This text is obsolete. I have a new, much longer, much more elaborate text. However, it is unfinished and unstructured. Still, I highly recommend reading it instead of this one.
The following text is serious and not intended to be funny like certain other parts of this site (the only forms of humour you'll find, are an irritating amount of irony and sarcasm). If you are younger than 16 years, are in a depression, belong to an extremist religion, or have never thought with at least some depth about the meaning of life, then reading this text is not a good idea. Only read it if you really want to! Most likely you do not want to read this text at all, but of course you'll only notice this when it's too late.
Fact is, the core idea of this text is something that cannot be grasped in language. Either you already know what I'm trying to tell here or you don't, but you won't get the point by reading this text. That makes this whole heap of text mostly useless except for some generally applicable parts. Why did I write it then? Maybe just to order my own thoughts. Many of the conclusions that are in this text came at the time when I was working on it. So this could be considered a kind of polished ‘brain dump’.
Some parts of this text date back to the year 2000, so the quality of the writing varies (especially because English is not my mother language). My ideas about certain parts have evolved in the meantime. Especially in the oldest parts (which unfortunately include the first sections), the writing style is often patronising, making the text irritating and possibly insulting. Those parts need a rewrite, actually the whole structure of the text is a mess and the entire thing needs a rewrite. As you can see from the length of the whole thing however, that will take a while. I might as well just erase everything because it's useless anyway.
Please do not mail me about this text unless there is a good reason. There is a reasonable risk that you will be reacting to something I no longer agree with anyway. I am not interested in emotionally driven hate mails, neither in thanks nor remarks on the style of the text. If you mail me anyway, do not expect a reply.
(Deze tekst is ook beschikbaar in het Nederlands)
Last changed: Jan 28, 2009
The Small Print
If you want to use this text, or parts from it, in your own works, you must contact the author first. You may not copy parts of the text under your name in any way. I know there are no ‘mail author’ links, but if you can read through this entire thing and still find it interesting at the end, finding a way to contact me won't be a problem.
The author of this text cannot be held responsible in any way for possible malicious consequences of the reading if this text. Reading it is solely at your own risk.
As soon as he was able to, mankind has been ever asking this question to himself. Yet it seems that nobody has found the answer, despite of the most ingenious attempts. Some simply allege that this question is useless, and there is no answer. Others claim that the answer is so difficult that nobody is able to find it, let alone understand it. If you found this page by searching for "why do we live" in a search engine, you undoubtedly also found lots of religious webpages, pretending to give the one and only answer, while the only thing they do is recapitulating all possible clichés of their respective religions.
Yet the answer is as simple as it can be.
Moreover, it's up for grabs, at the most diverse places. In literature, for example, or in music. Even in places where you would never expect it at all. A splendid example of this, is the song "The bad touch", by "The Bloodhound Gang". Millions of people have heard it, and danced to it, and laughed with it, buy most people don't go any further than that. For they know that TBG makes songs to laugh with, hence they laugh and don't suspect anything else behind it. Maybe perhaps with reason, because that may have been the only intention of the gentlemen of TBG, and maybe they don't realize themselves what's hidden inside their song. To the point: the refrain is "You & me baby ain't nothing but mammals, so let's do it like they do on the Discovery channel". Well, this seemingly stupid phrase is the answer to the questions which figure in bold at the top of this text. Or more accurately, it's one of the many ways to formulate the answer.
Now you might think "ha, this guy has well taken me in with his pseudo-philosophical text, he just tries to play a stupid trick on me by giving such a dumb answer to such a weighty question." In that case, I'll have to disappoint you: I'm deadly serious.
I'll give an other, more extended, formulation, which sounds a little less funny: "We live because, billions of years go, by a conjunction of circumstances, life has originated on this planet. Life is nothing more than a combination of controlled chemical and physical processes, which are able to maintain themselves thanks to addition of energy, in casu solar radiation. This life has mutated, and the mutations that were unfit for procreation, have died out. The others have mutated in their turn, and this process has repeated itself countless times. This has finally lead to what we are now."
So we just live because we live, there is no goal that we must achieve, actually it doesn't matter a thing what we do. If we eradicate ourselves, nobody would care. It would even improve the situation of other life forms on this planet, but yet again that wouldn't matter since those life forms don't have any goal either. Our life is not much more special than other mammals' lives. The only thing that distinguishes us, is that we have the disposal of well developed rare qualities like language, a strong memory and intelligence. These may be just side effects of the process or evolution, or they may have been key elements in making us the 'dominant species' on this planet.
