Thursday 23rd of September 2021

of democratic civilisations and tweaking cheeks...


The leader of Tibetan Buddhism sees reasons for optimism even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. People are helping one another, he tells the BBC's Justin Rowlatt, and if seven billion people on Earth develop "a sense of oneness" they may yet unite to solve the problem of climate change.

The first time I
[Justin Rowlatt] met the Dalai Lama he tweaked my cheek.
It is pretty unusual to have your cheek tweaked by anyone, let alone by a man regarded as a living god by many of his followers. 

But the Dalai Lama is a playful man who likes to tease his interviewers.

Now, of course, such a gesture would be unthinkable - our latest encounter comes via the sterile interface of a video conferencing app.

The Dalai Lama appears promptly and sits in front of the camera, smiling and adjusting his burgundy robes.

"Half-five," he says with a grin. His eyes sparkle: "Too early!”

We both laugh. He is teasing me again.

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Everyone (nearly everyone) has a message to sell… The “oneness” is usually that of the Buddhists, though there are various sects of Buddhists who don’t see one-eye to one-eye with the others. Sometimes, these groups hate each others and some have their own Karmapa… the Dalai Lama being one of them, that of Tibet. All religious system pass the collection plate. Atheists do not.

Oh, and I know some sects of Buddhism that don't believe in global warming... 

Rutger Bregman sells Humankind, a Hopeful History, which is, I suppose, a silly title to look backwards at the events that brought us here with hope of improvement. He ends his general preaching with:

"It’s time for a new realism. It’s time for a new view of humankind…

Fair enough… We’ve been on this for a long time, in general (Gus working on a better trap since the 1950s) and on this website since 2005. We must have been plodding because we’re not there yet… But demanding oneness for 7.8 billion people is dealing with unreality. In fact "oneness" is a ridiculous concept where differences matter. I can't even reach “oneness” with myself (I know Buddhist do it piece of cake, I have been told — yet I hate to be the same idiot day in, day out) — and I don’t need a new view of humankind. Just fix the broken bits. Well, I (we?) do need a new way of thinking… I’m still working on that… As some people say: it’s the journey, not the destination… The point here is to have fun along the way.

In his Hopeful History, Rutger Bregman also enters the world of osmosis of good and bad, that of Rosenthal’s Pygmalion experiment versus the Golem effect. There are a few other good ideas in there, but nothing really new, not even the “new realism”. Voltaire would kindly savage this new Bregman thingy akin to Candide revisited...

Sure, yes, especially at the moment, we need a bit more optimism personally and as a variety of groups — as it feels as if the world is going down the toilet — but it’s a world in which we need to accept we speak different languages containing different moires of understandings of what it means to be alive. People are of different health, mental and physical. Some people are born more psychopathic than others and we’re all adept at lying, even lying through satire in order to expose the truth, when we lift a corner of the carpet. Aboriginal people of Australia have oodles of wisdom to teach us about civilisation and patience.

Rosenthal’s experiment is interesting but not always positively conclusive anyway. Reinforcing the value of children and people may not be able to fight external forces such as the negativity of the media and that of racism and sexism, for example. But we can hope other people will give us clues for us to become better, without being barked at, but sometimes peer groups can lead to self-harm, as also pointed out by Bregman. Maintaining the higher value of ourselves could be more demanding than plodding along. 

Our heroes have feet of clay. Especially those that are influencers (for cash) on the net — and those of the future that come through science fiction. We return to having to sell ideas and “girl make-up" for profit, including Bregman. De Botton is more generous as he has inherited enough cash to give away his thoughts which are on a similar idealistic plane as Bregman’s. We (Gus) sometimes find de Botton's ideas “too pure” and childish… Nothing is ever so ideally clean. A revolution is bloody. We work on statistics of contrary proportions. We rarely share equally the pains and the joys...

Even John Bolton is "writing” his book for profit. He could have participated in the impeachment of Trump and revealed his “knowledge” to Congress without facing court challenge for trying to make his “knowledge” public — for which he could be tried for treason and stupidity, mostly. And his “knowledge” does not pass the pub test. We knew most of it anyway: Trump is loony. So? It’s selective and targeted — and most likely, Bolton was fed bullshit by Trump in order to humour him… Guess what. The media at large is not the pub test… and anything that denigrates the Donald is good enough for them. No questions asked. Funny.

Deceit, deliberate and accidental, has been at the core of what humanity has done so far at large, for survival — while a lot of people are honest enough in order for the system to only work on three cylinders. 

