Thursday, May 28, 2020

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 31st May: Why so many conspiracy theories?

 
Dear friends,
 
This Sunday we are discussing: Why so many conspiracy theories?
 
Quite an interesting topic for the times we live, but this topic is much bigger than just a virus.  You will find my essay at the link below:
 
Why so many conspiracy theories? subject by James
https://www.philomadrid.com/2020/05/why-so-many-conspiracy-theories.html
 
Equally important is that Oscar (JoseOscar) is looking for someone, maybe familiar with the media, who can review a book he is publishing. It will be available on Amazon in the next few days. The idea is to have the review published in a news paper. If you can help please get in touch with me.  Thank you very much.
 
The Skype Meeting on Sunday 31st May is at 6:30pm: if you don't have the link already please send me a message.
 
Best and take care
Lawrence
 
telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813
Email: philomadrid@gmail.com
http://www.philomadrid.com
 
 
PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 31st May: Why so many conspiracy theories?








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Why so many conspiracy theories?


Why so many conspiracy theories? by James


Conspiracy theories as a subject are not only complex but also disagreeable. Like most philosophical issues and problems our subject is mainly a language problem. And it is a language problem because conspiracy theories depend on supping the emotions out of people.

By the time a belief or a claim becomes a public conspiracy theory it would be too late to stop it, kill it, or neutralise it. Regarding our question the short answer is that  because today we have the ways and means to distribute such messages. Which means that it is easy for a few people to originate and disseminate conspiracy theories it is also that easy that we, i.e. you and me, we’ll get to hear about them.

So the language problem with conspiracy theories is that there are conspiracies and then there are major singular events: planes crashing into buildings; banks trying to fix the lending rates; princesses dying in car accidents; strange things flying in the sky; stealing the natural resources of a continent; pretending to offer free healthcare to people affected by sexually transmitted disease; viruses that cause a pandemic in  a few days and so on.

There are many scholars and not so scholarly arguing what is and isn’t a conspiracy theory and what the anatomy of a conspiracy looks like. From our perspective we could always start by trying to identify the key necessary and sufficient conditions of a conspiracy theory.

The most important condition for a conspiracy theory is that the “major singular event” has already happened: a conspiracy theory cannot exist for future events or events that haven’t happened yet. In September of 2019 I was not aware of any conspiracy theories about COVID-19 although by January 2020 I was fully aware that there was this virus that was very infectious in China. By mid February COVID-17 was well known as causing a very dangerous epidemic in China and maybe going pandemic. But still no conspiracy theory; only towards mid March that some conspiracy theories started appearing mainly: the virus was a manipulation by governments, a biological weapon developed by China to destroy the United States, it’s all a fiction of the mind, etc.
A second important condition of a conspiracy theory is that the event must be big enough and singular enough that a large percentage of the population, certainly of a country, but preferably of the world to know about it. And added to a lot of people knowing about an event it is also necessary that we personally as a group can directly relate to the event.

When a popular princess died in a car accident in a tunnel anyone who could express an opinion also had a conspiracy theory. Compare this when at a tourist spot we came across a board outside a restaurant offering “Menu del Dia” but when we came to order we were told that the Menu-del-Dia had finished. We, and those around us, knew very well that this was a conspiracy of the heinous kind. In effect for a conspiracy theory to work it must appeal directly to our raw emotions.  I was seriously angry at that restaurant that day but it seems not everyone was!

For a conspiracy theory to make traction it must also be believable: the state of our beliefs is a sufficient condition to create emotional agitation and anger in us. Thus a conspiracy theory is more likely to flourish if it conformed to some rules of logic. We’re more likely to believe an unidentified flying object is something from outer space rather than bubbles from a babble bath or maybe a new research plane from a secret military base.

Another condition for conspiracy theories is that there are enough respectable people who can explain details of the event or argue the logic of the event.  For example at the early stages of digital photography, especially mobile phone photos, all of a sudden many people were seeing many UFOs in their photos, one of the main reasons was the fact that many digital sensors were not stable enough or most probably the processors were not that clever. Thus digital noise, dust, or digital artefacts really looked like UFOs: the technology is much, much, better today.

You remember that I started by distinguishing between conspiracies and major singular events. Major singular events are the breeding grounds of conspiracy theories whilst committee rooms, corridors of power, or oak panelled offices are the breeding grounds of conspiracies.  From the list of events I identified in the third paragraph: banks trying to fix the lending rates, stealing the natural resources of a continent, and pretending to offer free healthcare to people affected by sexually transmitted disease are real conspiracies although there are many more.

