PHILOMADRID

PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Sunday, October 30, 2005

What is insight?

What is insight?

Those who read the science pages in newspapers would
remember the recent excitement caused by reports witnessing
two gorillas using walking sticks as an aid. Seeing gorillas
in the wild is, of course, itself something to be excited
about. And photographing these majestic creatures in the
wild is itself something to be emotional about. However,
that two gorillas should use walking sticks to help them
cross a swamp is, in itself, of no consequence in the scheme
of things; research grants and professorial tenures not
withstanding. Considering the human folly that takes place
around their habitat one would have thought that gorillas
would by now have reinvented the RPG or the self loading
rifle, and not the walking stick.

But this essay is not about gorillas, but why is it that
humans have, for better or for worse, invented the RPG and
the SLR. Imagine you're being chased by a troop of gorillas
to the nearest berry bush. Now, if you get their first and
the gorillas take exception to your feasting something
unpleasant is bound to happen. We can safely assume that
blow for blow the gorillas will win. The alternative is to
back off or to punch smart.

The first homo-being who had the insight, or the intuitive
perception, about the effects of kinetic energy and the
foresight to throw a rock at a chasing gorilla, sealed the
fate of both species. The first time that homo-beings used
their brain to strategise against other creatures, and win,
they discovered they had a powerful advantage over others.
Insight is all about this imbalance of power. Insight is
also one of the mental tools we use to gain advantage over
others.

One of the reasons why we find insight intellectually
challenging is that between the few facts we have on an
issue and the enlightening ''Aha!'' conclusion we reach,
there seems to be a void or a gap that makes it difficult
for us to understand what happens. So how can we reach the
right conclusion on so few facts?

This distinction between what we are aware of and what takes
place at the subconscious level is, I suggest, one of the
key issues on the subject. The question here is how do we
account for this gap? Traditionally we accounted for
knowledge in two ways. We either used deductive reasoning or
inductive reasoning.

If we go the deductive route, we are faced with the question
of how can we take into account premises in our reasoning
which we are not aware of? If all men are philosophers, how
can I reach the conclusion that Socrates is a philosopher
unless I also know that Socrates is a man? To put the point
in much simpler terms, how can we have pork sausages if we
don't put pork in the sausage machine?

On the deductive method we have to assume that we have more
information than we are aware of. Moreover, it suggests that
we have some form of innate ability to organise all this
information into a valid deductive logic schema. However, we
don't usually associate intuition with any form of deductive
reasoning. Intuition is much closer to guess work than
deductive reasoning is to common sense.

Inductive reasoning does not take us closer to filling in
the gap. We're changing the terminology but not the
scenario. The old problem about induction still stands; how
can we get a conclusion of what X ought to be if all we have
are facts F1~Fn? Induction tells us that we make this jump
into the unknown, sometimes with some considerable success,
but not how we make the jump.

However, inductive reasoning has a lot in common with
insight. They both display a certain void or gap between the
input and the conclusion. This gap is difficult to reconcile
with the fact that we do get things right quite often. They
are also not predetermined by the information we put in.
Contrasting this with deductive reasoning, in inductive
reasoning there is no methodological constraints that make
us reach conclusions from any existing premises. It's like
putting anything in a sausage machine and we still end up
with pork sausages.

There is one thing, however, we can be sure of about
insight. Insight is about reaching the right conclusions
with the least possible amount of information about a
situation. In the same way the first homo- beings used their
brain to come up with winning strategies against their
competitors, those who today have better insight about the
world around them have an edge over their peers.

But information does not only belong to the domain of
deductive or inductive reasoning. Today we also know that
information also belongs to the domain of quantum mechanics.
Could it be that we can explain the gap by appealing to some
form of quantum computation? Of course, I am not suggesting
anything new here although it is quite a revolutionary idea
in itself. And although the subject is technically difficult
to understand, it should not stop us from using the quantum
mechanics model (QM) to explain this subconscious goings on
when we have an insight into something.

The first thing about the QM model is that information is
probabilistic in its raw state. But the beauty of this
probability is that there is no prejudice or favouritism
towards a particular piece of information. Since all
information is equally probable there is no superficial bias
or capricious exclusion of any information. Maybe the magic
of insight is due to the fact that we do not arbitrarily
exclude information.

Secondly, because we operate at the subconscious level we do
not taint this information with such things as emotional
prejudice. We kind of let the whole machine get on with it,
in the same way that QM is happy to chug along until it is
interfered with. It might be pointed out here that emotions
are still doing their worst at the subconscious level. Yes,
but the fact that we get insight right sometimes suggests
that sometimes the right emotions win.

