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Friday, May 31, 2019

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Food

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing Food.

As a subject in philosophy, food is not at the top of the list. Sure we are familiar with the issues of vegetarianism, and food poverty, but the best way to think of food is as some magic wardrobe in philosophy that will lead us into philosophical adventures of demons and angels. Ruel and I try to capture some of the creatures in our essays:

On Food  by  Ruel F Pepa
https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2019/05/29/on-food/

Food by Lawrence JC Baron
https://www.philomadrid.com/2019/05/food.html

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/
Gran Clavel (Café-Bar): Gran vía 11, esquina C/ Clavel, 28013—Madrid

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Food

 

Food


Food


I have written many times on the issue of food and food supplies for past topics, with the most recent being: The Impact of Population Growth (https://www.philomadrid.com/2018/12/from-lawrence-sunday-philomadrid_14.html).

My general ethical and political position on the topic of food supplies is the following. In principle countries already produce or can produce enough food for everyone so none will go hungry. I discuss this issue in the essay mentioned above. Briefly, the issue is more of management and distribution rather than finance and quantity. And large corporations have already shown us the way on how to deliver products throughout the world cheaply and effective.

My other position is that if people need charity it’s because their government is abusing their human rights. And today my position is vindicated by the situation in the UK as reported by the United Nations Human Rights Office. “GENEVA (22 May 2019) - The UK Government’s policies have led to the systematic immiseration of millions across Great Britain,…….”(1) and “Although the United Kingdom is the world’s fifth largest economy, one fifth of its population (14 million people) live in poverty, and 1.5 million of them experienced destitution in 2017.” (2).

The British example is a modern case of poverty in a supposed advanced first world country where either by intention or consequence of political policies or ideology people are forced into poverty to the extent that they rely on food charities. The Trussell Trust reported handing out 1.6million three-day food supplies between April 2018- March2019. (3)

It might be argued that political ideology, and extreme political ideologies in particular, are fated to cause disasters resulting in many people becoming poor leading to famine as we know from some historical examples. The Neo Liberal policies of Tory governments in the UK have led to the above documented social disaster. Historical extremes include the Holodomor Famine in Soviet Ukraine in 1932-1933 and the Great Chinese Famine in 1959 and 1961. Some might even argue that the Great depression of the 1930 in the USA was also a failure of the capitalist system.

The philosophical hard question is: under what legitimacy or mandate do political groups (parties) who hold power are allowed to introduce policies that can adversely affect the welfare of people? At face value the answer is no justification at all. But this question should be contrasted in the context of sovereignty of states and the right for governments to rule (govern), at least under their own constitution.

On the other side of the food topic spectrum, we have production of food. The problems here start from what to grow as food staples and where to grow it. For example should cattle be kept in large pens or left roaming in open fields? In many cases cattle are kept in large forest or jungle clearings without proper care of the land itself. All have positive and negative consequences and in many cases we know precisely what the consequences are: for example in the case of animals the more they are kept under unnatural conditions the more likely they'll be affected by infectious diseases which spread quickly in the population.

The economics of food production and food supplies is that those who are responsible for growing our food or even preparing our food are not necessarily fairly paid as much as those who manage food. This report from Ireland, which I found at random from Google, is a good example: 'We might as well be giving lambs away for free': Sheep farmers protest over 'savage' price cuts  -  Independent.ie.(4)

The issue goes up the chain to the point of sale which includes fast food outlets or large supermarkets.  Job-Applications.com (5), USA, an employment agency who specialise in the fast food industry (found at random in Google), report an average wage for a cook in a fast food restaurant to be between $7.25 – $9.00 per hour. Compare this with the figure reported in Trading Economics, for the average hourly rate in the USA of $23.31. In other words the food we eat might involve damage to the environment and even financial exploitation of some people working in the industry.

Indeed food is a key human activity especially in the production and supply of food and by definition that creates issues in economics and politics which imply philosophical issues. An important issue in the philosophy of food includes the aesthetics of food. Basically, can food be art? Of course, the primary purpose of food is to provide nourishment for survival: a Trussell Trust food parcel can hardly be described as art but then again the Las Meninas can hardly be described as art given that paintings in the 17th Century were more a vehicle for social status than art for art sake.

