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|Tuesday, November 12th, 2019|
|Relationship protips with LateBlt
In many ways, I am probably the last person who should be giving relationship advice to anyone, considering my own lack of success in this particular field of my life. But I don't think that all my failures are due to my own ineptitude in handling relationships, and when I did make mistakes, they were sometimes mistakes which I could learn from. I've begun to notice some patterns of behavior which people, including myself and some of my exes, tend to exhibit in relationships, and because I perceive that many of these behaviors are fairly universal among human beings, it's worth describing and documenting them so that they can be recognized in the future; even better would be the ability to understand how to deal with these behaviors, because people often tend to instinctively make the same mistakes in these situations over and over if they don't understand what's going on.
As a fairly "typical" man, let me try to make an analogy which typical men will understand. Men are problem-solvers. They like analyzing systems so that these systems can be made to work better. If you have any system which it's important to keep running, you need to check and test it occasionally to make sure that it's still intact and performing correctly. Whether the system is a machine like a car or an organization of people and rules like a business, part of keeping that system in good running order is performing periodic maintenance checks to ensure that the various parts of the system are still performing and responding appropriately. If you have a car which you personally maintain, you would consider regular checks of systems like the brakes and suspension to be a given; the car can't be trusted if you don't check these parts regularly.
Try to understand, then, that when a woman comes to you and starts asking awkward questions about the relationship, she's doing exactly the same thing for exactly the same reason, and is hoping for the same kind of reassurance you'd want to have when testing anything.
When a woman comes to you and starts asking questions like "Do you still love me?" or "Do you care about what I say at all?", she's not just trying to be annoying. She's doing a maintenance check. She wants to make sure that things are still as they should be.
Unfortunately, people tend to get annoyed by such questions. If a person is in a long-term relationship and feels like things are going fine, one thing they don't want is to get a sense that the relationship is actually troubled. For this reason, when the man gets these questions from the woman, he tends to snap at her, to get annoyed and give her a short "Yes" for an answer, which doesn't actually do anything to reassure the woman. She continues to feel neglected; if anything, her maintenance check gives her the feeling that her doubts and fears have actually been confirmed, because she gets the sense that the man doesn't actually care, that he in fact cares so little that he's not even willing to talk to her when she's experiencing insecurity and doubt. And just like that, the relationship begins to unravel. Once that process has begun, it's very difficult to stop.
I've framed the description of this scenario in terms of a woman coming to a man and him being annoyed with her questions, because that's how the scenario typically unfolds: Men tend to assume that the relationship is going fine, but women are more apt to feel doubts if they don't feel like they're receiving enough support, assurance, or attention in the relationship. Obviously, the same principle applies in reverse as well: If a man starts asking a woman such questions, he's probably asking for the same reasons and hoping for the same reassurance, but in practice, the more common scenario is a woman feeling neglected and the man feeling like things were fine until the woman started asking questions. Regardless of the genders of people involved, however, one thing should be understood: If your partner starts asking questions like this, the questions are not to be ignored or dismissed, because they're a warning sign, a sign that the person asking the questions is feeling neglected and wants to understand the situation better.
What you need to do in such a situation is stop what you're doing, if at all possible, and take the time to talk to the partner who is having doubts. If you care about them at all, if you want the relationship with them to continue at all, you need to take the time to attend to your partner's feelings and concerns. Listen and communicate. Above all, direct your attention toward your partner; make sure that you are focused on them and not just brushing them off as an annoyance to be dismissed as quickly as possible. If you cannot do this--if you cannot focus your attention on your partner--then ask yourself why not, and whether it makes any sense for the relationship with that partner to continue if you are so disinterested in them and their feelings that you are unable or unwilling to devote a few minutes to communicating with them at a time when they really need to communicate.
The partner who is experiencing doubts should also be understanding in a situation like this. Understand that if your partner feels like things are going well in the relationship, expressing doubts about the relationship can lead to planting the seeds of doubt in your partner as well: It can lead to them saying "I thought everything was fine. Maybe the relationship isn't working out after all". If you're having doubts but want the relationship to continue, it's important to not just communicate that you're having doubts, but why
you feel that way, because this well help your partner understand what's going on. Otherwise they may end up simply bewildered, as if an incomprehensible problem has just suddenly surfaced without any warning or apparent cause, which also means without any apparent solution.
How often something like this happens is also important. It's normal for people to question or doubt assumptions sometimes, and if these kinds of exchanges happen now and then, that's not, in itself, a sign of trouble in the relationship. What does point to a problem is if someone needs to feel reassured very frequently. There are people who need to be reassured multiple times a day that their partner loves them and is committed to them, and if they go an hour without such assurance, they begin to instinctively assume that their partner no longer loves them and that the relationship is over. Understand that constantly
needing assurance from your partner is likely to be emotionally exhausting for them; it may even cause them to give up, because they perceive that their assurances are not effective at all. If you really think you have cause for doubt, you shouldn't be shy about expressing your concerns to your partner, but in the absence of concrete reasons for doubt, try not to constantly express doubts to them, because that is likely to be self-defeating: It will lead to them
having doubts as well, and then the relationship is over.
A related problem is people who suddenly become aggressive in their complaining. Again, the typical scenario tends to be a woman who begins complaining to her man, but similar patterns can be seen regardless of gender. One partner goes to the other and aggressively asserts that they are upset about something, without apparent cause or provocation. The partner who is receiving the complaint often feels that the complaint doesn't really have much to do with them, and wonders why the other partner is suddenly complaining to them as if they are somehow at fault for the problem. Some people do this fairly regularly, and when they do it, it's usually a call for attention. They are not actually complaining about the problem at hand; what they're really exhibiting is attention-seeking behavior. What they really want is not a solution to the problem, but rather that the partner on the receiving end of the complaint pays attention to the complaining partner and tries to comfort them. Suddenly complaining about something for no apparent reason is a sign of poorly-adjusted behavior, but some people are prone to this kind of behavior, and rather than dismissing them as crazy and their concerns as irrelevant, which would be a "logical" response, the partner suddenly faced with a complaint should understand that the complainer just wants attention. Once again, the appropriate response is to reassure them and show how important they are to you, to show that you care about them and love them deeply and sympathize with the concerns they're expressing. You know how cats seek attention by suddenly lying down on the book you're trying to read or the paper you're trying to write? It's kind of like that.
The key is to look, listen, and learn. Often people deal with unexpected behaviors from their partners in ways that are not effective at solving the problem(s) that may exist. If this happens, you should ask yourself why
the problem was not solved by what you did, and how you could approach the problem differently. This sounds obvious when I state it here, but people tend to not notice this when they're in the middle of a discussion that might seem senseless to them; people tend to see these conversations as illogical, unprompted, and inappropriate, even insane and unreasonable, and they react negatively to these perceptions. Understand that if your partner is doing something that seems crazy, it probably doesn't seem crazy to them. Try to see things from their perspective, and understand that brushing off what they perceive as very legitimate concerns is not going to improve the situation in any way.
Have I consistently done this in the past? No. That's why I wrote this. I wrote all of this advice as much for myself as for other people.
|Wednesday, November 6th, 2019|
|People are empty
In a recent post
, I claimed that in order for a person to be loved, they need to have their own life, because otherwise there would be nothing else for another person to love. I asked the rhetorical question: "How can there be love between non-people, between creatures who exist physically and live biologically but have no identity...?" I wanted to revisit this subject, because I believe that this is an important theme which I've never really thought about before.
What is it that draws two human beings to each other? What causes a person to fall in love with one particular person as opposed to any other? For many people--too many people--the idea of love is based on appearance: People think that if they're physically attractive enough, someone will fall in love with them for that reason alone. Obviously, such an attraction isn't true love, because true love is based on a person's individual personality, not what they look like. On dating websites (and on old-fashioned dating profiles, the kind that existed in newspaper personals ads and TV dating shows before the Internet was widespread), many people--again, too many people--describe themselves in terms of their media tastes--what music, television, and movies they like--and think that such media tastes will be enough to create compatibility and love between people. Of course, all of this is ridiculous: True love isn't based on what TV shows people like. True love is something experienced when you look into the soul of a person, see their individual character and personality, and feel that this person is someone you want to spend your life with.
But again, in order to be able to feel that way about a person, the person needs to have
a character and personality. And here comes the sad reality: Many people--again, too many people--seem to lack their own character and personality. To be lovable as a human being, a person needs to be
a human being, which requires having an identity, an individual personality. The next question, then, is: What does it mean to have a personality? If you love one person uniquely, in a way that is different from how you feel about anyone else, that person must have something unique about them, something that causes you to focus your love on them in a way that you don't focus it on anyone else. What characterizes this uniqueness? What is it about a person that makes them who they are, unique and distinct from any other human being in the world?
I think that most people don't really know the answer to this question and couldn't characterize themselves if asked. They can hardly be blamed for this: We live in a society that doesn't encourage people to get in touch with their inner selves or try to understand what they think or feel in any way. The general social climate in the world today is that you should just follow whatever you feel, and that that's enough personality for anyone. Little wonder, then, that love between people tends to be so transitory: People do not fall in love with other people, but with random feelings that come and go for no reason. And what else could they do? If people do not know who or what they are, they can't really express themselves as an individual. Can you honestly ask yourself: Who are you? Do you have an identity? To have an identity, there must be something which distinguishes you from other people. Are you fundamentally different from every other human being in the world, or for that matter, any
other human being in the world? And if you think the answer is yes, then what exactly is it that distinguishes you?
Again, very often, when asked to describe themselves or give an idea of who they are, people will define themselves in terms of their tastes: A person will form their own concept of a self-identity based on what music, food, movies, and television they like. While taste is individual, are people really sufficiently shallow that the only thing which they can be identified by, the only thing which makes one of them distinct from any other, is what food and entertainment they personally have a taste for? Are media preferences really the sole distinguishing factor between people in the world?
I don't believe that they are. I believe that a personality is much more than just what you like and dislike. I believe that the reason why people are not able to define their personal character or identity at a deeper level is because they never actually took the time to look within themselves and find out who they really are. The sad feeling I get when I look at humanity is partly a consequence of the sense that people are empty: They have no persona, no identity. They are walking flesh heaps, driven only by impulse, but without any awareness of why they do the things they do. In a very real sense, our reality is a horror-movie scenario in which the world is full of creatures which seem externally human, but are horrifyingly inhuman in some vital way, creatures which lack a certain vitality, energy, or consciousness whose absence makes them seem like hollow shells, walking projections that are in that uncanny valley between an object and a human being.
Besides their preferences in media and food, some people define themselves in terms of their interests and hobbies. Some people are fascinated by science, and think about it often. Some people are focused on architecture, and always pause to take note of how buildings are structured. Among the world's billions of people, you could probably find at least one person who thinks a lot about any given subject, and their preoccupation with this topic may make them different from other people. But there are two important questions I'd raise regarding this idea: First of all, to what extent to these hobbies or preoccupations define people? If a person has a very strong personal interest in architecture, to the point where they spend a significant portion of their free time studying buildings and learning about how buildings are designed and built, does this fascination with architecture define them? Is this not just a particular type of taste, a preference not for a specific type of food or music, but rather a preference for focusing on architecture? Could a person with such a taste for architecture really be said to have a distinct "personality" because of this hobby? And secondly, even if we do allow the idea that this preoccupation with a particular hobby or interest makes a person distinct from the others, then the question is: How many people in the world actually have a hobby like this? How many people actually are defined by their interest(s), in contrast to people who have no particular interests and just live without any directed focus in life? In general, I'd say that while hobbies can be something important to a person, they are not enough to describe someone's personality; they reflect aspects of a person, perhaps, but they do not get to the essence of a person.
Many people, recognizing their own inability to distinguish themselves from other human beings, try to make themselves different in terms of their appearance. In some cases, people take this to extremes, going through extensive body-modification ("bod mod") processes to give themselves a unique appearance. A famous example is Erik "The Lizardman" Sprague, who has had his body extensively tattooed to give himself a lizard-like appearance, as well as having his teeth filed down to sharp points and having his tongue split up the middle so that it looks reptilian. In less extreme cases, people simply wear wildly unusual clothing or makeup to give themselves a strikingly unusual appearance. While people who do this obviously have their own personal reasons for doing so, and those reasons will vary from one person to another, I generally see people who do this as trying to compensate for a lack of internal personality: It's easy to make yourself look different on the outside, but what really defines a person, what really makes one person distinct, is what exists within them, not what they look like externally. What interests me is not what a person does to their exterior, but what lies beneath that exterior. And what many people don't want to admit, even to themselves, is that underneath that exterior, they seem to be the same as everyone else: Empty.
Some people may accuse me of contradicting myself at this point. In the past, I've often lamented how different people are, how the fundamentally incompatible political and social desires of the world's people constantly lead to conflict, on interpersonal levels (between friends and family) as well as on larger scales (leading to riots, wars, etc.), and now here I am lamenting precisely the opposite, that people are so similar to each other as to be indistinguishable. So which is it? Are people identical to each other, or fundamentally, irreconcilably different? And which one is better? Is it better for people to be identical so that they can get along but lack individuality, or is it better for people to be different so that they can fight constantly? Or am I just impossible to satisfy, someone who would complain incessantly either way? I'll try to answer these questions.
What I've been saying with the above is that people are actually very similar in how they live
: Nearly everyone goes to work for most of their waking hours, then just goofs off and does some useless leisure-time activity in their free time, such as hanging out with friends or watching television. Where people are very different from each other in a way that often causes conflict is in how they think
with regard to specific opinions: To really uncover the differences between people, you need to only ask them some fairly basic questions about things like politics or society to realize that people have vastly different ideas about things. As I wrote
earlier this year, a fairly simple and short list of questions could be sufficient to uncover ideological differences that differentiate every single person in the world
. We often don't realize what opinions people have because they tend to keep these opinions to themselves and don't talk about them publicly, but if you do want to see how people are very different, you can ask them some questions about the usual divisive political ideas: abortion, gay marriage, whether certain things like education or health care should be paid by the government (that is to say, by a shared money pool which everyone in the country pays into) or whether they should be paid by each individual separately, but these are abstract, ideological issues which, in practice, rarely surface in everyday life. How often do people have to face, in everyday life, the decision whether to have an abortion, or whether to marry a person of the same sex? If you ask different people whether people of the same sex should be able to marry each other, you'll get a variety of different responses, but these will mostly be theoretical responses based on preconceived notions which people have in their minds, because the truth is that for most people, the idea of whether same-sex couples should be able to get married is as far removed from our everyday lives as the question of whether a horse should be able to marry a cow, or whether the moon should be able to marry the sun.
This being the case, it seems like a strange idea for people to define themselves in terms of their political opinions. To be sure, some people do this; some people insist that their political ideas are the most important thing in the world to them, to the extent that they are unwilling to be partners or even friends with people who do not share those political ideas. As an example, there are people who say "I will never marry someone who doesn't support gay marriage", even if that person is not gay themselves and would not be affected by whether gay marriage is legal or not. If a person chooses
to define themselves in terms of their political ideas, they can do so, but this still does not give a very clear picture of who that person is. I wouldn't say that a person's character is defined by whether they recognize gay marriage, or whether they think abortion should be legal. Your opinions are a part of who you are, but two people who support gay marriage, or two people who oppose gay marriage, are still likely to be very different from each other.
If one were to pose a broader, more general question, one could reasonably ask: Regarding the apparent "sameness" of people, to what extent is this a practical
matter (most people in the world are lacking in any personal identity because that just happens to be how they are) which could be changed if people's personal characters would be more definite and distinct, and to what extent is this a fundamental
matter (human beings are inherently incapable of having a distinct identity, character, or personality that separates them from other individuals) which we cannot escape from? I think it's apparent that it's both: To some extent, human beings all have commonality which is simply a consequence of their being humans, and in this sense, in some fundamental way, all human beings can be said to be the same: Even people who seem well-defined, even people who seem to have a strong sense of self and whose personalities are recognized by others, are really just people following their thoughts and feelings, which is all a human being can do. In this sense, we're all machines reacting to circumstances. In computer terms, we receive input through our five senses, as well as through our own thoughts and feelings, and then the output is whatever we do and say in reaction to these inputs. No human being can do anything other than what they would do in response to the inputs they receive.
That said, the good news--in my opinion--is that it is possible for people to form personalities that are distinct enough to be recognizably unique. This is provable, in a practical sense, in the way that we tend to characterize people's words and actions as relating to their personality; if you know a person well, you can characterize a certain statement or action from that person as "something they would
say" or "something they would
do" if the idea of that statement or action is in agreement with your perception of that person's character, and similarly, you can characterize a certain statement or action as "out of character" for that person if it seems like something that doesn't fit together with your perception of their personality. The better you know a person, the better you'll be able to predict what they're likely to do or not do, what they're likely to say or not say, what they're likely to like or not like.
The problem, then, is not that people are actually identical to each other, but rather that they are so superficial, so unwilling or unable to examine their own thoughts and psyches, that they are not aware of their own personas, and as a consequence, they must necessarily live in the same shallow, unthinking way as every other person. Animals of a species tend to behave the same as all other members of their species precisely because they lack the mental capacity for introspective, self-aware thinking; I doubt that animals ever really question their motives for their actions or dream about ideals the way that humans can and do. When people think like animals, they must necessarily live like animals: lacking higher-level thoughts, living only by following their impulses and imitating other members of their species. If people could only be more introspective, if they were only more willing to actually examine and question their own thoughts and feelings, they would be much more aware of their personalities, and thus much more able to express
There are those who would claim that on the inside, people are actually not that different, either. One might posit that most human beings do the same things, think the same things, feel the same things, and want the same things as most other human beings. Specifically, they want to feel pleasure and happiness, they think about light, entertaining stories that amuse them, and they do whatever work they have to do to make a living before spending their leisure time doing whatever allows them to feel these feelings they want to feel, and think these thoughts they want to think. There's truth to this, of course, but I think that this is based on a fairly superficial examination of human beings.
Another fundamental question, then, is: How much is difference
key to defining a person? Is it necessary for a person to be different from all the other billions of people in the world in order to have their own distinct character? In the science-fiction cloning scenario where an exact duplicate of a person can be made, if a perfect clone were to be made of a person whom you deeply love, would you be able to love either the original or the clone with the same intensity? Would the fact that the person is no longer unique be at all detrimental to love? This is a difficult question to answer, but for better or for worse, it is (at least at present) a theoretical one, as cloning people is not really possible; even the recent "cloning" technology which could produce people with identical DNA does not actually create personality clones, as people with the same DNA still end up having different personalities.
I think, then, that people are in fact capable of having their own identity, personality and character, but a person's identity is defined by something more complex than what most people realize about themselves, or are prepared to express about themselves; it's certainly much more than just their tastes, whether it's tastes in food, like "I like potatoes better than tomatoes", or tastes in music, like "I like rock music more than dance music", or tastes in politics, like "I prefer democracy to dictatorship". But if these are examples of what personality is not
, then the question is: What is
Well, that's a difficult question without a simple answer. A personality isn't just one thing: it's a whole bunch of things. You could say it's the algebraic sum of all a person's attributes. A person's identity is partly contained in how they express themselves: The way that a person speaks or writes, whether they are more quiet or loud, passive or aggressive, pensive or impulsive--these are part of who a person is. A person's identity is partly contained in how they dress: Do they try to look elegant and classy with their clothes, do they try to look creative and unusual with their clothes, or do they just wear whatever is most comfortable and practical? This decision reflects a lot about a person's personality. A person's physical movement and body language says a lot about them: Whether they walk slowly or quickly, what position they tend to sit in when they're relaxing, and how they move (or don't move) their hands to gesticulate as they speak. It's about what a person most often tends to think about, feel, and do, because even though people will think about, feel, and do different things, everyone has an idle loop
to which they tend to return when they're not engaged in something specific. At the same time, a person's personality is something of a moving target, because it does tend to change somewhat over long periods of time or in response to certain environmental circumstances. Theoretically, one could attempt to model someone's personality mathematically or computationally (here I often think back to the old computer game Alter Ego
, which defines the player character's personality using a list of numerically-rated traits like calmness, confidence, expressiveness, and thoughtfulness), but this would necessarily result in a rather limited personality model, as the personality is really too complex to be described with just a list of parameters. Ultimately, a personality is something that you can only get to know by "feel", and if you know a person well, you will have a good feel for their personality. This applies to yourself as well as to other people: Many people lack a good feel for their own
personality, but if they pay attention to their own thoughts, feelings, motivations, desires, and tendencies, they can better understand themselves and what drives them.
Ultimately, then, I think what people are missing is this tendency and willingness to search within themselves and be honest with themselves: People do not like themselves, or they are afraid of what they might find within themselves if they honestly search through their thoughts and feelings, and so they avoid the introspection that would be necessary to get a good feel for their own personalities. This is what leads to people being generic and undifferentiable: It's not that people are necessarily born this way or that they are actually
all the same inside, but that people allow social norms and practices to define themselves, their wants, and their lives instead of searching within themselves to find what they are really like. That's why people seem like empty shells rather than fully-realized characters: Because they themselves don't know who they are.
What really makes a person interesting, then, is when they've done this work: When they have actually taken the time to examine their own deepest thoughts and feelings, considered how they really think and feel, and understood how these thoughts and feelings motivate their behaviors, opinions, and goals in everyday life. And it's not even just "big picture" things like thoughts and feelings: It's also the small things, like mannerisms, gestures, and habits which a person exhibits on a regular basis; these are a part of the person and often define them as much as their thoughts and feelings. When a person can understand themselves on this level, they're ready to love and be loved, because they have an identity which another person can fall in love with.
|Saturday, November 2nd, 2019|
|The death of Yahoo Groups is further evidence of the death of the Internet
On November 1, 2019, I received an e-mail from Yahoo, the long-defeated Internet portal, informing me of the following "planned" changes to Yahoo Groups:
Beginning October 28, 2019:
Users will be able to join a Yahoo Group only through an invite from the Group Moderator or by submitting a request to join a Group, which requires approval by the Group Moderator.
Since we are moving Group communication from posting on message boards to email distribution, uploading and hosting of new content will also be disabled on the Yahoo Groups website.
Beginning December 14, 2019:
All Groups will be made private and any content that was previously uploaded via the website will be removed. We believe privacy is critical and made this decision to better align with our overall principles.
There are many wonderful things about this e-mail, like the fact that the first date mentioned, October 28, was actually four days before this e-mail was sent
. The e-mail uses the language "will be", as if these are future events, when in fact they had already transpired in the past by the time the e-mail was sent. Also entertaining is that the subject line of the e-mail reads "Evolution of Yahoo Groups", when what's really happening here is in no way an "evolution", but quite the opposite; a word like "decimation" or "destruction" would have been more fitting.
I especially like how the e-mail emphasizes that "Yahoo Groups is not going away". (This part is not in the portion quoted above, as the e-mail was much longer than what I would want to copy-and-paste here.) No, it's not going away, it's just having all its functionality removed. Yahoo helpfully supplied a link to a knowledge base article
which lists the features that are being removed from Yahoo Groups, namely:
- Email Updates
- Message Digest
- Message History
...So basically, literally everything except messages, and even the messages are one-time-only, as you can't go back and see what messages were previously sent to the group. What this means is that Yahoo Groups is literally becoming just a mailing list. That's all that's being described here: An e-mail address which forwards to a list of people. That's it. There are already countless online services which do mailing lists, and a mailing list is something so simple and elementary that there is no need for Yahoo to have a whole separate service just for such functionality.