The third thing is that the Aha! moment happens so sudden
that things must be developing at a very rapid pace.
Certainly faster than a gorilla charging on all fours. Our
Cartesian and Newtonian model of the world suggests a linear
movement of events. For example, when we read this sentence,
we start with 'For' then move on to read 'example,' pause at
the coma then....... (Question: is there an end to the
previous sentence?). This linear perception of the world,
means that things seem to happen over time and any long
sequence of events seem to take a long time. We are
naturally surprised to discover that the process of insight
is quick and fast, especially when compare to other
activities like walking, cooking, writing an essay and so
on.

In the QM model things just happen, the time frame sequence
only takes place when we consider things for our
convenience. Using modern computing jargon, the QM model is
like parallel computing on a big scale. To give you a modern
example, it's like the SETI* programme which analysis radio
signal from outer space for any intelligent messages. A few
million computers around the world are tasked to do simple
calculations of the data collected. The whole research
programme is too big or too expensive for one computer to
manage, but a few million computers working together make
the whole thing manageable. Similar to the QM model and to
insight we do not know what is going on at a given time with
each computer. And if we wanted to find out what is going on
at a given moment we would interfere with the result itself.
However, the results are known. Of course all this is
speculation on my part, but I'm happy to just leave it at
that.

At the individual conscious level we have three things going
on. An ability to collect relevant information relatively
quickly about a situation. Of course, this does not exclude
collecting information at the subconscious level. In fact, I
would think it was a necessary condition that we have
subconscious information for successful insight. But we
mustn't forget that for insight to take place it is
important that we contemplate a situation consciously. There
is no point in reaching wonderful conclusion or perceptions
of the world if we are not aware of them!

We must also have an ability to project the least possible
amount of information into conclusions that are valid. If
conclusions or if insight is to be of any value we need to
have true, or at the very least, relatively true
conclusions, apart from being valid. Otherwise, insight
would be no better than guess work.

And thirdly, an individual must have the confidence not only
to reach conclusions, but to do something with them or about
them. At the very least insight ought to help us understand
things around us; which itself would affect how we go about
our lives and interacting with the world of people and
objects.

We can further reduce these three personal criteria into:
learning skills and personal initiative. There is no doubt
that an ability to collect information and projecting it is
a skill we learn by application. And the more we take the
initiative the more we are likely to get it right. In a way
one reinforces the other.

One thing we can say for certain about insight is that we
don't take things at face value. This ought to be an obvious
point, unfortunately it is also true that we are regular
victims of taking things at face value. Sometimes taking
things at face value might be useful. Seeing a gorilla
charging at one, with or without an RPG holder on its
shoulder, might be taken at face value to mean that it that
it is not happy with our presence. But usually taking things
at face value often results in missing any hidden
intentions, or even misinterpreting reality.

The implication of our ability to learn, our motivation to
take initiatives and guarding against face value conclusions
is that we must have a high degree of intellectual freedom.
These are qualities whose consequences, in the form of
insight, might conflict with the interests of others. And
this is how insight relates to people around us. Our insight
might put us in a better position over others, it might
thwart the intentions if others, insight might give us the
edge to survive. But most of all in today's world, insight
might be a predictor of a free person. Someone who can have
insight into relevant issues, is probably somene who is a
free person and not beholden to others.

My three main pillars on insight are: treating information
objectively; taking the initiative to reach conclusions; and
not taking things at face value. However, can we assume that
this formulaic account of insight applies to everyone and
more importantly, is everyone capable of insight?

We have no reason to assume that not everyone is capable of
insight on a more or less regular basis. What is more
interesting is why isn't insight more prevalent on big
issues. For example, government policies, market place
practices and teachings relating to conscience. If insight
is such a powerful mental tool, why does it seem to be so
difficult to see through the fog and smoke screens of these
big ticket issues?

The first reason of course is that the world is not big
enough for everyone to be a genius. A more serious reason is
that the face value factor is quite a powerful force. First
of all, we are more susceptible to this force, since it
takes very little effort from our part. But equally
important, there are many people who can make things look
attractive at face value. And then of course, although
insight is a powerful mental tool it is not the only one we
have.

However, just because our rock stops the gorilla dead in its
tracks it does not mean that no one else is trying to get to
the berry bush. We are not alone and we are not the only
clever ones on the block.

