More Illusion

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Democracy and thinking that the emperor is wearing no clothes, but in dialogue, I am having difficulty getting people to understand that I am talking about democracy as a concept—the very essence of democracy—, not how some place or another has implemented it. My point is that democracy is a silly system built on false hope, smoke, and mirrors.

Some get it, and they fall back to the Churchill quote:

‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…’

—Winston S Churchill, 11 November 1947

But this misses the point.

First, Churchill’s logic is limited to ‘forms that have been tried‘, a minuscule set to be sure.

Next, perhaps he is talking a position of not letting perfection be the enemy of the good. Except there is no one seeking perfection. The question is: what is good enough? Is Democracy in and of itself good enough? And it doesn’t end there, are there systems—even theoretically—better than democracy? And then, how might these systems fair when humans populate the model?

The problem is a systems thinking optimisation problem—and then there’s the question of what democracy is attempting to optimise. Clearly, this is a multifactor model, so what outputs are being optimised? It’s not likely that this would be a steady state model, and much of this relies on an unstable preference theory, so what is optimal today might no longer be optimal tomorrow—or in ten minutes.

how does one optimise a heterogeneous model?

As anyone who follows me know, I have a problem with the notion of progress as well, so participants can vote on various definitions of progress and various initiates toward that end, and, of course, other participants would prefer the comfort zone of the nostalgic and familiar instead. So, how does one optimise a heterogeneous model?

In the business world or entertainment, we are all familiar with the concept of death by committee, the slow deliberative process that mostly yields diluted results—results that might make the participants feel that they had a voice (perhaps), but—that would be ineffectual.

I am not eschewing coöperation.

I am not eschewing coöperation. I’m of the age where the Beatles were a big influence on me—and the Rolling Stones—, so I cherish the partnerships of Lennon-McCartney and Jagger-Richards. Their solo material paled miserably. The collaboration was synergetic. But there is a reason Ringo and Charlie were not asked to participate in the song-writing process. Their inputs would not have improved the output. Even imagine listening to an album of Ringo tunes: Act Naturally, Yellow Submarine, Octopuses Garden, What Goes On, Don’t Pass Me By, and Boys? Really? Right? And he only contributed to two of these anyway, save for lending his vocal instrument.

consider the concept of diminishing marginal returns

As I continue down this stream of consciousness, I consider the concept of diminishing marginal returns. So, even if there were a democratic system that could theoretically be optimised, it would have to face the human factor—and that would be subject to the diminishing marginal return of knowledge and information—, as we’d go down the participation pool from highly knowledgeable to low-information voters. And this doesn’t even address vested interests and conflicts of interest. It doesn’t even touch on the point that people are predictably irrational.

Plato’s Republic, in all of its elitist glory, offered a solution for this—aside from the philosopher-leader: a republic of the meritorious and virtuous (as if these were meaningful or measurable concepts). At least we wouldn’t be scraping the bottom of the barrel—or would we be?

merit being honed is how to gain and exert power and political competency

The problem with Plato’s meritocratic approach is that the merit being honed is how to gain and exert power and political competency—how to play the game of politics. And notion of virtue was nothing more than a façade, so rhetoric and the decorum of appearance is all that matters in this model.

Clearly, this stream is coming to an end, so I’ll disembark here and reembark later.

The Truth about Truth (Second Amend)

Please note that this content has been subsumed into the originating article: The Truth about Truth.

SECOND: We have no idea if any changes to our perception move us closer to or further from Reality.

Rather than being asymptotic, perhaps the relationship to is polynomial (or the result of some stochastic function). See the graph above. As we move into the future (in red) and look back, we may perceive that we’ve reversed against some notion of progress. Common wisdom is that progress is directly, positively related to time. But is it?

In my last post, I reference how Einstein progressed and refined Newtonian physics, but in the future, this could be shown to be wrong. In our minds, what had seemed like progress may in retrospect turn out to have been a false assertion.* Moreover, we’ll dutifully accept this updated notion of truth if the rhetoric is sufficient to fit our concept of evidence, especially given humans’ propensity for pareidolia.

Taking our understanding of gravity as the fabric of space-time, we still have no idea what’s going on or how it operates, but this doesn’t prevent us from accepting it as a black box and making pragmatic predictions from there. So, for all intents and purposes, the ‘truth’ mechanism is less important than the functional relationship, just as I can tell time on a watch I have no idea how it operates.

I am no true Sceptic, but neither do I accept the prevailing meta-narrative whole cloth. Unfortunately, I am in no better position than the next to discern proximity to the underlying structure of reality.


* I am not versed well enough in the history of science, but I’d be interested to know which, if any, scientific advances have been a step ‘backward’, that a belief had overtaken a prior belief only to have reverted to the former.

I am aware of the slow march of science and the ignorance of possibly valid assertions simply because the rhetoric was not strong enough or the PR just wasn’t adequate. An example might be the debate of theoretical Democracy versus Communism: which is better than the other. Of course, there are too many dimensions to consider, and the adoption or exclusion of one dimension over another might be enough to tilt the outcome.

