Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Demographic imbalance, civil unrest, war and public disorder

A few scatterbrained musings on demography and social stability:

China's "one child" policy (which has exemptions for about two-thirds of their populace) has had the unforeseen consequence of a gender imbalance as unwanted female children are aborted. It seems that by 2020 we may expect 30 million single Chinese men of marriageable age. The link just given also cites statistics that suggest this imbalance is generally associated with more crime, aggressive expansionism etc (BBC News estimates 24 million). Niall Ferguson worried about the implications last year.

I wondered whether homosexuality (which has an ancient history in China) might take off some of the stress; it's been legal again there since 1997. But an official Chinese statistic from 2005 is that only 2.3% of the population are gay (some 30 million people, says a Wiki entry on their LGBT) - about the same proportion as in the UK, unless you believe Stonewall's attempts to inflate the figure.

A linked issue is age imbalance: it's been theorised that a "youth bulge" is a factor in civil unrest. The Chinese attempt to control the birthrate as more of their people survive and age, may have saved us from war triggered by the need for lebensraum. But other countries (especially in the Middle East and North Africa, where a Puritan Islamic revival is in progress) are experiencing this bulge and the young singles are strongly discouraged from seeking a sexual outlet for their energies.

Would it help if they got their end away more? Is it Eros v. Thanatos? But from what I read, young criminals in the UK don't seem to me to be sublimating their sex drives into their professional activities.

Having said that, women in wealthier countries show a tendency to delay having their first child (age 29 in the UK) and in countries ravaged by war (e.g. Angola) the picture is not clear but suggests that when some sort of stability returns women may "catch up" foregone childbirth but may then become reluctant to continue bearing more children (see page 13 of this study on Angola). In the latter case, we may see a sort of temporary "baby boom" which, combined with the loss of older individuals in war, could itself create another "youth bulge".

This entry includes a graph showing a correlation between GDP per capita and number of children born per woman; outliers are Angola (already mentioned), Saudi Arabia, Israel and the USA. I wonder whether these discrepancies are influenced not just by religion but economic inequality within those nations, particularly in Saudi and America? This paper suggests that poorer people invest less in education and more in having larger families, so maybe there should be better public education for all.

I'd like to see more for young people to do in the UK. The youths where I live amuse themselves by throwing stones at light fittings outside the am-dram theatre, and setting fire to plastic litter bins. Since I came here 30 years ago, most of the shops have installed steel shutters, a sure sign that an area is going to the bow-wows. Paid work would sort a lot of this, I think. And it may seem sexist, but I think work is especially important for men - women seem more capable of occupying themselves relatively productively and peacefully. Or have I got that wrong?


Nick Drew said...

If China suffers even a minor economic hiccup, they will have all manner of problems

Heaven alone knows what can turn UK society around - something awful, one assumes

OT, I am ready to take up the Nietzsche gauntlet. You need to tell me what you'd like because the author's own Conclusion section is a pretty fair summary at rather under 400 words

- 200 words instead of the author's 378 ?

- my own view of what N meant ?

- an explanation ?

Sackerson said...


I couldn't make head nor tail of it, and thought it might be possible for someone to put it into plain English!

Look forward to your solution.

Nick Drew said...

Part 1. OK, well here are some introductory remarks

Nietzsche’s own account is pretty clear if you are in the swing of his writings, which are admittedly an acquired taste though IMHO not intrinsically any more difficult than most full-on philosophy.

As so often with N, the fundamental point is (a) grounded in heavy-duty philosophical reasoning (one might say metaphysical but N himself had idiosyncratic reasons for rejecting that term); (b) centred around tremendous psychological insight, and (c) culminates in fabulous one-liner conclusions worthy of a Shakespeare or a Goethe. The paper confines itself to a dusty corner of the reasoning, with not even the merest hint of the splendour of N’s full development of the ideas involved. Fair enough for an academic, but pretty disappointing in its narrowness nonetheless.

There is also plenty of hair-splitting and academic point-scoring, though I am unclear as to what end (other than end-in-itself, obviously).

Overall, actually I am glad of this because when I was at the University N wasn’t studied at all by serious academic philosophers of the mighty ‘English speaking’ / analytic philosophy school, for reason (I think) that his psychology and artistry, in other words his humanism, led them to suspect he was a mere existentialist, an emotional ‘continental’. If now we have a dusty, hair-splitting industry built up around N’s work in the English-speaking school, it means he is being taken seriously at last.

Other surprising omissions, to me, are any explicit invocations of the highly pertinent Locke, Darwin or Wittgenstein (though as regards the latter there is a fleeting reference to ‘private language’ which might be said to be enough).

Sackerson said...

