What is our Geist 討論逐字稿

—Let’s look at the first question: “Humans are just doomed to destroy each other?” Are humans basically just destructive assholes?
—Well, I don’t think humans are evil, but in a book, “The Third Chimpanzee”, the author analyses human behavior, like from the aspect of environment, he argues that humans always destroy their environments. Like the ancient people, we think they tend to live in harmony with nature, but the truth is not like this. For example, he uses a lot of proofs to demonstrate why the Aztecs and Maya, the reason they disappeared can be ascribed to their destruction of nature, because they used up their resources, no matter animals or plants,
—And the people around them too!
—And some creatures like animals, they went extinct, not just because of climate change, but they were overhunted.
—So you feel like, yeah, this isn’t something that can change
—I was quite persuaded by this author, because the population is more intensive than other creatures, so we can’t help but destroy what’s around us, because we need more resources than other creatures. So I think that’s possible
—Maybe it was true before, that people can destroy each other in the past, or use up a lot of resources in the past, because we have to live. But do you think the situation will change in the future? I think the situation will become better, because people are trying to find the balance between humans and environment. Like we’re trying to protect animals. Some people think we don’t use as much energy as possible, we have to save energy. So the situation has changed. Do you think people will kill each other in the future?
—Do you mean on an individual basis or a mass basis?
—Either one.
—I think individual murders will probably always be with us, but 20th century style mass mowing down of human beings will change.
—My first impression of that sentence, is that people will kill all of the people…I think it is impossible.
—Because we’re more educated than before, and we’re starting to understand that violence doesn’t solve things. It won’t come that quickly, but we are progressing towards peaceful life
—but sometimes there are those that…they will do violent activity for justice, like sending people to Syria to fight IS.
—You should call them the Daesh instead.
—The Daesh?
—It’s what the Arabs call IS, they don’t want to give them the legitimacy of calling them Islamic, since they do not represent real Islamic values, so they call them by the acronym in Arabic, which sounds like the Arabic word for ‘the destroyers’. The Daesh hate being called the Daesh, so that’s a very good reason to do it, I think!
—Sometimes the motivation to encourage people to be violent is complicated.
—Sometimes we’re searching for justice
—Do you think that people are less violent than in the past
—I do
—Oh good
—I don’t. They use different kind of way to show their violence. For instance, students on campus, they shoot their classmates, or not just shoot, they punch their classmates with not any reasons, nowadays it’s happening more and more.
—In schools, yeah, it seems.
—I just think, the violence, it’s hard for it to disappear, it just comes out in different ways. Like in the office, it might come out in subtle ways.
—But I can show you some different experience. As you may know, in Taiwan, males have to go to military service, and 10 or 20 years ago, the newcomers to military service will be hazed by the seniors. They will be treated unfairly. But the situation has become better now, because of the concept of the human rights, or the current media can report this kind of thing.
—Is it because they’re afraid of the result in the media? Or because have they really changed and don’t want to do it anymore? Or does it matter?
—It matters though
—Nowadays, this kind of unfair behavior is less because the media will report this kind of unfairness, so it will reduce the chance of it
—And also reduce the habit of this kind of behavior.
—It’s a bit like what she was saying. Right now media is another source of violence, the cyber-bully. So perhaps our outward behavior is not that aggressive, but in the virtual world, it can get vicious, like on PTT, the way people pile on somebody.

—Okay let’s move to the next question: Do we think of ourselves as too incompetent to act upon the world?
—Agent = a person who is empowered to act in a specific way for you, like an insurance agent, or actors use agents to find work.
—Marx felt human beings were all controlled by the system. Another group believes that people are their own agents, that they have their own agency.
Agency = the means to act upon the world
—I believe that there are elements of this belief (too incompetent to act upon the world). Like in how people don’t think they can say anything about the economy.
—I’m not clear about this paragraph, is he encouraging people to take risks?
—His concept for me is more like people who live in the Matrix.
—It seems that everyone has agency.
—Like they have agency at the individual level, but the macro level of the system’s overall depriving them of agency means their agency is limited.

