Sunday, 20 March 2011

Chris Port Blog #131. On Public-Private Sector Reform Paradigms “Cui bono?” (to whose benefit?) [If not me, I’m against it”.]

© Chris Port, 2010

Like education (and the other public services) town planning is a miserable trench warfare of waste, futility, in-fighting and obsolete thinking. I don't think you can meaningfully separate politicization from rationalization though. Ultimately, everything is political (whether we like it or not). Money makes the world go round, and the pursuit of money is power. Personally I have no political affiliation because I am unable to discern any coherent philosophy to which I can give my support. Not even utilitarianism.The only real question is “Cui bono?” (to whose benefit?). That’s when the NIMBY arguments start...

However, in times of national crisis (which I think we’re in) any workable system needs to set aside internecine partisanship in favour of ‘the greater good’ (otherwise we’re all sunk: left, right and fence-sitter alike). My only caveat would be that the ‘greater good’ must be subject to rigorous philosophical criticism if it is to maintain momentum, not just pushed through by shady power brokers with Bahamian bungalows and bank accounts in the sun. Otherwise (as exemplified by the last government) we just end up with illogical cynicism and a complete lack of credibility. That’s when the wind is taken out of our sails and we drift - waxing Homerically - into either the doldrums of defeatism or the whirlpools of extremism. Through disastrously misappropriated consultancies (and Private Finance Initiatives that are lurking like icebergs under the surface of future funding commitments... think on...) we’ve created a management tick box culture of system-milking. Only there’s no milk left. People just won’t make sacrifices for something they don’t believe in. It’s human nature. “Cui bono?” If not me, I’m against it”.

The legacy of Thatcher’s children hasn’t left much snatched milk for her grandchildren, I’m afraid. The word ‘purge’ has some rather nasty historical connotations. Unfortunately though, we’re at where we’re at and that is what is needed. We need to purge the system of the bullying, incompetent and credibility-bankrupt management that is retarding our native wit and spirit by marginalizing the ‘trouble-makers’ (i.e. iceberg lookouts). A criticism often leveled at backward military planners is that ‘they plan for the last war rather than the next one’. Nowhere is this truism more evident than in our public sector at the moment. The idea of introducing another leaky raft of Stakhanovite reforms with instantaneously obsolete ‘5 year plans’ and dodgy profit-tenders to golf club cronies fills me with horror.

By all means step forward true philanthropists. God (or whatever) knows we need patrons at the moment. But a bully is not a philanthropist or a patron. They are just a bully and they only do harm. Stop blaming workers for the incompetence of management and start listening to the people who actually do the job.

To transpose Archimedes: the volume of blame displaced by ‘accountability’ systems is merely equivalent to the size of the flabby bureaucracy stepping into hot water. The only thing that it measures is its own obesity. To over-extend our analogy, we don’t throw out wastefulness. We just lose the baby with the bath water and end up with a naked fat man looking silly in an empty tub. To simplify: cut management and systems; invest your precious few resources in well-trained professionals (not cheap sweatshop box tickers); listen to constructive criticism from people who want to do a good job; focus on what you’re good at, and let well-motivated people get on with it. Anything else will be the disaster that finishes us. It was sloppy greed and poor logic that went a derivative bridge too far. One thing’s for sure: arrogant management culture won’t get us out. At the moment I’d fight any reform tooth and claw simply because the current management culture is so cynical, dishonourable and untrustworthy that it invariably has a hidden agenda of 'screw and cut the workforce'. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas. Something needs to budge. I would suggest that it is our 'paradigm', our way of looking at the world, that needs to budge first. The rest we can talk about rationally.

The country clearly needs strong, decisive leadership. What we have is a delicate coalition government lumbered with pushing through painful budget amputations which can only weaken its fragile mandate. These are ideal breeding grounds for the bacilli of fascism. Dangerous times. Let’s hope that good sense rather than ‘common sense’ prevails. The world is not working on the principle of common sense at the moment. Not ours, anyway. Of course, it’s not working on the principle of good sense either. But good sense can predict what’s coming and channel it wisely. Common sense (in my experience) has always looked back and has always been wrong...



