White European Males, GamerGate and DongleGate |
| May 8th, 2016 under Digital Rights, Games, Life, OSS, Politics, rengolin, World. [ Comments: 1 ]
First things first, a disclaimer:
- I don’t condone, nor I accept any form of harassment, physical, verbal or electronic.
- I don’t mix technical qualities with life situations. Your choices, opinions, abilities and disabilities may affect the quality of your work, but this is not about those, but about the result: your work.
- I don’t promote abusive behaviour as a form of getting your point across, even if no abusive intention was meant.
- I do promote inclusion in STEM to balance towards the real proportion in society.
- Both GamerGate and DongleGate were disasters on their own, for very different reasons. I want neither to happen.
- I have Asperger’s Syndrome and see things more black and white than most people. I cannot accept qualitative features being used for quantitative purposes. None of this is meant as an offence, or to explain or validate harassment, abuse or any other unethical behaviour. It’s just an analysis.
When Charles Babbage begun creating his analytical machine, he was worried about the hardware and the implications of it for mathematics and the world. But we all know that hardware is only as good as its software, and so Ada Lovelace’s work was of equal importance on that critical milestone. Both of them were mathematicians of an elite that weren’t thoroughly recognised until much later. Both were extremely methodical, eccentric and disconnected from reality. All well known characteristics that Hans Asperger recognised circa 1920 as what we now know as autism.
In the 40’s to 60’s, only really brilliant mathematicians could understand computing, mostly because they were just developing it, but thousands of men and women took part in building and using them. At that time, the proportion of people “using computers” was closer to the social distribution than it is today. However, the number of people working “with computers” was independent of their understanding of the underlying technology. Naturally, the distribution then follows the source group’s own. But after the first real case for general computing (WWII), the world was left with a tool that could do so much more, and people realised that they needed to take it to the next level.
Still too many people were clueless as to how computers worked, and a huge effort was made to get people “into computing”. But the importance and prevalence of computing those days were inexistent, so the appeal to the general public, men and women, were close to zero. The kind of people that felt attracted by it then, and during the 70’s and 80’s were the same groups as Babbage, Lovelace, Turin: people in the autistic spectrum. This is not to say that non-autistic people did’t do it, or worse, that they couldn’t do it. On the contrary, the proof that this is not an autistic-only field is today’s proliferation of computer scientists around the world, regardless of their mental status, gender, race or culture.
During the 70’s, computers had specific purposes, and only universities and very big companies had them. The 80’s saw the first boom in “personal” computing, but it was still dominated by self-built kits, and those like me that remember that time fondly, know how much of a weirdo we were in the eyes of the general population. While more people were taking on computing careers, those experimenting at home still had a clear autistic predisposition.
It was only in the 90’s, when Bill Gates became a millionaire, that people started giving “some” credit to the field, and personal computing toppled and then completely replaced mainframes. During the 80’s, operating systems were developed for the common tasks like word editing, spreadsheets and simple databases, but it wasn’t until the 90’s that most people had one in their homes and small shops. It became ubiquitous only then.
But even in the 90’s, all the attempts to simplify programming (Logo? Basic?) couldn’t really help you do much with computers. They were (and still are) basically toys. So, people that learnt Basic have realised early on that they couldn’t write anything meaningful and would either have to delve deep into C, or give up completely. That was still promoting those of the more autistic disposition to stay and the rest to find something more interesting to do.
But as with every spectrum, thresholds are biased.
If you understand a bit about autism, you know that all we want is to be left alone to our own devices. Don’t come to my house telling me what to do and how. This is most upsetting for autistic people and you will be faced with some unintentional harsh responses due to the genetic reasons that autistic people cannot control or fix.
Autistic people were *always* banned from social life for thousands of years (maybe more?), and since ever they tried to group into segregated societies, often characterised with bigotry and rudeness, not uncommonly harassment. The Royal Society was such a place, and not unlike the current computer science scenario, was dominated by “White European Males“.
It seems obvious to me that the “White European” part is easily explained because of the degree of development that Europe had at the time (1600’s), compared to everywhere else in the world. The parallel with modern computer scientists is clear: North America and Western Europe have a much higher rate of Caucasians well educated and positioned in society, for obvious reasons that don’t fit this text to discuss, than the other groups.
When a field is new and needs pressure to get to, most of the people that will get in will be of a similar disposition. In the same way that most voluntary army cadets will have a similar mentality. I would never be an army volunteer, but I was a computer enthusiast since I was 5 years old.
Recent studies have shown that the proportion of males and females in high-functioning autistic people (the ones that like to solve complex problems for fun) is 4:1. But boys and girls behave very differently, with boys having a lot more physically and verbally violent games, and girls being more sensitive. With a start ratio of 4:1, it’s not hard how that biased self-selection can get to 10:1 or more.
What has become
But after the initial self-balancing, true bigots and abusers (trolls), saw the chance to belong to a society that was professing, for completely different reasons, that different people be kept out. I hope it’s clear enough that high-functioning autistic people have a valid and important reason to keep people out of their lives and groups. Otherwise, they cannot function properly.
Moreover, autistic people have the tendency of responding badly to social pressure, and that includes behaviour that is often misinterpreted as harassment, bullying and violent. It is not uncommon to see very drastic ends to really sad stories.
Autistic people also have a higher than usual rate of trusting people, and therefore much more easily abused by trolls, who will become part of a community and extend their modus operandi, but not necessarily their intention.
People on less advantageous backgrounds (wealth, disabilities, minorities, life choices) had even less chances of getting in a club that was trying to keep people out. But with trolls inside, they’ll make sure this becomes impossible, and that’s how situations like GamerGate happen.
It is important to separate the original cause of aggregation and demand for separation, sometimes aggressively, as a classic high-functioning autistic process, from the subsequent harassment and directed intentional aggression that trolls had after they took over well meaning but fearful and trusting mostly autistic people.
That fact, however, does not condone any aggression, including from autistic people. But what people have to understand is that, if the aggression comes from an autistic person, even high-functioning, they very likely cannot control it and need help. Being offended is ok, but reserving the right to then discharge your own contained aggression, even if you are a minority, is not the way to solve this.
We all have problems, but turning off your care-meter because you are a minority and have just being offended is not ok. And that includes autistic people, too.
Why is this important?
Because computer science has moved on from the nerd-zone for at least 20 years, but much more so in the last 10.
The barrier into technology is so low now that anyone can enter, and once they’re in, they don’t need to be autistic to enjoy. Furthermore, neurotypical people can be as good (or better) than autistic people even in the hardest of problems. After all, being high-functioning autistic doesn’t mean you’re smarter, just means you want to do something that keep you away from people, and talking to machines is the best thing I can think of.
So nowadays we have all kinds of people, and with that, we’re back to the real distribution that societies have. All minorities are now represented by what they are in society. But trolls are haters, and they know some very cunning ways to keep unwanted people around, mostly using subversive tactics like physical, verbal and social abuse, doxing, DDoSing, etc.
We need to remove the trolls from our societies together. This is not a minorities vs majorities fight, this is a fight for the right to be safe. The new minorities have as much right to be safe as the original minority who created the space. And both minorities have the right to be represented, but so does the majorities. The only thing we want to get rid of are the trolls.
What we should move towards
So, autistic people want a space of their own, trolls take over, destroy the Internet. Minorities try to participate, trolls shoot them down, behave like assholes. What else is news? As it all started in the 40’s, we need a compatible distribution with the rest of society. The very definition of minority is that there is less of. So it makes no sense to expect an equal distribution of minority and majority on each specific scale.
For instance, on average worldwide, we have half men, half women. So I would expect the same distribution in STEM subjects. We may be far from it in computer science and physics, but not in biology or chemistry. It’s still not 50/50, so we can’t take each topic to be exactly 50/50, but we can expect the whole STEM subjects to be around that ballpark.
