Stoicism

I have been avoiding the idea of Stoicism for a while, but the concept keeps reappearing over and over again.

As a part of a series of philosophies from Hellenistic times, stoicism could be group together with skepticism and hedonism, the last two inspired in line with Socrates thought.

In Forbes, an entrepreneur tells the story of a US veteran who was held prisoner by Vietnamese forces in the 60’s.  He used stoicism to overcome pain, memorizing the teachings from Epictetus’s book The Enchiridion – translated means The Handbook.

Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius are the most predominant figures in this ancient philosophy. Meditations is one of the books of Marcus Aurelius written meanwhile he was emperor of the Roman empire, as notes of stoic philosophy for himself. The book was never intended to be published.
Epictetus was a former slave, after gaining freedom he opened a school in Greece.
The level of contrast where a philosophy is practised by a former slave and a benevolent roman emperor is quite astounding, moreover being a core and current references for this philosophy.

Read more →

Sense and Morality

Every known science has started as open philosophy pursuit for the truth and the sportiveness of asking questions and wonder the what ifs. Eventually, those pursuits became establish sciences with more deepness and understanding in the studied subjects.

The lack of science in current philosophy dilemmas make me wonder if science would fill those gaps in a short and medium-term future and how it would look like.

The time in between where scientists will enter the scenes of today no sense – maybe they will never do – would generate loneliness and tremendous void among citizens of western society where development has changed or lives tremendously.

Actually, the lake of meaning can be seen in the workplace where a majority of workers lack the sense and purpose the will want to.  Obviously, this is generated by several factors that are intrinsic to the development of western and eastern institutions.

Sense is also a need for feeling connected with a particular group of people and having the internal intuition that the experience in life is worth it.

In more atheistic societies – or at least less Roman Christians – the feeling is that we are small and have no sense, we are meaningless, we are part of randomness and a break of the symmetry in the universe, from the eyes of science and reason.

Fill the void in sense have been the work from different professional and intellectuals generating satisfaction in their audiences for connecting the dots, as we thing historian do for us – something is already happening but we cannot actually see it. From my point of view intellectuals sometimes are filling the void with simplistic ideas that are easy to digest. At the same time and following the same line of thought as Christopher Hitchens referring to liberals, they aren’t brave enough to expose their ideas. I would say that it’s very easy to be on the moral side of intellectualism without challenging the doctrines and ideologies with real pragmatism.

Debates: Are they leading to something?

Does not matter if you are interested in more rights to women or you prefer digital or analogue music players, debates are always a good way of getting our best arguments afloat and giving a second opinion to the counterpart. Also, means a battle of ideas – in a good way – where two parts of a particular society or mainstream collide with to two or more positions that are unchangeable over time.  Let’s take for example a controversial topic, Palestina & Israel.

Both sides are sure they are right and they are not committed to change the current status quo, generating the current division, hate and stubbornness for each side. The debate there is not helping each side to have a constructive conversation about the issue, now the interesting part of that difference of opinions are the younger generations. In both sides, younger generations are leaning for a more peaceful future, but they political representatives Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmud Abás don’t see this new uprising of good will, they still are emotionally connected with what nation wins. The populations of each side as well are young compared with countries of similar incomes – at least for Israel where the average age is 29 years old against Belgium or France where the average age is 44.

The debate has encountered a degree of distortion where at least I’m not completely certain about the truth, for any side. It’s true that Israel has developed an immense wealth in time record but is also true that they have taken territory that isn’t from there, from the international law perspective rather than the religious part. The other part that is true is Palestine through terrorist organizations wanted to develop the power to gain more power into talks and it seems it hasn’t reached any advance on that matter.

The debate above illustrates that there aren’t straightforward answers but there is a level of discussion we need to follow for the ideas come to the truth. One thing that has to happen is having a better discussion, where bias is completely distracted or eliminated and we are speaking from a position from transparency and honesty into an audience rather impose our personal opinion.

I believe that having better and available debates is the best thing as a human race we could do, we need people that will check every argument technically – it’s happening right now in my home country and in US and UK as well – but also people willing to put non-anecdotical arguments into the conversation. The people could decide into a more informed democracy but also an organization that compose society for having individuals that use knowledge as a real tool rather something we can search in Google whenever we want.