So, what I'm actually trying to explain, comes down to the fact that everything just exists because it exists, and that's an end to the question. But the chance of you really understanding what I mean with that, is rather small. It all hinges on one simple thought, but it's far from simple to really understand this thought, and it's impossible to describe it in words. I could try to explain it in a 1000 other formulations, but there would be no sense in that either. You need to make this final step, from this deficient text to what I'm really trying to transfer, yourself; and that's only possible by thinking thoroughly. (Unfortunately, I have to state that this is something most people absolutely don't seem to be used to, just read on...)
If I need to illustrate this with another song which speaks of a more refined taste than the one mentioned above, I'd say: just listen very carefully to the lyrics of John Lennon's Imagine, which actually puts the same message into words.
All this sounds a lot less funny, doesn't it? Nevertheless, before you pump your brains out of your skull, or buy cyanide pills at the chemist's, or spray your house with blood from your cut-through wrists, I recommend you to continue reading.
For let's make things straight: at first sight, you can't do much with this "core theorem" in practice. Quite likely, you had hoped to find in this text a recipe for a "successful life", where you properly behave to a certain programme which guarantees you to reach "the ultimate goal of life". But now I come here, claiming that there is no goal at all, hence certainly not a neatly prepared way of life which you should follow, even if by far the largest part of humanity seems to believe in something that stupid.
However, this theory leaves open all possibilities to you, considering the way you lead your life. Roughly, there are now two possible directions you can take:
For in principle, this choice is totally free (although there are a few complications as you may read in the chapters below). But yet I always try to choose for the last option. And it's actually only at this point that I take a stand in this text. What precedes, is purely objective, neutral. But at first sight completely useless in practice, like I already said. But if you now start thinking over things, taking this "theorem" in consideration, it appears to have rather deep implications. Just read on...
What follows, are contemplations about human behaviour, or: how most people think they should be living in order to reach their ultimate — yet non-existent — goal. Mind that this text poses many more questions than it answers. One single thing which should at least become evident while reading it, is how far the way of living of most people is dissociated from what you've already read above, and what consequences this has.
If you should not be interested in this, but are really still hungry for some ‘goal’ to life, you may want to read the last chapter of this text. But don't expect anything cheerful.
"We live in a world where the people don't know what they want, and are prepared to go through hell to get it."
If our life has no purpose then, our behaviour can be summarized pretty easily: in fact, almost everything we do, is nothing more than occupational therapy. The only things which are really essential for our survival and the endurance of mankind, are eating, sleeping and procreation — like every other organism. The way in which we garnish this, is called "civilisation". Each type of "civilisation" which is able to meet those primary demands, is sufficient in principle. From this point of view, our society is better in nothing than the Indians', the Bushmen's, the Inuits', or whosoever. For all those people are (were?) able in their own ways to lead their own lives.
Compared to all those more "primitive" societies, ours is by far the most complicated. We have locked ourselves up in incredible amounts of little rules and laws, in an attempt to fix the inevitable defects of our society. But for each rule introduced, at least two more are needed to get rid of its defects. And although it is clear that this doesn't improve the situation, yet we continue, because for some reason we are convinced that everything can be moulded into laws and our lives will be perfect if we obey them. This, however, is nonsense, and the only thing we achieve with it, is that we imprison ourselves in our own fabrications. Each law does have exceptions, and laws which fit a certain group of people, are totally incompatible with laws which fit another group of people.
Yet obviously, a lot of people can't live without all those rules, they need them as a kind of handhold. For them, the seeming gain of regularity and stability sufficiently outweighs the loss of freedom and flexibility... or they simply don't recognize this loss. Most people, and I think that this text proves I'm an exception to this, just lead an incredibly superficial life. What exactly drives them, I'll try to explain in the coming chapters. If you have already reached this part of this text, congratulations: a lot of people would have given up long before... (But beware: you're still far away from the end... ;) )
In itself, there is nothing wrong with the fact that we keep ourselves occupied day in day out with things which actually are rather useless. The problem, however, is that one can be busy in a thousand and one ways, and what one does, can vary from completely harmless to extremely harmful. You can keep yourself busy by making works of art from discarded utensils, or you can become a serial killer. In both cases, you won't annoy yourself, but I don't think it's necessary any more to tell something about the noxiousness of both activities. But it doesn't need to be that extreme: it's not because something doesn't immediately show a noxious effect, that it won't do any damage in the future. You bet that someday there will be people cursing us because of the mess we are creating today. And this "mess" doesn't only refer to material matters.
