Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Scottish independence - The values for change

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Scotland is taking the fateful step towards independence. The question is – should it? I’m an Australian critical analyst who has taken upon answering the questions which people in this fledgling nation cannot. They cannot for any of a number of reasons – namely:
1. Empiricism – that is an undeveloped capacity to appraise abstract ‘analytical’ arguments
2. Bias arising from a misplaced sense of identity
3. Presumptuous ideas about the issue, i.e. Knowing something about politics, but not about economics, and other pertinent subjects
4. Foresight – Not knowing the future outlook

Of course, it is not a question of possessing perfect wisdom, but simply making the best possible decision within one’s means. To this end, I’m simply providing a ‘heads-up’, with the qualification, that I’m not perfect either. In any respect, perfection is not an option open to any of us, since our political system is so disempowering it is impossible for any of us to reach it. Therein lies the illusion of this campaign; the idea that things will be better if we simply reject the British. These exponents of independence however will be functioning on the same fundamental premises as their predecessors. There is one solid reason why they will be doing that – the voter would be apprehensive if confronted by the reality of change and justice, and there is no hope in comforting millions of people, so the ‘new system’ is destined to only achieve some fraction of ‘the optimal’. The question is whether that ‘fractional change’ is worth the effort, or is Scotland destined to fall prey to the same mistakes as Britain. Some people like to gamble. I like ‘proven paths’ supported by evidence because there is actually no need to take unqualified risks. We have a mind; we need to use it. The schedule is now overtaking the events. People are destined to be engaged in the 11th hour. The ‘no team’ has only now just got serious about the campaign. That is a measure of their disrespect; but what of the implied ‘respect’ of Alex Salmond and his team. Well, Salmond has offered very little detail about the trail he is blazing for Scotland. Is that a measure of his regard for Scottish voters? It’s hard to say. He might well be avoiding controversy because:

  1. He is just a custodian of the people’s interests, so he’s open to ideas
  2. He just appreciates that the opposition are destined to use anything he says to create fear. i.e. Might the devil be in the detail, or the absence of it? That ultimately depends on the balance in any debate.

So let us consider the problems for Scottish secession that I have raised above.


