Individual + Villager = Balance

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In Balinese society, on the other hand, we find an entirely different state of affairs. Neither the individual nor the village is concerned to maximize any simple variable. Rather, they would seem to be concerned to maximize something which we may call stability [...]

When they speak as members of the village council, the players by hypothesis are interested in maintaining the steady state of the system - that is, in preventing the maximization of any simple variable the excessive increase of which would produce irreversible change. In their daily life, however, they are still engaged in simple competitive strategies.


[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Bali: The Value System of a Steady State'), p.124-5

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We are villagers.

As members of a village we always have the balance of the village in mind, even if only unconsciously. The steady state of the village - the system of which we are a part - is our ultimate concern, running beneath all individual concerns. We know it must be this way because the village is our ecosystem, and we understand that our continued well-being goes hand in hand with that of our environment. The individual good is always, in the last, housed within the greater good.

Our village is a balanced system, acting as an effective container for all of the various needs of each of its individual members. In a steady system, the maximization of any single variable will lead to an imbalance in the system. In terms of our village, this means that if the needs of a single villager were to be prioritized over the rest, then the harmony of our village would be upset. Thus, the maximization of any single variable (any individual interest) is prevented. Individual concerns are always secondary to communal concerns. The individual is always checked in favour of the village.

So whilst we remain an individual, we must also be a villager; these two roles work to balance each other. Individual concerns must always be balanced by communal concerns.

In our society, which primarily takes its direction from the imperatives of commerce, we have lost our villages, in every sense. With no village to contain us, we have been freed from the shackles of our role as villager. The individual need no longer be restricted, and his concerns and desires can run rampant, unchecked. Viewed from the perspective of village life, our current state of affairs is imbalanced. Yet, if the village is now redundant, then presumably so are the values of the village.

However, we must question how sustainable rampant individualism is. It may be that the role of villager provided us with an important balance, something that all of us who have evolved beyond village life now miss. The communal aspect points us towards something larger than ourselves; invests us in something beyond our own constricting borders. If we decide that this is important, then perhaps it is time to think about how we can rebuild our villages, and regain our balance.

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Beggars and Choosers

In a climate of mass unemployment, the "job" takes on inflated proportions. Its scarcity turns it into a precious metal, its possession promising salvation from the miseries of being out of work. Those in employment may feel lucky to have a job, and those who don't have one want one (or are at least told that they should want one). But is to have a job always a "good" thing?

If we are unemployed - and particularly if we are receiving state sponsored benefits - then it can seem as if we have no discretion when it comes to the type of job we do. We must take anything that comes our way, provided we are "capable" of doing it (presumably meaning that we are physically and mentally up to the task, not whether we are morally/ethically capable, or capable in any other sense).

If we follow this line of logic further then we arrive at the conclusion that every job is a worthy job; that every job deserves to exist if for no other reason than that it provides employment for the individual, and means that they no longer have to rely on state benefits. The job allows the individual to become an "functioning" member of the community - to contribute, in a way in which, presumably, the individual on benefits does not contribute.

If we adhere to this view then we must accept its implications. When every job is a worthy one, we accept the incursions that certain roles make into our lives. We are no longer, for example, allowed to become angry when we are bothered by telesales operatives ringing our house. We see that they are only doing their job, and that their job allows them to become an honorable and functioning member of the community. In a sense, we have demanded that they ring our house; just as we have demanded all other possibilities for employment, regardless of how they may impact on our quality of life.

In accepting this viewpoint we have thrown discretion out of the window, both for those who seek employment and for those who may be affected by it. In an environment in which "a job's a job" there is no room for discretion; it becomes a luxury that we cannot afford. Yet, to lose sight of discretion is to lose sight of the larger picture. If we care about our community, our society, and the direction in which it is headed, then discretion must always have a place, and not simply as a luxury of those who can "afford" it. It is illogical to, on the one hand complain about the dysfunction that is caused by certain roles within a society, whilst on the other insisting that "a job's a job" and "beggar's can't be choosers". Perhaps a mark of the responsible society is that everyone can - and should - be a chooser.

If we consider a role to be contributing towards a dysfunction that we see within our local or wider community, then we must not feel compelled to assume this role in order to regain our footing within the community. Whilst, on the surface, our employment may appear to be doing the community a service, it may actually, in the long run, be doing it damage. If it is our duty to the collectivity to keep its interests, as well as our own, in mind, then perhaps we should bear in mind that beggars - as with all others - must always be choosers.

