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Secular values are rooted in social policies

 
Dennis Campbell
 
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Dennis Campbell
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27 March 2010 13:58
 

TO,

Do not yet grasp how your “institutions” differ from corporate research and development efforts.  Bell Labs is owned and operated by ATT is it not?  Presumably these “professional institutions” sell a product or service to some set of consumers, that income in turn funds the expenses of the institution including R and D, as well as salaries.  So how is that different from a corporation?

Dennis

 
 
Thomas Orr
 
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Thomas Orr
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27 March 2010 13:59
 

My post of the day if you will grin

Example of successful institution # 2.
United States Army Corps of Engineers

There is no better example to fight the crooks like Cheney & Co. than to call their bluff and asking them to explain how Haliburton did more for the nation than USACE did. We are talking, of course, of the time when USACE had funding and clear sense of the mission, not about the time of Katrina.

 
Dennis Campbell
 
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27 March 2010 14:31
 

TO,

Your first example as Bell Labs, funded by ATT, a corporation.  This second is an agency of the government, funded by taxes.  USACE is highly subject to political priorities, which while not “bad” in itself, does not make it an independent institution.  I am lost and getting loster.

Dennis

 
 
Thomas Orr
 
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27 March 2010 14:36
 
Dennis Campbell - 27 March 2010 12:58 PM

TO,

Do not yet grasp how your “institutions” differ from corporate research and development efforts.  Bell Labs is owned and operated by ATT is it not?  Presumably these “professional institutions” sell a product or service to some set of consumers, that income in turn funds the expenses of the institution including R and D, as well as salaries.  So how is that different from a corporation?

Dennis

Bell Labs is a shadow of what it used to be. Created personally by Graham Bell the “institution” like Bell Labs doesn’t really fit well into corporate structure. To thrive as it did it requires a high degree of independence. Rather than being “managed” it does best when it manages itself. AT&T could afford to treat Bell Labs differently than it treated their regular employees at the time when it enjoyed monopoly. When the monopoly ended the management tried to manage Bell Labs as part of their cost control effort. Eventually, with AT&T settling for competing on the commodity market (long distance calls are a commodity these days) there was no longer economical justification for supporting Bell Labs. Whatever valuable was left of Bell Labs belongs today to Lucent.

I am not saying that corporate research and development groups cannot have characteristics of the institution which I value. IBM still have a successful research lab and so do few other corporations. However, in my opinion, even if such institutions can exist within a corporation it will always be an uneasy marriage (at best). Just look at the pitiful fate of Xerox research center. They did more to take us where we are with computer technology than Microsoft, Digital, Sun and Apple combined. Yet, the Xerox management never really understood the significance of what was being invented and researched in their lab and it all ended when Xerox lost its market dominance.

If monopoly, or at least market dominance is needed to allow for existence of successful institution so be it. I have nothing against state monopoly because it benefits us all. The monopoly enjoyed by a private corporation rarely does.

To answer your question the institution to be a real institution needs to be independent, or answer to the state, not to a corporation.

 
Dennis Campbell
 
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Dennis Campbell
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27 March 2010 14:48
 

“.

...the institution to be a real institution needs to be independent, or answer to the state, not to a corporation.”

If it answers to the state, it isn’t independent of politics and/or taxes that are in turn supported by people.  If it is independent of the state and taxes, then it is dependent on some source(s) of income and must need to be dependent on those sources.

If somehow these institutions of intellectual elites existed, you’re I think(?) proposing that they’d be a more rational guide to better governance, and that implies that the “average” person recognizes and agrees with that better governance.  In this country at least, “elites” are not that widely respected by the population as a while; they’re more attracted to a Sarah Palin, for Pete’s Sake.

Dennis

 
 
Athntk8
 
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Athntk8
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27 March 2010 16:02
 

If I may try to simplify, would your institutions be something like the “Supreme Court” of a particular field?  But with a larger collection of minds rather than the limited number of elected representatives?

The truth seems to be the largest hurdle to overcome in reaching the goals stated in the first post.  The truth has become whatever the speaker wants it to be and no amount of factual evidence matters.  The truth is no longer based on facts, but on what someone wants it to be no matter how many facts can be accumulated.

Establish any institution that contradicts what someone - especially those who are faith based - wants to believe and they will rationalize it away.  Human nature will be the toughest thing to overcome.  I agree that something needs to be done and these institutions would be a great start.  As I think you have stated, how to go about it is the tricky part.

 
Thomas Orr
 
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27 March 2010 21:31
 
Dennis Campbell - 27 March 2010 01:48 PM

If it answers to the state, it isn’t independent of politics and/or taxes that are in turn supported by people.  If it is independent of the state and taxes, then it is dependent on some source(s) of income and must need to be dependent on those sources.

If somehow these institutions of intellectual elites existed, you’re I think(?) proposing that they’d be a more rational guide to better governance, and that implies that the “average” person recognizes and agrees with that better governance.  In this country at least, “elites” are not that widely respected by the population as a while; they’re more attracted to a Sarah Palin, for Pete’s Sake.
Dennis

Do I understand correctly that you are raising two issues?

In first paragraph, are you asking how institutions can be independent and able to support themselves?
In the second paragraph, do you express doubts if existence of elites are of any use if the public is not ready for a rational vote?

#1. National institutions such as US Army Corps of Engineers do indeed depend on public and politics. At this time all we can do is hope that somehow those institutions keep getting funded and sensibly managed. Similarly, we have no power and resources to take over Bell Labs and make it independent from its corporate sponsor. However, smaller scale institutions such as non-profits and coops can be independent and support themselves at the same time. I want to help in creating such institutions and help them in succeeding.

#2. Helping professional elites and institutions is good in itself whether it can be translated into election results or not. Patience.

Question #1 is interesting for the following reason. These days it is common to look at services such as health care service or education as drag on public resources. Today in almost bankrupt New Jersey everybody is scrutinizing generous benefits and salaries of police, firemen, teachers and other public employees. That’s why it is important that institutions be independent and if possible do not have to answer to public and to the state. Good salaries and benefits are nobody’s business as long as the institution supports itself. Good salaries and benefits help the nation forcing other employers to catch up and be more generous to their workforce.
So here is an interesting question. Are services of any value? The free market doesn’t seem to value them so if people like Billy Shears, with whom I had a long debate on Sam Harris forum, were right, services should disappear, the government should get out of business of providing services. I think that would be fine with libertarians and that’s how we can see the idiocy of the libertarian doctrine. If you think about it the libertarian free market is far from being endowed with “infinite wisdom”. The libertarian free market is downright stupid. It can march straight into precipice and there are no self-regulatory forces to turn it back. The libertarian free market has myopic vision and no amount of blaming “government intervention” can change that.
Of course services have value and institutions which are in business of providing services should do as well as anybody else. Therefore one can ask how to make money providing good education and without bankrupting the students and/or their parents? I think Bill Gates answered that question when he went to Washington to ask for more programmers from India. He showed us who benefits from the service of education and therefore who should foot the bill.
I think that when we help institutions to grow and prosper we can create a market capable of better regulating the value of goods we exchange in society, including education, health care and public transportation, to name just a few notoriously difficult subjects. There is no reason why institution which needs educated talents may not cooperate with another institution which provides education. Students will get affordable education, one institution gets talent it needs, the other institution gets income allowing it to stay independent.
Of course, there is much simpler solution to the stupidity of the free market dilemma. It is called the concept of common good where the nation understands that educating young generation ultimately benefits the entire nation and people stop questioning how their taxes are being used.

 
Thomas Orr
 
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27 March 2010 23:28
 
Dennis Campbell - 27 March 2010 01:31 PM

TO,

Your first example as Bell Labs, funded by ATT, a corporation.  This second is an agency of the government, funded by taxes.  USACE is highly subject to political priorities, which while not “bad” in itself, does not make it an independent institution.  I am lost and getting loster.

Dennis

I wish I could provide a perfect example of an institution. I cannot because there is none. I listed Bel Labs and USACE because by some fortunate coincidence, and in particular period of time, those entities succeeded in a spectacular way. What also is important that they succeeded because of professionalism and independence. Even if USACE was and is a subject to political priorities I think nobody was telling the engineers how to construct dams and bridges.

The problem is that professionalism and independence can always be taken away, which predictably means the end of the institution. That’s why I am looking for a better formula.

On the other hand a professional coop could serve as a good example of an institution if we are concerned only with independence and professionalism. However, the scale of the institution and quality of the professional talent is even more important to convey my message and explain what I want to accomplish by promoting such institutions. I wanted to add clarity to my message and I am sorry if I accomplished the opposite. Well, let’s try again.

 
Thomas Orr
 
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27 March 2010 23:44
 
Athntk8 - 27 March 2010 03:02 PM

If I may try to simplify, would your institutions be something like the “Supreme Court” of a particular field?  But with a larger collection of minds rather than the limited number of elected representatives?

