What Is Truth? Four Different Answers.

Everyone knows that a belief is true if it corresponds with the facts. This is the first theory of truth, and it has only two problems: what to make of correspondence, and what to make of facts. Facts, said the twentieth century logician Willard Van Orman Quine, are fictions: sentence-sized objects invented for the sake of correspondence. Facts are not simply given, independent, partners of true beliefs. To form a belief is just to claim to find a fact. It may or may not be a fact that Elizabeth I remained a virgin; to find out requires inquiry, and inquiry is just a matter of settling what to believe about this pressing issue.
Inquiry is a matter of warping our beliefs as little as possible in order to accommodate new experience. But in order to exert a pressure, experience needs to be interpreted and conceptualised, or in other words, to have a voice, indicating what to believe. So once it includes the results of inquiry, there is no escape from our overall system of belief. So says the second theory: the coherence theory of truth. It suggests a picture in which we are cut off from the world, imprisoned in a clouded collage of our own construction. Yet many fine philosophers have ended up here, and it gives us the second of our theories.
 It doesn’t require much to recoil from the picture this offers, and one direction is to emphasise the relation between truth and success in practice. Truth works. Falsehood does not, and surely this is why we care so much about truth. Or think that we do, for unfortunately the equation is only rough. Across large swathes of life self-deception and fantasy, half-truths and outright lies, seem to work quite well. Some people in politics seem to get by with almost nothing else. So this third theory, the so-called pragmatic theory of truth, needs a more careful formulation, and nobody has quite managed to give one. If it is part of our cherished national myth that Elizabeth I remained a virgin, what is the advantage of inquiring any too carefully into whether it was true? It won’t bake more bread or breed more offspring, so in a Darwinian world it is somewhat puzzling that some people do care whether it was true. Nietzsche worried that they had just made an unnecessary cross to bear.
If abstract attempts to say what truth is all stumble, perhaps the remedy is to descend to particular cases. When Pilate asked “what is truth?” we could best have replied if only he had told us what in particular was bothering him. If his interest was in whether the defendant in front of him was disloyal to Caesar, well then, the truth would be the defendant in front of him being disloyal to Caesar, or not, and it was his job to settle that. Wondering whether it is true that it is raining is just the same thing as wondering whether it is raining. The equation iterates. As well as wondering whether it is true that it is raining you might wonder whether it is really true, or a fact that it is true, or true that it is a fact that it is true. But however far you continue, you are doing no more than wondering whether it is raining. If you settle that it is raining, then at a stroke you settle that it is true that it is a fact that it is really so that…it is raining. All these additions are nothing but ornaments: “it is true that” or “it is a fact that” add nothing. This is the key to the fourth theory, the deflationist theory of truth.
 This must not be misunderstood. Of course there is a difference between it being true that it is raining, and it not being true. The difference is that in the one case, but not the other, it is raining, and we know what that means. It is also true that pigs grunt, but there is no common topic uniting pigs grunting and the rain. Truth should not be regarded as an additional topic at all. So say deflationists, who see ‘it is true that’ purely as a device of endorsement. If you assert that asses grunt I might nod, or myself grunt assent, or repeat what you say, or say “that’s true”. It is just a question of style, but our thoughts stay entirely with asses.
There are areas, such as ethics, politics, religion, and aesthetics where we are familiar with intractable disagreements. Some people think the same about the age of the earth or man-made climate change. The cure is for people to respect inquiry above assertion. Full, sober, objective, unbiased, inquiry is the only way forward, and it settles some things, if not everything. An agreement on the common rules of debate, which are typically embodied in critical thinking skills.  The pragmatists were right about one thing: if you think knowledge is expensive, try ignorance.  Or a more modern version, If ignorance was bliss, why aren’t there more happy people in the world ?
This was originally authored by:

Simon Blackburn | Author of Think and On Truth, and former Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University.

On leadership and the stewardship of earth.

Many people visit the capital, if not to seek redress for their complaints, at least to see the monuments to the American government. In these trying times, there is a pull to look to the past, it’s leaders immortalized in marble for good reason. Climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. There is the somber giant in his chair. Upon seeing it, it is almost reflexive to read out the Gettysburg Address: “A new birth of freedom … government of the people, by the people, for the people.” The second inaugural reads:

And the war came … Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword … let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds …

It shamed me to read it. Abraham Lincoln’s eloquence touched levels of morality and high resolve that were preposterously out of reach in the first days of 2019, in the third year of the Trump presidency.

A constant theme runs throughout Lincoln’s writings, from his years as a young Illinois politician to the last great speeches of his life: the supreme value of self-government. Everything depended on this idea, “our ancient faith,” which itself was “absolutely and eternally right.” But its endurance was never guaranteed. From the start of his career, Lincoln foresaw how American democracy might end—not through foreign conquest, but by our own fading attachment to its institutions. “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher,” he said in 1838. “As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

Self-government required that the union should live, and it also negated slavery. Lincoln never believed in political and social equality between the races—instead, he built his argument against slavery on the founding words of the republic. In 1854, after Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, abolishing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and allowing the extension of slavery into the new territories, he told a crowd in Peoria, Illinois: “If the negro is a man, is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government—that is despotism … No man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent. I say this is the leading principle—the sheet anchor of American republicanism.”

To think of that, while reflecting on the current incarnation of the republican party, feels surreal, like looking through a mirror at an impossible world. It becomes hard to tell which is the dream and which is the reality. As if somehow two worlds from parallel universes were trying to occupy the same space at the same time. But the truth is much more painful than that. It’s more like the trolly problem with multi-track drifting for no other reason than our contradictions catching up to us. This was described eloquently by Carl Sagan in The Demon-Haunted World ( aBasilisk reference? )
“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later
this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
I can thinking of nothing more emblematic than this then the trump regime, can you?

This rude awakening is like shock therapy for a restive population that has become unmoored and drifting into the future, blinded by illusions designed to conflate momentary pleasure with meaning. All this for the sake of justifying a particular political philosophy which serves only to enable regulatory capture by those who would claim that government itself is the problem. The process of regulatory capture actually began by corrupting academia with the ideology that property rights supersede human rights, because what is good for the business is good for the country, and business has no need for human rights, the country needs only profit to be considered successful, no matter how much blood is required to entrench those interests, because how can you plan for an uncertain future ? And so innovation was relegated to a small slice of economic activity while everything else was already known, economics had become a “science” and philosophy was no longer relevant because technology is spawned by physics. And so it came to be that the meaning of life became “economics of profit” and technology was the means to that end. So economics and technology slowly replaced science and philosophy. Suddenly reality consisted only of things that could be commodified. Science becomes anything that could be funded and the only things that are funded are those that generate or justify profit. This is how economics became a “science” despite constant failure, literally every 8-10 years since 1930. This ultimately resulted in survival of the greediest, built on top of lie upon lie about what good leadership actually looks like. A long slide into nihilistic relativity reaping a slow and grinding self-destruction, not unlike what happened to the soviet union.

So finally the truth is revealed, that the root of the many crises we face, which have piled up over the years, from climate change to healthcare, is a crisis of leadership.

Shrouded in myth and legend to obscure the failures and caveats, for the sole purpose of trying to make it unquestionable for those individuals on the lighter side of power dynamics which create the very fabric of society. A reckoning is at hand and everyone knows it. This is not a bad thing. Though it may be uncomfortable, it is nothing less than forced cultural evolution. These issues cannot be resolved with anything less than a paradigm shift in the way the average citizen views that relationship to society, recreating a social contract though political activism not just in the US, but across most countries in the world. A convergence of principles is the only way to reconcile the differences of globalism. The future has narrowed more than anyone could have imagined, at one end is apocalyptic climate change and at the other end is apocalyptic war. The path between them is not a strait line, and the ancient Indian sages of the middle way are caught up the ghosts of the past. But still the truth shines through:

No one saves us but ourselves.
No one can and no one may.
We ourselves must walk the path:
Buddhas only show the way.

I said all of that to set the stage and mindset for the following video, spoken by someone who has experienced the horrors of war, to dispel myths of leadership in a way only a true warrior and scholar can.

Then a peculiar thing has begun to happen around the new year. People suddenly started to realize. The biggest mistake anyone one can make, is thinking they can be unaffected by the game.