Of the world population, at a glance I see 18% is Han Chinese, while about two thirds of that is “European”, and a third of each Arabic, Hindu and African, living all over the world. The real distribution doesn’t matter much, but I’d expect a similar distribution for STEM in the same way.
Now, getting there will involve two distinct activities:
- Deep grass root movements to increase the development and literacy of impoverished communities, education of better off communities regarding equality and inclusion.
- Improve STEM inclusion and attractiveness for all members of society, as well as remove the exclusion characteristics (trolls) of the already existing community.
People that are keen on seen global equality (1) have to fight that battle outside of STEM subjects. The fights you should have inside are those that discriminate minorities that can already be represented in STEM subjects (2).
For example, all the feminists advocate for inclusion in open source communities already have the will and ability to participate on equal grounds as men. The fact that someone is gay or transgender makes absolutely no difference in a STEM community and should bear no value in inclusion or acceptance. The fact that they are not included is a horrible mistake and has to be fixed inside STEM communities.
We should move towards STEM communities that have a relevant distribution as far as STEM can have on its own. We’re not looking for equal numbers of all minorities, we’re looking for equal distribution of minorities, and those are two very different things.
What we cannot have
What seems to be happening, and it’s something that will not fix anything, is that we’re moving to the other side.
We have to discourage any kind of troll, regardless if they agree with you. It may be satisfying to see someone on your side trolling someone you’re against, but that’s as bad as their side’s troll behaviour. Encouraging hate, even in the form of biased consensus and imposed cultural traits is just as bad as any other form of harassment.
More importantly, it’s that form of harassment that gets to the core of autistic people, including high-functioning ones. It’s the very reason why we hide from people and talk to machines. Cases like DongleGate are as extremist as GamerGate, and as offensive to me.
The fact that one misinterpreting person with one picture and one tweet can get someone fired is disconcerting beyond words. As disconcerting as people ganging up on girls just because they want representativeness on their games. Both behaviours are beyond words.
What we cannot have is to flip sides and have the suffering minorities so far gaining the upper hand and gaining the right to harass the majority or worse still, the forgotten minority that started it all and had no intentional part in any of the bullying.
We need to protect the minorities from abuse, and that includes the odd folks that don’t look mentally retarded or deficient in any way but behave oddly and sometimes aggressively. Those people are too often interpreted as bullies when all they want is to be left alone, and all they need is help adapting to an alien society.
The Falacy of Empathy |
| November 9th, 2015 under Life, rengolin, World. [ Comments: none ]
Empathy, or the ability to feel what other people are feeling, is often associated with good hearted people. In theory, empathy should provide the tools you need to understand someone else’s feelings before you act on instinct, and will block your impulsive actions, making you look like a nice person. Another view of empathy is of people that can display the same emotions as they see, for instance crying when watching a sad film. This empathy is powerful as a motivator, and that’s why so many charities use strong images of poverty or sick puppies to raise money.
On both cases, from an external point of view, it’s hard to understand the reason why people behave nicely or poorly. It’s often assumed that, when people behave well, either being nice to people or helping people in need, they have a high degree of empathy. Conversely, when they don’t, they don’t have empathy. However, that assumption is based on no facts other than apparent behaviour, which can (and often is) manipulative and false.
Why do we need empathy?
Human beings, as other animals, have behavioural strategies to enhance their survival rates. Dogs are known to show deep empathic behaviour, like standing by their owners, or fetching help and saving peoples’ lives, some times without request from a human. Other animals, like monkeys and dolphins show even higher degrees of empathy in some situations, but a much lower on others.
That begs the question: why do we need empathy? Is empathy really important for survival rates, or evolution? Or did we really evolve empathy after we stopped being naturally selected, a few dozen thousand years ago?
There are a few strategies that enhance survival of a species, some of them are related to social relationships. Social animals, those that live in large groups, understand the value in belonging to that group. A zebra alone is an easy prey. Naturally, wanting to belong to a group is a life and death choice. Like zebras, humans are social animals, and it was only after we started bundling ourselves in towns that we needed agriculture and it was after agriculture was introduced that the human race exploded in significance. From an evolutionary point of view, those who were more social ended up gathered inside towns, and prospered. The others, were more easily hunted, or suffered more from the elements, and probably died out in the long run. So, what was left of the human race, were the ones with more social affinity.
It seems obvious to me that empathy (feeling or simulation) is a great enhancement of one’s social abilities. It’ll help you get along with other people even if you don’t like them, it’ll help you not upset them and gain more from your relationship with them. It’s probably the best tool one can have when relating socially with other people. But, as I reasoned above, it’s very hard to separate intention from behaviour, and there are many people that can display extreme empathic behaviour at times, and be a sociopath at others. These people are very likely simulating their behavioural empathy, and in large numbers, it’s hard to separate them from the “real” empaths.
Up until a few thousand years ago, the civilisations were disconnected enough that displaying empathy would only take you so far. But as they began connecting with each other, invading and assimilating cultures, human interaction changed from mono-cultural to multi-cultural, and that’s when displays of empathy became the most powerful tool in human societies.
The Roman religion changed drastically from pluri theistic to mono theistic, and collected a pout-pourri of elements from the diverse cultures it had invaded in order to strongly relate to them and keep other cultures, not just countries, tight with Rome. The Roman empire has fallen, but the dominance of the Catholic church is as strong as ever. That display of empathy, which is the base of the whole catholic church, is what made them the most powerful people in the world for millennia.
We all know the outrageous behaviours that church officials have in all religions, from the most junior to the most senior positions, including most popes, which leads to the conclusion that empathy can be used for both good and evil, and that most people in the world find it hard to separate between good (real) empathy and bad (simulated) empathy.
Whenever you have two survival strategies that provide identical effects to identical stimuli, neither of them are selected over the other, but they coexist in a proportion that is not fixed themselves, but are selected by other means. For instance, politicians must posses the simulated empathy, otherwise, they would never be able to pass on laws that were harmful to a large group of people. The same can be said about the legal and advertising fields, and most senior positions on companies, like CEOs. Those professions are crucial to how our society expect to behave, and thus those kind of people will never be selected out.
One could argue that we don’t really need politicians or lawyers to thrive, and I would agree, but the fact that they’re in power, means they’ll continue to hold that power until there’s enough pressure to push them down. But it will never be strong enough, since people with simulated empathy are being born every day, so there is a pressure to keep the world as it is, due to the very existence of those people.
But of course, neurotypical people considered to have empathy form the large majority of human beings. So, not all simulated empathic people are politics, lawyers or evil people. Some of those people still believe they have real empathy, and can easily convince others of that. Maybe those others also have simulated empathy, or maybe they’re so empathic that they agree to avoid wrong judgement. All in all, by multiple mechanisms, empathic behaviour is self preserved.
To whom do we show empathy?
In the history of human kind, we have seen that most of the time, empathy is directional. Slavers did not feel bad for the slaves, nor whale hunters for whales. In a predominantly white, middle class neighbourhood in the US, people are more likely to cry over a puppy that was ran over by a car than a black kid that was murdered by the police. Excuses like “he probably deserved it” is how people cope with this severe lack of empathy.
In poor countries, like Brazil, the wealth difference is so striking that the same behaviour is common between rich and poor people, no matter the origin. In Sao Paulo, rich people drive their fancy cars around extremely poor people every day. Some otherwise average youngsters burn homeless people alive, others shoot stray cats and dogs in the street, but when they go back home, they love their families, and they’re good kids at school.
In other countries like Israel and Palestine, people are raised to protect their own and to kill the other side. They love their families and friends with such a strength that they would die for them, but as easily kill an entire family in brutal ways just because they belong to another group. This detachment from reality is extremely polarised: empathy towards your own group is as strong, as negative empathy towards competing groups.
This is not specific to Israel, Brazil or the US. I know many people in those countries who are great people who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and who would instantly help people (or other animals) in need. But examples like that can be seen anywhere in the world.