Now am I claiming here that we must stop immediately with everything we're doing, and start living as animals again? Not at all. I am just trying to make clear to you that you'd better first think twice if you're about to perform something which may have deep implications for you and other people. Because maybe there are less noxious ways to keep yourself occupied with. Because the latter is what it's all about.
Emotions are a fundamental part of life. Not only humans have emotions. Animals certainly have too. Moreover, while with certain people intellect is more important than emotions, with animals the emotions are much more important than intellect. The reason for this, is that most animals simply don't have enough intellect to rely on for survival. The use of emotions is to make sure that one quickly reacts the right way in the right situation — but especially with humans, this use has alas faded somewhat.
If an animal is being attacked, it gets afraid and it will try to flee away. Logical, for otherwise it may just get killed. Another possibility is that it becomes angry. Logical, since otherwise it wouldn't fight back and get killed too. That's the way it goes in nature. With humans, it's both exactly the same and totally different, for we have moulded ourselves in several little rules and laws wherein emotions don't fit. The problem with emotions is that they are always extreme. Fear is fear, without any nuances. Somebody who only lives on emotions, continuously bounces back and forth between extremes. And as a human being, you are then bouncing between the walls of the laws you have erected around yourself. This often is a necessity which avoids trouble, but maybe as often the cause of severe problems.
Yet emotions still play an important role in the life of human beings. It was intentionally that I wrote above "with certain people intellect is more important...". Because with most people, emotions still dominate intellect. Even if they possess impressive intellectual capacities, they only think reasonably profoundly when they are forced to do so. What controls them in the first place then, is group behaviour, but I'll elaborate on that within a moment...
Roughly, one could categorize emotions into "active" and "passive", and "primitive" and "complex". Although this results in 4 possibilities, there actually are only 2, for it appears that the more primitive, the more "active" an emotion is, and vice versa. Now what do I mean with "active" and "passive"?
Active emotions are emotions which are very determining for someone's behaviour. It is clear that for instance, fear, anger and delight belong in this category.
Passive emotions are emotions which hardly have any influence on someone's behaviour. These are mostly very complex and unique for each person, like the appreciation of a certain work of art, movie, song, environment... Only if there are no other influences, these emotions can push a decision in a certain direction, for instance.
Of course there are also lots of emotions which reside in the twilight between these two categories. One part of them, are those associated with the group behaviour already mentioned. Although this is already a slightly more complex kind of emotions than fear and so, they definitely are still at the "active" side, and then I'm actually expressing myself only softly. For if there is one single emotion which is often more important than common sense with the majority of people, it's without any doubt the fear not to be accepted by a group. And this again proves that we, as human beings, really aren't all that special: many animals, like our biological relatives the primates, show a very like behaviour, albeit mostly in a more primitive form. Actually it's rather pitiful that mankind possesses such an impressive brain-matter, but still has himself being controlled by that tiny part of it which apparently hasn't evolved much together with the rest. Group behaviour must certainly have been useful in prehistoric times, because the humans could better resist their hostile environment as a group. But the question is whether in the present-day world, it still is of any use, or just useless or even noxious.
In the rest of this text, you'll find countless examples of how group behaviour controls the way of living of most people. I'll start by giving an example here already, maybe a real typical example of group-related behaviour: Racism. Although in many cases it's not easy to tell what defines a certain "group", it's extremely simple in this case: the looks of people. It has been shown by scientific study that, when someone is in an environment with more than 20% foreigners, (s)he will possibly not feel at ease. This is called the "Überfremdungseffekt" (German for "over-alienation effect"). I have no doubt that people who have grown up in a narrow, mono-racial environment, are much more sensitive to this, than people who have enjoyed a "wide" education. But with someone who has himself easily roped in by a group, it probably doesn't matter much.
What may be surprising at first sight, is that this "Überfremdungseffekt" often seems justified. Let's try to find out what happens exactly in such a situation: for instance, you live in a neighbourhood with many foreigners and you start feeling not at ease. Yet in most cases, there will be no reason at all to feel uncomfortable. It's not because those people look different, that they'll kill you, rob you, or whatsoever. Those risks can be higher with 0% foreigners in your neighbourhood. However, just because you don't feel at ease, you might start behaving in a way which deranges those people, or you could even adopt an aggressive attitude towards them, just for the sake of that emotion. And aggression provokes aggression, and it's only till then that your emotion becomes justified! And then it seems as if you were right, but actually you only have created this situation yourself. If you would have realized from the start that they were people like you, without any malicious intentions, your discomfort would probably have vanished and you may even had made pleasing contacts with those people. A major problem is that other people in your neighbourhood will have the same emotions, and as soon as you find out, you will group together with them and then the situation is lost forever. As a group, you will follow the easy way of your common primitive emotions, and not the more difficult but better way of reasoning.
