The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Month: September 2017 Page 1 of 3

The Control and Continuation of Capitalist Societies

Image by Admit One

Markets have existed for millennia. Capitalism has existed for millennia. The Romans had markets and capitalism; the Greeks did; the Assyrians did, and so on.

(This is Part Two of a series. Read Part One: Will Capitalism and Democracy Survive?)

But none of these societies, despite having capitalism and markets, were capitalist societies.

Capitalist societies use capitalism as their primary method for controlling economic activity.

Weber called this “rational capitalism.” What he meant was that capitalism transformed, according to its reason, other relationships so that they became capitalistic.

A capitalistic relationship is one that is determined by money. It is traditional to say it is controlled by price and the profit motive, but that’s not quite true.

Uber is losing money. A lot of money. It might never be profitable. Elon Musk’s companies do not make money, though they may in the future. The banks and brokerages of the 2000s went bankrupt.

In a capitalist society, people do what gets them the most money.

What is important about this is that in capitalist society, money equals power, much more so than in other societies.

In a capitalist society, money buys people and their time. It buys virtually everyone. It allows you to decide what those people do. (Read: The Tyranny of Money.)

What is important about this is that it means that people who do what the system requires are the people who get power.

If you don’t respond to monetary incentives in a capitalist society, you usually don’t get power. Not only that, you are generally deprived of power.

So a capitalist society ensures its continuation by making sure those with power are those who do what a capitalist society requires: Pursue money.

(Speaking of money, I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing, and want more of it, please consider donating.)

It’s hard for us moderns to really grasp this. In the Dark and Middle Ages, most societies were not capitalist societies. Most people were tied to the land. They did not work primarily for money, they worked for their lords for X days a year, or during a call up for war. But the rest of the time, they worked for themselves or their families.

You could buy some people with money, but you couldn’t control most people with money. What mattered was a system of allegiance, and military force.

Power got you money more than money got you power. People who forgot that lost both.

This is generally true in most agricultural societies for most of history, though it’s not an absolute.

In the Roman Republic, most rich men were rich because they were aristocrats with land or because they were successful generals who had looted their wealth. Only one of the great men competing to be Empire and end the Republic, Crassus, had most of his power due to wealth and he did not win.

The extent to which a society is capitalist can be determined by how many people you can buy, and how much of them you can buy. A peasant may do letting out labour in the evenings or odd jobs, but you can’t buy most of his or her labour. A nobleman may do some things for money, but not most, and the official ethos of nobility was that to engage in manual labor or mercantile activity was to de-grade yourself and lose your noble status.

In our society, you can buy virtually everyone, including the most powerful politicians. (For all that people deny it, much of Obama’s policies could be predicted by “wants to be rich after office”–I said that long ago, and its predictive utility was high.)

Your ability to do that to high nobles was often limited: If they got upset enough at their bankers they would just kill them or exile them, and seize their assets. This happened over and over again. At best you rented kings and high nobility: Lending to them was a privilege, you did not own them, and if you thought you did, that worked out badly for you pretty often, though, of course, this was not the case in all places and times.

A social system perpetuates itself when it gives power to people who act as the social system thinks is correct.  Capitalism perpetuates itself as long as power goes to those who pursue money first. Feudal societies were about the ability control fealty, especially of militarily capable men. And so on, you can analyze most societies this way.

This breaks down in three circumstances: when the society selects people who don’t respond how they are supposed to (late Communist leaders not believing in Communism); where leaders are incapable of running the society even if in power, or; if the basis of power changes (if military power is no longer based primarily on fealty relationships, for example).

This can, and should, be applied to capitalism.

(Read Part 1: Will Capitalism and Democracy Survive?)

The next part of this essay series will look at the question of system flaws: What systems, in particular capitalism, do badly, and which must be managed lest those flaws bring the system down.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Screw Optimism and Screw “Sanity”

An older post, reborn.

