Thor's Unwise Ideas
opinions expressed in Thor's Unwise Ideas and The Passionate Skeptic
are entirely those of the author, who has no aim to influence,
proselytize or persuade others to a point of view. He is pleased if his
writing generates reflection in readers, either for or against the
sentiment of the argument.
Note 1: Later entries to Thor's Unwise Ideas is now being duplicated on a blog of the same name at http://thorsunwiseideas.byeways.net (however it will take quite a while to copy all the entries to that site)
Note 2: Briefer in form, but closely related in tenor to the Unwise Ideas is the collection called Thor's Brief Ideas on this site, and now a separate blog accumulating the latest ones, called Thor's Short Cuts at http://thorshortcuts.byeways.net/ .
Note 3: Thor's Take on Religion can be found as an e-book (about 20,000 words) titled The Agnostic's Survival Manual . A pdf version is also online. A third copy (pdf) may be found at my Academia.edu site.
Note 4: Discussion Topics talked over at Brisbane and Adelaide meetups can be seen here
100. Some failures and disincentives in a welfare system: the Australian case
Laws may enable or hinder. Effective law makes it easy to be ‘good’.
Poor law incentivizes evasion, tends to criminalize very ordinary
people, and creates high costs of compliance both in administration and
for those trying to conform. Welfare law is especially vulnerable
to distortion. The Australian welfare system is a political compromise
between views of welfare as humane, economic commonsense, and welfare
as money down the drain to the unworthy. This compromise takes the form
of heavily policing anyone who benefits from welfare payments. The
welfare policing laws are complex and often irrational when applied to
real situations. This writer, collecting an age pension, has
reluctantly concluded that artificial legal barriers make part time
work not a viable use of his time.
99. Is globalization a failure, or can something worthwhile be rescued?
For a generation globalization has been sold as the yellow brick road
to prosperity. What exactly is globalization? Can its benefits be
cherry-picked? Where do we go from here?
98. Count your lucky stars
part does luck play in the success of individuals, enterprises and
countries? Think of examples. From politics to careers to finding the
love of your life, there has never been more advice available, yet at
the end of the game, some people seem to have been lucky and others
not. Why is this so? Can you really do much about it?
97. A Universal Basic Income: $400 per week indexed to the CPI
Pay everyone $400 per week (current Australian age pension), rich or
poor, indexed to the CPI. Governments would enable an adequate money
supply (as they do now), and so the money would go around. This creates
an economic cycle. Employers would pay a margin above the UBI to
attract workers if they wanted them (overall probably cheaper for them
than now). A truer market would then influence most working conditions,
with less of the current blackmail. The economic system would be
stabilized with an underlying guarantee of minimum consumer purchasing
power. Centrelink (Australia’s social security department, currently a
failed organization) would hardly be needed. The tax system could be
simplified with compliance costs hugely reduced. Automation taking jobs
would matter less. Health costs would fall. Free university &
technical training (like Germany) could also enhance a UBI. People
could choose to learn, grow and think. Personal life choices would be
easier, with options for employment for satisfaction, more money and/or
career interest. Problems: a) getting from here to there; b)
re-educating the public about the actual nature of money and how it is
created; c) vested interests
96. Narcissism grew like an invasive plant throughout the 20th Century. Now it is in full bloom
Firstly a lot (not all) of “modern” art and poetry and even music
stopped saying much about the societies which hosted them and became
purely self indulgent, often pompously “abstract”. This mirrored a lot
(not all) of what was happening in many areas of academic work, and a
lot (not all) of what was happening in so-called high finance. When the
digital camera democratized imagery, “selfies” (or the ultimate
self-indulgence, sexting) became the dominant form of photography. Now
Donald Trump stands on top of the American political muck heap and asks
to be anointed as the emperor of self-love.
95. When is Censorship Acceptable? Justify your argument
The struggle between censors and their opponents has always been a
never-ending war of attrition. It always will be. Violence and
extortion have been used to conceal, and also to expose. The law is,
and has been used to conceal and to expose. Publicity media of every
kind is, and has been used to conceal and to expose. The induced apathy
and inherent mental laziness of overall populations is proving the most
potent tool for those who wish to conceal. Because concealment is so
often malevolent rather than benevolent, the ultimate failure of
institutions or even states due to malevolence is in a way the cost
effective brake on malevolent concealment. Of course, by the time of
failure, many lives will have been ruined.
94. Politics and Politicians : a volatile mix?
An interesting phrase recently slipped into news analyses. It referred
to Hillary Clinton’s problems as a “retail politician”. Implicit in the
mention of retail politicians is the working reality that politicians
live at least two lives. There is the public face they must present to
gain mass acceptance, especially in democracies. Then there is the
persona they must exercise as back-room negotiators and deal makers to
actually achieve anything. Politics after all is the art of the
possible. The largest part of the public, regardless of the political
system, can never accept that the dual persona of politicians is
necessary, and there is often a quota of novice politicians who have
trouble grasping the duality themselves. More sophisticated
stakeholders will examine the behaviour of a politician in both
spheres, their attitudes to those respective roles, and how they
reconcile inherent conflicts of interest.
93. If half of all jobs disappear, what then?
This essay is about recognizing some irreconcilable trajectories, and
wondering what comes after the singularity. The first trajectory is the
automation of activities which have engaged workers in the production
of goods and services for profit. The second trajectory is separation
of the ownership of capital from investment in human resources. The
third trajectory is the separation of the ownership of capital from
commitment to particular geographical nation states. The fourth
trajectory is the dissolution of individual and community belief in the
will of the owners of capital to supply them with a secure and
sustainable future. The fifth trajectory is the dissolution of
individual and community belief in the capacity or will of political
leaders to negotiate effectively on their behalf with the owners of
capital. The sixth trajectory is the separation of the population into
an internationally mobile, fairly small technological and analytical
elite, able to manage the automated production of goods and services,
from the largest mass of individuals for whom the complexity of the
evolving civilization is simply not comprehended and is beyond their
power to direct….
92. Understanding Active Thinking
The point at which we use “thinking” as a term worth mentioning beyond
the normal background buzz of daily life is quite arbitrary. In
principle, you can “think actively” about going down the street to buy
an ice cream, and that might be closer to a normal usage of “thinking”
than solving quadratic equations. This particular essay has paid
more attention to situations which require a somewhat sophisticated
level of attention, persistence and ingenuity in a world where complex
problems are constantly arising.
91. Adelaide, Australia - sample of a media-challenged city?
There are road accident reporters, but there do not seem to be
investigative journalists and insightful commentators who interpret the
city of Adelaide to itself. What is to be done?
There are two topics fighting for space within this discussion focus:
the city of Adelaide, and journalism.Clearly Adelaide itself is likely
to be of only passing interest to readers elsewhere, unless it is taken
as a paradigm for the forces which can play out worldwide in small to
medium sized cities, of which there are now thousands. What exactly
makes a city something more than a town? As for journalism , it is a
primary vehicle through which we are assisted to be informed and begin
to understand the world around us. When a city and dynamic journalism
are added together, does some new entity emerge with a greater meaning
than the sum of the parts?