This extremely common and important mechanism in human behaviour, is generally known as the "self-fulfilling prophecy". And apparently it's very often fed or supported by group behaviour.
This phenomenon doesn't restrict itself to relations between people. It works on every front, including one's personal situation. The nasty thing about it, is that it seems to work 'best' with negative thoughts. If you think your life is worthless, it will automatically become worthless because you won't do any efforts to improve it. It's easy to get sucked into a vicious circle, so one of the key points in getting out of it, is realizing that you've likely created that circle yourself. If I look around, there's an awful lot of people who have negative thoughts about life and everything. I believe many things about current human society suck because people want them to suck, without realizing it.
If you would still be aching for one or other guideline which should improve your life, just remember this: concerning this kind of "active" emotions, first think thoroughly before you lose yourself in them. Your feeling may be right, but it may be downward incorrect either, and you should be able to determine this before you surrender to it. This is very difficult, but it is possible. What you must certainly not do, is try to involve other people in such emotions, for that's pure manipulation or even brainwashing. Alas, this is just what's pouring into your living room all day by magazines and commercials on your wireless and TV. This is why I detest publicity. I don't like being manipulated.
The "passive" emotions are much less dangerous in this aspect, since they only marginally control your behaviour. Therefore it's useless to resist these feelings. Nobody can tell why you like a certain song, and dislike an other. Moreover, nobody can force you to like or dislike a certain song, work of art or whatever. Those emotions just are exclusively yours. You may at best try to share them with somebody else, but you may not go any further than that. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't.
When I was still a little kid, I almost exclusively lived upon emotions. Everything I did was accompanied by a kind of emotion, and when this emotion was pleasant, I liked doing it, otherwise not. I never wondered whether what I was doing was useful or yielded profit or whatsoever, or not. Also, with almost each person I met, an emotion was associated. Automatically. As I grew up, these emotions disappeared mostly. Luckily on the one hand, for I didn't have any control upon them, and they sometimes forced me in a totally wrong direction. On the other hand, however, they coloured my life, something I tend to miss sometimes these days. When I now walk about in a special building, it more often occurs to me that I am vexed by the things one had to destroy to be able to build it, than that I'm "enchanted" by the architectural beauty. Therefore I'm trying to reanimate these emotions a little, and reconcile them with my reason.
Yet, if I look around, I have the impression that lots of people are frozen into their childhood, considering emotions. If one asks them "why do you find that ...", they often aren't able to give a rational argument. Their intellect only serves as a life-buoy for the moments when their emotions have made a real mess. Worst of all, a certain group of people really like other people to be this way, hence they try to maintain this situation, but you'll read more on this later on...
Actually, it was only after writing this text, that I had gained the insight how important emotions are for the average human. So it comes down to the fact that most people are almost exclusively controlled by emotions, with group behaviour-related emotions as the absolute topper. Therefore there is a lot of interest these days in the so-called "emotional intelligence", but yet again, the reason for this interest is not far to seek: the only thing one wants to achieve with such knowledge, is to manipulate you, so that they can yet again obtain as much profit as possible from you... Therefore: use your brains, or you will be used by others.
Religion is almost as old as mankind itself. "God" (and all synonyms) has always stood for what one doesn't understand. In prehistoric times, the elements of nature, the sun and the moon, etc. were considered as "gods". Later, the gods became more "personified", like with the Egyptians and the Greeks. The polytheism, which still exists in certain religions, was replaced by monotheism. "God" was then considered the creator of life, and so on, and so on.
Religion thus appears to be nothing else than a desperate attempt to force an answer to the question of life. Just let me state that I believe in one thing: that there is no god at all. Religion is like a drug, to avoid the hard reality. And although this may seem stupid at first sight, yet it's perfectly understandable since there is no real goal in life, which is a thought many people can hardly live with. Therefore they cling to a fictitious goal, while taking profit of the fact that the (non-)existence of a god is impossible to prove. Most people however, don't realize this at all, for they really believe in it, or they don't dare to resist it due to — you may already have guessed — the fear not to belong to their “group” anymore.