The claim that "Yahoo Groups is not going away" reminds me of what happened to TSN, The Sierra Network, Sierra's online gaming service of the 1990s. This is a story which I don't think has been properly told on the Internet, so I'll go ahead and tell it now, just because it seems appropriate to do so. TSN was started by Sierra on May 6, 1991, and anyone who remembers it remembers that it was something very special; there had been nothing like it at the time, nor has there been anything like it since. TSN was renamed to INN (ImagiNation Network) when AT&T acquired an equity position in TSN on July 28, 1993. A year later, Sierra entered talks to sell INN to AT&T completely, which is exactly what ended up happening. Then, on August 6, 1996, AT&T sold INN on to AOL, which renamed INN "WorldPlay Entertainment" on June 17, 1997 and made it part of the AOL Games Channel. Available at AOL keyword: WorldPlay, the service became a "pay-per-play" service available only through AOL. It cost $1.99 per hour, a rate which outraged many as the service only had basic games such as board and card games which were free on most services. Many of the games on TSN/INN had been based on Sierra PC games, including Red Baron
and The Shadow Of Yserbius
. These games were not on WorldPlay. At this point, whatever had previously been TSN/INN was already dead, replaced by an overpriced joke that offered only simple board and card games, but the story didn't stop there. One week after this name change, AOL announced it would drop its extremely popular online RPG Neverwinter Nights
, citing "outdated technology" as the cause. Angry gamers in the AOL community began a group called "Neverwinter Association of Players," drafting petitions, newsletters, and letter-writing campaigns, sending so many emails to CEO Steve Case that his inbox became full. One petition was so long that it has had to be broken into four separate e-mails. Jill Robinson, an organizer who met her fiancé through the game, wrote: "Of all the areas on America Online, Neverwinter Nights
truly exemplifies what Steve Case touts as the real product of AOL--community. This game is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) multiplayer Advanced Dungeons and Dragons games around. Some people have been playing it for all six years it has been in existence. But despite repeated assurances to the NWN
community that AOL cared about the game and was 'committed' to Neverwinter Nights
and its players, AOL is throwing it out like yesterday's trash." In September of 1997, Kesmai, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, filed suit against AOL, charging "flagrant violation of antitrust laws" in online gaming by WorldPlay. AOL denied the charges. On February 11, 1998, AOL fired 25 of the 60 employees at WorldPlay's Burlingame, California, office. In addition, all 40 people who were working on WorldPlay's 3D gaming project, dubbed CyberPark, in Oakhurst, California (which historians will recognize as the original location of Sierra's offices), were let go and CyberPark was canceled. CyberPark was an ambitious 3-D virtual city that aimed to engage visitors with "multiplayer games, entertainment, and real-world community-building experiences" according to the news story from AOL Studios (the content-development division at AOL). On March 24, 1998, it was announced that AOL was closing down The Hub, an entertainment service geared toward college-aged males. In response to this move, Jupiter Communications analyst Patrick Keane said: "AOL has started to weed out content ventures. It's expensive to create original content, and AOL has had a kind of 'I've had it up to here' syndrome after throwing a lot of money down the hole with these ventures." Indeed it did: After grand plans for the development of original games specifically designed for WorldPlay (including the promising-looking "massively multiplayer murder mystery" Mysteries Unlimited
(imagine that acronym: MMMM)), none of which ever materialized, WorldPlay's death sentence was sealed when Electronic Arts announced, on November 22, 1999, that it was buying WorldPlay from AOL and would become the sole provider of games on the AOL Games Channel. At this point, you could have still said something like "TSN is not going away! It just got renamed to INN, then WorldPlay Entertainment, and now it's EA's content that the AOL Games Channel is hosting!" Saying that "Yahoo Groups is not going away" is not much less ridiculous at this point.
(As a side note, most of the above paragraph was copied-and-pasted from an article I wrote about 20 years ago but have never posted on a publicly-searchable website before. I'm glad to have finally had the occasion to do so.)
Let's see, thus far, Yahoo has gotten rid of the following major Internet properties and services (information is from this Wikipedia article
, which has a much more comprehensive list; here I'm just listing the ones that deserve to be remembered):
- Tumblr and Flickr, both of which were stupidly sold off for no reason whatsoever.
- GeoCities, arguably the most legendary free-website service on the Internet, shut down for no reason on October 26, 2009.
- Yahoo Messenger, a chat service comparable to ICQ, AOL Instant Messenger, and MSN Messenger, shut down for no reason on July 17, 2018.
- Yahoo Voice, a telephony service similar to Skype, shut down for no reason on January 30, 2013.
- Yahoo Games, a place where people could play online games together, shut down for no reason on March 31, 2014.
- Yahoo Briefcase, a file storage service similar to Microsoft OneDrive, shut down for no reason on March 30, 2009.
- Babel Fish, a web-based translator similar to Google Translate and Bing Translator, shut down for no reason in May 2012.
I just can't help but ask: With the departure of Groups, what is Yahoo, today, except a dorky news website and an e-mail service so burdened down with advertising that no one uses it anymore? Yahoo hasn't even had its own search engine since 2009, when Microsoft's Bing became the engine that powered what Yahoo calls "Yahoo Search". The only remaining service which Yahoo operates which is of any note whatsoever is Yahoo Answers, and that's only notable because of its legendarily stupid questions
An obvious question here is: Why is Yahoo destroying itself this way? Why is it picking itself apart, getting rid of the last few interesting things it had which set it apart from other web portals? The answer is helpfully given in the e-mail:
A lot has changed about the Internet since 2001, including the ways most people now use Yahoo Groups. Today, most Yahoo Groups activity happens in your email inbox, not on the bulletin boards where Yahoo Groups started in the pre-smartphone age. Increasingly, people want content and connections coming directly to them, and this is why we continue to invest in Yahoo Mail... So, as our users' habits have evolved, we have begun the process of evolving our approach to help active Yahoo Groups thrive and migrate to our email platform... This evolution of Yahoo Groups is inspired by how we see the platform being used today.
Yahoo is right about one thing: The way that people use the Internet is changing. I've written several times in the past that people no longer use the Internet to meet new people or look for information; increasingly, people use the Internet to talk to people they already know from real life, and they expect content to be delivered to them in a feed instead of having to search for anything. The death of Yahoo Groups is further evidence of the death of the Internet: Whereas the Internet was once a place for people to discover new people, places, and things, it's increasingly just another passive source of endless, mindless entertainment, just like television and music channels.
I started using the Internet in the 1990s. I still remember what it was like back then. It was still something very new for most people, and people were full of the wonder of this new medium. It was interesting to be able to talk to people in another country, or even another continent. What was it like to get to know a person in a distant country by sending them text messages? People wanted to find out, and as a consequence, people were more open back then, more interested in finding out about other people and sharing details of their own life. The process was helped by the fact that back then, you still needed a certain amount of technology savvy to get online, and you also needed a certain level of curiosity, which meant that the Internet was populated almost exclusively by people with some modicum of intelligence, meaning that you could usually find fairly intelligent people to talk to without a great deal of effort.
When I was a child growing up in the suburbs of Toronto in the 1980s, I remember watching Bits and Bytes
, a series of informational programs developed by TVOntario about basic computer literacy. I recently discovered that the full series of programs has been put onto a YouTube channel
and watched some of the videos for a bit of nostalgia. In retrospect, the videos are surprisingly well done, although it's clear that, as they were made in the early 1980s, they really had very early information about the state of home computing at the time. (I also like how they ripped off Kraftwerk's "Neon Lights" (which is not only one of the most beautiful melodies ever written but also objectively one of the most beautiful melodies possible, because of its pure, clean simplicity) for the theme music.) One can really see the wonder and excitement surrounding computers in this series of videos: It's clear that at the time, people had huge hopes invested in these strange new "home computer" devices, and they really believed that these devices would lead us into the future. At that time, you still needed to have the mentality of a researcher to use a computer, because they were something so new that you couldn't use one without being a bit experimental, willing to take a certain risk for the possibility of discovering something new, interesting, and informative. Those really were the golden days of the home computer, the days when computers were almost solely the realm of people who were both intelligent and intellectually curious, as opposed to the stupid and ignorant whose attitude was something along the lines of "Who cares about these computer things anyway? Why don't people just watch television? It's easier and more entertaining".
Today, that mindset has been completely lost. Everyone is on the Internet, but hardly anyone uses it for anything except having entertainment media pushed to their mobile phones. In 1993, the Internet suffered the "Eternal September
" caused when AOL, a popular service for people who wanted to use the Internet but knew nothing about it, flooded Internet message groups--known as Usenet, sort of the conceptual ancestor of Yahoo Groups--with new users who had hardly touched a computer before in their lives, and the community spirit of the Internet was lost forever. No longer was the Internet the realm of educated, intelligent, thoughtful people who were interested in establishing a new communications medium; it became a place where people lacking basic human skills went to grunt at each other. Little wonder that today, people are less interested in meeting other people on the Internet: You're not likely to meet someone interesting or intelligent by doing so. Today, protecting one's digital privacy is considered more important than finding new people to talk to (notice that Yahoo uses the phrase "privacy is critical" as part of its justification for destroying Yahoo Groups), and that's little wonder when you consider that most of the Internet sites which exist for the sake of meeting new people--chat sites like Omegle, dating sites like Plenty of Fish, and topic-based newsgroups like Yahoo Groups--are flooded with spammers, scammers, and people who, judging by their typing, lack the most fundamental literacy skills. Who wants to meet people in that environment? The Internet was really ruined by opening it up to the general public, but that's a door which can never be closed now.
The day I received the e-mail from Yahoo about Yahoo Groups, November 1, 2019, is also significant because it's the day that Russia's controversial Internet autonomy law came into effect, requiring Russia's telecommunications infrastructure to have the ability to decouple itself from the global Internet and become, in effect, a national network isolated from the rest of the world. Many people saw this law as a way for the Russian state to further increase its power over the flow of information within Russia, which it may well be, but in light of what's been happening with the Internet, can one really blame Russia? The Internet today is full of trolls, spammers, criminals, and idiots. Who really wants to communicate with them anyway?
The Internet is dead. It died under the weight of its own mission: to network the entire world. In doing so, it caused people to realize that they didn't really want to talk to the whole world anyway; they prefer to remain within their circle of known friends. Talking to strangers is just weird and unsatisfying, especially when those strangers are stupider than a bucket of rocks, which most people in the world are. As the Internet has become mostly just a place for people to do basic items of business (pay bills, do online shopping, check bank account balances) and look at cheap entertainment, people have come to realize that if you really want to meet new people, a better way to do so is to return to old-fashioned, local ways of doing so: through friends, local events, and shared hobbies like sports or crafts. People have come to realize that meeting people on the Internet is a likely way to get mistreated, scammed, or just disappointed.
But if you work at Yahoo, then you can take comfort in this thought: The Internet is not going away!
|Wednesday, October 30th, 2019|
|How reputations create a reverse effect
For the past two years, I have had the misfortune of living in Hamburg, the second-largest city in Germany. Hamburg is easily the worst large city in Germany, devoid of culture but overflowing with poverty, graffiti, and the other problems associated with a poorly-maintained city. There is no worse place in Germany, and the only places which could really be said to be as bad are Frankfurt, which is a business center that wants to be the New York of Germany and consequently attracts the worst of the money seekers, and NRW (Nordrhein-Westfalen), which was once an important industrial region but which still suffers from the after-effects of its notorious economic collapse when Germany, like other Western countries, went post-industrial: NRW is to Germany as Detroit is to the USA. Thankfully, I will be leaving Hamburg soon, although I will admit that living here has been an educational experience as I've gotten to know the type of people who willingly live in Hamburg, and--worse yet--the kind of people who enjoy
living in Hamburg.
What's funny is that in the minds of people who live in Germany, ideas about Berlin and Hamburg are reversed: If you ask nearly anyone in Germany, they will say that Berlin is the worst place in Germany, that Berlin is a filthy city full of crime and poverty, that Berlin is a huge, traffic-jammed mess where nothing works properly, while Hamburg is a beautiful, clean, safe city full of culture and with a high quality of life. In reality, Berlin benefits tremendously from being Germany's capital city: As the first (and often the last) stop for tourists to Germany, it is in the German government's interest to keep Berlin safe, functioning, and attractive, and enormous amounts of money and effort are invested to this end. As Germany's largest city, it is clear that Berlin has problems with crime and so on, but both the German federal government and the Berlin city government have taken significant steps to address these problems and make Berlin as livable as possible, and it shows. The last time I was in Berlin, I bought a ticket for the U-Bahn (subway train system) from an automated ticket machine, and after buying the ticket, the machine asked me "How would you rate the cleanliness of this subway station?", something I don't think I've ever been asked by a ticket vending machine before. In Hamburg, people are happy if the trains run at all, since that is often not the case, while Berlin is asking people to rate the cleanliness of its train stations. As a historical center of German culture, Berlin is naturally a place teeming with history and notable places: Any stroll through Berlin will inevitably take you to sites of great historical importance and plenty of bookshops, art galleries, and museums. Meanwhile, Hamburg has none of these because it never had any cultural importance: The only noteworthy thing about Hamburg throughout its history was its harbor, and as such, the city is of enormous economic
importance to Germany, but Hamburg is completely nautical and mercantile in nature; it has no history other than being a place of trade and commerce, and any art which exists in Hamburg is either modern or imported. The city has nothing to offer either tourists or residents except views of its harbor, but people have such a pathological fascination with bodies of water that they soil themselves daily in astonishment that Hamburg has a river running through it
, entirely ignoring the fact that every major city in Germany--Berlin, München, Köln, Frankfurt--has a river running through it. Both Hamburg's residents and visitors expect nothing more from the city than that it contains water for them to look at, and since it can certainly deliver on this promise, the city administration has no reason to develop or improve the city in any way, with the natural consequence that while Berlin constantly improves and reinvents itself, Hamburg is left to rot like the garbage dump it is. Public transit in Hamburg is the worst I've ever seen in Germany: City buses and trains regularly run late or just don't show up at all, car traffic is consequently the worst I've seen in any German city because people know that they can't depend on getting anywhere with public transit, piles of garbage are left to sit in the streets because nobody cares about cleaning them up, and groups of homeless people are ubiquitous because there is no industry and thus no jobs in Hamburg, but nobody cares, because wow, there's a harbor!
What's interesting about cases like this is that one can clearly see how reputations create a reverse effect. Berlin has a bad reputation among Germans as a cesspool of crime, poverty, filth, and all other types of urban decay, and since Berlin is well aware of this reputation, it does everything it can to address these problems. Meanwhile, Hamburg is seen as a "pearl on the river", such a naturally beautiful city that it does not need to do anything to improve itself, and as such, no effort is made to improve the city in any way. In many cases, if a person, place, or thing has a certain reputation, this reputation is years or decades out of date, to the point where the reality is actually precisely the opposite of the general public perception.
Countless examples of this phenomenon could be cited. Examples which are familiar to Americans include New York City, which was long a city plagued with crime but which has cleaned itself up tremendously since Giuliani took over in the 1990s and is now a much safer place to walk around at night than it used to be. In the West, people often associate places like Hollywood or the Las Vegas Strip with crime, but as major tourist attractions, these places are actually probably the safest places in their respective cities; Hollywood puts so much importance on keeping its city center safe that it is regularly patrolled by police officers on foot
, which is something you're not likely to see anywhere else in Los Angeles. Coming back to Hamburg, the same applies to the Reeperbahn, Hamburg's notorious red light district which is the only place in Hamburg you're likely to see prostitutes on the street. Although the Reeperbahn is often called "the most sinful mile" for its brothels, sex clubs, and streetwalkers, it is arguably the safest place in the city, because the city is aware of the negative element which is attracted to the area and has consequently given the street its own police station and precinct--known as the Davidwache, it is Europe's smallest police precinct--devoted just to keeping the Reeperbahn safe. As a consequence, the street is constantly patrolled by plainclothes police officers who will promptly deal with any trouble that arises. Criminals are aware of this, of course, and so they know that it's not worth starting any trouble on the Reeperbahn because security is too tight. Some people fear the Reeperbahn because it seems rough and is frequented by a rather aggressive crowd, but again, precisely for this reason, it's probably one of the safest places in all of Hamburg.
In general, any person, place, or thing which has a very positive reputation is at risk of becoming complacent because of this reputation and falling into neglect, stagnation, and decay. The only way this can be avoided is if people are vigilant and constantly bear in mind that the reputation exists for a reason
: Someone, somewhere, or something which is good is not inherently
good, and can stop being good if diligent efforts are not made to keep it that way. Indeed, a positive reputation often has an actively negative effect because of the mentality that "I am (or we are) already the best, so there's no need to keep trying". The same is true, of course, in reverse: Anything, anywhere, or anyone with a known negative reputation will often be driven, because of this very reputation, to take steps toward improvement, with the net effect that something which was terrible 20 years ago might actually be great today, precisely because
everyone knew that it was terrible 20 years ago.
Thus far, I've gone on about cities and parts of cities, so let me conclude by expanding this idea to continents. If you ask nearly anyone to compare the USA with Europe, they will go on about how much culture Europe has, how Europeans are better educated, more well-read, and more generally aware of matters like geography, history, philosophy, and so on. Meanwhile, Americans will be described as uneducated, uncultured, unsophisticated people who only know how to watch television and post pictures of their food on Facebook. Guess what effect these reputations have had on modern-day Europe and America.
Stereotypes about the USA as compared to Europe prevail precisely because, for most of these regions' histories, those stereotypes were perfectly true. As time has gone on and these stereotypes have become more ingrained in people's minds, however, the world has shifted somewhat. Especially with the rise of the Internet and widespread use of mobile digital devices, it's become clear that there is a difference in how Americans and Europeans think about the Internet. When I lived in America, I constantly berated Americans for only using the Internet to watch funny videos about cats and type "lol" to their friends, but many times, I did actually see Americans using the Internet to look up something on Wikipedia or do research on some topic which was relevant to academia or industry. Now I have lived in Europe for years and nearly everyone has a so-called "smartphone", and I don't think I have even once
seen anyone in Europe use a smartphone for anything other than chat apps, watching videos, Facebook feeds, and taking photos.
What has happened to European culture? It's been lost, partly because people do not know what "culture" is and have creatively redefined this word. In Europe today, the word "culture" universally means something like music or theatre, which--as I have repeatedly emphasized in previous writings--are art, not culture; they may reflect
aspects of culture, but more often than not, they just reflect what some artist decided to make when they were bored or inspired. In Europe today, deeper ideas about culture and learning are not just absent, but in fact actively feared and reviled. There is a sense that "culture" in the sense of something that educates and edifies people just makes "cultured" people into arrogant, judgmental snobs. In people's minds, culture is closely associated with racism and elitism because it's something which not everyone has, and so the thinking is that it's better to avoid culture, because what people call "multiculturalism" is more important in today's world than culture.
I'm not just making this up or imagining it. I have talked to many people about this idea. The general attitude of nearly every single Western European I talk to is: "Thank goodness we are a modern and advanced country, not backwards and ignorant like those Americans. This can be proven by the fact that we think gay people should be allowed to get married and we want a multiracial country, and since our opinion is the only correct one, this proves that we are cultured and at the forefront of progress. We don't need to read any dusty old books; they were written before gay people could get married and are therefore obsolete. That we are not racist, sexist, or homophobic is all the culture we need, and it puts us way ahead of those Americans. Now I'd love to talk about this some more, but I need to smoke weed with my friends and then go out to a rave party. Tomorrow at work I'll have time to tell you more about how we are already a cultured country because we have several different races of people living here".
By contrast, the Americans I talked to while living in America were almost universally aware
of their cultural lackings. Yes, Americans may be a mass of fat, television-addicted simpletons who have never read a book in their adult lives, but the key difference is that they are aware
of this condition and will at least occasionally make an effort to read a work of classic literature or produce a meaningful thought. There are Americans who try to read at least one book a year, which doesn't sound like much, but it seems to be more than most Western Europeans can manage.
Americans are also more appreciative of the small facilities they have. Many people criticize Americans for letting their lives revolve around cheap mass-produced goods, but at least Americans appreciate the goods they do have, because those goods really do improve quality of life. Have you ever been in a situation where you needed a screwdriver but didn't have one? It's a very aggravating situation. Have you ever been in a situation where you needed a toilet plunger but didn't have one? It's a very frustrating situation. Obviously, these kinds of household items are not the meaning of life, but life is easier when you have them, and Americans do place importance on having these items readily available in nearby stores for everyday people to buy. Europeans, by contrast, never seem to think about these items; they just assume that they will always be available, and never pause to be grateful for the industrial and commercial infrastructure which brings these goods to their homes. Instead, Europeans expend their energy on ideas like "I saw a police car today! Fuck the state which subjects us to this kind of oppression! After I get back from my state-funded therapy session, I'm going to go out and break a bunch of windows to show that we will not tolerate such state-funded terror, and then join a protest to speak out against it!" Europeans, especially Western Europeans, seem eager to take Americans' place as the world's most embarrassing and politically-ignorant people.
Of course, this picture could still reverse itself or otherwise significantly alter itself. Society's values are a moving target, and whatever is important to one generation is often less important to the next generation. Perhaps something will cause Europeans to wake up and say "Hey, you know what? We've spent our whole lives making fun of those uneducated Americans, when in fact, we are the world's biggest embarrassment. Once the world's leading producers of culture during the Renaissance, a flourishing of all types of creative endeavors and intellectual pursuits, we've now thrown away whatever culture we once had, and today we only know how to watch television and go to parties". Can we hope that Europeans will develop this level of self-awareness? Of course we can, because hope always dies last. But I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.
|Monday, October 28th, 2019|
|The hardest thing for me to accept
One of the most difficult things for me to accept has been how unchangeable human beings are, and by this I am referring to individuals. Humanity as a whole and human society on a large scale do change with time as a response to changing world circumstances, but these are long-term changes which are generally out of our control. As a prominent example, we cannot change the fact that human beings growing up today are growing up in a world strongly influenced by the Internet and widespread use of digital communications devices; this does make for a human race which lives and thinks differently from pre-Internet generations, resulting in significantly different social, cultural, and artistic environments from anything that humanity has ever seen in history. The large-scale zeitgeist of humanity does change from one generation to another. In contrast to this, individual human beings and their personal characters and preferences do not seem to change much throughout their lives.
