Sunday, November 20, 2016

USA's 2016 presidential election

Three years ago, I published an article entitled "The future president of the USA in 2016". In that article, I was essentially saying that the biggest force at work against people's interest was the financial sector and that Elizabeth Warren looked at the time like a potential candidate and one that would really tackle the problems of Wall Street doing bad things.

I also mentioned back then... that was much before any of the mud slinging we've seen during this 2016 campaign... some strong issues I reproached to Hillary Clinton and why she appeared to me as a bad candidate. To sum up and update, we can say she is pro-establishment, a fundamentalist religious with a track record of being anti-gay (yup, "Progressives"! that's the candidate YOU supported). She has been in favor of Bush's Iraq war, in favor of the war against Libya, the patriot act, NAFTA, TPP and we know... yes, we know that she committed serious crimes like deleting emails after the FBI told her they needed to see her emails. Anybody who ever worked in the field of security (I have!) knows that accessing classified material comes at the cost of losing some of your privacy rights. And that is for the sake of your country's security because the government or its subsidiaries like the army and the intelligence departments need to be able to assess if information is secure or if it's being leaked to enemies and through what channels. Because if Russia hacked into the Democratic National Convention's email server then they might have hacked into the Clintons' email server and they might know information that diplomats need to know.

Was Donald Trump a good candidate? No! He's anti-science and frankly unpredictable. I don't care at all that he said privately, 11 years ago, something that is gross about how having money and power makes a man more able to sleep with women. Because it is a fact. Money and power alone are not enough, and of course they won't attract all the women in the world. But all other things being equal, being rich and powerful makes a man more attractive to more women than the same man being broke and powerless. And sure he said something about "grabbing women by the pussy". Wow! big deal! He said gross things in a private environment. Like just about every single person on Earth. What's dangerous about Trump from my point of view is essentially that he is unpredictable. His promises are of course unreliable... which you might see as a good thing if you didn't like what he promised. So he could do anything from terrible to wonderful. At least he isn't an ideologue and that makes him better than the average Hillary supporter. Because he allows himself to change his opinion if people can show him that what he does is bullshit. Not that he will. But he might. While Hillary's supporters just can't.

So what do I think of the 2016 election? It's been terrible. It's showed that journalism is irredeemable and that collectivist ideology is now firmly entrenched in the left wing while the right wing failed to produce any decent candidate. At least, Trump emerged as someone who was not corrupted by PACs or in the pocket of Wall Street. But he is unpredictable. I am somewhat delighted to see left wing ideologues crying and right wing ideologues relatively quiet because it is a sign that things are changing. If Hillary had won, the lefties would have been smug naggers and the righties would have been... well, I'm not sure... I think they've been rather quiet for the past few years actually. Politics is in a bad state. So is (even more) journalism. But I've seen some independent voices rising (cf "The Rubin Report") to remind us that talking to each other and sincerely considering that we might be wrong and that the right answer might come from the people we opposed, is the way of reason and the way of virtue.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Goodbye Mensa

So... 2 years ago, I took and passed Mensa's test and I joined the association. With my membership, I accessed the almost unused PHPBB forum of Mensa France, the loud Facebook page of Mensa France, and a handful of other online resources which I found little engaging. I also joined the weekly meetings at the pub, which I quickly became an organizer of, and 1 year down the line, I took a position as a member of the regional board of Mensa. I participated (lazily) to the organization of a conference for which I animated a 2 hours round-table in front of 200 people. And then, nothing for 6 months. I was away, stayed away, etc.

So what happened?

Well, Mensa is not exactly what I thought. And maybe I went in with too high hopes. I expected many people there to be like me, interested in debates, interested in gaining knowledge through digging and separating the wheat from the chaff of ideas. I expected people with specialized knowledge of more than 1 subject who could analyze subjects and reason. But that's not the kind of people I found. Well... there are a handful of such people. But they're the minority.

On the upside, Mensa was an opportunity to dig into the subject of intelligence. And it's overblown. Clearly. It's over-over-overblown. For children, intelligence makes a difference because their emotional development doesn't keep up with their cognitive development and this may lead to some real problems if they start wondering about subjects (eg. death) which they're not emotionally ready for. Because they might realize that everything even their parents and themselves is doomed to die someday and that awareness is not easily managed by all 4 year old kids. But for adults, intelligence is, except in rare cases, just a matter of being able to learn more or less quickly... and the fact is that people who are not skeptical of what they read will have MUCH less efficiency in learning than people who are.