“Banks trying to fix the lending rates” is the Libor scandal when major banks tried to fix the bank lending rate thus making borrowing money such as mortgages and load more expense (this is well documented c2008). “Pretending to offer free healthcare to people affected by sexually transmitted disease,” I am referring to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment in the USA between 1932 and 1972 when officials experimented on Afro-American males on the promise of free health care: they were never given any health care, this now goes on in places like India but that’s another matter. And a case deserving of the hardest of conspiracy theories is the “Stealing the natural resources of a continent.” I am referring to the pillage of Africa which according to The Africa Report* is worth $2.2trillion yet ,”On average, the net wealth per African is $1,900, compared to $27,000 worldwide.”

Hence the other aspect of the language issue is that we are very lazy when we come to language: we tend to take unreasonable shortcuts. Our thinking can sometimes be equivalent of thinking that a black cow and a black horse are the same creature; so why should we think that a conspiracy and a conspiracy theory are the same thing? Conspiracies do happen and investigating them is the legitimate business of scientists, lawyers, politicians, journalists, and most of all philosophers. Why philosopher, because philosophers (especially analytical philosophers) are concerned with the thinking of people, and conspiracies requires a lot of thinking.

Our first task is to distinguish between creating a dead hand of malice and reasonable and rational inquiry for example through Cartesian or Humian scepticism. The first instance is when groups follow a conspiracy theory and reject or endorse the official version of events based on political dogma and not methodological investigation. What is clear is that reasonable inquiry is a must in society, but this does not mean that people who exercise their right of philosophical scepticism are politically malicious.

Usually the exercise of inquiry goes something like this: people asking scientific type of questions and expect the person to give us an honest scientific answer. Unfortunately, this is why conspiracy theories are so obnoxious, this empirical investigation does not work. It does not work because if the event was a conspiracy why should the person tell us the truth? A good conspiracy would have a protection wall of “plausible deniability” for those involved. Just because a person is part of a conspiracy it does not follow that everyone one knows the whole story with details:  most probably what people are engaged in they do not know they are working on a conspiracy.  And most important of all just because we have reason to believe that there is a case of a conspiracy it does not follow that there is one. Thus when an official reply fails to satisfy us it does not follow that that person is hiding something from us.

So one of the enemies of the official explanation is the fact that the relevant officials do not give access to all the information to bona fide people researching the conspiracy theory: remember the redacted WikiLeaks reports, or the 9/11 Report, or the Russian Report in the UK.

The other failure of officials is that in trying to reject the conspiracy theory, or trying to relax people that a major singular event is not the norm is that they address the theory not the science (methodology). Let’s take the COVID-19 conspiracy theory.

So one of the conspiracy theory about the virus is that this virus is a biological weapon by China to dominate the USA; another is that the virus somehow escaped from a virological laboratory in China. At face value the second possible event is more likely than the first: why destroy the USA when Chine holds some $1.1 trillion of US debt. But if you spent these past three months listening to reports from China on the virus you would have noticed that official replies always push the idea that the virus is a natural virus and it came from a wet market.

It is this kind of reply that concerns certain people: whether the virus was natural or not or came from a wet market or not (any wet market) it does not exclude the possibility that a copy of the virus was indeed at a lab and did indeed escape. The fact that the international community is not allowed to investigate does not help the issue. The difference, however, between a conspiracy theorist and a bona fide investigator is that the theorist would conclude the virus escaped from a lab, whereas a bona fide investigator would still be waiting for a methodological investigation and an account of verifiable facts.

It is now our turn to start our own conspiracy theory. A key question in conspiracy theory is who benefits from conspiracy theories. If it is a real conspiracy one can do well by starting to follow the money, as The Africa Report suggests we do. The problem is when things go horribly wrong and instead of a plan or a conspiracy we end up with a cock-up theory. And here is our conspiracy theory although I do not claim to be original since I’ve been reading so much useless stuff on the subject I lost count: what if conspiracy theories are hatched up by those in charge of the major singular event to disseminate in society when their pet responsibility goes horribly wrong?  Thus creating smoke screen and social noise and chatter?


*FOLLOW THE MONEY
Where Africa’s rich live
By Jeune Afrique
The Africa Report
Posted on Friday, 13 September 2019


 Best and take care
Lawrence


 telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813
Email: philomadrid@gmail.com


PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 31st May: Why so many conspiracy theories?





