Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) on Life Without the State

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

The Leviathan

Image result for portrait of thomas hobbes

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Aristotle on Inequality

“The best constitution is one controlled by a numerous middle class which stands between the rich and the poor. For those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation find it “easiest to obey the rule of reason” (Politics IV.11.1295b4–6). They are accordingly less apt than the rich or poor to act unjustly toward their fellow citizens.

A constitution based on the middle class is the mean between the extremes of oligarchy (rule by the rich) and democracy (rule by the poor). “That the middle [constitution] is best is evident, for it is the freest from faction: where the middle class is numerous, there least occur factions and divisions among citizens” (IV.11.1296a7–9). The middle constitution is therefore both more stable and more just than oligarchy and democracy.

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Nothing Wrong with Changing Your Mind: Margaret Heffernan

Great piece in today’s UK Financial Times on the value of changing your mind. I try to do it all the time and this blog is all about some ways to do that.

There is nothing wrong with changing your mind Aversion to debate and organisational silence run deep in many corporations


Meeting face to face makes it harder to demonise the other side; both are rarely perfect and relationships start to develop 

When I was running tech companies in the 1990s, I had an investor who was a bully. He would routinely dress down chief executive officers in public to demonstrate that they were wrong and stupid. Wounded, the CEOs would retreat, muttering that there was no point discussing anything with him — he was never going to change his mind. Aversion to debate and organisational silence run deep in corporations, primarily due to the fear of conflict.

Studies have shown that we are all biased, preferring people and media we agree with, and that our brains are lazy, preferring consensus to conflict. And the internet allows people to retreat from differing points of view into private bubbles. It is easy and tempting to conclude, like my sulky CEO colleagues, that argument is just a waste of time. I beg to differ. After all, if we never changed our minds, we would still be living in caves.

The question isn’t how to avoid conflict but how to do it well. For Eileen Carroll, shifting perspective is critical. A QC, she founded the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (full disclosure: I am one of its trustees) because she believed the brutal win/lose environment of the courtroom was too often unproductive. The centre mediates everything from consumer complaints to large commercial disputes. When asked how she was so often able to get people to compromise, she cited tools that were dauntingly modest: listening, questions, patience and time.

In exchange for telling their side of the story, people must listen to the other side. They often discover they had not known all the facts and the two sides frequently start to develop a common language. Meeting face to face makes it harder to demonise the other side; both are rarely perfect and relationships start to develop. Taking time to reconsider overnight often helps. Ms Carroll is admired for her patience but also her rigour; people need time, she says, but also momentum and it is her job to balance the two.

When I asked her what absolutely did not work, she was adamant: belligerence, mockery, shouting, lack of eye contact and emotional meltdowns. All these behaviours are frequently on display at UK prime minister’s question time. No wonder we’ve lost faith in the value of debate. But there are better ways to work. Political scientist James Fishkin has been experimenting with deliberative polling since 1994, bringing together people in 28 different countries to discuss hot-button issues. Participants are provided with briefing documents that experts on all sides agree are balanced and fair. Discussions take place in small groups. Prof Fishkin measures opinions privately before and after the discussion. He repeatedly finds that people read the materials carefully and do change their minds.

“The public,” he told me, “are not stupid, and if you engage them in a thoughtful and balanced way with good information and they think their voice matters, they turn out to be very smart.”

Boards, executive committees and shareholders should understand and practice these processes. But most are too afraid or unskilled. I have seen too many stand-offs where a change of mind was resisted because it was deemed a humiliating climbdown. I have sat in too many boardrooms listening to hostile silence. And I have seen too many poor decisions that, with time and a genuine capacity to listen, might have become good ones.

Conflict helps organisations think and progress. We all need to do it much better. We’ll send you the news Explore our curated emails with crucial insights on global trade, M&A, tech and more. View our newsletters Eventually, I found a way to work with my investor. I never confronted him in public. I sent materials I wanted to discuss ahead of time. Face to face, we had civil conversations and I rarely pressed him for an immediate response. He was (and is) a brilliant man. Over time, we built trust and respect. And I changed my mind about him

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Climate Change Pessimism: Helpful or Harmful?