To be fair, this is making a fairly trivial and sweeping conclusion about the "nature or nurture" debate which is one of the oldest and most unresolved questions in the study of the human being: Are human beings born the way they are, or do they become the way they are as a result of the environments in which they grow up and the influences they are exposed to? It is pretty clear by now that both
nature and nurture are important factors in how human beings are formed, but neither of the two can really account for how fundamentally different people are. Last year's documentary film Three Identical Strangers
tells the true story of identical triplets who were separated at birth and went on to develop striking similarities to each other despite growing up in different families, suggesting a strong link between genetics and personality; on the other hand, after the triplets discovered each other by sheer chance after they had already reached adulthood, they went on to live remarkably different adult lives after that, indicating that genetics doesn't entirely determine what path a person will take in life. In any case, as fascinating as the case of these triplets is, you don't need a case like this to understand that people from the same family can be remarkably similar but also remarkably different: Siblings from the same parents who grew up together in the same household often have extremely different personalities and lifestyles from each other despite coming from the same biological parents and growing up in more or less the same childhood environment.
I do generally think that the role of DNA has been over-emphasized in the "nature versus nurture" argument: People speak of DNA as if it rigidly defined someone's personality, but while there does appear to be a link between some DNA genes and some personality traits, the reality is that a person is born with a personality which is largely independent of their genes, their environment, or their experiences, and that personality does not change throughout that person's life. Even before a baby is born, mothers often notice that certain babies are more "aggressive" than others based on how much they kick within the womb, and indeed, once these personality traits are observed, they tend to remain with that person throughout their life. Really, when we talk about the "nature" of a person, DNA is a red herring; a person is not defined by their DNA sequences, but rather by some kind of personality which is implanted inside them before they are even born, and there is no way for anyone to change that personality. People may be able to act in "uncharacteristic" ways through conscious effort: A person with anger-management or substance-abuse problems can overcome these problems by being aware of their tendencies toward such behavior and the deliberate effort to not
indulge these impulses, but that person will always feel those impulses which are a part of their character, and they will tend to lapse back into those behaviors without the constant effort to behave in ways that are somewhat "unnatural" for them.
I do not like this idea. I think many people dislike this idea. People, myself included, do not want to think that they are forced to be a certain way, that they cannot control who they are and that they cannot choose what kind of person they are. As I say, this was a very difficult idea for me to accept, and I only came to accept it when I realized that the behavior patterns which I still display today, in my late 30s, are more or less the same behaviors which came most naturally to me in my earliest childhood memories. Of course I can consciously change my behavior; of course I can choose to do something which I would not "naturally" do or which I do not feel like doing, just as anyone else can, but nobody would be likely to do this kind of thing for very long. Even if you do not like a certain type of music, you can listen to it. Even if you do not like a certain type of food, you can eat it. Even if you do not like a certain type of activity, you can still do it. The inverse is also true, of course: You can go for a while without eating foods which you enjoy, listening to music which you enjoy, or doing activities which you enjoy, but why would you live that way long-term? Perhaps as an experiment, you could try doing something you don't enjoy or avoiding something which you do enjoy, but in general, people go through their lives pursing the things which they enjoy and avoiding things they don't enjoy, and that behavior is perfectly natural. My point is that a person cannot choose
what they like, nor do people's tastes change drastically through their life: The things which you love doing at the age of 20 are likely to remain the things you love doing at the age of 80. People are more or less born the way they are. Culture, society, and other influences do affect a person, but a person's basic attitude toward life seems to be imprinted on them at birth and cannot be changed later, even if the person wants to change it.
In many cases, this is not a problem for people. If one person loves tomatoes but hates cucumbers, they can still be friends with someone who loves cucumbers but hates tomatoes. These friends can even eat together: They will just end up eating different foods. In some cases, tastes can pose more difficult problems for friendships or relationships between people: If one person loves a certain type of music, they can still be friends with someone who hates that type of music, but they are not likely to go to music concerts together, which presents a social barrier since music concerts are, for many people, a primary way that friends share time together. And then there are cases where different lifestyles or values can make people completely incompatible with each other: If one person thinks that it's crucially important that all people be allowed to marry whom they want regardless of what gender they are, and another person is completely unwilling to accept the idea of homosexual marriage, this may not only prevent the people from being friends with each other, it may even make them unable or unwilling to live in the same country with each other if both people attempt to express their personal values through national laws that regulate who can marry whom. Yet these values are not likely to change as people continue through their lives, leading to the fundamental problem of how to deal with people who are just so different from each other that they are not capable of living peacefully and cooperatively in the same place.
In my own case, I am a human being too, which means that I also have certain things which are very important to me, including various things which I am not willing to accept. At the most fundamental level, I have no "reason" for valuing anything which is important to me or refusing to accept something which I am not willing to accept; I am simply who I am, and I cannot accept something which I hold to be morally unacceptable any more than any other human being could tolerate something which goes against their consciousness and their sense of what is morally tolerable. In my case, one thing which I cannot tolerate is the value that human beings should simply be allowed to do whatever they want. I know that for many people, this idea sounds
good because they interpret it to mean "I personally can do whatever I personally want", and human beings are generally born with an innate sense that this is what they want--they want to be able to do whatever they want to do--but this idea becomes unacceptable when you look at the world and realize what it is human beings want. People want to take more resources than exist in the world. People want to harass and otherwise disturb other people (keeping in mind a golden rule which everyone should remember: "Who lives, disturbs"). People want to consume whatever is desirable to them, destroy whatever is beautiful, and leave behind endless amounts of waste for other people to deal with. Perhaps most fundamentally problematic of all, people want to live without thinking about the consequences of their lives, their actions, and the things they change by the act of living. That's not okay. It is not acceptable. At least, I am not willing to accept it; maybe some people are, but it is not something that I am willing to tolerate.
You might ask then: Well, what do you intend to do about it? What do I intend to do about it? How can I deal with the problem of ignorance, of people living without knowing why they live, what they live for or what the consequences of their lives are? You can only work to increase awareness: to make people aware of the consequences of human activity, of human lives on the world and on other human lives. But you can only increase awareness in people who are willing to have their awareness increased: people who are willing to take the time to read, listen, and learn. Not everyone is willing or able to do that. And what do you do with the people who aren't? The obvious answer is to try to change their minds; if someone is not willing to be conscientious enough to consider the implications of their own life, perhaps you can convince them of the importance of such conscientiousness. And here is where my original point of this post comes in: Many people are not willing to change their minds or to have their minds changed. Many people, perhaps even most people who want to live irresponsibly will continue to do so throughout their lives. That's a part of their human nature which you can't change. What do you do with such people? When a person's character cannot be changed into something you can tolerate, what do you do then? What do you do with a life that is intolerable?
An intolerable life cannot be made tolerable. Again, I return to that idea which was so difficult for me to accept, namely that a human being's nature is irreversibly implanted within them, and that it cannot be changed. If a human being is not willing to think critically about their own life, if a human being insists on just following whatever they feel like doing at any given moment because they are not willing or able to question their own momentary impulses, then their life cannot be made to have value. People are simply born with an innate tendency to either pursue their own impulses, or to live like thinking human beings with the capacity for self-awareness. If a human being refuses to live like an actual thinking human being, it cannot be made to live that way. The sad thing is that most people actually refuse to be human beings: They refuse to justify their lives in any way, believing that merely being alive gives them some right to do whatever they want to do, without any reason behind those actions whatsoever. The reasoning is fundamentally: Because my parents had sex, this gives me the right to do whatever I want. And even people who want to "improve the world" or "make a difference" seem to think that the best way they can do this is by enabling such reckless egoism in other people, as if there were no greater goal than letting people chase endlessly after transitory fantasies. This is a shame, because there are some people in the world who actually want to do something good but have their hearts in the wrong place: You do not do good when you help people to just pursue whatever they feel like doing.
I've come to realize, too, that the idea of human culture is not particularly useful or effective at dealing with this problem. The point of a culture is to unite people with a shared set of values and ideas and a shared lifestyle so that everyone is together on the same page and everybody lives for the same things. In the past, I greatly valued this idea as a solution to the problem that human beings are so different from each other and thus keep fighting one another. The problem is that culture is not actually particularly effective at uniting people. If you look at the history of nations which sought to encourage better values in their people, it can be seen that people generally rejected these values. In the Soviet Union, for example, a country which repeatedly emphasized comradeship between people, the general public's attitude was often quite cynical and uncaring despite people growing up in an atmosphere where the value of fairness and civic responsibility was taught in schools and in state propaganda. Political activists are generally quick to blame the Soviet government for this environment, insisting that government corruption contributed to the cynical "everyone for themselves" attitude that often prevailed in the Soviet Union, but let me ask in response: Who were the government other than human beings who were part of the populace? If the general populace had actually embraced fairness and moderation in all things, the government could not have been corrupt because it consisted of people who were from that same populace. Political activists often think of politicians and police officers as "not real people", but politicians are as human as anyone else, and a nation which produces honest, conscientious people must necessarily have honest, conscientious politicians, because there would be no source of dishonest, corrupt people if the populace did not contain such people. If the government is corrupt, the people themselves are to blame for fostering an environment where such people arise. The problem with the world is not some evil, sinister group of conspirators, but the average, everyday person who allows themselves to live without a purpose, and the groups of activists who try to create a world in which other people are able to live without a purpose. A list of "Seven Social Sins" popularly misattributed to Gandhi cites things like "Wealth without work" and "Pleasure without conscience". One could add "Life without purpose" to this list.
An important question, then, is why people did not embrace messages of community and cooperation in a nation like the Soviet Union, which so strongly emphasized these cultural values. The answer is simple: Because human beings do not actually value working together with other people toward any kind of goal or purpose. Indeed, people are quite literally afraid
of the idea of purpose, considering it evil and believing it to be a tool of oppression. The vast majority of human beings value only the idea that they can do whatever they want to do. After thousands of years of human beings trying to create the best possible ideas and creations in the arts and sciences, people have concluded that the best thing they could do at this point is not try to improve or develop themselves in any way, but just to pursue entertainment as much as possible. And because the nature of an individual does not change, the people who believe that this is the best course for humanity are not likely to change this opinion throughout their lives. In this kind of environment where people do not believe in the value of human improvement, nations are fairly useless for creating unity between people, because unless your nation is founded on the value of having no values, on the goal of having no goal for humanity other than for people to entertain themselves, then people will reject the values of the nation and fight for their ability to take drugs while hanging out with friends, which is the highest life goal for most people alive today.
It's a shame that people never learn from the people and places that have actually tried this approach. I happened to recently see this YouTube video
in which a group of people from the various Nordic countries comment on the well-known stereotypes about people from Nordic countries, and, interestingly enough, by and large confirm those stereotypes as true, except for arguably the most important one, namely that people in Nordic countries are the happiest in the world. In the video, a man named Joen, a Dane, asks: "What is happiness? Like, how do you define it? Is happiness that you have security?" Most of the people in the video affirm that Nordic people actually tend to suffer from serious depression and often descend into alcoholism as a result. A woman named Amalie, also a Dane, actually seems upset by the stereotype that Nordic people are the happiest in the world, dismissing this idea as "marketing". The overall consensus is that if "happiness" is measured by not having to worry about economic or financial concerns, then yes, the Nordic countries are the happiest because of their relatively generous government-paid social benefits, but in terms of anything that actually touches the human spirit or awakens the emotions, the Nordic countries are actually quite flat, dreary, dark, cold, and dead.
What the Nordic countries forgot is that human life is not made valuable by having the government pay for your medical expenses. When you ask a small child "What would you like to be when you grow up?" or an adult "What is your dream for your life?", very few people would answer "My biggest dream in life, my greatest goal for which I strive, is to have my government pay for my medical expenses". (And any person who actually does
give this answer should probably be summarily executed.) What gives life value, what makes life meaningful for human beings, is something you cannot codify into a set of political rights or laws, and the failure of the Nordic countries to address the need to make life valuable is precisely why the "happiest countries in the world" are miserable and burdened by existential depression. What is there to life? What do you do with your life to make it valuable? The Nordic people in the video describe typical Nordic home life as settling down with sweets and alcohol to watch television; that is their life, how they spend their free time. They are aware of how empty and sad this life seems, but they are helpless to do anything about it because their countries lack any kind of culture. People have this bizarre idea that "culture" consists of things like music and cuisine, but these are just empty ways that people distract themselves; little wonder, then, that Nordic people are miserable, because they have no culture and thus nothing to live for. Culture is nothing less than an identity, a set of values that define what is important to people, and a purpose that defines what people live for. Without a culture, humanity has nothing. If a nation's culture is "watch TV and eat and talk with friends", then you don't really need to wonder why people are unhappy, because people are devaluing their own lives.
Part of the problem is people's tendency to try to escape from their lives when they're not at work. People think that as long as they go to work and earn their money, they have done their duty and can enjoy the rest of their free time. This idea is very wrong. When you finish your paid employment, whatever it is you do for money, that isn't where your responsibility to humanity ends, but quite the opposite: That's where your responsibility to humanity begins
. Up to that point, you've just done whatever you do for the business that you work for, the business which pays you money to live. What you do after that defines who you are as a person, what you live for and what your legacy to humanity will be. If you just fill up your free time with escapist entertainment like television, trying to forget about reality for as long as you can, you will reach the end of your life finding that you spent all of your free time trying to run away from it. One of the greatest problems in the world is people's tendency to use canned entertainment media--music, television, movies, video games--as a substitute for meaning in life. They do this because they see no other possibility, no other way forward. Try to survive, and distract yourself from reality as much as you possibly can--that's humanity's strategy. This is a strategy that is destined to fail. It can't keep going this way forever.
I never used to understand why so many people say that "Before you can love someone else, you have to love yourself", but I think I understand this idea a little better now. I think part of the problem is that people phrase this idea incorrectly: It is not necessary to love yourself, per se, but what is necessary is that you have your own life, because if you don't, then what can there be for another person to love? If you fill your entire life with nothing, if you make no effort to define or distinguish yourself as a person, if your whole life consists of just drifting from one moment to another, how can you (or anyone else) ever really know who you are? How can there be love between non-people, between creatures who exist physically and live biologically but have no identity because they fill their entire thoughts with mass-produced media? It seems like the vast majority of people around the world now, in both developed and developing countries, use media in this way, settling in front of their televisions and music systems every single night to entertain themselves because they have nothing better to do with their lives.
And to be fair, this isn't something new. This tendency for people to use entertainment media to distract themselves from everyday life really is a fundamental characteristic of human nature, because it dates back to antiquity. You may suppose that it is something modern if you think about it in terms of television, portable music players, and Internet-connected devices, but really, thousands of years ago, people filled their spare time with music and fiction as well; the music had to be played live because there was no such thing as recorded music or electronic devices that could play music, and actors had to perform live-action theatre since there was no such thing as television or movie projectors, but this is all the same thing: A hunger for spectacle, for fiction and music to distract oneself from reality and the truth. Human beings have always wanted to fill their minds with lies, fictions, distractions, and other types of mindless entertainment. There really has never been anything else that humanity has ever desired or striven for. You can't change this, because you can't change human nature.
All of this might not even be a problem if you could just ignore these empty, soulless people, but the problem is that they are absolutely everywhere, all over the entire world, in every place you could possibly go, and this makes them an impediment to anything worth doing. If you want to create a quiet place, people will ruin it because they like noise and spectacle. If you want to create a place of learning, people will ruin it because they don't like to learn things unless those things are fictional, like how many fingers some fictional alien race has on their hands. If you want to create a place of peace, people will ruin it because they fight with each other endlessly. Anything you could ever do that is worth doing, anywhere that you could ever do it, other human beings form giant mountains of garbage that need to be cleared away somehow. There is so much trash in the world that there is no room left to build, make, or do anything. You can hardly live in this world because it's becoming so choked and smothered in human life and the garbage that humans are and produce. And if you, like me, come to accept the idea that you can't actually change the fundamental nature of any individual human being, then there is really no solution except to eliminate the garbage, the people who strive only to distract themselves from their lives and their reality. There is no duty to humanity and the world greater than our duty to purge the people who propagate mindlessness from the universe.
|Friday, October 18th, 2019|
|Thinking creates its own sadness
The link between intelligence and unhappiness has been known since antiquity. Already in the Bible, Ecclesiastes 1:18 noted: "For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." I have understood, for years, that people who are intelligent generally tend to be unhappy, and a short blog post
I put up 6 years ago muses on this phenomenon, but at that time, I was still not sure exactly why
this is: Is this unhappiness a factor of our practical reality, or are intelligent people inherently
unhappy? In other words, are intelligent people unhappy because they are surrounded by stupid people, because of their knowledge of all the suffering and sorrow that goes on in the world, and so could they theoretically be happy in a perfect world where there were neither suffering nor sadness nor regret nor sorrow nor any other thing that makes people unhappy, or would intelligent people be unhappy even in such a world because intelligence makes a person unhappy regardless of what circumstances they are in? Now, years later, I'm beginning to understand that the latter is the case. It doesn't matter what kind of world you live in, whether it's a world full of sadness or whether it's an ideal utopia: Thinking creates its own sadness.
I used to think that "over-thinking things" was impossible. You can't spoil something by thinking about it. Or can you? As it turns out, you certainly can, and people do. The more you think about something that makes you happy (or potentially could make you happy), the less it will actually make you happy. There are several reasons for this, and I'll attempt to list them.
It's partly that nothing is perfect, so if you think about something enough, you can always find flaws with it. You can always pick it apart and find ways in which it could have been better. You can always ruin anything with "what-if" questions and keep asking endlessly how something could have and should have been better. On the surface, it seems good to want to improve things, to try to identify flaws so that good things can be turned into great things, and great things can be made ever greater, but the more you do this, the more senseless you make everything, because you will begin to realize that perfection doesn't exist in our world, and even if it does, it doesn't make people happy. When you think, you will find reasons to be dissatisfied, and the more you think, the more reasons you will find.
It's partly that since nothing has inherent value, you can always make everything useless by thinking about it. Anything which could bring you joy or relief, anything which could bring meaning or happiness into your life, you can always make neutral and worthless by thinking about it, because in analyzing something, you can always say: "Well, there's no real reason to value this thing, and so it is not important", because nothing is objectively "important". Thinking about things makes everything meaningless and worthless. Thinking about things removes their value. When you think, you realize how purposeless, meaningless, and valueless everything really is, and I do mean everything.
It's partly also the constant desire to learn more, and the fact that we live in a world of finite ideas. No matter what new information you might learn, today's new information is tomorrow's "yesterday's news". If you like learning new things, as intelligent people generally do, you will eventually run out of new things to learn. The desire to learn new information is a type of insatiable hunger similar to any other type of addiction, like a food addiction, a drug addiction, or a sex addiction: No matter how much you get, it can never be enough, and you'll always want more, even to the point where having more makes you sick.
It's also the simple fact that thinking and feeling are two different actions. When you think objectively and rationally, you ignore feeling, and thus any possibility of happiness. Meaning and value can only be created through emotions, and when you think about something objectively and rationally, you shut out any emotions, and thus the possibility to ever find something meaningful or valuable. Whatever you could do with your life can be broken down into an analysis, and if you instinctively do this with everything that happens in your life, as I do, then you cannot derive much emotion from it; you can only derive a logical analysis. This is how I see the world: In terms of processes, cause and effect, everything happening due to some scientific, logical impetus. You can see the world this way, but it makes the world a very sad and lonely place.
So what is to be done? Are intelligent, thinking people doomed to be unhappy for the rest of their lives? Perhaps to some extent; there is a sadness which will always live within me which I cannot get rid of entirely. I am a thinker. That is my nature. I have always been that way, and always will be. And for this reason, I will never be completely, blissfully happy for any extended period of time. But this doesn't mean that I have to be hopelessly miserable, either. The solution, I think, is partially to unite the two sides of human nature which often exist in conflict with each other. As I mentioned, thinking and feeling are two different actions, but this doesn't mean that a person can only do one or the other; a person can do both, and in doing both simultaneously, harmonize these two in such a way that neither is entirely excluded, and neither completely overtakes the person's psyche. There are many "spiritual" people who maintain that to be happy, you need to abandon thinking altogether, because when you are thinking about something, you are not experiencing it, and to be happy, you need to just experience the world as it is without trying to analyze it. This is the point behind things like Osho's refutation of "philosophy"
and similar claims by Eastern-style mystics that you need to "empty your mind" and have no thoughts in order to be happy and in harmony with the universe. I don't agree with such claims, though: I have always found that not
thinking about things made me more unhappy than if I had thought about them, because not thinking usually leads me to make mistakes which could have been avoided if only I'd put some forethought into my actions. No, I don't think the solution is to empty the mind of all thought or to completely give oneself over to emotions and the feeling of being in the moment; that would be a mistake. Rather, the solution is to harmonize thinking and feeling so that these two can get along with each other, even when they disagree with each other, rather than trying to forsake one or eliminate one in favor of the other.
A big part of this process is accepting what you can't change. You know that classic prayer for "the peace to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference"? There is real value in it; we need to understand what we can influence in our lives (such as how we think), and we need to be able to recognize a true wall, a really hopeless situation which we have no power to change (such as how other people think). There are things about yourself which you can change, and there are things about yourself which you cannot change. It might be enormously helpful to your personal development to make two lists which enumerate things into these two categories. I should do the same, and have, to some extent, although of course the lists are not complete since they can never be complete. Once you know which things fall into each category, you can stop worrying about things which you have no control over. Since much unhappiness comes from the effort or desire to change things which we can't change, it's better to understand what you can't change and forget about those things so that you stop obsessing over the imperfection which is present there; instead, focus on the things which you can change, the things which you can do to make your life (and/or other people's lives) better.
Listening to your heart also helps remove the meaninglessness in life. If you think about everything constantly and have thus removed the meaning from your life, listen to your heart for a while; even if it doesn't want anything right now, give it some time. Eventually it will whisper to you that it wants something, and when you know what you value, when you know what you desire, that's a direction to move in. It might not be something attainable, it might not be something which you should
have, but at least it gives you a hint about what can create meaning and value for you.
As far as learning new things, I now understand the importance of being less greedy when it comes to information, stimulation, and entertainment. I have a naturally curious mind, and a lot of people like me, who like taking in new ideas, are completely insatiable when it comes to new media, tearing through countless books, movies, TV shows, and other works of media as if they wanted to cram as many of these into their heads as they physically could in one lifetime. I understand this, because I am the same way. I feel these same impulses, because I'm curious too. But I understand now that this kind of greed creates its own regrets, because media is, in a very real way, a drug. It works on the brain the same way drugs do: The more you get of it, the more you want of it. The more media you consume, the more dependent you are on it. The only way to break that addiction is to stop it: To stop devouring media like a starving person who hasn't seen food in weeks.
The reality is that there are only a limited set of ideas in the world. This becomes particularly apparent if you frequently browse through something like TV Tropes
, because there you begin to see that for all of the media in the world, for all of the countless stories that humanity has created in the form of books, movies, and so on, there are really only a fairly limited set of ideas that just keep repeating themselves over and over again. If you want, you can keep watching movies and reading books to entertain yourself, but I kind of stopped doing this, because I realized that I wasn't getting anything out of it. Whenever I did so, I would just get the same ideas presented to me in a different form: A different story with different names, but the same ideas. What's the point of reading the same ideas over and over?
In the end, no matter what course you take in life, no matter what ideas you put into your head, no matter what emotions your heart and spirit will lead you to, no matter what experiences your life may put you through, there's always the need to balance out your intelligent, objective, rational thoughts and your insatiable, envious, greedy desires. Neither of these things are good or bad; they are both simply a part of you, just as they are a part of every human being, and rather than seeking to glorify one over the other or refute one in favor of the other, you should seek to live with both of them in your life.
