Philosophical dialogues for all between Bertie the child and Jacques-Adam and Rene-Georg the venerable eagles. Bertie is a curious and observant child who wishes the world was perfect. Jacques-Adam believes that chance is necessary to produce diversity and that each creature has a useful function for the community. René-Georg believes that reasoning allows us to unravel the secrets of the world and that conflicts are the engine of change.
1: Why do people disobey?
Bertie: oh venerable eagles, can you tell me why people disobey?
Jacques Adam: because otherwise, there would be no police and prisons, so what would do those who work there?
René Georg: besides, they disobey only those who have established some rules, not the others who have different ones.
Bertie: yet if everyone obeyed the same rules, there would be no punishment and it would be better for all, don’t you think?
Jacques Adam: there has to be a balance in society so that everyone find their place. Those who like to punish or maintain order need those who disobey. Those who disobey need those who make rules. Not everyone can be the same.
René Georg: in addition, difference is always needed; if something bad happens to some people, those who are not the same will have a chance of being spared.
Bertie: can you give me an example so that I understand better?
Jacques Adam: imagine a rule that says you should avoid being in a group because there is a very dangerous virus that jumps from person to person. Do you know what a virus is?
Bertie: yes, it’s like a disease.
Jacques Adam: that’s right. So in order not to be sick, you have to keep your distance; but some people have decided that they do not want to be careful. They think that as they will not be infected with the virus, the rule does not apply to them.
Bertie: are they right?
Jacques Adam: no one knows for sure so it has been decided that everyone should be careful. As they are wrong not to be careful, police must ensure they follow the rules. That’s why you need the police, to protect others from their probable mistakes.
René Georg: in this specific case, because the virus is very strong, they will undoubtedly catch the disease; yet it is nevertheless a good thing for society as the more people are infected, the less the virus can spread once it has nowhere to go. Especially if those who have the disease recover and can’t have it anymore for a while. It’s called herd immunity. It builds gradually.
Bertie: it’s a funny name!
René Georg: yes, that means that a large number of people needs to be immunized.
Bertie: like with a vaccine?
René Georg: that’s right, but as in this case, as there is no vaccine, it has to be done differently.
Jacques Adam: there are also many people who are working to find a cure, so they too need the virus to have something to do. Not to mention the doctors and nurses who care for the sick. You see, everything is related.
Bertie: so can I disobey as I want?
Jacques Adam: only if you agree to be punished and, in the case of our example, to be sick. You should always know that you are taking risks when you disobey, and ask yourself if it’s worth it.
René Georg: those who disobey do so for their immediate personal pleasure. What they don’t know is that they are necessary for the survival of the species. In our example, they are the first soldiers who go up to the front. They may die and that’s why we don’t want them to go, but if they escape, they will help society. What we do by our decisions, we also do it because external forces push us to do it without our being aware of it.
Although disobeying is forbidden, this dialogue shows that some must do it for the good of all.
Bertie would however prefer that everyone follow the established rules in order to avoid conflicts.
Jacques Adam asserts that those who disobey justify the existence of those who enforce the law and are therefore necessary.
René Georg argues that differences are essential to the survival of the species because they allow the exploration of possibilities that may prove useful one day. Disobedience is a dangerous exploration of certain possibilities that society discards at any given time.
In any case, to obey or disobey has consequences and to be free is to know and accept them.
Is civil disobedience justifiable?
Should we always punish those who disobey ?
2: Why are there viruses?
Bertie: oh venerable eagles, can you tell me why there are viruses?
Jacques Adam: Bertie, we talked a little bit about that last time, remember? It takes sickness and disease to justify doctors, it’s a question of balance.
René Georg: moreover, viruses are alreay present in the world but most of them are not active. So the question should be, why do certain viruses appear at certain times?
Bertie: so what’s your answer?
Jacques Adam: they develop when a particular group or part of this group is stressed or weakened. Because of war, overpopulation, famine, misery, pollution. Because a group is like a body. If it is not in good health, it is likely to develop new ailments. It takes crises to put things back in place or make them go away.
Bertie: but a group is made of individuals; it’s people who get virus. It is terrible for them and for their loved ones.
René Georg: you are right but because the group does not live well for one reason or another, it has to find a solution. Some therefore become sensitive to these new ailments and once the virus has found a way to develop, it passes from individuals to individuals according to its own method of propagation. These are historical forces that influence the appearance of things, but these forces need individuals to be updated. However, they do not care about individuals.
