Posts Tagged ‘Democracy’

Feb 11 2011

This post is about censorship, how it can be understood, if it can be legitimate and how it influences our chances of dealing with unprecedented changes in our world.

Censorship is about concealment. Etymologically the Roman censor was the judge supervising public morals, thus the judge of what to hide and what to tell. Often in order to conceal something it is not enough to simply remain silent about it, but requires to actively cover up and fabricate myths. Therefore, the problem of the legitimacy of censorship is the same as the legitimacy of lying.

Censorship is about transparency and privacy. In today´s world the individual is completely transparent to the state and the corporations, whereas corporations and states enjoy their privacy. All our communication, transactions and movements are recorded, whereas we know little about those that have access to this information. This requires an unrealistic degree of trust in the goodness of our leaders.

Reasons to Hide

Googled tit in UAE

There are different motives for concealing, some are honourable and some are less so. Parent may try to shield their children from painful experiences in the hope that they will grow up with less scars that way, thinking that later on in life they have developed the skills necessary to deal with them. Friends may  avoid relaying nasty things people may say about you out of loving care. We all go through phases where we are not strong enough to deal with certain issues. But more often than not people hide things from you not in your best interest but in their own. Advertising, political propaganda and religious indoctrination are often not enacted in the best interest of the subject (the concealé), but to serve the interests of those promoting it (the concealer). Therefore I  would like to distinguish between two different types of concealments:

a) self-serving censorship: concealment serving the interests of the concealer

b) benevolent censorship: concealment serving the interests of the concealé.

These are not mutually exclusive, but on the contrary often complement each other. Many marriages are saved that way.

Moreover, it is not necessarily the case that the concealer and the concealé are different people. It may seem illogical but people do lie to themselves rather convincingly and with such skill and enthusiasm that their myth becomes their reality. (After all, a concealer is a type of make up to hide a person´s true face.) But when people talk about censorship they normally refer to the less abstruse control of information of one group of people over another.

Active concealment, as opposed to passively leaving bits out, is a case of actively fabricating disinformation. Distinguishing between self-serving and benevolent fabrication I think is important for any debate on censorship as it helps avoiding putting bedtime stories and war time propaganda in the same box.

Personal Transparency & State Privacy

I think there are some common mistakes worth avoiding when discussing censorship. The first is a failure to recognize that there is such a thing as benevolent censorship, and therefore genuine arguments for censorship and active fabrication in general. The second is a flawed attempt to draw analogies between the individual or family and the state leading to paternalism what can be called the personalised state fallacy.

There is an old humanist and scientistic dogma that truth is always good. It is so generally accepted that to talk about truth and freedom in the same sentence is common rhetoric for any leader. Here for example, in the words of a radical truth and transparency activist:

“He defended the right of people to freely access information, and said that the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become. He spoke about how access to information helps citizens to hold their governments accountable, generates new ideas, and encourages creativity. The United States’ belief in that truth is what brings me here today.

And technologies with the potential to open up access to government and promote transparency can also be hijacked by governments to crush dissent and deny human rights.

As I speak to you today, government censors somewhere are working furiously to erase my words from the records of history.  But history itself has already condemned these tactics.

Both the American people and nations that censor the internet should understand that our government is committed to helping promote internet freedom.

And censorship should not be in any way accepted by any company from anywhere.  And in America, American companies need to make a principled stand.  This needs to be part of our national brand. ”

Hillary Clinton on Obama, 21 Jan. 2010

Ignoring for a second that this is utter self-serving fabrication and Mrs. Clinton turned out to really hate transparency and fully endorse not only censorship but state sanctioned use of violence to enforce it, I still want to make the case that there is a right place for censorship. That place however is in our personal lives, not as a matter of state policy or corporate strategy. Parents have the right to protect their children of violent or pornographic media or corporate and religious indoctrination. People have the right to keep secrets, that is one benefit of having thoughts inside the head instead of outside it. Individuals have the right not to share private information to corporations and governments. These are prime examples of justified censorship. Recognising that some concealment and manipulation can be in the concealés best interests does not mean accepting that all or even most concealment is good but it depends on who does it. I personally find the fact that commercial self-serving fabrications by corporations have become a fixed feature of modern life  utterly insane. Fortunately it is easier than people think to live an ad-free life. (Block all advertising online, use new privacy features in modern browsers and never watch scheduled broadcast TV.)

