31 December 2010
Breathe The Air, Relax And Just Be
What have I learnt through my attempts to understand the matrix that we call life, if anything? What have I learnt by seeking to comprehend ideas that are beyond the wit of man and certain beyond my ken like the origin of species, creation, time, matter, space and the fundamental forces? Firstly, I have learnt that trying is most of the fun and benefit as it certainly gave me brain-ache and those cogs in my head were very rusty. Secondly, that how you see the world, the universe and life is personal to you as we do all sense reality differently, in our own way, so how we conceive of reality, the models we build to rationalise life are simply our way of seeing the world and as such are correct for us. Hence, the old adage that “I am right and the rest of the world is mad” is actually the correct maxim for each and every one of us. But I must beware of hubris, because I will be knocked down by many of those who read this for being but a gibbering fool; actually, a fool’s fool.
As for the science, I feel that I may be on to something in my re-jigging of the origin of species and those models I conjured for how the universe began and how time comes into being. As for the standard model, I confess to being way out of my depth, so what I wrote is speculative and while I feel intuitively that the key is shapes and symmetries, I have no mental capacity to formulate an experiment to prove/disprove this nor the math to express such ideas; I shall continue to read popular science in this area, but humbly accept defeat, even though I did enjoy having a go. So don’t begrudge the attempt.
However, returning to the rationale for trying these thought experiments: I wanted to consider how we sense our world and then see if you could model the evidence differently to enable us to have a new perspective on how we understand where and how we fit into our space around us. From these thought exercises, I have learnt a few things that work for me, being: (i) everyone conceives reality differently; (ii) everyone’s reality is unique and real to them; (iii) how people and other organisms model reality is special and individual, so must be respected and protected; (iv) everyone’s model for living is impacted by their history; (v) life is about sustaining life through the adaptation of the interdependent web of living organisms to constantly changing circumstances; (vi) survival of the fittest is wrong, or at least a smaller part of how the world works than it is billed to be.
So what does that mean for society? Are there any lessons for our socio-political environment? Firstly, as a fundamental principle, everyone must be respected as individuals and be given the freedom to live their lives as they chose and see fit without interference from others; secondly, we are part of an interdependent web of life and every person, and species, has its place momentarily within that structure. However, on the flipside, it means that in living your life you must consider the impact of what you do on others and so seek to minimise any negative impact you might be having on other people and organisms, while we must accept that as the living environment changes so will there be impacts on the makeup of the web of life, i.e. other people and species. In other words, respect people’s individuality and let them be.
Does that mean anything, or is it just fatuous pseudo-intellectual nonsense of a teenage scribbler to misquote Nigel Lawson (would that I were that age again)?
I think it might. But before we move on to that, we must understand a few other facts of life: money has no morals and so a way of living based purely on economics will be necessarily amoral (money is purely and simply one possible way of placing a financial value on an item, no more and no less); while science in its true form is neither moral nor not, those who apply science may not necessarily have morals; religion has not managed to act as a suitable counterweight either to economics or science; humankind is a part of the web of life and its purpose is not economic (in spite of what our lords and masters might wish us to believe). Finally, as a word of warning applying ideas from science across to life can be fraught with danger as the concept of survival of the fittest has been used to justify everything from fascism through to competition in the business environment, while classical mechanics is used as a basis for much of politics for the last several hundred years (if I just put this policy or rule in place here, it will move these people around over here which will be the general good of our country or even the world; let me let you into a secret, politicians are usually be good at heart but they have no better grasp on how people and countries work than anyone else, so sometimes it seems to work and at other times it does not).
We are born free. Everyone’s liberty and right to act, think and do as they wish should be everyone’s guiding light. In everything you do, you should weigh up the consequences of your actions and how that impacts other people or organisms, and you should be comfortable that your gain/benefit is worth the loss/disbenefit on the other (there is no such thing as win-win in the real world, there is always a loser). If you make a superprofit or something turns out really well for you, be sure that there is someone for whom it is less great; look into yourself and be sure that you are pleased with what you have become. In a world where we measure everything in money, remember, also, that money has no morals and cannot be a measure of happiness, so to justify an action by a profit is no moral justification for anything.
