Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Masks: Words that Hide Agendas

edited 4/3/20
Vote for me and if the legislature doesn’t pass budgets on time, they won’t get paid. -- Political candidate in Pennsylvania, Fall 2012
Despite years and years of nationalistic indoctrination, Americans tend to coagulate into a loose confederacy of “tribes.” Consequently we tend to be “agreement junkies,” especially when we are in the company of people we believe to be of “our own kind.” It’s just not nice to be contrary, or even, to show lack of enthusiasm.

In such a culture, simple slogans, like toadstools, spring up to mask substantial false consensus as to our individual positions -- e.g. whom are willing to vote for, what we value, whom we disagree with. Experienced politicians recognize this lack of depth in our professions of allegiance and thus steer away from explicit and specific discussions of their proposals for change.

Technical knowledge is not very widespread among the voting populace. Nonetheless, scientific sounding words, such as, entitlement, efficiency, cost, benefit, rent, profit, and the like are frequently invoked in political rhetoric.

But even more common-sounding words like harm, threat, risk, safety, protection, are sufficiently vague to mislead voters to imagine that they will be getting benefits which the future office-holders, in fact, can escape delivering through clever reinterpretation of their “promises.” (For example, does the would-be Pennsylvania legislator cited in the epigraph really think he will be able to control paycheck distribution for legislative members?)

The dynamics of consensus confusion revolve around issues of value, priority and probability. In a controversy, these issues are finessed by unexamined concessions about what is valuable or cheap (value), what is important or expendable (priority), and what is imminent or remote (probability).

For example, efficiency is generally seen to depend upon minimizing costs in pursuit of a goal. But if the goal is not accepted universally to be of value, or of the same priority in competition with other possible goals, estimations of efficiency will vary substantially. Universal college education is such a goal.

Consider risk as another example. Unless a situation is universally viewed as both threatening and imminent, many will discount what others consider disaster. Global warming seems to be such a situation.

During times of political interest, we find vague or confused references to “liberals” or “conservatives,” “moderates” or “extremists,” emphasized by media “spokespersons” much more intent on attracting attention -- ya gotta sell advertising -- than communicating accurate information. (See Believer vs Atheist, Conservative vs Liberal, and other distracting frauds.)

The assumptions people make, seldom stated publicly, support their own agendas -- not necessarily ours. And any but the simplest word is open to misunderstanding if we are mistaken about the assumptions its users are making. (See, for example, items specified in a Controversy Analysis Worksheet.)

Also, important in everyday life are certain assumptions that even more deeply underlie concerns for conflicts of individual vs individual, or, even, group vs group. These are certain “social assumptions,” principles so profoundly embedded in our culture that in many situations we overlook them entirely; although, upon consideration, we would find them far from indubitable.

These principles are
The Principle of Command: To command is to control, i.e. presidents can control national employment and foreign events;

The Principle of Accepted Value: What we value, everyone (should) value, i.e. no sensible, sane person could disagree with us; and

The Principle of Objectivity: Facts are facts, and, e.g., they are determinable without error by human agencies.

How do such principles come to control our thought processes? The quick answer is:
a. we rely on such Social Assumptions to support not only our personal agendas, but our conceptions of Knowledge, of Authority and of Obligation;

b. consequently they support practices we take to be important, essential to our personal, social, corporate, political, and moral life.
Unfortunately, quickness does not guarantee accuracy.

For references and to examine these issues further, see Questionable Assumptions in Social Decision Making

--- EGR

Hiding the “Elephant in the Room”: avoiding consideration of competing options

mediated 3/15/19
Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without the abrasive friction of conflict. -- Saul Alinsky

"Mutually cost-enhancing objectives," MCEO’s, are objectives which are operationally or politically unlikely of being fulfilled simultaneously, because progress made toward one tends to undercut the progress made toward the other. Pursuit of MCEO’s is the mechanism of cost-benefit conflict.

People in most undertakings have encountered such beasts, and not infrequently, for example:
a. you often can’t gain speed for a vehicle and cut fuel costs at the same time;
b. you can’t achieve both great muscle strength and running speed; and
c. on a fixed budget, you can’t accumulate savings and also spend profligately.

However, MCEO’s tend to be the “invisible bugs” in educational or other social programs. Particularly in situations where there is a delicate political balance needed to maintain organizational stability, MCEO’s tend to be the “elephants in the room” that are deliberately disregarded, discussion of which participants are dissuaded from pursuing -- “We don’t go there,” is the warning given.

Is your political candidate’s opponent a womanizer? If your own is, also, “you don’t go there” -- in public at least. Less newsworthy, of course, is the conflict between the objectives of having all kids achieve a high school diploma and college entrance; or between graduating college and finding high quality employment, or, even, providing adequate medical care without reducing those who provide or need it to poverty.

Some MCEO combinations seem unavoidable: e.g. every birth predicts a future death; every option exercised means others are foregone. But perhaps many MCEO’s can be softened by innovative procedures that avoid ultimate mutual cost generation. That hope has long sprung eternal even in the face of hard experience.

Any two feasible options may compete, if circumstances force it: for example, if they are funded from the same budget. Or, if the different options are championed by different power-holders within the organization. In general, MCEO’s are no more than special cases of competing options. But "special" because "banned," as it were, from public discussion.

Cordially, -- EGR


For some issues on MCEO's in historical educational context, see Clabaugh & Rozycki (1986) School Reform via Teacher Professionalization: Is it Cost-effective?”

For persistent problems in American education with MCEO's, see Clabaugh & Rozycki, Dissecting School Benefits: a typology of conflicting goals.

Institutional Realities vs. "De-Biased" Realities

The limits of your language are the limits of your world. -- Wittgenstein

What is a language? A dialect with an army. -- Old joke among linguists.

Bias is an instrument of institutions to control depictions of reality.
(See Institutionalization) Bias is pervasive. We can’t escape it completely. Even our nervous system biases our perceptions at fundamental levels.

Source: https://goo.gl/images/9xnvjl
Bias is also relative. But this need not be a constant concern. We should only worry about bias when it favors or disfavors those who are making decisions for us. This is why we look to find “disinterested,” “objective,” “unprejudiced” judgments to support our decisions.

Of course, people who are unprejudiced in one situation may be highly biased in another. It is we, ourselves, who need to discriminate when this is so. That is the problem.

Every organization that persists through changes of leadership or mission becomes an “institution.” As an institution it imposes ways of perceiving and thinking on its participants. The benefits of membership, you will be told, outweigh the costs of the conformity expected of you. You may have to subordinate your own judgment to that of the traditions, practices, etc., i.e., residues of former and present leaderships. You will have to learn which “elephants in the room” are to be ignored. Institutions seldom invite the examination, much less the mention, of “de-biased realities.”

An important point: what we imagine to be our "natural" languages are highly institutionally reconstructed means of communication. As we grow out of the sole influence of family and neighborhood, especially as we go through schooling, our languages become refashioned to meet the demands of the institutions we go through. We subordinate our dialects to our institutional languages for the promise of support and protection.

