Thursday, November 27, 2008


The really stupid thing is that even if they succeed, which is extremely rare, terrorists that bring the world down around them always end up replacing it with something more hideous, more evil. Their means defines their being, which generally places them deep in the sewage with the other lessor humans, a pool for all those creatures that failed to make the leap from animal to person.

And worse yet, are the fanatical ones, whose own simplistic selfishness deludes them into thinking that their deranged view on the world could somehow improve others lives, rather than as is clearly obvious, make them more miserable. The world is always far from perfect, but it takes a truly dense malevolent being to believe that more rules, strictly enforced and less freedom will do anything but pour fuel on that fire.

It's even hard to believe that some of these people are swayed by martyrdom, or some moronic lie about a harem of virgins in the afterlife, causing them to trade their one and only real possession, their life, for a foolhardy chance to ruin the world for everyone else. The idiocy here is sub-human.

We all sense the world is out of control and many of us want the honor of fixing it, but random acts of terror only contribute to the problem. Even a successful revolution, one that sweeps thought the population and purges all the nay sayers, is nothing more than collected evil, with a nasty purpose. Violent revolution is always bad. It's just too many selfish people trying to take the easy way out, instead of fixing the problems around them. It's stupid and cowardice, and ultimately history always looks down poorly on all of those involved, whether they think they've won or not.

Terrorists, no matter what the outcome, sit in the depths with the worst of humanity including tyrants, serial killers and warmongers. These people all trade their own satisfaction for the misery of others, the very worse trait a human can posses.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Blinding Sight

Fundamental. I just had another one of those sudden flashes, where things become horribly clear. This one at a most fundamental level.

Most people, it seems, of all persuasions, go about their daily lives wearing "blinders". Yes, those things they put on horses that allow them to walk through city streets filled with noxious cars and loud pedestrians. The idea, simple and clever, behind horse blinders is what the horse can't see, it won't be afraid of.

Now, it's not much of a stretch to realize that your average common man or woman reaches for a convenient set of blinders every morning, so that they can focus on and accomplish the things in their lives that need to get done. In our modern world, if you were to walk out in the noon-day sun, unbridled, the world you encounter would paralyze you instantly. There is too much, too wrong, too crazy and too out of control for even the greatest of our minds to cope with a fraction of the madness. We live in a big confused world, of drastically interconnected events. A shrinking world that grows exponentially more confusing every year.

That much I've known and understood about people for a long time, but what I've come to realize lately is deeper.

Your average person wears pretty intense blinders, choosing to not know or understand how a significant portion of the world around them works. That's not unsurprising since not that even the most brilliant of our geniuses could understand it anyways. To survive, you need to focus, not understand.

Every once in a while, you might meet a person, or two that is crippled by their inability to close down their blinders enough. They see too much, and consequently think too much. This makes it hard to react in a world were more information isn't always a good thing. They freeze, incapable of acting.

So, what about our leaders, those movers and shakers that work their way up through the masses to high-level positions of power and authority? Intuitively you'd expect that they are using their superior intellect to see more and respond better to the things going on in this world, wouldn't you?

But that is the flash. A bright and nasty one. For some of those in power that might be true, but the reality is that most of them have just shut their blinders down even farther than average. Yep, they see less than the rest of us. In a scary way, it stands to reason. Look at our history, our politics, and all of the big raging significant issues of the day. So often they come down to malice vs. ignorance, don't they? Are we really surround by so many evil selfish people, or is this simply a case of them wearing very effective blinders? Could you really ascend through the ranks at a rapid pace if you knew of all the hardship you left in your wake?

In a true and maddening sense, the people we depend on the most, the ones that should be leading us with their superior abilities, are in may ways the opposite. Rather than some orderly procession, we're drawn through the muck by a team of energetic horses, who can barely see what's in front of them. They may not be panicking about what's along side of them at this moment, but even when they should, they've drawn their blinders so tight that the largest of serious roadblocks is no longer visible. An we, of course, are drawn along helplessly with them.

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Chance for Redemption

We swing wildly between states of utter-selfishness and over-enthusiastic concern for our fellows. We do so because we cannot help ourselves, our background programmed us with a sense of self preservation, but our intellect forces us to realize on how much we actually depend on others.

In exploiting our selfishness, some political parties weasel their way into our baser natures, offering us a chance at a better life by allowing us to be more inwardly focused. Less tax, less interference, and more luxuries. They sell to us, what was embedded deep in our consciousness so long ago. They're tapping into an old and dangerous meme, a set if ideas that are gradually dying out.

Of course, every time we succumb, the world enters into another of these depressing periods, where hunger and strive seem to rule. Mankind retreats into their corners, allowing great works of evil to wash over the planet. In the interlude, quietly, many toil away at subverting, or gaining positions. This pattern repeats itself over and over again, as each new age of selfishness starts promising enough, but turns on its own inherent ugliness. Given the focus, who would expect anything else?

The other extreme has its problems as well. Too small a group of people making choices for too large a group always ends in tragedy. Fools think they know what is best for the rest of us, and so many of us are total fools. What starts innocently enough, usually ends in disgust.

And so, we ping-pong, back and forth, between individualism and the good of the group, forever passing that sweet spot in the middle where we are not forced into regretting our actions. Mankind toggles endlessly, each extreme offsetting the failures of the past, without realizing that we can never seem to get off this crazy roller coaster ride.

The world has been so cold and horrible of late, possibly dipping to a new low point. In light of that, we do have some tremendous successes, like the fact that most of us came together for a sporting event recently, that was not derailed by all of the various non-related causes. Out of control marketing campaigns have come to represent one of our greatest dangers, disrupting our abilities to trust one another, and achieve some progress. Marketing is a tool, usably by anyone.

We're back to one of those periods where we might be able to reach a new high, a time that could be admired by generations to come, but only if more people come to understand that their happiness is dependent on others. Our failures, or even our most successful are not the true indicators of our prosperity. It's the size and health of the middle class that define the quality of a country. While it is continuing to grow, there is some chance; when it starts to disappear, we know things are changing for the worse.

The world has been bubbling and seething lately, but that energy is stirred up by a relativity small group of hateful people. Neither side is innocent, both are driven by rich people twisting their intent to fill their own selfish baskets. Both have shown no moral or ethical restrictions, no reason to trust either. Both should go, it is time.

In the middle, we need to realize that our health depends on everyone else's heath. That we are all the same, yet entirely different. We can help each other, but we cannot force each other into any behavior, no matter how much we think we are right. The world is so much smaller now; the only way it will survive is if we choose to work together to keep it intact. If we bend towards our overly selfish natures again, we run the risk of ruining what little progress we've already made. We can bring back a period of grace and happiness, but only if we're not driven with a gollum-like obsession to hord our miserable goods from each other. Is more battery-operated beeping plastic really worth living in fear? Do we need high protective walls to keep people from stealing our worn cloths and cheap jewelry? Does protecting our pollution belching, fuel sucking personal transportation really provide deep meaning? Don't we just get less and less, each time they leave us with more money to buy more crap?

We all choose the future, by allowing them to walk all over us. By standing idle, and letting them take what they want. By choosing not to turn and fight, or even to flee. If we want to redeem ourselves, our world, our societies, we have to start making better choices; ones that aren't based on our needs alone. In accepting less, we will get more; way more.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


I just read the following news excerpt:

The driver? Really? How insane is that?

So, if I understand the facts correctly: they invaded his country, caught him driving some one around as a job, shipped him to an illegal prison, violated every international prisoner of war agreement ever made, and now they think that by his doing his job in a foreign country that constitutes supporting terrorism, but not conspiracy? Does he at least get a pension?

