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.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Romeo India Papa Charlie

Romeo India Papa Charlie: RIP Charlie Hebdo

Today, 3 men armed with Kalashnikov machine-guns stormed into the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. And they assassinated caricaturists, staff members, and cops.

Charlie Hebdo is a bastion of free speech. When the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten published caricatures of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, back in 2005 Charlie Hebdo was one of the first if not the first French publication that dared publish them too, in France. They didn't do it to anger Muslims, though they were intelligent enough to know that it would anger some of them. They did it out of respect for the Muslims who would be intelligent enough to wish they were treated like adults, intelligent enough to accept if not demand that they be treated satirically on an equal footing with members of other religions.

I watched the video of one of the cops being executed at point-blank range by one of the terrorists. It is raw violence and I don't recommend watching it if you are easily upset. I feel sad about the victims and angry at the attackers.

I also feel angry, less of course, at the people who are ignorant enough to say it has nothing to do with Islam and that this is just an act of violence perpetrated by violent people who would/could have acted violently in the name of any other cause. People who say this are ignorant. The doctrine of Islam is violent and some of the branches of Islam (e.g. Wahhabi) encourage a violent interpretation of the texts. But this could not have been perpetrated in the name of Jainism, and this could not have been perpetrated in the name of Chocolate and candy bars. There needs to be a public debate about the violence of the teachings of the Quran and the Hadiths.

Now, everybody is publishing articles or comments on the subject and changing their Facebook profile picture to a picture saying "I AM CHARLIE". I understand it. I understand that people are feeling lost and need to feel united and reassured. But after that, what happens? Not "what happens to the bad guys?" because I don't care now. Our governmental forces are working on it and whatever I write doesn't matter. But what happens to us, the people? Having a tough but fair conversation about Islam seems necessary, but are we able to hold such a conversation? I'm afraid not. I'm convinced not. It would take time, knowledge, and enough honesty from religious leaders to accept admitting publicly that their religion is full of violence.

There's so much more to be said about this. But I'll part with this quote from Steven Weinberg:
"Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

Friday, January 2, 2015

My humanity and I

The past year, I've been kind of idle as I didn't work. But I invested some of my time in connecting with people and creating bonds of friendship or even mere acquaintances. I have met a few incredible people with depth the like of which you might not imagine. And this has changed some things in me.

I have always been fond of science. I still am. I will probably always be. And as I've had more time to think and in particular think about myself, I made explicit a feeling I've had for a while. I felt like I had lost part of my humanity. It's a bit as if had become like a robot, capable of being efficient in the things I do, but little moved by feelings or emotions.

When your grandmother dies, a grandmother you had been close to in your childhood, and you don't cry, you ask yourself questions and you feel kind of shameful about not crying. Why would normal people cry and why would you not? Is it strength of character, disinterest, or a sign of the humanity you lost?

At least, wondering about it is salutary. It made me question who I think I am, what I want from other people or how I want it, and how much I am able and willing to make changes... or how much I am unable or unwilling to make changes. I realized my humanity is not lost. It is dusty. Very dusty. But it's still here. And I realized, too, that it is OK for me not to behave or feel like everyone else. If I don't cry, then so be it. It doesn't prevent me from wishing well to other people and being there for those who will need a shoulder. And I'll keep looking for more of this humanity and I'll likely find more of it.

Despite saying this, there are still things I didn't share in this article about my feelings. Some emotions or lack thereof that are too shameful to reveal explicitly, and which I'll have to come to terms with. And you? Do you ever experience emotions like this? Do you ever feel guilty for lacking emotions that you think you should feel? If so, are you able to share your experience or is it too sensitive to share explicitly?

Anyway, if you feel like you should look for your humanity, then it shows that you still care about it and that you still have it. So things are looking up.
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