PHILOMADRID

PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group: Segovia Trip

Dear friends,
These are the details for the Segovia train this Sunday.
Arrive early to buy the tickets; there might be a queue at the ticket
office.
We'll try and meet in the front carriage of the train.
Departure time of train:
MADRID ATOCHA CERCANIAS 10:01
MADRID-RECOLETOS (APD) 10:04
MADRID-NUEVOS MINISTERIOS 10:08 (meet in the main ticket hall)
MADRID-CHAMARTIN 10:15
We arrive in Segovia at about 12:00 noon.
There are two return trains we can catch from Segovia:
Segovia 18:55
Segovia 20:55
I don't know what the lunch situation is in Segovia, but I suggest a
packed lunch just in case.
SUNDAY MEETING
Olga will be in Molly Malone's on Sunday, at 7pm, to meet with those who
won't be going to Segovia.
See you Sunday
Take care
Lawrence
**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);
http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAY_FLAT_mayte_AlmerAVillaDeNJar
Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);
http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAYFLAT_Paloma_MarbellaNearElviria
*************************************

+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm – 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
-Group photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
-My tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Saturday, May 26, 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Why do people believe anything? (essay)

Dear friends,

Finally managed to get the essay done. Was too tired last night to do
anything.

Don't forget next week the 3^rd of June, we're going to Segovia. I will
CERTAINLY send an email about this by Wednesday. If you don't get an
email please let me know.

See you tomorrow

Take care

Lawrence

**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);

http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAY_FLAT_mayte_AlmerAVillaDeNJar

Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);

http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAYFLAT_Paloma_MarbellaNearElviria
*************************************


+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY: start 6.00pm till 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably
downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
-Group photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
-My tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Why do people believe anything?

Right from day one, we are trained to be efficient in two important
activities. We are trained to live in a community and we are trained to
respect authority.

It might be argued that living in a community is something natural for
us to do and be interested in doing. Especially if we associate living
within a community as a good survival strategy. Learning how to live in
a community is a good thing to do and there are many ways we learn how
to live within a community: for example, we start by promoting the
family institution, with various degrees of success, community schools,
team membership at work, membership of and support for to political
parties, subscribe to a sports club or a department store loyalty scheme
and so on. Indeed, living within a community is an advantage and
cooperation with others is the best possible thing we can do if we want
to succeed and survive in life.

We have also developed complex systems to make sure that people do
cooperate and conform. For example, such linguistic labels as, shy,
loner, introvert, and quiet are used as conceptual disapproving cues for
people who do not "fit" within the community. Never mind other
expressions such as drop out, delinquent etc. "Science" has also been
sub contracted to deal with these issue by providing therapies and pills.

Later in life we reinforce this community spirit by introducing group
learning and group approval. We usually call these institutions schools,
universities, exams, local chamber of commerce, society clubs, sports
clubs and so on. We also speak of being a team member and we are
theoretically supposed to show this character trait by following the
latest fashion whether it is brown shoes with gray suites or master's
degrees, or simply be dexterous at the latest sports fad.

By respect for authority I do not mean, keeping within the speed limits
on the motorway or paying your local tax bill. We are first trained to
believe that those in authority have our interest at heart, or that they
know best; in British English we have the expression, nanny knows best,
which is not a heart warming expression. However, our parent's natural
and noble intentions are quickly high jacked by the rest of society for
their own end. For example, by religious groups (you must teach the holy
book to your children), corporations (this food is nutritious for baby),
learning centres (a degree from this university will open doors) and so
on. Of course, authority also helps keep law and order and individuals
from disrupting the life of others*.

But authority does not only manifest itself as an institution, but also
in individuals. A father has more authority than a mother, a priest or
preacher more authority than a church goer, a professor more authority
than an undergraduate, a director more authority than a delivery clerk,
an investment banker more authority than a teller and so on.

People who do not show the right respect to these authorities are
described as problem children, delinquents, anarchists, revolutionaries,
infidels, non conformists and even worse things. But these are not just
words and labels, but ideas and concepts that thrive and live in real
life with equally real life consequences. If an ex-employer describes
you as a team player, it might land you your next job opportunity.
However, behold if you are labelled a "lose cannon" or an "opinionated
extrovert."

I want to argue that the question, "why do people believe anything?" is
not only a question about beliefs, but a question on how we believe
things and what motivates us to believe what we believe. At face value,
this might be regarded as an issue for psychology or sociology rather
than philosophy. Whilst not excluding a psychological or sociological
import, there are a number of philosophical issues that concern us.

First of all, there are the value judgments that surround the question.
What do we mean by father being more authoritative than mother? Why
should a teacher have more authority than a pupil? Why should one be a
team player and why is an opinionated extrovert bad news?

Secondly, beliefs are inevitably based on information and how that
information is presented to us. Of course we all accept that information
maybe wrong, and that some information is by nature not a priori
certain, for example scientific information. However, while information
maybe questioned, it is very difficult for individuals, as individuals
and not as members of a professional community, to question that
information. Furthermore, there are communities that do not even allow
their information to be questioned, amongst which are religions, secret
societies, and extremist groups.

Thirdly, how can we balance the need to have beliefs and the information
we accept as relevant for those beliefs?

We can distinguish two types of beliefs which are very important for us;
there might be others but are not important for us here. There are those
beliefs which I will call beliefs about facts/states of affairs and
beliefs which we need to have before we perform an action (see
wikipedia:belief for alternative terminology).

An example of beliefs about facts is that the Roman Empire will still be
an influencing factor for the next thousand years. We might also
describe these beliefs as opinions and even prejudices. But these
opinions or beliefs do not necessarily lead to action. Of course I might
have to justify my claims about such things as the Roman Empire, but I
do not have to act in a certain way.

Now imagine that the elections are due and I decide to vote for the best
candidate. I also happen to belief that the best political policy is to
balance social investment with free market economy and Jane is a
candidate who holds similar ideas. It would be the most natural thing
for me to vote for Jane. We need to have certain beliefs in order to
take the next step. A simpler example would be: I believe that the baker
is open, so I go to get a loaf of bread. Beliefs lead to action,
otherwise we will just be automata.

Although the question (why do people believe anything?) does not tell us
which beliefs we are talking about, it is important for us to
distinguish. It is important for two reasons. Is a given belief required
for an action? And do I perceive that this beliefs to have a
consequence? I submit that this is the weak point about beliefs.

If we want people to do something then we should try to persuade them
that having certain beliefs and acting upon them might have desirable
consequences. If I believe that a certain type of car is safer, or
cleaner, or fashionable then I'd better go and buy that car if I value
any of these features. On the other hand, we might want someone to
believe that doing nothing is the best thing to do; for example, our
party supports national security so there is no need to change the
government.

Although in the preceding few paragraphs I tried to show the type of
beliefs we have (at least those relevant for my argument) and their
function, these do not explain why we need to have beliefs in the first
place.

Living systems (see Living Systems Theory) have to do two things if they
have to do anything. Interact with their environment and process
information (to enable them to interact with their environment). Beliefs
have always been second class epistemological citizens. We first
encounter knowledge (irrespective of whether a priori or inductive),
then beliefs, information and finally we encounter data (including sense
perception).

Unfortunately, knowledge is not easy to come by; it is a serious natural
scarce resource. And like all natural scarce resources, it is not
produced in abundance and it certainly carries a high price to obtain.
For example, just for the tuition on an MBA programme at Harvard (2009),
it will set you back $41,900 ($73,300 all included);

http://www.hbs.edu/mba. The main reason why I say that knowledge is a
scarce natural resource is because, as far as we are concerned,
knowledge must be converted into a physical format (as in Shannon
information) before we can access it. And once we do that, the
principles of supply and demand apply. There is also the monopolistic
monetary value of knowledge, but this is just a theme on what I have
just said.

Knowledge has an element of certainty which beliefs do not have. The
degree of certainty of our knowledge is important because the future is
an uncertain place. It is not that knowledge is infallible (at least
inductive knowledge); but that knowledge is the best information we have
to help us interact with our environment. In the absence of knowledge ¡,
we tend to employ beliefs. Maybe not because beliefs have some
guaranteed epistemic predictive value, but that maybe because we need
the security of information, even if that security is false security.
Maybe false security is more valuable than no security at all.

Beliefs fill gaps in our knowledge base. This in not meant to diminish
the scope and role of beliefs, but to emphasise the importance of
information for living systems. However, beliefs are what they are,
second class citizens. And converting beliefs into knowledge (e.g.
hypothesis into verifiable inductive knowledge) takes energy, time and
in the modern world, money.

One advantage of living in a community is that we pool and share our
data, information, beliefs and knowledge. The community benefits from
this, because a good number of people benefit from this. Of course, we
don't only share knowledge and information freely, many times we share,
through exchange, for other things which we might want. Maybe I can
share a recipe for a Christmas pudding with our neighbour and thus more
people can benefit form my knowledge. But not every one wants to do
their own baking or can bake. There is no point for Airbus or Boeing
sharing the blueprint of their aeroplanes with passengers, since
passengers would be unable to build their own plane to go on holiday
this summer. But sharing information is offset by the fact that living
systems are also competitive systems. And if I'm really competitive, I
will charge a lot of money for my Christmas puddings.

And since there is nothing more to a community than individuals, living
in a community is the basis for authority especially personal authority.
Hence, we live in a community that trains us to accept certain beliefs
and practices as true without questioning their veracity or validity.
But we also have to pay a price (money, effort, energy etc) to convert
any information we have into knowledge. Sometimes we don't have that
luxury (maybe because of time) but most times it does not occur to us to
question anything unless we have been trained to do this. It is
therefore not surprising that some people believe anything.

However, "why do people believe anything?" really means, "why do people
believe falsehoods? In other words why are people gullible?"

I don't subscribe to the idea that people (at least the majority)
intentionally believe falsehoods, but rather that we are confronted with
such a wide epistemic arsenal that we can easily make the mistake of
believing a falsehood. Liars and cheats in reality are exploiting the
weaknesses in our belief system to their advantage. In any event, we
mustn't forget the possibility that in a community of collaborators, a
few might benefit by cheating the system. So let's have a look at some
of this arsenal.