Real belief is an emotion. When you believe in something, it means that you assume without any rational reason that it is like it is. In other words, you follow your feelings as to that. With religion, one tries to artificially cultivate this emotion during education. The concept "God" is then associated with a feeling "God". Actually, no new emotion is being created. Namely, the same category of "spontaneous" emotions as the ones which made the primitive people idolize the elements of nature, are now being steered in a predefined direction — call it manipulation if your wish.
If you look at all the different religions that exist, you'll find a lot of common elements in them, but also a lot of striking differences. Some people claim that the presence of similarities is the proof that all religions are inspired by some ‘common divince force’. In my opinion, it is due to two important factors: first, all religions have most likely been derived from a single, or only a few, primitive religions. Second, all religions have originated from the same kind of emotions of ‘supernaturality’, even if they have originated independently. For instance, it should not be surprising that most religions pay much attention to pregnancy and birth, for this must have been one of the most mysterious and wonderful aspects of life for a very long time (and still is, by the way).
Now does this mean that religion is a bad thing? Yes and no. For example, the Bible contains a lot of statements which certainly are true. I even believe that Jesus has existed, but according to me, he either was slightly crazy, or extremely brilliant (I won't explain here what I mean with that), but he certainly wasn't "the son of God". But, although I'm not religious, yet I stick to lots of 'Christian' values, but then from a rational point of view. I don't need the hocus pocus packing. E.g. I don't need the threat of a “Hell” or “Purgatory” to show respect for my fellow-men. Apparently, some people do, though, and although that's not immediately the way it should be, yet it's already a lot better than nothing. People who lead a good life are good people, whether they are driven by religion or not.
However, there are lots of aspects in all religions which are completely wrong, and the more fundamentalism is being used, the more this shows. The more extreme one tries to subdue oneself or others to an ideology, the worse it gets. Certain religions incite to the oppression of women, or consider them as the man's 'possession'. Others imply the existence of "castes" or similar concepts, which are pure fabrications of the mind. But for the people who believe in them, they are more indestructible than a concrete block. All this cannot be justified in any way. The summit of absurdity are the religious wars: people are slaughtering each other, just for the sake of inventions of people who have sometimes been dead for thousands of years already... Look at the Palestinians: they keep on blowing up innocent people and even have a party when an assault succeeds. And in the meantime, the Israelians blow up their houses as a retaliation, causing even more suicide assaults, and so on. Theoretically this could only end until one or both of the groups have been completely eradicated... Or also: throwing rocks and even bombs at children, because they would be Catholic and go to school through a Protestant quarter. This sounds medieval, but I'm talking about an incident of September 5, 2001. It would take only 6 days more for probably the most atrocious example of what religious extremism can lead to. September 11, 2001, will not soon be forgotten.
Some people claim that the world is too complex to just have originated 'by coincidence', hence there must be some entity above us. They are called creationists, and the revival of creationism nowadays is alarming. Like I already said in the introduction, these people apparently are unable to comprehend the consequences of billions of years of evolution. It's not because it's pretty damn impossible to imagine how long of a time span a million years is, let alone a billion, that one should go for the extremely lazy solution of assuming that 'something' created us instead. Moreover, it doesn't even matter whether we're modeled out of a piece of clay by God, or are descendants of single-celled organisms. If we destroy ourselves because we're inherently unable to survive in the long term, whether by a design flaw by 'god' or by a wrong turn we took during evolution, we will disappear. That is just stone cold logic.
Let's imagine anyhow that the world (and the entire universe with it) would be the manufacture of a certain entity. Even in that case one should realize that the universe is unimaginably large and we are nothing but an insignificant little part of it. Our supposed 'creator' might as well be totally unaware of our existence, let alone the fact that he/she/it will study our behaviour on this planet or even interfere with it. Something that could still be possible, is that this so-called 'creator' existed in a previous universe and has destroyed itself while creating the current universe. Why on earth then, should we have to worry about this creator? This corresponds with a kind of 'deism', which would certainly be justified in the latter case. Maybe there has never been a creator anyway and the universe is construced in a fractal way, and our planet is something like a quark is for an atom (and in advance, the quest for the ultimate 'elementary particle' is doomed to never end, for there will always be a smaller particle). Then we are, without knowing it, a smaller part of an entity which is so much larger than ourselves, that we will never be able to realize this. This still looks much more plausible to me than one or other 'God' which decided to spend its time some day, modeling some living figures or fetching some laws of nature from its toolbox.
