Category Archives: Human Nature

Why do we act the way we do?

The empathetic poor

The good Samaritan
Image by twoGiraffe via Flickr

US. Americans like to pride themselves on their hospitality  and  generosity and I’ve heard many visitors to the US back this impression up so there must be a truth to it and I do not doubt that towards more “trustworthy” people, as are for example white, middle-class European tourists, Americans will go out of their way to take care for them. However, things are radically different when one is talking about lower class people, immigrants and PoC. This story from reddit is quite enlightening on this respect. Here’s a quick quote-summary1:

This past year I have had 3 instances of car trouble. A blow out on a freeway, a bunch of blown fuses and an out of gas situation[…]

Anyway, each of these times this shit happened I was DISGUSTED with how people would not bother to help me. I spent hours on the side of the freeway waiting, watching roadside assistance vehicles blow past me, for AAA to show. The 4 gas stations I asked for a gas can at told me that they couldn’t loan them out “for my safety” but I could buy a really shitty 1-gallon one with no cap for $15. It was enough, each time, to make you say shit like “this country is going to hell in a handbasket.”

But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Immigrants. Mexican immigrants. None of them spoke a lick of the language. But one of those dudes had a profound affect on me.

He was the guy that stopped to help me with a blow out with his whole family of 6 in tow. I was on the side of the road for close to 4 hours. Big jeep, blown rear tire, had a spare but no jack. I had signs in the windows of the car, big signs that said NEED A JACK and offered money. No dice[…]

So, to clarify, a family that is undoubtedly poorer than you, me, and just about everyone else on that stretch of road, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took an hour or two out of their day to help some strange dude on the side of the road when people in tow trucks were just passing me by. Wow…

This isn’t of course just to rant against the US. Most, if not all primarily middle-class countries in the world behave like this. I do not think that Germans or Englishmen would be more willing to stop to help than the Americans. Hell, the Germans had to implement laws which make it illegal not to stop to help during a car accident, just to prevent everyone just driving by.

Things vary of course, depending on how society is formed, along with their traditions and the incentives the system creates, where small economic variables can have a very big impact2 but there is an obvious correlation to social class and how much your “good samaritan” feelings extend. To me, it looks like one’s mutual aid tends to focused towards their own social class or and higher, which of course why the rich (which have the smallest numbers) seem to be meaner on average than the rest of us.

I’m not a scientist and especially not  sociologist so I can only state my impressions on this of course, but I see various interlocking psychological and material effects taking place here to form this reality, from the monkeysphere, to tribalism, to class warfare, and all of them together form this reality and this is just yet another emergent phenomenon from the existence of inequality. It is exactly these kind of emergent effect that simple logical assumptions and rationale (such as the favourite right-libertarian defence of inequality as “harmless”) cannot predict or combat.

Until  we achieve global equality, such phenomena as the above will always exist and the most oppressed classes will be always the most altruistic while the ruling elite and all kinds of managers will act the most crassly and egoistically to the detriment of everyone else. All the pleading in the world for a more empathetic “first world” will continue falling on deaf ears, because it’s not that these citizens of the rich nations willfully become this way, but rather that any existence of inequality, will affect the psychology of people to make them act this way. And unfortunately, it’s not possible for everyone to receive the kind of life-altering event, as the redditor above.

  1. Btw, the above are not the best parts, just the parts that convey the main point I’m trying to make. I won’t spoil the whole comment and you should really read it in full to get the whole emotional impact of it. []
  2. Example: Having to pay for health or an ambulance to come will make people involved or watching accidents have a significantly altered reaction compared to countries where all health care is free. I still remember the story about a guy in Switzerland passed by a motorcycle accident with an unconscious cyclist. He called out an ambulance to the scene which was turned back by the cyclist who had woken up by then. Since ambulance call-outs are charged there and the cyclist refused service, they tracked down the original caller and charged him. Now what incentive would that give you? []

Is Management Consulting useless? A Reply to the Baseline Scenario

The Top-Down Approach
Image by Sanctu via Flickr

Someone informed me of the recent semi-apologetical post by James Kwak on Management Consultants where he comments on the same article I wrote about a few days ago. Within, he explains that while downsizing was something Management Consultancy firms do sometimes, it’s by far not the most common reason they are employed. He then proceeds to explain what the most common tasks they are called to consult on are and how it all works together due to the restraints of the situation.