This arsenal is usually found in philosophy under the headings of
"logical fallacies," "fallacies" or "philosophical fallacies." if you
google these terms you'll find a large number of web sites that discuss
these fallacies; for practical purposes I'm using: The Power of Words,

http://www.aniota.com/~jwhite/words.html.

We use these fallacies to give the impression that something is true,
desirable or inevitable. These are also usually employed to communicate
falsehoods, or sometimes to avoid the intellectual rigours required to
prove something. However, the effects and consequences are the same, to
influence people's beliefs, to get them to act in a certain way and most
certainly, to benefit someone else.

A very common fallacy is to argue from authority. Something is true
because who says it has authority over others. we can easily identify
this fallacy with language expressions such as, "the teacher told
us.....,"according to Einstein.....," "I have a masters in
psychology...," the CEO believes......" The objective is to settle the
argument by appealing to who is saying what as opposed to what is being
said. The opposite of this fallacy is the fallacy Ad Hominem, argument
against the man. Thus we attack the speaker instead of the argument.

The argument, Ad Verecundiam (argument from authority), is a powerful
one not only because we have been brought up to respect authority but
because sometimes these authorities are right. Speaking from experience,
as someone who did question the teacher (not a very pleasant experience)
I can today say that I was right on the philosophy, but wrong on the
evolution of the historical facts. The problem is of course that being
right about future events or rather events that are not yet within our
event horizon can be a hit or miss affair. In any case, this is why we
see a lot of men and women in white coats advertising things, or sports
champions or medium rate film stars endorsing products. We are supposed
to regard these people as authorities and we are expected to do what
they say.

An other popular argument is that of fear (ad baculum). This argument
usually follows the pattern of proposing something and then concluding
that failure to do it will result in some serious unpleasant
consequence. "If you don't clean your room, you will be grounded for the
weekend." this argument is very common when cheats and thugs want to
defraud old people or vulnerable people from their savings or pension
payouts. (See the New York Times, May 20, 2007, on this multi billion
fraud industry that preys on the old and infirm: Bilking the Elderly,
With a Corporate Assist By Charles Duhigg).

Two arguments which are also used regularly are appeal to pity /sympathy
(ad misericordium) and special case pleading. Appeal to pity is the
mainstay of charities, religions and people who exploit the emotional
sensitivities of others. Of course there is nothing wrong with helping
others or offering charity. However, it is not the pity that makes a
case worthy or valid, but the facts of the case. But getting the facts
right might be hard work or may show that there is not case at all. Why
risk it? A special case argument might employ pity to mitigate the
possibility that to make an exception would mean doing something to
everyone.

There are many more fallacies that have been identified by philosophers
and other thinkers. However, I want to mention two other fallacies
before I finish.

We are all familiar with statistics and opinion polls, especially in
advertising and politics. (The classic book on this subject is of
course, How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff; 1954). these
arguments usually include expressions such as, "statistics show...,"
"nine out of ten.....," "Polls suggest." we can also add the ad popolum
as a version of this argument (argument from the masses), "everyone who
is anyone....," "don't be left out....," "everyone wants to....,""have
you......as well?" In a way this fallacy reinforces that requirement of
living and cooperating within a community. An appeal to an instinct,
both natural and nurtured in us. An appeal that makes the group
desirable, right or wrong.

The last fallacy is what JHWhite, the author of The Power of Words web
site, calls Political Correctness (PC) and describes it as, "...a
manipulation that not only uses fear but every other fallacy as well..."
of course, something like PC is an attempt to redraw the boundaries of
community interaction. Some of the problems connected with this
initiative are that whilst clearly identifying an injustice, those
exercising this initiative might go about solving this problem with
ineffective and inefficient means. Not to mention that they might get
hold of the wrong end of the stick all together. Thus PC might correctly
identify bias against women, but then goes about making a fuss about the
language and terminology we use in our daily life. Thus saying
chairperson instead of chairman might make a few people good but will
this change the prospects and opportunities for women? On the other
hand, what might advance careers and increase opportunities, for both
men and women, is a work environment that balances family life and work
life.

To sum up, people are prone to believe anything because of some basic
factors: we are trained to accept what our community tells us, in the
form of institutions and authorities, and secondly we have developed an
impressive array of epistemological tools that enable us to make people
believe anything. Maybe, we can condense all these arguments into one
single question: what incentive do we have to question received wisdom?

What remains to be established, is whether A Lincoln was right when he
is quoted as saying, "you can fool some of the people some of the time,
and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people
all the time." Are you being fooled?

Take care

Lawrence

*if you're interested in a way to disrupt your lecturer or boss have a
look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrJ28EfFum0

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Why do people
believe anything? (essay)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Why do people believe anything?

Dear friends,

I hope this Sunday we won't have the meeting interrupted with football.
If we are, we'll have to make other arrangements for the evening.

Our topic for Sunday is: why do people believe anything? I will try and
send the essay by midday, but I still have to type it in. The next
opportunity for me would then be late afternoon early evening. Sorry
about that.

Don't forget that Petra and Julian are still looking for accommodation.

Take care

Lawrence

**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);

http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAY_FLAT_mayte_AlmerAVillaDeNJar

Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);

http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAYFLAT_Paloma_MarbellaNearElviria
*************************************


+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm – 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
-Group photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
-My tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Why do people
believe anything?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Mistakes in Life + other items

Dear friends,

Apologies for sending you the essay so late.

Julian has asked me to remind you that he is, "still looking for a place
to live. Flat, flat share, temporary lodging or other alternative."
------ juliand1@yahoo.com

And don't forget the day trip to Segovia on the 3^rd June.

Take Care

Lawrence

**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);

http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAY_FLAT_mayte_AlmerAVillaDeNJar

Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);

http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAYFLAT_Paloma_MarbellaNearElviria
*************************************


+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm START till 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably
downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
-Group photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
-My tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Mistakes in life

The anatomy of a mistake is made up of three components: information,
action, and consequences. A mistake may also be one of commission or
omission.

Of course, mistakes are a result of autonomous action by an agent. And
although action might very well be determined there are, at least, some
actions that we can do to influence a desired outcome. It is not so
much, however, an argument of determinism against freewill, but rather
determinism as a function of a determining agency and degree of
influence. By autonomous action of an agent, I mean natural living
things: an amoeba, a bacterium, an elephant and human being, you know
what I mean. And although I have no doubt that a bacterium can make a
mistake, I am only interested in human mistakes.

A human being is, of course, as much a determining agency as the next
critter. But what distinguishes a living creature and an inanimate
object, such as a volcano, is that a living creature determines its
environment for its own survival. A volcano is just the result of
geological processes in the Earth's crust. This is an important
distinction because volcanoes cannot make mistakes, but humans can and
do make mistakes.

Coupled with the idea of determining one's environment, is the idea that
determinism comes in degrees. As we know human beings have been very
successful at determining their environment, maybe even too successful
to wit. On the other hand, other creatures can also determine their
environment to various degrees of determinism. It goes without saying
that by environment I am also including other creatures, human or
otherwise, that are involved in our life. For example, we can determine
the life of a chicken as much as the bacteria in that chicken can
determine our well being.

What has this got to do with mistakes? Simple, mistakes are still part
of that process of an agency to determine its environment. Furthermore,
mistakes can still have a positive or negative effect on others as much
as on itself.

Is there a significant difference between mistakes of omission and
mistakes of commission? A mistake of omission is something we should or
ought to have done, but we didn't. Such mistakes are usually
characterised with such expressions as, "if only I knew," "I should have
done that," and so on. Mistakes of commission are the result of acts we
did perform. Usually these are identified with such expressions as, "I
shouldn't have done that," "maybe that wasn't the best thing to do," and
so on.

Sometimes, things would turn out badly irrespective of what we do.
Usually such things are also linked to high moral content. For example,
should we try to rescue someone in rough seas; if we don't they would
certainly drown, and if we do we might drown. Or on a more serious note,
as Britain and other countries in 1939 found themselves having to decide
whether to meet the treaty obligations they had with Poland (that's the
theory at least). Going to war against German resulted in a world war,
but what would have happened if they didn't go to war. If the Second
World War was a mistake, then what would have been if they did not go to
war? Some might say that these two examples are not real mistakes. I'm
not sure about that. If the outcome of the Second World War was a
stronger Nazi party, few of those who supported this group would have
said that it was a mistake to go to war. Usually, if things turn out
well, few would describe these things as a mistake. In a way it does not
matter whether there is a difference between mistakes of omission or
commission. If things turn out well, then we can justly claim that no
mistake was made, and if things turn out badly, then we can account for
this by looking at the anatomy of the mistake.

It is quite ironic that when we discuss mistakes, and maybe point at the
mistakes of others, we usually start with the cardinal mistake of
judging the situation with 20/20 hindsight. We further conspire in our
judgment by ignoring the psychological or mental state of the actor of
the mistake. Not to mention our own psychological state. I would argue
that although this state of affairs points at a mistake, for failing to
take some fundamental considerations, I want to argue that what is
behind this judging situation is a valid strategy, even if it is an
unpleasant one as i will point out.

Imagine a colleague who decides to change their stable and well paid job
for a position with a start up company. Now the new start up company
fails twenty months down the line. It is reasonable to say that this
colleague made a serious mistake? To complicate matters, sometimes
things turn out as they did in this example but we might not say that
this person made a mistake. But when we do say that this colleague made
a mistake it does not necessarily follow that we know all the
circumstances of this colleague: they might have been under stress, or
simply could not stand us any more, whatever. Whilst it might be that
this colleague made a mistake, it does not follow that we have some a
priori right or capacity to say that this person made a mistake. But we
do, even if we do not have such an a priori right.

This becomes serious or relevant when sanctions are to be associated
with a mistake. It is one thing to applying the label mistake but
another when it comes to apply sanctions as a consequence. I agree with
you that reasonable and rational agents would not jump to conclusions.
For example, many legal systems take this into account when they
administer justice. However, I am not interested in this aspect.

The reason why mistakes are followed by disapproval (in many cases) from
observers is because other people's mistakes can materially affect us.
But ironically, affect here can be both negative and positive. Our
colleague's failed career move affects us positively because they are
now at a competitive disadvantage from us. On the labour market (read:
competitive survival environment) we are better off than they are; at
least in the short term. And whether we want to or not, or whether we
are aware of it or not, we do benefit from our colleague's unfortunate
career move. This is nature and nature of the survival gene: someone
else's misfortune, at the evolutionary level at least, might easily be
our fortune. Now, the longer this advantage persists the better it is
for us.

