“Poverty is not measured by how much one possesses but by how big are one’s desires.”–Plato
“A well regulated State is based on the common sense of the people.”–Giambattista Vico
“No one pretends that Democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried.” –Winston Churchill
In a relativistic age which beliefs in functional relativistic truths but not in Truth itself, when consequently many sing the praises of democracy but precious few can pin down its essence, a revisiting of Plato’s skeptical attitude towards it may be in order. It may lead us to a surprising discovery, that of Giambattista Vico in the 18th century (see his New Science): that democracy has never been based on the rule of a few all-wise leaders and not even on that of well-learned people, i.e., the philosopher-kings and the all-powerful manipulating politicians, but on the “common sense” of all the people.
The statement on democracy quoted above was proffered by Churchill in the House of Commons on the 11th of November 1947 at the origins of the EU. Some have assumed that Churchill had Plato’s critique of democracy in mind when he proffered it. That assumption is based on a kind of rationalism devoid of imagination which ends up missing the irony of Churchill’s statement, not to speak of the paradoxical nature of Plato’s critique of democracy in The Republic.
Indeed, in an age of relativism, when many sing the praises of democracy as the gift of the age of Enlightenment, ignoring the fact that in reality its cradle is ancient Athens, when others (the futurists who run on cars with no rear view mirrors) say that its essence may have changed even in the last fifty years or so, and will keep on changing faster and faster, while precious few bother to explore its essence, its ambiguity and paradox, perhaps a revisiting of Plato’s critique of democracy may be worthwhile. In book VI of The Republic Plato narrates a parable as a way of answering this crucial question by Adeimantus: “How can you be justified in saying that cities will not cease from evil until philosophers rule in them, when philosophers are acknowledged by us to be of no use to them?” This is the parable by which Plato answers the question, via Socrates: “Suppose the following to the state of affairs on board a ship or ships. The captain is large and stronger than any of the crew, but a bit deaf and short sighted and similarly limited in seamanship. The crew are all quarreling with each other about how to navigate the ship, each thinking he ought to be at the helm; they have never learned the art of navigation and cannot say that anyone ever taught it them, or that they spent any time studying it; indeed they say it cannot be taught and are ready to murder any one who says it can. They spend all their time milling around the captain and doing all they can to get him to give them the helm. If one faction is more successful than another, their rivals may kill them and throw them overboard, lay out the honest captain with drugs or drinks or in some other way, take control of the ship, help themselves to what’s on board, and turn the voyage into the sort of drunken pleasure-cruise you would expect. Finally, they reserve their admiration for the man who knows how to lend a hand in controlling the captain by force or fraud; they praise his seamanship and navigation and knowledge of the sea and condemn everyone else as useless. They have no idea that the true navigator must study the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the wind and all the other subjects appropriate to his profession if he is to be really fit to control a ship (488b-d).”
The above allegory, as per Aristotle’s book on Rhetoric, can be interpreted thus: the ship is the Athenian ship of State, the rather incompetent captain is the Athenian people. The people own the state and are supreme in it, as indeed it ought to be in any democratic Republic, even a rudimentary undeveloped one. The motley crew represents the politicians who are constantly quarrelling with each other on how best to navigate the ship while regularly attempting to take the helm from the captain.
Now, it would appear that things have not changed that much in twenty four hundred years. Undoubtedly, this allegory from The Republic paints a rather bleak picture of democracy. Plato seems to be neither a “republican” nor a “democrat.” Had he lived today in the US or somewhere in the EU, he might have ended up voting for the green party. Be that as it may, some of his readers over the ages, while acknowledging his penetrating genius, have attributed to him totalitarian-elitists intellectual tendencies, the attempt to explain the whole of reality with one over-reaching theoretical scheme. This charge seems to be supported by the fact that Plato maintains a rather skeptical attitude toward the poetical in general, and that his ultimate solution to the conundrum of the political incompetence of ordinary people who own the ship of state in a democracy, seems to be that philosophers become kings or vice versa, kings become philosophers. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that he also advocated that no one is ready to be a philosopher before the age of fifty; wisdom arrives, if at all, with the experience of a life-time of virtue, or to say it with Shakespeare: “maturity is all.”
Were we to seriously survey the history of mankind we would soon find out that humanity has had as their leaders precious few philosopher-kings and an abundance of Caesars and Napoleons, people who in general are in love with Machiavellian “power politik” which they practice rationally on the chess-board of life while being completely uninterested in philosophical speculations. Exceptions are Alexander the Great (a student of Aristotle) and Marcus Aurelius, the author of The Meditations.
We would also find out that sometimes the rule of the majority turns into the tyranny of the mob which represses the few who may be branded as outsiders. This ugly phenomenon is observed and commented upon in modern times by none other than Tocqueville; despite the fact that he had great sympathies for democratic systems, he suspected that it applied to democracies also. The founding fathers of the United States were in fact so troubled by this sad tendency of human nature to rule and manipulate others, that they decided to add the Bill of Rights to a Constitution which already proclaimed and enshrined inalienable and universal truths and values.
At this point one may ask: is Plato’s critique still valid today, and if so, what are the practical consequences of ignoring it? Let us try to apply this critique to an overarching problem of modern Western Civilization, namely the principle of sustainable development. This principle would require that we change the way we live our lives. We should distinguish what we truly need from what we want, as Aristotle teaches in The Nicomachean Ethics. In other words, we the people would have to democratically agree to place a greater value on the future quality of the environment than on our present comfortable life-style. This is particularly true in the developed countries, the so called first world, such as the US and the EU.
This moral concept creates obligations not only for the common good of the present inhabitants of the world, but also toward future generations. There is a problem however: in a free market there is no normative standard of what constitutes a need and what constitutes a want. The only standard is one’s desires, as Madison Avenue well knows and as Plato intimated when he said that poverty is not measured by how little one possesses but by how big are one’s desires. In effect the idea that the majority of the people in a democracy would deprive themselves of their wants is redolent of one of Eco’s hyper-reality fantasies.
Most “successful” politicians would not risk their popularity with the ones who elected them for the sake of voters yet to be born, to wit the jettisoning of the Kyoto agreement by a President Bush and its disregard by the EU political leaders despite its pious lip service to it. Hence Plato’s dire pessimism about democracy. He would tell us this: in rational terms, you lovers of democracy have a clear choice; you can keep democracy or keep the earth cool so that you can keep on living on this earth, but you cannot do both. You may ask: what Is Plato suggesting that we opt for dictatorship or perhaps that we vote for the Green party and Ralph Nader? Not exactly, but he is however suggesting a rational pessimism about democratic governments.
The question at this point is this: is such pessimism warranted? Yes, if one keeps in mind Plato’s metaphor of the ship of State and its assumptions. No, if one challenges any of its assumptions. One such assumption is that wisdom does not reside with the people but with a select few elites: the philosopher-kings. However, Giambattista Vico asserts in his poetic philosophy that such an assumption is unwarranted. He has another better idea: he called the wisdom of the people “common sense” and he considered it superior to that of the few which he called “la boria dei dotti” (the conceit of the learned). He is the first philosopher to put forward a radical notion: that Homer, the blind poet, did not exist, that he is the poetic representation of the common oral tradition and wisdom of Hellas, i.e., of all the ancient Greek people which he calls “common sense.”
Vico proved this notion philologically by comparing The Iliad and The Odyssey and showing that they could not have been written by the same author. He repeatedly explains in his New Science how this common sense wisdom has, time and again, saved humankind; that Providence avails itself of that wisdom within the immanence of human history, and it is that kind of wisdom, much more than the elitist kind of wisdom of the learned parading as “leadership,” that saves humankind time and again.
Here we need to remember that in the above statement by Churchill there is an “exception:” Churchill seems to agree with Plato that democracy is inefficient, the worst kind of political system imaginable when manipulated by incompetent politicians, yes, but with the exception of all the others. This paradox that Churchill perceived and Plato seems to miss can be explained thus: when one has trust and faith in the innate wisdom of the people, then democracy begins to appear as the only possible solution to the problems of all the people, for democracy is of the people, by the people, for the people.
