Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

An Eternal Second is 6.5 Zettayears (Zy) in an eternity of eternities

September 11, 2020

Alexander Atkins has an interesting post up at his blog about the literary treatment of “eternity”.

How long is eternity

……. The first to address this question, were two brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (better known as the Brothers Grimm), German cultural researchers, philologists, and lexicographers that wrote a seminal collection of folktales titled Children’s and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen), first published in 1812; a second volume was published in 1815. ……. But what interests us today, in discerning the length of eternity, is a lesser known story — the insightful, charming and timeless tale of the Shepherd Boy. A king summons a shepherd, who is famous for his tremendous wisdom, and challenges him to answer three questions.

The third question is: “how many seconds of time are there in eternity?” He answers: “In Lower Pomerania [northern Poland, at the southern tip of the Baltic Sea] is the Diamond Mountain, which is two miles and a half high, two miles and a half wide, and two miles and a half in depth; every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on it, and when the whole mountain is worn away by this, then the first second of eternity will be over.”

Even shepherds are subject to arithmetic.

In Grimms’ story the mountain would have a volume of 15.625 miles3 or about 65 x 109 cubic meters. Assuming a density of 2000 kg/ m3 (or 2 x 106 g/m3), the mountain would weigh about 130 x 1015 g. Assuming further that the bird pecked 2 mg each time, the mountain would disappear after 65 x 1018 visits. Since each visit would occur every 100 years, the mountain would last 65 x 1020 years. And since 1 Zettayear is 1 x 1021 years the mountain would last 6.5 Zettayears (Zy). And that would then be one second of Eternal Time. The curious thing is that one Eternal Year would have to consist of 31.55 million Eternal Seconds and thus

1 Eternal Year = 205,124 Yottayears where a Yottayear (Yy) is 1 x 1024 years

Eternity itself is, of course, endless even if an Eternal Year is bounded by the Diamond Mountain.

But we must not forget that for the word “eternity” plurals are allowed, and the deeper truth is that many eternities, each endless, are possible. In fact, there may well be an eternity of eternities.


 

What’s so bad about bias?

August 13, 2020

The dictionary definition usually goes like this:

biasn. inclination or prejudice for or against someone or something (a person or group, or an opinion, or a theory, ……). v. incline, or cause to be inclined, in favour of someone or something

Unbiased brain image johnnycullen.net

A preference for anything is a bias. A preference for a particular food, or person, or pet, or idea is a bias.  Animals too exhibit behaviour which humans would interpret as bias. A bias is clearly a cognitive state based on the knowledge, memories and values stored in that brain at that time. It is also clearly a dynamic state and changes as the state of the brain changes. Consider a brain fully capable of thinking but empty of all memory, all values, and all knowledge. A brain with no preferences for anything! Such a brain would begin as truly unbiased when required to form an opinion. An impossible state, of course, but useful as a thought experiment for defining a zero bias condition.

A preference for anything is, in fact, the result of a cognitive judgement made by a brain based on the knowledge and memories it has and on the internal value scales it uses. Our empty, thinking brain could not form an opinion about anything without first having some knowledge and some value scale to apply. Forming an opinion, is itself, the creation of a preference and a bias. Expressing an opinion is an expression of bias. All knowledge is bias. The greater the knowledge held by a brain, the greater the bias it has. The clearer the set of values held by a brain, the greater its bias. An unbiased mind is an empty mind.

Bias, itself, is not a value. It is, I think, a description of a cognitive state. A knowledgeable person, a person with opinions, is a biased person.

A learned judge is a biased judge. An unbiased music critic with no prior opinions is a useless critic. A food critic without taste preferences would be unbiased but would also be worthless as a critic. Unbiased parents would show no preference for their own children. Without bias, “good” and “bad” start with equal value. I am incurably biased against what I consider “bad” and against people I don’t like. Bias is merely the current state of a functioning brain.

Yet, bias is considered “bad” and to be unbiased is considered “good”. I suspect it is because we conflate the state of bias with the value scale of fairness.

But bias and fairness are entirely different things.


 

Depraved, decadent and damned

August 5, 2020

Playing with words.

(For some unknown reason “depraved, decadent and damned” has the same rhythm in my mind as “bewitched, bothered and bewildered”).

Morality is entirely subjective and always relative. It varies with time and place and individual. The moral standards of a group are a composite of the individual standards of those making up the group. Yet we are obsessed in judging others about their immorality – and always by our standards. Why else would we have so many words to describe the nuances or gradations of immorality? I suspect that no age is more depraved or decadent than any other. The measuring stick is always the variable morality of the day and place.

One can always find an antonym for any of the plethora of words describing immorality, but I suspect that the words were coined first to describe the level of immorality rather than the level of morality. In English there seems to be an over-representation of words beginning with “d”. I just take a few of these though there are many, many others (corrupted, perverted, lewd, licentious, prurient, wanton, profligate, hedonistic, ……).

These ought to be put as questions but, since morality is subjective, I take the liberty to frame them as statements.

  • Hollywood is more debauched than Bollywood.
  • Los Angeles is more depraved today than ancient Rome ever was.
  • Tallulah Bankhead was more dissolute than Harvey Weinstein is.
  • JFK was more dissipated than LBJ.
  • Catholicism has degenerated more than Islam.
  • The West Coast of any country is always more decadent than the East (as evidenced by the US, Australia, India and Sweden).
  • California has more deviants now than Babylon had in its heyday.
  • China defiles the Uighurs as Genghis Khan defiled the Han.
  • Europeans despoiled the pyramids as ISIS despoiled Palmyra.