When we say that someone made a "mistake," as in our example, we are
employing a linguistic strategy (and psychological) which is meant to
maintain this state of perceived advantage. I submit that we do not
necessarily do this consciously or intentionally, it is built into the
system, if you like. Hence, by applying the label "mistake" we are in
effect inflicting pain (psychological) on the other person. And of
course, pain disadvantages people; in English we have an expression for
this, kicking a man when he's down. (See for example, Men inflict
greater pain than women, Will Knight, 06 February 2004, NewScientist.com).

Maybe it is much easier to understand when someone else's mistake
affects us directly. It is also quite natural to complain. What might
not be obvious is how does this affect a survival strategy?

I think we can agree that by applying the label mistake, we are also
trying to affect the mental or psychological state of the other person.
When a mistake affects us we are, sort of forewarning that person to be
more careful with us in future encounters. In fact, mistakes, or rather
their effects, only interest us when they have a direct bearing on us.
How many of us, for example, complained at the mistakes done by the
local deli, yesterday, in down town El Paso, Texas. Unless yesterday you
were in down town El Paso the chances are you didn't. In fact I don't
even know if there is a deli in down town El Paso. Applying this
principle on a larger scale, this might explain why we tend to complain
more about the imperfections our politicians rather than the genocide
aggression of dictators in far of lands. We might not even know that
such transgressions are taking place at all.

Hence, mistakes are those actions or acts which affect us directly. And
as I have tried to point out with the dictator or deli examples, it is
not even a matter of degree but a matter of fact. Mistakes, as a
consequence, are also subjective. If it does not affect us directly it,
probably does not feature on our moral event horizon. We have no moral
opinion about it because we don't know about it or it is not captured by
our moral gravitational field.

So far I have looked at the action and consequence of what I described
the anatomy of a mistake. Of course, mistakes can also be seen as the
result of a flawed decision process. By implication, when me make a
mistake we can say that the decision process was also flawed. Of course,
skill and experience do help us in this process, especially in matters
we have been dealing with for a long time. But what I am interested in
is the information (also knowledge) we take into consideration.

When we decide to do something, we are deciding to act in the future. We
want to influence our future; we want to influence future events. This
is what we mean when we say that a determining agency tries to influence
their environment. We want to make things happen in the future. Of
course, the future can be the next second in our life or the next
quarter of a century. How far into the future is immaterial.

However, our future actions are limited by two powerful principles. The
Heisenberg uncertainty principle tells us that it is physically
impossible to predict the future because we are unable to determine the
course of physical events into the future. Basically, this principle
tells us, as you will remember, that there is a point in the quantum
world where it is impossible to find the momentum and position of an
object. Of course it is not within the scope of this essay to go into
quantum mechanics, but what is important us is that we establish the
principle that we cannot predict the future and that the future is a
function of the probabilities. The implication of the Heisenberg
principle is that the future is a probability function of present state
of events; we do not need to go into the meaning of present here. This
probability function explains the claim that skills and experience can
help us limit the number of the type of mistakes we make.

The second principle is based on The Paradox of Choice which is the
result of research by Prof Barry Schwartz*. The idea behind this study
is that the more choice we have the more confused or unsatisfied we
become. This does not mean that choice is bad, but that unless we really
know what we are doing, having more choice need not mean better or
happier or whatever. The implication of this paradox is that we might
still think we made a mistake just because we had more choice in the
first place. In the video presentation Schwartz gives an example of how
some people in the US fore go participating in a retirement investment
plan (401(K)), sponsored by an employer, with deferred tax. Employees
who are offered more choice to invest their money tend to participate
less in this investment scheme. They are inundated with choice so they
do nothing about it (a mistake of omission).

You will immediately realise that the Paradox of choice has a lot in
common with information overload. Information overload is when we are
inundated with information to the point that we become inefficient or
ineffective. A more technical description of information overload is a
low content-to-noise ratio. And accord to a report in the New Scientist
it quotes Glenn Wilson as saying that un-checked info-mania can reduce
our mental sharpness. ('Info-mania' dents IQ more than marijuana, 22
April 2005, NewScientist.com). Of course one answer to information
overload is to have quality information.

How is this relevant to our subject? Information is the third leg of
what I have called the anatomy of a mistake. In order to interact or
change our environment we need information about the environment and
about us. The quality, quantity and nature of the information we have
determines the out come of our actions and how we act.

It seems to me that there is a sort of balancing operation going on with
mistakes. On the one hand, we are justified in believing that the better
the quality of our information the better will be our decision making
process. For example, if we know that a company is in good financial
health our decision to invest in this company ought to be more sound
than knowing nothing about the company. However, we also know that we
are limited to what we can say about the future. Moreover, no matter how
well our company does, it does not exclude other companies doing better.
Hence, a seemingly justified course of action can easily be thwarted by
other events and by the choice we have.

Mistakes are more complex phenomena than just being wrong about
something. But then the label "wrong" has never been that helpful on how
we should or ought to do things. The most important aspect of mistakes
is that mistakes help us assess the probabilistic outcomes of future
events. We might do this by learning from our mistakes. By they also
have a sinister side, as I have tried to show. The label "mistake" can
be used to manipulate, or at the very least, influence others (and them
to us); how they feel and how they behave.

Over and above everything else, mistakes have two very relevant short
comings. The first is that we try to avoid them, but we do not always
succeed. The second is that we try to learn from them, but we do not
always get a second chance.

Take care

Lawrence

*The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less

Barry Schwartz

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6127548813950043200

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Mistakes in Life +
other items

Friday, May 18, 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Mistakes in Life + Segovia 3 June

Dear friends,

Last Sunday it was brought to my attention that on the 27 May there will
be the local elections. Because of this I suggested, and a majority of
people reluctantly agreed, to go to Segovia on the 3^rd of June.

For those who might not be going to Segovia, you can still organise a
meeting, maybe someone will volunteer to chair the meeting. As you can
see from the details below it is not practical to come early from
Segovia and have a meeting after. I thank you in advance for helping out
on this.

So far I have got the following train details and options.

Leave Nuevos Ministerios --> arrive Segovia

8.01 am --> 10.05am

10.01am --> 12.04pm

Leave Segovia --> arrive Madrid

16.50 --> 18.50pm

18.55 --> 20.55pm

Price 11.3 euros return.

We can decide this Sunday which option to take, although it seems that
there is only one obvious option. But let's wait for Sunday. If you have
any comments please send me an email and I'll pass it on during the meeting.

For those who might ask about a bus service, there is a bus service, but
I resent having to give my life history, dating back to ten minutes
before the big bang, just to get some info on a time table and a bus
fare to Segovia. I find this gross internet aggression.

Talking about mistakes (by the bus company) this Sunday we are talking
about Mistakes in Life, which should be quite useful for us given that
we have to decide the Segovia trip.

I will try to finish the essay by mid day or early afternoon tomorrow
(Friday), but as always, I cannot promise. For those who still want
something to prepare for Sunday I suggest you have a look at this
presentation by Prof. Schwartz. He is the guy who told us why we are not
necessarily better off the more choice we have.

Prof. Barry Schwartz

The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6127548813950043200&q=choice

Take care and see you Sunday

Lawrence

**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);

http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAY_FLAT_mayte_AlmerAVillaDeNJar

Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);

http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAYFLAT_Paloma_MarbellaNearElviria
*************************************


+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
-Group photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
-My tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Mistakes in Life +
Segovia 3 June

Saturday, May 12, 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Getting Old (essay)

Dear friends,

I finally managed to finish the draft which I am sending now in a more
or less raw form. But I think my ideas and some of the supporting
evidence I use are quite clear. A look at the references should give you
a good idea what this essay is all about. Apologies if they do not.

Apologies also for sending this essay so late.

See you soon

Lawrence

**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);

http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAY_FLAT_mayte_AlmerAVillaDeNJar

Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);

http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAYFLAT_Paloma_MarbellaNearElviria
*************************************


+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
-Group photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
-My tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Getting Old

Conventional wisdom has it that the human life span is around 125years.
There isn't a documented case which shows that a human being has lived
longer than this. In other words, if someone never suffered from a
disease, accidents or violence, they would still die from ''old age'' at
a maximum limit of 125 years. Until, that is, we come across Aubrey de
Grey who, for all intents and purposes, believes that this is all
prejudice and that it is feasible for human life to be extended to one
thousand years. More about de Grey later on.

Of course, strictly speaking, getting old has nothing to do with how old
we are, but about the process of reaching old age and being old. Based
on the type of prejudice a person happens to practice and who we are
asking, we can safely assume that for most adults, old age starts at 65
years. And although life expectancy, in the western world, hovers around
65 for men and 70 for women (BBC), this would certainly be regarded as
very old. We forget that someone reaching the age of 80years is more
entitled to be called super human, than old, considering that the vast
majority of this person's peers have long passed away. The idea of
getting old is more a function of those around us and a subjective
belief of the person. In other words, someone is old because we think
they are old, as well as what each of us think about ourselves.

Apart from meaning a biological process, getting old is also a cue for
society to change their mind set towards certain people of a certain
age. And of course this mind set brings with it certain behaviour and
certain attitudes. I would say that the expression ''getting old'' is a
kind of ground preparation for the title of ''old age'' and the ultimate
prize of death. Getting old is a sort of psychological preconditioning
which is both encouraged and self imposed.

This mindset inevitably involves prejudice, discrimination and bias
towards people who have lived longer than others. One of these
behaviours is that people have to retire around the age of 60/65. Of
course, some countries are trying to make this more flexible. But the
stigma of retirement still remains intact even if we pretend not to
notice. The message that comes with official retirement is that your
contribution to society is no longer required and certainly no longer
useful.

The age of sixty five (to use an artificial cut off point) is also
supposed to be a time when one shall also be economically independent
and self-supporting. But from the whole community very few people reach
a level of prosperity that they can maintain a similar or better
standard of living comparable to the same lifestyle as when one was
working. In other words, 65 is the age when society would start to
economically discriminate against some of its members, as well.