Thursday, May 21, 2020

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 24th May: The New Normal

Dear Friends,
 
This Sunday we are discussing: The New Normal.
 
Strictly speaking the topic is first and foremost an issue in philosophy of language. It also happens to be that this term is also an empirical matter. In my short essay I argue that this term does not apply to the present COVID-19 pandemic.
 
The New Normal
https://www.philomadrid.com/2020/05/the-mew-normal.html
 
The Skype Meeting on Sunday 24th May is at 6:30pm: if you don't have the link already please send me a message.
 
Best and take care
Lawrence
 
telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813
Email: philomadrid@gmail.com
http://www.philomadrid.com
 
 
PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 24th May: The New Normal








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The New Normal


The “new normal”


It´s terms like the “new normal” that make second languages difficult to learn. They originate from events and circumstances that may not apply in other languages: the irony, innuendo, metaphor, and so on all play a part in the creation of language terms. The idea behind this term is that the way we did things or behaved have now changed to something new. Maybe even in a new way that would have been inconceivable in the past.

The new normal does not mean that this normal is better or worse than the past, but that it is actually happening now. And it is happening not without an element of chagrin or concern although things might very well turn out to be better.

Indeed the Wikipedia entry for “New Normal” in a business context starts by referring to the 2007-2008 financial crises and the aftermath of the 2008-2012 global recession. Someone more recently mentioned the CVOID-19 pandemic. But it does not have to be a major event to qualify for the change.

This idea or concept of the term “new normal” is not new although I am not going to make any claims as to its origin. The concept has been in use for many years in the fashion industry and we can go back to that “little black dress*” by Coco Chanel in 1926. This dress broke all taboos for women’s fashion, according to WHITE Communications GmbH., by making a taboo colour, i.e. black, fashionable for young women. The little black dress doctrine restored black to fashion and has been so ever since. A few years earlier we had Ford’s mentality of “any colour you want” for your car as long as it is black.

Thus it is very common in fashion circles to read or hear of people talking about yellow being the new black, or blue the new black. A quick look at a search engine will show the scope colours play in fashion over the seasons. Fashion is not the scope of my essay, but of course to point out the use of this term across disciplines and how our term can also be used positively in a given context for a given discipline. If a fashion designer can introduce a colour to a style and achieves the acclaim of “x the new black” we could say that the designer has “made it!”

So what are the necessary and sufficient conditions of something to achieve the claim of being “the new normal”?

One of the most important necessary and sufficient conditions is that the new normal must actually be in existence. By definition if something is normal, never mind the new normal, it must exist otherwise it would not be anything. If yellow is the new black then there must be women buying dresses that are yellow and fashion designers creating couture in yellow colour.

More challenging is when does something become normal and how old must the ‘new normal’ be to retain the title: new normal? If today we talk about the COVID-19 as the new normal we are talking about two normals in effect: the new normal regarding how we deal with a rolling pandemic and the new normal post pandemic. Even if at the time of writing the post pandemic periods looks a long way away and, therefore, we can hardly meet the first necessary condition of existence.

In GHS Index: Global Health Security Index October 2019** the United States of America and the United Kingdom were listed first and second respectively in the overall score index of preparedness for a pandemic. Today during an actual pandemic the US is the worst performing country so far and the UK is the worst performing country in Europe. We can safely assume that the viruses do not discriminate against nationality but only on susceptible conditions of the individual.

My argument is that the COVID-19 pandemic is not the new normal. We’ve been having pandemics over the ages with various degrees of turmoil to society. Indeed the flu season is one serious pandemic episode that happens every year. But we’ve become complacent to the annual flu epidemics: we have vaccines, the flu mostly affects the elderly and most of us recover. The fact that the US and UK have the worst death figures for the COVID-19 pandemic** in May 2020 suggests that the fail factor is the management of pandemics and thus there is nothing new about COVID-19.

A mitigating argument is that COVID-19 is a new disease one that we have never experienced before, but this corona virus is a member of a family of viruses which were already around in the 21st century. And the business of viruses is to invade people to reproduce and by circumstances infect people and many die as a consequence. No surprises there hence the GHS Index. The mitigation applies to the extent that this variant of the virus is very aggressive and quick acting but not to mitigate the international spread of the virus.