Take care

Lawrence

*http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The beauty of selfishness.

The beauty of selfishness.

Selfishness is supposed to be evil, wicked, and at the very
least, negative. However, if we object to selfishness being
beautiful, it is not because there is something
contradiction with selfishness being beautiful, but because
we misinterpret the word beautiful. We mustn't read
beautiful to mean good here, a very common mistake we all do
in life, but maybe to mean neat, cool, symmetrical,
effective and intellectually exciting.

We can safely assume that there are three major types of
selfish behaviour. The standard issue selfishness when one
refuses to share one's things with others. A child refuses
to share his chocolate with friends or an employee does not
share his skills with colleagues.

A second type of selfishness is where we try to acquire
things at the detriment of others. For example, a pupil or
an employee ingratiating themselves with teacher and boss,
respectively, to get any favours that may be handed out.


A third type of selfishness is when faced with a choice to
help others or to further our interests we choose to further
our interests. For example, given a chance to get involved
with an NGO or to study for a master's degree, we choose the
latter. This sort of selfishness can also be described as
self interest and can easily be justified with such things
as it's good for my career or the family.


Selfishness, self interest and egotism are used to express
degrees of disapproval, with self interest being the mildest
of the lot. However, is our disapproval the same as wicked,
evil or wrong? Is selfishness evil because it is an
intrinsic evil act or it is evil because it affects our
personal feelings or our personal well being? Or it is evil
only when it affects us in a bad way. There is, however, a
more interesting question we can consider. How prevalent or
how common is selfishness?


We are all familiar, more or less, with the prisoner's
dilemma. Two thieves were caught by the authorities, and now
the police are offering them a deal they can't refuse. They
are locked in separate cells and cannot communicate between
themselves. The deal is if one of them cooperated he would
go free and the other gets five years in prison. If both
cooperated each would get two years in prison. The standard
answer is to cooperate. One is no better or worse off than
the other if one gets two years. One does not know what the
other person will do under pressure so might as well
cooperate just in case the other person gives up. And
finally, of course, two years is better then five. Is the
prisoner's dilemma a form of selfishness based on some
objective criteria, in this case, game theory? Could this be
a case of selfishness being a virtue?


There is an even more complex scenario which asks the
question, when is the best time to cheat? This usually forms
part of social choice theory, and is also known as the free
rider problem. Imagine a group of twenty friends organising
a party and they agree to pay fifteen Euros each for the
goodies. Of course, the free rider pays nothing; he might
reason 285 Euros is more than enough for a party. The
objection to this line of reasoning is that if everyone
behaved as the free rider did there won't be a party, for no
one would pay their contribution.


If we substituted ''party'' to such things as taxes,
conscription, highway code and so on we end up either in
chaos or demanding for some sort of referee or authority to
enforce agreements or mete out punishment. Of course, in a
large society that is functioning normally we can safely
assume that not everyone will refuse to cooperate. Just
because everyone can cheat it does not follow that everyone
is going to cheat.


One factor that might compel us to cooperate is that we are
social creatures and it seems that most of us value this
social bond much more than any short term advantage we might
get from cheating. Can we assume, therefore, that if we let
selfishness go unchecked, say in the form of corruption,
we're heading on a slippery slope of social disconnection
and into lawlessness? And how many selfish individuals does
it take before we reach that point of lawlessness?


We already know that cooperation is the best strategy, so we
can safely assume that the tipping point towards lawlessness
is when we stop cooperating. Of course, it is not within our
scope to come up with figures, proofs and irrefutable
hypothesis. However, this should not stop us from giving a
real life illustration. I suggest that a collective panic
attack in a crowd is similar to a state of lawlessness in a
society after the social bonding has collapsed.


When a crowd panics, the individuals know very well that
cooperation is the best thing to do but this is the last
thing that happens. We also know that the panic starts when
a few people react from a perceived fear, which may or may
not be justified. We also know that the fear factor spreads
much quicker than the facts which might go to consolidate
the panic attack even further. From the fore going we can
suggest that fear plays an important part in generating
chaos and lawlessness in a society. Could it be that given
enough selfish people in a society there comes a point that
we are afraid for our own survival? For example, by
introducing a fear in us that not enough food will be
available for everyone or not enough personal security will
be given by those in authority? Could this be what happened
with the French or Russian revolutions? People just panicked
about their social and welfare conditions, so they revolted.