Originally published 25/3/10

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Rules of Engagement

Eloquence is the faculty of stirring up in others our view of a thing, or our opinion regarding it, of kindling in them our feeling about it, and thus of putting them in sympathy with us; and all of this by our conducting the stream of our ideas into their heads by means of words, with such force that this stream diverts that of their own thoughts from the course already taken, and carries this away with it along its course.

[...] In order to convince another of a truth that conflicts with an error he holds firmly, the first rule to be observed is an easy and natural one, namely: Let the premisses come first, and the conclusion follow.

This rule, however, is seldom observed, and people go to work the reverse way, since zeal, hastiness, and dogmatic positiveness urge us to shout out the conclusion loudly and noisily at the person who adheres to the opposite error.

This easily makes him shy and reserved, and he then sets his will against all arguments and premisses, knowing already to what conclusion they lead. Therefore we should rather keep the conclusion wholly concealed and give only the premisses distinctly, completely, and from every point of view.

If possible, we should not even express the conclusion at all. It will appear of its own accord necessarily and legitimately in the reason of the hearers, and the conviction thus born within them will be all the more sincere; in addition, it will be accompanied by self-esteem instead of by a feeling of shame.

[...] In defending a thing, many people make the mistake of confidently advancing everything imaginable that can be said in its favour, and of mixing up what is true , half true, and merely plausible.

But the false is soon recognized, or at any rate felt, and then casts suspicion even on the cogent and true that is advanced along with it.

Therefore let us give the cogent and true pure and alone, and guard against defending a truth with grounds and arguments that are inadequate, and are thus sophistical, in so far as they are set up as adequate. For the opponent upsets these, and thus gains the appearance of having upset also the truth itself that is supported by them; in other words he brings forward argumenta ad hominem as argumenta ad rem.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, Volume II, p.119

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The Eternal Ideas

Now Plato says: "The things of this world, perceived by our senses, have no true being at all; they are always becoming, but they never are.

They have only a relative being; they are together only in and through their relation to one another; hence their whole existence can just as well be called a non-being. Consequently, they are likewise not objects of a real knowledge, for there can be such a knowledge only of what exists in and for itself, and always in the same way. On the contrary, they are only the object of an opinion or way of thinking, brought about by sensation.

As long as we are confined to their perception, we are like persons sitting in a dark cave, and bound so fast that they cannot even turn their heads. They see nothing but the shadowy outlines of actual things that are led between them and a fire which burns behind them; and by the light of this fire these shadows appear on the wall in front of them. Even of themselves and of one another they see only the shadows on this wall. Their wisdom would consist in predicting the sequence of those shadows learned from experience.

On the other hand, only the real archetype of those shadowy outlines, the eternal Ideas, the original forms of all things, can be described as truly existing, since they always are but never become and never pass away. No plurality belongs to them; for each by its nature is only one, since it is the archetype itself, of which all the particular, transitory things of the same kind and name are copies and shadows.

Also no coming into existence and no passing away belong to them, for they are truly being or existing, but are never becoming or vanishing like their fleeting copies.

Thus only of them can there be a knowledge in the proper sense, for the object of such a knowledge can be only that which always and in every respect (and hence in-itself) is, not that which is and then again is not, according as we look at it." This is Plato's teaching.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.171

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When clouds move, the figures they form are not essential, but indifferent to them. But that as elastic vapour they are pressed together, driven off, spread out, and torn apart by the force of the wind, this is their nature, this is the essence of the forces that are objectified in them, this is the Idea. The figures in each case are only for the individual observer.

To the brook which rolls downwards over the stones, the eddies, waves, and foam-forms exhibited by it are indifferent and inessential; but that it follows gravity, and behaves as an inelastic, perfectly mobile, formless, and transparent fluid, this is its essential nature, this, if known through perception, is the Idea. Those foam-forms exist only for us so long as we know as individuals.

[...] only the essential in all these grades of the will's objectification constitutes the Idea; on the other hand, its unfolding or development, because drawn apart in the forms of the principle of sufficient reason into a multiplicity of many-sided phenomena, is inessential to the Idea; it lies merely in the individual's mode of cognition, and has reality only for that individual.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.182

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Whilst science, following the restless and unstable stream of the fourfold forms of reason or grounds and consequences, is with every end it attains again and again directed farther, and can never find an ultimate goal or complete satisfaction, any more than by running we can reach the point where the clouds touch the horizon; art, on the contrary, is everywhere at its goal.

