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The most important insight I have learned so far in my life is balance.
The idea came from my study of the nature of change (dynamics). Dynamics is the outcome of positive feedback loops (reinforcing loops) and negative feedback loops’ (counteracting loops, or balancing loops) interaction. Sometimes reinforcing loop is the strongest, producing growth or drop behaviour. But the growth or drop would not continue forever. It would slow down, indicating that counteracting loop becomes dominant. When there is reinforcing loop, there is counteracting loop; when there is larger reinforcing loop, there is larger counteracting loop; when there is strong reinforcing behaviour, there will be stronger balancing behaviour. That seems to be nature of change.
This reminds me of the traditional Chinese philosophy. Traditional Chinese philosophy contained primitive ideas of dynamics(易), positive and negative forces’ interaction (陰陽), balance/moderation(中道、中庸), relationship between extremity and regime shift (物極必反).
Balance is not only about engineering control theory or Socio-Ecological system dynamics. Think about homeostasis in personal health.
It is not only Chinese who notice it, i.e. there is idiom called “Feast or Famine”(時飽時餓，不是太多就是太少，不是極好就是極差，好壞不定的).
From the perspective of society, neither feast nor famine is desired. We usually prefer no more, no less — just — enough, and keeps it forever.
Naturally, while counteracting loop will balance back diverging(偏離) condition of reinforcing loop, due to the inherent delays, the correction may produce big swing as illustrated in Figure (a), or even regime shift (environment changes permanently, old way not works anymore). This may not be desired.
Ideally, we might like to find equilibrium level and stick with it. There are three issues with this ideal: First, it is very hard, if not impossible, to ascertain(確定) equilibrium level accurately; Second, when there is shock, environment changes, equilibrium level changes again; Third, and the most fatal, inherent delays (stocks) can only be reduced but not eliminated completely. Therefore, the best we can do is to minimise the amplitude of oscillation like in Figure (b), so that rise and fall will be in relative peaceful (smooth) way.
In other words, being moderate does not mean we must find the exact middle point(中間點). It would be more like balance the condition back when we detect current condition becomes extreme. There will always be fluctuations — no worry about boring.
This is an era loss of ideology. Communism? Gone. Capitalism? Failing… What else can we refer to?
The problem of ideology/faith is people. People have tendency to like to take a principle to extreme. “Drink water is good for health.” Okay, so to keep healthy, I drink water as much as I can, but then I get sick. Why? “Too much water, water intoxication!” My goodness!
If people must have one single principle to simplify thinking (reasoning), I would recommend moderation.
It is the safest principle, because even if it is taken to the extreme, moderationism is still “moderate in moderation”. Still moderate!
“It can also be recursive in that one should moderate how much they moderate (i.e. to not be too worried about moderating everything or not to try too hard in finding a middle [point]).” from Wikipedia.
And “Moderation is the silken string running through the pearl chain of all virtues” — unknown source.
In the zero-centered multi-dimensional space, moderation can be understood as moving around 0, not too positive (+ve) and not too negative (-ve).
There are many advices like “balance between A and B”, not every A and B is the balance/moderation of what I mean. Moderation is a general principle inducted (not deducted) from many cases of A and B but by no means exhaustive, some may only valid in their particular context while some are really universal and timeless. All inductions are wrong, but some are useful.
Also, moderation does not mean compromise, take middle ground between two opposite positions on fact (e.g. global warming). This is a logical fallacy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_to_moderation).
Moderation is likely the principle for sustainability.
Certain definitions of good and value. (i) What is good for the species is whatever promotes the survival of its members until offspring have been born and, possibly, cared for. Good features are said to have survival value. Among them are susceptibilities to reinforcement by many of the things we say taste good, feel good, and so on. (ii) The behavior of person is good if it is effective under prevailing contingencies of reinforcement. We value such behaviour and, indeed, reinforce it by saying “Good!” Behavior towards others is good if it is good for the others in these senses. (iii) What is good for the culture is whatever promotes its ultimate survival, such as holding a group together or transmitting its practices. These are not, of course, traditional definitions; they do not recognize a world of value distinct from a world of fact and, for other reasons to be noted shortly, they are challenged.
