Posts Tagged ‘mentalities’

Economics of waste again

May 29, 2018

Why do humans pollute?

Firstly, because these particular people don’t think ecologically or systemically. They think that dumping their individual or organisation waste products into the environment will not harm anything that much. They may ask, ‘how much difference can one person/organisation make?’ The answer is, over years, and with other people thinking and acting similarly, a lot.

Secondly, pollution can be encouraged by society when the costs of polluting are not factored into the economic process. If it is cheaper to pollute, there is no penalty for polluting, and it does not seem to harm them directly then people will pollute. The more that profit becomes a god the more people are likely to cut costs by polluting. The freer the market, the more intense the pollution, as those who can buy the laws and ethics make the laws and ethics.

Thirdly, if one group has conquered another and they can direct their pollution at the weaker group then they will often do so. I suspect this comes from both the brutal joy in displaying power, the aim of further weakening the conquered, and a lack of consideration for others -especially ‘the weak’. It was traditional for the wealthy to live on the top of a hill and sewerage to flow down and accumulate, and the most polluting factories and mines tend not to be in wealthy areas.

A relatively equitable society, with friendly relations with its neighbours, that did not value money above all else would probably not have as many pollution problems. If people also thought ecologically, realised that individual actions were rarely individual or unique, did not emit more than the ecology could process and turn back into ‘goods’, realised that all such processes are uncertain, ‘complex’, unpredictable, often irreversible, and cumulative and that you need to factor in lots of ‘slack’ for systems to stay relatively stable, then it would almost certainly not be poisoning itself, and would make polluters take responsibility for their waste.

Can this happen without some kind of revolution in the capitalist west? I don’t know. Let’s hope so. Otherwise our lives will be driven not by constructive production, but the production of waste.

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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.

    Luck as a social force

    March 28, 2018

    Contingency plays a massive part in social events, indeed in all kinds of events not just our lives; that is why we can tell its important in our lives.

    We rarely control the outcomes of much activity, and we interact with situations that we do not cause and cannot influence much, but do influence some little bit. There are important choices we make, and we may not realise how important they were until we look back on them. At the time the choices may have seemed trivial – going to a particular party, leaving to urinate at a particular time, turning our eyes away from the road, not responding to a phone call, being ill at a particular time. This sort of contingency can affect whole countries, as it affects people who make decisions. We might call it the “for want of a nail effect”, given the famous verse.

    Contingency also affects the coming together of different events at specific time, such as an infrastructure failure compounded by economic crisis and a drought, even if we may say that certain behaviours and policies make this contingency more likely. The effect of the contingent combination may not be predictable – how will people respond? It is exceedingly difficult to see, in advance, how fortuitous circumstances will allow particular social groups to gain an influence that they previously did not have because the new circumstances ‘obviously’ favoured them over others (in hindsight). Any kind of evolution is contingent on circumstances, even if organisms are not controlled by circumstances.

    I’d suggest being skeptical about any non effect of ‘luck’ in social life. The idea that luck is not important is a very convenient ideology for those who are wealthy because it implies that they are were they are, totally because of their abilities and skills, and are thus justified in having wealth while others don’t. While if success involve luck then they are were they are by luck as well as by skill.

    Complexity theory implies that we are incapable of predicting events in detail, although we can predict general trends, because of the massive interconnection of things/events and feedback between things and events. Thus we may predict the decline of the US under the pressures of successful capitalist domination, but we could not predict how it will turn out. In 2010 we could not really have predicted the rise of Trump and his cronies. Whether this unpredictability stems from the human inability to model things completely outside the system itself (so while we cannot predict specific events, if an all knowing God exists then that God may be able to predict successfully), or because it is in the nature of the system (even an all knowing God cannot predict specific events), is irrelevant for human contingency.

    Because of unpredictability and complexity we always contend with unintended effects, some of which may be good, but probably more will appear to be complications – as the number of patterns which seem disordered is far greater than those that seem ordered and beneficial. Social life is precisely about dealing with the unexpected, as well as the expected. Often people deal with the unexpected by pretending it has not happened. This retains the vision of order, but weakens people’s ability to deal with reality. The unconscious has a tendency to strike back.