In the real world—see what I did there—, the US spend billions upon billions of dollars to interfere with Communism—and I am not taking a position whether it would have succeeded or failed on its own terms—, just to be able to knock down the strawman some century later though propagandising and disinformation campaigns.

Political Path

People can change.

Although I have changed my opinion and perspective over the years, I feel that most people settle into their ways, fixing their positions with an unhealthy dose of confirmation bias. I’d like to think that I could change my position materially from where I am now given the introduction of new evidence, but I don’t think it’s likely. First off: because I am coming from a vantage where I feel I am ‘right’.

Don’t believe everything you think.

— Various

Of course, there is no absolute right, but from the perspective of the times and place and some triangulation, I’ll say ‘relatively right’.

Rewinding…

When I left high school in 1979, I considered myself to be generally Conservative — at least as I understood the word to mean and without dimension or nuance. I’m not sure I had a great grasp of the definition.

Upon graduation, I entered the military. I remember in conversation with a mate that I was a Conservative. He laughed, and said I was the least Conservative person he’d ever come across. I was perplexed, but I had to reorient my self-perspective.

New Definition

I decided that I was a Conservative — a Fiscal Conservative —, but I was a Social Liberal. I’d pretty much been a Social Justice Warrior (SJW), concerned with the underdogs, but it wouldn’t be on my dime — or the prospect I had for future nickels and dimes.

I held this position for years — until I realised that the two positions were untenable. You can’t simultaneously offer full social equality for free, and these were rights we were discussing. Fundamental rights. If money was the friction between a right and its realisation, then it needed to be spent. Fiscal Conservatism be damned!

Politicus Interruptus

Somewhere in the fray, I had dabbled with Libertarianism. Again, I dismissed this as an untenable fantasy. There had never been even close to an instance of this working, and it goes against the grain of all social concepts. It’s built on a dream — somehow anarchy without the anarchy, so anarchy + magic.

Progress

At some point, I didn’t like the PR of the Liberal tag, so I opted for Progressive. In the real world, I tend to side pragmatically with Progressives — the Bernie Sanders crowd in the US — , though I understand the illusion of progress and of politics in general.

Searching further to find a political identity, I settle on anarcho-syndicalism, the system I most identify with today, though there are only slightly more examples of this as there are Libertarian instances, a problem being that when some people see a leaderless group, they see it as a vacuum, and history repeats itself, so I’m not sure how sustainable this system could be.

This is now…

I am under no delusion that there is a right way for society to exist. I do believe there are plenty of wrong ways, but there are too many dimensions and complexities to have a single way. After all, how are you optimising the system? Trade-offs exist, and making a choice to maximise X might (and does) mean that Y is no longer maximised. Do you make X = 10 and Y = 8, or do you settle for X = 9 and Y = 9? And there are decidedly more than just X and Y.

There is no real reason to believe that society or even humans should exists, but given consciousness and self-preservation urges, I’ll take that as a given. That’s an inviolable metanarrative element.

Death of the Metanarrative

Until I recently read Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge I never quite understood why Moderns accused Post-moderns of being anti-science. I’d heard Jordan Peterson complaining, and I’d read forum and blog posts with the same attacks.

As it happens, postmodernism eschews the meta-narrative or is leery of it. This includes the meta-narratives underlying science and the Enlightenment more generally. If you’ve read my posts over the years, you’ll see that this is a common complaint of mine, that everything is a human construct. Although Lyotard published The Postmodern Condition, I only read it this week.

To be fair, I sought it out. I have been attempting to find some other philosophers who have asserted that Truth (and other notions like Justice and Progress) are nothing more than the result of a rhetorical victory. And although Lyotard does not come out and say this (at least not in this book), I feel that he would not disagree with the notion. I may have to read some more of his work.

The least one can do is find the underlying narrative. Feel free to operate day to day as per usual, but be aware. The inscription at Delphi was not exactly right. There is no self to know, and narratives change, but to ‘know’ the prevailing narrative of the day seems it might at least allow one to better assess what’s happening above ground. The Matrix trope may be overplayed, but it’s a fitting metaphor for seeing what underlies. There is no Truth, but for what it’s worth, there’s another data point.

We live on the map, but the terrain is inaccessible. The postmodern doesn’t hate science or progress. We merely question the veracity. One cannot assess progress without a vector, without velocity and direction, so we contrive stories to serve as a foundation.

The founding of these stories don’t need to be sinister or nefarious. They can grow organically. But the ones who understand the rules, Wittgenstein’s language game, can wrest power, and s/he who can bend the rules through convincing rhetoric, perhaps as Locke and Rousseau, can change to course of history. But this course can be changed again. When Marx tried to change the narrative, it threatened the status quo, so they try to delegitimatise it at every turn—primarily through the dissemination of disinformation in a sort of corrupt meme machine. Marx tried to embrace and then co-opt Capitalism, but the Capitalists were not ready to cede power. One hundred and fifty-odd years later, they still aren’t. And it might be that a different narrative is adopted before Marx’s vision is even able to take root.

I was a bit confused by Lyotard’s quip about utility being the arbiter under modern Capitalism in lieu of Truth, as I am not sure how many postmodernists embrace the notion of some objective Truth. To be clear, I don’t.

Lego Blocks

In the end, I feel it is better to deconstruct the concept of a knowable reality. The trick is not to try to reconstruct something from the pieces. It’s like deconstructing a Lego model and rebuilding a different model from the pieces whilst making the claim that this reconstitution is the true manifestation when in fact any construct is as ‘good’ as the next, but good cannot be determined until you’ve defined a context. Such is the role of the metanarrative. Once you define an end, you can then evaluate utility in light of it, but there is nothing to assess the choice of one end versus some other ends save by preference. And of course preference can be manipulated by rhetoric.

Destiny & Free Will

Destiny or free will is a question only as old as religion, and it’s a silly question. In my opinion, this is one of the ways that religion and religious thought sullies the world. Some dead bloke way back when had some seeming epiphany, and it was entered into the doctrinal record.

The concept of destiny is the silliest part. This is a throwback to the teleological notion of progress. I wonder if the whole concept of progress isn’t an offshoot of religion.

I’ve written elsewhere about the folly of progress. Destiny fails on the same level. Moreover, destiny in this context is first about individual destiny—what is my personal fate—and then we devolve further into some group notion, whether by race or nationality or some other social construct. It’s the same logic that led to Manifest Destiny and the slaughter of millions upon millions of people worldwide over the course of history1.

Progress Sign

Neither is free will sensible. Humans—living beings, categorically—have some autonomy over themselves. This, of course, presumes self and identity to actually mean anything. But, they are subject to the influences of genetics and environmental factors—including social indoctrination—, so how would one extricate these from some notion of sovereign free will?

One does not even need to be a strict materialist to see that one does not have free will. Not even Sartre’s no excuses Existentialism fully accounts for this. An Existentialist might argue the despite whatever historical baggage yo carry with you to any given point, you can always decide on what your next point might be. But this misses the point that any decision one makes can only be made in context to the experiences you’ve already had.

One can’t one day decide to speak Russian if one had never before learnt the Russian language.

So, as I said at the start, the question of destiny and free will are for juveniles. There is no reason to adopt the religious frame that makes them appear to be more than the specious notions they happen to be.

In the end, you just are. Enjoy the moment or at least just live it. It may be your last.


1. Please note the I am using the course of history in the idiomatic sense as one might employ corners of the earth. There is no course; there are no corners.

Movement Is Not Progress

Before creating this, I searched online for instances of ‘movement is not progress‘ and ‘motion is not progress‘. I got results, but these results were generally either motivational or spiritual, which may amount to a different side of the same coin. To this contingent, movement is a necessary but not sufficient condition for progress. The dictionary defines progress as:

1. Forward or onward movement towards a destination

— or —

2. Development towards an improved or more advanced condition

Progress appears to be related to a specific type of movement: forward, but this still doesn’t seem to capture the essence of what we mean by the word progress. This is captured by the second definition by the inclusion of improved or advanced, but on what dimension are we assessing this improvement? Except in the minds of the adherents, this appears coincidentally to be arbitrary; anything in line with their wishes appears to be an advancement.

Unfortunately, progress is more than this still. Take the expanding universe model as an analogy—let’s not even discuss how a multiverse would further exacerbate things. Imagine that I can travel from Earth to Mars, and if I define Mars as the destination, then I have satisfied definition Nº 1, as I have made progress towards Mars (my stated destination), but I haven’t actually made any improvement. All I’ve done is changed position. I’ve gone from here to there, but now there is here, and here is there. If I retrace my route from Mars to Earth, again I’ve made progress under the first definition, but, in fact, I’ve just completed a circuit. Sure, I can argue that I may have done something on Mars that I can label progress: perhaps I’ve planted a flag or started a colony, but how is this progress? Following the same logic, is a cancer in your pancreas colonising your, well, colon progress? A disinterested observer taking the perspective of the cancer might say that the cancer has progressed or spread, but the patient may disagree with the assessment of progress.

In the sense that history is (anecdotally) written by the victors, we may have the illusion of progress, but as notables from Rousseau to Thoreau have quipped, progress is no progress. Even so, this progress presumes a wholesale concept of worse and better, yet there is no objective measure. This can only be claimed within some context. So, if I accept, within in the human domain, that Capitalism is better than Feudalism, then I can claim to have progressed. If I build a house on a plot of land, I can claim progress. Of course, to the previously standing wood, this is no progress. To the creatures who had occupied the wood, again, no progress. So, is progress a zero-sum game that I can qualify as a positive sum game by narrowly defining the system boundaries? Probably so, but let’s leave that for another day.

“Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.” ― Alfred A. Montapert

So what’s my point? My point is that there is only the illusion of progress, and that only in the realm of jingoistic specieism can we accept this illusion. In reality, there is no progress; there just is. We just are.