Hmmm, next they'll charge him with supporting terrorism for not breaking out of their illegal, immoral and despicable prisoner of war camp.

History shows that things have crossed the line when you can't even bother making up good excuses for your evil deeds anymore. At least plant some evidence that he flew into the states and did something notable. Then it might at least seem plausible. Come on, put some effort into this sham. Nothing is worse than evil, and lazy!

One small backward step for the US, one giant leap backwards for mankind.

When you can no longer distinguish the differences between the "bad" guys and the "good" guys, you finally come to understand that they were never there in the first place. If it ain't good then what is it?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

So, What's Your Excuse?

The woman rolled towards me at full power. It was one of those electric chairs, often implying that they can walk, it just might be difficult. There was room for her to curve a bit to the left, a foot based pedestrian would have done so, but for whatever reason she choose the quickest, shortest route. I don't care to know why, I just know she rudely pinned me against the concrete planter, forcing me to dodge so quickly I just barely got out of the way. Afterwards I was a little short on empathy.

With one hand on the wheel, the guy continued his screaming match over the cell phone while nearly running me and my dog over with his car. That little point about us having right of way, or being pedestrians, or something, was clearly not more important than his multi-tasking between an immediate rush to get somewhere and an argument. You could tell he was a real mover and shaker. You could just tell.

If it's unobstructed, perhaps one and a half people could get through the doors of the older subway cars. Getting off one, as it enters the underground platform, is more complex when one of the riders chooses to stand blocking the doorway. When it's a couple of people standing under the "do not block the doorway" signs, you generally have to push your way through or miss your stop. Sadly, there is nearly always space enough to stand just a few measly feet away, they just don't seem to be able to bring themselves there.

It is not that I am always acutely aware of the people around me. Sometimes I am not. No one can be that perceptive and wide awake all of the time. There is always something you'll need or want that will comes to odds with at least someone around you. Living in a city, in close quarters means accepting this. No, my expectations for most people are no different than they are for myself. If I'm not always perfect, than how can I expect them to be. Clearly, I can't.

That however, does not in any way, let some of these people off the hook. A city, this one in particular, can be filled with many self-obsessed souls. So intently focused on their own pathetic existence, that they can not, even in the smallest way, acknowledge ours. There is a huge difference between accidentally getting in someone's way, and not caring. And its those non-caring ones that leave me so frustrated and sadden. Just a tiny little bit of recognition that they aren't entirely alone in a city filled with millions of people is all I ask. Just a tiny bit. One less rude act per day, would be nice.

Why, you find yourself asking, should I go out of my way to respect humanity, when quite clearly those that don't are getting bigger shares of the pie? Money belongs to those that grab it. But, you need to understand, all those mass spoils of selfish behavior are no comfort, when the people around you quietly despise you. If you're one of those people, who made their wealth in one of those ways, you're pretty certain that most of the people that know you or your history are not really wishing you the best of luck any more. You're probably right. That was the cost to getting your gold, wasn't it? Nothing comes for free, and a huge pile of non-nothing is pretty expensive.

For the rest of us, since we clearly won't ever amount to anything more than just who we are, we need to find something good that we can hold on to. Good for goodness sake is one of the truly great things that we can achieve.

It may sound trite, particularly if it means giving up your dreams for an over-sized fuel-inefficient, impossible-to-park Hummer, but with our limited time on this planet, if we've done nothing other than just being a continually good and decent person it is a major accomplishment. Let those horrible people bend towards their tainted spoils, swimming pools, and huge cold mansions. Rising above all of that, the really difficult road, is the real challenge worth mastering. Selfishness is easy, particularly in this day and age. Not succumbing to it, while still managing to follow our dreams is the rare feat.

So many people ply themselves with so many excuses. Poor excuses. Hollow, meaningless, silly, shallow excuses. As if that will somehow change the past, or fix the future. The destruction we leave behind is the direct consequence of our actions, there is no avoiding that. It is not what we do that counts, it is all of those little things that make our actions contribute or negate to our presence. And, it is in those little things that we are so frequently judged.

Happiness, that elusive feeling that comes from deep within, is driven by our self image; that in turn is fed by how we live up to our own expectations. Those, unless you are pathological, come from good behavior. Ultimately we all just want to be liked and respected, even if its on our own terms. It's not that complicated. Doing good for other people, including strangers, does good for ourselves. That, all by itself, is a strong enough reason for trying to respect humanity whenever possible; we needn't look any deeper into complex beliefs or philosophies. A little bit of politeness, space, understanding or a good deed of the day, is the type of nourishment for the soul that we frequently need to keep us happy.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Less Than Shallow

It rolls around my thoughts like an out-of-control ping-pong ball, popping up at different times throughout the day. That realization, vibrant at times, of just how shallow, how minuscule, how phenomenally un-deep we really are here in our expanding global culture.

Like a hyperactive herd of minnows, we zig and weave, bouncing here and there, always chasing the next senseless wave. An endless sequence of pop-cultured hula-hoops, dressed up like they matter, like we should care.

One moment we're all driving huge freaken cars because we think it's safer, the next it's dangerously unsafe mini-cars because we noticed that were killing lots of things, or that it's costing us more than just a few necessary cups of coffee per day. Purses, super-stars, stupid little dogs that might accidentally get crushed, we stare, gawk, and then swear we need one of those. There is, after all, some space left in our basements for more junk; they kindly build 'em bigger these days.

One day organic is in, it's healthier, then it is out cause we've noticed it's a little bit poisonous. Crime is up, tourism down, and everybody's headed into their over-loaded basements for a stay-cation. We're back to ugly recycled 70's ware, and that comes with a free unhealthy panic about a looming oil crisis, or something. They didn't listen then, poorly dressed as they were, did it really seem to matter?

Of course nothing is cooler, or hotter than cleansing our guilt with a convenient tax-free not-for-too-many-profits fix-the-world-soon movement, as if our actions could actually eliminate million-year old problems. How many selfish, rude, i-owe-the-road BMWs are funded by our commoditizing our social inaction. Free yourself from guilt so you can feel better about buying more stuff, won't you?

But for all the loathsome, gross, senseless examples of our societies clearly tipping over the edge -- of them being so irrationally reactionary to even the smallest and stupidest of things -- we have to understand how much better that is than a great chunk of our world's population.

On a planet, embroiled with constant turmoil, driven by people who behave as if they just dropped out of a tree yesterday, being exceptionally shallow, while not the ideal civilized model for humanity, is far far better than those evil sulking, self-consuming creatures that roam the surface tormenting their betters. So many of them are just animals or worse: monsters.

Humanity, you see is spanned across a great distance, with so very few out front leading, while the bulk comes mindlessly across in the middle. But it is those other few, too many it seems at times, trailing us all at the back that leave in their wake such acts of stupidity, depravity and cruelness, that we must choose to ignore them. Collectively they set us back tens of thousands of years, even if they do sell newspapers, manage bureaucracies and run states. Foolishly, so few can even dimly see the horrors and miseries brought on by their own actions; even when they are a matter of public record. Newspapers have become monuments to the wantonly uncivilized.

Thus, if you have to choose, becoming obsessed with the latest color is a far better use of one's life than becoming obsessed with controlling everyone else. Shallow ain't great, but really, it ain't that bad either.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Seven Platitudes of Highly Ineffectual Writers

The Blogosphere. A virtual void filled with an exponentially increasing multitude of numbered lists professing every possible combination of meaningless platitude possible. Why, it's darned easy to choke on all of those fuzzy, dripping, slobbering pre-chewed forms of pseudo-intelligence, isn't it?