Trends, and the distortion of empathy
Another behaviour that was socially selected is how well you can follow the trends, which basically translates to being politically correct. One that doesn’t know or understand a conflict between gender equality since the last century may look very rude and lacking empathy if one says: “some people are naturally more direct and blunt, and women are normally more emotional, thus more easily take offence”. Regardless of the veracity in that phrase, this is an opinion like any other, and in itself, devoid of context. But fights for women suffrage in the last decades have made that kind of comparison somewhat rude.
More recently, the fight has also started on the sexuality realm, where people are no longer content with homo/bi-sexuality, but needed to create a huge number of terms to describe, with accuracy, their feelings about their own sexuality. All in all, a great effort, and certainly very important to the subgroup where this has any meaning, but to a large extent, this matters very little to most other human affairs.
Laws, education, health, jobs, technical discussions, travel, culture, religion and almost all other important subjects that we deal with on a daily basis need no separation between skin colour, ethnicy, gender or sexual orientation. The very fact of making those separations clear, is prejudice in itself, much like stating on a federal law that “black people should also get the vote” when there is no other legal separation between “white” people and “black” people in the voting laws.
We can all see that in practice this is not true, there is a huge separation of intent, execution and judgement across all minorities everywhere in the world, but creating specific categorisations will only create problems for the categories that don’t yet exist. We’ll have to repeat the legalisation of vote for every new category that appear in the future.
But this is also considered empathy, since it’s a matter of exacerbating your empathy towards the cases that you know need exacerbating, because the trend is to do so. Even people that would naturally empathise with some minorities’ problems, have to show an increased response to the topic. That increase response cannot be naturally selected, not even socially selected.
It stands to reason, then, that understanding empathy trends and acting upon them, also known as being politically correct, is solely an artificial factor, and therefore a simulated empathic response. The term politically correct already carries that meaning in itself, but the importance of this is wider: being politically correct is just another behaviour that natural and simulated empathic behaviour express itself, and it would be naive to believe that this is the only simulated empathic response since we split from apes.
This fact, not only reinforces the idea of the existence of simulated empathy embedded in human nature, but helps show that humanity will never get rid of it, as it is a crucial mechanism with which we group ourselves.
Lack of empathy? Or lack of simulation?
In Baron-Cohen’s original paper, where children were asked to choose an option from the point of view of the character, not themselves, autistic children have consistently selected the wrong answer. Is this because they cannot sympathise with the character, or because they cannot understand why, in possession of all the knowledge, they have to choose the wrong place?
I myself have answered that wrong by instinct, and got myself laughing at it. I have also cried like a baby in Grave of the Fireflies and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and I can’t watch most American “comedies”, because they all rely on deep embarrassment, and I cannot cope with it, to the point of having real physical discomfort.
Autistic people (Asperger’s included), often offend people and are generally regarded as rude. Is it because they intend to offend, or because they can’t see past the social norm, the politically correct response? Or is it because they really cannot empathise with the other party and end up being cold hearted? I can’t answer that for other people, but I can certainly empathise with people’s feelings, I help a good number of charities that help animals and people, and I teach my kids to respect everyone, independent of their origins. When I’m told I offended someone, I feel deeply and I try very hard to make up, but that doesn’t mean I will be able to do “the right thing” next time.
I can’t simulate empathy. I can’t increase or create empathy for something that society demands me to. I can’t change my opinion or behaviour towards people just because they belong to a group that is trendy. In the same way, I can’t simulate behaviour (I’d be a horrible actor), but I have good imagination (I could be a writer). I can’t simulate affection, love, hate, laughter, but I do posses all those feelings and I display them wholeheartedly. This certainly makes me neurologically atypical, but does that make me wrong? Deficient?
As with everything else in the universe, neural diversity is a spectrum. But unlike simple things, it’s composed of a large number of factors that compose behaviour, capacity and plasticity. Even though most research on autism have found strong correlations for hereditary, most genes found in autistic more often than in neurotypical people were present in a small percentage of autistic people. This means that the number of genes and the expression of each one count little towards the overall phenotype. People with milder forms of autism, included Aspergers’ Syndrome, have even fuzzier relationships.
Even though it’s assumed that autism account for 1-2% of the population in one form or another, the behaviour autistic people demonstrate can be observed in otherwise neurotypical people, like perseverance on comfortable tasks, lack of sight amidst multiple choices, irritability towards certain sensory inputs (loud music, too many people talking, too hot, too cold), etc.
It would be an interesting line of research to determine how mild or abrupt is the theoretical wall that separates those tagged as “neurotypical” from those diagnosed as autistic of some form, with regards to all known “disability” traits. The fact that people consider that disability is a clear demonstration that they do not accept that behaviour as “normal”. However, how does one define normal? How many abnormal traits do I have to have to be considered autistic? How far should I be from “the norm”?
In IQ tests, the answer is simple. There’s an arbitrary number, 100, and everything above is good, below, not so much. There was a lot of work done to transform the answers of the diverse tests into virtually the same range of numbers (with small differences), but the general idea applies. You can also apply statistical modelling and define those one sigma above and below, and treat them accordingly. For instance, there are some countries that have reduced prison sentences for people below one or two sigma.
But, like when you mix all the colours of modelling clay together, everything is now turning grey. There is no black and white, no man and woman, no gay and straight. Everything is a spectrum, and behaviour is not an exception. So, what do we accept as behaviour? How do we include intent when that’s clearly hidden and easily simulated?
Murder is easily on the wrong side of the spectrum, but shouting is a very common and non-abusive behaviour in autistic people. It’s often a response to stressful situations, when you don’t know what else to do. The difference is that stressful situations arise in autistic people that wouldn’t in neurotypical people, for example, when having a hair cut, or when someone else cannot understand what you’re saying. Even though they’re directed at the barber or the other person, they’re absolutely not personal.
How much to accept?
There is, of course, the danger that, allowing some people to behave oddly because they have a letter from the doctor, we’ll encourage other opportunistic people to behave in the same way. An example, if my interpretation is correct, is the Linux mailing list. I don’t know Linus personally, but from his emails and what I hear from people that do know him well, he is most certainly not an asshole.
His consistent behaviour classed as “abuse” is his inflamed reaction to bad code, which cannot easily be separated from the people who wrote it. Some people take it personally, others don’t. My view is that those who do, are either neurotypical or have had history of abuse, and those who don’t, are either towards the autistic end of the spectrum or actively ignore it from a sense of higher purpose. So, while his behaviour is questionable, and mostly unnecessary, I don’t see abuse in it, and different people react one way or another for different reasons.
Clearly, a person of his position relying solely on abuse, even with a great intellect, would have fallen long ago (ex. Ulrich Drepper). But that’s not the same for the opportunists, like people that have lesser intellects and need to get their ways via abuse alone, or as a reinforcement. On a healthy community, that kind of behaviour gets automatically curbed with time, but on a community that has its key member behaving in an encouraging way, will have positive feedback, and it can be a lot harder to get rid of the opportunists, and it may even encourage the rise of more of them with time. Linus seem to deal with those people reasonably efficiently (he also trashes maintainers), but not only it generates more work for him and more stress to the community, but it also decreases the trust in that community, which translates into good people abandoning ship.
My opinion in all this is simple: treat the disease, not the symptoms.
If Linus encourages opportunistic people, convince him why he should avoid rants for the right reason. Saying it’s not politically correct will most certainly have the opposite effect. Codes of conduct can easily be cheated, abused and transformed. People with intent to do harm will plan well their actions, those that will be caught, however, will be the unaware and innocent.
Do not be offended, unless there was intent. Offence is the easiest thing to get wrong. I may cough and you interpret as an insult, and it all goes downhill. Every time you feel offended, ask the offender the reasons. He/she may surprise you.
It’s not all about you. If I behave badly near you, it doesn’t have to be because of what you’ve done, or who you are, or how you see yourself in the mirror. Most people don’t care much about you (or me), and offence is normally taken by self-important people. Self importance is not a bad thing, and it normally comes in response to previous abuse and sudden revelation (I’m going through that phase myself), but it doesn’t justify offence. I have since had people describing me as disabled or an asshole, and all I did was to explain most of the contents in this post. From now on, I can just send a link.
