PHILOMADRID

PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The impact of technology on us.

The impact of technology on us.

Technology is what gives us an edge over other living creatures. We also have a price to pay for this advantage which we have enjoyed for the past few thousands years.

There is a fundamental question we have to start with. What is the nature of our relationship with technology? An obvious, but simplistic interpretation is that we are the creators/inventors of technology. And this creation/invention is there to serve us for our needs. Notice, how this interpretation is more or less the same interpretation a lot of people give for the relationship between their god and human beings. Not only is the relationship one of hierarchy, but one of master servant.

In fact, today there are attempts to argue against the theory of evolution, by reviving the argument from design which some people rely heavily on the implications of technology. This position is conclusively rejected by such authors as Dawkins in his book, The Blind Watchmaker. The argument first put forward by Paley goes something like this (very short version): Imagine you're walking in the countryside and come across a watch. Our reaction won't be that nature evolved a watch in this part of the world, but that someone designed the watch. Ergo, when we look around us and see the marvels of the world and us in the world, it would be natural and rational to say that someone designed the world and created us. And by implication, that someone must be god.

As I say, this argument is not valid to prove the existence of god. My favourite argument would be that if one finds a watch in the countryside, and knew something about how these things come to existence, the best we can say is that this watch is the result of cooperation between a good number of people. And if we really were that interested, we would discover that the watch was made from raw materials extracted from the ground beneath us. No magic was involved, but read the literature on the subject.

What is important for us is that we can recognise the pivotal role technology plays in human existence. So much so that we can use it in an argument (even though it is invalid) to prove the existence of god. What the Paley experiment shows us is that for once we think we can prove the existence of god, not by appealing to our faith, nor by simply invoking the existence of god as proof in its self, which is a circular and analytical argument anyway, but by appealing to our own existence and our own creations as an argument for the existence of god. The emphasis need no longer be place on god, but on us; god is the conclusion and not the premise. Now, that's a very powerful psychological boost to the human ego; this is self-confidence at its best.

A modern version of this argument would ask us to look at our technological advances and consider, how can we invent such technologies if someone didn't make us clever in the first place?

What this thinking is doing is to take us back to the pre-Galilean mind-set where the human being was for centuries the centre of the universe. Before Galileo, there was a long period of time where the human being was considered the centre of the universe because god wanted us to be so. Today, we are becoming the centre of the universe because we use technology to make ourselves the centre of the universe. Therefore, has the renaissance movement come to an end or are we really the centre of the universe?

Why do I believe that we are moving back to the idea that we are the centre of the universe?

The first reason is the belief that technology can help us solve most problems. In medicine we're always waiting for the next wonder drug, or the next hi-tech operation. Technology can even help us produce enough food to feed everyone on this planet. Technology gives us mobility and communication with everyone else. There are even politicians who erroneously think that technology alone can win wars or solve international policy problems.

This dependence on technology not only means that we believe that technology can solve most of our problems, but that we, as human beings, can solve most of our problems. And apart from the occasional natural disaster we interact with our environment on our terms and how we wish to; we go higher, we go faster, we live longer all thanks to technology.

The second reason is that we just feel powerful. Although we are dependent on technology and we usually have the status of a component part of technology, in effect we regard technology as an extension of ourselves. I don't believe that my PC is dictating what I write, but that I am using my PC to reach out to you.

After the end of the cold war, the foreign policy dividend wasn't to reach out and cooperate with everyone else, but to develop a foreign policy underwritten by a high-tech military reach. Technology, in other words, was going to solve our foreign policy issues. The same thinking goes on in other fields. For example, when there is a healthcare issue the first thing governments do is to spend lots of money on some sort of technology fix; preventive medicine or preventive action just does not make the grade as a status symbol. And today's terrorism problems are a direct result of relying on technology for information gathering rather than human ingenuity. The success of technology in our lives means that we have, more or less, abandoned rational thinking or reasoned dialogue.

But we also feel powerful because, due to technology, we rule supreme over other creatures. We domesticated animals, then hunted them and caged them for entertainment, then used them for technological advancement and now even use animals for political ends. Some of this power is made evident in certain documentaries which express a sense of condescension or altruistic benevolence towards animals. You know the ones I'm referring to: look how we're helping these poor animals? Look how much we care for them?

I started by asking what is the nature of our relationship with technology? Many philosophers and other commentators point at the moral implications of technology, for example by pointing at the social justice implications and the inequity of spending huge sums of money on certain technologies such as defence.

We can do a lot for the world's unfortunate people by employing a fraction of today's technology to distribute food more effectively or manufacture cheap construction materials. And we don't even need to touch any defence budgets to make a difference. We can start by controlling the waste in finance and resources generated by governments and companies. We can also help ourselves by having a couple of persuasive talks with the oppressive dictators dotted around the globe. These are things we can do right now. In any case, defence budgets do not exist, because it is usually the next generation that has to come up with the cash. We can also achieve a lot without even having to change our political or business ideologies. Efficiency and effectiveness are ideology neutral strategies anyway.

The moral issue is not so much the nature of the technology we develop, but how we use that technology. One of the marvels of modern technology is the ability to transport food around the world. Thanks to this technology we can now have produce of any kind throughout the world. Of course, we have to suspend judgement about taste for the time being. We no longer depend on the season we’re in for the food we eat. This gives us the opportunity to choose what we want and to eat it when we want to eat it. But, maybe, more important is that this creates employment and investment opportunities in developing countries, for example. Of course, transport technology would play an important part if we were to distribute the world’s food in a way that everyone has a guaranteed meal every day.

The moral issues are more about reaching a balance between the benefits of technology and the costs of that technology. By costs I don’t only mean the price we pay at the shops, but the hidden costs such as pollution, effects on the environment, costs to people’s way of life and so on. This equilibrium is, however, a matter of philosophical consideration and not economics or whatever. Identifying problems, clarifying problems and considering value judgements are the province of philosophy; of course, we might not necessarily describe what we’re doing as philosophy, but that is an another matter.