We mustn't also forget that those who advance in age and become frail
might have to live the rest of their limited life maybe in pain and most
certainly in undignified condition. The lucky ones might get to be cared
for in a professional and caring manner, many others have to put up with
a bureaucratically run caring system. Generally speaking, pain and
frailty are the mainstay of the old age during the last few years of
life. It seems that prejudice against old people is not only the
province of society but also nature.

Getting old is also a cue for society to marginalize a section of
society. It is not that certain organisations do not appreciate the
purchasing power and influence of some of the elderly members of
society, but that this group is not really regarded as mainstream
members of the economy any more. One hardly every reads about what old
people think about any given issue, but we do hear a lot about health
plans for the elderly, or retirement home, or off peak cruises. I mean,
how many times have you seen a scanty clad seventy year old advertising
a sports car. Irrespective of the fact that the seventy year old is
probably the only person who can afford to buy the car, in the first place.

So "getting old" is a very powerful idea that has some serious moral
implications. For example, one of the implications is whether society
has some duty to care for this group of people. We can understand this
to mean rewarding these people for the prosperity they helped create in
their society. This is an accepted idea in many countries and some even
try to do something about it. On the other hand, sometimes countries
don't prosper and might even dissent into chaos. What happens then? The
other sense of duty to care is compensation. Basically pay compensation
to this group of people because of the sacrifice and difficult life they
experienced in building their society. It is one thing to compensate
coal miners for the subsequent diseases they suffer from in later years
and compensating people as a matter of metaphysical principle. Some
would argue that this is already done any way. Others might point out
that prosperity might not have necessarily come from hard work of the
many, but the efforts of a few. For example, developing a prosperous
industry based on natural resources. Licensing mining right to a mining
company (for example an oil company drilling for petroleum) is hardly
the efforts of the masses who make it into old age. However, we
recognise that elderly people ought not to be disadvantaged.

This moral idea that elderly people ought not to be disadvantaged stems
from a moral sense we have developed over the centuries and millennia.
But how did we come to have this kind of behaviour in the first place?
How did we get to discriminate against old people in the first place? I
would suggest the following as a discussion scenario.

I would argue that we have to go back to our ancestors when they were
still hunter gatherers. In a mobile community being old (by their
standards) meant holding or slowing down the group, not to mention that
they might not have been able to contribute to the group as much as the
group required. It is easy to imagine that the older one got in a mobile
group the more chances there are of being injured or suffering from
disease which would make that person less productive. For example, it is
also easy to imagine that members of the group would have preferred that
these people became "separated" from the group. And we can interpret
"separated" how we wish, from dead to living in a separate group. It is
also easy to imagine that the individuals themselves might have
altruistically wanted to be separated from the group; if only to give
their offspring and relatives a better chance to survive. After all,
giving one's offspring and relatives a chance to survive is a valid
genetic strategy.

By the time the Neolithic community settled down and became an
agricultural society, the die had already been cast. Although the
settled community might have made better provisions for those who got
older, the instinct, intentional or not, to discriminate against older
people had not been shaken off. As an aside, we can even speculate that
maybe the reason why Neolithic^ groups began to settle down is because
the Upper Palaeolithic (or whoever) were living longer with a life
expectancy of 54 years at age 15. (Wikipedia: life expectancy) It's
natural to expect someone reaching that age would want to settle down.

But settling down as an agricultural society meant that life expectancy
was also reduced substantially due to the rise of diseases and other
factors that are associated with living in a fixed society. The Upper
Palaeolithic group had a life expectancy of 33 at birth and 54 years at
age 15. The life expectancy of Neolithic people was reduced to 20 years.
It is not until Medieval Britain that we see 33 years as a life
expectancy again. Today one of the countries with the highest life
expectancy is Andorra at 83.52years and the lowest Swaziland with 32.23
(CIA Fact Book). Some things have changed, but others have not
progressed much.

Earlier I suggested that being old in a mobile community was a hindrance
to the group and one's self. But there is no reason to suppose that
being old in an agricultural society would not be a hindrance. In an
agricultural community we can expect to see more division of labour or
at least division of tasks. Hence, unable to participate in these
activities would be just a disadvantage as unable to forage in a forest.
Hence, the instinctive implications of "getting old" have not changed.

Incidentally, the reduction of life expectancy could easily have given
rise to institutional religion who advocated mass reproduction. After
all, in the absence of a population living a long life with a certain
degree of quality of life, more lives available to do a task might just
be good enough. The other implication of settling down in to a community
is the introduction of property rights which might easily be a cause of
resentment towards this group simply because they had more time and
experience to accumulate such rights.

This is where Aubrey de Grey (and his fellow professional colleagues)
comes in. De Grey is Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer of the
Methuselah Foundation and also a member of the Cambridge
Interdisciplinary Research Centre on Ageing. For more details please
have a look at the Wikipedia entry and beyond. However, what de Grey has
to say about aging is controversial and the man himself does not come
across as just another anonymous scientist tucked away in a laboratory.
What is important for us, however, is that de Grey believes that we now
have enough medical and scientific knowledge to extend human life beyond
what we now accept what as a maximum life span; and there is nothing to
stop us from reaching a thousand years. This group of scientists (see
references below) believe that human life can be seriously extended
using medical technology, we can live an extended life normally and that
there is nothing more important than saving lives.

What this group of scientist mean by saving lives is helping some of
100,000 people who die every day from old age to live longer. Their
argument is that we know enough today to start making a difference to
this group of people. And from the new knowledge we gain we can extend
change the effects of the disease we call aging. By aging, de Grey
means, "the set of accumulated side effects from metabolism that
eventually kills us," (Wikipedia: Engineered negligible senescence).

The science behind de Grey's definition can be summed up in this
paragraph from the SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible
Senescence) web site, "Instead, the engineering (SENS) strategy is not
to interfere with metabolism per se, but to repair or obviate the
accumulating damage and thereby indefinitely postpone the age at which
it reaches pathogenic levels. This is practical because it avoids both
of the problems with the other approaches: it sidesteps our ignorance of
metabolism (because it does not attempt to interfere with metabolic
processes and their production of side-effects) but also it pre-empts
the chaos of pathology (because it repairs the precursors of pathology,
rather than addressing the pathology head-on)."

The analogy used by de Grey to describe this idea is that of a vintage
car that we see participating in vintage care rallies. The car itself
was never built to last over a hundred years, but with careful
maintenance, repair and use the car it functions normally for well over
a hundred years. As long as the car is kept in good running condition
and repairs are carried out immediately, there is no reason why the car
should not keep on working indefinitely.

This immediately brings to mind that group of paradoxes closely linked
with identity. The most popular of these paradoxes is the Ship of
Theseus (Theseus Paradox). You will remember that the ship Theseus and
the youth of Athens were travelling from Crete, on a ship that sometimes
had a rotted plank. This was replaced with new wood until all the
original material of the ship was changed. The classical philosophical
question is whether it the same ship or not? Aristotle argued that there
are four cause of a thing. As far as the design (formal cause) and the
matter something is made of (material cause) the ship is the same. It is
still a ship and still made of wood. In the extended human life case, I
think we can easily agree that it passes these two criteria. Or at
least, we are not yet bothered when metals and other materials are used
for artificial prosthesis to fix or replace bones and other parts of the
human body. Of course, some might want to argue either from religious
ground or some vested interest that humans have an in built design
function to die. Religions see death as a means to join their deity in
heaven, so the idea of living for ever might be contrary to this belief.
But this argument, I would submit, has nothing to do with the identity
paradox, but rather with what we agree to believe in. In nay case,
living longer does not mean not dying.

But what about the purpose (final cause) and how and by whom (Efficient
Cause) was the thing done? These two conditions might not be straight
forward. No doubt, the scientists who believe in extended human life
would say that the purpose of life is to be alive. So extending the life
of someone is well within-purpose. Genes from bodies already do it, so
why not bodies with genes?

On the other hand, would there be a change of identity or being in
people who lived that much longer? This question might be based on a
misunderstanding of what the extended life project is all about. Living
longer does not mean being immortal and, therefore, one can do what one
wants because one is not going to die. Living longer means being a
normal human being who happens to have been around for more years and
certainly more clever. Some have suggested that this would give rise to
some really evil dictators who will live for a long time if not for
ever? The answer is of course no; there is no reason ton suppose that
things would be different from what they are now. In any case, as far as
I can tell this project does not make dictators immune to squadrons of
B-52s bombers.

As for "how and by whom might" these might seem to be more problematic.
Today we already accept that human life can be started in a "glass test
tube" so I don't think that this is an issue anyway. Nor "by whom" since
we already allow scientist and medical professionals to manage our
bodies. We mustn't forget that the project does not propose to make new
human beings, but simply to extend the lives of those already alive. So
bed sheets and/or test tubes will still be needed to create living
beings. And we equally don't have to worry more than what we already do
about those working in the medical profession.

On a more practical argument in favour of extended human life is the
cost of ageing. In an article in The Scientist (2006; paid for article)
Olshansky et al. argue that, "Alzheimer's disease in the US alone will
increase from $80-100 billion today to more than $1 trillion in 2050."
The Mprize fund and the SENS Fund which are the main sources of finance
for research for this extended life project have to manage with the sum
total of about eight and a half million dollars. De Grey believes that
when extending life becomes a vote catching cry, governments will start
putting tax payers' money in this project. In the meantime, everyone has
to deal with and face the prejudices and vest interests. The Mprize is
given for the longest lived mouse. It is supposed to show that extending
life by a wide margin is possible. Of course, there is the little
problem that the mouse is not the ideal model if you want to apply what
one learns to human beings. The fruit fly is much better for this
purpose, but fewer people would relate to a fruit fly and donate money
for this project. (Wikipedia: Mprize).

I personally have no serious opinions about whether we can live a
thousand years, although I must admit that a thousand years might come
handy if one was a serious internet surfer. However, there are two
serious implications of living longer.

The first is that living longer means that we have to take quality of
life more seriously. Living longer means having better quality life
otherwise there won't be any point in living longer. This implies that
we will have to find reasonable and rational solutions to problems we
might experience in life; knee jerk reactions and emotional outburst
might not help. Moreover, we might have to actively pursue win/win
strategies in life. It also means that the present primitive and
inhumane practice of mass reproduction will have to give way to caring
and sharing a quality life with those already alive.

