ALS Topic 54 -  Routines of Creation & Destruction - The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, ALS 54
Saturday, February 15 2020 11 am to 1:30 PM (end time flexible)

Venue: The Rose - 31 East Terrace, Adelaide SA 5000 (Upstairs. Maximum 12 people. Please buy a drink or something. We are 'renting' the chairs in this small business)

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding.

Focus Questions

1. What routines are useful in your daily life, and what are destructive (e.g. of time or well-being). [My own daily life is a paradox. On the one hand I am allergic to imposed routine or ritual (e.g. by employers), but find a fixed daily routine of exercise, eating, sleep etc creates efficient spaces for doing what I value].

2. How much of a 'life cycle' plan have you been prepared to follow? Such plans were expected or imposed on earlier generations (childhood, courting, marriage, career etc). The cycle of life itself is a symphony of creation and destruction. We strive for immortality, through religious heavens, or children, or literature, or cryogenic self-preservation. Yet in the end most elderly wish for death.

3. How well do you fit the idiom 'work hard and play hard'? How does it actually translate in lifestyles you know about? For example, the classic Australian work pattern (for men anyway) has been to tolerate routine (and often boring) weekday work, then head for the pub on Friday afternoon to 'relax', or at a certain age, create havoc (which can be a routine of self-destruction).

4. How much autonomy do think an individual in an advanced society can actually have? The difference between an 'advanced society' and an 'underdeveloped society' is found in their routines. Think of the massive formal & personal coordination by millions of people which makes a modern country work compared to the mostly self-sufficient lives of peasants in a traditional village where people are only constrained by ritual and custom. Yet that massive modern coordination can be an engine of destruction, as in Nazi Germany, or of wage slavery, or of innovation.

5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of society-wide regimentation? Japanese parents send four year old kids to school alone without expecting them to come to harm. (I was such a kid in an earlier version of Australia). An extremely organized society with strongly shared values (such as Japan) can arrange routines for even very vulnerable individuals. China's command & control approach has just been able to lock down movement in huge country (too late & short term). But there is also a price to pay for lack of risk taking and a low risk environment.

6. Will AI turn you into a zombie? Much technology is becoming so complex that its routines are being turned over to so-called artificial intelligence. As we lose track of how, what and why the AI is doing our own ability to make decisions might be destroyed.

7. What can/should we actually plan for? What mindset or ideology handles change best? The more complicated industries, cities & countries become, the more likely there are to be "black swan events". A black swan event is an "unknown unknown" which suddenly emerges to undermine existing plans and routines in a big way. The extreme Australian bushfires this year are a black swan event. The Chinese corona virus is another. For a 1990s person, the sudden emergence of the Internet was a different kind of black swan event, changing everything.

8. When does "efficient" become too efficient? Many professions follow strict routines. This creates great efficiency and speed. It should minimize error. Military forces are famous for this. However, when reality doesn't fit the mould, efficiency becomes inefficiency. For example, a bulk billing doctor will have you out the door within ten minutes. He sees you as a stereotype wrapped in some standard statistics. But if you or your illness are not typical, the doctor himself becomes a health risk.

9. What is a routine you have failed to master? Why did you fail? What did the failure tell you a) about yourself; b) about the limitations of that particular routine? How would you go about achieving the same objective now?

10. Computer programming is really about devising minutely detailed routines, (reduced for the machine to combinations of 0/1 logical choices). Why aren't most humans good at thinking in these kinds of ultra-precise routines? Why does any attempt to behave like this drive the average person crazy?


Extra Reading, Comments and Links

Anonymous (13 August 2014) "Goethe’s “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”: Power Over Wisdom - The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, an ages-old fairy tale interpreted as a poem by Goethe, made famous today by Disney’s Fantasia, illustrated the dangers of power over wisdom, and the risk of human creations getting out of control". WilderUtopia website @

Venkatesh Rao (August 26, 2014) "The Creation and Destruction of Habits". Ribbonfarm website @

Emma Court (January 30, 2020) "Health-Records Company Pushed Opioids to Doctors in Secret Deal With Drugmaker". Bloomberg @  [Quote: "To doctors opening patients’ electronic records across the U.S. ... A pop-up would appear, asking about a patient’s level of pain. Then, a drop-down menu would list treatments ranging from a referral to a pain specialist to a prescription for an opioid painkiller. Click a button, and the program would create a treatment plan. From 2016 to spring 2019, the alert went off about 230 million times".] [Thor, comment: Doctors, like their patients, are creatures of habit. This creates an economy of decision making, and of time. Towards patients, these routines efficiently cut patient chit-chat, but also feedback. Hilariously, one specialist glanced at me and said "strip down to your panties and bra. I'll be with you in a minute". (Ahem, I'm not a woman). As a linguist, I was researching formulaic language at the University of Melbourne, and asked to interview him. Furious, he immediately transferred me to another doctor. The fixed routines of interaction between doctors and drug companies offer a marketing opportunity, as in this article. Ruthless drug companies + careless doctors can and have created public health risks].

