Tag Archives: Thoughts

3724 – Confusing Ways

Whatever that was in yesterday’s image, the library or not, this is definitely the library of our new University of Economics and Business.

Looks slightly confusing? Well, a good match for today’s rant. Let’s get started:

Syria is a predominantly muslim country with substantial Christian minorities. Different factions of muslims are present, a Sunni majority (as in Saudi Arabia), a Shiha minority (as in Iran), a small minority of Alawites (dominant nowhere, but also present in Turkey). Suprisingly the ruling class is dominantly Alawite and so is the family of president Bashar al-Assad. There are other small muslim factions and all sorts of Chritian churches. Syria has been a melting pot since long before the Roman Empire. It has been contested between ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, ancient Persia, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, ancient Parthia, ancient Byzance, early Islam, European crusaders, medieval Turkey, the Brits and … well, I may have forgotten a few.

Today Syria is contested again. The Ba’athist regime traditionally had close ties to the Soviet Union, and today Russia is still on their side. It’s a natural alliance, because the US have always sided with Israel, and for the Russians, Syria is their only ally in the Mediterranean offering them a Navy base.

Israel is, of course, party in the conflict, but not openly. A few bombs here, a sortie there, but other than that they seem to strive for a low profile.

Turkey, traditionally on good terms with Israel, has lost Syria when the Ottoman Empire went belly-up after World War I. An increasingly dictatorial Turkish government seems to mingle in the conflict in interesting ways. On one side the oil produced and sold by ISIS was clearly sold via Turkey, and Turkey seems to also have provided weapons and support to the so-called Islamic State. There may be some ideological overlap between the ruling Turkish party AKP and militant Islam, but there is also Erdogan’s hate agains the Kurds, an ethnic group spread out over Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. On the other side Turkey pays lip service to their NATO partners, who officially fight ISIS, and therefore Turkey officially fights ISIS as well.

The Kurds see the weakness of Iraq and Syria as a chance to achieve factual autonomy (if not complete independence), and although there are competeing Kurdish factions, they are one of the major forces against radiacl Islam. The US and Turkey are in close alliance, but while the Turks bomb the Kurds, the US most of the time support them. Everybody else, Europe included, bows before the Dictator in Turkey and calls them Terrorists.

The Russians play a pretty open game, they support Assad. They also leave the Kurds alone, because an independent Kurdish region in Syria is a fact and it does not seem to hurt Assad, to the contrary, at least for the moment both, the Kurds and the government, have a common enemy, the Islamic State and all the other “moderate” rebels.

The US game is largely opaque as Israel’s. World politics drives them to support their most dire enemies, the radical muslim factions, the offspring of Al-Quaida. Basically the West sides with those who send their killers into our cities, and all that is done in the name of fighting Terrorism.

Turkey also claims to fight Terrorism. They have been stung by a few terror attacks lately, and when they don’t accuse Erdogan’s former ally, the preacher Muhammet Fethullah Gülen and his so-called “movement”, they of course accuse the Kurds. The latest twist is, that Erdogan warns against a union of Kurdish “Terrorists” in Syria and ISIS, a rather bizarre idea, but in a country with tight control of the Internet, in a country where simple opposition against the increasingly authoritarian government is declared “Terrorism” by law, even bizarre twists of reality seem presentable to an indoctrinated people. Remember how the Jews invented both Capitalism and Communism in an attack against the Aryan race? Well, it’s that kind of logic we see at work here.

Basically the Syrian crisis is an overlay of two conflicts. The larger conflict is one between the US and Russia. It was triggered by “NATO expansion”, the “US-sponsored” coup in Ukraine and the Russian reaction, also known as “aggression”, in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. You can subscribe to any of those “truths”, but unless you’re privy to secret information only available from US and Russian secret services, there is no way to decide but to choose a belief.

The second and smaller-scale conflict is that between the traditional rivals for middle eastern dominance, namely Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran. All of them sometimes side with or behind the scenes cooperate with Israel. All but Iran, Israel included, hate Assad with a passion. They do so for different reasons, but they do.

Confusing? You bet.