I recently stumbled across a book on the link between leadership and what we call madness. From the Amazon review:

Take realism, for instance: study after study has shown that those suffering depression are better than “normal” people at assessing current threats and predicting future outcomes. Looking at Lincoln and Churchill among others, Ghaemi shows how depressive realism helped these men tackle challenges both personal and national. Or consider creativity, a quality psychiatrists have studied extensively in relation to bipolar disorder. A First-Rate Madness shows how mania inspired General Sherman and Ted Turner to design and execute their most creative-and successful-strategies.

Ghaemi’s thesis is both robust and expansive; he even explains why eminently sane men like Neville Chamberlain and George W. Bush made such poor leaders. Though sane people are better shepherds in good times, sanity can be a severe liability in moments of crisis. A lifetime without the cyclical torment of mood disorders, Ghaemi explains, can leave one ill equipped to endure dire straits. He also clarifies which kinds of insanity-like psychosis-make for despotism and ineptitude, sometimes on a grand scale.

Now, I’m not depressive, strictly speaking. I don’t stay in bed all day, and so on. But the Welsh family motto, no kidding, is this:

An optimist and a damn fool are the same thing.

Ordinary people, those whom we call “sane” in our society, are really shitty analysts. Really, really shitty analysts. Their bias to the upside is tiresome, predictable and makes them wrong, over and over and over again. They don’t know what real threats are, they constantly are confused about what is really dangerous. They think stranger pedophiles are a bigger danger to their kids than their own family members or their own driving. They think terrorism is dangerous, when almost no one dies from it; as opposed to crossing the street or eating too many Big Macs. They fear “Osama” when the men who are most likely to cause their death or impoverishment have names like Bush, Paulson, Geithner, Obama, and so on.

I walked through Calcutta’s slums, as a teenager, by myself. I know what’s actually dangerous, and what isn’t. But my parents didn’t coddle me; they didn’t think their job was to make sure I never faced any danger, no matter how minor. So when I was released as an adult, I knew how to evaluate threats. They also didn’t think my self-esteem should outrun my ability.

Of course optimism is wonderfully adaptive as long as optimists aren’t your leaders or analysts, and don’t run your nuclear power plants, or plan your economies, or make any decisions about anything which if it goes wrong can go catastrophically wrong. Optimists are happier, they live longer, they’re healthier, they “get up and go,” blah, blah, blah. Optimism is good for optimists and, hey, they’re generally more pleasant to be around, too. There are time periods when they’re even right a lot (say during the 50s). But, basically, they’re blind. One imagines conversations between cows. “Hey, they feed us every day, we get free health care, no real responsibility! The dog makes sure the wolves don’t bother us. This is great! I do wonder what happened to Thelma and Fred, when they took them away in that truck? But I’m sure it wasn’t anything bad, and if it was they must have deserved it, and anyway, that’d never happen to me, because I’m a good cow and this is the best herd in the whole world!”

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing, and want more of it, please consider donating.)

And you can tell people what will happen, in advance, and be right, over and over and over again. And what that will do is get you marginalized. “Oh, he’s so negative! Such a downer. He should make us feel good about ourselves and our future, and if he doesn’t, we won’t listen. Let’s watch some TV!”

The stuff that makes you a good everyday person, a pal at the pub, the best husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, mother or father, does not make you a good analyst or a good leader. Choosing other sheep to lead you, to guide you, gets you what you’re getting right now–good and hard.

And the medicalization of every bad mood, as if we’re supposed to never experience negative emotions is more psychotic than the “diseases” they are intended to treat. Yes, some people are so insane that they need big time help, and being drugged, but way more people than that are being drugged.

