Did instant messaging really die in 2019?

I've recently gotten a couple of comments on a post I wrote last year in which I proclaimed 2019 as the year when instant messaging finally died. The comments seem to doubt my conclusion, noting that there are still popular instant-messaging apps in the world. In fact, instant messaging is probably more active than it's ever been, and it does admittedly seem a bit absurd of me to suggest that instant messaging is dead when more people than ever are sending chat messages to each other all around the world.

Some people might assume, not entirely without reason, that my post was actually commemorating the original set of instant-messaging services, namely ICQ, AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), MSN Messenger, and Yahoo! Messenger. I had been using these services since before the year 2000, and so there were about 20 years of usage history between myself and these services, so of course I was sorry to see them go. But I realize that it is the nature of businesses to come and go, and so of course where these original (and, some might say, "old-fashioned") services disappeared, several arose to take their place. Indeed, instant messaging in the sense of people sending chat messages to each other is by no means dead, but it has forever changed its form in such a way that it bears little resemblance to the ICQ and AIM services which I began using in the late 1990s.

Generally speaking, instant-messaging services today suffer from userbase problems: Either they are too small and fragmented to attract many users, or they have userbases which are strongly concentrated in one specific country. For example, one of the most popular instant-messaging services in the world is WeChat, but WeChat is almost exclusively for users in China. Within China, the app is so ubiquitous that it is not only used for chats between friends and acquaintances, it is also widely used as a marketplace to buy and sell goods, and because it is used by nearly every person living in China, it is increasingly being used for business functions such as direct selling to customers and even job interviews. Technically, there is no requirement that WeChat users be in China; the service is available around the world in several different languages, but its userbase is so heavily concentrated in China that non-Chinese users would have little reason to use the service, since no one with whom they'd want to communicate would be on it. Before the rise of WeChat, there was QQ, which was likewise focused on Chinese users. Similarly country-specific services include Line (currently the most popular instant-messaging service in Japan), Viber (which has caught on significantly in Eastern Europe, claimed to be installed on a whopping 97% of all Ukrainian smartphones), and Gadu-Gadu (one of the original instant-messaging services dating back to 2000 but which has always been exclusively focused on Poland). Starting a new instant-messaging service is difficult, because the whole point of such a service is to talk to other people, so no matter how good the technical features of a particular service might be, that won't mean much if people don't know anyone else on the service. This is why new IM services tend to be regional: Countries which historically lacked many Internet connections tend to end up choosing a particular chat service pretty much at random at the moment when that country's residents start coming online en masse, and so regional pockets of usage for various services start popping up here and there, while people outside of those regions continue to use the services which they'd been using before.

There are two major exceptions to this rule, two instant-messaging services which are so huge and international that nearly everyone around the world has heard of them and which are probably the main go-to services for two people who want to begin communicating with each other online, namely: Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. It is worth noting that WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, and so both of the two main international IM apps in the world are owned by Facebook, and if you know anything about Facebook, this is probably as much reason as anyone could need to avoid both of these services. Surveillance of online communication has been a concern since long before "instant messaging" existed, but Facebook is such a monstrosity, such a voraciously all-consuming (and misusing) aggregator of people's personal data, that I would not entrust it with any manner of communication whatsoever. The use of Facebook Messenger requires a Facebook account, and Facebook has long required users to use their real names and identities when creating Facebook accounts, so you can't have conversations there with "SK8BOI1987" like you did on AIM back in the day. WhatsApp, for its part, does not require a Facebook account or any other separate Internet account, but does require a phone number, and this represents a growing trend in the new breed of messaging services: Because computers are on the way out and so-called "smartphones" are on the way in, it is easier for many people to just authenticate an account using their phone number and an SMS sent to that number rather than through an e-mail. This, however, destroys all possibility of anonymity when using a service, because a phone number can be traced back to a single person in a specific location. This is perhaps exactly why so many online services are starting to use phone numbers to verify people's identities instead of e-mail addresses: An e-mail address can be easily created or deleted at a moment's notice, while a phone number is more persistently attached to one person, and thus it reduces people's ability to be anonymous. Even ICQ, which used to be usable without a phone number, now requires one to continue using the service. Even Telegram--which started off as a service for people in politically oppressive countries where being anonymous is key to avoid ending up in jail for saying the wrong thing--gets this wrong, requiring a phone number to be attached to your account before you can start using it.

On the opposite side of the scale, there is a decent set of relatively new services which have recognized the importance of privacy and anonymity in online conversations and have stepped up with highly secure offerings that are considerably better encrypted than the old services like ICQ and AIM (which were generally transmitted in plaintext). Among the more popular such services are Threema, Signal, and Wire, but all of these have the problem of a tiny userbase (Threema might as well be named after the number of people who actually use it), and so any people whom you know are not likely to have accounts with these services. The only other service which has a large international userbase is Skype, Microsoft's spiritual successor to MSN Messenger, and Skype works all right for what it is, as long as you're okay with all of your conversations belonging to Microsoft, but the Skype client is huge and bloated, consuming an insane amount of system resources when compared to the simple and relatively efficient AIM and ICQ clients, which started quickly and weren't resource hogs.

Really, the problems with today's instant-messaging services and software are surprisingly universal; nearly every service has the same problems, and no service has been successful in overcoming them, even though the problems are simple and obvious and mostly result from providers overdoing things--in fact, it would be simpler to avoid these problems than it was to create them. So to concretely identify some of the things which the original instant-messaging services had which are missing from the current ones, I've gone ahead and made the following list:

Text-oriented interface Instant messaging used to be about text. The point of it was for two people to type to one another. This requires both people to both read and write, which is very difficult and uncomfortable for some people to do, because many people are so mentally lazy that reading and writing is more effort than they are willing to put into a conversation.

To deal with this problem, rather than encouraging people to be more literate, which might have made the world a better place, messaging apps have come to emphasize non-textual elements in "conversations". The result is that most discussions which take place in messaging apps now feature huge graphics or "stickers" which cover half of the conversation window, as people prefer communicating pictorially to reading or writing something.

You might think that this is a problem mainly associated with youth, and it is true that these kinds of sticker-based communications prevail on services such as Discord, which is aimed at young people and specifically intended to facilitate discussion among video gamers. Discord could actually be a fairly decent chat service if it weren't constantly flooded with silly graphics which its users fill it with in lieu of conversation. The situation on Telegram is similar; Telegram has many adult users on it, but even these adult users have child-like minds which cause them to communicate in funny pictures and videos rather than writing to each other. Even among more mature conversation participants, people often tend to post politically-oriented videos which clutter the chat rooms and make it difficult to hold a real conversation. Older messaging apps did not have the ability to embed graphics and video into chat streams, and so all that you really had was the thoughts of the other person (or people) represented in text form, and it was much better that way.

Small, fast-running client programs Related to the above point was the fact that since early instant-messaging programs were simple, they were small and started quickly. They didn't consume a lot of space in your memory or on your hard drive, and they rarely froze or crashed. By contrast, starting Discord or Skype is kind of like starting Windows: You press the button to start it, then go off to do something else while you wait for it to finish loading. These programs are huge system-resource hogs, and it's all just so completely unnecessary, because all of this could have been avoided if people had just made a small and simple program to send text over the Internet.

Anonymity and no account prerequisites Ever since computer networks started opening up to the public after their military and academic beginnings on military and university computers, one of the key elements of going online has been anonymity. Being anonymous on the Internet has always been a blessing and a curse: It protects personal privacy and can shield people from public harassment or political persecution, but it also allows people to do and say socially and politically unacceptable things in a public space. The general consensus, however, has always been that anonymity on the Internet is a good thing. Yes, it enables trolls and other people who say things that we'd rather not hear, but society has generally understood that sometimes it's better for people to be able to say the things we don't want to see or hear them say.

At least, that was the case until relatively recently. In the past few years, there has been a significant shift in public attitudes toward privacy on the Internet, with significant numbers of people now believing that anonymity on the Internet should be reduced because it enables hate speech and other things which people are no longer willing to tolerate, like any political opinion which does not fit the currently-acceptable political ideology. Notably (in my opinion), even well-known Linux advocate Bryan Lunduke made a video on his YouTube channel titled "Being anonymous on the Internet is bad." Lunduke made the same points which have been made to justify this argument before, namely that anonymity enables bad behavior on the Internet, and that people wouldn't be so quick to say objectionable things if those words could be associated with their real-world identities. Predictably, there was a significant negative response to Lunduke's video, but Lunduke stuck to his opinion and made a follow-up video titled "Anonymity does not equal Privacy." When even a serious advocate of open-source software like Lunduke--someone who hesitates to even use a mobile phone out of concern for his personal data being compromised--comes out and says that anonymity on the Internet is a bad thing, you know that the public tide is beginning to turn against people's ability to remain anonymous online.

