I Believe – A much needed criticism about the IB Diploma

The future looks bleak; jobs are ever decreasing and like with any other ailment, people are wishing to vaccinate themselves against this eerie misfortune. As such, this fear has brought about the existence of snake oil peddlers. “Try this school programme…” they say “…if you try it, it will open the door to any university you wish to enter.” Of course this is utter rubbish, but at the time those sweet honeyed words will charm you into continuing to hear their sales pitch.  They’ll then go on to say that this programme is unlike any other, because supposedly those that are in it are not only intellectually challenged, but rationality and free inquiry is actively encouraged. This seems too good to be true, so naturally you go in – even naively thinking that the bloated price tag will be worth it in the end.  I am one of the many thousands of students around the globe who underwent this disagreeable system for two years, and I’d like to issue all who read this a warning -if you have any other viable option, please do not take the International Baccalaureate (IB).

The IB is usually hailed as some sort of saviour of the educational system, there’s little to no legitimate criticism of it on the web. I searched for such arguments in vain, in some sort of ill conceived attempt to make myself feel better, when I was desperately trying to muck through it, but the only things that I found that criticised the IB in any serious manner are pages such as these, which brand it as unpatriotic, antireligious and similar farfetched ideas. The IB is far from being any of these; practically no such criticism is warranted.  There’s plenty which the IB does right, and some things that should even be adopted by schools everywhere. Even so, there are a substantial amount of things that are wrong with the programme, it’s far from being the saviour of education some say it is, and at most it’s a flash in the pan.

In one way or another, all areas of the IB need to be revamped. The overarching criticism I have about the diploma as a whole is the subjective grading system which is inherent in most subjects. Supposedly, the methodology used as a whole is designed to mitigate biases of any sort by implementing a clear grading methodology. In theory, this mark scheme provides all tutors a clear criterion which they must follow to have standardized testing. The reality is quite different; the criteria are so vague that they turn out to be useless.  For example, to get the most points out of an essay, or examination response, the mark scheme might say something along the lines of “the candidate uses the argument in an effective or convincing manner,” to a certain point one might concede that someone has an effective argument even if they don’t concur. However, past that point, very few people will agree that the argument is “effective,” if they don’t agree with it themselves. So in the end, your grade might represent to what extent the examiner was in agreement with you, not the actual coherency of your arguments.

50% is luck, heck it almost sounds that you'd have better odds at gambling

An IB graduate discussing on a well known student forum what he needed to get the best possible grade in the system (Click it to expand)

Besides that, your actual knowledge of the subject might play a secondary role to achieving high grades. The programme is filled with senseless bureaucracy to such an extent that even official IB examiners will say that knowledge may be secondary when trying to achieve high grades:

“Test taking methodology can increase a student’s scores by up to 25%. It’s not a question of knowing the content but ensuring that you approach the exam correctly” – Dr James Mulli a former IB examiner (at the  25:26 minutes mark)

As one can infer from this, the International Baccalaureate is not as open to discussion as one is initially led to believe. Not only that, but the sales pitch admissions officers make about universities accepting you with open arms once you’ve taken the IB, is practically pure deceit.  Yes, it’s true that universities in the world sometimes value the programme over the home-grown ones; but they also never mention that most universities favour or ask for certain courses when you apply. In other words, the diploma you take might not even help you get into a good university, as they might not be interested in the courses you were forced to take, simply because the school didn’t have any others on offer – a fact which they happen to not mention when you’re signing up to the programme.

This brings about the issue about changing schools. Initially, this curriculum was designed to help diplomats and the sort give their children a full education even though they were prone to move around the world. Consequently, you should be able to receive the same level of education regardless of whether you’re in Singapore, China, France, The USA, or wherever. The truth of the matter is much more chaotic, even transferring schools in the same city is quite a hassle. I had the misfortune of meeting a teacher who threatened me by saying that regardless of however well I actually did in the examinations, she would see to it that I would fail wherever she had a say in the matter. Not wanting to verify whether her threats were genuine, I decided that putting as much distance between her and myself was the best course of action. So I ended up transferring to a different campus of the same school. Even so, by sheer luck , I had picked the same courses they offered over there; had I picked any other subjects on offer in my original campus, I wouldn’t have been able to change without severe repercussions in regards to grades, because I would’ve lost an entire year of study and I’d have to restart in a completely new subject. In any case, I didn’t leave unscathed as I still had to redo most of my schoolwork despite the fact that I had been taking the exact same subjects in both campuses; even though it was the same school and the same subject, they had different reading materials and projects so my work didn’t carry over. Mobility is thus, by any stretch of the word, not an argument for the IB.