Needless to say, I’m not convinced.

The basic argument Kwak is making is that Management Consultants are usually called to advise on a specific question, rather than the all encompassing “How can we improve business/make more money”. They are tasked to find out stuff like whether it’s worth going into a new market and so on. And because the people who are hired for such management consultancy are usually the sharpest sticks in the bunch, they are qualified in figuring out the answers.

But his makes no sense. No matter how smart one is, they can’t just answer such questions without having lived and experienced the job they’re advising on. We’re led to believe that these bright-but-unskilled people can somehow do this by filling in some excel charts and studying a lot of business books and whatnot. Well, excuse me but this sounds to me as effective as a court magician claiming that his recommendations are accurate because he’s thrown the bones and read the stars very very hard. I challenge the basic premise that one can make accurate business decisions based on some skills learned on MBA courses, not to mention 2-week seminars on “Management Consultancy”.

It doesn’t matter that the people doing this job are bright. It doesn’t matter if they have more time than the management they are consulting (who are surprisingly being paid to do this but “don’t have enough time”). What matters is that there is no handbook on how to make such decisions that can ever apply to every kind of market in the same way, and yet management and their consultants keep weaving this lie that one can possibly make decisions on every kind of business given enough time and spreadsheets.

It’s nonsense. A scam. A fraud on a criminal scale perpetuated by the new nobility and their lackeys who get to make the big bucks by pulling decisions out of their arse. They are the ones who think of the (proprietary) algorithms and write the management books that the rest buy anyway. It’s a close circuit with little to no relation on the real world and sustained by little else than cognitive biases and marketing.

James Kwak attempts to skirt around the unchallenged premises by pointing out that Management Consultants are “really really smart” and are hired because the paid managers are too “busy” to do what they are supposed to. This even fails to accurately refute the article it was criticizing which was pointing out that when such Management Consultancy firms are hired to do the generic “improve business” consultancy, they usually end up suggesting to downsize. This is simply the most succinct representation of the MC fraud which points that they don’t really know what they’re doing, and when they do, their own management is so incompetent in turn, that it suggests the opposite. There’s no reason to expect that when MC firms are hired to do some other kind of consultancy (i.e. analyze new markets), they are any more competent at it.

Yes, Management Consultants can be smart. Yes they can be hard-working. Yes they can be perfectionist. But none of these will help unless they have any idea what they’re doing in the first place. This is why the MC firms which can best obfuscate the fact that they do not know what they are doing are the most successful. The dynamics of the situation – the “evolutionary” competition between firms – ensures that only the ones who are conscious of their ignorance and can best cover it up with fake confidence and pure marketing are the ones who will take the best and most expensive contracts in a world where nobody at the top knows what the hell they’re doing.

Will Mortal Kombat: Rebirth survive its transition to a profit motive?

MKDL
Image via Wikipedia

In case you missed it, a few days ago the most amazing short film emerged based on the re-imagination of the Mortal Kombat franchise. I think every MK fan in the world must have seen it by now so I won’t embed it again. However today I read this intereview from the guy who made it and it didn’t strike me as a great surprise to find out that the short film was made out of love for the MK theme and through the donation of time and equipment of people with similar vision.

The result was a short film made of pure awesome. Something which (for me at least) brings the vision for an MK movie to what it really should have been from the start. Gritty, Brutal and Horrific. Something truly made for adults and not children. The short film was created in order to sell the idea of an MK reboot to Warner Brothers and therefore make a whole movie and given the reaction it has received, there’s no reason to expect this will not go through.

However this also nicely fits in with what we’ve discovered bout human motivation which is that what humans do out of an interest to achieve a quality result and via self-management is always of higher quality than what is created in order to make money. This short film was created in exactly the same way. It’s director knew he was not getting paid for it. The people volunteering knew it as well. They had the right motivation and thus the result is excellent.

What will happen though when they try to translate this vision to the big screen? When their main drive will be profit and corporate management will take away much of the self-management of the staff in order to make the film sell more? What will happen when they make it PG-13 in order to tap into the teenage audience? When they start trying to just pile more and more special effects for the “Wow factor” that Holywood is so obsessed with. When the various IP pendlers intervene and try to get a cut (which is already happening).

Speaking of IP, this is also an excellent sampla of how such concepts prevent creativity rather than create it. The Director created something awesome out of the ideas that came before him. He didn’t do it to get a new piece of IP as the idea behind the laws would have you believe. He made it because we wanted to create something awesome. In this case, copyrights and trademarks are only going to delay and take money out of production rather than promote creativity. I.e. they will fulfill their classic role of delaying creativity.

But I digress.

I hope that I’m proven wrong and hopefully at least, the first film made out of this concept will be as awesome as the short trailer. The sequels, if The Matrix is anything to go by, will not be anywhere near as good anyway.

Είδωμεν…

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Slavery is not "Self-Control", it's control by others.

I just read a very misguided post over at Overcoming Bias1which surprisingly seems to be getting everything wrong and coming to the conlcusion that humans are naturally “self-domesticating themselves” for the benefit of production. I just had to take a stab at it as some of the thing I read there were just so wrong.

First of all, “self-control” here is used not as self-management but rather as self-restraint; as willingness of humans to voluntarily submit to slave-like conditions. It is a very misguiding term that implies voluntary submission to rigid organization when the truth is that the control comes from external forces, from managers and bosses and masters. Looking at it this way, makes it obvious that it’s a form of slavery.

The basic argument rests on the discoveries of economists (who else) that slave-driven production and rigid organization was “more effective” than self-managed organization and therefore “free-labour” farms had to copy this kind of organization to compete. We are also told that because firms and factories could more efficiently wield the carrot and stick, it provided a bigger incentive which eventually led to city bred humans to choose such positions while their more free brethren in the countryside starved rather than submit.

There are a lot of important things here which really throw a spanner in the way the argument has been constructed.

First of all, the carrot and stick leading to greater productivity and therefore production methods that perfected it out-competing free labour conflicts with actual Science which has shown us that the carrot and stick doesn’t work except for the most menial and repetitive jobs, of which farming isn’t. Experience has shown that self-managed (note, not “self-controlled” as the author defines it) are far more productive than managed ones.

Second, the economists doing the comparisons, as is common with economists, don’t really mention anything else of the surrounding circumstances. Why where free farmers “less productive”? Could it be that they didn’t require that they overworked themselves for the benefit of a rich white man who could then sell all that extra product on the market for his own benefit? No. Lets not get caught in the details shall we?

Third, the absurd point that:

This dramatically illustrates the huge self-control innovations that came with industry. School, propaganda, mass media, and who knows what else have greatly changed human nature, enabling a system of industrial submission and control that proud farmers and foragers simply would not tolerate – they would (and did) starve first.  In contrast, industry workers had enough self/culture-control to act as only slaves would before – working long hours in harsh alien environments, and showing up on time and doing what they were told.

This is a blatant and common reworking of history by those who would like it to say something positive about brutal and inhumane production methods. That societies somehow “evolved” towards factory production as those who did not accept it where out-competed. This ignores the very significant violence enacted from the state, the theft of a genocidal size of the common lands of farmers, forcing them to either become proletarians or starve. People did in fact NOT starve when not following factory production. They were quite capable of living “inefficiently” through their free labour. This is why they had to be forced out of it, as they would not do it voluntarily. Who would discard Self-management in favour of wage-slavery?

Finally the conclusion that workers voluntarily chose to become wage-slaves because the rewards were bigger is goes contrary to the history of the labour movement and basic psychology. Not only do humans value self-management and freedom far more than they value extra money but we have a very clear history which shows us how violence and terror was required for workers to “choose” to become wage-slaves and how, further to that, the state was all too willing to attack them when they tried to resist this process or improve their lot. There is no need to theorize randomly based on economic nonsense and lack of context. We know why humans “chose” to become wage-slaves and it definitely wasn’t for the money.

In conclusion, humans are only “self-domesticated” to the extent that those who “domesticated” humans via violence and coercion are also human. But there’s nothing voluntary in there and the sooner we discard such propaganda and realize the true history and extend of our oppression, the sooner we can get rid of it.

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  1. Funny note: A commenter informed me that I had referred to them initially as “Overwhelming Bias” which is quite an interesting Freudian slip to make 🙂 []

On the heterosexual male's love for the cock

Quoth Blue Linchpin (on the pro-rape position of Eivind Berge)

Let’s get this straight: it’s not exactly a revelation that women’s bodies are traded for wealth. This is the general model for how society expects relationships to work. It is, however, just that: a model, a social construct. Male sexuality has no worth in society because those it is of no worth to those in power, ie men. Eivind, as a heterosexual male (aha! So that’s why his link specified heterosexual society) has no desire for cock. He is not willing to pay for it, or make any effort for it, and he would surely cry crocodile tears if it were forced upon him. Would he change his mind if the cock in question were attached to a wealthy business owner, and he were a single father in need of cash? Quite possibly. Does this mean Eivind’s only worth is as a sex object? After all, Eivind is just as capable of being valuable in other ways.

Check the rest of this awesome post btw. It’s very nicely skewers the bullshit arguments made by this very very misguided person.

On a related point: One has to wonder how it comes to be that s0 many right-libertarians end up being misogynists or supporting sexist positions (and then end up wonder why there are so few womyn in their movement). I’m guessing it has to do with the fetishism of market theory, making them try to apply it in every possible situation. If one ignores the social circumstances around one exchange, then it’s not difficult to reach such absurd conclusions. If one simply starts from the basis where women’s worth is in their vagina, it’s not difficult to end up with absurdities such as the pro-rape argument of our Norwegian libertarian above. By refusing to look on why a womyn’s worth rests is their vagina in the first place (hint: it’s because of the patriarchy), you can only start from wrong premises.

Oh, and if you’re up to it, do link to Blue Linchpin’s blogpost about the pro-rape position of Eivind Berge by menioning his name in the link anchor, so that her post get some nice Google juice and people looking for his name can see what he stands for.

"Human Nature" my ass

I really should start making a series about all the stuff that refute the common flawed preconceptions about “Human Nature” which are then used  by various parties to promote their own agendas. Such as the social democrats promoting a big nanny state or professional managers and the liberals promoting big business and the profit motive. Oh well…I think a bookmark group is enough for now

This latest vid explains something I’ve written about before but bears repeating. Humans are not driven by money or wealth.

Now, you have to ask, how come businesses still do not work with models that go along with what science has discovered of our psychology. Think about it and get back to me.

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Skeptics, Denialists and Conspiracy Theorists

Skepticism
Skeptic cat is skeptical by aturkus

A conspiracy theorist is someone who has a theory and tries to find data to support it (lets call this “positive data”) while marginalizing and/or ignoring any data which falsifies it (“negative data”). When the evidence used to maintain a theory is falsified, a conspiracy theorist will either deny the evidence (see below) or move on to find new – and usually more and more arcane and obscure – evidence that supports it while retaining a positive belief in his theory based on faith until he finds it. A main characteristic of the conspiracy theorist is that the evidence which falsifies his theory will not make him reconsider the validity of his theory itself but rather make him strive to find new positive data instead.

Example is the 9/11 truther movement which sees various evidence of planned demolition of the twin towers (such as exploding windows, burning steel etc) but refuses to acknowledge the evidence of internal collapse and the information that explains burning steel and so on.

The same tactics are also used by Woo-Woo peddlers as well as the religious.