What is it in us that even after we've seen the first couple of bullet points, still makes us continue downwards knowing it is only going to get worse. It's like watching a car wreck in progress, we are drawn to it in some inhuman, and ugly way. Maybe it just makes us feel better that we're not the author?

Thus, I give you seven truly uninspired platitudes about the types of uninspired platitudes that ineffective writing -- including this piece -- offer up to us on such a frequent basis that they are washing out all of our rational and real thinking:

1. It's a happy happy world.

Let's face it. The world is not a happy place, it's all about pain and suffering, and that's on its good days. People suck. And they are frequently mean. Any advice predicated on a joyous planet were people live in harmony is bound to disappoint.

2. You can easily change yourself.

Sure, you can undo all of those things in your life, like your environment, parents, friends and even your DNA. Poof, as if by magic you've suddenly made up for the fact that you're basically a shmuck, like all the rest of us. I'd don't think so. You're not a combination between Tom Cruise, Albert Einstein and Jack Kennedy (or the femaleequivalent), and won't ever be. So deal with it.

3. Bad luck is only temporary.

Try telling that to someone who's been in the hole for a few decades. Good luck is based on? On yeah: luck! That don't call it luck if everyone gets it do they? We all know it come in threes, but for some that might just be three lifetimes? It sucks to be them, so you should be grateful for just about any small victory shouldn't you.

4. You don't need real answers, pretend ones will do.

We are a culture of pretend, and pretend knowledge is just as good as the real stuff, possibly even better. Why not! Who needs to understand quantum physics when they can just make up their own, simpler answers that are far far easier to learn. Bad science is a hot practice. Publish and perish. You can take out two stones with just one bird.

5. Selfishness rocks.

Why pander to the masses when you can indulge in individualism. After all, ants are stupid. Working together is dumb. Group-think sucks. Your constant selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed behavior isn't upsetting your family, friends and co-workers, it can't be that simple can it?

6. Knowledge will help, read more lists, that'll fix it.

If you only just knew, then you'd know, and then magically it wouldn't be a problem anymore. That's what those other guys have, you know, those guys ... Knowledge is only power for those that aren't complete idiots. Mostly, we're all complete idiots, so all we ever seem to do is bloat out on low-quality knowledge. It doesn't change anything, but it sounds nice. That I know, or at least I think I do.

7. It's your fault, but you're not to blame.

Gotta love a take charge attitude, followed by a quick denial of responsibility. Hmmm, if you're taking charge, shouldn't you be big enough to shoulder at least some of the blame when it completely blows up because you haven't got a clue? Why is it that the people who like to lead are also the ones that like to dodge responsibility? Weasel is a useful word here, isn't it?

Well, that's it. That's all I got. It ain't much, it platitudish and it's utter nonsense, but hey you knew that going in, didn't you? It's five minutes of your life that you're never going to get back. But at least you were entertained, weren't you. So, you owe me. Big time. Lot o'cash. The sooner you hand it over, the better you'll feel. If I get super rich, I may even give you a sequel ... Lucky you!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Changing Behavior

I saw this mildly interesting bit on TV the other day where a group of almost-influential people were discussing how to bring environmental reporting to corporations. At least that's what I think they were talking about. I had jumped in the middle, and was only partially paying attention. They seemed to think that with enough effort the world could be changed and made a better place. That if there was dialogue and everybody was honest, it would all work out somehow.

When I stopped laughing, I figured I might as well dedicate a bit of thinking to trying to deal with the same underlying issue. From my quick glance at the tube, I figured they weren't going to get too far. So, it can't hurt. And I get some satisfaction for at least for trying to be a wee bit positive about the circumstances. My bet is still that we are tumbling towards the abyss, but just in case it's not a done deal yet, I can toss in my 2 cents.

My first observation is easy: you can't get people to do things that don't make sense. If you're some successful evil-capitalist, you're focus is on amassing the largest treasure, and nothing but.

We set the game around money, we can't just expect to change it midstream. Capitalism works because at its crudest level it promotes competition. Competition keeps every one trying, but it also keeps them trying to cheat. Winning at all costs is the essence of the game.

The world is headed for a major disaster, aided by this fierce competition and people are only just beginning to figure out that there are some undesirable side-effects of this approach. Sure it moves us forward, but does it do it too quickly? Progress at all costs. Quite the motto. Maybe if we open up enough boxes, the last one won't the one that wipes us all out?

The next observation is that the thing we need to do -- change our behavior -- is the thing we will not do on our own. Capitalism is about selfishness, greed and competition, all great qualities that were instilled into us by evolution. To win in the market, a nasty capitalist needs to take in account the irrational nature, and find some point to maximize the profits. It is an incredibly complex thing that has no easy answers. That's why there are more losers at business, than there are winners. It takes a peculiar sense of balance to manipulate the people around you, and make off with the riches. Exploiting is hard work.

If all the world understands is money, then the problem itself needs to be framed in terms of money. I.e. it needs some type of "value" to actually be a consideration. That is so much harder than it sounds. If you go in search of finding the "real" cost of environmental impact for example, you need to take everything into account, whether or not you understand the full long-termramifications. Lots of effort has been sunk into trying to value stuff correctly. It's not an easy problem.

But hey, if we are currently not valuing the real costs, then the current numbers we are using are incomplete and probably irrational, aren't they? And if they are, then putting a value on the environment can probably be irrational too, can't it?

That little leap is worth everything in that you don't actually have to solve the problem, you just don't have to value everything properly. There is no point. It doesn't really matter. All that matters is how things are valued relative to each other. Pricing is, and always will be irrational. Money is just a relative placeholder. It is meaningless by definition.

So the core observation is that if you want to change people's behavior, you simply need to add in an arbitrary cost into the mix. But as always we need to note that people being evil and greedy tend to rebel if you change their world too swiftly, so that any change must be gradual to be accepted, but it needn't be rational.

So the advice is simple: add an environmental tax, small at first but then growing over time. Give discounts to people who can prove that something they are doing has a 'positive' impact. Assume everyone else is lying. Place the onus on the companies for proof. Make it harder to prove each year.

If they do nothing they pay 100%, otherwise they can get discounted down to 100%, or even better if countries want to add subsidies. And we should allow that, if one location wants to artificially support an aspect of their community, we should just let them. Forget trying for a level playing field, it can never work, so why even try? Regions should be able to reapply their taxes in whatever way suits them best, it's really just a collected form of a discount after all.

If the tax starts out initially as trivial and increases gradually over the next twenty years, by the time its near its full height, its ability to influence behavior will be tremendous. As more and more people become motivated to avoid paying it, more and more will be done to improve environmental impact. Most of the revenue will fall into the hands of localgovernments, so there will always be incentive to collect more; so long as the two sides don't collude, behavior will change gradually.

Now I realize that this is far too simple for today's influential people. We live in a period where absolutely everything has to be made into a super-complex nightmare. I think that is a failing in our understanding, after all you can only simplify things if you really understand them. If you're just partially getting it, you'll only complicate it. That's the way it usually works.

In the end, however it never needs to be complex. Nothing does. Complex is stupid and ugly, and it never works right. Complex is the beginning of the end for all of us. Complex, in the twenty first century is the biggest threat to humanity, unmatched by natural, biological or external phenomenon. But still, it is extremely hard to convince the ruling masses that a simple idea could ever be effective.