… Many issues which arise in morals and ethics can be resolved by specifiying the level of selection. What is good for the individual or culture may have bad consequences for the species, as when sexual reinforcement leads to overpopulation or the reinforcing amenities of civilization to the exhaustion of resources; what is good for the species or culture may be bad for the individual, as when practices designed to control procreation or preserve resources restrict individual freedom; and so on. There is nothing inconsistent or contradictory about these uses of “good” or “bad”, or about other value judgements, so long as the level of selection is specified.
… species, people and cultures all perish when they cannot cope with rapid change, and our species now appears to be threatened. Must we wait for selection to solve the problems of overpopulation, exhaustion of resources, pollution of the environment, and a nuclear holocaust, or can we take explicit steps to make our future more secure? In the latter case, must we not in some sense transcend selection?
We could be said to intervene in the process of selection when as geneticists we change the characteristics of a species or create new species, or when as governors, employers, or teachers we change the behavior of persons, or when we design new cultural practices; but in none of these ways do we escape from selection by consequences. In the first place, we can work only through variation and selection. At level i we can change genes and chromosomes or contingencies of survival, as in selected breeding. At level ii we can introduce new form of behavior — for example, by showing or telling people what to do with respect to relevant contingencies — or construct and maintain new selective contingencies. At level iii we can introduce new cultural practices or, rarely, arrange special contingencies of survival — for example, to preserve a traditional practice. But having done these things, we must wait for selection to occur… In the second place, we must consider the possibility that our behavior in intervening is itself a product of selection…
from this paper by Skinner.
Also his opinions on why we are not acting to save the world and what is wrong with daily life in the Western world. And also a commentary on the former paper after twenty years.
Debt forgiveness here really involves a whole-scale transformation about how we relate to ourselves, each other, and the world around us. Honoring our debt to nature means that we recognize our pursuit of happiness depends upon our physical sustenance. This will require comprehensive education, re-grounding in natural experience, and recommitment to simple living to pay down the massive debt of ignorant living to which we have grown accustomed.
It will call for an evolution of ideas of the good life that move from physical manufacturing, use, and exploitation of the material world, to one where the material world provides only the bare support needed to explore, expand, and develop our increasingly non-material opportunities and aspirations. I personally find this a heartening and exciting direction, but many are likely to view it as a step down. This will be one of the most important global conversations in the next century.
One of the greatest barriers to enacting alternatives is getting over the false idea that debt is some kind of either natural phenomenon or moral law. Debt is not natural; it is created by humans and can be erased by humans. There is nothing moral about a nation running up its children’s national credit card to the tune of 15 trillion dollars (with another 100 trillion+ in federal entitlements) and expecting the next generation to pay it. Nor is it morally reasonable to expect individual people, who have worked hard and followed the economic rules, to suffer with life-long debt servitude for mid-game changes in the rules and shifts in the global context.
In point of fact, our current “sea” of international debt is merely a very large man-made lake, damned up by ignorance, greed, and exploitation. The only healthy way to manage current debt is to drain this lake completely through debt forgiveness. It is time to take down the dam and let democratic prosperity flow. True, people will not get their individual material dreams and hopes of unlimited riches fulfilled, but they will take important steps toward preventing a war of humanity against itself, and they will be able to engage new opportunities and definitions of the good life involving working together creatively to build a better, more just world.
Instead of the old dream where we impose static past fantasies on a dynamic future, we can embrace a new dream where we create, explore, express, unfold, and reinvent who we are and what we can be through shared, interactive achievement and improvement. The old economic system based on scarcity and false security is thus converted toward new ends—freedom, health, quality of life, creativity, autonomy, and mutuality.