A denialist is someone who does not like a theory and is thus trying to find data which falsifies it. However he has a conspiracy theorist outlook on selecting them. I.e. In order to prove his falsification theories, he tries to find data to support them while ignoring those that refute them and constantly replaces negative data as previous ones are debunked.

Unlike a skeptic (see below) who considers various ways to falsify a theory as well, a denialist will refuse to acknowledge a theory when it withstands all falsifications. Whereas a skeptic will gladly accept a theory he (or the relevant expert consensus in the field) can’t prove wrong until such time as new evidence comes to light that falsifies it, a denialist will retain that the theory is wrong, no matter the evidence. As such, occasionally a denialist may run out of negative data but retain his denial on faith alone, while constantly trying to discover some shred of evidence, no matter how obscure, to grasp onto.

Example is the Anthropogenic Global Climate Change Denialist movement (that’s a mouthful) who’s been jumping from evidence to evidence to support their denial, while ignoring the mass of positive data for AGCC has accumulated and not considering the significance of all the falsification theories they used to espouse before they were debunked in turn.

A skeptic is someone who sees a theory that does not fit with the current collective knowledge of humankind (i.e. science) and look for ways prove such a theory wrong before accepting it. A theory will only be accepted when it cannot be falsified. However a theory that can bears no falsification (such as an afterlife) can be ignored when it has no corresponding positive data, as it is of no material consequence. For example,  “All humans are mortal” is unfalsifiable but also unimportant as is “Some humans are immortal”. Unless one can show who is immortal and why, the validity or not of such a theory is irrelevant as long as we can accept that by overwhelming evidence, all humans are mortal.

Similarly a proposition such as “afterlife exists” or “ghosts exist” are irrelevant to a skeptic unless positive data can be brought to light to show how those proposition might be true. Once such evidence is brought to light, a skeptic will try to falsify them in order to avoid deluding himself. Only if those theories survive falsification will they be accepted.

A skeptic also recognises that it’s impossible to be knowledgeable in all sectors of human knowledge and is content to defer to experts who have studied each scientific area. As long as there is a consensus of scientists in a given area, a skeptic who has neither the knowledge or the time to acquire it, is justified in relying on scientific consensus. However this is only an acceptable practice for skeptics who recognise their limitations, not a way of doing science. As such, a skeptical expert of a scientific area is within her rights to challenge a theory which has the consensus of her peers and attempt to falsify it when new evidence comes to light. In fact, I would say this is her duty.

In short, the primary difference between a skeptic and a conspiracy theorist is that the skeptic gives far more weight to the falsification of a theory rather than the evidence for it. The primary difference between a skeptic and a denialist is that the skeptic accepts a theory he or the scientific community cannot falsify which is also supported by positive data. The difference with both, is that a skeptic will be neutral towards a theory at the start, unlike starting positive to it like the Conspiracy theorist or negative to it like the Denialist based on some kind of gut feeling. A skeptic will become positive to a theory only when there is overwhelming evidence and/or consensus for it and negative to it when there is overwhelming falsification and/or no evidence for it.

On the other hand, the reason why so many denialists are also conspiracy theorists is because their methods complement each other. A conspiracy theorist would have a problem maintaining his theories if he did not consistently deny the evidence against them and a denialist would have a problem sustaining his denial if he did not avoid reconsidering his opposition when his evidence failed. As such, it’s easier for a denialists to be taken in by conspiracy theorists (think of those AGCC denialists who blame the scientific consensus to a global New World Order cabal) and conspiracy theorist or woo-woo peddlers are very likely to turn into denialists against theories which run counter to their conspiracy theories.

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Obedience makes you stupid

Crosswalk signal feature showing a female pict...
Image via Wikipedia

There is a particular trend in German society, a kind of unwritten rule which says that people should follow laws and state orders uncritically and far too many Germans do this, to the degree that one can even say that they are characterized as a society by this unquestionable obedience.

