GDP or GNH (The Bhutan Way)?


March 24, 2017

GDP or GNH (The Bhutan Way)–Maybe it’s Time to screw the  Economists and start looking at alternative ways to measure what makes life worthwhile

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Listen to this TED presentation by Chip Conley and reflect. I enjoyed it and wonder why we continue to measure only the measurable (the tangibles) and ignore the intangibles. As  someone who is trained in Economics (and does being taught this academic discipline make a economist?), I am wonder how it is that  I can be so misled and still have not abandoned GDP as a measurement of national wealth if I know it is misleading when intangibles matter more today. Maybe it is a force of habit. Should be I Aristotelian or Maslowian?  Let me know what you think.–Din Merican

 

Redefining Patriotism for a World of Corrupt Nation States


March 8, 2017

Redefining Patriotism for a World of Corrupt Nation States

by Gary ‘Z’ McGee*

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“…there is perhaps no more blindly allegiant a patriot in the world than the United States American patriot. Born and bred in a nation that conditions its members into believing that plutocratic oligarchy disguised as horizontal democracy is the be-all-end-all of human governance.–Gary ‘Z’McGee

http://www.wakingtimes.com/2017/03/06/redefining-patriotism-world-corrupt-nation-states/

“Every transformation demands as it’s precondition the ending of a world, the collapse of an old philosophy of life.” ~Carl Jung

Webster’s Dictionary defines patriot as: “One who loves and defends his or her country.”

But why should we as progressive, evolving creatures, limit ourselves to such a myopic definition? Why not expand the concept into something less xenophobic and more cosmopolitan? Why not transform ourselves into worldly patriots along with an ever-expanding, deeply connected, interdependent world; rather than limit ourselves to stagnant statism with its outdated nationalism and parochial values?

There are no easy answers. It’s human nature to be patriotic to a place/tribe/nation-state. The problem is blind patriotism begets cultural conditioning begets statist propaganda and brainwashing, and vice versa. And when the state is corrupt, as almost every state is, patriotism becomes a redundancy: a confederacy of dunces, at best, and an eye-for-an-eye, at worst. But, as Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

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And here we are, a world divided by unhealthy, overreaching, unsustainable, greedy nation states that have the majority of us at each other’s throat. Something has got to give.

The Statist Patriot

“The price of apathy toward public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” ~ Plato

The problem with the statist patriot, whether blind or not, is their allegiance to the state. And there is perhaps no more blindly allegiant a patriot in the world than the United States American patriot. Born and bred in a nation that conditions its members into believing that plutocratic oligarchy disguised as horizontal democracy is the be-all-end-all of human governance. The only chance for the brainwashed American is to dig down deep into the revolutionary roots that his nation was founded on in the first place, and then begin questioning the validity of the system. But patriotism can be blinding because it affects both the ego and the soul. It affects the ego through pride. It effects the soul through love.

We’re conditioned to be prideful in our nation’s accomplishments and to turn an eye of indifference toward its mistakes. We’re taught to love our country, our flag, our civic duties, even at the expense of other nations, the poor, and the environment. Patriotism becomes a default mechanism, a crutch that we lean on in order to get through the day with our guilt assuaged and our xenophobia intact.

The only glaring problem being that such patriotism becomes a tool for the overreaching, tyrannical, powers that be to maintain their power by keeping everyone else allegiant rather than divergent to the ways in which they rule. And to keep wars between nations as profitable endeavors. But as Derrick Jensen points out, “Those in power rule by force, and the sooner we break ourselves of the illusion to the contrary, the sooner we can at least begin to make reasonable decisions about whether, when, and how we are going to resist.”

One cannot resist, let alone make reasonable decisions, from a state of blind patriotism. It is only by redefining patriotism itself, by launching oneself into a state of interdependence and interconnectedness with the world, that one can finally see beyond conditioned pride and feel the blossoming of the soul that goes beyond the egoic self and beyond the prideful citizen and into a state of self-as-world and world-as-self into the self-overcoming of the world-patriot that breaks through the conditioning of the state.

The Worldly Patriot

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” ~ Helen Keller

A worldly patriot is a deconditioned statist patriot, an interdependent force that has grown beyond its codependent state. The worldly patriot has unwashed the brainwash of statist propaganda and emerged with a clear perspective that can see how everything is connected. The worldly patriot is neither blinded by pride nor love, but it is, rather, bolstered and emboldened by both, which gives him/her the courage to adapt and overcome within an ever-changing world.

Cosmopolitan and open-minded, worldly patriots have risen above the bigotry and xenophobia that was instilled into them by statist patriotism, and transformed it into compassion and empathy. They have seen through “The Great Lie,” and realize that the only chance for the survival of our species is to adopt a horizontal democracy void of masters and rulers, lest the entire system consume itself. They see how borders are imaginary lines drawn in the sand which the statist patriot has tricked himself into believing in, due to statist brainwashing. It’s a cartoon in the brain, shoved down our throats by a xenophobic system caught up in its antiquated ideals and outdated reasoning.

Worldly patriots are able to rise above the ignorance and myopia of the statist disposition and see how history reveals that the natural, progressive, and evolutionary force of our species has always been one of global migration, and no amount of petty man-made laws or make-believe borders will ever stop such a force. It may be slowed down in the short-run, using violence and immoral laws through the monopoly on force, but in the long run, immigration is a cosmic law that will always trump the man-made laws of nation states.

Worldly patriots have the courage to redefine patriotism itself. Their love for their country is subsumed by the far superior love for their planet. They have also transferred the defense of their country to the defense of the world as a growing, interdependent, cohesive organism. For them, the self-as-world has emerged as a force of nature that will fight, not only for the survival of the species, but for the survival and health of the environment.

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Then I am your Homre, El Che. “Hasta la victoria siempre!” (“Until Victory, Always!”)–Din Merican

When the laws of a nation-state are moral and just, the worldly patriot follows them. When they are not moral and just, the worldly patriot breaks them. This is because the worldly patriot has become a self-ruling, self-overcoming, moral (amoral) agent unto his/herself. The worldly patriot can see through the nationalism that blinds the statist patriot, and, for that reason, is a forerunner in regards to the healthy and progressive evolution of the species.

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At the end of the day, the more aware we become the less likely we are to remain blind patriots of the state, and the more likely we are to become worldly patriots united in solidarity against tyranny. And once we become aware of the outright tyranny of the state, a question of courageous action or cowardly indifference becomes the thing. And as Einstein himself said, “Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.” And now you know.

About the Author

*Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, whose works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.

 

Book Review : The Philosophy of Karl R. Popper


February 26, 2017

Book Review:

The Philosophy of Karl R. Popper by Herbert  Keuth

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Herbert Keuth, The Philosophy of Karl Popper, Cambridge University Press, 2004, 384pp, $28.99 (pbk), ISBN 0521548306.

Reviewed by Robert Nola, , University of Auckland

http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/24875-the-philosophy-of-karl-popper/

This book is one of the best introductory accounts of Popper’s philosophy and is to be recommended. It is wide-ranging, covering, in its three parts, Popper’s philosophy of science, his social philosophy, and his metaphysics. The summaries of Popper’s positions are clear and succinct; relevant critical points raised by others as well as the author are injected appropriately into the discussion. The book reveals that Popper’s philosophical concerns are broader than most other twentieth-century philosophers, whatever the critical response may be to his various doctrines in all these fields. In twentieth-century English philosophy perhaps only the concerns of Bertrand Russell surpass those of Popper in their scope.

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Part I, which is about half the book, is devoted to Popper’s methodology of science beginning with his anti-inductivism and then moving to his views on demarcation, methodological rules for science, the empirical basis of science, corroboration, truth and verisimilitude, the nature of theories, and finally his account of probability. Here some technicalities are unavoidable, but they are minimal and can be managed by most readers.

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Image result for karl popper open society quotes

Part II deals with Popper’s views on method in the social sciences and a number of themes drawn from The Open Society and it Enemies. Here Keuth reviews Popper’s views on Plato, Hegel, Marx, and his critique of the sociology of knowledge and his theory of democracy. There is a brief discussion of Popper’s role in the “positivist dispute” and his interaction with other philosophers such as Horkheimer and Habermas. Part III considers Popper’s metaphysical views concerning natural necessity, determinism, indeterminism, propensity, mind-body interaction, the doctrine of Worlds 1, 2 and 3, evolution, and the self.

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The book does not get mired in the controversies between Popper and his contemporaries, from some of the logical positivists to his erstwhile colleagues or pupils. Nor does it cover some of the later Popper, especially those writings which have appeared posthumously in English but which were sometimes available earlier in German. For example, it does not delve into Popper’s later work on the Presocratics. Keuth maintains that while Popper has many considerable achievements to his credit there are also some failures, especially in his late work. He makes a useful comparison with Kant whose claims about “transcendental knowledge” were known to be untenable even before Kant wrote on them. But just as Kant was an important influence in the Enlightenment, so Popper’s critical rationalism is part of the twentieth-century continuation of that tradition. For German-speaking Europeans, given their philosophical and political history since the time of Kant, the role of philosophers like Popper in the general intellectual culture is very important, a fact not often appreciated by those outside Germany and Austria.

Part I on Popper’s philosophy of science opens with a discussion of Popper’s first big manuscript Die beiden Grundprobleme der Erkenntnistheorie, only first published in German in 1979 but still not available in English. The two fundamental problems are what Popper calls ‘Hume’s problem’, the problem of induction, and ‘Kant’s problem’, the problem of demarcation. These are pervasive themes in Popper’s subsequent work which Keuth sets in context. Only the most diehard Popperians now adopt his anti-inductivism in all its aspects. But what of demarcation? This too has fallen on hard times, but perhaps not with equally good reason. Though papers like Laudan’s ‘The Demise of the Demarcation Problem’ are not mentioned, there are materials in Keuth’s discussion of demarcation that show how the idea might at least be partially rehabilitated. Objections due to Kuhn, Kneale, and Grover Maxwell along with the “tacking paradox” (viz., if T is falsifiable them so is (T&X) where X is any arbitrary conjunct) are outlined, and ways around these objections are suggested. If no bright red demarcation line is to be drawn (perhaps never Popper’s intention) then at least a distinction can be drawn on the grounds that scientific theories must at least be brought into relation with the stream of actual observations of the world, however minimal that relation may be; in contrast, for other intellectual endeavours (logic, mathematics or metaphysics), no such relationship need be required.

As well as the logico-epistemological demarcation criterion that Popper proposes as part of his epistemology of science, there are also a number of methodological rules that spell out more fully other aspects of his “definition” of science. This includes a rule which bids us to adopt his demarcation criterion as part of the goal of science. This in turn realises a further goal, that of the maximization of the openness of science to revision by test against observation. This is a distinctive feature of science which the young Popper recognised when it abandoned one of its best-established theories, Newtonian mechanics. But Popper’s conception of science is not just the demarcation criterion; it is also to be understood as an activity bound by a further range of rules. A conception of pseudo-science then arises; these are systems of belief that do not evolve in accordance with the rules. Keuth lists at least twelve such rules in chapters 3 and 5. Oddly enough some of these rules are not given rule-like formulations by Popper (for example R1 and R5 cited in section 3.3); but these can be expressed as rules without too much difficulty.

Keuth comments that some of the rules are fairly trivial and can be readily accepted as definitive of science, but some other rules are problematic. For example, Popper’s anti-ad hoc Rule (given as R8) attempts to express an initially plausible stricture against certain modifications of our theories in the face of counter-evidence. Often Popper treats such rules as rigid categorical imperatives rather than the defeasible principles they really are. However it is their expression in terms of increasing degree of falsifiability, or of testability, that raises problems. The requirement is that any modifications to a theory ought always to increase its degree of falsifiability. However, the problem here is that it is hard to find measures of degrees of falsifiability on the basis of which one can compare a theory before and after modification. Keuth also argues that there are some auxiliary statements that we might alter to save a theory but these need not always be those which are conjoined to a theory to yield testable consequences.

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Sir Karl Raimund Popper

A commonly cited obstacle to Popperian falsification is said to be the Quine-Duhem thesis in one or other of its several forms. This is something which, as Keuth points out, Popper recognised in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (section 18) when he confessed that we falsify a whole system and that no single statement is upset by the falsification. Popper seems to pay little further attention to the problem of how falsification, or even corroboration for that matter, may arise by piercing through any surrounding accompanying statements, to target a hypothesis under test. However there is one out-of-the-way place where Popper does acknowledge Duhem’s problem and suggests a solution, The Poverty of Historicism section 29, the end of footnote 2. Keuth does make some moves that are similar to Popper’s suggestion; but it would have been useful to have had Keuth’s commentary on Popper’s explicit proposal, which has initial plausibility, viz., that we can construct a version of a “crucial experiment” and comparatively test two whole systems, one with and the other without some given hypothesis which is under test. (Glymour 1980 p. 34 has one negative response to this ploy.) Independently of Popper’s problem with the Duhem-Quine thesis, that very thesis has come under criticism by Bayesians who argue that testing of target hypotheses is possible despite their being embedded in auxiliary hypotheses, thus freeing theories for Popperian falsification, but in an un-Popperian manner.

Keuth also considers Popper’s falsificationism in relation to Quine’s ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’ and the view, which flows from the rejection of the dogmas, that ”the boundary between speculative metaphysics and natural science is blurred” (p. 79) If correct, this would pose a challenge to Popper’s demarcation criterion in that all our systems of belief form a seamless web without the possibility of even a somewhat dull red demarcation line being drawn. One dogma is the view that there is a difference between analytic and synthetic statements; the other that there is a reduction of each meaningful statement to a construction out of terms which refer to immediate experience. Popper would concur with the rejection of the second dogma but perhaps reject the inference from this to the claim that the unit of significance is the whole of science (as Quine claims). It turns out that Quine is not just a holist about meaning (a matter which Popper makes clear is not one of his concerns) but also a holist with respect to the way in which the whole of science gets positive or negative support. In part this takes us back to the credentials of the Quine-Duhem thesis and theories of confirmation and disconfirmation. Keuth focuses on the first dogma and argues that since we can establish logical truths and propose definitions, there are aspects of each scientific theory in which something akin to the analytic/synthetic distinction is not only possible but appropriate. Once this is spelled out in the context of a given theory, then there are grounds for distinguishing such logical truths and definitions from other aspects of a theory which, still taken as a whole, can then be open to test; and if this is so, something akin to demarcation is also appropriate.

In Chapter 6 Keuth traces Popper’s views on truth from his initial position, expressed in The Logic of Discovery, that it is possible to do without the concepts of truth and falsity, to his later position in which he adopts Tarski’s theory of truth. But Popper’s account of truth embraces more than the set of bare equivalences given by the various Tarskian (T) schemas ‘X’ is true iff p (where ‘p’ is a sentence and ‘X’ is a name of the sentence), which constitute an adequacy condition imposed on any theory of truth. Rather, Popper understands Tarski to have embraced a correspondence theory of truth in which the Correspondence schema (CT) holds: ‘X’ is true iff X corresponds to the facts. Keuth’s treatment of Popper’s account of truth is instructive and shows that Popper’s version of his ‘Tarskian turn’ is in fact down a wrong, even blind, alley. His diagnosis is that Popper’s commitment to a realist understanding of truth, especially the truth of the statements of our theories, has taken him in this direction; but, as Keuth points out, it is possible to have a realist understanding of the truth of such statements without the correspondence theory of truth.

In the following chapter 7 Keuth reviews the role of truth as a regulative principle in Popper’s philosophy of science and his development of the idea of verisimilitude as a further articulation of that ideal. He also traces the development of Popper’s more formal treatment of verisimilitude in terms of the comparison of the truth and falsity contents of statements. As is well known, these attempts ended in a spectacular failure, which Keuth sets out. Not explored, and appropriately so in a book just confined to Popper, is the ongoing research programme that this failure stimulated which, with the successes it has had, does keep alive aspects of Popper’s important initial insight.

In Part I Keuth has further useful suggestions to make about Popper’s rather decisionist and conventionalist view of the acceptance of basic statements which we use to criticise our theories — a difficulty which many have raised about the rationality of Popper’s whole falsificationist approach. He also discusses the development of Popper’s ideas of probability. And he has a useful chapter on the development of Popper’s idea of positive support, that is, corroboration, and whether or not corroboration can avoid any aspect of inductivism. Keuth finds fault with Popper’s more formal attempt at a definition of corroboration. Even though corroboration is not obviously a probability, it is defined in terms of probabilities, including prior probabilities which, notoriously, are hard to define and so render any quantitative definition useless. However Keuth does defend the view, against many others, that corroboration does not need any associated principle of induction. When it comes to a choice of one of a set of theories as to the correctness, say, tomorrow, of their explanations, predictions, or technological applications, we choose that theory, T, which is the best corroborated up until today. Against the claim of many that there is an inductive step involved here, Keuth argues that no inductive principle is needed. All we need assume is that theory T is true; if T is subsequently falsified then our assumption was false. Induction is not needed, and we can get by without it. But the claim that it is not needed is not convincing. There does appear to be an element of induction in our keeping T on tomorrow, and the day after, when it does not succumb to falsification.

Most of this review has focused on Keuth’s account of Popper’s philosophy of science. Whatever shortcomings Popper’s view may have, it, or a revised version of it, has been influential in providing a critique of theories of society. This critique Popper began in his The Poverty of Historicism and his The Open Society and its Enemies. Popper claims that many historicists such as Marx and Marxists, and also many sociologists of knowledge, have a faulty understanding of the nature of science and its methods. Once they have a richer account of those methods, the bottom falls out of many of their arguments about the separate nature of the social sciences. This, amongst others, is a theme that appears in Part II of Keuth’s book; it can be extended to objections concerning an alleged misplaced scientism advocated in the writings of members of the Frankfurt School, such as Horkheimer and Habermas. Keuth’s book is not only a useful account of Popper’s views on science, along with promising revisions of these views; it is also a useful prophylactic when applied to some sciences, especially the social sciences. Keuth’s treatment of these issues in Part II, and the metaphysical issues in Part III not mentioned here, continue the standard found in Part I. Taken together they provide a fully rounded and fair assessment of Popper’s philosophy and its continuing interest.

Reference

Glymour, C (1980) Theory and Evidence, Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press.

 

Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative


February 13, 2017

Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria@The Washington Post

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Dr Fareed Zakara and America’s Foreign Policy Enfant Terrible Dr. Henry Kissinger

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/stephen-bannons-words-and-actions-dont-add-up/2017/02/09/33010a94-ef19-11e6-9973-c5efb7ccfb0d_story.html?utm_term=.14e5d7218424

Perhaps it’s just me, but a few weeks into the Trump presidency, between the tweets, executive orders, attacks and counterattacks, I feel dizzy. So I’ve decided to take a break from the daily barrage and try to find the signal amid the noise: What is the underlying philosophy of this administration?

The chief ideologist of the Trump era is surely Stephen K. Bannon, by many accounts now the second-most powerful man in the government. Bannon is intelligent and broadly read, and has a command of U.S. history. I’ve waded through his many movies and speeches, and in these, he does not come across as a racist or white supremacist, as some people have charged. But he is an unusual conservative. We have gotten used to conservatives who are really economic libertarians, but Bannon represents an older school of European thought that is distrustful of free markets, determined to preserve traditional culture and religion, and unabashedly celebrates nationalism and martial values.

In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2012, Bannon explained his disgust for Mitt Romney and his admiration for Sarah Palin, whose elder son, Bannon noted, had served in Iraq. The rich and successful Romney, by contrast, “will not be my commander in chief,” Bannon said, because, although the candidate had five sons who “look like good all-American guys . . . not one has served a day in the military.”

Image result for steve bannon donald trumpPresident Trump’s Chief Ideologue Stephen Bannon–The Powerafter President Trump in 1600, Pennslyvania Avenue, Washington DC

The core of Bannon’s worldview can be found in his movie “Generation Zero.” It centers on the financial crisis of 2008, and the opening scenes — in their fury against bankers — could have been written by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). But then it moves on to its real point: The financial crisis happened because of a larger moral crisis. The film blames the 1960s and the baby boomers who tore down traditional structures of society and created a “culture of narcissism.”

How did Woodstock trigger a financial crisis four decades later? According to Bannon, the breakdown of old-fashioned values resulted in a culture of self-centeredness that measured everything and everyone in one way: money. The movie goes on to accuse the political and financial establishments of betraying their country by enacting free trade deals that benefited them but hollowed out Middle America.