My final observation: if you really want to save the world, keeping it from it's latest obvious impending doom, all you need to do is give it a simple push in the right direction. If your lucky it will shift. From there is will just go to the next great threat.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Collective Intelligence

Yikes. The first principle of a really gifted conspiracy theorist is always that there is some type of 'super' intelligence at work in the background -- ruthlessly plotting and scheming to bring about some great master plan. Hmmm. Given the state of our world, my only comeback is "we should be so lucky".

Lucky? Yes, for if you're really objective about our current state of affairs you'll see that it is only by sheer luck that we haven't managed to blow ourselves into space, or crack the planet in half, or some other major species-ending calamity. Mankind, you see, having just recently found its way out of the trees, still acts with a pretty low collective intelligence. Pretty low indeed.

If you've ever seen the TV drama West Wing -- a great show about what it is like to be running the USA from the Whitehouse -- you may well be impressed by the intelligence and understanding shown by the various characters. They come together frequently in various episodes to solve some pretty major problems, usually quite successfully.

Now, consider the fact that those 'characters' had the 'hindsight' of the writers knowing which way their script was going to go. In a sense, there were probably operating 10% to 100% more effectively at their jobs then their real counterparts. Possibly even more. OK, you think "no too bad". Well, if you watch them -- these unreal, yet excellent examples of modern political play -- most often, they're barely hanging on. Yes. Even with 'editorial' hindsight, they still get dragged along and barely managed to come out in one piece at the end.

If the fictional people are so disorderly, and disorderly is not what they are trying to be, then you could only imagine how much of a mess the real people are having. Makes you worried? Given some of the actions of late, we often left wondering if many of the current administrations are even self-aware. It reminds me of those accused on Judge Judy, blankly staring away, wondering how they ended up in this awkward position. Hardly omnipresent, or even present.

On our own we all have some degree of intelligence, but put a horde of us together and collectively we drop like a rock. Several feet, if you can imagine. You look out at the world around us and see all sorts of the crazy things going on, and you keep wanting to think "someone" has to be keeping this place from blowing up, but there is nothing. Sadly, most conspiracies aren't true 'only' because our collective intelligence isn't high enough to pull off even half of what people think might have happened. We just ain't that sophisticated.

Consider the terrorists. Any of them. Usually they are lead by bright rich well-educated guys with lots of time on their hands, but the very best they usually come up is to take something really large and smash it into something else really large. Not exactly rocket science is it? The best of the worst of humanity can't even come up with a decent evil plan. The scary part is imaging how they managed to sell this to their other co-conspirators. "You want us to what?!" they were probably thinking. Crazy.

So if the guys running the show aren't too clever, and the guys trying to bring down the show aren't too clever either, one has to be totally amazed at how we've managed to avoid a serious catastrophe so far. I mean, really, the CIA probably aren't involved because they are too busy with paper-work and getting their computer system's up and running. The great 'masters' of business are always too busy seeking out new and exciting ways to rip off their own shareholders. Politicians by their very nature are just along for the ride, were surviving for them means not getting too attached to people or their issues. They're not much help. In fact, most heads of most organizations of any shape or type are too busy trying to keep their underlings from stealing their crown. That's not leaving too many people left to do smart things is it?

All and all the odds of any type of super-intelligent organization doing something super-intelligent seems distant. Really, the only people who could even afford to join some secret organization are those latter-generation rich kids with too much money and no drive. That just doesn't sound like a great base for any type organization, let alone on that would hope to function on a much level higher than Enron. I'd hate to see the internal squabbling about office decorations in a place like that, it must be ugly.

That's why, mostly when people go on about conspiracies, I keep hoping that one day a really good one comes to light; that it actually turns out to be true or even mostly true. It would be a positive sign for humanity -- even if it was a really evil organization -- because it would show that finally we've reached a point where we are no longer operating at such a low collective level that there might actually be some potential for our species. Until then we just have to hope that we're too stupid to find our selves half-way there, since that's the sort of thing the bad guys tend to use first, long before the good guys get around to figuring it out. Anyways, these days, with us rapidly destroying our own bedrooms, it's hard to even know who's right or wrong anymore, isn't it?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Truth or Something Like it

It is easy, as it were, to affix most of the world's problems onto those very few people who actually appear in charge of our goings on.

In that way, we the people, can buy into some specific set of propaganda, which has a narrow tilted view of the issues; a one-sided feast of poor quality information. Once we have our 'truth', we can then return to our 'lives' happy and content in knowing, or at least in thinking we know, about the real facts of the case.

In a world where it is not that easy, we clearly want it to be. That is why so many of us buy into the international news, or we buy into a specific government's propaganda, or some other 'simplistic' view of the world. We can rail at the evil ones, and still feel good about ourselves. "You" are the bad guys, "we" are good. "You" have done wrong, "I" have not.

And so it goes. History's greatest justification for us continually burying our heads in the sands and not trying to sort the wheat from the chafe. We don't really want to know.

We would in that case, rather have a black and white simplistic incorrect view of the world, than to truly know and understand it. I think the later is just too difficult for mankind, we have not yet gotten to that stage where we can see international events, for example, as the murky world of gray were we are all at fault.

And it is in that very attitude of ours -- in our very behaviour -- that the seeds of our misery are so often sown. We turn a blind eye towards the events, choosing to only accept 'our' version, not wanting to let our beliefs go, because we need something solid in our existence. Yet, those very few people, to whom we blame the world's troubles, are the exact same ones that we all 'enable' by our not wanting to really know the truth.

And so we have campaigns waged across the media by skilled artisans at corrupting even the simplest of facts, and even when we are so sure of the truth, we'd hardly recognize it even if it were slapping us in the face. In that very sense, history laughs at us. We, who think we know what really went on, but that truth too was long erased and replaced by a multitude of different propaganda attempts. We want to feel good about ourselves, but to do that, we need to be manipulated. We don't want the truth; can't handle it; won't understand it. It would crush us, in ways we have yet to fully comprehend.

I think it is my understanding of how frail the information I receive actually is, that constantly drives me to question even the smallest detail. For, in the end, if it is not 'fact' then it is probably propaganda, and if you think about how much 'stuff' you get from the newspapers, TV, radio, Internet and other sources of media relentlessly bombarding us, you might really come to be aware of how little 'fact' there is in that endless wave of hype that washes over us.

In that, if you take any 'opinion' you have -- any at all -- the odds that it is actually correct, or even close to correct with regards to the world we live in, is no doubt 50/50. Everything you think you know that is not concrete is as likely to be wrong as it is to be right. If you understand that, then unlike most people, you may actually have a decent chance of glimpsing some of the real world in between the endless staged propaganda. If not, then please go back to your regularly scheduled show and forget about this posting; it doesn't matter to you.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Life in 40 Years

I read this excellent article, written over forty years ago, about what life would be like in 2008:

It's amazingly accurate on so many different fronts, although it did manage to get a few things wrong. This has inspired me to try to make my own predictions for forty years out in the future. We all need to strive for something and hopefully predicting the future is a way to turn my optimism into something more tangible. With so many great trends I should be able extrapolate out enough things that a few will ultimately turn out to be correct. So, I'll follow in the same writing style:

It's 8am, Tuesday Nov. 18, 2048, and you are headed for an early morning business meeting. You hop out of your cave, waking to the rising sun to start your day. With the abundance of rules and regulations, most people find it easier to live in a cave, than to actually manage to live up to the strict building codes in 2048. Mostly by 2026, in general, the rules had became so complicated that few people without rule-interpretation PhDs were capable of understanding them, let alone their complex justifications. Cave real estate quickly became the hottest growing market, fear is looming that it will become regulated too, one day.