90. When does security become insecurity?
Imagine you are walking along a narrow path high in the mountains in
the early morning. There is a heavy mist, clouds in fact, so you can’t
see far, but it is quite peaceful. Suddenly the clouds clear and you
notice that you are on a ridge, no wider than the path, with 1000 metre
drop on each side. Your steps, relaxed and contented only a moment
before, are suddenly terrified. Will you overbalance? You sink to your
knees and crawl..
89. The Peculiar Interest of God(s) in Human Morality
For the ungodly, even as they dodge being stoned to death for apostasy
or atheism, it is a perpetual puzzle why any god, mere mountain spirit
or kitchen god, or a thundering master of the universe, would give a
damn what humans do. And given the misfortunes of virtuous humans, and
the prosperity of countless scoundrels, the ungodly search in vain for
actual, non-magical evidence that god, gods, spirits or leprechauns do
actually play moral favourites in any credible way with humans. For the
godly of course, this kind of evidence has never mattered.
88. Probing the Limits of Tolerance
In those dull places where no demagogue offers permission to hate the
neighbours, we might do our best not to draw lines in the sand, not to
warn off intruders with a threat. Sooner or later though some
threshold, hidden even to our conscious selves, will surely be crossed.
We lose our temper, act impulsively, do something we regret in cooler
moments, but it is already too late.
87. The Unexpected Power of Stupidity
Stupidity turns out to be complicated. Stupidity in its many guises
does more damage on a daily basis than generations of clever ideas have
ever been able to cope with. Human stupidity ranges all the way from
planetary destruction to self mutilation by vengeful individuals
cutting off their own nose to spite their face. Given the scale of
stupidity’s ravages, it is a matter of wonder that it attracts so
little systematic public research under its own name.
86. So You Love Humanity But Can't Stand People?
The explicit idea of a social contract between the collective interests
of a political body, such as a nation state, and particular citizens is
fairly new in much of the world. It is scarcely considered in those
terms by a large part of the world’s population, and treated with frank
cynicism by many of those who have seized power and act in the name of
the state. However, in spite of ongoing gross violations of both
individual and collective interests, there has been a persistent spread
of the idea of “human rights”. It is a rare leader nowadays who talks
openly about “the divine right of kings”, as an English sovereign could
a mere few centuries ago. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of
Human Rights is an explicit and now widely known expression of the
minimal acceptable relationship between individuals with their
interests and the superordinate collective claims of nation states.
85. How much attention has $529 billion of advertising bought?
Marketing, mostly in the form of advertising, channels the attention
and actions of tens of millions of people into common participation.
Where that mass participation involves spending money, then industries
with successful marketing campaigns are the ones which survive in the
marketplace, and in doing so shape the kind of society in which we
live. None of this is to say that the industries (or politicians) who
prevail in the contest of marketing actually have the best products, or
even have socially beneficial products. The opposite may be true. That
is, the marketplace is apparently quite amoral.
84. Are Men More Inventive Than Women?
It seems that the potential for women to be inventors is probably not
less than that for men, although the way their inventiveness is
directed (taking women overall) might not entirely overlap with that of
men. In societies where the roles of men and women are becoming less
divergent we might expect the markers of inventiveness between genders
to also become more similar.
83. Surfing or Drowning in an Ocean of Change?
“Change”, and especially managing change, is sharply in focus for
commercial and professional interests, and for governments, but only of
intermittent concern for individuals. For individuals, change applies
to particular things at particular times, often as a matter of dumb
luck. There is little popular interest in change as a category of
continuing experience which needs to be part of life preparation and
education, or built into the planning as we anticipate careers,
developing communities and countries themselves.
82. Fuzzy Degrees of Freedom – When is the Law a Burden?
Citizens, you and I, we live with the ever multiplying, ever more
obscure barrage of laws and regulations which emerge from the political
contest. The simple things, like not killing the bus driver, we try to
get right most of the time. Beyond the clarity what Christian types
call the Ten Commandments, for better or for worse we exercise our
judgement as wise men and women, and hope for the best.
81. Start your own business – a mental experiment
Imagine that you are starting a new business. What would it be? Why did
you choose it? Why would you choose a personal enterprise over working
for somebody else (or why wouldn’t you)? What rewards would you be
looking for? What personal costs would you be prepared to tolerate?
Would you attempt it alone, or would you look for partner(s)? What are
the ways you could fund such a startup? Would it be local, or seek a
80. Media Distraction and Social Control
Is the “white noise” of daily media distraction deliberate social
control, or just modernity out of control? Everyone has only 24 hours
in a day. In many communities worldwide the sheer struggle to survive
occupies most waking hours. In some others, any “free thinking time”,
especially for the young, is carefully manipulated by state directed
activities, propaganda and censorship. A possible third model is that
ruling elites and governments may prevent criticism by distracting the
main population with sports, entertainment and endless trivial ‘news’.
79. Does religion emerge as a product of complex systems?
Why do people take up religions, persist with them, and abandon them ?
Whatever you think of religions personally, or any particular religion,
they seem to have been around forever amongst (most) humans, and seem
unlikely to go away entirely amongst the species as a whole. Clearly
though, particular cultures in various historical phases have many
members who are attracted to religions or substitute ideologies, but
tend to drift away from them in other phases. At a different level,
women seem to be the most persistent believers by numbers, but
religious hierarchies are almost always controlled by (humourless old)
men… What is it in human psychology that generates these religious
phenomena? Since religion is universal across human groups, yet not
universal within groups, does it embody some optional extra mechanism
in the complex systems we call mind? Is it species specific? …
the questions are endless, and we can scarcely answer them here, but
following a long human tradition, I have written a small allegory to
explore some possibilities.
78. So we had a few failures. Was that the end of university?
The source of this short document is intensely personal. It is the
story of early university misadventure by one individual, myself. At
first glance it might seem of little interest to anyone but the
protagonist. I am publishing it because in fact pieces of this story
fit the lives of so many students who simply disappear from the
statistics and into oblivion. Educational administrators may make
assumptions about them, perhaps based on personal prejudice and
hearsay, while political decisions about which kinds of students to
fund tend to be founded in ideology rather than the real life stories
of actual individuals and their development.
77. The Problem of Work and the Rise of the Precariat
Work, as a life experience, has evolved greatly over historical time.
For most ordinary people, their job is not something that they enjoy
much. However, without formal work many lose focus, may become
dependent on welfare, and certainly become socially stigmatized. It
seems that increasing numbers of people will never be able to have
secure employment. They have joined a new social class now called the
precariat. What are the consequences of that? How have we reached this
point? What is a practical, long term solution to “the problem of
work” for ordinary people?