So far, so good, you're telling me it's no "nyet" to Nietsche...

Nick Drew said...

Incidentally, Riccardi states:


I don't know what the protocol is ! nor do I have an email address for him. Anyhow, I am emboldened to 'publish' a precis ...

Nick Drew said...

Part 2: the precis (note, I am not interested in Riccardi’s hair-splitting argument against other interpretations he cites)

Nietzsche contends that “consciousness is a surface”. R states that for N it breaks down into two components: (1) that consciousness is “basically superfluous” because we can explain (most) behaviour without reference to it; and (2) that consciousness involves “a vast and thorough corruption, falsification, superficialization, and generalization”.

Following Leibniz, N holds that a great part of our mental life, and our life as an effective agent in the world, take place without them entering our consciousness; and further that animals (and pre-speech children) exhibit sophisticated unconscious cognitive capacities, including conceptualisation. Conceptualisation alone introduces the possibility of error (we may, for example, rush erroneously to judgment when classifying something we perceive); but this is trivial compared to the errors inevitable when we move to the ‘higher’ plane where we formulate propositions about our mental states consciously.

This is because, for N, consciousness is born of our need to communicate with others and to do this we trade not just in necessary generalisations and superficialisations but (again for N) falsifications also. In particular, communication necessarily includes social reference to states of mind, first those of others, and then our own, based around a communal “theory of mind” into which we must force-fit the “content of our mental attitudes” (R) – the essence of consciousness. The original and fundamental purpose of consciousness is for communication.

We are thus dealing with (a) a base-level of mental states that are independent of consciousness but have full causal powers, and are in this sense primary: and (b) a second (‘higher’) order of conscious states, superfluous for independent action but necessary for communication. It is the socially-mediated force-fitting of (some of) our ‘actual’ (primary) mental states into the communal templates for conscious propositions about mental states which entails the type of distortion and ‘falsification’ that leads N to describe consciousness as a ‘surface’. It is the templated surface we present to others in order to achieve communication.

Finally there is a further ‘falsification’ when we become accustomed to ‘communicating our mental states’. We start asserting the ‘I’ in various conventional ways which, drawing as they do on only some of our primary mental states (the ones we have made ‘conscious’ and hence communicable, and this only after a distorting process), give us a false notion of our agency: we reckon the conscious elements to be primary and efficacious whereas they are not.

Phew. 390 words.

Sackerson said...

I owe you a pint. Are you in London this month?

Nick Drew said...

Yes, for a few days. I am still on the email address via which we communicated many moons ago.

I may let fly with some 'Part 3' comments of my own a bit later.

Sackerson said...

Can't find, have emailed CU to ask him to ask you to email me! I think I might have changed email address since last time.

Nick Drew said...

is it still r*********k@freenet.co.uk ?

Sackerson said...

No wonder I couldn't find it, Freenet defunct some years ago. Same name, now @gmail.com

Nick Drew said...

Part 3 - Some other comments (of my own) on the relevant Nietzschean ideas:

1 – the whole business of calling into question the legitimacy of the ‘I’ is of course very Buddhist: I don’t know why this isn’t remarked upon in academic N-studies (although there is a load of sub-academic stuff along this line as google will readily deliver)

2 – where N takes the ideas I’ve summarized above is, characteristically, straight into the moral & aesthetic spheres (which for him are closely overlapping), and his deployment of taste and distaste is actually very instructive when it comes to understanding what he means by “vast and thorough corruption, falsification”.

We need this understanding, because whereas I think ‘generalisation’ follows easily from his account of consciousness-for-communication, and likewise ‘superficialisation’, and in the précis I offered ‘distortion’ as another term that might not seem to go further than the argument supports, we might struggle even with ‘falsification’, let alone ‘corruption’. Why should the translation from our primary mental states to communicable, templated, ‘formatted’ propositions-about-states necessarily falsify or corrupt them ? Perhaps (if, for example, we are all pretty much the same, and the socially-mediated template is quite felicitously structured) our mental states need only suffer a bit of simplification and ‘averaging-out’ in translation.

This (as so often with N) is where we need to invoke his full, stormy world-view. For the N of the Superman, the self-governing free spirit, any degree of averaging-out (and merely in order to communicate !) is an abomination. We can see this quite clearly from:

We no longer have a sufficiently high estimate of ourselves when we communicate. Our true experiences are not garrulous … Speech … was devised only for the average medium, communicable. The speaker has already vulgarised himself by speaking.” (Twilight of the Idols)

And this becomes even curter and more aphoristic:
One no longer loves one's knowledge sufficiently after one has communicated it.” (Beyond Good And Evil)

With this perspective we can argue that N didn’t necessarily see gross, mangling distortion as inevitable: dilution alone is quite enough to call down his wrath.