Somewhat connected with religion, is the belief in the existence of a "soul" in each human being. A "soul" would then be something immaterial, although it dwells within our material bodies. Under certain circumstances, of which death is pre-eminently the most common one, this soul would be able to detach itself from the body. What happens then, depends on your religion. In the one I was educated with, the soul goes to heaven, hell, or Purgatory; in other religions, it moves to another person or animal, or whatever. No lack of fantasy concerning this subject.
A totally different point of view, is the purely scientific, where the soul and the consciousness are nothing else than an extremely complex interaction of the neurones in our brains. From this point of view, the "soul" still isn't material, but the "magic" however, has vanished. And it implies that when we die, our souls die with us.
Let's state that I am very inclined to believe in the second point of view, although the first one is accompanied by a wide gamut of much more pleasant emotions, and despite the stories of "near dead experiences". Therein, people claim to have left their own body and were able to see it and the surroundings from the sky. What makes me wonder about such stories, is how an immaterial soul would still be able to see through the ordinary material central projection of material beams of light on a material retina... To my opinion, the fact that a person's mental state can totally change after a brain disease or trauma, is a proof that the soul is connected indissolubly to the material reality of the neurones in the brain.
As a matter of fact, this insight is starting to spread more and more, thanks to scientific research which offers more insights in the way "consciousness" really works. The problem is, that such insight, together with the one I started this text with, can lead to a total lack of lust for life with lots of people. They realize that they are no more than a biological entity without a real goal. And even if they don't commit suicide, they therefore change into living robots without any creativity, with as only anchorage a behaviour which is strictly moulded into rules: one large concatenation of occupational therapies, just to suppress those thoughts as much as possible. I.o.w. such people are incredibly boring and unpleasant as company, therefore generally have few friends.
And there we have it: I myself don't have too many friends. I've never had many, maybe that's why I had so much time to think about all this stuff. But these days, I try to change this situation (although that's not easy, for instance because other people simply expect me to keep on behaving like before — I don't fit in their group, you know). Because instead of letting me being depressed by everything I'm writing here now, I rather see it as a reason to enjoy life as much as possible: you only live once, so dammit, just enjoy it!
Taboos are "unwritten laws". Mostly, they could be considered as something one may not talk about, but it can as well be a certain action which is "fundamentally wrong". A few taboos (or former taboos) are, for instance: asking a woman her weight or age, talking about sex, abortion, euthanasia, ... For the one or other reason, one is not supposed to talk about these things, or perform such actions. If it does happen, a spontaneous feeling of disapproval originates with the people who have witnessed it. This can even go so far, that most people don't even dare to think about these things. And that's actually where the problem relies in, because someone who does think about it, will soon come to the conclusion that most taboos are downward arbitrary, and that for most of them, there is no sensible raison d'être. Then why do they exist anyway?
The keyword is again: group behaviour. Whoever wants to be part of a certain group, has to respect that group's taboos. Whoever violates them, risks of being expelled from the group. Very simple, but that's exactly how lots of people are.
So you can't simply eradicate taboos. For taboos are part of each "group", which has its own unique set of taboos, which often conflict squarely with an other's. A "culture" or ethnical group is an example of this. Therefore it may be quite possible that you wonder whether the above examples do are serious, and I can assure you: in countries like Belgium, those certainly are, or at least were, taboos. These "cultural" taboos are mostly being passed on by education. Whatever one may claim about the influence of the parents in education: it suffices that someone (and most often this concerns the parents), at the right moment, tells a child once that this or that is not allowed just because it's not allowed, to ensure that this thought is burned in the child's memory for the rest of its life. Of course there are exceptions to this, but most people won't think about it afterwards. If they see that taboo being infringed, in their heads an 'alarm bell' will sound, which was programmed back then, and it will automatically generate a feeling of disapproval. As if the offender is attacking their “group”. And once these people are roped in by this emotion, the question of thinking about the being useful or not of this "prohibition", is totally out of range.
Yet taboos often stand in the way of a simple and thorough solution of certain problems, and they may even be the cause of problems which would never have existed without them. Because if one is not prepared to talk about a certain problem, it will never get solved decently.
I'm not claiming that every taboo must be completely eradicated. For this would be a taboo by itself, namely a taboo on the creating of taboos, which is a paradox of stature! What I'm trying to say, is that there is nothing wrong with a taboo as a "playful prohibition" which may be broken at the least necessity. Without such taboos, lots of kinds of humour wouldn't exist. It does become bad when even in situations where it's totally useless and stupid, one still clings to those artificial arbitrary little rules. Apparently, some people need them as a kind of "anchor" to provide support in their lives, as a source of independence and security. But actually, those people are doing nothing else than serving the rules of one or other "group" hand and foot...