76. Fakes, liars, cheats, deceivers, animals in the forest
Fake it 'till you make it is a much advertised nostrum. Well, anyone
who is not pathologically naive and who has encountered the
corporate-speak of today's urban living knows that the fake-it meme is
already in the DNA of most institutional critters, large and small. The
only news is that this virus might also be deployed by bus drivers and
check-out girls. With this in mind, the essay takes the fake-it topic
beyond some simple self-trickery sold as positive thinking, and looks
at various extended mutations inside and outside of the law.
75. Multicultures – communities of familiar strangers
When a stranger asks “what do you do”, as he fishes for the right
stereotype to pin on my chest as a mark of admiration or secret
contempt, I am at a loss to answer. That is, I am a man of my age, a
chameleon creature accustomed to slipping amongst a kaleidoscope of
roles. This plurality of role plays does not mean that I am "values
free". I don't care if you wear a hijab or burn incense in a Buddhist
temple. I do care for a marker such as "above all, do no harm" - not
always achievable perhaps, but at least a navigation beacon. It is of
central importance to the discussion in this article that my way is not
everyone’s way. We all make sense of the world as best we can, then
have a habit of projecting our understanding as universal truths. The
article attempts is explicit about the writer's own experience, but
tries also to establish a context for other, more various ways in which
multicultures have been interpreted, especially in Australia.
74. Property and Life Choices
It is well understood by most governments today, whatever their nominal
ideology, that encouraging the private ownership of residential
property is one of the most effective ways of ensuring social
stability. A simple Australian example would be that after World War
II, very large numbers of footloose demobilized soldiers could have
been a distinct threat to the established order. It made very good
political sense to direct them as soon as possible into stable
employment, and into household ownership. Amongst the first acts of
states which give up the lunacy of total centrally planned economic
control is to move rapidly to create a residential owning middle class.
As Russia formally abandoned communism in the early 1990s it did just
that, allowing citizens to purchase their accommodation at very low
cost. After Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, China moved in exactly the same
direction, even while maintaining a façade of communist ideology. The
communist state of Vietnam has acted in exactly the same way. When you
have a home and a mortgage, you are probably reluctant to start a
revolution, and the political elites have a significant hold on your
73. The Purpose of Education - a hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy?
Any Internet search will reveal a myriad of articles and blogs on this
topic. The variety of comment is not surprising since formal education
of some kind affects every family and every individual in almost every
country. Informal education has probably effected just about everyone
since humans evolved. What the online material does show is that while
the process is universal, the objectives are diverse and often in
conflict. Indeed much of the discussion seems to be at cross purposes.
I have been a teacher, mostly to young adults, for 35 years in seven
countries with quite different cultures, so I am deeply familiar with
the currents of intention and counter-intention which touch everyone in
the enterprise of education. My own doctoral dissertation was an
analysis of 20 case studies in institutions where the publicly
expressed purposes of education were often sabotaged. Although I have
seen some of the failures, the institutional reasons for such failures
are so embedded and so internationally widespread that I can see little
direct hope for major changes. What I do see is that for technological
and cultural reasons, the relationships between public mass education
and personal self-education are changing drastically. The outcomes of
that melding are still unclear, but the process offers hope.
73. Some Uses and Misuses of Reason
When the sun rises each morning we may say the reason is that the earth
on its elliptical orbit spins so that one point faces that star. Or we
may say that the Sun God has mounted his chariot. Or we may say, after
Ptolemy and the Christian elders until a few centuries ago, that the
sun is moving around the earth. Take your pick. They have all seemed
good reasons from reasonable men in their time. Our acceptance of what
passes for reasoned argument has a great deal to do with the company we
keep. Perhaps for most people, the word of accepted authority is the
ultimate parameter on where those reasoned arguments may venture.
72. Democracy – Comment on a Proposal
The actual management of social, economic and political choices which
are of citizen interest is at the heart of the governance problem,
whether it is some kind of democratic governance or a more arbitrary
alternative. Votes offer an option of yes or no. Life is harder than
that. There is an inherent problem with binary choices in a complex
society. Most important questions are nuanced. We could take almost any
votable question and find within it a host of other questions. Most
respondents will not have the imagination to see the impinging issues
on the lead query. That is their responses will be shallow, and in any
real political campaign easily swayed by partisan argument.
71. Crime without Punishment – the journey from means to ends
In the real world of events, as opposed to philosophical statements of
“should”, decisions about ends and means always come down to who, if
anybody, is responsible for consequences. Where consequences are not
clear for actors, and especially if consequences are not personal,
almost any ends can be argued for, and almost any means might be
70. Is learning “grit” is the best way to succeed?
Grit, persistence in the face of hardship, is an admirable trait up to
a point. It is however a complex trait, and may be extremely sensitive
to the nature of particular challenges. The dropout in one scenario
might be the dogged hero in another movie. Also, above and beyond
particular situations, grit is partly sourced in inherent qualities of
personality, partly influenced by maturational environment, and deeply
affected by the core values and practices of different cultures and
subcultures. There are even intriguing hints that grit can be driven by
69. Are Diet & Exercise Really Personal Choices?
The title of this paper asserts a dilemma: “Are diet and exercise
really personal choices?” At first blush the dilemma might not be
obvious to everyone. The implicit question is the extent to which
governments or other agents should interfere in the lifestyle choices
of individual citizens. There may be a visceral response to this
question, but hopefully the following paragraphs will show that the
problem is quite nuanced.
68. How do we judge literary value and artistic value?
Art emerges from the hand of the creator, and the mind of the beholder.
Art as discussed in this article is taken very broadly. The broad
meaning can encompass not merely painting and sculpture, but
literature, music, dance, film, syntheses made possible by electronic
technology, and so on. It can be a little confusing, at least in
English, as to how all of these enterprises might be collected under a
single heading. We do have an expression in English though about any
activity which requires mysterious but sophisticated human abilities:
“It is more art than science”. The suggestion is that some human
activities depend upon a dynamic synthesis skills, experience and
judgement which is too complex to analyse, yet which yields outcomes of
high quality. “More art than science” certainly underlies our
understanding of what artistic creators have been able to achieve.
When it comes to particular judgements however, art, whatever its form,
has no single criterion of interpretation. Depending upon the time and
the place, the circumstance and the human actors involved, the status
of art (or its rejection) is resolved through a multitude of prisms.
Here are some, but not all, of contexts for considering art and
67. Are We Too Wealthy?
Large numbers of educated, reflective people worldwide have become
aware over the last generation that the globalization of extreme
material wealth in its present form cannot be sustained. In this
awareness people differ from several preceding human generations where
the prevailing belief was that economic growth (a.k.a. “progress”) was
a good thing. In previous generations the political passions focused on
how wealth was to be divided up – hence the broad labels of agrarian
landlordism, market capitalism, crony capitalism, socialism, national
socialism … and so on. Segments of present populations have decided
that most prior ideologies were variations on a global Ponzi
scheme which is approaching its moment of collapse. That collapse might
be expressed in the depletion of material resources, in ecological
failure, or in the sheer breakdown through over-complexity of systems
which failure-prone humans simply cannot manage. Whatever the
looming breakdown point in any given locale or society, the focus of
political dispute becomes “what is to be done”?