Likewise, I am beyond tired of the excessive stigmatization of anger and hatred. It is appropriate to hate some people. If you don’t hate a man who has killed tens to hundreds of thousands of people (you don’t know because he refused to count) for a war based on lies, while gutting your civil rights, you are either a saint or your values are so fucked up I don’t even know what to say. You hate some people (yes, you do, don’t deny it), why don’t you hate the people who are actually doing evil on an industrial scale and who directly threaten your prosperity and your good life? And why, exactly, aren’t you angry? Again, don’t tell me you don’t get angry (unless you’re a saint), so why aren’t you angry at the people who are destroying your future and the future of your children?

Oh, right, because most people suck at threat analysis. They don’t even know what or who is really dangerous. They don’t /want/ to believe that people who look like they’d be great to have a beer with, or Uncle Fred, or driving their beloved automobile, or the food that they eat, is what’s actually going to kill them, make them sick, or hurt the kid they profess is just the most special and important person in their life, except when it comes to making sure the kid will have a world worth living in.

So folks. Hate can be awful, it can lead to awful crimes. But you’re going to hate someone, so learn who to hate. Anger can be terrible, few people know that better than I do, as my father’s temper was the terror of my youth, but you’re going to be angry, so know when and with who to get angry with, and stop displacing your anger.

And screw hope. Screw optimism. Really, seriously. Hope is like pride, you should have exactly as much hope as the circumstances dictate, and no more.

But you can’t live that way. I know. You need your hope. You need to believe.

Okay. That’s fine. I understand. Variety is good.

But don’t insist that everyone else be like you. And understand your own weaknesses. Know what you suck at. Find the people who don’t suck at those things, figure out which ones to trust (that’s a whole other essay) and listen to them. No one is good at everything (I sure as hell am not), but a wise person knows what they are bad at.

Who is mad? The pessimist, the depressive, who accurately understands the world around him, or the hope-filled optimists who are blind to real threats, can’t predict the future worth a damn, and who select their leaders based on “wouldn’t it be great to have a beer with him?”

I don’t know, and I don’t even really care. But I do know that when I want to have good time at a party, or I need a good salesman, I look for different abilities than I do in good analysts and good leaders. That the person who runs my nuclear plants should not be Mr. Fucking Sunshine, saying “It’ll all work out for the best!”

Just, no.

And stop drugging your kids en-masse. Okay? Just stop.

Originally published August 29, 2011. Ironically I now see reasons for hope (not optimism, optimism is never appropriate in an analyst. Also, I was, errr, somewhat angry and bitter back in 2011.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Will Capitalism and Democracy Survive?

Image by TW Collins

Systems of governance, and both capitalism and democracy are such systems, can run cycles of success, failure, and renewal for a long time. Consider Imperial Confucian China, with dynasties failing, sometimes with interregnums, then new dynasties arising. Dynasties would tend to be vigorous to start, corrupt and sclerotic at the end.

Or the Dark Ages and Medieval Europe, with forms of feudalism and monarchy surviving crises over many centuries.

Let’s consider the dynamic in a bit of detail.

A system survives when it gives power to those who support it AND are capable of continuing it.

This seems obvious, but it’s a little more tricky than it seems.

(Speaking of money, I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing, and want more of it, please consider donating.)

Take capitalism: Capitalism runs through greed. It gives power to those who do whatever it takes to make the most money The more money you have, the more power you have. Money is the ability to decide what other people do, not just the ones you hire directly, but through purchasing power. Apple decides what Foxconn does, and heck of a lot of other people it doesn’t hire directly.

Capitalism’s prime directive is: “Do whatever makes the most money.” Whoever does that successfully also receives the most power.

In a capitalist society, people who do not respond to capitalism’s prime direct, do whatever makes the most money, do not get power. Since they have no power, they cannot challenge capitalism.

The catch here is part two of the prime directive, “and are capable of continuing it.”

Capitalism must also run the actual real economy, which consists of people and things: houses, food, sewer systems, airports, and so on.

If capitalism fails to run that system effectively, that has real effects which having more money cannot manage.

