Thursday, September 15, 2016

Low Cost Interventions for a Better World: Reform by Redefinition?

edited 062720
"To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace. "
-- Publius Cornelius Tacitus
Alternative Facts?

In the Republic of Foz a group of high-minded citizens undertook to remove the bitterness from every medicinal preparation. And with all but one potion they succeeded. But there was an elixir the curative power of which diminished with its bitterness. This elixir was the only antidote for the fatal sting of the Fozfly. Thus, there arose at first a murmuring, then public indignation at the efforts of this band of crusaders.

Fearful that their quest be frustrated, our noble champions regrouped and with the help of a government grant formed the Foz Foundation. The members of the Foz Foundation dedicated their research to demonstrating that the sting of the Fozfly, far from being an affliction, was merely an occasion that precipitated a "natural life crisis."

Now, in the Fozian language, nothing categorized as a "natural life crisis" is considered to be a disease. Nor is anything characterized with the term disease also conceived to be a natural life crisis. Since only diseases require medical treatment, the proper Fozian response to a natural life crisis is acceptance and resignation.

Thus as the influence of the Foz Foundation waxed, the need for the recalcitrantly bitter potion waned. In the final stages of enlightenment to which most of Fozian society was educated -- called Fozzy thinking -- there existed in all the land no medicinal preparation that had a bitter taste.

And death by Fozfly -- still rumored by certain barbarians to be avoidable -- came to be accepted as natural and necessary, if still a discontent of Fozian civilization.

To examine these issues further, see School Violence, Punishment, and Justice

See, also, Cheating Well

--- EGR

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Relativity of Exploitation: the overburdened “middleman.”

updated 11/27/19
It burns with a white rage against societies as a whole, from military leaders and chiefs of state to (more common in our time) comfortable civilians in easy chairs, who send rough men out to serve their interests brutally, murderously (what is war?), and then —- when circumstances change and in the exquisite safety and fastidiousness of their living rooms they suddenly find these rough men’s actions repugnant -— and disown them. — Richard Grenier (“The Uniforms that Guard Us” 1981)

A leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk. — John Boehner.

What is Exploitation? Exploitation is not bare-faced fact, an action in and of itself. (See Getting Down to Facts: can we avoid making assumptions?.) Exploitation is a matter of people's perceptions of actions and their judgments about them. These perceptions are about how the benefits and costs of an undertaking are allotted among participants. The judgments are about the fairness of those allotments.

It is important to note right off that even more fundamental value assumptions underlie identifying what to count as benefits, costs and fairness. Although often treated as a tedious diversion from planned action, overlooking who shares such value judgments is often the cause of much unproductive dispute. (See The Nature of Consensus. This preliminary aside done for now, let's get on with the sorrows of middlemen.)

We are all, sometimes, “middlemen.” If we work with people we often act as mediators, even though we tend to think of mediators as outsiders brought into a situation with the specific task of reconciling a dispute. Mediators,especially if by occupation, are usually chosen for their being disinterested or “objective,” i.e. having little personal stake in the proceedings beyond their fees and professional reputation which might bias their judgment.

But when we, working with our fellows, function as mediators, the stakes for us are higher because our mediation affects the people we are involved with. This happens, for example, when we find ourselves "caught" in the middle, obliged to deal with a situation where our actions are constrained by those who obligate us, our superiors, as well as by those we depend on for their cooperation, our subordinates. (It is not whimsy that such a position, if official, is called “middle management.”)

Some examples of such an “informal” mediation-role is often provided by policemen, nurses, teachers, military personnel, office managers and the like. But in fact, being a middleman is relative. Those who give orders may also be required by their higher-ups to follow orders. Those at the relative bottom of the totem pole may also constrain what middlemen above them can do. Subordinates to middlemen can resist by on the spot re-interpretation, mass disregard, or even sabotage of the directives they are given. Policemen, parents, teachers, and business managers, constrained themselves by laws, policies and traditions, yet dealing with subordinates, i.e. the workers, children, patients or public, know this all too well.

Abusing the Middlemen. There is a not uncommon practice where those in charge sit buffered from the “front lines,” concocting or imposing “rules of engagement” which do not take into consideration the realities of the person-to-person confrontations that middlemen, the implementers of rules, regulations, laws and policies face. (See Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making?

For example, I have talked with nursing and support staff in mental health services where aggressive patients occasionally harm other inmates and staff. They tell me of the insistence from state-level officials that they, the on-site staff, reduce the use of physical restraints disregarding any complaints about the dangers on-site staff face. Published statistical reports then tend to praise reductions in the use of physical restraints but to ignore increases in patient or staff injuries.