UBI: Idealism & Populism

UBI as a mainstream concept has been around for a few years from now and is qualified as a brilliant public policy because is a mechanism of instant transmission of income to all socio-economical classes without strings attached in how beneficiaries spend that money. Supporters of the concept, use the example of Harper Lee, an American writer who received a salary for one year from friends to dedicate entirely to write the novel How to Kill a Mockingbird, a tremendous success with 40 millions of book sold, and a Pulitzer Prize. Other intellectuals as  Rutger Bregman (Historian) said that “UBI is a venture capital for the poor”. [1]

The concept loses sense because try to fulfil two different goals that aren’t the same. First, try to reduce poverty giving a direct transfer of money to the poorest families. Second, try to help people who lost their jobs due mainly for automatization in different industries (Wholesale retail, transport and storage in the UK [2]). For example comparing the two concepts will be similar to say  “all the UK truck drivers are poor” or vice-versa, a statement that is completely false, that’s why you can’t use the two goals as one, they treat different socioeconomic problems.

 

 

 

 

 

Christianity & Morality

Who remembers the following phrase?

Woman taken in Adultery

Woman taken in Adultery (1524-27) – Ortolano

‘Let anyone among you who is without sin cast the first stone’.

The painting at the right shows the exact moment when Jesus wrote in the ground those words. It is imperative to know what the Bible says about this event

John 7:53–8:11

Then each of them went home,  while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.  Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them.  The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them,  they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.  Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’  They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’  And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’

It is no doubt that the event is framed to focus on the mercy of Jesus, but I want to be more subtle and focus on the event before Jesus wrote on the ground.

Image result for rembrandt woman in adultery

The Woman Taken in Adultery – Rembrandt (1644)

Moses’s Law mentioned in the paragraph above, tell us that is a duty to kill a woman or men by committing adultery, written in the old testament. (Leviticus 20:10).

Now is interesting that religion understood this, improving their own moral for being better off as society. But, Why this event  that has happened 2,000 years ago (more or less) is still happening today?. A question on the side, let hypothesise  that nowadays Christianity is based on Moises Law, we as westerners, Would still be throwing stones to adultery woman or men? as some more orthodox Islamic cultures still do?.

A deeper question is, Why Christianity argues that morality is coming from God as a unique and stable truth, when there is a  a radical change  on moral  based initially on Moses’s Law and after on Jesus’s Law?

Free Will

How free are we? Taking notice of different levels of free will, some scholars could argue we haven’t any.

The different levels of free will are referred to the different social constructs we live in. As a starting point, we have basic laws and morals, you can argue with that as a “constant” we could elaborate our own free will taking for granted the ethics & morals, for example, you can’t  murder or steal from a store,  taking one degree of freedom out.  Let’s say we accept this level of freedom, we will encounter another level, where we have personal and social constructs regarding our own identity and behavior, from here there are things that are completely legal but we don’t feel to make them because is not part of us. Another degree is diminished into the real freedom. But still, in terms of this constructs, we can decide right?.

As Sam Harris suggest free will is not possible when we analyze how the brain works. The decision-making process on the brain its’s mainly located in our consciousness.  Neuroscientists have shown the decision-making process is made in our unconsciousness before entering into our consciousness. This means we aren’t in full control of what we think we have decided in the first place, our “inner” brain had already make a decision. On top of that and following the same line of thought (also argue by Sam Harris) is the fact that many variables that make our life possible, are given to us. Quintessential examples are genetics, parents and friends*. All these variables we didn’t decide, are inside our unconsciousness as well, generating even more difficult to consciousness for deciding for their own. Lastly, the self-generating process related with free will in real terms it’s in certain way deterministic, reducing or more precisely “killing” the concept of free will.

 

  • Friends in terms of the social environments that generates those friends, rather than deciding who actually is your friend.

E-Democracy

A deep look into our contemporaneous world tells us that the breakthroughs make our lives better, from health up to technology. But one aspect remains the same, politics. Pia Mancini – founder DemocracyOs – have an interesting quote about this (also interesting ted talk here)

We are 21st century citizens doing our best to interact with 19th century designed institutions that are based on an information technology of the 15th century.