Can we go even further and suggest that rampant selfishness
in a society is a good predictor of possible social
collapse? But then again, how can we compel people to
cooperate; is punishment the best tool we have?


Maybe punishment is not the only tool we have. How about
patriotism and nationalism? Can these be seen as tools that
induce us to cooperate in a society? For example, an appeal
to patriotism can have a positive effect during a national
crises. 'Your country needs you,' was an effective poster
during the first world war. But as we all know nationalism
does not have a good track record compared to patriotism. Of
course, I'm not even going to try and define what patriotism
and nationalism are. What matters for our debate is that
problems seem to start when things are done in excess. But
for me the underlying problem is that moral paradox which
basically says that bad effects are not necessarily the
result of bad intentions.


Despite the important place cooperation has in an argument
on selfishness, there is, in my opinion, a very serious
drawback with the cooperation argument. Cooperation, at
least in a society, assumes agreement between members, but
also an investment, maybe even at the individual level, in
the methodology and outcome of the cooperation. In other
words, not only does it take time and energy to arrive at a
state of cooperation but also a moral commitment to
cooperate. However, what about those who join a society,
maybe by invitation or tacit consent, after an agreement has
been reached, are they bound by our agreements? Do they
still get the rewards of cooperation without having invested
in it in the first place? For example, most societies have
always welcomed political refugees, but economic refugees do
not always fare that well, especially in the short term.


So what's the beauty of selfishness? First of all, its an
efficient indicator that tells us that someone in our
society in not cooperating and is a threat to our social
harmony. In other words, it's a good alarm call to battle
stations to reinforce our social bonding or to extricate
errant individuals from our fold.


Secondly, it seems that as a society we are prepared to
tolerate some degree of selfishness, i.e. self interest. In
other words a bit of well managed selfishness can do us some
good. We might feel sorry that our colleague is not joining
the NGO, but we understand his motive to study for a
master's. It seems that selfishness, the behaviour and not
the word, is not always evil, even if we have to use a
different terminology. Furthermore, we don't seem to have a
law compelling us to be altruistic, thus mitigating against
this mild form of selfishness.


Paradoxically, maybe, when faced with imminent danger, a
panic attack triggers our selfish instinct as a means of
self preservation. Once again, maybe nature triggers this
instinct of selfishness as a survival strategy of the last
resort. It's as if nature does really want us to cooperate,
but even still, it left a back door open in case of an
emergency. Hence, the beauty is not only that selfishness
can sometimes save our lives, but can be effectively
mobilised to full strength at a moment's notice. How about
that for a rapid reaction force?


Seeing the value and effectiveness of a little bit of well
placed selfishness, we can once again ask ourselves that
very telling question. How much selfishness are we prepared
to tolerate in our society? I still think that Louis XVI and
Nicholas II are the best people to answer this question.


Take care

Lawrence

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Relationships as a consumer product.


1

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Relationships as a consumer product.

I quite agree with you that this topic seems a bit strange. I think, however, that at the beginning of the twenty first century we can just about make it fly; a mere 100 years ago we would have been burnt at the stake. So chocks away, and Tally Ho!!

Incidentally, in a hundred years time, one would probably be burnt at the stake for uttering such expressions as Tally Ho! But that's another story.

The noun group 'consumer product' and the noun consumerism are supposed to be negative concepts especially the latter. So, it's not surprising that we should be taken aback with such a title for a philosophical topic given that relationships are supposed to be wonderful things. Moreover, the fact that a term such as consumer product does not feature prominently in philosophy does not help either. Actually, it does feature prominently in philosophy, but not in so many words.

No doubt we have to start by first establishing what kind of relationship we are talking about and then how do we interpret the issue under discussion. I will limit myself to partner type of relationships usually based on affection, love and romance; anyway you know the type.

There is a good chance that we might misinterpret this subject. There is a chance of thinking that this topic implies entering into relationships for profit or personal gain and then ditching our partner when we're finished with them. In the same way we buy a TV set then throw it away when we're fed up with it.

I personally do not read this wrong interpretation in the title, ''Relationships as a consumer product''. However, before a relationship can become a consumer product it has first to be established. In other words, the topic presupposes that a relationship already exists. So we're not about why people get together, but what happens to them once they do.

A plausible interpretation, is to think of relationships as an economic unit that can be a profit source and accounted for as a commodity. I am, of course, not referring to slavery or some other form of physical exploitation. That model has been changed in most civilised countries to something more user friendly , although like old technology, one can still find it alive and kicking in certain parts of the world. I am thinking more in terms of relationships as a source of income to economic organisations. In a way, this is as if we're exploiting for profit the opportunities that arise from the fact that two people socialise together, and in the majority of cases, live together in a single household.

