In an 1951 article for the New York Times, ‘The Best Argument for Fanaticism – Liberalism’, Bertrand Russell lays out what he sees as the supplementary Decalogue for teachers. Can it be used by parents too?
I managed to convince a few friends to accompany me in a placard-waving counter-action, to encourage people instead to Buy More Stuff. Given the number of glum-faced people with chain-store bags and scurrying in and out of shops, I think we won!
Have your own campaign in your own hometown, or stick posters up in your window. Remind others to strive for validation as consumers and surrender unto Mammon!
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My friend Si told me about some recent interactions with a BNP supporter on a local networking and events site here in Cambridge, We’re All Neighbours. Most of the regulars of the site were being quite tolerant and reasonable, and engaged him in discussion. Si said that this was problem, as reasoned debate gave credence to the point of view, and gave them a platform to express themselves. As ultimately the BNP is a group of racist pricks with little tolerance for other cultures, giving them a platform on a community site might not be the best thing to do. Anyway, everyone got a little upset, and Si ridiculed the BNP member as compensating for his teeny tiny member.
Anyway this got me thinking, what’s the best way to deal with situations where rational arguments don’t work? If you are a touchy-feely everyone-deserves-to-be-heard type of person, do you have to keep respectful and patient? Is it perhaps better to ridicule those that engage in hate speech? I mean, you aren’t going to convince them that their point of view is blinkered, simple and nasty, so you might as well make them look silly and sweaty. Is it ok to skip about lightly, poking fun, while they get angrier and angrier?
“White Power!” the Nazi’s shouted, “White Flour?” the clowns yelled back running in circles throwing flour in the air and raising separate letters which spelt “White Flour”.
“White Power!” the Nazi’s angrily shouted once more, “White flowers?” the clowns cheers and threw white flowers in the air and danced about merrily.
“White Power!” the Nazi’s tried once again in a doomed and somewhat funny attempt to clarify their message, “ohhhhhh!” the clowns yelled “Tight Shower!” and held a solar shower in the air and all tried to crowd under to get clean as per the Klan’s directions.
At this point several of the Nazi’s and Klan members began clutching their hearts as if they were about to have a heart attack. Their beady eyes bulged, and the veins in their tiny narrow foreheads beat in rage. One last time they screamed “White Power!”
The clown women thought they finally understood what the Klan was trying to say. “Ohhhhh…” the women clowns said. “Now we understand…”, “WIFE POWER!” they lifted the letters up in the air, grabbed the nearest male clowns and lifted them in their arms and ran about merrily chanting “WIFE POWER! WIFE POWER! WIFE POWER!”
Conventional economic reasoning would suggest that if you want to create a certain behaviour, you create an incentive for that behaviour. Self interest is the name of the game; you either give a reward good behaviour, or you set a fine for bad. Makes sense? The problem is that what starts off as an incentive quickly becomes the norm. Market incentives quickly crowd out other norms, such as social norms of morality.
A child that is given a dollar to read a book quickly sees reading not of value to him or her, but a way to make money. A parent that is fined for picking up their child from school late will start treating the fine as a fee payable to the teacher for looking after their child. In the wider world, the carbon emission trading scheme of the Kyoto protocol was designed to reduce emissions. Unfortunately, some of the worst polluters and environmentally negligent nations are some of the richest, and can easily buy their way out of their obligations.
This is really a fascinating listen. I am looking forward to the next lecture, but quite depressed by what I am finding out.
The Trap – Adam Curtis
Adam Curtis has made a television series on a similar theme, The Trap, how attempts to engineer and regulate society through economics have weird and terrible consequences.
Game theory is a dangerous and broken model for human interaction; a system driven by suspicion and self- interest does result in an equilibrium, but at what cost?