Saturday, February 4, 2023

 563.  Culture of violence.

 Cantor (1993) proposed that the crusades, in 1095, 1144, 1190, and 1204, and the Spanish reconquest against the Moors,  with the large defeat of them in 1212, created a sense of ‘virtuous militarism’, that took hold of European culture. In its beginning, it manifested itself in heroic knighthood, in armour on horseback, conducting josting tournaments, in the 12th-13th century.

 Cantor (p. 301) claimed that all this inspired the voyages of ‘discovery’ and the imperialism of the European countries (Portugal, Spain, The Netherlands, England) from the 15th and 16th centuries.

 Germany celebrated the bravery of the ‘Teutonic Knights’, from 1190.

 However, the Scandinavian Vikings spread terror in their conquest of many areas in Europe already from the 8th century. Such conquests often arise from scarcity of land, and may have little to do with the crusades. Hitler also waged his wars for the sake of an expansion of ‘living space’ (‘Lebensraum’). But it may be that the crusades added a touch of heroism to wars of conquest. 


Cantor, N.F. 1993, Civilization of the Middle Ages, London: Harper Collins.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

 562 high and low context

In studies of communication, Eduard Hall (1967) made a distinction between ‘low context’ communication with precise, explicit, logical, coherent use of words, and ‘high context’ communication, which is ambiguous, context-dependent, using body language, expression, relying on trust, and aimed at maintaining the relation concerned (Ramos, 2014). What is the relation with other insights from theories of communication and language?

Buber’s ‘Ich-Du’ relations and Rosa’s ‘resonance’, discussed in earlier items in this blog, require ‘high context’ communication. There also appears that there is a connection with Ferdinand de Saussure’s (1979) distinction between ‘langue’, and ‘parole’, also discussed previously. In Langue, language is public, shared by all in a culture, logical and precise. Parole is based in part on personal experience and contact, is more vague, emotion-laden, including non-verbal elements. Langue covers universals, parole is individual.

This, in turn, rhymes with the ‘hermeneutic circle’, an exchange between a ‘paradigmatic axis’ of established, common, shared, reasonably stable, universal  concepts, and a ‘syntagmatic axis’ of sentences, in action contexts, where the abstraction of general concepts become concrete, in interaction with other concepts in the sentence and context at hand. A ‘chair’ in langue and the  paradigmatic axis covers many different chairs, but in parole it becomes the specific armchair that is now being ripped apart by my cat. This experience may become part of the general notion of ‘cat’, now including their ripping of furniture. The interaction between the two axes yields a dynamic of shifting meanings. That is how language and meaning develop.

European and American culture are largely low-context, and Latin and Eastern cultures are more ‘high-context’, giving rise to misunderstanding when Westerners visit. In the East explicitness is rude, uncouth. However, the difference is mostly not so strict: in most cultures there is a mix, depending on the context and on the relation.

Hall, E.T. 1967, Beyond culture. Anchor.

Ramos, S. 2014, Profile of Man and culture, Google

Saussure, F de 1979, Cours de Linguistique Générale, Paris: Payotèque, Payot


Sunday, January 22, 2023


561. Our culture makes young people mad

My daughter Anouk, a high school teacher , commented on this piece

There are reports that a growing number of people, especially young people, are suffering from psychological problems, with an increasing number of suicides. There are indications that this is associated with the obsessive use of social media, in a form of addiction, where children spend absurd amounts of time, going to great lengths to compete on building profiles that are more glamourous than those of others, to the point of yielding nude photos to lecherous men who then use them to blackmail the children. They let themselves be guided by ‘influencers’, who set examples of how to dress and compete in looks and draw attention Why do young people do that?

My daughter, who is a primary school teacher, gave the answer. First of all, in puberty, children need social interaction to develop their identity, getting away from family strictures, and now they use social media for it, partly enhanced by the closing of schools and lockdowns that closed off those contacts, due to Covid-19. There is also much pressure for performance by parents and at school, which has become a testing factory bent on grades rather than development.

One can ask: Why can’t the youngsters go out to celebrate their interaction in playing soccer on the streets or have rave parties? Many do that, but being tied to a smart phone or laptop for social media is more alluring, and generates a more direct and enticing kick. The behaviour they exhibit is like that of drug addicts, such as isolation, and a decreased ability to make decisions. It produces fear, anxiety, and feelings of uncertainty.

