PARASITES,PRIESTS AND PROGRESS

Having just read two cracking books ‘Moneyland – why thieves and crooks now rule the world and how to take it back’ by Oliver Bullough, and ‘ The Establishment – and how they get away with it’ by Owen Jones , my blood was up and I was all ready to go out on the barricades and if necessary fight to the death. Alas there are no barricades and both books end rather limply. Why? Partly because matters are complicated in this globalised world, but mainly because we no longer have a shared moral compass to lead us to the battleground. Once we had religions – which held sway over at least limited portions of the world. Now we need a moral compass which holds good for the entire globe. Religion is no good now, if it ever was, because it isn’t shared. A shared moral compass will have to have a rational basis. The ambition of this essay is to show that such a rational moral compass exists, and always has but that 2,500 years ago it was mistakenly hidden away by scholars when they were searching for Certainty. It has only come to light again by accident in a search for something quite else – Common Sense (CS).

Progress in Science depends above all else on asking the right questions; thus in 1820 Hans Christiaan Oersted first asked himself why, during electrical storms at sea, ships compasses went berserk. He bought a battery – they’d just come on the market – and found to his, and to everyone else’s astonishment, that electricity and magnetism are related. Though he couldn’t know it he’d stumbled into the modern world of electric-power, broadcasting, computers, Relativity and mobile phones.

But progress isn’t always welcome, far from it. Too often societies are controlled by powerful parasites bent on gobbling up a grotesque share of the common wealth. To them progress is a threat because it might overturn their privileged status. So, to hold onto their status, they employ priests to tell stories to the public about why they deserve their exorbitant wealth. Thus, for 2000 years, ordinary Egyptians slaved in the desert to build tombs and pyramids for the royal family because they’d been led by priests to believe that the pharaohs actually controlled the Sun, the Moon and the seasons. Later (350 A.D.) after Emperor Constantine had appointed Christians to be the official Roman priesthood, their chief theologian St. Augustin preached : “There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity…….It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn.” The Christians then burned down the great library at Alexandria which brought a halt to progress, indeed to Thinking altogether, for over 1000 years.

History appears to have been largely a struggle between progress parasites and priests , with brief but spectacular fits of progress interspersed between long periods of stasis when the parasites and their attendant priests were in control.

Where are we today? I suggest that after two centuries of unprecedented progress we’re slipping back into the grip of uber- rich parasites whose virtues are celebrated by a modern priesthood of Economists just as half-baked as their Pharaonic and Christian predecessors.

How are we going to escape from their powerful clutches? By taking thought. Partly by undermining their half-baked economic manifesto, but mostly by offering a far more robust, attractive and progressive alternative.

In so far as any individuals, or indeed societies have a moral compass it can only derive from the need of us all to survive, and indeed to thrive in a highly competitive natural world. That is Darwin’s law of Natural Selection – Survival of the Fittest and all that. And the mere fact that some successful modern societies – Protestant Europeans for instance, have had a strong moral compass , is good evidence of its survival value. The question is “Can we find a a rational basis for such a moral compass without having to rely on the haphazard vicissitudes of religion? I believe we can. By taking thought we can actually demonstrate that any society based on Curiosity, Honesty, Adaptability, Numeracy, Tolerance, Literacy , Democracy and Sustainability’. ( Acronym CHANTLiDS ) will eventually outdistance and outcompete its rivals.

However if you imagine that taking thought will be a simple matter

then I’m sorry to say you are quite wrong. Were you taught to think at school or University? I wasn’t. And do you know why not? Because scholars don’t know how! It’s an unlikely but fascinating story which we will touch upon in due course. But briefly speaking scholars were lured by the Ancient Greeks and the Abrahamic religions into a futile wild-goose-chase after Certainty when no such Certainty is to be found in the real world. And in being lured away they lost sight of Common-Sense Thinking (CST) which is altogether more powerful and productive.

So before we take on the parasites and their priests we’re going to have to pin down CST. We mentioned earlier that progress in science depends above all on asking the right questions . The Question we are going to tackle here is: “How do animals think, and why do we humans, who share 98% of our genes with chimps, think a million times better than chimps do?”

Just as Oersted stumbled into his puzzle over Electromagnetism so I stumbled into my quest to understand CST. As an astronomer and Space scientist obsessed with Hidden Galaxies (HGs) , I was looking to pin down The Scientific Method which I imagined, quite wrongly as it turned out, was already well understood. It turned out to be largely based on CST, but that too had evaded scholars, chiefly because they weren’t interested. So I finished up asking my question, our question above about animal-thinking, and slowly, out of confusion, enlightenment emerged.

