PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Thursday, March 26, 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Accountability of the Governing Class

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Accountability of the Governing Class

At a time when "crisis and austerity" have replaced "progress and
ambition" we feel justified in wanting an explanation to what happened.
We want an explanation why we can save banks and not lives. We want an
explanation why planes fall from the sky yet flying is still a safe
industry and service to use.

So is the governing class being held accountable and more importantly
can these elite few be held accountable? These are some of the key
issues in my essay. In the meantime Ruel has sent us the link to his essay:

Hello Lawrence,
Here is the link to the essay I wrote on Sunday's topic:
Thank you and see you on Sunday.

----my essay

Accountability of the Governing Class

Who are the governing class? There is no doubt that at the top are those
who form the government, but this is just the tip of the iceberg
although I would rather think that it was the tip of the sword. In
British politics we would include the Establishment that involves top
civil servants, the church, although today with diminished influence,
the judiciary, and many influential institutions such as the police and
the armed forces. Business, especially old business, such as banking and
insurance also play a leading role in the running of the state.

The key features of the Governing Class is that they are supposed to act
in the interest of the state, and by default they have authority and
power through legislation or through accepted conventions. The second
key feature of this class is that they have the direct or influencing
power to tell people what to do. Many of the people who hold office in
these institutions are responsible for the day to day running of the
state and the country. They are responsible to put into action
government policies, legislation and statutory duties.

A key feature of the governing class is that they are responsible for
the constitution of the land. It is said that the UK does not have a
constitution because there is no recognised document that says this is
the constitution of the UK. Of course, this is not the case there is a
constitution because there are statutes and conventions that spell out
the relationship between the different powers of the state and the
citizens. And these rules and conventions are generally agreed by all
until someone disagrees with them, like any written constitution, and
then they can be changed when someone else has enough power in
parliament to change them. Thus written or unwritten constitutions have
the same biding force as any manmade agreement.

Accountability itself, as a concept, is associated with a number of
other concepts and meaning. The general neutral term of accountability
is to justify ones actions after the event. This might be to explain why
things went wrong or just simply have the duty to tell others what one
is doing, why and the justification for having to do such actions.

However, in normal use of the term, especially in a political context,
it means having those who exercise power to explain their actions when
things (usually policy or actions) go wrong. Although some might
interpret accountability to include judicial accountability (see for
example the website for an in depth
meaning of the term) I would argue that political accountability, even
when things go wrong, does not necessarily imply legal accountability or
even legal culpability. My reasons are very simple; if political
accountability implied or meant legal accountability then people need
only show that they followed the law meticulously for a defence. Whereas
having to account politically for policies and actions implies that
these actions are judged politically and then if a law has been broken
the same actions are also judged judicially. So we have political checks
and legal checks. Moreover, legal accountability implies that the
judiciary are excluded from the political process of the state and thus
the principle of separation of powers is maintained as far as possible.

Some might even interpret accountability to include the participation of
individuals (see link above) in policy making apart from holding those
who govern to account. This might seem as a democratic process within a
democratic process. We first participate in electing the government then
we participate in the policy making process. It is true that being part
of the solution to a problem is better than being a detractor or worse,
the problem, but this democracy process within a democracy leaves a lot
to be desired. Least of which we cannot all be participants in policy
making and therefore some people will always be outside the governing class.

The traditional inbuilt safeguards to hold those in power accountable
have been: separation of powers, a constitution, an elected parliament,
an independent judiciary, ministerial responsibility, an independent
media and most important of all free people to practice and exercise
their right to engage in politics and opposition politics.

In theory this structure of checks and balances should work well and
generally holds those in power to account. Except that there is a major
flaw with this model and theory: those who exercise power and authority
are first and foremost individual people. Thus the idea or feeling we
might have that state institutions are somehow non human structures is
obviously false. The most we can say is that institutions are micro
structures of the population that function on group dynamics. But at the
heart of the governing class there are only individuals.

In other words the idea that the government and those who hold power are
somehow benevolent super beings who are there to protect us and look
after us is just false; a fiction of the social contract as much as the
social contract is a fiction.

Machiavelli understood the political individual very well as exemplified
by this quote from The Prince "Because this is to be asserted in general
of men that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and
as long as you succeed they are yours entirely....."
( Title: The Prince
Author: Nicolo Machiavell) And although this might be too hard on those
who actually do a good job this reflection is as true today as in
Machiavelli's time.

In modern times it was Margaret Thatcher who, when she was the British
PM, firmly introduced the individual to the centre of politics. Speaking
about people who rely on the welfare state she rejected the idea that
there was such a thing as society to support individuals, saying that
"... There is no such thing! There are individual men and women....."
Adding that before we can depend on the state we have to perform our
duty and contribute first. (Margaret Thatcher Interview for Woman's Own
(1987 Sep 23)

Few can disagree with the sentiment of Thatcher: we don't like people
who cheat or defraud, that's obvious. And most accept that we have to
contribute as much as we can to be entitled to receive from the state.
The devil, of course, is in the details.