Then there's all nonsense of political ideology, religions, supernatural beliefs, and other forms of activism or endeavor that is founded on feelings instead of reality.

So I didn't find what I expected... though it's true that my expectations were fuzzy. And that's why I'll leave. Well, the 60€ yearly fee is a reason too... I would have stayed if it had cost only a quarter of that. But I'm not saying I'm leaving forever. As I said above, there are a handful of people I like in Mensa and considering the 15% growth in the member base, there is a potential of finding a lot more such people when/if I come back in a few years. In the meantime, I'll try and find other interests better suited to me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The purpose of political elections

Today, I found this photo in a Facebook friend's timeline. It says: "don't forget to go and vote for skilled people who will save us from the bad guys!".

I may be somewhat disillusioned concerning politics but also disillusioned concerning people. Most people who vote are not smart. They do not understand politics. They do not understand money and economy. They do not know about geopolitics, economic intelligence and/or economic warfare, environment, science, etc. Many of them also vote for their own petty selfish interest, even if it harms their grandchildren, their son, their daughter, etc. In the end, people's vote is ignorant. You could grant children the right to vote and it would probably not change a thing because people's vote is a mix of randomness and feelings, rather than rationality and knowledge acquired through countless hours of reading political news and watching/listening to interviews and digging into encyclopedias.

I'm not sure I will vote any time soon.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The new colossus

A person I know recently posted the following on Facebook:
"Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution."

It may sound like a good idea. It may sound like a proper way to deal with bad people. But I also found it deeply ostracizing. Who are these negative people? What exactly is the difference between a negative person and a positive person? If I stay away from them, will they suffer from my absence? What if I am the negative person? Will I be ostracized? Then I might become even more negative and the people who interact with me will suffer even more from my even greater negativity.

So here's the answer I gave to my Facebook acquaintance:

"For some, staying away from negative people may seem like a good choice. I do not share that choice. Negative people have more to teach me about the world and about myself than the people who seem positive to me.

If I make mistakes, and we all make mistakes, there's little chance I'll figure them out and correct them when I talk only to people who make the same mistakes I do. But if I go and chat with a toxic person, there's a chance she may consider the world from vantage points I've never thought of. And these novel points of view will enrich me, however painful it may be to renounce my past prejudices, and I will build new points of view.

Of course, this is taxing and one then needs to recuperate in the company of positive people. But the exchange with a negative person will have given everybody a chance to realize the imperfection of their knowledge or their reasoning. And maybe for the toxic person, I am the one who appears as negative."

And that made me think of the plate on the statue of liberty (hence the title of this article), because I think its text shares some of my ideas of welcoming the contribution of people who would otherwise be turned away.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Sunday, March 1, 2015

You cannot be what you want to be but you can do something

We all have desires or dissatisfaction. We all want to be different, better. We all want to have something we don't have. We want to be strong, beautiful, admired, rich, loved, happy, smart, creative, attentive, nurturing, responsible, dependable, resilient, relentless, forgiving, just, skilled, etc. We want to be Sean Connery, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr. but we also want to be Bob the neighbor who has a happy family despite being quite poor.

We cannot be everything we want to be. But we can do things. Through action, we become different. What do you aspire to, that you don't already have? What will it take to get what you want or at least to get you halfway there? Do you want 30 extra minutes of free time everyday to play with your children or to supervise their homework? Then you need to jump out of work 30 minutes earlier everyday. Either you'll work 30 minutes less or you'll have to do this work later in the night after your children have gone to bed.

These changes have a cost. They cost us time, money, fatigue, friendships, sacrificed hobbies, etc. but these changes are what takes us on the road towards the ever shifting goals that we set for ourselves. It's not about reaching these goals. It's about walking the walk of life towards goals, looking back, and being pleased with the miles we've put behind ourselves.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Online comments and censorship

If you've visited a number of popular websites on the internet (YouTube, Reddit, etc.) you know these places are open to comments by any visitor. And truth be told: the internet is simultaneously the best thing and the worst thing in the world. You may find comments that are highly educated, original, or that approach a subject from a new angle, and they may lead you to discover whole new fields of knowledge that you never knew existed and that will dramatically alter your life for the better till the end of your days. But you can also find harassment, trolls, unsolicited shocking content, insults, etc.