3721 – Divergence

In a comment Juha wrote

I listened on radio Elisabeth Rehn (former high-ranking UN human rights official) discuss what is happening in Aleppo, comparing it to what happened in Rwanda, Srebrenica and Sarajevo.

“This will never happen again” usually means it will happen again and again. Terrible times.

Well, I didn’t know Elisabeth Rehn even by name, but from her Wikipedia page it is very likely that she knows what she talks about and what Juha heard. Having been Minister of Defence under a conservative government in a country, that has long had a stressed relationship with Russia, that does not make her seem neutral though. Do I trust her? Can I trust her? Do I trust anybody? Can I trust anybody?

Actually I’d be happy if I could rely on anyone to thruthfully tell us what’s happening in Aleppo. Or elsewhere. Anything could be true. Or not. Anything could be a conspiracy theory. Or not. The problem with conspiracy theories is, that some of them turn out to be actually true. Basically all of what Snowden revealed was deep in the territory of conspiracy theories. Now it’s confirmed as true and his adversaries don’t even deny it. How’s that for proof?

What really happens in Aleppo and why? The Russians seem to have won it for the government. Nobody in the West seems to like that. I see western media collectively (like “with one voice”) blame the Russians and the Syrian government for fighting the very organization that instructs its members to drive trucks here in Europe into assemblies of innocent people. Our media and our politicians blame them for winning against the very organization that prides itself of beheading western journalists. How crazy is that?

People die, and that’s a tragedy, but who is responsible? I hear of evacuation buses having been blown up, but seemingly not by the government and not by the Russians. Who was evacuated anyway? I constantly read of moderate rebels and civilians. “The last rebels and civilians have left eastern Aleppo”, they say. Does that mean, the regular Syrian troops have taken a ghost town? All civilians gone? We read of around 40,000 people, around 7,000 rebels and their families.

If I search, I find a Reuters story from December 1, 2016, claiming around 200,000 people in the enclave. In my book that makes roughly 40,000 enemies of the regime, who were allowed to get away, and roughly 160,000 who now most likely celebrate their freedom from those who used them as human shields. Or not? The media don’t tell us. It does not fit into the official narrative. You find information if you look for it, but it is not what is constantly shoved down your throat. If you just skim the news, you get a totally distorted picture.

I hear of a Russian ambassador being shot by a Turkish policeman using typically islamist phrases and claiming “revenge for Aleppo”. What game is Turkey playing? Are they in line with their NATO partners? Do they play their own game? Meanwhile we have to read articles like this. It didn’t stay undisputed, but still, Kuntzman’s article is in one league with the worst of Nazi propaganda, and I find it extremely irritating, that a major newspaper publishes that kind of smut.

But this is only a symptom. I see world politics again completely overshadowing a local conflict, just like it was “normal” during the Cold War, but while Vietnam was lost for Capitalism by the US military, it was won for humanity by US journalists.

That age is gone. Since Gulf War One we have “embedded journalists”, who see what the propaganda machine wants them to see.

Whom can you trust? That’s the fundamental question of our time.

Again, I don’t want to question what Elisabeth Rehn said on radio. I haven’t even heard it, I don’t know what it was. I just have a hard time trusting anybody today.

I’d be much more happy if we’d have something like unquestionable facts again. Authorities to believe in. Politicians who actually earn their money.

And if we can’t have that, if there is nothing “unquestionable” (which truly there is not and truly there should not be, if you think about it), then I’d like to have us agree upon probabilities and temporary axioms.

Let’s agree on the single fact that we can’t exactly tell what facts are, but that we can pretty well tell what, based on evidence, likely facts could be, at least until one of our axioms turns out to not hold true. Let’s agree on axioms and their temporary nature. Let’s agree on an evidence-based method of looking at the world and what’s happening in it. Let’s agree on a complete ban of “Lying to the Public for the Greater Good”. Let’s agree on completely tolerating beliefs, but never basing our politics on them.

What we see at the moment, is the complete opposite though. Different propaganda machines blaming their respective Goldsteins. 1984 and Forever War. We’ve truly had times of greater hope in our pasts.