Empiricism is a philosophical perspective that compels the observer to find comfort in evidentiary sources of knowledge. It is a perspective that holds ideas or concepts as suspicious or deceptive, whilst experience is ‘grounded’ and tangible. The reality is that people who are explicit or implicit exponents of ‘experience’ at the expense of ideas are simply not well-equipped to think. The problem is not that analytical thinking is a source of uncertainty; the problem is that they never employed the methodology to the point of achieving any comfort in it, or any sense of efficacy from employing it. By implication, it became a tool that they felt compelled to deride, not because they found a better tool, but because:
  1. Their relativist standards precluded them from caring whether they were ‘analytically’ efficacious
  2. Their subjective perspective allowed them to simply find another tool, i.e. empiricism, which gave them comfort
  3. They were able to join a ‘school of thought’ that gave them the validation to persist with the method, and the compartmentalisation to avoid scrutiny.
The fact of the matter is that sound thinking depends upon both rational ‘analytical’ and experiential (‘empirical’) engagement. The reality is that people are prone to ‘flip’ from analytical to empirical thinking, but struggle to engage both skills at the same time. One might wonder why I have not identified rationalism as a problem. The reason is that rationalism is largely confined to Continental Europe, with schools like the Austrian School and praxeology. These schools are significant, but they are not influential in politics. The empiricists reign supreme, largely because of their propensity to:
  1. Proven success. Empiricists have been able to draw credibility from successful application in the ‘basic’ physical sciences, i.e. People simply took a leap of faith that they could apply seemingly ‘non-analytically’ methods to the human sciences. They do ‘conditionally’, but derision for analytical thinking gave the empiricists an ‘easy path’. The problem is that the human sciences entertain far more complex problems and there is less scope to experiment with humans in ‘closed systems’. This meant they could not ignore the broader context, so instead they derided ideas or our ability to know anything, i.e. scepticism. 
  2. The tangibility of empiricism. Empiricism is more tangible, since you can refer to data, and larger data sets have even greater appeal. What seems lost on people is that it requires an ‘analytical’ frame of reference, or a methodology, however that is just a rationalisation to comfort people. People are only really interested in ‘results’, and methodology is gives scant consideration. Most research is peer-reviewed by empiricists, and controversial research goes untested. It is a leap of faith in the methodology of testing research and the results of research. 
  3. Derision for ideology. The empiricists have been very successful in deriding ideology. There is a good reason why this is so; “everyone appreciates the self-evident”, whether it’s the candy bar, the tax concession, the cash back. The point of these ‘tangible’ values is that people get them, and don’t appreciate the long-range, the conceptual, or the unidentified benefit that does not take a form they can immediately perceive. Practical extortionists have therefore reigned supreme in politics, journalism, business and other modes of engagement. They didn’t have to account for their methods, as long as they had practical outcomes that trumped all but the largest ‘inconvenient, obstinate ‘extortive’ oppositions, like the union movement and Greens. This didn’t make these oppositions right; it just made them an obstacle to prevailing powerful interest groups. Practical people then had to suppress any respect for ideas that contradicted their practices, so they needed an intellectual framework for attacking ideas’. i.e. Empiricism.
  4. Appeal to authority. There is an expectation that results sanctioned by some body is a sufficient measure of its validity. In a world of competent practitioners of scientific method, you would hope for that, but we should have no such comfort. The irony is that they call their method ‘the scientific method’. The reality is that it’s a political sanction for ‘appeal to authority’ or ‘faith in non-analytical scientific method’. This of course serves exponents of the status quo (conservatives) and modern liberalism (‘liberals’). Interesting, for practical reasons, these counterparts hold sway over different public policy areas. Conservatives hold sway with economic interests, so classical liberal ideas dressed up as utilitarianism prevail, whilst liberals have been able to win over social policy with their popularity among the unions, churches, welfare lobbies and even conservative sympathisers. Both sides of politics therein stand opposed to analytical thinking because its ‘ideological’ and it’s derided as such because they can’t use it; but it can powerfully be used against them unless they can construct oppressive political agencies to curtail it. The reason analytical thinking is so distrusted is because even ‘specialist’ rationalists cannot make sense of the world. They are not generalists, or even if they are, too few of them are raised in a world offering sufficient ‘detachment’ from tragic ‘experience’ that they are destined to be shaped by it. Of course there can be a contrary explanation for those experiences, however finding such an explanation before analytically-minded people have had a chance to elucidate a ‘world view’ is a challenge, and then to expect any validation thereafter, is a challenge that most idealists won’t make.  
For these reasons there is an undeveloped capacity within ‘specialists’ to appraise abstract ‘analytical’ arguments. 

Various forms of bias

There are a number of forms of bias that makes people prone to poor decisions. These include:
  1. Material bias that lend support to poor decisions. i.e. If you were a banker which was destined to lose their job, or vulnerable to adverse outcomes because of your position, then you might be compelled to make a decision that serves your short-range interests rather than your long-range interests. This can be extended to a material loss because your judgement was wrong, and you attempt to avoid acknowledging that by denial. 
  2. Abstract bias arises where people are compelled to accept outcomes that avoid their sense of intellectual ambivalence or the necessity for them to learn, or change their position. The bias arises, not from material consequences, but moral apprehensions about a person’s capacity to solve a problem, whether themselves, or to convince others of the plausibility of the solution identified.
In either case it’s an attempt to avoid bad consequences or avoid ‘hard effort’ where one clearly has no sense of efficacy, and where such efficacy is not considered ‘practical’ under the contemporary political system. Efficacy is a source of motivation because it’s a source of validation, whether pride and reward. You can see that in our extortion-based political system that rationality does not get much validation simply because most people don’t or can’t (with confidence) engage in logical debates, and because rationality is not the standard of value. Such people are invalidated, whilst the unthinking are vulnerable to false arguments by political representatives who would manipulate them. Efficacy is instead depicted as a ‘social skill’, so rewards are bestowed upon one on the basis of one’s capacity to get along and placate others. Egoists are considered mentally ill or deficient under this scenario. It’s a straw argument that collectivists and statists are not accountable for. They care deride people readily with impunity because there are so many more of them.