On the other hand, people that fully recognise the role of concealment and diplomacy in their personal lives can be tempted by what I would call the personalised state fallacy, namely to think about the state as an individual or a family organisation with similar rights and needs as the citizens. This line of thinking goes something like this. I think privacy is my right and I need it to conduct my life skilfully. Politicians and diplomats are people like me and they need the same privilege to be able to run this country properly. Further, as the stakes are higher when it comes to national security, they should have even more rights to keep secrets than ordinary citizens. People do not need to know everything. The mistake here is to believe there is a valid analogy between individuals and the state.

A state is not a person. It has no rights in relation to its citizens, only obligations.

A state is not a person, no more than a country or god is. It has no rights in relation to its democratic citizens, only obligations to protect the rights of individuals and groups. The crucial advancement in human history was when citizens could begin to hold their democratically elected leaders accountable. When propaganda, advertising, censorship is protecting leaders, elevating them above the law there is nothing left of democracy.  A government is employed by the people and should serve its interests as the people are paying the politicians salaries. However a government, as it turns out, is not a group of submissive employees, even less a collection of altruistic saints but rather an exclusive club of concentrated power evolved to carefully maintain its own position. Leaders are humans and history has shown humans cannot handle absolute power. Thus, in as much as Clinton turned out to be a hypocrite the argument against state privacy is found in her own speech and people would do well in holding her to it.


What is wrong with paternalism is how it plays out in reality.

There are other arguments in favour or state censorship that are not based on any fallacy of misguided analogies. I have written about Plato, Luther, De Maistre, Machiavelli, Bernays, Lippmann, Strauss and so on and they all have clear reasons why the government should have the right to lie, and essentially it is because they know best. The leaders, coming from the best schools and families, are the most intelligent and therefore suitable to run a country. Ordinary people are irrational and stupid and should not be involved in the decision making process. They need to be guided and their opinions influenced. If the plebs were involved in running society they would unleash their animalistic aggressions and chaos and disorder would rein. People need to be kept docile and distracted by providing consumer goods and sports events and the like. This elitist line of thinking may sounds abhorrent, but that is probably mostly because it is not so often formulated in public any longer. Society however is still run largely along those lines. But whatever one might feel against such arguments they may still be right. Perhaps the common man is irrational and needs strong imposed order not to break down the fabric of civil society. Maybe only a few have got the clarity of mind to see the way forward. At the very least one could argue these are all real possibilities, empirical questions even, that need to be investigated. However, it turns out only a pinch of empiricism and a modicum of reason suffices to realize the Utopian elitist model is not the way forward, as it rest on these two flawed assumptions:

a) there is one optimum model, one best way to organise society

b) the leaders are benevolently serving the best interests of the public

Lets explore it. For elitism/paternalism to work there must be some higher truth the leaders can see that ordinary people cannot. There must be a best answer to political questions. Political parties centre themselves around a political philosophy that promotes, what they believe, is the best way to organize society. But even the assumption that there is an optimum model is highly controversial. For whom is it best? Who does it serve? No model is perfect for everybody, but even if a specific group of people – maybe the sons of Abraham? – were selected there is not even any guarantee a specific model would benefit them. How does anyone know the dynamic consequences of the model? How do you test it? What factors could be assumed constant? Entertaining the assumption that historically society was more predictable it may not be absurd to assume there was at times one optimum model benefiting special groups, but today the world is different from how it ever was. 50 years ago there were 2.5 billion people, now we are at near 7bn and predictions for the next century go up to 14bn. Population is only ONE factor that has changed in unprecedented ways with unpredictable consequences. Any model that pretends to offer solutions to political problems must be as dynamic and flexible as the emerging problems it claims it would solve, but since the problems will be different so must the model. If your only tool is a hammer all problems become nails.