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Historian, Civil Rights Activist and Public Intellectual, Howard Zinn

In a strange way, Bannon’s dark, dystopian view of U.S. history is closest to that of Howard Zinn, a popular far-left scholar whose “A People’s History of the United States” is a tale of the many ways in which 99 percent of Americans were crushed by the country’s all-powerful elites. In the Zinn/Bannon worldview, everyday people are simply pawns manipulated by their evil overlords.

A more accurate version of recent American history would show that the cultural shift that began in the 1960s was fueled by a powerful, deeply American force: individualism. The United States had always been highly individualistic. Both Bannon and Trump seem nostalgic for an age — the 1930s to 1950s — that was an aberration for the nation. The Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II created a collectivist impulse that transformed the country. But after a while, Americans began to reassert their age-old desire for personal freedom, fulfillment and advancement. The world of the 1950s sounds great, unless you were a woman who wanted to work, an African-American who wanted to vote, an immigrant who wanted to move up or an aspiring entrepreneur stuck in a large, faceless corporation.

The United States that allowed individuals to flourish in the 1980s and 1990s, of course, was where the young and enterprising Bannon left a large bank to set up his own shop, do his own deals and make a small fortune. It then allowed him to produce and distribute movies outside of the Hollywood establishment, build a media start-up into a powerhouse and become a political entrepreneur entirely outside the Republican hierarchy. This United States allowed Bannon’s brash new boss to get out of Queens into Manhattan, build skyscrapers and also his celebrity, all while horrifying the establishment. Donald Trump is surely the poster child for the culture of narcissism.

Image result for president donald j trumpMaking America Great Again in a Messy World

In the course of building their careers, Trump and Bannon discarded traditionalism in every way. Both men are divorced — Bannon three times, Trump twice. They have achieved their dreams precisely because society was wide open to outsiders, breaking traditional morality did not carry a stigma and American elites were actually not that powerful. Their stories are the stories of modern America. But their message to the country seems to be an old, familiar one: Do as I say, not as I do.

 

Remembering Herman Kahn–A Pioneer in Future Studies–Thinking the Unthinkable


February 6, 2017

Remembering Herman Kahn–A Pioneer in Future Studies

In Defense of Thinking

by Herman Kahn

Social inhibitions which reinforce natural tendencies to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects are hardly uncommon.–Herman Kahn

https://hudson.org/research/2211-in-defense-of-thinking

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Futurist Herman Kahn with President Gerald Ford and Donald Rumsfeld

Seventy-five years ago white slavery was rampant in England. Each year thousands of young girls were forced into brothels and kept there against their will. While some of the victims had been sold by their families, a large proportion were seized and held by force or fraud. The victims were not from the lower classes only; no level of English society was immune to having its daughters seized. Because this practice continued in England for years after it had been largely wiped out on the Continent, thousands of English girls were shipped across the Channel to supply the brothels of Europe. One reason why this lasted as long as it did was that it could not be talked about openly in Victorian England; moral standards as to subjects of discussion made it difficult to arouse the community to necessary action. Moreover, the extreme innocence considered appropriate for English girls made them easy victims, helpless to cope with the situations in which they were trapped. Victorian standards, besides perpetuating the white slave trade, intensified the damage to those involved. Social inhibitions which reinforce natural tendencies to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects are hardly uncommon.

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A Message  for Donald J. Tump

The psychological factors involved in ostrich-like behavior have parallels in communities and nations. Nevertheless, during the sixty years of the twentieth century many problems have come increasingly into the realm of acceptable public discussion. Among various unmentionable diseases, tuberculosis has lost almost all taint of impropriety; and venereal disease statistics can now be reported by the press. Mental illness is more and more regarded as unfortunate instead of shameful. The word “cancer” has lost its stigma, although the horror of the disease has been only partially abated by medical progress.

Despite the progress in removing barriers in the way of discussing diseases formerly considered shameful, there are doubtless thousands going without vital medical treatment today because of their inhibitions against learning, thinking, or talking about certain diseases. Some will not get treatment because they do not know enough to recognize the symptoms, some because they are consciously ashamed to reveal illness, and some because they refuse to think about their condition it seems too horrible to think about. It may now be possible to condemn unequivocally the extremes of Victorian prudery, but less doctrinaire forms of ostrichism must be considered with more care; they are, after all, often based on healthy instincts.

Everyone is going to die, but surely it is a good thing that few of us spend much time dwelling on that fact. Life would be nearly impossible if we did. If thinking about something bad will not improve it, it is often better not to think about it. Perhaps some evils can be avoided or reduced if people do not think or talk about them. But when our reluctance to consider danger brings danger nearer, repression has gone too far.

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In 1960 I published a book (pic above) that attempted to direct attention to the possibility of a thermonuclear war, to ways of reducing the likelihood of such a war, and to methods for coping with the consequences should war occur despite our efforts to avoid it. The book was greeted by a large range of responses, some of them sharply critical. Some of this criticism was substantive, touching on greater or smaller questions of strategy, policy, or research techniques. But much of the criticism was not concerned with the correctness or incorrectness of the views I expressed.

It was concerned with whether any book should have been written on this subject at all. It is characteristic of our times that many intelligent and sincere people are willing to argue that it is immoral to think and even more immoral to write in detail about having to fight a thermonuclear war.