67. How Can We Treat Refugees Humanely? - An Australian Perspective
Where the Australian government is involved in immigration detention of
some kind, offshore or onshore, there is an intense need for creative
and humane solutions. It is no kind of “solution” to multiply the
psychological damage accumulated by refugees by warehousing them under
punitive conditions. These people are not criminals, and it would be
useful in Australian law to make it illegal to refer to them as
66. What will be the dominant ideologies of the 21st Century?
Ideologies are going to be with us forever. The question is how
seriously the herd takes them, and who become the high priests for
interpreting them to the unwashed masses. The 20th Century gave us some
pretty horrible examples of ideologies used as vehicles for mass
extinction while claiming to be vehicles for mass progress. There is no
particular reason to expect that the 21st Century will be more
enlightened in this regard amongst those people who always form the
bulk of ideological foot soldiers. It is true that there are more
formally educated people on the planet than ever before, and more
available tools for critical thinking, especially in the online world.
Yet it is also true that the tools for mass mobilization are more
powerful than they have ever been, while their control passes with
increasing rapidity to compromised governments, corporations and
secretive elites. This secrecy makes a considered response to genuine
threats especially difficult.
65. The Precariously Employed - that's you, today or tomorrow - A Search for a New World Order
And then we have the “precariat” – hundreds of millions of people for
whom the idea of lifetime employment has become a mirage. If they work
at all, it is part-time, or on short term contracts, or in intermittent
jobs, and so on. In polite company they often describe themselves as
"self-employed"... Now the ruling elites of the 21st Century are
terrified of the Precariat. The elites know insecure people are
dangerous, they know that precariat numbers are overwhelming. Yet the
elites, the academy, and the commentariat have no theory, no language,
no model to handle the precariat.
64. Democracy and War
There is no uniform pattern defining what a “democratic society” is.
Therefore blanket statements about the relationship between “democratic
societies” and war are incoherent... All wars, without fail and
throughout history, have been characterized by the deployment of
“weapons of mass deception”. That is, the leadership on both sides
invariably claims to have God, Fate, Luck, righteousness, history,
economic or political necessity .. and every available virtue on their
side. It is hardly ever the case that any of this is the real engine
for war, but is usually mobilizes enough public support to enable
leaders to prosecute war without immediate revolt (though that may come
63. The Freedom Enterprise and Other Yarns
Something has changed substantially, beyond the old narratives. That
something is the Internet, with uncontrolled actors disseminating
information, while elites scramble desperately to recover control of
the spin. Such information is often incomplete, biased, or
misinterpreted, but it is also not the official story (no matter how
many shills governments and companies pay as online agents
provocateurs). This new swirling mass of stories has its own dynamic
with complex interacting currents beyond anyone's simple control.
62. Economic Complexity and the Engine of Psychology
Context: The essay considers economics as a psychological phenomenon
with the characteristics of a complex dynamic system. It is an initial
and somewhat playful exploration, not a mathematical paper on systems
theory. The original context was a discussion group background paper
which evolved away from its origins. The starting proposal adopted
(for argument’s sake) was that “the most economically successful
societies have always depended upon a high level of government
collusion with commerce and industry, if not control. This argument is
a way of saying that the “invisible hand” of the market is not enough
to maintain an efficient market, at least beyond village level. There
has to be an independent umpire, or forced control (dictator, mafia …
)”. It became clear that the government-industry collusion issue was
really a surface gloss on a much more complicated reality.
61. Ethical Behaviour is Harder for the Rich
Abstract: This little essay is about (my ideas of) the behaviour of the
rich. Of course all kinds of people are rich for all kinds of reasons
(ditto for the poor). Nevertheless I will argue that rich people
demonstrate ethics in ways which are consistent with broad human
tendencies. Depending upon the social context of their wealth (e.g.
corporate versus inherited) that wealth might influence them to exhibit
particular behaviours. Yet those habits will merely be a subset of
something much more general. Ethics, at bottom, is sourced in the
evolutionary behaviour of the species.
60. The Democracy Problem
Abstract: The material here comprises discussion points and some
reference links for a diverse group of people in Brisbane, Australia,
who fancy themselves as “gentle thinkers”, and who meet from time to
time to talk things over. All kinds of things. The topic on hand, “The
Democracy Problem”, is probably of interest to thoughtful individuals
in many latitudes, so I am putting it online as a general stimulus for
some creative discussion. Any opinions expressed in this piece are
entirely my own, and may be dissected without mercy.
59. Super-Culture And The Ghost In The Machine
This little essay is a bit mischievous, and apparently politically
incorrect enough to have sparked outrage in the minds of some sensitive
souls from the polite dinner party set. Although it has no claims to
academic decency, I have preserved it online as a stimulant to fancier
research, since I think the metaphor the essay runs on captures some
The essay had its genesis in the startled observations of a fresh
expatriate teaching in foreign surrounds. In this case, it was the PNG
University of Technology, Lae, Papua New Guinea in 1987. I found my
untried liberal conscience struggling to comprehend the sheer
incompetence of people faced with institutions and technology which
didn't seem to work. Many of the locals were bright and friendly
enough, but somewhere a spark of insight was missing. Much later,
surveying Australia with the naked eyes of a returnee, it was all too
clear that the paralysis of imagination was a universal problem.
58. Déjà Vu and Wicked Stories
This story is just a grumble about living in a world of predictable
villainy and occasional charm. As pretty as snowflakes piling up on a
bleak field, I've accumulated a passable knowledge of world history and
international affairs (especially Asian). Yet snow is snow, while the
seven deadly sins don't really change their cloaks regardless of the
weather. No matter where I look and no matter at what time in history,
the same underlying stories play out. Good ideas/ideals get subverted
by the bad guys (in fact, one-time good guys are apt to be bought out
and enlisted in the Evil Empire of the age), wealth funnels to the few,
classes are entrenched, sex is exploited, trust evaporates ... If you
are young enough, you KNOW that this sorry tale was yesterday: NOW the
possibilities are different, right? Why else would we tune into the
story again each morning? The grumpy elder speaks: in truth, NOW
the possibilities are worse, but only because the number of players
(world population) is destructively larger and the tools of oppression
chillingly more efficient. The Muse sooths us: just to keep
things ticking over, "Good", whatever that is, always fights back and
the whole cycle of heroism and romance starts over
57. Anchluss or ANZAC? - A Solution for Taiwan
What would be the consequences, to follow a crazy thought experiment,
if the Peoples Republic of China were to formally renounce all claims
to sovereignty over Taiwan? Well, at first there would be a very
confused Chinese public in the PRC and a desperate need for some
inspired domestic persuasion out of Beijing. However, once that
contradiction had been finessed (they've had tougher knots to untie),
my guess is that within a short time Taiwan would become China's best
friend and ally. They have so much in common. A free Taiwan choosing
between America and China? No contest. Of course they would choose
China. Taiwan has already shown the world what its enterprise can
achieve under conditions of great handicap. Give its people back their
hope and spirit, then Taiwan would be the best little brother that
China could ever wish for. China would win immense international
respect and trust. It truly would be on the fast track in that new
Great Game, the contest for competence.