And yes there are only individuals, but Thatcher was wrong in her
arguments, thinking and her policies based on such principles. To begin
with she conveniently forgot the implied promise that the welfare state
was a commitment by the state to the people for the sacrifices of the
Second World War. Hence there was an established right for the state to
help when needed. And because the British constitution does not function
of a single fixed documents, that implied commitment had the force of
law given the circumstances; a gentleman's word is his bond (no women at
the time)! How many written constitutions commit the state to operate a
welfare state?

Secondly, sometimes we have to carry with us those who are weaker than
us because it's necessary for the state and the nation to progress. In a
well run family, which was so important for Thatcher, the weak members
are looked after by the strong ones and more importantly, all members of
the family are relevant to the family. And if people are cheating it's
because the state mechanism is flawed and people are not performing
their duty to hold those who cheat to account. But to dismantle the
welfare state just because a few people defraud the system is absurd and
dangerous; with the same logic we should dismantle parliament because
some members are corrupt.

Thirdly sometimes it's more profitable and efficient to have an economic
model to supply certain goods and services at a cheap price than having
to pay market prices for them. Indeed the founders of the welfare state
recognised education and health care as such key services. I would add
transport and accommodation as equally important sectors. In any event
it's unreasonable to suppose that everyone has the earning capacity as
everyone else. Thus based on the family principle, provisions should be
made for those who cannot keep up.

At the end, the welfare state is collapsing and has collapsed not
because people cheated the system or did not contribute to the system
but rather because the governing class was not held accountable to the
mismanagement of the economy. After all economic institutions such as
companies don't go bust because they have to pay a decent wage to the
receptionist! A modern day 'Machiavellian' would suggest that the
welfare state is being dismantled to replace it by profit making companies.

It is this absence of accountability about the mismanagement of the
economy that has directly caused the economic crisis in Europe. And
modern politics, as in past politics, it's all about the economy!
Thatcher did not want to suggest that "there are only individuals" to be
interpreted to mean "free for all, greed and enrichment." Indeed in the
Woman's Own interview she did suggest that welfare should be an income
of the last resort and that we have to support our way. Except that this
vision is betrayed by reality: in 1979 when Thatcher was elected as PM
the GINI coefficient for the UK was just over 25% reaching 35% when she
left office in 1990 and in 2009 the coefficient was around the 40% mark.
This is what the website has to say: The GINI coefficient
measure of overall income inequality in the UK is now higher than at any
previous time in the last thirty years.
( (PDF

By any standards the collapse of the British income parity can only mean
that the safeguards to hold the governing class accountable for their
policies have not worked. Machiavelli was right, people are "covetous"
and I was right, not everyone can achieve the same earning capacity. The
disparities we find today in society do not reflect, a democracy based
on merit, although some deserve to be rewarded handsomely for their
efforts (but are not), nor a capitalist society given economies now
function by destroying and devaluing capital (boom bust economies), but
more like a plutocracy. Today, if a person is worth millions they have
ready access to all the media in the world to express their political or
non political opinions, but a budding young politician has to abide by
the rules of the party, the rules of access to the media for political
representation and the limitations imposed by the electoral commission.
Money it seems no longer talks, but shouts and it only shouts orders and
dictates for the rest to follow.

If there are only individuals and no benevolent super beings to protect
us then the concept of the individual takes central place in our
discussion. The fragility of the mechanisms of accountability stems from
two basic factors: those mechanisms are designed by the very same
individuals who make up the mechanisms that hold power. Members of
Parliament enact laws but they also write the constitution; the judges
interpret laws but they also create judicial precedent, the central bank
manages money in the economy and also supervise the other bankers etc
etc. And secondly, human beings can only be human they cannot be super
beings, and certainly not super benevolent human beings; very few people
are or have the means to be benevolent. And of course, not to mention
the well accepted fact that: he who pays the piper calls the tunes!

Some might object to my arguments on the grounds that my view of the
political situation is too negative; most times the system works. People
do get justice for example when someone enters their house and robs them
of their possessions; or many people manage to move from job to job or
pay for their education. Yes, but as Machiavelli pointed out, everyone
is happy when things are going well, it's when things don't go well that
we need protection. We need accountability and redress when our house
loses so much of its value because of a property bust that the mortgage
is more than the new value of the house. We need accountability and
redress when the bank interest rate is so manipulated that legitimate
businesses become bankrupt leading to people becoming unemployed.

