PHILOMADRID

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Totalitarianism

Totalitarianism

When a drug is found to have a serious side effect, it is immediately withdrawn from circulation. A lot of pharmacological compounds and molecules are withdrawn at the research stage because of unacceptable side effects. However, what is unacceptable is itself quite subjective. Of course, subjective does not mean arbitrary or something done on a whim of a doctor or researcher. But subjective in the sense that a professional value judgement has to be exercised. For example, cancer drugs are notoriously toxic with some nasty side effects, but they are still used because of the perceived value they might have to a cancer patient. A pain relief drug would be immediately withdrawn if there is a remote chance that it might have a negative effect on the liver, say.

Since this is not an essay on medical ethics, I will not go in ethical issues relating to drugs and medical science. What is important for us is that we expect a drug to be withdrawn if is has a negative side effect. We are prepared, however, to accept a certain degree of side effects, if the benefit of the drug far out weighs the side effects. And thirdly, Although, the decision to withdraw a drug is subjective, we accept that a certain professional process and standard is involved.

If we had to ask a person on the Clapham omnibus, or traffic jam as the case may be, they would certainly agree with the syntax that “totalitarianism is unacceptable.” However, we might not all agree what is totalitarianism, what is unacceptable and what to do about it. So, what I want to consider here is how do we get from a clear consensus of the proposition in syntax form to the disarray and chaos we find ourselves in when it comes to actually doing something about it?

It is very easy to forget that language is quite a complex tool and activity. And one of the easiest, if not convenient, things to forget about language is that its end point is an action. When we see a sign saying “emergency exit“ we know exactly what to do in an emergency. The same when we read a report in a newspaper, the result is that we feel we have more information about something which might lead us to change our opinion or whatever. Even this essay has the end point of providing some ideas for discussion during the meeting. So what is the end point of the syntax “totalitarianism is unacceptable?”

The syntax test assumes that the person answering the question (Is totalitarian acceptable or unacceptable?) understands our question and knows the meaning of such words as “totalitarianism“ and “unacceptable“. But the most serious assumption we make is that our meaning of totalitarianism & co is the same as the person being questioned. I don't think we are justified in making that assumption about the other person.

My understanding of “totalitarianism“ or “unacceptable“ could easily have different meanings to other people. For some people, “unacceptable” might mean, I have to change things now and actually start to change things now, whereas for others it might just be a label to describe a situation. In one case unacceptable might lead to physical action, whereas in another it might just lead to an opinion.

Why doesn't the word “unacceptable,“ or even words like evil, bad, intolerable, have the imperative import of say words like, stop, emergency exit, help, toxic, side effect? Could it be that we can identify more with buildings on fire or terminal diseases than say totalitarian political systems?

It could also be that most of us just have some kind of political inertia when it comes to political activism. Maybe, this is the result of a feeling that we are incapable of changing things as individuals. And probably, even as a society. An alternative is that we don't identify ourselves with the governing elite of our country. And as a consequence we don't read an imperative meaning in words such as unacceptable in a context of politics. So, the meaning of unacceptable depends very much on our opinion or belief in our role as political agents. Of course, not everyone feels they are ineffective in changing politics systems or are of the opinion that it’s just not their business.

Even if we did agree that a regime was totalitarian, that a regime is unacceptable and that we have hard evidence showing why a regime is unacceptable, this still doesn't necessarily lead to action. So far I haven't said anything about which government (system) is being totalitarian: our government or somebody else's government? This question has a direct bearing on two other fundamental questions? The first is, what do we mean by totalitarianism? The second question is, should we always remove a totalitarian state or regime?

What is totalitarianism? What do we mean by this? Because of its inbuilt ambiguity we probably cannot give an all encompassing definition. If we tried to do this by referring to the traditional meaning of the concept then we'll probably end up including all governments and all political systems under this heading. I won't refer to any specific author (a quick search on the internet will give you a good idea of who the major authors are), but we might consider totalitarianism to include such things as single party state, concentration of power in a few people, maybe exercised arbitrarily, lack of freedom of speech and/or movement of people. Totalitarian regimes are also very good at playing the nationalistic card; excessive nationalism is the equivalent of an “emergency exit” sign in a building.

One important reason why we cannot have a precise definition is because political institutions and system are the result of cultural development, historical events, traditions and political evolution. So, what might be totalitarian for one culture might be normal for an other. And the reverse is true, what might be considered as democracy for some might be incarceration for others.

At face value, this might be true, but not if we consider the issue carefully. This is where the analogy with medical drugs comes in. Some drugs act on the pathogen or disease in different ways. Some might have certain types of side effects, some serious, some not, some extreme, some not so much. However, what is certain is that a given drug is specific to a given disease or a given treatment. Of course, some drugs might become useful for other things, but this does not change the specificity principle. Normally, one does not prescribe a cancer drug for pain relief, say. Maybe one does, I don't know, what we do know is that there is usually a clear demarcation between one drug and another. By the same token, things might be hazy at the edges, but we can still find a demarcation test to establish, on the balance of probability, whether a system is totalitarian or not.

Maybe, the criteria should not be what a political system can do for us, but what does it do with opposition or people who believe that things should be done differently. Some supporters or apologists of totalitarian system always point at the supposed benefits people enjoy under the system. And if that was not enough, reference is always made to situations of times gone by for good measure.

However, education can always be given cheaply or at no cost whatever the political system; a health system can always be free at the point of use whatever the political concept we operate under. In other words, social benefits might not always be the best test we can use. On the other hand, how a system copes with opposition is a real test. A system that does not tolerate opposition, or worse, liquidates or incarcerates people with different opinions, is a good indicator whether a system is totalitarian or not.

But opposition in a totalitarian state is a bit of a catch 22 situation. If one claims one’s right to oppose the regime, one is probably going to end up in some serious trouble. If one does not express one's opinion then things are ok and the system works. One can even escalate the drama and use violence against the totalitarian system. But this means doing the same things as the system one is trying to oppose. In other words, trying to start a new system using the same tactics as the old regime might not set a good.

In a way, what we mean by totalitarianism is insignificant unless we are prepared to do something about it. On the one hand, if it is dangerous for people within the system to take action, it is equally dangerous for people outside the system to try and help out. This is a very convincing argument why words like “unacceptable“ might not have the imperative import words like “toxic“ or “help“ have. Doing something about totalitarian regimes does not come instinctively. Removing or taking action against totalitarian regimes takes a calculated and intentional action.

Another reason why totalitarian systems are allowed to flourish is that we sometimes stand to gain from these systems although we might not agree with what the regime does. This benefit can be economic, social or even political. For example, a country using totalitarian policies can manage over a billion people and a well run economic system, which in turn can create regional stability others can prosper in. Of course, this does not answer the question whether a totalitarian system is stable or, better still, inherently destined to disappear? We can say one thing for sure, though, they are safe until the opposition reaches a critical mass.

Does a global market stability justify a totalitarian system? In a way, a question about what to do with totalitarian systems, is a question asking about a balance between altruism and self preservation. Trying to help others can seriously affect one's welfare, safety or security. Not to mention that some people might not even be grateful for one's efforts. And as we know from present day realpolitik, turning a blind eye can be more than just rewarding.

Curiously, there seems to be a parallel between helping to get rid of totalitarian regimes and drugs. Those in charge for removing unsafe drugs from circulation have, in theory, no person interest in the matter. The unacceptable side effects only affect patients who need to take the drug. The parallel is that at least at face value, getting rid of a totalitarian regime in an other country will generally benefit the people ruled by that regime. Of course, I am excluding in this example, situations where the totalitarian regime is a direct threat to one's democratic country or security.

If you remember, I set out to explore how we get from the syntax consensus of the proposition, totalitarianism is unacceptable, to the chaos we find about actually doing something about. A choice between altruistic behaviour and self preservation is always a difficult choice. So it is not surprising that this should also be reflected at the practical end of the issue. But this choice is not the only reason, nor the most fundamental for the discrepancy.

Going back, for the last time, to the drug selection analogy, the people who decide whether to approve a drug or not are themselves professionally qualified. And not only that, but they also have a very sophisticated science in the background as an arbiter. Questions about actions relating to what is acceptable or unacceptable are grounded in ethics and moral systems. Of course, we can study moral behaviour scientifically, but does that mean that ethics is a science? Moreover, moral behaviour is human behaviour in which case, who are the experts when it comes to doing something about totalitarianism?

Take care

Lawrence

Individual motivation and corporate behaviour.


1

14 May 2006

Individual motivation and corporate behaviour.