Jacques Adam: it’s a mixture of chance and necessity. Chance because it takes an unhealthy individual to meet a carrier, a necessity because the group in general has been in imbalance for a while and the virus will be the opportunity to remedy this imbalance.
Jacques Adam: by eliminating the weakest and those who do not have an adequate immune system. This will make more room for more resilient individuals to thrive, it will eliminate those who are a burden. This is how nature always works. For humans as for plants or animals. No individual of the species concerned is specifically targeted because nature is indifferent to the individual but a certain number will have to disappear before the balance is struck. The spread of the virus acts much like a passing wave, dragging some along while others are spared. It is also due to chance and necessity.
René Georg: the idea of nature is to keep only what works well because this is how species evolve; the virus is one of several ways to sort things out. Storms, floods, earthquakes follow the same logic.
Bertie: but it is terrible and I do not want to be used to achieve this goal or see those I love succumb to these forces!
Jacques Adam: nobody wants it, that’s why as soon as the virus appears, a sort of fever seizes members of the group concerned; this fever, as in a body, is intended to fight against the threat; it will activate new defenses. We see it in trees when they are attacked by a disease, we see it in humans, we see it in animal species.
René Georg: there is a reason for all of this, but reason is foreign to emotions.
Bertie: so the group should be better once the disease is under control?
Jacques Adam: better is a value judgment but certainly stronger if it manages to resist the attack, to overcome the problem by knowing how to defend itself from it. Also more aware of what can undermine it so that for a while, it will be more careful so it does not happen again. This movement of back and forth between extremes is what produces progress, change. This is why all species already have a whole set of defenses which testify to their particular history.
René Georg: it is the aim of history to bring towards greater perfection, but it concerns all, not any in particular even if each individual can possibly benefit from it. It’s always a struggle between entropy which creates chaos to reach a return to total balance, a straight line with no more ups and downs, and negentropy which creates differences and value by organizing things .
Bertie: I don’t like viruses nor what you say.
Jacques Adam: things have to disappear so that new ones appear. You yourself only exist because others have acted and have disappeared. It’s the cycle of things.
René Georg: in human societies of which you are a part, a virus can allow individuals to think about what they are and to reassess their values.
Virus endangers individual existence while strengthening group health in the long run.
For Bertie, it’s an evil that affects people and that shouldn’t exist.
For Jacques Adam, an illness is a sign of an imbalance but also an opportunity to put things back in place because it forces us to take measures that will be beneficial. However, this happens on a collective level and does not prevent individual misfortunes.
For René Georg, it is a sign of progress towards more perfection because it allows to eliminate what was wrong or to consolidate the defense mechanisms. Nature does not take care of the particular but uses it.
Would a world without disease be a better world?
Are we just toys in the eyes of the world?
3: Why are there inequalities?
Bertie: oh venerable eagles, can you tell me why there are inequalities?
René Georg: because they are the engine of History, Bertie, and concerning this topic, I like to tell the parable of the master and the slave. Imagine at the beginning a fight between two creatures: one will become the master because she was the strongest and was not afraid of dying; the other will become a slave because she preferred to submit rather than to die. From there, the master asks her slave to do for her the tasks which do not interest her but which are necessary. Without realizing it, she becomes dependent on the work of her slave since she can no longer do what she asked her to do for her. In addition, the slave, by dint of work, becomes more skilful and finds ways to facilitate her task. She develops her intelligence while the master is resting so one day, she realizes that she is stronger than the master and can in turn dominate her. It’s an imaginary story, of course, but do you see how inequalities allow individual development?
Bertie: yes, I believe so, but it must be assumed that the master does nothing and does not control her slave. I am not sure that’s the case in reality.
René Georg: you are right, it is not that simple but my intention was to show you how inequalities are a source of progress, nothing more.
Jacques Adam: do not forget either that inequalities are necessary for the sense of equality to develop. It is by comparing your condition to that of less advantaged that you can get the idea of improving things for everyone.
Bertie: but the master does not want to help her slave! And even if inequality ends up changing people, it still remains inequality. It would be easier for everyone to be equal at the start.
René Georg: yes, you can see that inequality remains in this parable of the master and the slave, but it generates energy and changes. Without it, the world would be boring, monotonous, even for those who are oppressed. For my friend Jacques Adam, and I agree with him, it creates differences that allow for reflection and an awakening of consciousness. It pushes to act.
