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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No man can serve two masters, but the internet serves billions

Talent is often touted as the only thing a person needs in order to succeed. Prominent people such as Ayn Rand claim that if you have the talent, you will succeed in the end. Evidently, this is not true; talent often plays a minor role in success. We all know that musician, author, actor or (most notably) politician who seems to have no discernable talent. Yet they’re still successful.

On the flip side, we all know the story of people with talent and the desire to succeed, but sadly they weren’t discovered until after they died. Van Gogh is a notable example of this. In his whole lifetime he only sold a single painting even though he completed more than 900 in his whole career. Nowadays, the price of a single genuine Van Gogh painting can cost over 64 million dollars.

"Monet is tastier but this will have to do"

Maybe it’s because of their delicious flavour, after all not even Van Gogh could resist eating his own work tools. More likely it’s because he simply had no talent whatsoever when it came to promoting himself. As this article puts it, he had an “eccentric personality and unstable moods” (in layman terms it means “batshit insane”). Obviously this didn’t help him in any way to develop his social network. In the end, there were two contributing factors to his fame: his letters and World  War I. The financial crisis World  War I provoked made art cheap, which allowed British and American collectors to get their hands on Impressionist works for a pittance.


Such tragic tales happen all too often and if it weren’t bad enough, getting noticed isn’t all that is needed. You also need people to actually recognize you’ve got talent. Probably one of the most whimsical cases of such a scenario is Chaplin’s Contest. Back in the early twentieth century Chaplin was a huge sensation.So, naturally people started imitating him for laughs, and soon Charlie Chaplin look-alike contests became a popular form of entertainment. Around 1915, Chaplin decided he’d join one of these contests for fun. In the end, he lost so badly that he did not even enter in the finals.

Not only is this an amusing tale, but it proves that the people who sometimes judge talent do not necessarily know what they’re talking about. Across the board, expert judges are not as good as they think; they just like to make people think they are. The pinnacle of snobbery is probably with wine tasters, who claim to identify the components of a wine just by smelling it. However, there’s plenty of evidence showing that they pull their expertise out of their asses to the extent that they cannot identify two identical wines put in two different bottles

Democracy at Work

In reality, these judges of the sublime act upon the wishes of society; they do what is expected of them. Because of that, they tend to lean either to a more conservative stance, where they only accept the classical, or the radical stance, where they only value the revolutionary. So, often very talented people fall through the cracks never to be acknowledged for their gifts.

However, there is hope. The internet has given us a way to combat such biases. In a sense, fame has been democratized because people are able to choose the people they want to succeed. The creation of fame is no longer solely in the hands of the rich and powerful. The rich and powerful, for obvious reasons, still have a greater say in this new democracy because they have the power of money, but the less powerful people still have a say, which is more than what anyone can say about previous generations.

Nevertheless, sites such as Youtube and the blogosphere have allowed new stars to surface. Artists who would have gone unnoticed in the past can now find their niche and gain their well deserved fame. Sadly, the term “talent” is rather subjective, so people who can do something extraordinary in this generation may not gain their glory until after they die because tastes and interests are a by-product of society, and like it, change over time.

For example, if Mozart lived today and wrote classical music, he would be considered a great composer, but he wouldn’t move on to immortality because people aren’t that interested in classical music nowadays. Each generation has its number of appreciated and unappreciated geniuses, this is unavoidable. However, by giving people a way to “vote”, in other words, giving their time up to hear somebody out we’re opening the doors of fame to everyone willing to try.

Every artist needs a patron, someone that believes in the work that’s done (even if it’s for purely monetary reasons), and in this new generation, the internet is the greatest patron of them all. However, the internet isn’t a single mind of its own; we all compose it and we decide what its will is.

This new democracy will probably give us rather unpleasant things, but that is to be expected. We do not always agree with the rabble. Oftentimes, freedom to choose, for some people is quite frightening, because they’re so used to being told what to like that they completely forget how to exercise their new found rights. So, they resort to the banal, and give in to their primitive instincts, which can explain the new resurgence of lolcats and similar inane memes.

As ugly as it may seem, it is to be expected and, in a sense, encouraged because these insane memes can bring about new creative mediums such as the demotivational posters, where everyone can show their creative side with witty remarks. The doors of fame have opened, and they’re readily accessible to anyone who wishes to enter. The only question is: are you willing to show what you’re capable of?


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It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)

The night was tempestuous and nobody dared go out or even open a window. That is, nobody except an irascible, pudgy man who was rather excited with what he was doing. His life research had been put on the line. If this didn’t work, he’d lose any hope for redemption because on his way here he had already lost everything of value, except his own ambition. “FOR SCIENCE,” he suddenly screams as his hunchback assistant lowers a lever which causes a lightning bolt to go through the room and into the body of a dead man. After he sees the result, he starts laughing maniacally and says, “This will show those old coots. I have created life!”

How many times have we come across a story as mediocre as that? Probably many hundreds of times. It has come to the ridiculous point where only a handful of people actually know that Frankenstein isn’t the monster but the scientist. However, who’s to blame them? Ever since cinema started, scientists have been portrayed as evil and crazy. Moreover, the tale of Frankenstein is the embodiment of what some people would call “playing god.” So naturally it is to be vilified because it represents a modern version of the Tower of Babel.

However, it was not always so. Before Fritz Lang’s movie, Metropolis, the modern public respected science.  Metropolis is the movie that created the stereotype of the “mad scientist,” but once again, who can blame it? Metropolis is nothing more and nothing less than the product of its time. When we see that the director fought in the First World War and was wounded no less than three times, we can see why he’d be somewhat inclined to portray the future in a pessimistic light. This is especially obvious when we consider that the First World War unveiled many horrible new weapons created by new scientific breakthroughs like tanks and poisonous gasses.

Lang is indirectly the reason why you got a shitty costume as a child.

Nevertheless, with science, there’s been new technologies which improve the living standards of all who use them. So it is wrong to vilify science simply because it’s capable of creating weapons of enormous power. Science has its uses and its abuses, like any other idea used by mankind.

Nonetheless, the time is coming when science’s effectiveness will force mankind to make a choice. The choice is whether to shape our culture to accommodate the new ideas and possibilities or continue as we are doing and ignore the problem.

The latter, if given enough time, will provoke civil unrest and maybe even revolution simply because we’re coming to the point where machines can do the exact same tasks we’re doing but better.  The same thing happened in the industrial revolution, which led to the creation of the luddites – who opposed any progress in technology because it led to joblessness. The problem eventually solved itself because their manufacturing power could be used somewhere else.

However, this time around, the same thing won’t happen. There will be massive unemployment but the problem won’t solve itself because there will not be any area where the jobless workforce can be relocated since machines will be able to do the same work  any human can do, for less money and much more efficiently.

This apocalyptic scenario may be even closer than you think. Ray Kurzweil, the so called “Cybernostradamus” because all of his predictions about future technologies have come true, said in an interview that by 2029 machines will be able to pass the Turing test. If a machine is able to pass the Turing Test it means that it’s impossible to tell it apart from a human being, at least in terms of cognitive abilities.

He may or may not look like this

What all this would provoke is a massive production of goods but no market to sell them in. Essentially, what would happen is sort of like the recent economic turmoil. The goods physically existed but the purchasing power of the people didn’t, which led some companies to completely abandon production until they sold their inventory.

With no jobs, people’s purchasing power goes away and they’re unable to buy anything. Maybe we won’t immediately fall into such things as crime, since there seems to be new evidence saying that the correlation between poverty and crime is wrong but people will not be happy with the incredible social stratification that comes about.

With enough manipulation, such unhappiness can lead to revolution. Sometimes, to start a movement, the least you need is a reason. However, such incredible unhappiness and needless poverty need not happen. If we take the first option, we may configure society in such a way that  allows people to get any resource they need, and since there will be a massive output of goods they will have a minuscule cost or maybe not one at all because of their commonness.

In reality we only have one option if we want to consider the wellbeing as the human species. So, which will it be: annihilation or a bright future?


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The Boy who cried Crucifix

It is not often one comes across a man whose very name is synonymous with grandeur, power and extravagance. Of those select men, Julius Caesar is one of the greatest of them all. His contribution to history is so immense that even today we can see his actions at work.

Even the calendar we currently use is based on the one he put into effect called the “Julian Calendar. “However, there was a time when Caesar was nothing but a soldier because he sought to flee the reign of Sulla – a general who became a dictator by force and prosecuted anyone who had ties with Marius, his former adversary and Caesar’s uncle.

In his career as a soldier, Caesar served with merit in time, this earned him the second highest honour any citizen could achieve, the Civic Crown. After many years, Sulla relinquished his power as dictator and he retired from public office allowing Caesar safe passage to Rome. There he remained a few years, where he took the role of a lawyer. It was around this time he must have met Apollonius Molon, who served twice as an ambassador of Rome from Rhodes. (1)

After a failed case, he sailed to Rhodes to escape from his failure and to learn from the master orator, Apollonius Molon, who had also taught Cicero. However, before he got to Rhodes, his ship was taken by pirates and he was imprisoned.  Even though at the time he hadn’t even started to fathom what his crowning achievements would be, he already had so much pride that when the pirates said they’d ransom him for twenty talents of silver he said that he was worth fifty, at the very least. (2)

This is not worth a single talent

While they waited for the ransom, Caesar partook in all the activities as an equal rather than a prisoner. He even took to writing speeches and poems, and whenever the pirates didn’t like them, he threatened to hang them – or worse, crucify them. The pirates, rather than take this as an insult or as a serious threat, laughed heartily and developed a liking to him.

After thirty eight days and at the loss of fifty talents of silver, he was set free. However, as soon as he was released, he amassed a small fleet and he pursued the pirates. He didn’t have to look far as he found them just off the island where he had been left. A few died in the ensuing conflict, but he captured a vast number and he recovered all of his lost wealth. On top of that, he even gained more money than what he started with because of the pirates’ treasure trove.

He ended up giving the pirates up to a jail in Perganum but the Praetor there seemed to be more interested in selling them to slavery rather than executing them. So, Caesar ended up taking matters into his own hands and he crucified all of them.

In the end, Caesar kept his word even when all the buccaneers had thought he was joking. Maybe that was what he expected, or wanted for that matter. After all, he was the first one to say “no one is so brave that he is not disturbed by something unexpected,” a lesson which would later be used by the all time master of horror – Alfred Hitchcock.

(1)Plutarch’s and Sueotonius’ accounts of the events vary in order. For this article I took the chronological order of Suetonius’ version of the story.  In Plutarch’s version Caesar is captured as he returns to Rome, and then decides to go to learn from Apollonius for no particular reason.

(2)On a more serious note, a Greek talent of silver (which is the measurement Plutarch and Sueotonius use) weighs 26 kg , today (June 14th 2010) a kilogram of silver is worth $592.54 according to this website.Which totals Caesar’s ransom at about $769,912 if it were paid today in dollars.


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The Reality of Science Fiction

It’s a curious thing to see old science fiction because slowly the fictional technologies are seeping into the real world. Jules Verne is probably the most well known science fiction writer, and even though his works were published over a century ago they still seem current. Leading some to name him the father of science fiction . Regardless of whether or not he actually is the father of science fiction a great number of his works have turned into reality.

Some of his works have such an uncanny resemblance with reality that they have lead some to believe that his works are based on fact . It is not difficult to imagine why some people believe that. One only needs to open one of his books and compare his imagery to our current world to see that Jules Verne was indeed a visionary.

Maybe it was the other way around. Maybe Verne wasn’t inspired by science scientists got inspired by him. To an extent both ideas are true, scientists and science fiction authors borrow from each other to create their own respective worlds.

For example, perhaps the old ghost stories of objects acting without the influence of human beings is what inspired the Greeks to create the first automatons. Or perchance these Greek robots are what gave origin to a certain place being haunted.

While the distinction between science and science fiction is becoming less obvious, in the future it may even disappear.  What we can be certain of is that the future of robotics is nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. Just imagine a world where disease is rare, where people are capable of learning without much difficulty in a year what their forefathers took a lifetime to learn, or a world where severe wounds may just take a few moments to mend.

"It's just a flesh wound"

All this may seem extremely far out of our reach, but it isn’t. All this may just happen in our own lifetimes. I am not saying this out of sheer optimism. No, there are plenty of projects under way which are all striving to achieve this.

One of the more well known projects is probably the SYMBRION Replicator which is striving to invent robots which will interact with each other as a single organism. This would work in a similar fashion to how a swarm of bugs seems to have a single mind even though its composed by individual beings.

At the moment these robots are obviously not meant for nanotechnology, but they are the prototypes of multipurpose robots which will be able to program themselves based on the needs of what they’ve been assigned to. In the future, as technology gets smaller and smaller, we will be able to use such “swarm technologies” to improve the workings of our body. Since the robots are multipurpose by nature they’ll be able to do simple things like draining the fat from arteries or more complicated things such as fighting off infections or closing a wound faster than its average rate.

It is even conceivable that with such technologies we will be able to improve our brain’s innate abilities. Each day that passes we come closer to knowing what makes an outlier brain so special.When we do learn what makes such brains so special, we may be able to change our brain’s workings to act in a similar fashion. Who knows? There might be an Einstein, Hawking, Da Vinci or Mozart inside all of us; we just have to unravel the mysteries of our brain.


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