The concept is not new, what is perhaps new is the extent, the scope and the implications. To take two common examples, we have double beds, hotel rooms are usually cheaper per head for a couple than for a single person and no single person would contemplate buying a pack of two dozen eggs.

What is more challenging is the interpretation of consumer product in this context. It will be worth our while to start by looking at the meaning and characteristics of consumer product. This will help us to assess whether we ought to talk from analogy or from fact. That is, whether, relationships as consume product, is an analogy or whether it is true that relationships are consumer products.

What would make something a consumer product? The first of many conditions is that a consumer product must be freely available to a lot of people. A painting of a Rembrandt is not a consumer product, a picture postcard of the same painting is a consumer product. So, by freely available, we certainly don't mean something that is exclusive. Price would be a good indicator whether something is exclusive or not.

The nature of the product would be an indicator as well. Something that cannot be easily manufactured or made available more or less on demand might not qualify as a consumer product. Although the printing process of a postcard is quite complex, the machinery and tools make it a straight forward process. Once this machinery is in place, the number of postcards that can be printed is probably limitless. The same scene as shown on the postcard painted by a renowned artist would probably be limited to a single work of art.

Another feature of a consumer product is that it does not have any intrinsic value other than the purpose it was designed for. And any external value that a consumer product has is limited to the value we impose on it. A picture postcard has no intrinsic value and it only has some external value if, for example, it was sent to us by a friend or we collect picture postcards. A Rembrandt has the intrinsic value of uniqueness, it's a master piece, the man knew how to paint, and there are enough people to appreciate its qualities even if we don't.

An important aspect of a consumer product is that it must generate an income for the supplier by selling large quantities of the product. The income, and profit, in selling TV sets comes from the sale of thousands of sets. Selling a dozen sets would not do. In fact, consumer products survive in the market place because of economies of scale. The global economy depends on the principle of stacking them high, and selling them cheap.

Although consumer products are usually associated with relatively cheap prices, large production runs and multinational companies, these types of products are not immune to market conditions and market forces. One of those important conditions is that products must conform to a certain standard of quality and safety. Furthermore, consumers usually have specific rights if the product does not function to specifications. But to achieve this minimum standard the product must be sold at a price that gives a return on investments. Anything cheaper and we'll end up with some of the cheap junk that is touted around the world these days. However, what all products have in common is that they are supposed to render a benefit to its user.

How does a relationship fit these conditions for a consumer product? You will appreciate that these conditions might not be fully in tune with received wisdom, you might also not agree with all of them or their importance. And of course I might not have included everything there is to say about consumer products. It does not matter, what matters is that we need a starting point.

In my opinion, the two most important conditions are the mass supply and the money return. Historically, relationships have been the best way to maintain the level of population in a country, not to say future generations. Nations need relationships in the same way that we need staple produce. Of course, this does not say anything about the nature of the relationships. The population levels may still be maintained whether people are married or not. The population may still be maintained in the short term by importing people as immigrants or as adopted children. In other words, relationships are responsible for keeping the species going. Its as if your TV set reproduced itself every five years or so. Relationships are responsible for a very advanced model of mass production; eat your heart out, Mr F!

Relationships also meet the criteria of money returns. We can safely assume that social security benefits, especially pensions, are a form of legalised pyramid selling. One generation pays for the benefits of the previous generation. But this assumes that populations will keep on rising or at the very least be more prosperous. Those who reach pensionable age expect to be better off than when they started, that's how we usually measure standards of living. Furthermore, we're supposed to have a standard of living even higher than our parents.

In theory, we can only be paid more if more wealth is produced. I work more, I get paid more. I improve my skills, I can get a better paid job. But there is a back door way to increase standards of living: we buy goods at a cheaper price.

Surely, if I can buy a new TV for two hundred Euros, when in the past it cost five hundred, I would have increased my purchasing power by three hundred Euros. Not only do I get a better TV than my parents did, but I get an extra three hundred Euros to spend on other things: my standard of living has increased.