We can say so far that technology is successful and that it is here to stay. We cannot put the genie back into the bottle. But because it is here and because it is successful does not make for a persuasive philosophical arguments for or against technology. This argument might work for Everest or the North Pole, but it won’t work for a philosophical debate. We need a better argument to accept technology as part of our existence.

If we look at the last two hundred years or so, since the Industrial Revolution, we will see a phenomenal advancement of technology. For example, the first spectacular achievement of the industrial revolution was the steam engine, today we have ships powered by nuclear power. The scale and breath of technological advancement is really impressive. But if we look at technology what we find is not advancement, but an evolution of technology.

If we take the telephone we might be tempted to think that the mobile phone is a marvel of modern technology. But the mobile phone is an evolution of what was the fixed phone and even that was an evolution of fire beacons, messengers on horses and the telegraph. What we have here is a form of continuous linear change punctuated with sudden and abrupt changes. This is more in line with the thinking of catastrophe theory which was developed by the French mathematician, René Thom, to explain sudden and abrupt changes in biology. A common example to explain this theory is to look at boiling water. At some point, the water stops being in a state of room condition and becomes boiling water. An other example, is at which point does a slice of bread become a toast. Catastrophe theory tries to explain mathematically these abrupt changes. I think that this theory can help us to understand evolution conceptually; at least in general terms.

In other words, the development of technology seems to follow the same pattern of evolution as other biological creatures in nature. Is this a coincidence or is there something behind this observation? I’m inclined to argue that technology is literally an extension of us. Technology is part of us as much as our lungs, nose and toes are part of us. In the same way that horns are parts of bulls and pincers are parts of crabs. As you know, I practically don’t do any specific research for these essay, but I have never come across this argument before. I won’t be surprised, however, if someone did put forward this argument already.

This might go a long way to explain why technology seems to follow an evolutionary pattern in the same way that biological creatures seem to follow; change, change, change, abrupt change, and so on. So, we develop technology, then make an abrupt changes to it, which brings about an evolutionary (natural selection) leap in us (physically) by making us healthier, live longer, exploit our environment better and so on.

If we accept this literal interpretation we might also have to consider that sometimes evolution and natural selection do bring about changes in a time frame of a generation or even half that time. One of the problems with the evolution and natural selection theories is that we not see changes happening quickly, we are used to thinking of evolutionary changes in time frames of millions of years. What I am saying is that the impact if technology on us is to bring evolutionary and natural selection changes in time frames of a few generations or less. Think of dentistry, it took sharks millions of years to develop a very efficient dental system; it took human kind a few generations to develop the sophisticated dental medicine we have today.

The answer to the question, what is the nature of our relationship with technology, is first and foremost, a physical extension of the human body and secondly an evolutionary advantage over other biological creatures. If success in nature is measured in terms of survival then surely human beings have survived, if not with a vengeance, certainly in style. One can do a lot of surviving with a convertible sports car and pristine leather upholstery!

After all is said and done, the impact technology has on us can be summed up in two words; natural survival.

Take care

Lawrence

3rd September, 2006

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Baby Boom Generation


Dear friends,


This Sunday we are talking about the baby boom generation. That means some us.


The big question is how can a generation be responsible for anything; isn't it a matter of individuals acting for themselves as free agents? Yes, but it was this generation that put individuality into real practice and to the test. But this generation couldn't have reached this sense of freedom without acting in unison as one organism.


I have my ideas about what happened next, but I hope we will know the truth this Sunday.


Take care and see you Sunday.

Lawrence


SUNDAY 6.00pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
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======================


(CORRECTED VERSION 5 May 2008)

The Baby Boom Generation

There is a good article on the Wikipedia* web site on Baby Boomers, even though I found it a bit short given the subject. However, it gives us the bare facts to get us started.

The term itself, Baby Boomers, is more common and relevant, in the United States than in Britain, and other countries. This is because the term originally referred to the high birth rate that took place in the USA after the war. The demographics for the UK were somewhat different as probably for the rest of Europe. Nevertheless, it is now an accepted term in our language and culture.

Equally important, is the period these babies were born. The article says that the common definition of Baby Boomers is those who were born between 1946 and 1964. However, Steve Gillon splits this in two; 1945-1957 as the Boomers and 1958-1963 as Shadow Boomers. Strauss and Howe take the period 1943-1960 as the Boomer years.

Now that we have established the terminology, we can briefly establish some facts. A modern term that has entered our language is ''peace dividend.'' In other words, what do we get from having peace and not war? What are the rewards for not fighting?

It seems that one of those dividends, for the Americans, and to a lesser extent the British and other allies, was that people had more time to have babies. And although we should be suspicious of self evident truths and reasonable assumptions, it is not irrational to believe that the end of the war had something to do with the boom in births. But if the end of the war started the increase in births what sustained the boom was in fact the economic growth that followed the war.

The consumer demand at home and the European market meant that the American economy was growing and expanding for the first time in many years. This meant that at least part of the population was becoming seriously prosperous and the other part couldn't wait to catch up. This economic boom happened much later in Britain, and the most visible legacy we have from this period is the National Health Service and a catch phrase, by the Prime Minister of the time, Harold Macmillan, who said, "You've never had it so good!" meaning that the population has never been as well off as now. The historic reality is more complex, but it will do for now.

The second important fact about Baby Boomers is the reawakening of the prejudices and misconceptions towards war. The second world war was supposed to have been the war that ended all wars, at least in Europe anyway. Actually, the first world war was supposed to do that, but something went wrong. As a result, I suggest, that there was a period, when people did feel and did go about their business thinking that wars were a thing of the past; at least for North America and Europe. Some might say they still do.

The third fact that concerns us is that today the Baby Boomers are the ones that are driving politics, the economy, our values and the beneficiaries of most of today's wealth. However, the values and value judgments we try to shape society with today are the values and value judgments we learnt in our formative years of the sixties and seventies. I say, we, because for better or worse, some of us fall into the category of Baby Boomers.