Presumptuous ideas 

We have already described the problem of people ‘knowing a little bit of something’, therein thinking they are capable of engaging in any related endeavour. The problem with knowing a lot, but not everything, is that the thing you don’t know might be the ‘differentiating idea’ that makes the difference in how you think. There are basically two sources of presumption in society:

  1. Entrenched ideas – Traditional ideas or values which were not questioned. There are a lot of these, and there are powerful institutions in the world dedicated to preserving these ideas. They are called ‘schools of thought’, but really they function more as ‘barriers to thought’ since they validate everyone entombed within, granting them the discretion, but not the compunction to engage with the outside world. Consider the power and influence of the churches. These institutions are still shaping the way kids are raised. Most adults think that their child should have a religious instruction to ensure they get ‘ethics’. For an atheist like myself, this is corruption from the first gasp of air. The church however is merely the first step towards a multiple of false dichotomies across the political spectrum.
  2. Specialist ideas – I’ve already alluded to the folly of people who know a little, and who have come to accept as a ‘leap of faith’ the ideas of others. Clearly they don’t know enough to critically appraise those ideas. These are related problems because if something is not critically appraised it’s because it’s not so ‘superficial’ that it’s being popularly questioned, or because the critique is not so controversial or ‘popular’ that people are open to entertaining it. People still consider the popularity of an issue the measure of its value. When you are raised with a special skill you inadvertently accept peripheral knowledge upon which that idea depends. We have been doing that since birth, and most people don’t question those ideas; even seasoned philosophers and scientists. This is a source of presumption that is difficult for most people to overcome because most people are ‘practical people’ who don’t like to undermine their practicality in terms of their presupposed identity, values and purpose. Of course we are open to some change, but not change that would change our identity or loyalties. 

Perhaps the greatest threat or obstacle to intellectual reform or enlightenment are the entrenched values underpinning the humanities. The reason why these values are so entrenched is because the humanities is a deeper or more complex subject that the physical sciences. The struggles in the physical sciences arise not from the complexity of the variables so much as the absence of data. We are remote from data; whether data which depicts the furthest reaches of the universe, the depths of the lithosphere or the depths of the ocean. 
In the case of the humanities, we are clueless, not because of our inaccessibility to humans, but rather the multitude of variables that shape their lives, and their dispensation to dishonestly or defensively to avoid moral judgement or condemnation. This is understandable. If it becomes hard to understand people, then it becomes easy to judge them unfairly out of context. In political systems which treat us unfairly, we readily spurn those judgements which inadvertently make us feel vulnerable. Politics deals with issues that remain intractable after 200 years. We are still no closer to reconciling the issues of Adam Smith and Karl Marx. Not because there is no evidence, but because some people are permitted the luxury of circumventing evidence for something more pressing – the right to extort influence over others. Yes, we are talking about representative democracy and the state’s power to coerce and tax. 
It helps politicians no end that the field of economics is equally open to question, because it is also complex and controversial. Again, people are divided into ‘schools of thought’ and are barely pressed to reconcile their ideas. Their political exponents are far better off by not performing any reconciliations, for they would surely surrender their bargaining position. There is no ‘position’ in settlement, only in the intractable problem. 
For this reason, the most ‘practical’ field of science or pseudo-science is surely the ‘behaviourist’ school of sociology, which studies the advanced nature of humans with proclivities towards certain tribal groups. This field of ‘pseudoscience’ is certainly validated by a political system which gives a sanction to ‘extorted’ tribal or collective values, and it is indeed interesting how even the concept of ‘individualism’ can be corrupted or twisted to recognise the ‘specificity’ or uniqueness of minorities, but never the smallest minority – the individual, on the premise that anything spurned or affirmed for others is morally ‘good’ an anything wanted for oneself is necessarily bad. i.e. The ego is spurned as a ‘corrupting influence’. The problem here is their psychological values, or their poorly developed conception of humanity, or human motivation. This is of course part of the presumptive, tragic context in which they ‘frame their science’. The tragic and sceptical world-view clearly reinforces the idea of the tribe being the standard of the good. The human conscious cannot be trusted, so any mind becomes a foundation for deceit or ‘greed’. This is the type of thinking that spurns human achievement in any person. Any good is only affirmed as a ‘collective achievement’. There is no room for personal glorification, and it doesn’t serve society to falsely affirm one’s personal responsibility when it was indeed a ‘collective contribution’, but neither does it serve anyone not to acknowledge the discrete contribution of individuals, and to so differentiate those contributions as a basis for validation or justice. 

