"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

Tag Archives: problem

The Fundamental Problem with The American Cult of Individual Success

Someone who makes it without your help doesn’t owe you anything.

From infancy Americans are told they have to be “self-made” and “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” but why should a man who is self made care about anyone else?  They all told him success was entirely up to him, so when he succeeds he has no reason to feel any allegiance to others.
Society does not help young men find a trade, a woman, to found a family, or find a purpose.  In fact it hinders and obstructs at every turn feeding him misinformation.  Then when he succeeds in spite of these obstacles, the social order expects allegiance.  It asks him to care about a nation, to pass down a culture, to support a people that has been more enemy than friend.  Why should he care?  Actually, why shouldn’t he actively oppose those who tried to stop him and cheat him whenever they could—to join friendlier factions or begin a faction of his own?

Societies are all about shared burdens, even the strongest man is easily overwhelmed by 2 or 3 men working together let alone a thousand or a million.  Interdependence is the foundation of successful societies.  Even dickheads and narcissists will help to defend a system that benefits them.  Even the apathetic and lazy will rise up when their lives of easy repose are endangered.
The success of peoples requires cohesion, especially when things are at their worst.
At the battle of Cannae the Romans lost an entire army of 40,000 men nearly to the last man but they went on fighting anyway until they won the war and eventually razed the enemy’s capital city into the ground and salted their fields.  Proportionally speaking, I’m sure the United States would have to lose millions in a single battle to equal the disaster of Cannae.  Can we imagine America holding together after a similar defeat and not succumbing to panic and bitter internal rivalries?
It’s easy to have a minimum level of cohesion in the good times, diversity is easy in times of plenty.  But when the bad times come, a system is tested.  And how a people handles the terrible shocks and earthquakes decides if they will still be there in a hundred years’ time.

Plato, Democracy, and Mob Rule

By the 4th century BC, civilizations had already existed for at least a couple thousand years.
By then, most of the basic patterns of civilization were ancient news.

Plato’s observations about governments over 2,000 years ago might seem disturbingly familiar to us now.

Humans may boast of mechanical technologies such as airplanes and atomic bombs, but social technology, the ways we organize haven’t changed since the very first farming villages:

“Every form of government tends to perish by excess of its basic principle.  Aristocracy ruins itself by limiting too narrowly the circle within which power is confined; oligarchy ruins itself by the incautious scramble for immediate wealth.  In either case the end is revolution.   When revolution comes, it may seem to arise from little causes and petty whims…when a body is weakened by neglected ills, the merest exposure may bring serious disease.

Then democracy comes…But even democracy ruins itself by excess-of democracy.  Its basic principle is the equal right of all to hold office and determine public policy.  This is at first glance a delightful arrangement; it becomes disastrous because the people are not properly equipped by education to select the best rulers and the wisest courses.

As to the people, they have no understanding, and only repeat what their rulers are pleased to tell them.  To get a doctrine accepted or rejected it is only necessary to have it praised or ridiculed in a popular play.
Mob-rule is a rough sea for the  ship of state to ride; every wind of oratory stirs up the waters and deflects the course.

The upshot of such a democracy is tyranny or autocracy; the crowd so loves flattery…that at last the wiliest and most unscrupulous flatterer, calling himself the ‘protector of the people’ rises to supreme power.

Plato complains that whereas in simpler matters—like shoe-making—we think only a specially-trained person will serve our purpose, in politics we presume that every one who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state.  When we are ill we call for a trained physician, whose degree is a guarantee of specific preparation and technical competence—we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one…when the whole state is ill should we not look for the service and guidance of the wisest and the best?   To devise a method of barring incompetence and knavery from public office, and of selecting and preparing the best to rule for the common good—that is the problem of political philosophy.”

-Plato as quoted, paraphrased, and summarized by Will Durant

The Story of Philosophy
Will Durant, 1953, Pocket Books, Washington Square Press
Excerpts from pages 20-21

An Experiment to Test the “Watchmaker” Objection To Evolution

“The origin of adaptations…is one of the deepest problems in Darwinism.  How do novel adaptations arise from small and gradual beginnings?

There is a genus of finches with mandibles that cross over at the tips…called crossbills… The twisted beak allows the bird to pry open closed (pine) cones.
What Benkman and Lindholm did was to uncross the beaks of these birds by trimming the crossed part of the mandibles with an ordinary nail clippers.
The birds with uncrossed bills turned out to be just as good as ever at extracting seeds from dry, open pinecones.  Byt they could no longer handle closed cones.
Day by day, as the twist in their beaks grew back, the birds did better and better with more and more recalcitrant cones.  After a month, their beaks were completely regrown.
Benkman and Lindholm could measure the value of an adaptation from its very beginnings to its final form.
If crossed mandibles were useful to these birds only when fully formed, then it really would be a puzzle how they could have arisen by natural selection.  The cross would have to appear all at once.
It would be the kind of problem before which Darwin felt his theory would “absolutely break down.”

But the finches began to get better at opening pinecones when the cross in their beaks was still too small to be visible to the eye.  Even a slight crossing of the mandibles confers a small, incremental benefit, making more and more tightly closed cones accessible….
The press of competition in the woods would have made the novelty of a crossed beak more and more desirable, because it would allow its possessor to eat food n one else could eat; the same competitive pressure would favor each new twist…
Today, however, theere is no profit to a sparrow or bunting in a deformed, twisted bill, because the crossbill niche is taken.”

-The Beak of the Finch
Jonathan Weiner, 1994
Excerpts from pages 180-184, emphasis mine

My Commentary: As convincing as these experimental results are, I still wonder about species such as the Emerald Jewel wasp that rely on precision brain surgery on the host of their larvae to successfully reproduce.

Alternate Reality Shows

Present reality shows are reflections of the society that created them:

Jillian michaels yelling

-Obsession with zero sum competition.
Nearly every show focuses on eliminating others, often by isolating and removing the ‘weakest.’ This weakest is usually the one who made the least ‘friends’ or who may have been good, but simply lacked the right demographic appeal.

-Popularity is strength, money, virtue…winning.
There is often a host and/or judges, but this doesn’t change the fact that it’s a popularity contest. Approval of the collective body is what separates winners from the losers.

Whether on a tropical island or in a Hollywood studio, these shows are high stakes versions of the typical school or workplace social life.

This fundamental lack of imagination is the hallmark of reality shows as we know them.

What sort of alternate, worthwhile reality shows could be come up with?:

I know what alternate reality show I’d create.

I’d make a show that organizes groups of people into different types of governments and social structures and then observe the dynamics that develop over the course of several months. I’d explicitly keep the ‘losers’ on the island to see how the society deals with them. No voting out undesirables. Real societies have to find a place and role even for those on the margins.

Better yet, I would have society ‘teams’ in direct competition. Thus, groups that alienate their less competitive members would have to deal with the formation of an entire disloyal caste if they chose to be heavy handed with domestic policy.

For me, at least, this would be pure fun. Fun with a purpose. I don’t think English really has a commonly used word for something fun done for a higher end.
Meanwhile, ‘entertainment’ seems synonymous with something that is gratifying but pointless.

%d bloggers like this: