March 2017
【3/10 (五) 8pm Debt Culture
【3/24 (五) 8pm Maybe you should just be single
【3/31 (五) 8pm Work, Leisure, Play

April 2017
【4/7 (五) 8pm Is it ignorance or discrimination?
【4/21 (五) 8pm Rethinking Infidelity?
【4/28 (五) 8pm Work, Leisure, Play

May 2017
【5/5 (五) 8pm Creativity
【5/19 (五) 8pm Cooperate or Not?
【5/26 (五) 8pm 思‧英語討論會】

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Cooperate or Not? The Nash Equilibrium and the Shapley Value

Nash Equilibrium

"The Nash equilibrium is a stable state of a system that involves several interacting participants in which no participlant can gain by a change of strategy as long as all the other participants remain unchanged."

Make 4 dollars or 5 dollars?
I'll explain it without the traditional prisoner story.

Imagine someone approaches you, as well as a random stranger, on the street. He says to the two of you:

If you both give me a dollar, I will give each of you $5. But if only one of you gives me a dollar, I will keep that dollar, and give $5 only to the person who gives me nothing. You aren't allowed to talk to each other.

Of course, if you could talk to the other player, you would surely agree that you both will give the guy a dollar, and each walk away $4 richer than you were. But since you can't, all you can do is figure out what is best for yourself. And regardless of what the other player chooses, it is best for you to give nothing.

If the other person gives a dollar, you are better off giving nothing -- as you'd make $5 profit rather than only $4. And if he gives nothing, you'll lose nothing, rather than losing a dollar.

The problem, of course, is that both players are likely to think this way, and each give nothing. This results in a lost opportunity to make some free money.

This kind of situation is everywhere in the real world. Rational people make choices that seem (to the Prisoner's-Dilemma naive) to be non-rational. They are not being stupid, they make these choices because it is in their interest to do so.....purely due to inability to make and enforce agreements.


John Cleese on creativity:

A 5 Step process for creativity:
In learning any art the important things to learn are, first, Principles, and second, Method. This is true of the art of producing ideas.
Particular bits of knowledge are nothing, because they are made up [of] so called rapidly aging facts. Principles and method are everything.

So with the art of producing ideas. What is most valuable to know is not where to look for a particular idea, but how to train the mind in the method by which all ideas are produced and how to grasp the principles which are at the source of all ideas.

The second important principle involved is that the capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.

Consequently the habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts becomes of the highest importance in the production of ideas.

Is it ignorance or discrimination?

On PTT's WomenTalk forum, a woman who lives in Britain brought up some scenarios that she personally experienced with her coworkers. Read the article, and then let's talk about the cases she brought up!

I think we have to first have to define the difference between prejudice and racism. Prejudice — holding negative beleifs about a group of individuals, and assuming individuals share these characteristics
Racism — the social mechanisms (prejudice, disadvantaging, outright attacks) by which social power is differentiated for groups, and through the dissemination of which a group gains and maintains social dominance

Scenario 1: “Whatever”
Is it discrimination that someone should not distinguish between Taiwan and China, or only politics?
If sb can’t tell the difference between Chinese, Japanese, Korean, is that racism? Unfamiliarity? Laziness?
Is it the same or different situation if, for instance, a Taiwanese person would be like, “Oh, Polish, Russian, it’s about the same?”
Would a Taiwanese person say that though?

Scenario 2: “Chopsticks”
What are the assumptions behind this kind of question:
—personal cultural preference?
—level of exposure to outside cultures?
—competence/incompetence in cultural norms?
Do assumptions/intentions behind actions matter?
Or the feelings resulting from the actions?
Which matters more?

Work, Leisure, Play

“This is the main question, with what activity one’s leisure is filled.”
Is it important to distinguish between work and leisure? Or work and play?
Do we even really understand what leisure is? We seem to have this idea that leisure should be 'productive' or at least lead to productive work. Is this what leisure is really about?
What would leisure be like in a society with UBI (Universal Basic Income)?
What would you do if you really could do anything you wanted with your time? Does the idea of totally being able to decide what you do with your time a little unsettling? Do you think you would work well to be responsible to no-one but yourself for what you get done?
Is the scariness of too much freedom what makes people crave authority? We've talked about 'freedom from' vs. 'freedom to' before, does this apply to the question of work and leisure?

Work-Life Balance?
The equilibrium between productivity and presence is one of the hardest things to master in life, and one of the most important. We, both as a culture and as individuals, often conflate it with the deceptively similar-sounding yet profoundly different notion of “work/life balance” — a concept rather disheartening upon closer inspection. It implies, after all, that we must counter the downside — that which we must endure in order to make a living — with the upside — that which we long to do in order to feel alive. It implies allocating half of our waking hours to something we begrudge while anxiously awaiting the other half to arrive so we can live already. What a woefully shortchanging way to exist — lest we forget, so speaks Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
The current understanding of work-life balance is too simplistic. People find it hard to balance work with family, family with self, because it might not be a question of balance. Some other dynamic is in play, something to do with a very human attempt at happiness that does not quantify different parts of life and then set them against one another. We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way.

Maybe you should just be single

There's a lot of single women in Taiwan. Part of that is that there are more women than men in this country, but then there's the phenomenon of all the foreign brides that are marrying into Taiwan. This is a complicated and painful issue, but let's look at it from the level of the personal this time.

Finding ‘the one’ as ‘the happy ending’
You see, I don’t believe that my relationship constitutes a happy ending. I don’t want a “happy ending”. I don’t want an ending at all, particularly not while I’m still in my goddamn twenties—I want a long life full of work and adventure. I absolutely don’t see partnership as the end of that adventure. And I still believe that being single is the right choice for a great many young women. 

Marriage: still an economic relationship at heart
Buried under the avalanche of hearts and flowers is an uncomfortable fact: romantic partnership is, and always has been, an economic arrangement. The economics may have changed in recent decades, as many women have gained more financial independence, but it’s still about the money. It’s about who does the domestic labour, the emotional labour, the work of healing the walking wounded of late capitalism. It’s about organising people into isolated, efficient, self-reproducing units and making them feel bad when it either fails to happen or fails to bring them happiness. 

Debt Culture

Debt has been ingrained in our cultures since at least Mesopotamian times (5000BC). This article argues that when debt becomes a way of life, that debt becomes meaningless. Let’s look at these arguments and see if they are valid.

Debt is how most people are making ends meet

CM: How important, then, is debt—or maybe more precisely, credit—in the quality of life that we now enjoy? That is, how much would we suffer, and how much would we have to sacrifice if we didn’t have access to debt through credit?

AM: For a lot of working and middle class people, it is the only way that they are able to continue to survive, given the stagnation of wages over the last few decades. I think that’s true for the economy as a whole as well. The economy depends on the credit relationships that allow us to continue to purchase consumer goods even when our wages are stagnating. The economy depends on the ability to defer payment.

Corporations depend on the ability to defer payment into the future. But they depend on that payment eventually being made. One of the ways to start thinking about how to resist capitalism is to think about how to refuse to make those payments. Because that deferral has to come to an end at some point, and finding a way, collectively, to refuse to allow that debt to be paid, is probably the only way out of capitalism that we have at the moment.

CM: How much is debt, and greater access to credit, the cause of the boom-and-bust, bubble-bursting, precarious, unstable economic era we are living in (dating back all the way to the NASDAQ bubble of the 1990s, if not earlier)?

The Work Ethic

I feel like the points made in this article work on some level, but I’m uncomfortable with them on many other levels. Let’s talk about the work ethic, its validity to people, the way it may or not be used to manipulate people in our economic system, and its relation to ideas like the UBI.

What is the point of full employment?
Why do we have to put everybody to work? In these terms, full employment becomes a punitive program. A way of saying you must earn your keep. You must be a producer of something. Why in the world do we have to think of ourselves as producers of goods—whether actual durable goods or the kind that you’re producing with this radio show? Why? What is the imperative, what is the constraint at work here? I don’t see that we need that identity anymore.

Do you think other people can be trusted?

This is some material from a recent Freakonomics podcast. It seems relevant to our recent discussion about whether having a uniform society is a precondition for democracy. In that discussion, we concluded that you needed trust in the system, critical thinking and economic stability as preconditions for successful democracy. So let's look a little more deeply into 'trust in the system' today. What exactly does that entail?

“Social trust” is what, exactly?
HALPERN: It’s just one of those things. It’s sort of like the dark matter of the economy and society, it matters very greatly and yet we don’t seem to focus on it very much.
HALPERN: Social trust is an extraordinarily interesting variable and it doesn’t get anywhere near the attention it deserves. But the basic idea is trying to understand what is the kind of fabric of society that makes economies and, indeed, just people get along in general. It’s clearly so critical for a whole range of outcomes.
HALPERN: This is a more powerful predictor of future national growth rates than, for example, levels of human capital or skills in the population.
HALPERN: Basically, having someone or feeling that other people can be trusted or people you can rely on in your life is worth a great deal. It’s roughly the same positive effect in a series of studies as giving up smoking. And smoking is really, really bad for you so, you know, social isolation, essentially, is incredibly bad for your health.

討論逐字稿: Do we need a uniform society to have a functional democracy?

From the discussion: Do we need a uniform society to have a functional democracy?

—Okay, before we start the discussion, I have a question. What actually does a ‘uniform society’ mean, does it mean everyone has the same purpose, same values, or the same opinion?
—This is a good question!
—I ask this because I can’t figure out the relation between 'uniform society' and 'functional democracy'.

—Do you remember how we got to this conclusion when we were talking about it?
—We were talking about Denmark, and Denmark is supposed, in our conception, it’s supposed to be a more uniform, homogenous society.
—So what kind of 'homogenous'?
—Okay, I’ll list the concepts. Same race, same socioeconomic class?
—Which means the gap is very small?
—Same historical background
—I think it means a large middle class, but also maybe the economic gap is small
—So few very rich and very poor
—So if there is a large group of poor people, can you say it’s a uniform society?
—This is also my question, it depends on the definition of uniform, you know? I was thinking about this definition, is it a specialized term?
—Hahaha no we just tried for a word to catch our feelings
—Okay but my difficulty is the relationship between the two terms.

—Lets approach it from another angle, which is 'multiculturalism'.
—In the history of the US, we had the idea of the ‘melting pot’ 大熔爐 it was all, give up your culture, become ‘American’ and I’ve been thinking about this, you know, like, why?
Because there are implications now which are bad, which is to say white people feel they don’t have any culture, so they cling to 'whiteness' which increases racism and is part of the 'whitelash' that trump harnessed to get elected
—So the US is no longer trying to be a melting pot
—But why does melting pot equal no culture?
—It’s because we had to become Americans! Which, although is kind of derivative British culture—
—Now I’m not sure, but I think, the uniformity of culture is the rationality behind the melting pot, so that democracy could happen.
—So you’re suggesting that because the US is all sorts of different people, so they needed a uniform society to support democracy
—Yeah, but this is just a theory, trying to understand this melting pot thing

—Okay, but my angle is, that since the US has many different people, there are different cultures, different lifestyles, so we need a system to help society work. And that kind of system may be democracy. So this angle may be that diverse society needs a democracy.
—I definitely agree with you. I don’t think the melting pot was a good idea.
—It seems though, if the society is too heterogeneous, it’s hard to obtain agreement on how to make things happen.
—Indonesia is a good example of this, of a lot of different cultures trying to make a nation together.

—So here's the angle I've been pondering for awhile, especially since our UBI discussion: If people are economically comfortable, will they be more okay with people who were different than them?