Scientists, even, sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that their professional pursuits purge their working language of institutional biases, that their speech is a neutral medium of communication. This can stifle research by restricting both theory and practice within the boundaries of passing academic or corporate philosophical preferences. (See for example, The Functional Analysis of Human Behavior.)

Just as radical forms of Behaviorism and Empiricism of the last century impeded progress in psychology and economics, (see The Mathematics of Behaviorism: an informal examination), so it is that naive "natural language" notions of conceptualization and abstraction undermine progress in applicational development in AI. To examine this further, see More Related Issues

--- EGR

Monday, May 30, 2016

"Therefore … !" Proof or Spoof?

Sir, (a+bn)/n = x, therefore God exists. Please respond! -- Euler to Diderot, 1773.
An Unlikely Story. In 1773 atheist philosopher Denis Diderot visited the Imperial Court at St. Petersburg to personally thank Empress Catherine for the patronage which was to spare him an impoverished old age. So that his often disconcerting though entertaining atheistic polemics not remain unremonished by his Christian hosts, it was arranged that he be present at a "mathematical" demonstration of the existence of God.

The mathematician Leonhard Euler was to make the initial statement in what was hoped would be another entertaining debate. Euler, addressing himself to Diderot, declared with a tone of perfect conviction, “Monsieur, (a+bn)/n = x, donc Dieu existe; respondez!" Diderot, totally ignorant of mathematics (according to Dieudonné Thiébault as related to DeMorgan), was dumbfounded. Diderot was granted permission to return immediately to France.

Although this anecdote has become something of a legend, it ignores the fact that Diderot, himself, was quite a good mathematician. He would have easily recognized Euler’s assertion to be a non sequitur. The point here, of course, is not whether God exists or not. Rather it is whether reciting a mathematical formula proves God’s existence when it is connected with the word “therefore.” Does any statement, call it A, prove another statement, B, when we all we do is connect them with the word, “therefore”? For example, “Dogs are mammals; therefore, the moon is not made of green cheese?”

We would hardly deny that dogs being mammals has no connection to what the moon is made of. The Euler-Diderot story illustrates, however, what is to this day a common use of the word “therefore” -- or any of its many synonyms --: to foist off a nonsequitur on an unattentive or naïve audience.

The Many Synonyms of Therefore. Therefore connects a statement or body of statements (sometimes called “premises”) to a concluding statement, generally known as a “conclusion.” In contexts in which the word, therefore, would sound too high-falutin’, there are many other variations available: for example,
in conclusion we must recognize that
it follows that
proves that
the weight of the evidence indicates that
But the most important thing for us to realize -- that which makes them most dangerous -- is that using any of these words or phrases to support possible conclusions rules out what may be real live options. Therefore and its family members insinuate that other possible considerations are not supported by the option already singled out by the therefores. (See An Introduction to Models of Reasoning)

Obscuring or Discarding Live Options. This is far more than a “mere” theoretical lesson. When, for example, we face a problem for which we are considering alternative solutions for decision, we must be on guard that the therefores of different partisan interests be more than attempts to intimidate or seduce us into acceptance of their special concerns. Intimidation and seduction need seldom be employed if everyone -- or a majority, at least -- can be convinced that the selected decision is adequately and reasonably supported.

To continue this train of thought see Rationales for Intervention: From Test to Treatment to Policy: A forensic theory of warrants & rebuttals

--- EGR

Public “Science” Controversy: distrust is not the only issue.

edited 2/23/21
“We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That's a clear prescription for disaster.” -- Carl Sagan

No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong. -- Albert Einstein

I would never die for my beliefs, because I might be wrong. -- Bertrand Russell

Need Understanding Promote Acceptance? For as brilliant a scientist (and advocate of Critical Thinking) as Carl Sagan was, he makes a common, and erroneous logical leap: he appears to imply that to understand something is necessarily either to condone or advocate it.

This is wrong. Understanding something (or someone) is not to concede it some kind of validity or authority. But should understanding a practice (or person) bring us to conceding, at least, a live-and-let-live attitude toward it?

Consider the Aztec practice of human sacrifice. Or the regimes of Hitler or Stalin. We pretty much know why they did what they did. We have a good idea what their supporting religious and cultural beliefs and practices were, and how they were carried out. Should we thus adopt a live-and-let-live attitude toward them? Certainly our understanding of what they were about need not move anyone to see their examples repeated.

”Science” Perceived as a Special Interest. We live in a Market Culture. Caveat Emptor, folks! It’s not hard to understand why many people -- not necessarily only uninformed or ignorant people -- are suspicious of pronouncements about, say, global warming, safe vaccinations, or gender differences correlating with intellectual inferiority in science. They consider the sources, motivation and social contexts of the claims or claimants. All’s fair in love, war, and marketing. (See Bestowing Trust.)

Anyone with a memory reaching back more than twenty-five years -- or some acquaintance with history -- can remember when “science” was invoked to justify slavery, frequent wide-spectrum use of antibiotics and promiscuous electric-shock therapy, as well as systematic X-ray exposure to treat teen-age acne. And, don’t forget, tobacco companies could always find a scientist to insist that there was no link between smoking and cancer. (See The 7 biggest problems facing science, according to 270 scientists.)

But “Science” corrected itself, did it not? Yes, so to speak. But generally, only in areas that did not upset entrenched cultural hierarchies. It took World War II to convince most Americans that women could learn to weld and to construct machines. That non-Whites, even Japanese, Native and African Americans could loyally defend a country where they had been treated with so very much less respect than citizens of European derivation. That not all, if some, human behavior was controlled by environmental reinforcement.

U.S. University presidents, even, were abashed to find out that common “grunts,” returning working-class GI’s, could actually use the GI Bill to acquire a profession. WWII Veterans on the GI Bill neither destroyed private higher education -- as predicted by James Conant -- nor did their presence turn universities into "vast hobo jungles" -- as Robert Maynard Hutchins warned they would.

The Elephant in the Room? Two Antagonistic Conceptions of Knowledge.

“Our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.” -- Karl Popper

In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable; and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.” -- Karl Popper

There is a deeper issue underlying the widespread skepticism about Science than suspicions about marketeering. It is that there are, roughly speaking, two competing concepts of knowledge embedded in our society. Many people, generally those with scientific training, or interest in scientific activity consider -- or at least give lip-service to the idea that -- scientific knowledge is an accumulation of hypotheses that are

a. tentative and correctible, (therefore, always possibly evanescent);
b. most persistently survivors of critical testing; and
c. cross-disciplinarily or experimentally mutually reinforcing.
d. Predictions are, at best, estimated with better than random probability.

This is the notion Einstein and Russell are alluding to in their quotes in the epigraph. I will refer this notion, albeit imprecise, as the notion of “Experimentalist Knowledge”. Any "Faith" one has in Experimentalist Knowledge is conditional upon its producing outcomes that someone values (in some "market"?), or at least, that one can hopefully predict (and, maybe, control -- barring certain kinds of complexity) through testing and adjustments in theory and procedure.