The nuances are fascinating. Decadence is not for the indigent but depravity is universal and indifferent to wealth. Decadence requires both wealth and indulgence to excess. (Clearly LA is more decadent than New York, Perth more decadent than Sydney, Bombay more decadent than Madras and Gothenburg more decadent than Stockholm). Depravity is simpler and just needs to be grossly immoral. On my very subjective scale of morality, I find depravity more immoral than decadence. Dissipation and dissolution include both moral and physical decay, though I tend to ascribe greater physical rottenness to dissipation. To be degenerate requires having had a high moral position to descend from. Debauchery always has innocence as a victim and is wasted on the already depraved. However, a debaucher would nearly always be depraved. Despoiling needs some artistic merit to begin with. What is foul and rotten cannot be despoiled. It does not take much to deviate from some norm to be considered a deviant. Every minority is necessarily deviant in fact, if not always in the popular discourse. In today’s politically correct world people who are fat, or old, or not pretty are the new deviants.

We are always morally superior to them. (This is inherent in the definition of we and them).

Naturally, all those others who are decadent and depraved are utterly damned.

Depraved, decadent and damned.


 

 

It is time for “Human Resources” to be retired and to return to basics

July 30, 2020

I was pleased to see that in India’s New Education Policy the “Ministry of Human Resource and Development” was to return to its pre-1985 name of the “Ministry of Education”.  This is not a comment about the new policy but about the use of the term “Human Resource”. The Ministry of Education became the HRD Ministry in 1985 during Rajiv Gandhi’s time as Prime Minister. But this was, in hindsight, both misguided and counter-productive. The intention was to show how “modern” and up-to-date India was. In practice it shifted the focus from the core needs of Education to the cosmetics of being seen to be modern.

News18: The Ministry of Human Resource and Development (HRD) has been renamed as the Ministry of Education following an approval from the Union Cabinet. The name change was a key recommendation of the draft New Education Policy, which has also been cleared in Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting. The HRD ministry name was adopted in 1985, during the tenure of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, as it was changed from ministry of education.

The term “human resource” was first used in 1893 though entirely in a descriptive way. The concept of mobilizing, training and managing personnel and employees in industry grew in the first half of the 20th century. Later it spread into the Military and all Defense Industries as the Second World War demonstrated clearly the need for training, educating and managing large groups of personnel. After the war the concept of managing personnel relationships spread into every branch of commerce and even into government and bureaucracies. It used to be the Personnel Department until it became trendy and fashionable in the late 1970s for corporations to use the term “Human resources” to show how caring they were.

Human Resource: Pioneering economist John R. Commons mentioned “human resource” in his 1893 book The Distribution of Wealth but did not elaborate. The expression was used during the 1910s to 1930s to promote the idea that human beings are of worth (as in human dignity); by the early 1950s it meant people as a means to an end (for employers). Among scholars the first use of the phrase in that sense was in a 1958 report by economist E. Wight Bakke.

It is my contention that the use of the term “human resource” has been misleading and, on balance, more bad than good. It has enshrined the notion of people being just another commodity in the economic cycle. The use of the term “human resource” has helped to apply the same principles to people as those applying to raw materials (cost, security of supply, alternative suppliers, competition between suppliers). Seeing humans as resources rather than “personnel” has encouraged – and enabled – the corporate world to dehumanize people and shift and change to the cheapest resource available. The entire notion of outsourcing, which has became a major area of HR, is based on the same principles of shifting risks of fluctuating production volumes to sub-suppliers.

Personnel and employers once exhibited loyalty, trust, a sharing of goals and commitment. In both directions. Values evolve. Employers have become faceless and so have the resources they employ. Resources, after all, are consumable. They are to be fully utilized and then discarded and replaced. Brand loyalty from customers is highly valued and to be pursued. Employer/employee loyalty is of no relevance if it is not specified in the employment contract. The goals of a large corporation are rarely anything shared by all the cogs in the large wheel. Corporations, instead, have HR Departments to produce Vision Statements which are meaningless and shared by no one. Human resources, for their part, are required to perform to specification, be judged by Key Performance Indicators, are trained (not educated) and are discarded and written-off when non-performing or obsolete.

So I am very pleased to see Human Resource Development in India return to Education. And it is about time that Human Resources returned to being about People.


 

Social distance versus social distancing

July 28, 2020

Social distancing in public health is about physical distancing but social distance in sociology is about race and attitudes to ethnic difference.

Social Distancing

Although the term was introduced only in the 21st century, social-distancing measures date back to at least the 5th century BC. The Bible contains one of the earliest known references to the practice in the Book of Leviticus 13:46: “And the leper in whom the plague is… he shall dwell alone; [outside] the camp shall his habitation be.” During the Plague of Justinian of 541 to 542, Emperor Justinian enforced an ineffective quarantine on the Byzantine Empire, including dumping bodies into the sea; he predominantly blamed the widespread outbreak on “Jews, Samaritans, pagans, heretics, Arians, Montanists and homosexuals”. In modern times, social distancing measures have been successfully implemented in several epidemics. In St. Louis, shortly after the first cases of influenza were detected in the city during the 1918 flu pandemic, authorities implemented school closures, bans on public gatherings and other social-distancing interventions. The influenza fatality rates in St. Louis were much less than in Philadelphia, which had fewer cases of influenza but allowed a mass parade to continue and did not introduce social distancing until more than two weeks after its first cases. Authorities have encouraged or mandated social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However in sociology, social distance is all about race.