Openness, flexibility, research, crowd sourcing, critical oppositions, free scrutinizing media, evidence based decision making, transparency and so on can all be said to be part of an ideal model, but it would rather be a case of people reorganizing themselves and the way they live around emerging challenges, rather than dogmatic conservative elites hammering away. Even with the best motives in the world, there is not one perfect solution. The only way to be prepared for the future is to have many people educated enough to respond intelligently to new situations.

To the second assumption. In the context of censorship as active fabrication is it possible to think about an ideal society as one where the leaders are our loving parents protecting our delicate sensibilities by conjuring up cushy myths so as to keep painful facts concealed? Maybe some people feel it would be ideal if we could be children playing games all our lives and a few caring wise men would run the whole society in the best possible way. Essentially this is what has happened historically, whether you consider it ideal or not. The beliefs of people have been decided by a leading few. Going back to the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) the leaders decided that people should believe that Jesus was God. Around 610 AD the prophet Muhammad got his revelations from above and began the Muslim movement to unify people into one belief. A similar story is unfolding in Korea but without the credibility lent to it by centuries of reiteration. Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unificationist Church claims direct access to the divine and hopes to unite all Abrahamic beliefs (Judeo-Christian-Muslim) so that all believers can get to heaven. His logic goes: 1. Only true believers of the truth get to heaven. 2. Not all Abrahamic beliefs are the same. Ergo, 3. We need to make them the same so all people can stand a chance to get into heaven.

“Thus, no matter in what manner Christ is to return, he cannot satisfy the wide range of doctrinal expectations that presently exist. It would mean that only the smallest number of those with the “correct” view could have any hope to successfully recognize and participate in the event of the Second Coming of Christ. In that “God so loves the world,” and in view of Jesus’ own prayer for the ideal that ALL believers be one “as God and Christ are one,” this circumstance is not acceptable. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Christian leaders to address this circumstance in preparation for Christ’s return.”

Rev. Sun Myung Moon, Unification Church

I grant the possibility that religious myths can have a healthy effect on a society and that creating coherence and group identity is valuable, but it is very dangerous to leave the myth making power in the hands of the elite because they are not as smart as they think. Nor are they as benevolent as they’d like you to think.

To leave the myth making power in the hands of the elite is very dangerous because they are not as smart as they think.

What  reason would you have to care for the future of this planet if you are preparing for the second coming of Christ?! The spoilt and anthropocentric core of the Abrahamic fairy tales have played a pivotal role in our consumerist life style, and they are devastating for out chances of achieving a sustainable way of life. If you want healthy myths go for pantheism where people believed in forest spirits and energies – think the the Na’vi people in Avatar – they would never harm the planet. Or for those with more intellectually refined tastes Ken Wilber´s Integral Theory or the Spiral Dynamics (The Theory that Explains Everything). At least those rationalised spiritual frameworks consider plurality of beliefs as something highly desirable and understandable.

Preachers, priests, charlatans and saints will always be around, and folk beliefs will keep on popping up like mushrooms. But the myth making must be a grass root process not left in the hands of the self-serving elites. What is wrong with paternalism is how it plays out in reality. Religious wars are not started by peasants and farmers but by leaders and profiteers. Religious propaganda gets hijacked by political and commercial interests. When something like WikiLeaks happens the machinery jolts. In the WikiLeaks affair it has become blatantly clear whose interests are threatened by transparency and how politicians and corporations are colluding to maintain status quo. There is immense amounts of corruption and injustice, ignorance and short-sighted stupidity going round in the world. People with power want to maintain that power. The Enlightenment was all about debasing old types of authorities, whether traditional, religious, aristocratic or capitalist, and replacing them with evidence, facts and reason. Organisations like WikiLeaks, OpenDemocracy, the Open Society Institute, Index on Censorship are all digital continuations of that process. You cannot trust leaders with the power to decide over what is real and what is not as they would never lend that power to you.

