Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’

Thinking on the spot: Algorithms and Environment

June 1, 2018

I may, or may not, be asked to participate in a radio show/podcast about algorithms and the environment….

This is my initial spur of the moment thinking…

I’d start by talking about the difficulties of getting algorithms for a complex system. The whole point of complex systems is that they are unpredictable in specific, while possibly being predictable in terms of trends. For example, we cannot predict the weather absolutely accurately for a specific place in 3 months, but we can predict that average temperatures will continue to rise. Initial conditions are important to outcomes in complex systems, but there are always prior conditions (ie there is a way in which initial conditions do not exist), and because so much is happening and linking to each other, there are always problems determining what is important to the model, and what the consequences of an action were. Another problem with complexity (as far as I understand it) is that it can only be modelled to a limited extent by any system which is not the system itself.

Then the model tends to be taken for reality, so we act as if we knew something and are working directly on that system, rather than working on a model which may increasingly diverge from reality with the passing of time….

Then there is the issue of power relations. We know that one simple way of proceeding with Climate change, is to phase out coal and other fossil fuels and increase the use of renewable energies. However, we can’t even do this transition at the speed we need to because of established power relations and habit (power is often the ability to trigger established pathways of behaviour) – and we cannot guarantee there will be no unexpected side effects even if we could. For example, we may not succeed in replicating something like our current social life with renewables or we construct them in such a way that it harms the environment.

We also seem to need to absorb greenhouse gases as well as cut back on emissions, but absorption can be used to delay reduction (again through power relations), and there is, as yet, no yet established way of dealing with the GHG that have been removed which is safe or long term. Algorithms cannot successfully model the effects of things we don’t know how to do…

On top of that there is the potential power consumption of the algorithms – while hopefully this will not be too bad there is some evidence that bitcoin (which is a complex algorithm of a kind) could end up being the most energy hungry thing on the planet…. In which case our efforts to save ourselves could intensify the crisis.

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that computational algorithms are never of use, but that they tend to be used without testing because they depend on fictional stories which have a high level of conviction, and are treated as if they are the reality we are working with and not as models of that reality. If the model / algorithm tends to advantage some group more than others, and the appliers belong to people loyal to that group, then it will probably be harder to curb if incorrect, and be more likely to be taken for correct. The same is probably true if the model reinforces some precious group belief. The point of this is that models tend to become political, (consciously or unconsciously) because the axioms seem like common sense.

According to some theories humans tend to confuse the ‘map’ for the ‘terrain’ (to use the General Semantics slogan) almost all the time unless its visibly and hopelessly not serving them and there is an easy alternative. If so, that could be one reason why science is so difficult and so relatively rare, and so easy to ‘corrupt’ when it becomes corporate science.

If we are going to model what we do in the world then we absolutely need something like computer modelling, but we also need to emphasise that these models are unlikely to ever be totally accurate, always are going to require modification and change, will get caught in politics and could always be wrong.

If we don’t do this then the aids to helping us model what we are doing and need to do, could well make things worse.

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The difficulty of thinking Ecologically

May 17, 2018

Last night I attended a panel run by the International Panel on Social Progress, effectively launching their soon to be released three volume report called “Rethinking Society for the 21st Century” This report involves 269 different authors from all over the world and aims to change the game in thinking about society.

There were 6-7 authors launching it. Not one of them mentioned ecology. Not one.

When I made a query about this, they said the report was big, and well there may have been something about it somewhere. Someone said they had mentioned the sustainable development goals. (These have very little to do with ecology, and ecology is not sustainable – it changes, its called ‘evolution’).

The point is not that ‘environment’ should be tacked onto social and economic thought as an extra, which it can, it is fundamental to social existence, and thinking ecologically in terms of interrelationships, complexity, surprise, conflicting systems, and the importance of the planet, etc. is something which cannot be marginal to any future politics and social thinking. If it is marginal, then we simply reproduce the kinds of mess that we are in nowadays….

That this international multi-authored ‘report’ (and it was emphasised that authors had the capacity to make input everywhere, and had to sign off on the whole thing) seems to have ignored this completely, or made it marginal, shows the problems we face in generating constructive change…

Organisational Ignorance vs Organisational Stupidity

April 2, 2018

I suspect “organisational ignorance” should be distinguished from “organisational stupidity”, even though they are related. Some level of organisational ignorance is normal and inevitable, some levels of organisational stupidity have to be cultivated.

Knowledge implies ignorance, and in some cases creates ignorance. Firstly people know what ‘knowledge’ is by its socially made contrast with what form of belief or practice serves to illustrate ignorance to the group holding the knowledge. Thus literate groups can assume illiteracy is ignorance of letters, theological groups can assume science is ignorance of God and Salvation, Platonists make Sophism an exemplar of ignorance, and so on. Groups usually do this kind of thing, to reinforce their boundaries, and to give them energy by making some other behaviour or belief ‘bad’.

Knowledge tends to create ignorance because, in complex interactive systems (and all social and ecological systems are complex), knowledge tends to be incomplete and a simplification. As such, what people know (and are supported in knowing) can actively direct attention away from areas of crisis and change, particularly if the knowledge has been successful, or associated with success (however that is measured) for a long time. We can see this with climate change; modes of waste disposal and profit acquisition which have brought success for the last 200 years are now threatening the conditions for that success. Hence many people are continuing as normal to destroy themselves, because there is no apparent alternative which delivers exactly the same benefits and distribution of benefits. This is also propelled by organisational and hierarchical stupidity, but more later.