For it plucks the object of its contemplation from the stream of the world's course, and holds it isolated before it. This particular thing, which in that stream was an infinitesimal part, becomes for art a representative of the whole, an equivalent of the infinitely many in space and time.

It therefore pauses at this particular thing; it stops the wheel of time; for it the relations vanish; its object is only the essential, the Idea.

We can therefore define it accurately as the way of considering things independently of the principle of sufficient reason, in contrast to the way of considering them which proceeds in exact accordance with this principle, and is the way of science and experience.

This latter method of consideration can be compared to an endless line running horizontally, and the former to a vertical line cutting the horizontal at any point.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.185

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"Love and Hate" are generally regarded as being things diametrically opposed to each other; entirely different; unreconcilable. But we apply the Principle of Polarity; we find that there is no such thing as Absolute Love or Absolute hate, as distinguished from each other. The two are merely terms applied to the two poles of the same thing.

Beginning at any point of the scale we find "more love," or "less hate," as we ascend the scale; and "more hate" or "less love" as we descend — this being true no matter from what point, high or low, we may start. There are degrees of Love and hate, and there is a middle point where "Like and Dislike" become so faint that it is difficult to distinguish between them. Courage and Fear come under the same rule.

The Kybalion, Chapter X: "Polarity"

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All is Change

Man considering the Universe, of which he is a unit, sees nothing but change in matter, forces, and mental states. He sees that nothing really is, but that everything is becoming and changing.

Nothing stands still - everything is being born, growing, dying - the very instant a thing reaches its height, it begins to decline - the law of rhythm is in constant operation - there is no reality, enduring quality, fixity, or substantiality in anything - nothing is permanent but Change.

He sees all things evolving from other things, and resolving into other things - a constant action and reaction; inflow and outflow; building up and tearing down; creation and destruction; birth, growth and death.

Nothing endures but Change.

The Kybalion, Chapter IV: "The All"

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Under any hypothesis the Universe in its outer aspect is changing, ever-flowing, and transitory — and therefore devoid of substantiality and reality.

But (note the other pole of the truth) under any of the same hypotheses, we are compelled to act and live as if the fleeting things were real and substantial.

The Kybalion, Chapter VI: "The Divine Paradox"

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Eternal becoming, endless flux, belong to the revelation of the essential nature of the will.

Finally the same thing is also seen in human endeavors and desires that buoy us up with the vain hope that their fulfilment is always the final goal of willing. But as soon as they are attained, they no longer look the same, and so are soon forgotten, become antiquated, and are really, although not admittedly, always laid aside as vanished illusions.

It is fortunate enough when something to desire and to strive for still remains, so that the game may be kept up of the constant transition from desire to satisfaction, and from that to a fresh desire, the rapid course of which is called happiness, the slow course sorrow, and so that this game may not come to a standstill, showing itself as a fearful, life-destroying boredom, a lifeless longing without a definite object, a deadening languor.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.164

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Indeed, all that we know about human beings in various sorts of simple contests would seem to indicate that this is the case, and that the conscious or unconscious wish for release of this kind [a release of tension, comparable to orgasm] is an important factor which draws the participant on and prevents them from simply withdrawing from contests which would otherwise not commend themselves to "common sense."

If there be any basic human characteristic which makes man prone to struggle, it would seem to be this hope of release from tension through total involvement.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Bali: The Value System of a Steady State'), p.111

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[...] the steady state and continued existence of complex interactive systems depend upon preventing the maximization of any variable, and [...] any continued increase in any variable will inevitably result in, and be limited by, irreversible changes in the system.

[...] in such systems it is very important to permit certain variables to alter. The steady state of an engine with a governor is unlikely to be maintained if the position of the balls of the governor is clamped. Similarly a tightrope walker with a balancing pole will not be able to maintain his balance except by varying the forces which he exerts upon the pole.

[...] In sum it seems that the Balinese extend to human relationships attitudes based upon bodily balance, and that they generalize the idea that motion is essential to balance.

This last point gives us, I believe, a partial answer to the question of why the society not only continues to function but functions rapidly and busily, continually undertaking ceremonial and artistic tasks which are not economically or competitively determined.