Deliberate deceit was the bread, butter and jam of kings and some priests. Accidental deceit was that of most priests who were placed — or placed themselves — in charge of "explaining". 
In "The Curse of Civilisation" chapter of Hopeful History, Bregman explore succinctly the ideas of religion, that were mostly use to explain famines, plagues and the weather. The earliest form of beliefs would have been unlike that of modern civilisations as we have relied on concepts of afterlife, religious morality and responsibility for disasters. As groups grew bigger, control became essential in regard to sex and tasks. Despite being frightened, the realisation that togetherness was more “profitable” and possibly joyful, with the development of laughter, than being on the hunt alone, civilisation became more compact and more regulated, vertically structured and imbued with traditions, including sacrificial killings to control population, thy own and that of enemies, adjusted to times of plenty and famines.

Nothing new here. In the various posts on this site we have explored all of this in more details, including the concept that the evolving naked ape was naturally “incomplete”. For Gus, homo was not destined to survive in nature. It only managed to do so via deceit, adaptation and working as a “social group” to steal from other animals and other groups what it was mostly missing: fur… It became ingenious, more communicative and the hands became a tool to create more tools. Stone, sticks, fire and shelter. All this became a focus to maintain and improve upon, including organise defence. The Neanderthals, the Sapiens and the Denisovans (and possibly other hominids that we haven’t discovered yet) were competing for supplies. The ancestral apes slowly disappeared, the new humans selected “themselves”. Eventually, 40,000 years ago, we see the final existence of the pure neanderthals, while genetics have shown that the sapiens copulated with them and we all carry a small percentage of the Neanderthal genes in our own. 

As settlements became villages that grew into towns then into larger societies with the "demands of war”.“This culminated in the final catastrophic event so lamented by Rousseau. The birth of the state” writes Bregman.

Here we should not place Rousseau on a marble pedestal… We need to revisit Rousseau’s own life to understand his ideals through his own mishaps. The five children Rousseau had with Levasseur were placed into state institutions. His “noble savage” would still be a savage, unless dead — extinct like the Neanderthals. 

At some point (6, page 110), Bregman tells us:

Thomas Hobbes, the old philosopher, could not have been more off the mark. He characterised the life and times of our ancestors as 'nasty, brutish and short', but a truer description would have been friendly, peaceful and healthy.
The Irony is that the curse of civilisation dogged Hobbes throughout his life. ...

At this level, I think the old philosopher Hobbes is "more correct" though there would have been alternation of states. Bregman seems to live in a delusive dreamland akin to paradise, the one lost by Adam without his belly button and Eve without one either... Yes, the indian tribes in the Amazon manage to survive better than some writers on dusty shelvings at Amazon. But the jury would have to be out on this one. The geographical conditions including the weather and the natural providing of proteins/sugars/lipids would have demanded a social distancing between very small tribes, while inbreeding could create problems. Communications would have been limited but necessary. Communication and the evolution of languages is a form of civilisation... Survival was not assured though and "diseases and war were" not "virtually unknown for the first 95 per cent of human history". Sorry. Gus added the word NOT in this glib sentence by Bregman.

Social tasking (embryonic civilisation) had to be learnt in order to hunt the mammoths and the aurochs. Diseases? There would have been malaria and other ailments passing through, including toothaches. Other tribes may try to steal your cave, rather than share. Bears, wolves, lions and other wild animals would have tried to kill you... They still do. There would have been skirmishes with the other hominids. Hard to know about "peace and no calamity for the first 95 per cent of human history"... Cannibalism did happen... Even "primitive" civilisation had to invent "defense".

Survival of the species made a minimum of “rules and regulations” necessary for the groups to survive. This is civilisation — and the growth of unintended need to tell stories, true and false, a need we still fulfil with “entertainment” and religious hubris. Communication is the MAJOR tool of the human species. The evolution of communication also fostered the evolution and sophistication of deceit. This is how people like Hitler can rise to become head of state. And much of the time, deceit is mostly misunderstanding and restructuring of information to suit a belief — or a made up story. Deceit becomes institutionalised. 

Presently, our Covid19 reactive defence contains elements of deceit in order to make us swallow decrees that are not pleasant. “Medicine tastes bitter for your own good” we’re often told… Bullshit tastes bad as well...