    The importance of contingency does not mean analysis is impossible, but it does mean that we need to factor in contingency as part of that analysis, and look at rare events rather than be remain happy with what appears to be common. This is particularly so when we appear to be entering a realm, the Anthropocene, where we have no prior experience whatsoever.

    Materialism, Spirit and Shadow

    December 31, 2017

    [Re-edited 14 Feb 2018, responding to comments]

    I’m sometimes surprised when people say that we live in a ‘material age’. It is true that we are governed by an economics and politics that only values money, profit and power, but that is not usually the subject of people’s disapproval, they usually object to science. To be clear, I’m not arguing that we live in an effective spiritual age – I’m not sure such has ever happened – but we hardly live in a scientifically materialist age. The urge for spiritual experience is as great as ever, and its dangers are as great as ever.

    We (and it’s a Western ‘we’ here, apologies to everyone else) have probably lived in one of the most exciting spiritual and theological periods of human history. Since 1880 or thereabouts the flourishing of spiritual thought and action(of various levels of sophistication), has been extraordinary – partly because of the, perhaps beneficial, decline of religious authority.

    In theological terms we have had Mary Baker Eddy, Albert Schweitzer, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Martin Buber, Simone Weil, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Wolfhardt Pannenberg, Rudolf Bultmann, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Teilhard de Chardin and Mathew Fox to name some of the original and more well-known writers. That’s just off the top of my head and I’m not a theologian; I’m sure people will think of other influential originals. We have had important movements such as liberation theology, death of god, process theology, ‘traditionalism’, feminist theology, historical Jesus, and green/gaian theology. We have had the popular recovery of alchemy, hermeticism, gnosticism, kabbalah, sufism, goetic magic and altered states of consciousnes. We have had the ongoing (and again popular), cross fertilisation between Christianity and Buddhism (to the betterment of both in my opinion, with the shift of Buddhism from suppression of desire to active compassion, and the recovery of Christian meditation and oneness). We have had the influx of Indian religious practice, and we may have some popular understanding of Taoism. We have popular contributions from science (Haldine, Bateson, Capra), philosophy, (Bradley, Wittgenstein, Edith Stein, Heidegger, Barfield, Agamben, Vattimo), anthropology and comparative religion (Frazer, Eliade, Levi-Strauss, Victor Turner, Evans Pritchard, Rene Girard (ok this list could go on :), literature (From Kazantzakis to Dan Brown and C.S. Lewis) and of course psychology (Jung, Maslow, Ornstein, Houston, Mindfulness, AA etc). We’ve had arena’s full of popular spiritual writers and practitioners. We have probably had more channelled texts than at any time in history (from the ‘Book of the Law’ to the ‘Course in Miracles’). The world is full of spiritual healers. We have even had important and influential ‘joke’ spiritualties like Discordianism (All hail Eris!). Again this is not to say that all are beneficial; that is the point, because something claims to be spiritual does not automatically mean it is a good guide to life or ‘spirit’.

    If ‘materialism’ means not limited and not dogmatic, then we have had a materialistic age. However, if ‘materialism’ means non-spiritual then this has not even remotely been a non-spiritual age. It has been an age of flourishing experiment rather than authority, and an age in which few people have been burnt at the stake for heresy. We should probably celebrate it, rather than denigrate it.

    However, this does not mean we have had an age without shadow. Clearly not as the ‘spiritual’, (like everything human) is rarely without shadow or its specific ‘evils’, and it is dangerous to think that because something is spiritual it is automatically good or constructive. Part of the spiritual problem is that spirit sometimes can only see its own as spirit and protects its own and only its own, and attacks all else. Hence, perhaps, the apparent inability of ‘spiritual people’ to perceive current spiritual flourishing, and the (perhaps necessary) descent to dogma.

    As for the ‘darkness’: we now know about child rape in church and the protection of rapists for the spiritual good of authority, of the insistence on obedience and not thinking, of spiritual desolation in proposed saints, of spiritual violence against the failing world. There was Nazism, and if you don’t think Nazism was a spiritual movement you have not read enough of the original Nazis. We have the activity of some Christian and Islamic Fundamentalists who work in a unity of hatred to bring about the apocalypse in the middle east, with the second coming of Jesus and the birth of perfection in the death of millions of sinners and infidels, and we have religious terrorists, sexists and racists – every ‘evil’ you can think of will have some spiritual defenders.

    We have many spiritual programmes that primarily seem to seek personal wealth as the mark of divine favour, and who often condemn the poor as unspiritual or undisciplined. I would tend to agree with the proposition that people are mislead by much of this kind of spirituality; that is part of the shadow I am discussing. But simply stating that one is not so mislead, and that the followers of such movements are, does not mean one is without shadow. We perhaps need to ask whether this condemnation of others is an inherent part of the shadow of spirit, which helps to justify the elite who ‘get it’ and their position as beings of influence?

    Then we have Platonist spirituality where focusing on the ideal spirit, or absolute perfect forms, can lead to denigration and attacks on the ‘fallen’ ‘imperfect’ real/material world and help foster ecological crises and the destruction of Nature. In this wordview only death opens perfection as we escape the material we hate. Only a dead or transcended world seems a good world. Or we can say everything is in the hands of God, and nothing harmful will eventuate from human action – spirit is already perfect and that is all that matters. People can attack their bodies, their minds and their empathy for others, in the name of spiritual perfection. We can see murder of the ‘evil others’ on whom we have projected our spiritual shadow, as the solution to problems – particularly if our God is good because ‘he’ is all-powerful and prone to vengeance. In that case, what difference is there between our spirituality and existential fear? Our righteousness seeks to prove we are on the right side, by condemning others before we ourselves are condemned. The shadow is massive.

    The idea that all that is spiritual is totally of the light, or immaterial, is dangerous. Especially when it is phrased as if people on the right path cannot be deceived. Again, this can be a basis for murderous righteousness. The idealist shadow can penetrate all modes of life, making the possible seem deadly material by comparison, and lead to the sacrifice of both humanity and nature for a perfection which exists elsewhere – and possibly only imaginally.

    If we need more spirituality then we need as much care in identifying its shadow and integrating it as we do in all other parts of life. We may well need a material spirituality, in which the world itself is part of the sacred and, if we transcend, it is as in alchemy, and endless circulation in which we bring back the spirit to this world and unify the two – neither being complete without the other. We respect what is, as we live amongst it.

    To repeat, just because something can be called spiritual, it does not mean it is unalloyedly good or beneficial for either humans or nature. This has to be discovered rather than claimed in advance – anything can have unintended effects.

    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.

    What do neo-Nazis want?

    August 20, 2017

    Is it possible to understand what neo-nazis want from the right wing commentariat who are supporting, or excusing, them? A few things, perhaps.

    1) Nazis want to be categorised as heroic victims, fighting a justified fight. Consequently those protesting against nazism (who are classified as ‘alt-left’) must have attacked them unprovoked. Even if the neo-nazis were carrying semi-automatic weapons, metal poles and the like and threatening to use them, and the opposition were not. Even if they announced they wanted to kill people in advance of the march. Even if they do kill and maim non Nazis, it is the fault of the others, or the reporting of these events is ‘fake news’. Nazi Violence is excusable while non nazi violence is bad. [The category ‘alt-left’ is useful to neo-nazis and their sympathisers as it implies that opposition to Nazis is itself a form of extremism and has little in common with mainstream US values.]

    2) They want to portray their commitment to threatening others for the sin of existing or speaking, as being justified by ‘free speech’ or ‘Tradition’, so as to weaken opposition to them.

    3) They want to be seen as defending American Tradition against corruption, but they are only interested in defending the authoritarian parts of that tradition, such as slavery, white supremacy, male supremacy and so on. However, they can also want to argue that the American State is corrupt because it has supported the violence they would approve of, if they did it themselves.

    4) They want to categorise anyone who opposes them as corrupt and deserving to be threatened. Good and evil are white and black. So they want everything to be seen in terms of binary opposition. All members of a social category they despise are automatically evil, no matter how many counter examples they might know.

    5) They want to portray all forces within the State as corrupt, except for those on their side (white and black again). Nazis want to be seen as struggling to take the State back for the people. But they do not want to challenge real power until they get that control and they attempt to gain control by intimidating non-Nazis and preventing resistance – ‘heroically’ of course.