One of the functions of words is to capture concepts, such as a series of causes and effects or a set of things or experiences, into a single linguistic expression. Thus the word, ‘personal computer,’ and I take noun groups to be a word as well, represents a whole series of objects and causes and effects that it would be inefficient and impractical to describe all of them every time we wanted to refer to this machine. Hence, ‘personal computer’ is a better and efficient way of referring about this machine.

A language that has an efficient method of naming things must, by implication, be an efficient language. This, of course, does not imply that the users of such a language use it efficiently. Nor does it mean that those who use this language won't unintentionally misuse the language. It just means that used properly, an efficient language would help us communicate better.

The word and concept ‘corporate’ is very prone to this unintentional misuse of meaning. By corporate I mean a limited type of company, including PLC's, Corporations, S.A.'s, Gmbh and so forth. I want, however, to exclude partnerships, unlimited partnerships, freelancers, and those who are professional self employed. This is just to keep things simple. So how do we misuse the word corporate?

Let's start by doing some blaming and shaming first. The media has a lot to answer for on this matter. Generally speaking, we have the impression that a company is something that is an independent entity in its own right. Of course, it is, but not in the everyday sense of what we mean by independent entity. Only in the legal sense of entity. The problem with this is that not everyone is up to date with legal matters. But we do not need to go that far since abstraction is also something we are able to do on our daily life. Furthermore, we use the word company without thinking about the difference between what is a normal everyday context and what is a special predefined context within a legal system.

As a consequence, we might use the term company in the everyday sense but refer to attributes that belong to a legal context. This might lead us to expect things from a company which might be impossible to obtain, and, on the other hand, the company might exploit to its own advantage our misunderstanding or ignorance about the difference.

To put this difference in context I will use the following three illustrations. Whenever we go shopping, say to a department store or an equally big establishment, we are greeted and served by a person. Depending on what we are buying we are either served by a shop assistant or a sales person. When we are looking for something to buy, we usually deal with an individual, an identifiable person. For all intents and purposes this person is the company in our mind. Of course, with on-line commerce and telesales business transactions are becoming less personal and more anonymous. But for the time being most people still do their shopping the old fashioned way: i.e. eye-balling a sales person.

However, should we have a problem with the goods we buy from this shop we find ourselves dealing with anonymous people who usually speak in terms of the company rather than individual or personal responsibility. Usually, they use expressions such as, ''it is not company policy .....,'' or ''our company policy is......,'' or '' department x deals with that.......'' In other words, the individual that in our mind was the company when we were buying the goods or services, has now become a department, a company policy or an operator in a call centre.

An other example is from the sphere of employment. In our day to day performance of our duties at work, we deal with individuals such as our bosses or colleagues. We have to adapt our work habits to accommodate the foibles of these identifiable individuals. In most cases we use first names to refer to each other and experience the effects of their high and low days. Sometimes, we help them out and sometimes they help us out with our work. However, when we need something from our employer, for example special holiday leave, or promotion or whatever, we are immediately referred to company policy or company procedure. We are immediately told by our bosses that it all depends of what the company thinks. In other words, the company stops being our colleagues and becomes a human resources department or a company policy.

The third example comes from a public relations context. When a company is promoting a new product launch or embarking on public relations campaign, we usually hear from all quarters of the company. Satisfied customers, satisfied employees and if that was not enough, the company is also endorsed by some famous personality. On the other hand, when the company is faced with a public relations disaster, we usually see presidents or chairmen, apologising and pr spokespeople explaining what happened. In other words, what was once a convivial relationships becomes an official affair.

This duality (individual person vs institutional entity) relationship we have with companies can lead to some serious misunderstandings to say the least. Just because we deal with an individual, when trying to buy something from a department store, it does not mean that that individual has the means to meet all or most of our demands. For example, if I want a domestic appliance in blue, the sales person depends on the supplier making domestic appliances in blue. He or she also depends on the imagination of the management to stock domestic appliances in blue, in the first place. And imagination is not sometime one can accuse some shops of exercising or possessing. In other, if we think we are being treated badly by the sales assistant, he or she might be in a worse position.

Of course, customer services have improved a great deal these past score years or so, nevertheless, there is always the nagging feeling that complaining to a company or just simply making an enquiry about one’s purchase is an up hill task. The impersonality of the company is used to effectively filter out complaints or discourage complaints in the first place. Serious companies realise that the customer service department offers good opportunities to maintain customer loyalty and some companies do put some effort on this side of their business.