This steady state is maintained by continual nonprogressive change.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Bali: The Value System of a Steady State'), p.124-5

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The Principle of Rhythm

"Everything flows, out and in; everything has its tides; all things rise and fall; the pendulum-swing manifests in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates."

This Principle embodies the truth that in everything there is manifested a measured motion, to and fro; a flow and inflow; a swing backward and forward; a pendulum-like movement; a tide-like ebb and flow; a high-tide and low-tide; between the two poles which exist in accordance with the Principle of Polarity [...]

There is always an action and a reaction; an advance and a retreat a rising and a sinking. This is in the affairs of the Universe, suns, worlds, men, animals, mind, energy, and matter. This law is manifest in the creation and destruction of worlds; in the rise and fall of nations; in the life of all things; and finally in the mental states of Man [...]

The Kybalion, Chapter 2: "The Seven Hermetic Principles"

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The Principle of Polarity

"Everything is Dual, everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled."

This Principle embodies the truth that "everything is dual"; "everything has two poles"; "everything has its pair of opposites," all of which were old Hermetic axioms. It explains the old paradoxes, that have perplexed so many, which have been stated as follows: "Thesis and anti-thesis are identical in nature, but different in degree"; "opposites are the same, differing only in degree"; "the pairs of opposites may be reconciled"; "extremes meet"; "everything is and isn't, at the same time"; "all truths are but half-truths"; "every truth is half-false"; "there are two sides to everything," etc., etc., etc.

It explains that in everything there are two poles, or opposite aspects, and that "opposites" are really only the two extremes of the same thing, with many varying degrees between them.

To illustrate: Heat and Cold, although "opposites," are really the same thing, the differences consisting merely of degrees of the same thing. Look at your thermometer and see if you can discover where "heat" terminates and "cold" begins! There is no such thing as "absolute heat" or "absolute cold" — the two terms "heat" and "cold" simply indicate varying degrees of the same thing, and that "same thing" which manifests as "heat" and "cold" is merely a form, variety, and rate of Vibration.

The Kybalion, Chapter 2: "The Seven Hermetic Principles"

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They drew special attention to the fact that polarity, that is to say, the sundering of a force into two qualitatively different and opposite activities striving for reunion, a sundering which also frequently reveals itself spatially by a dispersion in opposite directions, is a fundamental type of almost all the phenomena of nature, from the magnet and the crystal up to man.

Yet in China this knowledge has been current since the earliest times in the doctrine of Yin and Yang.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.143-4

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Self-preservation

I say to you, this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live.

You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be, and one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid.

You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab or shoot or bomb your house. So you refuse to take a stand.

Well, you may go on and live until you are ninety, but you are just as dead at 38 as you would be at ninety. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.

You died when you refused to stand up for right. You died when you refused to stand up for truth. You died when you refused to stand up for justice.

[Martin Luther King, Jr.]
From the sermon “But, If Not” delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church on November 5, 1967. Found in The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., p.344

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When I first took my position against the war in Vietnam, almost every newspaper in the country criticized me. It was a low period in my life. I could hardly open a newspaper.

[...] But then I remember a newsman coming to me one day and saying, "Dr. King, don't you think you're going to have to change your position now because so many people are criticizing you? And people who once had respect for you are going to lose respect for you. And you're going to hurt the budget, I understand, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; people have cut off support. And don't you think that you have to move now more in line with the administration's policy?"

That was a good question, because he was asking me the question of whether I was going to think about what happens to me or what happens to truth and justice in this situation.

On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?" Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?" And Vanity comes along and asks the question, "Is it popular?" But Conscience asks the question, "Is it right?" And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.

[Martin Luther King, Jr.]
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., p.342

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[...] when I took up the cross I recognized its meaning. It is not something that you merely put your hands on. It is not something that you wear. The cross is something that you bear and ultimately that you die on.

The cross may mean the death of your popularity [...] It may mean the death of a foundation grant. It may cut your budget down a little, but take up your cross and just bear it. And that is the way I have decided to go. Come what may, it doesn't matter now.

[Martin Luther King, Jr.]
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., p.343

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DANIELS: Anything you want to tell me? Been weeks, now. The deputy ops knows what's going on in this unit almost before I do. Except last week, we run the bug up into Barksdale's club office and Burrell... For once, he's a step behind. You see it?

CARVER: Maybe, he...

DANIELS: I see it. I look around the office and I see that one of my people is at the academy for in-service.