You quickly walk around the corner, giving your legs a brisk workout. You'd use a car, but most of them are still perpetually stuck in the great traffic jam of 2039, waiting for the courts to bring a resolution. It occurred quite randomly one day, when someone stopped in the middle lane and all of the cars backed up all of the way to South America. Since then, nobody's been able to move. If they could just solve the court case, they could start backing up a few feet to give way, but it is only at the beginning phase of the trial. The increase in legal requirements made being a lawyer the hottest job for quite a while, up until everyone realized that everyone else was now a lawyer and there wasn't anyone left over to make food, or farm, or take out the trash, or anything boring like that.

A lion attacks, so you bean it in the head with your trusty supply of old palm pilots, cell phones and RIMs, sending it fleeing in the direction it came. Species laws have tied everyone's hands, so only non-lethal means are acceptable defense for the ever increasing animal encounters. It's not like those devices would work anyways, most batteries are dead; the same laws that protected the animals also indirectly shutdown all of the power-plants. There hasn't been a working battery for at least a decade. Legal cases are pending.

You pass through an uncultivated field of various weird and indistinguishable plants. Although the species laws pushed everyone back to being vegetarian, the side effects of foolishly genetically altering crops made most things un-eatable, and many plants quite lethal. Corn is about the only thing editable, these days. That and medium sized rodents. Not unsuprisingly, corn dogs are now the hottest food source, just don't ask what is in them.

You throw a spear at a passing medium sized rodent. Being made form that unique material, wood has proven more malleable to work with than the uncut blobs of plastic or unrefined steel. With no available power or power tools, wood has certainly become more valuable, although there is a great demand to grind it up and make it into paper to fuel the rising legal tide.

You move on past your local tar pits, trying to avoid the poisonous odor as you go. Large piles of garbage have broken down, everywhere. With the great union walk-off of 2016 for trash-men still in progress -- now only slightly beating the world record for long-term union strikes recently held by the post office, until they went back to work three years ago -- the vast mounds of generated trash had nowhere to go, and no way to get there. Over thirty years of a strike initially produced some pretty high piles of trash, but as the underlying toxins ate through the concrete, ground, immobile subways and other subterranean structures, the hills shrank into rather compact, if only mildly contagious pits of black and bubbling goo. With so many pits, the options for trash disposal are quite a few. If you leave it alone, some problems will just solve themselves.

You catch up with your tribe, just in time to beat up the another one. OK, so, it wasn't really a business meeting, in so much as it was more of a normal territorial skirmish. It keeps everyone busy when it happens that a typical day is often spent idling away the time waiting for some non-protected species to get caught up in a net. Without electronic devices, entertainment like fashion shows and sporting events -- other than tossing lawyers to the lions -- have become quite rare indeed. One has to do something to occupy the mind, it's only a few more decades until they estimate that enough of the trials will be over to allow people to actually move a car or two.

Yep. The future, sounds like it will be quite fantastic. Although for some reason, I keep getting that sense of deja vous with some of my predictions. I can't place my finger on it, but it seems as if something is so similar about our direction, as it relates back to where we've been. What goes up, must come down? Whatever, as that old slightly famous song once chirped: the future is so bright we have to wear shades; at least until the plastic decays and we have to chuck them into one of those tar pits...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Joy of Sharing

Of course it is. Our future is clearly determined by the path we choose to walk. And we humans -- as we all so well know -- have the capacity to rise above all other animals because of our superior intellect and civility. Of all our admirable higher-order attributes, none stands so far above our primitive origins than our innate ability to share.

It is in those simple acts of selfless behavior that we truly rise above our animistic origins and make good on all of our internal might and potential. That is why it is such a treat, no, pleasure, when one of our fellows choose to go above and beyond just sharing. I mean, sharing of the possessions is enough, sharing of ideas is plenty, but those marvelous humans that we so love to encounter go beyond this all by not just idly sharing the good, they also choose to share the bad as well.

Nothing is more impressive than someone willing to share their problems with you. Why, the other day, in a crowded downtown neighborhood, someone was clearly having problems parking their car and trailer. That's right, they had a U-haul trailer attached, and in the tight cramped streets, where there is barely enough room to park a car, and there are huge space consuming snowbanks everywhere, what's a poor driver to do? This one choose to share. Right across several driveways, they found the perfect spot. They shared their problem so well, that one of the poor owners of one of the poor driveways, was entirely unable to get his car out, making him late for whatever it was that he deemed necessary. And they continued to share by making sure they were entirely unavailable to move their vehicle. What truly sweet beings.

Of course, you also have to love those people on the subway who share their inability to get a seat. Yep, they get right there in the doorway, just below the large, bold, "Do not block the Doorway" signs and share their presence with every one trying to get on or off. Even in the circumstance of there being considerably more room in the middle of the subway-car for them to carefully stand and not block anything, they stick to their passion and connect with people from getting on or off. They are truly wonderful people, only out-matched when it is one of the smaller model doorways that only let one and a half people through being so thoughtfully shared by a couple of these kind souls in tandem. Now that's working together for the good of mankind. It it that type of un-adulterating sharing that truly makes any city's subway, "The Better Way", just as the marketers have been sharing with us for so long.

Truly though, these trivial inconvenience sharings are nice, but really the best sharing comes from those just in a bad mood. Nothing is more noble than distributing that dark cloud hanging over your head to as many nearby people as possible. The sharing of angst, anger or frustration is a true gift, particularly if you can pass on exactly what you are experiencing. Why not pick a fight, or berate someone senselessly. Just a simple sneer might do. These things people don't expect, so a sudden emotional gift is sure to do wonders. If this type of sharing involves a car or two, or possibly an executive and some commands, then it reaches a kind of sharing orgasm, where the sharer can proudly effect huge lots of other people, or cause a major conflict or war or something all because of their gift. That is always a truly wonderful occasion.

What noble greatness so often comes from one sharing their distemper. We are bombarded by such grandiose acts of sharing through-out various parts of the world, where the citizens manage to rise so far above just being an animal, and in a great effort share their problems with so many around them. With these awesome acts of kindness, it is not hard to picture our societies going on forever, growing and sharing as they fulfill the full potential of those poor simians who ventured just a little too far away from their tree in search of more food. Our path away from those barren branches is ever towards greatness. The kind that we can share with planet and all its other species around us. Aren't we something.

I just thought I would share that with you, so hopefully you don't share it with too many others.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Edging towards Third

I don't think it is all that hard. I simply expect a government -- any one that thinks it is competent -- to setup and enforce a series of simple, reasonable rules for its people. The act of doing this correctly aught to make a fair and stable society. These rules govern the interaction and protect people from hazards. They allow us to come together as a society for mutual benefits. They are important.

So how annoyed should I be when a city can't even afford to cleanup the snow or patch the roads, but has enough money for the counselors to get perks?

How disappointed should I be when I see a province suffering from gas shortages? Water shortages? Electricity brown-outs? But instead they want to enforce policies on which types of dogs they like and which type that think are 'nasty'?

How frustrated should I be when I see a country that doesn't help its own stuck in foreign prisons? Instead it downloads it expenses on other so it can create 'tax breaks' for popularity? It spends its efforts policing hostile lands instead of fixing its own internal problems?

How irritated should one be, when all four -- four? -- layers of government are inept for every possible reason. When our infrastructure feels like it is circling the toilet bowl at an ever increasing speed. And when we are suffering the same instabilities as places with seriously questionable governmental practices?