3603 – The Long Way Up

Recently I was asked about my opinion of bosses, or actually whether I’ve ever encountered any of them with the ability and willingness to listen to information “from below”. Basically the answer is, I know a very few who are not completely hopeless. The majority is. Here are the reasons as I see them:

I think we have to distinguish between two classes of bosses, owners/founders and managers. Both are problematic, but for different reasons 🙂

Owners/founders commonly have very clear ideas of what their company is about and how it should be run. Their problem is to cope with growth and to let go of details. Frequently they are experts in the company’s business, sometimes they’ve invented the whole category. They know what they’re talking about, and that shapes their self-perception. There are exceptions, but most tend to feel they are in control, even when they operate wide outside of their area of expertise. Convincing someone like that may be anything between hard and impossible, even if you’ve got a case.

The other group is that of managers somewhere inside of a steep hierarchy, either in the private or in the public sector. I think it does not make much of a difference which, the mechanisms are the same, and they also and especially apply to politics.

Mid-rank managers and politicians have either been appointed or they work their way “up”. They are incentivized to show blind allegiance to their superiors and to ask for the same from the ranks below. What if the hierarchy is not steep? Well, forget it. Normally they are, because the way to get up is by forming armies of followers. Therefore the number of stupid reasons for expanding the hierarchy is infinite and hardly ever contested. The system of “fat hierarchies” serves everyone in it all too well.

Steep hierarchies have a lot of negative effects, for instance they are an incredible waste of money, but the most devastating effect is, that they decouple the making of decisions from the rationality necessary to make the right ones. Decisions are pushed up the hierarchy until they are made by people who don’t have any of the knowledge necessary to do so. Rational decisions based on facts are replaced by arbitrary decisions based on gut-feelings and outdated rules of thumb.

Once you haven’t actually worked in a field for 20 years, you lack even the ability to distinguish between big problems and small details. Vague familiarity becomes a criterion for prioritizing. You tend to focus on the few things you still believe to at least partially understand, neglecting the real issues, ignoring feedback from the own organization, increasingly relying on outside consultancy.

In the private sector this sooner or later spells doom for the company. Inevitably making the wrong decisions, it finally spirals down and dies.

In politics and in the public sector we don’t see that kind of natural selection, because bad performance does not have any consequences. People fall out of their careers as well, but the reasons are completely different and more connected with intrigue and struggles between warring factions.

Btw, if you think this is a case for privatization and against the public sector, forget about it. Natural selection in the private sector normally comes too late and only when all the damage that can be done already has been done. Apart from that, once a certain size is reached, “too big to fail” eliminates natural selection altogether.

Anyway. Now, if steep hierarchies are so bad, why do we still have them? Is there anything they’re good at?

Turns out, yes, there is a compelling reason for their existence, and that is that they water down individual responsibility. They are the way to go when you want to make people do things they normally wouldn’t do. They are made for the military. They are made to make normal people kill other normal people. If killing is not your job, you’re better off without hierarchical insanity 😀

Does that mean there are no bosses worth working for? No. I know a few. The problem is, that they are exceptions, and that the excellent work they do building up their department for a long time is easily ruined by someone mediocre in a short span. I guess that’s the reason why even the best companies inevitably vanish. It’s all too much dependent on personality.

Of course you can do it yourself, go into management and try to make it all different. Many have tried, many have failed, sinking their ship on the rocks of organizational petrification. But even if you should be lucky and succeed, there’s one inherent problem: you won’t have the time any more to do the work that you love, the work that so much deserves to be organized by good managers. You’ll do what you wish others would do, in order for you to be at the height of your abilities and creativity. And that’s how you’d be wasted.

Pessimistic? Yes, sometimes 🙂

3583 – Uncertain Situation

Things got shaky in Europe pretty quickly. I write this post two weeks ahead of publishing, so everything could have happened between now and when you’re reading this.

Everybody seems to have gone mad. We’ve had an almost daily succession of violent events during the past week. It is all blamed on IS terrorists and the IS itself (if there is such a single entity indeed) claims responsibility. In reality it does not seem so clear though.

