PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

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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