The Disregardful Treatment of Military And Law Enforcement Service People is another major problem. When people are under threat, they are effusively thankful for military or police intervention to protect them. Otherwise, many are very much less than sympathetic for the daily burdens such service people face.

Legislators, fulminating with modish “moral” fervor against some even minor misadventure will pass draconian laws with little consideration for the difficulties of their enforcement or for the collateral damage done to the good community relations those legislators otherwise give such vehement lip-service to.

Service personnel, upon retirement, find that legislatures are often much less ready to fund adequate long-term medical care or pensions than they were placing them in service in harm’s way.

The Emphasis of this essay, however is not on exploitation but on its relativity. Whoever acts as a “middleman” in a situation, and consequently risks exploitation, is not necessarily dependent on traditions or laws, but on contexts. For this reason I will rely on research described in Kenwyn Smith’s book,Groups in Conflict. Prisons in Disguise (1982), in which he analyzes groups as comprised by subgroups he calls Uppers, Middles, and Lowers. His model is more context-independent than something like “Directors-Administrators-Behavioral-Change-Targets” or “Leaders-Followers-Public.”(See Schneider&Ingram. ”Policy design: elements, premises and strategies",(1990).)

Here are some examples of other research fit into Smith’s tripartite scheme:
a. Professor Director - Student Experimenter - Student Experimental Subject (Milgram, 1969)
b. Professor Director — Student Enforcer — Student Prisoner (Zimbardo, 2008)
c. Professor Director — Student Experimenter — White Rat (My experience, 1963 -- EGR))
Outside Academia we can handily find:
d. Club Sponsors - Club Chairperson - Club Members
d. Party Donors — Party Platform Committee — Party Members
f. Mayor — Police Chief — Police Officer ; and important to our discussion below
g. Statutes — Administrators — Target Populations (which effect goals aimed at by Statute Makers.}
Internal Conflict Situations Get Worse as the relationships from uppers to middlemen to lowers becomes formalized, either by tradition or law. There is what seems to be some kind of “social-class” bias in many organizations. The rule-of-thumb in institutions I have observed is:
“If a doctor (or high-ranking member) is assaulted, call in the police and prepare a report. If a nurse (or lower-ranking staff) is assaulted, call in a social worker and make no report.” This seems to reflect a well-established encasement.
Smith holds that if group members do not have sufficient experience at all three levels, Uppers-Middles-Lowers (not necessarily in the same group) because of legal or traditional practices, they develop attitudinal “encasements” which bias them against other levels with often mythological beliefs in the faults of individuals not in their level. Encasement may generate avoidable, costly and counter-productive conflicts. SNAFU may well be an encasement outcome.

The following is a chart that gives a synopsis of Smith’s research

How do we avoid encasement? It is particularly difficult especially if tradition is strong and supported by law. Groups with rigid hierarchies become what Smith calls "monocratic." Monocratic organizations risk encasement. Jeffrey S. Nielsen in The Myth of Leadership (2004) suggests that organizations press to move from rank-based to function-based governance structures. That will provide members with experience of — and hopefully sympathy for — members participating at levels other than their own.

What About “Chain of Command?” To judge by the media, especially during a political season, one would think that very few people are acquainted with the notion of “chain of command.” On the one hand questions are asked why a president hasn’t raised the GNP; or why terrorists managed to elude the efforts of a homeland defense official. The regnant idea here seems to be command-effect model, like rolling a rubber ball down a playground slide. He who rolls the ball is held responsible for where it rolls to.

Links in the Command Chain are Actors, too. Despite the simplistic command-effect sound-bite model many people know that chains of command can be problematic. For example, without Congress’s help presidential efforts to get legislation passed can be stultified. Each “link” in the “chain of command” can have its own agenda. And not even brutal dictators may be able to long control opposition from within. Historical examples abound. One approach to understanding what connects the links in a chain of command is given by Schneider&Ingram. These are illustrated in the next diagram which begins with Uppers and ends in the actual outcomes effected by Lowers (presumably desired by the Uppers).

From Uppers (assumed producers of the Statute) through Middles (Administrators) to Lowers (the Target Population) exist connecting but possibly fragile threads of rules, tools (available resources) and assumptions resulting in Goals.

What Roles do the Middles Play? It is their task to negotiate to adjust the demands of the Uppers to the realities of using alloted resources and the Lowers as agents for the achievement of goals in an environment whose complexity the Uppers may well have underestimated.

Encasements tend not only to undermine the development of practically adequate, subtle understandings of the casual relations between commands and goals; but, also, overly politicize the tasks of the Middles — in accord with the Peter Principle: every one rises to his level of incompetence. — reducing their expertise to the crudest kind of amateurism and the opprobrium that it produces.