Let's take a closer look at today's most common kind of "civilisation". In the current capitalist society I and many other people live in, "economy" is the centre. Everything that's good for the economy, is according to some people, automatically good for everything. The only thing I can say to this, is "economy is occupational therapy", just like religion. The word "business" speaks for itself: busy-ness = keeping yourself busy, occupied!
It's as if economy has become the new religion, and money the new God. But money is nothing more than a human invention, how in gods sake could that be a goal of life. If I may express myself in a rude way: you must either be rather stupid, or have been completely brainwashed to believe that. There are theories that claim that when the economy is healthy, people lead a good life, and that striving for maximum profit automatically causes people to do good things. However, these rules only apply under very idealistic models. The real world is not ideal at all. You get the point.
What one sometimes dares to say, is: “children must be educated to become good consuments”, which, for me, is equal to: “children must be brainwashed so that, when grown up, they can be exploited without even being aware of it”. And nowadays, one seems to be rather succeeding in this. What one really wants these days, are people who haven't emotionally evolved beyond childhood, because children can be manipulated oh so easily! Being critic nowadays is becoming like a blasphemy: if you dare to give a negative comment about something, people think you're a nut. The reason is simple: people with a total lack of criticism will just buy anything up to total crap, and that's what one wants. It has even come this far, that some people think that “shopping” is the ultimate goal of their life and that there is nothing more pleasant. Yikes. Ugh. And in the chapter about M/W, you can read why most likely, you're thinking about women right now. Aside from this, a recent study has shown that 20% of the women are addicted to shopping. Deplorable, indeed.
It's possible to create a society which runs as smooth (or disorderly, just depending on how you look at it) as the current, but with almost no money. This, however, requires such an immense change of mentality, that most people wouldn't even be able to imagine it, let alone try it out. Actually, each kind of possession — the notion "to possess money" included — is a fabrication, which, however, is deeply baked into most people. But, possession is purely virtual, it only exists in our minds. Once you die or become demented, your "possessions" die with you.
I could elaborate endlessly about this subject too, and thereby compare our society with others based on extremisms, from which would appear that there is no reason to consider capitalism better than other "-isms". But that would lead us a bit too far. What is a fact, though, is that everything ending on "-ism", is inherently bad, because it implies that one has only one aspect of society — or whatever other subject — on the brain. See also the last chapter concerning this.
A fundamental part of the society described above, are the hypes and trends. They come down to the fact that for some reason, most people suddenly find a certain technological gizmo, or whatsoever, the absolute summit, and want it at all costs. And once they have it, they start making a show of it with others who don't have it yet. This continues until so many people have it, that it's no fun any longer. Nowadays, of course this mechanism is being exploited to the bottom by publicity and marketing.
Just take a look at the "Pokémon"-hype: albeit similar Japanese cartoon-films (anime) have existed for decades already, suddenly everybody went wild for it, just because a few marketing managers suddenly found that they could make money from it. The same with the — in the meantime already discarded — "Power Rangers": I still remember myself watching exactly the same junk on TV when I was still a little child, about 15 years before the appearance of the PR. Then, it was just called "Bioman", and it only appeared as filler in early morning-programs for children, for then it wasn't a hype yet.
You might think that this concerns a typical human phenomenon, but I'm certain that other anthropoid apes have their own "trends" too, although in a more primitive form which may not be immediately visible to us.
Yet again, you don't have to look far to search for the driving force behind all this. Just think about what you feel when you hear that some of your friends have just bought the one or other new gadget. Chances are that it's something like “damn, I must also get one of those, otherwise I wont belong any more”. Right, group behaviour again. Or you just feel something like “whew, I'm weaker than them”, yet another emotion from the prehistoric times, albeit strongly related to the previous. So the only thing that really happens, is that you're being manipulated by an often uncontrolled mass hysteria. At present however, many hypes and trends aren't so uncontrolled as they may seem. They start with and are guided by people who know very well what they're doing. The hype surronding the launches of new versions of the Windows operating system are probably the nicest example of this. The media coverage for these events is always so overwhelming that I'm certain it's mostly orchestrated by the Microsoft marketing machine. Bribing some journalists is peanuts compared to Microsoft's budget. With Windows Vista this must have been the most obvious, because the artificial hype almost seemed ridiculous compared to the indifference to Vista of everyone I know.