One of the effects of the economic boom of the late forties and fifties was the rise of the corporation. Although, big business institutions did exist before the war, we can safely say that what was left standing after the war was very much different. Of course, the war did play an important part in shaping the future model of the corporation.

The corporation model that was born at this time was promoted on the principle that if you gave the corporation your loyalty as a worker the corporation would look after you for life. Company loyalty in exchange for security. Today we know that this could not have been sustained not only until the end of the century, but not even for thirty years. The Oil crisis of the early seventies was the first structural shock to the system.

Today, it is unrealistic to imagine that someone can have a job for life with the same company. The question is who is responsible for our work opportunities and livelihood? The reason why this is a philosophical question and not an economic question or a political question or a legal question is because there is no one single right answer. The question requires a value judgment and different opinions do not necessarily imply that one is right and the others are wrong.

However, human nature does tell us that someone should be right and usually we think it is us. Of course, this does not necessarily imply any malice or aggression. Think what would happen if we all went around being indifferent to events and choices. If we didn't mind or didn't care about what happens around us very few things would get done. And if you want proof of this, just have a look at the abode of a bachelor. Hence, we are faced with a dilemma between our personal interests and the best possible model to share the communal wealth.

The Baby Boomers are accustomed to personal wealth. Or to put it in a different way, the Baby Boomers are accustomed to being free consumers: what we want, we have a right to have it. I'd say that the Baby Boomers are the first generation to put a solid backbone in the spoilt brat.

Earlier I said that part of society became prosperous and the other part couldn't wait to catch up. Where do we get this idea that we all have a right to be free consumers? The rise of the corporation also gave us the marketing executive whose job it is to make sure that we know we have this right. The other source is the war itself. We all made a sacrifice during the war and by definition we all have a right to the peace dividend. In fact, the sacrifice was done by our parents (the Silent generation), and their parents, but their children soon picked up on this. And that dividend included economic wealth.

Do we really all have a right to be free consumers? This question today, as it stands, is the equivalent to gross blasphemy in politics and economics. But, I submit, it does not take much to turn a blasphemy into a serious philosophical question. Do we still have a right to be free consumers even at the expense of others?

Don't forget, there is no bravura or philosophical challenge when identifying situations based on malice or exploitation. The real philosophical challenge is when there is good faith and honest beliefs. It is very easy to deal with the slave driver who puts a dozen children locked up in a room all day producing carpets for western markets. There is no place for people like that. But what about taking the same dozen children and give them a reasonable wage, by local standards, for the work they do in the morning and then provide them with schooling in the afternoon? The carpets, of course, still sell by a very large factor from what the child earns.

This second scenario is sometimes called ethical labour on the grounds that the children and their families can still earn some money to survive, and still get their education. In a few words the essence of this argument is better to have some work where one is exploited, but at the end of the day have some money to be able to put some food on the table than having no work and no food at all.

In spite of the good will of the people who support this sort of argument, it nevertheless shows some very serious absence of philosophical foresight. To begin with, this attitude accepts the status quo of the way people are remunerated and the way we meet basic human needs, without any ambition of finding an equitable solution to what is admittedly a very difficult philosophical problem. At best it is acquiescence and at worse it is a cop out. The issue is conceptual and of attitude rather than of money.

The argument that if people don't have work they won't be able to feed their families and themselves just does not follow. First of all, there is absolutely no excuse in the twenty first century for someone to go hungry. The world today produces or has the capacity to produce enough food for everyone. It might not be a five star gastronomic experience, but it is still food. We can also go a long way by reducing our wasteful use of food. And we can go even further by making sure that corrupt governments or parasitic local officials do not get their grubby hands on any redistributed food. Secondly, as I shall argue, the model for the distribution of food on a universal basis need not involve money transaction at the point of need.

Giving food for nothing might not go down well with some people (no pun intended). However, it might create economic and business opportunities that do not exist at the moment. For example, if people do not have to worry about their basic food needs they might have enough time to think about their future and act accordingly. It might give them enough time to stop and think about how they are being exploited and find opportunities to become real players in the open free market.

This idea of giving something for free is not alien in our society or economy, anyway. We have free education and free health service, at last in Europe. The internet is also a modern proof that giving basics for free to society is not incompatible with economic prosperity and personal wealth. The internet succeeded because it was and still is basically free at the point of need. Being free does not mean it does not cost money or that we don't spend money. Being free means giving away basics so that we can spend our income on more efficient (higher margin) goods from companies. In fact, you receive this email through Google's free email service, and as we all know Google is also one of the most prosperous companies in the world.

The point is that the Baby Boom generation was the first generation that saw free-consumption as an equal right and not a privilege of the few. However, that right cannot exist at the expense of others. What I have tried to show is that with some philosophical rigour and change of mind set we can reach an equitable balance between free consumption and real ethical labour conditions. Of course, as always, the devil is in the detail.

An intellectual, and ideological, debate was sparked off by the Prime Minister in the eighties when she suggested that there is no such thing as a society, but individuals. Of course, this is an old issue in philosophy, but because it was said by this person at this particular time, it became an ideological crises for a while. Since we are talking about a generation we have to accept, at least, as a working assumption, that there is such a thing as a society.

If our grandparents' generation were responsible for the second world war, then our parents' generation was responsible for the cold war. It is true that there hasn't been a world war after 1945, but that's very close to playing with semantics. Probably more blood was shed due to wars between 1945 and 1989, than the two world wars put together. The only difference was that the western powers were not supplying the cannon fodder, with the one exception of the Vietnam war.

With hindsight, we now know that the Vietnam war was only a battle which the US lost; the real war was the Cold War and that had a slightly different outcome. Don't forget that the Baby Boom generation is, strictly speaking, an American phenomenon, Europe and the rest of the world just made use of the term. The Vietnam war was the war that was fought with the blood of the Baby Boomers. And contrary to expectations (compare with Korea) they did not like it: they said so: and did something about it.