I submit that this duality of meaning to what we understand by the word company or how we use the word company, is fundamental to the kind of relationship individuals and companies have between them. However, the word company is still an efficient word to use in a neutral context or even as a good identifier, say, between customer and supplier.

When we speak of individual motivation we have to limit this to the context of our relationships with companies. What motivates me to keep a pet gerbil is different from what motivates me to buy a certain pet food brand for my gerbil. Of course, companies are very good at figuring out what motivates individuals in the market place. And those that make a bad job of it will soon go out of business.

One of the reasons why some companies are very good at figuring out what we want, or what motivates us to want their products, is because most of us behave in a predictable way when deciding a course of action in a given situation. Companies have enough information about the market place to know a certain type of person would buy a certain type of product or product with given features. Darwinianism will take care of those companies that get it wrong, and for those who get it right, the number game is king. Our predictability serves companies very well when marketing and selling goods to us. But our predictability can also serve companies in a different way.

Knowing how clients and other stake holders will react to a given policy or business plan means that companies know what kind of behaviour they can indulge in. In other words, knowing what motivates individuals helps companies know what they can get away with.

When we speak of corporate behaviour, we immediately start to think of bad behaviour. There is no reason why this should be the case, but it is. For my purposes I want to focus on two types of bad behaviour: bad behaviour that affects customers and bad behaviour that affects the community in general. I won't therefore be considering such things as tax or stock exchange irregularities. It's not that these do not affect us, but that they would complicate our task at hand.

although the impression we have about corporations is that they are out to make the maximum possible profits whatever it takes, reality is more complex than that. Companies can get away with a lot of things, but they do not get away with everything. There are two celebrated cases that illustrate the limits beyond which companies did not get away with.

The first case is about a big chain of high street shops (Ratner) that sold jewellery in Britain in the 1980’s. They were quite successful except one day the chairman-owner of the business described his products as ‘crap’. The company soon went out of business after this unbelievable confession. The importance of this case for us is that, in general, people do not like to be cheated. Telling them that your goods are crap does not exactly help your cause, but that’s a minor detail.

The second case is the Nike story from a few years ago. They were accused of exploiting child labour in Pakistan. The details are not important for us, but what is important is that after the story appeared the company had a big public relations disaster on their hands. They had to do something fast to stop customers deserting the brand. In general, people do not relate well to prima facie injustices.

Notice how these two examples also illustrate the duality I talked about: in the one case, the chairman represented the company and in the second example people identified the brand (company) as the one doing the exploiting.

It is time to bring the individual and the company together. Whether it is a blessing or a curse, our ability to abstract concepts from the world around us affects how we interact with each other and the world round us. I suggest that as long as we are operating in an abstract mode we are prone to becoming desensitised to unacceptable corporate behaviour. Or any unacceptable behaviour, for that matter, by governments, religions, football teams, employers and so on. However, once we see pictures of children stitching trainers we stand a good chance of waking up to the injustice. And once we hear the chairman telling us that his products are crap, we stand a good chance of realising how gullible we have been.

What this tells us is that once we have enough information and knowledge about a situation not only our perspective on that situation changes, but maybe also our motivation. In effect this confirms how important information and knowledge are to us. Of course this is the first place companies, as institutions, have the advantage over us: they have control over the information and knowledge of what they do and how they do it. but for information to make sense, not only do we need to have the right sort of information, but we also need to know how to interpret it.

Today, after Enron and after many other numerous financial scandals the authorities saw fit to pile discloser legislation over even more discloser legislation. But how does all this bureaucracy help companies with their mission statement? Are we better off at knowing whether we are being sold crap or whether we are being exploited?

There might be something even more basic than information that could affect individuals and corporations. I seriously believe that we have to examine the issue of duality even closer. Dualism, as we all know, is an important issue in metaphysics. The question we have to ask ourselves is how justified are we in considering a corporation as an institution? Of course, I realise that this question is the closest one can get to blasphemy in business, but like metaphysical dualism we can cope with that.

The argument is that there is nothing in a company other than people. The idea that a company is somehow something different from the people that work there is just that: an idea in our mind. I realise that it is not as simple as that. For example, one of the issues we have to account for is the fact that the dynamics of a group of people working in unison is different than what they would do as individuals. However, just because group dynamics is different than individual dynamics, it does not mean that somehow this group is different than a human beings. Just because this group of human being are together it does not make them something other than human beings. We don’t usually think of a hundred holy men or women as something different from just that, a hindered individuals.