If Machiavelli identified for us the root of the problem about
accountability, then Plato (Socrates) has pointed us towards a possible
solution: 'Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of
this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political
greatness and wisdom meet in one, ... cities will never have rest from
their evils...." The Republic by Plato Book V .

Thatcher was no Philosopher King since, as I have demonstrated, here
policies led to greater inequalities, and as Machiavelli pointed out
people are good subjects as long as their kings do not create enormous
hardships. But as Plato implied, and
reaffirm, what is regal is information and knowledge and by implication
the basis of accountability. We can hold people accountable when we have
the right information about their actions. And by implication the
governing class is being accountable by the amount of information they
make available to their citizens.

Does everyone have access to education and learning? Are citizens able
to gather information freely about the state? Do we have access to the
relevant information about the functions of the state? Is the state
protecting our right to know? Is the press reporting the facts and only
the facts? If the answer to these questions and many more is "yes" then
the governing class is being and can be held accountable.

But the tell tale signs that things are not right is when Machiavelli's
Prince or Plato's King talk to their citizens from a hall of mirrors in
a funfair, or from a TV set to avoid questions from the press. These are
sufficient conditions that tell us that the governing class is not being
and cannot be held accountable.

Best Lawrence


tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Accountability of
the Governing Class

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fwd: Conferencia: Recuerdo a Rey Pastor

Estimado tertuliano,

Por si fuera de tu interés te anunciamos la conferencia del próximo
Jueves 26 de Marzo en la RAC

26/03/2015 19:00 h - /*Manuel López Pellicer* (Académico de Número de la
Te invitamos así mismo a ver este vídeo sobre transformaciones de cubos

Saludos cordiales,

Tertulia de Matemáticas

Si quieres impartir una conferencia en la tertulia envíanos un mensaje
de correo para tratar los detalles.
Si quieres darte de baja en la lista de correo envía otro con "Baja" en
el campo "Asunto" del mensaje.

PhiloMadrid Meeting topic 29th May 2015: Accountability of the Governing Class

PhiloMadrid Meeting topic 29th March 2015: Accountability of the Governing

Thursday, March 19, 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Is it 1984 or Brave new world?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Is it 1984 or Brave new world?

In my essay I write a side comment on the difficulties of teasing out
the philosophical issues in a non native philosophical text. I therefore
argue that our real issues are not necessarily tyranny and slavery but
information. Precisely the role information plays in making a human being?

In the meantime Ruel has sent us a link to his essay:

Hello Lawrence,
Below is the link to the essay I wrote on Sunday's topic:
Thanks. See you on Sunday.
All the best,


Is it 1984 or Brave new world?

The difference between "Brave new world" by Huxley and "1984" by Orwell
is the Second World War.

"Brave new world" was published in 1932 at the height of the depression
that directly caused the race for a new ideology to govern the world. By
1932 that race already had three contenders: the status quo of
historical political and economic evolution (let's call it capitalism),
the new brand of Soviet communism and the yet untested social socialism
that was fast emerging in Germany. Huxley's fear that people in 1932
wouldn't want to read books was well justified, but maybe for the wrong
reasons. People wouldn't want to read books in the future maybe not
because of their decadence, but rather because they have carelessly
trusted in someone's philosophically unsound ideas that had become a
direct danger to their lives.

Orwell's book was published at a time (1949) when concentration camps
were still fresh in people's memories, the Normandy landings were still
a symbol of freedom, the Gestapo (and the KGB) were the terror of the
people and, finally, the atom bomb had just become mightier than the
sward and the pen put together.

Orwell's vision was right on censorship and the banning of books. Today,
large parts of the world population don't have access to books and books
are still censored or banned. But Huxley's fear of lack of interest in
books is also valid today. Although the danger today is that we're not
interested in books because of decadence or lack of trust in the
ideology, as I suggested, but mainly because we no longer give value to
the message in books. Thus, publishers will only publish books that
massage our mental ego and henceforth to a decent profit; and self
publishing sites are still too novel to set the world on fire.
Thankfully today most books don't try to give deep political messages:
where is today's Das Kapital, where is the Wealth of Nations or the
Little Red book?

But this background is not the philosophical issue for us; the issues
for us do not directly depend on the content of these books, although
the ideas behind the books are indeed philosophical in nature. I will
argue that the philosophical issues about these two books is not tyranny
and oppression, and as a consequence the values of democracy. These
issues are superficial in nature and a trap in reality. The real
philosophical issues for me are far beyond tyranny.

To begin with the ideas behind these books betray our ingrained
acceptance that people and society must function not only on a
hierarchical model of society but on a top down control of authority. A
few give orders and the vast majority have to follow. And this model in
politics and the economy can be verified and measured by measuring the
level of corruption in a society since corruption is based on the belief
that one can get away with it. Corruption requires the state of mind
that the majority does not have the power to hold the minority to
account and lack of accountability can easily lead to abuse of power.