This explanation has been proven even empirically and mathematically based on fixed statistical laws by which most modern insurance companies operate. Two or three people are asked to guess how many jelly beans are in a jar; an average is taken and recorded. Then six more people are asked and the average is again taken and recorded. Twelve people are than asked and the average is taken and recorded again. Consistently, the average for the last group will be closer to the reality of the situation than the second or the first, the second closer than the first, that of all the groups together closer than any individual group and closer than the guess of any single individual. This phenomenon was observed even by Aristotle who observed that the decisions of many people tend to cancel out the blunders of a lonely tyrant or even a group of tyrants, hence democracy is always preferable.
In practical terms, the above statistical mathematics proves that one can trust the common sense of all the people more than the conceited knowledge of a few elites. Not to do so, is to risk ending up with dictatorship, albeit that of a philosopher-king. Which is to say, trusting the people, the way an Abraham Lincoln did, for example, when he advocated a government of the people, for the people, by the people, has far better consequences than not trusting them, as a Machiavelli would suggest in his Prince and his geo-political considerations.
Indeed, few people would cooperate with a State that denied them some sort of participation in the decisions affecting their own lives. They would only do so under coercion. In conclusion we can say that from a purely rational viewpoint Plato was justified in being skeptical of democracy, nevertheless he was wrong in the assumption that it was a mere matter of logic and rationality; it is also a matter of imagination and faith: faith in the ultimate wisdom of the “common sense” of the people.
The ‘Beauty Premium’ and other forms of stereotyping are real, and they’re a workplace problem
People say “seeing is believing”, but that’s wrong. The truth is, “I will see it when I believe it”.
As an academic psychologist I have spent years, and run dozens of experiments, looking at unconscious or implicit bias and its consequences. I consider factors such as looks, ethnicity, age and gender, to see if they influence world-of-work decisions such as hiring, promotion, salary.
The short answer is that all these factors make a difference, even though they play no real role in the evaluated person’s performance. Beliefs guide the facts we see. They shouldn’t, it’s unfair. But they do. The so-called ‘Beauty Premium’ is real, as are a host of other biases.
Taking decisions this way is not unnatural. Evolution has fashioned us to infer, to fill in knowledge gaps. Is that rustle in the grass the wind, or a snake? Assume, infer, and take the conservative decision. That’s how we survive.
But using inference or stereotypes to guide staffing decisions is not effective because the right candidate may be overlooked and the ‘right-looking’ but wrong candidate selected.
The point is we are very quick to size people up – age, sex, appearance, even height. We fill in the blanks and give them a price tag in a stereotypically consistent way. The problem is that once we decide about something we try to justify it because we don’t like to admit we were wrong.
One study I know asked people to vote on the basis of photos, as if they showed candidates running for public office. Afterwards, the voters were given information about the ‘candidates’ (e.g., political preferences, values, etc.) and then asked to vote again. Despite now having relevant information the voters hardly changed their opinions.
I thought this might be due to past experience – perhaps people have a learned stereotype of what a ‘Leader’ should look like? So I repeated the experiment with small children, too young to have learned bias, showing them pairs of photos and asking who would make the best captain of a boat (a position of responsibility they could understand). I asked some adults to do the same test. The children and the adults chose the same photos. No experiential factor could explain the choices, it had to be nature.
But, perhaps the motivation or education level of the testers played a role? So I did a similar experiment with kids using photos of candidates for elected positions at the Association of Psychological Science (APS). All the voters and candidates were scientific psychologists. But results were the same. When no photo was available in the original ballot material the APS members voted on the basis of publication record (a reasonably good proxy for the knowledge, status, and success of the candidates). However, when there had been photos included in the ballot materials nothing mattered but the face.
Maybe business people would take decisions in a more rational way? So, we asked experimental subjects to look at photos of managers in a large multinational company, and then asked them to judge the mangers for competence and personality. We accounted statistically for everything possible – age, qualifications, and so forth. Those managers who rated higher on looks earned more.
Implicit bias is even worse for women. Factors such as being overweight count against women even more than they do for men. And it’s not just appearance. I worked with a Swiss multinational looking at the transcripts of their internal performance evaluations, and statistically controlled for everything possible. Men had a much higher likelihood of being described in a positive way; for example, “he really knows how to put his foot down” compared to a similar woman, who “really knows how to use her elbows”.
Age discrimination was also rife across the board, even though for high-level, cognitively complex jobs there is zero correlation between performance and age. In short, age and being male predicted future job and salary levels.