I suggest that once we think quality and not quantity we would be less
inclined to engage in aggressive behaviour such as wars, crime and
bullying. One of the sources of this aggressive behaviour, I would
suggest, is that we show little respect towards each other.

The second implication of living longer is that we might finally shake
off the prejudice and bias we have towards people getting old.
Especially the language implication of this expression; getting old
should not translate into becoming useless or insignificant.

However, what ever the future holds, work and research must immediately
start with fixing individual and collective memory. I mean, when we
voted for today's topic we did not realise that it was only twenty three
months ago that we discussed "getting old" under the heading "Aging." On
our thousand year old epic journey we'll have to do better than that.

Take care

Lawrence

BBC: Thursday, 9 May, 2002; Life expectancy to soar

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/1977733.stm

Olshansky et al. 2006 argue, for example, that the total economic cost
of Alzheimer's disease in the US alone will increase from $80-100
billion today to more than $1 trillion in 2050. /The Scientist (paid for
article)/

CIA: The World Factbook; Rank Order - Life expectancy at birth

https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/rankorder/2102rank.html

Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS): A practical way
to cure human aging - Website of Dr. Aubrey de Grey

http://www.sens.org/

The Mprize-What is the Methuselah Mouse Prize?

http://www.mprize.org/index.php?pagename=whatisthemmp

Exploring Life Extension

Immortality Institute

1 hr 45 min 32 sec - Jan 21, 2006

www.imminst.org <http://www.imminst.org> <http://www.imminst.org>

Video Link:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6581761732541483047&q=de+grey

<http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6581761732541483047&q=de+grey>

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Getting Old (essay)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

from Lawrence, Philosophy Group, Sunday 6.00-8.30pm: Getting Old + Segovia trip

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing "getting old." Unfortunately I was unable
to finish the essay by today; I only have 85% of a draft ready. I'll try
to send it maybe tomorrow evening or Saturday morning. Which is of
course too late for many of you. Anyway, if you are seriously interested
in 'getting old' I suggest you have a look at this documentary at Google
Videos:

Exploring Life Extension

Immortality Institute

1 hr 45 min 32 sec - Jan 21, 2006

www.imminst.org <http://www.imminst.org>

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6581761732541483047&q=de+grey

<http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6581761732541483047&q=de+grey>

I am sure it will be one of the most interesting films you'll ever see.
Enjoy.

In the meantime, both Perti and Julian are looking for a flat share or
accommodation in the centre of Madrid. If you can help either one of
them please drop them a line (virtual) at:

Julian _ juliand1@yahoo.com <mailto:juliand1@yahoo.com>

Petri _ petra.cuetrra@gmail.com <mailto:petra.cuetrra@gmail.com>

On the 27 May, Sunday, we are going to Segovia as a concession to all
those members who cannot come with us on our trips on Saturdays. Will be
organising the details in the next few days. One of the things we have
to consider is whether to return early to Madrid to have the meeting as
usual.

Finally don't forget that we now have to finish our meeting at 8.30pm.
Please arrive on time or asap so we start early. Thanks

Take care

Lawrence

**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);

http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAY_FLAT_mayte_AlmerAVillaDeNJar

Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);

http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAYFLAT_Paloma_MarbellaNearElviria
*************************************


+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm START and 8.30pm FINISH at Molly Malone's Pub, probably
downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
-Group photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
-My tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

from Lawrence, Philosophy Group, Sunday 6.00-8.30pm: Getting Old +
Segovia trip

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Aging

Aging

There was a time when the process of aging brought with it status, respect and dignity. It also guaranteed a seat on the Clapham omnibus. Today we can forget status, respect is relative and dignity costs money. And if you're lucky, you might find a free seat on the bus. So, what happened?

Some would blame the government, and the government would blame its predecessor. Some would blame television while others would point at the indifference of capitalism. In my opinion, we're so busy blaming everyone else around us that we just don't have the time to understand what is going on. I will argue that the answer is more fundamental than whatever has been suggested so far.

To cut an old story short, in the past elderly people were the source of knowledge to the rest of society. People would look at the elderly not only as a source of knowledge and information, but also wisdom and justice. It is not by accident that God is depicted as a white bearded old man in the Sistine Chapel. It is not by chance that children always ask their mother whether she's seen a toy or a pencil. These figures, whether real or metaphorical, represent the holders of knowledge and wisdom. And because of this we gave them the reverence and status they deserve.

Today, however, if we want a recipe for an apple pie we wouldn't ask grandma, but look it up on some website. And we certainly won't ask grandpa how to get to the family's favourite picnic spot in the forest; we just plot the coordinates in our GPS and the car will take us there. In the past, elderly people were today's equivalent of an IT server used by search engines to keep information from the internet. In the past, people went to the elderly for advice, counsel, and judgement, today we do things differently.

In deed, these past fifty years or so things have been changing. Mass education meant that people were self sufficient in knowledge acquisition. This happened through the boom in the publishing of books, then through the explosion of the mass media and today the internet and world travel. Today, we can find enough information on the internet that will tell us how stay young, how to be young and what to do as young people.

This, I suggest, is the real reason why today aging doesn't automatically bring with it status, respect or dignity. Aging, today, seems to bring with it redundancy in society; at least once the money runs out or people become a burden or interfere with holiday plans. On the other hand, if the young seem arrogant towards the old, it is not necessarily because the young are wicked, some might be, but maybe because the old might appear to have nothing to offer the young. Surely this cannot be so nor ought it be so; lets see.

Aging takes us well beyond the parameters of society and relationships between human beings. Aging is a fundamental physical phenomenon. At face value, aging seems to apply to everything in the universe.

The first aspect of aging from a physical point of view is that aging takes place in a space/time environment. So by definition aging is a concept that reflects change in this setting. And although I don't see any restrictions or limitations in the use of this term, it is, however, of more practical use when applied to living things, as opposed to the terms old or ancient. The main reason for this, I suspect, is that we expect to witness the process of aging or rather the process of getting old.

Whilst there is no doubt that there is a causal relationship between the space/time parameters on the process of aging, what is the scope of this causality? For example, now a days we read about the aging gene, which suggests that the bodies of humans and other animal are predetermined to live to a certain age. But how much of the aging process is due to such a gene, if there is this gene in the first place, and how much is it due to the environment? And equally important question is: does this mean that we can manipulate the gene to live longer? Would this make the term 'aging' redundant for human beings?

We can take this line of thinking a step further by asking what is the relationship between the second law of thermo dynamics, as applied to living bodies, and the same law when applied to the environment around us? How does the law interact in different contexts? Which has the more influence? For example, global warming suggests that we might have reached a stage in the life of the galaxy where it is an even contest as to who influences whom; we seem to have reached a point where we influence the environment as much as it influences us. And to take this point into the realms of science fiction, instead of being responsible for global warming can we change the environment to meet our needs: not too hot, not too cold, just right?

A more relevant question is: can we manipulate the aging process by delaying, stopping or reversing the second law? At least in theory and at least when applied to us?

We can safely exclude the possibility of going backwards. The toothpaste principle prevents us from doing that; for those who are not familiar with the toothpaste principle, this states that once the toothpaste is out of the tube it's impossible to put it back. So by analogy, it's just impossible to go back in time to recover our young bodies. Of course, silicon and surgery are not the same thing. For those who are not convinced there are many other principles that prevent reversal: for example chaos; do you remember those pretty pictures of fractals? And then there is the randomness involved in the Brownian motion process associated with the second law.

It's equally unlikely that we can stop the aging process. And even if we could we are still limited to the age of the universe, at the very least. This leaves us with the possibility of delaying the effects of the second law. In other words, we can delay aging, but we cannot prevent it.

In fact, this is what we try and do. Instead of coming up with solutions to redesign the human body, we try to come up with solutions to neutralise the effects of aging. For example, by developing medicines and treatments to deal with diseases brought about by aging. These are the more serious efforts; I am excluding the concoctions which pass as anti aging creams or such like.

Having considered aging of humans from some of the depths of the physical world, lets look at aging from some of the lofty towers of morality and politics.

We can safely say that the business of aging really took off in the 1950's. Either as a stroke of genius or the effects of euphoria after the victories of the second world war, politicians came up with the idea that, "the government will, from now on, look after its citizens from the cradle to the grave.'' And as a consequence they set up, amongst many things, big hospitals and universal pension schemes. An ambitious project, no doubt, except they forgot to take into account the little matter of paying for it.

It might be argued that the transition from the elderly being looked after by their family to being looked after by the state, was the consequence of two important events. The first was the mass movement of people from the country to the city chasing jobs. One of the consequences of this was that people could not set roots in a single place and therefore could not depend on the familiarity and ties of those around them. Strangers usually don't look after their neighbours. Today, the same phenomena is taking place in so called emerging economies or economies that have recently joined the high table of advanced economies. Maybe a quick read of the relevant history and economic history books would save these countries some anguish in the future.

The second reason for the state taking over our welfare is more complex because this is the direct result of the two world wars especially the second. Which, incidentally, explains why the welfare state is closely associated with the Anglo Saxon world. The argument went something like this: the second world war was an European war, nothing to do with the Anglo Saxon world. So, to justify and to sell the war to the population politicians promised utopia in return. Of course, that the second world war had to be fought was not in doubt, but that the promise of utopia was the wrong sales pitch is not in doubt neither.

The moral question is therefore, who has the duty to look after those that are weak in our society? And specifically, what does society owe those who, in the past, helped to build the society we now have?

Either by design or by default we end up trusting politicians to do the bidding for us. It is, of course, always a hot issue on whether we should trust politicians with matters of importance. Whatever is the case, we know one thing for sure: the welfare state as implemented these past few decades, and which is practically adopted by most countries in the world, does not lead to utopia. We know that today's economic model is not sufficient to maintain the welfare state. We also know that certain moral imperatives are not as binding as they ought to be. The consequence of this is that there is no uniformity on how the elderly are treated today. Some have become super rich, while others can hardly survive. Maybe it has always been like this, which is probably the worst of all possible worlds. What is certain is that politicians will have some serious moral dilemmas on their hands when they are forced to find alternatives. Ironically, the issue is as new as the solution will have to be new; the solution will have to come from the future and not from all the woolly thinking that took place in the past.