This attitude had a plus side: it gave people a sense of freedom and individuality, the protest songs, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the mini-skirt, flower power, mass media and later on the exposure of Watergate and bell-bottoms. In other words, the Baby Boomers were the first generation to hold their parents to their promise that the last war was really going to be the last war. The slogan, "make love, not war," was not devoid of rationale and logic. Today, it is the Baby Boomers who lead protest marches against wars and other shady adventurism. In fact, the Baby Boom generation is the first generation with the right mind-set and the necessary means to do something about such simple problems as world hunger.

On the negative side, this apparent arrogance of the Baby Boomers really pissed their parents off, to the extent that the parents became dangerously entrenched in their ways: look at the history of the time, all the continents were in turmoil in some form or other. The more people protested against the Vietnam war the more turmoil the politicians got the world into. Incidentally, the article refers to Andrew Smith's, novel "Moondust," where he wrote, "Baby Boomers have the unique distinction of pissing off both their parents' and their children's' generations." The worst thing that happened during this time, however, was that war was taken away from the military and handed over to control freak politicians.

The flower power and the protest marches gave the Baby Boomers a naive and somewhat disingenuous attitude towards war. The end of all wars has always been the promised land of countless generations. Although the Baby Boom generation was not the first generation to believe that they could bring an end to wars (think of the generation of the first world war), they certainly are the first generation to do something about it and to bring an end to their big war.

Earlier I said that the Baby Boomers generation reawakened the prejudices and misconceptions about war. What did I mean by this? I mean two things. The first is the reasonable, but irrational belief that we can live without wars. We have no evidence nor reason to suppose this can happen. We can change the nature and character of war but we cannot stop wars. You might object and point out that I have no evidence nor reason to suppose that we can do away with world hunger. You're right we have no reason to suppose that. But what we have is actual food to put on tables.

The second reason why I say misconception is that the just war is not about killing people but about preserving and protecting life. I'm not going into what is a just war suffice it to suggest you have a look at history and decide who was fighting to protect themselves and who was fighting as aggressors. The exercise is not easy, but it can be done.

The point is not that we should stop wars because people die, but a war should be stopped when we are safe from our persecutors. The option, no wars, is a non-starter anyway. In my opinion, we would be better off by honestly considering such questions as: are we really facing a serious threat? Or, do we have enough protection should the threat materialise? Think about it, would you leave your prized Picasso without security or a front door to your house? I don't seriously believe that society in general is really that concerned about people dying. If we did we wouldn't build cars that encourage dangerous driving or prepare foods full of dangerous substances or pollute our environment with toxins and so on and so forth.

The question, when are we safe?, is a practical question and not one of perception. When a war was stopped to satisfy perceptions the repercussions were even more serious. I am specifically thinking of two instances. First, the second world war. Ostensibly, the allies went to war in Europe to protect Poland. However, the end of the war did not bring about the liberation of Poland, nor the rest of Eastern Europe, but the start of the Cold war. In the 90's the 100 hour (storm) war in Iraq did not bring about security in the Middle East, but the unnecessary nightmare we have today.

My point about the war angle is that given the present attitude of some of the Baby Boomers in power and given the high propensity for those in power to interfere in matters which are outside their competence, does the future look that bright? David Ogilvy, writing in his biography, said, "Do not compete with your [advertising] agency in the creative area. Why keep a dog and bark yourself?" This is what politicians have been doing for many generations and they are still doing it with no respite. To make this clearer, politicians and leaders ought to busy themselves with the control of the military machine or holding the military accountable under the rule of law and not with the planning of military campaigns. Can we afford this discrepancy? And what are the consequences of this discrepancy?

Incidentally, my preoccupation with politicians interfering with war matters is because the Baby Boom generation is the product of a war and its decisive influence in the world was the result of a war. But today's politicians, and a good percentage of them are Baby Boomers, interfere in more relevant matters that affect you and me in our every day life. I'm thinking of education, where institutions are sometimes used as experiment laboratories for some really woolly ideas. Or health services, where in some countries patient records have become practically insignificant compared to balance sheets. Then there are the inactions or the half hearted efforts of some leaders and opinion setters, especially on such issues as the environment, human rights and local law and order.

But I want to focus on the actions of the Baby Boomers because this is the first generation as a generation that got things done. The Baby Boomers will be the first to show future generations that with enough will and sufficient resources things can be done and get done. Look at the advances in science, technology, healthcare, and the increases in standards of living and life expectations.

However, what seems to be missing is a sense or feeling of common purpose. Instant gratification does not make for common purpose nor even for visionary leadership. The future challenge is indeed to create some common purpose or establish some visionary leadership. The environment, universal human needs, security, or whatever, do not seem to cut the mustard. And the view from the moral high ground captured in the sixties and seventies does not seem to be that clear either.

Take care

Lawrence

* Which I will refer to as the article: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/

5



------original version----

The Baby Boom Generation

There is a good article on the Wikipedia* web site on Baby Boomers, even though I found it a bit short given the subject. However, it gives us the bare facts to get us started.

The term itself, Baby Boomers, is more common and relevant, in the United States than in Britain, and other countries. This is because the term originally referred to the high birth rate that took place in the USA after the war. The demographics for the UK were somewhat different as probably for the rest of Europe. Nevertheless, it is now an accepted term in our language and culture.

Equally important, is the period these babies were born. The article says that the common definition of Baby Boomers is those who were born between 1946 and 1964. However, Steve Gillon splits this in two; 1945-1957 as the Boomers and 1958-1963 as Shadow Boomers. Strauss and Howe take the period 1943-1960 as the Boomer years.

Now that we have established the terminology, we can very establish some facts briefly. A modern term that has entered our language is ''peace dividend.'' In other words, what do we get from having peace and not war? What are the rewards for not fighting?