Why hadn’t politics updated to a better and advanced standard? First of all, nowadays politics is a slow process, with few interactions with the environment, generating a disconnection between what is best for citizens. In a dumb analogy, start-ups adapt very quickly and generate new status quo among industries, the best of them, now are giants. The new competitors destabilize the big players, generating more value than leaders and established companies, leaving the citizen – customer in this case – in a better position, because with the same money potentially they can capture more value than before.
Why mix economics with politics? Will you ask? New laws and policies are created by government and members of parliament that supposedly represent the people. An interesting question is:
How can they make policies without tailoring policies for different groups?  I can’t deny some policies will apply to all as equal, but in so many other topics, being able to measure the impact, in social policies, will increase the expected outcome and impact of tax revenue will be higher. This argument leads to another point, the incentives to manage someone else money are weak because in any case you still will be receiving the money, the effectiveness of the managed money decreased. Mutual funds are the best example, according to  The Wall Street Journal article, 78% of mutual funds (US small cap) underperformed their correspondent benchmark or index, meaning they couldn’t beat the market but also a lower rates than a safe index, being a financial trap, because normally the administration fee from an index fund is a portion of a mutual fund.

Essentially politics don’t have a continuous process of improvement over time in terms of laws and policies, generating a process far slower, also having wrong incentives to not execute properly the policies, the only repercussion (good or bad) is the politician’s image –  that already is very damaged globally -.

Technology is generating a radical change in how we interact, politics is not engaging at that level.  According to GlobalScan study in the UK, 73% of people not agree the country is governed by the will of the people and also Brexit voters were 72% turnout.  In my point of view, politicians think they have another status, rather than serve the citizens, as a moral differentiation, to try to illustrate this perspective there is this quote of Jeroen Dijsselbloem a Dutch politician.

As a minister, you shouldn’t imagine you know better than the technical experts in your ministry. In the end you’re there to apply the political stamp of approval.

 

Let’s say politicians truly want to help people and deliver the best outcome to citizens, they could use data for scaling the listening to their represented citizens and also improve current policies. Even if they take a step beyond them could involve citizens in the decision-making process, generating a stronger and deeper decision in the long run.

 

Individual freedom against Society well-being

Utopian ideals were always present among social imaginary. It’s human nature to try to reach those “higher” levels, but this ideas –  even with strong values and a genuine worry about the society as a whole – allow  their leaders generate atrocities against the people they want to help, becoming in big fallacies.  Leaders of this ideas seem to embody the quote of Maquiavelo: “the ends justify the means”.

The ideas are battling each other, as a box ring, where depending on recent events and mass opinion, it will determine what ideas are winning, but even if that is happening, it’s more harmful that are fixed ideas rather than dynamically changing ideas. For example, analyzing cultural behavior in the beginnings of 1900, it was accepted to women couldn’t vote because the were different from men, they were considered as inferior. Richard D Atlkins, a literature professor states in his book Victorians People and Ideas

“a woman was inferior to a man in all ways except the unique one that counted most [to a man]:  her femininity.  Her place was in the home, on a veritable pedestal if one could be afforded, and emphatically not in the world of affairs” (Altick 54). Patriarchal society did not allow women to have the same privileges as men.  Consequently, women were ascribed the more feminine duties of caring for the home and pursuing the outlets of feminine creativity.

What would have happened if this ideal maintained over time?. It’s obvious that society as we know will be much worst in so many levels. At business level we are already seeing benefits of the integrations of women in directors boards,  after the implementation of a 40% quota for Norwegian board into a formal law, the outcome after a few years is the creation of  50% more top management positions for women according norwegian government¹.

My argument is that ideas change over time, because societies seen as a system, change their own perspective. Alvin Toffler in his book,  The future of Shock, says that society is resilient to adopt big changes, but marginal changes overtime are embraced and incorporated to society, in long periods of time, so maybe the same big changes  rejected by the society, could be deconstructed in to small and incremental bits accepted for not being to radical, but after a long period of time, the big changes will be deployed.