 We are used to see culture as something good, and much of it still is, but now we see part of it destroying our young people. What can be done against this? Keeping young people from access, by confiscating their phone, robs children of the social engagement they need, and only makes them more anxious. Some parents put a ‘track and trace’ on their children’s phones, so they can monitor them continuously, but this increases the children’s feeling of lack of freedom needed to develop themselves. Some parents impose a limited ‘screen time’. That may be a solution, when handled with care and stimulating social activities in between screen times. We would not want to forbid the Internet, and all social media, supposing we could, because they are also used beneficially in fruitful connections across the globe. For suppressed people under censure they are the only means to obtain information. In oppressive societies, suppressing free of speech, social media for some are the only remaining source of truth.

 Schools debate whether they should forbid smart phones in class. The problem with that is that smart phones can be used in teaching, in assignments to kids that use the Internet. But practice shows how difficult it is to allow use and at the same time limit it.

 Children also get addicted to gaming. Here also, forbidding it altogether is not the solution. In games, the children are active, and interaction, even if it is not the kind of interaction their parents would want. Here again limiting rather forbidding it seems the solution.


I can only hope for the resilience of young people to change the culture, in varieties of contact and sociality that curtail the obsession surrender and bondage to social media and phones, in real, physical interaction in joint projects, of sports, parties, cohabitation, maintaining gardens, growing foods together, engaging in adventures, other types of development and education than the traditional constriction to a class and fixed protocols of learning that may be best developed by themselves, guided by teachers who have got it. We see some of this happening.


Saturday, January 14, 2023

 560. Realist and idealist

 I am astonished to see that in philosophy the old debate still rages between realism and idealism. In my view, this is just superseded confusion. The realist and idealist are both right and wrong, or both half right. Here comes what I have been arguing for a long time, also in this blog.

 As the idealist says, we form our observations and perceptions according to more or less anchored forms of thought. On the other hand, those ideas develop in interaction with the world. Thus, reality is somehow woven into our ideas. Those ideas must be adequate to reality, to some extent, or we would not have survived evolution.

 Evolution of the human being occurred for a long time, in some 300-400 000 years, when the human being was a hunter-gatherer. Critical for survival was an adequate perception of things sitting or moving in time and space, such as the cave that gave shelter, a lost child, the movement of prey in hunting, or predator in being hunted, location of an enemy in war, the trajectory of an incoming spear. There is less pressure for adequate thought in modern life, which turns around abstractions such as meaning, happiness, justice, virtue, democracy, culture. We conceive of such abstractions in metaphor from objects located or moving in time and space (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980), as when we say we are ‘in’ love’ or ‘at’ war. We see communication as packages of meaning transported along a ‘communication channel’. We see causality as people or storms moving things.

 So, both the idealist and the realist are partly right when we take a dynamic, evolutionary view, of thoughts developing and adjusting to the world.


Lakoff , G. and M. Johnson. 1980, Metaphors we live by, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

 559. From gold to copper

 According to a classic ethical injunction, often attributed to the18-th century philosopher Kant but much older, one should (not) do to anyone what one would (not) like to be done to oneself, It is called ‘the ‘Golden Rule’. Yong (2005) changed this into what he called ‘the Copper Rule’, which says that one should do to the other what he would want to be done. I am happy with this. I have always thought that the Golden Rule was too self-centred. I would not be pleased to receive tickets for a soccer match, but I know people who would be delighted with them.

 How do you  know what the other wants? You can simply ask him. But if the other is an addict, it may be better for him not to give the money he begs for, sitting on the pavement, but a cup of coffee or a hot meal. With the Golden Rule, I should not hit even a masochist, but with the Copper Rule I might.

 As Yong indicated, the move from gold to copper is a move from universalism to particularism; in an old debate between the two that has occupied philosophy since antiquity. According to universalism, a rule should apply to everyone and always. According to particularism people and situations vary, and one should vary a rule accordingly. I have discussed that debate before, in this blog


H. Yong 2005. ‘Between generalisation and particularism, the Chang brothers’, in: S.C. Angle and M. Slote, Virtue ethics and Confucianism: pp. 162-70, New York: Routledge.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

 558. Betrayal in academia.

 More than twenty years ago, I experienced the following betrayal in Academia.


At a given university, I was asked to set up a research institute cum Phd school, in collaboration between the faculties of Business and Economics. I was so naïve as to accept the assignment, seeing bridgeheads between the two disciplines. There was much at stake, because if it did not succeed, we would lose substantial funds for research.