This is not the place to go into the painful unearthing of CST ( See the Notes ) but we can show it in action in a historical context, noting both its strengths and its weaknesses. As our example we examine the controversial proposition “Scotland would have fared better outside the United Kingdom”. What CST does is gather clues bearing on the proposition, both for and against, give each clue a Weight– which can only have the values:

4 if strongly for the proposition

2 if weakly for the proposition

1 if neutral towards the proposition

½. if weakly against the proposition

¼ if strongly against the proposition

put them in an Inference Table ( see below) and multiply those Weights together as one goes down the table to note, in the final column, the Accumulating Odds either for or against the proposition

INFERENCE TABLE 1

HYPOTHESIS: “Scotland would have fared better outside the UK

CLUE WEIGHT ACCUM. ODDS
1Been governed locally (mixed blessing) 2 2
2 Spoken Gaelic not English ¼ ½
3 Gone bankrupt in 1707 (Darien scheme) ½ ¼
4 Kept control of its fish 2 ½
5 Kept control of its Oil 4 2
6 Prob conquered in Counter Reformation ½ 1
7 Prob conquered by Napoleon ½ ½
8 Conquered by Hitler 1/4 1/8
9 Less opports for talented Scots abroad ½ 1/16
10 Less trade with Eng. (eg shipbuilding) ¼ 1/64
11 Been no part of Brit. Empire ½ 1/128
12 Gone bankrupt 2009 (BOS) ½ 1/256

Table (1) shows my own attempt to tackle the proposition, starting with no particular opinion either way. Like most British bastards I’m of mixed Welsh, English and Scots descent, probably with some Irish thrown in.

The main strengths of the CST procedure are:

(a) It is transparent. All my arguments, and the Weights I attach to them, are laid out for criticism and amendment.

(b) All the Weights are individually modest so that no one single clue or argument can carry the day [ I call this the ‘Principle of Animal Wisdom’ or PAW for short.] That in turn stimulates broader research because many different clues may be needed , as here, to reach conviction either way.

( c) It is Provisional, leaving room at the bottom for new

clues to be incorporated, if they should turn up.

Its main weaknesses are:

  1. I have had to select which clues to include and which to omit. I discarded several as too equivocal to Weight.
  2. There is no logical justification for the values of most weights. They mostly have to be a matter of intuitive judgement – which could of course be wrong.

Nevertheless, in this case at least, my Odds finish up so high that I feel confident of my final judgement – as it happens against the proposition.

Forget Scotland. I have tried out the above mechanism for CST on hundreds of examples – scientific, every-day and historical and it generally leads to very convincing results when tested out against fresh evidence. Sometimes it changes my own mind – which is good – and sometimes it changes others. And when the answer proves indecisive that is good too, it’s a call for further thought and research. Best of all the PAW disallows anyone from declaring victory on the basis of a single strong opinion – so often the cause of strife in the past, even outright war. Animals in the wild cannot afford to make fatal mistakes – and the PAW is presumably an adaptation which has evolved to prevent them doing so too often. Wise decisions must rely on the coherence of a number of independent but weaker clues. Even so CST can, given enough cohering clues , lead to very decisive Odds . That means there is no need for the Certainty which priests and scholars have struggled so long in vain to find. The olden-day rejection of CST came from priests who objected to the use of gambling odds, the modern-day comes from the mathematically trained who imagine, quite wrongly, that they can calculate the odds far more precisely. But they are relying on a false analogy between games of chance with all the rules and cards predefined, and real-life where such is definitely not the case.

Two further remarks are in order here. Post Darwin (1859) we have to recognise that CST must have been the main survival mechanism for a host of creatures going back a million generations. If so it was likely to be very sophisticated. And secondly CST is limited by the number of clues a creature can accurately compound together. Even for a human that’s probably no more than three or four. But for a creature who can write that number becomes unlimited. Literate homo sapiens could suddenly take on mental tasks wholly beyond our forebears. As Einstein put it succinctly ‘My pencil and I are much smarter than I am’ . We needed to compound 12 clues to come to an opinion about Scottish history (Table 1) , solving Hidden Galaxies eventually required 24 – wholly beyond illiterate thinkers.