Both books reflect and reality confirms that there is no such thing as
"the Devine right of Kings" but rather real power stems from the
doctrine that "brute force always wins". "Always wins", that is, as long
as we are one step ahead of the meek and the mob, because even the meek
are capable of using the guillotine. In this context both books not only
reflect what might be, but more importantly, they are describing, in a
crude way, what actually exists.

There is no doubt that the hierarchical model of society is a model of
society in nature. Scarcity of resources does lead to competition and
aggression and thus creating some form of a centrifuged society with the
rich at the top and the destitute at the bottom. Indeed the
preoccupation by some philosophers with exiting this model, or rather
explain this model, has led directly to the social contract model of
society. Under a social contract we give up our freedom to do what we
want in exchange for the protection and recognition of property rights
and protection. But to have property rights one needs to have property
in the first place; indeed one must have property to even think of
property rights. The question is whether a hierarchical model is a valid
model for a society of rational and ethical beings?

Brute force and scarcity, that are also central themes to the books, can
be a state of nature or a man made state of affairs based on the
empirical principle that people with wealth and power are unlikely to
give up these privileges very easily. Maybe what Locke and Hobbes argued
was not a transition from the law of the jungle to a society based on a
social contract but rather an escalation of an evolutionary game of
survival of the fittest.

We might, therefore, make the mistake in thinking that tyranny and
government by brute force might be a consequence of mismanaged
societies, evil, immoral society, and aggression. But this betrays a
naive perspective on our part in failing to appreciate the power and
attraction of tyranny to those who are doing the tyrannising; I grant
you that today in many countries we don't call it tyranny by the
sovereign anymore, but the effects of market forces.

Sure today we still have regimes that apply brute force to control
society, but one of the best way to control society for the benefit of
the few, is to create scarcity rather than physically oppress people.
There is nothing scarier than frightening people with a Malthusian
catastrophe; except that the majority of people have no idea of who
Malthus was or what is a Malthusian catastrophe. Basically the English
economist, Thomas Robert Malthus, argued that an increasing population
would eventually over take agricultural production that will lead to
subsistence levels of existence and eventually social chaos.

Thus scaring people with rampant immigration not only leads to racism (a
divided society) but more importantly exploits the fears of the people
into supporting a more protectionist and controlling regime. Moreover,
by creating a state of high unemployment and social insecurity gives the
impression that society is very close to the brink of chaos thus
justifying oppressive measures. This will only lead to reinforcing the
status quo that only the minority have what it takes to manage society
(remember the legitimacy of the Devine rule of Kings?). This leads us to
the key philosophical issue of the debate and our topic.

Both authors use books as the source of knowledge and the absence of
which can lead to slavery. Issues in epistemology have always centred on
the roles played by beliefs and knowledge but information has hardly had
a mention in a tradition of over three thousand years of philosophy. We
know that information and data (two different things) play an important
role in science, but not in philosophy. Thus the main philosophical
issue of our topic is "information"; precisely the role played by
information in human beings.

Precisely to identify the causal link between our state of mind, given a
set of information we hold, and our actions based on a set of beliefs,
that were formed by the set of information we hold.

For example, we have truck loads of information about democracy, but
very few people know of a philosophically sound argument why democracy
is the best form of government. Choice and majority are not necessarily
sound arguments and the fact that totalitarian governments are
unacceptable models does not mean that democracy, therefore, ought to be
the best political model. It might be, but that's not an argument why
democracy is a good model.

But establishing a role for information in philosophy is a huge task
especially for our purposes. Hence, I would start by arguing, even to
the point of seeming arrogant, that knowledge and beliefs are not valid
subjects to discuss together; there is absolutely no connection between
knowledge and beliefs despite the three thousand year history. My
argument is very simple, beliefs do not make facts, but knowledge is
about facts. Hence, the way we come to knowledge has to be independent
of our beliefs. It's not that I have a belief about something so let's
try and confirm it, but rather what can we confirm or refute?

So knowledge ought to be more appropriately linked to information rather
than beliefs. Before we arrive to knowledge we are in a state where we
are brim full of information. The salient aspect of knowledge is that we
can use it to predict things and events etc. Thus, knowledge is
important for us not only because we can answer questions of the type
"what is" but also "how to". When I say predict I don't mean knowing the
winning number for next week's lottery but rather we can plan things for
the future with a reasonable expectation of success.

For example, what we have is information that 24% of the work force is
unemployed. However, this information will never lead to any useful
policies to reduce unemployment since we don't know whether those people
are unemployed because of some real market forces or a fabricated
illusion of an imminent Malthusian catastrophe.