Michael West (Febrary 1 – 7, 2020) "Top miners pay no tax". The Saturday Paper @" .  [Quote: "ExxonMobil Australia has paid no income tax in this country in the past five years. The company recorded earnings of $42.3 billion .... ExxonMobil Australia tops the list, for the second year running. American multinational Chevron, with a total income of $15.8 billion over five years, also paid zero tax. ... In fact, five of Australia’s top coal companies – Peabody, Yancoal, Sumitomo, CITIC and Whitehaven – racked up earnings of $54 billion between them over the past five years and paid no income tax... . Of the 40 companies that most dramatically reduced their taxable income, each by 99.5 per cent or more, 13 are involved in either coal or oil and gas. .. “Many of these multinationals are anti-businesses, they are here not to make a profit, they are set up to make a loss,” says Associate Professor Roman Lanis of the University of Technology Sydney business school. ... The aim of the multinational tax avoider is to wipe out its profit in Australia, a high-tax jurisdiction, and somehow shift that profit to a tax haven"]

>> [Thor, comment: Large multinationals are instances of extreme, complex and awesomely efficient routine generating machines. Yet, from an Australian national perspective, many of them run routines of destruction. Any politician will tell you that Australia's prosperity depends upon the country's status as a huge resource exporter. That's a lie. Australians make peanuts, or nothing, out of all this sound and fury. The political meaning is that "Australia's status" in international company board rooms and talk fests depends upon gifting national wealth for free to 'respectable', stateless buccaneers. Actual profit winds up warehoused in offshore tax havens ].

=> Bryn Williams - Almost any first year accounting student could set up the tax minimisation technique used by multinationals to avoid tax ( which in Aus is paid on profit not turnover). The parent company 'lends' to the offshore company a 'loan' at exorbitant rates which cause the income to fall below profit levels. The 'repayment ' is made to the parent which is effectively a transfer of profit. There have been discussions around the world to outlaw the process or at least tax on a turnover basis. The technique is not just utilised by miners and oil companies, Google and Amazon use similar strategies globally. Of course miners do pay royalties and minimal tax.  . ... Interesting the Deloittes study cited in the above link doesn't show turnovers !!!

=> Thor - In 1965 I was working for the Commonwealth Tariff Board (now extinct). Our inquiries into multinationals then showed the same rackets in play. The political will to squash this stuff has never been there. The only reasonable conclusion is that political corruption in Australia is endemic. But the public lets them get away with it. As an American would say, the turkeys always vote for Christmas.

Angela Chen (Apr 12, 2018) "Why trying to be too efficient will make us less efficient in the long run - Edward Tenner explains the efficiency paradox". The Verge @

Chris Buckley and Steven Lee Myers (February 2, 2020) "How Beijing kept the world in the dark as coronavirus spread". Brisbane Times @  [Thor, comment: This is a case study in how official routines of political self-preservation (suppression & distortion of inconvenient news) can lead to catastrophe as reality overwhelms the lies. This example is Chinese, but we see daily instances worldwide]

Wikipedia (2020) "Volkswagen Emissions Scandal". @  [Thor, comment: The generation of Germans after the debacle of evil efficiency which was the Nazi 3rd Reich worked hard to build a reputation of uncorruptible, humane efficiency. The effort was a well-deserved success. Then the huge Volkswagen conglomerate marketed millions of diesel cars worldwide with the claim that they were not only fuel efficient, but exceeded stringent emissions regulations. It was a lie. The vehicles were up to 20 times more polluting that regulations allowed. Laboratory tests had been rigged. This went on for years. How did they get away with it? It wasn't one bad actor. An army of individuals were involved with this Volkswagen deception. They were following institutional routines of ultimate destruction without the imagination or honesty or courage to call a halt. Something similar has just happened in the United States with that death machine, the Boeing Max airliner. Or for ongoing institutional examples, look at that sorry bunch of coward Republicans following a Trump cult in the United States Senate. Or for a much more longstanding example, the routines of training, indoctrination and practice which have bred some Catholic priests as paedophiles worldwide. ]