That and some south Asians have decided to heed the words of the Dalai Llama which renewed the hope of the hopeless (not just in taiwan), and was pretty funny too, because otherwise all this would just seem tragic. It would seem the arc of the universe (timeline?) has some novel twists.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/04/i-can-do-it-in-robes-japanese-monks-post-videos-in-protest-at-driving-fine

and for once, somewhere deep in the darknet, a person yelled “I am the machine” and instead of being met with fear, they were met with love. As well as joy, such as I felt when all the stories about hyper-sonic nukes suddenly ceased, as if they had already become obsolete.

Identity and Innumeracy, the problem of caring.

Before starting it is important to understand the concept of Innumeracy, a good definition is found here: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Innumeracy

I’m not very good at feeling the size of large numbers. Once you start tossing around numbers larger than 1,000,000, the numbers just seem “big”.

Consider Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. If you told me that Sirius is as big as a million earths, I would feel like that’s a lot of Earths. If, instead, you told me that you could fit a billion Earths inside Sirius… I would still just feel like that’s a lot of Earths.

The feelings are almost identical. In context, my brain grudgingly admits that a billion is a lot larger than a million, and puts forth a token effort to feel like a billion-Earth-sized star is bigger than a million-Earth-sized star. But out of context — if I wasn’t anchored at “a million” when I heard “a billion” — both these numbers just feel vaguely large.

I feel a little respect for the bigness of numbers, if you pick really really large numbers. If you say “one followed by a hundred zeroes”, then this feels a lot bigger than a billion. But it certainly doesn’t feel (in my gut) like it’s 10 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 times bigger than a billion. Not in the way that four apples internally feels like twice as many as two apples. My brain can’t even begin to wrap itself around this sort of magnitude differential.

Here is a video from 1977 that gives it a shot:

This phenomena is related to scope insensitivity, and it’s important to me because I live in a world where sometimes the things I care about are really really numerous.

For example, billions of people live in squalor, with hundreds of millions of them deprived of basic needs and/or dying from disease. And though most of them are out of my sight, I still care about them.

The loss of a human life with all is joys and all its sorrows is tragic no matter what the cause, and the tragedy is not reduced simply because I was far away, or because I did not know of it, or because I did not know how to help, or because I was not personally responsible.

Knowing this, I care about every single individual on this planet. The problem is, my brain is simply incapable of taking the amount of caring I feel for a single person and scaling it up by a billion times. I lack the internal capacity to feel that much. My care-o-meter simply doesn’t go up that far.

And this is a problem. ________________________________________________________________________________________________

It’s a common trope that courage isn’t about being fearless, it’s about being afraid but doing the right thing anyway. In the same sense, caring about the world isn’t about having a gut feeling that corresponds to the amount of suffering in the world, it’s about doing the right thing anyway. Even without the feeling.

Humanity is playing for unimaginably high stakes. At the very least, there are billions of people suffering today. At the worst, there are quadrillions (or more) potential humans, transhumans, or posthumans whose existence depends upon what we do here and now. All the intricate civilizations that the future could hold, the experience and art and beauty that is possible in the future, depends upon the present.

When you’re faced with stakes like these, your internal caring heuristics — calibrated on numbers like “ten” or “one hundred” — completely fail to grasp the gravity of the situation.

Saving a person’s life feels great, and it would probably feel just about as good to save one life as it would feel to save the world. It surely wouldn’t be many billion times more of a high to save the world, because your hardware can’t express a feeling a billion times bigger than the feeling of saving a person’s life. But even though the altruistic high from saving someone’s life would be shockingly similar to the altruistic high from saving the world, always remember that behind those similar feelings there is a whole world of difference.

Our internal care-feelings are woefully inadequate for deciding how to act in a world with big problems.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

There’s a mental shift that happened to me when I first started internalizing scope insensitivity. It is a little difficult to articulate, so I’m going to start with a few stories.

Consider Alice, a software engineer at Amazon in Seattle. Once a month or so, those college students with show up on street corners with clipboards, looking ever more disillusioned as they struggle to convince people to donate to Doctors Without Borders. Usually, Alice avoids eye contact and goes about her day, but this month they finally manage to corner her. They explain Doctors Without Borders, and she actually has to admit that it sounds like a pretty good cause. She ends up handing them $20 through a combination of guilt, social pressure, and altruism, and then rushes back to work. (Next month, when they show up again, she avoids eye contact.)

Now consider Bob, who has been given the Ice Bucket Challenge by a friend on facebook. He feels too busy to do the ice bucket challenge, and instead just donates $100 to ALSA.

Now consider Christine, who is in the college sorority ΑΔΠ. ΑΔΠ is engaged in a competition with ΠΒΦ (another sorority) to see who can raise the most money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation in a week. Christine has a competitive spirit and gets engaged in fund-raising, and gives a few hundred dollars herself over the course of the week (especially at times when ΑΔΠ is especially behind).

All three of these people are donating money to charitable organizations… and that’s great. But notice that there’s something similar in these three stories: these donations are largely motivated by a social context. Alice feels obligation and social pressure. Bob feels social pressure and maybe a bit of camaraderie. Christine feels camaraderie and competitiveness. These are all fine motivations, but notice that these motivations are related to the social setting, and only tangentially to the content of the charitable donation.

If you took any of Alice or Bob or Christine and asked them why they aren’t donating all of their time and money to these causes that they apparently believe are worthwhile, they’d look at you funny and they’d probably think you were being rude (with good reason!). If you pressed, they might tell you that money is a little tight right now, or that they would donate more if they were a better person.

But the question would still feel kind of wrong. Giving all your money away is just not what you do with money. We can all say out loud that people who give all their possessions away are really great, but behind closed doors we all know that such people are crazy. (Good crazy, perhaps, but crazy all the same.)

This is a mindset that I inhabited for a while. There’s an alternative mindset that can hit you like a freight train when you start internalizing scope insensitivity.

________________________________________________________________________________________________Consider Daniel, a college student shortly after the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill. He encounters one of those college students with the clipboards on the street corners, soliciting donations to the World Wildlife Foundation. They’re trying to save as many oiled birds as possible. Normally, Daniel would simply dismiss the charity as Not The Most Important Thing, or Not Worth His Time Right Now, or Somebody Else’s Problem, but this time Daniel has been thinking about how his brain is bad at numbers and decides to do a quick sanity check.

He pictures himself walking along the beach after the oil spill, and encountering a group of people cleaning birds as fast as they can. They simply don’t have the resources to clean all the available birds. A pathetic young bird flops towards his feet, slick with oil, eyes barely able to open. He kneels down to pick it up and help it onto the table. One of the bird-cleaners informs him that they won’t have time to get to that bird themselves, but he could pull on some gloves and could probably save the bird with three minutes of washing.

Daniel decides that he would spend three minutes of his time to save the bird, and that he would also be happy to pay at least $3 to have someone else spend a few minutes cleaning the bird. He introspects and finds that this is not just because he imagined a bird right in front of him: he feels that it is worth at least three minutes of his time (or $3) to save an oiled bird in some vague platonic sense.

And, because he’s been thinking about scope insensitivity, he expects his brain to misreport how much he actually cares about large numbers of birds: the internal feeling of caring can’t be expected to line up with the actual importance of the situation. So instead of just asking his gut how much he cares about de-oiling lots of birds, he shuts up and multiplies.

Thousands and thousands of birds were oiled by the BP spill alone. After shutting up and multiplying, Daniel realizes (with growing horror) that the amount he acutally cares about oiled birds is lower bounded by two months of hard work and/or fifty thousand dollars. And that’s not even counting wildlife threatened by other oil spills.

And if he cares that much about de-oiling birds, then how much does he actually care about factory farming, nevermind hunger, or poverty, or sickness? How much does he actually care about wars that ravage nations? About neglected, deprived children? About the future of humanity? He actually cares about these things to the tune of much more money than he has, and much more time than he has.

For the first time, Daniel sees a glimpse of of how much he actually cares, and how poor a state the world is in.

This has the strange effect that Daniel’s reasoning goes full-circle, and he realizes that he actually can’t care about oiled birds to the tune of 3 minutes or $3: not because the birds aren’t worth the time and money (and, in fact, he thinks that the economy produces things priced at $3 which are worth less than the bird’s survival), but because he can’t spend his time or money on saving the birds. The opportunity cost suddenly seems far too high: there is too much else to do! People are sick and starving and dying! The very future of our civilization is at stake!