—Like the way that we’re constantly influenced by social media and other media. We think that agency is coming from ourselves. But actually all this knowledge and information is coming from other people
—It is, I totally agree with that. But yet we still choose what we will do with the information or not, or what we pay attention to or not
—I believe that the only way we can show our free will and agency is through choices. But I’m still trying to figure out another way to explain this.
—I spend a lot of time thinking about this. You either believe we live in a free-will universe, or you don’t.
—But, do you feel uncomfortable that you are living in an unfree world?
—Of course, yes!
—Do you have an example?
—Yes, passports. We think of passports as empowering us, because, ‘get a passport see the world!’, but actually shows us how unfree we are, because you can’t cross borders without passports and visas, it’s how governments control population movements for political and especially economic control. Passports are an example of something that supposedly stands for freedom actually being all about the control of peoples’ movements.
—Actually passports are only since WWI or so.
—Yes, and visas are only about 150 years old as a concept
—Like in Budapest hotel, the violence happened on the train because of their papers were not valid
—So it’s like identity is such a modern issue. Proving your identity or not is half of what we have to do as modern people. Identity, not as a description of who you are, but as a set of qualifications that make you acceptable to a system.
—But do you think your passport can protect you?
—But only as far as your country makes good on its promises.
—But it can prevent the bad guys from not coming in to the countries?
—The problem is: who decides who is safe and who is not safe.
—No one in power!
—But it provides some kind of protection
—Well it definitely creates economic protections, I will agree with you on that.
—But if it provides this protection, we’re not unhappy about that, so are we okay with passports as a concept?
—It’s just like in most companies, to make the scale of this question smaller, like some companies will give an id number to staff, and those without id numbers cannot get benefits from the company
—Or they can’t even enter the building.
—So it’s a kind of protection for the company , but is also a limit for the individual
—Can you describe those limits?
—Those kinds of staff are equal to other staff with id numbers, but they are recognized as different, and it’s a kind of limits them to certain kind benefits
—So there become classes of people.
—Like I don’t have the right to reside here forever without qualification, the government can revoke my so called ‘permanent residency’ at any time, so I’m not the same class of people as a citizen.
—So like we think of passports as an empowerment, but we’re buying into a system
—We all have id numbers, and the things we do in our life is recorded by the authority and becomes a document, and this is kind of a terrible thing, because my whole life is that pile of documents. And for some people they worked for this organizations, they will judge me by these records. And one day, that something unfortunate happens and Taiwan turns into a terrible situation, and the government started to surveil the people, if they want to make you a criminal, they just find something in your record, and there’s the proof. They can easily kick you out, or cause you trouble, or put you in jail or mental hospital.
—Margaret Atwood, in her book The Handmaid’s Tale, showed me how easy it is to control people when their economic viability is too tied up in their identity. In the story nobody used cash money, everyone had electronic payment cards (she wrote this in the 1980s by the way, before we had smartphones and VisaWave and stuff) and what happened was, the government just turned off the women’s cards one day, and started rounding them up, and very few could escape because they couldn’t access money. That kind of shocked me, and I learned that being dependent on payment systems could be dangerous.
—But going back to the question, do we think of ourselves as too incompetent to deal with the world’s issues, like, there’s a situation where the authorities or the media creates some kind of idea like, that’s very difficult, that knowledge is too complex to understand, so everyone just thinks that they don’t know that thing. And besides people don’t want to take responsibility for others, so when some social thing happen, like someone got killed for no reason, like by a stranger, or by police, no one wants to take responsibility for that. So they say “oh, I don’t understand the political situation or the laws, so it’s others’ business.”
—It’s a kind of safety.
—Sometimes because we don’t have enough energy to deal with this kind of issue.
—Or maybe we need to take too much time to understand the whole thing
—After work we just want to relax
—So are we agreeing with Mr. Heitmann? I mean, maybe we’re not thinking it’s as bad as all that…
—I think what he’s saying is reasonable, about the situation, that he describes, people can be irrational and irresponsible. Because people don’t always have time or energy to be capable or rational or responsible. I think there are a very few people who are willing to take care of business irrelevant to his personal life. So yeah, it’s reasonable. But do you think there’s a problem with this situation? If you think so, then you’re suggesting that people should take care of this problem.