I named this blog "In search of balance" because, when I first started seriously writing in it, I had the impression that human beings, in general, listened far too much to their emotions and did not have enough serious, rational, objective, intelligent, philosophical thought in their lives, and so I wanted to correct this balance by bringing more objectivity into the world. Yet at some point, these efforts took a wrong turn by going to an extreme. Now I understand: The balance I need is not to keep reading more and writing more in the hopes of finding some hidden kernel of truth and wisdom, but to stop relentlessly pursuing new ideas, because there aren't that many new ideas out there. The world is full of ideas that just keep repeating over and over. I have found the balance I sought, and that balance comes not by studying countless books and great ideas, but rather by the opposite: By reading only in moderation, and filling your life with something joyful, healthy, and energizing besides intellectual pursuits.
This doesn't mean that I will stop reading or writing, of course. I will still be tossing my thoughts here into this blog when I find that it is worth doing so; I think that there is real value in many of the things that I have written, and I hope that the world can find some wisdom there, because even if I took some missteps, I think it's important to understand the missteps and the mistakes just as much as the gems of real wisdom. You can't just ignore your mistakes; you made them for a reason, and so it's important to understand those, too. And what seems like a mistake to one person might be a calculated risk to someone else, so what you think might be a mistake might not be one, after all. In some ways, life is like a game: Sometimes you have to take a risk for the possibility of a greater gain, and even if such a gambit fails and you end up losing what you had, there is sometimes still a certain knowledge or wisdom to be gained from that loss. It's not all bad. Sometimes, something good comes out of a loss.
Speaking of games, I recently re-read Lucky Wander Boy
by D. B. Weiss (of later Game of Thrones
fame), still by far one of my favorite books I've ever seen, but the book was markedly different for me upon reading it a second time. The first time I read it, predictably, I mostly identified with the parts about video games (of which there are plenty in the book), but what also resonated with me was the heartbreaking emptiness of the protagonist, how lost he is within his own life and how he invents a fictional video game in his mind--the eponymous Lucky Wander Boy
--as a metaphor for the drifting aimlessness of that life. Upon reading the book a second time, I became more aware of how it relates to a person's later life as it deconstructs the ideas of a "happy" or "complete" life: A recurring theme in the book is what Weiss calls "the Mario Illusion", a name derived not
from Super Mario Bros.
as one might expect, but rather from Mario's very first appearance in any video game, namely 1981's Donkey Kong
. The Mario Illusion is the delusional, mirage-like vision of the "goal", the idea that at the end of some long and arduous process (in Donkey Kong
's case, the process of climbing up a series of steel girders while deadly barrels roll down toward Mario) awaits some wonderful and perfect treasure which will fulfill all of the player's desires. In Donkey Kong
, the goal is a woman, but in real life it can be anything a person idealizes in their imagination. Very often it is
a woman, but it could also be financial wealth, living in a particular geographic location, or having a "dream job". When you think about this idea, it becomes apparent how many people in the world live under the Mario Illusion. Okay, this is not a new idea; it's simply an ancient idea cast in a video-game metaphor, but Lucky Wander Boy
does generalize this video-game metaphor near the end of the book by noting that pursuing what seems like the "perfect" goal will inevitably lead to disappointment. At best, what you end up with will seem like a video-game representation of happiness, a plastic-looking house with pixelated, uncanny people who could never live up to the ideas in your head.
And indeed, it's not just that reality can never live up to the ideals we hold in our heads; it's also that our own thoughts
are not as perfect as we imagine them to be. In our raptures of emotional fantasies, we imagine people, places, and things which could satisfy our every desire, but if we try to articulate what we really want, I'm reminded of a line from Soundgarden's "The Day I Tried to Live", in which Chris Cornell noted: "Words you say never seem to live up to the ones inside your head." This is another way in which thinking creates its own sadness: When you think about things, you come up with ideas in your head which have no relation to reality; you imagine things not as they really are, but as your mind perceives and thus conceives them, and then when you live your real life, that real life can never satisfy what you expected it to be. If you want to better understand the world and have more realistic expectations, it might be a good idea to climb outside of your head and just watch how people actually live for a while.
Of course, that creates a whole other kind of sadness: It shows you just how worthless, stupid, ignorant, and selfish real people are. Then you'll be unhappy for an entirely different reason. But at least your expectations will be more realistic and your understanding of the world will be more accurate.
|Tuesday, October 15th, 2019|
|Humanity's intelligence is becoming counter-evolutionary
Among the general public, one of the biggest misconceptions about evolution is the idea that evolution leads to life forms becoming somehow objectively "better" than they were before. In any article or discussion about evolution, that image of primate procession--from apes that walk on their hands through Homo erectus
and the later Neanderthals, culminating in the modern human being or Homo sapiens
--is likely to be one of the first images of evolution that pops into most people's heads, and people have been generally conditioned to believe that evolution is a directed process that leads toward some ideal of perfection. In fact, evolution is not a directed process that has any end goal, nor does it necessarily result in organisms becoming "better" in any objective way; evolution is nothing more than survival adaptation to an environment, meaning that organisms which have evolved to live in one particular environment will actually be generally unfit for living in any other environment.
To illustrate this, I often use the example of short-eared and long-eared foxes because it is a simple way to demonstrate that evolution does not create "better" things but simply things that are adapted to their environment. Foxes are a highly distributed genus: The Arctic fox and the desert fox (more properly called the fennec fox), as their names suggest, exist respectively in the coldest and the hottest environments in the world. Both of these species belong to the Vulpes
genus and are thus true foxes, but their most striking features, namely their ears, are a testament to how the genus has developed: The Arctic fox has very short and stubby ears, while the desert fox has comically huge ears. The ear sizes are not just cosmetic: Having longer extremities causes more heat dissipation, so the Arctic fox needs to avoid long extremities so that heat can be kept close to the body, while the desert fox needs to dissipate a lot of body heat and thus needs long extremities which act much like the fins of a heat sink on a computer's processor chip. Now let me ask you: When considering the Arctic fox and the desert fox, which one has evolved to a better or more advanced state? The obvious answer is: Neither. Both adapted to the environment they are in. If you put an Arctic fox in the desert, its heat retention would be a disadvantage, just as if you put a desert fox in the Arctic, it would wastefully dissipate a lot of precious warmth. Although these creatures are highly evolved for the environment they are in, neither is "better" than the other, or has reached a more "highly evolved" state than the other; their evolution took them in different directions because of their environments, and outside of the environments they are suited for, their evolution would actually be a disadvantage, not an advantage.
If we come back to human beings, it's apparent that the reason why human beings have had a survival advantage for thousands of years has been purely due to their intelligence. First the ability to create and use tools, and more recently the ability to research science and develop technologies based on that scientific research mean that human beings can do things which no other species can come close to. While our technologies--including agriculture, medicine, and weapons--give us a survival advantage in many situations, the basic human body is actually much less adapted to survival. Wired
's YouTube channel has a series of videos called Almost Impossible
which explores the limits of human ability, with videos like "Why It's Almost Impossible to Jump Higher Than 50 Inches" and "Why It's Almost Impossible to Ride a Bike 60 Kilometers in One Hour". (Yes, I also found the mixing of metric and non-metric units interesting.) The point of these videos is that human beings are beginning to reach physical limits; more athletic training is not going to bring people much past these limits, because these are scientific, physical limits imposed on the physical human frame. Not only that, but the feats mentioned in each video title are, of course, peak values achieved by the world's top athletes after years of physical conditioning and training; the vast majority of human beings will never reach those values. Even if we assume, however, that the average human being could get somewhere close to those values, they are still nowhere near several species of animals who can run much faster and jump much higher than any Homo sapiens
ever will, because for thousands of years, humans have developed not on physical capacity, but on intelligence. Non-human primates are generally vastly superior to humans in terms of physical strength and hardiness, which corresponds directly to ability to survive in a wilderness scenario.
A serious problem for intelligent human beings in today's world is that they survive through an entirely different mechanism than intelligent pre-modern humans, namely through commerce rather than through practical applications of intelligence. Thousands of years ago, surviving through intelligence worked kind of like how it works in video games: If you were clever enough to figure out effective ways to gather resources like food, defeat dangerous enemies, and build functional housing, this was a huge survival advantage over life forms that weren't very smart but just survived on being big and strong. Today, however, we've long passed the point where intelligence really aids people's survival: Agriculture has been so thoroughly researched that people have already established the most effective ways to grow food, and this information can be (and has been) condensed into relatively simple "how-to" guides that allow farmers to effectively grow food even if they aren't particularly intelligent. Weapons like firearms have been developed to the point where even unintelligent people can use them to kill nearly any enemy quite effectively. Housing construction, too, is a long-established practice with a set of best practices that have already been codified to the point where people who are not intelligent can build houses that are safe, functional, and efficient. A person with the ability to read and follow basic instructions can do these things as effectively as a genius, and the genius is unlikely to bring any benefit or advantage to these processes through their intelligence. Yes, you do need to be able to read, but today nearly everyone can do that; the days when literacy was a competitive advantage are long gone.
What all of this means is that if intelligent people are to have any survival advantage over non-intelligent people, they can't rely on developing practical skills: Being able to grow bigger potatoes, shoot a rifle more accurately, or thatch a more waterproof roof for your house isn't going to help someone survive in this world. Instead, people need to develop skills that are useful to business. For much of the 20th century, the world's smartest people built the spacecraft that took astronauts to the moon, the reactors which made nuclear energy a practical reality, and the processes which allowed scientists to analyze and understand how DNA works, but toward the end of that century, this transitioned into developing computer software which served no one's needs except those of businesses who had a lot of data and wanted to process that data in useful ways, by which I mean, again, ways which were useful to them
, not to normal people. It was thought, for a long time, that this was the future of "smart people work", that intelligent people were looking at a future not of working in science labs, but in offices where they wrote code.
Even that might not have been so problematic for those code writers if it had been something reliable, something which could keep them employed for any appreciable length of time, but contrary to what many technical schools and universities would have you believe, the software industry doesn't require infinitely many programmers: Even fairly large software projects are usually realized through a fairly small team of programmers, as the software industry has long become aware of the classical parable about how adding more programmers to a programming project actually causes the project to take longer to finish. Software is made through lean teams of a handful of programmers, and most of the software that the world needs has already been written. New and creative programs are rarely written; instead, existing ideas and functions are given a new coat of paint, resulting in "programmers" who are really more like fashion designers. Yes, there is an industry for those people and jobs for those people, but not many, and the jobs which do exist don't really require anything matching any definition of intelligence, but more like an ability to think like a businessperson.
Even if this were not the case, however, even if there were a lot of jobs for programmers or other types of technical people, and even if those jobs really did require the best and the brightest from the world's best universities, this still would not avoid the basic fact that human intelligence is only beneficial in a commercial environment, either a research lab or an office. Intelligent people are now being exploited by those with money: Scientists, engineers, and technicians are only able to survive when some corporation with money gives them that money for research and development. In the absence of such utility, highly intelligent people die out because they have no survival advantage.
The point here is that in general, humanity no longer has any advantage whatsoever from being intelligent. The scientific discoveries and technological advancements which could have--and did--benefit us have long been researched and packaged in ways that don't require a lot of intelligence to make use of, and any further scientific or technological progress is being made by very small and fairly insignificant increments instead of the giant leaps which humanity made through the latter half of the 20th century. Once upon a time, humanity's most intelligent people researched the mysteries of science and brought discovery after discovery to the world. Today, humanity has run into a wall regarding science: We're at a point where further advances cannot be made without huge teams of scientists operating multi-billion dollar (or euro, or whatever) equipment, and the discoveries being made are more theoretical in nature, something that only shows us how helpless we are to extricate ourselves from our predicament no matter how much we know.
This leaves humanity's most intelligent thinkers today not to analyze science and technology to find out how things could be improved, but rather to muse on the human condition like poets and philosophers, which only brings more hopelessness. Intelligent people are obviously intelligent enough to realize that the world no longer runs on intelligence (if it ever did), and they are naturally inclined, under such circumstances, to become somewhat philosophical and introspective as they begin to wonder just what the world does
run on, if anything, and this cycle of existential thinking is physically, mentally, and emotionally dangerous. People who begin asking themselves fundamental questions about the meaning of life and why they are alive at all become significantly at risk for making bad life decisions, including getting addicted to drugs, being careless with money, and committing suicide. Such people are much, much
more likely to commit suicide out of the rational realization that life is inherently pointless and meaningless. Contrast this with the stupid, who never ask themselves why they live because they lack the self-awareness to do so. Such people will continue to fight for survival under any circumstances and at any cost, because they are too stupid to consider whether such struggles are worth it. Animals don't usually commit suicide. They don't ask themselves why they are alive. They do not wonder why
they try or want to survive. A cornered animal does not think about why it fights.
As mentioned before, evolution is really just a survival mechanism, nothing more: It leads to life forms that are more adapted to survive in a particular environment, but it does not make those organisms "better". In our modern civilized world, we generally consider there to be more important things than bare survival. A person who just barely survives from day to day is not achieving their life's purpose by doing so. They would need to find something that makes their life meaningful--whether that be love, art, or something else--to actually have a reason
to live. Human beings will generally consider a life that is only about survival to not be one worth living. That will end up being their weakness: Because people want to do more than just survive, their desire for more from life will end up killing them.
Don't get me wrong, I also want to do more than just survive. I also am not willing to live if it means just surviving one more day, for no other reason than just that survival itself. But there are plenty of other people who do not share this same sentiment, who are perfectly willing to do anything in their power--from lying, killing, and stealing to much worse--if it means they could survive one more day. And those are the people to whom the future belongs. The future belongs to the cattle, the people who are so stupid that they have no idea how to do anything except survive and not think about anything else.
As for the rest of us... Well, we had a pretty good run. A few thousand years of culture isn't bad. It will all be gone soon, destroyed and picked apart by the animals who will succeed us, but it was good while it lasted.
|Friday, October 4th, 2019|
|Why do I care so much?
Regular readers of my blog have no doubt wondered why I haven't just given up by now. Why do I bother to keep writing for the sake of the humanity I seem to hate so much? Why do I relentlessly berate humanity for being a festering heap of trash, then keep writing advice to humanity about how to be happy and healthy? If I hate humanity that much, then why don't I just turn my back on it and content myself with my own company? Why do I care so much?
When you fall in love with someone, you can fall in love with who they are
, but you can also fall in love with who they could be
. Sometimes you meet people who never really had a chance in life, people who grew up in poverty, abuse, neglect, or some other circumstances that prevented them from reaching their full potential, people who were born with some talent or gift that they never realized or had the chance to develop. And when you meet those people, if you feel like you can help them in any way, you generally want to, because you realize that they could really be someone amazing if they understood what they were capable of. So many people die with wasted genius, a hidden brilliance that never had the chance to shine because people never knew what they were capable of, or never lived in circumstances that allowed them to flourish.
I hate humanity for what it is. I love humanity for what it could be. Every day, I feel unbearable pain when I look at other people and see what deliberate ignorance and degeneracy they live in. But I know that humanity is capable of being great. I know that humanity is capable of more--so, so, so
much more than what it actually does and is.
When you know this, when you see the potential in someone whom you love, how could you not
care? How could you forget people who could be the next Beethoven, Plato, or Dickens, if only they wanted to be? I cannot forget what I have witnessed. I cannot turn my back on genius. I cannot not
|Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019|
|Why I could never be a doctor
My mother always maintained, throughout my childhood, that the only job I would be permitted to have as an adult was being a doctor. In her words: "There isn't really any other job worth having".
Despite this, all my life, the idea of being a doctor never quite sat well with me. When I was younger, I didn't really understand why I didn't like the idea; I only knew that I didn't like it. This was confusing to me, because I like fixing things that are broken: Even as a child, I was interested in things like auto mechanics, and isn't a doctor, after all, simply an auto mechanic who works on human beings instead of cars? I like analyzing problems and finding solutions based on that analysis, so by all rights, the idea of being a doctor should have appealed to me.
It was only many years later that I really came to understand why being a doctor is something I could never do. From the technical side of things, I could never be a doctor because most of the time, being a doctor is not actually about technical analysis: When a patient comes in with a certain set of symptoms, very often doctors are powerless to find any underlying cause and can only treat the symptoms, which is something you don't need a doctor for. But a deeper and more sociological reason why I could never be a doctor is that doctors do not have any larger social responsibility to humanity as a whole. Doctors attend only to the physical needs of each individual, but not to the wider cultural and social needs of humanity or a local community.
There is a certain idea, characteristic of modern thinking, that each person has the freedom to do whatever they want with their own life, that they belong to themselves alone and have no responsibility to anyone but themselves: Give a person life, and then let them figure out what they're going to do with it, because what they do with their life after that is none of your (or anyone else's) business. This is an idea I've never agreed with, and the more I've seen of the world, the less I've agreed with it. This idea is the basis of a naive sort of thinking characteristic of "humanism": The idea is that if you just leave humanity to its own devices, human beings will automatically produce a thriving, cooperative, healthy society. In reality, this is not the case and has never been the case. Human beings are naturally selfish and want whatever benefits them personally; human beings are not naturally inclined to seek anything deeper in life than survival and entertainment, and even when they help other people, it is only to attain these same twin motivations. A common saying advises: "Give people freedom and they will amaze you". The only amazement I experience when looking at people is how deliberately stupid, ignorant, loud, self-centered, and careless they are.
There are those who say that a person has no right to tell another person how they should live. To some extent, I agree with this idea and understand the importance of it. Every person has their own individual perspectives and values, and you cannot force a person to adopt a particular opinion or set of values, or decide why a particular person should be alive. The problem is that there are so many people in the world who are alive for no reason at all: people who were born simply because their parents had sex, people who have no intention of doing anything with their lives other than surviving and entertaining themselves as much as possible. Even this might not be so bad and human life might be considered precious if there were a shortage of humanity in the world, if human beings were such a scarce resource that their lives would need to be preserved lest they become extinct, but in our reality today, precisely the opposite is the case: The world is so choked with teeming masses of unnecessary humanity that the global ecosystem is being destroyed by them. We do not risk extinction from a scarcity of human life, but rather extinction from an excess of it. This being the case, there needs to be some regulation of the human biomass. People don't like this idea, and I don't like it either, but I recognize it as a practical necessity.
This being the case, what the world really doesn't
need is anyone or anything that just perpetuates there being too many people in the world. Every day, most people in the world suffer from an excess of human life around them, from the endless crowding, noise, and pollution generated by the presence of too many other human beings, and the more these human beings proliferate, the more they fill the Earth with their noise, their destruction, and their garbage. The human being is a destroyer of beauty. The human being is a destroyer of peace. The human being is a destroyer of health. The human being is a destroyer of knowledge and wisdom. This being the case, why should all those people be helped in their wanton pursuit of this destruction?
If you ask anyone--and I mean really almost anyone--why they are alive or what they live for, most people will give a non-committal answer stating more or less that they don't really have a reason to be alive, but continue living because they don't want to stop. This raises a serious question: If a person does not know why they live, is it really justifiable to make a great effort to sustain that life? If you saw a machine that was beginning to break down but no one knew what the machine was for, would you go to heroic efforts to keep the machine running, or would you make sure that the machine was good for something first? Why would anyone want to perpetuate the existence of more pointlessly destructive people who only act as a drain on everything when there are already too many such people in the world?
The mentality of the doctor is that human life should be protected first and foremost, and then, once it exists, a living human is free to decide what to do with itself. This sounds like a great idea to many people, until you take a look at actual human reality, and realize that for the vast majority of people, human beings never figure out what they are going to do with their lives. In terms of work, they have no great career ambitions, drifting from one temporary job to the next like wild animals searching for a place to hunt; or, if they have great career ambitions, it is to be a useless worker like a marketer or a doctor, jobs which do not actually bring anything useful into the world, but rather serve to fill it with more trash. As to their personal lives, people generally have no idea who they are or what they want to achieve, believing that it is enough if they have a lot of friends with whom they can discuss useless topics, watch a lot of television where they learn a lot about fictional worlds, and listen to a lot of music that distracts them from the world around them. The real way that a human life becomes valuable is not "Give me life and I'll figure out what to do with it later", but rather "Here is what I live for; here are the true, virtuous, and eternal principles which I live for, and I should continue to live because I upload these principles with my life". If a person cannot thus justify their life in this way, the doctor errs in trying to maintain the person's life, for what the world needs is not the preservation of more useless, ignorant, and selfish people, but quite the opposite.
I think it's clear, however, that with this mentality, no one would ever give me a medical license. That's why I could never be a doctor.
|Tuesday, October 1st, 2019|
|In praise of the GPD Micro PC
Just over a year ago, I wrote
about the current selection of mobile computing devices on the market, and earlier this year I followed up
with further commentary on the mobile-computing market, specifically how bad the selection of such devices is. Although there have been several noteworthy entrants into this market, including the classic Toshiba Libretto, the versatile Sony Vaio UX Micro PC, the smartphone-that-works-like-a-computer Nokia N900, the ultra-tiny Ben NanoNote, and the pocket-computer-from-another-planet Pocket C.H.I.P., all of these devices have one thing in common: They were all niche devices that failed to sell well in the actual marketplace, and thus quickly disappeared from the market, meaning all of them have long since sold out and you're unlikely to be able to buy any of them in new condition. As I mentioned in my post from last year: "If you really want a true "computer" in your pocket, something that is designed to run all your old games and computer programs and not just function as a phone with some cute apps on the side, your main options are to wait for the Pyra or pick up a GPD Win 2".
Now, some time later, that situation has changed slightly. The Pyra is still
allegedly on the verge of being released (a state it has been in for about 3 years now), and I was considering continuing to wait for it, but I stopped waiting because GPD have not been resting on their laurels with the success of the Win 2. They've actually been producing several other pocket computers to address various market segments, and I recently ended up buying a GPD Micro PC, one of GPD's newest devices. I have to say, I'm happy I made this decision. The GPD Micro PC is perhaps the ideal device for someone who truly wants a PC in their pocket.
In terms of GPD's product line, it's clear that their best known and most popular product is the Win 2. While the GPD Win 2 is an excellent device, it is targeted more towards gaming, as can be seen by the fact that the space it devotes to its gamepad-style controls is almost as large as the space devoted to its QWERTY keyboard. There is nothing especially wrong with this, but it does mean that the device lacks a built-in touchpad, and is quite expensive because of all the high-powered silicon it packs to run contemporary first-person shooters with reasonable performance. This also means that the GPD Win 2 gets quite hot in your hands if you do any kind of serious gaming with it. Also, the GPD Win 2 costs about $200 more than the GPD Micro PC. So while the GPD Win 2 is a more powerful device in terms of pure processing horsepower, for a basic pocket PC that is meant more for everyday computing than for gaming, the GPD Micro PC is a very capable device that costs much less than the GPD Win 2. I'm pretty sure I made the right decision in going with the Micro PC instead of the Win 2.