One guy born in Iran and having run amok in Munich seems to have been more of a Nazi, racist and convinced of his Aryan superiority, full of hate for his victims who all were immigrants of Bosnian, Arab and Turkish origin. If you think of it, this guy definitely didn’t sympathize with the IS. He still began his rampage in the same week as some other guys likely related to IS, or at least saying so in their final vanity.

It all does not make sense. The only common thread seems to be a desire for violence, coupled to a disregard for their own lives. It’s depressing. Meanwhile we wait for the next thing to happen, and at the same time the populists try to take advantage of the situation, try to hurl us down into a maelstrom of violence and counter-violence.

Yesterday a priest was cruelly killed in France. The two terrorists, shot by the police when they left the church, were said to have been “neutralized”.

The discussion forums of the newspapers were full of comments. The last I saw were 6000 comments below one single article.

Wise words? Few. One comment suggested family, friends and indeed the whole circle of acquaintances of all terrorists should be “neutralized”. I asked if he really meant mass killings, and he said, no, he had only meant those people should be detained.

Well, asking for plain murder still seems to be off-limits, but obviously concentration camps become thinkable again. And I’m afraid that’s exactly where we’re heading.

3548 – The Art of Balance

I like these compositions. I think they are balanced and nicely fit in their respective frames.

In other news you may have heard that our presidential election between the final two candidates, Norbert Hofer and Alexander Van der Bellen, has to be repeated. After Hofer lost, his party, the right-populist FPÖ, appealed, and they did so by submitting a 150 pages tome of collected “irregularities”. And formally they were right.

For instance, the law says that counting of postal ballots must not begin before Monday, 9 am. In some districts they began earlier due to the immense pressure of having to provide early results.

In some cases the election supervisor did not wait for the official witnesses but used public servants as witnesses. Again that’s against the rules.

In its opinion the constitutional court finally gave one reason that alone would have rectified the annulment, and that was the fact that from 1 pm on preliminary results had been given to political parties and to scientists for the purpose of making projections. That’s also against a strict reading of the rules.

The problem is, every past election of the last 20 years has been executed that way. It was the consensus. It was accepted by all parties, FPÖ included. Now they broke the consensus.

Every political party could have done the same thing after every past election. They didn’t because it was just the way things were done – and by and large it worked perfectly.

Now you may ask, why did FPÖ break the consensus? For their voters they insinuate electional fraud, but in all their 150 pages they did not find a single incident that would point to fraud.

Meanwhile Erich Neuwirth, a professor emeritus of statistics and computer science at the University of Vienna, has demonstrated conclusively on his blog, that all disputed districts statistically lie in the mainstream. If you assume a manipulation to the amount that would have changed the result, all of those districts would have to have been extreme outliers before the manipulation. In other words, the insinuation of fraud is pretty laughable when you look at the hard facts.

Furthermore, even the witnesses of FPÖ have all signed under oath that everything went according to rules. Some of them may even face persecution. Therefore again: why did they do that?

I think the answer is, that they feel they are very near to their goal. Europe is crumbling, the Brits are out (are they?), France might fall to Marine Le Pen (heaven forbid!) and in general the extreme right seems to advance everywhere. Having a partisan president who would call for early general elections in times of refugees and an economic crisis, that is just too good a chance to pass it. Therefore the heavy push, therefore this “nuclear” weapon that you can only use once.

Well, it’s our job to stand united and to just say no. Let’s re-elect Alexander Van der Bellen and let’s do it even more decisively. I think it’s time to set a signal, time to stem the brown tide. They may think so, but in reality their victory is not a historic necessity. It would rather be a freak aberration like the Nazi reign has been. Thank you, we’ve had that, no need to go that route one more time.

3539 – The Day After: A Few Thoughts on Brexit

Today I read a featured comment at The Guardian, that tries to explain the current much less than elegant stance of the proponents of a “Brexit”: They never intended to win. They had no plan for it. Boris Johnson just wanted to get rid of David Cameron, and now that Cameron refuses to invoke article 50, Johnson is left without any sensible choice. Game over.

So, here we are – in an awkward position for everybody. Populism and pissing contests between rivaling Tory leaders have driven UK and EU into a situation that no responsible, thinking person could have wanted.