All of this ties in with what I mentioned before about Facebook requiring your real identity rather than a pseudonym. Facebook has become a cultural battleground for various social and political issues, and operating under the basic assumption that being anonymous enables people to do and say bad things, Facebook tries to ensure that every user there is posting under their real name, the reasoning being that people are less likely to post something culturally unacceptable if it appears under their real name. Little wonder that the tone of conversation on Facebook is ridiculously shallow and only focuses on what people want to hear. And of course, this relates to the rise in services which require a phone number rather than an e-mail address to verify the account: It's easy to track who someone is if you have their phone number. Indeed, there have been many cases of people on services like WhatsApp being fined for saying politically unacceptable things because on WhatsApp, a person's phone number is visible and can be used to track the identity of who is saying what.

All of this is in stark contrast to the free and easy days of (for example) AIM, where anyone could make a "screen name" at any time with no prior requirements (no need for a real name or a phone number) and just start talking to people. Those who regularly read my blog may know that I don't have much regard for the idea of "freedom" because people can't just do whatever they want to do, but if there's any freedom which is important for humanity, it's freedom of opinion and freedom of information. The fact that both sides of the political spectrum are now arguing for the abolition of anonymity on the Internet is a troubling sign for the future of free speech and people's ability to say what needs to be said when it needs to be said.

Focus on a domestic, desktop environment rather than a mobile, telephone environment I've noted the mechanical problems with smartphones many times: The screen of a smartphone is too small to read comfortably for extended periods of time, and without a keyboard, the user lacks the tactile feedback of physical keys, instead typing on a touchscreen which is much slower and more cumbersome than typing using a full-size keyboard. Studies have suggested that experienced smartphone users can approach the speed of keyboard users, but this is only when smartphone users use the predictive-text function built into most smartphones now; when typing unusual words or phrases or anything which requires special punctuation marks or other symbols, typing on a smartphone is abysmal. All of this, however, focuses only on the mechanical act of typing; it completely ignores the environment in which users communicate with each other and the context in which they decide to communicate.

There once was a time when a person on the Internet was likely to be at home. Mobile use of the Internet was rare, and so anyone who was online was probably in a quiet place and in a peaceful state of mind, seated at a comfortable piece of furniture in an environment where they might be reading a book, watching a movie, or engaged in other acts of domestic information-gathering while at the same time communicating with chat partners on the Internet. Being at home is supposed to be a calming experience, because the household is an environment where people can relax and let their longer-term thoughts out, allowing the mind to scale the peaks which it cannot always scale in the distraction-cluttered world outside.

By contrast, a person using a mobile phone is probably, well, mobile. When people talk on their phones, they're often in a bus or train or some other moving conveyance, or in a store or restaurant or other place where there are many people around and plentiful audible and visual distractions. In such environments, conversations are necessarily terse because people are actively doing something else and not really focused on the conversation. Even disregarding the physical limitations of the smartphone interface itself, a mobile environment is not a good environment in which to have a lengthy, reasoned discussion, nor are people in such places in a mindset to do so. The result is that most people who use chat apps today, by nature of the fact that they are mobile, are using the apps not to have a sensible conversation with people, but to perfunctorily send clipped and incoherent snippets of text while doing something else. The possibility of being able to send messages while mobile was supposed to make online chatting more convenient because you can ask people "What should I buy at the store?" while you're actually at the store, but it has resulted in a vast decrease in the thoughtfulness which goes into online messages and a corresponding decrease in message quality.

Besides this, there is the problem I mentioned before of attaching a person with a phone number: Because a telephone's data connection can be directly traced to an individual SIM card, mobile data traffic can be traced to a specific person, while computers do not have any identifying information associated with them other than the MAC address, which is only seen by the local network and is not broadcast over the Internet. And because telephones usually have a telephone number attached to them, it is easy for apps to expect users to authenticate themselves with a phone number, further removing the possibility for anonymity online and making it easier for advertisers and other spooks to spy on people. It was better when all that you needed to register for a service was an e-mail address.

A "common carrier" international communication network As mentioned above, most chat networks today suffer from enormous fragmentation and regionalization: Most big networks target a specific country or region, and so there is a lack of a common global carrier, other than Facebook and WhatsApp. By contrast, back in the late 1990s, people around the world used ICQ and AIM, which was funny because the A stood for "America Online", yet it was more of a global service than most of the big chat networks today. Again, the only real exceptions are Facebook and WhatsApp, which is an option in the same way that selling your car to buy new tires is an option.

Publicly-understood protocols which can be implemented into open-source projects As someone who has repeatedly said, for more than 20 years, that the main function of a computer is to be understood (by humans), I don't think anyone appreciates the importance of open source more than I do: Not only open-source software, but also open-source hardware and open-source network protocols. Naturally, this includes instant-messaging protocols as well. The openly-documented nature of IP and TCP is what enables these protocols to be widely used on nearly every imaginable type of device. The Internet would not have become nearly as successful and ubiquitous as it is today had it been based on "secret", closed-source protocols rather than protocols which are described in public, free (in both senses) documents.

It would be fair and correct to note that none of the original chat services which I've repeatedly invoked throughout this article were based on openly-documented protocols: AIM was based on AOL's own OSCAR (Open System for CommunicAtion in Realtime) protocol, which was later used for ICQ when AOL bought ICQ from Mirabilis. MSN Messenger was based on Microsoft's MSNP (Microsoft Notification Protocol), and Yahoo! Messenger was based on Yahoo!'s YMSG (Yahoo! Messenger Protocol). In contrast to XMPP, which has been an open standard for around 20 years but was never really used by the big-name Internet companies except for Google Talk (and briefly by AIM and Facebook, both of which later dropped XMPP support), the most popular chat networks usually try to force people to use their own clients rather than allowing third-party "multi-protocol clients" like Pidgin or Trillian on their networks. However, the early chat protocols like OSCAR, MSNP, and YMSG were considerably simpler, and thus easier to reverse-engineer, than the protocols used by most of the chat clients today like Facebook, Discord, and Skype. Although the old protocols were not officially documented or open-source, they were sufficiently well-understood that they could be (and were) implemented in third-party clients. This is important in today's age when, as mentioned previously, the official clients for services like Skype, Discord, and WhatsApp are so huge and bloated that they take forever to start; by the time the client has finished starting, you've lost all will to actually talk to other people.

Of course, there's still IRC, the original chat protocol, which is not only widely understood and documented in RFC1459, but which also has none of the problems mentioned in this post. But the number of people in the world who even know what IRC is, let alone have any will to use it, is a tiny fraction of the Internet-using public today, and it always will be. Humanity simply isn't good enough to use IRC.

Of course, choosing 2019 as the year when instant messaging died is fairly arbitrary. In reality, instant messaging didn't die all at once; it died a long, painful death which is still ongoing as the quality of communication on the Internet decreases. The volume of communication on the Internet in terms of messages and bytes sent is still ever increasing, but there's a saying which notes: "Empty things rattle the most". The more content there is on the Internet, the less that content actually has to say. The more people there are on the Internet, the less those people have to say.

So no, instant messaging didn't officially (or even unofficially) die in 2019; 2019 was simply the year in which the last of the original instant-messaging services stopped being usable in something approximating its original form. That's all. If you meet somebody and want to talk to them on the Internet in real-time now, there simply isn't one single good option available to do so. Not one. That's all I meant to say with my post from last year. I hope it is clear now.

How to criticize other people

When I went to college for the first time, I tended to get good grades, and this made me fairly confident in myself and my abilities. I understood that it's not good to brag and I didn't want to be too arrogant, but at times I felt like I was not challenged by my studies, and so I often, out of sheer boredom, would make wisecracks just to see how much I could get away with. Some people appreciated my sense of humor and some didn't, and I did try to be respectful of people's boundaries, but a person who is in an unstimulating environment will instinctively try to find ways to amuse themselves, and there have been moments throughout my life when my big mouth has gotten me into trouble.

I remember one time between classes when I was speaking with some of my classmates about things which people did to sabotage their chances of academic success. We had someone in our class whom I'll simply call Mike (not his real name) who, although intelligent, wasn't particularly dedicated to his studies and whose academic performance suffered as a result. In the middle of the conversation, as an example of what I was talking about, I said: "For example, you know that guy Mike?"