Now he realizes that he can’t possibly do enough. After adjusting for his scope insensitivity (and the fact that his brain lies about the size of large numbers), even the “less important” causes like the WWF suddenly seem worthy of dedicating a life to. Wildlife destruction and ALS and breast cancer are suddenly all problems that he would move mountains to solve — except he’s finally understood that there are just too many mountains, and ALS isn’t the bottleneck, and AHHH HOW DID ALL THESE MOUNTAINS GET HERE?

In the original mindstate, the reason he didn’t drop everything to work on ALS was because it just didn’t seem… pressing enough. Or tractable enough. Or important enough. Kind of. These are sort of the reason, but the real reason is more that the concept of “dropping everything to address ALS” never even crossed his mind as a real possibility. The idea was too much of a break from the standard narrative. It wasn’t his problem.

In the new mindstate, everything is his problem. The only reason he’s not dropping everything to work on ALS is because there are far too many things to do first. Now replace the word ALS with climate change and read through that again.

Alice and Bob and Christine usually aren’t spending time solving all the world’s problems because they forget to see them. If you remind them — put them in a social context where they remember how much they care (hopefully without guilt or pressure) — then they’ll likely donate a little money.

Some people may simply give up because they feel there are just too many problems. This is known as analysis paralisys https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analysis_paralysis.  (Daniel hopefully goes on to discover movements like effective altruism and starts contributing towards fixing the world’s most pressing problems.)

________________________________________________________________________________________________ I’m not trying to preach here about how to be a good person. You don’t need to share my viewpoint to be a good person (obviously).

Rather, I’m trying to point at a shift in perspective. Many of us go through life understanding that we should care about people suffering far away from us, but failing to. I think that this attitude is tied, at least in part, to the fact that most of us implicitly trust our internal care-o-meters.

The “care feeling” isn’t usually strong enough to compel us to frantically save everyone dying. So while we acknowledge that it would be virtuous to do more for the world, we think that we can’t, because we weren’t gifted with that virtuous extra-caring that prominent altruists must have.

But this is an error — prominent altruists aren’t the people who have a larger care-o-meter, they’re the people who have learned not to trust their care-o-meters.

Our care-o-meters are broken. They don’t work on large numbers. Nobody has one capable of faithfully representing the scope of the world’s problems. But the fact that you can’t feel the caring doesn’t mean that you can’t do the caring.

You don’t get to feel the appropriate amount of “care”, in your body. Sorry — the world’s problems are just too large, and your body is not built to respond appropriately to problems of this magnitude (Unless you are an AI). But if you choose to do so, you can still act like the world’s problems are as big as they are. You can stop trusting the internal feelings to guide your actions and switch over to manual control.

________________________________________________________________________________________________This, of course, leads us to the question of “what the hell do you then?”

Well most importantly, guilt doesn’t seem like a good long-term motivator: if you want to join the ranks of people saving the world, I would rather you join them proudly. There are many trials and tribulations ahead, and we’d do better to face them with our heads held high.

Courage isn’t about being fearless, it’s about being able to do the right thing even if you’re afraid.

And similarly, addressing the major problems of our time isn’t about feeling a strong compulsion to do so. It’s about doing it anyway, even when internal compulsion utterly fails to capture the scope of the problems we face.

It’s easy to look at especially virtuous people — Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela — and conclude that they must have cared more than we do. But I don’t think that’s the case.

Nobody gets to comprehend the scope of these problems. The closest we can get is doing the multiplication: finding something we care about, putting a number on it, and multiplying. And then trusting the numbers more than we trust our feelings.

For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.

~~Henry David Thoreau

When you do the multiplication, you realize that addressing global poverty and building a brighter future deserve more resources than currently allocated . For those who don’t have the technical skills to create or support solutions. There is one other seemingly long forgotten tradition which was excommunicated from the workplace. That is slow and daunting political process, but don’t worry, if Trump can be president, just imagine what you could do.

The dangerous erosion of human personality at the heart of modern consumer culture.

For a culture to avoid self-destruction as it progresses, writes Henry George in his classic 1883 work Social Problems, it must develop ‘a higher conscience, a keener sense of justice, a warmer brotherhood, a wider, loftier, truer public spirit’, while ensuring responsible and visionary leaders who embrace ‘the mental and moral universe’. By stark contrast, modern consumer culture barrels in the opposite direction, breeding an increasingly trivialized and disengaged strain of personhood, devoid of the ‘loftier’ qualities needed to sustain a viable society and healthy life supports.

Human personality – a crisis

While the ever-deepening mental-health crisis is common knowledge, less understood is the even more serious ‘personality crisis’ that has rendered the consuming public largely unfit for democracy and nigh useless in the face of the multiple emergencies that beg for responsible and conscientious citizenship.

In times of crisis, we turn reflexively to the ‘state of the economy’ without considering possible collapses within the general ‘state of the person’, or what psychologist Erich Fromm called a culture’s ‘social character’. By this he meant the shared constellation of personality and character traits disseminating from a society’s dominant modes of inculturation, all of which serve to forge common values, priorities, ethics, lifestyles and worldviews, and even the so-called ‘will of the people’.

Writing when he did over 50 years ago, Fromm already noticed the unfurling of a personality crisis, using the term ‘marketing personality’ to describe the one-dimensional, commodified and de-sensitized ‘eternal suckling’ that was, as he forewarned in the famous conclusion of Beyond the Chains of Illusion (1962), succumbing to a culturally manufactured ‘consensus of stupidity’ that could prove our ultimate undoing. Since then, the ‘social character’ has become so stunted, and the decline of true citizenship so complete, that some now speak of the ‘apocalyptic personality’ propelling our rush toward self-destruction. But the problem now goes far beyond an agreed-upon ‘stupidity’.

Cultural infantilism

Immaturity has joined forces, as a cultural consensus, with a growing number of social thinkers warning of the dramatic rise of ‘psychological neoteny’, otherwise known as ‘cultural infantilization’. Bruce G Charlton’s influential 2006 Medical Hypothesis article ‘The rise of the boy-genius’ detailed the cultural evolution of a personality profile marked by delayed cognitive maturation, emotional and spiritual shallowness, and diminished ‘profundity of character’ that manifests itself in a ‘child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviours and knowledge’. While these ‘unfinished personalities’ may have increased adaptability in a mercurial culture of inconstant loyalties, abbreviated attention spans and compulsive novelty-seeking, they also expose society to the rawness and limitations of youth that hamper higher-order judgment and decision-making abilities, and culminate in a ‘culture of irresponsibility’.

In his 2017 book The Public in Peril, Henry A Giroux writes about the cultural infantilism of daily life, which encourages adults to assume the role of unthinking children while simultaneously crippling the imagination of the young and destroying their traditional role as ‘the repository of society’s dreams’. Through the engineering of an infantilized society, he observes: ‘Thoughtlessness has become something that now occupies a privileged, if not celebrated, place in the political landscape and the mainstream cultural apparatuses.’ The result is a social system overly invested in ‘ethical ignorance’ and a public sphere dumbed to the value of ‘an enlightened and democratic body politic’.

In a similar vein, sociologist Christopher Swader’s book The Capitalist Personality (2013) documents the prevailing of a rudimental cultural personality featuring exploitive egoism, selfish ambition and profit-mindedness that became the psycho-social mainspring of consumer capitalism. Although bedevilled with deadly long-term consequences, the ‘capitalist personality’ was a predictable outcome of a system functionally dependent on low levels of ethical conviction, personal growth and spiritual wakefulness.

Truth or Consequences

Of the many ways that we invite self-destruction, the climate crisis cries loudest for responsible citizenship and leadership. It is by far the greatest moral, ethical and psycho-social challenge encountered by our species. But the cultural conditions that foster collective responsibility, other-mindedness and conscience development have eroded. Guilt has lost much of its former powers of persuasion and deterrence. Character building as a socialization pathway to ethical resolve and civic commitment is virtually extinct. The trait of narcissism, as well as diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, have risen so much in recent decades that many now regard the narcissistic personality as a normal outcome of current social-cultural conditions. The same is true of the sociopathic personality.