Jacques Adam: we can also say that inequality is necessary but never accepted. This is why those who suffer from it fight to improve their lot and why those who have empathy fight to make it decrease. They invent rules, they invent ways of doing things, they deploy their ingenuity to make themselves seen, heard, respected. Look at how the plants fight among themselves for access to the sun or the rain, each inventing a way of doing things that will allow it to grow at the expense of the others. Or, see how some help each other by combining their different characteristics to protect each other.
Bertie: what is empathy?
Jacques Adam: it is the fact of being able to put oneself in the place of others and to feel or think to feel what he or she feels. So when you see someone unhappy, you suffer for them because you have experienced suffering yourself.
René Goerg: the master suppresses it by thinking that she is of a different species from her slave. It allows her not to feel guilty.
Bertie: and plants have that too?
Jacques Adam: they share a lot of characteristics with humans like you or animals like us so yes, they can help each other, but it does not take as precise a form as what you are used to.
René Goerg: if there was no struggle for survival, no one would live. And if everyone was equal to the others, there would be no evolution.
Bertie: yet inequality is hard to live for those who are oppressed. It is not fair to them. Do things really have to change? Couldn’t they be fixed at best for all?
Jacques Adam: if everything was static, everything would be dead. The mere fact of being born introduces growth and the need to take a place that will not be that of another. Hence a struggle with those who preceded and those who arrive. Besides, if there was no difference, how should we all be? Beautiful, strong, invincible? These are characteristics that only exist because some are ugly, weak, fragile.
René Georg: there are positions that are more enviable and that is why those who do not have them are fighting for them and that others are trying to find a way for everyone to reach them. Nature or history only deals with the general, this creates problems at the individual level. It is therefore up to everyone to see how to live with these constraints.
Bertie: so there is no solution?
Jacques Adam: yes there is! Find your place in the system and see how it benefits others as well as you. It will make you happy. Difference and inequality open up countless possibilities, even for the poor.
René Georg: it is by using your reason that you find how to be.
Bertie: but if my position is to try to remove inequalities and if you tell me that they are inevitable, what good is it?
Jacques Adam: you will make things change and in this sense, your action will not be useless even if it will never be victorious.
René Georg: you will be part of History and if you have made the choice that suits you, you will be satisfied despite the failures. In this, you will look like all the creatures that always have to fight without ever winning.
Bertie: even the powerful, even the wealthy?
René Georg: yes, even those because to conserve power and wealth means to fight against the forces that want to take them away. Each creature is confronted with others and it is never easy even if no one would want to be alone.
Jacques Adam: the beggar has nothing to lose. The slave does not have to worry about her choices. The prisoner does not need to work. In all positions, there is a way to be happy when you see the advantage.
Bertie: yet you wouldn’t want to be a beggar, a slave or a prisoner, would you?
René Georg: no, you’re right, we would fight to improve our lot and that would give meaning to our life. Unless we are wise enough to accept our lot with a smile, but it takes a lot of strength.
Jacques Adam: inequality is often in the difference between your dreams and what you can achieve. In the here and now of existence, it disappears because you don’t think about it.
Bertie: provided you have a full stomach, don’t you think?
René Georg and Jacques Adam: yes, you are right, you must have a minimum of vital needs satisfied to be able to philosophize!
Inequality implies that some are exploited, ignored or in a position of inferiority.
Bertie doesn’t understand why they exist and thinks they should be erased to keep everyone happy.
For René Georg, they are what allows things to evolve because if there were no conflicts and injustice, there would be no changes and the world would be boring for everyone.
For Jacques Adam, they are what allows the mind to develop in order to find solutions. It is necessary that they are not accepted so that things do not remain static.
How can the notion of equality vary with circumstances?
Is equity a means of achieving equality?
4: Why do people protest?
Bertie: oh venerable eagles, can you tell me why people protest?
Jacques Adam: but Bertie, didn’t they explain their reasons?
Bertie: yes, but I suspect that you will have other points of view and I would like to hear them.
René Georg: ah, we’re going to make you a philosopher and you’re right, things are never as simple as they appear or are said. Protesters think they have a just cause, but an idea that is not shared does not have much strength, so joining a group is like expanding it. This does not mean, however, that they are right outside the group they joined.