You see this in the hyperinflation of Weimar Germany. You see this in the Great Depression. You see this now, in America, where parts of the population are seeing absolute declines in life expectancy.

In Capitalism, there is supposed to be a transmission between the real economy and how much money powerful people have: you should get your vast wealth by giving people what they want, and that should be good for the economy, and if it isn’t, you should go bankrupt.

People who pursue money but cannot actually manage the real economy should lose that money, and therefore their power.

This happened in the Great Depression. The rich took their losses, and lost their power (though not all of them).  Those who remained were the smarter or luckier–more capable.

Still, the magnitude of the disaster was such that capitalism was in some danger. As many have observed, FDR rescued capitalism.

What happened in 2008 is that a large portion of capitalists lost all their money (and more than all their money). If the capitalist transmission system had been allowed to work, there would not have been a single solvent major bank or brokerage in the United States.

They had fucked up.

BUT, they had also bought the politicians and regulators, and thus, were bailed out.

The real economy, which is not GDP, then shifted into a lower state of activity.

This process has been going on for a long time now, since 1980 really. The rich have been getting richer and worse at managing the actual economy.

What should have happened in 2008 was that the rich took their losses and power moved to democratically-elected officials, as it did in the 30s. But democratically-elected officials, handed said power on a platter, refused to take it. (Yes, the Fed, but the Fed can be brought to heel any time either Congress of the President chooses to.)

Democracy, thus, also failed.

A system must give power to those who want to continue it. It must also run the actual society well enough to avoid being overthrown.

Democracy failed in 2008, but it has not failed, completely–yet. In Britain, we see the rise of Corbyn, who wants to take back vast swathes of the economy from private business; for instance, things like the train system, where private owners have made train travel cost more but less reliable.

In the US, the Democratic Party is moving towards single payer health care, because the private industry has failed to run health care effectively and efficiently for the majority of the population.

These are healthy movements. Capitalism has failed to do what it is supposed to do: Run the economy properly. They said, in the 70s and 80s, “We’re better than the public. Privatize and de-regulate, and we’ll do a great job.”

Instead, we’ve experienced a progressive decline, which has been leading to catastrophe.

If democracy succeeds in removing from the private sector what it cannot run effectively, and in removing the power from the wealthy whom have proven they cannot manage–as with Corbyn’s maximum salary proposal (though more comprehensive anti-trust actions are needed), then democracy will survive.

If democracy cannot manage what capitalism cannot, then democracy, too, is on the line. It will have failed to run society effectively, and will be seen to have failed.

Either democracy tames capitalism, or democracy and capitalism may both die.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Puerto Rico: Late Imperial Possession

Puerto Rico got hit hard by Hurricane Maria. An understatement.

An aide at the White House has said that the disaster bill will be sent to Congress in the first or second week of October. (FEMA is already there, but they are insufficient.)

And the news is that most of Puerto Rico may be without power for up to six months. Only one major port is operational, roads are washed out, communication grids are (obviously) down, and water is unavailable in many places.

Our modern distribution system is a wonder of efficiency, in terms of cost. But it is “just in time,” it does not leave large stocks piled up the way the older system did. This is a problem for a lot of non-obvious items–for example, medicine. This concerns not just things like insulin, but medicines you don’t want to be suddenly thrown off and into withdrawal: A lot of psychiatric medications have terrible withdrawals, often as bad as many illegal drugs.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing, and want more of it, please consider donating.)

What is interesting about all this is not so much the scale of the disaster as the indifference of the response.It is more extreme than that which greeted other catastrophes, such as when New York was hit, and even then the areas where the lower classes lived were ignored, until they could be bought up.

But while Puerto Rico is more extreme, it is along the same continuum. The US has become very bad at disaster relief, because US elites don’t really care unless it affects them.

It is impossible to imagine this level of indifference in the 1950s through the 1970s, whatever else those decades’ flaws. Americans were proud of their ability to mobilize, proud of their protectorates, and could and would get material and people on the ground, fast.