Information occupies the middle ground between knowledge and data. Data
would therefore be records of events in a space-time setting. I can
collect data about the temperature in Madrid, but not about the
temperature in heaven since data is empirical and has to take a physical
form for us to handle it. And from what we are told about heaven it
cannot possibly be a physical place in a space-time setting.

This leaves us with information; so what is information? A common
definition of information includes the idea of facts about someone or
something. I disagree with this on the grounds that facts pertain to
knowledge and nothing else. Thus, information can only be data points in
a given space-time context. The temperature in Madrid in summer is
information, and knowing that Madrid can be hot and very quiet during
summer (a verifiable fact about Madrid) converts a set of information to
knowledge and then to reasonably predict that Madrid is not too much fun
if one likes an action packed summer. Only a certain type of information
can be processed into knowledge, the type that brings about reasonable

And this is why information matters: I can cloud your judgement by
giving you false data and false data in a context (information), but
when you act on this information nothing happens. We can be told that
the temperature in heaven is always mild and pleasant but of course,
when we die we just die and enter the recycle bin of atoms and energy.

Alternatively, we can be told that 24% of the workforce is unemployed
because of overspending by society but we'll never be told that this is
basically due to an artificially induced illusion of a pending
Malthusian catastrophe. Thus austerity is not a policy based on
knowledge since an unemployment rate above12%-15% in a western economy
must be induced by artificial forces and not natural market forces. The
Great depression of the last century with unemployment rates between 25%
and 33% was caused by the collapse of the stock market; a very
artificial force indeed. In contrast the 2004 tsunami in Japan that can
only be described as a catastrophe, did not even create a dent in the
Japanese economy and unemployment rates.

The importance of information is that it can be manipulated and
distorted and can thus easily fool people into believing that what they
have is knowledge when in reality what they have is corrupted
information. Hobbes was right in think that people are rational so they
know the real value and power of knowledge. But what is very hard for us
is the ability to distinguish between corrupted information and real
knowledge before it is too late. Something that matters for all of us.

We can now describe the important issue of these two books as: people
without information (1984) and information without people (Brave new world).

So what is the difference? I would say that people without information
know they have no information, but only dead people can have no
information or that information is not relevant for them. Even a
comatose person needs basic information from their environment for their
body to function for example regulating air intake to breath etc. The
mistake we make is to assume that all information is conscious information.

As a side comment, trying to tease out the philosophical issues in the
context of beliefs and knowledge is not always easy. But to do it from a
setting of a non-native philosophical text, like a work of literature,
might complicate life beyond what is reasonably expected. This problem
of identifying the philosophy in a text of fiction would not so much be
like the Berkeleyan problem whether a sound is made if no one hears a
tree fall in the forest. But rather, given the cacophony in the forest
can we actually hear a tree fall? Are we in danger with non-native
philosophical texts of missing the real philosophical issues because of
the distractions and complexities? It's bad enough as it is with
philosophical texts.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Is it 1984 or Brave
new world?

Friday, March 13, 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Personality cult in politics

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Personality cult in politics

In the era of public relations companies managing government leaders and
social media being the battle ground for winning the minds of the
population, reaching a cult status for a leader is certain an
achievement for a leader. Indeed, in today's instant global
communication world, we can follow a leader's cult status in real time.

But a personality cult in politics is not the domain of dictators and
totalitarians, but anyone who stands out for the people. But this does
not mean that there is nothing we can learn from the mistakes of
dictators, or only the good guys make sound decisions. This is basically
my position in my short essay.

In the meantime Ruel has sent us the link to his essay:

Hello Lawrence,
Below is the link to the essay I wrote on Sunday's topic:
See you on Sunday,


Personality cult in politics

In a hierarchical society it is not surprising that some individuals
should rise to the top and engage the imagination of people.
Specifically in politics, leaders who create a cult following or achieve
a cult status are not necessarily dictators or leaders of totalitarian

For example, the Kennedys and Churchill immediately come to mind. This
suggests that maybe there are two types of cults. The first is that the
leader is a visionary leader and people feel a sense of admiration and
affinity towards that person. The second form of cult is, no doubt, the
one that disturbs us most: the despot who demands admiration or else one
safety is not guaranteed.

Cult figures like Hitler or Stalin did indeed have people who believed
in their leadership and their personality, certainly on their rise to
power. Except that we do not know and cannot really tell how many in the
respective countries believed in these leaders as an act of their free
will or out of fear of reprisal if they didn't express such admiration.