WritePaperForMe (2020) "Write A Paper For Me - starting at $6.99 per page - You will earn top grades with our help - You will never miss another submission deadline" WritePaperForMe @  [Thor, comment: This business based on cheating is symptom of corrupted systems, not an outlier. Educational institutions worldwide are awash with fraud and corruption. I wrote a futile PhD largely based around describing this stuff. There is no genuine desire in institutions or governments to eliminate underlying fraud and the corruption of educational objectives. That is because universities etc are, on the whole, only notionally about learning. For the managers who run them they are about marketing to generate dollars, and for the bulk of students who attend them they are about being anointed with a diploma, regardless of learning. In Australia's case, these destructive marketing routines will self-destruct within a generation for international students as Australia's reputation goes down the drain.]

Kat (2012) " [Q. Elena] What does "party hard" mean? [A. Kat] "Party" is being used as an action verb. "Party hard" means to do the things you usually do at a party (dance, eat good food, drink alcohol, etc.) and to do them to excess. If you "party hard" and then have to go to work the next day, it usually means having to work with little sleep and a hangover (from drinking too much alcohol). Ugh!" iTalki English practice Q & A @

TT Bureau (30 January 2018) "Hard work is more important than smart work" The Telegraph (India) [reader opinions]

Dana Driskill (15 January 2015) "Work Hard, Play Hard Is Real and Potentially Dangerous - A new Harvard study says that workaholics are at risk to become alcoholics" Good.Is website @

John Anderson (1943; 2009 reprint) "The Servile State - Studies in Empirical Philosophy" CIS reprint @  [Thor, comment: Anderson held the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Sydney 1927-1958. His tenure was a tumultuous era, and his views on regimentation Vs libertarianism still have a strong echo in Australian political debate] (1 May 2009 started) "Patriotism is harmful to the human race." [ is an online forum designed to debate both sides of an argument] website @

Neil Howilliam Strauss (December 1992) "The New Generation Gap - It isn’t yet at a sixties boil, but the emerging conflict between fortysomethings and twentysomethings will help to define this decade". The Atlantic @  [Thor, comment: Hmm, 2009 and a 'generation gap'. (My) baby boomer generation in this piece are resentfully accused of being into humourless social regimentation Vs the party-loving ways of 2009 20-somethings. Unmentioned here is that my 1945 baby boomer generation led the flower power, anti-war hippy revolt that overthrew the compulsory suit & tie, short-back-and-sides haicuts of the post war generation. Well, you successor generations to all of this, what has really changed?]

Kaveh Waddell (Oct 14, 2018) "Will AI make us dumb? " Axios @

Nicholas A. Christakis (April 2019) "How AI Will Rewire Us - For better and for worse, robots will alter humans’ capacity for altruism, love, and friendship". The Atlantic @  [Thor - recommended article]

Kate Neilson (22 February, 2019) "3 ways over-reliance on automation hurts humans" HRM Australian HR Institute @

Larry Robertson (10 December 2018) "A Good Plan Is Not Enough. To Succeed, You Need These 5 Things - 5 lessons from a plan gone wrong that will boost your odds of success in anything. .. It's a lesson as old as time. As the joke goes, "Want to make God laugh? Tell him you've got a plan." Inc. website @

Benny Lewis (n.d.) "The many reasons (32 so far) why we DON’T succeed in learning languages". Fluent in 3 Months website @

Arun Pradhan (June 21, 2018) "Learning Agility: Failing to Learn - Is failing to learn, in itself, a useful path to learning?" Learning Solutions @

Gordon Watts (13 February 2020) "China virus threatens to wipe out millions of businesses - Senior Communist Party official warns of the dangers to the country’s economy and the risks to ‘social stability’" Asia Times @  [Thor, comment: A modern economy is an incredibly interlocked maze of routines at many, many levels. Especially in a place as vast as China. It is also vulnerable. A single invisible virus, Conv 19, can bring it all undone. We see the same kind of havoc with computer viruses. All our human cleverness has not invented a magic shield against unknown unknowns like this.]


Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar

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Convenor : Thor May Personal website (legacy)
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Routines of Creation & Destruction - The Sorcerer's Apprentice
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