The truth seems to be the largest hurdle to overcome in reaching the goals stated in the first post.  The truth has become whatever the speaker wants it to be and no amount of factual evidence matters.  The truth is no longer based on facts, but on what someone wants it to be no matter how many facts can be accumulated.

Establish any institution that contradicts what someone - especially those who are faith based - wants to believe and they will rationalize it away.  Human nature will be the toughest thing to overcome.  I agree that something needs to be done and these institutions would be a great start.  As I think you have stated, how to go about it is the tricky part.

No. Not a “Supreme Court”. Think about science and scientists. We respect them but we don’t hand over our decision making powers to them. And we shouldn’t. What we should be doing is to know when to ask for their expert opinion.

Interestingly, the “Supreme Court” is something that should take place inside any good institution. Think again about science. Science (hopefully) is governed by the peer review process and consensus. That’s the “Supreme Court” you were asking for.

 
PederTyve
 
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28 March 2010 00:07
 

Hello Thomas and everyone else,

I’m not sure if I really want to get involved in this discussion, but I just can’t help myself.

Reading about your visions for the American society, I hear ideological echoes from European-styled social democracy. Am I far off the mark?

I don’t quite understand what sort of organizations these “institutions” you talk about are supposed to be.. tax-funded or not? Private donations? Who are going to run them? Seems to me you are describing entities that already exist, in principle at least. Not sure what the idiomatically correct American term would be, but anything from governmental departments to private foundations comes to mind, depending on structure and funding, of course. The institutions must be under someones control, whose?   

The goals you state are all admirable and hard to reject. I just don’t think I understand your methods. To me, all your goals are questions of morality. I believe it’s futile to try to establish certain moral values by any other means than arguing their superiority to individuals. For that purpose it can be very helpful to organize “institutions”, contemporary examples of that are churches and Project Reason.

If you want professional institutions to run, for example, health care, what is preventing that in Americas current system? I mentioned above private foundations. They can be very “professional” and run for non-profit. The question is how they are to be funded. If not by tax, then by fees for provided services, or private donations. Or do you have some other idea?

If you want to set up a non-profit hospital without tax funding, “all” you have to do is to convince enough people of its importance by means of moral argumentation. Same thing if you want to spend taxes on it, if you want to abide by the rules of democracy.

When you talk about institutions increasing the influence of professionals over the political system, you seem to be talking about lobbying. I take it you don’t want the institutions to have any real power, when not being run by, or answering to, elected people.

Hopefully I don’t seem to have misunderstood, or missed, some point completely. Am a bit tired. In conclusion these ideas of yours are a bit vague to me, and so far don’t seem impossible to realize under your current system, with some good old fashioned campaigning.

 
Thomas Orr
 
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28 March 2010 00:16
 
teuchter - 27 March 2010 07:53 PM

I can think of three possible models for these institutions, but I’m not sure what you have in mind.

There are organizations such as the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, which are issue oriented and activist oriented, and bring a special expertise to bear on issues arising in their field of interest.

There are organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, which is discipline oriented, and applies its expertise to a wide variety of issues. (They recently issued a report on forensic sciences which is a goldmine.)

Another type of “institution,” which I don’t consider a model, is what are called “poverty pimp” operations:  little organizations which set up shop supposedly to solve local problems, but ultimately which do little more than pay themselves a salary.

The third model I can imagine is a multidisciplinary problem specific organization, probably most like the medical coops you mentioned.

For example, a problem which is occupied me for the last several years is the problem of youth gangs in urban centers.  Considering that the schools in the inner-city tend to be like minimum security prisons, complete with armed guards manning metal detectors at the entrance, and that only half the high school graduates will be lucky enough to get a minimum wage job, the students aren’t motivated to worry too much about their futures.  Add to that the virtual police occupation of their home neighborhoods, with the very clear message that they are not welcome in the American society at large, and perhaps it is understandable the young men of our inner cities simply believe they have no future, because if they aren’t shipped off to prison, they will be dead.  And this in turn is a self-fulfilling prophesy.  It is quite possible, in fact common, to be beaten, stabbed or shot for literally no reason in these neighborhoods.

California’s response to this crisis was to pass the “Street Terrorism Enforcement and Protection Act,” a use of the word “terrorism” that refers to young American minority males and actually predates 9/11.  The STEP Act criminalizes any association of 3 or more people with any common name or symbol where any one of them commits certain crimes.  In practice, it criminalizes any association of three or more minority males where any one of them commits certain crimes, since it is never applied against white surfers on the coast, or white rich kids in the suburbs, or even white working class kids.  But black kids, if they live in the inner city, are automatically members of criminal street gangs because some cop will testify as an expert that, if nothing else, he lives in a neighborhood with a name, and that this name is coterminous with a gang.  Sort of like, he lives in Beverly Hills, so he is a member of the Beverly Hills Gang, except it never applies to Beverly Hills.

