Really enjoyed Joe Bageant’s 2010.08.16 essay Understanding America’s Class System.  Very perceptive, I thought.  ;)

In recent years, I have personally come to the same opinion – that capitalism is indeed the cancer consuming the American soul.  Not because capitalism is evil, ‘wrong’ or even a sub-optimal approach.  (I am not a socialist or communist – IMHO, orthodoxy in these areas are ideological extremes that are just as unhealthy.)

The problem is that we have:

  1. Become addicted to capitalism
  2. Essentially made capitalism our religion

Capitalism is a fine way to run our economy – IMHO  the best one out there It supports freedom in a way that is completely compatible with democracy.

But capitalism’s value is as a means, not as an end.  It’s a tool that we can use to pursue our values and goals.  As Joe states very clearly in his essay, our society is ill now because we’re asleep at the helm.  Instead of consciously deciding what our values are and making choices to get us there, we have become addicted to capitalism, and let it take us where it will.  Instead of first choosing our values and then our methods to get there, we have become addicted to the method, and then rationalized the emergent values as morally/ideologically/patriotically justified.  Instead of making it the ox pulling our plow, we’ve made it the monkey on our back.

I also think there’s another factor at work that leads to the social stratification Joe  describes:  Personalities.

I work for a large corporation, one big enough to have a rich and sophisticated internal social ecosystem.  I have consistently seen assholes rise to power because of the following factors:

  • They are ambitious
  • They are willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill their ambitions, including:
    • Work very hard
    • Wave the flag of business success/propriety to rally the troops (sincerely and/or insincerely)
    • Manipulate people/spin the truth as required
    • Lie, cheat and steal to fill in the gaps – covertly, smoothly, effortlessly and without hesitation

Here’s the rub:

  • Corporations are not conscious beings, they are like wild animals.  All they want to do is consume and grow – to make ever increasing amounts of money.  This means that if left to their own devices, they will eat everything and everyone in their paths
    • Alhough there’s a lot of noise made about ‘responsible corporate citizens’, the reality is that very few corporate leaders have the cohones to do anything other than pursue the path to the biggest short-term gains and get away with it.  And the larger the corporation, the greater the pressure, and the closer to impossible any other path becomes
  • Assholes like those described above are more likely to lead a corporation to corporate success than someone who will pause and think and/or put another value system above the corporate value system
  • Therefore these assholes get rewarded with money and power – because they feed the hunger of the beast most directly

Of course I’m over-generalizing here:  The people who run corporate america are not ALL assholes – a range of personalities is represented.  But there is a much higher representation of assholes in leadership positions than in non-leadership positions, because they are more successful/desirable as corporate leaders than as corporate followers.

Why are we letting the wild beasts of the corporate ecosystem define our value system?

Categories: Uncategorized

What is wisdom?

I was intrigued by physorg.com’s May 7th wisdom article, although I don’t think it actually illuminates much.  The article basically reports the results of a survey, informing us of what the respondents thought were the most obvious characteristics of wisdom in a human, i.e.:

  • It is uniquely human.
  • It is a form of advanced cognitive and emotional development that is experience-driven.
  • It is a personal quality, albeit rare.
  • It can be learned, increases with age and can be measured.
  • It is probably not enhanced by taking medication.

And then there’s the tagline:  Compassion. Self-understanding. Morality. Emotional stability.

That’s all well and good, but just describes wisdom without defining it.

I think there are two dimensions to this question:  What is wisdom in a general sense?  What is Wisdom in a human sense?

IMHO, the definitive characteristic of wisdom is this:  In solving a problem or making a decision, a wise solution/person will consider a  bigger picture than an unwise (or less wise) solution/person.  Let’s dive deeper…

In an general sense:  wisdom (lower case) is a characteristic of problem solving in which:

  • The problem solving process considers a broader set of factors in defining/shaping/limiting the problem and possible solutions
  • A broader set of consequences are considered in defining the success criteria

For a  given problem, each variable/factor/possible outcome is interrelated to others, which are related to further variables/factors/possible outcomes that cascade away from the core problem/choice in a network of interrelated consequences.  If we think of this ‘network of consequences’ as a social-network-type graph, then we can say that each decision considers factors within a certain degree of separation.

In the abstract sense, then, decision A is wiser than decision B if A considers more factors/consequences to more degrees of separation than B:  It literally considers a bigger picture.