Beside me, Mike's voice responded: "He's not here." Which, of course, was Mike being funny; obviously he was there and was letting me know that I'd just been caught.

There was some laughter, and after the laughter, someone changed the subject, but after the conversation, Mike said to me: "Next time, make sure I'm not in the room before you start saying bad things about me."

"I wasn't going to say bad things about you," I lied. It was such a stupid, obvious, bare-faced lie that it was both funny and shameful how obvious the lie was, but I'm still not sure what I should have said. Even today, I sometimes wonder what I should have said. Should I have just come out and admitted that I was going to criticize Mike in front of our classmates for his study habits? I feel like that wouldn't have improved the situation, because it would have been insulting. But the lie I told was also insulting for how obvious it was. I'm not sure what the right decision would have been in that situation, but more to the point, the situation was my fault for saying negative things about someone in the first place. What did I have to gain from that? What was the purpose of denigrating other people?

To some extent, the habit of reflexively saying negative things about other people is a habit I grew up with, and I believe I inherited it largely through my mother. My mother never missed an opportunity to say disparaging things about other people, and growing up in that environment, it was something I got into a habit of as well, usually without thinking about what the negative consequences might be. But the situation I described in college got me thinking about why I had a tendency to speak badly of other people. Obviously it is not something admirable or even acceptable; obviously it is shameful and reflected badly on my character more than on the person I was denigrating. It was dishonest, dishonorable, and mean-spirited, and moreover, it didn't actually achieve anything; it didn't bring me or anyone else any benefit. So why bother?

As far as I can tell, I think that people in those kinds of situations speak badly of other people as a way of creating rapport: If you share a negative thought about someone else between each other, now you have a sort of shared "secret", and this creates a sense that the two of you can trust each other and confide in each other. Indeed, sociological studies suggest that people gossip as a way of establishing a sense of confidentiality and trust. I suppose that I, like other people who do this, got into the habit of disparaging other people as a way of sending a sort of subconscious message: "Look at me and how conspiratorial I am. You can trust me and confide in me!" The irony of such thoughts, of course, is that such behavior shows precisely the opposite: If I readily and without provocation start telling you bad things about another person, you will probably get the feeling that I'm the sort of person who will start saying bad things about you as soon as your back is turned. And, quite honestly, you'd probably be right.

My shame at being caught red-handed (or, I suppose, red-lipped) by Mike made me realize that I was doing something which wasn't cool or admirable, but quite the opposite: It was something shameful, and indeed, I was ashamed of myself. Thankfully, this experience got me out of the habit of gossiping about other people, and today I think I typically only say negative things about people in a more general sense ("people are horrible trash who should all die") rather than about specific people. When I do criticize specific people, I try to make the criticism objective and constructive rather than jeering and condescending. I think I'm a better person for having gone through this change, and I'm grateful to my former classmate for taking my bad behavior with good humor rather than getting upset or holding a grudge against me.

The current U.S. president is, in this regard, sort of a depiction of my former self. Trump rarely hesitates to make up disparaging, belittling nicknames for other people and criticize them in unconstructive ways. There are many things which I'm willing to forgive Trump for, because I appreciate a willingness to be forthright in the media (it is a welcome change from politicians who are very obviously lying just to say what the public wants them to hear), but criticism of other people should be based on things they can change to better themselves and the world around them; it should not be on the level of personal attacks that disparage a person's character.

I'm grateful that I learned this lesson. The lesson is not that you should never criticize other people, because criticism can be helpful as a way of giving people new perspectives and ideas. The lesson is that criticism should be used as a tool to support and help people, not as a destructive force to make them feel bad. And when you do criticize other people, have the courage and the decency to do it to their face, not behind their back. Otherwise, your criticism only reflects on yourself and your own cowardice, arrogance, and indiscretion.

Everyday evil

I'll never understand
how the devil picks his men.
Just seems to wind them up,
and let 'em go...

-- "Devil's Road", The Headstones

A few weeks ago, I was on a long-distance train in Germany, meaning a train which doesn't remain within one city but travels between different cities. I got on the train in a place which I'll just call City A for simplicity. Along with the other people getting on the train in City A, I found a place to sit down and began my journey.

Some time later, the train stopped to drop off and pick up passengers in a place which I'll call City B. After the train left City B, a ticket inspector came through the train to start checking people's tickets. In most German trains, no one checks your ticket when you get on board the train; instead, you are expected to buy your ticket in advance before getting on the train. Ticket inspectors regularly go through the trains asking passengers to show their tickets, and if you are caught without a valid ticket, you can face significant fines.

On this particular journey, I was sitting next to a passenger who, like me, had gotten on the train in City A. When the ticket inspector came by and asked to see this passenger's ticket, the passenger held up a ticket which was valid for a journey starting in City B. Tickets cost more money the farther you travel, and the passenger had presumably bought a ticket which was valid beginning from City B rather than City A to save some money, knowing that the ticket inspector probably wouldn't check our tickets until after we'd passed through City B.

The ticket inspector, however, had seen the passenger get on the train in City A, and so upon examining the ticket, declared: "This ticket is valid from City B".

"I got on in City B", replied the passenger.

"I saw you get on the train in City A", the ticket inspector said, pulling out the portable ticket machine which they use to sell tickets to passengers on board the trains.

"I got on in City B, I swear!" the passenger exclaimed.

"I saw you before," the ticket inspector said calmly. "You got on the train in City A".

"I got on in City B, I swear it!" the passenger repeated.

"That will be 3 euro and 40 cents", the ticket inspector said, looking at the screen of the portable ticket printer.

"For what!?" the passenger shrieked indignantly.

"For the trip from City A to City B". I noted that the ticket inspector was giving the passenger a break by allowing the passenger to buy a ticket at the normal price; technically the passenger had been caught riding illegally without a valid ticket, which usually carries a fine of 50 or 60 euro.

"I got on in City B, I swear it!" the passenger repeated mechanically, like an actor who has memorized a line and is acting it the same way one take after another.

"No, I saw you get on in City A. You must buy a valid ticket or you must get off the train".

"I got on in City B, I swear it!"

"If you do not buy a valid ticket, you must get off at the next station, okay?"

"Okay, I will get off at the next station", the passenger agreed. The ticket inspector moved on, and the passenger, unsurprisingly, remained on the train after the next stop, despite their promise that they would leave the train.

I relate this story as an example of the sort of everyday evil which we see in the world around us. When we think of evil, we often think of serial killers or mass murderers, but such people are actually fairly rare in the world. When was the last time you saw someone commit a mass murder? I've never seen something like that in my life, and chances are that you never have, either. While I don't wish to dismiss the evil of the monsters about whom we read in the news, such people are generally a matter of lesser concern in everyday life, because we hardly ever see them. What should really concern us is the more minor displays of everyday evil which we see in the world all around us, because they are what is really wrong with the world.

What really disturbed me about the episode in the train was not the money that was at stake, but the way in which the passenger behaved. Some people might think about this story dismissively, saying something like "What's the big deal? It's only 3 euro and 40 cents. The rail system isn't going to go bankrupt for missing that money", but that is entirely beside the point. The point is that the passenger was willing to lie several times, to the point where they "swore" something which was blatantly untrue and began creating a disturbance in the train, all so that they could avoid paying the money which they owed. It doesn't matter how much money was involved. It is entirely irrelevant whether the money involved was 10 cents or 10 billion euro; the point is that the passenger was completely willing to give up their honesty and their composure for the sake of saving money which they legitimately owed. To dismiss the case by saying "Well, it wasn't that much money" is precisely the kind of thinking which enables evil in the world: It's not about the money! It's about human decency and integrity. A person who is so readily willing to lie so blatantly for an unjust cause is an evil person. When you consider a person's character, what is important to consider is their motivations. A person who is willing to sacrifice their honesty and honor for personal gain cannot be justified by handwaving the concern away and saying "Well, it wasn't much money, so it's okay".

I've often heard it said (typically with the Holocaust as a frame of reference) that evil exists in the world because people allow it to exist. The reason why evil things happen is not because so many people are evil, but because so many people allow evil things to happen; if only people had taken measures to stop those events, they wouldn't have happened. There is some truth to this. In the train, as I saw a passenger screaming lies for the sake of saving some money, I wanted to turn to that passenger and say: "Why are you lying? Almost every person on this train saw you get on in City A. I know you are lying, the ticket inspector knows that you are lying, and most of the other people here know that you are lying. Why are you doing this? Is your own honor as a human being really worth so little to you?" But I remained silent, because I already knew the answer: Yes, their honor really was worth so little to them, because otherwise they wouldn't have been doing what they were doing.