No doubt even leaders who merit our admiration are not necessarily
without faults or their leadership was all good and ethical. Churchill
made many mistakes in his management of the war; maybe, had there been a
leader with less pronounced personality he or she might have acted more
cautiously. But this argument will only lead to irrelevant hypothesising
about history. What is clear is that we are prepared to forgive more
easily the mistakes of a leader with a cult status than just any other
leader; for example I would say Chamberlain was such a leader without
any cult or status at all.

Charismatic leaders have always served the function of focusing the
attention of the majority of the people during difficult and trying
times. Unity and support helps leaders take difficult decision; a
characteristic dictators are very well aware of.

What is important for us is to examine whether there is a link between a
legitimate cause for people to rally behind a leader and the possibility
of the cult status of that leader turning this leader into a malevolent
person. In other words, would a cult status increase the chances of a
leader making serious mistakes that affect the people? Or involved in
more serious misjudgements?

If we look at cult figures outside politics, say cult figures in the
entertainment industry, we come across many people who did make serious
misjudgements either through substance abuse, sexual harassment, child
abuse and so on. I would say that at the very least even politicians are
as likely to make misjudgements as any other cult figure.

But to mitigate against this we have no idea what kind of misjudgements
ordinary people are capable of. Not to mention that leaders by their
very nature are involved in high risk decisions so if anything goes
wrong it will go wrong in a big way.

Also associated with cult status is the idea that one "can do no wrong".
This does not mean that all cult leaders develop this belief that they
can do no wrong, but that they are more likely to develop such a belief.
This is like someone who works with radioactive material; they are more
likely to suffer from radiation poisoning, but not such people end up
being poisoned.

The mirror image of this argument is that although some leaders know
they are wrong they believe they will not be caught out or that they are
above the law. I would say that Hitler is an example who thought he can
do no wrong, and Saddam was someone who thought he was beyond the reach
of accountability.

But what is puzzling for us is that how can a cult figure mistake 'I can
do no wrong' to 'what I do is always right'? I can do no wrong, is no
doubt a subjective judgement, but surely an intelligent person ought to
know that what is right is a matter of fact. How can someone who is on
top of their game make such a basic mistake? Could it be that the cult
status affects the intellectual capacity of people to the extent that it
clouds their judgement?

This seems to be an issue irrespective of whether the person is a
dictator or not. When Margaret Thatcher believed that the poll tax was
the right policy to follow she did not accepted the risk this was going
to be to her leadership. At the end this policy was her downfall.

A better example would be Hitler's belief in the pivotal role capital
battleships, like the Bismarck, would play in defeating the allies. The
problem with thinking that this was the right thing to do went not only
against the proven strategy of U boat warfare, but against a background
of incredible advancements in aviation that would have made these ships
obsolete anyway. At the end the Bismarck was eventually sunk after first
being hit by a torpedo from a plane with WW1 technology and some
'string'. The caveat to this story is the mystery why the British did
not divert half a squadron of bombers to sink the ship in Norway in the
first place. After all the Bismarck was the most advanced ship on the
high seas at the time.

No doubt the moral of the story is that mistakes and misjudgements are
not the exclusive domain of cult leaders in general and malevolent cult
leaders in particular.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Personality cult in

Thursday, March 05, 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Do we deserve our government? + NEWS

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Do we deserve our government?

The question betrays our stereo typical sense of government: that
government is something that has a controlling influence in our life. In
my short essay I first try to examine where we get our idea of
government and secondly what do we tend to accept the status quo.

-----Links from Ruel on Government
Although Ruel couldn't write us an essay specifically on our topic, he
did send us links to two of his published articles about government and
the situation in the Philippines. He also sent us this note:
"I hope the readers of these articles would somehow cull out some
notions that reveal my view on the issue of whether we (which in my
context is "we Filipinos") deserve our government."


-----News Miguel
Estimado tertuliano,
Por si fuera de tu interés te anunciamos la conferencia del próximo

Sinopsis: Un sistema articulado es un mecanismo plano compuesto de una
serie de barras articuladas en sus extremos con un grado de libertad.
Los geómetras griegos usaban estos mecanismos para resolver problemas
como la cuadratura del círculo a la trisección del ángulo, no resolubles
con regla y compás. Entre los siglos XV y XVII, desde Leonardo da Vinci
a Descartes, diseñaron conicógrafos, compases para dibujar cónicas con
distintos fundamentos. Newton, McLaurin, Bleikenridge, etc.
desarrollaron toda una teoría de curvas cúbicas basada en el uso de
sistemas articulados. Por medio de un inversor, Peaucelier dibujó por
primera vez un segmento de recta. Pero fue Kempe en los albores del
siglo XX el que probó que dada una curva algebraica plana, existe un
sistema articulado tal que, mientras que uno de sus puntos describe una
línea recta, otro describe la curva en cuestión.