The ‘consequence network’ can be very complex:  it can consider more factors; more types of factors or problem dimensions; effects that may be further out in time; effects in areas that seem, on the surface, to be unrelated to the original problem; etc.  (More specifically, the nodes in the graph represent members of multiple object classes, and the lines represent members of multiple relationship classes – in other words, this is an ontology.)   These all boil down to considering factors further down the dependency chains that start at the core problem factors (at more degrees of separation on the dependency graph.)

Wisdom is an optimization problem:  Note the following:

  • Increasing the wisdom of a decision does not simply mean increasing the number of considerations – it means optimizing the number of considerations.  I think of this as finding the right context for a making a decision/solving a problem.
  • A wise decision requires a wise  judgement of which considerations should be included.  This means that wisdom must be ‘analytically recursive’ in order to be effective.
  • Including too many considerations hides the critical dependencies, and including too much analytical recursion leads to ‘paralysis by analysis’
  • Combining these points shows us that a wise problem solver must understand and apply the right amount of analytical recursion (analysis of the analysis) to the right considerations to find the right context.

In a human context:  Humans are biologically defined to be social creatures – metaphorically and literally hard-wired to our brothers and sisters.  The feelings of (psychologically normal) humans are affected by the feelings of those around them: we are happier when other people like us, admire us, are pleased with us, etc., than when they are not.  Therefore, when a human (living among humans) makes a decision, human factors and interdependencies will always drive consequences that will affect the decider.

In this sense, a wise decision will take into account how the decision will affect other people – near and far on the social graph – their lives, alternatives, choices and feelings, because  human lives, alternatives, choices and feelings all affect each other to a degree proportional to the degree of separation. How those around us feel about a solution/decision/outcome can negate or multiply the value of an outcome.  This is why win-win situations are valued, and to be sought.  Therefore…

In the Human sense:  Wisdom (upper case) is a characteristic of a human problem solver in which:

  • The human problem solver understands that all problems/decisions exist not only in a utilitarian context, but always also in a human context, and considers the lives, alternatives, choices and feelings of his/her fellows side-by-side with the practical considerations
  • The human problem solver understands that win-win situations are value multipliers, and incorporates this fact when finding the optimal problem/decision context

So…

  • A wise decision is one in which the best-value context is found before a decision is made
  • A Wise decision is one in which a human problem-solver includes human emotions/social factors in finding the best-value context
  • A Wise person is one who knows that both statements above are true, and applies that knowledge

So what about the tagline?  Compassion, Self-Understanding, Morality, Emotional Stability?  IMHO, these are correlated, but not definitive characteristics of wisdom.

  • If Alice focuses on cold, utilitarian practicality, those that know her may describe her as having become ‘wiser’ if she starts being more compassionate and moral in her decision contexts.
  • If Bob is passionate about being compassionate and moral, those that know him may describe him as having become ‘wiser’ if he begins to include more pragmatic considerations in his decision contexts.
  • Both Alice and Bob may then be described by those who know them to have become more emotionally stable in the process.
  • (Self-understanding, IMHO, is not required to apply wisdom, but is almost always acquired along the way.)

So wisdom is about balance.  An analytical approach that balances the pragmatic and the human in the problem context is the key to Wisdom.

What about age?  ‘Popular wisdom’ is that humans are more likely to be Wise later in life.  I think that this simply means that, if you’re paying attention in life, these truths will become obvious to you – at least intuitively.  It took me more than 30 years to understand these truths, and more than that to internalize them  :)

Hello world!

Hello World.  Welcome to my blog.

My goal here is post my inane thoughts on the nature of truth and reality for all to enjoy and flame, and to discuss philosophy with all interested parties.  Although I am an atheist, all points of view are welcome for discussion.

My formal training in philosophy consists of having read Philosophy for Dummies (actually, an excellent survey), but I am generally more inclined to chuck it all, and start the discussion from zero.

I have a background in Mathematics and Physics.  I am very interested in neuroscience, cognition, consciousness and AI.  I work as an Information System Architect for a large corporation (senior-level IT geek).

Please feel free to comment on anything that trips your trigger.  In general, I have no issues with strong language, but have my limits:

  • Thoughtful arguments and/or strong convictions are welcome – as long as you can take a courteous but honest response :)
  • Thoughtful arguments and/or strong convictions that include derogatory language will probably remain posted, but may be edited (bleeped out)
  • Comments containing derogatory language that is not set within a higher context of intellectual purpose (e.g., hate speech) will be deleted

As this is my blog, I am judge and jury.

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