After creating context about politics and ideas,  I have two ideas I want to deconstruct. First: Can individual freedom coexist with social well-being?, I’m not saying that they don’t exist but increase them in the same proportions, without damaging one or the other when one increases.

One of the constant outcome of living together for more than 2,000 years is freedom, some could argue that it’s not perfect, but because they are seeing the missing (or negative) part rather than comparative part, meaning they are comparing his actual freedoms, with what they expected to have, rather to analyze old societes structures, where the freedoms were more restrictive or completely nonexistent. And in other extent we have the social well being that is benefited for our selfish actions. It works  because a constant input of each individual in different topics allow the system to do well, but sometimes the effort of particular individuals are too selfish for thinking in the society and that is where the system found his flaws, reaching unethical action but inside the law with a lot of overwhelming examples being the worst recent example the crisis of 2008.

How this two ideas would live together?, I have a belief and maybe and being very naive to actually believe it but all the problems that actually have the world economy isn’t a money problem, with enough coordinated  community action a lot of problems  “expensive” problems will be deleted., right away, it’s more a will factor.  It is the cultural environment that mold us, sometimes this beliefs are full from hate and misunderstanding that we can’t grow up as comprehensive societies. What would happen if the core of “informal” values on societies were humanitarian values?,  I see that bright future (please don’t use utopia) in a capitalist environment, because it will allow to have our own right to do whatever we want, but we can add a layer of cooperation, where the people will love to help others and interact, will love to build better societies, not a matter of pretension, but genuinely will do this actions becuase are in the core, it will have no sense to steal or similar behaviors. The values will float under human cooperation and social interactions, it’s true people will act for his own benefit, but that it’s because how the environment are placed where there are less incentives to help and more incentives to earn money and being cool, obviously you can drift from that, but the mass will go to that route, being less attractive to go for that route, it’s a traction issue in some level.

Let’s say values described below are placed, what will happen with individual freedom?, I think the social outcomes sometime could damage individual freedoms, sometimes are tiny subjects but sometime will put a real danger in how we behave, two remarkable examples are the decrease of marriage in China, where 20-30 years ago it was a social obligation to marry in order to meet social standards, in some extents this is very good because allow populations to keep growing,  but in other extense over force the young population to marry, putting an “mortgage” in his career future or dreams they want to accomplish, even if is an informal custom rather than a law, now the trend of marriage is decreasing, having a society more individualist than before. Also another good example is being polite in England, even if you don’t feel being polite could be a big lie, but since you are a toddler you are teached to be polite with other and mostly with strangers.  This could raise a question in where the tradeoff is worth the effort, I have mixed opinions between this two examples, but I think is how societies react, because I truly believe in individual freedom but in a cooperative rather than an individual world, that why families are the most successful “project” of humankind.

 

Democracies XXI: Politics new paradigm

Modern politics nowadays seems more dangerous than a few years ago, being a clear example, the election as President of Donald Trump, but I’m not interested in dig in this personality, rather I’m more worried in what democracies have become.

I can’t deny that democracies are the best way to rule societies, but the outcomes still aren’t desirable. Whatever is the country you live, political parties are becoming more demagogues and convincing the populations with short term proposals, also the presence of hidden powers like company lobbyist, corrupt the real concept of democracy. The damage politicians can made, it’s completely related with how malleable are citizens minds. Political science tell us politicians are a representation of the whole population, so theoretically they have a role to serve society, but funnily enough, we end to serve them.

An interesting analogy it’s compare technology against politics, I know they are completely different concepts but the approach is only analyze  them in a timeframe of 200 years or less and see how much they had advanced in that period. Since the beginning of Industrial Revolution, the pace of productivity  increased a huge rates (graph below). It was a blend between economics and technology delivering a final outcome of extraordinary wealth and increase of world population. Even if some critics say pace of technology change is not accelerating¹, the change it’s constant.

Productivity graph per capita Source: http://www.mckinsey.com/

 

Politics in the other hand, it’s a slower process. It’s also full of new improvements that change the world, but also restrictive policy were the principal impediment to reach that improvements. Some breakthroughs on world politics can be slavery, women’s suffrage or afroamerican rights. Moral is intrinsically connected with politics, where society morals change gradually with the introduction new ideas and perspectives, and then politics takes those changes for laws and government programs. In my point of view politics it isn’t a linear process, it’s a challenging process that generates improvements but also setbacks. So for example, the breakthroughs mentioned before generated a better society, but in the middle you have wars, corruption and anti progressive politics.