56. Choose When to Live and When to Die
The more your spirit lives in a culture, the more you get what
you pay for. After all, the culture has evolved, or perhaps been
manufactured, to satisfy people just like you. Blessed are the average
amongst us. Maybe your accepted culture has you salivating over a
delicious dinner photographed on the plastic packet of a snap frozen
supermarket meal. You will microwave the dubious mess inside the packet
and suck it up. By the time you suck it up, your mind is on TV football
or a soapy anyway. Such is one kind of happiness. If your culture is a
millenium old and tells you that meat (or whatever) is unclean, you
will smother some overcooked vegetables in curry and wash them down
with a litre of Coca Cola to prove that you are up with the times. Such
These notes have not been written for average people in any known
culture. 'Culture' is shorthand for a rough consensus on the grab-bag
of events, habits, attitudes and actions that make up daily living.
Once you start to ask questions about any of this stuff, you are
stepping outside of the consensus. You are no longer average. You are
alone in the big bad world, and there is nothing heroic about it
because probably there is no one there to clap. So these notes are
about non-average survival, specifically my own. Take what looks
useful, ignore the rest. ...
55. If a Market is Not a Market
The Invisible Hand has been having a rough time of it lately. This is
very interesting. Since the management professional class was invented
by James Burnham in 1941, this priesthood has claimed to interpret the
will of The Invisible Hand for the unwashed masses. However, like most
priesthoods, they soon began to invent a self-serving scripture. A
major tool of the invented economic scripture, as played by the sect of
Investment Managers, has been Invented Magical Markets, operating
beneath the veil of Public Markets and known only to the chosen few.
Pretty early in the game of modern capitalism, it was seen that insider
trading (or what I have called an Invented Market) was toxic to Public
Markets. Solemn rules were therefore promulgated against insider
trading. Ha ha. What a forlorn exercise. The enforcers were that very
class of the economic priesthood most likely to benefit from violation
of the rules. The history of economic booms and busts for two hundred
years now has been a tale of new ways to pull off insider trading in
hidden Invented Magical Markets.
54. Snow Flower and The Secret Fan
When Wendi Deng (邓文迪 ), from China magically fell into the pan-national
world of international business and married the media billionaire
Rupert Murdoch, (who had abandoned Australia for the same stateless
realm of five star hotels), at once we recognized that age old story of
the gold digger and the sugar daddy. Perhaps though our belief in a
simple storyline was, if not wrong, at least incomplete. Origins matter
As a teacher to young women in Zhengzhou, central China for three years
recently, I could sense the conflicting currents of duty, ambition and
the hope for love that tossed them about in relationships. The mix for
each modern girl was individual, and Deng herself is a product of those
choices. It is surely no accident then that Wendi Deng and another high
profile Chinese-American transplant, Florence Sloan, were co-producers
of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a film which deals directly, though
often through a veil of tears, with just these dilemmas.
The film is a fairly free adaptation of Lisa See’s now widely praised
novel of the same name. What follows here are some personal reactions
to the film, plus a few references to the book, which I have not read
yet (some published reviews about the book are pasted at the end of
these notes). Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a film about
relationships between women. It also highlights the conflict between
feminine friendship and how each woman deals with the men in her life.
Partly because of the Chinese historical context, the dimension of
affection between men and women gets little attention in the film,
which makes a jarring contrast with the world many of us like to think
we live in today (even if we are deluded). However, the film’s
director, Wayne Wang, has done a masterful job of bringing to life the
relationships between two pairs of women. The first pair, Snow Flower
(Korean actress, Gianna Jun) and Lily (Li Bing Bing), were both born in
1823 and tied into a lifelong feminine sworn bond called lau tong (老同),
which may have been more emotional and stronger than the man-woman
contract of marriage in 19th Century Qing China. The second pair are
two young and ambitious women in today’s Shanghai, Sophia and Nina,
equally enmeshed in a lifelong but tempestuous bond of friendship.
53. The South Pacific and Someone’s Restaurant at the End of the Universe
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is where we all hope to be on
that expansive Friday evening when the curtain comes down for the last
encore. There they are, that motley collection from history, lounging
over their drinks, singing, weeping, roaring with laughter, for what
else can you do when there are to be no tomorrows? So this, Earth
Mother, is why we put up with those damned foreigners for countless
millennia : the privilege of a seat in Luigi’s Galactic Cafe on a
spaceship escaping to oblivion.
In the meantime, a few tens of millennia back in Milky Way’s time warp,
you and I still have to scheme for tomorrow. This discussion paper is
one Australian’s unvarnished view of his neighbourhood. If it wounds a
tender spot here and there, call the writer a fool and chalk up a debt
against him for drinks at the last gasp in Luigi’s. But try to find an
idea or two in here as well, for if we stop communicating this vibrant
planet will be a dead planet long before the musicians take a bow.
52. Performance-Linked Micro-Tariffs
letter following was addressed to Prime Minister Keating, 8 July
1995. The reply to me from a minder was what you might expect:
vapid. Nevertheless the points outlined remain germane to any
Australian government. Why have I resurrected it here? Well
occasionally web page statistics show up something interesting.
Somebody has been accessing the article. Curious, I checked and was
immediately struck by the relevance of “performance-linked
micro-tariffs” toAustralia’s economy in 2011. What do you think?
51. Managers: Getting It Done, Or Your Gift For Mine? - An Echo from the Philippines
Imagine meeting a man who, without asking, gave you gifts of great
value. At first you might be pleased, though a little embarrassed since
you had nothing of obvious value to offer him in return. However, this
man had no interest in whatever humble things you might proffer anyway,
but each day insisted on giving you new gifts. Shortly you would
probably begin to resent the fellow, and wonder if you were merely a
vehicle for promoting his glory (yes, there are echoes with religion in
this business too). The sullen students that I meet have had the gift
of education shoved down their throats for most of their short lives.
They are held captive to receive this gift, and are considered ingrates
if they question it at all. The human spirit would be entirely dead if
they were not simmering with revolt...
50. Why Write A PhD?
The internal rules in universities rules which define a PhD invariably
say that it must be an original contribution to human knowledge. Ground
breaking dissertations have indeed been written from time to time. In
fact though, few PhDs amount to some grand, original contribution to
human knowledge. Many dissertations do include fresh assemblies of
data, which may or may not be useful to someone. However, the
interpretation of the data found within these documents is rarely
original, except in a trivial sense...