I would say, therefore, that once we scratch the surface, what we call corporate behaviour is none other than individual behaviour, and what is individual motivation is none other than corporate motivation. The question is can we get rid of the distorting effect of dualism? And how long will it take society to get rid of dualism in business life?

Take care

Lawrence

The relevance of tradition


3

23-04-2006

The relevance of tradition.

Traditions can range through a wide scope of human activities. A group of friends can establish their own peculiar traditions as well as a group of societies can have their own common traditions.

Traditions can come and go in a space of a few years or they can linger on for centuries with no end in sight. For example, a group of friends can start a tradition of going out for dinner to a particular restaurant when a specific member of their group has their birthday. More than a dozen nations celebrate a religious event which represents an important milestone in their religion; Easter is such an event, for example.

So, what are traditions? Why are they important? In which aspects of human activities are traditions important? And are traditions relevant?

At face value, a tradition is a sort of behaviour which a group of people get involve in on a regular basis. The behaviour, for all intents and purposes, is predefined and in a way the out come is predetermined. For example, during someone’s birthday we know what to expect. When we were children, we expected to have a party, be given presents and of course be the centre of attention. As adults, we do not expect to have all these things, but would certainly enjoy it if we did.

On a more grander scale during festivals like Christmas and Easter, we know what to do and what to expect. During Christmas time we expect to give presents, and receive some, organise family lunches, got to pantomimes and generally take some time off. In some countries they have many more social or collective traditions, whilst in others the traditions are not so clear. For example, in southern Mediterranean countries one find the village feast. In northern countries maybe one has local fetes, maybe related less to religion, but more to crafts or life connected with the land.

One of the most important aspects of traditions is the information they carry. Easter is supposed to remind us of the fundamental principle in the Christian religions; the resurrection of Christ. Birthdays, remind us about our temporal existence not to mention certain milestones which represent important relationships with the rest of society. For example, the age of consent, the age when we can vote and so on.

Traditions, first and foremost, carry information about past events. But by doing that, traditions also help us to remember what our future objectives are or at the very least, ought to be. So, the traditional ceremony of the opening of the British parliament, it is not only a reminder that the monarch is all sovereign, but also to remind us of the function of the separation of powers. That ceremony reminds us of the political and social struggles a group of societies went through in the past. And by implication, the tradition reminds us what could happen if we don’t respect those historical achievements.

As we know, however, information is only useful if it comes in a context and we have a code to decipher the message. For example, the ceremonial ritual of parliament and the ostentatious wealth of the monarch’s ceremonial robes might seem, today, quaint if not politically incorrect. But those who think this way have, maybe, forgotten the context in which the tradition started. This is not the place to go into the history of nations and countries, but rituals enabled people to know how to behave in front of what once were powerful monarchs. It is unlikely, that today's monarch would be bothered or care whether one walked in front of them with your back to them or not. But there were times when it did matter and it was regarded as the utmost disrespect if not a challenge; hence the tradition not to give your back to the monarch. In the past, one might have had their head separated from the rest of one' body, today one might be asked to observe protocol; I hope!

Whether you agree with the ritual or the protocol is a matter of politics and not rejection tradition theory. Hence, if we forget the context of the tradition we might easily mix up the choreography with the political philosophy. Take the example, that traditionally a British monarch calls the existing prime minister to form a government (which they always do), but also in the event of a hung parliament where the existing pm might not be the head of the largest party in parliament. Out of context, this might be seen as the monarch interfering in politics. There were times when the political situation in Britain was close to a crisis when there was even a hint that this might happen after an election. But when the tradition started, not only where there no such things as political parties as we know them today, but also the monarch did actually appoint someone they wanted as prime minister. From a monarch’s point of view, maybe of a few hundred years ago, this made good sense. A monarch’s business plan is always based on long term policies and objectives, on the other hand, politicians, as we know, are more short term minded.

The code that will help us interpret the information conveyed by tradition is also necessary. Unlike, context, which can be explained and even read about in books, the code to interpret traditions is different. This is something we probably have to learn from our culture or life long exposure to the tradition. The code is what makes us part of the tradition. It is one thing to observe and understand traditions, but another to be part of those traditions. So if a group of friends establish a tradition to meeting for lunch on the birthday of one them, it becomes more than just a birthday lunch. Maybe, the first time they organised this lunch it was also the time they realised they were very close to each other. Hence, those who were not there cannot know what that felt like or what it meant to those present. What it felt like or what it meant is the code, and they became part of the tradition because this helped them bond with each other.