So here’s a real problem.  These kids aren’t learning anything in school because they see no point in learning anything.  They are selling drugs, not because it will make them rich, because it doesn’t, but because it is something to do.  And they are beating, stabbing and shooting each other with alarming frequency and for no rational reason.  If they aren’t killed, they are sent to prison for selling drugs or beating, stabbing or shooting their contemporaries, with lengthy enhancements for being in a “gang.”

Because the STEP Act pisses me off, I have taken some of these cases of children and young men being prosecuted for “gangsterism,” and had one client who the cop “gang expert” opined was in a gang because he was often seen at a particular intersection and in the company of other “known gang members.”  After I got these charges dismissed, not least because he was at the intersection because that’s where his mother lived for many years, and he lived for many years, and the people who he was hanging around with were kids he known since kindergarten, he was shot and killed at that intersection a few months later.  Nobody knows why, and it was likely for no reason at all.

So model number 3:  a multidisciplinary institution forms to improve education, to improve the economic prospects, and to improve the law enforcement atmosphere in a given community so that the young people might have a reason to learn, the school in which they can learn, and a community in which learning is possible (in which they aren’t subject to a virtual occupation army of police.)

Frankly, I have no idea how this would work.  I have thought that every freshman at these inner-city high schools should be given a copy of Franz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth,” in hopes that the 3% who actually would get around to reading it would save some of the other ones.  And, I and some other lawyers do what we can to protect the youth from the excesses of the police and the courts.  But without the prospect of jobs, or college, they cannot have any sense of purpose, or see any future in which they make a valuable contribution, and until they see that, they have no reason to try to be a contributing member of society which has already so clearly told them to go fuck themselves.

Are any of these models like what you have in mind?

The National Academy of Sciences is closest to what I have in mind. The lacking element is financial self-sufficiency.

The other examples are more of activism than professionalism. While people engaging in activism are to be admired and respected it is not the movement with the potential of bringing radical social changes we want.

Teuchter, what I would like to get from you is your opinion on the legal issues of institutions. Think about medical coop I mentioned in an earlier post. How would you advise the doctors to register their entity? How would you advise them to run the coop? What aspects of day to day operations should be decided by the Board and where is the room for individual decision making?

What I expect from the medical coop is this.
1. They provide expert service at the lowest cost possible
2. They remain faithful to their profession meaning they always try to do what’s best for their patients
3. They effectively protect high professional standard of their institution
4. Their decision making process is not influenced by office politics and power struggle

What king of internal rules and regulations should they adopt to maximize their chances of succeeding?
3.

 
Thomas Orr
 
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28 March 2010 01:43
 
PederTyve - 27 March 2010 10:07 PM

Hello Thomas and everyone else,

I’m not sure if I really want to get involved in this discussion, but I just can’t help myself.

Reading about your visions for the American society, I hear ideological echoes from European-styled social democracy. Am I far off the mark?

You are right on the mark. We will further improve the system later grin Catching up with Europe is a good first step by me.

PederTyve - 27 March 2010 10:07 PM

I don’t quite understand what sort of organizations these “institutions” you talk about are supposed to be.. tax-funded or not? Private donations? Who are going to run them? Seems to me you are describing entities that already exist, in principle at least. Not sure what the idiomatically correct American term would be, but anything from governmental departments to private foundations comes to mind, depending on structure and funding, of course. The institutions must be under someones control, whose?

You are reading me quite well. Yes, what I am describing is very close to what already exists. Nevertheless, what already exists is not enough. The entities we have are too weak to challenge the growing dominance of the corporations, which is one of my major concerns. They also suffer from well-known problems.

1. government departments. I wish we had the government we could trust. If we did there would be no need for any new form of institutions. I even say that the government departments in the US function reasonably well. I will say further that many of the government initiatives embody good and bold ideas. But here are the problems. Massive fraud and waist of taxpayers money whenever government makes deals with private enterprise. Government notoriously undermines its own institutions by stealing money from Social Security fund and from any other place it can.

2. non-profits and coops. My institutions are not distinguishable from those two. What I want is a coordinated effort to create more of them. I also want better defined purpose and better thought-over structure of those entities. When creating them I want to follow models which work, and I want to work on perfecting those models.

3. private foundations. Not really. They don’t meet my requirements of self-sustainability. However, private foundations and charities can help if they decide that what we are doing is a cause worthy of supporting.