What would happen if modern politics could embody innovation and being a linear process of change?. What would happen if politicians couldn’t escape from this dynamic?, generating a structure where they need to follow the rules to change without changing the core?. Overspending in governments projects is a continuous pain for democracies that have less incentives to spend wisely the money, EU have an average of 25% of spending on average² and deficit 3% of the GDP of each country the last 10 years³, so clearly the answer is not more money in to governments.

Citizens in the other hand play a huge role in how societies will perform in the future, but they are damaging democracies because WE aren’t accomplishing our designated duties, on being well informed and have a rational thinking about politics. It’s insane that in 2016, politics still is an emotional response to the masses and parties orientation is more close to be a fan of a sport club rather than a ponderation or meditation about  policy impact or individual actions of a politician, not because I’m right wing I will support blindly a ring wing party, it’s better to have a route of values rather than who has the best idea. It’s an easy dynamic being part of a particular party but at the end of the day,  that doesn’t  give any advantage to evolve politics into a new paradigm. Technology is changing the manner we think, and lastly participating in morals, that’s is the back door of politics.

Finally democracies and politics could evolve as concepts only if we let them, our political systems are old as our countries, if we don’t embrace change we wouldn’t will be alive to enjoy societies where we want to live, a revolution happened roughly 200 years ago with technology, what we are expecting to make same shift with politics?.

 

 

Two Party System:  Majoritarian model of democracy

Multi Party System: Consensus Model

Demagogism and populism

In modern politics those concepts have arisen without doubt. The different variations are similar concepts from a historical point of view, but my question is more technical than practical.

Could there  be a confusion between the terms demagogism and populism?, this is a question raised from my own ignorance and not from academic questionings.

Why can I assure such sentence or affirmation?

Well we need to review the meanings of each word:

  • Demagogism: The art and practice of gaining power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people. 
  • Populism: It’s a belief in the power of regular people, and in their right to have control over the government rather than a small group of political insiders or a wealthy elite.

In my point of view this definition raises the question of populism’s can be successful, let me explain.

The populist movements we see nowadays are concentrated in left or right wing parties, who embody the hate of the “people” against the market, the free trade or other “enemies” of the state. For me they are demagogues because they are taking the emotional part from the citizens to gain power, rather than the rational part of the citizens and even worse forgetting the long term policies,  the best example –  a pure demagogue –  is Donald Trump.

Now if we take the definition of populism, What happens? Will it be possible to capture real desires of citizens and can those desires coexist in a free society?. Even liberal countries as UK or USA have this problem where they have open societies but they respond de facto powers as big companies, political parties or biased opinions from the people. No all societies are perfect, and it doesn’t matter where you live, the elite is ruling your country with more or less power.

My thesis is based on empowering citizens to enrich decision making in the governments. The desire outcome is a more democratic and smart society where we increase well being as a total. It’s a double-edge sword because the will of the regular people can be influenced by intellectuals that want a particular outcome, playing again a role as elite. That’s why it’s important for citizens to think by themselves, not based in what others thinks, but based in facts and science. As a reader you will say that the weight will be transferred from human science to natural sciences.

Reaching this new level the citizens can have a more active participation on democracy rather than vote each 4-8 years. It’s obvious politicians can’t trust citizens, because the actual criteria of citizens is not fully developed and easily  influenced. The most remarkable and recent case is Brexit.

It’s obvious that the challenge is more social than technical, a Chilean writer Cristian Warknen says “Politicians have stolen politics”, because they are acting in their own behalf rather than for well-being of society. When the elite is a more blurry image rather than a strong component of social interactions and you add the participation and applied knowledge from the citizens into decision making the world would be a different place. It’s a task for citizens and politicians to change this picture.

 

Disclaimer: The definitions have been taken from the FreeDictionary.com. Well known dictionaries only refers to the word demagogue rather than demagogism.