Another point worth mentioning, which is usually included in the sales pitch of those that want to enthral you, is the inclusion of two subjects – Theory of Knowledge and CAS (Creativity, Action and Service). Supposedly, the addition of these subjects will make you a better person; the former allegedly has the goal of teaching you to think logically, the latter wants to promote activities which will promote personal growth. On paper both of these subjects look amazing, because they seem to allow you to really value the whole developmental process of learning. Nonetheless, they both fall into the pitfalls which we have been alluding to. Theory of Knowledge becomes nothing more than a platform were teachers can voice their own point of view, the curriculum doesn’t seem to be based on anything concrete, and class discussions that arise are heavily monitored under some sort of guise of political correctness. Not only that, but it actively seems to devalue scientific ideas, and the whole scientific process, by promoting backhanded dismissive comments like “You may have verifiable evidence, and you may be able to reproduce it under controlled environments. However you can only arrive at a theory, you can’t possibly know anything about the universe.” Consequently, because that sort of idea forms one of the central tenets of the subject, reason and feelings are put on equal footing, which is by no means a sensible stance both in the theoretical and the real world. As for CAS, you are forced to do an activity in a creative, sporty and social work field for 100 hours over a two year period. Firstly, not all activities of that ilk are applicable; and the criteria of which activities are accepted seems to be completely arbitrary and depends on the teacher in charge of overseeing the projects. Secondly, being forced to do any activity and write reports on them drains any legitimate interest you might otherwise have had for them. I strongly believe that the use of force is the worst motivator one can use to change a person’s values. CAS thus turns out to be a source of constant annoyance for most involved, as they are bullied to do things which they may absolutely detest, or otherwise they might not get the diploma at all.

At the end of it all, most people have no use for the programme. By itself, it offers few benefits compared to the toll it brings emotionally, financially, and in the time spent on pointless things. The programme itself is not difficult, if you’re willing to prostitute yourself to the mark scheme and merely parrot whatever the teacher is saying in most subjects. Because of this, I recommend not even attempting the system as it’s mostly a waste of resources for a stupid piece of paper, which usually has little practical value.

Nonetheless, I wish to stress that the system has potential. If it ever manages to arrange itself in a sensible manner, it might even become the saviour of education some people have very pre-emptively called it. As it is though, it’s a slow and agonizing process which makes you wish you were somewhere else for most of the time. I’m glad that this phase of my life is over, come what may I will never have to do the IB ever again.


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The Human Auction

Throughout your life there are always people who tell you that thinking outside the box is bad for your well-being. They’ll tell you that now is not the time to believe in things, or to question authority because to do so is suicide. By this point, however, you will have fought many battles and are probably weary of the whole ordeal. You’ll realize that for once they might actually be right, that to survive you must sacrifice certain principles. So you’ll agree, “just this once,” and they’ll present you the box you’ve been evading most of your life. At first something will strike you as odd about it, but you won’t be able to place your finger on what exactly it is. As such, you will then present your arms to dispose of, you’ll present your dignity, personality, convictions and beliefs. But then, as you are doing that, you notice the shape of the box. On closer inspection, you notice the markings on it and then it dawns on you that this is not an ordinary box but a coffin.

To succeed you are told that you should deposit every one of your “objectionable characteristics.” You then realize that to do so you’ll essentially sell your soul. You’ll become a prostitute selling yourself to the highest bidder. Not only that, but it is higher treason than that of an ordinary worker in the red light district. At least they sell the use of their body; their mind remains intact. It is with this dismay that I write this. I am at odds with life. For the last couple of months I’ve been trying to prostitute myself with full knowledge of the fact. I’ve been bribed with the idea of a brighter future but there is a part of me that simply cannot stand this. As a consequence of this, I cannot fully betray myself and receive the rewards of doing so, nor can I be my own man and face the consequences. I am but human and I too fear for my own well-being.

I cannot be the hero I’d like to be. I quiver at the thought of the consequences, but I cannot bring myself to destroy the person that I am. It is after all for its betterment for which I want to do it in the first place. Either way, it almost seems that in one way or another, I’ll have to mutilate myself to survive. I have to pay my debt, one pound of flesh – no more no less.


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From the Jihad to the Yeehaw

We’ve seen it time and time again, every time and every culture assumes villains for themselves. They come in all shapes and sizes but the tune they all play is pretty much the same. First, you cause a panic, be it intentional or it simply happened by chance. Regardless, you take some sort of event and portray it as the times to come if an action isn’t taken. Afterwards, this action will normally allow a group, with the appearance of some sort of plan, to swoop down and save the day – at the cost of fundamental rights, money, or time because after all: “desperate times call for desperate measures”, no?