—That’s a good segueway into this question:
“Does democracy depends on mature, competent people trying to make the best decisions for themselves as a group?”
—In fact I don’t agree with this sentence.
—Do tell!
—He says democracy is based on the intelligence of people.
—Depends on, not based on.
—He’s saying that everyone must be intelligent in order to have democracy, right?
—Everyone is committed to trying to make the best decision, and it hasn’t to do with their capabilities.
—Okay, there’s an example, a ‘democratic school’ in the US, where everyone who attends the school has a say in how it’s run, down to how the money is spent and where. Everyone has a vote. Some of the students are 4 year olds, but they still get a vote. In order for this to work, people have to explain to the 4 y.o.’s the decision at stake and the pros and cons in a way the kid can understand, but they do understand, and the voting is reasonable. When they started, people laughed at them saying the student would vote for candy every time and the money would be gone within a year, but do you know what, the school has been running for 40 years like this. So yes, the ‘founding fathers’ of the US had serious reservations about democracy and the potential for mob rule or dictatorship by the majority, but it’s not about the intelligence of the citizens so much as the attitude.
—It’s about whether people are willing to make the best decision
—So I think people’s limited time and energy is the main impediment to the commitment to make the best decision.
—Yes, exactly!

—And that’s why the governments’ want the results, why they don’t want true democracy, why they create a kind of environment in which people have limited time and resources to do things, then there’s no true democracy, and no impediments to the power grabber
—Just last week was listening to my grandmother saying that the government makes people busy so they don’t have time to take care of things
—Your grandma knows what's up!
—I think this is something that’s becoming broadly recognized
—But keeping people busy so they don’t challenge power, this is not a new concept in Chinese culture. What were Civil Examinations under the imperial system?
—The Civil Examinations were a means by which governments kept people busy.
—There’s scholars who have written about this! I think the problem is not the system, its about the textbook the students…
—Like the Chinese emperor made the literati study the old texts
—This is why Chinese tech lagged!
—Some people argue that, they were wasting time on useless things
—Not useless to the king!
—That’s true
—I think sometimes, that basically we have to take responsibility upon ourselves. Because there’s this trend of professionalization, there are more details, and more people focused on just the details. Society teaches us to believe in professionals, so we are just too rely on those experts, and lost some ability to find the answers by ourselves and sometimes the answer is actually pretty easy to find. Sometimes I’m too lazy to find this info for myself, you know?
—Another thing I think, this kind of concepts make our cram-school culture so thriving.

Final statements:
—I’m not saying the viewpoint of the author is wrong, but I think their idea is not practical. They encourage people to make the decision to be intelligent so that democracy can exist. It’s only an ideal though, it’s not practical. I’m saying that not every people have the time or energy to achieve the expectation of the order. So I think, when people want to propose a new idea, it’s very important to consider whether it’s practical or not. Many people only propose the ideal, and it’s not practical, so it becomes nothing automatically. So it’s important to be practical first. About democracy, it’s not the best policy in the world, but it’s still much better than other systems. I think we can have more freedom under democracy. And the democracy nowadays faces a problem that people are not willing to obey the opinion of the majority. They just want to say their opinion is implemented. To me democracy means that the minority should follow the majority, and the majority should show respect to the minority, but that’s not what happens now in Taiwan. So some people will say in Taiwan it’s not as good as we think, but compared to other systems it’s better than we think.
—But recently, I’m thinking about the capital, the money we spend on maintaining our system is too high. Like the bureaucracy system, and the huge political campaign. Like in the Taipei mayoral campaign, like just last time, the candidate spent over one or two billion NT!
—Well he’s stimulating the economy!
—Haha okay but where did he get the money? Because his family is all public servants. So where did it come from. Also the KMT candidates, their money comes from the KMT property. Where did that money come from? Probably the public, and some illegal heritage money from old jap colonial government, or illegal private donations. And right now I think we are more attracted by sensational tings, so those candidates are spending more money on seductive advertisements. This all needs capital. So does that mean if you are richer you have more chance to win,
—So our democracy is a competition of the rich.
—So I don’t have a solution to this problem, but it does depend on how you decide the system to be. Culture has an impact. So parties receiving donations should disclose the source, to reduce the chance of fraud.
—So yeah, it’s not the best system, but it’s still better in terms of making decisions freely, so at least we can decide for what kind of person to vote for, we still have some options. And maybe disclosure is an option.

—Democracy depends more on attitudes in society, not on intelligence nor capability.
People in power create an environment where people think they are limited access to knowledge/resources and thus they are risk aversion to make choices/decision for their goodness; this weakens the Democracy and meanwhile strengthen the power for those in power.
The civil examination in ancient China empire can be taken as kind of this strategy to make intelligent people too busy to make decisions.

—So this author talks about our zeitgeist is misanthropy, which is a very individual concept. We just talked about we are apathetic or disinterested in some public events, or not care as much about what happens around us. But there’s a paradox here. I do think we are becoming more apathetic in general, but there are still some events that gather an energy that’s much greater than before, an unprecedented level. Like the Hong Chungqiu events or the FanFumao. If we are so apathetic, how can we gather millions of Taiwanese. I don’t know, maybe it has something to do with spectacle, or our habits, because of the way the media focuses on this, so we see and hear about it all day, so many people are encouraged to go protest and ask for justice. But do you think it’s healthy or normal or it’s not?
—You mean the protests?
—I mean, normally we are disinterested about these public events, but there’s something that could stimulate so many people to do something at time.
—We seem apathetic, but we’re not unaware, like your grandma even!
—It’s curious why we can be so passionate but cold at the same time.
—I really think it comes down to the intersection between limited energy and resonance.
—There’s a term, super grand museology. If there’s a museum that always have stuff, if they have it all the time, as opposed to a special exhibition. But what’s strange is that people will go to the special exhibitions, but few of them go to the normal things
—That’s just normal human behavior
—There’s some connection here though. What people want or desire to pursue will reflect the zeitgeist
—And create it as well!
—Yeah, so the zeitgeist of our generation belongs to the individual concept. Why do people mold themselves to follow the masses? That’s the paradox. It seems we have more choice right now, we seem to have so many choices for our lifestyles, but we are becoming more and more similar to each other.
—I think Taiwanese are still in this process of discriminating what is important and what is not important. I feel like compared to America, most Taiwanese don’t have their own opinion or their own value.
—I think everyone does have their own opinions, they just don’t share them. You get their opinions when you get their trust. While America is so in love with the idea of individuality that we don’t even see how conformist we are.

—Okay, so this idea about the attitude of a group of people towards their repsonsiblity or commitment to a group (i.e. how much do I want this group to exist?) this is very important I think, I keep running into it, and my question has been, how do you foster it? How do you encourage it? I mean, how do you foster and encourage commitment to a group? Like, what are the components of this commitment? So I’ve identified a few, like: the collective and individual levels of energy for things besides running your own life. Then there’s the collective and also individual resources that everyone has. Also, the individuals sustain the group, the but the group also sustains the individual. And I think it’s like, if the group sustains the individuals then the individuals are more likely to invest in the group? I’m talking sustains in terms of maybe economically, but also emotionally, socially, levels of satisfaction. So like in the group there has to be a willingness to invest in each other, also a willingness to persist in getting to the bottom of things, which is like part of the function of how much the group sustains you. The more important it is to your economic or emotional well being, the more willing you are to try to sort things out, right? The positive of this is that committed people will work towards solutions, and the negative of this is that committed people will fight with each other, sometimes in a destructive way.
But like, to bring this back to democracy and levels of commitment, when media or scandals or other negative forces weaken our sense of being supported by democracy and democratically elected government, the less we are likely to invest ourselves in the democratic process, basically. And that weakens democracy, because a democracy is only as good as the commitment of the citizens to it.