In general, people don’t demand much. A roof over their heads, a loving family, health, a satisfying job, entertainments of sort and protection from intruders, at home and at country levels — and an eventual place in paradise, thank you. This is already a lot of very hard work to get half of that nonetheless. Trying to achieve a "new view of humankind" amongst all this will demand to jettison a few traditions, including religions and many prejudices that underpins our differences, and we need to learn sciences. Great. In the end, the pub test would be “what’s in it for me? I work harder than my neighbour, why should he get more nuts than me? Greed and envy need to be tamed. Deceit needs to be tamed. God needs to be erased. otherwise there would be no “new realism”. Boom. But I have not seen the idea of god being bashed in the Hopeful History… Diderot had not hesitated…

In regard to "true” democracy, Bregman mentions Torres, a municipality in Venezuela (“What?" would say the US hegemony, "they have true democracy in Venezuela? Let’s destroy the place")… Yes the mayor got elected on the platform of letting people decide on their own town’s future. All the civic proposals came from the people and the decisions were in their hands as well. ALL people participate. Bregman sees this as a simple way to eliminate corruption and cynicism. This leads to trust, inclusion, citizenry, transparency, solidarity, dignity. This is not communism where property is own by the community, but a system where people own their own spot in a community. As Bergman states, families are forms of such structures — "where people share the bread, but own their stuffed bears, dolls and train sets” would add Gus… Not all families work on this communistic principle. there is a complex web of performing shared or allocated tasks and sharing the rewards as a group or enjoying personal rewards. Here again, the structure is in the proportions of acceptance and rejection of needs and wants.

So the people democracy is a concept that works but we need to be better educated in it and individualism takes a pot shot. Maintaining enthusiasm becomes a key factor. This does not eliminate the ugly fights between neighbours either, nor where the street is going to meander. Some people might not be happy about the collective decisions. Deceit and corruption cannot be eliminated in such system either… 

An interesting aspect of this, is that “participatory budgeting” became popular in cities in Brazil, of all places. Corruption made its way back recently with the election of Bolsonaro via various tricks and US support. We know the rest. Back in the doldrum my education such as learning about countries, our geography professor gave us a paper to write: “Brazil in the 21st century”. This was a wicked question which demanded we based our answer on resources such as coal, oil and metals. My answer was succinct: "I had no idea because of humanities, new technologies and time.” My punishment was severe, but enjoyable.

And talking of humanities, the Scomo government, judging that studying humanities is basically a useless task, has decided to double the cost for university students on such subjects and halve the cost for those doing real thingies like economics and accountancy?... I guess the government is trying to get more kids to do sciences and engineering… Who knows, religious studies might be exempt from the crackdown on humanities...

Meanwhile, our own nature is prone to "birth, sickness, health and death”. This comes with the job of being human on a little planet of proteins trying to steal from each others. We can improve these symptoms of life, but in the long run, improved reality is not just to be an improved Pygmalion by osmosis, but a deliberate understanding of the gamut and the choices of why we are Pygmalion and what the damage the Golem can do to us. Isn’t this what we’ve tried so far anyway? If understanding better and more of life’s bazar is the new reality, so be it. But like all creative acts, it’s the last five per cent of realisation that demand 95 per cent of creative energy. I know. And the older we get, we seem to know more of less… For those with dementia, the new reality is the past.

Ah yes, and about climate change, please visit:

Gus Leonisky
A positively angry happy old man… Keeping fit.

pygmalion versus golem...

The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, is the phenomenon whereby others' expectations of a target person affect the target person's performance.[1] The effect is named after the Greek myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved, or alternately, after the psychologist Robert Rosenthal. Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, in their book, applied the idea to teachers' expectations of their students affecting the students' performance, a view that has been undermined partially by subsequent research (e.g., Raudenbush [1984]).[2]

Rosenthal and Jacobson held that high expectations lead to better performance and low expectations lead to worse,[1] both effects leading to self-fulfilling prophecy. According to the Pygmalion effect, the targets of the expectations internalize their positive labels, and those with positive labels succeed accordingly; a similar process works in the opposite direction in the case of low expectations. The idea behind the Pygmalion effect is that increasing the leader's expectation of the follower's performance will result in better follower performance. Within sociology, the effect is often cited with regard to education and social class. The concept of stereotype threat could be considered an example of the Pygmalion effect, as it denotes a negative form of self-fulfilling prophecy.[3]


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The Golem effect has very similar underlying principles to its theoretical counterpart, the Pygmalion effectRobert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson's Pygmalion in the Classroom and further experiments have shown that expectations of supervisors or teachers affect the performance of their subordinates or students. The most thoroughly studied situations of this effect are classrooms.[2][3][4] When arbitrarily informed that a particular student is "bright" or "dull", not only will the supervisor's behavior change to favor the "bright" students (as indicated by more praise or attention), the students themselves will exhibit behaviors in line with their labels (such as the "bright" students leaning more forward in their chairs relative to the "dull" students).[5] While the Pygmalion effect and the majority of studies focus on the positive side of this phenomenon, the Golem effect is the negative corollary. Supervisors with negative expectations will produce behaviors that impair the performance of their subordinates while the subordinates themselves produce negative behaviors.[1] This mechanism is an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy: the idea that self-held beliefs can come true in reality. When both supervisor and subordinate notice the low performance, the negative expectations are confirmed and the belief is reinforced.