49. Cultural Operating Systems
To those who wish to keep their "cultural operating systems", like the
Korean or Russian or Thai or French, "pure", closed, proprietary,
without outside influence, I say you are in great danger. Maybe your
closed cultural system was elegant and refined. Maybe it has a glorious
past history. But it ultimately comes from an earlier human
civilization of small, savage tribal groups. Now we humans are many,
crowded on a small planet, and communicating with everyone instantly.
We need a different design, and that has to be an Open System.
48. Somebody Else's Problem
The Peoples Republic of China has many faces, and its inhabitants come
in every imaginable shade of character. The seven deadly sins are
richly represented, and a healthy bouquet of virtues can be found as
well. There are however some constants in public life. Whoever the PRC
belongs to, it is not Joe Wang and Molly Liu on Jiefang Lu in any of
the 700 cities or countless thousands of villages. It probably isn’t
the old men in Zhongnan Hai either, or even the Black Hands that shadow
every lucrative trade. Perhaps, in the tradition captured so well by
Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , the place is really
owned by some prissy field mice wheeling a UFO above the Yellow River
plains. In any case, it is totally predictable in every imaginable
situation that in China nobody traceable is responsible for anything,
47. The contest for Competence
If some people don't break the rules sometimes, then a normal society
will cease to function. Breaking the wrong rules for the wrong reasons
is like breaking legs though. And if everyone breaks the rules, then a
society will disintegrate. A paradox? Yes. See how this cake is baked...
46. The End of Capitalism is Announced
So the crookedest brains in Moscow, Beijing and Washington didn’t want
to make a system that worked for you or me. Has anyone managed to
do it? Well, yes, more or less, for brief moments in history.
Virtue, like vice, is a temporary affair with unpredictable outcomes....
the world art mad but thou and I. So it seems. The collective mind of
peoples as nations expressed either through the ballot box or by the
voice of the emperor (L’Etat c’est moi) seems erratic at best in most
44. Australia Blue (poem)
Centre country scene:
A thousand miles of desert,
Ten thousand miles of shimmering heat.
43. Covert and Overt Values
Cultural patterns are often phrased as value statements. Ask someone
what it means to be Chinese and they may offer you a list of virtues
(this kind of response is the same in every culture). The virtues they
state for you will be OVERT values — those actions and beliefs that are
publicly approved in the culture. In practice the real shape of the
society also includes behaviour driven by COVERT values. In fact, for
several reasons covert values are usually a far better predictor of
where a society is going than overt values...
42. Life, Content Management Systems, and the Answer to Everything
From time to time I have picked at CMS/blog machines, and wondered how
to migrate the now denigrated "static" html of my sprawling site to the
tidy content of databases. The main attraction has been the
incorporation of some way to give readers a voice, assuming there are
any readers left out there. A few years ago, they used to send a steady
stream of e-mails, but now expect something more instant and public.
The voices have fallen silent....
The dishcloth has landed. It was unfair, but the phrase kept nibbling
at my ear, one of those ear-worms like an advertising jingle. Maybe
that was the problem. I have never met the man, and the TV cut of an
election victory speech is not the best way to get someone at their
40. Managing Downward Spirals - Getting from Here to There
Hey, will you be here tomorrow? Seg back twenty years and all the news
was of a planet overrun by recklessly breeding humans. Today in the
media of rich nations, the slightly hysterical whisper is that
liberated women are on a baby strike and we’ll all be doomed to robot
care in our old age. This downward spiral of fertility is an almost
sedate affair in the grand scheme of things. Compare it to the supposed
disappearance of dinosaurs after the nuclear winter from earth's
traffic accident with a giant meteor. People though, count for more
than dinosaurs, don't they...
39. North Korea - Pick Your Godfather
My friendly neighbourhood supermarket checkout girl greeted me with a
joke about emigrating to Australia. Geopolitics is not the currency of
daily conversation in this small, sleepy city in central South Korea,
so clearly something was up....
38. The Doctor's Dilemma - Reading versus Active Experience
Long ago (1967) in a freshman literature class, in response to one of
my jabs the tutor asked sarcastically if I thought I was an educated
person. For her that meant quoting a canon of classic English
literature. Even then I thought that like the rest of us, she
was an 'uneducated person'. I was damn sure she wouldn't have a clue
how to start her car with a wet distributor. I remain irredeemably
uneducated in vast areas of human interest ...
37. Some Mysteries of Language Learning
An expert is a fool a thousand miles from home. Having successfully
failed to learn about nine languages, I’m a veteran language learning
imbecile, always a thousand miles from success, and an eternally
hopeful beginner. I’ve also had the cheek to teach my native language
to hopeful novices for over thirty years, which sometimes leads them
and others to mistake me for a wannabe guru. The sheer hypocrisy of
this dilemma should condemn me to embarrassed silence forever, yet I
persist probing the reasons and remedies for my own language learning
incompetence. After all, my exasperated search is surely shared by
millions of others. The discussion which follows is informal, but makes
serious points. It builds on an original e-mail exchange with a
correspondent in 2005.
36. Teacher, I Saw Two Foreigners Kissing!
"Yeah, I've got something to tell you; listen up please. Yesterday, I
went to Haeundae Beach. And I saw two foreigners kissing each other
right in front of me... It was a real scene ^^ . I was shocked..."
35. Why Our Schools Are Failing (... are they?)
In many ways "mass education" is a contradiction in terms ..
34. Ethnicity and Racism - Stirring the Pot
Of course, I have some sentimental interest in England, because that is
where my ancestors came from, but I would never consider England to be
my home. Ethnic "Koreans" born in Australia will have some
sentimental interest in Korea, but they are unlikely to feel that they
"belong" in Korea...
33. Euthanasia - Whose Final Choice?
When a student asks my direct opinion, I try to give an honest answer. It is not always easy. Try this one...
32 A Harvest of Souls - Talking to Those Other Fools
..the Bushites were able to marry anti-intellectualism to a faith based
movement. Faith corrupts, and absolute faith corrupts absolutely...
31. Article removed from the Internet
30. The End of War
In 1945 the atom bombs used by Americans seemed to make any future
atomic wars between states unthinkable (not that the leaders of nation
states have ever stopped thinking about just that). Now any failed
state with a chemical fertilizer factory can probably achieve the same
29. The American Beacon of Post-Industrial Failure
The Darth Vader face of America also has its analogues on every
continent. The especially horrible aspect of the American Darth Vader
though is that it forces its way into the lives of all the Earth's
other peoples, squawking with electronic self-righteousness that it is
the harbinger of freedom...
28. The Case for Favoritism
...yes, there are men and women who have obtained their jobs unfairly.
They are legion, and the burden of their incompetence has sunk
countless companies and economies. Yet amongst their number are
individuals of great ability, who lacking beauty, mediocrity or some
other qualification of 'meritorious selection' by average fools, would
never have had the chance to exercise their gifts without the unfair
intervention of some wiser sponsor..