Of course, new manufacturing technologies bring in new economies of scale, scientific advances introduces new technologies and new business models make the firm more cost efficient. These factors go a long way to help reduce prices, but most of them need a medium to long term lead time to bring about the desired effects. But as we know there is a quicker, cheaper and more short term solution. Basically, use relatively old technology at near full capacity and pay dirt cheap wages. But never mind the cheap labour costs, never mind the pollution created by using old technology, never mind the morality of using scarce resources to produce junk, what matters is that we now need to buy the same product twice or three times more often over a given period, whereas in the past the same product would have lasted the comparable time. Under this model companies derive their profits from a higher turnover in physical goods and of course governments get their taxes from this short term movement of money. So between the long term borrowing and the short term income governments can just about function and keep their promises.

Of course, all's well if we're gainfully occupied in the mainstream or black economy, but if someone's parents were employed assembling TV sets, today the chances are they are preparing coffee in the new services based economy. One thing is for sure, they haven't become brain surgeons. Cheap goods always come at a price.

So where do relationships come in all this? Of course, it's only consumer goods that can be bought and sold in bulk at cheap prices, other things that do not fit the model keep increasing in price; for example, cups of coffee, housing, plumbers, auxiliary medical services, education and so on. In other words, services keep on increasing. The point is that because the real cost of living has not really gone down, we need even more money to make ends meet. There are limits to the number of TV sets we want to buy at the new price, but if we need a dentist we don't know what the limits are.

If in the past women were told to stay at home and look after the children, today very few women can afford to do so even if they wanted to. Today a couple both working and earning with an average income would be hard pressed to maintain their standard of living and life style with only one partner working, never mind having children. Of course in relative value, a couple can have economies of scale which a single person cannot, but in real terms a couple might spend more than the double of a single person. For example, holidays cost double, except for a slight relative discount in hotels, the rest of the things associated with a holiday have to be bought in double.

Once we add to the meaning of relationships, the family structure, this spending hypothesis is proved by a visit to our local supermarket. Offers are usually, three for two, in many cases bulk packs are relatively cheaper. Today, relationships not only have more opportunity to spend their borrowed money, but as the Queen might have said to Alice, they have to spend more money to maintain the same life style and standard of living.

The final condition I want to look at is that of value. What value do we place on relationships. And who are this 'we'? You and me? Society? The Government? Business organisation? The reason why we put a value on things is because we derive some benefit from them. There thing to which we attribute some intrinsic value, but these are exceptions and not of interest to us.

One test we can perform to help us answer this question would be: what do relationships get in return for the benefit they give to the various entities? Maybe one yardstick would be to test why relationships break up. Of course we're not interested in what people say in the various bureaucratic forms they have to deal with, but in what they are feeling, what they are thinking.

But to do that we need to come back down to reality and ask the individuals. Now that we're at it, I wonder how my TV set is feeling this evening?

Take care

Lawrence

9-10-2005

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Justice and Revenge


Justice and Revenge

Thinking that justice would be a complex subject, I took the precaution of doing that most of unscientific tests and checked the number of hits it would get in Google. This, I thought, would give me some real facts about justice, not to say that I had a feeling that justice is also linked to the numbers game.

For justice I got 308,000,000 hits. I also did a control check, as one would in these things, and got: law 1,070,000,000; revenge 42,300,000 and forgive 16,100,000. As a result of these numbers I came to the early conclusion that it's best to keep things simple. This means, keeping as far away as possible from such questions as, what is the meaning of justice? Or what is justice? Instead I will look at how we use the concept and what’s behind justice.

Let me introduce another number. When we use the word justice, we might be thinking of 2 things. We can use the word to refer to a state of affairs (situation) in the world around us or to refer to a consequence to a given action. Revenge is also a ''consequence'' type of concept. We're more likely to encounter situation type of justice in politics, commerce and maybe even religion. What we're looking at here is a situation that involves a lot of people, maybe even on a global scale, which we think deserves some justice being exercised. Hence, we would think that justice is needed to fix a state of affairs, rather than to punish. World poverty or slave labour are good examples of situational justice.

We would find consequential justice, first and foremost, in a court of law and other situations where value judgements have to be made. In other words, we believe that the action (crime) justifies the consequence (punishment). Our main concern here is redress to something bad or wicked done to us, usually by an identifiable legal person; as you know, companies are also a legal person and not only people. Once again, revenge also involves a value judgement type of action.

We can now ask: what is the difference between situation type of justice and consequential type of justice? And also, Is there some common factor between these two types of justice?