 The bridgeheads I saw lay in non-orthodox economics of institutions and evolutionary economics. Unfortunately, those research programmes were not present at the Economics faculty, which was focussed on mainstream economics. I was a member of the Business faculty, and I was assigned a partner at the Economics Faculty. He feigned to support me, and to go along with my plan, which I thought was our plan, but in reality he was too much caught in his own discipline, and he sabotaged our plan behind my back. I managed to erect a stage screen of cooperation, and obtained the recognition of the Academy of Sciences needed to save the funding, but behind this screen people just continued their old disciplinary predilections.

 I quit that university, but for years I contemplated the reasons why the integration of business and economics was so difficult, and this is what I came up with. Economics and Business take radically different approaches. to rationality and sociality, optimality, and uncertainty, as follows:

 1.      Mainstream economics assumes the rational choice by autonomous individuals, while business has to deal with the irrationalities and social interaction of people.

2.      Economics is focussed on calculating optimal outcomes, but business has to deal with processes of organisation that may never achieve an optimum.

3.      Economics reduces uncertainty to risk, where one knows what can happen, to assign probabilities to possible outcomes and calculate the optimum, while in business one has to face the condition that one does not know all that can happen. and yet has to craft a path.

 Thus, a nasty experience can produce insight.

 The contrast repeated itself, years later, at the Academy, where I had become a member, in a difference of opinion in the section on Economics, which included Business, concerning admission of a new member, who had excellent publications in Business. but not in mainstream Economics journals. I proposed to have a debate on the differences between Economics and Business, along the lines set out above, but my proposal was ignored. I could not believe that an Academy would dodge a debate on the fundamentals of a discipline, and I appealed to the president of the Academy, who delegated the issue to the head of sciences of society, who made vague concessions that were never heard of again.

 This demonstrates how parochial science can get

Monday, December 19, 2022

 557. Three gems from medieval history

Here I share with you three gems that I delved from ‘The civilisation of the Middle Ages’ by Norman F. Cantor (1993 edition).

The first gem is an explanation of why the ancient Romans produced so little technical progress. The explanation offered by Cantor is this. The Romans  had an abundant supply of slaves that could do all menial jobs and handicraft needed, which made labour so cheap, that there was no incentive to produce labour-saving innovation. Interesting view: slavery slows innovation.

The second gem is an explanation of why the Arabs, who were far in advance of Europe in geometry and astronomy, which was stopped and reversed in the middle ages, around the thirteenth century, by the emergence of Aristotelian philosophy, in Europe in translation from Arabic into Latin. Previously, the dominant philosophy was that of Plato, with his notion of universal meanings and truths, applying everywhere and eternally, and the dualism of body and mind. Those fitted well in the Christian theology of the separation of an eternal soul from the vicissitudes and jumbled notions and experiences of life and reality, and of  a providential God transcendent from the world, with the attendant use of prayer, and of the creation of the world out of nothing. Aristotle, on the other hand, did not believe in the existence of universals beyond experience. For him, universals were made up from experience, and the only reality lies in particulars in worldly experience, God was the ‘fist mover’ of the world and not providential and concerned about individual beings, so that prayer is useless.

This was threatening to theistic religion, and had to be suppressed to save religion, in the Muslim world. Christianism, in Europe, was under similar threat, but intellectual thought was mostly localised in monasteries, as places of learning and teaching, which tried to reconcile Christian religion with Aristotelian rationality, culminating  in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. This reconciliation ultimately failed, but the attempt still made Aristotelianism respectable, which was a requisite for scientific thought.

Later, Aristotelian thought, with its notion of a final cause, was seen to be at odds with natural science. Nature does not have a goal to which it strives. The decline of Aristotelianism was excessive, because in a causality of action of people, the final cause, as a goal of action, does apply, as I have argued earlier in this blog.

A third gem, in my view, is the narrative of how in the slow emergence of legal ordering, since the 12th century, needed because of the emergence of cities and the growth of trade, there arose doctrinal law on the basis of Roman law, originally dictated by the emperor, and next to that Germanic community law that later became ‘Common Law’, based on the idea that the law is ‘Folk Law’, belongs to the people and originates from the people. The Roman tradition became dominant in continental Europe, but not in England, where the tradition of common law was brought to England from Normandy, where it had settled, by William the Conqueror, in the eleventh century.