By and large this criticism was not personal; it simply reflected the fact that we Americans and many people throughout the world are not prepared to face reality, that we transfer our horror of thermonuclear war to reports about the realities of thermonuclear war. In a sense we are acting like those ancient kings who punished messengers who brought them bad news. This did not change the news; it simply slowed up its delivery. On occasion it meant that the kings were ill informed and, lacking truth, made serious errors in judgment and strategy. In our times, thermonuclear war may seem unthinkable, immoral, insane, hideous, or highly unlikely, but it is not impossible.

To act intelligently we must learn as much as we can about the risks. We may thereby be able better to avoid nuclear war. We may even be able to avoid the crises that bring us to the brink of war. But despite our efforts we may some day come face to face with a blunt choice between surrender or war. We may even have war thrust upon us without being given any kind of choice. We must appreciate these possibilities. We cannot wish them away. Nor should we overestimate and assume the worst is inevitable. This leads only to defeatism, inadequate preparations (because they seem useless), and pressures toward either preventive war or undue accommodation.

Many terrible questions are raised when one considers objectively and realistically the problems created by the cold war and the armaments race. For some years I have spent my time on exactly these questions both in thinking about ways to prevent war, and in thinking about how to fight, survive, and terminate a war, should it occur. My colleagues and I have sought answers to such questions as these: How likely is accidental war? How can one make it less likely? How dangerous is the arms race today? What will it be like in the future? What would conditions be if a nuclear attack leveled fifty of America’s largest cities? Would the survivors envy the dead? How many million American lives would an American President risk by standing firm in differing types of crises? By starting a nuclear war? By continuing a nuclear war with the hope of avoiding surrender? How many lives would he risk? How is it most likely to break down? If it does break down, what will be the consequence? Are we really risking an end to all human life with our current system? If true, are we willing to risk it? Do we then prefer some degree of unilateral disarmament? If we do, will we be relying on the Russians to protect us from the Chinese? Will the world be more or less stable? Should we attempt to disarm unilaterally? If the answers to these last questions depend on the degree of damage that is envisaged, are we willing to argue that it is all right to risk a half billion or a billion people but not three billion?

There seem to be three basic objections to asking these types of questions:

1. No one should attempt to think about these problems in a detailed and rational way. 2. What thinking there is on these problems should be done in secret by the military exclusively, or at least by the government. 3. Even if some of this thinking must be done outside the government, the results of any such thought should not be made available to the public.

It is argued that thinking about the indescribable horror of nuclear war breeds callousness and indifference to the future of civilization in our planners and decision makers. It is true that detailed and dispassionate discussion of such questions is likely to look incredibly hard-hearted. It should also be clear, at least to thoughtful readers, that such questions must be considered. The reality may be so unpleasant that decision makers would prefer not to face it; but to a great extent this reality has been forced on them, or has come uninvited.

Thanks to our ever-increasing technology, we are living in a terrible and dangerous world; but, unlike the lady in the cartoon we cannot say, “Stop the world, I want to get off. We cannot get off. Even the most utopian of today’s visionaries will have to concede that the mere existence of modern technology involves a risk to civilization that would have been unthinkable twenty-five years ago. While we are going to make major attempts to change the nature of this reality, accepting great risks if necessary, most of us are unwilling to choose either a pronounced degree of unilateral disarmament or a preventive war designed to “settle” our problems one way or another. We therefore must face the facts that thermonuclear bombs now exist [and that] unless we are willing to abdicate our responsibilities, we are pledged to the maintenance of terrifying weapon systems with known and unknown, calculable and incalculable risks, unless and until better arrangements can be made.

If we are to have an expensive and lethal defense establishment, we must weigh all the risks and benefits. We must at least ask ourselves what are the likely and unlikely results of an inadvertent war, the possibilities of accident, irresponsibility, or unauthorized behavior on the other side as well as on our own.

A variation of the objection to careful consideration of these problems focuses on the personality of the thinker. This argument goes: Better no thought than evil thought; and since only evil and callous people can think about this, better no thought. Alternatively, the thinker’s motives are analyzed: This man studies war; he must like war much like the suspicion that a surgeon is a repressed sadist. Even if the charge were true, which in general it is not, it is not relevant. Like the repressed sadist who can perform a socially useful function by sublimating his urges into surgery, the man who loves war or violence may be able to successfully sublimate his desires into a careful and valuable study of war. It does indeed take an iron will or an unpleasant degree of detachment to go about this task. Ideally it should be possible for the analyst to have a disciplined empathy. In fact, the mind recoils from simultaneously probing deeply and creatively into these problems and being conscious at all times of the human tragedy involved.

This is not new. We do not continually remind the surgeon while he is operating of the humanity of his patient. We do not flash pictures of his patient’s wife or children in front of him. We want him to be careful, and we want him to be aware of the importance and frailty of the patient; we do not want him to be distracted or fearful. We do not expect illustrations in a book on surgery to be captioned: “A particularly deplorable tumor,” or “Good health is preferable to this kind of cancer.” Excessive comments such as, “And now there’s a lot of blood,” or “This particular cut really hurts,” are out-of-place although these are important things for a surgeon to know. To mention such things may be important. To dwell on them is morbid, and gets in the way of the information. The same tolerance needs be extended to thought on national security.