We begin, just begin, to glimpse the ethical dimension of CST. We have just discovered the absolutely essential nature of literacy to progress – we cannot think properly without it. But what about Curiosity – the passion to gather all those necessary clues in the first place – or Honesty – the compulsion to record and Weight them faithfully? It turns out that there are seven secrets to Progress, that is to say the ability to outcompete one’s rivals – they are Curiosity, Honesty, Adaptability, Numeracy, Literacy, Democracy and Sustainability [CHANTLIDS for short]. In other words humankind can construct a sensitive and robust moral compass which has nothing to do with religion. It is the behavioural system which will beat any rival.

At first sight the idea that a scheme for CST could itself lead to a detailed moral compass does seem unlikely. Recall however that it does so only in combination with the Darwinian need to survive, and in that context rules for collaborating within a species may make a great deal of sense. To see that working out look at Table 3 which compares the capacity to reach complex decisions of individuals, of teams and of the whole communities working together. Think for instance of the complex planning required to launch a Space telescope like the James Webb, or the even greater to successfully land a great army on the defended beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

TABLE 2

HOW LITERACY BOOSTS DECISIVENESS

(1) (2) (3)a (4)b (5)
Thinker N <W> 2topower<W> Oddsc
Our Cat 3 4 26 64:1 on; Decisive w. strong clues only
Me 3 4 26 ditto
Me and Pen 10 4 220 Millions to 1 on; Very decisive
Me and Pen 10 1.5 60 Decisive with conflicting evidence.
Team and Pens 15 1.5 400 Decisive with conflicting evidence
Research Community 25 1.2 100 Decisive with very confused evidence

Notes: (a) is the geometric mean Weight of all the N clues used. With PAW its maximum value can be 4, but as conflicting clues are included so the mean value will fall, until it may barely exceed 1. Yet with enough clues N

a decision can still be reached. (b) The combined Weight of the N clues compounded together. (c) Odds of 64:1 correspond to 3 strong clues, which are generally regarded as decisive in CST. Dismissal of the hypothesis would come with Odds of 64 or more to 1 against; in that case Col. (3) would needs be less than 1. Einstein summed it up: “My pencil and I are much smarter than I am.”

The opposition to CST, even today, comes chiefly from those who imagine that logical certainty can do better. To see why they are wrong consider the burning of witches. When the children in your mediaeval village started mysteriously choking to death the habit was to send for an expert witch-finder who would interrogate the inhabitants and finger the witch responsible, who would then be burned alive to rid (usually her) of the Devil. The villagers weren’t evil they simply had no comprehension of the microscopic pathogens which could give rise to diphtheria. The hypothesis set they had to choose between excluded the true hypothesis. And so it could always be in the real world. Allowance must always be made for the currently unknown and that, of its very nature, precludes certainty. Scholars who don’t understand this, of which there are all too many in academia (yes it’s hard to believe) don’t see that CST is the very best we can hope for.

That is not to say that CST hasn’t got limitations. Consider the interpretation of dreams. There is quite literally an infinitude of alternative interpretations of any dream which means that the odds against any particular one of them being right must be infinitely high. Thus dream interpretation must ever lie beyond the capabilities of CST, and thus of Science. And for the very same reason so must Psychology and Economics. Of course you could regard this as a failure of CS – or you could regard it as a signal triumph for CST which labels Psychology and Economics for what they truly are – voodoo subjects without scientific foundation. Sensible people have given up on dream interpretation but economists are too well paid to concede that they are merely a modern priesthood salaried to defend the modern Pharaohs who live not on the Nile but on the perfumed shores of Moneyland. Nothing but the names have changed with over 4000 years: the humble masses toil, the gilded parasites consume, but now they’re called Oligarchs.

In our hearts we know it’s all wrong, but we’ll never put things right until we have a universal code of conduct, a moral compass to which all we rational humans can appeal – and now we have it – supplied by Common Sense. There are no Ten Commandments but there are Seven indispensable characteristics of any progressive state:

Curiosity

Honestly

Adaptability

Numeracy

Tolerance

Literacy

Democracy

Sustainability

Personally I was very disappointed to find no mention of fairness in there. Does that mean that Parasitism is okay then? To try and answer that, and other awkward questions, I have compiled a list of a dozen or so nations by their ranking in the Progress scale, judged by their performance over the last century:

TABLE 3 NATIONS RANKED BY THEIR PROGRESSIVENESS

Now that we have our 6 criteria (Not including Sustainability) it is interesting to weigh some existing nations on the scales of Progress, judged by their relative performances over the past century. Table 3 shows my attempt to do so. Each society is awarded a mark between 1 and 5 for each of the 6 criteria, their marks are multiplied together (which helps to separate them into distinct classes) and the resulting totals are used to assign them to ranks. Since a perfect score amounts to 5×5×5×5×5×5 = 15,625 one way to do so would be place those nations within a factor 5 of the perfect score within the first rank, those within 5×5 of it in the second, and so on. Table 4 is the result It will be easy to mock this scheme but I don’t see how we can analyse history without some measure of progress and decline. Valueless people [you know who I mean] simply disqualify themselves from taking part − I don’t intend to even argue about that. Alternative value systems are certainly possible, but they clearly need to be stated – and justified on fundamental grounds. It is at least much better than the gross and ephemeral measures so regularly used based on the numbers of dollars or warheads or tanks.

The most arbitrary feature of my list is its century timescale. For instance Japan and Germany might have done much better if I had chosen 50 years instead. But both countries only became progressive as a result of resounding defeats.

Nation Curio. Lity. Demo. Tol Hon. Adapt Total Rank
China 1 3 1 2 1 1 6 5
Congo 1 2 1 1 1 2 4 6
Denmark 2 5 5 5 5 4 5000 1
France 4 5 3 3 2 3 1080 2
Germany 4 5 2 2 2 4 640 2
India 1 2 2 2 2 2 32 4
Italy 3 4 2 2 3 3 432 3
Japan 3 5 2 2 2 3 360 3
Russia 2 4 1 1 1 1 8 5
Spain 1 4 2 1 3 4 96 4
Switz. 3 3 5 3 3 3 1215 2
UK 5 5 4 5 4 5 10000 1
USA 3 5 2 3 2 4 720 2

Before compiling the list I had no idea how it would turn out but it does seem to make common sense . For instance states in the first and second rank seem fairer than states lower down – with regard to their distribution of income for instance. Perhaps because they are relatively honest and democratic their parasites don’t get away with the monstrous greed they exhibit lower down, as for instance they did in Mogul India or Tsarist Russia.

For me however the exciting point of this analysis is how positive it is, how optimistic we can all be, whatever our nationalities. A moral compass based on nothing more than common sense and competition appears to point straight towards Progress and Civilisation, whilst that awful American aphorism ‘Nice guys come in last ’ is clearly nonsense, and helps to explain why the US comes so low down in the Table of Progress.

The reason that the Establishment and the Moneylanders presently get away with their hideous behaviour, as they do, is because the legal and political systems of different states allow the parasites, aided by their smart-arse lawyers and accountants, to squeeze through the cracks between them. If such systems were aligned with the same moral compass that wouldn’t be possible any longer. But if we don’t align, and align soon, the parasites will eat us all alive.

I can’t resist finishing with an anecdote. In 1986 I went deep behind the Iron Curtain on a scientific mission. There I met a Jewish scientist who had been raised on the extremely remote Kamchatka Peninsula, where his mother still lived.

“Can’t you get her out?” I asked.

“She will never leave” he replied.

“Why not?”

“Because only good people live there.”

When I asked him what he meant he said that his people, the Moscow Jews, had been exiled to Kamchatka in the 1940s by Stalin in one of his paranoid rages. Intellectuals and bureaucrats, they’d been thrown out into the snow with an axe, a box of matches and a sack of potatoes each:

“According to my mother the bad people died during the first winter, the selfish people during the second and the dishonest during the third. Only the very best are left.”

PS The Establishment often claim to belong to The Neoliberal Cause which indeed has a philosophical basis chiefly laid down by its two main prophets Alexander von Hayek (1944, Old Testament) and Milton Friedman (1962, New) . Anyone eager to take these parasites on should be au fait with their Bible, their Koran. I review both Testaments elsewhere in this blog in a Post entitled THE BILLIONAIRES BIBLE.

NOTES

This is a vast subject necessarily touched on here in a highly superficial way. Those who would like to know more can find it at:

  1. ‘THINKING FOR OURSELVES’ by M J Disney, Amazon Books, 2021, Paperback, 610 pp, £14.99
  2. ‘COMMON SENSE THINKING ;the secrets of Einstein’s success’, by Mike Disney, an abridgement of (a). Amazon Books, Paperback,70pp, £5.99; Kindle e-book version £3.99
  3. ‘HISTORY OF THE BRITS – from a scientist’s point of view’, by Michael Disney, 2020, Amazon Books, 270 pp, paperback £10.00. e-book version Kindle, £4.99.

Tags: , ,


%d bloggers like this: