Time

Yes. Time. That Time.

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content

I was browsing YouTube, and I got captivated by reaction videos, where a younger audience listens to music some of us grew up with and reacts to it. Time is a song I grew up on. Pink Floyd were a major influence on my music and my worldview. I have to admit that I am partial to the David Gilmour years and stopped caring about anything released after Roger Waters left. I have spent hours listening to their back catalogue with Syd Barrett and early David Gilmour, but Meddle, released in 1971, is about as far back as I prefer to go—even that old gem, Seamus.

Roger Waters penned the deepest lyrics for Pink Floyd, and this was one of his best. He wrote this in his late twenties, though it feels like he would have been older and wiser. I suppose he’s an old soul. Here’s the first verse:

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

This speaks to how we tend to take time for granted. Sometimes, we just want the time to pass. We’re bored, and we want to get on to something meaningful, eventful, or perhaps exciting. We might be sat in work or school just waiting for quitting time. We aren’t living in the moment or enjoying the moment. And we might just be kicking around on a piece of ground in our hometowns rather aimlessly. And whilst I am aware that many people are looking for someone to guide them to the next level, whether a religion, a vocation, a guru, or a hero, that bit’s never really resonated with me. I suppose I’ve always been naturally insouciant and Zen. Some have said to a fault.

you missed the starting gun

Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain 
You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today 
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you 
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun 

The second verse picks up where the first one left off. Let’s not forget that this is Britain—London—plenty of rain. But some people do get tired of lying in the sunshine living their routine workaday lives. When we are younger, the days feel longer. Time is stretched. Einsteinian relativity. Again, we’ve got time to pad out and fill. Something’s happening at the weekend. Let’s just fast-forward, but we can’t, so let’s fill the time with mindless prattle and television or somesuch. Once you were 18 and now you’re 28. What happened? Tens years gone. Where’d the time go?

The last line in the second verse is telling. For me, it’s more an indictment of quote-modern-unquote society. It only applies to those who buy into this worldview. I never bought in. It’s’ always been a sham. But for some, they reach 28 and realise they’ve made the wrong decisions for their lives to end up the way they may have envisaged. I’ve never had this grand vision.

one day closer to death

And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking 
Racing around to come up behind you again 
The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older 
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death 

Resistance is futile. You can’t escape the movement of time as represented by the quotidian sun. It will always lap you. The sun ages on a different time scale to you. The sun doesn’t appear to age. It was here when we arrived. It will be here when we leave. It was here before any of us were born. It will be here after we’ve all left. Yet with every lap of the sun, we are each another day closer to death. That day may be tomorrow, next week, or in a hundred years, but as Twelve-Step programmes remind us, we live one day at a time. Perhaps even this is too large of a time slice, as we can only live moment to moment. Anything else is but a construction. Nothing else is real. Memento Mori.

thought I’d something more to say

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time 
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines 
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way 
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I'd something more to say 

Again, time is relative. When we are young, we yearn for things: perhaps to graduate high school; get a driver’s license; graduate college; get the job we wanted; get some promotion or recognition; get signed to a big label; get a big break; the list goes on.

For those who are planners, the best-laid plans go awry. We dream of whatever and even journal these thoughts, but in the words of another song, “you can’t always get what you want”.

We want to do this or that, but life gets in the way. We can’t do everything. Economists capture this by the notion of opportunity costs. We can do this but not that. It doesn’t matter if we are Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, or whomever. Time is the ultimate leveller.

We can just keep a stiff upper lip and persevere. Just occupy some place on this third rock, Next thing you know, the time is gone. I recall my ninety-odd-year-old father-in-law after his wife of seventy-five years died. He just wanted to die. He was done. He was ready to quit, but the music was still playing. Any semblance of hope was exchanged for the hope to reach the ending peacefully.

home again

Home, home again 
I like to be here when I can 
And when I come home cold and tired 
It's good to warm my bones beside the fire 

In this verse, Roger becomes reflective. He’s nostalgic for home. Anyone with a home has a place to return to after work, after school, or a childhood memory, but to touring performers, home is an even more special place. It’s a place to return to after life on the road, perhaps for months or years. Consider Odysseus and the travellers of old. This home.

He wants to be in this comfortable, familiar place. And after a long day or excursion, it’s a place to rejuvenate and rekindle by the warmth of the fire.

softly spoken magic spells

Far away across the field 
The tolling of the iron bell 
Calls the faithful to their knees 
To hear the softly spoken magic spells 

The final verse is even more metaphorical than the others. There’s an allusion. Religious allegory. In the distance, we hear the peal of the church bell beckoning the parishioners to hear the palliative words of the vicars and priests and whatnot. Or perhaps these softly spoken magic spells are simply the prayers of the individuals.

In deference to Barthes, the author is dead. But it doesn’t matter this is my interpretation—my meaning. Even more so, in deference to chapter eight of the Matter with Things, poetry and music are meant to be appreciated as a whole, not dissected. We can reflect on the words and phrases—even the melodies and rhythms—but the words are less than they sum to. Still, this piece moves me. It always has.

What does this mean to you?

The Netherlands Are Not Holland

Full Disclosure: This post has absolutely nothing to do with philosophy.

The Netherlands consists of 12 provinces. Two of them are considered Holland. Until about 2020, the Netherlands was OK with taking the name of its more famous provinces, but no longer.

The Netherlands with Holland highlighted

Referring to the Netherlands as Holland is like referring to Canada as Saskatchewan or the United States as California or France as Bretagne. Complete this cycle for your own favourite countries and regions. It works on the subregion level, too. It reminds me of times when you announce that you were raised in Inverness or wherever and someone asks if you happen to know Angus Macleod because he was also from Inverness and so you may have crossed paths. Because that’s remotely plausible.

So why the geography lesson? I have family in the Netherlands—in fact in Holland—and I’ve recently had a mate have to return to Holland. He was living and working in the US during the Covid debacle, and his employment was terminated, which meant that his H1-B sponsorship was terminated, and he was summarily forced to return to the Netherlands with his wife and two older children. This was more than slightly disruptive, as one might imagine.

So now you know.

Cyclists are Economic Disasters

A colleague of mine posted this today. It was in quotations but was uncited. I attempted to discover the source, but the best I could do was to find a post from 2017 citing another author, Kaushik Patel on LinkedIn, but I do not know if this person originated this. It doesn’t really matter. In the spirit of full disclosure, my colleague is a fully indoctrinated, unapologetic Libertarian Capitalist. He also is an avid bicyclist, so reconciling the meta must be a challenge.

A Cyclist – is a disaster for the economy:

1. He does not buy the car and does not take a car loan.
2. Does not buy vehicle insurance.
3. Does not buy fuel.
4. Does not use the services of repair shops and car washes.
5. Does not use paid parking.
6. Does not become obese.
7. Yes, and well, dammit ! Healthy people are not needed for the economy. They do not buy drugs. They do not go to private doctors. They do not increase the country’s GDP ! On the contrary, every new McDonald’s outlet creates 30 jobs: 10 Dentists, 10 Cardiologists and 10 Weight Loss Experts.

So, what do you prefer- Cycling or fast food?

Like the Jackass parable, I recently shared, how one reacts to this is largely predictable if you know the worldview of the reactor.

This piece takes the perspective of the cyclist critiquing GDP economics satirically through the lens of an orthodox economist. Of course, there are also many internal contradictions and mistruths. I don’t intend to fully critique what I take to be a meme, but I’ll comment somewhat. To be fair, I get annoyed by bicycles intermingling with either automobiles or pedestrians. I’d prefer there be dedicated thoroughfares for bikes. When I am walking, I feel they’re like mosquitos or horseflies. When I’m driving, I see them as drunken toddlers. Who knows what they’re going to do next.

Meantime

Crossed my Facebook Feed

To be honest, I see them as anachronistic. They serve a purpose—many purposes, in fact—, but that doesn’t obviate the nuisance factors. I am not wholly anti-bicycle, but I feel they need a better implementation strategy. I rode bicycles until I was twelve years old or so. Not being the nineteenth century, I still view them as child’s toys. Regarding adults, there are generally two categories—the privileged (and self-righteous) and the underprivileged (and disenfranchised).

Privilege

The author of this quote is likely in this category. How dare someone try to undermine my god-given right to responsibly ride a bike for the greater good of humankind. These people not only own expensive bicycles. Some own several for on-road cycling, off-road cycling, and perhaps even performance cycling. Generally, they own the accoutrements and matching aerodynamic vestiments—padded bicycle shorts, a tight jersey, a sleek helmet, and proper cycling shoes, each contributing to the economy.

In the categories are the commuters, who cannot necessarily wear their gear on the commute, but trust me, they got it in the closet, and they’d wear it if they could.

Underprivilege

This category is for the poor who need to commute a relative distance but either can’t afford or justify an automobile or have had their licence revoked. These people are not a part of bike culture. They are bicyclists by necessity. This is not a play to the greater good. It’s just a way to not have to walk as much.

More Colour and Shape

There is a large cultural component evident here. Japan has a bike culture. When I lived outside of Tokyo, I could drive past parking lots filled with thousands of bicycles. But that’s their culture.

A parking lot for bicycles in Niigata, NiigataJapan

I didn’t even own a car in Japan. I relied on their public transportation system and my feet. I drove friends’ cars and motorbikes. Japan also has favourable motorbike regulations, but that’s another topic.

What does it mean?

The meta of this satire is that from the perspective of the GDP, the cyclist does not contribute to the larger economy. I’ll not mention beyond this that the cyclist is a male.

He does not buy the car and does not take a car loan

This presumes that the bicycle is the sole means of transportation. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps he buys a car but pays cash. Why is he introducing financing into the equation? Of course, the bike needs to be purchased. Some are more expensive than a used car.

Does not buy vehicle insurance

This relies on the previous situation, but—and I hate to be the one to break it to you— not all people who own cars or drive buy automobile insurance. Do all jurisdictions actually require a person to purchase insurance?

Does not buy fuel

Ditto. Presuming this means petrol for the motorcar.

Does not use the services of repair shops and car washes

This is just silly. As with fuel, obviously, this is scoped to auto repair. And many people don’t use or rarely use car washes. Whilst one may bypass auto repair, you may not escape the need for bicycle repairs or tyres or frames and so on. Sure, these might be less expensive, but they are no zero-cost events.

Does not use paid parking

I am presuming this person either does not live in a congested city where one would have to pay for parking or his city subsidises parking, thus contributing to GDP.

Does not become obese

A bit of fat-shaming, perhaps? I guess he’s never seen a fat person on a bike. I’ll give him that the person on the bike might get some cardiovascular activity that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and perhaps he’d avoid becoming morbidly obese, but I’m not accepting this one. Moreover, I’ll suggest that selection bias is more the factor.

Healthy people are not needed for the economy

Here’s the punchline. Healthy people don’t contribute to the Medical-Industrial Complex. Speaking from the perspective of the US, these people pay for preventative care, buy upscale food, eat in upscale restaurants—not to mention McDonald’s—, live in upscale housing in upscale neighbourhoods, shop in upscale stores, and so on. I’ve heard the sentiment that if you don’t spend money on Organic™ food and health supplements and treatment modalities, then you’ll spend it later in trying to recover your (inevitable) lost health.

How does McDonald’s generate dentists? Conveniently, he left out the medical personnel who get to treat knee injuries, injuries from falling and getting hit by cars (or maybe just car doors).

Closing

In the end, economics is not a good measure for much of anything, but it is a measure that can increase or decrease and, for what it’s worth, we can compare X to Y.

After all is said and done, I don’t care about the GDP, and I don’t care about cycling. Chalk it up to non-attachment or apathy—perhaps a little of each.

Righteous Mind

Preamble

All too often, I’ll read or listen to a book and place bookmarks with the best of intents to revisit and comment. yet either never to return or to return and not recall the context and not wanting to reread to regain it. I am going to attempt to document my reaction to Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. If you’ve read some posts here, you’ll understand that I am not a moralist, so I don’t expect to like the book or agree with it. I’ve already ready the forward materials, so I’ll return to comment on that before I get too far ahead. I have done this before at university, and it is decidedly slow progress and can chase one down rabbit holes—this one, anyway.

I have a habit of abandoning books in favour of others including dropping them outright. This is one of 16 I have in progress at the moment, some commenced as many as 5 years ago. To be fair to myself, many of those books are substantially completed. I feel I got the intended message—or at least got what I wanted out of them—, and I just haven’t read the final few chapters. In some cases, the book is an anthology, and I have been slogging my way through it. A few books I’ve read before and am reabsorbing the material, so I may decide not to re-read cover to cover. I just pulled a second reading book off the list to get to 16 from 17.

I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, not to hate them, but to
understand them.

— Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus Politicus, 1676

Introduction

“Can we all get along?” — Rodney King

“Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out.”