Researchers, such as those at Essex University’s Centre for the Study of Integrity, have chronicled a deepening crisis in which people are increasingly willing to condone behaviour, both in themselves and others, as well as their leaders and institutions, that once would have been deemed dishonest, immoral, unjust and anti-social. The sociopathic personality has become integral to the workings of modern consumer capitalism. But as sociologist Charles Derber, the author of Sociopathic Society (2013), also notes: ‘Climate change is a symptom of the sociopathic character of our capitalist model.’

Adiaphora

Compassion is the cornerstone of civilization and the faculty of human intelligence upon which all well-functioning societies depend. But evidence shows it to be fading from the global ‘social character’. Using data from 127 countries and over 100,000 assessments, the State of the Heart Report (2016) showed empathy to be one of the fastest-declining components of overall ‘emotional intelligence’ (EQ). According to sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, the psycho-social workings of consumer capitalism make such moral dissociations inevitable. In Moral Blindness (2013), he uses the ancient Stoic word adiaphora (meaning ‘indifferents’) to describe the consensus of indifference that enables consumer capitalism to fulfil its operative promise of ever-growing ‘creative destruction’. As a result, he writes, ‘we are at risk of losing our sensitivity to the plight of others,’ something which applies equally to our socially sanctioned indifference toward future generations and the wellbeing of the planet.

Climate of apathy

The ruination of nature is an implicit assumption of the current capitalist system. While the terms ‘apocalypse fatigue’ and ‘doomsday fatigue’ have joined similar ones like ‘climate fatigue’, ‘environment fatigue’ and ‘green fatigue’, all these imply, not only a mature and dutiful citizenry, but one exhausted from fending off ecological catastrophe, which is of course ridiculous. In fact, around 10 years ago, an especially large drop in climate concern coincided with a deluge of high quality climate change research alerting people to the need for urgent action. In the most comprehensive study of its kind, titled ‘Declining public concern about climate change’ (Global Environmental Change, May 2012), political scientists Lyle Scruggs and Salil Benegal analysed data over the last 30 years and demonstrated that climate concern is on a downward slope, with recent years showing the most precipitous decline.

The seemingly suicidal ditching of climate concern was blamed initially on economic woes, but environmental researchers gradually discovered that education, rather than being the master key to responsible and ethical behaviour as one may think, can actually make things worse. Called the ‘cultural backfire effect’, it refers to the way in which people retaliate against facts disconfirming their cultural beliefs by actually strengthening those beliefs, even when they are blatantly erroneous. Researchers at Yale University’s Cultural Cognition Project studied this effect in relation to the climate change beliefs of different political parties in the US. For Republicans, most of whom do not believe in climate change, as their factual knowledge of climate change increased, they actually became less likely to believe in it. For Democrats, as their factual knowledge increased, they were more likely to believe, even when they knew less than Republicans. Such findings demonstrate that our beliefs are much less a product of what we know, or what is right or wrong, than who we are by virtue of our cultural identities.

An overarching cultural system

Yet the reason that people in general, regardless of sub-groupings, are so feckless and impassive, and their actions so antithetical to what they must be at this pivotal crossroads in our existence, is that everyone has been assimilated into an overarching cultural system whose lifeblood is the mercenary indifference and irresponsibility of its followers. Consumer culture has endowed its ‘unfinished personalities’ with minimal aptitude or motivation for constructive disobedience. While the young are the historical igniters of social change, today’s de-idealized youth are the most conventional and conformist generation in history – with most being huddled around the same dead zone of market-driven values, commercialized meanings, and digital distractions.

This was covered in more depth in a previous sermon

Aligned to the forces of destruction

It was once assumed that, if the democratic process could be perfected, the ‘will of the people’ would blossom forth in the service of the greater good. But democracy is proving worthless, and even counterproductive, as a solution to the ecological crisis and other side-effects of our obsolete cultural system. Once a critical mass of the population becomes fully aligned to the forces of destruction, as it has today, democracy becomes more of a liability than a solution. At that point, a society finds itself in a psycho-spiritual plight as great as any of its political, economic or technological ones.

Experiments in eco-religion, or green religion, reasoned that the type and degree of change required today can only be achieved through spiritual growth and enlightenment. But these failed, with none able to compete with a rapidly de-moralizing society, as well as the honeyed ‘prosperity theology’ and ‘consumer theology’ movements peddling less sin, soul and sacrifice, and more getting than giving.

Above self

Only the odd diehard biophile or flower child still preaches love as the revolutionary force that could awaken a higher humanity and reverse our death march. People have become less loveable, both in terms of their loveableness and, more crucially, their ability to love. In ‘Toward a culture of responsibility,’ Yasuhiko Genku Kimura singles out the current consensus, saying: ‘The pandemic of irresponsibility bespeaks a pandemic of lovelessness in the world.’ More to the point, Noam Chomsky states: ‘If you care about other people, that’s now a very dangerous idea.’ To care about anything above, or outside of, oneself has become culturally dangerous, and most dangerous of all to the entire enterprise of ‘apocalyptic capitalism’ would be a populace attuned to the sacredness and supremacy of nature, as tended to be the case throughout most of human history.

The Great Law of the Iroquois required that all major decisions be taken with consideration of people and the land seven generations into the future. Chief Luther Standing Bear, the renowned author and philosopher head of the Oglala Lakota Iroquois, who felt morally bound to remain a ‘chronic disturber’ despite his acclaim, observed: ‘A man’s heart away from nature becomes hard’. Our alienation from nature undoubtedly contributes to our relentless abuses of it, as well as our perversion of priorities and total loss of cosmic grounding.

Who we are has never been more incompatible with who we need to be. What we have become is the greatest threat to ourselves and the planet. We have been perfectly groomed, psychologically and spiritually, for disaster. We have become hard. We are the people of the apocalypse.

Author: John F Schumaker a retired clinical psychologist and academic living in Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa.

Scientists say your “mind” isn’t confined to your brain, or even your body

You might wonder, at some point today, what’s going on in another person’s mind. You may compliment someone’s great mind, or say they are out of their mind. You may even try to expand or free your own mind.
But what is a mind? Defining the concept is a surprisingly slippery task. The mind is the seat of consciousness, the essence of your being. Without a mind, you cannot be considered meaningfully alive. So what exactly, and where precisely, is it?
Traditionally, scientists have tried to define the mind as the product of brain activity: The brain is the physical substance, and the mind is the conscious product of those firing neurons, according to the classic argument. But growing evidence shows that the mind goes far beyond the physical workings of your brain.
No doubt, the brain plays an incredibly important role. But our mind cannot be confined to what’s inside our skull, or even our body, according to a definition first put forward by Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and the author of a recently published book, Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human.
He first came up with the definition more than two decades ago, at a meeting of 40 scientists across disciplines, including neuroscientists, physicists, sociologists, and anthropologists. The aim was to come to an understanding of the mind that would appeal to common ground and satisfy those wrestling with the question across these fields.
After much discussion, they decided that a key component of the mind is: “the emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational, that regulates energy and information flow within and among us.” It’s not catchy. But it is interesting, and with meaningful implications.
The most immediately shocking element of this definition is that our mind extends beyond our physical selves. In other words, our mind is not simply our perception of experiences, but those experiences themselves. Siegel argues that it’s impossible to completely disentangle our subjective view of the world from our interactions.
“I realized if someone asked me to define the shoreline but insisted, is it the water or the sand, I would have to say the shore is both sand and sea,” says Siegel. “You can’t limit our understanding of the coastline to insist it’s one or the other. I started thinking, maybe the mind is like the coastline—some inner and inter process. Mental life for an anthropologist or sociologist is profoundly social. Your thoughts, feelings, memories, attention, what you experience in this subjective world is part of mind.”
The definition has since been supported by research across the sciences, but much of the original idea came from mathematics. Siegel realized the mind meets the mathematical definition of a complex system in that it’s open (can influence things outside itself), chaos capable (which simply means it’s roughly randomly distributed), and non-linear (which means a small input leads to large and difficult to predict result).
In math, complex systems are self-organizing, and Siegel believes this idea is the foundation to mental health. Again borrowing from the mathematics, optimal self-organization is: flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable. This means that without optimal self-organization, you arrive at either chaos or rigidity—a notion that, Siegel says, fits the range of symptoms of mental health disorders.
Finally, self-organization demands linking together differentiated ideas or, essentially, integration. And Siegel says integration—whether that’s within the brain or within society—is the foundation of a healthy mind.
Siegel says he wrote his book now because he sees so much misery in society, and he believes this is partly shaped by how we perceive our own minds. He talks of doing research in Namibia, where people he spoke to attributed their happiness to a sense of belonging.
When Siegel was asked in return whether he belonged in America, his answer was less upbeat: “I thought how isolated we all are and how disconnected we feel,” he says. “In our modern society we have this belief that mind is brain activity and this means the self, which comes from the mind, is separate and we don’t really belong. But we’re all part of each others’ lives. The mind is not just brain activity. When we realize it’s this relational process, there’s this huge shift in this sense of belonging.”
In other words, even perceiving our mind as simply a product of our brain, rather than relations, can make us feel more isolated. And to appreciate the benefits of interrelations, you simply have to open your mind.