You can't "fix" an evil person by talking to them, because they know exactly what they are doing. An evil person doesn't stop doing evil if you point it out to them; had I actually said what I wanted to say to that passenger, it was clear that they wouldn't have said "Oh my, you're right! I did get on in City A after all; I'd simply forgotten. Sorry about that!" The passenger was dead set on lying as much as they could to avoid having to pay more money, and in their single-minded insistence on lying, they resembled a robot, something completely inhuman, a machine of pure evil which existed just to lie for as long as its lips could move.

It's for this reason that I say, regarding crime and punishment, that a person's mentality and motivations are more important than the act. We've been taught to think that murder is the most serious of crimes, and the seriousness of a theft is directly proportional to how much was stolen, so a person who steals one dollar is guilty of a lesser crime than someone who steals a million dollars. In my mind, however, this is a backwards way of thinking, because there is such a thing as justifiable murder. To me, to kill the passenger I saw on that day should not be a crime, because it would be doing a service to humanity by removing a person with no honesty, respect, or conscience from the world. I saw that passenger steal 3 euro and 40 cents, but their crime was infinitely more heinous than the act of killing that passenger would have been. Why should evil be allowed to remain in the world?

Yes, evil exists because we allow it to remain in the world. What needs to happen is that people need to take action when they see people doing things which harm others. The passenger I saw got away with their crime because people allowed them to get away with it; what should have happened was that someone should have beat that passenger until their jaw splintered to pieces, so that their lying mouth could no longer pollute the world with their lies. That would eliminate the presence of everyday evil from the world. But of course, we don't live in a world where that happens. People wax euphoric about "tolerance" and go on about how great it is to tolerate liars, thieves, and other criminals while decent people bear the burden of having to pay the expenses which evil people lie their way out of.

Having said all this, it's important to understand the larger role of a formal justice system in a society. We all know that sometimes, bad people get away with doing bad things because police are limited in their ability to catch people and court prosecutors are limited in their ability to prove things, and this is why vigilantism becomes a thing: The practice of regular people who are not police officers or other law-enforcement personnel taking it upon themselves to get revenge for crimes which the formal law-enforcement system couldn't prosecute. I can understand the appeal of vigilantism; like any person who is outraged by injustice, it does not sit well with me when I see evil people get away with evil actions. On the other side of the coin, however, if you allow everyday people to be their own judge and executioner, what kind of a world would we have if every person were allowed to kill anyone whom they thought deserved it? People have a way of working themselves into self-righteous furies, and you can always accuse someone of something, because no one is perfect. I cannot honestly claim that I have never told a lie, or that I will never tell a lie again.

Judging people's characters is difficult and requires a deep understanding of the finer points and subtleties of the human psyche. This is why judges exist: Not everyone who says "Hey, I'd like to decide people's fates!" can just sit down and be a court judge. The study of Law as an academic major is not just the study of laws, i.e. it is not just memorizing hundreds of pages of written legal codes; a person who studies Law must also study Psychology and Ethics from the perspective of Philosophy, because the legal profession is not just about punishing people for doing bad things, it is about understanding what is important to human societies and how to manage the evil of people so that society can be maintained without falling into anarchy. Both being too lax with people and being too strict with them would result in social chaos: If you allow people too much leeway, they will commit crimes because they know they can get away with it. If you are too strict with people, people who commit minor crimes may have their lives ruined when they could still be rehabilitated. (Imagine a world in which every person had the legal right to say "You did something wrong, so I'll kill you". Would that be a peaceful, well-functioning world?) A judge is a professional in the art of judging human characters and deciding which people need to be given another chance in life and which people don't deserve another chance. Not everyone is a good judge of character, and that's why such actions should generally be left up to the experts.

That doesn't mean that every person will be handled justly, of course. Good people are sometimes unfairly arrested and jailed, and bad people are sometimes unfairly set free. Evil is all around us, and if you make a habit of pointing out everything people do wrong, people will just ignore you, because sociopaths do not care about whether they did anything "wrong". People say that you should "speak out against injustice", but all this "speaking out" is actually just a lot of hot air that achieves nothing. When we see the evil and injustice which we are surrounded by every day, the need to take direct action is sometimes overwhelming. Just understand that when you take the law into your own hands, you're accepting the consequences for doing so; is it worth ruining your own life over?

Besides the legal aspects of handling evil, one must also understand the social aspects of it. What seems evil to you might not seem evil to someone else. A person with a strong sense of justice might be outraged at the story of the train passenger who repeatedly screamed lies to avoid paying for their train journey, but there are societies where such fraud is a normal, everyday occurrence; people adopt the attitude of "The train system has more money than I do, so I am justified in cheating it to save money". From my perspective, this line of thinking is morally untenable, but there are societies in the world where this kind of thinking is normal. The prominent YouTuber Winston Sterzel, perhaps better known by his YouTube username SerpentZA, became famous for his videos talking about everyday life in China. A common topic in Sterzel's videos is fraud and other types of criminal activity, because tourists to China are particularly susceptible to being lied to or cheated of their money since they usually don't speak Chinese. Sterzel asserts that a culture of fraud exists in China which makes such activity normal: In many countries around the world, a person might be ashamed if they were caught in a lie, but Sterzel has stated that if a Chinese salesperson lies to you and you can prove that they lied, rather than being embarrassed or apologetic, the salesperson will simply shrug off your accusation; in their mind, a salesperson should lie because that is part of their job, and so there is no need to apologize or be in any way remorseful for it, even if the customer proves that the salesperson lied.

I do not consider such sales tactics to be anything deserving of praise, but consider that China may be a culture where such things are valued. If everyone agrees on this code of ethics and abides by it, if there is a general mutual understanding among everyone in that culture that this is how people are to behave and such behavior is not only tolerable but expected, then it takes on an air of legitimacy; rather than being culpable for their lies, a Chinese salesperson is simply doing their job as part of "closing the sale", and in their mind, anyone who doesn't understand this deserves to be duped for being gullible. Again, I am not advocating such a mindset, but if we allow that such a mindset is usual in China, then it is very difficult to attack it or try to change it. Should people with a different cultural and social mindset go to China to try to "convert" Chinese society to a different set of values? If everyone in a society agrees that something is normal and accepted, does that make it acceptable? It may not be acceptable to you, but you cannot demand that an entire country change their thinking to match your own personal moral code. You may want it (and for what it's worth, I would want it too), but you cannot demand it or expect it.

Ultimately, then, you are an individual human being, and just like every other human being, you have your own unique set of personal values which is not quite like the set of personal values of any other human being in the world. When you see people doing things which go against your own personal code of honor, you are faced with a difficult decision: Should you do what you feel is right in your heart, should you uphold the standards of the society in which you live, should you uphold the laws of the state in which you live (which may be very different from society's values, i.e. the values of everyday people), or should you just keep your mouth shut and potentially allow evil to continue? There may be valid reasons for adopting any of these tactics. Such is the lot of the human being: Making moral and ethical decisions in everyday life is no simple task when you're surrounded by evil, or what may appear to you to be evil. No one said that being a human being is easy. The only certain thing is that whatever you end up doing will be both the right thing and the wrong thing at the same time, because whatever you do can always be praised and criticized from one perspective or another.

This might sound like nihilism, the stance that there is no meaning or value or right or wrong, but it's more like relativism, the stance that right or wrong is entirely subjective and based on every individual's values and ideas. Ultimately, you as a human being are tasked with doing whatever you think is right, and if something goes wrong or you see someone doing something which you consider to be wrong, you alone have to decide how you deal with it. This struggle can never really end, because the human being is inherently evil in its heart--every person really just wants the things which most benefit them and their personal wants--and in a world full of human beings, evil is an everyday force.

Terry Pratchett accurately sums up politics

I just saw this quote from Terry Pratchett's Night Watch, and thought it was worth including here, as it is precisely what I've been saying for years now:

People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn't that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.


People who call themselves "democrats" or "humanists" are so ready to trust "the people", as if a large mass of people who agree on something couldn't possibly be collectively wrong about something. They sincerely believe that if a sufficiently large group of people believes an idea, that is sufficient evidence for that idea to be true, and if a sufficiently large group of people wants something, that justifies whatever they want as morally right. Of course, this idea is nonsense; herd mentality and mass hysteria are not proof or justification of anything except that people are stupid and hysterical.