The GPD Micro PC was originally released with a 128 GB SSD and Windows 10 Home, both of which were seen as weaknesses. I was fortunate enough to buy an updated version of the device which comes with a 256 GB SSD and Windows 10 Pro. It also contains 8 GB of RAM, an impressive amount for a device this small. It supports wi-fi and Bluetooth and the other usual things you'd expect from a mobile device released this year, but what makes the GPD Micro PC special? What distinguishes it from any normal Android phone or iPhone? Well, I'm glad you asked, because I've taken the liberty of giving the answers below.Full QWERTY keyboard
Far and away the most important thing that any mobile device can have is a full keyboard with a dedicated key for every letter of the alphabet, as well as the all-important arrow keys. The GPD Micro PC has such a keyboard, which makes it infinitely more usable than any so-called "smartphone" on the market today. The keyboard is admittedly too small to comfortably do 10-finger touch-typing on, but on a device of this size, that's pretty much unavoidable, and the keyboard is still much larger than a typical "virtual keyboard" on a touch screen. The keyboard does make some sacrifices due to space constraints; in particular, the number keys are in a two-row formation that makes entering numbers on this device cumbersome, but it was worth it because this enables the touchpad to be reasonably-sized. To test out how usable the keyboard is, I ran F-15 Strike Eagle II
, a flight simulator with a lot of key controls, in DOSBox and played it using only the GPD Micro PC's built-in keyboard. Admittedly, this was not the most comfortable way to play a flight simulator, but I encountered no issues with playing the game and successfully flew an entire mission in it. Try doing that
on a so-called smartphone!An actual PC operating system
I am really very sick of how limited Android and iOS are in their ability to do anything whatsoever. Neither features any kind of a usable command-line interface, and while there are apps which you can download and install to get something like a command-line interface with them, these apps are so limited as to be nearly useless. Contrast this with an actual PC operating system, like what the GPD Micro PC comes with. I got mine with Windows 10, but the device is also available with Ubuntu Linux. Both options give you a fully-functional command-line interface right out of the box. When you have that kind of flexbility, why would anyone use Android or iOS for anything?No touch screen
When I was a kid, touch screens seemed like a really cool idea. I suppose that they seemed cool to most people back then in the 1980s. They still are cool for certain applications, but the problem with them is that when you're using an actual computer, very often you want to click on something that is only a few pixels in size on the screen, and your fingertip is much larger than that, meaning you can't precisely tap with your finger where you want your input to register on the screen. For that kind of precision, you need a mouse or similar pointing device. Touch screens make sense for bank ATMs, store checkout systems, and other situations where the user interface consists of only a few buttons on the screen which can be large enough that your fingertip fits comfortably within them. Unfortunately, the electronic device industry has gone insane and settled on the idea that a touch screen is a fully-functional replacement for external pointing devices. GPD know better than this, and for that reason, the GPD Micro PC does not
include a touch screen, which would only create problems because any casual brush against the device's screen would result in you accidentally clicking on something. Omitting a touch screen from this device was a great idea. Instead, the GPD Micro PC has a...Built-in touchpad with two physical mouse buttons
To be fair, a lot of people don't like touchpads, and most other devices of this type use a "pencil eraser"-style nub to allow more keyboard space. The choice between a touchpad and a mouse nub is a personal one, but in any case, the touchpad here works fine; it's nothing special, but it does what it's supposed to do, and having a real touchpad with real physical buttons to click (even if they're on opposite sides of the device, meaning you move the mouse cursor with your right hand and click the mouse buttons with your left hand) is much better than any touch screen. Annoyingly, the device does not have a scroll wheel; instead it has a scroll button
, which, once pressed, allows you to scroll with the touchpad, which is not an ideal solution, but I appreciate that incorporating a scroll wheel into a device of this size would have been difficult.Wi-fi, but no SIM card slot
Besides the application of a digital device for running programs, such as games, office applications, web browsers, and so on, one thing that people tend to want to do with a mobile device is use it like a telephone for making phone calls, sending and receiving SMS messages, and connecting to cellular data networks. The GPD Micro PC, as mentioned, supports wi-fi, but it does not have a SIM card slot and cannot be used to connect to cellular networks. There are people who will see this as a serious limitation, but honestly, I think GPD have the right idea here. This is exactly as it should be: When you want to connect to a data network, you can find a wi-fi access point and connect to it, but when you want to go offline, you can do so easily. This is vastly better than a mobile telephone, which is always
connected to the cellular network and can thus be used to track your activity and movement. (Okay, to be fair, mobile phones do have "airplane mode" or similar options to disable wireless communication, but how many people actually use such features to protect their privacy?) The omission of cellular connectivity from a mobile device means that the device is truly personal in the sense that it's connected only to you, and you can take the device offline whenever you want to. If you really need a cellular data connection because you travel in areas where no wi-fi is available, you can just get a cheap mobile hotspot; they are available for about 20 bucks and allow you to get online anywhere, without having to maintain an actual cellular connection with the user device itself. And if you ever want to talk to someone on a voice call, just use an Internet-based chat program; Skype is the best-known of these, but there are countless others, and they're almost all free. I don't understand why people still make phone calls that cost money when there are plenty of free online services that let you talk to people.No camera
I'm a bit conflicted on this one. On the one hand, usually when you get a new laptop with a built-in camera, the first thing you do is cover the camera with a sticker or a piece of tape. Having a device without a built-in camera is actually pretty nice from a security perspective. On the other hand, a camera can
be useful as an image-acquisition device, because there are real applications for taking photographs with a computer. However, I can understand that a camera wouldn't really fit in with the target usage pattern of this device, and so the omission of a camera is probably a good thing from both a cost-saving perspective and from the perspective of not having to worry about the camera being unintentionally activated. This does also mean that the device lacks the flashlight feature which most mobile phones have now, because such functionality is generally implemented using the same lights that are used for the camera flash. This is a pity since such a feature is actually sometimes genuinely useful, but hey, the GPD Micro PC is a PC, not a Swiss army knife.DB-9 RS-232 port
Seriously, how many devices of any
type have one of these nowadays? If nothing else, I had to get the GPD Micro PC just for this alone. I have a Windows 10 device with a real DB-9 RS-232 port on it!
The GPD Micro PC charges through a USB-C port like most newer mobile devices, which is nice because it's a standard connector, meaning there's no proprietary charger to lose; the device does come with a USB-C cable, but if you lose this, it can be easily replaced with a standard part.
Is there anything that I have to complain about or that I'd change about the GPD Micro PC? The only big thing that I really dislike about the device is that the battery is non-replaceable, meaning that once the battery gets too old to hold a charge anymore, the device is basically garbage, unless you just want to use it while it's attached to a power input. Presumably one could try opening up the device and getting at the battery somehow, but I'd really like to be able to do this without having to physically open the device. Also, I don't like the fact that the GPD Micro PC has a glossy screen; I prefer matte screens, but I realize that I'm in the minority and that mobile devices with matte screens are relatively uncommon, especially smaller devices like this. Other than that, the GPD Micro PC is a near-perfect device for what it is. Given its size and relatively low cost (about $400), it's clear that you shouldn't expect state-of-the-art performance from this device, and again, the small size does mean that using the keyboard is a bit awkward, but these are things that cannot be avoided in this form factor. If the keyboard were any larger, you'd have a device that no longer fits into a pocket.
On that note, GPD does produce a separate line of UMPCs called the Pocket and its follow-up the Pocket 2, but despite the name, these are physically larger devices which I don't think would fit comfortably in a pocket. The Micro PC is already sufficiently large that it just barely fits in an average pocket and is a little large and heavy for that setting; the Pocket and Pocket 2 are larger than the Micro PC (well, the Micro PC is thicker, but it's smaller in the other two dimensions) and I feel like they're drifting more into netbook territory than being true pocket-sized computers. If you want something like that, there are many other netbook-sized devices which are not quite small enough to fit in a pocket, but the Micro PC is special because it really is among the smallest devices of its type, and its tough, hardened shell is designed to get knocked around in rough environments, so it's the device that you'd want to take with you in situations where you don't want to (or can't) carry around a laptop bag.
Sadly, because the Micro PC is a more niche device, it seems to have quite limited availability. You can easily find the GPD Win 2 for sale online in both new and used condition, while the GPD Micro PC is already sold out in many places; sales do not appear to have been high enough for the manufacturer to have produced or distributed a lot of them. This is partly evidenced by the fact that my device came with a very nice little instruction pamphlet which is in Chinese. The GPD Micro PC is, in my opinion, a great device for everyone, but both the manufacturer and consumers seem to think that it's a niche device, which is a shame, because it really is much more functional and useful than any telephone or touch-screen device ever could be.
|Monday, September 30th, 2019|
|A conscious rejection of modern society and social values
Every period of human history has its own contemporary social values. These values define what people living in that culture during that period in history are expected to believe and agree with. This is true for the time period we are living in as well, but the social values which people are raised with today tend to be more difficult for people to notice, because we are often told that we are free. The social values which are programmed into us are thus more insidious precisely because we are raised to believe that "you can be whatever you want to be". We are subtly conditioned to believe that in fact, there are
no social limitations or expectations placed on people in our modern, enlightened age, and that all people are free to choose whatever lifestyle they want. The advantage to such a lifestyle is seemingly endless variety: Endless people you can meet, endless experiences you can have. Whatever the heart could desire, you can find in a modern cosmopolitan city, or so we are taught to believe. As a side note, this is not really true: The grouping of millions of people into globalized urban masses means that most of the people in those urban masses actually have the same mentality, and so despite the supposed diversity that proliferates in such cities, the reality is that most people there actually think and act the same: These people live for television series, pop music, and chatting with their friends on a mobile telephone, and anyone who doesn't watch television, doesn't listen to music everywhere they go, or doesn't own a mobile telephone is regarded as alien to modern culture, a person too strange and problematic to be worth being friends with.
That said, the disadvantage to the modern social life, the downside to the supposedly endless variety and flexibility that people enjoy today, is that all of the things in life are temporary: Friendships, relationships, jobs, experiences, homes, all of these are fleeting, something that brushes by and is then gone forever. The late Zygmunt Bauman, one of the greatest sociologists of our age, repeatedly used the word "liquid" to describe living conditions today, as seen in some of the titles of his numerous books, beginning with Liquid Modernity
and later continuing with books like Liquid Times
, Liquid Love
, and Liquid Life
. Everything around us is liquid: Life, love, jobs, people, places, things, ideas, feelings, and memories. People fall in and out of love easily: The love of your life will be "just somebody that I used to know" tomorrow. Jobs come and go: Today you're a valuable member of some company with a stable position, tomorrow you're downsized as redundant. People come in and out of life at a dizzying rate: Your best friend today will be somewhere else and with other people tomorrow. Places change: Any major city today is not what it was a few years ago. Ideas come into fashion and are forgotten, feelings come on strong and are then forgotten, and all our memories drift away, never again to pass into our consciousness.
What we see from all of this is that despite the lie which we are fed that we can be anything we want to be and do anything we want to do, what a person can't
actually do in the modern world is have any kind of a stable life. If you want to live in the same home all your life, this is not allowable under today's style of living. If you want to do the same kind of work all your life, or be in a relationship with one person your entire life, this is like believing in Santa Claus. You can be anything you want, as long as you don't expect to stay that way for more than a moment. You can do anything you want, as long as you don't expect to be able to do it for more than a moment.
Just as every period of human history has its own social values, each also has people who reject those social values, misfits who don't accept what is considered "normal" or "acceptable" behavior by the mainstream and have sought to define their own values in defiance of social norms. What the world needs now is more such social misfits: people who oppose modernity by refusing to take part in the increasing urbanization and globalization of the world. What the world needs is a conscious rejection of modern society and social values. These values destroy not only personal relationships and friendships but also whole neighborhoods, cities, and countries, because these larger groups of people are really composed of smaller networks of friendships and relationships; without human relationships, a city is just a bunch of people who happen to live in the same geographic place but have no social or cultural link to each other, and that's why there is so much conflict between people today.
You might ask: Why do I mention and highlight urbanization and globalization in the context of the other things I talked about? What do these have to do with the increasing liquidity of the world? The connection has to do with how human beings react to an increasingly large list of selections they can choose from. If you need to choose something from a relatively small list of items, you are likely to consider each item individually and familiarize yourself with it before coming to a final decision. The more items there are to choose from, the less time and inclination you have to examine each of them.
When I was a child, I grew up with a bookcase in my room that contained most of the books I had regular access to. The bookcase was about the size of a person; a little wider than an average person, perhaps, but at least on the same order of magnitude as a human being. I don't remember exactly how many books that bookcase held, but going by its size, it couldn't have been more than a few hundred books at the most. Long before my childhood ran out, I had read most of the books in that bookcase cover to cover, with the exception of reference works like dictionaries and a handful of books which appealed to me so little that I simply could not bring myself to slog through them. As this selection of books did not last my entire childhood, my mother took me to the library every couple of weeks, where I would typically loan something like 10 books from the library at a time. I did not read all of the books that I loaned from the library to completion, but our local library was small enough that by the time we moved away from that neighborhood, I had seen most of the books in it (they could not have numbered more than a few thousand at most), and although I certainly hadn't read all of them, I was at least familiar with them and could characterize what they were about and what distinguished them from each other.
This mentality and approach toward browsing books became a source of constant frustration and hopelessness when I brought it with me into adulthood and started visiting larger bookstores which often have something like 10,000 to 20,000 books in a single location. Part of the problem is, of course, the larger number of books on hand, which makes it unviable for a single human being to familiarize themselves with all the books on those shelves and be able to characterize each individual book. The problem is compounded by the fact that unlike in a library, where the stock of books generally remains fairly constant from month to month, bookstores are constantly acquiring new books and getting rid of less recent ones, so the books which you get to know in your local bookstore are likely to disappear from the shelves in a few weeks, but even if this were not the case, the point is clear: When you're in a place with thousands upon thousands of books, you can't really read all of those books unless you speed through them, which would be a frantic process in which you would miss a lot of details and not really be able to enjoy the essence of the books you'd be reading. Not only that, but after a while, all of those books start to blur together: The truth is that for all of the books that have been written in the world, there's only a fairly limited number of ideas, emotions, and situations that human beings are capable of having, feeling, or being in, and these ideas are repeated over and over again, no matter how creative or original a writer is. The more books you read, the less distinct and important any of those books are, and the more pointless the act of reading becomes. I finally understood that when it comes to reading books, less is more: Rather than desperately trying to go through an entire bookshop's worth of thousands of books, it's better to choose a select few books that you will spend your precious time and thoughts on, and let those books remain in some way meaningfully stored in your mind after you've finished reading them.
I hope that the analogy of books with other things, like people, is not lost. In a city of millions of people, there is a practically endless supply of "new" people you can meet. If you even live in just a medium-sized city (say, 100,000 people or above), you could easily meet a new person every day for the rest of your life and still not come close to meeting everyone in your city. This endless supply of people makes us careless with our contacts: If you ruin a friendship, upset someone for anyone reason, or just get bored with someone, it doesn't matter, because there are countless new people that you can go and meet every day and every night. The result of this is that people tend to not bother to get to know other people on a very deep level; superficial friendships are enough for them, friendships which are easily formed and easily broken. The same principle applies to the endless amounts of media and entertainment available in the world today: Countless places where people can go to be entertained, countless movies and TV shows available for streaming online, countless music albums and songs which you can put on a portable music player and bring with you everywhere... it all adds up to make for a completely saturated media where every moment has to be as stuffed full of entertainment as possible, and where people think of nothing but how they can get some kind of audible or visual stimulation, every second of every day. Concepts like dedication, loyalty, consistently, stability, or profundity have no meaning to these people. The scope of "culture" on offer in modern cities does not make people more educated, aware, or wise, but quite the opposite: Increasing amounts of "choice" are actually making human beings vastly more superficial, careless, and capricious.
What human beings most urgently need now in the world is something stable, unchanging, and dependable. What human beings certainly do not
need at this point is an increasingly-overwhelming deluge of "choices" which are actually the same thing sold in different packaging. Again, what human beings need now more than ever before is a conscious rejection of modern society and social values.
The type of modern society being described is closely aligned with the urban life, because it is only in densely-populated urban areas that such society can thrive. In areas where low-density housing is the only extant type, people do not have millions of potential "friends" they could make, and connections between neighbors are more important. This is why the archetypical image of two neighbors talking to each other over the fence in a suburb has been an important form of society in classical America: Because this was how communities were once formed. And indeed, why should you have to make friends with someone who lives in a completely different district of the city if people live right next door to you? Why should people have to go on the Internet to find or make friends when you could just meet people in physical space? Before huge cities became the way that most people live, people used to cherish their neighbors as close friends, and rather than needing to find some bar, club, restaurant, or other hangout in the city where friends could meet, people would go to each other's homes and have dinners and other social gatherings there. There was no need to search for a place to meet people or for people to congregate, because everything you needed was right in your own house. So again: Why not just be friends with the people who live literally right next door to you? And if you find that your next-door neighbors do not share your interests and values, then this proves the failure of multiculturalism: The purpose of a culture is for people to be united in purpose and in values, and if you live next door to people whose lifestyle and values are too different from yours for them to be your friends, then this proves that multiculturalism is untenable, for who can be your friends if not your literal next-door neighbors?
It's not an exaggeration to say that high-density housing is an environment that is inherently hostile to human beings and human relationships. Just the fact that there are a lot of people clustered together in one area creates a space where long-lasting human bonds are less likely to be created or fostered. The same is true of globalization: As safe spaces become a thing of the past and the entire world becomes opened up to the entire rest of the world, human society becomes a thing of the past, and the whole world becomes one giant communications space where everyone is connected to everyone else, and yet more alone than ever.
Just as liquid modern society and high-density housing damages relationships between next-door neighbors, it also has a devastating effect on romantic relationships. Because there are so many people present in urban centers, people there tend to instinctively avoid commitment to any one person, because they sense that around the corner, there could always be someone "better". Just like with friendships, love is seen as "easy come, easy go": It's easy to find someone who will "love" you for the short term, and if you don't think about it very much (which most people don't, believing that love is only a feeling), you might think that you love them as well, but it's also easy to decide that you're tired of the person whom you once loved, and you want a new person to love for a little while.
A particularly damaging belief which is deeply rooted in modern ideology is the idea that "friends" are more important than life partners. There is a dogma which people implicitly seem to believe that committing yourself to one person is an unhealthy loss of "freedom", and that in order to be free, you need to have a lot of friends with whom you regularly go out. This has led to strange social arrangements in which people are more intimate with friends than with their partner or spouse: People are more willing and able to reveal their deepest secrets and thoughts to a friend than to their life partner. I can't help but wonder: What, then, is the point of a relationship? If you can't be more intimate with your partner than with other people, then why enter into a relationship at all?
Why do so many people seem to think that a romantic relationship is just about sex and physical affection? It is much more than that. It's about sharing your entire life with a person. When you live with a partner, you share everything with them: the housework, financial responsibilities, organization and decoration of living space, and how you spend your free time at home. This is much more personal and much more intimate than a friendship, which just involves going out to the movies or concerts with people. A relationship is not just about sex or physical affection, it's about making "my" home into "our" home. Does a person see their friends, even their very best friends, every single day of their life? And if not, then how can someone ever think that a friendship is more intimate than a romantic relationship with a partner who lives in the same home as you?
Closely linked to this idea of intimacy in a relationship is the idea of "jealousy", the idea that if a person wants to be close to their partner, then they are "jealous" and "controlling", that what they want is "unhealthy". These ideas are taught to people from a young age, and then people wonder why so many relationships fail! If you love someone, if you really love someone strongly and deeply, you will naturally want to be with that person as much as possible; if you don't, then what you feel is not love. It is that simple. Love means wanting to share your life with someone and be close to that person. There is no other type of romantic love.
When people think of "jealousy", they tend to think of something extreme: Of a controlling, abusive person who does not allow their partner any privacy or personal space because they constantly suspect the partner of cheating on them. But jealousy does not necessarily mean keeping your partner locked in chains at home and never allowing them to speak to anyone else. Jealousy can also simply mean that you value the time and attention of your partner, and don't like it when other people take too much of it. The honest truth is--and here is something that modern relationship "experts" repeatedly get wrong--that you can't love someone with all your heart and soul without being at least a little bit jealous. You can't love someone more than anyone in the world and then be completely okay with them spending entire evenings away from you, with other people. If you're not jealous, that just means you don't care. If you're not even remotely jealous, you don't really love that person. The idea that "jealousy is unhealthy" is another lie which the modern world has invented and tries to get people to believe, to their own detriment, for it is always a lie, because you will inevitably be jealous if you really love someone, and trying to get anyone to believe otherwise will just confuse them. Of course, it's important to not let jealousy get out of control: A human being needs their own personal space and freedom, the ability to make life choices independently of anyone else, even their partner. But if you don't feel a twinge of jealousy when your partner is going out with other people, even if those people are just friends, then that person doesn't mean much to you. When people think of "cheating" in a relationship, they usually think of sex, but is sexual infidelity the only form of cheating? What if someone would rather be with their friends than their partner, and spends their nights together with friends, leaving their partner alone? Doesn't that say that they prefer the company of their friends to the company of their supposed life partner? Is that not just as much cheating on one's partner--neglecting them, leaving them alone, preferring someone else's company--as sleeping with someone else would be? Of course it is.
The bottom line here is: Forget whatever modernists think is "unhealthy"; they have no idea what sustains a relationship.
The negative perception of jealousy stems from the previously-mentioned myth that friends are more important than a life partner, that it's okay to go out with other people and leave one's life partner at home, to prefer the company of friends to the partner, or to confide more deeply in one's friends than in one's partner. People get jealous when their partner goes out for dinner or other types of dates with other people, and then "modern, enlightened" people say "Oh no, jealousy is very bad, it is perfectly okay for someone in a committed, long-term relationship to go out with other people and leave their partner alone for extended periods of time". Then these wonderfully enlightened people wonder why so many relationships fail. It's simple: If you're in a relationship, that means you place your partner first and foremost in your life, above the company of other people. If you'd rather be with casual friends than your life partner, this begs the simple question: Why bother being in a relationship at all? Just have friends if that's what you want, but don't commit to a serious relationship if you're going to leave your partner for the company of your friends and expect your partner to tolerate that kind of emotional cheating.
I wonder how many good relationships have been destroyed by people thinking that they aren't behaving "correctly", that they were becoming too close to their partner and that such "co-dependency" is not healthy. I wonder how much damage the modern mentality about relationships has done to love. The damage must surely be incalculable.
Many people--both men and women--blame "feminism" for the decline in opposite-sex romantic and sexual relationships, and it's true that there is a connection, but many people misunderstand feminism by assuming that feminism is just one thing. In fact, feminism means many different things; there isn't just one type of feminism. And feminism isn't a binary choice: It's not just a decision between having feminism or not having feminism. People seem to think that there are only two possibilities: either full-on extremist feminism, in which every woman is a shaven-headed lesbian who will never commit herself to a man, or complete misogyny in which women are chained to the kitchen and their only purpose in life is cooking, cleaning, and producing children. In reality, there are many types of ways of thinking about women in between these two extremes. Feminism began when it was about giving the same rights to women that men had: Allowing women to vote and work in the same professions that had traditionally been dominated by men was certainly a step in the right direction. But today, there is a certain sense that feminism is no longer about equality or fairness, but something more sinister, about turning women into a sort of artificial construct which is not allowed to enjoy things which are seen as "old-fashioned" and thus tools of the patriarchy to keep women down.
The fact is that there are some women who actually enjoy "female things" such as styling their hair, dressing in "feminine" clothes, and putting on make-up. There are women who actually want a man to treat them like a "lady", not in the same way that he would treat his male friends. There are women who appreciate feeling like a woman and being seen and treated like one. That doesn't mean being treated with disrespect; quite the opposite, in fact. Treating a woman like a lady means treating her with a great deal of respect, because as a woman in a man's life, she is important and should be cherished as such. But this idea has no currency in our modern world, where women are expected to be "just one of the guys". The result is that women see men more as brothers than romantic partners, and who wants to get into a romantic or sexual relationship with a sibling?
These are just a couple of examples of how modern, urban, "egalitarian" values skew and destroy human relationships. There are others, to be sure, but these are the main ones, the ones that are most destructive to human happiness, human sustainability, and human health. Now more than ever, human beings need to unitedly reject these values and understand that reducing the number of people in the world and building deep, long-lasting human relationships instead of a lot of short-term ones is the only way to save humanity.
|Thursday, September 26th, 2019|
|The irony of Nietzsche's amor fati
The idea of amor fati
is not a new one: It is essentially Stoicism, an ideology which was founded in the 3rd century BC, but the explicit use of this phrase is generally associated with Nietzsche, which I consider ironic because if there was any well-known philosopher in all of history who seemed profoundly against
amor fati, it would be Nietzsche, the very man who claimed to champion it.
"Amor fati" is Latin for "love of fate". It simply means to love whatever happens, because whatever happens must
happen, and if something must happen, then we should consider it right and good that it happens. The idea is similar to Gottfried Leibniz' "best of all possible worlds", the idea that whatever experiences and understanding humanity has gained today are a necessary consequence of negative events in history, that we could only gain the wisdom we have now through the suffering which we (and other people) have had to endure in the past.
As I mentioned, amor fati is also similar to Stoicism, the idea that we should simply accept our lives in whatever state they're in, because we often cannot change or control the problems we have, and so the best approach to dealing with those problems is, as a common English phrase has it, to "grin and bear it". Regardless of whether you agree with this perspective or not, I've generally felt that amor fati is a survival mechanism, a coping mechanism so that people do not feel bad about how terrible life is. It's essentially a surrender to circumstances beyond our control.
Coming back to Nietzsche, however, the irony which I see in Nietzsche's assertion of the idea of amor fati is that it is so totally contrary to the other ideas which Nietzsche later became more famous for. Nietzsche first and most explicitly cites his admiration for amor fati in section 276 of Die fröhliche Wissenschaft
(usually translated into English as The Gay Science
, where "gay" here means "joyful" as it did back then in the 19th century), where Nietzsche declares: "Amor fati
: das sei von nun an meine Liebe!... Ich will irgendwann einmal nur noch ein Ja-sagender sein!" Translated into English, this says: "Amor fati
: that is from now on my love!... Sometime, I want to be only a yes-sayer!" There is a parallel, I think, between this text and the famous soliloquy at the end of James Joyce's Ulysses
, where the repeated use of the word "yes" represents capitulation, the end of resistance and the beginning of submission.
Nietzsche loved amor fati for the same reasons that Leibniz did: The idea was that if there is anything good in our universe, if the sequence of events that led to our world being as it is today has created anything that is pure and good and virtuous, then that sequence of events was the only way to reach that end. Casting aside the fatalist absurdity of this idea (a good end can be reached through various different means, and the means which happened to transpire in history were not necessarily the only possible ones to reach that end), the irony of this thinking is, again, that it is so totally contrary to one of Nietzsche's more famous ideas, namely the "will to power".
After Die fröhliche Wissenschaft
, Nietzsche's next book was Also sprach Zarathustra
, and it was here that Nietzsche introduced the famous idea of the Übermensch
, the "overhuman" which would introduce a new era of humanity by overcoming humanity's limitations. The Übermensch is powerful because it is motivated to achieve its will: The Übermensch does not just passively wait for what it wants, but rather uses its discipline and energy to turn that will into reality. The Übermensch is contrasted with what Nietzsche called the "letzter Mensch" (last human), a human being which seeks to pursue only the easy, the comfortable, and the safe. These two destinies for humanity seem diametrically opposed to each other; Nietzsche warned against the last human but predicted that the Übermensch would come into existence and revolutionize humanity's existence. Perhaps that is why he embraced amor fati: He believed that it was inevitable that the Übermensch would come into existence, and then everything would be fine.
The irony, of course, is that the Übermensch cannot live by amor fati: The Übermensch does not live by saying "accept the status quo", but rather precisely the opposite: by saying "I do not accept the status quo, and wish to improve it". A human being becomes strong by developing their own ideas; a human being becomes weak and capitulating when they stop thinking and just accept whatever they are told and whatever happens to them.
One might think that, since Also sprach Zarathustra
came after Die fröhliche Wissenschaft
, perhaps Nietzsche had done some re-thinking and changed some of his ideas, but no, in the still-later work Ecce homo
, Nietzsche doubled down on amor fati when he wrote, in section 10: "Meine Formel für die Grösse am Menschen: Das Nothwendige nicht bloss ertragen, noch weniger verhehlen sondern es lieben
". Translated into English, this says: "My formula for the greatness of a human: To not just tolerate the necessary, still less to conceal it, but rather to love
it". How can these words be understood except in the hope that Nietzsche believed in, that the future held something great for humanity, that our inevitable fate was to rise above the noise, confusion, selfishness, and short-sightedness of the modern era and into something better.
Yet humanity today is marked by its willfully ignorant, weak-willed acceptance of everything; people may occasionally complain, but lack the resolve to actually change anything, and so generally settle into a pattern of mindless tolerance of whatever happens. The result is that humanity today really is the "last human": as dull and thoughtless as animals, wandering in search of food and entertainment without ever giving a single thought as to why they do so. This is precisely what Nietzsche warned about, and urged human beings to avoid. But a prophecy's fulfillment cannot be prevented, and today, human beings are exactly as they were described by the historians who observed their fall.
If only things could have been different. But for things to end up differently, history would have had to take a different course. And you cannot change the course of history if you embrace amor fati.
|Wednesday, September 25th, 2019|
|Greta Thunberg's moment of levity
It was really a sheer coincidence that I mentioned Greta Thunberg in my previous post on the same day that she delivered her emotional speech at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York. Thunberg is a divisive figure, and her response to the question of whether she would want to meet Donald Trump came to my mind while I was writing that article. That I happened to post it on the day she gave a speech that landed her on the front page of pretty much every news outlet in the world was honestly not planned. Perhaps subconsciously I felt that the connection was meaningful, but consciously I did not plan the timing of my blog post in that way.
That said, I normally would not comment on something like Thunberg's speech, as it has already been so widely reported and commented on that I don't have much to add to it. Again, Thunberg is a divisive figure: Many people have praised her endlessly and many people have criticized her. Thunberg has noted that much of the criticism has been largely ad hominem in nature, meaning they have been criticisms of Thunberg herself rather than the content of her message, and this appears to be true, although German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a public statement that she strongly disagrees with Thunberg on one particular point: Merkel asserts that governments have done a lot to combat climate change through scientific and technological development. Merkel, herself a scientist (she earned a doctoral degree in Chemistry before going into politics), who is usually not someone to openly contradict people in a public forum, probably felt a bit attacked, as Thunberg's furious condemnation of world politicians likely included Merkel, and so Merkel felt the need to contradict Thunberg's allegation that governments are not doing anything to fight the problem of climate change. Overall, it seems to me that Thunberg relies on emotional response rather than factual content, which is a bit unfortunate, because no one is unaware of the problem of climate change, so bringing the problem to people's attention and angrily accusing politicians on television isn't going to fix things, nor is going out onto the street to protest, as millions of people worldwide did last Friday.
In the midst of all this anger, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge one of the most wonderfully hilarious things I have seen in recent memory: Donald Trump's response to Thunberg's speech, and Thunberg's response to Trump's response.
In the public eye, I think Greta Thunberg risks developing an image somewhat like how the Western public perceives Vladimir Putin: An unsmiling, relentlessly serious character who exists only to make sobering statements and seems to lack empathy for other human beings. In fact, I have not only seen Putin smile and even laugh several times, I have seen Putin himself tell jokes in interviews and other public appearances (see here
for a relatively well-known example), but this is not something likely to be reflected in Western media, partly because the West is not interested in showing a more human side of Putin, but also more generally because such anecdotes and casual discussions do not really fit into any Western media outlet. Thunberg has a similar public-image problem: Every photograph of her, even when she is aware that a camera is pointed at her and she's looking directly into it, features no trace of a smile, but only a cold glare, as if she were angry at everyone about everything. Thunberg certainly has good cause to be dissatisfied with the status quo (as if her speech didn't make this clear enough), but public figures like her are more likely to gain public sympathy if they show some warmth of character. To be sure, Thunberg can emote however she wants to, and she is certainly under no obligation to put on a smiling face for the camera (women sometimes complain that men tell them "you should smile more", for example at 1:50 here
), but assuming that Thunberg intends to remain a spokesperson for her cause going into the future, she would probably gain more sympathy for that cause if she presented herself as a sympathetic person. Again, this is just how public relations work: If you want to convince anyone of anything, it helps to establish a mutual rapport with them rather than just furiously throwing accusations at the whole world.
As if to emphasize this point, a photograph of Thunberg glaring at Donald Trump on the day of her speech became an Internet meme. Trump did not attend the UN Climate Summit; he was passing through the building on his way to a separate UN summit on religious freedom, but cameras caught Thunberg glaring at Trump as he passed by, and the general consensus is that the expression on her face is neither positive nor friendly, although to be fair, it's kind of the same expression Thunberg always carries. Trump himself, however, acknowledged Thunberg's speech in typically brilliant Trump fashion by posting a tweet on his Twitter feed about Thunberg stating simply: "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!" This in itself would have been hilarious enough, because it is so very obviously the exact opposite of the impression which Thunberg gave off. Some commentators believed that Trump was mocking Thunberg or condescending to her, which may in fact have been the case, but I suspect that Trump was just trying to be funny, and he did it pretty well by saying something positive about Thunberg at a time when many people are attacking her. Trump is well aware of how his comments come off and he makes them on purpose because he knows how people react to them. He, like Thunberg, knows that reacting indignantly to personal criticism is the worst possible way to react, as can also be seen in Trump's response to his visit to the UK: Trump was well aware that mass protests were planned upon his arrival in London, but his commentary was simply: "I believe that the people in the UK... I think that those people like me a lot." Why bother to acknowledge your enemies' hate? Why not say something positive instead? It might not be true, but at worst it can make you seem naive (which Trump isn't; he is by no means oblivious to his critics), and at best it can be absolutely hilariously ironic, as it was with Trump's assessment of Greta Thunberg.
But I've saved the very best for last: Again, Trump's tweet about Thunberg would have been worth a chuckle on its own, but the day after Trump posted this tweet, Thunberg did the absolute best thing she could possibly have done in response: She changed the description of her own Twitter feed to: "A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future." No joke. She did it. Check it yourself
if you don't believe me. (EDIT:
She already changed it back; the text was there at the time when I was writing this post, but by the time I actually posted it, she had changed it to something else. Not only that, she posted a picture of herself smiling happily, literally the first one I have ever seen.)
Never let it be said that Greta Thunberg doesn't have a sense of humor. I don't know with what sentiment she changed her Twitter description: Was she making a joke too, seeing the irony in Trump's comment and figuring it would be funny to use the text herself, or was she actually playing it straight, insisting that she actually is
a happy person looking forward to a better future? Both interpretations are possible, but I do not believe that Thunberg didn't see the wonderful irony in her reappropriation of Trump's words. I'm particularly glad that Thunberg did not--as so many of Trump's opponents would--feel that it would be too much of an indignity to quote Trump, as if merely acknowledging his words would have been a crime against humanity. I actually do not know what Thunberg's general opinion of Trump is, but if I were to hazard a guess, I would imagine that her overall impression of him is not exactly positive, and yet here we see how links between opponents are formed: By sharing a laugh with Trump, her natural enemy, Thunberg made herself much more human, much more relatable, and much more likeable than if she had launched an attack on Trump for talking down to her like a little girl and skipping the climate-change summit altogether. Thunberg's moment of levity is the absolute best bit of diplomacy that I've ever seen from her, and I suspect that I'm not alone when I say that my respect for her increased when I saw that she is willing to share a laugh at something that is actually funny instead of making accusations, as she would have been within her rights to do.
Of course, the downside to all of this is that it's actually detracting from the larger discussion about climate change, and I think that's the main problem I have with Greta Thunberg: While I agree with what she says, I don't think that it actually does any good, and may in fact serve as a distraction. Many people who regularly read my blog may think that I represent a right-wing perspective and am against the left, but this is not actually true; I acknowledge climate change as one of the most important issues in the world and do believe that steps need to be taken because of it, but as I said at the beginning of this post, Greta Thunberg is not actually raising awareness about anything, because people were already quite aware of the problem for years before she became a media figure. Thunberg's appearances on television are doing more to bring people's attention to her
than to her cause, and as Merkel's response to Thunberg brings out, Thunberg is relying too much on dramatic, emotional rhetoric rather than focusing on scientific facts and practical ways in which the problem can be addressed. As a media figure, Greta Thunberg is an interesting character; as an activist, will she actually end up achieving a real change in public attitudes toward climate change? Time will tell.
|Monday, September 23rd, 2019|
|The new culture of no discussion
In June of 2019, Megan Rapinoe made headlines with her statement: "I'm not going to the fucking White House." Rapinoe, one of the captains of the United States women's national soccer team, had been commenting on the possibility of the team visiting the White House if they won the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, which they did a couple of weeks later. The same team had previously won the same event in 2015, and did indeed visit the White House after that, at the time when Barack Obama was still president; Rapinoe, already a member of the team at that time, was among the visitors. It was clear, then, that Rapinoe's statement was motivated by anti-Trump sentiment. The openly-lesbian Rapinoe certainly had her political reasons for being politically opposed to Trump, but I couldn't help but find the remark inapposite. To be sure, a lot of people don't like Trump, but even disregarding the lack of decorum in Rapinoe's choice of words (yes, Trump regularly makes outrageous remarks, but that doesn't give other people the right to be just as outrageous; if they choose to do so, then how can they claim to be any better than him in this regard?), the fact that a captain of a victorious national sports team would refuse to visit the White House, in an environment where such visits are a tradition, showed bad sportsmanship and a bad approach to relations with other people.
Two months later, 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg made headlines during her visit to New York when she said that she was not interested in meeting Trump during her visit. Asked whether she would like to meet the president, Thunberg replied, in part: "As I always say to this question, if no one has been able to convince him about the climate crisis, the urgency, then why should I be able to do that?" Thunberg, who has become internationally famous for skipping school to go to protests (who says that education is important?), is apparently not interested in trying to convince people who disagree with her of the importance of climate change, which leads me to wonder: What is the purpose of her travelling around the world and staging protests, then? I was always under the impression that the purpose of such public campaigning is to convince people who are not yet convinced, but I was obviously wrong, as Thunberg openly admits that if someone doesn't agree with her, she has no way to change their mind, helplessly asking how she's supposed to be able to do so. While I agree with Thunberg that you can't just make a person change their mind (this is a point I've made several times in the past; the one thing which many activists around the world would like to do, namely get a person to change their mind, is the one thing you can't do), I'm left with the question of why she goes to great time and expense to travel around the world (bearing in mind that travel is famously bad for the environment because it produces a lot of CO2-heavy emissions) if she doesn't think that she can convince people. Is the whole "Fridays for Future" thing just a big circlejerk, a group of people who are not interested in trying to send a message to other people, and whose giant protests are nothing more than a social event to provide kids with an excuse to spend the day with friends instead of going to school? Even if Thunberg believes that she would not have been able to convince Trump of the importance of climate change (and I'm inclined to agree with her), it would still have been a polite gesture and a good bit of public relations for her to meet with the president if possible. You don't have anything to gain by snubbing other people, especially when you're a public figure where such snubs can only damage relations between groups that are already marked by their differences.
This was made apparent by Mike Pence's notoriously awkward snub of North Korean officials. During the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, U.S. vice president Mike Pence was criticized for ignoring Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean head of state Kim Jong-un, despite being seated right next to her. Pence later confirmed: "I didn't avoid the dictator's sister, but I did ignore her. I didn't believe it was proper for the United States of America to give her any attention in that forum." A more catastrophic failure of basic human decency and diplomacy could hardly be imagined. Pence stood on the doorstep of a potentially historic meeting with a senior North Korean official, and chose to reject it in the most cold and thoughtless way possible. Indeed, Pence had been in talks to have a more formal meeting with North Korean officials, but the talks were cancelled after Pence spoke out against North Korea's human rights violations and announced a new round of sanctions against the country. Even though it was North Korea who cancelled the planned talks and not Pence, let me ask you: Would you want to formally meet with anyone who had just condemned your administration and announced sanctions against you? Trump himself, often seen as a man lacking in public-relations skills, ended up being the one to have a meeting with Kim Jong-un in an event that made world history.
The tactless rejections of contact exhibited by people like Rapinoe, Thunberg, and Pence are symptomatic of a new and strange culture of "no discussion". These people fail to grasp the most basic principles of diplomacy: Whenever you are in contact with anyone, even if it's your worst enemy, you should always greet them openly and respectfully. Deliberately ignoring others to "send a message" is only going to make an already-tense environment even worse. In any potentially tense scenario, especially one which is politically motivated, the mantra is always
"discussions first". At least give your opponent a chance to explain themselves and reason with you before you begin to criticize them. To categorically reject meeting with ideological opponents, and especially to condemn ideas of such meetings with obscenities, is to show a catastrophic failure to understand basic principles of human relations.
All of this having been said, however, there is admittedly a practical component to the decision not to meet with ideological opponents, namely the simple fact that Thunberg is right: If someone doesn't agree with you, you're not going to be able to convince them. People do not make decisions based on mathematics, science, or any other kind of facts; people make decisions based on their personal values, and personal values are motivated not by facts, but by emotional reactions. You cannot change a person's emotional reaction to something. If people don't like abortion, gun control, or public healthcare today, they're not going to like it tomorrow, either, even if you talk to them about it. The whole reason why there are so many dramatic and fundamental disagreements between human beings in the world is the simple fact that human beings are fundamentally different from each other, very
different, and despite the claim which some people like to make that "There is more which unites us than which divides us", the fact is that fundamentally disagreeing groups are never going to agree with each other. As Rudyard Kipling woefully declared: "Never the twain shall meet."
This realization seems likely to herald a new age of warfare that spills over from the ideological and rhetorical into the physical. Louis XIV famously described war as "the last argument of kings", the measure taken when discussions fail, and if people are categorically rejecting discussions up front without even bothering to listen to their opponents, what chance does peace have? People are beginning to recognize the limitations of "talking it out": In many cases, talking it out doesn't bring anything at all and just serves to waste everyone's time. If two people are on completely opposite sides and no amount of talking is going to reconcile their beliefs, then there really is no point in wasting your time talking to them; you have better things to do. This is a practical conclusion, but it also means that there really is no other recourse except war, which is why I say we're entering a new era of ideologically-motivated war: One in which people reach conclusions for no reason (because there is no logic or reason behind why people hold the values they hold) and end up physically attacking and killing each other to defend those ideological conclusions.
People who consider themselves "left wing" will often not hesitate to insist that the right wing, their supposed political opposites, are the ones fomenting any such conflict, which just goes to show the lack of self-awareness that lies deep in today's left-wing political arena. I have lost count of how many times I have seen left-wingers say things like "I hate Trump's supporters even more than Trump for voting him into office", "All people who voted for Trump or continue to support Trump should be beaten with sticks", and "I am so sick of Trumpists and their stupid red hats that I never want to talk to one of them or have anything to do with them for as long as I live". When Obama was president, where were the right-wingers saying similar things about Obama and his supporters? There weren't any, because right-wing people are not motivated by such sentiments. People with cooler heads and more reasonable sentiments understand that different people have different values and goals, and that the only way to work with such people is to listen to them and approach them on their own terms instead of shutting them out. The left is digging its own grave by fostering an environment of extremist ideology which is not willing to allow any kind of reality to creep into its thinking.
The presidency of Donald Trump has been a wonderful thing, because for years now, the left have been showing their true colors: A group of people motivated by hate and bigotry, a petty, aggressive group of fanatics who are not willing to entertain any thoughts of compromise, negotiation, or even discussion with the people whom they have decided are their "enemies". The left-wing mentality is as simplistic, dogmatic, and closed-minded as any could possibly be: It states simply "Either you agree with me completely, or you are my enemy. I will accept no disagreements with my views, and if you disagree with me regarding anything, you are evil, and I will hate you and attack you in any way I can with the intent to destroy you." And the joke of the matter, of course, is that these people accuse the right wing of thinking this way. This is what psychology calls "projection".
To be fair, the right wing has its own share of extremists and warmongers; I'm not denying that by any means. The reason I laugh at the left is because they have developed a history of self-righteously painting themselves as the peacemakers, the negotiators, a group of "tolerant" people who only want everyone to get along, when the reality is precisely the opposite. The reality is that both groups are as fundamentally opposed to each other as human beings can get, and are fully ready to use weapons of war to get what they want. The new culture of no discussion is leading the world directly into World War III, for there can be no other consequence when discussions fail, or are rejected from the outset.
|Friday, September 20th, 2019|
|I'm practical after all
When I was a child, I always considered myself a fairly practical person. I was never too much interested in the stories and amusements which other children seemed so fascinated by. Oh, I read children's stories as a child because I wasn't given much else to read--adults foolishly treat children as if they were going to be children for the rest of their lives--but I was never much fascinated by fictional worlds and characters, considering them generally fairly boring unless there was some interesting idea that could be wrought out of their stories. The kind of reading material that I was really drawn to was technical literature. I was actually very drawn to reading the instruction manuals for any device which we might acquire, such as a toaster or a cassette-tape player. I had sometimes read that people consider instruction manuals boring and never bother to read them, but I couldn't understand such people; I considered instruction manuals fascinating, and reading them was usually the first thing I wanted to do when we got such a device. When my mother drove me around in her car, I was the one to explain how the windshield wiper lever and the cruise control buttons worked, because I had read this information in the owner's manual of the car.
As I got older, this fascination with technical documentation only deepened, and I did not understand people who chose to follow other pursuits or fields of study, like art or linguistics. As far as I was concerned, those things were well enough and good for people who might have an interest in them, but I considered them mostly a waste of time; sure, art is nice sometimes, but there is already so much art in the world, and a lot of it is pointless, just the self-indulgent drivel produced by people who have nothing better to do, and while I'd been to some art galleries as a child and understood that some art is beautiful, impressive, and meaningful, most of it didn't leave a lasting impression on me. Why would people want to waste their time and talents on something like that, I wondered, when the world was being revolutionized by the introduction of the microcomputer into the world?