In a crappy society, only the rich benefit. They do this by gumming up the works with rules or corruption. In a real sense corruption is just a constantly changing arbitrary set of unofficial rules usually involving financial compensation. Some bloated territorial 'ministry' with a million insane rules isn't that far off from the type of third-world booty capitalism that we are constantly promoting where everything is sealed with graft. Is there really that much of a difference if it's money or favors?

Not that humans being selfish and greedy should come as any surprise, our politicians and bureaucrats built their careers on exploiting their relationships. That is why they have control now. These people worked their way into power. But I am sick of them thinking we don't know, or that their half-baked answers are anything but. It is a huge lot of callous people who think they are fooling us, while they are busy protecting their own little and insignificant turfs. Petty people make petty problems.

You kinda wish these people would grow up and do the job they are paid to do. Is it really that hard to decide on civilized policies and make some rules to insure that the agenda gets pushed through? Is it so difficult to clean up and remove the old useless rules? To simplify the existing ones? I guess if your so busy worrying about your turf, or who will be offended or whom you owe or own, the interaction becomes more important than the underlying policy. Still you would hope that some of these people decide as a legacy to actually try to fix things for a change instead of just joining the fray.

So we have a wealthy, educated society that is fundamentally unhealthy because it is basically a 'slob'. We sit in our mess, never bothering to even try to clean it up, out of the shallow fear that that might just make us unpopular. Never really realizing that the people are just aching to hire or vote in people who can actually get the job done. We looking for people who can clean up the mess. People who can wash out all of the dirt and grim from the room and find ways to ensure it just doesn't fall back to its messy state again. People who aren't just interested in their playing their own power games.

Oddly, unlike most third world countries our shortages and financial crisis are entirely self-inflicted. We have become the masters of shooting ourselves in the foot. At the end of an economically high-time, when we should be best able to service our society, there is a huge unplowed snow bank on my street blocking traffic to sadly prove it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lost in a Space

"Ya, I know I should do that, but ..."

We get so much advice. TV, radio, newspapers, web pages, strangers, even family is constantly offering up good and tasty tidbits about how we should live our lives.

There is financial advice, which you really should follow. Career advice which hugely affects your life. Health advice, the most critical of all. Advice about how to care for the car, house or cottage. Advice to be happier or more productive. Advice about relaxing. Advice about learning and advice about hobbies.

We are, it seems downing in an unlimited sea of advice. That might be OK, if underneath it all it was well-meaning, but much of it is not. Lots of the advice we receive is tainted by the fortunes of someone, somewhere. Buying advice helps corporations, lifestyle choices help consultants, charitable advice keeps not-for-profit leaders in BMWs. Living advice is sometimes pegged to political parties or other social agenda.

It seems that most advice has that stench of market manipulation silently floating in the background. Disguising propaganda as wholesome advice has become an established marketing technique.

Even if we weeded out all of the ill-will, the sea of advice doesn't help us. You see, in the midst of their hurried revolution in the sixties to 'shake up' the world, the boomers did managed to get rid of the status quo, but they entirely forgot about the other half of the issue. It does no good to tear down the establishment, if your not planning to replace it with something better. And they didn't.

We have all sorts of wonderful equalities and freedoms, but no underlying conceptual idea about how we are supposed to behave. All of the freedom in the world, but no idea how to use it. As such, we walking wounded, perpetually confused about what we should, and should not be doing. Without some idyllic reference to a perfect person, a perfect couple or a perfect family, we don't know our own roles or where we fit in. When they trashed the status quo, they trashed the models that go with it. Now what are we supposed to do?

It's funny to be complaining about too much freedom, which I wouldn't, but the circumstances have just breed opportunities for shady people to pummel us with self-serving advice.

Here we are, endless victimized constantly by unscrupulous people telling us how to find the way out of this dazed and confused state of being. We're just accidents waiting to happen.

If we don't have any role models, or people to aspire to -- even if they are fictitious -- how do we know which advice to follow and which to disregard? Is work more important than family? Education more important than health? And in the end, what the hell is normal anymore? We can't even jump on the latest trend for comfort because the Internet has fragmented our culture into a million little dirty puddles. Other than watching the sad degeneration of our imploding celebrities, we have very little in common anymore with each other; there is so little binding us together as a collective culture.

It is best, I assume, in moments of this sort of crisis, to start tuning out everyone else. If you can't trust most of the advice, then don't follow any of it. Why drive yourself nuts in an overcomplicated society trying to be responsible, polite and keep up with the Jones, when your not even sure who the f*** the Jones are? In our decaying culture we are left with the only reasonable response: trust only your own advice. Opps, now I am giving advice. I guess it has become addictive.

Oddly, that particular type of meta-advice above, suggests we look back towards the influences that we receive as kids, which at the time was the status quo of the day. Is it possible that the only way we can move forward, to get a sane model that we can follow, is to go backwards?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Age of Clarity

"What do we really know? Hmmm." I pondered as we walked.

I was out with the dog the other night. The quiet tranquil nature of empty suburban streets is a great place for deep thinking. The cold chill of winter keeps one from wandering too far off topic while wandering aimlessly in the streets. Dogs make wonderful intellectual companions for these types of journeys because they don't interrupt with too many questions. They are very good listeners.

I was pondering information quality, and I foolishly started to wonder about how much inaccurate information was choking up my memory. Certainly, there are lots of spin, lies, half-truths, deceptions and other stuff built up over the years from less than quality sources like politics, news and TV. Somethings in my memory are just easy simplifications. Somethings are out right fabrications. There is also the changing nature of science, and our non-stop quest for learning. Some of my knowledge is just 'relative', it wouldn't stand up to a universal judge. It is considered true here and now, but won't be in the future. In an overall sense, how much of this is really accurate?

If you factor in all of the different reasons for low quality, and take a big sweeping guess, the amount of truth in our brains could be lower than 30%. Just a wild guess, but I could easily believe that 1 in every 3 three facts in my brain are true, while the other 2 are questionable for all sorts of reasons. I am just speculating of course, but in this misinformation age, we are full of a tremendous amount of low quality knowledge. And it feels like it is growing at an ever increasing rate, although that might just be our ability to confirm that it is suspect.


In the past, mankind was mostly ignorant of the accuracy of their information. They could take pride in their depth of knowledge without ever knowing how dubious it really was. Now all we have to do is check wikipedia and we can instantly find out that truth, well, err at least a pointer towards the truth.

How often have I pulled forth some ancient fact from the depths of my brain, only to discover that it was fundamentally untrue? Worse still is how those facts actually make it into my head in the first place. Some were obviously from disreputable sources, but others had come from well-known authorities, and were still incorrect. My problem is not loss or corruption of memory, it is the opposite, these 'facts' stay for far too long. If I just dumped them faster, I might find they were more accurate overall.

It is oddly telling. It allows us to guess that this huge degree of inaccuracy in our current knowledge is actually some type of pointer towards the future. The Renaissance was an awaking about the world that we live in. A moment when we first opened our eyes and saw it for what it actually was. This in turn drove the foundations for the industrial age, where we learned to create and use an unlimited number of machines. One of those machines, the computer, has driven us into an information age, where we collect huge piles of information, about virtually everything in this world. There is a trend here. The next age will follow along in this sequence.

Even though we have built up a tremendous collection of fantastic machines, they do not serve us well. We can build things, but we have trouble maintaining them. Our massive and complex cities crumble around us. We are forever fighting a losing battle against entropy; like a runner that has leaned too far forward we are continually off balance. We must continue to build to move forward, we don't know how to preserve what we have and we don't know how to live within our environmental means. We grow at a severe cost to the world around us.