Los métodos de la geometría algebraica real han sido aplicados al
teorema de Kempe, no solo para obtener una demostración correcta, sino
para extender los resultados, que suponen esencialmente el control
lineal de un punto que se desplaza por una curva, a sistemas articulados
en el espacio o sistemas flexibles. La última prueba del teorema de
Kempe, por estos métodos se debe a Thurston (Medalla Fields 1982).
Saludos cordiales,

Tertulia de Matemáticas

Do we deserve our government?

A government can be a predator as much as any other creature that is a
predator. Predators not only survive by feeding on others, but more
importantly they survive by not being caught by others. In the meantime
our idea of government is some abstract metaphysical entity that watches
over us or more often has a complex control over our lives.

However, there are two distinct entities that make up a government: the
conceptual entity that is part of our intellectual understanding of the
world, especially the world of politics, and the second is the matter
of fact aspect of government were real people have the power to
influence others and things in society.

We are not taught about the matter of fact side of government, but only
the theory side. We are taught about the separation of powers, about
constitutional sovereignty, about law and order, about defence of the
realm but never about the networking required for a successful career in
politics, never about the influence of money, never about the corruption
or about the unfair or disastrous policies, never mind about failings or
the weaknesses of human nature.

It doesn't take much to see that there is a wide gap between what we
think a government ought to be and reality. And in democracies, or
supposed democracies, we are sold the theory of government in the same
way that we are sold expensive cars or expensive perfumes; the best is
expensive and the promise is always a rose garden. And usually, when
things are though and hard we have to pull together, suffer together,
tighten belts (replaced by austerity) and forego personal prosperity for
the good of the country or society. But when things are supposed to be
good and most are still in the same old endless toil and wretchedness,
well, in that case we have not improved because we are lazy, not
hardworking, don't have enough training and so on. In any event in a
democracy, success is all based on merit and hard work; at least that's
the theory.

And it is this gap between being educated to believe that hard work and
merit is rewarded and the fact that hard work and merit, it seems, is
not always enough to be rewarded. And when the situation is so bad we
have to forego our fair income and pay for things which through the
social contract many people have toiled on the understanding that when
in need they will be helped at no cost.

So why is it that recent studies have persistently demonstrated that the
gap between the richest top 10 percent of the population and the poorest
part of the population not only keeps widening but that the poorer part
keeps increasing? It's not just that the income gap that keeps widening
but that more people are migrating to the bottom of the social structure.

Take this introduction from a 2012 article on the website Inequality

"Within rich countries, the wealthiest 10% households have an average
standard of living nine times higher than the poorest 10%. Income
inequalities have increased almost everywhere."

It just cannot be that 90% of the population has become lazier,
stupider, and consistently have achieved nothing of merit. I don't think
so, which means that some governments are, at least, allowing a portion
of the population to diminish their income and standard of living. But
this is not the image we have of government: a government that is fair,
just, impartial, and protector of the weak and so on and so forth. Not
forgetting that our modern idea of government owes it pedigree in the
doctrine of the divine right of kings or the idea that kings have the
right to rule over us directly from God. What kind of god does it take
to allow some of their humble creatures to be destitute and wretched?

The evidence suggests that neither the divine right of kings nor the
benevolent guardian of modern government is based on reality. This is
not because things ought not to be like that, at least the benevolent
government theory, but that human beings tend to behave as human beings
first and foremost. Indeed human beings are the top of predators in the
world today. It would therefore take some super human effort for a group
of human beings, in our case in control of government, not to succumb to
the predatory instinct.

Thus governments of one persuasion might favour the 90% members of the
population who are "poor" by taking the wealth of the rich and give it
to the poor; this never happened and will never happen. Or a government
of the persuasion that favours the top ten percent by taking away the
rightful income of the poor and giving it to the rich: this might
succeed sometimes. But I suspect that it is much easier for a poor
person to achieve a sizable amount of wealth, than for a rich person to
become a member of the sanctum 1% of the rich that can resist all sorts
of economic storms but, also, like a cactus in the desert, prosper in
leaps and bounds.

So from one perspective, we might ask not only whether "we deserve our
government" but "what government can we realistically expect to have?"
But there are many problems with this question. At the very least those
who are benefiting from a favourable situation, for example, prospering
from the exercise of power, are not likely to want to give up their
advantageous position. Secondly, all our theoretical models of
government centre, more or less, on the same principles of government:
absolute power, control of the means of enforcing power (army, police
etc), ability to change and create new laws, the principles of
hierarchy, and most important of all control of information and
knowledge, either directly or indirectly. And those who would advocate
anarchism, it would be worth remembering that anarchism is a symptom of
a disease, but it can never be a disease itself. Meaning that anarchism
is a reaction to the present models of government and not a model of a
possible form of government. Just because governments and society are
made up of predatory creatures it does not mean we do not need good
leaders and good trailblazers.