We can therefore see that presumption is a serious problem in society, and we can also acknowledge the origin of the problem. There is two forms of ‘the good’. There is ‘the good’ as defined by science that recognises within humanity certain capacities to achieve value, just as all species of life seek to achieve some value from bacteria to the primates. There is also the personal, specific context in which every living thing acts or exists, including humans, and we ought to respect the importance of each human by acknowledging the importance of their values to them. When we seek to collectivise values, when we enshrine a code that forces people to seek or support (through taxation) collective ‘social values’, we are saying that the good is a distortion or a repudiation of self. This is a betrayal of self that cannot be permitted because it ultimately undermines human freedom. The depravity of this system becomes even more serious when you look at the political system of representative democracy, because this system proselytises this system as ‘virtuous’, when in fact, it disempowers humans from their values, goals and ultimately an objective notion of ‘the good’. It betrays them by doing so, but also by seeking some bureaucratic conception of ‘the good’ from an array of ‘expert’ public servants with scarcely any life experience, and raises their views upon a pedestal. So you can expect a government to defer to a litany of ‘authority figures’ in government who are sought to be express their views on ‘your good’. i.e. Oil executives, bankers, fund managers saying this will cost money, but it’s your money, and its being spent divorced from your values, and you are expected as a matter of faith, to expect that your interests will be served eventually. 

This is the type of thinking of course that leaves decision-making estranged from you, or Scottish voters. In the context of Scotland, the bankers are not interested in the long range interests of Scottish people. They are concerned with their short term interest as banking executives. They are interested in curtailing the bank’s expense and inconvenience. Most of them are expressing ‘exaggerated claims’ as to the impact of independence to achieve their ends. Nothing could be more disingenuous. In most cases, the impact will depend on how Britain and Scotland conduct themselves; and the answer to that question will not be known until after the referendum. Their Scottish assets could be veritable prizes after the referendum.

One of the entrenched values that can serve as a source of presumption is an entrenched sense of identity. We are born in a certain context or ‘environment’, and that environment embodies a package of experiences, people, values and institutional provisions that define the nature as human beings and of course the sameness of those around us, as well as the specific context which allows for differences as well. Humanity has for a long time been a growth proposition, which is accompanied by change. Such change ultimately threatens our values. Clearly we are accustomed to some measure of change and difference between us, but we have entrenched ideas about what is open to change, and what is not, in accordance with our values.


One of the travesties of the public education system is that it has encouraged everyone to become specialists. Those people who become “generalists” like me are a betrayal of the system because “specialists” don’t appreciate the value of ‘informal’ education. Moreover they don’t welcome being reproached by ‘un-credentialed’ persons who challenge their values. They think ‘all good comes from government’ because they have come to view all standards as coming from government. Society is a complex system that demands understanding not simply one subject or ‘specialisation’, but a large number. There are two problems:
  1. The “specialist” draws a great deal of confidence from the fact that they have ‘high degrees’, but those high degrees and any resulting analysis was based on ‘assumptions’ drawn from other fields. It is a problem because they are not destined to identify the nature of any contradictory values, nor seek to explain them, after all it’s not their ‘expertise’. They instead seek out ‘like-minded’ specialists with a compatible ‘world view’, and incorporate their research into their findings, happily citing the compatible evidence, and selectively and ‘conservatively’ ignoring the incompatible or irreconcilable research or findings.
  2. There are no implications for a researcher ‘getting it wrong’. It’s not their money; they are not going to get fired unless they breach ‘common practice’, and these are the values that define their ‘identity’ resulting in a culture where everyone is systematically ‘in error’. This is a systemic failure of state-sanctioned education, where government standards have been imposed upon all education institutions, and everyone has been raised under the same model.
This is of course simply the institutional failure that is underpin by a epistemic and ethical value system that betrays the individual. The egoist is tolerated as a ‘rogue’ contributor, who is never validated because their values are considered to be a repudiation of the collectivist values of others. Rather than acknowledging the contribution these egoists have to make, these people are ‘invalidated’ and even ‘spurned’ as a cancer upon society. They don’t get the recognition or empathy they deserve, not because they don’t deserve it, but because they don’t need it. They are healthy despite their persecution as ‘greedy egoists’. But this is not the nature of every conflict. In the case of Scotland, we have one collective group seeking to differentiate itself from another collective group. Each attempts to extort some influence over another. The British parliament wants to hold the Scottish people to ransom, and Scottish politicians bemoan Scottish marginalisation, so they can do to the Scottish people what British politicians did to everyone in centuries past. They aren’t a repudiation of the British system, they are building a new franchise under it, and posing it as a solution to the system of old. If they want to disavow the past, they should take some time to disparage the old and formulate the system which would give people confidence in the ‘new’. 

This attempt at secession for Scotland lacks any respect for those people whom they profess to be custodians for. There is nothing compellingly new to justify secession. It rests not on love of certain values, but derision for contemporary custodians without standards. It leaves people accepting one group on faith simply because they are ‘not the same faces’ as before.  

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