But in any case, comments are a way of letting people react to your content. They're a way of offering them the courtesy of being able to respond to you when you talk. They're a way of being open to a fair conversation and letting others notify you of mistakes when you make mistakes. Because you shall make mistakes as everybody does.

If you produce content and you refuse the courtesy of commenting to your audience, then you're not open, you're not fair, and you're doomed to make mistakes that you will repeat and repeat and repeat because you were foolishly thinking so highly of yourself that you never gave people a fair chance to educate you on any little bit of knowledge that eluded you.

I use YouTube a lot for viewing videos but I also do comment and discuss with other viewers and video producers. But there are some groups that are not open to fair exchanges. And here are the groups that I have noticed so far:

  • religious groups or individuals
  • feminists
The reason censorship is generally considered harmful is because it is part of totalitarian politics. It is generally oppressive and aims at preserving the dogma that prevails at the head of the state. It will prevent positive reforms and it will lock society away from truths that could otherwise be obtained through open discussion. Censorship is the opposite of the "open marketplace of ideas".

If you are a viewer, beware of people blocking comments! This should be a warning sign that they might be ideologues unwilling to consider whatever legitimate criticism that is sent their way by people who disagree. If you are a content producer, let people comment! Surely, there will be garbage among the comments but there will also be precious ideas and remarks that you would otherwise have missed. And realizing your mistakes will be hard. Very hard. Some people refuse to admit their mistake even when it's laid in front of their eyes. Being humble and admitting what you've done wrong is not easy but it is necessary if you want to be honest and become a better person. Freedom has a price. So does being a good person. If you never pay the price, it speaks volumes about you.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Labels are a trap. And a look at the backfire effect

Are you a liberal? Are you a conservative? Are you a feminist? Are you a men's rights advocate? Are you Christian? Are you Hindu? Are you atheist? Are you a driver? Are you a gamer? Are you a sports enthusiast?

Labels! They're the word by which we simplify the notion that someone belongs to a group. For the sake of keeping things simple, let's focus on political affiliation! When you're ~20 years old, you have a number of political ideas even though you probably don't know much about politics, how it works, and the political philosophy or political-historical background of the past 70 years that explains the current dynamics of political parties. Anyways... you have ideas and you will probably choose to associate yourself to 1 of the 2 biggest political parties in your country.

After you have associated yourself to a party, after you've decided to endorse this party as part of your identity, you will tend to develop beliefs that are aligned to this party. Not because you independently develop new ideas that naturally align with your past ideas and your chosen party, but because having heretic ideas, not in line with your party would challenge your identity and the label you associate with.

When new ideas emerge within your party, embracing these new ideas will make you feel comfortable and secure within your identity and within your group. But if you face someone who presents actual evidence that your party's new ideas are wrong or misguided, you'll go defensive and you will fight against the truth of the evidence handed to you. Being defensive, the wrong or misguided ideas you've gotten from your party will even reinforce within you. This psychological effect is called the backfire effect.

When you're caught in a hot-tempered discussion or debate, the backfire effect may arise. It may arise when you're confronted with a controversial subject in relation to one of the labels you identify yourself as. Maybe your ideological opponents are wrong but maybe you are wrong! You should go and check what the other side is saying and evaluate if they have good evidence supporting their point of view. Don't believe that your side will give you a fair and accurate representation of what the opposing side's point of view!

If you find yourself agreeing 100% of the time with what your group is saying, then there is a problem with you and with the way you form your judgment. You should evaluate information coming from all sides and then conclude independently, even if that means that on some issues, you'll be at odds with your party and with some of your friends within your party. It may hurt you and them in the process, but that's the normal way that things work when you're looking for the truth and that you want to make the best informed judgment possible. Some people might be less informed than you, or informed through unreliable sources, and they might not be able to spend the extra effort to evaluate the sources that you may want to suggest to them. Also, diplomacy and being able to convincingly present arguments in a way tailored to your audience is not easy ...not easy for me, at least.

So, no matter if you're left-wing, right-wing, feminist, anti-feminist, sports-enthusiast, sports-hater, or any other label, you now know one danger of choosing a label for yourself.
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