Sunday 20 February 2011

Note to myself against excessive future-orientation


I am currently listening through a dramatized version of C.S Lewis's great book The Screwtape Letters,

The excessive 'future' orientation of my blogging is just the kind of thing Lewis is warning against via the demon Screwtape's demonically bad-advice.

Note: 'We' refers to the devil and his servants, 'the Enemy' refers to God.


From The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Letter 15:


(1) The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity.

He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present.

For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them.

He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present—either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.

(2) Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present.

With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the past and it has a determinate nature and, to that extent, resembles eternity. It is far better to make them live in the Future.

Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities.

In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time—for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.

Hence the encouragement we have given to all those schemes of thought such as Creative Evolution, Scientific Humanism, or Communism, which fix men's affections on the Future, on the very core of temporality. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future.


(3) To be sure, the Enemy wants men to think of the Future too—just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow.

The duty of planning the morrow's work is today's duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present.

This is not straw splitting. He does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do.

His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him.

But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future—haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth—ready to break the Enemy's commands in the present if by so doing we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other — dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see.

We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow's end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.



a Finn said...

Bible also comments on the old nasty. There is a resemblance to certain persons in high places.

Isaiah 14:12-15
(12) " How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
(13) For you have said in your heart:
' I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
(14) I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.'
(15) Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,
To the lowest depths of the Pit.


Systems theory is a good abstract basis, but I also like these kinds of concrete information about information in complex large organizations:

(about impacted knowledge)

"Almost every job involves some specific skills. Even the simplest custodial tasks are facilitated by familiarity with the physical environment specific to the workplace in which they are being performed. The apparently routine operation of standard machines can be importantly aided by familiarity with the particular piece of operating equipment ... In some cases workers are able to anticipate the trouble and
diagnose its source by subtle changes in the sound or smell of the equipment.
Moreover, performance in some production or managerial jobs involves a team element, and a critical skill is the ability to operate effectively with the given
members of the team....
...[T]ask idiosyncracies can arise in at least four ways: (1) equipment idiosyncracies, due to incompletely standardized, albeit common, equipment, the unique characteristics of which become known through experience; (2) process idiosyncracies, which are fashioned or "adopted" by the worker and his associates in
specific operating contexts; (3) informal team accommodations, attributable to mutual adaptation among parties engaged in recurrent contact but which are upset, to the possible detriment of group performance, when the membership is altered; and (4)
communication idiosyncracies with respect to information channels and codes that are
of value only within the firm."

Continued ...

a Finn said...

Part 2.

(about information gathering by the managers in large complex organizations)

"... The literature reports phenomena that can be summarized by six observations about the gathering and use of information in organizations....: (1) Much of the information that is gathered and communicated by individuals and organizations has
little decision relevance. (2) Much of the information that is used to justify a decision is collected and interpreted after the decision has been made, or substantially
made. (3) Much of the information gathered in response to requests for information is not considered in the making of decisions for which it was requested. (4) Regardless
of the information available at the time a decision is first considered, more information is requested. (5) Complaints that an organization does not have enough information to make a decision occur while available information is ignored. (6) The relevance of the information provided in the decision-making process to the decision being made is less conspicuous than is the insistence on information. In short, most
organizations and individuals often collect more information than they use or can reasonably expect to use in the making of decisions. At the same time, they appear to be constantly needing or requesting more information, or complaining about inadequacies in information."

First, organizations are "unable...
to process the information they have. They experience an explanation glut as a shortage.

Indeed, it is possible that the overload contributes to the breakdown in processing capabilities ..." Second, "...the information available to organizations is systematically
the wrong kind of information. Limits of analytical skill or coordination lead decision
makers to collect information that cannot be used. ...

First, ordinary organizational procedures provide positive incentives for underestimating the costs of information relative to its benefits. Second, much of the
information in an organization is gathered in a surveillance mode rather than in a decision mode. Third, much of the information used in organizational life is subject to strategic misrepresentations. Organizations provide incentives for gathering more information than is optimal from a strict decision perspective.... First, the costs and benefits of information are not all incurred at the same place in the organization. Decisions about information are often made in parts of the organization that can transfer the costs to other parts of the organization while retaining the benefits ... Second, post hoc accountability is often required of both individual decision makers and organizations ... Most information that is generated and processed in an organization is subject to misrepresentation ..."

"The cumulative effects across successive hierarchical levels of ... adjustments to the data easily result in gross image distortions ... and contribute to a limitation of firm size ... There is a great deal of evidence that almost all organizational structures tend to produce false images in the decisionmaker, and that the larger and more authoritarian the organization, the better the chance that its top decision-makers will be operating in purely imaginary worlds."

Brett Stevens said...

Now is a good time to write on these topics, from my narrow view. Change is in the air. The circus on television focuses on the power grab in the middle east, but the real change is Europe and the USA, who after years (decades? centuries?) of denial are starting to face the hard task of building a civilization again. When we were drunk with power and wealth, we let an "anything goes" mentality turn our societies into disorder. Now people want order again, and there's a brief window for common sense to seize the day. Your book could be a cornerstone of that vast change. I hope to write a cornerstone of my own, but it will surely be more the musings of an isolated Texan (yee haw) and less erudite. But it may have better hints and tricks for cow tipping.

a Finn said...

God speed to your lonely journey then:

Foseti said...

Good luck on the book. I hope you don't stop blogging for too long.

Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks to the well wishes for 'the book' - however, I am afraid it not likely to be very good - almost certainly less good than the 'essays' which make up this blog.

I write naturally at essay length (c. 1500 words), and none of the books I have authored (or co-authored) have been more than a series of semi-detached sections.

But I hope that writing the book will enable me to discover whether or to what extent my ideas really hang-together - and perhaps discover overlooked implications from them.

I don't suppose many people will ever read it (almost nobody read the previous ones, not even the one published by OUP; except a few reviewers - and the third book was not even reviewed).

And I don't suppose those who do read the book will be much affected by it - so writing it is mostly, as I said, an act of mental hygiene.

For me, writing a book is certainly is not a self-indulgence, because I am not only rather bad at it, but also dislike writing at book length - whereas I positively enjoy writing essays.

Nor is writing a book an ego trip (which blogging can be, at times).

Indeed, the whole exercise will probably will be a big waste of time!

THERE YOU HAVE IT: I hope I have scaled-down readers' expectations sufficiently ...

tenkev said...

Good luck on your book. It will be a shame not to have your blog posts to look forward to reading every day.

Two books I read recently that might interest you (if you haven't already read them) are Liberalism is a Sin by Father Don Felix Sarda Y Salvany and A Theological Interpretation of American History by C. Gregg Singer.

dearieme said...

To put you in the mood

Mind you, it'll only be up for a few more days.

HenryOrientJnr said...

@Bruce, I will look forward to reading your book. I am sorry you will not be blogging for a while. I'll miss having someone to argue with. However, you are probably right that too much blogging isn't conducive to serious thinking.

Which version of the Screwtape Letters are you listening to, by the way? I have the John Cleese one and really enjoy listening to it on long car trips.

Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks - I have a dramatized version with Andy Serkis as Screwtape - also another with the book read-out by Joss Ackland. But Cleese would be good, I expect.

JP said...

Just wanted to say that I only recently discovered your blog, and thus I am disappointed that you're suspending it. On the plus side, I still have a lot of prior posts to read and think about...

Good luck with the book! I look forward to reading it.