CARVER: Lieutenant, I swear, it wasn't my idea. I mean, I'm minding my business, doin' my fuckin' job, when the man calls me upstairs for coffee and a danish, right? I mean, I never even been on the eighth floor of that fucking building. And there's the deputy fucking ops telling me how concerned he is about the case, how he needs to be informed. I mean, he's the deputy fucking ops, man.

DANIELS: Couple weeks from now, you're gonna be in some district somewhere with 11 or 12 uniforms looking to you for everything. And some of them are gonna be good police. Some of them are gonna be young and stupid. A few are gonna be pieces of shit. But all of them will take their cue from you. You show loyalty, they learn loyalty. You show them it's about the work, it'll be about the work. You show them some other kinda game, then that's the game they'll play. I came on in the Eastern, and there was a piece-of-shit lieutenant hoping to be a captain, piece-of-shit sergeants hoping to be lieutenants. Pretty soon we had piece-of-shit patrolmen trying to figure the job for themselves. And some of what happens then is hard as hell to live down.

Comes a day you're gonna have to decide whether it's about you or about the work.

Dialogue from The Wire, Episode 13, Season 1

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Pearlman: The point is that Maury Levy is a past officer of the Monumental Bar Association, and unless I want to spend my whole life as a fucking A.S.A. I can't spend my afternoons pissing on people who matter.

McNulty: Another career in the balance.

Pearlman: Fuck You

McNulty: No, fuck you. If only half you motherfuckers in the State's Attorneys Office didn't want to be Judges, didn't want to be partners in some down-town law firm; if half of you had the fucking balls to follow through - you know what would happen? A guy like that would be indicted, tried, and convicted. And the rest of them would back up enough so that we could push a clean case or two through your courthouse. But no - everybody stays friends, everybody gets paid, and everybody's got a fucking future.

Dialogue from The Wire, Episode 11, Season 1

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And, inside the organisation, you challenge that collective view at your peril. In today’s BBC only those whose antennae are fully attuned to the corporation’s cultural mindset — or keep quiet about their true feelings — are going to make progress.

Moreover, making progress these days doesn’t mean just achieving the influence and prestige of a senior job with the world’s greatest broadcaster, once considered reward enough. For those breaking through into the senior ranks, there’s now big, big money and a gold-plated pension to be had.

Which is why, although there has been plenty of grumbling on the shop floor about the escalation of pay for top BBC managers in recent years, it’s muted. No one wants to wreck his or her chances of a well-paid place in the promised land. The newsroom has many talented journalists of middle rank, who know what’s wrong with the organisation, but who don’t rock the boat for fear of blowing their futures.

[...] What the BBC wants you, the public, to believe is that it has ‘independence’ woven into its fabric, running through its veins and concreted into its foundations. The reality, I discovered, was that for the BBC, independence is not a banner it carries ­principally on behalf of the listener or viewer.

Rather, it is the name it gives to its ability to act at all times in its own best interests.

[Peter Sissons]
"Left-wing bias? It's written through the BBC's very DNA, says Peter Sissons", from Daily Mail Online.

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Tell me the truth, Frank. Remember that? We used to live by it. And you know what's so good about the truth? Everyone knows what it is, however long they've lived without it.

No one forgets the truth, Frank. They just get better at lying.

['April']
Dialogue from Revolutionary Road (film)

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Learning For Their World



Superintendent: You're not educating them, you're ... socializing them?

Parenti: They weren't being educated before, there's no point in being obtuse!

Superintendent: Excuse me!

Colvin: Hold on. Hold on. Look, what he's saying is this ... I mean, you put a textbook in front of these kids; put a problem on a blackboard; teach 'em every problem on some State-wide test - it won't matter, none of it. Cos they not learnin' for our world, they learnin' for theirs. And they know exactly what it is they're training for, and what it is everyone expects them to be.

Superintendent: I expect them to be students.

Colvin: But it's not about you or us, or the tests or the system: it's what they expect of themselves. I mean every single one of them know they headed back to the corners, their brothers and sisters - shit, their parents - they came through these same classrooms, didn't they? We pretended to teach them, they pretended to learn, and where they end up? Same damn corners. I mean, they not fools, these kids. They don't know our world, but they know their own. I mean, Jesus, they ... they see right through us.

[...] We can't lie ... not to them.

Dialogue from The Wire, Episode 4, Season 4