In some cases this danger will be quite minuscule, or statistically improbable but nonetheless those in power (or those who want to assume power) will greatly exaggerate the risks if no action is taken. Take, for example, the witch hunt back in medieval ages. It has been calculated that around 150,000 people were processed in the existence of the Spanish Inquisition (the most brutal of them all) and in those 140 years about 2% of the people indicted were killed. As regrettable as the loss of life is, the time period isn’t quite as brutal as we first thought it was.

The same could be said in the case of terrorist activity. Now don’t get me wrong, terrorism is a real thing, it is a real danger to anyone who has the misfortune of being near an attack. Nonetheless, the dangers it poses to an average individual is virtually 0%. In fact, even if terrorists managed to pull off something like the Twin Towers each year you run a greater chance of dying in a car crash, being murdered, being burnt alive or falling from a great height and dying.

So, why is it that we are manipulated by such implausible events? Well, we can live with the dangers that average life poses because we’re used to them. However, when something new happens we lose our shit, because we simply don’t know how to react. Besides that, we also like to personify our dangers, as a result of this we have someone to blame for all our mishaps and it seems that there’s a grand chess-master which must be defeated with our collective effort. Once you give it a name, you’ve given it power because its no longer a random event but merely another event in a dastardly plan to destroy our values and culture.

In the Middle Ages it was Satan, every witch under the sun was copulating with the devil and actively taking orders from him; in the Soviet Union it was Trotsky who was behind the mishaps of the state; in Nazi Germany, they used the Jews but they personified them with the Rothschilds; and so on and so on. More recently, we have had two particular figures of note:

We all know that all Jews look like the Penguin from Batman, right?

The first one is, of course, Saddam Hussein who was tried and killed and most famously we have Osama Bin Laden who was killed not 24 hours ago. However, this story is getting rather trite, who here hasn’t seen it before in one form or another?

I wonder; is the excitement in the USA at the moment anything similar to what the Russians felt back in May 10th 1945 – the day that Russia ran out of alcohol due to the festivities? Maybe that’s what it’s all about, we think that by eliminating the alleged grand chess-master all our problems will suddenly vanish. We think that once that final blow is struck that we will be OK.

Sadly, life is not a fantasy novel where once we beat the big bad villain we receive our happily ever after. Defeating one villain in real life only brings forth another villain, if given enough time.

So what do we do to stop this little game of manipulation society has been playing since it was started? The solution, while it may sound incredibly simple, is incredibly hard to accomplish.

To solve any problem in life you have to look at its source, otherwise you are merely addressing a symptom and are not combating the disease. Firstly, we must change how people view the world ; “the us versus them” mentality may have sufficed in a world where there was little to no connection with the neighbouring cultures but nowadays, when the world is connected in every way imaginable, it’s counter-intuitive to still possess such outdated thinking. Culture, and everything surrounding it, has bits and pieces originating from another civilization, there is no such thing as a solely nationalistic culture. Take a moment and imagine that all of a sudden all Hindu influence in your respective culture would disappear, then you’d have no numbers with which to count; now imagine that all German influence would disappear, you’d then not have the printing press and most of the world’s knowledge would be lost; imagine now that all Italian influence would disappear, then you’d lose a great many words with which to communicate; just imagine what loss there would be without all those influences in your culture, and there are as many examples as you can possibly imagine.

We are dependent on each other and the sooner we notice that fact, the less likely it will be that we blow each other up. Besides that, we also have to stop beating each other merely because we do not agree on something. Finally, we have to start thinking rationally; we shouldn’t choose a course of action merely because we feel it is the right thing to do, we have to learn to choose based on facts and evidence.

Let us not be manipulated by tyrants and liars on both ends of the political spectrum, the power is in us to act and change the course of self destruction which our species is taking. There is no guarantee that we will be here tomorrow, or the day after that. So, why should we make our experience here, on this little blue ball in the vastness of the cosmos, a torturous and unpleasant experience?


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An open letter to an unknown time

I write this to the future or to the past, to a time that may indeed be imaginary, a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live in ignorance — to a time when truth exists and plenty is the norm: From the age of conformity, from the age of ignorance, from the age of big corporations, from the age of censorship — greetings!

At the time of writing we, as a species, are approaching a crossroad and whichever way we choose will change our world irrevocably. The first road has always been the more traveled one; it has been like that from the very dawn of civilization. This road, however, is the way of ignorance and we have always chosen it because it’s the more familiar one. “Tradition for tradition’s sake” seems to be our global motto. From century to century we continue the cycle, and ever more we get more adept at being hypocritical; we say we care about people dying from starvation in the world, yet we hinder the advance of the technologies which could stop it; we say we care about peace, yet each year we produce weapons deadlier than the last; we say that anyone should have the right to express themselves, yet we abhor anyone differing from the norm or downright eliminate their ability to opine.

Our society is full of contradictions and lies, and if we continue on that path, we will extinguish the last flame of the individual. In time we will destroy the remains of humanity itself. It is time to take the other path – the way of rationality. However, this road is by no means the easier one; to cross it we’ll have to sacrifice some things which we nowadays take for granted. The greatest sacrifice of them all may be tradition as this removes the certainty in our lives and opens up a vast and unknown world. By sacrificing tradition we would gain freedom -the freedom to act, think and live for ourselves.

However, some would argue that by killing tradition we would be killing culture itself. In a sense, yes, it is cultural genocide. Nonetheless, what is the culture that would die? The only victim would be the culture of slavery, conformity and ignorance. In other words, the casualties would be no other than the builders of most of the world’s conflicts. Traditions, by their very nature, generate subservience; subservience, on its part, is a product of ignorance.

Statistics provided by the Federal Bureau of Prisons

Atheists are normally around 10% in the general population yet theyre 0.2% in the US prison system, with that in mind we can conclude that crime would be reduced if we were to address the underlying causes for religiosity.

By traditions I mean every single thing a group of humans, or an individual, do over and over again for no real benefit and only because it’s become the norm to do it. However, I’m not opposed to things people do to make themselves feel better, like drugs, games, or anything if and when they realize that there is a reason for why they do what they do. In other words, I want people to follow their own paths and stop being slaves, as most have been throughout history.

So, to kill this looming threat, we need not arm ourselves with conventional weaponry. On the contrary, weapons will only create more ignorance and thus subservience. Since violence perpetuates two things; subservience to the leaders for the sake of security and in doing so it also promotes patriotism, religion and similar notions. No, what we need as a species is education and not education in the conventional sense either – where it’s synonymous to conformity. To slay this demon, we need to think, we need to give people the opportunity to decide for themselves. Free thinking is the one thing which may save humanity from itself.

Salvation will not come by praying for it, or hoping for it, but by taking action. History is littered with people who went all their lives hoping for some change and never got it. A wise man once said that “two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.” We must stop hoping for change and actually do something; let’s legalize the crimes which do no harm to society and let’s focus on the real criminals, let’s stop caring about who gets voted out in television and let’s focus on who gets voted into office and the most important of them all, let’s learn from our past and educate ourselves. It does not matter if you disagree with me when confronted with new evidence, the fact that you’re even looking at feasible evidence suggests a will to better society and to stop being a sheep. In the end, that’s the one thing which will save society – ideas and rational discourse.


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Choosing right keeps the Idiots out of sight

If there is one thing we can learn from history, it’s that people do not learn from history. Over and over we see the same stories unfold; the date, place and people involved vary, but the essence remains unchanged. The same mistakes are constantly being made, and little is done to prevent them. It almost seems that such things are set in stone. Revolutions are always started by hungry masses, prohibition causes more crime than what it forbids ever could, ineptitude of those in power brings down a whole civilization, and people will stab their friends in the back if given enough time and motivation to do so.

All of us already know these stories, yet few people do anything to avoid these familiar scenarios. We are entering a dangerous era; thousands, if not millions, think that the end of times is near. Some people think that it will come in 2012 while others believe it will come when some sort of prophecy is fulfilled. Regardless of what instigates this delusion, the people who believe in these sorts of things are dangerous because they can turn their fantasies into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Individually, they normally cannot do much harm, but when there is a mass of these individuals they turn dangerous. When one of these fanatics gains power, its even worse than having a group of them because leaders wield the fate of the civilization in their hands.

A single foul decision on their part has the potential to ruin an entire culture. It has happened many times before, but one of the most prominent examples is the downfall of the Aztec Empire. Officially, the Empire fell on August 13th 1521, but its fate was sealed many years beforehand.

It was the year 1502 when after the death of Ahuízotl, the former Emperor of the Aztecs, Moctezuma Xocoyotzin was chosen as the new successor. Not much is known about this ruler; depending on where you look, you can either find him to be an incompetent fool (the Florentine Codex), or an avid administrator with a knack for war. Nonetheless, what most sources agree on is that he was a highly religious man who heeded prophecies as if they were true.

The Durán Codex states that ten years prior to the coming of the Spaniards, eight events occurred that were taken as omens of the downfall of the civilization. According to the legend, the eight events were as follows:

  1. A shooting star, which was referred to as a column of fire, appeared in the night sky all of a sudden.
  2. The temple of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, was set on fire and no matter what the natives did, the flames wouldn’t stop.
  3. A bolt of lightning fell on top of the temple of Xiuhtecuhtli, the lord of fire, but no thunder was heard afterwards.
  4. A “bolt of fire in three parts divided” crossed the sky from east to west and it made a sound similar to bells.
  5. The water in the lake surrounding the city of Tenochtitlan started boiling and part of the city got flooded (floods weren’t uncommon, the last ruler had died because of one of those floods, and Mesoamerica is a highly volcanic region).
  6. A woman wept for her children in the middle of the night, and she was worried about their future.
  7. An animal, similar to a crane, was hunted and in its eyes Moctezuma saw men riding hornless deer waging war to all who crossed their paths.

  8. Odd people with one body and two heads went to see Moctezuma (this sounds strange but considering that he had a zoo where odd humans were housed this is easily explained).

Even if we discard all the plainly impossible ones, we still have plenty to go on. Most cultures, at one point or another, have given certain mystique to astronomical events. Constantine the Great, for example, saw a meteor as a sign of divine intervention at the deciding battle in his lifetime, which ended up creating the religious demographic we all know and love.

“If you wish upon a star, makes no difference with whom you go to war”

After ten years worth of omens, 500 Spaniards and thirteen horses turn up in the Yucatan Peninsula. A previous Spaniard expedition had already been seen two years before but never in such numbers.

Obviously, everyone was baffled by their strange appearance; some sources even claim that at least a few of the inhabitants, and later even Moctezuma himself, thought they were gods because of this. However, this has already been put into the area of myth by various historians. Nonetheless, the news of the arrival of these strange men quickly reached the ears of Moctezuma.

The Emperor sent an envoy immediately to ascertain the true facts behind the rumours he heard in the capital and to give a few gifts to placate the visitors. Obviously, this technique worked about as well as telling a five year old to not get near the candy box while giving him a single sweet. Before long Cortés, the Spaniard’s leader, marched to Tenochtitlan, the Aztec’s capital.

On the way, Moctezuma didn’t do anything to stop them. He merely kept sending them gifts. He even continued to do so when they allied themselves with the Tlaxcalteca, which were their long standing enemies. The omens had played their role in weakening Moctezuma’s resolve to fight, and after a long series of events, Moctezuma was stoned to death by his own people. However, it was too late – the damage had been done. In the end, a little over a thousand Spaniards managed to conquer a warrior nation of over 25 million people. The numbers just baffle the mind, and it wasn’t superior weaponry either, since some of the cultures which defended themselves lasted over a century. What it all boils down to was the inability of the emperor. If he hadn’t been a staunchly religious man history would be a lot different nowadays.

Delusions lead to bad decisions and bad decisions create bad leaders. So, no matter in what country you live in, if you have a say about who governs the country, do not support people just because they’re charismatic, or they’re the party you always vote for. Choose people because they are competent and do not have dangerous delusions, because with power delusions become a reality. It is said that religions prophesies the end of the world and then consistently work together to ensure that these prophecies come true. The real problem, however, is that we have allowed ourselves to get dragged into this situation. Tyrants and religious leaders only have power because the people allow them to have it. The question then is: Will you allow history to repeat itself?


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School and Work are the Gravesite for Innovation

We live in a world where education is a synonym to brainwashing; we're clearly doing something wrong.

No matter where you come from or who you are, I can be sure that at some point in your life you have experienced the drudgery that is an average work or school day. From beginning to end, you wait for that clock to strike the allotted time so you can flee that hellish place. Is this the way things ought to be? We only live once, so why should we make half of our life unbearable through menial tasks?

Some people argue that this is the way things have to be, but in reality it needn’t be so. In school, not much has changed in the form of learning since the beginning of the public education system back in the nineteenth century. There has always been a teacher and there are pupils who learn to regurgitate some facts they are taught. Critical thinking rarely enters the lesson and whenever it does its done in a rather half-hearted manner. Besides this glaring omission, each subject is taught in a completely different realm. There is no such thing as interdisciplinary thinking.

The lack of interdisciplinary thinking in the education system is the reason as to why it took over a hundred years to successfully mix psychology with economics. The resulting mixture was behavioural economics for which Daniel Kahneman, PhD received a Nobel prize in economics back in 2002. In other words, the study of the human mind (which controls all aspects of an economy) had never before been linked to the study of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. I’m not going to downplay the achievements of Kahneman but it should be obvious to anyone studying a social science that if the human psyche isn’t taken into account then anything you learn is useless.

All of these faults in the education system worldwide can be reduced to one single factor – lack of involvement from the students. Pupils cannot decide to focus themselves on one area of knowledge, especially if it’s the arts, because the education system is more concerned in creating workers rather than individuals with differing interests. Moreover, even if they could decide to focus on an area of knowledge, they aren’t shown how to use their knowledge. They are only taught to memorize facts.

Some of you may think that at present I’m contradicting myself because I’m advocating interdisciplinary activities while also saying that pupils should have the ability to focus on an area of knowledge. Let me make myself clear; what I’m proposing is a system where academia is centred not in a curriculum, which must be strictly followed, but in the interests of an individual. Schools would switch to a system which isn’t grade driven but project driven. At the start of each semester (or year) students would choose a project they’d work on for the period and in that time they’d have the option of attending lectures on all manner of subjects to help them gain the necessary knowledge to complete the project. At the end of the period, the project would be reviewed by a board from different areas with a certain set of guidelines. These guidelines would be flexible enough to allow creativity in any shape or form but strict enough to ensure that the pupil did, in fact, gain knowledge. Nonetheless, we still have the issue of maintaining interest in such a project for a long period of time. The trick to achieve interest in such projects is simple. It’s the same mechanic that allows games like World of Warcraft to have over nine million paying subscribers and it’s also the reason why everyone you know and their dog are inviting you to play Farmville.

80 million people prefer literally watching the grass grow than doing any work.

The reason why those games are such gigantic hits and are so addictive to some players (leading some people to even go to rehab centres) is because of three aspects, which Malcolm Gladwell mentioned in his book Outliers, that are needed to have a satisfying job:

  • Autonomy: If you have this, you invest more time in your work because you have a say in the final outcome and thus you care for it more.
  • Complexity: If a job is difficult enough to keep you interested but not enough to dissuade you from doing the project then, you’ll find it to be a much more satisfying experience.
  • Connection between effort and reward: This way, you receive proof that your work actually means something and you get more emotionally invested.

The method I’m proposing can also be applied to work, and we can already start seeing it in place. Companies like Google or Atlassian are giving engineers 20% of their time to do whatever they want. This small percentage of time is responsible for about half of Google’s yearly products.

Imagine a world where the artist could be an artist without fear of repression, a world where scientific intrigue was cultivated, a world where the wage isn’t the determining factor in deciding one’s career. Simply try to visualize how many people could become a Linus Tovalt, founder of Linux, or a Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, or a Shawn Fanning, founder of Napster, under the right motivation. All of the examples I’ve given changed the world from their dorms because they had the will to fight against the tide and they had a vision for the future. We live in a world where the seemingly impossible is becoming possible. Why then do we constrain ourselves for the sake of tradition?


EDIT: Since I wrote this article I’ve come across certain school systems which are similar to what I proposed.Such an example can be found here, and it seems to be very successful.


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Being an Asshole has no Age

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.” No doubt some of you will agree with the previous quote. Perfectly all right, it’s your point of view. However, I’d like you to try to guess how old the quote is.

How old do you think that it was? Ten years old? How about fifty? Or how about a hundred? Did it even come to mind that it may be over a millennium old? The quotation is actually from Hesiod who lived almost three thousand years ago, which means that the quote has been around for about half of humanity’s recorded history. Surely in those three thousand years humanity has achieved more than most Greeks could’ve ever dreamed of, yet there are those who continue to say that each new generation will be the one who will bring ruin and chaos to the world.

In reality, this fear of new generations is merely the nostalgia of our childhood. Our childhood is where we create our notions of how things ought to be; therefore some grow up unable to adapt to new realities. Fear in one form or another is nothing more than the dread of change. We fear that our surroundings will change in such a way that we perceive is harmful to ourselves, be it in the form of acrophobia, necrophobia, sociophobia, or any phobia you may think of.

People, in general, do not change; when there’s a new tendency such as an extreme hatred for an idea or acceptance for an idea it’s merely because the environment in which the human is has changed and thus they adapt. The environment itself changes whenever there’s new technologies, new ideas, or anything of the sort. The person is still the same and is merely reacting to new input. To put it in simple terms, it’s as if you had a computer and merely changed the software in it. The computer seems to be different when you use it, but at its core it’s still the same.

Those who install Windows Vista get sent to the Looney Bin

What really makes history change course is the environment and the past. People all in all remain the same. So, what we really have to do in order not to lose all hope for humanity is to change the environment while taking into account the characteristics of the human psyche so as to not make mistakes. Every social movement up to this point in history has failed to take this into account. All ideologies seem to stem from a world where there is no such thing as human nature, there only seems to be social conditioning. However, this is not entirely because the philosophers or thinkers desire to ostracise biological conditioning from the ideology, this is merely because psychology is a very new field of science and thus there weren’t that many opportunities to apply the newly acquired knowledge in the area of evolutionary psychology.

Let’s use religion as an example. Religion focuses on forbidding things which oftentimes conflict with deeply rooted biological impulses and monogamy is a very clear example of this. In 95% of the time in which humans have been evolving, our species lived in highly egalitarian societies which shared everything from food, the care of children to spouses.

In the last 10,000 years, of course, these notions are almost nonexistent. However, we still have the biological desire to do such things, according to a survey conducted by MSNBC about one in three men cheat while they’re married and about one in five women cheat while married. By marrying they’ve basically signed an agreement not to cheat, yet they continue to do so in spite of this. Moreover, imagine in the cases where there are no legal repercussions for doing so, such as when there’s a prenuptial agreement or when the couple isn’t married, it’s safe to assume that the incidence of cheating is higher in such a demographic.

I’m not saying that monogamy is bad or anything. It’s merely idiotic to expect that everyone should do something which goes against their very being. Basically what’s happening is that we create false expectations of behaviour. Most people will fail to meet these expectations and they will feel guilty as a consequence making them easier to control because they feel the need to amend their supposed errors. If the goal is control then by all means that’s the way to succeed since guiltiness generates subservience; nonetheless, if one does not desire to create a society where control is the main goal then you have to take our biological quirks into consideration.

More modern ideologies also fail to to account for biological needs. Let’s take the most prevailing ideologies of the twentieth century – capitalism and communism – as an example. The first one fails to account for the desire to help others, which some people have (this must not be confused with altruism since there is a psychological reward or a possible future reward), and the latter fails to account for the greed and the desire for self betterment, communism assumes that all human beings desire to be a collective rather than an individual.

If humans ever succeed in creating anything resembling an ideal world they will have to utilize humanity’s flaws and strengths to create a new society. Perfection will never be achieved, that is almost a given, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to achieve it. In the words of P.T. Barnum: “aim for the stars because you may just land on the moon.”


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Barbarians at the Gate

Have you ever smoked in the presence of a woman, or if you are a woman, have you ever smoked? Have you ever eaten a meal without saying grace? Did you ever not bring your own utensils when you were invited to a meal? Did you ever do the “ok” sign with your hand?

Then, my dear sir/madam, you are a barbarian who is not fit to be considered “civilized.” Of course I am joking; most of those traditions are seriously outdated or may not even fit your respective culture. But at one point or another if you had not followed these rules of etiquette then you’d be considered scum, and you wouldn’t have been worthy of sitting at an upper class’ family table, or be near it for that matter.

Isn’t it funny that to most of us such traditions seem silly yet to those who created them they were very important? Manners, like any other custom, change with time. This is because those in power change and thus there are different ways to please them. For example, the last button of a waistcoat isn’t normally buttoned because King Edward VII’s waistline was too huge for him to button it. After people saw him doing that, they started imitating him and thus this gave birth to this insane fashion trend

Long live the King!

So, in other words, manners are nothing more and nothing less than institutionalised ass-kissing. Ironically the ass kissing gesture remains far longer than the person whom it was aimed. This leads to the more common scenario where people continue doing the gesture for no real reason but that it’s considered savagery not to do it.

This vicious cycle is also aided by peer pressure. Most people do not like the thought of being the outlier, so they conform to whatever is the norm, regardless of whether or not it makes any sense. This is the exact reason why you can sometimes find a bill with a very large value in the tip jar. Since this coerces some people to give larger tips because they feel guilty.

Sadly, most of our current society functions on guilt. Just think a bit about how religion, advertising, manners, or even charities work. This little system is unlikely to change any time soon since it’s been used for many, many centuries and it has been so ingrained into our culture that people think it is human nature to feel guilty.

Nevertheless, if we are to evolve as a society, we have to eliminate this needless sense of guilt. To break this seemingly endless cycle, one must acknowledge that the prime mechanism for this guilt is self interest. One does not refrain from doing something just because it’s the right thing to do, but because we have weighed the odds and decided it’s better for our wellbeing if we follow the rule.

Guilt is motivated by self interest, which is the underlying motivation for most of our actions (if not all). Selfless acts of kindness do not really exist. Granted, there are people who do something with no apparent reward, but thinking that they do not receive anything in exchange for something they did is a fallacy. Simply not having a physical payment does not mean that it isn’t motivated by self interest. Sometimes the action itself is its reward, or the feeling this gives the person.

When we understand this, we can shape society in such a way that we do not follow senseless rules. Now, from my writing it may seem I’m completely against any such thing as manners or traditions. In a sense, yes it’s true I do not think that people should be coerced into doing things which make absolutely no sense simply to save face value. However, such things as common decency should not be completely thrown away like chewing food with one’s mouth closed or sneezing with one’s hand in front of them.

Rules, in any sense or form, should facilitate living with others, not complicate a situation even more. As Plato put it “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”  If we are to live in a better world we always have to ask the “why?” until we get a good answer and until then we should ignore any mandate which doesn’t answer that simple question.


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The Poster Child

Is anyone ever surprised nowadays that whenever there’s a serial killer, and a video game console is found in his house, video games end up receiving the blame for the killings? No, of course not, it’s become so usual that we ignore the issue.  A few years ago, the scapegoat wasn’t video games, before that it was rap music, and before that it was rock music, and so the whole line continues.

Every time there’s an event which changes culture, it is thoroughly opposed by some individuals. Not even common furniture is beyond such criticism; in their time, couches were opposed because it encouraged children “to daydream” and thus be unproductive. This sort of activist, that opposes progress, normally claims they’re there for the wellbeing of the populace. More often than not it’s claimed to be for the wellbeing of the children. Fair enough, none of us wants to see the next generation to grow up to be psychopaths, serial killers, rapists, and so on.

The end of Civilization as we know it

However, aren’t such lobbyists overreacting? We always hear about violent video games, but in reality they’re only a tiny fraction of the game market. Eighty-three percent of all video games do not have any mature content whatsoever . Nevertheless, this leaves a 17% of gory and violent video games which leaves ample space for protest. So it is correct that lobbyists should focus on that tiny fraction, right?

Wrong, like movies and any other form of entertainment, video games are already regulated. Movies are classified into several categories by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), each designed to be suitable for a certain type of audience; video games also have a similar system which is regulated by the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). The remaining 17% of games, which are the gory and graphic ones, are either given an M rating (Mature – 17+) or an AO rating (Adults Only – 18+).

So, a gaming company isn’t really responsible when a child plays a game with explicit material since the box and the game itself contain a warning that it may be unsuitable for certain audiences. When we consider that the average gamer is 33 years old, that only 33% of gamers are under eighteen, and that 70% of all parents use the ESRB to decide whether or not to let a child play a video game, this whole argument on censorship becomes that much more ridiculous. It is obvious to anyone that this whole issue is blown out of proportions.

But even with all this in place, the activists like Jack Thompson, who is famous because of his war on rap music, video games, and his delusion of thinking he’s batman (no that isn’t a joke) try to muscle into the rating system of the ESRB and they do succeed. Because of the many controversies they’ve provoked, there’s an unwritten law that you can’t kill children in a video game unless it has the “adults only” rating. This has the slight problem that most shops won’t stock games with such a rating, so essentially they would bar it from anyone but die-hard fans and in addition to that they would lose any profit whatsoever. So, of course they have to conform to this unwritten law.

“I’m Batman”

This sort of unwritten laws can lead to very ironic scenarios; for example, in Fallout 3, you can do anything from killing a whole town with an atomic bomb, to eviscerating people with a chainsaw, to slave trading, hacking people’s limbs off, and even indulging in cannibalism. All of these are possible, but you cannot kill a child. The argument of “for the children” is quite lost in the sea of gore, so why not simply allow one more despicable act?

Obviously it’s not the dream of every gamer to be able to eviscerate children, but having the possibility of being able to do it adds to the story. Video games are interactive story mediums; the benefit they have over every other medium is that, at times, you can affect the outcome.  Maybe this is why it’s accepted to watch a movie with over 250,000 gory deaths (like Jason X) but it isn’t right to kill a child in a game because you have the decision not to do it.

Like any medium of expression, this should fall under freedom of speech but if it expression is censored in any way (unless the production of your message physically hurts people, like a snuff film) its meaning becomes useless. Freedom of speech loses all its meaning when what’s permissible to show is defined by society’s consensus.

Jack Thompson once said “I understand as well as anybody that the First Amendment is a cornerstone of a free society—but there is a responsibility to people who can be harmed by words and thoughts” this is doublethink in every sense of the word and in its nature is tyrannical. This loon is not alone however, prominent people like Hillary Clinton call video games nothing more than “murder simulators”. We should not censor things because they offend someone or affects them. When this happens, anything becomes censorable because anything, at any given moment, offends or affects somebody.

Think of this next time you’re supporting people to censor others. Maybe next time you’ll voice an unpopular opinion and you won’t be able to do anything because it may offend people.


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