Born to be Righteous

I could have titled this book The Moral Mind to convey the sense that the human mind is designed to “do” morality, just as it’s designed to do language, sexuality, music, and many other things described in popular books reporting the latest scientific findings.

Empasis mine

Straight away, I have a contention. The human mind is not designed to do anything. It has evolved and performs functions. Perhaps, this is just a matter of semantics, but it puts me on guard. Moreover, that it does morality doesn’t evaluate the relative benefit or if it should even be done. Without going down the aforementioned rabbit hole, language is a perfect example. We use language to communicate, but language as a social mechanism may be a secondary or tertiary function. As I’ve argued—even quite recently—, this is a reason I feel that language is insufficient for the purpose of conveying abstract concepts, like for example, morals and morality.

But I chose the title The Righteous Mind to convey the sense that human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental.

A primary function of the brain is as a difference engine. This is what allows us to discern friend from foe, edible versus poison, and so on. Reflecting on Kahneman and Tversky, most (if not ostensibly all) of this is a heuristic system I process, which is good enough but only at a distance. Morals allow us to create in-group and out-group distinctions.

I want to show you that an obsession with righteousness (leading inevitably to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition. It is a feature of our evolutionary design, not a bug or error that crept into minds that would otherwise be objective and rational.

To my first point—not only his insistence on a design metaphor, but doubling down and declaring it as not a bug or an error—, this is disconcerting. And it may be a normal human condition, but so is cancer. The appeal to nature isn’t winning me over.

Our righteous minds made it possible for human beings—but no other animals—to produce large cooperative groups, tribes, and nations without the glue of kinship.

Agreed.

What Lies Ahead

Part I is about the first principle: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.

If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you. But if you think about moral reasoning as a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas—to justify our own actions and to defend the teams we belong to—then things will make a lot more sense.

Haidt and I are much aligned on these points.

Keep your eye on the intuitions, and don’t take people’s moral arguments at face value. They’re mostly post hoc constructions made up on the fly, crafted to advance one or more strategic objectives.

Not buying the ‘go with your intuitions‘ advice. Moving on.

…the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant … I developed this metaphor in my last book, The Happiness Hypothesis.

I’m not sure I am going to like this dualism, and I haven’t read The Happiness Hypothesis, so I’ll just have to see where he takes it. It seems like Haidt is a hardcore Traditionalist.

Part II is about the second principle of moral psychology, which is that there’s more to morality than harm and fairness.

This feels about right.

The central metaphor of these four chapters is that the righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors.

OK. Let’s see where this goes.

Part III is about the third principle: Morality binds and blinds.

I like this pair.

…human beings are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee.

Did he say bee? I agree with the chimp reference. Maybe this won’t be as bad as I thought.

A note on terminology: In the United States, the word liberal refers to progressive or left-wing politics, and I will use the word in this sense. But in Europe and elsewhere, the word liberal is truer to its original meaning—valuing liberty above all else, including in economic activities. When Europeans use the word liberal, they often mean something more like the American term libertarian, which cannot be placed easily on the left-right spectrum.10 Readers from outside the United States may want to swap in the words progressive or left-wing whenever I say liberal.)

Decent advice.

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

— MATTHEW 7:3–5

I do find myself, probably too often, parroting this paragraph.

PART I

Intuitions Come First, Strategic Reasoning Second

Central Metaphor: The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant.

Where Does Morality Come From?

A family’s dog was killed by a car in front of their house. They had heard that dog meat was delicious, so they cut up the dog’s body and cooked it and ate it for dinner. Nobody saw them do this.

A man goes to the supermarket once a week and buys a chicken. But before cooking the chicken, he has sexual intercourse with it. Then he cooks it and eats it.

TBD

The Origin of Morality

Quick reaction for now. Details to follow…

I’m not quite buying into Haidt’s attempt to parse the nature versus nature argument into three segments: nativism and empiricism whilst adding rationalism insomuch as rationalism is seen by many as ambiguous and not a mutually exclusive option. It feels as though he’s throwing up a rationalist strawman to take down. We’ll see where it leads

Nativism
the theory that concepts, mental capacities, and mental structures are innate rather than acquired by learning.

Empiricism
the theory that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience.

Rationalism
the theory that reason rather than experience is the foundation of certainty in knowledge.

Let’s pick up on this later. I knew this would take a lot longer.