And it’s a situation with no obvious exit strategy. The EU simply can’t accept leaving the UK all benefits of membership without them having to pay for it. Doing so would rip the EU apart. The UK on the other hand, at least under a Tory government, can’t just say “OK, sorry, we didn’t really mean it”. It would rip the Tories apart.

Now let’s just have a look at the possible options. Let’s say the UK gets out. It is still entangled with Europe in any sort of way, politically, economically, whatever, and they decide for the Norwegian way. Norway is not a member of the EU, but it has close ties and it participates in the European Economic Area. Thus they enjoy their independence and still have the big free market. Basically that’s what Boris Johnson just said: “We’ll stay in the European Economic Area”. Why not? Sounds sensible, right?

Well, in order to participate, Norway has to closely follow the EU’s regulations, but without having a vote. So that’s for independence.

Now let’s look at the money. We know that the £350 million per week were a lie, but let’s get some real figure and do the math. According to fullfact.org, the UK’s net contribution for 2015 was a whopping £8.5 billion, that is €10.21 billion. For each of the UK’s 64.1 million inhabitants this amounts to €159.28. Norway’s financial contribution sums up to €866 million. Basically they pay for all those benefits that the UK wants to retain. Given Norway’s population of 5.084 million, that makes for a per capita contribution of €170.34. That’s for the money.

Whichever way you look at it, Brexit is an astoundingly stupid idea. The UK has nothing to win, they’ll only lose their vote.

OK, let’s pretend it was neither about regulations nor about the money, which is wrong, but let’s pretend anyway. Let’s say it was only about immigration and the closing of borders. But that is a mess as well. Calais is not England’s real problem. There’s always the Channel.

The real problem is Northern Ireland. Will the UK close borders to Ireland? The majority in Northern Ireland won’t accept that. We already hear voices pleading for Irish unity, and given the reality of the fragile equilibrium in Northern Ireland, a secession is simply not possible. For me this sounds more like a recipe for another explosion of violence.

And then there is Scotland. Just like the Irish, they are apalled by the idea of a Brexit, and they are so much so, that the next move for independence is already on its way. This time they’ll likely succeed, and then the UK has another extremely problematic border with mixed populations on both sides. What will they do? Ethnic cleansing?

The more I think of it, the more it reminds me of the breakup of Yugoslavia. It was completely unnecessary, cost around 140.000 lives, displaced four million people and created eternal hate. Slovenia and Croatia made it into the EU and can now be considered prosperous states again. Serbia, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are in a worse position and Bosnia and Kosovo are still a mess.

I have no figures for the value of destroyed housing and infrastructure, much less for the economic loss due to the long war, but we can safely assume it to be gigantic. Everybody would have been better off had they just found a political solution and had finally joined the EU. It probably wouldn’t have been as early as Slovenia, but it could easily have been before 2013, the year we could welcome Croatia.

Let’s face it: in a time of global problems and a globalized economy, small nation states are not the solution to anything. The smaller the state, the less leverage it has in international treaties and against multi-national corporations.

For instance the EU forced suppliers of mobile phones to provide a common charching plug. That was a good thing. Could England and Wales alone have done that? Likely not. Austria? Definitely not.

You know my stance regarding TTIP. I’m strictly against it, but would it have helped Austria to make its own free trade aggreement with the US? Would we have been in a better position than as part of the “buerocratic” EU? I doubt it.

And here we are, stuck in the middle of a nightmare. The current Prime Minister won’t do anything to fix it. The next Tory PM won’t find a solution either. My best case scenario is that the UK stalls in limbo for a few months, that their government has to give up and call for general elections before anything conclusive has been done, that Labour wins the next elections, that they manage to talk sense into their population before a new referendum, and that the new referendum is decisively in favor of remaining in the EU. Sounds unlikely? Yes, but surprisingly so do all the alternatives.

3454 – Three

If it doesn’t help to close your eyes and pretend, if it doesn’t help to vote for racism and xenophobia, what does then? And if it doesn’t help to keep refugees out, do we need to take everyone who knocks on our door? We can’t, can we?