In sociology, social distance describes the distance between different groups in society, such as social class, race/ethnicity, gender or sexuality. Members of different groups mix less than members of the same group. It is the measure of nearness or intimacy that an individual or group feels towards another individual or group in a social network or the level of trust one group has for another and the extent of perceived likeness of beliefs

Bogardus Social Distance Scale (1925)

This scale was developed by Emory Bogardus in 1924 and named after him. It is one of the oldest and still in use, psychological attitude scales. Due to its unidimensional nature, prejudice or the lack of it towards only one community or group can be measured at one point in time. The Bogardus social distance scale is also known as a cumulative scale because an agreement with one item shows agreement with any number of preceding items ……… 

For example, the Bogardus social distance scale is set up as a series of questions that ask an individual or a respondent, their feelings or the closest degree of intimacy towards a member of a group in question. A score of 1 is assigned to each option, asking the individual what the closest degree of intimacy is that he or she would be willing to admit a member of the group in question. The following is asked:

  • Would you be willing to marry a member of this group? (1.0)
  • Would you be willing to have a member of this group as your close personal friend? (2.0)
  • Would you be willing to have a member of this group as your neighbor? (3.0)
  • Would you be willing to have a member of this group as your colleague at work? (4.0)
  • Would you be willing to have a member of this group as a citizen of your country? (5.0)
  • Would you be willing to have a member of this group visit your country as a non-citizen? (6.0)
  • Would you be willing to have a member of this group be excluded from associating with your country in any way? (7.0)

The ratings of multiple people from one community is collected as a cumulative and the average of this number represents the value of the social distance scale.

The Bogardus scale tries to measure social differences between attitudes of members of different ethnic communities as perceived by members of one community. It does not address social distance within a community.

“Social media” can thus promote social distancing (public health) while reducing social distance (sociology).


 

There can be no intrinsic value to a human life (or to anything)

July 14, 2020
  1. If every human life has a fixed value, and a higher value is a good thing for humankind, then the greater the population of humans the better.
  2. If human life has a variable value, always positive but varying over time and varying by individual, then humankind is still best served by increasing population.
  3. If a human life has a variable value which can even be negative, then the value to humankind must be considered by a value summation over the entire life of an individual.

I question whether value (of anything) can ever be intrinsic. Nothing has value unless

  1. judged by a mind (or a consensus of minds),
  2. against a value scale to judge by.

I read an article recently which argued that life had intrinsic value and the intrinsic value of a human life was greater than that of a cockroach. To whom, I wondered? By what value scale? Qualifying the word value with the word intrinsic is meaningless.

Intrinsic value is often used to define the financial worth of an asset but I am not concerned with that particular use of the words. Philosophy distinguishes between intrinsic and extrinsic value and takes intrinsic value to be a necessary precursor for judgements of morality.

Intrinsic value has traditionally been thought to lie at the heart of ethics. Philosophers use a number of terms to refer to such value. The intrinsic value of something is said to be the value that that thing has “in itself,” or “for its own sake,” or “as such,” or “in its own right.” Extrinsic value is value that is not intrinsic. ….. Many philosophers take intrinsic value to be crucial to a variety of moral judgments. For example, according to a fundamental form of consequentialism, whether an action is morally right or wrong has exclusively to do with whether its consequences are intrinsically better than those of any other action one can perform under the circumstances. ……

The question “What is intrinsic value?” is more fundamental than the question “What has intrinsic value?,” but historically these have been treated in reverse order. For a long time, philosophers appear to have thought that the notion of intrinsic value is itself sufficiently clear to allow them to go straight to the question of what should be said to have intrinsic value. ….. 

Suppose that someone were to ask you whether it is good to help others in time of need. Unless you suspected some sort of trick, you would answer, “Yes, of course.” If this person were to go on to ask you why acting in this way is good, you might say that it is good to help others in time of need simply because it is good that their needs be satisfied. If you were then asked why it is good that people’s needs be satisfied, you might be puzzled. You might be inclined to say, “It just is.” Or you might accept the legitimacy of the question and say that it is good that people’s needs be satisfied because this brings them pleasure. But then, of course, your interlocutor could ask once again, “What’s good about that?”  …….  At some point, though, you would have to put an end to the questions, not because you would have grown tired of them (though that is a distinct possibility), but because you would be forced to recognize that, if one thing derives its goodness from some other thing, which derives its goodness from yet a third thing, and so on, there must come a point at which you reach something whose goodness is not derivative in this way, something that “just is” good in its own right, something whose goodness is the source of, and thus explains, the goodness to be found in all the other things that precede it on the list. It is at this point that you will have arrived at intrinsic goodness. ….  That which is intrinsically good is nonderivatively good; it is good for its own sake. 