It seems that one of those dividends, for the Americans, and to a lesser extent the British and other allies, was that people had more time to have babies. And although we should be suspicious of self evident truths and reasonable assumptions, it is not irrational to believe that the end of the war had something to do with the boom in births. But if the end of the war started the increase in births what sustained the boom was in fact the economic growth that followed the war.

The consumer demand at home and the European market meant that the American economy was growing and expanding for the first time in many years. This meant that at least part of the population was becoming seriously prosperous and the other part couldn't wait to catch up. This economic boom happened much later in Britain, and the most visible legacy we have from this period is the National Health Service and a catch phrase, by the Prime Minister of the time, Harold Macmillan, who said, "You've never had it so good!" meaning that the population has never been as well off as now. The historic reality is more complex, but it will do for now.

The second important fact about Baby Boomers is the reawakening of the prejudices and misconceptions towards war. The second world war was supposed to have been the war that ended all wars, at least in Europe anyway. Actually, the first world war was supposed to do that, but something went wrong. As a result, I suggest, that there was a period, when people did feel and did go about their business thinking that wars were a thing of the past; at least for North America and Europe. Some might say they still do.

The third fact that concerns us is that today the Baby Boomers are the ones that are driving politics, the economy, our values and the beneficiaries of most of today's wealth. However, the values and value judgments we try to shape society with today are the values and value judgments we learnt in our formative years of the sixties and seventies. I say, we, because for better or worse, some of us fall into the category of Baby Boomers.

One of the effects of the economic boom of the late forties and fifties was the rise of the corporation. Although, big business institutions did exist before the war, we can safely say that what was left standing after the war was very much different. Of course, the war did play an important part in shaping the future model of the corporation.

The corporation model that was born at this time was promoted on the principle that if you gave the corporation your loyalty as a worker the corporation would look after you for life. Company loyalty in exchange for security. Today we know that this could not be sustained not only until the end of the century, but not even for thirty years. The Oil crisis of the early seventies was the first structural shock to the system.

Today, it is unrealistic to imagine that someone can have a job for life with the same company. The question is who is responsible for our work opportunities and livelihood? The reason why this is a philosophical question and not an economic question or a political question or a legal question is because there is no one right answer. The question requires a value judgment and different opinions do not necessarily imply that one is right and the others are wrong.

However, human nature does tell us that someone should be right and usually we think it is us. Of course, this does not necessarily imply any malice or aggression. Think what would happen if we all went around being indifferent to events and choices. If we didn't mind or didn't care about what happens around us very few things would get done. And if you want proof of this, just have a look at the abode of a bachelor. Hence, we are faced with a dilemma between our personal interests and the best possible model to share the communal wealth.

The Baby Boomers are accustomed to personal wealth. Or to put it in a different way, the Baby Boomers are accustomed to being free consumers: what we want, we have a right to have it. I'd say that the Baby Boomers are the first generation to put a solid backbone in the spoilt brat.

Earlier I said that part of society became prosperous and the other part couldn't wait to catch up. Where do we get this idea that we all have a right to be free consumers? The rise of the corporation also gave us the marketing executive whose job it is to make sure that we know we have this right. The other source is the war itself. We all made a sacrifice during the war and by definition we all have a right to the peace dividend. In fact, the sacrifice was done by our parents (the Silent generation), and their parents, but their children soon picked up on this. And that dividend included economic wealth.

Do we really all have a right to be free consumers? This question today, as it stands, is the equivalent to gross blasphemy in politics and economics. But, I submit, it does not take much to turn a blasphemy into a serious philosophical question. Do we still have a right to be free consumers even at the expense of others?

Don't forget, there is no bravura or philosophical challenge when identifying situations based on malice or exploitation. The real philosophical challenge is when there is good faith and honest beliefs. It is very easy to deal with the slave driver who puts a dozen children locked up in a room all day producing carpets for western markets. There is no place for people like that. But what about taking the same dozen children and give them a reasonable wage, by local standards, for the work they do in the morning and then provide them with schooling in the afternoon? The carpets, of course, still sell by a very large factor from what the child earns.

This second scenario is sometimes called ethical labour on the grounds that the children and their families can still earn some money to survive, and still get their education. In a few words the essence of this argument is better to have some work where one is exploited, but at the end of the day have some money to be able to put some food on the table than having no work and no food at all.

In spite of the good will of the people who support this sort of argument, it nevertheless shows some very serious absence of philosophical foresight. To begin with, this attitude accepts the status quo of the way people are remunerated and the way we meet basic human needs, without any ambition of finding an equitable solution to what is admittedly a very difficult philosophical problem. At best its acquiescence and at worse its a cop out. The issue is conceptual and of attitude rather than of money.

The argument that if people don't have work they won't be able to feed their families and themselves just does not follow. First of all, there is absolutely no excuse in the twenty first century for someone to go hungry. The world today produces or has the capacity to produce enough food for everyone. It might not be a five star gastronomic experience, but it is still food. We can also go a long way by reducing our wasteful use of food. And we can go even further by making sure that corrupt governments or parasitic local officials do not get their grubby hands on any redistributed food. Secondly, as I shall argue, the model for the distribution of food on a universal basis need not involve money transaction at the point of need.

Giving food for nothing might not go down well with some people (no pun intended). However, it might create economic and business opportunities that do not exist at the moment. For example, if people do not have to worry about their basic food needs they might have enough time to think about their future and act accordingly. It might give them enough time to stop and think about how they are being exploited and find opportunities to become real players in the open free market.

This idea of giving something for free is not alien in our society or economy, anyway. We have free education and free health service, at last in Europe. The internet is also a modern proof that giving basics for free to society is not incompatible with economic prosperity and personal wealth. The internet succeeded because it was and still is basically free at the point of need. Being free does not mean it does not cost money or that we don't spend money. Being free means giving away basics so that we can spend our income on more efficient (higher margin) goods from companies. In fact, you receive this email through Google's free email service, and as we all know it is also one of the most prosperous companies in the world.