So women (and anyone else who does not fit role expectations) are walking on eggs. It’s a double bind. They must demonstrate exceptional competence to be seen as equal in ability to men, but must also avoid threatening them with competence and apparent lack of warmth, or behaviour that violates social stereotypes.
An experiment run by a professor at Yale University demonstrated the penalty for violating these social norms. One male and one female actor were each asked to record two versions of the same interview, one where they were calm and one showing some anger. Their answers were the same so rationally, the man and woman should have been ranked the same in the same condition. But it turns out that if a man shows anger it is interpreted completely differently. Men can show their “guts.” Women are not allowed to show anger because they are supposed to be nice, nurturing and kind. When subjects were asked to rank the two actors, the man was seen as higher status and more competent, and offered 50 per cent higher salary. The woman was seen as out of control.
There are ways to reduce bias in the workplace. The first is to be aware of your own biases. Then you can take steps to eliminate them and so reduce discrimination.
Second is accountability. Decisions need to be justified, with objective indicators. Be aware that every piece of information can introduce bias. How the call for applications is made – certain words will attract or discourage women. What information applicants are asked for, including photos, can matter. Who does the initial screening, and is it objective or just personal opinion? Are the screeners different from the interview panel? Are the same interview questions asked of all candidates and is the information aggregated independently? Are validated psychometric tests used (e.g., the most used test in the business world, the MBTI, is actually useless; it has no predictive validity).
Data is also key, it allows us to track what is happening, reveals unconscious bias and creates awareness.
Finally – men. We are part of the problem but also part of the solution. If we champion the cause we can reduce these biases. This is our problem too, not just a problem for women or minorities. Taking decisions correctly is not only the ethical thing to do, in the long run it is the economical and rational thing to do.
Rising human trafficking takes on ‘horrific dimensions’
A new UN report published on Monday shows that human trafficking is on the rise and taking on “horrific dimensions”, with sexual exploitation of victims the main driver. Children now account for 30 per cent of those being trafficked, and far more girls are detected than boys.
The study from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC, draws on information from 142 countries, examining trafficking trends and patterns. Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, said that “human trafficking has taken on horrific dimensions as armed groups and terrorists use it to spread fear and gain victims to offer as incentives to recruit new fighters,” citing child soldiers, forced labour and sexual slavery as examples.
While the average numbers of reported victims had fluctuated during the earlier years for which UNODC had collected data, the global trend has shown a steady increase since 2010. Asia and the Americas are the regions which have seen the largest increase in the numbers of victims detected, which may be explained by improved methods of detecting, recording and reporting data on trafficking – or a real increase in the number of victims.
Most victims of trafficking detected outside their region of origin are from East Asia, followed by sub-Saharan Africa: whilst there has been an increase in the number of convictions for trafficking in these regions, the study concluding that large areas of impunity still exist in many Asian and African countries, and conviction rates for trafficking remain very low.
Trafficking for sexual exploitation is the most prevalent form in European countries, whilst in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, forced labour is the main factor driving the illicit trade. Women and girls make up most trafficking victims worldwide: almost three-quarters of them are trafficked for sexual exploitation, and 35 per cent (women and girls) are trafficked for forced labour.
Armed conflict the focus
The main focus of the report is on the impact of armed conflict on trafficking. In conflict zones, where the rule of law is weak, and civilians have little protection from crime, armed groups and criminals may take the opportunity to traffic them. One example given in the study is the phenomenon of girls and young women in refugee camps in the Middle East being “married off” without their consent and subjected to sexual exploitation in neighbouring countries.
Addressing human trafficking is a key part of the UN Sustainable Development Agenda, requiring Member States to monitor progress in tackling the problem, and report the number of victims by sex, age and form of exploitation.
However, significant gaps in knowledge remain, with many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and some parts of East Asia still lacking sufficient capacity to record and share data on trafficking in persons. “This report shows that we need to step up technical assistance and strengthen cooperation, to support all countries to protect victims and bring criminals to justice, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Mr. Fedotov.