This indifference, this lack of both fellow feeling and real pride (not in the sense of saluting the flag, but in the sense of actually making the country work), is, next to excessive corruption, the surest sign of the US’s decline.

Puerto Rico is an imperial possession, and America does not care about its possessions any more: It does not take pride in them.

And one wonders how much real mobilization ability the US has left (as opposed to theoretical). Can the US effectively mobilize any more? Or has everything become so corrupt, overpriced, and sclerotic that, really, there just isn’t that much surge ability?

I suppose Puerto Ricans can be left to rot, though they shouldn’t be–and doing so will have consequences beyond Puerto Rico. But when something the elites consider important gets hit, does the US have the ability to respond effectively?

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

2017 Fundraiser

I am raising funds for 2017. The more I raise, the more I’ll write.


There is one goal this year, in stages.

For some time, I’ve felt that it’s a problem that fundamental articles I’ve written, over many years, aren’t available for reference. Even long term readers may not remember them well, or be able to find them, and new readers have no easy, good place to start to understand a world view that is foreign to most.

A lot of pieces I write are just responses to the moment, but many of them are attempts to explain fundamental issues about which people are confused. Why beliefs matter, why ideology is important, how the unemployment rate is used to crush wages, how the international trade and finance system is intended to keep radical governments from succeeding, what money actually does, what money measures, and so on.

So, the goal this year is to put together a collection of such articles, with commentary on each piece: Why it was written, what is meant to be learned from it, what else to read. I will do one every three weeks or so and at the end put them into one document, available to all, and linked to prominently on the front page.

Goal thresholds are as follows:

  • $6,000—12 articles with commentary, an introduction and concluding remarks.
  • $7,000—2 more articles.
  • $8,000—2 more articles.
  • $9,000—A new article on how to design a stable, fair, kind & prosperous government
  • $10,000 – A new article on how to evaluate personal risk in the events to come.

As always, please don’t give if your personal situation is precarious with respect to food, housing, or medical care.


Note: bitcoin, litecoin, and ethereum wallets are listed at the bottom of the donation page.

How to Think

If there is something this blog is about, it’s how to think. There’s an entire category, but it’s most of what I write about.

Thinking well isn’t about always being right, because you can’t be. It is about having models of the world that are:

  • Right often enough
  • When wrong, fail with the least harm possible and ideally with benefit.

Models are never true, they are always abstractions from the truth. Most of our models of the world are not reasoned, they are emotional and experiential. Science is a special form of experiential. The world turns out to be a very odd place indeed: It is not intuitive that there is action at a distance, that there is no transmitting medium (ether) in space, that gravity warps time and space, or that observation changes the results of quantum experiments.

There are two sets of knowledge, overlapping: knowledge of the external world and knowledge of humans and our society.

Society creates reality: The fastest way to get dead, from stone age hunter gatherers to today, is through your fellow humans beings, whether by violence or neglect. We are deeply attuned to the fact that ostracism equals death, and we will do almost anything to stay in with our group, whoever that group is. If that means believing patent nonsense, if that involves kowtowing to cruel leaders, if that involves becoming cruel and deranged ourselves, we will do it.

We will believe what we need to believe to stay with the group we identify with, to identify with the group that supports us, and be damned the consequences to anyone outside the group–or, indeed, anyone inside the groups. Norms will be maintained.

None of this is to deny change in norms over time, but only if those norms move towards greater kindness and greater truth, is changing of norms beneficial.

And only if successful regimes fail with least harm, and ideally beneficial side effects, are their claims to be better to be entirely believed.

The decision-making humans of our society almost all run a particular set of beliefs best called neoliberalism, a particularly harmful strain of capitalism. They believe in it, because they have benefited from it, and because everyone around them believes in it. If you don’t believe in it, you don’t get into power, with rare exceptions.