So what about the future? If the past is difficult to rearrange, the future is equally difficult to bring about as we want. One problem with the future is that it suffers from a very serious deficit of knowledge. If we know what exactly the company is looking for, we would prepare ourselves much better for the job interview. If we knew how the economy is going to perform in seventy years time, we would introduce a more equitable pension system.

The fact that the future has a habit of being unpredictable means that there are limits to what we can plan. When politicians introduced the welfare state they assumed they would still have a monopoly on the wealth of the world. In less than fifty years the whole economic and political structure of the world changed beyond our imagination. This means that there are limits to how much we can blame politicians, even if they are mostly responsible for the bulk of today's ills.

Going back to the future, today we find ourselves in the following situation. Governments are telling us, through public health programmes, to look after ourselves better, eat healthy diets, stop smoking and take exercise. The medical profession is responsible for some spectacular treatments that help us live better and longer. Personal freedoms and self determination have never been guaranteed by the state as much as they are now. We're as close to utopian freedom as we have ever been: we have written human rights guaranteeing our freedom, we have good health and we have a cheap airline ticket to be with nature. Sure some people lag behind; but we're ok Jack!

On the other hand, there is no structure in place to safeguard pensions in the future, other than to rely on illegal immigrants or cheap labour. Never mind the fact that nobody has argued whether pensions are necessary any more. Neither is there a legal and social culture to stop ageism in the employment market. If people are to live longer, than it is natural that they would want to work longer. The half hearted efforts against ageism do not amount to a anything we can call culture. And although we speak of the global economy, today's politicians, in all countries, have forgot to include a global job market in the global economy. There are still many countries who although they are happy to sell things to the rest of the world they are not prepared to open their job market so quickly. A global economy also mean a global job market.

This is the future contradiction of today political and economic models. The future is flawed as far as aging is concerned because the future is based on a consumer society. And a consumer society is based on short termism, but pensions and the needs of older people, such as good health or even such ethical issues as mercy killing, are based on long termism. Moreover, even employment is not guaranteed for life, so by definition saving for the future is not something that can be guaranteed on a consistent basis. Today, not only do we expect to change employers in our career, but in some countries they also expect to change their career during their working life. This is over and above the fact that we are also expect to have periods of unemployment for whatever reasons. However, that an economy flourishes on the principle of free trade is as close as we will come to apriori knowledge on this matter. The question is whether we keep applying the laws of the jungle, i.e. the numbers game, or whether we will start applying rational principles such as equitable commerce?

Which of course brings us back to square one. Unless politicians and other movers and shakers in society improve their act we are going to end up with more of the same. By living longer, due to good health policies, elderly people will have to have status by virtue of occupying places of influence at an older age. Respect and dignity will still accrue to older people because brain technology can still keep our grey matter functioning properly and able to acquire new knowledge. As a direct consequence, today's third age generation will be the last generation to suffer from wide spread technophobia. In other words, elderly people ought to maintain their position in society by remaining a source of knowledge for society. A mindset of constant intellectual improvement will certainly regain the respect of the young.

After all is said and done there is going to be one advantage in living longer and healthier. Given that in the future there will be many more people who live to be a hundred, journalists will stop asking inane questions like: what did you do to live so long? As if we could all live to be a hundred by taking a tot of whiskey everyday in the morning or by munching away at an olive for lunch.

So you thought that there was no hope for us. When we are a hundred, which is, admittedly, quite a while away from now, journalists wont ask us inane questions but maybe they might ask us some interesting questions, such as: now that you are hundred, what future plans do you have for your love life?

Take care Lawrence

Friday, May 04, 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Chinchon + The importance of having a job.

Dear Friends,

This Saturday, as you know, we are going on a day trip to Chinchon. The
bus, no 337, leaves at 10.30am from Avd Mediterraneo (Conde Casal Metro)
so I suggest we meet sometime around 10am to make sure we are in the
front of the queue. The bus stop is on the bridge that cross the motor
way, on the left when pointing towards the motorway. If you get lost,
give me a call on 606081813. The bus fare shouldn't be expensive. I
suggest you bring a packed lunch just in case. Return buses are quite
frequent.

On Sunday we are discussing: The importance of having a job; or how
important is it to have a job? The subject is not easy and coming
immediately after May Day might be a bit emotional. But I can assure you
that if you are driving the number 337 bus on Saturday your job would be
extremely important. And that goes to all the waiters in Chinchon as well.

See you soon

Lawrence

**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);

http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAY_FLAT_mayte_AlmerAVillaDeNJar

Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);

http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo/HOLIDAYFLAT_Paloma_MarbellaNearElviria
*************************************


+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
-Group photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
-My tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

(did not have enough time for a second check, sorry)

(Checked again 30 April 2008)

The importance of having a job.

There are three fundamental principles which must be taken into account
when discussing jobs, work, employment, labour or any other theme
dealing with earning a living. These principles are:

- Division of labour is nature's way of solving a complex problem.

- Human beings are open dynamic systems.

- Resources are scarce and we have to compete for them.

Employment is something that the average adult, and many more children,
have to get involved in for a good part of their lives. Having a job is
so important that governments can easily lose an election if people see
them as having failed in this policy. In fact employment can be found as
a manifesto policy of all serious political parties who expect to be
elected to government. But employment and labour conditions can become
so serious, and affect a large section of the population, that they can
directly lead to revolutions, wars and civil wars. In other words,
employment is so important that no one questions the central role this
plays in politics, economics and social cohesion. Is this assumption
justified? And what exactly do we mean when we say that jobs are important?

But first let me start by explaining the three principles; I have used
these arguments before in many contexts so I will not make a special
effort to refer to sources here. But these arguments are taken from
evolution, systems theory, economic theory and genetic theory*.

Of course, it is not within our scope to question why nature created the
function of division of labour, but it has. For our purpose, the most
important application of division of labour is the creation of the male
and female sex with their individual biological functions. But the
division of labour goes even further with the creation of organs with a
specific function and genes with equally a specialised function. We do
not only find division of labour in biology but also in other aspects of
nature. For example, in chemistry many chemicals are compositions of two
or more elements: water is a composition of hydrogen and oxygen as we
all know from our first science lesson at school. Even the elements are
not immune from this division of labour. In physics, astronomical
systems, such as galaxies, require the (forced) "cooperation" of various
celestial bodies and phenomena. In any case everything is dependent on
the cooperation of atoms, nuclei, electrons, quarks, bosons and the rest
of the quantum universe.

Why should this be relevant for us? Not only is division of labour
relevant, but fundamental to our subject. Division of labour is a
necessary condition for our very existence, as I have shown, let alone
survival. Hence, jobs and employment is none other than nature's
template on how to get things done and operate them. Jobs are functions
within this template; so much we can agree.

An open system requires the input of resources from the environment to
maintain a state of equilibrium (it also requires information but this
is not too relevant here). A human open system, as we know, needs quite
a substantial amount of resources to stay stable. We require food,
shelter, clothing, tools, means of transportation and, of course, means
to fight diseases and health problems. Of course, humans are not the
only open systems, a jet engine is an open system, but we do not need to
get too involved in the physics of open and closed systems (see Systems
Theory on this, not computing systems theory). What is relevant for us
is that we need resources from the environment to survive and to get
those resources we need to go and get them. Even a plant or a tree are
not that immobile; their roots have to "go and get" resources from their
environment. But it is not enough to go and get these resources they
have to be accessible.

This brings us to the third principle, resources are scarce and we have
to compete for them. Theoretically, an open system requires an endless
supply of resources to qualify as an open system, but of course there
are always limits to the amount of resources we have available or access
to. But resources are not only limited because they do not happen to be
in our store room, but because we have to extract them from their
natural form and maybe convert them into usable resources. Even if we
think that not all resources need to go through this conversion phase,
in reality, most do. let us take the case of hunting and gathering,
animals have to be born and mature before they can be eaten even if they
were not cooked over a fire; their fur or feathers have to be removed
from the carcass before these could be used as personal protection wear.
This means, at least, that there is a space-time restriction on how many
resources are freely available at a give moment on the hunting-gathering
model.

In reality, the third principle is divided into two sub-principles. The
other sub-principle is competition. This is a very simple principle but
also very powerful: we have to compete against anyone or anything that
is not our offspring or relative. Of course, the devil is in the detail.
This means that we have to compete against others for a prospective mate
as much as we have to compete against others for the antelope or the berry.

It takes very little imagination to see that these three principles also
operate in the work environment. Jobs are means of accessing scarce
resources and then distributing them amongst the group. The hunters went
out to capture game and then shared it with the rest of their group or
tribe. Maybe even the whole group was involved in the chase, but not
everyone might have had the same role. Some might have scared the game
whilst others might have killed it. However, the word share is probably
somewhat misleading, since share can imply a meaning of equity or
fairness in it. Maybe life was not like that all those years ago. There
might not have been a scrum for the food, but I am sure there was enough
pushing and elbowing involved. We might say that sharing was not
necessarily altruistic sharing, but functional sharing; everyone had to
do it because the alternative might have been worse. At the end of the
day, literally, everyone got to eat something.

How important is it for us to have a job depends on what we are asking.
Do we mean how important is it for us to play our part in the division
of labour scheme of things? Or do we mean how important is it for us to
have a job as a means to access scarce resources? Seeing a job as part
of the division of labour function might give the idea that this is all
done through cooperation, even altruism. Maybe we might imagine some
global programme to extract scarce resources and then share them amongst
everyone else. It is not inconceivable that we think in this way. It
might even be a genetic legacy from the hunting gathering days. Those
who did not share with others were probably ostracised from the group.
Hence sharing became a survival strategy.

But cooperation can be seen as either a voluntary act done with consent
and free will, or cooperation can be the best possible option to adopt
in the circumstances. Hence, we might very well agree to participate in
the division of labour function because we have no choice but to do so.
The alternative might be failure to survive. This is a different way of
saying that sharing becomes a function (rather than an altruistic trait).

We can safely assume that the hunting-gathering model must have served
its purpose up to a point because it gave way to agriculture and
husbandry. The most important aspect of the agriculture model is not
that produce was cultivated in larger quantities than what could be
found in the wild. Nor that harvests could be planned. The importance of
agriculture was that some goods could be easily exchanged because there
was a surplus.