There seems to be no new events on how the rolling COVID-19 pandemic is progressing. What is different is that the previous new normals, the once that put the health care systems on alert for pandemics all those years ago have failed miserably. We also know that both the US and UK had recently abandoned their level of preparedness for pandemics. Hence, the COVID-19 is not a new normal but a massive failure of all the preparations we had done and the knowledge of virus we have accumulated. And all this without even knowing how the virus found itself in the public domain in the first place.

How the post COVID-19 pandemic “normal” will be is a different matter. Will a post pandemic normal be business as usual; maybe we have to wear a mask, something we should have been doing for years, and accept a high levels of unemployment and  some people might die from COVID-19. Do we in the main continue to dismantle healthcare systems, stop providing universal free healthcare, channel corporate money through tax havens and continue doing business with unscrupulous regimes in the post pandemic normal? As I argued the term new normal is not a moral judgement, hence the post pandemic might be a worse version of the normal pre pandemic. Or will the next new normal be something for the better as a change.

Will the new post pandemic normal be a black car, take it or leave it. Or will the post pandemic new normal be a little black dress simple in style and with a kick up the backside to dogma and taboo?


*(Black Dress) Coco Chanel

*(Black Dress) REBEL TURNED CLASSICTHE LITTLE BLACK DRESS
WHITE Communications GmbH.

**Pandemic at Wikipedia
**GHS Index: Global Health Security Index October 2019 (PDF file)

Best and take care
Lawrence

telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813
Email: philomadrid@gmail.com

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 24th May: The New Normal






Friday, May 15, 2020

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 17th May: Education now and post pandemic (essay)





Dear Friends,


This Sunday we are discussing: Education now and post pandemic.

You can find my short essay :
Education now and post pandemic
https://www.philomadrid.com/2020/05/education-now-and-post-pandemic.html

In the meantime:

The Skype Meeting on Sunday 17th May is at 6:30pm: if you don't have the link already please send me a message.

Best and take care
Lawrence

telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813
Email: philomadrid@gmail.com
http://www.philomadrid.com

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 17th May: Education now and post pandemic (essay)

 






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Education now and post pandemic



I am not too optimistic that post pandemic we’ll be returning back to “normal”. The irony of the Coronavirus is that this is first time since the creation of the “global” economy countries had to function as a real global economy. All of a sudden the global economy was tasked with supplying life or death equipment for healthcarers and the public in general.

The problem with education in all this is that education is very similar to the military infrastructure. They both cost a lot of money, the Return on Investment will take years to happen, and by the nature of knowledge it is in constant progress and evolution. Basically our victories depend on the weaknesses of the enemy.

Traditionally the seat of knowledge has always been universities and people had to go through the “system” to reach the high levels of academia and thus respect. But this model of education has been challenged recently. The most important challenge is that not only do we have far more sources of knowledge than ever before but for the first time we theoretically have the means to access all the knowledge we have today when we “want” to access it.

Another implication of knowledge is that many activities can be classified as bodies of knowledge. In other words, knowledge can be about something and how to do something. This implies that what we call education is not just for children or those who belong to institutions we call colleges, but rather education is a source for knowledge. In the past we had academia and apprenticeship. An apprentice is someone who knows how to do something through empirical knowledge and experience.

During this pandemic we have demonstrated that new technologies, such as the PC, mobile phones, tablets etc are robust for many information exchange purposes. It is enough to continue with the teaching process at all levels of the education process. But it is also true that many teachers (and business managers) have been inundated with the challenge and as a consequence they are overloading children and young adults with homework. Indeed today under the present circumstances people are afraid of the looking-busy-disease. We inherited this disease of having to look busy more as a defence against not seeming to have anything to do than any rational justification to be doing something.


Post pandemic we need to develop new management skills and these management skills have to cover two objectives: plan our objectives and plan not to waste time. Of course, piling loads of books and chapters from books and telling students to read them is not efficient nor being busy. I would argue that a sign of efficiency comes in two parts. The first is how to remember a particular piece of knowledge. Although learning is not about memory but about application. This means that we are going to be more dependent on machines.

Finally what the pandemic has also demonstrated is that we need a deep understanding of the scientific method and how to us this method. The lack of scientific awareness around us is an indictment of the failure of the political system that models the education system not necessarily in the interests learners and those engaged in furthering their knowledge.  


Best and take care
Lawrence

telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813
Email: philomadrid@gmail.com
http://www.philomadrid.com


PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 17th May: Education now and post pandemic


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