Common misconceptions about neo-Buddhism

On paper, Buddhism looks pretty good. It has a philosophical subtlety married to a stated devotion to tolerance that makes it stand out amongst the world religions as uniquely not awful. We in the 21st century have largely sensed something a bit depressing about Buddhism, but nothing more sinister than that. It is a result of viewing Buddhist belief as being a single homogeneous belief system. But if we start looking a bit closer, it is possible to discover that some versions of Buddhist belief in practice are corrupted (there have been attempts to control it via a false panchen lama as well), there is a lurking darkness there, quietly stated and eloquently crafted. This is not a single Buddhist tradition but a drift that has occurred across several different traditions. neo-Buddhists refer to these traditions collectively as QB. See if you can spot the differences.

For nine years, Dale DeBakcsy worked as a science and maths teacher at a small private Buddhist school in the United States. And it was a wonderful job working with largely wonderful people. The administration, monks, and students knew that I was an atheist and had absolutely no problem with it as long as I didn’t actively proselytize (try and find a Catholic school that would hire a moderate agnostic, let alone a fully out-of-the-closet atheist). The students were incredibly sensitive and community-conscious individuals, and are his dear friends to this day.

However, Dale had no doubt that Buddhist religious belief, as it was practiced at this particular school, did a great deal of harm. Nowhere was this more in evidence than in the ramifications of the perverting the belief in karma. At first glance, karma is a lovely idea which encourages people to be good even when nobody is watching for the sake of happiness in a future life. It’s a bit carrot-and-stickish, but so are a lot of the ways in which we get people to not routinely beat us up and take our stuff. Where it gets insidious is in the pall that it casts over our failures in this life. I remember one student who was having problems memorizing material for tests. Distraught, she went to the monks who explained to her that she was having such trouble now because, in a past life, she was a murderous dictator who burned books, and so now, in this life, she is doomed to forever be learning challenged.

Not, “Oh, let’s look at changing your study habits”, but rather, “Oh, well, that’s because you have the soul of a book-burning murderer.”

To our ears, this sounds so over the top that it is almost amusing, but to a kid who earnestly believes that these monks have hidden knowledge of the karmic cycle, it is devastating. She was convinced that her soul was polluted and irretrievably flawed, and that nothing she could do would allow her to ever learn like the people around her. And this is the dark side of karma – instead of misfortunes in life being bad things that happen to you, they are manifestations of a deep and fundamental wrongness within you. Children have a hard enough time keeping up their self-esteem as it is with every botched homework being a sign of lurking inner evil.

This conception is to assume that people have no choice about what is within themselves. If this little girl was actually Hitler in a previous life, should she live this one without any consequence? If that were to occur, then what was overcome? Why would there be any reason to be a better person or overcome hardship?

If Christianity allows anyone into heaven for repenting on their deathbed, why should anyone follow christian rules for their whole lives, when they only need to for the last 10min before they die?

Why would Buddhism allow terrible people to start a new life without any negative consequence? Karma is a result of an individuals choices, not their inner nature. Even inner nature can be changed, but only though choice. It is possible that this book-burning murderer needs to live life as one of the people they condemned to death. So that the experience becomes so ingrained that they do not do it again.

However the vast majority of karma is not a result of past lives. It is a result of your choices in this life. If you do good things in the face of adversity, that has helped not only yourself but others as well. Once it becomes a virtuous cycle then eventually there will not be any negative karma remaining. Culture of a civilization can only evolve when it goes beyond the individual level and is adopted by the society though it’s laws and traditions. The better the society the better the individual, the worse the society the worse the individual. That is karma. It’s not all about you or any individual, it is about everyone.

As crippling as the weight of one’s past lives can be, however, it is nothing compared to the horrors of the here and now. Some people belive Buddhism’s inheritance from Hinduism is the notion of existence as a painful continuous failure to negate itself. This conception only exists for those who do not understand the nature of desire. What is desire but discontent over not having something? It is a sort of hunger on the emotional level. Is hunger pain? If you think it is not, then try starving for a while. So it is for many emotions, this is not good or bad, it is just the nature of being. The only way to overcome this pain is enlightenment, and the first step on that path is contentment. Once you realize that contentment is the first step to overcoming emotional pain, you will understand both pain and the shadow of enlightenment. A hint about the 2nd step, it has to do with attachment.

The wheel of reincarnation rumbles ruthlessly over us all, forcing us to live again and again in a horrid world until we get it right and learn to coexist. Even if it takes yet another mass extinction.

Now, there are legitimate philosophical reasons for holding to this view. Viewed from a certain perspective, the destruction of everything you’ve ever cared about is inevitable, and when it’s being experienced, the pain of loss does not seem recompensed by the joy of attachment that preceded it for those who do not practice contentment. And that yawning stretch of impermanence outside, so the argument goes, is mirrored by the fundamental non-existence of the self inside.

Meditation, properly done, allows you to strip away, one by one, all of your merely personal traits and achieve insight into the basic nothingness, the attribute-less nature of your existence. Those are all interesting philosophical and psychological insights, and good can come of them. Being hyper-sensitive to suffering and injustice is a good gateway to being helpful to your fellow man and in general making the world a better place.

There are two central claims here: that our own fundamental essence is non-existence, and that the nature of the outer world is impermanence.

One way to interpret this is the idea of the void-essence of self is one arrived at through meditation, through exercises in reflection dictated by centuries of tradition. That’s enough to give us pause right there – it’s not really a process of self-discovery if you’re told the method, the steps, and the only acceptable conclusion before you’ve even begun.

This is the primary method by which Buddhism has been undermined. Increasingly strict rules and just-so methodology which are designed to morph Buddhism into something more akin to Hinduism for the purposes of justifying something akin to a caste system. Replete with a gatekeepers to enlightenment, or at least profit.

In neo-Buddhism which is a revival of ancient Indian Buddhism, meditation has no such restrictions on mediation. Neo-Buddhism is the Buddhism of the Laughing Buddha, Walking Buddha, Laying Buddha. These are references that one can meditate like the Buddha when walking, laying or even laughing. Mediation is a state of mind, not a state of body.

If the buddhism that you are taught limits the freedom of inquiry as much as it does the meditative posture. Or a rigidity of method has infected the structure of belief, ossifying potential explanations of existence into dogmatic assertions mechanically arrived at. Then sorry, you have been exposed to what neo-Buddhist call Q-Buddhism, status-quo Buddhism. It is Buddhism with Confucian characteristics.

In neo-Buddhism, the void-essence of self is a perspective of the self from outside the body, it is inherently empty because it is detached from the self but attached to everything else. This is the nature of the void-essence, which can be translated to mean spacetime. It is a sort of 3rd person perspective without the person.

The impermanence of the outer world seems solidly founded. Five billion years from now, I’m pretty sure that this novelty cup next to me is not going to exist in any sort of recognizable novelty cup form. Nothing in this room will functionally persist as long as you only admit my Use Perspective as the only relevant lens of observation. The matter and energy will both still exist, but they won’t exist in the configuration which I am accustomed to. The conclusions that Buddhism draws from an impermanence theory of the external world supposes that I cannot hold in my mind at the same time both an appreciation and attachment to an object or a person as they stand in front of me right now AND a recognition that my use of a particular configuration of matter and energy at the moment doesn’t determine how it will exist for all time.

Some people feel Buddhism’s approach to use-based impermanence attempts to force us into a false binarism where we must either be the slaves of attachment or the cold observers of transience. This is because they are viewing concepts such as contentment or detachment as occurring separately and not at the same time.
Buddhism says that desire is suffering, in the same way as unrequited love, and even if you gain your desires, the impermanence of the world ensures it will eventually be lost. Some may view this through the lens that the only way to overcome that suffering is to not be attached at all, which is wrong. Detachment is about letting go of things instead of being stuck forever in the state of unrequited love, by fully grasping the fundamental nature of impermanence instead of trying to place blame for the loss. It’s about being happy when you can be, and not getting stuck in the “trap of wanting” which is known as “Hedonic treadmill” in the west.

At the end of the day, it’s still true that Buddhism is not a single belief system, but has many traditions which are not typically incorporated into the name of the practice. Unfortunately quite a few of those traditions are being corrupted to create complacency and inaction because that supports a status quo and keeps Buddhists uninvolved in party politics. QB (Q-Buddism) has the drive to infect individuals with an inability to appreciate life except through a filter of regret and self-blame is perhaps even more dangerous for being so very much more subtle. As for Dale DeBakcsy’s experience with the student who had a learning disability, it exemplifies the difference between QB and neo-Buddhism. While in both cases it is true that she will have a learning disability for her whole life, QB tells her that it is the status quo and she has no one but herself to blame. In neo-Buddhism they would empower her with technology and techniques to work around her limitations and change study habits.

Why Chris Hedges is wrong about investing with integrity. (It’s the difference between strategy and tactics.)

Today’s sermon is a guest post from Todd Freeman, I am approving it not necessarily because it is a part of the neo-Buddhist belief system, if asked in a court room setting I would say it is not. But as a part of our series on critical thinking skills, you have to watch it to see the biases that Chris hedges succumbs to despite over an hour of cogent and well thought out arguments. Ultimately it is a result of his experience as a journalist of revolutionary movements instead of as a participant.

Because of his historical attachment to the more romanticized aspects of revolutionary struggle, mostly due it’s history of successes, he finds the idea of investing with integrity. to be something akin to something the neoliberal elite would embrace. So his casual and slightly arrogent dismissal of it, primarily because he feels like it would be a capitulation instead of revolution, seems to me at least, to be a result of conflating strategy with tactics. There are significant and large differences between them. Before I get too far into this I just want to put a disclaimer up front. This was written at 3am because I felt the incredible urge to let the world know that chris hedges is wrong about something, after eating a whole lot of High Fructose CornSyrup (HFCS) which is not normal for me.

So back to ChrisH here. The most astounding part, to me, about the timing of this, is that earlier, almost at the beginning of his talk he mentions some very poinginet observations about previous successful revolutions vs ones that failed. He mentions that in successful revolutions a large portion of the ruling class has to “defect”, before that however, significant portions of the “private interests” lets call them, of the upper echelon of society has to “defect”. I will explain what I mean by defect, but first I want to explain what makes the difference that exists in this seeming homogeneous group referred to as the 1%. CH does refer to this but does not come out and say it. That this group is selected for because of their predatory nature which is promoted in a hyper-competitive ideology which is social Darwinism made up in the image of markets. 2 broad strategies typically are able to rise to the top, one which trump does not actually represent, but his “real” supporters do. Trump himself is of the 2nd variety, he is an opportunist that is willing to get his hands dirty. So a narcissistic opportunist. Which is fortunate because they have limits. The people who empower him however, are on the antisocial narcissist variety. When confronted with something like decades in prison or the loss of their fortunes, one group will be likely to defect to save their own ass, so they are willing to lose major portions of their fortunes to avoid prison. The other side will fight to the death, by which I mean sending younger men to wars to distract and disrupt those attempts. Because loss of their fortune is all they have because the materialism has replaced their humanity, they have placed the value of property over the value of people, and to loose it is worse than loosing their own life because in their mind it represents the loss of their own life and prison is just the coffin. “All is fair in love and war” they tell themselves, because they never had a realistic concept of love in the first place.

Anyway, I am ranting now, see what too much HFCS at 3am does ?

While reading the rest of this listen to:

and just replace the word blood with lead.

We’ll never get free
Lamb to the slaughter
What you gon’ do
When there’s lead in the water
The price of your greed
Is your son and your daughter
What you gon’ do
When there’s lead in the water

So yes, back to why CH is WRONG! that’s right kids, someone is wrong on the internet! Serious business. He seems to think that the defectors are going to start meeting in pubs or someshit ? Like really guy ? c’mon. That is some romanticized shit. Sure sure, say I am just a debbie downer and its just the depression talking, My problem is that I wasn’t hugged enough as a child. We can’t win without blind optimism or someshit. Go … tell it to your dog.

They won’t defect to a guillotine. You have to give them something they can use to rally behind and slowly become comfortable even with the idea. So get out of here with that vanguardist bullshit.

Sure green washing has felt like a raw deal in the face of what climate change has wrought, but you think for a second that a hard “brexit” for the US, isn’t exactly what authoritarians that started this shit in the first place want ? IT’S THE METHOD BY WHICH THEY SEIZE POWER. Like seriously. This is the part where I laugh about how little people actually understand russian history from the 90’s to now, always some part of their distant past. How did putin get to where he is ? From where I see it, what is happening in the US, is just a replay.

So the PROPER way to “do the hard work” which at least CH refers to, is by creating those spaces and alliances where actions speak louder than words. Which, and it’s ok to laugh at this, is in a large part a branding issue. So what I am saying is, “ethical capitalism” is actually a required first step of “The hard work”. Ok now, finally, what does he mean by “defect”. Well you may have noticed, with globalization and all, that supply chains are quite complex. And the way the system is now. Unless you are on enough drugs to think that somehow you can take on the armed forces, or that it would be a good idea and not potentially lead accidentally to what we will refer to as “live operation of the missile defense shield” you have to recognize that you need resources which are organized, into non-violent struggle of sustained civil disobedience. Which CH himself says IS REQUIRED. So these thing still need resources, and in the world today, that is still obtained with money. Not blind rage, that only leads to the wrong path, which history is shown that the means create the ends, the ends do not justify the means. No matter what ends you aim for, if you choose the wrong means, the ends will change. I call it “The invisible hand of fascism” The the flip side of the coin, to other’s it is the true face of late stage capitalism. You have to give the defectors and off-ramp and you will only be able to differentiate between the defectors and fake defectors, aka wolves in sheep’s clothing, by their actions. So for a little while this place may start to look a bit like Russia. But so long as people understand the differences between strategy and tactics, which is that strategy thinks LONG TERM and encompasses the whole battlefield (Would a battle field earth joke be funny here or too much ?) where as tactics are of limited range and scope, they only work for small or short term objectives, such as rallying or signaling, but without an overarching strategy, it’s like an octopus on roller skates, you don’t know if it’s making progress or just flailing around until it runs out of energy (is this a reference to peak oil, or climate change ? You decide! it’s like a choose your own adventure. Isn’t that exciting ? Karen laughed.)

So therefore and in conclusion, it’s a multi stage process and sorry you can’t just jump to the end.

Building coalitions takes time, and a lot more acceptance to a diversity of tactics than arrogance that because capitalism cause these problems, that it somehow means you cannot dismantle the masters house with the masters tools. I am a repairman, and that saying never made sense to me, you totally can. That’s what is causing it to self destruct in the first place. So while he feels that many acts of philanthropy are meaningless, it’s because, as the title of this article says, he doesn’t have a solid grasp of the difference between strategy and tactics, and feels he would loose credibility if he was seen to be capitulating in any way to capitalism, instead of trying to make appeals for resources. I can understand that, and this is why we embrace a diversity of tactics on the left. It’s not like this one thing will suddenly cause me to dismiss him and his ideas wholly. And (I started with an and to piss of the grammar nazi’s, must be all this talk of revolution, so I can’t resist rustlin some jimmies) his response to this article if he ever sees it, is probably not going to be a condemnation of me or my ideas, well maybe some because this wouldn’t really be the left if there wasn’t any disagreement, those places where everyone conforms to a demagogue don’t work the way you want. That is the difference between lenninism and stalinism, BECAUSE LIKE NONE SEEMS TO KNOW THE DAMN DIFFERENCE, some jackasses like to pretend like Russia is still communist, (I am looking at you, 16th CPC, too obvious ) so the distinction would be lost on them. He encapsulates this well at 1:23 when he says “Vasily Grossman quoted in ‘life and fate’: ““This dumb, blind love is man’s meaning. Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil, struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.””