People are so ungrateful for whatever they get. Give them a public road system, and they will complain endlessly about traffic. Give them universal subsidized healthcare, and they'll go out and protest that they are "against the state" which pays for their medical care. Give them any amount of raw money as social assistance, and they will always, endlessly, complain that it is not enough for them. The entitlement and ingratitude of people is astonishing: You can literally run your government into bankruptcy by giving people free money, and they will stage protests and attack you and curse you for not giving them enough. It's no wonder that so many governments around the world have learned the lesson that it's not even worth trying to serve "the people", because no matter what you do for them, it will never be enough. Whether you do nice things or evil things to your subjects, they will always attack you and curse you, so why even bother? You might as well just exploit them since they do not deserve a functioning public system anyway. Every government learns this lesson sooner or later through experience.

Humanity has built all of their own problems. If only they'd stopped cursing their government long enough to examine the effects of their own actions, they might have been able to understand this, but they refuse to believe that they should have to change anything they do, and they demand that the government give them whatever they want if they scream loudly enough for it. That is all that people know how to do. It really is astonishing how many people never grow up, living like spoiled brats their entire lives, thinking that they deserve whatever they want, and screaming, crying, and breaking things if they don't get it like infants throwing a temper tantrum. That the lives of these people are tolerated is already more mercy than they deserve.

All systems are based on false needs

The phrase "false needs" entered my vocabulary by way of Herbert Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man, a book which I read when I was first becoming aware of real philosophical and political issues and which remains one of my favorite books, although that may be more for nostalgic reasons than owing to any actual qualities of the book itself. In any case, Marcuse, as a "Marxist" philosopher, was adept at skewering the problems inherent in what people call "capitalism", problems which were already well apparent in the 1960s when the book was written. One of the most fundamental problems with what people call "capitalism" is that it is entirely based on false needs: Because it is a system built on the concept of growth, it is necessary for that system to constantly make up new marketable products to sell to people, because if people stop buying things, the whole money system collapses.

A fundamentally obvious observation of modern capitalism is that most of the goods and products on sale are things which people don't need: From big-ticket items like automobiles and entertainment electronics like televisions all the way to minor purchases like paperclips and bookmarks, it is apparent that human society can function without most of these products. These products exist not because people need them, but because they have been convinced by their society that they need such products; if they were to lack such products, people would feel like they were missing out on the best things in life. Even items which are necessary to life, such as food, are unreasonably embellished: Yes, people do need food to live, but they could eat much simpler and more economical food than what most people end up eating, and people eat highly stylized food just because they have so much disposable income that they don't know what else to do with it. The same is true of clothing: Clothing is useful and may be necessary to survival in some climates, but people spend insane amounts of money on unreasonably expensive clothing just for the sake of wearing a particular brand or style. None of these things are necessary, but people want them.

As an aside, one could note that this is not so much a criticism of capitalism (or any other political or economic system) as it is a criticism of human nature. We like to imagine that people live for things like their families or justice or democracy or other noble-sounding ideals like that, but the honest fact is that many people just live for television and music, pleasurable food, stimulants like cigarettes, and convenient household products like can openers and hairbrushes. If you examine people's lives and how they really live, you'll come to understand that these are the things which people really value, the things which are really close to their heart and what they're willing to die for. This is a repeating pattern which you can see in every culture all around the world. People don't really love other people; they just want convenient consumer products. If they can have that, they will be extremely satisfied with their quality of life.

In any case, this system is easy to criticize and attack because it is based on false needs--things which people don't really need, but which they believe they need. In a certain sense, people could be set free from this trap if they would only open their eyes and realize that they're spending their lives working to earn and spend money on a bunch of useless things which are unnecessary. If people would realize this, they could get rid of most of their consumer goods and live much more simply and freely. This is a common observation among both authoritarians and anarchists, both of whom tend to be against the present-day notion of "capitalism" because it is wasteful and destructive. The question, then, is what we would replace this system with if we were to get rid of it.

Marcuse, being a Marxist who wrote in a time when so-called "real existing socialism" really existed, might have proposed a system like the ones active in the Eastern Bloc at the time of his writing, but it occurred to me when thinking about it that 20th-century communism was just as much about retaining the unnecessary as the system which Marcuse was criticizing. After all, one of the core criticisms of communism was how it forced people into jobs regardless of whether those jobs were needed or not. Officially, there was no unemployment in communist countries; all people were forced to "work", but this arrangement created a situation where significant numbers of people languished in "jobs" which consisted of nothing more than sitting around serving some redundant function just because people were required to report to their centrally-assigned workplaces. In the 20th-century interpretation of communism, keeping these people in those jobs was necessary, because otherwise those people would be unemployed and without an income, so they were retained in superfluous or pointless positions for the sake of the public good.

In this sense, communism was just as much about preserving false needs as capitalism; the difference is that communism preserves unneeded jobs, while capitalism preserves unneeded business. When communism fell out of favor in Eastern Europe near the end of the 20th century, there was a sense that capitalism was better because it is more efficient, trimming away unnecessary excess and focusing just on the essentials of what people really need. Yet today, one can look at the monstrously overgrown business landscape and see obscene excess both on the business side and on the consumer side. Within office buildings, people hold endless meetings and discussions about business which benefit no one and serve only to try to generate more business. Within marketplaces, people sell a vastly overblown variety of consumer goods that are so far beyond what anyone would reasonably need that to describe capitalism as "efficient" is a bit like describing a pitch drop experiment as "flowing". It seems like rather than replacing a wasteful system full of redundancy with a clean, efficient system, they simply swapped one wasteful, bloated system for a differently wasteful, bloated system.

When one has these discussions, however, it's important not to get carried away with the notion of "needs", because the thing is, human beings do not "need" anything at all. You could eliminate nearly everything which human beings produce, and the human race would still survive. They might go back to hunter-gatherer societies where people just go out to hunt animals and gather berries by day and sleep in rickety huts at night, but that's okay, because people don't really "need" anything else. I consider myself a reasonably practical person, but I appreciate that when people start taking practical approaches to life that focus on "essentials" rather than luxuries, this is a potentially dangerous path to go down because logically and rationally, absolutely nothing is essential, including life itself. If you want to eliminate everything that's not needed, you can just kill yourself, because you don't need your life either. It's pretty clear that life is not just about "what people need", but about what is important and valuable to them. And that's okay; don't think of your life in terms of what you need, think of your life in terms of what is valuable to you, what gives your life meaning, what makes your life worth living as opposed to being dead.

This takes me back to the point, however, that what people really want is not the things which we sometimes imagine, in our hearts, that people want: People do not live for love, community, justice, fairness, peace, democracy, freedom, or any other noble-sounding ideals which people come up with in idealized fantasies. People live, again, for dumb entertainment and convenient consumer products. In the former East Germany, people who tried to escape the country were sometimes criticized for their reasons for wanting to leave, because the thing which seemed to motivate their desire to "escape" from East Germany was a love of decadence. In contrast to life in the Soviet Union, where people sometimes actually suffered for lack of daily food and other basic life needs, people in East Germany were fortunate enough to generally have most of their daily essentials. They didn't have a lot of luxuries or a wide variety of goods to choose from, but they had enough. And besides food to eat and other things that make up a reasonable standard of living, they were able to benefit from the rich history of German culture. However, that wasn't enough for them; they hungered for the boundless possibilities for consumerism which existed in the West, and they risked their lives to try to escape the East as if it were a hellish prison, when really it was a simple and modest country where people could make a good living as long as they didn't create problems for other people. That's how strong humanity's desire for consumerism is. We've been taught to think of the East as a nightmarish totalitarian state where people's every movement was controlled, but in fact most people lived simple lives and never suffered for a lack of basic needs.

So you see, people don't get rid of "capitalism" because they don't want to. Once again, the most important things in the world to them are their televisions, portable music players, and fancy food. As long as they can have these things, they don't care about anything else. And they never will; this is all that people have ever really wanted, and all they ever really will want.

All systems are based on false needs, because nothing is actually needed.

Drugs

In my previous post, I noted that people who are listening to music are usually not in a good mental state to be making decisions because they use music to steer their emotions rather than logic and reason, which leads to them making emotionally-motivated decisions rather than factually sound decisions. Music is a powerful motivating force for many people, but an even more obviously influencing factor is psychoactive drugs, so I wanted to take a moment to consider the psychology of people who are on drugs or who are motivated to take drugs.

People take drugs because they like how drugs make them feel. There are people who believe that drugs "open the mind" and make people more perceptive or receptive to the world around them, but the funny thing about this belief is that it's been disproven many times, and yet people keep on believing it.