An open system needs a given amount of input to maintain equilibrium,
and anything else is surplus. We might, of course, decide to use up this
surplus and today we call the effect of such consumption obesity when we
take more food than we need. We can also store this surplus and with the
help of technology it can even last for a long time. We can also pass it
on to others so that they can meet their needs. But giving things away
is not that compatible with functional sharing. This, you remember, was
all about adapting to living within a group and not necessarily an
altruistic gesture.

Of course, we all know what happened next: money was invented. money not
only lasted longer than a ton of wheat left idle in a barn, but it could
be exchanged for anything we wanted if others had what we wanted and
they were prepared to exchange it for money. Barter has one problem
which does not arise with money. What we want to exchange might not be
what others want, not to mention that sometimes what we want to offer
might not be suitable to exchange today. For example, I might want to
barter my services harvesting wheat, but wheat won't be fully grown for
another two months. Plainly this is a serious set back to my bartering
capacity.

Money has one advantage which raw resources do not have: money is
mobile. A hundred silver coins are much easier to move around than one
hundred cows. This is quite ironic really. The agricultural model is
credited with creating the stability we needed to develop and build
civilisation, but most of all, the agricultural model meant that we did
not need to roam the countryside any more for food and other
commodities. But the introduction of money has satisfied the primitive
instinct of roaming around looking for better fare. I mean, what's the
difference between roaming around the forest looking for a young deer to
have for dinner, or a fox pelt to wear, and looking for a decent
restaurant in a shopping mall, or looking for a pair of designer jeans?
Never mind money being the catalyst for progress, it is certainly the
sinecure for satisfying the primitive instinct of roaming around. Maybe
going shopping brings out the nomad in us, and with the progress of
Internet technology we can now satisfy this nomadic instinct of hunting
and gathering without even having to leave our living room.

Earlier I suggested that the importance of a job can also be interpreted
as the importance of having a job to access scarce resources. But in the
post agriculture model, having a job can be directly translated into
having money. functional sharing means that we participated in
converting raw resources (for example a cow) into commodities (cheese,
hide, beef) and then obtaining some (a portion) of these commodities.
But now we do not directly share in the commodities we create, but in
the value these commodities represent. If I'm manufacturing fountain
pens (I'm using one to write the draft of this essay) there are so many
pens I can use and need. At some point I might want a sandwich and a cup
of tea, and it is unlikely that the waiter would want to be paid in
fountain pens; the situation would certainly become untenable if I
offered to pay the waiter with a philosophy essay! Money therefore has
become a commodity and like all commodities it is scarce. Don't forget
that commodities can be scarce because there is a space-time limitation
on the availability of a commodity.

I would say that having a job as a function of the division of labour
scheme is quite important. Creating means to survive is quite important,
if survive is what we want. Moreover, doing what we are best at is also
quite important. And irrespective of whether functional sharing is
virtuous at least everyone gets to eat something for supper.

But how much is our labour worth is no different a question from, how
much antelope can we have after the hunting expedition. We know we have
a share of the antelope, the question is how much? However, there is a
big difference between sharing an antelope and sharing money. everyone
can see how much effort each member of the hunt put into the killing of
the beast; but how do we calculate or 'see' the effort we put into an
enterprise with money as the end commodity? For our ancestors the amount
of antelope they had was a straight forward calculation: they hunted,
they killed, and they ate. And if they did not kill something they
didn't have anything to eat. Today the situation is more complex. How do
we value effort today? Do we use the same criteria for everyone
irrespective of what each does? Is negotiating an invest loan with a
bank the same effort as keeping the widget machine well oiled? in
today's world we don't even have the luxury of seeing what others are
doing, they might be working on the sixth floor upstairs, and we might
have no idea what they do, anyway, because their work is so specialised.
Certainly more specialised than throwing a spear at a running target.

Although nature's answer seems to be that having a job is quite
important (and necessary; division of labour) it does not answer the
question, how much resources (money) are we entitled to? How much we are
worth has taxed many philosophers in modern times. A number of
commentators have associated this question with Karl Marx (The Cambridge
Dictionary of Philosophy 2nd Ed). From the evidence we have, we can
safely dismiss interpretations or applications of Marx's philosophy
(Marxism) as still born or stifled at birth; what interest us is Marx's
"Linchpin." Precisely, "....Labor's peculiarity, according to him, lies
in its capacity actively to generate more exchange value than it itself
cost employers as subsistence wages. But to treat human beings as
profit-generating commodities risks neglecting to treat them as human
beings." (CDoP ) In other words, at least Marx thought that we are not
paid as much as we are worth; which is probably what the majority of
employees would say anyway.

Of course, I do not want to explore these treacherous grounds in
philosophy, but it is curious that this philosopher should qualify
injustice on purely utilitarian grounds; we should be paid more. But
wanting to be paid more or to be paid equally does not tell us why we
have this system in the first place and what led to it. We are usually
given the conspiracy theory (exploitation of the capitalist system), but
not the natural theory of the selfish gene. Of course, I am being
totally unfair towards Marx since we have only had the theory of the
selfish gene for just over thirty years.

You will recall that I have identified money as a commodity and that it
is less perishable than raw materials (inflation excepted). What this
means is that money can also be accumulated and if we take a leaf from
nature, money begets money in the same way as a cow begets a cow.
Capitalism is none other than using money to make more money. I would
tend to argue that a good portion of society have got it wrong;
capitalists do not make widgets to become rich by making huge profits on
the operation. Capitalists become super rich by employing large amounts
of money to make equally huge amounts of profits; widgets are
incidental. In other words, whilst most of use see money as a means of
exchange for resources (to buy a kilo of beef), capitalism uses money to
make more money (buying calves and selling cows). But this is not even
an interesting issue, because there is an even more important issue at
stake.

You will remember that anyone or anything that is not an offspring or a
relative is our competitor for scarce resources. And although it might
not do us any good killing a competitor it certainly does no harm if we
can disadvantage them. Of course, this idea is laden with moral
language, but in the world of the gene moral language has no immediate
import. What I am trying to say is that it is a natural instinct to
disadvantage others. Wanting to make people work more and pay them less
is a natural instinct. It is not surprising therefore that exploitation
and slavery have been around for such a long time and will be around for
even more. It probably also explains why it is so difficult for
outsiders to make it to the top in a family firm. Even a public firm is
not that simple, all you have to do is to see which directors are
sitting on which boards, and then you will understand why it is
difficult to get to the top in any organisation.

Clearly to answer Marx's question, the answer is not necessarily to give
more money. It might easily be argued that employers are not so much
exploiting workers, but doing what comes naturally to most people,
competing and disadvantaging others. And treating everyone equally might
be a dies-incentive to take up certain jobs anyway. Especially jobs that
require a higher physical risk than what others are doing. Surely
waiting to see the white of an antelope's eyes, before throwing the
spear, is more dangerous than chasing it with a stick some 200 meters
away. In any event, equality has its own risks of making it easier for a
few members of the group to cheat (see Evolutionary stable strategy and
all communist governments).

Ironically, the capitalist system, which is the most successful economic
and wealth distribution system human beings have developed, is also the
best system to satisfy that primitive urge to compete against and
disadvantage others. Hence, on the present system having a job as a
means to access scarce resources is not that important. Having money is.
And the answer to how much, is not more, but change nature it you can.

Take care

Lawrence

* check these with Wikipedia for example.




CHECKED 30 APRIL 2008

The importance of having a job.

There are three fundamental principles which must be taken into account

when discussing jobs, work, employment, labour or any other theme

dealing with earning a living. These principles are:

- Division of labour is nature's way of solving a complex problem.

- Human beings are open dynamic systems.

- Resources are scarce and we have to compete for them.

Employment is something that the average adult, and many more children,

have to get involved in for a good part of their lives. Having a job is

so important that governments can easily lose an election if people see

them as having failed in this policy. In fact employment can be found as

a manifesto policy of all serious political parties who expect to be

elected to government. But employment and labour conditions can become

so serious, and affect a large section of the population, that they can

directly lead to revolutions, wars and civil wars. In other words,

employment is so important that no one questions the central role this

plays in politics, economics and social cohesion. Is this assumption

justified? And what exactly do we mean when we say that jobs are important?

But first let me start by explaining the three principles; I have used

these arguments before in many contexts so I will not make a special

effort to refer to sources here. But these arguments are taken from

evolution, systems theory, economic theory and genetic theory*.

Of course, it is not within our scope to question why nature created the

function of division of labour, but it has. For our purpose, the most

important application of division of labour is the creation of the male

and female sex with their individual biological functions. But the

division of labour goes even further with the creation of organs with a

specific function and genes with equally a specialised function. We do

not only find division of labour in biology but also in other aspects of

nature. For example, in chemistry many chemicals are compositions of two

or more elements: water is a composition of hydrogen and oxygen as we

all know from our first science lesson at school. Even the elements are

not immune from this division of labour. In physics, astronomical

systems, such as galaxies, require the (forced) "cooperation" of various

celestial bodies and phenomena. In any case everything is dependent on

the cooperation of atoms, nuclei, electrons, quarks, bosons and the rest

of the quantum universe.

Why should this be relevant for us? Not only is division of labour

relevant, but fundamental to our subject. Division of labour is a

necessary condition for our very existence, as I have shown, let alone

survival. Hence, jobs and employment are none other than nature's

template on how to get things done and operate them. Jobs are functions

within this template; so much we can agree.

An open system requires the input of resources from the environment to

maintain a state of equilibrium (it also requires information but this

is not too relevant here). A human open system, as we know, needs quite

a substantial amount of resources to stay stable. We require food,

shelter, clothing, tools, means of transportation and, of course, means

to fight diseases and health problems. Of course, humans are not the

only open systems, a jet engine is an open system, but we do not need to

get too involved in the physics of open and closed systems (see Systems

Theory on this, not computing systems theory). What is relevant for us

is that we need resources from the environment to survive and to get

those resources we need to go and get them. Even a plant or a tree are

not that immobile; their roots have to "go and get" resources from their

environment. But it is not enough to go and get these resources they

have to be accessible.