Within a professional context, Experimentalist Knowledge is not only given often precise expression, but carefully practiced, because any resultant publication must pass peer revue. Questioning can be quite intense and rigorous (and, to less prepared souls, annoying.} In the marketplace, as we will see below, something else happens.

A Competing Tradition. Eternalist Knowledge is a more ancient concept but still quite active today. It is given lip-service, at least, not only by adherents of certain religions, but also by many mathematicians, theoretical physicists, philosophers, mystics and "humanist" educators.

Eternal Truths are:

a. unchanging and eternal;
b. beyond being challengeable by “so-called tests”; and
c. often indifferent to other claimants to truth.
d. Predictions are considered to be either certainties, e.g. (logically?) derived from more basic Eternal Truths, or speculations of lesser concern.

Within a professional context which typically includes non-professionally prepared participants -- e.g. a laity --, there is at most a perfunctory "peer review" with a bias toward maintaining the authority of the professional over the layperson. Questioning, unless ritualized, is not encouraged.

So if adherents of Experimentalist Knowledge warn about global warming, those of Eternalist Knowledge might reply in dismissal, “Our Faith in X (or Y or Z) is our assurance that we will be exempt from such travail.”

Whether or not they are very devout adherents of eternal truths, many people’s ideas of science are as sophisticated as weather-forecasting TV permits. Snow, if predicted, often amounts to little. And yet, despite mathematical models and predictions, we get surprises. In the communities where Eternalist Knowledge dominates, lip-service is often reinforced by practices and rituals. But it, too, like Experimentalist Knowledge, can be transformed by the ethos of various markets.

An Important Caution. The reader ought not assume that what follows from the distinction Experimental or Eternalist is that either of the two traditions is being offered as "superior" to the other. In a disagreement it will all depend on what claims are made and which tradition is invoked. Nowadays a minor flesh wound is not treated with a prayer service. Nor is a geometric axiom invoked in a cry of mourning.

People who recognize certain items, e.g. holy scripture, foundational moral axioms, domains of discourse or procedure as "worthy" of pursuit are likely committed to justification by certain forms of Eternalist Knowledge. So also may be scientists who engage in debates about "Laws of Nature", or whether the Universe consists basically of "wave or particle"; or, whether individual rights ought to override "needs" for social stability. Or whether a mother's or her foetus' life should take precedence. Or, even, what criteria should be used, if any, to implement discriminatory treatment of populations, e.g. who gets a rare vaccine, or pardon for criminal behavior.

(The wisdom of recognizing the Experimentalist-Eternalist distiction seems to indicate that the much-vaunted pursuit of Artistic or Philosophical Authenticity, the degree to which a person’s actions are congruent with his or her beliefs, must take second-place to a modicum of hypocrisy, if only for survival purposes.)

Debating About “Science” in the Market: a slogan-fest.

The arc of the moral universe really is bending toward progress. -- Michael Shermer, The Moral Arc, (Henry Holt, 2015) précis of article appearing in Scientific American, Jan. 20, 2015

Professional interaction and market interactions are quite different, even among adherents of the same type, i.e. those of Experimentalist Knowledge, Empiricists, or those of Eternalist Knowledge, Eternalists. The epigraph of this section is certainly strange. For appearing in a generally Empiricist publication it looks suspiciously like an Eternalist statement.

Let's put some questions to Shermer. What is this "arc of the moral universe" in empirical terms? How does one determine the direction in which it bends? If one considers that 200,000,000+ people, mostly non-combatants, were killed in wars in the 20th century and that the slaughters continue into this 21st, where might this moral universe be situated?

Or is this article's appearance in Scientific American merely meant to get Eternalist adherents to buy a subscription?

Consider the punditry published in even scientific journals about Global Warming, or Vaccination, or Spanking, or anything purported to be of Public Concern. There the rhetoric begins to heat up: individuals are treated as though having melted together into uniform sampling groups or opinion-blocks, e.g. Scientists, Religionists, Believers, Atheists, Conservatives, Liberals. Reifications and hubris abound. False consensus likely rules the day.

Does knowledge of either kind even matter here? Or is this game best described as Fools Fooling Fools?

C.P. Snow in 1959 anticipated a scholarly schism into two basic cultures, the Scientific and the Literary. Has his prediction been visited not only upon Academia; but, with a vengeance, upon our national culture as a whole?

To examine these issues further, see Knowledge: The Residues of Practical Caution.

--- EGR

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Leadership: the Philosopher’s Stone of the 21st Century

the effectiveness of ... symbolic action is enhanced by the confusion of all involved between substantive and symbolic results. -- Jeffrey Pfeffer (1981) "Management as Symbolic Action: The Creation and Maintenance of Organizational Paradigms"
What Are We After? For thousands of years, would-be power-holders have searched for some magic that would enhance their lives.

The philosopher’s stone (Arabic,: al-iksir , or Buddhist or Hindi: Cintamani) was reputed to enable its possessor to transmute metals of lower value into gold. Other rumored powers were: changing common crystals into precious stones, healing illnesses, lengthening life, creating homunculi.

One can find thousands, millions, perhaps, of characterizations of the terms leader, or leadership, in all kinds of media. No less magical is the hope that “true leaders” can be found or created that will transmute any group, corporation or society, even, into something wondrous. The logically and practically prior determination of the targets, i.e. of what it is that most everyone would find to be more wondrous, is generally passed over by those impatient to effect magical transformations. This impatience is often exacerbated by the desire to obscure substantive issues. (For related examples of present-day “magical” practices in society and law, see Same-Sex Marriage: yes or no? A Hypocritical Confrontation?)

Looking for "the Essentials" of Leadership.

"I have plenty of clever generals but just give me a lucky one." -- Napoleon, (anecdotal)

"Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men." -- E.B. White (1944) One Man's Meat

What is interesting about the volumes written about leadership is that many, many of them focus mostly on the personal characteristics of what they call "leadership," ignoring not only the influence of luck, but also the constraints of organizational structure, tasks and goals. Thus, we find books and blogs and newspaper articles on leadership -- as abundant today as love-lorn columns and horoscopes have ever been -- that focus on the behavior of the leader as a monologic actor in a group. What is generally overlooked is the influence, often stultifying, of the context of the leader's actions.

This context of action has long been studied in industrial contexts, but is generally ignored by social, particularly educational, reformers of many stripes -- despite their being well-aware that their markets comprise individuals looking to acquire "generalship" and esteem as "self-made" persons. The irony here is particularly striking when one considers how so many of our present social critics claim to want to make schools and colleges turn out graduates who are more economically productive "in the 21st century."

However, sociologist Joan Woodward's study, Industrial Organization. Theory and Practice (1966) provides an analysis that relates personnel relationships to organizational type, inputs and outputs. Industrial organizations, writes Woodward, fall into three classes depending upon their goal, i.e. the kind of product they make, and the kind of technology they use to produce it.

What is most important for those of us who contemplate promoting change in organizations is Woodward's finding that, in the most successful of the types of organization she analyzes, their goals and technologies affect profoundly both the productive and social relationships between workers. In other words, what we try to do and how we go about doing it affects the way we work together, our productivity and our politics.

Despite a not quite comfortable fit, large batch and mass production industries have provided Americans with a modern Factory image of educational institutions at all levels. According to Woodward, the goal of large batch and mass production industries is to produce uniform items for a pre-existent mass market. (See School Image: Expectations & Controversies.)

The technology of large batch and mass production industries, although complex, can be made piecemeal. Causal connections are generally clear. Uniform inputs produce uniform outputs. This diminishes the need for research and development. Management separates itself from, as it controls, low-skilled workers through a variety of highly elaborate sanctions. Communication occurs only to exchange information of interest to management. The technical rationality of the workplace tends to fragment social relationships as these tend to undermine efficiency. In American schooling,for example, this industrial model is reflected in persistent attempts to standardize curriculum, i.e. "teacher-proof" it, testing, promotion and graduation standards.

The large batch and mass production model is disregarded by proponents of the doctrine that the individual needs of each person should be met by the school. It is, ironically, also undermined by "democratizing" the public schools in particular, that is, opening them to all comers, using age as the only prerequisite for acceptance, rather than attempting to standardize admissions criteria in any productively, e.g. pedagogically, relevant way. (See The Capacity to Benefit from Formal Academic Schooling: two ideologies of distribution.)

Process industries such as oil refineries, chemical plants, and pharmaceutical companies are technology-rich. They produce specialized products for hard-to-identify specialty markets. Complex though well-defined causal processes are built into plant equipment so as to minimize the need for workers. Those few workers who are needed tend to be highly skilled technicians who can maintain and troubleshoot the production process. Control by management is of little concern since both the equipment and the technical orientation of the workers assures success. As in the mass production industries, communication is necessary only for exchange of information. The technical rationality of the process does not support -- though it need not undermine -- the social relationships of organization members.

This model is dear to the hearts of all technically adept educators, whose main failing is often little more than the assumption that their successes rests solely on their own pedagogical skill rather than on characteristics, not under their control, of their classrooms or students. The model is actively promoted by teacher accrediting organizations working hard to impose as doctrine on would-be teachers the belief that all children cn learn and that even future adult behavior can be controlled through early school interventions. Unfortunately, little consensus exists that there is scientific support for these propositions. (See Are “Best” Practices Really the Best? What is the evidence?)

Unit and small-batch industries, in Woodward's typology, produce custom-designed specialty items, such as locomotive engines and custom cars. Specialty demands provide the impetus for the research and development of processes and methods which take the very specific characteristics of inputted material and, with much skilled worker attention, transform it into relatively unique outputs. Management-worker relationships tend to be non-hierarchical and communication occurs on an operational basis as the process requires it. Since teaming and mutual support are often necessary, social relationships are as important as technical ones.

The chart to the right summarizes the relationships between inputs and outputs for the different organizational types.

This is what private (and otherwise small-school) education is about, although small budgets often cut into the possibility of hiring highly-skilled teachers or administrators. But parents (especially those of younger students) like to believe that their offspring are getting "individualized" treatment. (In the public schools this dream is responded to by the procedure of the IEP, individualized educational placement, that students admitted to special education receive.)

American schooling traditions make these models problematic in trying to characterize schools as production systems. Progressive as well as "scientific" ideologies tend to see the relationship of technical to social functions of the school to be that of Unit and Small Batch systems. But given their size, the production control of most schools defaults to that of Large Batch and Mass systems. (For more on this, see Productivity, Politics and Hypocrisy in American Public Education.)

Two Classes of Leadership: Role-leaders versus Performance-leaders.
Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. -- Peter Drucker
Some leaders are designated as such because of their position in an organization. Job titles, roles, are ranked on organization charts, the higher being superior to the lower. The jobs are bestowed for various reasons, e.g. tradition, experience, nepotism, political connection, friendship, seniority and, (even!) possessing needed skills.

For organizations that rank these role-positions, “leadership” -- so the expectation (the hopes?) goes -- is a function of rank. A given job-holder is in a leadership position to everyone in line of command below him or her on the chart. But a person’s job title may be a poor indicator of competence: some high ranking people may lack the experience, competence or the attitude to be a good leader. They are called “leaders,” nonetheless, gaining unearned a lot of the approval, compensation or deference that the word’s usage insinuates they deserve.

From informal surveys I have conducted over many years, those discussing the characteristics of leaders or leadership to be desired are primarily focused on those of Performance Leadership. They all pretty much agree with Drucker what it is to be a “manager.”

Why is role-based leadership tolerated, even celebrated? Because in many organizations, particularly long-established ones, top-ranking leaders are the most powerful, controlling the organizational resources, particularly through ownership. The top-rankers needn’t have productive skills in terms of which lower ranking members are hired and evaluated. Princes need tend no gardens.

In Jeffrey S . Nielsen’s book The Myth of Leadership. Creating Leaderless Organizations. (Palo Alto: Davies-Black 2004) he treats all leadership as being role-leadership. (The term he uses is “rank-leadership”.) By “leaderless” he means “without rank-defined leaders.” What he does propose is that organizations strive to be run entirely on performance-leadership.

Two Domains of Any Kind of Leadership: Social versus Technical Among those who work in organizations where rank is important, funding is sufficient, and competitive pressures are minimal, it is strange to find that they may still yearn for the kind of performance-leadership that would likely not be tolerated by powerful top-rankers. However, by restricting its range of action, Performance Leadership can be tolerated where Role-Leadership is dominant.

We can distinguish persons, whether they exercise role- or performance-leadership at belonging to one of two different domains of functioning, the social or the technical. Social functioning comprises behavior that seeks to maintain consensus of various forms among organizational members, to protect the organization or its sub-parts against internal or external threats.

Common social functioning examples are participating in advertising, representing the firm at public functions, charity, or attending balls and commenting on public events. The language of social functionaries tends to be cordial, collegial, celebratory, non-committal and vague. It is replete with slogans, truisms, compliments and happy (or angry) ambiguities. It requires little technical training beyond what an undergraduate liberal arts major can pick up.

Common technical functioning requires planning and skillful strategizing so as to maximize the efficiency of social functioning. But -- an important note -- it presumes a context of consensus already established through social functioning. Technical leadership, whether role-based or performance-based is evaluated by its success at achieving restricted aims. The language of technical leadership is about cause-and-effect, cost-and-benefit, and efficiency.

A leader may appear cordial and celebratory, but if this behavior is a strategem believed to secure a desired aim, this leadership is technical-leadership: honey set out to attract more flies than would vinegar.

Leadership for a Common Humanity
A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr’s characterization of a “genuine leader” is intriguing. To not need to search for a community of consensus either assumes you are already fortuitously embedded in such a community, or that you have an irresistible technique for consensus building. So powerful, in fact is this community-building technique, if it is available, that those who earlier did not agree with you will suddenly drop their resistence and acknowledge that your consensus-molding efforts have worked successfully on them.

I can think of two beliefs of Dr. King, clearly a performance-leader, that he expressed on many occasions:
1. We are all children of the same God -- i.e. we belong to a universal community; and,

2. Non-violent confrontation is the method which will awaken that sense of community and moral consensus in those who right now don’t feel it.
With the first belief King acts in the social domain, proposing a logical foundation for a consensus. The second belief illustrates a technical approach to pursuing King’s aim of racial equality.

Whether we share Dr. King’s beliefs or not, we can concede that they provide a coherent basis for the actions he took to achieve the goals he wanted. That logic stands, even though the problems he faced have been more resistant to his efforts than many have wished.

To examine these issues further, see Sustaining Illusions of Leadership.

Cordially -- EGR

Friday, May 27, 2016

Self-Driving Cars, Run-Away Trams, & “Unavoidable” Accidents

How should the (self-driving) cars be programmed to act in the event of an unavoidable accident? Should it minimize the loss of life, even if it means sacrificing the occupants or should it protect the occupants at all costs? Should it choose between these extremes at random? -- Why Self-Driving Cars Must Be Programmed to Kill -- MIT Technology Review, October 22, 2015

A primary cause of philosophical illness: a one-sided diet. One nourishes one's thinking with only one kind of example.--- L. Wittgenstein (1967) Philosophische Untersuchungen, §593 (Suhrkamp: Frankfurt a.Main) p.189. (My translation. - EGR)

Who Broke the Copy Machine? And Other Follies.
Vignette, the First: In the main office of his company, Larry waits patiently for a colleague to finish using the common copy machine. Larry needs to duplicate a report for a later meeting. At his turn, Larry loads the machine and pushes the copy button. A strange, loud groan issues from the machine. The attention of everyone in the office is now diverted to an astonished Larry. The machine goes dead and smoke issues from it. The office manager comes over and fretfully asks Larry, “What have you done?” In the ensuing atmosphere of reproach no one mentions -- if they even know -- that the office manager, himself, put off maintenance for the copier, doubling the service interval, at the behest of the company president that expenses be reduced wherever possible.

Vignette, the Second: Mack drives a tram (trolley car) the movement of which is constrained by a track. Mack can only make it stop, go, speed up, slow down or switch over to a connected track. One day, while approaching a blind curve, Mack realizes that his braking mechanisms don’t work: he is in a runaway vehicle. Rounding a blind curve yet picking up speed due to descending an incline, Mack sees a group of people ahead on the track. He fears the worst. Luckily there is a parallel track he can switch over to. Alas, there is already a single person ahead on that track. It is, it seems, a matter of life-or-death. Switch or not-switch. Kill many or one? Which should he choose to do? (See, for example, Thomas Cathcart (2013) The Trolley Problem)

Vignette, the Third: A group of automotive engineers is perplexed. They are constructing the control programs for a self-driving car. No passenger will be a driver, i.e. make driving decisions. They are aware of some form of Vignette, the Second. (They don’t stop to think of examples like Vignette, the First.) The engineers jump to a dismaying preliminary conclusion: in the (likely rare?) event that an unavoidable accident threatens risking human damage and death, the car must, willy-nilly, be programmed for a lethal decision. If faced with the choice of Vignette the Second the car must be programmed to kill, whether many or one. But, in the aftermath, who -- they worry -- will bear responsibility for the damage? (See Will Knight, “How to Help Self-Driving Cars Make Ethical Decisions”)

Responsibility & Intervention. The three vignettes appear to have similar underlying structures. However, there are substantial differences among them. In the first and second vignettes, the actors whose choice behavior we are considering are caught up in a chain of events which they have had no part in structuring. They are, so to speak, minor officers on the Titanic. In the third vignette, the actors are Planners not confronted with choices that immediately threaten catastrophe. The Planners -- and the analysts cited above, i.e. Thomas Cathcart and Will Knight -- mistake the second vignette as a model for the first or third vignettes, respectively, by conflating important distinctions:
a. they confuse “Role” with “Function;”
b. they confuse “Choice” with “Responsibility;”
c. they invoke a vague notion of “unavoidable” that allows equivocation between “Intervention” and “Prevention.” (See Intervention: helping, interfering or just being useless?)
In Vignette, the First Larry’s role, for which he is responsible, is as a procedure-follower. If machinery is involved, Larry is, shall we say, an Engager. He is not himself a duplicate-producer. He employs the copier; it is the copier which produces duplicates. The casual speech of office politics may confound these distinctions, but morally and legally, should it come to that, his having followed procedures may protect him, even if the machinations of other organizational members would have him take the blame. (These distinctions are often disregarded in cases of organizational “disruption” based on what is masqueraded as “performance evaluation.” )

Once started, Larry was not likely able to intervene in the rapid self-destruction of the copier, even had he realized what was happening. Prevention, which is neither part of Larry’s role nor responsibility had been deliberately left undone by the office manager -- a risk taken that failed. The destruction was practically unavoidable, once initiated. But Larry, despite facing issues of responsibility had no practical choice in the matter.

In Vignette, the Second Mack is, also, a procedure-follower, an Engager, whose personal responsibility is delimited by the well-functioning of his machine. The “choice” between not stopping killing many or killing one does not relieve those responsible for accident preventive procedures of their responsibility. This consideration is regularly ignored by those who take advantage of some person’s being a link in a chain of events ending in catastrophe to charge that person with major responsibility for the catastrophe. Mack has a choice, but no fair responsibility.

In Vignette, the Third The automotive engineers worry, as they should, that in order to make their autonomous cars salable, they may end up being held responsible, to some extent, for the damage that results. Just consider the scandal with Volkswagen where their vehicles were programmed to create false pollution reports to enhance salability. There are many other examples of vehicle recall and successful lawsuit that come easily to mind. The engineers are, by role AND function, responsible actors in that they contribute to the production of the outcomes, although not so much as their organizational leadership who may determine what the engineers are permitted to do..

NOTE WELL: It is at this point that the vagueness of the term, “unavoidable,” comes into play. In the debate on autonomous vehicles the invoking of "unavoidable accidents" functions to buffer those in leadership positions from the moral hazards they run as they give considerations other than product safety higher priority. “Unavoidability” provides a shield for morally questionable leadership. (See Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making?)

Avoidability. To call something “unavoidable” is not to make a simple empirical judgment. Just consider: if an event is called “unavoidable,” what observations, by themselves -- even with trustworthy instruments -- could support that judgment? It’s a slightly different matter if we modify “unavoidable” with adverbs such as “practically,” or “economically.” These allow us to consider narrower options on which we may find an easier consensus as to what is desirable or not. But there is likely still some necessity for theoretical argument.

Basically, to call something “unavoidable” is to make either of two negative possibility claims:
1. It cannot be intervened in so that its potential effects are nullified; or
2. It cannot be prevented so that its potential effects are nullified.
At this stage of our knowledge (2015) -- examples of practically non-intervenable events would be -- once initiated -- an atomic bomb explosion, the short-range discharge of a bullet, or the ingestion of cyanide. However, they all could be and are preventable prior to their initiation.

It would seem that, logically, any intervenable event is preventable. But there are some things we cannot logically prevent prior to their initiation, because the character which prompts us seeing them as needing prevention does not manifest itself prior to the event, e.g. mayhem, having developed from mere rough-housing. Or disregard for traffic signals. Or possible future adult criminality in children. Attempts at pre-emptive treatment for such examples risk violations of legal and other rights.

Solutions? There is yet another rub: many interventions or preventative actions may be seen as too monetarily costly for individuals, or even large communities; for example, such actions as providing closely monitored special limited access roadways for confining the use of self-driving cars.

In the end, self-driving cars may be treated as many would like to do in the U.S. with firearms: requiring vetted ownership licenses and heavy usage restrictions. This is much more likely since human-driven cars kill more people every year than do firearms. (See Gun Fun or Safe Kids? Must We Make Tradeoffs?)

Unlike with firearms there is, at this time in the U.S. no widespread, traditional use of autonomous vehicles (AV’s) to damp the enthusiasm for imposing restrictions. Nor is there any Constitutional basis for arguing every citizen’s right to own AV’s. But what counters the enthusiasm for highly restricted use of self-driving cars -- e.g. consumer mistrust in their programming and intentions by designers to block owner attempts to intervene at will -- will also counter market enthusiasm to invest in their manufacture.

I will close the present considerations with a more sanguine opinion:
The wide adoption of self-driving, Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) promises to dramatically reduce the number of traffic accidents. Some accidents, though, will be inevitable, because some situations will require AVs to choose the lesser of two evils. For example, running over a pedestrian on the road or a passer-by on the side; or choosing whether to run over a group of pedestrians or to sacrifice the passenger by driving into a wall -- Bonnefon, J et al. (2015) Cornell University Library. Autonomous Vehicles Need Experimental Ethics: Are We Ready for Utilitarian Cars? arXiv:1510.03346 [cs.CY]
Afterthoughts. The moral hazards risked by the leadership on issues pertaining to self-driving cars may well become the physical hazards of those affected by that leadership’s decisions. And with it, American worship of the automobile may come to acknowledge the blood sacrifice it has long been paying. Greater evils may be avoided at the cost of creating lesser ones. But it may not be a matter of the length of casualty lists.

To pursue these issues, see Leadership vs. Morality: An Unavoidable Conflict?

Cordially, -- EGR

Autonomous Car Collides with Bus: an illusion of abstractions?

The secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you've got it made. -- Groucho Marx
re-edited 3/12/16

An Illusion is not Necessarily a Perceptual Error. It is usually just a rather run-of-the-mill experience. We encounter illusions frequently. To our personal benefit, our own bodies often produce illusions, e.g. 3D vision or directional hearing, or even the pains we experience from surprising external or internal systemic pressures, or, even, upon hearing bad news. The pain in our bare foot is not the tack we just stepped on; nor, the pleasure we feel, the chocolate we just ate.

We humans rely on illusions. We use them for better or worse to lead our lives. Seafarers have long guided themselves across oceans using star constellations. But we know now that there’s no Big Dipper, or Belt of Orion, to be found “out there.” Constellations of stars are illusions due to slow cosmic change and to our position as viewers. Human racial differences, too, have been a commonly encountered practically exploitable illusion due to slow change and social position. (See Philosophy & Racial Discourse.)
Wayfarers and pilots, too, may venture into or over deserts and forests, cross-referencing their positions along the way by triangulating imaginary lines-of-sight between “fixed” terrain features. (Even such “fixtures” as expected mirages of an oasis or other bodies of water can work.)

We humans are not unique in producing illusions in pursuit of the “goals” patterned in our genes. Our use of duck calls, fishing lures or pheromone hunting baits illustrates this. Animal species, too, may pursue prey or fend off predators by, feigning death, or, ferocity, or venomousness.

Illusion is not in the perception, in the appearance, but in what we take that appearance to be. We learn at a young age “Appearances can be deceiving.” We certainly hope so, when we aggressively yell to frighten off an approaching animal; or, when we go to meet someone on a first date.

How do we learn what is illusory and what not? By using as many of our senses as we can, in as many variations of position as we can manage, in order to see what happens. It is no accident that most illusionists do their presentations to audiences fixed in their seats. Or that séances are held in the dark. Or that proselytizers of every stripe discourage broad learning in their followers. Narrow perspectives blur the distinction between illusions and realities.

Not only do we vary the manner in which we confront what we suspect may be illusory, but we do it noting the context of presentation. Is it “normal”? Is the lighting different from daylight? Would art museums display their traditional exhibits under intense red light? (Try sorting blue, black and brown socks under incandescent light. Why is fluorescent light better for the task?)

Is image, tone, feel, odor, or taste sufficiently persistent? How far away (intense) does the apparition, tone, etc. seem to be? Smallness and haziness are indicators of distance. If we can estimate its height (or loudness, etc.), then, more is closer.

Strained or strange body positions on the part of the observer are likely to indicate something amiss. Cross a middle finger under a forefinger, close you eyes and touch the tip of you nose with both fingers simultaneously. You will feel two noses!

We tend to judge the reality of the perception that confronts us based on the degree of “normal” corroboration among our different sense modalities in the context of our estimation of the “normality” of the perceptual situation.

Is the image, tone, feel, odor, or taste sufficiently persistent? Can we compare it with tracings from memory, or with our hypothetical constructions about confrontations to come? Both past and future are processings left as mental traces, not the evanescent qualia that phenomenologists say present themselves to us only in the passing moment. (See Similarity: not a given; but, a composition.).

Motion pictures, or their derivatives, provide us an interesting example of illusion. They are composed of stills, or frames, the projections of which are clearly illusions, which appear less illusory when perceived quickly and sequentially. Their most important consequence is the illusion of cause and effect.

Cause & Effect. What conditions “connect” perceptual events into perceived chains of cause and effect? This feature seems to be “wired into” us; (or, as Immanuel Kant proposed much earlier, cause-effect is a essential structural component of Mind - Verstand) Cause-Effect is often an illusion we must take pains to recognize as such; e.g. Post Hoc, Propter Hoc. (See Cause = Perceptions + Assumptions )

How do we correct a suspected misconception as the reality of a perception? By probing any hunch – called in exalted educational circles, “testing our hypothesis” – to see if it holds up under questioning. Usually fatigue, boredom and feelings of risk set in long before any “personal hypothesis” is thoroughly criticized. (See Good Lies, Wise Evasions )

Reality, Knowledge? Just Presumptions? Some long while ago, at a cocktail party, in my late youth and early marriage, a chemistry professor, having had a bit too much chemical and having heard from my in-laws that I was still in my middle-twenties (!) stumbling around after a profession, confided in me: “Consider Chemistry! By the year 2000 we will be all efficiently taking various pills instead of eating, having to waste our time and effort chewing, so-called-healthy crunchies for hors d’oeuvres.

Granted, time passes, new things are discovered, the old dies away. Today’s knowledge becomes tomorrow’s superstition; today’s realities, tomorrow’s illusions. This seems inevitable in a culture which practices an empirically-based knowledge acquisition model.

An Equation-like Metaphor. But this is no argument for returning to a culture of unquestionable, alledgedly prophesy-based dogmatism. Rather, think of “reality, R,” as a limit condition, a congeries, at least, of truths, T. The disconfirmation of hypotheses, as a procedure (a function), D, which moves us away from previous illusions and toward “reality, ” as the number of disconfirmations, D, increases, likely to infinity (since we and the universe around us evolve). Knowledge (i.e. Compiled Truths, {T}, which will in the limit comprise Reality, is the residue of practical, experimentally exercised caution. See Knowledge: The Residues of Practical Caution..

A metaphorical equation: (lim K/(D → ∞)) = {T} ⊆ {R}

Read this: In the limit, our knowledge, K, as the disconfirmation of tentative hypotheses increases to infinity, approaches - via {T} - Reality (R),

a. T is the set of all truths, {T}, i.e. hypotheses that have survived disconfirmation tests;

b. {T} is reasonably expected by less-than-omniscient beings such as us, to be always less than (R).
I concede this to be a metaphor because I am not even sure it makes much sense taken literally. (See Measuring Educational Outcomes: truth, tricks and hype.) Certainly the total number of English (or other language) words (and the power sets of all their combinations and permutations) is less than the number of events discriminable by us in the universe as we know it, or even as we might come to know it in the future, given superior instrumentation and language to expand and communicate our experience.

Contingently Dysfunctional Characteristics: explaining AI failure. I do not have enough particulars to deal with the specific recent collision event. But I do have a broader concern that may apply to it. It is that there is a problem with the traditional notion of abstraction used by (only some, I hope) AI researchers.

The Platonic conception of abstraction introduced by Socrates in the Meno – the traditional use of necessary and sufficient (N&S) conditions -- common to many theoretic activities to this day, appears in full bloom in chapter two, “A Model of the Neo-Cortex,” of Ray Kurzweil’s book, How to Create a Mind.

(Compare Alfred Korzybski's "Structural Differential," shown above - from Science & Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics (1941) - that he used to explain his conception of abstraction.)

This model of abstraction, call it the N&S model, is, what I will call a “ context pro-functional” accumulator. It sets up a checkpoint for the selection of candidates in a given class of situation, call it [S1], to moving up the ladder of abstraction. It allows items to climb that meet certain functional requirements for an AI construction goal. It may even cull out an [S1]-dys-functional elements, if they are of concern.

But such dysfunctional elements may be overlooked or disregarded, as being, for example of low probability of happening, or of low enough cost in the long run to allow to pass through. See Concept as Abstraction. A hindrance in developing intelligence?

But the [S1]-appropriate abstraction may also be a sort of “sludge-accumulator,” in that it allows to pass through any items with [Sn?1]-dysfunctional characteristics so long as they are [S1]-functional. A situation [S31] may arise in which the response set available contains [S31]-dysfunctional items that are nonetheless [S1]-functional.

So it is that an autonomous car might accelerate to pass a bus that has lain quiescent for twelve seconds, [S31], but may accelerate on eight because the bus driver left his running lights off, creating in the car an "illusion" of [S1], signaling a permanent stop.

Using the common N&S concept of abstraction is very much like an admissions procedure to an organization based on education, ethnicity, profession and income that welcomes anyone who meets these four requirements but ignores, say, their legal status, e.g. felon or not, their level of indebtedness, their history of violent public behavior, and the condition of their health.

How to Avoid Such Difficulties Basically it comes down to three things:

a. investigating broad ranges of functional situations;

b. looking at not only those characteristics that are pro-functional, but considering whether there are potentially dysfunctional characteristics that may manifest themselves in not impossibly remote circumstances;

c. building in different kinds of input systems to enable corroboration among them.
Scanners alone, like visitors' eyes at a seance, will not easily help their user recognize illusions.

For examples and to pursue these issues, see Physical Objects as Non-Individuated Entities. (A universe of constructs) )

--- EGR

Thursday, May 26, 2016

SLOGANS: junkfood, dead-weight or poison?

updated 071219

The False Consensus Effect is stronger in situations with ambiguity --- Borgson & Weber (2008)

There are many examples ... of situations in which disparate groups of politicians and the constituents they represent have joined together in common cause but consensus has represented nothing more than a superficial commitment to a simple slogan.
--- Susskind & Cruikshank, Breaking the Impasse, 1987, p.63-64

It's time again for political campaigners to fill our media almost 24/7 with Buzz-Words and Sound-Bites. And would be office-holders provide slogans galore. Much of it is Shakespearean: tales full of sound and fury, signifying little, if anything.

Slogans are motivational devices. Their point is to get you and others to do or avoid things you might not otherwise -- in someone’s opinion -- do or avoid. Any discomfort or reticence you might feel is to be compensated by your knowledge that you, by accepting the slogan, are now part of a group, a member in consensus, a sharer of the faith, of the brother-and-sisterhood, of the movement, to accentuate the positive and de-emphasize the negative and don't mess with Mister In-Between.

Slogans are often factually false, e.g. “X-Mart: where America shops!” Slogans often promise more than they can deliver, e.g. “Yes, we can!” Their vagueness often makes potential enemies seem like fellow travelers, “A sound economy is our primary consideration.”

But forget about truth, promise and clarity: another point of slogans is to bypass your careful consideration, your judgment, your inquiry, your weighing of options: Don’t ask questions; just do it!

But slogans are often little more than motivational junk food. At first taste, they’re yummy, or disgusting, depending upon your point of view or commitments. But any deeper ingestion and you may come up with a strange taste that puts you off: you realize that what you thought was meant by the slogan is something others can’t go for. Slogans provide no lasting sustenance to focused action.

For people who like to get down to the nuts and bolts, the vagueness of slogans makes them practical dead weights. You try to interpret them so as to get something done, and some ideologue quibbles about what the slogan “really means” -- as if their interpretation were the only one possible.

Under these circumstances, slogans become impediments to practical implementation. Again, depending upon your point of view or commitments this may be either a disappointment or a relief. Those who champion the slogans, of whatever kind, try hard to shut down diversity of interpretation and force a narrower, possibly self-serving interpretations on everyone.

And pity the person -- if they deserve it -- who actually takes the slogans literally and later discovers that reality that is far more complex and resistant to their administrations than they imagined.

Many dare to run for office. Few are chosen. And, even fewer are adept enough to be successful.

For more references and to examine these issues further, see Analyzing Buzzwords, Slogans & Mottoes

-- EGR

Yearning for a Benign Dictatorship: a rational, yet delusional pursuit?

I believe in benevolent dictatorship provided I am the dictator. -- Richard Branson

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or Tragedy; or, perhaps, both.--- James Madison
Rational Pursuit. One traditional, widely accepted notion of rationality indicates our tendency to maximize what we cherish while minimizing what we dislike. (This is expressed more technically as "maximizing expected value," i.e. the total sum of the individual probabilities of each event times the value of same event, whether positive or negative.)

It is far from irrational, or rare, to hope to find, at long last, a benevolent dictator, i.e. someone who will maximize for us those goods we desire while saving us from the evils of working for them ourselves. A restful thought! (See Are Humans Rational? What’s At Stake?)
To sleep, perchance to dream. Aye, there's the rub... -- Hamlet.
But Whom Can You Trust? There's the critical rub. We should amend our simple characterization of rationality to allow for individual differences, rather than pretend that it automatically yields a consensus on what is desirable and what, repugnant. We are, let us say, rational as individuals, if our actions pursue what we perceive as a positive value while gainsaying what we believe to be of negative value.(See Values and Valuing)
But, will any dictator we find, and believe to be benevolent, share our personal conceptions of positive and negative values? How could we be sure of this before making a commitment of submission? As history abundantly -- but apparently vainly shows -- it will be too late afterwards, if he or she is truly a dictator. (See Bestowing Trust)

Organizational Dynamics vs. Personal Concerns But maybe we shouldn't be so sanguine, so lazy. Perhaps we have to participate in our political life and governance, instead of sitting back and sneering at what we all too easily dismiss as the "narcissism" and "avarice" of politicians.(See Thank Your Politician For Carrying the Burdens of Democracy)

It appears that what is needed is not benevolent dictatorship but cautious, yet willing support of reasonable, albeit directive, organizational leadership. But can the concerns of two, much less, millions of, individuals be maintained through time and change? Perhaps they can, to some degree, if during the institutionalization process, those concerns reach high enough priority during goal-setting activities. (See Institutionalizing Wisdom)

But irrational optimism should be stifled. Many institutions in education (see GoodSpin: the basic rules of public school hype.) as well as others in commerce, law and government tend to favor goals generating exclusively institutional and incumbent benefits, rather than those they celebrate publicly as their social “mission.”

Are Institutions Dispensible? Many people notice this discrepancy between an institution’s purported mission and the normal results of its activities. It’s great sport to pick a scapegoat for school, government and corporate misadventure: it counteracts apathy; it generates headlines; it flatters egos. Most important it generates an often irrational, therefore lazy, hope for change. (See Dreams, Luck and Too Many Cooks.)

But the outrage is often cavalierly underexamined; and, therefore, misaimed. For example, very many people if asked, want to reduce highway fatalities (or hunger, or cancer, or the number of TV commercials, etc.) to zero. But few want to have to pay to achieve such goals. (Tax the other guy! Or let “the market” -- hocus, pocus -- handle it!)

But what if any kind of technologically advanced, culturally diverse, generally peaceful society requires some degree of collectivization? If so, it also likely requires the subordination, the subjugation, even of some individual aspirations. (And risks a dictatorship hardly benevolent.) Institutions, collectives, not only preserve societies, they define individuality, and help, with cautious public involvement, to support individual freedoms and responsibilities.

For examples and to examine these issues further, see Institutionalization

--- EGR

Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making?

Definition of Moral Hazard: “...any situation in which one person makes the decision about how much risk to take, while someone else bears the cost if things go badly.” -- Krugman, Paul (2009). The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, p. 62

Buffering is any position assumed or action taken by someone in order to protect decision-makers from the consequences of their decisions.

There are a variety of colloquial expressions that identify buffers, i.e. persons who buffer, or buffering, i.e. the protective actions they take: for example, “running interference,” “flak-catchers,” “covering for,” “press secretary,” “security staff,” “administrative assistants,” “receptionists,” “vice-presidents,” “terms of office,” and, even, "transfer" or “promotion.”

Buffering is often both necessary and not morally objectionable. And most organizations have regulations and policies that mandate buffering to protect their decision-makers from being called to defend their decisions on a short-term or daily basis. Judges, policemen, teachers, doctors and lawmakers, for example, are buffered from personal attack on the assumption that they have followed the appropriate procedures in good faith in rendering decisions that affect others. (For an interesting recent court decision, see Can universities claim immunity in misconduct lawsuits?)

However, buffering may have pathological consequences as well.

A very important kind of buffering is an insurance policy, a contract with an insurer who will pay monetary compensation if harm is suffered under certain circumstances. The hazard arises if insured persons relax exercising the caution and forethought they did before they were insured.

For example, driving more recklessly because one has insurance would be an example of a long-recognized moral hazard. Krugman’s idea, mentioned in the epigraph, intensifies the moral aspect by considering that the injury suffered by the insured’s recklessness would likely affect others who were not involved in the decision to act recklessly.

Consider the expression, “fiddling while Rome burns,” i.e. not exercising one’s duties despite an existing emergency. Buffering enables this. A legislator or leader, protected by terms of office and security staff, may well act, or avoid action, to his or her own narrow interests with the consequence that evil befalls the great majority who have little or no say in the decision-making.

Here is a case of buffering through promotion: in studies of several large corporations, Robert Jackal found that it was not unusual for leaders to escape the consequences of their bad decisions by leaving behind the circumstances in which they occurred. He comments,
... one way of looking at success patterns ... is that that people who are in high positions have never been in one place long enough for their problems to catch up with them. They outrun their mistakes. (-- Robert Jackall (1988) Moral Mazes. The world of corporate managers. New York: Oxford. p.90)

Obviously, those who can’t run away are left to live with those consequences.

But buffering may not only protect a person from some threats, but make him or her multiply vulnerable to others. Consider the situations of military personnel, policemen, and public school teachers. Their positions seem so secure, immune, for example, to threats from market fluctuations and political controversy. There are laws which protect their tenure, income and pensions. But buffers often come with conditions of oversight. And the overseers themselves may be buffered, usually politically, from the consequences of their own bad decisions.

Soldiers are fed, clothed, housed and given medical care. They are also subject to avoidable injury and death caused by faulty military decision -- historical examples abound. Similarly for police personnel who can fall afoul of political interference into their normal functioning.

Public school teachers are a peculiar group. People imagine them buffered by a sinecureal tenure, school law and public esteem, an illusion which many educators themselves harbor. The reality is often different. (See, for example, What Can A Teacher Do? Two Myths of Responsibility )

In fact, public school teachers have very little control over their working conditions, the students they are given to teach, the rooms in which they teach, the materials they must use, the discipline they can enforce, the schedules they must follow, or the grades they must assign for work completed. (See Who Controls Teachers’ Work? )

One accepts buffering to defend against the importunities of one’s potential victims, usually outsiders, only to become vulnerable to the demands of those insiders who provide the buffering. Multiple sources of buffering harbor multiple sources of moral hazard.

For references and to examine these issues further, see LEADERSHIP vs. MORALITY: AN UNAVOIDABLE CONFLICT?

--- EGR