With all of our equipment and learning, collecting data is still a hit or miss proposition. We just guess at what we want to collect and how it is structured. It is not orderly and we don't have any underlying theories that drive our understanding. Computer Science is still so young that is frequently wrong. Often it is just random guessing. We are currently only utilizing a small fraction of the capabilities of our computers because we keep bumping into complexity thresholds each time we try to build truly sophisticated systems. We are trapped with crude software.

Even thought we can collect the data, we continuously fail to be able to mine or interpret it. We gather the stuff, format it and then save it to backup tapes. But we get little actual use from all of our work in collecting it. Some decisions are made from the data, but given the real amount of underlying information contained in our efforts we could actually use what we have to make really sophisticated decisions. To actually know, for fact that we are changing things for the better. If we understood what we have.


Given those trends, it is not hard at all to predicate the future. The next step in the sequence. The path we must take is the only one available: machines to labour for us physically and mentally lead to vast infrastructures and vast piles of information. We built up these things, but we don't understanding them, and we have trouble keeping them going.

It is not like we will wake up one day and the light will get turned on, but I imagine that over time like a dull and steady wind blowing away the haze, much of what we know will become clear and finally fit into place. It will be a modern day Renaissance reoccurring not with our perspective of the world around us, but with our perspective of the information and knowledge that we have collected. It will take time. Many years, decades or even a century or two, but one day there will be an 'age of clarity', where mankind can finally see the information around them for what it actually is. That is, if we survive the turmoil of our current societies; we have so many dangers that await us, because of what we know, but don't yet understand.

And what could we expect in such an age? I imagine that we will have a real understanding of information, probably based on a currently unknown science. Maybe several. We will know how to quickly, conveniently monitor and collect information for any questions. Inherently, we will understand the truthfulness of what we collect, and we'll be able to immediately use this information to ascertain whether things are improving or getting worse. The term 'immediately' being one of the very key points.

Unlike now, this won't be a big effort, but rather something simple that people do as a matter of due diligence. Government effectiveness for example, will be based on simple true numbers that show that things are improving or getting worse. Unlike the statistics of our day, these numbers and their interpretation, based on science will be irrefutable. We will be able to show cause and effect relationships between policies and real life. We will be able to measure the effectiveness, not guess at it. If we say things are getting better, it won't just be 'spin'.

Underneath, if we capture enough data, we will get a vibrant picture of all of the relationships, how they fit with each other and what they really mean. When we choose to make changes, they will not be partially-informed guesses, they will be tangible deterministic improvements to our societies that will work as expected. In the same way that the industrial age leapt from wildly building things to the reproducible industrialization of products with a tremendous amount of consistent quality, we will shift our understanding of the data around us. Like the difference between B&W photography and color we will learn how to start really capturing the information that is of real value, and we will learn how to really interpret it.


Does it sound too overly deterministic or crazy? Whatever comes in the future, it must be something that isn't here now. So, if it isn't pushing the envelop of convention, then its not really much of a prediction, is it? Jules Verne wrote about ships that travelled underwater, a famously crazy concept if ever there was one, except that it now has become common knowledge. He wrote about air ships, defying gravity and hanging in the sky with birds, clearly another bit of wackiness. Yet, this too is common, and rather boring now.

Does it sound very similar to what we have now? For all we know, we know so very little. We have many approaches and methods to really prove things, to get the the real underlying truth, but because we can't do that easily on a grand scale we are awash in misinformation. All of this low quality knowledge chokes our pathways and keeps us from progressing. It becomes food for subjective arguments, and endless discussions. And while some of us may suspect falsehoods, proving it is costly and often distracting. We can't fight all of the battles all of the time, so the low quality stuff washes over us like a tsunami.

Sometimes when I am out walking the dog, my mind drifts around to us being so sophisticated that there is not much left in this world that we don't know. That 'proposition' is comforting in many ways, but patently false. Like the pre-Renaissance societies, we think we have reached some level of sophistication, but we barely even realize how to keep our own existence from spiraling out of control. And what we don't know, is the question: "what do we really know?" We feel pride in having built up knowledge bases like the World Wide Web, but realistically the things are a mess. What good is a massive unorganized pile of data, if we can't use it to answer the serious questions in our lives? We live in an age where subjective arguments are possible for most of what we commonly deal with in our lives. Everything is up for grabs; everything is based on opinion. We can barely distinguish the quality of our facts, let alone position them into some coherent and universally correct structure of the world around us. For all that we know, we are still incredibly ignorant.

The next big thing then is obvious. If we are too survive, then we have to pass through the Clarity Age. We have no choice. If this understanding hasn't already popped into someone else's brain, it was bound to sooner or later. You can't get very far down the path, if you don't know where the path lies. It is murky now, and for us to progress it must be clear.

Woof, woof, woof! My thinking and wanderings were interrupted because the dog spotted a raccoon. I was riped from the depths by the pulling, jumping and barking. In the here and now, I am reminded that it is best if I move on quickly to keep the dog from making too much racket. I don't want to wake up my whole neighborhood with the commotion. However much I long to spend time in the future, I must live with the world around me as it is now. These dark ages are apt to last a while, possibly my entire life. I ought not to waste it, pining for enlightenment.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I publishing this piece in both my Irrational Focus, and The Programmer's Paradox blogs because it is written for both audiences. One is a general place for ranting, while the other is aimed specifically at software developers. This piece transcends both genre.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Explosive Tendencies

I probably shouldn't writing about this. Going against what seems to be the current popular viewpoint, particularly when you are not an expert, is never a good idea. Under most circumstances I might not chime in, but for this one in particular, I've seen it going on for far too long and I though at least I might put my perspective out there. Carefully.

So I'll add a disclaimer, that says something like bla, bla, bla, I'm not an expert, bla, bla, bla, this is all observation, bla, bla, bla, use your own brain. And of course, positive comments are hugely appreciated, negative ones you should probably keep to yourself. I'm not looking to start a controversy, I just want encourage people to think a little more deeply about this. There is clearly a problem, and we are doing our best to ignore it.

The winds changed after I left high school, with the shift often dominating the news. It started with things like the zero tolerance towards violence in high schools. At the same time we could also see changes in the perspective of parenting too. Parents weren't supposed to spank their kids any more. In fact overall society was pushing for a violence-free life in all sectors.

This is one of those movements that are socially extensive, kinda of like non-smoking. Once it gets going, more and more people jump onto the bandwagon and declare themselves to be on side. More and more programs get funded, and more and more changes gradually show up in our societies. Once the ball starts to move people stop thinking about it, accepting it as fact.

At its heart, getting rid of violence is a great thing. Nobody liked being bullied when they were kids, and it is horrible for parents to beat their kids. From that perspective it is definitely a move toward being more civilized.

However, for all of its intended good, one cannot turn a blind eye towards the apparent consequences.

Humans are lost somewhere in the middle. Straddling a fence. We are not the fully civilized intellectual beings that we like to think of ourselves. Our roots are in nature, we have evolved into our present state, and we are still firmly tied with our former primitive selves. Because of this, we have two distinct sides, our intellect and our emotions. Our intellect is the direction we're headed. We are evolving into truly intellectual beings that preserve themselves because they 'think' to do so. But, we are also still rooted in our past. Our emotions are are much older fight or flee based mechanism for handling the world around us. This duality permeates our existence.

While we can control our emotions to some degree, they are definitely a part of our existence, we cannot deny that. Some cultures allow for looser expression of emotions, some expect that it is under more control. Either way, all cultures have ways of handling emotional outbursts and venting. We have to, we have no choice.