Well, a good start would be to stop bombing the world to peaces. It may seem surprising, but it does not work. It never did.

You know, from the perspective of a young Iraqi or Syrian or Lybian, say, someone just old enough to fight for the IS, what we, the “Civilized Western World” did to their countries, may not seem so very different from what they try to do to ours. Bombs in Paris and Brussels? Hundreds of deads in our metropoles? Yes, it’s tragic, but do you realize that things like that happen every few days in those countries? And guess who keeps the fires burning?

Is Assad a dictator? Was Saddam Hussein? Was Gaddafi? Yes, sure. But then, before our attempts to foster a regime change, it was definitely possible to live in those countries, or can you remember hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq and Lybia during the 1990s? I can’t and I’ve been around for 52 years now.

The problem is, that we offer the victims of our wars nothing but lies. Those lies may convince our voting public long enough to keep it from opposing war (“Weapons of Mass-Destruction” anybody?), but to the targets of our aggressions it is completely clear that we lie. So, really, what can you expect of a young man whose hopes you’ve just shattered, whose country you’ve just destroyed, just for a geo-strategic advantage, just because after 911 “something needed to be done”, just because you could and just because his country couldn’t protect him?

Those young people fighting today in the middle east, you can be certain I have no sympathy for their cause, no sympathy for their methods. But I understand why they do what they do. If you are 18 years and from northern Iraq, you’ve been living under the conditions of war since before you had the chance to go to school. War is your reality, and if you ask someone who can remember how peace was, he’ll tell you exactly how the hell you’re living in came to pass. Mission Accomplished and Democracy to the World? To the sons of those who die from our drones, the daughters of those incinerated by Hellfire missiles, our words and excuses are nothing but crual, sick jokes.

It’s an assymetric war, but so was Vietnam, and just like Vietnam it can’t be won. What will we do, once we have everyone against us? Extinguish them with nuclear bombs? All of them? The whole Middle East, just sparing Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates? Is that it? Won’t work either, huh?

3451 – A Strange Flag

At least that’s what this image reminds me of. But then, I don’t like flags and I don’t like nations.

Whenever things get tight, people tend to flock together in groups, tend to accentuate the differences and not the common, tend to seek salvation in separation. It’s easy to see why.

Keeping the unknown at bay and sticking to the known is a way of denying change. It’s only that change does not come through refugees. Refugees come through change.

Their world changes, and it is through our actions or our refusal to act. Sure, we can keep them out and just pretend that there is no problem. The problem is only that it does not work.

By refusing to change we must change ourselves. By setting up borders we lose the freedom to cross them. By waging war in other countries we make ourselves the target of revenge. By following our fears we make them reality.

Bombs in Paris, bombs in Brussels, and the only thing we’re capable of is to ramp up surveillance and further limit freedom. It didn’t help the French and it didn’t help the Belgians, did it?

Do you remember Terry Gilliam’s prophetic movie “Brazil“? Well, it positively begins to feel like that.

3318 – There Be Dragons

Some days ago I read an interview in one of Austria’s few better newspapers, “Der Standard”, where Johanna Mikl-Leitner, our current Minister of the Interior, abused the victims in Paris by one more time asking for fast-tracking the new “State Security Law”. That law was proposed by her “conservative” party and it includes about everything that totalitarian fanatics could ask for.

If you don’t know, small Austria is a federal republic consisting of nine provinces, one of them is the city of Vienna. Among the absurdities of the proposed law are the usual things like increased surveillance, the right for police and secret services to hack computers, the explicit absence of any kind of supervision by a court, strict secrecy, well, you know the catalog from wherever you live.

A charming and specifically Austrian addition to the bunch of measures that didn’t help the French (who already had them all), is the introduction of nine new secret services, one for each province, intended to protect the constitution, and thereby explicitly targeting Austrian citizens (and maybe the head of the provincial governemnt of the neighboring province, if that is ruled by another party).

I posted a comment to that interview, stating that we don’t need more secret services. What we need, I said, is more democratic control of the services that we have, more transparency.

