear this in mind. Simply defending expertise or attacking the groups attacking the experts will not persuade them of the experts virtues, it will likely do the opposite.

    Conscience, knowledge and Action

    July 4, 2017

    Stephen Hawking has been talking about Earth becoming like Venus: unliveable.

    Generating conditions such as those on Venus, is probably unlikely – and its probably not useful to mention them, as it gives people an excuse not to believe anything about ecological crisis, or to cop out from action, claiming these are just tales of gloom and doom, nothing real.

    I have also heard tales of gloom and doom my entire life. However, it is true that we only avoided nuclear war by the finest of margins. Both Russia and the US were about to make mistaken responses on several occasions, and it was only the reluctance of the people on the ground to launch that saved us. We have depended on individual people acting according to their conscience and understanding. They risked unapproved action. Avoiding catastrophe now, requires the same conscience and understanding and action.

    It is a simple matter of logic that you cannot keep destroying, and demanding more from, the environment that you depend on for ever. It would seem that we are reaching the ends of what we can demand from the world in quite a few different systems, some of which get no media attention at all (peak phosphorus for example). The breaking of these systems will produce massive tumult and destruction.

    If we continue as we are doing, conditions for any complex civilisation will get more and more precarious. Continuing is not a conservative policy, it is a destructive one.

    It is not Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement that is the problem. It is Trump’s slackening of rules which allow corporations to poison people and the environment, together with his regulative hostility to renewables that is the problem.

    Basically, action in the US has to be at the State level. It has to refuse more coal mines and coal based power stations and phase out those which exist. We have to stop fracking, and stop the leakage of gas through crappy pipelines. We have to encourage renewables. We have to make corporations responsible for the pollution and poison they produce. There are no economic externalities in a (more or less) closed system. Non of this will be easy and it may have deleterious consequences as we sort things out and change expectations.

    It will involve a massive political conflict, but Trump just makes this explicit. Under Clinton it would have been obstruction in Congress, and the hope that things will be alright. Under Trump there is no Congressional obstruction to destruction, and people have to take back their own power and conscience. There is no alternative. It is up to you and your ability to cooperate with others.