    6) They want supposedly ‘threatening’ people to despise, otherwise they have no energy. Hence they portray “whiteness” as under massive threat from people they categorise as Jews, Blacks, Mexicans and intellectuals, who don’t have that much power and who may not resist too much. They want to see despised people as a disease. They also want their opposition to attack everyone affiliated with them, even if that affiliation is fragile – as that provokes ingroup loyalty.

    7) They do not want to blame unequal wealth, or corporate power, for the problems of the US, as that might be too much confrontation.

    8) All you have to do to be classified as potentially good in their eyes is to be categorised as ‘white,’ however that is defined, and not support people they classify as ‘non-whites’. They want that category to have wide application and automatically give people privilege to declare others evil and attack them.

    9) No matter how fractured, they want the opposition to Nazism to be portrayed as monolithic, coordinated and corrupt, as that then magnifies their own victimhood and strength.

    10) One reason they flourish, is because they are going along with general Republican motifs. Everything above has been part of the Pro-Republican media campaigns for years. But this cannot be said, as orthodox Republicans who denounce them are also the enemy. They want to make this a Republican vs Democrat thing, to get ordinary Republicans to ally with them.

    11) There probably are people who support some positions espoused by neo-nazis but who are not neo-nazis and will eventually become repelled by the whole worship of blood and violence. It is a strategic mistake not to recognise this possibility, and to drive these people into further alliance with Nazis. This is difficult.

    12) They want Jewish people and Black people fighting over who is most threatened. After all, that weakens the opposition.

    13) They don’t want to be ignored. But they will heroically smash things up until they are not ignored. So don’t bother ignoring them.

    Self-preservation & Climate Change

    July 26, 2017

    Ideas of “self preservation” or “genetic preservation” (making sure your genes survive in your kids), have been around for a long time and seem popular in a culture of individualism, consumerism and neoliberalism, but they don’t seem to have helped us deal with climate change at all. Nothing. These ideas may even be obstacles to us doing anything constructive. After all, the mainstream right seems to regard these kinds of ideas as fundamental – you, and nobody else, are responsible for your own survival. If you stuff up, then its not in my interests to help you back up, unless I do so charitably.

    Partly I think the problem with self-preservation arises because in a complex system (and ecological and social systems are usually complex) it’s not absolutely clear what actions are in one’s self interest or contribute to self-preservation. Does it help your self-preservation to boost coal consumption as that has helped with lots of things in the past, or is it in your interests, to abandon coal and head for an uncertain future? Sure if you are wealthy and you are making money out of despoiling the world then you might think you should continue that action, as your accumulating wealth is as likely to protect you and your offspring, as anything else is. But that doesn’t help solve the problem, it makes it worse.

    That is also the case for most of our socially approved actions; they seem to be part of the problem. They seem to make things worse. So following self-preservation as your guide could well lead to unresolvable problems, problems in which you try and dump everyone else in it. That is why climate change is an existential problem. We don’t know how to exist in it. We don’t know yet how to imagine life in it.

    On top of that, because climate change is complex and existentially challenging, it can seem like everything is too big. It is beyond us. Actions we can take are actions at a local scale. Who can change the weather? Nothing we do apparently makes any difference. So we don’t do anything. We magnify the opposition, and are rendered incapable. Furthermore, it seems obvious, that individualistic action is not enough. We can only preserve ourselves with others. We depend on others. This is hard if we are focused on self-preservation. These others might free-ride on us, and hold us back.

    So, to me, it seems like there needs to be something beyond self preservation. That is why we I’m arguing that we might need generosity.

    Generosity has been around for a long time, it is a basic human configuration, and has not (as far as I know) been a feature of our cultural response to climate change, while self-preservation and justice have been. With climate generosity, we act without calculation, without fear of losing. We act to inspire. We just give what we can give, beyond what we need to give. We work towards becoming the solution, without expectation or demands on others.

    Climate Justice???

    July 25, 2017

    The idea of “Climate Justice” perturbs me. It seems self-destructive, or self- undermining.

    ‘Justice’ as it works, usually involves two kinds of processes:

    1) Defining someone as evil and punishing them for it. This requires violence for enforcement and the mechanisms for applying that violence. This is especially difficult between States, without a willingness to go to war or at the least break contact. By demanding that people be labelled criminal or evil, mechanisms of justice create both resentment and self-righteousness. It encourages projection or shadow behavior, in Jungian terms, whereby we ignore our own failings by blaming someone else. In this set up there is only good and evil, whereas in a complex ecological and social systems there is neither, there is mainly mutual implication.