This set of beliefs has led to catastrophe after catastrophe, starting with the Russian transition from Communism, including the financial collapse and austerity, and certainly including ignoring the last chance to limit climate change to acceptable levels.

Because capitalism is fundamentally based on greed and selfishness, and because its metaphysics says that price is equal to value and should be used to guide behaviour, it is failing damagingly–despite however much it has otherwise accomplished.

It is not that these failures were not predicted by many, they were. But they were not accepted as failures and no action was taken to prevent them because to accept and act, in too many errors, was to make oneself unfit for power.

Not of the group. Unclean. Unclean.

Not serious.

World models have consequences. How people think has consequences. Our tribal nature and ability to identify with virtually anything has consequences.

Because our power over the natural world has increased so much, errors and characteristics which were adaptive during most of our evolution are now catastrophically dangerous. Extinction level dangerous. Not just for us, but for all too many other species with whom we share the globe, many of whom are more than capable of immense levels of suffering.

So how we think, matters. And figuring out how to think better, not just for a few, but for the many, matters.

And because feeling is most of thinking, this means figuring out how to feel better, more accurately, and more kindly, as well.

More on this soon. In the meantime, read this model of the role of reason and emotion.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

A Note on Kulturkampf and the German Elections


I haven’t written much about tomorrow’s German elections because from an immediate geopolitical standpoint, they don’t necessarily mean that much. Merkel will remain in power most likely, although the coalition math may not work out so easily or comfortably, with the worst case scenario being a return to elections. The constellation of parties that form the coalition are likely to be ones even more hostile to Greece and to reform in favour of southern European economies. This is partly because Merkel’s party itself has done its utmost to project the idea into the German consciousness that the problem with southern economies is not liquidity but rather corruption and inflexible employment laws (keep in mind that German employment law is itself much, much less flexible than that of any developed English-speaking country, as far as I know).

One remarkable feature of this election is the very likely entry of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD; “Alternative for Germany”) party into the German parliament. This will be the first time in a long time that an openly national-exclusionary party will be represented in the Bundestag, and it is very likely a result of the same forces that kept Merkel in power. Remember that most non-German commentators were thinking of Merkel’s refugee stopgap (it was never a genuine, willing opening regardless of propaganda — but rather a way to deal with an emergency that European treaties had not foreseen) as political suicide, because most non-German commentators don’t read German and have less familiarity with German political culture than they do the far more legible (to anglophones) French political culture, for example.

In reality, Merkel’s choices in the refugee crisis cemented her popularity with a large portion of the German electorate while deeply alienating another portion, roughly corresponding to the old West/East divide that a lot of Germans like to pretend has been magically overcome. Overall, Merkel is seen as having made a difficult decision to deal with the immediate situation caused largely by the collapse of Syria, and then to make a series of complex, morally complicated decisions to stem the flow with minimal direct use of German or EU-based force, such as the Turkey deal and the more recent Libya deal. Especially in the time of Donald Trump, Merkel revealed qualities that a lot of the German electorate values — being capable of making “Solomonic” decisions that preserve key German interests, most importantly the external trade surplus and internal banking stability, while even managing to help a few people and keeping German hands at least cosmetically clean.

As for the alienated portion of the population (link in German), some of whom are now willing to vote for a party that more than hints that it wants to take back German regret for the Holocaust (via carefully chosen code words of course), they presently confirm what we know about present-day right-wing populism, and are therefore more “legible” to analysis along the lines of other countries than the rest of the German political spectrum. For one thing, they are largely not in relative terms poor or unemployed, although they may feel more precarious than before. The German SPD, another social-democratic European party in crisis, attempted to run a traditional campaign based on redistribution and better social services and does not appear to have made much headway against the AfD, because AfD voters are not concerned about this. Rather, they are focused on the belief that they would be even better off if there weren’t any refugees, and they largely belong to the part of the population that expects to have control over the racial and cultural composition of their neighbourhood and has a deep-seated emotional preference for homogeneity, which they justify post hoc.