I personally don’t care much if they understand or agree, as long as they don’t affect my life. This is a liberating feeling that I recommend to every one that has “come out” for whatever reason: be yourself, but respect everyone else.
Collection of data is not the only problem |
| November 13th, 2014 under Digital Rights, InfoSec, Life, Politics, rengolin. [ Comments: none ]
What the NSA has taught us is that mass surveillance is not as hard as people used to think. Other governments, and most commercial companies, do that, too. With the advent of smartphones we’ve learned to ignore most of that for the sake of convenience, and most of the time, it’s ok.
It’s true that the bulk surveillance from governments can spark enough false positives to make people worried, or that Google and Facebook are using your personal details to make a bucket load of money, and some others are selling those details, sometimes not even realising.
When you think of all the power that the government can do with your data, or all the money that big corporations are making with your personal information, it’s nor surprising to think: “where’s my share in this?”. Some people even tried to evaluate how much would you get for selling different types of personal information to corporations. But, is that the real question that we should be asking?
Should we be concerned with what data do we leak and try to minimise it, or should we really be thinking what can they really do with that information? Of course, any answer will be a mix of both (since not all investigating parties are well intentioned or law abiding), but there is the limit of government and corporation’s powers that can go a long way of making the data useful but not harmful.
I said this before and I still maintain my position that no one has ever had privacy. Parents eavesdrop on their kids behaviour since the dawn of humanity as a way to grow them into responsible adults. The concept of “being responsible” has changed over the millennia, but parents have not.
Law making and enforcing bodies have eavesdropping as their primordial way of acquiring information. Since people normally only do bad stuff when no one is looking, expecting the police to only use highly visual enquiring methods (such as asking personally or patrolling an area) become impossibly expensive very quickly. It is true that random checkpoints, fake speed cameras and signs do help awareness, but that’s also not optimal from a monetary point of view.
Privacy also goes against any common sense in the outside world. If you take a bus, every one in that bus knows you’re there, even if they don’t know who you are. If there is a picture of you on the bus saying “wanted, dead or alive”, they will see you and report you. There’s little you can do, besides hiding and never showing your face again. Famous people (actors, etc) have the same problem and the solution is pretty much hide.
The data you “leak” is also the data that defines you. Where you have been, what you like, where you work and live, what food you eat and what you do on Saturdays. Collecting that data and providing a service on that is actually extremely beneficial to you. The problem is who has access to that information.
Tesco knows what I need to buy better than I do. They send me vouchers with discount on fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil and fresh tomato on the vine. They know I love Caprese salad, and I actually like Tesco knowing that, because I get a slightly cheaper Caprese salad once in a while.
Google Maps knows where I live and work, so that when I’m going home I can just say: “Ok Google, go home”, and it does the rest. If I don’t share that kind of information with Google, it would never be able to do what I want it to. Examples like that are everywhere, and each company must have access to a wide range of data from you (location, shopping habits, browsing habits) for them to be able to do so. It’s the unavoidable fact of information theory that you need enough entropy to find patterns.
The real problem here is what companies end up doing with your data, and how well they protect it from malicious outsiders. Even if the company is benign, once they get hacked, your bundle of personal data which is enough to infer pretty accurate patters about your personal life, are out there. Who know what the attackers will do you that?
Another problem is blanket approvals to bypass any legal system and arrest, judge and execute individuals solely based on bulk surveillance patterns that are known to generate an immense amount of false positives, not only because the algorithms are inexact, but because the people filtering and creating the rules don’t posses enough knowledge to know what they’re looking for in the first place.
So, a pragmatic view on surveillance should attack the problem of the legality of actions on data, not just the legality of acquiring data in the first place. The legal system can already cope with that, for instance when evidence is found via illegal means (unapproved wire or microphone), it cannot be used against the accused. The “Patriot Act” changed all that in the US, and in other countries, and that’s the first thing that has to be changed back to a sane standard. Governments should never have the ability to bypass the judicial and executive system based on *any* collected data, especially if it was done in bulk, with irrelevant patterns to match.
Finally, there should be a guarantee in the license that the company is required to store such data in a protected way, following a set of standard cryptographic techniques and solutions, and there should be a clause on how they would destroy the data on the minimal attempt of intrusion. To compensate the total loss of service for all users, they must store such data in different locations, using different techniques and keys, and distribute it across multiple locations.
It may seem daunting for small companies to provide small services, but so did cheap scalable storage and service providing until Amazon created the AWS and all others followed suit. If there is a demand, someone will create the solution. That has been the human response to everything since we came down trees to conquer the planet and we won’t stop here.
It’s not the data, it’s what governments and corporations can do with the data, and how to protect it from malicious parties.
Asperger’s and the failure of the educational system |
| December 28th, 2013 under Life, rengolin, World. [ Comments: none ]
Asperger’s Syndrome (more info), a condition within the Autism spectrum where social awareness is lacking, but communication skills are not affected much, is a topic floating around our house for a few years. After many ups and downs, our son has finally been diagnosed with it, and the rest of the family will need serious checking, too.
That has brought us many explanations to most of our problems at work and school, and got me thinking on many of the issues I found illogical in the educational system, but always though it was my fault for not adapting to it. Now, the more I think, the more I realise that any system that base teaching on the average child is, to say the least, mediocre.
On a large scale, children (and adults), range from very low to very high skills in many areas, from IQ, to social, to artistic or empathic skills. With so many different dimensions, and so many scales focused on defining people for what they are, and so many different types of peoples around, trying to create the imaginary “average child” to educate is a folly quest. But a lot more serious than folly, is the quest to force different children to accommodate to that imaginary average and brutalise them when they don’t. There is a name for it: bullying.
Schools are well known for not caring much for the “lesser minds“, since they don’t contribute much to the scoring system, under disability Acts, they’re free to refer those problematic children to special schools, where they will be marginalised and receive funding from the government for the rest of their lives, even though, if thought well, they could perfectly have a decent living by themselves.
But the brightest children are also in peril, for they do contribute to scoring, and in a positive way. They’re sought after by schools that have no idea on how to educate those children. With the failure to understand their advanced needs, those kids become repugnant braggarts. Even though they can go beyond on arts, maths or science, most of them lack any social skills or, for the very definition of “special“, fail miserably to conform to the “average child” norm.
The expectation that special children have the same traits as average children, plus a few special skills, is idiotic, and I’m really surprised that this has passed in so many countries and educational systems as the norm to be followed, and imposed. It shows that whomever is dealing with educating the brightest minds are not brightest minds themselves. It’s the same as giving the job to rehabilitate petty criminals to serial killers.
The very notion of scoring system is at the core of the standardisation of the human race.
Each group in society has a different take on what’s important for their cohesion. Some rely on competition and selfish behaviour to keep the capitalism alive and kicking, others rely on knowledge and logical thinking to progress science, and so on. This diversity is paramount to define the human race as a multi-cultural species, where every aspect of it is as valuable as every other.
The notion of a National Curriculum is a good one, since even the most artistic ones have to be able to add up at the grocery store, and the brightest mathematicians should be able to plat instruments, if they so chose. But what happens in most schools, and certainly in all public schools we’ve been in England, so far, it’s that they treat the curriculum as a golden standard, and don’t even attempt to go beyond.
The same way when you’re speeding on the road, and the policeman stop you and say “The speed limit is a limit, not a guideline”, the National Curriculum is a minimum, not a guideline. It means that, if you’re not teaching at least that, you should not be called a “school” to begin with. But it also means that you should go beyond, at least for the children that have the capacity to follow.
No child will follow on every category, so you need to know what each child can do on each extra topic. That also means that, while the least able children will have at least the National Curriculum, the average children will have more in different areas, and the only difference between the average and the above-average children is the amount of extra subjects and topics they learn. It’s that simple.