The fact is that people are also social animals and that cooperation is
the best form of relationship they can have amongst themselves. Even
predators need to function within a social structure because one of the
key benefits of a society is that the individual benefits if the society
benefits. Thus there must be a natural instinct to protect society. The
question we should concern ourselves with is; who makes up the society,
the top 10% of households in a society that have the bulk of benefits or
all members of the group? Clearly today, and probably since forever, not
everyone in a society had equal access to the benefits.

On the other hand cooperation amongst 100% of the members of society
does mean that incomes would tend to narrow the gap between the rich and
poor. This is not because there won't be any rich people or poor people
but that the poor can still earn enough to live with dignity and the
rich can still reap the rewards of their merits. So the bottom line
would not be based on the size of the wealth but how the wealth was
created. Today, it seems that we are successful for what we have and not
how we got it.

A more valid question we can ask is whether a type government emerges
from the structure of society that is being governed, or whether the
governing classes (or top social strata) create the type of society that
will always sustain and prop them up. After all, the introduction from
the Inequality Watch article does not attribute this wealth disparity to
some form of ideology or doctrine nor does it attribute this disparity
to democracies or dictatorships. At face value this would suggest that,
indeed, there is some form of governing class that is very close to
power to maintain a steady influence of events. And I also have argued
that 90% of the population have not become lazy and stupid all of a sudden.

In other words, we have to investigate whether there is a positive
feedback cycle in the government-society relationship. Society creates a
type of government and government creates a type of society that will
keep it in power. The fact that the gap is increasing "almost
everywhere" does suggest that in some societies, at least, there is this
form of positive feedback. If there wasn't people would have already
rebelled or voted out inequitable governments. Maybe the new Syriza
government in Greece is not a rebellion against this positive feedback
cycle in a rich country, but probably a formal recognition by Greek
society that there is such a positive feedback cycle going on in Greece.

The question is not whether Syriza will break the mould, but how many
instances of societies formally recognizing, through their vote, that
such a positive feedback cycle exists? And then go on to break the cycle
or change the mould. For example, in a debate in Madrid on the 2 March
organized by the EU Commission and the EU Parliament under the heading
"Europe Replies" the audience at the meeting were asked the question
"Are the new parties affecting Europe?" to which 84.3% replied yes. (You
can see my photo of the result here:
and you can follow the debate with the hash tag #EuropaResponde).
Despite the obvious bias, this is a clear message, probably held
throughout Europe, that the status quo can be challenged by new models
of thinking or fringe political doctrines. Or at the very least people
think that the status quo ought to be challenged.

So, going back to our topic, could it be that rather than "we deserve
the government we have", we have a government that is an image of our
society? Or the alternative question we can ask is, how can a government
(governing class) create a society that would always prop up the
government (political mould) irrespective of political doctrine?

I started the essay by highlighting the duality between what we think
government ought to be and what a real government is actually like. What
we think government ought to be like is a matter of belief and, at the
end, education. Thus, those who think that "the divine right of kings"
or whatever its equivalent is today is a load of codswallop won't pass
their political philosophy exam and will certainly have no doors opening
to the CEO's job at the bank. Or to put it in a different way, those who
believe that the constitution is not worth the paper it is written on
won't pass their "oposiciones" exam. Hence, we are allowed to progress
in society if we uphold the set of beliefs society deems right. This, of
course, is a good example of not only a positive feedback cycle but of
the survival of the fittest in a fixed environment.

This duality of government also leads us to an important issue in
epistemology; the –know that vs know how- distinctions of knowledge (a
quick search of these terms in Google will lead you to some very
relevant literature). "Knowing that" is a form of knowledge that
purports to tell us about facts; I know that the earth revolves around
the sun; I know that water is made up of two different base elements
Hydrogen and Oxygen; I know that God has empowered the king to rule over
me and so on. And, I know how is a type of knowledge not only about how
things function, but also how to make things that function (this is
different from know-how in technology). For example, I know how to make
a rocket to escape the gravitational pull of the earth; I know how to
solve a quadratic equation; I know how to demonstrate that the divine
rule of kings is a load of codswallop.

Our education about government, as I have argued, is practically always
based on the "know that" type of knowledge. For example, we know that a
government can legitimately be changed through fair and independent
elections. But how many of us know how to create a new party that will
challenge the status quo of political power (and without getting into a
mess about unpaid taxes)?

So the conclusion must surely be that it is not quite a matter that we
deserve the government we have but rather, we just don't know how to
change the governments we have been having who, from our perspective,
seem to protect only part of society. Basically, how do we break the
cycle of government feeding off the people and the people sucking up to
the government?

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Do we deserve our
government? + NEWS


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