So obviously, we need something to guide us through life or we would stand stock still and never move for fear of the consequences of what we do – that something is fairness. Now, fairness is difficult as everyone has a different moral compass or view of what fair is, but that is okay as in most societies, we have come to the view that the best way to assess fairness is through the judgment of our peers based on the facts, whether through councils of elders, religious leaders or a legal system.
Beyond these is little else needed to underpin in society, because all ideas ranging from protection of life, privacy and property through to freedom of religion and speech and even the concept of equality can flow from these basic ideas of liberty and fairness. Some might add equality to this, but surely that simply flows from fairness and there is no such thing as true equality as some will always regard others as being more equal than themselves.
However, what these ideas do militate against are rules and regulations emanating from a powerful central state as these fall foul of the ideas of individual freedom and that someone else’s model for the world is more correct than that of the individual. Furthermore, imposed rules and regulations are rarely a good benchmark for fairness, often focussing in the manner of a political science on what is possible to control and measure rather than on the morality and fairness of a given set of circumstances; a good example of this is a driving speed limit, which, while there is an excellent correlation between speed and accidents and fatality of accidents, does not tell you whether a driver is good or bad, i.e. you can have a good driver doing 45mph and a bad driver doing 35mph in a 40mph zone, so if the 35mph drives their car and crashes, are they necessarily absolved of any fault? Of course, there needs to be a balance between having some rules in place to protect our basic freedom, but no one should be criminalised because of arbitrary rules that no one except legal or other experts knew about, i.e. there are simply to many rules and regulations in place, which has made the act of living in a modern society simply too complex for many people and you could spend your whole life checking that every step you make on your way through your daily routine does not breach some law or regulation. No law should be anything other than obvious to most people; once it becomes really arcane then it should not be anything other than a legal fantasy.
In modern times, liberty and fairness has become a tick box exercise, which trivialises the fundamental nature of these two principles, while the number of laws, rules and regulations are simply too great, acting as a dead weight on citizens squeezing the life out of them. Much more prominence should be given again to these simple guiding principles, as well as the capability of our fellow citizens to be able to judge what is right and proper in a given set of circumstances based upon these ideas of liberty and fairness. Under no circumstances should someone be tried except by a jury of your peers. In fact, while I am not a religious person and there are obviously those who are bad religious leaders, but I suggest in general religious leaders are perhaps better at judging good, bad and fair than politicians, lawyers and certainly than me; maybe it is seeing day in day out people who are good, those who suffer and those who are bad rather than meeting rule breakers in a court every day.
This focus on centrally imposed rules and regulations results in a political system that is mechanical and lacks intelligence. A better approach could be that of nature which sees life as an interdependent web of organisms that adapts in many different ways to changes, following a few basic rules that it can tweak and adapt as the circumstances demand. Rules should not be rigid, but must be adaptable, and life cannot be just about rules for, if it has become such, then you are focused on the false structures of an arbitrary model of life rather than living your life.
This concept of freedom flows through to taxation, which basically means that there should be as little taxation as possible as someone’s property is theirs to enjoy rather for someone else to use in a way they see fit, i.e. an individual’s model of how to spend is theirs and right for them and no one should impose an alternative model and say I can spend my money for you better. Once again, there needs to be a sense of balance, because some things might be better arranged centrally. However, once again, politicians and civil servants might not be best placed to spend that money as they are both seeking to impose their model of reality on others and without money they have no power. In fact, politicians and civil servants arguably misuse their role as tax collectors, because there is really a compact between the state and citizens that a proportion of someone’s earnings and wealth can be used for the greater good, however that is provided on the basis that the state is a trustee of its citizens and so should look after that money properly and be accountable for the expenditure of that money, but clearly it regards itself as above that and so that it as a unilateral right to tax and spend with impunity. Moreover, ever since Keynes, the state sees itself more as a munificent provider of employment rather than as a guardian of its citizens’ money, which is also arguably in the long term an economic mistake as who pays the state and has the power to bring it to account. I am not clear in my own mind that the state has any right to tax, but it needs to tax to have power over its citizens and the power to dispense financial favours to create a dependency power over its employees and beneficiaries.
Taxation ensnares citizens and business in a real struggle to survive, where they must work perhaps until death simply to feed the greed of the central bureaucracy to pay itself and redistribute funds indiscriminately. This is a hugely inefficient, ineffectual and cruel basis for the building of a “better” society. There needs to be a sense of proportion to how much we are taxed and a sense of prudence and accountability for how that money is used, because at its heart that money does not belong to the state but the citizens who have originally generated that cash.
Similarly, as you move into the commercial world, the same ideas apply and a tick box approach to employment, ethics and safety inter alia is mechanistic and rigid rather than being intelligent and flexible. And companies should look to the consequences of their actions on other businesses and people rather than purely justifying their actions on profits. Greed is not good. I remain constantly amazed at how much people earn for so little real skill, or seek to charge for no real “added value”, and fail to understand how a prudential type of activity like banking and money management generates such high returns for its practitioners and such a mediocre return for its stakeholders (investors and policy holders). I think that people are so focused on money that they forget that every action taken has consequences, but by focusing on the monetary flows, they become disconnected from the physical and moral reality of transactions. It is a bit like watching a fight or battle and focusing on, and analysing, the energy that flows from one person as they strike the other rather than the reality that this is a fight and people are being hurt; energy like money has no morals. Like greed, hurting another is never good.
Finally, fairness is not a scientific concept. Science and its disciplines are strong and unforgiving areas of study, except areas such as psychology and the like. Morality, equality and fairness do not come into the origin of species, or creation, or particle physics, or classical mechanics. They are perhaps truly what differentiate humanity from other species as this peculiar sense of morals is not something a great white shark or Escherichia coli feels when they attack or infect a seal or person. On the other hand, fairness, and morality in general, does enable humanity to live together. I often wonder at how so many people can live on earth and I do feel that one of our greatest skills is to be able to get on with life through ignoring each other, then when we do come into contact with each other there are standard rules of engagement that underpin those encounters, being fairness, a sense of the core abhorrent forms of crime and hospitality. There is then a wide range of interpretation of what constitutes fairness, equality/balance and the punishment of crimes, but we all seem to start from a common sense of good.
The closest, that science gets to morality, is mutuality. This is the idea that species live together and depend on each other to continue to exist, so a predator cannot kill all its prey for then it would run out of food. Similarly, subatomic particles need other subatomic particles to exist and to work together with to make bigger pieces of matter, forces and energy and so on until you get atoms that work together to make molecules, then physical things and living things etc etc. I sometimes wonder whether this sense of mutuality has gone out of our modern society, with everything being about how much can I get for myself out of life without a thought for others; how much cash can I earn? how many things can I own? how much profit can I make? what new idea can we make a policy on and spend tax money on? We live in a culture of “me, me, me” rather than “us” and it is not a particularly pretty sight, forgetting that there are consequences of our actions.
To conclude, science teaches us that everyone perceives existence differently. We must, therefore, accept that no one will interpret their reality in the same way, so we must not seek to ridicule or trample on those unique ways of seeing the world. This idea of individuality should not be subsumed by the greater weight of collective thinking or the enforcement of a stronger centralised diktat. Conversely, we live together with other people and other species and must work together to live together without destroying this delicate mutual web of life.
Finally, I return to the idea of models. How life is structured and how the collective model for life is built does not really matter as it is just a model, a fabrication. We must beware of seeing only the model and becoming encaged within it. Life is to be lived, not to be an economic slave, nor a slave to the rules nor ensnared by time and diaries. Close your eyes, the reopen them. There is a world out there that is living life as it should be without bosses, cars, chocolate éclairs, computers, diaries, insurance, money, newspapers, supermarkets, pensions, planes, politicians, sunscreen, tax, train timetables, TV or the web.
Breathe the air, relax and just be.