The last (or first, for now) installment of notes from Philosophy Breakfast conversations — issues and ideas, puzzles and propositions, as discussed for a few minutes before work on Friday mornings:

July 1999:

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey) book and courses seem to include many elements of classic Stoicism ... how do they relate?
  • Some jobs are tough and unrewarding: "I wouldn't want to be a good hospital administrator — if there are any!" But what is a "tough job"? What makes it so?
  • Are some key governmental institutions (e.g., the military) beginning to break down? ... people are leaving in droves ... good new folks aren't coming in, and those who come in aren't staying for a career ... is this a crisis, or will it soon become one?
  • What if a wealthy relative offered you 10 years of salary, in cash, to quit your current job — would you? What's the real point of the work you're doing right now?
  • Is there a largely-unrecognized need to be more "proactive" — to take the initiative, to develop a greater propensity to act rather than just react to circumstances?
  • Paradox, or cognitive dissonance: an "ethics" course is offered which all employees must take; an audit indicates that somebody hasn't taken it; they are asked to lie, "make up a date and say you attended then," Huh?
  • How will we look to people 200 years from now? Edward Gibbon, for instance, reveals serious racism in some passages he wrote, but perhaps he was nevertheless far ahead of his contemporaries. So should we cut him some slack, or should we criticize him? What commonplace positions which we hold today will be viewed as abhorrent in a few centuries?
  • Can we really change anything? Or is it all determined — either rigidly, or via huge forces which an individual can't possibly deflect?
  • Rewards & Recognition: must good behavior be applauded (and paid for)? Is it better to do good anonymously, in secret? (Or would one get much less total goodness if most of it went unacknowledged?)
  • Wu Wei — "not doing" — the Zen ideal of balance, centering, active inaction....

August 1999:

  • "Marcus Aurelius was an orthodox Roman pagan."
  • What's the relationship between mysticism and intelligence?
  • What can neuroscience contribute to AI [artificial intelligence]? "There's a library of algorithms that we know are good algorithms — because they work — that we need to decipher."
  • Machiavelli and lying: was Machiavelli appreciated in his time? ... how did his stature change over the centuries? ... Machiavelli advises "... sincere obsequity to those above him, sincere contempt to those below you ..." and "... wars don't go away — they are just postponed to your disadvantage..." ... (see also the recent book The Princessa — a feminist retelling of The Prince — weak and flawed in many places, but including a fascinating section on Stoicism towards the end)
  • When should children learn about terrifyingly inhumane things (e.g., the Holocaust, tortures, nuclear weapons, chemical and biological warfare, etc.)? What should be hidden from them as they grow up, and when should they be told?
  • Should schools implement "The Social Curriculum" of training children to think and act in certain ways? Should we "envy the Amish for having the courage to screen their children from horrors"?
  • Translator as "traitor" — the impossibility of perfect translation between languages ... and the impossibility of perfect mapping between any two human minds ... Douglas Hofstadter Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language ... "Poetry is what gets lost in translation" ... machine translation accuracy rates ... improvement of MT over time
  • Managing evil: A good (moral, ethical) person as a boss can recognize and reward good subordinates — but can also hire "sharks" and use them, within limits, knowing that they can't be trusted ...
  • The "defining-down of deviance" over time (and classic press criterion of [male] political scandal: "... found in bed with a live man or a dead woman ...")
  • Mercenaries and war: did the Kuwaitis effectively hire the US to throw the Iraqis out? ("... we were just mercenaries...")
  • Alexander was the first to think about the legitimacy of government ... he reappointed satraps to run countries he had conquered ... "No one was serious about war until the last century" ... Civil War era, failure to pursue enemy after winning a battle ... leisurely pace of events ...

September 1999:

  • Peter Singer as profiled in New Yorker ... animal rights ... quip: "First, we kill all the philosophers!" ...
  • Bureaucratic applications of Machiavellian rules ... new boss should live with the conquered group ... replace former leaders with one's own people ... do harsh measures all at once, but spread out good news over time ...
  • "The government never wants to solve a problem — it just wants to manage it!" ... you need to keep difficulties around, since if a problem is completely solved, you aren't needed any more
  • A brave manager said, "I always surround myself with people who are smarter than me." Such courage is rare.
  • "Secular religion" as taught commonly in public schools: juvenile environmentalism, diversity worship, political correctness ... "Thou shalt judge no one about anything" ... exception: zero tolerance for guns, alcohol, drugs ...
  • "If it seems that everything is going your way, reconsider!"
  • Stock market mania ... everyone thinks that s/he's a genius ... dangers of early success ... worst thing that can happen to a gambler is to win at the start of a session ...
  • Is it better for a leader to be feared than loved? ... Need one possess admirable qualities, or just seem to possess them?
  • Should one care more about people who are physically nearer? ... classic rabbinical rule: first responsibility is to one's family, then kin, then town ... which worked psychologically to generate huge amounts of charity
  • "Knowledge work is all preparation and no production!"
  • What's the incentive for knowledge-sharing by smart employees? "Knowledge management technology is the big buzz in business — but why should people give a company their crown jewels when the company has no loyalty to them?"
  • "A worse problem than malice: indifference, ignorance, and incompetence." — describing our current political situation, with government dominated by people who have aimed their lives at acquiring power since the age of 8 or 9.
  • Europeans view Americans as hopelessly naïve about politics; Americans view Europeans as hopelessly cynical.

Acknowledgments to JB, BD, GdM, JJ, AP, BW, JC, TA, MK, GS, DW, JMcC, et al. for encouragement, patience, good humor, and incessant curiosity about what's really important. (see QuestionsWithoutAnswers2 and QuestionsWithoutAnswers1)

Wednesday, August 02, 2000 at 21:15:57 (EDT) = 2000-08-02

TopicPhilosophy - TopicPersonalHistory - TopicSociety - TopicOrganizations - TopicStoicism

(correlates: ExempliGratia, CogDis, QuestionsWithoutAnswers2, ...)