I would argue that the status of art can apply to food in the same way that the title of art can apply to paintings, literature and music. But, like music, paintings or literature, not all examples of food are examples of art. The biggest drawback of food as art is that each example of food as art can only be enjoyed by one person; only one person can consume the artness of food unlike say painting. Basically, the “artness” of food must reside in the taste and digestive after effects of the food rather than how the food looks. Even more, for something to be art it must be created or made by human beings. We do not really attribute artness to nature, but we certainly attribute beauty to nature. A particular peach might be exceptionally beautiful, but does that make a peach melba made with this beautiful peach a work of art? Certainly not it’s the chef or cook that will turn a beautiful peach into an artistic peach melba. 

Another quirky aspect of food as art is that the work of art itself has to be destroyed for a human being to enjoy the full artness of the food. The half life of an artistic piece of food can be measured in hours: the half life of Las Meninas is probably hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. And the residual question for us is this: is the artness of the piece of food we have in front of us, as individuals, in the food itself or is the artness in the recipe of the food?

At the very least we have to accept that the chef of an artisitc piece of food must be able to recreate his/her artistic creation to the same standard and quality every time. This is very similar to music, where the composer of the music is not necessarily the one who will reproduce the artness for us, the audience. The artness of music is usually reproduced for us by others, although one might be hard pressed to claim logical identity if someone reproduced a work by The Beatles or Elvis Presley. Thus, can a dish or cake recipe have the lofty status and majesty of say the music score by Beethoven of the No. 9 Symphony, Ode to Joy? Is the recipe of a Christmas pudding the equivalent of the score for Ode to Joy in gastronomy?

One of the main discussion issues in aesthetics is the fact that the appreciation of art is subjective. Some people like the Las Meninas in the Prado and some don’t, but there is no question that Las Meninas is art. But like a chef, Velazques was himself creating a subjective work which of course people have still hailed as a masterpiece. But the bottom line is that this is the subjective work of an individual in the same subjective way that someone may or may not like the painting.

But unlike a painting or a piece of music, one cannot step away from a piece of food if one does not like that food or worse, say if one is allergic to one of the ingredients. In the involved/implicated debate we are implicated in the Las Meninas but fully involved, like the pig in an English breakfast, in the case of the Christmas pudding. We can walk away from the Las Meninas, but once we bite into a slice of Christmas pudding, there is no going back.

And this leads us to a serious question on whether to afford the status of art to food. Food can cause us harm in a way in which the Ode to Joy will never do no matter how much we hate it. Can we declare that: art ought not cause harm to people? Maybe we might add art must not cause harm when appreciated as art? Sure if the painting we call Las Meninas fell on someone it will cause them serious harm, but that’s not what I mean. A modern context example of this moral question would be a laser display that might cause harm to those exposed to the laser beam.

I conclude with three questions: Could it well be that a necessary condition for the status of art has is to be “do no harm” to those enjoying the art? And would the potential of causing harm, for example allergenic ingredients in the food, an a priori factor to exclude food from being art? But when food causes harm, eg fast food, who is morally and legally responsible; those who provide the food or the state who allows such practices?

Best Lawrence



(1) UN expert laments UK’s ‘doubling down on failed anti-poor policies’ (press release) https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24636&LangID=E

(2) Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (Great Britain)
https://undocs.org/A/HRC/41/39/Add.1

(3) The Trussell Trust – End of year stats
https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/end-year-stats/

(4) 'We might as well be giving lambs away for free': Sheep farmers protest over 'savage' price cuts  -  Independent.ie
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/sheep/lamb-prices/we-might-as-well-be-giving-lambs-away-for-free-sheep-farmers-protest-over-savage-price-cuts-38128115.html

(5) Fast Food Restaurant Job Salaries  -  Job-Applications.com USA
https://www.job-applications.com/fast-food-restaurant-jobs/fast-food-salaries/

(6) Trading Economics - United States Average Hourly Wages
https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/wages


Friday, May 24, 2019

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Inefficient People

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Inefficient People.

The good thing about this topic is that we are all experts in it, but what are the philosophical issues? This is what Ruel and I try to do in our essays:

Inefficient People  by  Ruel
https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2019/05/22/inefficient-people/

Inefficient people  by  Lawrence
https://www.philomadrid.com/2019/05/inefficient-people.html


Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/
Gran Clavel (Café-Bar): Gran vía 11, esquina C/ Clavel, 28013—Madrid

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Inefficient People  




Inefficient people


Inefficient people

We have all made mistakes and some of us are more prone to making mistakes then others. And if that was not enough, many people are also partial to some procrastinating, being lazy or simply doing nothing but contemplate the infinite like penguins.

True as this maybe, this is not our topic on inefficiency. So what is inefficiency and who are these inefficient people? And more importantly why should this be an issue in philosophy?

A standard meaning of inefficiency is not maximising benefits from a task we are performing for the time we have available to do it. In economics we might consider inefficiency to be wasting time and resources and thus not maximising productivity. Inefficiency is a big issue in economics and by definition in political philosophy. But we should not mix up inefficiency with redundancy or production below full capacity.

Redundancy is a sort of back up insurance and this is extremely important in the digital information age. Basically redundancy in information technology follows the rule of thumb that for every back up storage of information we have, in real terms we have at least one storage device less: for example, if we make a backup of the important data on our pc, we basically have zero backups. If we make four backups of this important data then we have the equivalent of three backup units. This is a well known principle amongst photographers ( e.g. Hard Drive Secrets & Tips by Theoria Apophasis on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nia-btvHx3o)

In productivity of goods and certain services, eg printing of books and magazines, production at full capacity means that one might miss deadlines especially if something goes wrong but there is no margin of error to play with. But more importantly one might have to turn away clients with an urgent job which might not be good PR but even worse if it affects relationships with an otherwise good customer.

So going back to the meaning of inefficiency, the two key factors are waste of time or reduced productive or both. At this point I feel obliged to point out that this depends on all things being equal. Sometimes life is really beyond our control no matter how much we plan or how diligent we are. But then the efficient person can probably cope with this.

We also have to distinguish inefficiency from incompetence and bureaucratic hell; and up to an extent waste which is also found in nature. These two factors (maybe waste too) do have a direct and causal influence on inefficiency. Incompetence is a matter of skill and abilities and hints at taking on responsibilities beyond one’s capacity. I would argue that in a work environment incompetent people are in their position because of the incompetence of their superiors or because of nepotism or some other form of corruption.

Inefficiency can happen in all aspects of our individual life: at home, shopping, travelling, at work, dealing with institutions and even our language. But inefficiency may also be the result of a group of people trying to solve a problem. I would, however, argue that when a group of people come together to solve a problem, the level of inefficiency in the solution would be a function of the lack of communication and exchange of information amongst the members of the group before the solution is implemented. Sometimes there are no such groups trying to solve problems.

Group originating inefficiency cannot only cost us time and effort but can easily lead to safety issues. This is very common in a work environment especially in dangerous activities such as building sites. But even white collar workers can be surrounded by inefficiency that can lead to a bureaucratic nightmare if not company collapse. Take for example the inefficiencies built into the Sub Prime saga that practically led to the collapse of the global financial system.

The Measure of productivity, for example in economics and business, is usually a function of output of goods or services minus input of “raw material” (including services; basically costs). Productivity is usually accepted as a reference for efficiency or maybe inefficiency so by this score we can be proud to point out that basically Germany and Spain* are at the same productivity level; Germany only leading by one point (2018: OECD Data https://data.oecd.org/lprdty/gdp-per-hour-worked.htm) but as I said earlier economic and business considerations also affect political philosophy. But when we compare Quality of Life (2017: EU: Living in the EU https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/figures/living_en#tab-0-0) we find that Spain is at a score of 91 whilst Germany is at 126.

My scope here is not to make an economic analysis of anything but to point out that in business and economics, efficiency or inefficiency is not just a matter of adding figures, especially monitory figures. Indeed an often mentioned weakness of classical economics is that economics does not consider non-monetary values in a model.

The EU comparison is quite unique in economic history because for the first time we have 28 independent countries who belong to the same market and each under the same regulations. Maybe inefficiency at this level is not necessarily a matter of productivity numbers, but lost opportunities. And inefficiency is certainly a cause of lost opportunity. Are we making the most from what we have and the opportunities we can have? This is clearly a moral issue in Political philosophy, including economics. It is not enough to maximise profits but I would say it is also imperative to maximise opportunities.

At the personal level inefficiency in other people might cause us real and serious personal inconvenience. We are all familiar with the treatment of customers by some  customer services departments. Even if we accept that companies try to limit the number of callers to the department, sometimes inefficiencies here can put us off a company. This is why monopolies and cartels might lead to inefficiency, but this is another matter.

What prompted me to consider this topic was a case I experienced two or three years ago when I received a lens I bought from Japan; I left a comment and a photo on my Facebook on this. What is particular about this experience is that this is a case of inefficiency of the type when groups of people do not liaise with each other maybe even intentionally to annoy people.

The second hand lens I bought was 60Euros which included transport, but because the package came from Japan I had to pay customs duty. I first had to go to the Post Office near the airport, to get some paper from there; nothing spectacular here, standard post office stuff. From the PO I had to go to the Customs office across the road five minutes or so away. It took me 10 minutes to get through security, found the window, but after checking my papers the clerk told me that he couldn’t process the request because his colleague was not at his desk and he couldn’t find the relevant book. After fifteen minutes the clerk processed my paper: I had to pay 55 Euros duty. Apart from that nothing spectacular just standard bureaucracy. Except that now I had to go to a specific bank up the road in the sun which took about 30 minutes there and back. At the bank I had to wait for one person then it was my turn. It took me longer complaining to the cashier than for the cashier to process the paper and take my money. Back to the Customs Office, through security, find the clerk and give him a piece of paper. Then to the post office again to collect the lens. A whole morning gone. An inefficient system keeps creating inefficiency years after the event: look at the size of this paragraph.

I must say that all the people I met that morning were very helpful, efficient and professional. But what should have taken no more than fifteen minutes processing time took the whole morning. Hopefully the new trade agreement with Japan does not involve such infuriating processes.

To conclude, you will be justifying in pointing out that other countries and other people can be equally inefficient. Sure, but I did point out that we have to distinguish inefficiency from incompetence and bureaucratic hell. When I wanted to buy a modem in Italy my experience was a perfect storm of incompetence with perfect bureaucratic hell!

My point of the topic is how much does inefficiency cost us, be it our own inefficiency or that of others? And at the political level, how much does the inefficiency of governments and state cost the nation and the welfare of the population? But is inefficiency a natural phenomenon or a function of civilization?

Best Lawrence

* The figures I mention for Spain are factual historical facts and economic in nature therefore not subject to the Spanish politics embargo; blaming a party or another would be. But I will let you decide that.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The law of the jungle

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: The law of the jungle.

After seeing our topic "Modern feminism" (May 2015) Jane asked me if I
would share a guide for women with you on "…women's safety online" which
you can find here
https://www.vpnmentor.com/blog/the-empowering-internet-safety-guide-for-women/
. This is quite serendipitous since in my essay I do mention that the
jungle today includes the internet and social media.

The links for this week's essays are:

The Law of the Jungle by Ruel F Pepa
https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2019/05/15/the-law-of-the-jungle/

The Law of the Jungle by Lawrence JC Baron
https://www.philomadrid.com/2019/05/the-law-of-jungle.html


Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/
Gran Clavel (Café-Bar): Gran vía 11, esquina C/ Clavel, 28013—Madrid


from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The law of the jungle

The law of the jungle



The law of the jungle.



This topic takes us into one of the most disputed topics in philosophy. This idiom is usually used to mean such things as physical power dictates morality; or survival of the fittest although usually the expression is used as survival of the strongest. The law of the jungle is basically might is right.



Morality based on the law of the jungle does not respect other people and imposes no duty on us to consider others, even though in the jungle adult creatures do protect their young and in some cases their pack. Historically philosophers and moralists, such as religious groups, have always searched for reasons for people to consider others when acting. We are supposed to do what is good or right and avoid bad or evil behaviour.



Some have sought the rules of morality by imposing an ethical system based on a single source of authority. Many have advocated, in the form of religions, and still do, the authority of god as the single source of ethical rules. Others (eg Hobbes), identified the Sovereign as the single source of ethics, even through the sovereign was supposed to be a unique person though the doctrine of the divine right of kings (eg Henry VIII of England). To cut a long story short today we are in the doctrine of power through public representation. In other words, morality is based on the will of the people through the principles of democracy.



Of course, philosophers being philosophers have tried to justify ethical systems by appealing to either rational principles, such as Kant, or empirical principles such as Locke. In both cases legitimacy has moved away from pointing at a master or lord of human beings and started looking at the reasoning of human beings. Sure some like Descartes would say that a benevolent god would never give us malevolent ideas as a priori knowledge. All of a sudden the legitimacy of any moral or ethical system is derived from our own intellect as rational beings. And, of course, if someone is incapable of thinking like us then surely they are not human beings.



In effect, the devine rule of kings has been replaced by the rational rule of the categorical imperative, although the actual term differs from time to time for example: Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law. Fundamental Principles of The Metaphysic Of Morals, By Immanuel Kant https://www.gutenberg.org/files/5682/5682-h/5682-h.htm. Today this would be called something like win-win strategy and justified by a mathematical model of game theory or simply cooperation.



But with the categorical imperative relying on an empirical (the You and others) source of moral law is hardly a reliable sample population for a system that is suppose to bind everyone present and future. At best, the Good Samaritan story as an instance of the categorical imperative is a convincing case study. And if that was not enough where do we get the control group to test our one person experiment hypothesis?



So, have we managed to overcome the law of the jungle and what is the state of affairs with the law of the jungle today? One thing all these rationalist advocates and even empiricists who seek to reform the law of the jungle, is that they have not shown or argued why those who have might or strength on their side should give up their loot and share it with the rest of us? Their arguments have always been why we ordinary people should wish that others be like us, but never why those who are winning the jungle game should all of a sudden give up their position. Since hell has not worked, maybe in the modern world we should advocate such things as diabetes, strokes and heart attacks, cancer and fluctuating stock markets and currency meltdowns, but I doubt this will work. Those who are on top of the game already own the hospitals and pharma companies.



Up until now we can safely say that we, as humans, have not managed to tame or stop the law of the jungle. The fear of god or the threat of eternal punishment in a fire did not balance the law of the jungle with some supposed rational ethical system. Democracy has done very little to establish an imperative based ethical system. Only yesterday a supposedly democratic legislature enacted a law to take away the established rights of women to determine their physical well being but for good measure incest and rape are now afforded more social status than the dignity of an innocent human being. Imagine if a democratic legislature enacted a law that made it illegal to take pain killers for men with blond hair and are 5ft 7and ¾ inches tall.



Democracy might be a gigantic improvement over a bonfire, but it also has its weaknesses. Today people think that democracy is just putting pieces of paper in a box, count them and the winner is the one with the most papers. Of course, political parties still issue manifestos, leaflets outlining policies and other feel good promises, but injustices and inequities still happen. Democracy can take us away from some aspects of the doctrine of might is right. For example, women can vote today, but many still don’t have political control over their bodies, and men can go to the office without a tie but many are considered unreliable if they are not married.



Maybe democracy has changed the mould a bit by giving us more opportunities to share knowledge and travel more. This has driven a large part of society to economic prosperity based on merit and skill, although “inherited” wealth (I use inherited very loosely here to include well off) is still the best way to advance in society or the jungle.



If the law of the jungle hasn’t been tamed then surely the size of the jungle has grown even bigger in the 21st century. The jungle in the 21st century includes multinationals, black and corrupt money, social media, emails and web pages, politicians who are in the pocket of powerful groups and organisations and traditional foreign states.



Cooperation is still the best strategy to follow as an ethical system but cooperation is the consequence of a process and not the process. What we do must itself have a degree of outcome predictability. If what we do works for us and the other person or persons then we have achieved a degree moral behaviour. Our methodology to discover our ethical principles plays a crucial role in morality. The question is what do we do when we apply bona fide principles but the outcome is not reciprocal cooperation?



Best Lawrence 




The Law of the Jungle by Ruel F Pepa
https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2019/05/15/the-law-of-the-jungle/

The Law of the Jungle by Lawrence JC Baron






philomadrid@gmail.com

Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/

MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/

Gran Clavel (Café-Bar): Gran vía 11, esquina C/ Clavel, 28013—Madrid



16th May 2019


After seeing our topic “Modern feminism” (May 2015) Jane asked me if I would share a guide for women with you on “…women’s safety online” which you can find here https://www.vpnmentor.com/blog/the-empowering-internet-safety-guide-for-women/ . This is quite serendipitous since in my essay I do mention that the jungle today includes the internet and social media.



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