But intrinsic is as subjective as value is or morality is. Rather than intrinsic value leading to morality, it is the subjective value scale of morality in a mind, which leads to an assessment of being intrinsic. And the most fundamental value in any mind is it’s own perception of what is good and what is bad. And that is subjective.

The words “intrinsic” and “value”, together and by themselves, are meaningless. In fact, the word “value” alone, only has meaning when assessed by someone as being “of value to someone or to something”, using some subjective value scale. The net intrinsic value of the known universe is zero. But even that assessment is subjective.


 

As sanctity declines, the sanctimonious proliferate

July 6, 2020

Sacred and sanctity originated with gods and religions but nowadays are applied regularly in non-religious contexts. Sanctity – in the meanings of inviolability, or deserving of respect – is claimed for many things but no claim for sanctity (religious or otherwise) is actually anything more than wishful thinking for a desired state. From sacred also come sanctimony and the sanctimonious. Once upon a time, sanctimony was a quality displayed by saints, but it is now always about a claim, or a display, of a pretended, self-proclaimed, moral superiority. I observe that sanctimony is invariably called upon by the sanctimonious when rational argument fails.


Sacreddedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity; devoted exclusively to one service or use; worthy of religious veneration; entitled to reverence and respect; of or relating to religion; not secular or profane; unassailable; inviolable; highly valued and important

Sanctity: godliness; holiness of life and character; the quality or state of being holy or sacred; inviolability; deserving of veneration or respect

Sanctimony: pretended or hypocritical moral superiority; (archaic) the quality of holiness or godliness

Sanctimonious: hypocritically pious or devout; falsely claiming moral superiority


Sacrosanct: having extreme sanctity (extreme inviolability, sort of like the most best)


A search for sanctity reveals that over 90% of secular usage is in the context of human life. The next most common occurrences are with reference to the sanctity of marriage or of law. In the context of religious associations it is still used, though less dogmatically, for, among other things, the sanctity of the Church; of priests; of temples; of holy places. Whereas the original religious usage implied something inherently extraordinary, out of this world, the word has been debased by its use to try and impart a sense of importance to concepts or situations, where there is, in fact, nothing very special. In a secular context, the word is now used widely to imply that something should be inviolable and deserving of extraordinary veneration or respect (for example with the sanctity of nature, or of the scientific method, or of natural forces, or of government, or of institutions).

As a philosophical concept the sanctity of life derives from religious or ethical schools of thought.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: According to this ‘sanctity of life’ view, human life is inherently valuable and precious, demanding respect from others and reverence for oneself. 

WikipediaIn religion and ethics, the inviolability or sanctity of life is a principle of implied protection regarding aspects of sentient life that are said to be holy, sacred, or otherwise of such value that they are not to be violated. This can be applied to both animals and humans or micro-organisms, ….

But even in philosophy and logic the sanctity of life is just an assertion. It does not flow logically from, and is not inherent in, existence or in life. References to the sanctity of life  – which overwhelmingly dominates usage of the word – are so far from reality that the word sanctity has become just a parody of meaning inviolable. Using the phrase itself has become little more than virtue signalling. The association of inviolability with sanctity has been fatally diluted by the indiscriminate use of the word. Sanctity of life has even become a politically charged term in the abortion debate (with abortion supporters denying sanctity of life, while abortion opponents are in favour of such sanctity). But they both miss the point and lose track of the real issue of when life can be said to begin. The word is further debased in its meaning of inviolability when those supporting abortion oppose capital punishment and vice versa. Where sanctity was once used to denote the fact of inviolability, it has now come to mean an invocation of, or a desire for inviolability. The sanctity of the law is another phrase which has little to do with any inherent quality of law. Laws are merely man-made rules and regulations and they vary across space and change all the time. There is nothing sacred about law – only pragmatism for the functioning of societies. However, those charged with maintaining compliance, (the prevailing power, governments, police, courts, judges, lawyers, …..), have a strong desire that The Law, and laws, be considered inviolable. When they extol the sanctity of the law it is partly wishful thinking and partly a desire to protect themselves from criticism for failing to ensure compliance. Similarly the sanctity of marriage stems from religious and social desires for stability, rather than from any inherent inviolability of the married state. A claim to sanctity of the scientific process is used far too often to smother dissenting thought, even though the essence of the scientific process is to dissent and to question. Sanctity, as used, no longer means inviolability; it now means a presumption of, and a desire for, inviolability. Sanctity is on the decline and it is difficult to find any use of the word where inviolability is any more than a  desire (sometimes virtuous, sometimes not). The sanctity of religious institutions and places and people has been utterly debased by the all too many examples of inviolability being used to protect bad behaviour. Sanctuary derives from sanctity of place and this notion has been so abused as to be anti-social in itself. The sanctity of life or law or marriage or scientific method are empty claims and, again, usually invoked to protect errant behaviour. False claims of sanctity end up as sanctimony.

Sanctimony and the sanctimonious, though, are thriving. From sanctimony being used to describe the quality of being holy or virtuous, by the late 16th century (Shakespeare), it was also being used in the meaning of a hypocritical piousness. By the 19th century, the word was almost exclusively used to mean a hypocritical and pretended claim of moral superiority. Through the 1800s, the use grew of sanctimonious as a derogatory term for hypocritical and righteous do-gooders. In the present day, a dearth of saints and the saintly has all but killed off the original meaning.

The variety of platforms now available for public “debate” (including for proselytizing, preaching, bullying and haranguing) is unprecedented. In these “debates”, when arguments fail, the final defense is to claim moral superiority. As a last resort, bringing in Hitler or the Nazis makes it easy to claim moral superiority (Godwin’s Law). The nice thing about moral superiority is that it is “righteous” and makes it “ethical” to ignore rational argument. Sanctimony is especially useful when there is no time for exercise of mind. Social media provide little space, and less time, for developing arguments. It provides the fertile ground for sanctimony to flourish. Debate is by way of competing assertions. The weight of an assertion is determined by the number of “likes” it attracts, which in turn, is influenced by the perceptions of righteousness, political correctness and perceived virtue. The greater the level of sanctimony that an assertion can bring to bear, the greater the chance of winning more likes (and never mind the argument). The weaker the argument for a position, the greater the need for sanctimony. The sanctimonious are those with the greatest need, and some skill, to demonstrate sanctimony. (It can be quite amusing when the sanctimonious lose elections. As with an indignant Jeremy Corbyn who, after his resounding election defeat, claimed to have won the argument but lost the election). A reference to a sanctimonious moron could be taken as tautology.

It used to be the plebeians. Then in the 1830s, they became the “Great Unwashed”. Their natural successors today are the sanctimonious.

There is probably a connection between the decline of sanctity and the rise of the sanctimonious. When there is no real sanctity, false claims of purported sanctity lead to sanctimony. I have no doubt that investigating the connection could soon provide a suitable subject for a PhD in Social Sanctimony.


 

Juxtaposition of words where meaning eludes thought

June 29, 2020

The ability to think is genetic. Thinking, though, requires some inbuilt logic. Therefore logic must precede thought but where did that logic come from? Perhaps it emerges with thought. Humans are not unique as a species in being able to think.

Thought gives rise to meanings. The capability for language is genetic. The need to communicate meanings leads to the invention of languages. (“Language” is discovered but “languages” are invented). Many animals have some form of language. Humans are unique as a species in having written language and in being able to record language. (But animals do make use of some media which humans cannot: scent, ultrasound ..).

And when we meet our nearest aliens who “speak” to each other in bursts of X-rays we should not assume that they are backward because they don’t speak English.

It would seem that the capability for thought and language ability are both genetic and must exist simultaneously. It is not that either thought or language ability are a consequence of the other, but we must distinguish between the ability to have language and specific languages. It may well be that language ability and thinking ability only can appear together. The sequence is from thought to meaning to expressions of meaning using an invented language as a tool. However humans are also unique in the feedback loop between language and thought which raises thinking to heights not seen in any other species.

We invent words to express meanings. We invent grammars as rules to combine words to enable more complex meanings and to give precision in communication. There are many meanings for which we do not yet have words. But the languages and the words we invent are capable of expressing many more meanings than our thought can grasp.

We can juxtapose words and comply with grammar, but they give meanings which tantalizingly elude thought.

 


 

Fair’s fair and just is right, but justice systems are to do harm to a select few

June 20, 2020

This started out as an explanation of the difference in usage between just and fair, but has ended up as a journey from fair to just to justness to justice and thence to justice systems.

Just and fair are often conflated. But justness and fairness are different things and justice is something else again. The qualities of justness and fairness give rise to being just and fair respectively, but the corresponding action deriving from the quality of justice is doing justice.

  • fair/unfair, from fairness/unfairness,
  • just/unjust, from justness/injustice1,
  • justice/injustice2

are all quite distinct and different. The antonym for justness I take to be injustice1, which is not quite the same thing as the opposite of justice (injustice2).

What both fair and just have in common is that they cannot exist except as reactions to the prior conceptions of unjust and unfair. These must come first. .Just and fair both then represent, but separately, states of balance in human interactions. The abstract quality of being fair is fairness and that of being just is justness. Justice is, however, something else and not necessarily fair or just. But justice too follows from a conception of injustice2 which must come first.

A justice system is something else again. 


A just universe?

In the physical universe, the concepts of just and fair are undefined and have no meaning. The natural laws are neither fair nor just; they merely are. It is human cognition together with human interactions which give rise to the need for these concepts to exist. In the physical world, the closest analogy to the concepts of just and fair are equilibrium and balance. The universe came into being, (whether by accident or by design), following an initiating impulse which created the Great Imbalance. All events since then are in pursuit of balance; of seeking a state of equilibrium. All change is a result of some imbalance. Once equilibrium is achieved nothing happens. Nothing can happen. All of physics and chemistry and biology are about changes brought about by non-equilibrium states followed by events which are always in the pursuit of balance. We derive the natural laws from observations of change around us. They are all about events caused by imbalances, which seek to reduce the causing imbalance. Without imbalance there would be no motion, no vibration, no radiation and no change of any kind. They all cease with equilibrium. Even the very existence of matter is due to disturbances (imbalances) in fields. All existence is a chain of succeeding imbalances, a transience. All life is transient. Change pursuant to one imbalance leads to further imbalances, which lead to further changes, and so on ad infinitum.  There is no certainty that the chain of changes will, or must, converge. Attaining a final, universal equilibrium may not happen very quickly (and possibly may never happen). Whether time emerges from change, or time causes change, the flow of time is itself a manifestation of some, as yet unknown, imbalance. The universe – while it exists – is in a “permanently” transient state. All science is about understanding the state of the universe and its patterns of change, while human engineering and technology are about harnessing the transients as the natural forces pursue equilibrium. Change is impossible without imbalance. If, and when, all the imbalances are removed, even atoms will cease to vibrate and the universe will come to an end. All would be in equilibrium; motionless; unchanging; timeless. It would be the ultimate stasis.

The universe just is, but just it is not.

Fair/Fairness

Fair is meaningless without a conception of unfair. Any definition of fair must first go through defining what it is not. Fairness is about a qualitative balance assessed between positions along the benefit – harm value scale, as perceived by an individual. Fairness is about the balance and not about the level of harm or the position along the value scale. Strict equivalence is not a requirement. However while fair describes a balance anywhere along the scale, unfair is always accompanied by a greater level of perceived harm on one side of the imbalance.

It is nearly always about people. It is always about balance though a comparison with a standard or norm may be implied. It is thought that the concept of fairness may even be hard-wired into our brains. (Fairness and equality are sometimes interchanged but they are also quite different things and equal is not necessarily just or fair). For an individual, the assessment of fairness can often seem to emanate from “gut” emotions. It is, however, a composite cognitive assessment; an application of reason, even if sometimes made to some extent in the sub-conscious. The assessment is along a harm-benefit value scale which is itself a composite scale. It is subjective and specific to every individual. Fairness includes assessments for, among many other values, equity, wealth, proportion, beauty, worth, privilege, ability, performance, reward and penalty. (Actions causing harm such as discrimination, cheating, favoritism and the like are usually unfair, except when they are overridden by political correctness). The assessed balance may apply 

  • to transactions (fair deal, wages, value, share, offer, ..), or
  • to the states of individuals or groups of individuals (unfair wealth, misery, poverty, sickness, ..), or
  • to their actions (fair blow, play, throw, catch, ….) , or
  • to the behaviour they receive or don’t receive (fair treatment, chance, review, hearing, assessment, result, ….).

(There are other meanings of fair – a market fair, fair weather, fair skin, etc. – but these are not considered here). Strict equivalence is not a requirement for a balance to be considered fair. Sometimes, but rarely, the comparison may be relative to some expected standard rather than between people.

What is fair then depends upon each individual’s own set of values. Different values or sets of values give differing assessments of fairness. Giving different weights to different values would change the assessment of fairness. What appears fair to me today may not seem fair to a different observer or even to me at a different time. The ability to assess fairness is clearly a function of cognition. Sometimes we do extend the quality of fairness in our descriptions of the animal world. But in the animal world, it seems that only some of the primates (chimpanzees for example) may have some vague notion of the concept of fairness.  Whenever there is a collective human assessment of what is fair, it is built up from developing some form of consensus from the various individual assessments of fairness. But the assessments by individuals must come first. 

Fairness, at its core, emanates from individual cognition and an individual’s set of values and the application of those values to a comparison and an assessment of balance. Unfair may contribute to wrongness but is not necessarily improper or illegal or immoral.

Just/Justness

Just and justness, on the other hand, only emerge in a societal context. They too are defined through their antonyms. They always involve a judgement by, or with reference to, some authority. A judgement necessarily requires speaking from authority, but it may be explicit or implicit. While an individual can have an assessment of fairness without necessarily referring to a society, an individual’s perception of unjust needs reference to a surrounding society. The value scale is now of a formal wrongness where some societal authority defines the just-unjust value scale which, in turn is, a composite of various aspects of wrongness. The scale is open at the unjust end but cannot exceed beyond just. (A reference to more just is not an excess of justness but actually about less unjust).

The authority may be explicit, emanating from a prevailing power in a society (setting laws, rules, regulations, instructions, ..), or implicit, when the judgement is based on moral or religious or societal authority (correctness, morality, conscience, convention, ..). Correct, or proper, or moral, or legal, or deserved are all judgements made from a position of authority. Justness is still about balance, but a balance against a measure of wrongness based on societal rules originating from some authority (governments, religions, gods,  …). It also begins by first having a concept of what what just is not. To be assessed as unjust must always include this element of formal wrongness. Wrongness is a composite judgement which includes one or more of being incorrect, improper, unfair, illegal, immoral or undeserved. These assessments are not compared, in the first instance, between humans but against societal norms as decreed by authority. The weight given to different aspects of wrongness determines the position on the just-unjust scale. At least one component of wrongness is necessary but may not be sufficient for being unjust. Thus (unfair + deserved) may be just while (fair + illegal) may be unjust. It is not implausible, for example, that an action which is improper, incorrect, immoral and unfair, but which is compliant with law, escapes being labeled as unjustUnfair is silent about wrongness and becomes unjust only if it is also adjudged to be sufficiently negative on the wrongness scale. Unjust is not necessarily harmful or unfair.

It is doubtful if any other species we know of makes the leap from fair to just. I make the distinction between justness and fairness primarily by differentiating between the individual and the collective (society) and on the different value scales in play. Fairness is a judgement of balance while justness is a measure of formal wrongness. I can judge what is fair, but some authority within society must be called upon to determine what is just.

Fair = balanced along the harm-benefit value scale as perceived by an individual’s set of values

Just = not negative along the just-unjust, wrongness scale as determined by some societal authority

Justice/Injustice

The primary meaning of the word justice as a noun is: “the achieving or maintenance of what is just”. However the word also has other meanings such as a judge, the maintenance of law, the quality of being just (justness), correctness or a justice system. I take only the primary meaning here: “the achieving or maintenance of what is just”. (I have more to say about justice systems later).

The philosophical concept of justice arises only because injustice is first perceived to exist as an imbalance in human relations within a society.  A society without any perception of injustice could not, from nothingness, dream up a concept of justice. Just as a creature without vision could not dream up the concept of red. Human societies pride themselves on having a sense of justice and on their institutionalized systems of justice. Most would claim the objective of striving for a just world. But in a completely just world the concept of justice vanishes, just as in a universe at equilibrium, change – and therefore the universe – vanish. Justice cannot exist without injustice first being perceived as an imbalance within a society. A paradox lies in that while the pursuit of justice is a cherished part of the human identity, in a perfectly just world, the concept of justice could not emerge. It follows that a perfectly just world could only contain a humanity which had no conception of injustice.

The Justinian definition that justice is “the constant and perpetual will to render to each his due” is 1,500 years old, but is still valid and as good a theoretical description of justice (as the maintenance of what is just), as any. “To each his due” requires a judgement from an authority competent to decide what is due. “To each” also implies everybody. Theoretically, justice should then be the pursuit of a state of justness where everybody gets their due – good, bad or indifferent. As a synonym for justness, justice ought to be as much about due reward as it is about due penalty. In practice, however, justice is predominantly about what is due for wrongness rather than what may be due for rightness. In common usage, justice is about the righting of undue wrongs, and very seldom about rendering of due rewards. When reward does engage justice, it is more often as an injustice consequent to a reward denied. It is sometimes seen as a property of the law. But that doesn’t really work since not everything compliant with law is necessarily just. Law specifies the wrongness scale but is not, actually, about the quality of wrongness. Whereas justness should be equally about due punishment and due reward, justice is predominantly about what is due for that wrongness which is adjudged sufficiently wrong to be labeled unjust.

In current practice, justice is no longer about what is due to everyone and is restricted to be what is due to every wrongdoer. Justice is now just a sub-set of justness. Justinian’s definition has effectively been modified.

justice = “the constant and perpetual will to render to each wrongdoer his due”

Justice Systems

Justice systems are always societal constructs made or maintained by the prevailing power. They are made up of institutions and procedures in a society, established by law, and concerned solely with the enforcement of law. Whether it is a system established by a sporting club (discipline committee), or a company (grievance process) or the full-blown paraphernalia of a state (Justice System), it does not deal, except as a corollary, with fairness or justness or even justice. It is only concerned with a portion of that fraction of unjust or injustice which is illegal. To the extent that law is imperfect and not all laws are just or fair, it also deals with just or fair acts which happen to be illegal. Justice and The Law are shrouded in a halo of sanctity which is a mirage. There is nothing absolute or fundamental or divine about the justice pursued by justice systems.  It emerges in the context of a society and varies with time, society and the prevailing power. A justice system is not so much about attaining a state of justness as it is about being seen to be addressing some of those who have done harm and have created societal imbalances. It is a highly pragmatic, societal construct for the visible disbursement of future harm to a select few formally adjudged to have done something illegal which has caused harm.

One could hope that a justice system would promote a general state of justness in society but that would be entirely delusional. One might think, more practically, that a justice system existed to promote a Justinian form of justice in a society, where everybody got their due, but even that would be hopelessly naive. The UK Ministry of Justice “definition” reads like a corporate mission statement written by a PR hack: “The purpose of the Criminal Justice System… is to deliver justice for all, by convicting and punishing the guilty and helping them to stop offending, while protecting the innocent”. 

Consider first how limited the scope of application of any justice system actually is.

  • Start with all received behaviour and actions where either harm or benefit is caused and something “is due”, (All events = N)
  • Then take those unjust instances where received behaviour has caused harm and can be labeled wrong. It is only a guesstimate but this is certainly less than 50% of all events and more than 10%. I assume the 80/20 rule. (Wrong, harmful events = 0.2N)
  • Only a portion of these wrong events will be non-compliant with established laws, Again say 20%. (Wrong, harmful, illegal events = W = 0.04N)
  • Only a portion of these illegal events will attract the formal attention of the justice system. The harm done must usually be above some threshold to trigger societal interest. No harm, no foul is one boundary condition often applied. Globally, and considering all forms of illegality, one estimate is that less than 20% are reported to justice systems. (Events entering the justice system = 0.2W = 0.008N)
  • The Crime Detection Rate is the number of cases where someone is identified as a suspect in a reported crime. This varies from about 90% for death by road accident, to 80% for murder, and down to 15% for burglary and 10% for fraud or sexual offenses. Say 30%. (Suspect detected = 0.06W = 0.0024N).
  • Less than half of those suspected proceed to formal prosecution. (Cases prosecuted = 0.03W = 0.0012N)
  • A majority of prosecutions do result in convictions. Conviction rates in justice systems vary from a low of about 50% in some African and Asian countries to a high of about 99.9% (Japan, Russia). In Europe and the US they are around 70 – 80%. (Which also suggests that the presumption of innocence has been largely negated once a formal prosecution occurs). Say 70%. (Number receiving their due = 0.021W = 0.00084N)

These are just guesstimates but it is apparent that no justice system can address and “render their due” to more than about 2% of all illegal events (or 0.1% of all events which create a “due”). It would seem that the societal exercise of justice is satisfied by addressing just this tiny fraction of events that could be addressed. That is not to say that justice systems don’t serve a critical purpose for all societies. But the primary purpose cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be to achieve a state of justness for all, or even justice for all, in the society concerned.