Sackerson said...

If I read you right, Nietsche thinks we only have self-awareness (or conscious thought?) because of other people. And because we take account of others' minds when communicating, we modify the expression of our thoughts accordingly.

I'm not sure that the first is true, though the second seems so. Whether it's then fair to say that expressing your ideas distorts them, again I'm not sure, since without the existence of others we wouldn't have the capability of conscious thought at all, according to him.

Have I got that right?

Nick Drew said...

I need to break this down into 2 chunks

Here's what N actually says (which to me is sufficiently clear that I'm not sure why all the fuss)

"...the subtlety and strength of consciousness [is] proportionate to a man's (or an animal's) capacity for communication and ... this capacity in turn [is] proportionate to the need for communication ... Where need and distress have forced men for a long time to communicate and to understand each other quickly and subtly, the ultimate result is an excess of this strength and art of communication ... I may now proceed to surmise that consciousness has developed only under the pressure of the need for communication ... Consciousness is really only a net of communication between human beings; it is only as such that it had to develop; a solitary human being who lived like a beast of prey would not have needed it ... [but] as the most endangered animal, [man] needed help and protection, he needed his peers, he had to learn to express his distress and to make himself understood; and for all of this he needed "consciousness" first of all, he needed to "know" what distressed him ... how he felt ... what he thought ... only this conscious thinking takes the form of words, which is to say signs of communication, and this fact uncovers the origin of consciousness"

(This, BTW, is 50 years before Wittgenstein)

Note that N's account is fairly nuanced: N is clear that this is a matter of degree. Even if mankind has developed to an unique position way up at the extreme end of the scale, he is allowing that animals might have some of these attributes to a very lowly degree

- this may assist in getting to your first question, which has been much puzzled over by many philosophers over the centuries

Nick Drew said...

Another point to make is that unless one is a poetic genius or mighty innovator in academic psychology, one is unlikely to come up with a new word for naming a mental state which gains any currency. Hence my use of the phrase force-fitting: we are pretty much bound to choose from the available range of existing terms when we want to express ourselves. This, I think, is consistent with your answer to your second point (?), though not quite the same as the way you put it.

I say this because I could quibble with your "we modify the expression of our thoughts ..." - what expression could we have of those thoughts apart from a 'common' expression ? so what 'modification' could occur ? ... hence, what distortion could arise at that point in the story ? so - here's N's point - what could conscious expression be, apart from in 'common terms' at all ? (Recall that N holds there are 2 layers involved: primary, unconscious thoughts; and secondary, socially-mediated conscious thoughts. You seem to be hinting at 3 layers: primary unconscious as per N; 'internal conscious', expressed 'in our own way'; and then, 'conscious-and-expressed-for-external-consumption', being 'modified' versions of the second. Is that fair ? Because if so I would just re-emphasize that N collapses the second into the third - which is of course what you say in your last sentence.

The key, then, is that (for N) distortion is not taking place in a shift or translation between internal expression and external - because (as you identify) for him there is no internal expression. It is between unexpressed, unconscious thought and expressed, conscious thought.

However, as I said in Part 3, to me it's not immediately obvious why (serious) distortion is necessarily to be expected in this process: we might hope to get away with a bit of simplification and averaging-down. N himself has stressed the need for quick and subtle socialisation of our thinking, and has strongly implied that a stern Darwinian test will be at work ! This will surely, over time, have refined the process and eliminated any really bad distortions.

But, as I pointed out, even a modest averaging-down is anathema to N, which is how I understand his vehemence on the 'falseness' of consciousness.

Sackerson said...

The same general thought can be couched in different ways - imagine explaining something first to an adult and then to a child. So there is a sort of proto-concept underlying the particular outward formulation. Do you not have that sense internally of shaping a communication before or while you utter it?

Nick Drew said...

I like that. If I think about it, one starts with a kind of stream-of-consciousness (!) which one then starts to refine down in to an appropriate explanation

(I do this all the time because I often teach technical subjects to people whose first language is not English)

I'd still be wondering if the initial stream wasn't also in words - particularly my tech subject matter, which I'd have a hard job conceiving of in any other way than something patiently rationalised, even for my own musings

of course, N would say that such musings are only the conscious ones (the left-brain ones ?) - and there is a whole heap more going on in my skull besides at the same time

Wildgoose said...

Fascinating. If you haven't already read it, you may enjoy "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" by Julian Jaynes.

Don't be put off by the title, it is just a succinct statement about the book's intention. It is truly fascinating though, and whilst it may over-labour some of its arguments you can't help feeling that there is a kernel of truth in what he is saying.

Sackerson said...

Thanks, WG.