Dec 30 2010

“De Maistre felt that men are by nature evil, self-destructive animals, full of conflicting drives, who do not know what they want, want what they do not want, do not want what they want, and it is only when they are kept under constant control and rigorous discipline by some authoritarian élite…that they can hope to survive and be saved. ”

Isaiah Berlin, on one of the founders of Conservatism in The Counter-enlightenment

What kind of people become leaders of nations? What kind of hurdles do they need to overcome and how does that affect them? What personality traits are required to overcome them? What compromises do they need to make on their path? What view of man do the have? Even in so called democratic countries are those that are elected to represent the people actually normal? These are not meant to be rhetorical questions but express a genuine quandary I have, one to which I do not have an answer, only a hunch. We see ourselves in our leaders, and the way they think and talk creates the mindset we live in. They tell us how the world is and who is good and who is bad. But what if they are not like us at all, and the way they see the world is only one of many ways of making sense of it? Why would they not just be normal people, you might ask, anybody can take up politics in an open and democratic society. Maybe that is true, but what if it is virtually impossible for an ordinary decent person – however talented or driven – to reach the top of any political or corporate institution, and still be that same ordinary and decent person? What if it doesn´t even occur to them to try?

Ignoring for the time being dictatorships, nepotism, Mafioso states, theocracies and the like, is it possible for democratic countries to produce sane leaders with untied hands? I think there are systemic, practical, Darwinian and psychological reasons why this seems really quite tricky. Firstly let me clarify that I have little patience for leftist and anarchistic conspiratorial thinking where any person in a position of authority by default is seen in a dubious and sinister light. I am not reaching my conclusions based on some socialist affinity with the working class, nor based on any pubescent revolt against every type of authority. I am convinced we need authorities and hierarchies, but I think we need to be on guard against the imperfections that come with those systems. Rulers are not born evil. I think everybody is born at street level, and because we are all pedestrians nobody has a bird´s eye view of the world. If you are born into aristocracy I would not blame you for drinking from the goblet of narcissism and breath the supremacist air just as little as I blame religulous people for believing in the myths they have been born into or a drug dealers´s son becoming a delinquent. You are born into a certain conceptual sphere, you realize the rules and some people see angles others don´t. It is the dynamic structures we are born into that foster certain individuals to excel and others to fade into the background.

Historical Leaders

“A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules…”

In his classic survey of historical leaders and what made them great Machiavelli has plenty of practical advice to dispense, ranging from how best to invade a country with least effort (by only killing all of the ruling family and leave all taxes and laws the same, so that ordinary men notice little difference), to how to run colonies and who to make friends with and who to crush. He is even-handedly and pragmatically treating all paths by which men rise to power. In talking about rulers who have taken over power by “wickedness” he recounts this maffiaesque scene where Oliverotto da Fermo encourages his uncle Giovanni – who raised him – to invite all the noblemen of the city Fermo to a dinner party.

“Oliverotto gave a solemn banquet to which he invited Giovanni Fogliani and the chiefs of Fermo. When the viands and all the other entertainments that are usual in such banquets were finished, Oliverotto artfully began certain grave discourses, speaking of the greatness of Pope Alexander and his son Cesare, and of their enterprises, to which discourse Giovanni and others answered; but he rose at once, saying that such matters ought to be discussed in a more private place, and he betook himself to a chamber, whither Giovanni and the rest of the citizens went in after him. No sooner were they seated than soldiers issued from secret places and slaughtered Giovanni and the rest.”

He can hardly suppress his admiration for his cunning courage, but notes that in the end it did not afford Oliverotto a lasting principality as he got strangled after a year. He laments this and attributes it to “severities” (i.e. cruelties) not being properly used. Ultimately you have no power unless you get people to obey you, and his is a timeless study of how to achieve that. More recent examples of these principles being employed can be seen in Saddam´s way of taking power over the Iraqi Baath party in 1979.

Iraq’s 1979 Fascist Coup as narrated by Christopher Hitchens

This is very rare footage which was removed from YouTube the minute after I manage to download it. Because it is so extraordinary I decided to host it myself.

Donald Rumsfeld offering American support in Baghdad on December 20, 1983.

It would appear neither Oliverotto or Saddam was in any capacity what we would consider normal people. Erich Fromm´s classic study The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness offers deep and penetrating analysis of how these personalities are shaped from childhood experiences. This seems chillingly illustrated in the sadism found in Saddam´s son Uday Hussain who practised rape as a hobby.  Other similar recent Arabic examples are Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, son of Sheikh Zayed, founder of the UAE, who was acquitted in January, 2010 of torturing a rice merchant  in spite of having had it filmed himself. Or the Saudi prince Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser al Saud who sex murdered his servant in a London hotel in February, 2010. These are sadistic and twisted men who cannot deal with the absolute power they enjoy.