Some feel that we should consider these problems but view them with such awe and horror that we should not discuss them in normal, neutral, professional everyday language. I tend to disagree, at least so far as technical discussions and research are concerned. One does not do research in a cathedral. Awe is fine for those who come to worship or admire, but for those who come to analyze, to tamper, to change, to criticize, a factual and dispassionate, and sometimes even colorful, approach is to be preferred. And if the use of everyday language jars, that is all the more reason for using it. Why would one expect a realistic discussion of thermonuclear war not to be disturbing?

The very complexity of the questions raised is another reason why many object to their consideration. There is no doubt that if we reject hard thinking about alternatives in favor of uncritical acceptance of an extreme position we make the argument simpler and most of us prefer simple arguments.

Image result for Thinking the Unthinkable Herman Kahn Quote

To summarize: Many people believe that the current system must inevitably end in total annihilation. They reject, sometimes very emotionally, any attempts to analyze this notion. Either they are afraid of where the thinking will lead them or they are afraid of thinking at all. They want to make the choice, between a risk and the certainty of disaster, between sanity and insanity, between good and evil; therefore, as moral and sane men they need no longer hesitate. I hold that an intelligent and responsible person cannot pose the problem so simply.

The last objection to detailed thought on thermonuclear war rests on the view that the subject is not only unpleasant but difficult. Many people feel that it is useless to apply rationality and calculation in any area dominated by irrational decision makers. This is almost comparable to feeling that it would be impossible to design a safety system for an insane asylum by rational methods, since, after all, the inmates are irrational. Of course, no governor or superintendent would consider firing the trained engineer, and turning the design over to one of the lunatics. The engineer is expected to take the irrationality of the inmates into account by a rational approach. Rational discussions of war and peace can explicitly include the possibility of irrational behavior.

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The Danger for America Today–The Unthinkable is Thinkable under Donald J. Trump  45th  POTUS

Of course, analysts may be misled by oversimplified models or misleading assumptions, and their competence readily attacked. However, except for irrelevant references to game theory and computers, such attacks are rare, and are usually so half-hearted that it is clear that their main motivation is not to expose incompetency. Given the difficulty of the problems, one would expect the critics to work more effectively on the obvious methodological problems and other weaknesses of present-day analysts.

Critics frequently refer to the icy rationality of the Hudson Institute, the Rand Corporation, and other such organizations. I’m always tempted to ask in reply, “Would you prefer a warm, human error? Do you feel better with a nice emotional mistake?” We cannot expect good discussion of security problems if we are going to label every attempt at detachment as callous, every attempt at objectivity as immoral. Such attitudes not only block discussion of the immediate issues, they lead to a disunity and fragmentation of the intellectual community that can be disastrous to the democratic dialogue between specialist and layman. The former tends to withdraw to secret and private discussions; the latter becomes more and more innocent, or naive, and more likely to be outraged if he is ever exposed to a professional discussion.

Finally, there is the objection that thermonuclear war should not, at least in detail, be discussed publicly. Even some who admit the usefulness of asking unpleasant questions have advocated raising them only in secret. One objector pointed out to me that if a parent in a burning building is faced with the problem of having to save one of two children, but not both, he will make a decision on the spur of the moment; it wouldn’t have made any difference if the parent had agonized over the problem ahead of time, and it would have been particularly bad to agonize in the presence of the children. This may be true, but other considerations dominate our nation’s choices; our capabilities for action and the risks we are assuming for ourselves and thrusting on others will be strongly influenced by our preparations both intellectual and physical.

Other reasons for this objection to public discussion range all the way from concern about telling the Soviets too much, and a fear of weakening the resolve of our own people, through a feeling that public discussion of death and destruction is distastefully comparable to a drugstore display of the tools, methods, and products of the mortician. Perhaps some or all of these objections to public discussion are well taken. I do not know for sure, but I think they are wrong.

They are wrong if we expect our people to participate rationally in the decision-making process in matters that are vital to their existence as individuals and as a nation. As one author has put it: “In a democracy, when experts disagree, laymen must resolve the disagreement.” One issue is whether it is better that the lay public, which will directly or indirectly decide policy, be more or less informed. A second issue is whether the discussion itself may not be significantly improved by eliciting ideas from people outside of official policy-making channels.

There are in any case at least two significant obstacles to full public debate of national security matters. The first, of course, is the constantly increasing problem of communication between the technologist and the layman, because of the specialization (one might almost say fragmentation) of knowledge. The other lies in the serious and paramount need to maintain security. Technical details of weapons’ capabilities and weaknesses must remain classified to some degree. Nonetheless, technical details may be of vital importance in resolving much broader problems. (For instance, who can presume to say whether the military advantages of atomic weapons testing outweigh the obvious political and physical disadvantages unless he knows what the military advantages are.) Moreover, those who feel that in some areas “security” has been unnecessarily extended must concede that in certain areas it has its place. To that extent the functioning of the democratic processes must be compromised with the requirements of the cold war and modem technology. Fortunately, non-classified sources often give reasonable approximations to the classified data. I would say that many of the agonizing problems facing us today can be debated and understood just about as easily without classified material as with provided one carefully considers the facts that are available.