The point is that the Baby Boom generation was the first generation that saw free-consumption as an equal right and not a privilege of the few. However, that right cannot exist at the expense of others. What I have tried to show is that with some philosophical rigour and change of mind set we can reach an equitable balance between free consumption and real ethical labour conditions. Of course, as always, the devil is in the detail.

An intellectual, and ideological, debate was sparked off by the Prime Minister in the eighties when she suggested that there is no such thing as a society, but individuals. Of course, this is an old issue in philosophy, but because it was said by this person at this particular time, it became an ideological crises for a while. Since we are talking about a generation we have to accept, at least, as a working assumption, that there is such a thing as a society.

If our grandparents' generation were responsible for the second world war, then our parents' generation was responsible for the cold war. It is true that there hasn't been a world war after 1945, but that's very close to playing with semantics. Probably more blood was shed due to wars between 1945 and 1989, than the two world wars put together. The only difference was that the western powers were not supplying the cannon fodder, with the one exception of the Vietnam war.

With hindsight, we now know that the Vietnam war was only a battle which the US lost; the real war was the Cold War and that had a slightly different outcome. Don't forget that the Baby Boom generation is, strictly speaking, an American phenomenon, Europe and the rest of the world just made use of the term. The Vietnam war was the war that was fought with the blood of the Baby Boomers. And contrary to expectations (compare with Korea) they did not like it: they said so: and did something about it.

This attitude had a plus side: it gave people a sense of freedom and individuality, the protest songs, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the mini-skirt, flower power, mass media and later on the exposure of Watergate and bell-bottoms. In other words, the Baby Boomers were the first generation to hold their parents to their promise that the last war was really going to be the last war. The slogan, "make love, not war," was not devoid of rationale and logic. Today, it is the Baby Boomers who lead protest marches against wars and other shady adventurism. In fact, the Baby Boom generation is the first generation with the right mind-set and the necessary means to do something about such simple problems as world hunger.

On the negative side, this apparent arrogance of the Baby Boomers really pissed their parents off, to the extent that the parents became dangerously entrenched in their ways: look at the history of the time, all the continents were in turmoil in some form or other. The more people protested against the Vietnam war the more turmoil the politicians got the world into. Incidentally, the article refers to Andrew Smith's, novel "Moondust," where he wrote, "Baby Boomers have the unique distinction of pissing off both their parents' and their children's' generations." The worst thing that happened during this time, however, was that war was taken away from the military and handed over to control freak politicians.

The flower power and the protest marches gave the Baby Boomers a naive and somewhat disingenuous attitude towards war. The end of all wars has always been the promised land of countless generations. Although the Baby Boom generation was not the first generation to believe that they could bring an end to wars (think of the generation of the first world war), they certainly are the first generation to do something about it and to bring an end to their big war.

Earlier I said that the Baby Boomers generation reawakened the prejudices and misconceptions about war. What did I mean by this? I mean two things. The first is the reasonable, but irrational belief that we can live without wars. We have no evidence nor reason to suppose this can happen. We can change the nature and character of war but we cannot stop wars. You might object and point out that I have no evidence nor reason to suppose that we can do away with world hunger. You're right we have no reason to suppose that. But what we have is actual food to put on tables.

The second reason why I say misconception is that the just war is not about killing people but about preserving and protecting life. I'm not going into what is a just war suffice it to suggest you have a look at history and decide who was fighting to protect themselves and who was fighting as aggressors. The exercise is not easy, but it can be done.

The point is not that we should stop wars because people die, but a war should be stopped when we are safe from our persecutors. The option, no wars, is a non-starter anyway. In my opinion, we would be better off by honestly considering such questions as: are we really facing a serious threat? Or, do we have enough protection should the threat materialise? Think about it, would you leave your prized Picasso without security or a front door to your house? I don't seriously believe that society in general is really that concerned about people dying. If we did we wouldn't build cars that encourage dangerous driving or prepare foods full of dangerous substances or pollute our environment with toxins and so on and so forth.

The question, when are we safe?, is a practical question and not one of perception. When a war was stopped to satisfy perceptions the repercussions were even more serious. I am specifically thinking of two instances. First, the second world war. Ostensibly, the allies went to war in Europe to protect Poland. However, the end of the war did not bring about the liberation of Poland, nor the rest of Eastern Europe, but the start of the Cold war. In the 90's the 100 hour (storm) war in Iraq did not bring about security in the Middle East, but the unnecessary nightmare we have today.

My point about the war angle is that given the present attitude of some of the Baby Boomers in power and given the high propensity for those in power to interfere in matters which are outside their competence, does the future look that bright? David Ogilvy, writing in his biography, said, "Do not compete with your [advertising] agency in the creative area. Why keep a dog and bark yourself?" This is what politicians have been doing for many generations and they are still doing it with no respite. To make this clearer, politicians and leaders ought to busy themselves with the control of the military machine or holding the military accountable under the rule of law and not with the planning of military campaigns. Can we afford this discrepancy? And what are the consequences of this discrepancy?

Incidentally, my preoccupation with politicians interfering with war matters is because the Baby Boom generation is the product of a war and its decisive influence in the world was the result of a war. But today's politicians, and a good percentage of them are Baby Boomers, interfere in more relevant matters that affect you and me in our every day life. I'm thinking of education, where institutions are sometimes used as experiment laboratories for some really woolly ideas. Or health services, where in some countries patient records have become practically insignificant compared to balance sheets. Then there are the inactions or the half hearted efforts of some leaders and opinion setters, especially on such issues as the environment, human rights and local law and order.

But I want to focus on the actions of the Baby Boomers because this is the first generation as a generation that got things done. The Baby Boomers will be the first to show future generations that with enough will and sufficient resources things can be done and get done. Look at the advances in science, technology, healthcare, and the increases in standards of living and life expectations.