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The cost of studying humanities at university is set to double, but "job-relevant" course fees will be slashed under an overhaul of tertiary education to be announced by the Federal Government today.


Key points:
  • Under the tertiary education overhaul humanities and communications will be in the same cost bracket as law degrees
  • Fee increases will not be implemented for courses which students are already undertaking
  • In some states university applications for 2021 are double what they would usually be by this time of year


Education Minister Dan Tehan will also announce an extra 39,000 university places for Australian students will be funded by 2023.

Demand for 2021 is already soaring, with the estimated 20,000 year 12 students who usually defer university now less likely to take a gap year because of travel restrictions and the poor jobs market.

The rising unemployment rate is also driving demand — in a recession, many unemployed people typically turn to universities.



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meanwhile on the job front...

empty shelves

Prime Minister Scott Morrison found his inner evangelical preacher while discussing the grim May employment figures, which showed that 835,000 jobs have been lost over the past two months, one in five Australians is either unemployed or underemployed, and the participation rate (at 62.9 per cent) is its lowest since 2001, pointing to the fact that many people have given up looking for work. Morrison said the government had introduced “the biggest measure of income support the country has ever seen to cushion the blow, but the blow is still devastating and great”. He continued: “These are our dark times, but I can see that ray of light, and I’m sure Australians can see that too, but we have to keep moving towards it and work harder each and every day. We will not rest.” There are occasions when Morrison is convincing. On the floor in parliament recently, his voice cracked as he sympathised with grieving families who were restricted to funerals of 10 people, and his horror at the unemployment rate likewise feels genuine. Asked today about youth unemployment, for example, Morrison waxed lyrical about the risk that if people did not find work before they are aged 22 to 25, “that can lead to lifetime welfare dependency. Now, that is not just a sickening loss to the person themselves and a great waste of human capacity, but the long-term effects for the nation are significant”.

Fully 45 per cent of the 227,000 jobs lost in May were among young people, taking youth unemployment to a record 16.1 per cent. Morrison hoped that young workers, after being hit hardest in the COVID recession, would be the first hired as the economy reopened – a process that only began in June. He acknowledged that given the unprecedented drop in the participation rate – 3 percentage points in three months – the true unemployment rate is much higher, at 11.3 per cent, than the official rate of 7.1 per cent. 

Morrison’s focus on getting almost a million people back into jobs is irreproachable, so it is a mystery why so many of the government’s policy decisions seem to be forcing more people into unemployment right now. The PM dead-batted questions about his intentions with the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes ahead of a major update on July 23, but the AFR has reported that [$] the government’s preference is to end JobKeeper at the end of September as scheduled and move any workers still on the scheme by September onto the JobSeeker unemployment benefit. Asked about this report in Question Time, the Morrison gave a kind of non-denial denial, saying “the article the member refers to does not contain direct quotes from me so that’s an editorial position that’s been summarised by the Financial Review, but I’ll simply say this: the purposes when you go on to JobSeeker is that you get people back into a job”. Likewise The West Australian reported that [$] the treasurer was meeting with government backbenchers to identify which sectors would be kicked off JobKeeper early, and moved onto a raised JobSeeker. In response, shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said: “It beggars belief, when faced with hundreds of thousands of job losses, that the government’s top priority is to find a way to end JobKeeper. They are talking about fast-forwarding people out of work and onto welfare.” 

So, not only has JobKeeper fallen spectacularly short of its estimated take-up and excluded millions of people unfairly (migrant workers, short-term casuals, arts and entertainment workers, and university staff), but the government is now proposing to kick more people off it ASAP and, when the September cliff approaches, dump everyone else on the dole. If that’s “cushioning the blow”, it’s a small cushion with a hole in it and not much stuffing. And, at the same time as the government is refusing to aid the arts industry, it is refusing to increase caps on domestic places at universities that might allow out-of-work people to study, forcing even more people onto the dole. Scott Morrison admitted today that the unemployment rate was going to get higher. He knows it, because he is making it happen.


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teaching universal knowledge...

In a famous series of lectures given in the 1850s in Dublin, the Catholic cardinal John Henry Newman laid down his “idea of the university”.

He argued it should be about “teaching universal knowledge”. All branches of the human intellect should be taught, because the aim was to help students achieve a “real cultivation of mind” rather than a narrow technical skill.

The point was to turn out students with the intellectual capability “to have a connected view or grasp of things” and who would exhibit “good sense, sobriety of thought, reasonableness, candour, self-command, and steadiness of view”.

We’re a long way from Newman’s liberal ideals in Australia in 2020. The announcement by the education minister, Dan Tehan, on Friday that the Morrison government wants to double student fees for courses in the arts and humanities has horrified academics, and poses real questions about the future of our higher education system.


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