But for it to be that simple, the way exams work have to change completely. Exams today don’t test for what a child knows or have learnt, but it tests for what they are able to memorise in a short term, or how effectively they can guess, or how efficiently they can cheat.
Take, for example, the SAT tests, which are the exams taken by all children between primary and secondary schools. The format here is to fill the blanks. It’s a lot better than multiple choice, even though there are many questions in it that are multiple choice there, but it’s not testing the ability of children to think at all.
It is true that average children will have to think to answer those questions. It is also true that average children will have to have learnt that in the first place by listening and memorising the concepts, but not necessarily understood why they’re like that. There seems to be no questions about why the universe behaves in that way, or why I can solve the same mathematical problem in different ways and still get the same results.
But the biggest failure is that the tests are standardised to the National Curriculum, and standardised to what an ideal average child will be able to understand and answer from her memory. In the age of the technological revolution, we have to ask ourselves if this is the right way forward.
Do we want to continue forcing people to follow averages, if we want humans to be a better species? Do we need more average people doing specialised work? Isn’t our technological level ready for a de-centralised, de-normalised learning experience, which will fare a lot better on all non-average children in the world (ie. all children), and allow better matching to their own skills, desires and abilities?
One such way would be to have more meaningful questions, with non-obvious answer, and software to analyse them. So, instead of drawing the circulatory system and asking children to fill the lines pointing to organs with names, ask them to describe how the blood circulates inside the body. True, natural language processing is still not there yet, but there are a number of different ways to ask questions and make sure that the answer will be simple enough to be dealt with simple regular expressions or state machines that, in context, will be limited to only a number of valid answers.
Each answer will lead to different following questions, based on the answer, and each new step will take you towards harder or easier questions, or more specific to one topic or another. Recording the paths for each child will also tell you what are the missing knowledge in each child, and what topics the teachers have to cover more in depth, in general.
Personalised learning per se is not optimal, as I have seen myself with the Khan academy and programming books. My son could easily write new programs, and they would certainly work, but he couldn’t explain to me why. It was only when I intervene that he starting to understand why, but the attitude remains: he won’t need to understand why while questions, exams and results are measured by multiple choice, filling the blanks or guessing the answer.
Among intelligent people, those with Asperger’s have a serious disadvantage: as with other types of Autism, they can pattern match instinctively, and come up with accurate results without knowing how they did it. During primary school this is a huge advantage, since all questions are too silly to matter, but as you progress to secondary school (or worse, if you have a perfectionist father), you’ll have more and more difficulties in answering the questions that really matter: why?
Knowing “why” is fundamental because of reproducibility. Science is all about method. Mathematics is only consistent because it has a single method. Science follow suite, and is only consistent because it’s based on maths. This consistency comes in the form of reproducibility. If you can describe your method, and others can follow, than you have a proof, or a theory. Otherwise, it’s pseudo-science, or religion.
If one wants to answer questions, not just get them right on average, one wants to understand why certain method works, on which cases, with which constraints. If you spent your whole (short) life guessing and getting accurate answers (not necessarily correct ones), and if all the school cares is to be reasonably correct, than you’ll think you’re a genius (the school will, too), and you won’t learn how to think until it’s too late.
Since schools don’t even try to understand the differences between the learning process of children, they never spot this in any child. We only got an early warning from one of the head teachers (the best, so far, at Queen Edith’s), because of behaviour issues, not learning problems. They were simply unaware that our son would not even know why he was right. This is very similar to what expert computer systems can do, and we don’t consider them to be intelligent.
Recently, I took matters into my own hands and am teaching both my kids to think. I don’t care what answer they give me, I want to know why they think that’s the answer. I want explanations, not step-by-step equation solving that can be easily memorised, I want them to tell me why they can apply that step in solving that equation. Why do they think that stars are hotter than planets, why can’t you send messages faster than the speed of light, even with entanglement. Why is what really matters, and that’s the least worry in all schools I’ve ever been, or have ever seen.
Time for a change
Until we manage to find a way to ask why, and get meaningful and measurable answers from our children, we’ll still be in the stone ages. All the progress that we think we’ve made since the wheel is but a fleck on what we can achieve. People that assume our understanding as complete, or even good enough are idiots and should not be given any level of control over our society.
Next time you vote, ask your candidate why, and be ready to change candidates if they don’t understand, or can’t answer the question. You’ll see, like Russel Brand did, that you’ll end up without a candidate.
We need to change how we think, and the question of this century is why?. Ask your kids every day, why. Don’t let them ask why if they can’t answer why. Every day, wake up, look at yourself in the mirror and ask…
Second language curse |
| December 9th, 2013 under Fun, Life, rengolin. [ Comments: none ]
I count myself privileged of being proficient in a second language (English), which has helped me learn other languages and have a more elastic mind towards different concepts in life. But there is a curse that I just found out, and it turned out to be significant.
For a few years I realised that I was signing my emails with the wrong name: “reanto” instead of “renato“. And since I sign manually all my emails (and I send many emails a day), I could get a true sense of the problem. In the last year or so, the problem got a lot worse, and now I can’t sign my own emails any more without erasing “reanto” and re-writing “renato” almost every time.
Now, misspelling English words (even when you do know the correct spelling) is ok, since I haven’t started typing when we moved to England, far from it. Misspelling Portuguese words is also ok, because the contact with a new language will bring new sounds, and some uncertainty on how to spell a native word will arise after a few years without much contact with it. But misspelling your own name?! That’s a whole new class of fail.
Today it occurred to me that the reason for that might very well be the same as the rest, after all my name is just another word that I know how to spell. And, it turns out that, in the English language, “an” is the 5th most common digraph, while “na” doesn’t even register!
So, the frequency which I write the digraphs (and trigraphs) in English are shaping my ability to write my own name. Much the same as the problems that my native language have when I write English, for instance, I have to delete the “e” at the end of many words like “frequent“, as it seems to come before I even think about it.
While writing this small post, the browser’s spell checker has fixed my misspellings (including the previous word) many times, and forcing me to not have the checker bug me, has also forced me to misspell my own name.
The brain is a weird thing…
Game Theory and the fate of a generation |
| May 24th, 2013 under Life, rengolin. [ Comments: none ]
An interesting though came up via Bruce Schneier’s blog that got me thinking, and having trouble educating my pre-teen child, that thought grew on me and now many of his behaviours can be explained by the inability of spotting which game to play in real life.
When I finally had this same conversation with him, a whole model of how much of a failure our society is becoming, appeared clear as day for both of us!
What games do we play?
First, a crash course on game theory, you can skip this part if you already know. Basically, a game is played between two players who can take decisions based on what they think the other player will do, and points are given whether you cooperate or not in conjunction with the other players cooperation or not. For example, if both cooperate, both get 5 points. If one cooperates and the other doesn’t, the cheater gets 7 points and the looser gets 0. If they’re both cheaters, both get 1 point.
Well, since you have no idea what the other will choose, there’s 50% chance that the other player will cooperate and 50% that she will not. If you choose to cooperate, you have 50% chance of getting 5 points and 50% of getting zero. If you don’t, it’s 50% 7 points and 50% 1 point.
Clearly, if you play the game only once, cheating is the answer. There is no reason not to cheat. However, if you’ll have to play the same game with the same player more than once, possibly your whole life, than, well, cheating tires quickly. If you cheat now, the other player will cheat next, and both of you will remain cheating forever, since you know that if you don’t, by definition, you’ll get 0 points and she will get 7. We call this a stable solution, once you get there, there’s no coming back.
However, if both cooperate, both get 5, and as long as you both cooperate, you’ll always get 5. Sure, it’s not as profitable as 7, but it’s close enough. But as soon as one cheats, the other will feel betrayed, and will cheat. We call this an unstable solution. It demands trust on the other player, and as soon as the trust is broken, it’ll be very hard to regain it.
If that made you think about how life treats you, it’s no coincidence. John Nash used that language to describe reality, and he could clearly see reality like better than most of us. When John Nash says that “life is a game”, he truly means it, and he came up with the mathematical notation to prove it, and studied it to great length.
In the beginning, there was pong. Pong was simple and fun. Then, the explosion of video games in the 80’s brought a lot of easy and hard games, but in almost all of them you had to work hard to get the prize. Some of then didn’t even had a prize, it was just an infinite number of repetitions, faster and faster, and the real competition was among the players, who got the best score.
The real game, however, was not on the screen, was on the player’s brain. Those games have conditioned people that there is a prize, and there is a task, and they are related. If they perform the task better than a certain threshold, the prize is bronze/silver/gold. It feels really good to get a prize, and that way of making people feel good (or bad) was found a century ago by Ivan Pavlov.
But video games is as much Pavlovian as street games. They’re as innocent and as powerful as any Olympic game on the minds of people. Video games use a different part of the body, the brain, and for that it was much more popular amongst nerds than sporty types. They had found a niche, at least before the 90’s arrived, when a boom of consoles, PCs and 3D graphics made video games mainstream, with every house having at least one type of video game.
That boom had little change in the shape of how the games were teaching children about the world. There was still a task, a reward, and some work to do. Even though, by the end of the day, any task you performed during the game was worthless in real life, what you learnt, that is that you need to perform a task well enough to get a prize, and that the prize is proportional to the hard work you put in, was learnt for life.
Enter the era of social gaming. Zynga and other Facebook games were made not to entertain, or to give prizes for specific tasks, but to reward the most socially active player. All that, of course, in order to give Facebook a boost in user numbers (and Zynga a boost in fake value), but that not only changed how games were played, but it changed the lessons that we learnt from them.
On a social game, since the objective is to share more than others, you’ll get things for free to share with your friends, who would also get free stuff to share with you. It means that, whoever got the most “friends”, got most free stuff, and progressed faster and longer in the game. What it’s teaching you is that you don’t need to work hard for something, you just need to convince people to give you for free, or even worse, you just need to wait to get it, because it’s the player’s right to receive.
Now, what children are learning with these games is that they don’t need to work hard for anything, because they have the right to be happy, the right to be fed, the right to be given jobs, or be subsided by the government.
If that sounds a lot like reality, well, welcome to the brave new world!
So, we know how powerful Facebook is, and much of that came from the games section at the beginning, that forced people to spend more time on Facebook than on real life, and now it’s just an addiction that they cannot get free. The reason why it’s an addiction is the very same why Heroine is an addiction.
Whenever you use a psychotropic drug, your brain goes to a state that is not real. Whatever you feel, whatever you see is not real. You can see good things, or bad things, and that will change how your addiction will continue, but some drugs are more powerful that that. For instance, tobacco changes the concentration that your brain and peripheral nervous system respond to neurotransmitters, and that’s because nicotine is a joker in the land of neurotransmitters. It can trigger more than half of the different types of receptors in your body. Whenever you lower that concentration (by abstaining), your body doesn’t react like you would want, and you have withdraw, which compels you to smoke again.
Most drugs have the same effect, including easy over-rewarding video games. Note that not all video games act like drugs, it’s just the specific class of games where you get more than what you deserve for the amount of work you put in. And that’s the same kind of addiction that people have with films, series, books and anything that will take you away from the harsh reality into a land of dreams where you are more than you can actually accomplish (super hero) or you have accomplished more than you actually worked for it (fantasy and feel-good stories).
The crucial bit here is that, going back to reality is hard, painful and has a deep feeling of loss, since all the “hard work” you put during the game/film/book is gone and worthless. That feeling puts you into a dilemma: now that you lost a lot of time in reality that you could be doing something useful, while other people are already harvesting the fruits of their own works (a younger child playing piano or solving puzzles you cannot), you’ll have to work much harder to achieve the same level. Whereas, if you go back to the game, you’ll get instant satisfaction with very little effort. If you have no responsibilities in your life, the choice is easy.
This creates a conflict with the parents because, not only they had to work hard for upbringing their children on the best environment possible, but they’re also seeing their children wast their time on a false reality while not understanding why the parent’s reality is so different from their own.
I played video games since I was very young and still play them constantly, but I simply cannot play social games. They feel wrong, false and demeaning of the very hard work that I learnt as a kid to foster. Moreover, they remind me of the kind of society we live today where children can’t fail.
For example, in Brazil, not enough people were reaching universities because they would fail so many times that they’d drop school and never bother. How do you fix this? Simple, make a law where kids younger than 10 cannot fail. Ever. Well, surprise, they reached 10 without being able to read or write, and that’s the state’s fault, so how do you fix this? Even simpler, pass a law where kids under 15 cannot fail. You get the idea.
This over protection that schools have on kids, society trying to avoid the problems of growing up and taking responsibility until very late, is possibly responsible for the increase in criminality of the new youth and the will of some people to reduce the criminal age to 16. It’s not hard to see that, again, that solution is only going to make things worse by treating children like adults without given them a chance to understand adulthood before it’s too late.
Game playing society
Since social gaming became so mainstream a few years ago, people started noticing how to use that for benefit and profit. Real life games, like fourSquare give you prizes for over-consumption, on the grounds that sharing your personal information is worthless for you, but not for them. Games where you feel you’re giving a worthless commodity (your privacy) for big rewards (a cup of coffee) but in reality the companies are getting the real profit (your private information) is where our society is leading and it doesn’t seem to bother many people.
We are already brainwashed to believe that sharing personal emails with Google is ok, as long as they keep the servers up. We put our credit card numbers on Amazon for the comfort of not having to type them so often on the trust that they will protect your data as if it was their own. We already believe that the cloud is the best place to store your photos, documents and music. While all of that looks free to you, it’s far from. It’s all a game, where you are being cheated while willingly cooperating, but they keep your profit positive (albeit small), so that you feel valued.
We already let our guard down, we’re living in that fantasy where we don’t have to work hard for anything, convinced ourselves that the profit is ours and in this fantasy world, we’re great. Easy pray to an ever relaxing predators. Maybe that will be the end of them… I hope.
Playing the wrong game
Now we pause to go back to the main theme: why people play a one-off game when they should actually play a rolling game?
100 years ago, justice wasn’t very just. Judge and executioner were often the same person, and people paid a lot more than they should for crimes that they may have not even committed. But as bad as it was, that taught a lesson to most people that the odds of cheating weren’t that great. The price was too high, and they’d see it far too often.
Years pass, people agree that totalitarian regimes are not nice and we come with democracy, republics and other less radical governments. Now, people have rights, inalienable and universal. Governments have to protect people, and people can now be what they want, follow their dreams and collect the fruits of their hard work. And the more educated people get, the more they realise they can get more rights.
In itself, having rights is the right thing to do (pun intended), but there has to be a balance, and the balance is the social interactions. Your rights are the same as everyone else, and you can’t just do what you “want”, but what you have the right to do. Well, clever people can turn those concepts around and they will cheat, and they will profit. Because they have to be protected by law, they will find ways of abusing the system short of breaking the law. If they get caught, the price is high, but since they have more rights than duties, and since justice is less impressive (but more just) nowadays, the feeling of cost and profits are skewed, so people cheat more often that they would if thinking straight.
We can’t have the concept of born rights without having the concept of born duties. You have the right to education, but you also have the duty to follow it through, no matter how hard it seems. It’s the teachers’ duty to do their best to make it more efficient (not easier), but it’s also their right to chose what they think it’s best for the kids. If rights and duty don’t go hand-in-hand, you get a lazy generation that thinks other people have to do whatever they want. Today, children will think that of their parents, what about tomorrow? Will they expect that their children will have to work for them? Or their brothers? It doesn’t add up. They’re not playing a rolling game, but a one-off one.
When you thrown the over-rewarding games into the mix, you get kids learning that they can just be lazy and the world will fix it for them while they get cheap happiness on their tablets. They’re cheating the system that protects them until they turn 18 when the system will just abandon them, and the hard reality will hit them in the face with no preparedness and no warning. Some survive, some don’t. Would you take a chance with your children?
Anarchy and Science |
| July 16th, 2012 under Life, Politics, rengolin, Science, World. [ Comments: none ]
If the world needed more proof that rational thinking is off the menu when concerning humans, we now have a so-called anarchist group attacking science. Bombs, shootings and sabotage, with one single goal: to stop science destroying our lives once and for all.
If you didn’t get it, you’re not alone. I’m still trying to understand the whole issue, but the more I read, the more I’m sure it’s just humanity reaching record levels of stupidity. Again.
First of all, the actions don’t make sense in the realms of anarchy. For ages, anarchism has been a non-violent banner. The anarchist is not tame, but a pacifist. Anarchists fight for freedom of everything, mainly from violence and oppression. Since every state, no matter controlled by whom, is oppressive, anarchists fight the very existence of any central form of coercion.
Bakunin once wrote:
“But the people will feel no better if the stick with which they are being beaten is labeled ‘the people’s stick’.” (Statism and Anarchy )
This clearly means governments that base their choice on the people, such as democracies. For an anarchist, a democracy is as bad as dictatorship, as even in its purest form, it imposes the will of the average citizen onto the majority of the population. (If you thought it was the other way around, you clearly don’t understand democracy!).
In essence, anarchy is all about a long and non-violent migration to the total lack of central government, leaving the people (organised in local communities) to decide what’s best for themselves. If that works or not on a global level, I don’t know. But two key words pop out: non-violent and lack of central power.
In Peter Kropotkin’s own words:
Anarchism is a world-concept based upon a mechanical explanation of all phenomena, embracing the whole of Nature–that is, including in it the life of human societies and their economic, political, and moral problems. Its method of investigation is that of the exact natural sciences, by which every scientific conclusion must be verified. Its aim is to construct a synthetic philosophy comprehending in one generalization all the phenomena of Nature–and therefore also the life of societies (…) [source]
Thus anarchy, as science, is the art of finding the best answer by an iterative and non-violent method, without centralised powers dictating what the answer should be, but finding the answers by experimentation and verification, where everyone should come to the same conclusions.
Science has no central power and doesn’t provide support to any government or controlling body. There isn’t any scientist or organization in the world, nor ever has, that can dictate what scientists believe or can prove. The scientific method is the most democratic method of all, where every one can repeat the same experiments and reach the same results, otherwise the hypothesis is plain wrong, and there is nothing anyone can do to force it to be true.
Science has been used by governments to impose lifestyles, borders and general ignorance, yes. Science has been used to develop unfathomably powerful bombs, yes. And used over and over again to control and dominate countries and continents, yes. But that was never a merit of science, but of governments. Every major blame on science is, actually, the people. Describing how science has made our lives better, would be boring and redundant.
If some scientists are idiots, it doesn’t mean the whole science is. If governments abuse of the power, and science provide that power, it doesn’t mean science is to blame, but governments. If some bishops should burn in hell, it doesn’t mean religion is to blame, but what people make of it. The climate change fiasco, the US national health program criticisms and the whole “God Particle” boom in recent religious people has shown that people are still complete ignorants and prejudicial when evaluating external information.
Pen and paper have been much more harmful to the world than science, and over a much longer period. Pride and honour have wiped out entire civilizations for millennia, well before science was such embedded in our culture. Barons, kings and presidents don’t need science to destroy our lives, but it just happen to be available.
So, science and anarchy have two major points in common: non-violence and the lack of centralised government. Why on Earth would an anarchist group gratuitously attack scientists? Because they are not anarchists, they are just idiots. I truly hope this is an isolated incident. If anarchists of the world lose their minds like these ones, the only hope for humanity (in the long term) will be lost, and there will be no return.
Anarchist science policy
Declaration of Internet Freedom |
| July 3rd, 2012 under Digital Rights, Life, Media, Politics, rengolin, rvincoletto, World. [ Comments: 1 ]
We stand for a free and open Internet.
We support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet policy and the establishment of five basic principles:
- Expression: Don’t censor the Internet.
- Access: Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks.
- Openness: Keep the Internet an open network where everyone is free to connect, communicate, write, read, watch, speak, listen, learn, create and innovate.
- Innovation: Protect the freedom to innovate and create without permission. Don’t block new technologies, and don’t punish innovators for their users’ actions.
- Privacy: Protect privacy and defend everyone’s ability to control how their data and devices are used.
Don’t get it? You should be more informed on the power of the internet and what governments around the world have been doing to it.
Good starting places are: Avaaz, Ars Technica, Electronic Frontier Foundation, End Software Patents, Piratpartiet and the excellent Case for Copyright Reform.
| April 25th, 2012 under Life, rengolin. [ Comments: none ]
It’s funny to see how people judge events to be unnatural without any basis, or even defining the word natural. In its most basic meaning, natural is something that happens in nature, excluding any man-made achievements. For some reason, we like to think of ourselves as living outside nature, which beats me. We also have the super-natural, which are the things we can’t explain.
For us humans, being outside of nature, has a strong powerful feeling of superiority. We learnt to protect ourselves from the rain, and with time, we managed to protect ourselves from tsunamis. This feeling of loosing battles but winning the war has powerful consequences on the mind of men. This superiority, though, is a fake feeling of safety, since nature (aka. non-humans) always play neutral, and humans always play harsh. If nature had feelings (Gaia and other non-sense), we’d be doomed.
That puts us in three categories, according to a human eye: what’s below us (nature), us, and what above us (our myths and technologically advanced aliens). This relation is far from correct, but that doesn’t stop us seeing the universe with these eyes, and most importantly, basing our beliefs on it. Most original religions put nature on top of men, like Norse, Greek, Roman and indigenous mythology. But, in the eyes of science and technology (even well before Christ) that has changed, substantially.
Single-God based religions put men on top of nature. That thought would be impossible to conceive for pre-historic cultures, but with the advent of technology, humans started feeling superior, super-natural. But there were still things they couldn’t explain, so instead of removing religion altogether, they just removed themselves from nature. That common sense is what made religions evolve from the native form to the super-human form, where God made men, and only men, on its own image. The most obvious form for God to take, then, was the human form.
With time, men learnt the power of its own creation. Religion was used to destroy entire civilizations, many times over. More recently, however, with the greater separation between state and religion, it became unfashionable to blame horrendous crimes on religion alone, so the role of religion changed from the main cause, to a role model. If you can’t tell God made you kill that entire village, you can say that God teaches us that what they do is wrong, so wrong, that they deserve to die. Problem solved.
But more importantly, and with the advance of atheism (reaching up to 10% of the population, according to New Scientist), especially in key positions of the world (rule-makers, money-makers), religion had to change its form and take a whole new meaning to people. I’m an atheist, I can’t say I’d do anything for God, but I can say I’d save a child from starvation. So, religion or not, people are still willing to go to extreme lengths to do something right. All you need to do is to define what’s right and wrong, no matter what religion (if any) you follow.
It’s fun to blame wars on religion, but that’s not the point. Never was. Einstein worked on nuclear physics in the US knowing the government would use that to make atomic bombs, and he still did it. Would it be worse doing it for the Germans? Maybe. Ultimately, our behaviour, with or without religion, has to do with what we evolved to do: fight. And fighting is not about striking first, but calculating the risks.
There is a theory, which I like very much, is that this transition in religion happened for socio-political reasons. Not just control over people, but advice and care that wouldn’t otherwise reach remote places. Like the bans on pork meat for the Jews, during times were it was generally unsafe to eat it anyway (still is). Or tales about how people in a immoral city burned to death. I try very hard to teach my son about moral issues, but nothing is as powerful as “burned to death”. I end up doing some extrapolations, nothing of that sort, but I see the power in it, and for that, it served its purpose very well.
As modernised as religions got during the last centuries, most of them still have things of the past that they can’t loose, no matter how weird it sounds. Catholics sill trying to convince people against contraception, Jews still having to eat food blessed by a rabbi, Muslims still having to wear burqa and stone their women, and so on. Different people will read this and laugh at different parts, but each one accepts their own prejudices as if it was the obvious truth.
When I was a boy I got beaten by my friends (yes, friends) because I said I didn’t believe in God. I must have said something like “for me, Jesus is just like any other guy.”, for three or four friends, of different Christian factions, to beat me up and sent me home bleeding. Normally, the universal bullying is to say “your mother is like…”, but if any of them had said: “your mother is like any other gal”, I would have said, “yeah, ok, your point is?”. But in this case, it hit a deeper and irrational feeling in all of them, at the same time. It was as fast as instinct.
Most religion will say out loud that homosexuality is down right wrong. Simple as that. What they won’t do is to explain why. Unlike most other fears and prejudices, I cannot fathom where on Earth did they get that from.
It’s not like it doesn’t happen on nature, plenty of animals have homosexual relationships. Some of them even change sex during their lifetime to re-balance the population. But if a human being do it, it’s unnatural.
It’s not like it never happened in human history. Old civilizations are full of homosexuality, soldiers being encouraged to love each other so they could perform better in battle in Roman and Greek times, and since then there is a rich history of same-sex relationships throughout European history that would make anyone blush.
It’s not like it’s going to change the world or anything. Men and women still have sex, and well, we’ve passed the 7bi people mark years ago! If anything, we should encourage homosexuality, as birth control, much more effective than abstinence.
There isn’t any context that I can think of where it would be unnatural. Both in the sense of not happening in nature, or not happening to humanity. Where does it come from? Can anyone explain to me, even with religious arguments (other than God doesn’t like it)? I truly need to know this one.
But it’s not all about loosing old stupid taboos, it’s also about creating new ones. Today it seems natural to not enslave the population of a village, or to allow women to vote. It’s also impossible to think about paedophilia without turning your stomach inside out. But that was not always like this. Greek society was perfect because there was a huge number of slaves outside of society to keep it going. Women were rarely allowed to rule or even express their opinions, and as to child-adult relationship, well, it depends on what you consider to be a child. If 14 years old is a child for you, well, they got married (with full status) much earlier than that not too long ago.
Even more recent, it seems that the world is changing a lot on labour laws, making it very hard for companies to sack incompetent employees, or to refuse a job applicant with fear to be discriminating a growing list of minorities. It seems that the majority of people belong to at least one minority group. For instance, I changed countries, moved to England, and here I’m a foreigner. We’re far from minority, especially in England, but people still take great care when talking around me not to offend me.
That would never have happened during Roman times. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right? Well, not here. In England, you’re allowed to ride motorcycles without a helmet if you’re using a turban for religious purposes. In Scotland, the police apologised for taking a picture of a dog puppy on top of a police hat (cute picture, actually) to promote their new phone number because that offended a few Muslims.
Paedophilia is another interesting topic, and one that shows that taboos can grow to unimaginable power in just a few years. It is possible today to be arrested on your 18th birthday because your girlfriend is 17. Not that it happens often, but if her father is a radical, and where he lives is radical (say, Texas), then, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did happen.
I wonder if we should add these taboos to the bible and the quran. That would make it easier to force the whole world to follow these simple, but important moral guidelines, even when some countries’ legislations say otherwise. It’s also easier to write a story to illustrate, and later extrapolate from it, than come up with a set of definite rules about something. For instance, if you have two stories: one that tells the tale of John, who was crucified for having intercourse with a 14 y.o. girl, and another of a young brave men that was absolved for having a 17 years old girlfriend, but just because he was 18. Each religion will extrapolate slightly different, but all of them will punish paedophiles and none of them will be allowed to punish the 18 y.o. boy. Simple, efficient.
It may be cynic, but in my concept, everything is natural. There are good things, and bad things (depending on your point of view), but bad things are also natural. There’s nothing more natural than death. Even Wikipedia seems to be at a lost on defining unnatural.
As Arthur C. Clarke put so eloquently: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic“. Magic, super-natural and deities are all different views of what’s too complicated for our pitiful minds, but still nonetheless, natural.
The act of defining what is natural is an act of prejudice. Is to separate what I like from what I don’t. What’s like me from what’s not. Is life what breathes? Or what photosynthesise? Or what reproduces? Or what is capable of intelligence? It might be just as well something so radically different to what I’m used to that I can’t even comprehend, much less name it.
What we call Nature is, actually, just a very tiny subset of the Universe, which, according to the most recent theories in cosmology, it just a tiny subset of whatever’s beyond it. Nature is a very anthropocentric concept, one that we grab so strongly, and restrict it to our needs so irrationally, that it becomes meaningless.
Unfortunately, that behaviour is absolutely natural. If we weren’t selfish, fighters and a bit stupid, we wouldn’t have survived. That’s nature at its most basic form. And the fun part is that we’re not destroying Nature, or our planet. We’re destroying ourselves (and a few other life forms as a side-effect). Nature, or the Universe, or the Multiverse, will linger.
My conclusion is simple: stop using the word natural, or moral, or good. Use “I agree“, or “I like“. It’s much more sensate, correct and a lot less likely to create prejudice.
In the future… |
| February 17th, 2012 under Corporate, Life, Politics, rengolin, World. [ Comments: 1 ]
In the future, people will be able to project three-dimensional films using holograms. These holograms could be placed among us, rather than at a stage, to give us a much better sense of reality and emotions than it is possible on a theatre or cinema.
When this technique gets common place, it’ll be possible to use it in the classroom. Actors would re-enact events in history, and children will be able to live the moment, rather than just listening to stories. The teachers, then, will have a much more fundamental role in teaching. They will comment on what’s happening, rather than merely serve as a narrator.
Holographic teaching has numerous advantages. Seeing the streets of London in 1666 on fire, running for your life is much more vivid than just chalk traces on a blackboard. Seeing Jews suffering on German camps, being a Jew on a German camp (minus the physical harm, of course), gives us a much better tool to avoid this in the future, and to do it to other people.
In the future, children will be able to live the credit crunch, the Syrian civil war, how the international community helped, and provoked, several conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. How people in the poorest parts of this world live without clean water or food, and how their parents die of unimaginable diseases and it falls on them the responsibility of raising a family, by the age of 4.
Children won’t be listeners, any more, they’ll live the moment, feel the pain, and learn that this is not acceptable, under any circumstances, for any living bean: Humans, animals, aliens.
However, you don’t have to wait for that glorious future to fix society. If things continue how they are, it is very likely that this future will never come to pass. If there is one constant in human history is the force of self-destruction. The more humans we have (we passed the 7bi barrier long ago), the stronger this force is.
There are several ways any of us can help save the world. The single most important you can do is to teach your children that ruthless selfish behaviour is not accepted, that the ends don’t justify the means, and that people deserve freedom to live and think for their own. Other things involve going to the most affected areas and work to revamp those cultures (not just bring food and water), help re-structure their governments (on their own terms) and work with your own government to stop invasive manoeuvres and third-party destructions for their own benefits.
A simple start is to help Avaaz. They do most of the bureaucracy, they go into the countries, they empower people, they turn rogue legislations around and, more importantly, they warn you before it’s too late.
Signing to their mailing list will give you a much better view of the world. You don’t have to donate money to help, just by signing the petitions, showing you care, is already a good start. The best part is that they will always ask you what’s the next step. How much effort they have to spend on this or that, and how much (and which) technology they have to develop to help their – our – cause.
I’m following Avaaz for a few years now, probably since its foundation, and I have to say that, not only they surpassed my expectations on what they could do with the world, but also on clarity, openness and use of technology and resources. They’re not a charity, they’re an activist group, and a very good one at that. If you were looking for something to support to help change the world, Avaaz is a great start.
« Previous entries