The bottom line is that justice systems decree and implement harm for those convicted. In fact it is the only recourse available to justice systems. The past cannot be changed and the only tool available is future harm. This is not restricted to criminal justice. Even in civil justice suits when perceived harm is brought to the courts, the recourse of the justice system to redressing balance (if imbalance is adjudged to exist and be illegal), is to decree future harm for the “wrongdoer”.

What, then, is actually achieved by justice systems?

In practice, every justice system is concerned only with a tiny fraction of all illegalities. It

  • decrees and implements harm to a select few,
  • is a PR exercise to demonstrate that the prevailing power has matters under control,
  • shows, as a deterrent, that some of the most egregious wrongdoers can be detected and “rendered their due”.

The reality is that every justice system (including its prevailing laws and institutions) is built on the core assumption that societies, for the smooth functioning of that society, must be seen to be pursuing justice. What justice or justness is actually achieved in the society at large is entirely incidental.

Doing harm to others is “bad”, except when it is just or decreed by a justice system.


Related: Laws are made to be broken

Without laws there are no law breakers. It is not only that law breakers are created by human laws, human laws need law breakers. Laws are established in the first place to prevent some human behaviors which society judges to be undesirable. But if everyone follows a law then that law is unnecessary, and if no one follows that law it is worthless. One could well say that law breakers perform a fundamental and necessary service for society. They keep laws alive. Without law breakers, there would be no need for laws or legislators or lawyers.


 

Are rights real in this age of entitlement?

March 11, 2020
  1. A right is an entitlement to a privilege.
  2. A privilege is an actual advantage available (whether granted by anybody or not) to a particular person or group. (By analogy, your right is your ownership of another’s debt, an entitlement is that the credit is in your account and a privilege results when it is encashed).
  3. Having an entitlement is no guarantee that the privilege will result.
  4. A grant of an impossible entitlement or an entitlement granted by an incompetent authority cannot be realized as a privilege.
  5. The universe is not in debt to any living creature.
  6. There are no entitlements which flow from the laws of nature as rights of any kind except the obligation to comply with the natural laws.
  7. No living thing is born with any entitlements.
  8. There is no entitlement even to life. Survival is a result, not an entitlement.
  9. The primal drivers for all living things are survival and self-interest.
  10. Humans are not born equal. Each human is born with a unique set of genes and has the potential and the constraints given by that set of genes (nature). All humans are born naked, with no resources, no debts, no liabilities and with only those privileges as may be granted, or liabilities that may be imposed, by the local, surrounding human society.
  11. Humans are not brought up equally. Every individual receives varying amounts and quality of support from the surrounding community (nurture).
  12. Human lives are not equal in value. The value of a human life to its surrounding society is neither static nor a constant. It varies across individuals, across societies and across the lifetime of the individual.
  13. An individual’s capability for behaviour lies within the envelope of what is allowed by an individual’s genes (nature), as enabled or constrained by upbringing (nurture).
  14. An individual’s actual actions are limited first by capability (nature and nurture) and then as motivated or constrained by individual cognition.
  15. Every individual is free to act within his capabilities and his desires but within the physical constraints that the surroundings (environment or society) may have applied.
  16. Human brains give us the ability to reason which, in turn, gives our assessments of self-interest. All human behaviour is governed first by perceived self-interest.
  17. Even apparently altruistic actions are only as a subset of perceived self-interest.
  18. An individual’s immediate, perceived self-interest can override any consideration of causing harm to others.
  19. Coercion, physically or by the application of threats (including by legislation), can change the perception of self-interest.
  20. All societies – from family groups and up to nations – grant their members various privileges conditional always upon their behaviour.
  21. “Acceptable behaviour” is a dynamic, local, value-judgement. It varies across individuals, families, societies and over time.
  22. All societies create legislation to try and coerce “acceptable” behaviour from their members by rewarding “good” behaviour and penalizing “bad” behaviour.
  23. In practice, protecting or rewarding the perpetrators of “bad” behaviour shields and perpetuates that behaviour.
  24. “Improvement” of individual behaviour means eliciting a greater compliance with a society’s standards of behaviour.
  25. Global declarations of entitlements can only be effected (encashed) locally.
  26. There is no global, timeless definition of what constitutes “acceptable” or “barbarous” behaviour which is shared by all 7 billion humans.
  27. No society attempts to, or has the competence to, guarantee that any of its members will not be victims of “unacceptable behaviour” received from others.
  28. Human rights are an imaginary social construct.
  29. All declared human rights are of universally applicable, irrevocable, unconditional entitlements to some privilege of received behaviour.
  30. Declared human rights are free of cost and require no reciprocal duties.
  31. A declaration of human rights in itself creates no social contract.
  32. All claims of human rights are claims against the behaviour received or not received from others.
  33. Human rights entitlements are theorized to apply only after birth and cease with death. (A living murderer retains rights but not so the victim).

 


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