    2) Appeals to fairness. But it is never fair that we have to give up anything while others benefit… hence we do nothing. Piers Ackerman was arguing the other day that it is unfair for Australia to do something when we produce so little CO2 (even thought we produce massive amounts per head of population). This is a common anti-global warming tactic, which avoids responsibility.

    Justice arguments are continually used by India and China to justify their massive expansion of coal. They are used by the Australian government to justify the Adani mine – shared prosperity for all, the war on poverty and so on. They are routinely used by people to argue that Australia can make no difference, so those people who request that we act are making unjust, or unfair, demands upon us, consequently we don’t have to act.

    As a result of these problems or co-options, it might be better to avoid ‘justice’ altogether and phrase action in terms of “climate generosity”, attempting to come from humans ‘good’ side (and through modes of status acquisition through gifting) rather than our punitive side.

    Climate Generosity requires that we do more than is necessary or just – we are generous, we act beyond what is required of us, without much hesitation. We are magnanimous, excessive.

    Climate generosity does not have to involve allocations of guilt and blame and suggests that we are ‘in this together’ and ‘working together’, and thus acknowledges the systemic nature of the problem.

    Generosity upsets the power relations based on old habits, while justice requires enforcers. Generosity combines both individual and social action, and appeals to the greater good of everyone, without demanding victory. It does not say ‘we won’t act until its fair’, it simply sets an example to be emulated or ignored. It gets on with the job, and cultivates a sense of responsibility.

    If we only do what is just then we will not do anything much, we will only go to the boundaries of what is needed – we will be continually check to make sure others are not freeloading or acting unfairly. We will not act first.

    However, if we replace justice by generosity, then we can go over those boundaries – “yes it might be cheaper and just to sell goal, but how about we help you build renewables? How about we cut back more of our emissions than would be our fair or just share? Why should we wait for others to act so that it is fair, lets be generous and act now!”

    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.

    On consensus: scientific and otherwise

    July 4, 2017

    It is always useful to point out that scientific consensus is an agreement amongst scientists in the field about what the evidence implies. So the consensus on climate change means that by far the great majority of climate scientists are persuaded by the evidence that climate change is real and that this real climate change is humanly caused. There is also a theoretical back drop which explains how and why this climate change is occurring, and there is no obvious contradiction or failings in the theory which is leading it to be challenged. Scientists may later modify their positions if the evidence changes. However, it is unlikely they will modify their position to the extent that they argue climate change is not happening, and is not going to produce massive disruption.

    We might compare this with the consensus amongst right wing people that free markets are wonderful.

    There is no empirical evidence for free market theory – indeed one school of free market theory says no evidence is needed. There is no agreement amongst economists or social theorists that free markets always work or deliver what is promised by their advocates. When applied the theory does not appear to deliver the results promised. It does appear to deliver what cynics say it is meant to deliver (that is more corporate power and more plutocracy). There is no empirical or theoretical consensus. There used to be no political consensus either, Conservatives were well aware that capitalism destroyed all values and traditional social institutions that got in the way of profit. Such real conservatives are no longer common.

    Yet the right insist that free markets are the fundamental truth of governance, liberty and prosperity.

    Usually the problems with free market theory and its lack of acceptance by independent economists or social theorists is explained away as “left wing bias”, or even “communism” or “conspiracy”. Sometimes it is explained away by saying free market theory is never applied, but in that case we cannot know it will result in goodness when it is applied in full purity. The point is that when it is applied, in the way that it is applied, we get political situations like the present one.

    A change in speech away from consensus to persuaded by the evidence, is important because in right wing speak, consensus simply means that people gathered around a table and decided on a position, usually for political reasons as in “there was a consensus amongst Republicans that Obamacare was evil” or “the general consensus amongst evangelical Christians is that the Pope is the anti-Christ” or “the consensus amongst business people is that capitalism is good”. etc.

    Persuaded by the evidence takes us back to arguing about the evidence. This is more productive if people are well intentioned, and don’t keep returning to evidence which has been refuted. However in our day, people are being encouraged not to be persuaded by evidence.