August 2006

The Beethoven Fallacv

by Limbic on August 31, 2006

From The Two Apes within Us: Hippy Sex Fiends and Brutal Machiavellians – SPIEGEL ONLINE

De Waal: The evolutionary struggle for survival is really a self-serving series of blows and stabs, and yet it can lead to extremely social animals like dolphins, wolves or, for that matter, primates. I call the notion that we are nothing but killer apes the Beethoven fallacy. Beethoven was disorganized and messy, and yet his music is the epitome of order.

SPIEGEL: Is it possible that even the dream of a selfless society is the result of each individual’s self-serving endeavors?

De Waal: No. Socialism cannot function, because its economic reward structure is contrary to human nature. Despite massive indoctrination, people are not willing to give up their own needs and those of their immediate families for the general good. And for good reason. Morality, after all, has nothing to do with selflessness. On the contrary, self-interest is precisely the basis of the categorical imperative.

SPIEGEL: Wouldn’t that mean that capitalism is the more suitable model for human coexistence?

De Waal: A system based purely on competition also comes with significant problems. You can see this here in the United States, where there are too few constraints on market forces. It’s a balancing act. Competitiveness is just as much a part of our nature as empathy. The ideal, in my view, is a democratic system with a social market economy, because it takes both tendencies into account.


Applied Sloth

by Limbic on August 29, 2006

From Moving Heavy Things: Books: Jan Adkins

Precept Five: Applied Sloth

As stated in the stagehand’s axiom: “Never lift what you can drag, never drag what you can roll, never roll what you can leave.” Creativity germinates in indolence, and the cleverest people are often the laziest: they are always looking for an easier way. The easiest way is often the simplest, most direct, and the best way.

Via Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools


Secrets of the Operations Master

by Limbic on August 29, 2006

My friend Steve O’Donnell was interviewed in December 2005 by engineering magazine IET.

It is a rare insight into the principles guiding one of the City of London’s most renowned and highly respected Technical Operations and Project Managers.

Steve has enjoyed a 25 year career at the cutting edge of IT. For the past decade he has worked on IT infrastructure directly for, or as a consultant to, companies like Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch, CSFB and Standard Chartered.

Most recently, Steve has been at Cable & Wireless, where he managed the transformation of its IT infrastructure and implemented a painless cost cutting project which is the stuff of legend (a repeat of his rescue of the then Coopers & Lybrand Network Renewal Project in the late 90’s).

Steve is now Global Head of Data Centers and Bridge Operations at British Telecom.


From American Scientist Online

Oscar Wilde said, “Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.” But how do we learn where to draw these lines? It’s commonly understood that moral rules are instilled in church, school and home, but Harvard psychologist Marc Hauser believes that they have a deeper source‚Äîan unconscious, built-in “moral grammar” that drives our judgments of right and wrong.

Widely known for his studies of animal cognition, Hauser has long been intrigued by the nature of human moral judgment (interested readers can take his Web-based Moral Sense Test). He says the human sense of right and wrong, which evolved over millions of years, precedes our conscious judgments and emotions, providing a hidden engine of moral intuition that’s shared by people around the world. “Our moral instincts are immune to the explicitly articulated commandments handed down by religions and governments,” he writes. “Sometimes our moral intuitions will converge with those that culture spells out, and sometimes they will diverge.” In Moral Minds (Ecco, available August 22) Hauser draws ideas from the social and natural sciences, philosophy and the law to support his own findings for an unconscious moral instinct. MORE


When Not to Trust Your Gut

by Limbic on August 24, 2006

From HBS Working Knowledge

In past issues of this newsletter, we have highlighted a variety of psychological biases that affect negotiators, many of which spring from a reliance on intuition. Of course, negotiators are not always affected by bias; we often think systematically and clearly at the bargaining table. Most negotiators believe they are capable of distinguishing between situations in which they can safely rely on intuition from those that require more careful thought—but often they are wrong. In fact, most of us trust our intuition more than evidence suggests that we should. MORE


Recent Israeli military slackness explained

by Limbic on August 23, 2006

From frieze magazine:

The Israeli Defence Forces have been heavily influenced by contemporary philosophy, highlighting the fact that there is considerable overlap among theoretical texts deemed essential by military academies and architectural schools by Eyal Weizman

The attack conducted by units of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on the city of Nablus in April 2002 was described by its commander, Brigadier-General Aviv Kokhavi, as ‘inverse geometry’, which he explained as ‘the reorganization of the urban syntax by means of a series of micro-tactical actions’. MORE

The IDF has adopted post-modernist theory.

This truly is bleak news.

As one wit on the JG Ballard list put it “Well, it seems Hezbollah were better deconstructionists… probably the problem is that the Israelis skipped Derrida.”


Man's worst nightmare

by Limbic on August 22, 2006

Man’s Worst Nightmare – video powered by Metacafe


“You cried for night”

by Limbic on August 21, 2006

’You cried for night – it falls. Now cry in darkness.’ (Sam Beckett)

This comes from a superb new literary blog called “You cried for night“. Well worth adding to your feeds or regular reading list.