To see expansion on these issues, See LEADERSHIP AS USURPATION: the Grand Inquisitor Syndrome and Morality in Rank-Based Organizations

--- EGR

Saturday, September 10, 2016

All Definition Ultimately Rests on Stipulation, i.e. Communal Agreement.

edited 052020
Fools bite one another but wise men agree together.-- Proverb
Agree, for the Law is costly.-- Proverb
The limits of your language are the limits of your world. -- L. Wittgenstein [1]
Stipulative vs Reportive? A distinction has long been noted between what we call “truth” and what we designate as “knowledge.” And so, many venerable thinkers have speculated, we can imagine that as our knowledge expands, so will it – “in the limit” as mathematicians say – eventually comprise truth. (Given that the universe doesn’t collapse into a black hole, or explode into some multidimensional supernova or something equally distracting.)

One common distinction among definitions as been that some are stipulative, i.e. generally restricted to narrow uses in restricted circumstances. Stipulative definitions purportedly stand in contrast to “reportive or “semantic” or “real” definitions, i.e. ones that get at the truth of things. (See Types of Definition)

So it is that a confusion arises between authoritative (for some purposes) sources and “truth-tellers,” founts of veracity, as it were. Dictionaries, technical manuals, and the like, become Holy Books. Why then do they (and Holy Books, too) “suffer” revision? (See "What Does That Word Really Mean?" -- The Misleading Dictionary Ritual)

Stipulative Legal Use vs Other Usage Let’s look at the notion of stipulation as it is used in legal contexts:
An agreement between attorneys that concerns business before a court and is designed to simplify or shorten litigation and save costs. During the course of a civil lawsuit, criminal proceeding, or any other type of litigation, the opposing attorneys may come to an agreement about certain facts and issues. Such an agreement is called a stipulation. -- West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. S.v. "stipulation." (My italics to emphasize variables to be used in following paragraphs.)

Now, let’s see how we might transform such a definition of stipulation into a kind of framework for generalization distinguishing semantically necessary structural constants from variables that allow for generalization into wider contexts.

By substituting for the specific legal terms we derive
An agreement between (interested parties) that concerns (action) (in a given venue) and is designed to simplify or shorten (procedures) and save costs. During the course of (an undertaking) the (representatives of different perspectives) may come to an agreement about certain facts and issues. Such an agreement is called a stipulation.

There are six variables: interested parties, action, in a given venue, procedures, undertaking, representatives of different perspectives.

If we substitute other terms for the variables, which may designate either individuals or sets of variables, e.g. groups, professions, activity-types, etc, that themselves may be “unpacked,” we can generate broader, more inclusive, clearly stipulated definitions.

For example, substituting, in order: oncologists, use of chemotherapy, in children, patient discomfort, in hospital stays, attending physicians,
we get
An agreement between Oncologists that concerns use of chemotherapy in children and is designed to simplify or shorten patient discomfort and save costs. During the course of in hospital stays, the attending physicians may come to an agreement about certain facts and issues. Such an agreement is called a stipulation.

If we substitute: Nixon and Brezhnev, activating military forces, around the world, tensions, in times of confrontation, diplomatic services; we get

An agreement between Nixon and Brezhnev that concerns activating military force around the world and is designed to simplify or shorten tensions and save costs. During the course of in times of confrontation, the diplomatic services may come to an agreement about certain facts and issues. Such an agreement is called a stipulation.
(An important note: Just because all knowledge may rest on stipulation, does not mean that any stipulation whatsoever is knowledge. Many may be falsehoods, if not just nonsense.)

Why Does Universal Stipulativity Matter? So what if all
definition ultimately rests on stipulation?

The simplest response is quite plausible. Definitions are, so to speak, the building blocks of communally accessible knowledge. Stipulations are human decisions. They are often -- if not always -- constrained by non-epistemological considerations, the primary ones being monetary, time and opportunity costs. For example, dictionaries are finite, even such volumes as the Oxford English Dictionaries. One cannot define every word demanding that all terms in definiens be defined along with those of the definienda. People have to agree when enough is enough just to get the work published. (See The Fractalization of Social Enterprise)

We normally rely on our inculcated linguistic and cultural norms of communication and affiliation to provide often pre-conscious stipulations which limit the pursuit into infinity of ever more recondite items of possible knowledge.

To pursue these issues, see Searching for “Reality"? Stipulate A Turtle!
--- EGR


[1] This adage is often translated as "The limits of my language are the limits of my world." In any case, the semantic structure of the German verb, bedeuten, is substantially different from that of be , (is or are). This is at best the weakest of translational connotation of identity between forms of bedeuten and forms of be.

Consider this clip from the online English-German dictionary, at