Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Authority, Fear and Zimbardo's Lucifer Effect

These two short TED videos are best considered together.  The first one shows how ordinary people fall prey to unscrupulous politicians who manipulate them in order to gain power, legitimacy and authority:



View full on TED-Ed: How did Hitler rise to power?

Divide et impera. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

The second video shows how ordinary people change after they have given authority to a wrong person or group:


See full on TED: Philip Zimbardo - The psychology of evil

To quote Zimbardo, there are only 7 social processes that grease "the slippery slope of evil":
  1. Mindlessly taking the first small step
  2. Dehumanization of others
  3. De-individuation of self (anonymity)
  4. Diffusion of personal responsibility
  5. Blind obedience to authority
  6. Uncritical conformity to group norms
  7. Passive tolerance of evil through inaction or indifference
The above makes it easy to understand the recent rise of populist nationalism, both in Europe (e.g. Brexit) and globally (e.g. Trump), just a few years after the ruling elites caused the Great Recession in 2008, and shows how it is possible that millions of ordinarily rational people could swallow even the most preposterous lies, and transform into mindless masses of fearful, prejudiced and deluded followers of their new fascist leaders (who, unsurprisingly, preach anti-intellectualism (who needs experts, right?), as rational thinking is their worst enemy and could allow their followers to wake up and see through all the lies).

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Today's comments on Brexit


FWLaing wrote:
Brexit isn't a battle against elites rather it can be correctly understood as a battle between elites, a battle for power. More specifically it's a battle between a more controlled and moderate version of capitalism as represented by the EU and an unfettered US style of radical free market capitalism as proposed by Hayek and his supporters on the outer fringes of the conservative party and radical and extreme right movements.
The Brexit movement has a very clear structure. It is financed by very rich extreme right wing businessmen who also have very large media interests and who share an extreme Thatcherite-Hayekian vision for the UK which involves the abolishing of much of UK employment law, most taxation and the privitisation of the entire state except the military. Much as a client would engage a barrister, they have, through their media interest procured the services of various professional journalists and commentators, notably Johnson and Gove, (there are numerous others,) who are paid to make the case for the UK leaving the EU. These people are top notch thinkers and speakers and have used a variety of means to sway the public in this matter, notably sovereignty, the plight of the working man (a typical fascistic strophe) and, most corrosively, immigration. But most of this is just very clever advertising and PR. The real goal of the top-dog Brexiteers is to unleash unfettered, no holds barred capitalism in the UK.

Sendoake responded to FWLaing:
Very good analysis, thank you. I might add to that: it might be good for the EU once the UK gets out. After all, the UK was the biggest advocate of unrestricted, uncontrolled capitalism in the EU. We might move towards something more moderate after Brexit.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

What Brexit means for EU citizens

How do EU citizens exercising their treaty rights to live anywhere in the European Union feel about the prospect of being offered work permits and visas by the UK government and thus becoming immigrants after everything that has happened?  While reading the Financial Times, I stumbled upon the following comment which, I believe, hit the nail on the head:

"All my friends who are EU citizens are considering leaving the UK. Most of them are actively considering jobs elsewhere. Not so much because they feel particularly exposed - most of them have been here for more than 10 years and have good jobs here, several of them have created successful corporate finance businesses here attracting foreign investors from the EU and UK investors in the EU, companies which are relatively easy to relocate and often already have offices elsehere in the EU - but because they do not like the UK anymore and do not want it to continue to profit from their industry.

It is mainly affective: they believed the UK to be the most tolerant, meritocratic and open society in the EU. They feel Europeans and this was their place in British society and their common identity with the British. The "new UK " post referendum is seen as xenophobic and inward looking. They complain about the EU but the referendum made them realise that they had a deep attachment to its founding principles. They do not want the UK to prosper at the expense of the EU. And they don't want to help.

There is a deep sense that if the UK believes itself to be better than any other nations and wants to stand alone, then it should be alone and not drain from the EU the best talents.

In a sense the EU referendum has awoken their own nationalism but as Europeans citizens. Their is a new desire to protect Europe and work to change it for the better."

Will Brexit turn out to be a boon for the EU, then?  Possibly.  Most of us, if not all, were infatuated with Britain and that made how we had been treated during the referendum affair hurt even more, that can be clearly sensed in our attitudes described in the comment cited above.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Great Programmer

I have just read something which got me thinking about my old theory of The Great Programmer ;).

I started my today's reading with the following article (if you want to follow the links, I recommend skipping this one and going straight to the source - i.e. the next two): A world-famous chemist tells the truth: there’s no scientist alive today who understands macroevolution.

The first article refers to another article, by professor James M. Tour*, available here: Layman’s Reflections on Evolution and Creation. An Insider’s View of the Academy; and a video recording of the professor giving a talk: Nanotech and Jesus Christ - James Tour at Georgia Tech.

It was all interesting and I do recommend checking out those sources (especially the last two).