Poverty is a good example where justice applies to a state of affairs. Of course, what we mean is that we think that poverty is an injustice and what we are saying is that justice requires that this state of affairs to be changed. This type of justice is more concerned with changing the way things are than apportioning punishment or blame. It is not a justice that seeks to punish or redress a wrong, but a justice that tries to change the life of those suffering from poverty. To poverty we can add other issues, such as employment and labour conditions, political and religious oppression, access to medical services or education and so on. If not endless, this list is very long indeed.

It is relatively easy to agree what is or what isn't a case of situation type of justice. Take the case of debt relief to third world countries. We're talking about big money here, as everyone knows, and some of this money would have certainly come from taxes. The idea of debt relief has recently even gathered some momentum, even if such a move is somewhat controversial. The argument for third world debt relief goes something like this. These countries need all the money they can get for social development, so instead of paying interest rates money to rich countries they can use it for their social investment needs.

But there is a catch here. A lot of that money was given to countries run by corrupt dictators or governments. And, of course, it was swiftly spirited away for safe keeping in other countries, usually for the benefit of a few individuals or simply frittered away. No interests were paid, no original sum was paid and the population stayed poor. However, as fate would have it, some countries did invest the money wisely and did pay their debts. But now these few countries have no debt to be relieved off under the present initiatives. They did not even get the free set of china plates and calculator from the bank for all their loyalty. So where is the justice here?

Of course, the details of this example might be quite complex and the situation in evolving, but for us it will do. What is important for us is that even if we exclude the pragmatism of modern politics, an unjust situation might even arise from noble causes. In other words, not all unjust situations are the result of evil or malevolent people. We try to do good, but bad things happen, hence the catch. For me, the situation looks more like a dilemma than a catch, but that’s just a matter of terminology.

We are, however, on safer ground when it comes to consequential justice. First of all, this follows the familiar linear flow of cause and effect whereas world issues, for example, are probably more likely to have a non-linear relationship. If someone steals our mobile phone, we know without hesitation what course justice should follow. If we divulge confidential information to our employer's competitors, our employer would have no doubt what justice ought to be. It does not mean that consequential justice is always an open and shut case. For example, we might disagree on the type of punishment, but this is not something we need concern ourselves now. What matters is the cause-effect flow of events.

It is therefore not surprising that due to the relative simplicity of a linear flow system, we have developed elaborate institutions to deal with consequential justice: we have august legal systems, imaginative religious organisations and also a complex moral system. The most we can say about the institutions set up to deal with situational type of justice, especially on a global scale, is that they are too cumbersome for anyone's good.

I will offer one reason why we seem to have a linear and non-linear flow relationships. By definition a non linear system, such as situational justice, involves a lot of information, with many variables some of which might not even be known. For example, rampant poverty in a given country might not all be due to corrupt dictators. Other things such as location, weather, customs and many more factors might be at play. Putting all these factors into a non-linear equation that tries to solve poverty might be very difficult, if not impossible. With consequential or linear systems we have more forensic evidence and information available to us about what took place and the problem then becomes more about values rather than facts. This does not mean it is easy, but the process is more straight forward.

It should not come as a surprise that information and values play an important role in justice, since justice really involves rational behaviour. The degree and complexity of information is something both forms of justice have in common. The question is whether it is this degree of information that distinguishes these two forms of justice or whether there is something more fundamentally different between the two? In other words, does justice come in different flavours or does it come from different sources? The old form-substance debate.

The way we answer this question depends on how we answer the question about commonality. Is there some common factor or factors to both forms of justice that is even more fundamental to the debate than information or values.

In a way, information tells us how we should act but it does not tell us why we should act. Some would answer the question why by pointing out at the legal, moral and religious institutions mentioned above. A soft cynic would say that these institutions are very good at instructing us in the art of justice. So that's how we get the idea of justice in the first placed. A hard cynic would say that these institutions simply brainwash us. Surely, the law tells us not to cheat our employer, god tells us to help the poor and morality tells us to help the infirm and that’s how we get the idea of justice. Now, I'm quite partial to a bit of cynicism myself, but even this does not fully explain why we have the notion of justice in the first place and equally important why we need a notion of justice at all. In any event, these institutions are more concerned with the results rather than the philosophy behind justice. Furthermore, the fact that we don't all think and act in unison on these matters suggests that, at best, these institutions are not very good at manipulating our brain.

Doing a Cartesian type of reductionism here, what we find in common with all forms of justice is of course, human beings. Any injustice is due to the behaviour of someone. Any justice we seek, we expect it to come from someone, maybe someone with power or in power. We usually do not ascribe the notion of justice to such things as viruses, geographical location or unstable weather. We usually think of governments as being responsible for the mismanagement of the environment, or greedy imperialists or corporations or maybe even god for that matter. It is also human beings that are supposed to be the beneficiary of any justice. In other words, justice is all about people and therefore people are a common factor in all types of justice.