An example is alcohol and how it affects people's reaction times. Bear in mind that alcohol is a drug, just as much as any other addictive and mind-altering substance, but because alcohol is a "socially-acceptable" drug, there have been many studies on how it impacts people's ability to drive a car. Time after time, it has been shown that alcohol impairs people's ability to drive, partly because it slows their perception and reaction times, and yet people who are drunk consistently think they are fit to drive a car, and proceed to do so. One of the main reasons why this happens is because alcohol convinces people that they are "not that drunk": One of the first things which alcohol impairs is self-perception and self-assessment, the ability to perceive when one is not thinking clearly, and as a result, drunk people perceive themselves as performing better than they really are.

The same is true for other drugs. In general, one of the first things you lose upon taking drugs is your ability to assess how much the drugs have affected you, leading people to consistently underestimate how impaired their senses and cognitive abilities are. People who are high on marijuana have the impression that they are seeing the world more clearly. They are absolutely convinced that the drug makes them more aware, more perceptive, and able to think better. What's astonishing is that even when this is measurably false, they will still continue to believe that marijuana heightens their perception, just because it seems that way to them when they're high. You can perform math and logic testing on a person when they're high on drugs versus when they're sober and consistently prove that they think more clearly when they're not on drugs, and yet every time they take drugs, they will convince themselves over and over that they are thinking better in that state.

People have a bizarre insistence on trusting what they perceive instead of what they can factually know to be true. People do not understand how important it is to rely on facts rather than subjective perception. In general, people have no interest in objective information or facts. The only thing which matters to people is how they feel. If you can convince people that something feels true, you can convince them of anything, because people are gullible and believe only their feelings, even people who think that they are "objective"; people who believe this are so delusional as to not even realize that they follow their feelings. And that's why drugs are so popular, and why people think that drugs are great.

Music and games are both unsuitable for carrying messages

A recurring theme in my writing lately has been my loss of faith in humanity's ability to change. Individual people may change under specific circumstances, but humanity as a whole will always collectively be what they are, making decisions selfishly, based on what they feel benefits them personally rather than on reason, logic, or facts. Another area in which I have lost my one-time idealism is in regard to the ability of music to carry a message to people. When I was a teenager and beginning to listen to rock music on the radio, I maintained that the lyrics of a song were more important than the music itself. Obviously the music was also relevant, since if it was only about the lyrics, one could just remove the music entirely and make a poem instead of a song, but I was of the opinion that music should have a meaningful point to it and not just be about entertainment. After all, people already waste too much time on pointless entertainment.

It has only been relatively recently that I've come to better understand how music affects people and appreciate that music is not really a good means through which to convey a particular message to the world. Music is sometimes called "the truest art form" because it is intrinsically the least capable art form of carrying semantic content, and this is good for people who specifically want art to be "pure" (that is, free of didactic intent), but this obviously means that music is limited in its ability to portray specific ideas.

Essentially, there are two main reasons why music is not a good means with which to convey a well-thought-out message. The first is the fundamental limitation of musical form: Music has to sound somehow musical, which constrains how long you can carry on a particular thought. Language and rhetoric, by nature, have some thoughts which take more time to express, and some which take less time to express. Some sentences will be shorter, some sentences will be longer. If you try to express any reasoned argument in the form of poetry or music, the need to make the lines of text of reasonably equal length puts a huge restriction on expression. Music and poetry are popular because they are better at conveying emotions than straight prose, but they are not as good at presenting well-reasoned, rational thoughts or arguments.

The second reason why music is not a good way to broadcast a message, then, is simply because of its highly emotional nature. The reason why music appeals to people is because it triggers and arouses their emotions. People like to feel things; people are essentially machines that are only capable of feeling, and they want to feel constantly. The problem with this is that people also make decisions emotionally, using their irrational, misguided impulses rather than coming to conclusions based on facts and reason. If you try to motivate people toward a particular cause using music, this will only further motivate them to make decisions based on what "feels good" at the time instead of what can sustain humanity into a longer-term future. The last thing the world needs is more people making thoughtless decisions based on arbitrary emotional inclinations rather than reason.

Indeed, it is not really possible to use music to motivate people to do things they didn't already want to do. In the 1950s and 1960s, when rock music became popular, there were concerns about musicians using subliminal messages in their music to manipulate listeners, but in reality, studies have found that it is generally not possible to use hypnosis or subliminal messages to get people to do things which are against their nature. If people are going to do things, they will do them. So music resonates with people when it carries a message with which they already agree; if people hear music which carries a message which they disagree with, they're not going to say "Hey, I heard a song which expressed an idea I don't like, but the music was so good that it convinced me to agree with it!" Instead, they will simply say "I like this music, but I disagree with what the lyrics say". Every individual human being already has their worldview and opinion, and once these are set, they are unlikely to change throughout the individual's life.

The inability of music to communicate messages is demonstrated by the fact that many songs and poems which were intended to convey a specific message have actually been drastically misinterpreted by general audiences, often leading people to understand precisely the opposite of what the writer intended to communicate. The reason why this happens is because people interpret things from their perspective, not from the "intended" perspective of the writer. If you want to send a clear message, you need to write a clear message. The structure of poetry and music lyrics which makes them "beautiful" also makes it impossible to communicate something as clearly and precisely as straight prose text.

If anything, the highly interpretive nature of music and poetry means that these are mostly useful for exploiting people financially. Musicians often capitalize on public sentiment by inserting "popular" messages into their work, taking advantage of current ideas and political trends to win public favor and thus sell more records. I've lost count of how many songs have been fawned over by listeners who said things like "Wow, this song contains a line which, if you interpret it a certain way, could be perceived as making a reference to homosexuality! This song is a milestone for gay rights!" It's so disingenuous that it's kind of sad; musicians can release one song with one line that triggers the public, and people will respond by buying the album with that song, thinking that they're doing so as a political act, when all they're really doing is making the musicians rich for writing one populist song.

Of course, carefully-crafted music and poetry with meaningful, well-phrased messages exist, but they tend to be the exception rather than the norm. Rudyard Kipling's famous poem "If—" is a brilliant description of the model human being (although it describes a "man", the message applies equally regardless of gender), and other examples certainly exist, but I think the point is clear: If you want to express an idea clearly using reason and logic rather than just making something which appeals to people's emotions, generally speaking, straight prose writing is the way to go.

This same principle applies to video games. When I was a child, I was optimistic about the potential for video games to tell stories, because games are interactive and thus allow a far greater level of immersion in the story environment than any previous medium. Rather than readers of books or viewers of films, who experience stories rather passively, a game player takes an active part in the story, and can thus experience what it's like to go through that story and even influence how the story ends. As video games have developed as a medium, however, I've come to realize the fundamental limitations of games. When I was a child, electronics technology was nowhere near as advanced as it is today, and games were severely constrained in terms of how large they could be or how they could present environments to players. People (including myself) were convinced, in those days, that as technology improved and developed, games would only become more immersive and more meaningful.

Today, those limitations have been largely removed as computers have become more powerful, and in the absence of technical constraints, we can clearly see inherent constraints that exist in games as a medium. The problem with games is that they need to be, on some level, a game, and this gameplay often gets in the way of a story more than enhancing it. This is something I have written about previously, and because this is something which I have explained fairly thoroughly in the past, I don't find it necessary to retread this exact same territory again, but suffice it to say that any game will eventually need to decide how much it wants to be a "game" and how much it wants to be a story. In either case, games will inevitably get caught up in their own game mechanisms. Players who want to experience a good story will find that the gameplay gets in the way of the story, and players who want to experience a good game will find that the story gets in the way of the game. In most games which have a story, the story and the game exist heterogenously next to each other: When the game wants to tell a story, it pauses the game to tell part of the story, and when it is done doing so, it switches back to being a game. The experience of being a part of that story is surprisingly rare in games; more often, one has the feeling of being part of a game which is periodically interrupted for the story's sake. Again, there are exceptions, but overall the experience of playing a game is actually a surprisingly poor medium for communicating a "message" to the game-playing audience, because players are more interested in the mechanics of the game than in what the game has to say.

I can only conclude that music and games are both unsuitable for carrying messages. Music and games are effective as entertainment, as a way for people to amuse themselves without having to disturb themselves by thinking about things, but only text (either written or spoken, although written is better) can clearly communicate information, ideas, and viewpoints. Even clearly-written language is subject to (mis)interpretation and confusion, but these problems are inherent to unclearly-written language like poetry and song lyrics. If you want to get your point across, learn to write.

Detritus

I think I've finally become able to understand a few things about my life which have been unclear to me until this point. As an example of strangely inexplicable impulses which I have in my life, I've written in the past about my seemingly pointless desires to get things done in a hurry even though I have nothing I need or even want to do with my life. Where am I going in such a hurry? What do I need to get done so urgently? Why rush to do things when you don't need to do them quickly and don't have anything you want to do after them anyway?

The answer came quite serendipitously from my last post, in which I noted what humanity really exists for: "The highest good in humanity's life is the quiet, careful, and rational consideration, contemplation, and pondering of information, value, and justice... to acquire knowledge and understanding". This harmoniously answers the question: I am in a hurry to live my life. I do not want to wait to live my life in a mental state where I can think wisely. And humanity hinders my ability to live that way, so instinctively, I am in a hurry to get away from humanity whenever I am present among it.

I have complained about humanity many times in the past for various reasons, and I am sure that many people respond to such complaints by just rolling their eyes or feeling like it is necessary to encourage "tolerance" or whatever other words people use to justify atrocities. No doubt many people wonder why I am so bothered by humanity. If I dislike people that much, many people would ask me, why don't I just ignore them, avoid them, and live my own life? Surely I am not required or obligated to concern myself so much with the lives of others, right?

In theory, this kind of attitude could work well if there were only a few stupid people in the world. If you are having a good day and suddenly a fly starts buzzing around you, you can just shoo it away, kill it, or wait for it to fly away of its own accord, any of which are usually effective ways of dealing with a fly. You shouldn't think that a good day has been ruined because a fly buzzed around you; that would be poor adaptability. But suppose that you are in a place where there are literally millions of flies in the air, so many flies which are so densely and thickly grouped together that seeing through the air becomes difficult and walking, speaking, or thinking becomes impaired because of the sheer, constant presence of countless flies and the visual and auditory noise they produce. If you lived in this kind of circumstance all day, every day, it becomes less easy to just shoo away a fly and consider the problem thus solved.

I am sure that the analogy with human beings has not been lost on the reader. The problem is not just that people are so stupid. The problem is that there are so many stupid people. The problem is that stupid people constitute a vast majority of humanity, and their constant oppressive presence is so vile, so detrimental to life, and so ubiquitous that it becomes a problem. You can ignore one stupid person, but how do you ignore an entire world of stupid humans whose presence is so thick that you cannot walk anywhere, say anything, or do anything without being smothered by overwhelming filth?

Everyday encounters with people aside, the overwhelming presence of stupid people also has negative economic effects, because it shapes what people buy. If you go into any city and walk around, how many shops will you see which sell life essentials like oscilloscopes, protoboards, and 7400-series integrated circuits? In most cities, you are highly unlikely to spontaneously find even one single shop containing these essentials, and we live in the 21st century, a supposedly modern, civilized, digital era! Yet you will find store upon store upon store which sells clothes. Seriously, now: How many clothes do people need? Do they really need countlessly many stores selling clothing? Is this actually benefiting humanity in some meaningful way?

And then go into a bookstore and see what is being offered there. Astonishingly, bookstores still usually exist in cities (somehow people haven't been stupid enough to get rid of them yet), but if you walk into one, you'll see almost nothing but books for idiots: Just one pointless novel after another, all of which exist just to entertain readers, not to impart any useful information to them. Yes, you can still find good books in some stores if you hunt for them enough, but the sheer volume of superfluous, unnecessary garbage that you have to sift through to find anything good is a direct consequence of the fact that most people read that trash, and so would-be readers of good literature are forced to spend hours weeding through drivel to find gems. This is humanity's fault, because it is humanity which is buying those trashy books. A basic fact of economics is that if you see things being sold in shops, people are buying those things, because otherwise shops wouldn't stock items that are not selling. The ubiquitous stupidity of humanity determines what books you can find at your local bookstore, and that effect is uniformly negative.

People do not seem to understand how pervasive and oppressive the presence of constant stupidity is, because they themselves are stupid and thus consider that stupidity to be normal. I still sometimes see people wearing clothes advertising Game of Thrones, which is a pointless television show for pointless people which only serves to waste people's time, and yet people treat this kind of behavior as though it were acceptable. If someone were seen wearing a swastika on their shirt, people would react negatively to it; that person might even be attacked on the street, despite people's empty words about how "tolerance" and "freedom of speech" are important. (To people who preach "tolerance", that "tolerance" is important until they see someone with whom they disagree.) But when someone goes out in public with a shirt advertising some culture-destroying television show or playing culture-destroying rap music, which is literally a thousand times more offensive, insulting, and horrific, no one says anything about it, as if these crimes against humanity were acceptable; indeed, they start talking about "rights", as if this heap of pollution has any right other than the right to be annihilated. How could humanity have erred so disastrously?

The problem with humanity is not just that it is stupid, but that its collective biomass presents such an obstacle to good people's everyday lives that it becomes a giant mass of detritus which prevents living well. Every day, every second of every day, everywhere you go, with every step you take, your path is blocked by stupid people, your media is misinformed by stupid people, and your environment is polluted by stupid people, people who "just want to have a good time" and consider this an acceptable mission for their lives, either unaware or uncaring that this mission hinders people who want to live considerately, carefully, and conscientiously, people who want to live with wisdom, awareness, thoughtfulness, peace, and stability. The detritus of humanity is not something which can be waved away with casual, pleasant words about tolerance; it is the major oppressing force which exists in the world today. I once believed that humanity could reform itself, that human beings were capable of wanting more in their lives than just television, food, clothes, and other things which only serve to stimulate the senses. I understand now that I was wrong. You cannot solve a problem by tolerating it. You can only be free of filth by cleaning it.

As usual, I realize that many people will consider my ideas outrageous. There is a wonderful irony in this, however, for in so doing, they confirm these ideas: People are only outraged when they know that something is true. As these people scorn me and my values as repugnant and horrific, they neglect to realize that what they are actually seeing is how repugnant and horrific they are. You cannot escape your reality, and so people try to do so by denying it. In so doing, they seal their doom.

Home improvement

One matter which I sometimes struggle with is how much time, money, and thought people invest into building their homes. In places where people are more well-to-do and have less problems with basic everyday survival, one tends to see a lot of stores which sell furniture and similar household products like lamps and bedding. While it is good that people should live well and I do not mean to suggest that they shouldn't have furniture in their homes or acquire basic items to make their lives and their homes more comfortable and beautiful, it does sometimes seem a bit concerning just how much people invest into this activity when it is mostly just an act of pure vanity.

For more than 10 years, I have just slept on a mattress on the floor and never bothered to buy a proper bed for the various residences I've lived in. There are numerous reasons for this, but the main one is simply that I have moved around a lot, often overseas, and so this makes it impractical to invest in a lot of furniture which I'd have to leave behind with the next move anyway. Buying a bed would just consume space and money, both of which are in short supply, for the sake of acquiring something which I don't need. I don't have a family, and so living alone as I do, I am perfectly content with living without furniture other than a mattress. But even if my life were more stable and I lived in a place where I was planning to remain for several years, I doubt I would bother with much furniture just because I don't have any use for it. I realize that I am a bit unusual in this regard, and like I said, I am not suggesting that people shouldn't have furniture, just that they sometimes go overboard with home decorating.

Generally speaking, if people are fortunate enough to be financially stable such that they do not need to worry about being homeless, they generally go to one of two extremes when it comes to configuring their living spaces: Either they go full home-decorator and acquire an ever-growing collection of furniture, artworks, houseplants, and other trinkets to decorate and populate their living space with, or they go to the opposite extreme and just buy a big television to drown out reality with, and just spend all night, every night in front of that television. There doesn't seem to be a lot of in-between here; there don't seem to be a lot of people who like having nice homes but don't go to ridiculous lengths to fill those homes with superfluous furniture and furnishings.

People who own suburban homes are known for constantly having some kind of home improvement projects going on: Maybe they want to put a new roof on the house, or maybe they want to build a deck so they can sit outside in the sun, or maybe they want to build a whole extension to put a new room in. They are many things you can do with a house to make it bigger, more comfortable, or more financially valuable for the day when you sell it, and homeowners tend to invest a huge amount of their disposable money, time, and thought into thinking of new ways to improve their homes. Again, it is well and good to have a healthy, happy home, but it really seems to me like some people just go overboard with this in a way that is entirely unnecessary. If you have a place to sleep and sit, that already seems like enough. Do people really need much more than that?