In pursuing this progress in jubilee, we go a long way to clearing out our past entrapments, inequities, and animosities. We also wisely devote our shrinking material resources toward developing a widely shared and exchanged, mostly non-material, experiential and social currency that multiplies in abundance and increases in value the more it is shared.
from this financial commentary.
Also one quote for thought:
Global youth are much interconnected and cooperative.
I ask you to imagine that you are walking across some park that you know quite well, and in this park there is a shallow ornamental pond. Let’s assume that you know that it’s shallow, because on summer days you see teen-agers playing in it, and it’s only waist-deep.
But today, it’s not summer, and nobody is playing in it. But there is something going on, some splashing around in the pond. So you look closely, and you see it’s a small child, a toddler, who has fallen into the pond and is apparently in danger of drowning, because it is too deep for a toddler to stand.
So your first thought is: Well, who’s looking after this child? Where are the parents or the babysitter? There must be somebody. But you look around and, to your dismay, there is nobody. In fact, there is nobody around at all except you and the toddler.
So your next thought presumably is: Well, this child appears to be drowning. Maybe I should jump into the pond and pull the child out, which I know I can do quite safely, at no risk to my life. Oh, but I did just put on my best pair of shoes, and maybe a nice pair of trousers, or whatever it might be, and they’re going to get ruined if I rush into the muddy pond, and I wouldn’t really have time to take them off.
So is that a reason why maybe I don’t have to save the child? Is it going to be okay if, because I don’t want to ruin my shoes or my trousers, I just say, “Well, it’s not my child. I didn’t push the child into the pond. I’m in no way responsible for this child being in a dangerous situation, so I could just be on my way?”
Well, I saw some heads shaking already, and I’m glad to see that. Because most audiences when I do ask that question say, “No, of course that would be totally wrong. It would be horrible to think that somehow your shoes or trousers outweigh a great danger to a child’s life. You forget about that, forget about them, just jump in and pull out the child. Of course I think that is the right answer, and I hope that is what we would all do.
But the way that this relates to global poverty, of course, is that there are children in many developing countries in danger of dying right now. There are things that we could do to help them for something like the cost of an expensive pair of shoes or shoes and your trousers as well. And yet most people are not doing it. So if you are going to condemn the person who fails to save the child because he doesn’t want to incur the expense of replacing the clothes, then don’t you yourself have to at least donate the cost of a pair of expensive shoes and clothes to those organizations that are helping the global poor?
from this interview.
Recall this recent tragedy.
The interview also suggests possible reasons of different reactions:
We have developed compassion and a readiness to help those in distress close to us, at least if we identify them in some way as part of our group, as one of us. So I think we probably would feel that that child in front of us is someone that we ought to rescue, and that we would rescue.
Whereas if you talk about something far away, we never evolved to help people far away that we can’t see. It’s obvious why we didn’t evolve to help them, because until a couple of hundred years ago, at the earliest, maybe even more recently, there was effectively nothing we could do to help them. We couldn’t know what their suffering was. And if we did, we couldn’t assist them in any way in time before they were going to die or whatever else was going to happen to them. So we haven’t evolved with capacities to think about those who are distant.
We also haven’t evolved with capacities to respond to more abstract problems, like the idea that there are—I think UNICEF’s current figure is a little over eight million children dying every year from avoidable poverty-related causes. So a figure like eight million is an abstraction; we can’t quite picture it, and it’s very different from the one child in front of us.
So I think there is that psychological difference. But it’s not really a moral difference. We wouldn’t really think of this as meaning that the child’s life is less valuable if we can’t see them, or they’re far away.
The motivation of writing this post comes from the discussion of religion in the comments section (at the end) of
This is the focus question I am researching. Unless we can find out the root cause and so solution, we can only rely on luck.
… is the problem, from this commentary.
With their backs against the wall, I predict, poor and working-class Americans will begin to agitate for social justice.
Another comment also aware of the evolutionary origin of altruism and it ends with:
The problem that arises is that our gut moral feelings are poorly attuned to consequences.
If this is the root cause, a natural question is then: how?