The Power of Nightmares

But my thesis is not just that twisted men often become leaders but that men with a twisted view of man in general tend to resort to violence and therefore excel more efficiently under certain circumstances than men with a more humanistic and optimistic outlook. In The Counter-enlightenment Isaiah Berlin discusses the view of Joseph de Maistre, who next to Edmund Burke, is considered a founding father of Conservatism. Fundamentally man is an irrational beast prone to aggression. Education can never hope to change this and the appeal to reason is pitiful. This view risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. If someone feels threatened they are dramatically more prone to resort to violence.

“Reason, analysis, criticism shake the foundations and destroy the fabric of society. If the source of authority is declared to be rational, it invites questioning and doubt./…/[T]he source of authority must be absolute, so terrifying, indeed, that the attempt to question it must entail immediate and terrible sanctions: only then will men learn to obey it./…/Not the luminous intellect, but dark instincts govern man and societies; only élites which understand this, and keep the people from too much secular education that is bound to make them over-critical and discontented, can give to men as much happiness and justice and freedom as, in this vale of tears, men can expect to have. But at the back of everything must lurk the potentiality of force of coercive power.”

To educate and foster a critically minded, information empowered society can never be the aim if you feel your authority would be undermined by it. Censorship, suppression, punishment of dissent, violence before reason these are hallmarks of fascist regimes, but are they not part of every political structure we know? Is democracy free of this? Who is censoring WikiLeaks and trying to bomb sense into the uneducated Afghanis right this moment?

The Nature of Hierarchies

Democratic systems depend on parties and their leaders that become nominated candidates of government. To become a nominated candidate you first need to have an active and personal interest in politics. Wham! Immediately we have eliminated a massive chunk of the consumerist population. Politics was something our parents did in between getting stoned in the 60ies. Being born in the mid 70ies I have no experience of party life, but I assume that to rise in status there must have comparisons with how people advance in corporate structures. Partially promotions depend on financial achievements, but why networking has become  such a crucial feature of modern business life is partly because people chose to work with people they like, not necessarily the people best at what they do. There are irrational motives – or rather not strictly financially justified reasons – why people advance.

You make alliances, strategically exchange favours whilst keeping your cards close to the chest. For instance, someone who cannot be diplomatic is unlikely to succeed as he would spill the beans once to often. To advance in a corporate structure you need to be able to keep secrets and better yet, to twist the facts if need be. If you are a truth teller and an obsessively honest and evidence based person you will remain in the research department. Political parties depend on a unanimous front. Everybody in the party must concede their personal opinions in favour of those of the party line. You apparently do not win a debate by admitting what you do not know. Thus insincerity, discretion and secrecy are a core qualities.

Do nice people become senior members of staff? As a though experiment imagine you have two people: One person who is careful and considerate, for whom genuine empathy and social awareness is important, and another who is unscrupulous, careerist with no remorse regarding walking over dead bodies to get to his goal. In a competition to reach the top who do you think would win? Would a profit making corporation employ the tender hearted person as CEO? Companies exist to make money and sharks with teeth keep them afloat. To what extent are parties like companies? I do not know, but I know that Big Business run our democratic societies with enormous power – only they are not elected.

Enter the Upper Echelons via the Lobby

While Obama tried to portrait himself as an ordinary but extraordinary person, do you really think he would have gotten to where he is without making massive concessions to USA Inc? Even though the West is democratic on paper there are all sorts of old and new power structures in place. There a powerful families and Big Business, all with their own agenda. Since any campaign in the US at least is vastly decided by financial support (did you even notice Ralph Nader was running again in the 2008 election?) you need to make promises to look after your financial contributors if you ever reach office. There are practical reasons like that which back ties the hands of anyone even with the best of intentions.