When you think of it, transparency is a form of institutionalized distrust. I think that’s well deserved for our politicians. Anyone trusting in politicians and what we are told by governments has slept under a stone since before Snowdon, since before the banking crisis was “solved”, yes, since before the second Iraq war. Thus transparency and the strictest code of behavior for public fuctionaries seems to be a promising way to get out of the mess of corruption and to restore (or for the first time establish) a policy working in the interest of the people. Don’t ask me how to get there in a system where all decisions are made by politicians, but this big little detail is not our concern today.

And then, while I was pondering the concept of transparency for the next few days, I suddenly realized that maybe there be dragons.

It might not immediately be obvious, but in our history we have two examples of policies of institutionalized distrust. The first (and I admit I don’t know much about it) is the French Revolution. The early leaders all ended under the guillotine; as we say now, “Revolutions Devour Their Own Children”.

The second example, and that’s what I currently read a lot about, is the Soviet Union.

In the communist party we had the perfect example of total distrust of anyone against anyone else. Regardless of your achievements, one wrong word could bring you under scrutinity, most of the time followed by years in the Gulag, sometimes even by an execution.

In both situations the distrust was used by a strong leader to establish an effectively autocratic system.

Yes, Napoleon left us a number of important achievements like the Code Civil, the basis of all modern civil law, and I doubt that I would want to live in a world that had not gone through the French Revolution and Napoleon’s wars for dominance in Europe, but nevertheless, he was an insane dictator, although maybe without Hitler’s primitive bestiality.

Stalin is another, more complex case, and again I don’t know enough. We’ll get to the communists and Stalin in another post.

For now it’s important to point out that transparency can and always will be used as a way to attack political opponents. If you don’t trust anyone, everything about everyone will be collected, archived, and at one point in time it will be used.

At the moment we have a political system trying to establish maximum transparency in the most asymmetrical way: all has to be in the open about us, everything has to be secret about them. That’s clearly wrong, but even if we ever manage to reestablish a balance, the fact remains that transparency is a double-edged sword. It can enable democratic control, but it can also be abused as a terrible weapon in the hands of the unscrupulous.

I have no solution to this conundrum. Do you?

3315 – Trains And Stations

This is Lisbon’s Estação Central, the central train station near Russio, the place with the hallucinogenically wavy pavement pattern.

Yesterday I spoke about individuality, and when I think of it, although it makes perfect sense for my agnostic self, it may be different for someone believing in God.

I mean, I am pretty sure I am a coward, but if I had to try to defend my beloved, I can realistically imagine I would. It is something between my individual self and an individual other. It is personal. You know, I am a person with an individual conciousness and self-consciousness, and apart from that I am pretty sure that the only thing there is, is my life in the presence of where I am and with whom I am. I don’t necessarily rule out the existence of a Creator-God, but only in the same sense as I don’t rule out the existence of a way to travel faster than light. It may be. Nobody so far found any convincing evidence, and while means for faster-than-light travel may have simply not been discovered yet, the existence of God, a loving or at least merciful God, seems to be contradicted by all my knowledge of history and by the general state of affairs in this, his presumptive creation.

Thus, if you have nothing but your individuality, and if you believe in the end of everything as soon as this, your individual self comes to an end (no, other than in that matter I generally disagree with her), you probably see victories won at the cost of human lives as too expensive.

It may be very different for the devout follower of a God, especially if he believes in a better life after death and in a reunification with his beloved. It may be the idea of reincarnation (although what you get in reincarnation-based religions may not be what you desired), it may be the idea of a Paradise, in any case it is the transcendence of death.

Thus, in my mind, it takes a religious person to be a reckless fanatic capable of every crime. Hitler, you say? And what about Himmler? Well, they had their own pseudo-religion and, if that is not enough, their crimes were abstract, committed by them only in a very indirect way. They won’t have felt like crimes to them.

The perpetrators of the attacks in Paris didn’t have that luxury of remoteness. They heard individual people beg for mercy, cry with fear, all the while wading in blood, all the while preparing to throw away their poor lives.

How low must you value yourself, your own life and your capacity to do good, in order to do that to yourself and to your victims?