My thoughts?  I am not really convinced by professor Tour's argument as I view macroevolution as just an emergent property of a complex system which means that chemistry is just a medium for this system and not really important to understand macroevolution as a whole (as long as we understand all the basic interactions between the simple elements (i.e. molecules) the system is composed of - which, as far as I know, we do). What follows is that the system may be too complex for us to ever be able to explain macroevolution on the level of abstraction professor Tour is talking about.

Of course it is possible that I just do not know enough about chemistry and/or macroevolution to fully appreciate professor Tour's thoughts on the subject.
I also do agree with him that the new dogmatism becoming so prevalent in academia is not only troubling but unbecoming to scholars.

Even if I am right though, it does not mean that evolution disproves intelligent design as both those theories are not mutually exclusive (unless one chooses an arbitrary (and probably least intelligent ;) ) definition of intelligent design).  In case you were bored, here are some of my thoughts about that (and The Great Programmer) I wrote down some time ago: On computer programming, atheism and human cognizance



Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Paradise Lost or Never Gained



One Summer's Day by Joe Hisaishi. When we compose music we do not really express what we think the music is about. This one is not about one summer's day. It is about our longing for one summer's day as we feel it should be... something intangible, something we can never touch, at least not in this life... perhaps never... something which we think we could have grasped decades ago when we were still young... a chance we can never have again... the chance we have never really had. Longing for that which is always out of our reach and which we can never truly define and for which we mistake other things... things which are but mere reflections of the truth.  Listen and see for yourself.

 (an alternative arrangement by Kyle Landry)

Friday, 27 March 2015

Poland Historically Least Antisemitic Country in Europe

I do not understand what is the source of the myth, which seems to be so widespread in the West, that Poland and Poles were or are particularly antisemitic.  Not only is it a complete falsehood but a terrible injustice.  I will not even mention the utter nonsense of the "Polish" concentration camps.  They were Nazi concentration camps built and operated by Nazi Germany (who occupied Poland) and used (together with other means of terror and extermination) by Nazis to murder around 6 million Polish citizens (including 3 million Polish Jews).

The history and facts are quite clear (more information and sources in the next two sections).  Poles and Polish culture were the most tolerant and least antisemitic in Europe.  Poland has become the safe haven for Jewish communities persecuted throughout Europe.  The majority of Jews escaped persecution raging in the other European countries and settled in Poland - and that was one of the reasons (if not the main reason) why Nazi Germany built their concentration camps in that country.  Some facts and sources showing that in the next sections.

All that does not imply that there was no antisemitism in Poland.  This and other similar evils are present everywhere and no country is free from them.  It is just that Poland is historically the least antisemitic (and the most prosemitic) country in Europe and all the large cases of antisemitism in that region occurred when sovereign Poland ceased to exist (and thus could no longer protect its Jewish citizens) and were caused by Russian Empire, Austro-Hungary, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire, Nazi Germany and Soviet Union - i.e. the countries which banded together to invade Poland and then not only did they persecute Polish Jews (because of antisemitism) but also non-Jewish Poles and worked hard to destroy Polish culture (because of political reasons and antipolonism).

Below are some interesting facts found on the English Wikipedia (seems fairly objective).

The Reception of the Jews in Poland in the Year 1096. Painting by Jan Matejko



Hundreds of thousands of unknown heroes of the Holocaust

Polish citizens have the world's highest count of individuals who have been recognised as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem as non-Jews who saved Jews from extermination during the Holocaust.

It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Poles concealed and aided hundreds of thousands of their Polish-Jewish neighbours.  Many of these initiatives were carried out by individuals, but there also existed organised networks of Polish resistance which were dedicated to aiding Jews – most notably, the Żegota organisation.

In German-occupied Poland the task of rescuing Jews was especially difficult and dangerous. All household members were punished by death if a Jew was found concealed in their home or on their property. One study estimates that the number of Poles who were killed by the Nazis for aiding Jews was as high as tens of thousands, 704 of whom were posthumously honoured with medals. 




Poland sheltering Jews from European antisemitism for almost 1000 years

The history of the Jews in Poland dates back over 800 years. For centuries, Poland was home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world. Poland was the centre of Jewish culture thanks to a long period of statutory religious tolerance and social autonomy.

This ended with the Partitions of Poland which began in 1772, in particular, with the discrimination and persecution of Jews in the Russian Empire.

During World War II there was a nearly complete genocidal destruction of the Polish Jewish community by Nazi Germany, during the 1939–1945 German occupation of Poland and the ensuing Holocaust.

Since the fall of Communism there has been a Jewish revival in Poland, characterised by the annual Jewish Culture Festival, new study programmes at Polish high schools and universities, the work of synagogues such as the Nozyk, and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.


From the founding of the Kingdom of Poland in 1025 through to the early years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth created in 1569, Poland was the most tolerant country in Europe.[5] Known as paradisus Iudaeorum (Latin for "Paradise for the Jews"), it became a shelter for persecuted and expelled European Jewish communities and the home to the world's largest Jewish community of the time.