There is some debate in climate change circles as to whether there is too much pessimism on the subject and whether this is or is not helpful. My dark riff:

I am always reminded of the Hungarian Jews. They had survived the Holocaust because Hungary had not joined in that project. They must have thought they had survived….

“But then a German occupation of Hungary happened and: “From May 15 to July 9, 1944, Hungarian gendarmerie officials, under the guidance of German SS officials, deported around 440,000 Jews from Hungary. Most were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where, upon arrival and after selection, SS functionaries killed the majority of them in gas chambers.”

The so-far-we-have-no-calamity mentality is a problem for humanity.

That said, I would prefer to handle an uncertain future with scenario based futuring as developed by Peter Schwartz in the Art of the Long View: you set up say four possible scenarios and trip wires to show if anyone is becoming the most probable. And yes you can act to try to make a scenario not happen. The key is to analyse the forces driving towards each possible future. to have no one “official future” but to learn from the possible futures and tell stories about how they were or were not avoided as if we are now in say 2100.

For instance four scenarios:
1) We do nothing much different and billions die and civilization collapses, humanity reverts to 10 million hunter gatherers in the ruins.
2) We act decisively but way too late so hundreds of millions die and civilization gravely weakens and become barely recognizable
3) We act decisively but it is already too late to head off some major impacts and tens of millions die and civilization continues to need massive reform efforts for generations
4) We stop carbon emissions dead and avoid any mega deaths and life is good.

I find #4 hard to believe. #3 is a major stretch. I lean #2 though would not rule out #1.

The real issue is: is it too late to change thinking about stopping catastrophic climate change. That is a political, social psychological question and really also one of what would it take to change humanity’s divided mind on this. Some say humanity can’t really act to stop its own extinction because we are wired to deny our own individual death…..

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Impeachment in a Picture

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Democrat Weak on Push Back Strategy

It’s always funny to me as a sometime historian, how short memories are. We are investigating or have been the last three years the actions of a Republican President that seem to me to amount to treason: involving foreign powers in manipulating American politics in their interests. But what is more surprising is no one mentions that this is the third such episode of Republican Treason as I see it.

Nixon won the 1968 Election at least partly by sabotaging the Vietnam Peace talks by back-channel promises to the South Vietnamese that he would give them a better deal, so they walked out of the talks, and years and many American and Vietnamese dead later they got a worse deal and then defeat. Some think that Watergate was Nixon trying to find out if the Dems knew this and were planning to use it against him in 1972: hence the risk taken.

Similarly, Reagan to win the 1980 election back channeled to the Iranians over the American hostages to keep them prisoner, until he had won the election and thus discredit President Carter. He later dabbled in Irangate: money to Iran, guns to the Contras and all. Not to mention that Reagan almost ended civilization with his war talk and Abel Archer exercise that was the closest to nuclear war we came to. Another form of treason I suppose.

Yet the Dems are never ruthless and determined to win enough to smash the GOP with this stuff. They are non-strategic pussy cats. If the Dems had done this shit, we would never hear the last of it from the GOP. Why such asymmetry?

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Albert Camus Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Time again for this 1957 speech: Especially this:

“Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself. Heir to a corrupt history, in which are mingled fallen revolutions, technology gone mad, dead gods, and worn-out ideologies, where mediocre powers can destroy all yet no longer know how to convince, where intelligence has debased itself to become the servant of hatred and oppression, this generation starting from its own negations has had to re-establish, both within and without, a little of that which constitutes the dignity of life and death.

In a world threatened by disintegration, in which our grand inquisitors run the risk of establishing forever the kingdom of death, it knows that it should, in an insane race against the clock, restore among the nations a peace that is not servitude, reconcile anew labour and culture, and remake with all men the Ark of the Covenant. It is not certain that this generation will ever be able to accomplish this immense task, but already it is rising everywhere in the world to the double challenge of truth and liberty and, if necessary, knows how to die for it without hate. Wherever it is found, it deserves to be saluted and encouraged, particularly where it is sacrificing itself. In any event, certain of your complete approval, it is to this generation that I should like to pass on the honour that you have just given”



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