Likewise, the state opening of parliament has a code. For a lot of people, and the following generation, this code dates back to the second world war, where Britain was the only democracy in Europe when the rest of the countries were under Nazi rule. That is the code; it is not by accident that in the British psyche people talk about the Blitz. The Blitz is not about being bombed, many more countries were brutally bombed during the war, but that the enemy did not conquer the island. Nor is it by accident that the loss of traditions is a serious debate in Britain and every where else. Of course, every country or nation has their own traditions with context and code all of their own.

Why are traditions important? Besides the connection of the past with the future, traditions have another important component. The code, if you remember, is what gives meaning to the information that comes with tradition. Traditions give us identity by giving us the opportunity to belong to a group. And the need to belong to a group is probably a genetically induced feeling in us. In other words, belonging to a group goes beyond philosophy and politics.

In turn, belonging to a group gives us identity. We have personal identity as well as group identity. An ability to answer the question; who am I? ought to be the most fundamental question in philosophy. Being able to answer this question for myself is ample proof that I, as an individual, exist and that that I am rational. The issue is not so much whether I can think, I know that; even if my thinking and reasoning leaves a lot to be desired. The issue is that if I were a figment of someone's or something's imagination, then it would that someone or something that would be doing the thinking and not me. Try it, create a fictitious being in your imagination. and get them to think that they exist. (Perform the experiment now.) That’s my point, ''the get them to think'' does not belong to them it belongs to you. Your fictitious being cannot do any thinking for themselves.

So who am I? is a question which only I can seriously answer for myself. Belonging gives us a good part of the answer. Of course, belonging can be positive belonging, I belong to a group of friends who meet on Sundays to discuss philosophy, but also “not belonging” is useful for our purposes. I would never belong to a group who pose as intellectual philosophers but in reality they want to manipulate the way people think. People who refused to join the Nazi party, or what ever party for that matter, also belonged to a group of people who gave them identity. As I said earlier, traditions are the choreography to some serious philosophy of mind and biological needs we have.

The down side of tradition is that the code that enables us to interpret a tradition might get lost, corrupted or evolves. The most complex and efficient code we are likely to come across is of course DNA; and see how that has developed. If the code to interpret a tradition might get lost then it is not surprising that traditions might also be lost or challenged.

In other words, if we cannot connect the choreography with the philosophy, then it seems quite reasonable to get rid of the choreography or simply change its function. Take the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. The philosophy behind it is to protect the monarch, but today the monarch is protected in different ways. However, the choreography is still there, but it has evolved into a tourist attraction now. Of course, this example is quite innocuous, but we cannot say the same of all traditions that evolve.

Religious and tribal traditions are notorious for evolving into negative influences on the society and people they affect. Take fasting for example. As an educated guess, I would suggest that fasting made sense when food was a bit scarce. In many cultures the tradition of fasting takes place some time between say late winter and mid spring or at a time when food might be scarce. What could be better than not to consume food when there is a scarcity? Fasting carries information (atonement, season), it gives us a context (religion, seasonal food scarcity) and it has a code(time of year, what can be eaten and when). By fasting we would also belong. Therefore, fasting is a good opportunity to make a virtue out of a necessity. Of course, each religion or society has its own choreography to dress fasting, but have to go beyond that.

But today, there are still religions who insist on fasting and in some cases it is punished severely if people do not do it. Never mind that today we have better controls on the supply and storage of food. These type of oppressive traditions are a case when the philosophy gets lost in time or becomes redundant, but the choreography is high jacked for manipulative purposes. Maybe today, instead of fasting by not eating food, we might fast by not increasing the sum total of world debt needlessly.

Traditions are relevant as long as the philosophy behind them is still valid or, to be precise, still relevant. Although, traditions are at face value a ritual or a choreography, the philosophy behind them might be very serious and with a precise objective. For this reason, I would suggest that when someone proposes to do away with a tradition we should follow some guidelines. Apart from examining the motives of the reformer, we ought to look at 1) the philosophy behind the tradition we’re asked to abandon 2) the consequences that result from abandoning a tradition and 3) what new tradition or traditions will replace the old one?

Of course, traditions do not tell us whether they are good or evil, right or wrong, just or discriminatory. But then again, neither does DNA tell us anything about these things.

Take care

Lawrence

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