PederTyve - 27 March 2010 10:07 PM

The goals you state are all admirable and hard to reject. I just don’t think I understand your methods. To me, all your goals are questions of morality. I believe it’s futile to try to establish certain moral values by any other means than arguing their superiority to individuals. For that purpose it can be very helpful to organize “institutions”, contemporary examples of that are churches and Project Reason.

I am certainly motivated by my sense of morality (I am not sure it is the right word) but I don’t want to make it an issue of morality. As I stated before the power base of the movement I envisioned are professionals and intellectual elite. Why? Because what I want they will support in the name of their self interest. I also think that with time we can have a growing number of sympathizers among those whom the current system failed and who can see/hope they will be better off under the new one.

PederTyve - 27 March 2010 10:07 PM

If you want professional institutions to run, for example, health care, what is preventing that in Americas current system? I mentioned above private foundations. They can be very “professional” and run for non-profit. The question is how they are to be funded. If not by tax, then by fees for provided services, or private donations. Or do you have some other idea?

That’s fine with me but it doesn’t lead to a permanent solution, which is the most important thing to me. No, I don’t want to rely on donations or external funding. This doesn’t empower the professional stuff nor does it look like a permanent solution. The medical coop can either work with insurance companies like all doctors do, or better yet, they can create their own payment system program working like insurance but with the lower overall cost. I am not sure though if such option will be possible under the new Health Care system.

PederTyve - 27 March 2010 10:07 PM

When you talk about institutions increasing the influence of professionals over the political system, you seem to be talking about lobbying. I take it you don’t want the institutions to have any real power, when not being run by, or answering to, elected people.

I guess it is easy to be misunderstood. Your interpretation of the word “influence” I used surprises me but you are not the only one who thought so.

Influence is just the culture stuff. No lobbying. Back in the old days commercial pilots were highly respected and well paid professionals. I want them and many other deserving professionals to get back the respect and good salaries. I do not worry about the elections.  But who knows. We once elected an astronaut to the Senate, we might as well elect few scientist or engineers in the future.

PederTyve - 27 March 2010 10:07 PM

Hopefully I don’t seem to have misunderstood, or missed, some point completely. Am a bit tired. In conclusion these ideas of yours are a bit vague to me, and so far don’t seem impossible to realize under your current system, with some good old fashioned campaigning.

You did remarkably well. However, I don’t have too much faith in campaigning. You might fix a thing or two but what really changes? Too many things are broken to hope to fix them all. And we need to change the culture, too.

 
Dennis Campbell
 
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Dennis Campbell
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28 March 2010 01:51
 

TO:

Catching up with Europe is a good first step by me.

Caught that before.  Exactly what part or which of the various governments in Europe should we “catch up” to? 

Dennis

 
 
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28 March 2010 13:04
 

I cannot disagree with anything TO says.

And I think it obvious that as long as human socieites progress, now to the point of multi billions of people, we must go toward a Democratic Socialist governing body. Individual liberty is a wonderful thing for good people, but a very bad thing for bad people, and just by the probabilites of mathematics alone, we have a lot of bad people.

I think of Norway. Very close to 100% literacy rate, and less than 1% crime rate. High standard of living. They must be doing something right. Of course they do other things that America does not, like strictly control immigration. They also have very high tax rates, that would be an abomindable thought here in the US. Approach practically any US citizen and tell them we should have a 70% tax rate, but in a trade off we are going to provide you a learned and safe society, and you will probably get shot at.

But, I think Norway, or something close, probably has many right answers for future human societies.

How the US gets there from here, not a clue.

But I’ll vote for TO if he runs.

smile

 
 
Thomas Orr
 
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28 March 2010 13:33
 
Dennis Campbell - 27 March 2010 11:51 PM

Caught that before.  Exactly what part or which of the various governments in Europe should we “catch up” to? 

Dennis

You ask me a difficult question. Here is my best shot at the answer.
It all (this thread in particular) started with the question why is America so religious while Europe is firmly secular.
I think that a lot can be explained by cultural differences and in particular by the fact that Europe embraced notions of common good, social stability and responsibility of government to actually do something for their citizens. As the result Europe provided a better safety net for their citizens than we did and managed to avoid excesses of income disparity. Think about the vicious persecution of drug related crimes, prison population, students not being able to repay their education loans and now people being thrown out of their houses due to the mortgage crisis. America is better than Europe in some respect but things I just described are unthinkable in Europe.
Also, their trains, subways and health care system, which seems to work better than ours are nice things to have.

[ Edited: 28 March 2010 13:35 by Thomas Orr]
 
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