Getting back to our violence-free attempts in society: the underpinnings of violence are often emotional outbursts. Violence is how some people vent their emotions. Anger builds and then erupts into a violent action. The two are related.

Once you make that connection, you have to start thinking that suppressing violence, especially at a young age, might have a significant effect on emotion, in particular the ability to control one's own emotions. Since we all have tempers, and they need to be controlled at times, were we did we learn these skills?

Two little boys in a fight is an age old tradition that teaches both about (a) pecking order, (b) emotional control, and (c) relationships. The need to fight is the need to vent and establish a ranking, very old things, but still buried within us. It is not just the boys, the girls also go at each other although a little less physically.

A fight between two very young boys is far less damaging then a fight between two teenagers. In fact, for kids, the line between playing and fighting is often blurred, it is a little of both. The younger you are, the safer it is to experiment around with your behavior.

When you fight, you get a huge release. As well, there are important lessons that we all need to learn through experience, such as standing up to bullies. You need to conquer your fear and face your oppressors, something that will happen again and again in your life as you age, so you is is best to learn it early. We also learn social skills, such as the consequences of mouthing off to larger people. It is important to know when you are picking a fight with someone, it should never come as asurprise.

If you eliminate violence in schools and don't let the children physically interact with each other, how will they learn to control their emotions? How will they learn to interact with each other in a socially correct manner? There are so many different life-lessons that come from rough-housing with your peers.

But it's not just fighting between children that is effected. At home, without spanking, we've taken away from the parents their key tool in disciplining their children. The lack of discipline also seems to be a serious problem. If you have no 'ultimate weapon', sooner or later the kids are going to figure that out and call you on it. Beyond that, most kids act out as emotional outbursts, so not only are they not getting disciplined, but they are also not learning how to handle their emotions properly. Quiet time isn't sufficient.

You see more and more kids acting out in public. Certainly there are ages like the 'terrible twos' where you expect trouble, but it appears as if its also affecting them when they are older. In fact it seems to affect them right through their entire lives.

We appear to be seeing the incidences of violence get far worse than ever before. Over all there may be less visible violence, but each incident is far more serious. Far more explosive.

This stands to reason, if you suppress our violent nature, and don't teach people ways of venting themselves, then the emotional flare ups will be so much larger than they were in the past. Emotions, like electricity are neither created nor destroyed. You can't wipe out violence without throwing in millions of years of evolution.

We've also seen more kids packing guns, because they don't know how to protect themselves. They are afraid because they've never been in a real fight, so they think that packing a weapon will help protect them. If they knew how to slug people in the head, then they might realize that they don't need the extra help, or that escalating a conflict by pulling a weapon is a seriously dangerous thing to do. Knowledge that they should have learned in kindergarten, or junior high school.

There are just some things you have to learn in life, and it is best that they get taught early.

It is also important to realize that most successful people have very good control of their emotions. There are some notable public emotional break-downs, but in general the outbursts of emotion are delayed and then directed. Our most successful and controlling people have their emotions in check. They should, we shouldn't make choices based on anger, or depression. How would you like it if the president of the United States just picked a fight because he was feeling cranky*. Not good.

*oops, possibly not the best example :-)

If parents want their children to be successful, they have to give them the tools to do so. No self-discipline and a lack of emotional control are not winning attributes. Punishing your kids within reason is, as my parents so often like to point out, is for their own good. Letting them interact together at school helps them to learn to deal with people.

Our noble goal of getting rid of violence appears to have a serious side effect. By removing violence, I think we are suppressing our emotions, not venting them. But because they are there, as an integral part of us, suppressing them just builds them up to the point where they erupt. So, it comes as no surprise that since this anti-violence movement has gained momentum, we've seen more violence, particularly in the form of school shootings or gang violence. These are essentially kids exploding emotionally all over the place because they were never taught how to control themselves.

Clearly, one of the most critical things we need to do to fix our existing school system is to add in emotional teaching along with intellectual teaching. Kids need to be taught how to properly vent. They need to fight, and they need to establish a pecking order. We don't have to like it, but bullies are important lessons that need to be taught to young children. Banning it as a behavior is clearly causing problems, instead we need to admit to it, and find a way to 'teach it', or at very least 'structure it'.

We also need to allow parents to discipline their children in a reasonable manner. It is probably a case-by-case basis, some kids are clearly more difficult and obstinate than others. We don't want to return to the "kids should be seen and not heard" days, but parents should have a tool such as spanking available to them, and they should know how to use it correctly. Parents should never be afraid of their kids.

In the end we all need to admit, that at least for the time being, we are still emotionally driven creatures. Violence is an expression of emotion, and it will stay with us for as long as we have emotional ties, probably a few million years or so. Denial is a bad thing.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Telltale Honk

Beep, beep. Misunderstood and abused, the horn in your car is actually a very clever communications device. We say more with a simple tap on the horn than I think most people could ever realize. For many, their communication choices might change if they really understood what they were shouting.

For instance, with some honks we may be making a statement about another driver. A simple short honk directed at a car that has just cut you off is a quick statement of saying "hey, watch it, you almost caused an accident with your reckless driving!" Letting someone know this hopefully helps them to try and behave in a less foolish manner the next time. Short and sweet.

A longer more dramatic honk aimed at someone performing an illegal maneuver says something more serious like "if it were up to me, I'd remove your licence, you idiot!". Longer it is, the more dramatic the statement.

A series of short staccato honks, over and over again, says more emotional things like "what", "the", "hell", "do", "you", "think", "yoooour", "doing". Possibly reminding someone that there are in fact rules of the road, and that they should possibly attempt to follow them a little more literately. Good in circumstances where the other driver "shouldn't be".

With some honking we may actually be making a statement about the various injustices of our society or even the entire planet. A long series of mixed length honks often replaces the expletives in the full sentence that we are desperately trying to communicate, as in "what the beep do you beep think beeeep you are doing. You beep-head. Beep."

Or as we are often stuck in traffic one might use their horn to utter to the world "for beeps sake, beep, beep the government and beep the city planners that are beeping responsible for this beep beep beep beep pathetic beeping traffic". Sometimes venting is a healthy form of communication, although sometimes it is not.

While horn honking generally reflects our statements of the world around us it can often show us up for who we truly are. For instance while sitting outside of someone else's house in a quiet suburban neighborhood in the evening, beeping to inform them you are waiting says defiantly "I am so totally lazy that I can't be bothered to get up and ring the doorbell. I am just not an impressive person, you probably wouldn't like me." Beeping in the morning is similar, but less definitive.

Beeping at a car that actually can't get out of your way or in fact has the legitimate right way often means "I so beeping impatient that most people think I'm a huge beeep. Even my dog beeps me. I beep." Sometimes I think that people aren't actually that rude, they must just be checking to see that their horn is still working; just in case.

Certainly the most despicable honking comes from letting it rip behind anyone doing a left turn and always means "I am such a freakin beep that even though I can't see the road ahead, I will still beep you with my beeped opinion! I should rot in beep." Somethings are beyond rude, they are just stupid and dangerous.

As if you were standing in the middle of street talking to yourself, it is fair for people to judge you by the way you communicate with your horn. In our cars we like to believe we are invisible, but that pretty much isn't the case. Standing in the supermarket isle screaming to yourself is embarrassing, so is honking your horn for a stupid reason in the middle of an intersection. If you're 'barking' at less than nothing, we have the right to assume you are having sever internal difficulties, since the external ones appear to be non-existent.

It is important for people to understand that they are communicating with the world around them, and while they believe that they may be commenting on the current events, they may actually just be commenting on themselves.