27. How to Get The Degree You Want OR Are You A Fake?
Are you a fake? This was the engaging header on an e-mail which
recently arrived in my mailbox. Well, I admit to a fake tooth, but I
think the rest of me is as real as real can be. Truth to tell, the odds
are good that the world in general doesn't give a damn if I'm plastic,
ivory or Martian rock. Still, the writer had in mind a qualification...
26. So You Wanna' Write a Poem??
We watched as he carefully unwrapped his little bundle from a scarlet
kerchief, and spread it out on the dirt floor before our altar. It was
given with a good heart, we could see. But we sighed. That sigh of a
god who is sick to death of gifts of chicken feathers, and milk, and
honey. Should we tell him? Damn it all man, we want GOLD ......
25. Third World Minds
The Third World is a state of mind. It is not a geographical place. It
is not the plumbing in a man's house. The geographical place may be a
stage for Third World living, and the plumbing may be a symptom of
Third World limits. The "Third World" itself though, if the metaphor is
to be predictive at all, is a collection of designs for living -- that
is, cultures -- which dominate the thinking of particular, critical
masses of people.....
24. 9/11 and the Constituencies of Dissent
The United States has declared that it will ignore the sovereign rights
and interests of all other states and peoples in pursuing terrorists.
This is neither wise nor defensible......the US is waging war on a
certain category of terrorists, notably those posing a threat to
current American interests. That is a credible and normal objective for
a nation state. However there are smart and dumb ways of persuing
23. The Paradox of Scholarship: Pissing On Every Lamp Post
Scholarship is that process of becoming familiar with, ordering, and
acknowledging the thinking of earlier workers in a particular line of
inquiry. It can easily become a lifetime task. The process is obviously
valuable. Subduing the arrogance of an ignorant mind (especially one's
own) is very healthy. Scholarship not only helps to avoid past mistakes
and save the waste of "reinventing the wheel", but can also be a
stimulus for new and more sophisticated ideas about a topic. However,
the largest body of scholarship always remains inert, not only failing
to stimulate new ideas, but actually forming a bulwark against the
intrusion of fresh thinking...
22. Gender Puzzle
Gender differences are the great distractor, source of misery, spice
and occasional joy, but to make the most of more important human
things, not shared by dogs, cats and goldfish, you have to settle for
some kind of working compromise on gender relationships. One of the
nice things I've found about being fifty-six is that it is at last
occasionally possible to talk to a woman without both sides secretly
(or not so secretly) sizing up the sexual equation...
21. Dead or Alive?
At this moment I looked around the carriage, and a chill went through
my body. Of all those passengers, not a single one showed the slightest
signal that one of their number had collapsed, and might be in mortal
danger. The bodies remained lax, the eyes unfocussed, the woman on the
floor invisible to their attention. It was surreal. My disbelief gave
way to outrage, and throwing decorum to the winds, in a loud voice I
demanded in English, "SOMEBODY CALL A DOCTOR". Nobody looked at me, but
an uneasy twitch rippled through the crowd...
20. Star Wars Revisited
We kidded ourselves for a while that Star Wars had gone away. We
pretended that flower power was winning. But in our heart of hearts, in
our 3 a.m. nightmares, we knew that no toy of destruction, once
conceived of, has ever been left to rest....
19. Unseen Grammar – Suspecting The God Of Cracks Between The Floorboards
The flight of a bird is not in wings, but in the shape of the
space-time enclosed by each wing from instant to instant. In other
words, flight is a grammar of relationships. An infinite variety and
number of wings may participate in this grammar of flight
relationships, but it is the grammar alone which remains constant. ..
18. When Is It Rude To Be Rude? (Korean translation also available)
Rapid global social change, the transmigration of millions of people
within and across national boundaries, and the internationalization of
employment have all made the preservation of social harmony both more
important and more difficult. The traditional dependence upon formulaic
politeness persists, but the swift punishment which might have followed
violations of form in traditional societies is no longer sensible. In a
dynamic and ever changing world, we wish each other well, but pause
after each handshake to see if the other fellow is holding an olive
branch or a gun behind his back....
17. Student Activism: Truth & False Prophets
The personal legacy of this Vietnam consciousness raising in young
adulthood was a lifelong skepticism about power and the would-be
powerful. But there were other spin-offs too. One was the assumption
that the causes adopted by the educated youth of the age, that is, the
students, would always be in the vanguard of enlightenment. That is
certainly how students would prefer to see themselves.
Alas, accumulated experience and a wider reading of history, has made
me increasingly skeptical of the proposition that students are
typically in the vanguard of anything but their own fashion statements.
Sometimes they are on the side of the angels, but just as often they
16. Individualism or the Group?
... a typical naive set of assumptions about "group oriented" cultures
it that the participants within them are basically altruistic,
self-effacing, self-sacrificing and sociable. A society of such
individuals should exhibit the very best of human civilization working
in equitable, democratic communities. By contrast, those from
individualistic cultures should be cold, grasping, selfish, egotistical
and almost incapable of the cooperation demanded by a civil society.
Indeed, a society of individualists, by this stereotype would be a dog
eat dog affair, dedicated to conflict, riven with disloyalty and
betrayal, forever failing to build a stable and humanistic community.
Now let´s take a plane trip and look at the real world. Better, like
me, let´s work for a while in a fair sampling of both supposed
archetypes of culture. What do we find? We find that the real social
content behind those supposedly individualistic and group-oriented
labels is drastically at variance with the stereotypes...
15. Virtue Rewards Confucian Communists(?)
Ah, now this business of Rule by Virtue. Virtue's Reward is indeed an
ancient and potent principle. Machiavelli and Confucius would both
approve. The problem confronting all ambitious men and women on
grasping power is how to discourage upcoming competitors. Ruthless
opportunism which has been so successful for the winner must be
discounted somehow. Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown, and
never more so than in a community without rules. The Chinese crown
nowadays is definitely made of thorns..
14. Why Grasshoppers Don't Have a Problem
Sometimes whole populations enter a downward spiral of lethargy,
neglect and failure, so that by the minimal criteria of maintaining a
mere animal population they begin to fall by the wayside. Grasshoppers
and, say, fungal viruses, seem to have no such problem. What do humans
need that grasshoppers don't in order to remain energetic, goal
directed and productive? ...
Well how about your own pain? Could you do without it? You will fight
to the death to keep your comfort zone, yet the edge of pain defines
and heightens your sense of the real. Without it you would live in
cotton-wool land, the mere shadow of a living creature. And here is one
of the great paradoxes of life. We crave, as it were, the knowledge of
pain, but shrink from its sensation. At the point of pain our courage
fails us, we flee, or paralysed by fear, we surrender all autonomy and
submit in misery to the conqueror....
12. The Case for Political Impotence
The most successful democracies seem to be those in which the office of
president and/or prime minister carry strictly limited authority. These
are not jobs for Great Men, but for corporate managers who can make
reasonable decisions in an orderly manner, cheer the team along a bit,
and keep an eye on the main game...