However, what seems to be missing is a sense or feeling of common purpose. Instant gratification does not make for common purpose nor even for visionary leadership. The future challenge is indeed to create some common purpose or establish some visionary leadership. The environment, universal human needs, security, or whatever, do not seem to cut the mustard. And the view from the moral high ground captured in the sixties and seventies does not seem to be that clear either.

Take care

Lawrence

* Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/






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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Satisfaction

MEETING ----- 20th August 2006 -------
Dear friends,


Last Sunday we decided that we discuss satisfaction this coming Sunday.


Basically we thought that we should wait for those who were on holidays to come and tells about their satisfying experiences!! Actually there were only ten of us with everyone else on holidays.


See you Sunday and take care


Lawrence


SUNDAY 6.00pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
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Satisfaction


I won't be discussing satisfaction in the context of Anselm's theory of atonement nor Tarski's satisfaction as a notion of truth for languages containing quantifiers. The kind of satisfaction I wish to consider is the satisfaction of attending the 100th philosophy group meeting this Sunday. At least that's what my records show.


In other words, the satisfaction I wish to consider is the satisfaction we all feel in our daily life. What is satisfaction? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for satisfaction? And what is rational when it comes to satisfaction?


Satisfaction belongs to that class of feelings associated with pleasure and by pleasure I mean the opposite of pain. Maybe pleasure here might be close to meaning a positive experience. We can also say that when we experience satisfaction we feel good. For the time being I want to establish a neutral meaning of pleasure. Maybe even a neurological experience rather than a psychological or spiritual experience of pleasure.


Let's take two examples: a) person A derives a great deal of pleasure pulling legs off mosquitoes. b) person B derives a great deal of pleasure teaching English. Other things being equal, we are justified in assuming that both A and B feel positive, are not feeling pain and experience satisfaction. A moralist will question the pleasure experienced by A, but we don't want to go there yet. On the other hand, it is for the neurologist to tell us whether it is the same part of the brain that fires for A and B when they feel pleasure or are in a neurological state of satisfaction. But what matters is that, other things being equal, A and B do not feel pain when they tell us they derive pleasure. If you like, in a mathematical model of these examples, both pleasures would be put on the same side of the equation.


We can assume that satisfaction automatically implies pleasure. Can we also infer from satisfaction a feeling of enjoyment and a feeling of happiness?


If we are satisfied with something, does it also mean that we enjoy doing or experiencing this activity? I don't think that enjoyment is a necessary condition or component of satisfaction. For example, we can derive a great deal of satisfaction seeing justice being done, but we might not enjoy seeing people having to go to prison. It could, however, be that enjoyment is a sufficient condition for satisfaction. For example, we can enjoy eating an ice cream and get a lot of satisfaction from eating a very good ice cream. So, although enjoyment and satisfaction are closely related with each other that relationship is not a necessary one; satisfaction does not imply enjoyment, but maybe enjoyment does imply satisfaction.


If satisfaction is one step removed from being a necessary condition for enjoyment, how many steps is happiness removed. Deriving satisfaction from seeing justice being done in no way implies that we are happy. For example, the ideal situation would that the crime was not committed. The same with teaching English, maybe what would make us happy is writing books in English instead of teaching English. It seems that there are many factors that can affect our happiness, unlike the relationship between satisfaction, pleasure and enjoyment.


Gratification is very often regarded as a synonym for satisfaction. Gratification is the act of bringing about a desire or a need and so on. The end result is satisfaction. I would therefore say, gratification seems to focus on the act that realises the desire and satisfaction focuses on the fulfilment of the desire. Unless I specify otherwise, I will use desire to include also wants, needs and appetites. We say, "that was gratifying" to mean what we did and not the result; the result, of course, was satisfaction/satisfactory. From this we can say that there is an action component and fulfilment component to a desire. This is quite useful for us because we can understand such expressions as 'instant gratification,' or its close relative, 'impulse buying', and 'a job well done.' Of course, these expressions do not mean the same.


Instant gratification requires that the act and the pleasure are time critical. The time factor between the act and the pleasure is very short indeed. This is not to say that the time factor between the conception of the desire and the fulfilment of the desire needs to be instantaneous. This time factor is relative to what is being desired and the time it takes to achieve it. But I do think that this expression favours the shortest-time-possible interpretation of time critical. Of course, there are situations where this space-time relationship is or should be instantaneous. For example, passing in front of an ice cream parlour and deciding there and then to buy an ice cream. But 'instant gratification' is more useful as a term to suggest that we desire something without thinking about what we want nor how to get it, nor about the possible consequences. It certainly suggest that time is critical; time is of the essence, to use a legal analogy. Instant gratification is the
here and now sort of satisfaction that is well known to children, even though adults are not immune from it.


Instant gratification also affects our decision making process. Because we desire something now we might not put in the thinking that might be considered prudent for the case in question. Buying an ice cream on a whim is one thing, but maybe speeding down the motorway, just because we cannot be bothered to observe the speed limits, is an other. Furthermore, instant gratification might distort our cost benefit analysis or opportunity costs. Although I'm sure that we don't do these calculations the same way economists do them in a business setting.


We might feel that an expression like 'instant gratification' might only be used to describe people's desires; for example children, or selfish adults. Of course, there is no law that says we have to do this. We are free to use the expression as we like as long as it meets the necessary linguistic criteria. So I want to use this example in the context of businesses to show that instant gratification can affect businesses and does apply to a business.


One modern way for businesses to maximise profits has been to outsource some of their activities. Basically, this means selling off departments or divisions within the company and then hire the services back from the new company that used to be their old colleagues. Very common this involves IT centres, cleaning services, Customer services and so on. However, it has been known for sometime (see the Financial Times 12 December 2005, Life beyond outsourcing: customer service comes home,) that although there are short term saving to be made (hence bottom line profits meaning instant gratification) there are also limits to what can be outsourced. Or more importantly, what should be outsourced. The article refers as an example to the strike at British Airways when their outsourced catering services failed to deliver and as a result BA had to cancel many flights. This, in my opinion, is a basic example of how instant gratification can affect a business. Or to put it in
another, when a business purses a policy of instant gratification it might prejudice any cost-benefit analysis. What looked like more bang for the same bucks, might just simply back fire. (I know, too many metaphors!)