It is quite clear that technical details are not the only important operative facts. Human and moral factors must always be considered. They must never be missing from policies and from public discussion. But emotionalism and sentimentality, as opposed to morality and concern, only confuse debates. Nor can experts be expected to repeat, “If, heaven forbid. ….,” before every sentence. Responsible decision makers and researchers cannot afford the luxury of denying the existence of agonizing questions. The public, whose lives and freedom are at stake, expects them to face such questions squarely and, where necessary, the expert should expect little less of the public.

*Herman Kahn, Founder, Hudson Institute

January 1st, 1962 Adapted from Thinking About the Unthinkable (Horizon Press), © Hudson Institute

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The Pangs of an Itinerant Thinker– Of Ethics and Deathics


December 19, 2016

The Pangs of an Itinerant Thinker– Of Ethics and Deathics

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

In the course of my long-running participation in the human race, and my increasingly urgent strivings to figure-out where I’m likely to be placed in this enthralling event when old age and death finally force me to drop out of it, I’ve become increasingly confused about its rules.

At the start it seemed to be childishly simple. Obey the so-called commandments of some alleged heavenly father and earthly representatives like priests, parents and teachers, and you’re a guaranteed winner in either this life or the next, if not both.

But then adolescence kicked-in, activating not just antagonism to the rules, but a growing awareness that adults seemed to be running the human race according to not just a single set of rules, but countlessly competing and conflicting ones.

Some clearly and sincerely intended to render the race as fair as humanly possible, and thus genuinely ethical; but others designed to rig the contest in favour of themselves and their running-mates, and thus downright unethical, or, if you like, deathical to the rest of us also-rans.

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In other words, there is an ethical/deathical divide in the human race that explains but by no means excuses the dismal fact that, as Aristotle wrote 2,500 or so years ago in his ‘Politics’, “man is the best of all animals when he has reached his full development, so he is the worst of all when divorced from law and justice.”

And, despite the system of ‘virtue’ ethics that Aristotle famously advocated as a solution to this infernal contest between good and evil in the human race, and all the myriad other ethical systems, both ‘sacred’ and secular that have been proposed before and since, the problem is seemingly eternal.

Possibly the oldest and most widely-known ethical principle, and certainly the first secular one I recall hearing about, is the so-called ‘Golden Rule’ to do unto others what we would wish others to do to us.

But, while at first sight this is a perfectly reasonable rule for the fair and successful running of the human race, on further examination it has a fatal flaw lurking in the apparently innocent word ‘others’.

Because as has been horribly evident throughout history, the word ‘others’ has been routinely (mis)interpreted as meaning and including ‘others just like ourselves’, and thus excluding all other others.

As including only other Aryans, to cite an especially evil perversion of the Golden Rule by the Nazis, but excluding non-Aryans and even allegedly non-humans like Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and other groups thus targeted for torture and killing.

And in a perennial virtually worldwide sense, including ‘others’ of our own race, skin-colour, creed, gender, nationality or some other equally spuriously significant common factor, and excluding other others accordingly.

‘He who makes the rules gets the gold’

A further problem with the Golden Rule as an ethic, of course, is that it is so easily subverted by such cynically self-serving deathics, as, for example, ‘he who has the gold makes the rules’, and the corollary intended to form greed into a vicious circle with power, ‘he who makes the rules gets the gold’.

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These Guys of the Eastern Philosophy School are beginning to make sense to us in the 21st century world–Holistic Thinking

Given all these difficulties with the Golden Rule, I personally, like Confucius (551-479BC), Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and doubtless many other philosophers, vastly prefer the Silver Rule: do not unto others what you would not want them to do to you.

While superficially this seems just a negative version of the Golden Rule, the crucial difference that becomes clear on further examination is that, while what we want for ourselves and others tends to be impossibly vague and various, we’re far more sure what we definitely don’t want and thus should not inflict on others, or, for that matter, on other others.

In other words, the Silver Rule in both theory and practice sets us free to aspire and strive toward the most golden of our aspirations by equally denying us the right to kill, rob, abuse, persecute, impoverish or otherwise disadvantage each other in ways that anybody in his or her right mind would possibly want.

And, thank goodness it’s largely the Silver Rule that forms the basis for our systems of ‘religious’ and secular law.

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UMNO’s Strategic Thinker

Unfortunately, however, laws and the systems of ethics underpinning them have always, as today by Islamic State, Boko Haram and similar rogue organisations, along with allegedly criminal ruling regimes in countless countries ranging from Russia and Syria to Zaire and Zimbabwe, not to mention Malaysia, been supplanted by the deathic variously known as the Law of the Jungle or the Iron Rule declaring that ‘might is right’.

And under this deadly deathic it is possible to discern a good many subsidiary ones that might be called, for example, the Steel Law that apparently grants the potentates, or in the case of Malaysia, the UMNOputras, the power to take what they want from the people; the Copper Law that decrees that the regime owns the police; and the Rubber Law designed to render the constitution and laws of the country sufficiently flexible as to always protect the regime and its cronies and to punish its critics and opponents.

But thankfully there are finally some signs that UMNO-BN’s Steel Law is getting rusty, its Copper Law terribly tarnished, and its Rubber Law perished beyond repair. And that there are so many good, honest, courageous and truly ethical Malaysians who are hell-bent on finally destroying this deathical regime that it’s finally and deservedly doomed.