The collapse of the computer industry in the year 2000 thrust me into an existential crisis which even now, nearly 20 years later, I have yet to really recover from. I saw that I had been wrong about many things: The computer revolution would not go on forever; it ended quite suddenly as both people and businesses decided that they didn't really need or want computers after all, rendering people like myself, who had long decided that they would devote their lives to the computer industry, superfluous. At the age of 18, I had suddenly become obsolete and a relic of the past, at an age when people are supposed to be just starting out. What was I to do now? Was my life over at 18? Had I waited all my life for the moment when I became of a legal age to chart my own life's course, only to have my adulthood robbed from me? Looking back on the last 20 years, I can now say that the answer was actually yes; my adult life has been incredibly bad, worse than I could ever have imagined it would be. When I was 18, I feared the worst from the future, and yet that future was actually even worse than I'd imagined. Computers and computer people like me have only become more obsolete, more ignored, and more disdained as something to be discarded over these 20 years.
As a result of this existential crisis, I began trying to direct my attention toward other fields. I began to learn about economics, a field which had previously never interested me, in an effort to understand the economic reasons why the industry had disappeared and why a person like me, who until recently had the promise of being one of the highest-demand workers in the near future, had suddenly become among the least-needed people in the world. I began to read classic literature, something which I had never really done before; as a child I'd been made to read a handful of plays from Shakespeare, but now I suddenly found myself interested in 19th-century literature, because I wanted to understand what life had been like in the early modern era, in the time before automobiles and electricity were common in homes. I wanted to understand what was important to people in those days, what they valued and what motivated them, because I felt that whatever it had been must have been something more lasting and fundamentally important to human beings than the microcomputer industry, which had lasted for around 20 or 30 years before becoming irrelevant. I also began studying philosophy, a field which I'd previously had little interest in as it seemed like a lot of very abstract thinking that produced very little benefit, and actually, now that I've spent some years seriously learning about philosophy, I can say that that impression was largely true, but I'm still glad that I learned about philosophy, as there are some important ideas to be found among those interminable passages of seeming nonsense. All in all, I felt the deficit that had been left behind by my childhood focus on technical information: I had grown up to be an adult without a cultural education, and in a world where computers were no longer important, I no longer understood what I--or any other person, for that matter--should or could live for.
At the time, in the early years of the 21st century, I marveled at how I, a person who had once been the most practical person I knew, had suddenly become so impractical. As a child, my attitude had always been that if there was no practical benefit to be gained from any act of speaking or reading, or any other transfer of information that occupied the human thoughts, then there was really not much point in having that conversation or reading that bit of text. Now, suddenly, I was reading a bunch of "impractical" things, things which did not lead to some kind of technical competence but rather shed some light on the human condition. It was a curious transformation: How had I become so impractical? Had I somehow betrayed my inner nature? Or had my childhood been "just a phase", an idea I found hard to believe, as a person's childhood is usually fairly reflective of what they are like as a person, and it is rare that a person's character in adulthood should diverge sharply from the character they show as a child. Yet I was sure that I had been true to myself as a child, that whatever interests I'd had were not just a short-term thing that I grew out of as an adult. Why was I now so interested in things that had held no interest for my childhood self?
It took some more years for me to really understand and resolve this seeming dichotomy of my personality. Part of what I needed to understand was the nature of education and the different fields of human study. In the early years of the 21st century, I still had this foolish sort of "left brain versus right brain" idea, the idea that there are only really two types of people: The scientific and technical person, and the artistic and cultural person. It seemed to me that after a childhood of being the former, I had suddenly and inexplicably become the latter. A scientist by nature, I'd suddenly become an artist. How could this happen?
The answer came from understanding that people are not binary in this way: It's not just that there are scientists, engineers, and technicians on one side, and artists, poets, and philosophers on the other. Regarding the first group of people, I came to understand, after a while, that I was not really a scientist after all. Science is not much concerned with practical application of its ideas; science is simply concerned with developing an understanding of how the physical world works. That's all well and good, because scientific discoveries are important in developing technology--most technological advances come about as a result of scientific advances--but looking at science as a field, it wasn't really what I wanted to do with my life or where I wanted to devote the bulk of my attention or effort. On the other side, too, the "artistic" side, it's not like people on that side are just a bunch of airheaded, floaty artists who just sit around painting and thinking about visual forms all day; many types of seemingly non-technical fields of study actually have very practical applications.
Part of the problem, I think, is one of categorization: Fields like the "social sciences", despite being explicitly named "sciences", are often thought of as "right-brain" fields, not "real sciences" but rather something for fancy poseurs who aren't smart enough to be scientists or engineers. In reality, "social sciences" like sociology, psychology, history, and political science are actually quite practical fields of study which have real objectives that they want to achieve and real relevance for everyday human life. These fields have a bad reputation in universities, often being seen as "cop-out" majors for academically weak students who couldn't hack it in a more rigorous field of study, and while it's true that many university students just end up studying Sociology or Psychology because they couldn't understand the math necessary for other majors or wanted to pick a relatively "easy" major, it's also true that these fields are critically important to human life, because human society and the human psyche are some of the cornerstones of our practical human existence. If we do not understand these systems, our ability to function as human beings is significantly reduced. Like many others, I had sneered in the past at people who studied these things, thinking them to be lacking in intelligence or willpower, lazy privileged kids from rich families who had no interest in doing anything but chatting with their friends and were just putting in their time at a university so that they could claim to have an academic degree on the same footing as someone who had studied a "real subject", and part of the problem is that this stereotype is in fact often accurate. That said, while this may reflect badly on the people who study social sciences
, it has nothing to do with the social sciences themselves
as fields of study.
Even philosophy is actually something relatively practical, or at least, more practical than people often understand it to be. The problem is that philosophy attempts to understand things like the meaning of existence, and meaning is not something which can be reduced to a mathematical formula; you cannot understand abstract and fundamental concepts like "meaning", "virtue", or "understanding" using purely mathematical or scientific methods. These concepts can
be reduced to a formal system--arguably, a country's system of laws can be seen as a practical, real-world effort to do precisely this--but the construction of such a system itself requires a fundamental understanding of these concepts, an appreciation of what life means to human beings and how and why that life should be directed and protected. Philosophy is not just a bunch of words written for no reason; it is a serious effort to come to a more concrete understanding of why human beings are alive at all, and how they should live now that they are alive.
And when you understand some of these things, it becomes apparent that even art has a practical purpose, because it serves some of the needs of the human soul. Human beings do not just live to program computers and construct buildings; when you begin to study what people really live for, what really gives "meaning" to human life, what actually is the core reason why human beings continue to live in the first place, you come to understand that human beings are motivated by love, by happiness, by a sense of harmony with other people and with the world itself, and that art can serve these emotional and social needs of people. A lot of art is horrendous, it's true: just the self-indulgent feces produced by some person with a desire for attention and no useful way to garner merit for themselves. But art can also be something that benefits people by giving them good ideas and inspiring them to be creative and appreciative of nuance and subtlety in their everyday lives. Art doesn't have to be impractical; it can actually be vitally practical by producing the very things that human beings live for. Art is not always just a way for posh wankers to wank in an ever more posh way; it is something that can bring real and measurable benefits to people.
With this understanding, a puzzling dilemma in my mind has finally been resolved: I'm practical after all. I still don't have much patience or respect for pretentious, meaningless ideas that go nowhere; what I have gained is a respect for the social sciences, so-called "not real sciences" that actually are of tremendous importance in understanding and planning human structures that dictate much of our lives, as well as for art and literature, creative efforts which, when they're done right, can help people to understand human life and emotions and bring them in touch with those emotions which are, after all, the foundation of where human meaning comes from. There's a lot of this stuff in the world which is just a waste of time, artless tripe which was produced by people who merely wanted to imagine that they had something to say, but differentiating between such tripe and "real art" is a very subtle endeavor which requires a strong understanding of art, and this is why people need to study art in the first place: That understanding doesn't just fall magically from the sky, but rather comes from years of devoted, open-minded study. That study doesn't have to be something impractical; it can be something very practical indeed, namely the study of why human beings live at all.
I never stopped being practical. I just became so practical that I no longer saw human life as a given. Whereas many "practical" people concern themselves with things like making money, fixing defective machinery, and making sure that consumer products conform to a standard of quality, these are all things that serve the continued existence of humanity, and I was not willing to continue to serve this end without ensuring that human beings really had a reason to exist in the first place, and if so, why. Learning how to fix a typewriter is a practical matter, but an even more
practical matter is asking whether the typewriter still needs to be kept around at all, or whether it might not be better replaced by a digital computer with a high-resolution printer. Similarly, many "practical" people take human existence as a given and make it their life's work to improve life through making faster computers or more energy-efficient cars, but I wanted to address the question at a more fundamental level and understand why that human existence should continue at all. After all, people are always telling me that if I no longer need something, I should throw it away. Well, it doesn't cost me anything to keep a trinket sitting around even if I don't need it anymore, but what does cost me (and the rest of the world) something is maintaining human lives that are not needed, because basic means of living like housing and food are economically and environmentally expensive. If we no longer need these human lives, why not be practical and, rather than trying to serve them by building machines that are faster and more powerful, just pulling the plug and turning these human beings into fertilizer? That would do the world a whole lot more good than me getting rid of old clothes which I don't wear anymore or old books which I don't read anymore. Getting rid of unnecessary life seems, to my mind, like a much more practical approach to solving the world's problems.
So yeah, once again, it seems that I'm practical after all. I guess I always have been; I just didn't realize it for a while. And that being the case, practicality is probably a part of my fundamental nature and personal character, which means I probably always will be that way. I actually feel a lot better now that I understand that my behavior and my values have been consistent all along; it means a lot to human beings when their personal value systems are internally consistent, because otherwise they've made a mistake somewhere or failed to recognize something important about their beliefs. Other people may disagree with my beliefs, but I know what I value and who I am. I guess, in the end, every person can only be true to themselves, because what else could any person really do? It falls to each human being to be their own selves, and to me to put a stop to that being.
|Thursday, September 12th, 2019|
|How is someone supposed to plan a life like this?
I used to be a big believer in the importance of making plans for one's future. Good things in life come to those who lay the foundation and then build upon it, so I thought, as many people probably do, that if a person gets a good education, makes contacts with good friends and business partners, and steadily develops their career while also developing themselves personally, then unless the person died or was horribly injured in an accident or disaster, they could hardly fail to be successful. Time, effort, and dedication were necessary, but also a vision, a plan, an idea of what the future should hold and a viable way to get to that future. There are a lot of people who seem "successful" in the world, and they like to sell the idea to the public that hard work, passion, dedication, and the right mindset can lead anyone to "success". But it's not really that simple.
First of all, businesses are not in the business of giving money to anyone who wants it. Even back in the mid-20th century, in the heyday of American capitalism, when industrial development and scientific research were reaching heights never before reached in human history, it wasn't like any person with a good idea and a work ethic could just show up and get paid for doing work. There has always been a limited amount of money to go around, and the money can't go to everyone all at once. By its very nature, the world distributes its resources unequally: Some people receive a lot, some people receive a little. In our current political environment, this is called inequality, injustice, or whatever else people like to call it, but in history it was just how things are, the way of the world which no one can change or earn anything from worrying about.
But today, the situation is even more uncertain, because business, as it existed in the 20th century, does not really exist in our world anymore. Power and wealth are too decentralized for anyone to attain any kind of foundation to build upon. No business, even the largest and most powerful, can count on being relevant for any length of time. Whole industries disappear suddenly as various types of products, services, activities, and technologies become obsolete. Nearly everyone seems eager to buy something cheap and short-lived rather than investing in long-term quality and stability. What's important and popular today could be completely irrelevant tomorrow, and no one can predict these trends, even the smartest, wisest, and most far-seeing people in the world. In a business environment like that, how can anyone plan a career? They can't. Even the world's most "successful" people are standing on thin ice, and they know it. It doesn't matter what you do, what you know, or whom you know; your future is gravely threatened. That goes for every single person on Earth.
Personal relationships are similarly imperiled. People imagine their "perfect person" by compiling a list of certain attributes this person should have: A specific hair color and eye color, a particular height and weight, perhaps other physical characteristics, and of course many possible personality traits, such as whether the person is talkative or quiet, adventurous or relaxed, ambitious or humble, urban or domestic, devoted or independent, and so on. People often fantasize about meeting a person with such qualities, but then, if they ever do meet such a person, they find that they are not really attracted to that person, because love is not a checklist that is fulfilled when someone meets all the criteria; love is an emotion which human beings feel for absolutely no rational reason, and so they fail to fall in love with their perfect partners, instead falling madly in love with people with whom they are not well-matched, for no reason whatsoever. You probably have, in your mind, a vision of what you'd like your ideal partner to be like as well, but if you ever met them, chances are that you wouldn't fall in love with them, and vice-versa; instead, you will fall in love with a random person who captures your heart for no articulable reason. In a world like this, where human beings fall in and out of love unpredictably, impermanently, and for no reason whatsoever, how can anyone plan relationships or hope to maintain a long-term relationship with anyone?
And it's not just relationships. Anything at all which people take an interest in, or which people enjoy, is interesting or enjoyable for no reason whatsoever
. What people find interesting in one moment may become boring and uninteresting in the next. People take up a certain subject on a whim because it irrationally appeals to their senses for a period of time, only to lose interest in it because they explored that subject as far as they could. Some people retain a certain hobby or interest for a lifetime, while other people are fascinated with a certain activity for a few months and then just leave it. How can any person know what they will like, what they will enjoy, what will interest them, or what will appeal to them in a year from now? The more you observe people in the world, the more apparent it becomes that they are just desperately trying to find ways to entertain themselves because they are so bored and boring that there is nothing which will ever satisfy their deep-seated desire for tacky amusement. When a person cannot even plan or predict their own interests, their own passions, their own activities, then how can any human being meaningfully structure their life in any way whatsoever?
People don't even know what they want in life. If you ask anyone what they want from their life, people become uncomfortable and say something to the effect that they don't really want anything, or they don't really know. People "just want to be happy", but have no idea what could make them happy, and little wonder, because there isn't anything that could make them happy. There's a thought experiment in which people imagine that they have only a year left to live, or a month, or a week, or a day, and they try to decide what they would do with their remaining time in this life. After thinking out an answer, the question is then asked: "Why aren't you living that way right now?" The point is to get people thinking about what they really want in life, because when a person knows they're going to die soon, they suddenly become "free", free to do all the things they always wanted to do with their life but never got around to. This is, for example, the premise of Paulo Coelho's novel Veronika Decides to Die
, about a young woman who has only a few days left to live and who suddenly finds a newfound appreciation for life because of the realization that it will be over soon. The problem with this idea is that it's pure fantasy; if you search on the Internet, there are actually many, many discussion forums where exactly this question is posed and people give their answers, and it's shocking to see how many people say something to the effect of "I wouldn't really do anything different, I would just wait for the end to come". What's supposed to be a revealing and insightful bit of folk wisdom is thus revealed to actually be a fairy-tale fantasy. People imagine an impending death to be a force that sets people "free", but in our real world, it seems like it just deepens people's hopelessness. I'm sorry to say this, but Paulo Coelho really is a delusional thinker; his best-known work, The Alchemist
, is a similarly pseudointellectual piece of fantasy that has more to do with how Coelho would like life to be than anything relating to real life. You can't impart wisdom to people by imagining a fantasy world and then pretending that the real world works the way it does in your imagination.
A similar question is what people would do if they suddenly had unlimited amounts of money, essentially the premise of Andreas Eschbach's novel One Trillion Dollars
(originally published under the German title Eine Billion Dollar
, because German uses the long scale, and so what English calls a "trillion" is what German calls a "billion"), and this novel is a bit truer to life because it portrays what probably actually would happen in such a scenario: The person who suddenly receives the eponymous amount of money goes through several convulsive cycles of trying to do "good" with the money, failing to recognize or understand what would really sustainably help humanity attain a better state of life, before finally realizing that no amount of money will "fix" humanity because a lack of money isn't humanity's fundamental problem. The novel ends abruptly with the conclusion that the money is useless. People often imagine that what's holding them back from their dreams is a lack of either time or money (or both), and when you realize that even with unlimited
amounts of time and
money, human beings still wouldn't really have a clear vision of what kind of life they would want to live or what they would want to do with their lives, something becomes very clear which most people don't want to admit, because they don't want to accept that their lives are as worthless and meaningless as anything could be.
When you examine human beings and their motivations for everything they want and everything they do, it becomes apparent that there is really no reason for anything which human beings want or do. No reason at all. People want things because some feeling inside them desires, and they can either follow those feelings and get what they think they want, in which case they will spend their lives like drug addicts chasing random, arbitrary sensations, or they can gather the strength to resist chasing arbitrary desires for no reason, in which case they will spend their entire lives moaning and complaining that they don't have what they want and that life would be so much better if their arbitrary desires could be somehow satisfied, which would be like trying to drink the ocean, because human desire is absolutely limitless and infinite. Human life is really a binary choice: Either you can have the discipline to not gorge yourself on the cheap entertainment that your soul desires, in which case you'll be miserable because you don't have what you want, or you can throw discipline to the wind and gorge yourself as much as you want, in which case you'll be miserable because you can never have enough of it. Either way, you'll be miserable, so what's the point?
A lot of people say that life is better when you cut out what you don't need. This is sort of a minimalist or Buddhist perspective: Suffering comes from wanting things, so eliminate everything that you don't need from your life so that you're not plagued by infinite desires. But we don't need life itself. If a person should eliminate everything from their life that they don't need, then that includes their life itself, because what does anyone need a life for? They certainly don't. People are born because their parents had sex, not because of any conscious decision on their own part. People continue living because it seems easier to live than to die. But actually, dying is easier and causes less suffering. If you think that you should eliminate everything that you don't need from your life, then how about starting with yourself? The decision to be alive is no more rational, logical, or reasonable than the decision to die. Any decision that any person can make is no more rational, logical, or reasonable than any other decision.
How is someone supposed to plan a life like this? It seems almost like human beings would be better off planning nothing at all, not having any hopes or dreams or wishes for the future, but rather just sitting and holding on tightly in the hopes that whatever comes won't be as bad as it seems like it probably will be. What do we have to look forward to? What reason could we possibly have for remaining here at all?
|Wednesday, September 11th, 2019|
|The dystopian utopia of the molecular assembler/nano fabricator
I don't usually write posts that are mostly just links to other articles on the web, but there's an insightful article I recently found by Riley Haas titled "The Nano-Fabricator Will Solve All Our Problems
" which is worth reading for people who want some further insight on how a "miracle technology" can go very, very wrong.
For decades now, pretty much ever since people discovered that matter is made up of atoms, there has been science-fiction speculation about machines which can construct any substance or object you could want; after all, all things are merely different arrangements of protons, neutrons, and electrons, so with a supply of such raw materials (keeping in mind that literally any object or substance at all
can be a source of such raw materials), you could build anything. One of the earliest science-fiction novels I remember reading which contains this idea is Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age
, where such a device is called a "matter compiler", or MC for short. Wikipedia calls them "molecular assemblers
", and Haas' article above calls them "nano fabricators", but these are all different terms for the same idea: A machine which can manufacture anything out of anything.
It seems like a miracle idea: Such a machine would end all forms of scarcity, because it could turn garbage, excrement, sewage, nuclear waste, and any other form of refuse into food, fuel, and anything else you could possibly want. The concept of money would disappear, because there would be no need to buy or sell anything when people could manufacture any possible substance or object in their own homes. What could possibly go wrong with such a technology?
Haas focuses on the problem of consumption of matter, suggesting that people will "literally eat the entire planet" as a result of such devices, but while he mentions energy consumption, he rather glosses over this aspect of things, so allow me to take a moment to observe that energy would be prohibitively scarce in such a scenario. A few centuries ago, the only "energy" which people needed was the energy from food and fire, as no machinery existed which could use energy in any other form. When the internal combustion engine was developed, liquid fuel--gasoline--suddenly became a big deal, and today the petroleum industry is one of the most important in the world, because people need all those motor vehicles to move from one place to another. Electrical energy is also vitally important to human society today, and while most electronic devices like computers, telephones, and such don't use up much energy because they have become fairly energy-efficient, one type of electrical appliance which can't be made efficient is temperature-changing devices: Stoves and ovens consume enormous amounts of energy to heat up food, and air conditioning, which was once seen as a luxury but is fast becoming necessary for human survival in a world that's heating up, is so energy-intensive that even in the world's most developed countries, it is not practical for widespread deployment because there isn't enough energy to run all those air conditioners. Witness how every summer, Central Europe--where air conditioners hardly exist--experiences increasingly deadly heat waves and people and animals are dying in increasing numbers because there is no way to get rid of that heat. The future of human survival depends largely on our ability to escape from that heat, but while heat can be generated by burning things, heat cannot be gotten rid of; it can only be moved around, which requires energy-intensive heat pumps (air conditioners), which will dramatically increase our need for electrical energy in the future.
Molecular assemblers/nano fabricators would open up a whole new and entirely unprecedented form of human energy consumption. It is likely that the levels of energy required would exceed what we could realistically produce. Let's consider how much energy our planet gets from the sun. The "solar luminosity" of a star is a measure of how much energy that star gives off in the form of light and other types of radiation. The solar luminosity of Earth's sun is variously reported as being from 382 yottawatts to 386 yottawatts. The "yotta" prefix adds 24 zeroes after the number, so if we assume on the high side of these estimates, then the total energy output of Earth's sun is a fairly constant 386,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 watts. That's a lot. However, this is the total
output of the sun in all directions
; our planet Earth, obviously, only receives a fraction of that output, since most of that energy goes off into space in other directions. The amount of the sun's energy that actually reaches Earth is generally estimated at about 174 petawatts ("peta" being the prefix for 15 zeroes), which is a mere 174,000,000,000,000,000 watts. On top of that, Earth's atmosphere reflects about half of that energy back into space, meaning that only about 89 petawatts, or 89,000,000,000,000,000 watts, reach Earth's surface. The current global power consumption is about 15 terawatts, or 15,000,000,000,000 watts. This suggests that the amount of energy we can get from solar energy alone is nearly 6,000 times the current global power usage. How would the situation change if molecular assemblers/nano fabricators were deployed on a global scale?
I actually couldn't find any specific figures on how much power a molecular assembler/nano fabricator would consume, probably since such devices don't exist yet, but let's allow ourselves to make some estimates based on basic physics. Suppose that we want to generate gasoline using our device. It is a scientific fact that energy cannot be created, meaning you can't produce a substance which contains more energy than the energy which went into producing that substance, so let's understand that producing gasoline will require at least the same amount of energy that the resulting gasoline will contain in chemical energy. The energy density of gasoline is between 12 and 13 kilowatt-hours per kilogram, meaning that if we wanted to generate a kilogram of gasoline--really a fairly small amount of gasoline as far as production figures go--and the process lasted an hour, the machine would need at least
12 to 13 kilowatts of power during the entire process; I say "at least" because this figure assumes a 100% efficient manufacturing device, but this is of course impossible, as some energy loss would occur through the workings of the device itself, meaning that a real-world device would require much more power than this throughout the entire manufacturing process. Of course, vehicles in the future may run on natural gas or liquid propane gas or something similar, but all of these substances have similar energy densities to gasoline, meaning all of them would require similar amounts of energy to manufacture.