A job well done is, in a way, the opposite of instant gratification. A job well done derives satisfaction not only from the act or process of doing something, but that the fulfilment of the desire was done, so to speak, according to specifications. Here we have the ideas of taking the necessary time to do something and doing something in away that brings maximum satisfaction; the result is made up of what we wanted plus the satisfaction that our strategy and/or plans where were the right ones. Of course, the results will instantly tell us that we were successful in our endeavours. And presumably the satisfaction will follow instantly.


Furthermore, whether at work or life in general, people seem to experience a super duper type of satisfaction if others were to tell them well done or praise them for a job well done. For example, in a business setting, this sort of communication, between management and staff, can mean an employee does their best for the company or go to work for a competitor thus delivering all their experience and knowledge basically for free.


If instant gratification can negatively affect a person or a business, satisfaction of a job well done can equally affect a business or a person positively. What we are seeing here is that satisfaction whether the result of a whim or deliberation can have a causal effect beyond the results of the desire. Praising someone might mean that they perform even better on the next project.


I started by trying to limit the meaning of pleasure to a neutral meaning in the context of satisfaction. I did not want to introduce moral considerations or value judgements so early in the discussion. For example, in the case of the person deriving pleasure from pulling the legs of mosquitoes, the natural reaction is not: where is this pleasure firing in the person's brain, but rather, what kind of sick pleasure is that? But pleasure, desires and satisfaction are, I would suggest, value neutral by nature; we just experience these things because we were made like this.
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What kind of sick pleasure is that? is pointing towards a value judgement; sick pleasure means here evil, bad unacceptable type of perverse pleasure. So how do we get to this value judgement when considering satisfaction? What are the criteria, rational or otherwise, that leads us to satisfaction?


One of the basic criteria for pleasure, and thus the feeling of satisfaction, is nature itself. The reason why we are interested in pleasure is that nature made us like this. As a consequence, any attempt, by whoever it may be, to stop people having pleasure type experiences is acting unnaturally. The issue therefore is not one of whether we ought to pursue pleasure, but the level and nature of the pleasure we pursue. Smiling should never be a sin.


Satisfaction, pleasure and gratification have been closely linked with utilitarianism and hedonism. Utilitarianism is the doctrine of maximising pleasure. This doctrine of utilitarianism can be taken as a moral code or a manner of behaving. Giving charity to the maximum number of poor people (i.e. making them happy) is utilitarianism as a moral code and I should really enjoy myself at the party is utilitarianism as a behaviour code. Hedonism, as we all know, is the doctrine of the pursuit of pleasure.


The thing about pleasure or satisfaction, unlike pain or boredom, is that they are justification enough to intentionally want to do something to experience them. If pleasure and satisfaction are a sufficient criteria to do something, does it mean that hedonism and utilitarianism are basically right in principle? And can we also say that hedonism is the more fundamental doctrine of the two whilst utilitarianism is just a matter of practicality? To use an analogy, utilitarianism is the servant of hedonism?


Can we accept that trying to maximise pleasure is a rational thing to do? I think we can, but not without a big health warning to go with it. For example, in dietary matters there are limits to how much we should try to maximise our pleasure from eating certain foods. We can take it that 'maximising' one's pleasure does not mean limitless pleasure. We can therefore re-interpret utilitarianism to mean we can go on maximising pleasure until the pleasure starts doing us more damage than good. This is very much linked to the law of diminishing returns.


Staying with the example of dietary pleasures, we can still derive a great deal of pleasure from eating certain foods long after that food has done irreversible damage to our health. I also think that we can reasonably assume that it is rational not to damage one's health. To put it more generally, it is a rational thing to do not to act in such a way as to have an adverse effect on ourselves. In other words, it is a rational thing to do not to shoot ourselves in the foot. This means that there are rational limits to what we should do for pleasure or what gives us great satisfaction when we do them.


This tells us how important information is. If we didn't know that certain types of foods (plus other factors) could seriously have an adverse effect on our health we wouldn't know when to stop eating them or how much we can indulge ourselves. Not only does information help us do a better assessment of a cost-benefit analysis, but also of our opportunity cost.


Basically, and in a non technical manner, opportunity costs are what we forego for doing or choosing one thing and not an other. Satisfaction is, as I said above, not time dependent; I'm prepared to work for months to make sure I do a good job. However, when taking into consideration opportunity costs we tend to apply a time limit to our deliberations: a time limit that's very context driven. For example, choosing a pension plan requires a certain type of time consideration than participating in high risk sport. If we decide to go skiing this winter we do not usually consider how this will affect our opportunity costs when we're 86. Compare this with not buying the ice cream now in the hope that another shop would have a better tasting ice cream. That other shop might be close and therefore no ice cream: QED. Hence, although satisfaction is not time dependent, when we use certain rational criteria, for example opportunity costs analysis, times becomes a de facto
critical factor for satisfaction.


If some people object to the idea that satisfaction and pleasure are purely neurological events, they need not despair. Our ability to rationalise some of our actions means that there are some checks and balances to our primeval instinct to experience and pursue pleasure or satisfaction.


To sum up, I have tried to argue that the experience of satisfaction is based on that fundamental feeling of pleasure. I have also argued that we also have a right to pleasure in the same way we have a right to life. And due to the way nature made us, it is a normal thing to experience a sense of satisfaction. However, it is only due to information and how we use that information that we can decide whether it would be a rational thing to do when pursuing a particular desire. Of course, although there is no law that says we have to be rational, there is a law that says every cause has an effect.


But the most beautiful and satisfying aspect of satisfaction is that we don't share it with anyone else. Enjoy!


Take care

Lawrence

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