Some knowledge is definitional and relatively easily shared once definitions are agreed, but that does not mean it is always accurate. I would claim mathematics is this kind of knowledge – so it can be very powerful as well – but I’m not particularly bothered to argue about this at the moment.

So knowledge and ignorance tend to be socially intertwined, and mastery can be a mark of status – in which case new knowledge can be dismissed if it comes from the wrong people – this is one place ‘organisational stupidity’ starts coming in.

Organisational stupidity is the active structuring of an organisation or a situation, so that new, different, or more accurate, knowledge is rejected. Punitive hierarchy is one way of generating stupidity. If people in a hierarchy routinely punish underlings for diversion from the official line, then everyone ends up ignorant and stupid actions become the norm. The more those actions become the norm, they more they seem part of the cosmos, and the more they probably become intensified to remove the chaos they generate. People at the top don’t tell people what they actually plan, to protect themselves and their knowledge. So everyone operates in a haze of fear, guesswork as to what is going on, and stupidity. This is further reinforced if mastery of organisationally approved knowledge is a mark of status, and those with status try and remove those challenging them, as those challenging them do not see “common-sense” or “understand reality”. Relatively accurate knowledge can become downplayed or even heretical and forbidden, as when Trump refuses to allow information about climate change to appear visibly on government websites.

Computer software encourages organisational stupidity when managers who have no idea what their underlings do become the consultants during requirements collection and the actual users are ignored, and have to adapt to what was thought to be an improvement.

“Siloing” is the horizontal form of this structural stupidity, in which people in different parts of an organisation do not know what other parts do, but fantasise about them, and attempt to control what the others do. For instance, when admin tries to control academics, or give them more admin work to encourage “responsibility”, or rewrites computer programs to stop necessary fudging or whatever. Getting others to do your work seems useful initially, but ultimately it stops you from having any quality control over that work.

Complexity can reinforce stupidity because, as nobody above knows what is possible in an engineering or social sense, and what is their fantasy is usually what is done, so they demand what they would like (even if it is not possible or not yet possible) and accuse people who tell them this is not possible as lacking positivity. Sales people generally don’t know what is possible either and agree to make the deal, because there is a lot of money being thrown around, and if they don’t get it someone else will. So the sale goes ahead and people get locked into the costly process of making the impossible, or the badly designed, work.

There is a sense in which capitalism furthers organisational stupidity, because;

  • 1) It’s organisations are extremely hierarchical. Even when they are supposedly level, there can be huge differences in power.
  • 2) Only the immediate small-future bottom line counts (but there are many other important things).
  • 3) Wealth becomes the only value, so plutocracy becomes the norm, and anything that produces wealth must be good.
  • 4) It depends on hype about existent and non-existent products to prevent other products being successful. So the environment is constantly full of informational falsity, even above the idea that wealth is the only measure of value and competence.
  • 5) Its managerial structures depend on managers fighting for allocation of internal wealth to allow their section to work and to give them status, and this may obstruct any observation of the external environment the company exists within.
  • 6) Elimination of costs, can eliminate worker satisfaction and competence, and leads to free-loading waste being approved without consideration of long-term consequences. Cost defined something as ‘unpleasant’, not to be observed or investigated, and to be removed forcibly.
  • 7) In takeovers, to establish power and discipline, those people who know how the victim firm works are nearly always sacked, as the victor reckons these people do not know anything, or might challenge their knowledge. So the firm begins its new career being forced into boxes and behaviours that may well not work for them.
  • The contemporary form of governance, which I call “distributed governance” which is power that is diffused through society via networks means that very few people with power have responsibility, or feel they have responsibility. Responsibility is elsewhere, so there is no need to know anything other than how to keep your own power and reinforce your own knowledge, and the chances of feedback overtly pointing out mistakes is extremely low, so managers do not learn from those mistakes. This helps reinforce stupidity.

    If these general points are correct, it does imply that decent knowledge workers may sometimes have to chose to engage in “revolutionary activity” even against their own organisational stupidity, or resign themselves to pointlessness.

    Art as exploration and propaganda

    March 27, 2018

    Terry Pratchett argues somewhere that art is a mode of experiment; someone goes somewhere in imagination and honestly tries an imaginative experiment to explore the consequences of imaginary acts. This can be non-ideological in that the artist genuinely allows what happens in their imagination to happen without deliberate control. OR it can be ideological propaganda in which the predetermined good guys win without much of a hitch and everyone opposing them is evil and ultimately doomed… this latter probably usually happens when the person is fearful of being wrong. It unfortunately is the world view of monotheism – nothing can challenge God or ‘his’ chosen.

    Both ways involve a world view, which they are reinforcing or challenging.

    Both ways can be art, one is useful and one is propaganda. However, the distinction is vague as propaganda can be worthwhile (think of 1984) or simply implausible or destructive (ie Atlas Shrugged), but in either case propaganda can be influential, and is likely to be more influential than experimental art because it lets people keep the same opinions as they have already (or reinforces them). While Lord of the Rings is more like propaganda, it veers closer to experiment than either of the other two – especially in the moment (which I may not be remembering correctly) in which Tolkien allows a few orcs to tell their story about persecuting elves…. There was an opening there that he refused to follow – probably because of his monotheism – for the good guys to be good, the others had to be completely evil.

    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?