Suppose that people are using the molecular assembler/nano fabricator not to manufacture gasoline, but simply food. Food has a lower energy density than gasoline, but it still contains a lot: A normal human diet contains about 2,000 calories per day, which is pretty close to 2 kilowatt-hours of energy. This means, again, that a machine which takes an hour to produce one day's food for a person would need at least 2 kilowatts of power during that process, and probably a lot more because of inefficiencies in the manufacturing process. If we imagine each of the world's 7 billion people running 2-kilowatt molecular assemblers simultaneously, we're already at 14 terawatts of power consumption, almost as much as already exists in the whole world combined--and this is, again, before we've even begun to consider how much more power will be required due to machine inefficiency and the fact that people may well want to run more than one molecular assembler at a time, since such devices will probably be rather slow in terms of how much material they can produce in a given time frame. Of course, we're still well within the 89-petawatt figure for the total amount of solar energy that reaches Earth, but that figure is all of the sunlight that reaches Earth
, a harvest we could only attain if we blanketed every square millimetre of Earth's surface with solar panels, a feat we're not likely to ever achieve, nor should we try. Practically speaking, even for modest production of everyday nutritional needs for the world, we've already wildly exceeded the world's capacity for renewable or "green" energy, and these are figures for bare survival, before we begin to manufacture anything exotic or specialized with the molecular assembler. How vastly would we exceed the capabilities of the sun and the Earth to provide us with energy if we had a whole world full of molecular assemblers which were producing everyday objects for everyday people? Pretty vastly.
And then we come back to the main point made in Haas' article, which is that in a world of molecular assemblers, matter itself
would become scarce: As people continue to manufacture things, how much raw matter do we have to supply billions and billions of people's desire to produce things? Read Haas' article, and then ask yourself: How long do we have before human beings literally consume the Earth itself to produce their sustenance?
The utopia of the molecular assembler/nano fabricator is actually a dystopia. If such a device ever becomes a reality, it will really be the end of everything, as literally all matter and energy in the whole world will disappear as fuel to feed humanity's endless greed for more of everything. Whether this ever happens in reality will remain to be seen, but we can already see that if such a device ever turns into reality, the end of scarcity will bring with it the beginning of a whole new kind of scarcity.
|Tuesday, September 10th, 2019|
|The musical event of the decade
As bad as popular music is today, one promising sign which I do see is occasional glimpses of self-aware misanthropy in artists who recognize that something is very seriously wrong with the world today. It reminds me of the shift that led to "grunge" in the early 1990s, and it's driven by similar motivations: The understanding that humanity is plainly very sick in its self-congratulatory pursuit of mindless pleasure and glorification of the meaningless. Songs which reflect this are not likely to be played on most popular music radio or television channels, but every now and then, a gem surfaces in one place or another.
I've been a minor fan of pop singer Poppy (who used to go under the name "That Poppy") for some time now, because she's sort of the perfect embodiment of our times: She combines her notoriously unpredictable YouTube channel with a real sense for dance-pop melody, and by combining these talents, she self-consciously parodies both pop singers and YouTube personalities by being both at the same time and doing all the things they do in the most absurd way possible. A combined appreciation and mockery of modern technology, particularly the Internet, is a running theme through all of her work (searching for "password123" on YouTube used to bring up her video for "Interweb" as the first search result, because the song begins with the lyric "I forgot what my password is, maybe it's password123"), but more than anything else, Poppy seems to be just about showing how ridiculous humanity's current state is. It doesn't hurt that despite this subtext, her music is actually very catchy and pleasant to listen to; the electronic beat which provides the sonic backing for "Money", one of her earliest hits, reminds me of something that one might have heard from an Amiga game in the 1990s, and the song is just so insanely catchy that it's easy to miss the point that she's actually mocking pop stars in the chorus. I also appreciate Poppy's unflinching willingness to follow her perspectives through to their natural conclusions, resulting in some horror-movie moments like the absurdly bloody video for "X", but also in the wonderfully bleak lyrics of "Time Is Up", which is all about how humanity needs to be destroyed, sung in an absolute deadpan where Poppy calmly asks: "Am I your prisoner or your deliverer?" No one knows.
It was while watching the YouTube video for the latter song that I just happened to click on a video in YouTube's list of "related" videos that ended up blowing me away. YouTube's video suggestions are famously hit-or-miss; sometimes you get the most ridiculous drivel which has no relationship whatsoever to what you're watching, and sometimes YouTube comes out with a suggestion that is spot on. Fortunately, this was one of the latter cases. The video I ended up clicking on was for Grimes' song "We Appreciate Power", and I honestly think that I haven't heard a song this groundbreaking in over 10 years. The song is especially surprising considering whom it's from: Grimes has previously been known mostly for her gentle, indie-pop sound, but "We Appreciate Power" is anything but gentle; it brings to mind the very best of industrial-music acts like Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy, but it's also a pop song, a rock song, and a Poppy-style commentary on the destruction of humanity. I have a weakness for music which combines horrible noise with elaborate beauty, and this song combines exactly those two things like nothing I've ever heard before. The song is shot through with uncomfortable sounds and screams--literal, horror-movie screams--and yet it sounds perfect from start to finish. Everything about this track is carefully sculpted to perfection: From the way that doubled-up triple drum strike throws you from the verses into the chorus and back again, to the metal-style guitars that punctuate the almost-whispered lines of the verses, this track finds infinite beauty in infinite ugliness. And the bridge! My goodness, that bridge!
After two and a half minutes of unrelenting sonic assault, the song suddenly bursts into achingly beautiful, harmonic melody, a calm eye of the storm in the midst of what we know has passed and what we know must come to pass again. "We Appreciate Power" is a diamond of songwriting perfection in the midst of a disastrously collapsed music industry, and the song is so effective precisely because it knows just how bad things are and isn't afraid to wring the most beautiful thing possible from the sickness that is humanity's everyday life. It's a pity that I don't keep up with music much anymore, because otherwise I would have found this song sooner (it was released almost a year ago, in November of 2018), but as far as I'm concerned, the release of "We Appreciate Power" is the musical event of the decade. (For reference, my musical event of the previous
decade was Nine Inch Nails' "Right Where It Belongs".) It's moments like this that make me feel happy, for just a moment, to be alive.
|Monday, September 9th, 2019|
|The wage gap
One of the more recent issues to rise to the top of the public's attention has been the wage gap, the statistical fact that on average, men earn more money than women for the same jobs. Those last four words are key, because a few decades ago, the focus was not on people in the same job, but rather on the fact that most high-paying jobs were for men. This is no longer the case, as there are many high-profile women CEOs and senior-level managers in large companies; although there are still more men than women in such positions, the numbers seem to have evened out enough that people are no longer asking "Why aren't there more women managers?" but rather "Why are women, on average, paid less than men who do the same jobs they do?"
Even feminists admit that there are many reasons for this statistical discrepancy and that while the popular stereotype of "discrimination" plays a factor, it is not the only reason and that there are many other more complicated reasons which are not systemic but rather a factor of how women work; for example, women are more likely than men to work part-time, which obviously impacts how high their wages can rise. That doesn't stop a significant number of outraged commentators from staging high-profile publicity stunts as a way of drawing attention to them problem, or perhaps more accurately to themselves under the guise of "calling attention to a problem" which everyone is already aware of. (Yes, self-serving attention-seeking behavior still exists.) Honestly, I don't really know what these outraged protesters expect, considering that federal law in the United States has prohibited paying people differently based on their gender since the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which explicitly states that "No employer... shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex." The following year, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, which likewise prohibited discriminating based on race. So really, given that there has been a federal law mandating that all genders and races are paid equally, what do people really expect? Do they want a second law which states the same thing?
I suppose people are upset not because of the lack of a law on the matter, but because of the apparent reality that these laws are not being upheld. In their minds, I suppose, they consider it well and good that these laws exist, but the problem for them is that the laws are apparently not effective. I have avoided commenting at length on this matter, partly because I felt that I had nothing to say which hadn't already been said, but in thinking about the subject recently, it occurred to me that I did have some personal experiences which might lend some perspective to the matter. I know that some people would say that it is ill-advised of me, as a man, to write an article like this, since I am not the one negatively impacted and so it's not for me to make up reasons why women get paid less, but please allow me to explain why I think that I have something worthwhile to say about the matter.
I used to work in a medium-sized technology company; not a company with thousands of employees, but a company with hundreds, and that experience was invaluable for me in terms of being able to see how large groups of employees who do the same work end up getting treated differently by the company. In any company large enough that there are a lot of people (say, at least 10 to 20 or so) in the exact same job role, what you will very clearly see is that there are different levels of motivation and performance with which different people approach their jobs. Even if everyone is doing their job adequately, you will see clear patterns of behavior emerging: Some people approach their jobs with energy and enthusiasm, learn everything they can about their jobs in order to do their jobs better, and give indications that they are ambitious in the direction of a higher-up job within the company, perhaps a similar role but with more responsibility or decision-making capability. Other people approach the job as "just a job": They come to work on time and do their work satisfactorily, but give no indication that they wish to do more than just satisfy the basic job requirements. People in the former group are likely to get paid more than people in the latter group.
Now, I know that this kind of "meritocracy", where people are rewarded (typically financially, although other benefits may also be involved) according to how well they perform, is something of a cliché in the world today, because many people don't really believe in it. Sure, businesses will claim
that they pay employees according to performance, but one could make the case that very often, employees are just paid based on how well they're liked. The "popular" employee who doesn't work as hard but is well-liked by their colleagues, including by the management, will probably get paid more than the hard-working employee who just keeps their head down and doesn't have many "friends" in the company, and this is true to some extent. Yes, when managers get together and decide how much they're going to adjust the employees' salaries, those managers are human beings, and as such, they are subject to bias and favoritism just like any other human beings, which means that if an employee leaves a favorable impression, they are likely to get paid more. The employee who is always smiling, always making pleasant conversation with others, generally always perceived as motivated, friendly, cooperative, and likable but who doesn't do as much work may well end up getting paid more than an employee who works diligently but does not say much to co-workers outside of what is necessary. This is unfair, to be sure, but it does happen; the reason I write about this is not to claim that meritocratic pay scales are fair or correct, but to explain what happens with them in the real world. Having worked for several years in several positions in both North America and Europe, one thing I can say is that in Europe, such pay scales are uncommon, while they are much more usual in North America. This reflects the differing social and political views in the two continents: In Europe, "fairness" is more important, and so it is the norm that every person in the same position will get paid the same amount of money, regardless of the quality of their work, while in North America, people who do great work--or at least, are perceived
as doing great work, regardless of the accuracy of this perception--are likely to get paid more than people who are not
perceived as doing great work. This is, of course, in fitting with the American-style mentality of showing off: All the world's a stage, and businesspeople are its actors, people paid to strut and prance in front of others, and if you put on a good show, they'll throw money your way, regardless of how useful you are.
All of what I've written on this matter so far has been fairly general, without any focus on gender differences in the workplace. If I introduce the subject of gender at this point, you may begin to understand why it becomes relevant now. The simple truth is that when it comes to showing off, men and women act differently in the workplace.
Women, by their very nature, tend to congeal into social groups which are self-contained and do not extent beyond their own boundaries. Women are sociable, congenial, and sympathetic to their friends, meaning that when they want to do something at work, they are more likely to focus on their peer groups, doing something within their department and their own group of co-workers who are in the same job role. What I have also generally seen is that women tend to be less ambitious in terms of climbing the corporate ladder: Women are more likely to want to remain with the people they know, with the friends they already have, in the place which has already become familiar to them, and doing the work which they already know they can do well. It's not just a lack of self-confidence which prevents them from wanting to seek something higher up, though it may be this as well, as women seem more prone to self-doubt than men (perhaps because women are encouraged less than men when it comes to being ambitious); it's also the fact that women tend to prefer security, to want a "sure thing" rather than staking their jobs and potentially their life's security for the sake of a risky bet. Men, for better or for worse, are more suicidally ambitious in the sense that they tend to be more willing to make moves which involve big risks but also big potential rewards: An "all or nothing" mentality where someone is willing to risk it all to gain it all is more of a male mindset than a female one.
Now, there are a couple of objections which people could obviously raise to what I've said thus far. The first is that everything in the preceding paragraph is a set of stereotypes, of "typical" behavior for men and women, and that not all men and women follow these patterns of behavior. In response to such criticism comes the usual caveat that of course not all
men and women behave a certain way; of course there are men who don't follow "typical man behavior" and women who don't follow "typical woman behavior", but there are a lot of human beings in the world, and when you observe them enough, patterns begin to emerge: In general, there are certain things which men do more often than women, and there are other things which women do more often than men. You can protest such broad generalizations as unfair, biased, sexist, or whatever other criticism you want to level at them, but this doesn't change the fact that such tendencies can be statistically measured, and they have
The second criticism, which is perhaps slightly more subtle, is that what I've said pertains to people getting promoted (or trying to get promoted) to higher positions, which is irrelevant to the argument at hand: Of course being promoted to a higher position typically comes with a pay raise, but what equal-rights activists are protesting is women getting paid less than men who work in the exact same position
. To understand this phenomenon, however, one must only understand that in business, not everything happens right away: Ambitious people do not get promoted instantly, but rather, they typically get an annual pay raise or two, and then, if they've done good work consistently throughout that time period, only then do they become considered for a promotion. Bear in mind, too, that most companies need to wait for a higher-up position to become available before promoting someone into it; in many companies, even the best performers must remain in a lower-end role for many years simply because the company isn't growing enough to have new senior-level positions opening up. In such a situation, people with more seniority are likely to get paid more than newer people, which introduces plenty of time for wage inequalities to surface.
So is my point simply that women are less ambitious than men, and therefore companies decide to pay them less? It's partly that, and I think there is generally some truth to this idea. Of course there are women who are motivated, women who work as hard and as well as anyone could, and of course there are men who slack off, men who do shoddy work or come to work with bad attitudes, but people who complain about the wage gap are complaining about a statistical
phenomenon, and the greater tendency of men to devote themselves to their jobs is something which, I believe, could be statistically measured. People are very quick to assume that the wage gap is due to sexism, without bothering to consider other possibilities. Are there cases where women are paid less than men simply because they are women? I am sure that such cases exist in the world. But if you observe employee behavior in a large company over an extended period of time, you will begin to see patterns emerge.
One thing which I definitely saw in my work is that when there was any kind of reason to stay late at work because there was a big project going on or a shortage of staff, it tended to be the case that men wanted to devote more of their private time to the company, while women wanted to take what private life they had and spend it somewhere else. Women are more likely to have friends outside of their workplaces and things which they want to do after work is over; women value a "work-life balance" and consider that after they have put in their 8 hours (or however many hours) in the workplace, they've earned the right to go home and do whatever they want with their private time; it's their time, after all. Men are more likely to have no friends or hobbies in their private lives, nothing to devote themselves to but their careers, and so they are more likely to stay at work for an hour or two after their shifts are technically over to do extra work or discuss future business plans with their co-workers. Again, even if this kind of "big boys' club" is more an act of show than anything actually productive, even if these "business plans" are more akin to a bunch of frat boys talking shop than professionals making serious plans for the future, this willingness to devote one's private life to the company is noted and more likely to be rewarded than the "clockwatcher" who (gasp!) actually goes home when their shift is over
. Remember, it's not just about the quality of someone's work, it's also very much about the perception of a person as an employee, how valuable they are not just for their work but also for their contribution to the office culture.
And weren't there women who were also willing to give that extra little bit of their private time to the company? Of course, there were, and they were rewarded accordingly. In our department, there were a couple of women who definitely went above and beyond the bare minimum required of their job. They were the women who gave constructive feedback and suggestions in meetings, who stayed late after their shifts were over to collaborate on projects or plans for the future, and who worked hard to develop themselves so that they were among the best in the entire department, and the company noticed these efforts and gave those women raises and promotions as well: During their time in my department, their salaries were higher than those of most of the men. But if you looked at the behavior of the overall department, the people who were actually willing to do this, the people who were ambitious and proactive enough to reach that top tier were about 80% men. Most of the women had the attitude that when their work was over, they had already done enough and were going to go home to be with their families. So if people want to understand the reasons for the wage gap, perhaps they should be asking not "Why are women paid less, on average, than men?", but rather "Why are men so willing to give up their lives for their careers, and why do women, in contrast, want to have a work-life balance?" When we can answer this question, we'll have an answer for why the wage gap exists.
|Thursday, September 5th, 2019|
|The ideal global humanity: More options, less people
In general, I have always been of the belief that you can't go wrong with giving people options. Some people like chocolate ice cream, and some people like vanilla. If you're operating an ice-cream stand, which flavor should you sell? The choice is obvious: Sell both, and let your customers choose which one they want. When it comes to consumer products, offering choices is usually relatively easy: Make several different products and offer them all for sale, so that customers have a wide range of options to choose from. A more controversial subject is the same idea applied to computer user interfaces. Here, again, I've always believed in the value of choice: Some people like their e-mail program to play a sound effect when a new message arrives, while other people find this sound annoying and prefer to switch it off. Rather than forcing people into either functionality, why not have an option which allows them to choose whether the sound effect plays or not? The problem here, some people say, is that some programs become overwhelming by offering huge lists of options to choose from which most users don't understand and thus cannot make effective use of. I've always believed that offering these options is better than not offering them, because people who want to use them can do so, and people who don't know what they are or don't need them can just ignore them.
More controversial yet is the matter of choice when it comes to politics and countries. As an example, a current issue in the United States is the debate regarding gun control: Some people insist that guns are important to Americans and that people should not be forced to give up their guns because of a few bad apples, while others insist that there is no legitimate reason why regular people need to own guns or keep guns in their homes. In the United States, there has been a trend over the last several years towards making policies at the national/federal level, which somewhat defeats the purpose of having 50 states, as the original reason why these 50 states were created was so that each state could develop its own set of local laws for such things, leaving the federal government mainly responsible for military defense and the money supply. When Americans go to their government to demand either more restrictive gun controls or the maintenance of public gun rights, they thus tend to go to the federal
government, seeking a nationwide policy. Why does it have to be this way? Why must the federal government enact a one-size-fits-all policy that applies equally to all 50 states? Why not let the individual states set their own laws? People would then have options: Those who want certain types of guns outlawed can go to states which have enacted such laws; those who prefer to own such guns (or at least live in a place where people can legally own such guns) can likewise go to states where such guns are legal. Why not give people the ability to make their own choice?
Hot-button issues like gun rights are controversial, but more controversial yet is the existence of countries. Throughout human history, there has been a long-running trend for different cultures of people to blend together. Whenever two nations met, a fusion of their cultures tended to emerge temporarily at the border of those nations, but eventually one of those nations would disappear, absorbed into the other. The problem with this is that the people of that nation don't just disappear; only the nation which once represented their lifestyle and cultural beliefs did. The people who once treasured their own way of life are forced to adopt another life which likely does not represent their own values or beliefs. The elimination of the Native Americans is one of history's most shameful examples of this: Where North America was once populated by the Native Americans, people who had a strong connection with nature, this culture has now been almost completely eliminated and replaced with something crass and commercial. Why did this have to happen? Why could the people who loved their land not be allowed to keep it? It's a tragedy and an injustice which people have forgotten because they love all the money and mass-produced, commercialized media which comes out of North America now.
Why do some people so insistently maintain that borders need to be eliminated and all nations need to be combined? Why can't people have the option of keeping their own nation and their own culture? Why can't people be allowed to live how they want within their own countries? And why does the world criticize them so incessantly for doing so? Human beings need a place they can call home. Human beings need a place they can belong, because not all people fit within a "global", one-size-fits-all culture. For example, a lot of people don't like Germans because Germans are seen as picky, pedantic, arrogant, and cold, but the thing is, such people actually exist in the world, and it's important for them to have a community, a place where they can belong. Your idea of a fun time might not be establishing new directives on how wide truck trailers are allowed to be, but the thing is, there are people in the world who take enjoyment in exactly that kind of thing, and they deserve a country to call their own as much as anyone else, which is why Germany exists. If you don't like Germans or the German way of doing things, then fine, don't go to Germany. No one is forced to go there. I happen to like careful thinking and living quietly, which is why I like Germany, but if you don't share the same tastes, that's fine, no one said you had to like Germany. By the same token, I am bewildered by people who love Spain; it is a country which has no appeal for me, but some people go absolutely crazy for it, and if you really want to live in such a way that your most valuable talent is surviving in poverty, then fine, no one is forcing you to live otherwise. If that's the kind of life you like, go to Spain and be happy there, but don't demand or expect that everyone has to like the same things you like.
Of course, cultural differences appear not only between different countries, but even within countries. One of the most well-known examples is in the United States, where the "South" (really the southeast) is known for being conservative, while the coastal areas are particularly liberal. The thing is, each of these places also has their own culture which provides a home for people who identify with it. Why do people think that such differences need to be eliminated? Why can't people choose to live in a place that agrees with their cultural beliefs? People who live in the South but want to live in a liberal environment are free to move to a place that agrees with their ideas, and people who live in San Francisco but want to live in a more conservative environment are likewise free to move to Texas or Alabama. Nothing prevents these people from making a life change that lets them be among people who agree with their beliefs. Why should such cultural differences be erased? Why can't people be allowed to have the option of being among their peers?
People keep talking about humanity on a global scale, but what they don't realize is that the ideal global human society is one in which the various groups of people keep away from each other
and respect each other's differences and boundaries rather than coming together, because mixing incompatible people creates conflict. We see this again and again in cities where political tensions are high: Any kind of public demonstration tends to devolve into a conflict as counter-demonstrators show up and the confrontation between the two groups becomes physical. It's okay to have different kinds of people, but keep them in their own groups and prevent them from mixing, which means, at a bare minimum, preventing them from coexisting in the same city; better yet would be keeping them from being in the same country. Again, you can usually never go wrong by giving options to people, so give people their own spaces to create their own cultures and societies with their own beliefs, lifestyles, and values, and let those places be inhabited by people who agree with those values.
One problem which the world is suffering from today is overpopulation, and this also makes the problem worse, because when there are more people, it's more difficult to keep groups of people apart, and so things start to blend together because there aren't enough empty spaces between groups of people. What humanity really needs today is to adopt the model of the ideal global humanity: More options, less people.
Many people seem to believe, too, that voting is a solution to such problems because it allows the public to choose what they want, but the thing is, voting only favors the largest group. "Democracy" is not a solution, because a democracy is mob rule: Whatever group is the largest "wins", and any minorities are automatically excluded. In a democracy, whatever group can make itself the largest and most powerful is, by democracy's very nature, the one that has control over the other groups. That does not give people the power of choice; it means that people can either follow the mainstream trend or be excluded, ignored, and alienated. That's not an acceptable solution to the problem of differences between people. The only option is to give people lots of choices, respect people's decisions regarding what choices they want for themselves, and ensure that each place where people gather is not contaminated by people who don't agree with the local values.