According to some sources, about three-quarters of all Jews lived in Poland by the middle of the 16th century.[6][7][8]


After the partitions of Poland in 1795 and the destruction of Poland as a sovereign state, Polish Jews were subject to the laws of the partitioning powers, the increasingly antisemitic Russian Empire,[11] as well as Austro-Hungary and Kingdom of Prussia (later a part of the German Empire). Still, as Poland regained independence in the aftermath of World War I, it was the centre of the European Jewish world with one of world's largest Jewish communities of over 3 million. Antisemitism, however, from both the political establishment and from the general population, common throughout Europe, was a growing problem.[12]


At the start of World War II, Poland was partitioned between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (see Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact). The war resulted in the death of one-fifth of the Polish population, with 90% or about 3 million of Polish Jewry killed along with approximately 3 million Polish non-Jews.[13]
Although the Holocaust occurred largely in German-occupied Poland, there was little collaboration with the Nazis by its citizens.

Collaboration by individual Poles has been described as smaller than in other occupied countries.[14][15]

Statistics of the Israeli War Crimes Commission indicate that less than 0.1% of Polish gentiles collaborated with the Nazis.[16]

Examples of Polish gentile attitudes to German atrocities varied widely, from actively risking death in order to save Jewish lives,[17] and passive refusal to inform on them; to indifference, blackmail,[18] and in extreme cases, participation in pogroms such as the Jedwabne pogrom. Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the largest number of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.[19][20]


In the postwar period, many of the approximately 200,000 Jewish survivors registered at Central Committee of Polish Jews or CKŻP (of whom 136,000 arrived from the Soviet Union)[20][21][22] left the Communist People's Republic of Poland for the nascent State of Israel and North or South America. Their departure was hastened by the destruction of Jewish institutions, post-war violence and the hostility of the Communist Party to both religion and private enterprise, but also because in 1946–1947 Poland was the only Eastern Bloc country to allow free Jewish aliyah to Israel,[23] without visas or exit permits.[24][25]

Britain demanded Poland to halt the exodus, but their pressure was largely unsuccessful.[26] Most of the remaining Jews left Poland in late 1968 as the result of the Soviet-sponsored "anti-Zionist" campaign.
  • In 1967, following the Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab states, Poland's Communist government, following the Soviet lead, broke off diplomatic relations with Israel and launched an antisemitic campaign under the guise of "anti-Zionism". However, the campaign did not resonate well with the Polish public, as most Poles saw similarities between Israel's fight for survival and Poland's past struggles for independence
  • Many Poles also felt pride in the success of the Israeli military, which was dominated by Polish Jews. The slogan "our Jews beat the Soviet Arabs" (Nasi Żydzi pobili sowieckich Arabów) became popular in Poland.[202][203]

After the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, the situation of Polish Jews became normalised and those who were Polish citizens before World War II were allowed to renew Polish citizenship.

Religious institutions were revived, largely through the activities of Jewish foundations from the United States. The contemporary Polish Jewish community is estimated to have approximately 20,000 members,[27] though the actual number of Jews, including those who are not actively connected to Judaism or Jewish culture, may be several times larger.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Modify Environment to Influence Behaviour

I have just heard about a PI (i.e. principal investigator) who was very accomplished because she was able to, I quote, squeeze money out of a stone.  At the same time,  she was such a terrible person that her group members were (literally) hiding under their desks when she was passing by.  Apparently, she had "conversations" with her scientists during which she was abusive and shouting at them.  As probably most heads of groups nowadays, she had to travel a lot and attend numerous meetings so she did not have time for thinking about details or doing the actual research and she often forgot what she had said to her co-workers a week before or confused what she said to whom and why.  This resulted in incidents during which she would accuse someone of not doing something she claimed to had asked them to do and when they replied that she had specifically told them not to do that thing she would shout at them that they were not special at all and 5000 others from among the worthless rabble were just dying for her to give them a chance to replace any of her researchers.  What happened to human dignity and every person being special and precious?  What happened to just simple common courtesy and respect?  Are good manners a thing of the past?  Do we really want academia to degenerate into this?

Apart from what we want academia to be or not to be, what we can observe here are clearly visible results of having a self-taught manager with no leadership skills charged with a task of leading a group of people and managing projects.  Even worse, we see an employee whose real purpose in her organisation is not what they are officially tasked to do (i.e. manage projects and people or do research) but to acquire funding.  In other words, we have a very specialised salesperson (or a group's frontman) with no knowledge, skills and/or time to be a manager put in a position where they were led to believe they are, in fact, a manager.  Combine it with that false 
sense of intellectual superiority so common in the academic world, spice it up with extremely high levels of competitiveness acquired during the academic rat race and you end up with an abusive tyrant, ineffective manager and frustrated scientist destroying her co-workers and wasting public money on producing mostly useless publications instead of effectively solving real problems the humanity is facing (when will we finally cure cancer? anyone?).  Academia has become such an inefficient system.  It has to be restructured and optimised so that we can finally use our full potential to save lives, prevent suffering and improve quality of life of everyone on the planet.

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