This brings us to the third principle, resources are scarce and we have

to compete for them. Theoretically, an open system requires an endless

supply of resources to qualify as an open system, but of course there

are always limits to the amount of resources we have available or access

to. But resources are not only limited because they do not happen to be

in our store room, but also because we have to extract them from their

natural form and maybe convert them into usable resources. Even if we

think that not all resources need to go through this conversion phase,

in reality, most do. Let us take the case of hunting and gathering,

animals have to be born and mature before they can be eaten even if they

were not cooked over a fire; their fur or feathers have to be removed

from the carcass before they could be used as personal protection wear.

This means, at least, that there is a space-time restriction on how many

resources are freely available at a give moment on the hunting-gathering

model.

In reality, the third principle is divided into two sub-principles. The

other sub-principle is competition. This is a very simple principle but

also very powerful: we have to compete against anyone or anything that

is not our offspring or relative; sometimes we even do that. Of course, the devil is in the detail.

This means that we have to compete against others for a prospective mate

as much as we have to compete against others for the antelope or the berry.

It takes very little imagination to see that these three principles also

operate in the work environment. Jobs are means of accessing scarce

resources and then distributing them amongst the group. The hunters went

out to capture game and then shared it with the rest of their group or

tribe. Maybe even the whole group was involved in the chase, but not

everyone might have had the same role. Some might have scared the game

whilst others might have killed it. However, the word share is probably

somewhat misleading, since share can imply a meaning of equity or

fairness in it. Maybe life was not like that all those years ago. There

might not have been a scrum for the food, but I am sure there was enough

pushing and elbowing involved. We might say that sharing was not

necessarily altruistic sharing, but functional sharing; everyone had to

do it because the alternative might have been worse. At the end of the

day, literally, everyone got to eat something.

How important is it for us to have a job depends on what we are asking.

Do we mean how important is it for us to play our part in the division

of labour scheme of things? Or do we mean how important is it for us to

have a job as a means to access scarce resources? Seeing a job as part

of the division of labour function might give the idea that this is all

done through cooperation, even altruism. Maybe we might imagine some

global programme to extract scarce resources and then share them amongst

everyone else. It is not inconceivable that we think in this way. It

might even be a genetic legacy from the hunting gathering days. Those

who did not share with others were probably ostracised from the group.

Hence sharing became a survival strategy.

But cooperation can be seen as either a voluntary act done with consent

and free will, or cooperation can be the best possible option to adopt

in the circumstances. Hence, we might very well agree to participate in

the division of labour function because we have no choice but to do so.

The alternative might be failure to survive. This is a different way of

saying that sharing becomes a function (rather than an altruistic trait).

We can safely assume that the hunting-gathering model must have served

its purpose up to a point because it gave way to agriculture and

husbandry. The most important aspect of the agriculture model is not

that produce was cultivated in larger quantities than what could be

found in the wild. Nor that harvests could be planned. The importance of

agriculture was that some goods could be easily exchanged because there

was a surplus.

An open system needs a given amount of input to maintain equilibrium,

and anything else is surplus. We might, of course, decide to use up this

surplus and today we call the effect of such consumption obesity when we

take more food than we need. We can also store this surplus and with the

help of technology it can even last for a long time. We can also pass it

on to others so that they can meet their needs of food input. But giving things away

is not that incompatible with functional sharing. This, you remember, was

all about adapting to living within a group and not necessarily an

altruistic gesture.

Of course, we all know what happened next: money was invented. Money not

only lasted longer than a ton of wheat left idle in a barn, but it could

be exchanged for anything we wanted if others had what we wanted and

they were prepared to exchange it for money. Barter has one problem

which does not arise with money. What we want to exchange might not be

what others want, not to mention that sometimes what we want to offer

might not be suitable to exchange today. For example, I might want to

barter my services harvesting wheat, but wheat won't be fully grown for

another two months. Plainly this is a serious set back to my bartering

capacity.

Money has one advantage which raw resources do not have: money is

mobile. A hundred silver coins are much easier to move around than one

hundred cows. This is quite ironic really. The agricultural model is

credited with creating the stability we needed to develop and build

civilisation, but most of all, the agricultural model meant that we did

not need to roam the countryside any more for food and other

commodities. But the introduction of money has satisfied the primitive

instinct of roaming around looking for better fare. I mean, what's the

difference between roaming around the forest looking for a young deer to

have for dinner, or a fox pelt to wear, and looking for a decent

restaurant in a shopping mall, or looking for a pair of designer jeans?

Never mind money being the catalyst for progress, it is certainly the

sinecure for satisfying the primitive instinct of roaming around. Maybe

going shopping brings out the nomad in us, and with the progress of

Internet technology we can now satisfy this nomadic instinct of hunting

and gathering without even having to leave our living room.

Earlier I suggested that the importance of a job can also be interpreted

as the importance of having a job to access scarce resources. But in the

post agriculture model, having a job can be directly translated into

having money. functional sharing means that we participated in

converting raw resources (for example a cow) into commodities (cheese,

hide, beef) and then obtaining some (a portion) of these commodities.

But now we do not directly share in the commodities we create, but in

the value these commodities represent. If I'm manufacturing fountain

pens (I'm using one to write the draft of this essay) there are so many

pens I can use and need. At some point I might want a sandwich and a cup

of tea, and it is unlikely that the waiter would want to be paid in

fountain pens; the situation would certainly become untenable if I

offered to pay the waiter with a philosophy essay! Money therefore has

become a commodity and like all commodities it is scarce. Don't forget

that commodities can be scarce because there is a space-time limitation

on the availability of a commodity.

I would say that having a job as a function of the division of labour

scheme is quite important. Creating means to survive is quite important,

if survive is what we want. Moreover, doing what we are best at is also

quite important. And irrespective of whether functional sharing is

virtuous at least everyone gets to eat something for supper.

But how much is our labour worth is no different a question from, how

much antelope can we have after the hunting expedition? We know we have

a share of the antelope, the question is how much? However, there is a

big difference between sharing an antelope and sharing money. everyone

can see how much effort each member of the hunt put into the killing of

the beast; but how do we calculate or 'see' the effort we put into an

enterprise with money as the end commodity? For our ancestors the amount

of antelope they had was a straight forward calculation: they hunted,

they killed, and they ate. And if they did not kill something they

didn't have anything to eat. Today the situation is more complex. How do

we value effort today? Do we use the same criteria for everyone

irrespective of what each does? Is negotiating an investment loan with a

bank the same effort as keeping the widget machine well oiled? In

today's world we don't even have the luxury of seeing what others are

doing, they might be working on the sixth floor upstairs, and we might

have no idea what they do, anyway, because their work is so specialised.

Certainly more specialised than throwing a spear at a running target.

Although nature's answer seems to be that having a job is quite

important (and necessary; division of labour) it does not answer the

question, how much resources (money) are we entitled to? How much we are

worth has occupied many philosophers and economists in modern times. A number of

commentators have associated this question with Karl Marx (The Cambridge

Dictionary of Philosophy 2nd Ed). From the evidence we have, we can

safely dismiss interpretations or applications of Marx's philosophy

(Marxism) as still born or stifled at birth; what interest us is Marx's

"Linchpin." Precisely, "....Labor's peculiarity, according to him, lies

in its capacity actively to generate more exchange value than it itself

cost employers as subsistence wages. But to treat human beings as

profit-generating commodities risks neglecting to treat them as human

beings." (CDoP ) In other words, at least Marx thought that we are not

paid as much as we are worth; which is probably what the majority of

employees would say anyway.

Of course, I do not want to explore these treacherous grounds in

philosophy, but it is curious that this philosopher should qualify

injustice on purely utilitarian grounds; we should be paid more. But

wanting to be paid more or to be paid equally does not tell us why we

have this system in the first place and what led to it. We are usually

given the conspiracy theory (exploitation of the capitalist system), but

not the natural theory of the selfish gene. Of course, I am being

totally unfair towards Marx since we have only had the theory of the

selfish gene for just over thirty years.

You will recall that I have identified money as a commodity and that it

is less perishable than raw materials (inflation excepted). What this

means is that money can also be accumulated and if we take a leaf from

nature, money begets money in the same way as a cow begets a cow.

Capitalism is none other than using money to make more money. I would

tend to argue that a good portion of society have got it wrong;

capitalists do not make widgets to become rich by making huge profits on

the operation. Capitalists become super rich by employing large amounts

of money to make equally huge amounts of profits; widgets are

incidental. In other words, whilst most of use see money as a means of

exchange for resources (to buy a kilo of beef), capitalism uses money to

make more money (buying calves and selling cows). But this is not even

an interesting issue, because there is an even more important issue at

stake.

You will remember that anyone or anything that is not an offspring or a

relative is our competitor for scarce resources. And although it might

not do us any good killing a competitor it certainly does no harm if we

can disadvantage them. Of course, this idea is laden with moral

language, but in the world of the gene moral language has no immediate

import. What I am trying to say is that it is a natural instinct to

disadvantage others. Wanting to make people work more and pay them less

is a natural instinct. It is not surprising therefore that exploitation

and slavery have been around for such a long time and will be around for

even more. It probably also explains why it is so difficult for

outsiders to make it to the top in a family firm. Even a public firm is

not that simple, all you have to do is to see which directors are

sitting on which boards, and then you will understand why it is

difficult to get to the top in any organisation; irrespective of whether you are a woman or man.

Clearly to answer Marx's question, the answer is not necessarily to give

more money. It might easily be argued that employers are not so much

exploiting workers, but doing what comes naturally to most people,

competing and disadvantaging others. And treating everyone equally might

be a disincentive to take up certain jobs anyway. Especially jobs that

require a higher physical risk than what others are doing. Surely

waiting to see the white of an antelope's eyes, before throwing the

spear, is more dangerous than chasing it with a stick some 200 meters

away. In any event, equality has its own risks of making it easier for a

few members of the group to cheat (see Evolutionary stable strategy and

all communist governments).

Ironically, the capitalist system, which is the most successful economic

and wealth distribution system human beings have developed, is also the

best system to satisfy that primitive urge to compete against and

disadvantage others. Hence, on the present system having a job as a

means to access scarce resources is not that important. Having money is.

And the answer to how much, is not more, but change nature itself if we can.

Take care

Lawrence

* check these with Wikipedia for example.


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