    Sam Harris (world famous neuroscientist philosopher) is offering his critics a chance to put up or shut up. He's offered a cash prize of $20,000 (about £12,800) to anyone who can convincingly refute his central argument for a scientific morality.

    Assuming no-one can refute him, there's a consolation prize of $2,000 (about £1,280) for the most interesting response.

    See FAQs in link for further details. Closing date for entries is 9 February 2014, so you've got time to buy his book and boost his royalties.


    Hmmm… Traditionally, science has been regarded as descriptive and morality as prescriptive. But science is also predictive. So, in Sam’s moral landscape, do good* predictions = good** prescriptions?

    * Falsifiable
    ** Beneficial

    Possibly. But if they’re truly equivalent, does it work vice versa? This leads out onto some very thin ice…

    The real question is always “Cui bono” (to whose benefit?). So I suspect that Sam’s thesis could only be refuted by reference to de facto cynicism rather than de jure principle (i.e. selectivity and performativity)


    I don’t actually want to refute Sam’s thesis (fortunately for me). I just want to qualify it (modesty is my only flaw). But, in order to qualify it, I’ll have to fail to refute it in a way that grabs his interest. So, all I’m really looking for is a fascinating aesthetic conundrum at the heart of his argument…

    See also:

    Can Science Answer Moral Questions?

    First Draft PhD Proposal

    Woolwich Threads

    A Crash Course in Aesthetics

    Metamodernist Case Notes on a Think Tank Thread: Why Us and Why Now?

    Notes on Metamodernism: The Pit and the Pendulum...

    The Name of the Ghost

    Teachers Talking Rot (1 of 2)

    Teachers Talking Rot (2 of 2)

    See also: "Perhaps description is the key?"

    Marty Solves One of the Problems of the Universe

  2. WG: If morality evolved for the purpose of fostering community, can we deduce anything about what is moral/immoral without committing the naturalistic fallacy? If so, what?

    Naturalistic fallacy

    CP: Assuming evolution (and discounting intelligent design) we would be committing a teleological fallacy if we claimed that morality evolved for any purpose.

    See Teleological Argument

    It would be less erroneous if we simply claimed that community evolved as a successful survival strategy. From this we can deduce that morality evolved from a natural hierarchical pecking order into etiquette.

    See Etiquette

    The problem of the 'Naturalistic Fallacy' arises because of a manmade distinction between natural and manmade.

    This distinction seems to be an inverted form of the anthropomorphic/pathetic fallacy.

    See Pathetic Fallacy

    Man (i.e. homo sapiens) evolved IN the natural world. However, our intelligence evolved as another successful survival strategy. Eventually, this sapient differential resulted in misrecognition. We began to see ourselves as SEPARATE from the natural world.

    However, this separation is a fallacy. In (physical) reality, sentience is an emergent phenomenon. The artificial is still part of the natural world.

    From our initial premises, we can deduce that morality (i.e. evolved etiquette) can only exist in higher level consciousness. Therefore, we can deduce that morality is a complex emergent property.

    After that, we can only deduce that we are playing Wittgensteinian language games.

    See Language-game (philosophy)

    In 'The Moral Landscape', Sam Harris proposes we should discard cultural relativism and quantify these language games in terms of 'the well-being of conscious creatures'. It's a logical deduction and a valid premise.

    See 'The Moral Landscape'

    Whether his arguments are sound is still up for grabs though.


    CP: If morality is ‘the well-being of conscious creatures’, then consciousness must precede well-being.

    This is a one-way logic gate. We can talk of consciousness without well-being, but it makes no sense to talk of well-being without consciousness.

    Ergo, existence must precede essence (sans Sartrean Free Will).

    Ergo, survival must precede morality.

    But survival of what? Individuals, communities, genes, or memes?

    These qualities are entangled and interdependent. But which is most important?

    Ironically, we cannot be equitable from first principle here. Unfortunately, we do not live in a deathless paradise. Therefore, in the physical universe, we can only talk of survival and morality in terms of priorities (e.g. dilemmas or conflicts of interest).

    The scientific method can quantify well-being. But can it qualify existential priorities? If not, then a scientific morality without aesthetic qualification has no system of prioritization.

    Ergo, does ‘scientific morality’ encounter similar inconsistencies to those identified in Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems?

    Raatikainen, Panu, "Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)