Pedestrians for example follow traffic lights to the second. A typical German will not cross the street until the little green man appears, even if the street is completely empty for a km in either direction. They claim that this is to give the good example to children but then again, they will act like this even if no children are around. A cyclist will wait on the red light, even if the green pedestrian light of the direction he is riding, is on. Even worse, when the green light is on, people start walking without even looking. They just assume safety.

This behaviour is not isolated in traffic of course but permeates almost every aspect of life. From state laws to rules of etiquette to even personal behaviour. If there’s a rule, it must be followed as closely as possible. And to make matters worse, when someone does not follow the expected behaviour, many Germans, especially the older generations, will take it upon themselves to scold and complain in an attempt to set them back on the “right track”.

This post is not to complain about Germans and Germany of course, not to paint them in a broad brush as there’s quite a few that rightly dislike and rebel against this behaviour. Germans simply provided me with the insight into something else; an interesting side-effect of this excessive obedience to laws and rules that I’ve noticed; it  is making people behave in a weird way, a way that I can only label as stupid.

It seems to me that an unquestioned acceptance of authoritarian orders makes people’s own individualism atrophy, it strips them of the capacity to decide for themselves which course of action to take which in turn makes them afraid of making their own decisions and taking responsibility for them. Better to defer to authority and absolve yourself in the hierarchical chain of command. If, as a car driver, you drive with a green light and you end up hitting a pedestrian because you couldn’t break quickly enough or you weren’t looking anywhere except the light1, it’s their fault. If, as a soldier,  you are ordered to shoot some civilians, then you’re “just f0llowing orders”. If, as a insurance worker, you deny coverage because of a technicality, then you’re just following the rules. And so on.

When you stop thinking and constantly judging your own actions on their own merits then you simply can end up committing the worst actions because you feel no responsibility for them. Atrocities do not happen because everyone found them proper. They happen because everyone just kept following orders. Without thinking. Without looking at the greater picture.

And the worst part is not simply how many mistakes people will do if they feel irresponsible, but how much it affects their underlying mentality, twisting the understanding of authority. Instead of thinking that someone is in power because they need to be able to do the right thing, they start to believe that someone is doing the right thing, because they are in power.

Power does not only corrupt the minds of those exerting it, but just as much the minds of those respecting it. While those below become thoughtless drones, sluggishly trying to avoid any and all work and creativity, those above have to compensate for this and thus start to consider themselves superior, more intelligent and worthy or their position and authority. It a vicious self-perpetuating circle.

This is why authority in all its forms should always be challenged. Many times, it will be defensible, such as authority from knowledge or wisdom. The authority a carpenter has over wood making practices or the accountant over record keeping. But most often than not, it has no true basis in reality. The boss’ and manager’s authority does not rely in them being smarter, more productive or being able to make others more productive. The politician’s authority does not rely on them being more capable of creating the rules for thousands, if not millions of others. The Judge’s authority does not rely on them being more impartial. And while those arguments will be used as the reason, they are not based on evidence but on theory, articles of faith and “lesser-evil” fallacies.

Such authority need to be challenged in all its forms. The worker should challenge the boss’ orders, vocally if possible but silently when not, and decide for themselves how they can work productively. The soldier should challenge their orders and follow them only if they stand on their own merit, regardless of nationalist and religious rhetoric. The pedestrian should challenge the law of the street and take it as a guideline, not an order.

I can’t drive a car, but I do drive a bicycle and I keep crossing red lights all the time. Red and green are for me only an indication and my true decision rests in my own eyes and ears. A red light will be crossed when the street is clear and a green one will be waited when I don’t feel secure. These actions are not simply petty rebellion but simple rational common sense. There will be little consolation to me if someone gets punished for breaking my spine for crossing a red light and I’d rather die than be like those Germans I saw a few months ago which where waiting at an (obviously broken) red light for 5 minutes more after I’d had enough and crossed the street (and that is just until they left my vision).  Just stuck there, cars and pedestrians, apparently not knowing what to do when trapped in a red light prison of their own blind obedience.

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  1. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to run the street because the drivers started accelerating, while I was in the process of crossing, while keeping their eyes on the orange light and not on the street in front of them with the very obvious person in it []