Of course, there is a difference between all human beings having some form of innate notion of justice and coming to the same conclusion as to what or not what to do about it. I would argue that this innateness of justice comes from the common experience of pain. We might not laugh at the same jokes, but we all feel pain when poked with some sharp instrument. In other words, because pain is something we all experience, this explains why we all have this notion of justice as if we had some innate knowledge about justice.

Indeed, justice has restorative features in the same way that pain is a catalyst to restore our health and well being. What do I mean by this? Justice, is the catalyst that restores the status quo before the injustice took place, or brings about a state of normality where non existed before. The reason why we abhor poverty is because of the pain it causes. We can empathise or even identify with this pain and these can in turn lead us to do what is right. By the same token, the reason why I want the thieves who stole my phone caught is because I want some redress for the stress and inconvenience I experienced and not just to get my mobile back. I can take out an insurance to restore a stolen mobile phone, but I cannot take out an insurance to restore my agitated mind.

Not only does pain give rise to justice, but also pain introduces a form of urgency to act. In fact there is a principle in law which says that justice delayed, is justice denied. However, given this impulsive need to do something immediately about justice, could it be that we might end up doing the wrong thing or at the very least apply inefficient solutions? Could it also be that one of those wrong things we can do is to take revenge instead of letting justice take its course?

It is not, perhaps, that we want to keep corrupt dictators of poor countries in power, but that we give them money in the hope that some of this money might go to address the poverty in their country. The other options are too complex to give them a fair chance to succeed. But in the context of justice, are short term solutions necessarily inadequate solutions? Although the answer must surely be 'not necessarily', a lot depends on the nature of the solution and whose ''pain,'' so to speak, we are trying to address. So, when we give huge sums of money to poor countries, are we addressing the poverty in those countries or the disgust of the protesters and TV viewers in affluent countries? The dilemma is whether to give lots of money in the short term or to find the best solution which might take a few generations to bring about. Do we feed the starving kid which we see on TV today or do we try to get rid of corrupt authorities so that we can build sustainable cities for the future? The principle also works for local crime. Do we send petty thieves to prison because it's good for them or because it quenches our fury at having our property stolen? We all know that petty thieves might benefit more from adequate opportunities in life, but as with corrupt dictators, it might be too complex to try.

For me the association between pain and justice goes even further than just feeling uncomfortable. There is no doubt that our ability to think, rationalise and employ knowledge are our best tools to survive and to make it up the ladder of evolution. Furthermore, at the basis of this survival of the fittest there is the mechanism of pain. It is the best early warning system and the best alarm system ever devised so far by nature. Hence, by innately linking pain to justice we are helping ourselves to get rid of conditions or people that are a detriment to our survival and development. This is why, I think, that justice is directly linked to the principle of the numbers game. The more justice we have around us the more stable is our environment and the more energy we can dedicate to the task of surviving.

I have said very little so far about revenge. However, I did say that revenge belongs to the consequence type of justice. This type of justice either restores our worldly status quo or our mental tranquillity. Restoration is also the main feature we find in revenge. On the other hand, justice has a legitimacy which revenge does not have.

What is the nature of revenge and how does it differ from justice? I am inclined to think that revenge is first and foremost a sort of back up system just in case the front line system (justice) fails. On a more practical level, we are probably more inclined to resort to revenge when an act does not exactly qualify as a case for justice. How many times has a girlfriend destroyed her ex-boyfriend's prized CD's upon being told that he wanted to break up the relationship? What is the girlfriend supposed to do with what is clearly a case of injustice? This, if you like, is where the back up theory becomes useful. There is no institutional justice she can appeal to in order to restore her peace of mind, but all is not lost because there is always revenge.

However, as we all know, revenge can easily lead to more serious and complicated situations. What if the girlfriend spray painted the windscreen of her ex-boyfriend's car black and punctured all four wheels? This is surely a clear case of criminal damage and not only a case of revenge. In other words, there might always be a thin grey line between justice and revenge, even if we do not know where one stops and the other begins.

What we do know for sure, however, is that an injustice type of pain is a very persistent type of pain and nature must have developed revenge as a powerful back up system, just in case. The interesting question is whether revenge is the most perfect back up system ever developed in the history of the universe.

Take care

Lawrence

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