Jacques Adam: a protest brings into play opposing conceptions that need each other to define themselves. It reveals a lack, much like the supply and demand processes in which what is scarce is expensive. It is then for some interesting to meet the need until the supply exceeds demand and interest decreases. But those who took advantage of the scarcity do not agree to share it and resist. Hence the need to protest and counter-protest to be heard and persuade those who have not chosen a side.
Bertie: so ideas look like products and protesters trade them?
Jacques Adam: yes, but it is first a struggle for power instead of a struggle for money, even if in the end, it will come together. Each protagonist asserts the merits of his product and forgets its faults. Violence and security against tolerance and freedom, for example. In reality, it is impossible to do without either, so those who protest are never objective because it would be counterproductive.
René Georg: this is how history is built. Do you remember that I told you that people are the toys? They act for personal reasons but these reasons are influenced by the historical context. They must therefore protest but the change requested will not be the one that will occur because they do not control and do not see everything. The same goes for those we call the Great Men or Heroes: they guide revolutions but are just the necessary embodiment of a pendulum movement. They did not choose to be what they are, they just found themselves in a special place that made them what they have become. Then, the game of influences and currents decides the result.
Bertie: those who protest therefore believe that they are on the right side but it is not sure that they understand why they protest?
René Georg: they have to think they are right to act the way they do but what will be won on one side will be lost on the other. If they get concessions, it will be at the expense of something that has had its utility or justification at one time or another.
Jacques Adam: in ideas as in nature, there must be many possibilities to allow collective choices adapted to the particular situation, but it is impossible to know in advance what will be retained.
Bertie: so the values are interchangeable, that is what you mean, and those who protest, fifty years earlier or later, could have been on another side?
René Georg: fifty years is a short time but a hundred years, with another education, it is possible. Those who protest are those who believe that change is better than the status quo because they are not satisfied with their condition. There are always some and it creates a dynamic process that generates transformations.
Jacques Adam: values necessarily prevail, but it is often chance that gives them birth. Then, as with a commodity, those who see the usefulness of a new order seek to convince others and if they succeed, the end result will then be a compromise adapted to the time. Or the location, as things varies from one place to another, and what’s true here could be wrong there.
Bertie: you seem to be saying that nothing really has a higher value that could win everyone’s support. Do you not think that those who protest can act for altruistic reasons?
René Georg: the higher value will only become so after the fact, if it is accepted by the majority, but it will never be accepted by all, otherwise there would not even be a need to discuss it. At the start, it is just an aspiration which is expressed more or less strongly. As in science, it begins with an isolated voice which is criticized and which eventually grows little by little if it corresponds to what society thinks it needs. As for the altruistic reasons, they undoubtedly exist but they remain individual reasons born from History. This does not call into question the general movement of things.
Jacques Adam: any value will one day be replaced by another because nothing remains static. Altruism only allows more social cohesion within a group but it is not universal because it would then have to reconcile opposites, which is impossible.
Bertie: choices are never free, then?
René Georg: no, if only because you cannot do without taking a stand.
Jacques Adam: it is also the role of those who protest to force you to choose, but they must formulate their speech so as to offer only two alternatives where there are many others.
Bertie: it’s true, if I joined them, I would have a cause and I would belong to a group that fights to have it recognized. Or not. In any case, it would give me clear direction.
René Georg: don’t you think that by coming to see us, you chose a clear path too? You don’t allow yourself to be trapped in an overly simple duality.
Jacques Adam: letting yourself be influenced by the choices of others is taking the risk of getting lost. Besides, you know very well that you cannot fight for all the causes that exist and contradict each others.
To protest is to threaten the established order in order to bring about a new one, but each society can only function if there is a consensus which is often achieved to the detriment of other possibilities.
Bertie wonders if there are some protests that are fairer than others.
For René Georg, to protest is to try to pass a minority idea into the majority and it shows the progress of history and societies, but in itself, no idea is better than another. Their value depends on the time and the circumstances in which they are stated.
For Jacques Adam, protest is the expression of the diversity of possibilities and their struggle to make themselves heard and take power. To be accepted, an idea needs to be opposed to others by denigrating their value, and its success is often a matter of rhetoric and persuasion.
To be right, is it already to be wrong?
Are we committed to a truth or a way of existing?
Bertie often goes to the library of the domain, reads everything and asks lots of questions