(Via Jahsonic)

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Willpower is best used with care

by Limbic on August 21, 2006

From Willpower is best used with care | Higher Education | The Australian:

Some people are simply more susceptible to temptations and distractions, and we all sometimes reach the limits of our willpower sooner than we would like. “Programs that build self-discipline may be the royal road to building academic achievement,” psychologists Duckworth and Seligman conclude from their findings.

So what can we do to strengthen self-discipline, to transform ourselves from impulsive dollar-snatchers to lofty long-term investors in future success?

Help lies in seeing willpower as a muscle, recent research suggests. The “moral muscle”, as it has been called, powers all of the difficult and taxing mental tasks that you set yourself. It is the moral muscle that is flexing and straining as you keep attention focused on a dry academic article, bite back an angry retort to your boss, or decline a helping of your favourite dessert. And herein lies the problem: these acts of restraint all drain the same pool of mental reserves.

…if you draw on your reserves to achieve one unappealing goal – going for a jog, say – your moral muscle will be ineffective when you then call on it to help you switch off the television and start essay-writing.

What, then, can we do about this unfortunate tendency of the moral muscle to become fatigued with use? One option is to build it up and make it strong. Evidence is starting to accumulate that the moral muscle, like its physical counterpart, can become taut and bulging from regular exercise. People asked by experimenters to be self-disciplined about their posture for two weeks were afterwards stronger willed when it came to a test of physical endurance, compared with other people allowed to slouch about in their usual comfortable way during the fortnight.

By regularly exercising self-restraint and virtue in all areas of life (moral muscle cross-training, we may call it), we will come to resist temptations with the same casual ease with which a world-class athlete sprints to catch a train. That, at least, is the idea.

Unfortunately, like any sensible, long-term strategy for self-improvement, this approach has limited appeal. For just as we want to fit into those trousers next Monday – not after eight tedious weeks of healthy eating and regular exercise – it is often the same for our more cerebral ambitions. Exam dates are set in stone, deadlines loom on the horizon, or may even mock us from the past. In other words, there simply may not be enough time to become a master of temperance and virtue before tackling our goal.

Fortunately, there is also an attractive quick-fix approach to the problem of limited willpower. This is to use your moral muscle only very sparingly.


“You cannot be objective about an aerial torpedo. And the horror we feel of these things has led to this conclusion: if someone drops a bomb on your mother, go and drop two bombs on his mother. The only apparent alternatives are to smash dwelling houses to powder, blow out human entrails and burn holes in children with thermite, or to be enslaved by people who are more ready to do these things than you are yourself; as yet no one has suggested a practicable way out.” ‚Äî George Orwell, reviewing Arthur Koestler‚Äôs Spanish Testament for the magazine Time and Tide, Feb. 5, 1938.

From They, The People – New English Review:

These troubling thoughts came up while I was watching TV coverage of the fighting in Lebanon. It would be a wonderful thing if the Israeli Defense Force could kill only Hezbollah operatives, leaving the civilian population alone. They can’t, of course, and civilians are dying. It would be a much less wonderful thing—though still, so far as I am concerned, an acceptable one—if the Israelis could reduce their enemies to the condition of abject, unconditional surrender we reduced Germany to in 1945. But they can’t do that, either.

For Israel this is a “crisis war” , at least as much as WWII was for us. Hezbollah has been firing missiles into Israeli cities, killing Israeli civilians. Eighty percent of the population of South Lebanon voted for “Resistance Party” candidates in last year’s election—that’s mainly Hezbollah, joined with a few like-minded groups.

Now, that peasant who just got killed in an Israeli airstrike might very well have belonged to the twenty percent who did not vote “Resistance”; and the seven-year-old girl whose legs were blown off by another Israeli bomb while playing with her favorite doll, wasn’t even in the electorate. How can their killing be justified? By the doctrine of collective responsibility, which, if you allow its validity, applies even more strongly to Lebanon, where there have at least been elections, than to North Korea. This is your government. You have permitted this to be done to us. You—all of you, any of you, and your children too—are to some degree liable.

As a solvent of guilt, the doctrine of collective responsibility is hard to beat. When push truly comes to shove, when we find ourselves in the nightmare landscape Orwell describes, where the correct response to the bombing of one‚Äôs mother is a double bombing of his mother‚Äîwhen human beings are in that dark place, I think history shows that there is no nation too civilized to do what is necessary; nor any so un-civilized as to feel no need to cook up a doctrine of self-exculpation. A conservative commentator** recently wrote the following thing, in respect of mass killing of civilians: ‚ÄúI think it’s fair to say that we would rather our civilization die than that we commit such acts.‚Äù Speak for yourself, Sir. If our grandfathers had felt that way, I‚Äôd be writing this in Japanese.