Executive Power

If there is one thing all political leaders historically seem to have in common it is an obsession with violence. Indeed the very definition of the State has been the monopoly of legitimate violence (Weber). Whether you are aspiring to rule in a country (or state) where the death penalty still exists or not, the obsession with war and the army is an inseparable part of political leadership. As a consequence, to be a leader you must be a person capable of taking someone else´s life, at whatever remove is convenient for you. People like to quote acts of soldiers in war as examples of how just about anybody is a cold bloodied murderer given the right circumstances. The fact that this is a widespread belief I see as a complete success of conservative propaganda and a the sign of a flawed analysis of the dynamics that lead to war. We cannot both be appalled by, and punish, the heinous acts of serial killers and at the same time believe it is as natural a part of human nature as enjoying friendships or making love. I insist that it is the fact that we are too socially sensitive and weak that leaders can make decent people commit murders that for some reason during so called war times are perfectly legal. It is the fear of punishment by those who are callous and managed to rise to power by any means necessary that coercively turn decent people into criminals. As in the law of the jungle, the lowest common denominator is the rule of the fist. Obama may seem suave, humorous, sensitive and cool, but he is still the one sending drone missiles to kill thousands of people. I will not argue about whether violence can be justified, but just want to highlight the often times overlooked extraordinary contradiction in the way we have organized society. The figurehead of cultural sophistication is also our principal executioner.

Maybe you don´t have to be a psychopath to become a leader, it just helps.

Jul 30 2010

Wheat fields near Châteauroux

Surrounded by yellow wheat fields I feel a rush of exhilaration, I find myself singing and laughing inside the helmet. I am filled with a bubbly joy as I have spent the day driving at random, wherever I felt, following tiny country roads, through forests and past lakes, more or less heading north. It’s always good not to loose your sense of north. A guide book told me Montrésor, une des plus belles villages de France, should be somewhere around here, and I was lucky to come across it. It is a stunning village with a castle belonging to the late Polish comte Xavier Branicki, in which his descendants are still living. From a fountain in the garden of Xavier Bendickis castle I would like to have a bash at convincing you why philosophy is good, not only the individual but for society at large.

With inner freedom you can be free in a jail.

So what is philosophy? For me it is not primarily about a quest for truth, or love for truth. It is about freedom. Freedom of mind. Without inner freedom there is no freedom, and with inner freedom you can be free in a jail. What is a free mind? It is a mind that does not depend on crutches of certainty. A mind willing to follow through to the logical conclusion and prepared change opinion in light of new insights. A mind that can look at things from different angles, and never assumes that there is only one right answer. A mind that knows there are good arguments for and against everything. A mind that does not mistake familiarity for understanding. Philosophy is one of many  roads that can lead you there.

New thoughts appear in cracks.

Philosophy is not about intelligence. Many very intelligent people have been unphilosophical and done some horrible things based on their certainties. Obviously it helps to have a natural ability to see things in perspective, but even the brightest minds need inspiration. Impressions are the food for thought. A society where people mostly consume the same impressions will have like-minded people. It is very hard to have a free mind there. New thoughts appear in cracks, when bits don’t fit together, where the story doesn’t make sense. If everything is the same there are few cracks. If there is no contrast it is very hard to think as you have nothing to compare with. This may seem trivial but it is actually what makes it all possible. In a society where most people share the same beliefs and values it is very hard to think. It is no coincidence that multiplicity and innovation coincide.

Château de Montrésor

People are not expected too think.

In the way the world is organised today people are not expected too think to much. They are not meant to feel responsible for what happens in or with the world. Even in the most democratic societies the extent of ordinary citizens’ participation in the decision making process is a nod left or right every fourth year.

Comte Xavier Branicki's weapons

The alternative ways of looking at things have been limited to a manageable two. People are expected to work and consume and leave the big decisions to those in charge. Seen that way it is amazing we have made it this far since we have been riding on the brain power of a few privileged families. (Maybe the lack of human control over nature has been our saving grace?) In so far as history has been orchestrated by humans it has been possible because the world has been, for most of its history, fairly predictable. I am not talking about famine and the black plague, but people’s positions and possibilities in society. If you were born into a potter’s family you would end up a potter. The rich could make deals between themselves and make sure the wealth stayed within the right famililies.

...sumptuous feasts with Napoléon

Take this Château de Montrésor. During the 17th and 18th centuries, leading families such as the Bourdeilles and the Beauvilliers lived in the castle. “In 1849, Xavier Branicki, a rich Polish count and friend of emperor Napoleon III, arrived to give new life to Montrésor…the house was the setting for sumptuous feasts with Napoléon.” I somehow doubt I would have been invited to those feasts.

In a predictable world it has been possible for a few to control much of what has happened (although I would not underestimate the skill, knowledge and courage it would take to do so). Now however, the world is too complex for anyone to fully grasp.

The world is fundamentally out of control.

Even if old models have worked to reduce suffering and increase the standard of living for the world, we no longer know where things are going. The world economy is not run by a small elite. It is run by millions of people moving their money at a whim, and in a blind stampede capital can move from one side of the globe to the other in a matter of seconds. Consumerism will not slow down, and hence neither will global warming. People refuse to become more rational, and in a century the population this planet needs to support will have quadrupled. Do you think we are headed for less wars? Do you think religion will help diplomatic negotiations? Would you leave the future of this planet in the hands of a few leading men?

Enter the castle

If our world was hanging in a rope over an abyss it would all depend on the strength of that one rope.

If the world was hanging in a gazillion threads it would not matter much if one snapped.

The only successful way of dealing with the unpredictable is to be prepared for anything. The wealth of a society could be defined by its multiplicity. A society rich in multiplicity is likely to find solutions among some of its members. A healthy, future-proof society is  one with a great many free thinking people exploring many different ways of living. For the first time in history collective thinking is possible. For the first time ever, truly innovative ideas can flourish and spread without any financial obstacles. In essence philosophy is good for a changing world because it inspires free thinking.

If the world was hanging in a gazillion threads it would not matter much if one snapped.

What's in it for me?

-“I catch your drift, but apart from saving the world, what’s in it for me?” I am surprised to hear a voice in the garden, and even more so one that replies to my thoughts. I turn my head and stare at the fountain sculpture of a little boy.

-“Philosophy makes my head hurt. Why should I bother?” he continues. It takes me a moment to regroup.

-“Well, for starters you would never feel lonely again. Or bored for that matter.”

-“How is that?”, he asks.

-“You would be entertained by your own company as you would always have something interesting to think about.”

-“What is interesting about what old men thought about questions without answers? Where are the special effects dude? If I am bored I choose Mad Men over Nietzsche anytime.”

-“Interesting choice of entertainment”, I reply, “because that is exactly where the creative intellectual elite has ended up – in the info- or entertainment industry. They work as speech writers for politicians or copy writers for soap adverts or some such. Whatever the profession they are likely to be engaged in selling you some stuff. It is safe to say they do not have your best interests at heart. You are surrounded by the best poets, orators, artists and musicians, and, adhering to the rules of our liberal consumerist society, they excel at seducing and persuading you. They are not evil. They just don’t care about you. They are paid to make you care about what they want you to care about. And they are good at it. They are better than you. They are the best. Those that don’t succeed are fired. Thus, the most obvious reason why a critical mind is good is to look after your own well-being.”

Philosophy good stuffed

-“Oooooooooooooohhh dear! Poor me! Are you suggesting philosophy is good for my own well-being? If I am not mistaken Herr Nietzsche turned quite a mad man himself. The list of intellectuals who have been killed, committed suicide, gone mad or spent time in prison is quite off the charts. Socrates, Jesus, Galilei, Rousseau, Lorca, Russell, Cantor, Boltzmann, Gödel, TuringKoestler, Nash…”

-“These were all highly sensitive people, so they got more affected by what they saw and realized. They lived in times where dissent was punished by death, imprisonment or excommunication. But is philosophy to blame for that? Is it not the fact that the society surrounding these people was not philosophical enough that caused their misfortunes? After the aristocracy had eliminated them they turned them into martyrs and named streets after them. I am sure there are thousands of other great thinkers whose ideas were eliminated in time.  Today it is not like that. Because of the achievements of dissenters there is a free world where you can think for yourself and express your opinions without risking punishment. ”

-“Exactly! I am living in the free world. I am not manipulated. Things have changed. We are living the dream.”

-“Yes, you are living a dream, like Carlin says, because you got to be asleep to believe you are free.”