Human Trafficking: An ordeal to reckon
Our globe is prey to the multiple ordeals – terrorism, surging poverty, soaring unemployment, global warming, conflicts among the countries, and refugee crisis are the names to few. Every individual is mindful of such calamities. However, amongst most appealing tribulations that our planet is confronting, which is mostly depreciated, or even obscure to many is of human trafficking. In the contemporary world, human trafficking is tantamount to modern slavery. Slavery is forced labor under a threat of brutality that traces its lineage from the era of colonialism and imperialism. Racism, which was the subliminal base of slavery, is still very much active in the present times and strengthens the ethnic perplexity.
Human trafficking usually refers to a process under which individuals are placed or maintained in an exploitative condition for economic upkeep and violation of human rights. Every country in the world is vulnerable to human trafficking. Millions of kids, adult females, and men remain to be trafficked every year in all regions and in many countries of the world. Victims may be trafficked within the country or across a border for various uses. It includes forced and manipulative labor in agricultural fields, farms and private homes; forced marriage; sexual exploitation, and organ dismemberment. Around 40 million people are shackled in the chain of modern slavery worldwide, in which the Asia-Pacific region has almost 56% of trafficked persons. Women and girls are the prime victims of the market for human trafficking. According to 2018 report of Global Slavery Index, the countries which are home to the modern slaves are North Korea with 10% of its population, Eritrea (9.3%), Burundi (4%), Central African Republic (2.2%), Afghanistan (2.2%), Mauritania (2.1%), South Sudan (2%), Pakistan (1.7%), Cambodia (1.7%), and Islamic Republic of Iran (1.6%) respectively. These countries suffer from income inequality, discrimination in class, sects, and entrenched corruption.
So, one’s mind must be curious that why this menace has clutched the world with such an immense extent. The answer has multiple driving factors behind it, as human trafficking is a highly lucrative crime and produces $150 billion per year. Human trafficking takes place on many purposes, such as demand for cheap labor including the child or forced labor, demand for sexual exploitation, and demand for organs removal to name few.
The United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report identifies that the most vulgar strain of human trafficking is sexual exploitation. Sex trafficking prey is maneuvered or forced against its consent to absorb in the sex exploit or to be prostituted for the money. Sex traffickers often use threats, violence, and the promise of love and affection to lure the victims. Such exercises frequently transpire at motels, rest areas, individual halls, street corners, and truck stops. Out of $150 billion, sex trafficking within the prostitution industry yields $99 billion.
Forced or cheap labor occurs in many forms, like the application of coercion or deception or force. The victims are induced to work for mere less or no money as their earnings. Labor traffickers often make hollow commitments of a high-paying job or impressive education or travel possibilities to entice people into awful working conditions. These victims can be found in manufacturing plants, farms, brick kilns, and building sites.
Multiple factors lead to human trafficking and vary from country to country according to the conditions and affairs of the state. Though, on common ground; privation of human rights, poverty, disequilibrium in social and economic affairs, political upheaval, natural disasters, and, civil unrest attribute to human trafficking. Wars, conflicts between countries, civil strife commence displacements of masses making children orphans and leaving them susceptible to human trafficking. Most of the times, parents contribute to human trafficking too. On the score of impending poverty, parents merchandise their children with this notion that their children might access the bright future.
The menace of human trafficking accommodates devastating repercussions economically and socially. On societal fronts, it undermines family ties and child neglect, and the victims who manage to escape from the trafficking often plague stigmatization. From the economic aspect, the countries which are reeling under the vicious cycle of human trafficking they lose the human resource. According to the US Department of State, child labor negatively influences their future productivity which would otherwise be put into good use.
Human trafficking affects not only the social and economic specters but also affects the health of individuals which undergo it. Adult females and children trafficked for the intentions of Sexual exploitation are at the risk of HIV/AIDS; with this when they are exposed to violence and barbarism, they sustain severe injuries which impede their mental and physical development.
To curb human trafficking the UN and the world countries have taken multiple steps. The Global Action to Prevent and Address Trafficking in Persons (GLO.ACT) and the smuggling of migrants is a four-year (2015-2019) joint initiative by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). It is implemented with a conglomeration of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The UNICEF accepts donations and provides training manuals on the subject of human trafficking.
Along with it, there are several functioning organizations worldwide that help citizens fight against human trafficking. However, despite the active roles of numerous organization of the world, the menace of human trafficking persists. To eradicate this menace, individuals and their government must cooperate with each other, so that future generations can be saved.
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