Assuming poll results are true, one challenge for the stability German society with regards to forces like the AfD will be to find a way to politically cordon off this persistent segment of voters from most forms of political influence, a challenge assisted by Germany’s proportional representation system, as well as to deal with the real challenges of immigrant economic integration posted by recent and on-going geopolitical events. That, of course, in addition to the upcoming difficulty in squaring the circle of a trade surplus inside the Eurozone without fiscal transfers, which is a whole other story and will rear its ugly head doubtless in the next and future Bundestag mandates.

Review of Descarte’s Error, by Antonio Damasio

This book is a bit long in the tooth now, having been published in ’95. The role it suggests for emotion in the use of reason is, in generalities, no longer controversial. But it was a landmark book for me, when I read it, and it’s still relevant and worth reading.

There’s been a LOT of work around how reason and emotion work together, or don’t. One popular model is “thinking fast and thinking slow,” with emotion as primary in the first, and reason the second.

There’s truth to this, but it’s only a partial truth. In complicated situations, reason does not work alone and can’t.

The human mind is limited, it simply cannot hold a lot of information at one time. Working memory holds about seven bits of information. Some people have a little more, some a little less, and there’s some variation on how much can be held based on the complexity of what is held.

Impressive memory tricks are mostly a result of clumping information into meaningful bits. One strategy for memorizing numbers is to do them as times, for example, making each bit longer.

Logic can work in two ways: sequentially and in parallel. In parallel it can only work up to the limit of working memory. Sequentially we can work through logical chains, but long chains run up against the working memory limitation in their own way–after a time, we don’t really remember the chain.

Humans, for all that we pat ourselves on the back a lot, are fundamentally stupid. It’s just that most other animals are terrible, and those who might be about as good as us or even better are, in some ways, handicapped otherwise, in terms of hands, and/or language, and/or lifespan (octopi), and so on.

Damasio notes that the realm of pure reason is very limited. Most decisions are not obvious. One example he gives is of a patient who has lost the ability to feel emotions trying to decide when his next appointment should be.  It’s not obvious, and he can’t do it, he can spend hours trying to decide.

This same patient, however, in a potential motor vehicle accident where there is an obvious solution, has no problem. Because he feels no emotions, he does the right thing and it’s no big deal for him.

Emotions are really body-states. You feel all emotions in your body. If you don’t, you don’t feel an emotion. (Meditation will show this to you experientially, if you wish.)

We remember emotions and we re-create them as necessary. (Remember the last time you hugged someone you love, feel the emotion. To enhance it, stand and physically mimic hugging them.)

We assign these emotions even to very subtle things, like logical propositions and thoughts on subjects.

When a problem is too hard to deal with using pure reason, when it’s not important enough to subject to pure reason, or when there is no time for pure reason (because logical thinking is, indeed, SLOW), we refer to our feelings, and we go with the one that feels best (or least worst).

Thinking is rarely divided into “pure reasoning” (slow) or “pure feeling” (fast), most complicated decisions use both.

More to the point, most hard decisions are hard because they aren’t clear: There isn’t an obvious logical choice.  They’re close calls, and, in such decisions, we will go with the decision that feels best.

So pure reason is rare, slow, and usually only used for decisions that are, actually, clear cut.

This has a lot of implications, but the one I want to end with is this: Your emotional map of reality is most of your intelligence and if your emotional map of reality (or any decision space within reality) is not accurate, you’re going to make a lot of bad decisions.

This, though Damasio does not go into it, is where ideology and identity come into things. Through those two methods (and anyone who doesn’t think they have an ideology is a fool), we build emotional maps we then layer on top of reason. If our identities or ideologies are screwed, we make bad decisions.

This is an important book to read. Even if all details are not accurate, it is a necessary antidote to a lot of foolishness about how thinking and decision-making actually works.

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