Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The spiteful chimps

In the Grauniad, yesterday - how spite is the cornerstone of altruism.

In a nutshell:
One of the most widely used experimental setups to investigate the origins of altruism is the "ultimatum game". Two subjects are asked to share a cash sum of say £100. One of them (the proposer) decides the cut - who gets what. The other (the responder) can either accept the share offered or toss the money back in the proposer's face, in which case, neither of them takes any of it away.
They play the game only once, so there's no opportunity to develop reciprocal altruism. If the responder behaves entirely and rationally selfishly, he or she should accept whatever the proposer is prepared to give. But if the proposer offers less than £25, the other player tends to refuse the share and both leave empty handed. Most people are prepared to forsake personal benefit to punish selfishness. In the language of evolutionary psychologists, we are spiteful.
So, ethics aren't mathematically logical, they're evolved and rational (cf. Hegel's what is rational is actual and what is actual is rational).

Note, though - dear reader - that the trigger isn't parity, but taking the piss, so long as the divide isn't excessive people are willing to accept some uneven trade off.

Life is a one shot ultimatum game, and so long as people feel they're getting something out of the social system, they'll put up with inequality - cf. Marx' story about the poverty of living next to a bigger house: it isn't that the next house is bigger, it would seem, but that it isn't too big.

Add on that what will concern folks most is comparison with their peers - the ultra rich are too few and too far (and can be explained as exceptions and we begin to have a model for the psychological acceptance of class society.

Ruddy stupid chimps.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Human resources

Tribune strikes again - this time with a story about remnants of the British Empire.

Apparently, military collaboration continues with the racist military dictatorship in Fiji (ruddy fine rugger players, those chaps, wot?). This engagement with tyrants apparently enables the British army to recruit Fijians (fine sturdy types, wot?).

So, the US has to go to its poor communities to dredge up recruits, whereas Britain continues to use its old empire to draw up human cannon fodder to prop up unpopular wars while recruitment dries up at home. The some two thousand or so Fijians in the British army must give a hell of a shot to the strained manpower of the forces fighting under the butchers apron.

According to the CIA world factbook Fiji has a population of 918,675 (July 2007 est.) The UK has a population of 60,776,238 (July 2007 est.) The British Army is reckoned to have 107,730 regular troops.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

In God's own Kingdom

I read in the most recent Tribune that a woman in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to 200 lashes for the heinous crime of being gang raped by 7 men. The actual charge is that of being alone with a man who is not a relative.

She was raped 14 times.

This sentence is handed down after she appealed the original sentence of 90 lashes.

This is not, as it would be for some, an anti-islamic posting, nor an anti-arab - this is a reminder to the Decent Left that the war in Iraq was fought in part to help prop up the vile, priest infested tyranny of Saudi Arabia and its rancid piggy faced ruling familly. The Kingdom with whom we share, apparently, so many values, and lets not foget that for the decents national interests and values coincide.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Losing the vote

Chavez lost his referendum. This is a good thing because it gives him an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to democracy - it's easy to be in favour of democracy when you're winning all the votes - but what happens when you lose? Call foul? Or accept?

This cuts to the chase of what it means to be a democrat - can you accept defeat? Can you carry out democratically mandated instructions you cannot agree with? In my old political home, the SPGB, there was a device, the party poll, the ultimate decision making process of the party that superceded Executive Committee and conference decisions, and against which only another party poll could suffice to overturn: it was the party membership as a whole exerting sovereignty over the party.

Obviously, it isn't a device for ordinary use, but to resolve great controversy, and to ensure that all members can say that due process and decision making has occurred. It is the sine qua non of membership that its decisions be accepted, and carried out without further cavil.

All party officers are bound to obey or resign - those who could not bring themselves to carry out the decision of the poll - even by voting through any requisite procedural motion - would be branding themself unfit for office, anti-democrats, egoists or power whores.

Of coruse, individual conscience is the device that drives such acceptance, but democracy cannot leave itself at the mercy of such - and so, of course, frequent election is necessary in order that officers and servants of an organisation - or party - can be removed should they so brand themselves unwilling to abide by its constitution, democratic process and collective will.

Much more improtant than term limits, which can stil leave you with someone in power with nothing to lose, is the frequent unleashing of the democratic force of the ballot. And woe betide anyone engaging in shady shenanigens to try and evade the sharp cuts of the ballot paper.