11. The Conundrum of Men & Women
Out in the backblocks of unreconstructed macho males and pumpkin scone
women they never had a problem. They played the eternal seasons of
struts and giggles, infatuated romance, white weddings, bawling babies,
economic drudgery, drink and abuse, spreading waistlines, kitchen
divorce and dad's shed up the backyard. Was it so different, after all,
from some middle-eastern religious proscription on the genders? Late,
too late to play the game again, we realized our mistake. Regretted
that nature had been politically incorrect and unfair in the
apportionment of talent...
10. Teaching as a Subversive Activity
Enter the teacher. A teacher's role is to induce new knowledge into the
knowledge systems of other beings. A desperate task, universally
unwelcome to the owners of those working systems, no matter that they
willfully put themselves in harms way by enrolling for a "course" in
this or that. Until the moment of having to learn new knowledge, it
doesn't occur to them that a threat to old knowledge is being posed.
They bite, swallow a mouthful of the new stuff, and gag. It's foreign
9. Nation States and Other Extremities
The state as an instrument of power will always be hostile in its
purpose and ultimately corrupt in its methods. The nation-state, so
conceived, has serious limitations. The state as an instrument of
service has always had trouble maintaining the integrity of its service
because its agents have always succumbed to the methods of power...
8. Average Savagery
The acid bath of fear will quickly reduce our average man to average
savagery, whatever the price of his suit. It follows that every
situation, organization or government which subsists by some degree of
fear will harbour captive agents to spread its terror...
7. Principles - Do They Work?
The common experience of every adult is that the stated principles in a
culture frequently fail to match the outcomes that they claim to
promote, and indeed often seem to generate results that either
contradict or block the realization of their intent. Why?...
6. Good Man, Bad Man
The conclusion which I am drawn to then, is that, as with most natural
phenomena, the tendencies to "goodness" and "badness" follow a normal
distribution curve in the population. I sense that beneficence is
favoured in the largest number of individuals (maybe an outgrowth of
the need to nurture), but only favoured weakly. That is, most people
are easily lead astray either by misinformation, or by temptations of
money, status, sex, ambition etc. However, their attachment to "evil"
is likely to be as weak as their attachment to "good"...
5. The Art of Disproportion
So how does a writer differ from the language makers all around him,
the cacophony of chatterers? By writing a symphony. The disproportions
of our conversation are artless, for where there are patterns they are
unconscious, and where there is significance, it is selfish. The writer
is able to create patterns of disproportion which create newly defined
significance. He marshals the trivia of random occurrence into an
enterprise with purpose and direction, just as a musician marshals
noise into music...
4. Making It Easy To Be Good
The truth is that when cultural paradigms start to fall apart, a few
heroic souls will hold out against the tide, but most will bend. If we
want virtue, then there must be incentives to virtue. It must be made
advantageous and easy for your average timid soul to act
professionally, honestly and humanely in his daily life...
3. Birth of a Salesman
With telesales there is a large component of luck. That is, in any
bunch of telephone numbers there are X number of sales waiting to
happen, and if you do something wrong they won't happen. I doubt very
much if I ever persuade anyone who wasn't inclined to buy in the first
place. The X number of available sales varies quite considerably, and
unpredictably, from shift to shift...
2. The Poor Man's Fountain of Youth
Nobody argues that walking is bad for your legs, or looking bad for
your eyes. More locally, procreation is Nature's basic use for all
living things. The general pattern is, the organism breeds and then
dies. Sexual organs which remain unused, or rarely used, may well send
the biological signal that the organism as a whole has completed it's
natural cycle. Wouldn't it be ironic if one quick wank a day fooled
Nature into constant renewal, a perpetual lease in lieu of immortality.
Maybe those gents as rich as Croesus had a point, but were let down by
their wily concubines..
1. Finding Truth: The Human Mind as an Error-Checking Mechanism
...nowadays I pay the rent (barely) by working as an evening
telesalesperson, flogging a pen set at an outrageous price and
fraudulently in the name of a charity (which actually receives 6%).
This is the world of the salesman, where truth is contracted to the
immediate goal of securing a sale. I hear from the booths all around me
the insouciant lies of a sales contest. They are earnest, genuine, and
wholly promiscuous. Once won, the customer like a fallen woman, loses
...Is the sales team so different from TAFE managements in so-called
educational institutions? I think not. I have seen and heard them lying
shamelessly about "competency", and "quality", and nonexistent
specialist staff skills in order to secure contracts and tenders. "Yep,
we can do that. ISO9000 certified". They don't see themselves as lying
at the time. The presentations are also earnest, genuine and wholly
promiscuous. Once the tender is won they lose all serious interest in
meeting educational commitments...
Thor's Brief Ideas 1988 to 2016
A large number of paragraph-length reflections on life, you, and the universes we seem to be living in.
The two paths to a quiet life are to say nothing to anybody about
anything, or to say everything that comes into your head. The second
way is easily the most effective. Sooner or later the absolutely
discrete person will be blackmailed or persecuted for something they
didn't say. However, the purveyor of utter candour is regarded with
mute horror by all dignified persons, and given a wide berth. Thus,
like much else on this website, the Aphorisms have done a great deal to
guarantee Thor perfect social obscurity.
Thor's Take on Religion can be found as an e-book (about 20,000 words) titled The Agnostic's Survival Manual . A pdf version is also online. A third copy (pdf) may be found at my Academia.edu site.
1. Notes to myself from the bottom of the world
Part I : Qualities and Values
[dropping an anchor against the tide]
Part 2: The Human Circus
[looking askance at political culture]
2. Social Innovation
(and resistance to...)
[ the odd idea to kick around ]
Bizarre Extras (old)
EDINN: Respinning Intellectuals into the Social Fabric (coffee shop babble ... or sparks for a new social order?)
Psychological Time & May's Constant
A Personal Declaration of Membership in the Human Community
(would you like to sign?)
Signatories to the Personal Declaration of Membership in the Human Community
(... the pioneers)
Some Political Leftovers
South Korean Language Policy - A Letter to President Roh Moo-hyun 
Australian Parliamentary Senate Inquiry on the Status of Australian Expatriates
Exit of a Hack Teacher
Technical & Further Education in Australia: Is there a star to steer by?
This paper, first written in 1996, should be an historical document.
However, in 2012 it is a precise and current description of Technical
and Further Education inAustralia. The present state government of
Victoria, Australia, for example, is currently de-funding TAFEs and
aborting their mission, even as Australia
is “forced” to import unprecedented numbers of skilled workers from
overseas. The paper examines what is obviously a cyclical problem with
technical education in many countries – its relatively low status
leading to periodic cuts in funding, difficulty in attracting talented
career staff, and the cyclical destruction of accumulated skills
through casualisation. This document has been published by the Senate
of the Australian Parliament as part of a report on the status of
The De-Skilling of 100,000 Skilled Tradesmen