It was this human tendency to go overboard with embellishing their households that partially inspired the Bolsheviks to destroy the bourgeoisie, concluding that the middle class was a destructive force that needed to be eliminated because their focus on their own boring, materialistic possessions was creating economic imbalances for people who didn't have much money. Unfortunately, this plan backfired because it simply destroyed all wealth for all people; rather than lifting up the lower classes to anything resembling stability or prosperity or even sustenance, it created a constant struggle to survive for everyone because all people were reduced to absolute poverty. I can understand the desire to target the seemingly wealthy: The human being is a naturally jealous creature, and people who don't have much money surely look at people buying fluffy new duvets for their beds and become pierced with a sense of injustice at this inequality. But attempting to destroy the rich doesn't create prosperity for the poor; it just ruins everyone and everything. This is the tragedy of capitalism versus communism: Both lead to absolute extremes. Capitalism leads to such an insane abundance of goods that people don't even use most of what is produced, leading to stores being full of extra products which no one is likely to ever buy, and attics being full of old junk that nobody is likely to ever use. Communism leads to the exact opposite, with both stores and homes being so barren that people go to great lengths to get a used coat or a usable chair. It would be nice to have some kind of a middle ground where people live comfortably and have reasonably pleasant homes but don't constantly feel the need to keep building and expanding.

Indeed, there have been various perhaps well-meaning but misguided attempts to try to force humanity into certain desirable patterns of behavior by putting them into a specific socioeconomic class. The notorious purges in Cambodia in the late 1970s were an example of this, a movement which favored rural, agricultural life and targeted city dwellers who were seen as parasites. Unfortunately, these efforts did not improve the situation, but rather the opposite. Some people interpret the wealthy as parasites and the poor as virtuous and good-hearted, and some people have exactly the opposite perspective, but history has shown that a person's character comes from within, not from what socioeconomic class they are in: Both wealthy people and poor people can be intelligent, educated, and sophisticated or they can be ignorant, unthinking, and crass. You don't achieve social or cultural goals through economic means. This is especially true in the time of the Internet, because while it may previously have been the case that poorer economic classes did not have access to much of history's great writing, today free Internet access in many parts of the world enables even the poorest people to read some of the greatest works ever written.

That said, one thing which particularly bothers me about places that feature a lot of interior design is how books are treated: People who like to build up their houses often have large libraries full of books, but then don't read those books. These people understand books as status symbols, as indicators that the person inhabiting that house is intelligent and educated, but people use books disingenuously by trying to make themselves appear literate and intelligent, when really they just display those books to show off.

This can be prominently seen in, appropriately enough, Ikea. If you ever walk through an Ikea, you'll often see bookshelves in the sample rooms on display there, but have you ever actually looked what books they have there? The books which they fill Ikea with are entirely pointless fiction; they are real books, but they are books which were written just for the purpose of filling paper and bookshelves, not to actually educate people or give them something to think about. I say that the presence of such books in Ikea is "appropriate enough" because this is the kind of book you tend to see if you travel through the Nordic countries: Scandinavians do exactly this, because they like to appear intelligent, and so they fill their homes with worthless books, but if you ask them about their books, it becomes apparent that they did not actually read most of their books, having only a vague idea about what the books are about and not really caring. The books are just there to give the impression that the people living there are respectable.

I suppose what really bothers me about homeowners' pathological obsession with home improvement, then, is that it draws their attention away from better things which human beings could be thinking about. Invoking a rare example of a Scandinavian philosopher who isn't Kierkegaard, Boetius of Dacia wrote a book titled On the Highest Good, or On the Life of the Philosopher in which he defended the idea, already advanced by the ancient Greek philosophers, that the highest good in humanity's life is the quiet, careful, and rational consideration, contemplation, and pondering of information, value, and justice. Human beings already discovered the highest cause they could devote their lives to thousands of years ago, but they willingly forgot this discovery because they found mindless entertainment and stimulation better.

So if you have a home, go ahead and make it feel like one. But don't forget what human beings are for: Not for filling their homes with a lot of worthless trinkets, but to acquire knowledge and understanding.

Why it's okay to be the world's ugliest language

People who like using command-line interfaces on computers are probably aware of the | character, often called the "pipe", or more descriptively, the "vertical bar". This character is most commonly used to "pipe" the output of one command into another. For example, if you have a text file and want to search for the word "cucumber" in the file, you can use a command like "type filename.txt | find cucumber". The command "type filename.txt" causes the text in filename.txt to be output, which would normally just show the content of the file on the screen, but piping this output into the "find cucumber" command instead tells the find command to look for any instance of the word "cucumber" in that content. (This command works under DOS/Windows; the same principle applies in Linux if you change "type" to "cat" and "find" to "grep".) The other day, one of my co-workers referred to the pipe character as the "Befehlsverkettungszeichen", which literally means "commandchainingsymbol". This struck me as such a stereotypically German word that I felt like the world is a better place for having such a word in it. Seriously, in what other major world language would people use a word like "Befehlsverkettungszeichen" conversationally in normal everyday speech? What other language uses an entire dictionary description to form a noun?

Okay, to be fair, Germans often also simply call this character the "Pipe", because they are fond of borrowing words from English, especially in the context of using computer technical jargon. Then too, English doesn't always call this character the "pipe": As mentioned, it's also sometimes called the "vertical bar", because English still has a lot of German in its DNA, and indeed, German also sometimes calls it the "senkrechter Strich", a literal translation. But my point is that when Germans coin new words, they often prefer to have the most descriptive term possible, something which actually describes what something is or does rather than just making up a new word unrelated to any previous words. This is what leads to those elongated words that have become a stereotype of the German language. People who don't speak German are often astonished at the length of these compound words, but in fact, the words are quite simple to understand because they are formed of several smaller, recognizable words. For example, the German word "Fussbodenschleifmaschinenverleih" is something of an Internet meme because there's a photograph of a shop with this word on it, but in fact, this word simply means "floorpolishingmachinerental", which is not a word in English but which any English speaker can reasonably easily interpret. This is a good word because it succinctly describes the function of the store in question; had this store been located in America, it would have borne a sign saying something like "Kwik-E Wax" or something similar, leading consumers to scratch their heads and wonder "Huh? What is that?"

Many languages, when coining new words, feel the need to make words somehow "cool" or "stylish" because they have an inferiority complex and feel that they are inadequate if they don't come up with some flashy, catchy word for every imaginable concept. This is particularly true of Romance languages: Had the English term "pipe" been carried over into French, it would probably be called the "phippaeiou" or something similar. A prominent real-world example of this is the French word "courriel", which was coined as a word for "e-mail", although this word is mostly used in French-speaking Canada rather than in France itself. Nearly every other major world language is content to just say "e-mail" or some literal translation of "electronic mail", but apparently the French regulatory authorities felt that doing this would be too boring and pedestrian, feeling the need to instead make up a new word that sounds creative and clever. "It is a courier that is electronique, you see? Le smart!"

To be fair, German does this sometimes as well, and many German words are similarly Germanized forms of English words, because German and English descend from the same proto-Germanic language, and so most English words which are not modern neologisms already exist in long-established forms in German. For example, I once saw a Polandball strip in which Germans called a shovel a "Sandbewegungsgerät" (sandmovingdevice), but the actual German word for a shovel is simply "Schaufel". Like English, German derives many words from Latin, Greek, and other international languages. But if you're making up new words, why shouldn't a language use descriptive names for objects? Is it really so bad to use a description as a name? This process simplifies language because instead of trying to memorize a word which has no relation to what the word actually describes, remembering the word is easy because the word literally is its own description. "Hmm, I forget, what was the word for the floor polishing machine rental? Oh, wait..."

Many, many people have accused German of being horribly ugly for this simplicity, insisting that the only way to live is to name objects the same way car companies name cars: Take an entirely random word which has no contextual relation to anything whatsoever, or better yet, say something completely nonsensical which is not even a word but which sounds good, then assert that this is a new word. People are awestruck by the "beauty" of this process, proclaiming the nonsense words which come out of this process as works of genius: "Wow, this word is so cute and cool and stylish! I'm sure glad that we speak this civilized language instead of those mean old Germans who only name things descriptively. What an awful, ugly language they have!" Sorry, English and French, but with all due respect to what are two fine languages, it's okay to be "the world's ugliest language" if it means that the language can be simplified because things are named descriptively. One of the nice things about Germans and the German language is that they have nothing to prove: While other languages feel the need to strut on a stage and show off how modern, trendy, and stylish they are, German and Germans are fine with quietly attending to their own things and calling things as they are. If that's not good enough for you, you can become awaymoved.