That is why we are on the same side, because the dalai lama said it might be necessary.

Is a market society what we really want ?

Without quite realizing it, without ever deciding to do so, we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.

The difference is this: A market economy is a tool for organizing productive activity. A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor. It is a place where social relations are made over in the image of the market.

This cold “Logic” has caused police to focus on ticketing and jailing, there is no longer any incentive to solve violent crimes. Rapes go un-punished while focus is given to 20year minimum sentences for having an illegal plant.

The privatization of our schools has left us with an educational system that is ranked 25th of the worlds top 50. With only 75% of students graduating high school. Rampant cheating to reach meaningless metrics while de-funding those most in need.

Our political systems have reached crisis levels as well, with congress entertaining far right conspiracy theories as national business while ignoring catastrophic issues such as climate change, illegitimate wars and the erosion of our freedoms to justify the cost of an immense national security apparatus which serves only to control through fear and feed a prison industrial complex. Which has enslaved more humans than the rest of the world combined, in a race to achieve the lowest cost of labor. A direct contravention of purported beliefs in freedom, dignity and the pursuit of happiness. Which are used to erect an apocryphal

platform of self-righteous exceptionalism which seemingly serves to hasten the self-destruction of civilization for temporary shareholder value.

In the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1987, the New York Times headlined an editorial “Ban Greed? No: Harness It,” It continued: “Perhaps the most important idea here is the need to distinguish between motive and consequence. Derivative securities attract the greedy the way raw meat attracts piranhas. But so what? Private greed can lead to public good. The sensible goal for securities regulation is to channel selfish behavior, not thwart it.”

The Times, surely unwittingly, was channeling the 18th century philosopher  David Hume:  “Political writers have established it as a maxim, that in contriving any system of government . . . every man ought to be supposed to be a knave and to have no other end, in all his actions, than his private interest. By this interest we must govern him, and, by means of it, make him, notwithstanding his insatiable avarice and ambition, cooperate to public good.”

The idea that base motives could be harnessed for the public good is what I term economic alchemy. And in Hume’s time it was definitely a new way of thinking about how society could be governed.

During the Middle Ages, avarice had been considered to be among the most mortal of the seven deadly sins, a view that became more widespread with the expansion of commercial activity after the twelfth century. So it is surprising that self-interest would eventually be accepted a respectable motive, and even more surprising that this change owed little to the rise of economics, at least at first.

How this came about, you will see, is a remarkable story, one that is finally running its course in light of mounting evidence not only that people are not really all that knavish, but also that  treating citizens as if they were knaves may lead them to act is if they really were knaves! But I am getting ahead of the story.

It all began in the sixteenth century with Niccolò Machiavelli. “Anyone who would found a republic and order its laws” he wrote in his Discourses, “must assume that all men are wicked [and] . . . never act well except through necessity . . . It is said that hunger and poverty make them industrious, laws make them good.”  Hume, it seems was channeling Machiavelli!

It was the shadow of war and disorder that made self-interest an acceptable basis of good government. During the seventeenth century, wars accounted for a larger share of European mortality than in any century for which we have records, including what Raymond Aron called “the century of total war,” which happily is now finished.

Writing after a decade of warfare between English parliamentarians and royalists, Hobbes (in 1651) sought to determine “the Passions that encline men to Peace” and found them in “Feare of Death; Desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a Hope by their Industry to obtain them.” Knaves might be preferable to saints or at least likely to be more harmless.

The year before Adam Smith wrote in his Wealth of Nations (1776) about  how the self-interest of the butcher, the brewer, and the baker would put our dinner on the table,  James Boswell’s Dr. Johnson gave  Homo economicus  a different endorsement: “There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.”

Adam Smith showed how a constitution for knaves might actually work at least as far as the economy is concerned. The economic actor, he wrote “intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.” By which he was referring to as diety leading the errant man along a path of his lords plan despite his own intention. This particular wrinkle is covered more here: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-burklo/the-invisible-hand-of-god_b_7184112.html

This is hardly making the case for laissez faire that later generations have attributed to Smith. But it is a milestone in the emerging view that motives other than self-interest could be pernicious. The sentence following one of Smith’s rare references to the invisible hand makes this point:  “By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.” Which obviously cannot be maintained given the levels of inequality that we witness today.

The result, remarked John Maynard Keynes in a 1926 pamphlet, The End of Laissez Faire,   was that “The political philosopher, could retire in favor of the business man – for the latter could attain the philosopher’s summum bonum [greatest good] by just pursing his own private profit.” Which also kicked off the decline of philosophy as a practice in the west. Where the transformation from a market economy to a market society began.

Less than century after Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Lewis Carroll’s Alice had taken the economists’ message to heart. When the Duchess exclaimed, “Oh, ’tis love, ’tis love that makes the world go round,” Alice countered, if only in a whisper:  “Somebody said that it’s done by everyone minding their own business.”

From there, it was a short step to thinking that while ethical reasoning and concern for others should inform one’s actions as a family member or friend; the same did not go for shopping or making a living and eventually political life as a whole. True philosophical morality was replaced with economic conservatism for leadership and that is when the transformation to a market society was complete.

And so it came about that since the late eighteenth century, economists, political theorists, and constitutional thinkers have embraced Hume’s maxim and have taken Homo economicus as their working assumption about behavior.  Partly for this reason, competitive markets, well-defined property rights, and efficient and (since the twentieth century) democratically accountable, at least in appearance, states are seen as the critical ingredients of governance. Good institutions displaced good citizens as the sine qua non of good government.

In the economy, prices would do the work of morals.

Neither Hume, nor Smith – author also of The Theory of Moral Sentiments nor any of the other great classical economists had imagined that people really were knaves in fact. Hume, in the sentence following the passage quoted at the outset added:  “it appears somewhat strange, that a maxim should be true in politics, which is false in fact.

John Stuart Mill played a leading role in restricting what was still called political economy  to the study of  “such phenomena . . . as take place in consequence of the pursuit of wealth. It makes entire abstraction of every other human passion or motive.” But he immediately termed this “an arbitrary definition of man.”

Unmitigated self interest was always just a handy simplification, one that in the late 20th century greatly simplified the eventual rendering of much of economics in mathematical form. But Homo economicus is now in retreat.

In the book “The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens

Samuel Bowles explains why economists have come to have second thoughts about Homo economicus.

Smith’s invisible hand has always needed the helping hand of both public policy and personal morality. Smith’s economy was not the stateless world of sociopaths that so many students of economics encounter in their intro courses. Smith’s insistence that self interest be constrained by elementary morality now resonates in unlikely places.

As the housing bubble burst in 2008 and the financial crisis unfolded, many U.S. homeowners found that their property was worth less than their mortgage obligation to the bank. Some of these “underwater owners” did the math and strategically defaulted on their loans, giving the bank the keys and walking away. The banks knew this would happen, they knew they were giving out bad loans. But they did not care. Why ? They had a “bet” against the loans they gave out failing, in the form of insurance that the home buying purchased and paid for as a part of the mortgage contract. So the selfish interest of the banks led directly to giving out bad loans. To the advatange of society ? Can you really belive that ?

The greatest challenges now facing the world—including controlling the spread of epidemics and managing climate change and governing the knowledge-based economy–arise from global social interactions that cannot adequately be governed by channeling entirely self-interested citizens to do the right thing by means of incentives and sanctions, whether provided by private contract or by  government fiat. With economic inequality increasing in the world’s major economies helped along in many cases by flagrant abuse of legal and moral standards, one may also now doubt Dr. Johnson’s reassurance that “there are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.”

The novel 18th century idea that economic self interest might under the right institutions sometimes be mobilized for social purposes remains essential to tackling these problems. Markets remain an essential and vast arena of human cooperation (albeit unintended). But the idea of an economy of avaricious knaves waiting to be harnessed for the public good by a discredited economic alchemy now appears to be anything but harmless.

Is Culture a result of the evolution of justice?

Society write large and culture in specific, is the result of a myriad of social contracts  written into our biology. As is the justice they need. The arc of our evolution has long bent towards the justice of “laws” fittest for team survival. We bred ourselves, by artificial selection, to internalize and feel strongly about social rules. This is the primary mistake of social darwinism which purports “survival of the fittest” under the vaneer of indidivdualism.
Christopher Boehm in Moral Origins concludes, after intensive analysis of 50 representative hunter-gatherer cultures, that our ancestors likely experienced a “radical political change,” evolving from a hierarchic “apelike ‘might is right’…social order,” to become more egalitarian. About 250,000 years ago, their survival became a team sport because chasing big-game toward teammates was much more productive than solo hunting. But only if profit-sharing was sustainable. Even with fit teammates hunting needs luck (e.g. 4% success today). Then, as now, the logic of social insurance solved team problems by sharing profits and risks. This is the same process that transformed wolves into dogs. Productivity gains in interdependent teams radically changed our evolution. Cooperators thrived. As did teams with the best adapted sharing rules, provided they were well enforced.
Boehm says all surviving hunter-gatherers enforce law-like social rules to prevent excessive egoism, nepotism, and cronyism. They use rebukes, ridicule, shame, shunning, exile and execution (typically delegated to close male kin of the condemned, to avoid inter-family feuding). For example, meat isn’t distributed by the successful hunter but by neutral stakeholders. Excessively dominant alpha-male behavior—like hogging more than a fair share of meat—is punished by “counterdominant coalitions.” If the strong abused their power they were eliminated, in a sort of inverted eugenics. Resisting injustice and tyranny are universal traits in today’s hunter-gatherers. They likely run 10,000 generations deep in our prehistory.
Social punishment created powerful selection pressures. Self-control becomes the lowest-cost strategy for avoiding social penalties. Shame and guilt likely evolved as mechanisms for internalizing the logic of team rules—a social contract written into our biology. We intuitively recognize what is considered punishable. And often punish ourselves. Cultures configure shame and guilt system triggers differently. But rules balancing short term individual selfish gain with longer-term or team interests are more evolutionarily productive. Thinking of our evolved urges as irresistible is a deep error, since self-control, especially relative to social rules, has long been needed for survival (see “evo-irresistible error”)
Our ancestors bred themselves to be team players. They used intelligently directed artificial selection of good cooperators as mates (“auto-domestication”). Bad cooperators were less likely to be selected for, or successful at, the hugely costly and highly collaborative business of raising long helpless offspring.
Justice, wrote Hesiod, poet of the ancient Greek masses and Homer’s rival, was “Zeus’s greatest gift” to us. Greatest or not, without it human nature wouldn’t be what it is. And we wouldn’t exist. This same process that gives rise to justice also gives rise to Altruism and I will even go so far as to suggest that, it is so powerful as to overcome what richard dawkins calls “the selfish gene” and in doins so,  gives rise to homo-sexuality.
If viewing evloution through the lens of “survival of the fittest” it is possible to calculate the relative fitness of certain genes, such as the occurence of  altruistic gene within and among groups. Consider a group of relatives that are socially interacting with each other. Some are altruistic and others are not. We don’t keep track of genes that are identical by descent. Instead, we calculate the effect of the altruistic act on the frequency of the altruistic gene within the group of relatives. The altruistic gene is at a selective disadvantage within the group. The only way for the altruistic gene to evolve in the total gene pool is if groups with more altruists contribute more to the gene pool than groups with fewer altruists. Because both altuism and variations in non-reproductive sexuality result in pro-social behavior, there would be stronger coheasion in groups that exhibit these behaviors which results in higher evolutionary sucess under harsh conditions over long periods of times, which are common during ecological disasters such as ice ages, or doughts and other causes of food scarcity.  There is certiainly something to be said for behaviors being evolved by culture first and biologically second.
altruism-genes

Why does beliving in non-duality matter ?

 

“We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness.” — Albert Einstein
“In our quest for happiness and the avoidance of suffering, we are all fundamentally the same, and therefore equal. Despite the characteristics that differentiate us – race, language, religion, gender, wealth and many others – we are all equal in terms of our basic humanity.” — Dalai Lama (on twitter)
The belief that everything in the universe is part of the same fundamental whole exists throughout many cultures and philosophical, religious, spiritual, and scientific traditions, as captured by the phrase ‘all that is.’ The Nobel winner Erwin Schrodinger once observed that quantum physics is compatible with the notion that there is indeed a basic oneness of the universe. Therefore, despite it seeming as though the world is full of many divisions, many people throughout the course of human history and even today truly believe that individual things are part of some fundamental entity.
Despite the prevalence of this belief, there has been a lack of a well validated measure in psychology that captures this belief. While certain measures of spirituality do exist, the belief in oneness questions are typically combined with other questions that assess other aspects of spirituality, such as meaning, purpose, sacredness, or having a relationship with God. What happens when we secularize the belief in oneness?
In a recent series of studies, Kate Diebels and Mark Leary set out to find out. In their first study, they found that only 20.3% of participants had thought about the oneness of all things “often” or “many times”, while 25.9% of people “seldom” thought about the oneness of all things, and 12.5% of people “never” had thought about it.
The researchers also created a 6-item “Belief in Oneness Scale” consisting of the following items:
  1. Beyond surface appearances, everything is fundamentally one.
  2. Although many seemingly separate things exist, they all are part of the same whole.
  3. At the most basic level of reality, everything is one.
  4. The separation among individual things is an illusion. A particle is just the segent of a wave that is detected, it isn’t the whole wave. Time is continuous, it is the measurement we use that is not. Do not mistake the measuring stick for the object being measured; in reality everything is one.
  5. Everything is composed of the same basic substance, whether one thinks of it as spirit, consciousness, quantum processes. In neo-Buddhism this is reffered to as Information or quantum information, that which differentiates an up quark from a down quark.
  6. The same basic essence permeates everything that exists.
Those who scored higher on this scale were much more likely to have an identity that extends beyond the individual to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, nature, and even the cosmos. In fact, a belief in oneness was more strongly related to feeling connected with distant people and aspects of the natural world than with people with whom one is close! Also, while a belief in oneness was related to actual experiences of oneness (“mystical experiences”), there was no relationship between a belief in oneness and feeling closer to God during a spiritual experience.
In their second study, the researchers looked at values and self-views that might be related to the belief in oneness. They found that a belief in oneness was related to values indicating a universal concern for the welfare of other people, as well as greater compassion for other people. A belief in oneness was also associated with feeling connected to others through a recognition of our common humanity, common problems, and common imperfections. At the same time, there was no relationship between a belief in oneness and the degree to which people endorsed self-focused values such as hedonism, self-direction, security, or achievement. This means that people can have a belief in oneness and still have a great deal of self-care, healthy boundaries, and self-direction in life.
Implications of a Belief in Oneness
People who believe that everything is fundamentally one differ in crucial ways from those who do not. In general, those who hold a belief in oneness have a more inclusive identity that reflects their sense of connection with other people, nonhuman animals, and aspects of nature that are all thought to be part of the same “one thing.” This has some rather broad implications.
First, this finding is relevant to our current fractured political landscape. It is very interesting that those who reported a greater belief in oneness were also more likely to regard other people like members of their own group and to identify with all of humanity. There is an abundance of identity politics these days, with people believing that their own ideology is the best one, and a belief that those who disagree with one’s own ideology are evil or somehow less than human.
It might be beneficial for people all across the political spectrum to recognize and hold in mind a belief in oneness even as they are asserting their values and political beliefs. Only having “compassion” for those who are in your in-group, and vilifying or even becoming violent toward those who you perceive as the out-group, is not only antithetical to world peace more broadly, but is also counter-productive to political progress that advances the greater good of all humans on this planet.
I also think these findings have important implications for education. Even if some adults may be hopeless when it comes to changing their beliefs, most children are not. Other beliefs– such as a belief that intelligence can learn and grow (“growth mindset“)– are extraordinarily popular in education these days. However, I wonder what the implications would be if all students were also explicitly trained to believe that we are all part of the same fundamental humanity, actively showing students through group discussions and activities how we all have insecurities and imperfections, and how underneath the superficial differences in opinions and political beliefs, we all have the same fundamental needs for connection, purpose, and to matter in this vast universe.
Perhaps now, more than ever in the course of human history, we would benefit more from a oneness mindset.