The insight in what hypes really are, has caused me to start to get a total aversion to them, and they actually have the opposite effect on me. For instance, take cellular phones (or GSMs as they're called in Europe). Although for years and years, people could everywhere be seen walking on the streets while staring at their cellphone, it would take years and years until I got one myself (and it was a present anyway). I still don't use it often. I prefer to make conversations with a human made of flesh and blood rather than with a piece of plastic (and I don't have to pay for that too). I find that the freedom you gain with it (being able to call somebody everywhere), doesn't really outweigh the freedom you lose with it (having to drag the thing along everywhere, and especially, the possibility that you can be called at each moment, everywhere, and by anybody — with a tune which irritates everyone in its action radius — to talk about nothing). For me, a mobile phone is mobile stress. I don't give a damn about the fact that it would be “trendy” to have a cellular phone (of course, nowadays they're so ubiquitious that there's hardly anything left of the hype). The only reason why I suggested a cellular phone as a gift, is that it can be useful for me in some situations which may occur more often in the future. Imagine that I had already bought one long ago: the thing would be pretty outdated by now, while for the same price, I would have a much better model at this moment.
Yet I'm now typing an Internet page, and Internet is another "trend" (albeit also one that has already passed its peak). But again, this leaves me cold. It's just because Internet really has so many interesting possibilities beyond the hype, that I'm interested in it. The ignorance of those people who force themselves with no sensible reason to try to understand something of Internet and computers in general, only irritates me. But those people can't help it, they aren't able to understand that they are simply being lead by a phantasm, which may or may not have been created intentionally by someone else... It's a sad world indeed.
As a side note, one thing that extremely annoys me about the internet, is that it has lowered to such an extremely low level, the threshold for people to write anything. This is mainly due to the anonymity inherent to 'cyberspace', and the consequence is that the entire internet is clogged with utter garbage. Before the advent of the internet, people actually had to do an effort to let their opinion be heard. Generally only those people who really had something interesting to say, had enough perseverance to go through the process of having their ideas published. Plus, most publications involved a redaction of human beings, who could reject junk. Now, anyone can write their moronic extremist ideas on blogs, forums and websites, and it becomes hard to filter out the signal from the noise. Sometimes this gives a false impression that humanity has become dumber, but actually it just has become easier for the already existing dumb people to let themselves be heard. The bad thing is, I have the impression that even in "real life" where nobody is protected by the veil of anonymity, people are starting to spread bullshit around in a similar fashion as on internet forums and blogs. Especially the youngest generations, who have been exposed to this kind of poor conversational culture since they could read their first webpages, seem to suffer the most from this. I believe there can be such thing as too much communication, and we have reached that point.
In itself, there's nothing wrong with the current technological advance, and it's really amazing what it has realized already. But it's going so fast, that it actually is use for only very few people, really. At the moment that you buy something, it's 'outdated' already. Moreover, most people aren't at all in any need of all the trumpery which one tries to foist off on them. There is not a single reason why one should try to cram the latest new gizmos up everybody's throat, like cellular phones which you can surf the internet with on a ridiculously small screen, take crummy photos, and play the most irritating ringtones ever invented. But yet one does it, because a few people can take big profits from it, and others labour under the delusion that it's really necessary to improve our lives (see below).
Although religion is crumbling away in several Western cultures, still the same "taboo" exists there around sex, apparently the only religious inheritance which hasn't eroded away yet — although this situation appears to be changing. Yet there is nothing abnormal, let alone unhealthy or forbidden about sex. If you believe that you would be walking about on this planet if sex hadn't existed, well... I would probably insult you heavily, yet with reason, if I'd tell you my opinion about this.
It's very simple and it goes like this: by a certain mechanism, which is nothing more than the result of natural selection — but it doesn't matter at all what's behind it anyway — a man falls in love with a certain woman, or a woman with a certain man, and vice versa at best. Depending on the persons involved, it may take a lot or little time, but at any rate they will have sex with each other after a certain time, simply because they have an unstoppable craving for it, for it's agreeable and pleasant. Now imagine that sex would be painful and/or boring, and that everyone would have a natural disgust of it. Then no humans would exist, it's as simple as that. And yet a lot of people seem to believe that sex is pure hell, practically always because they never had any sex and only have lots of wrong assumptions about it. Or because they think it's "forbidden" for some reason.
To keep the story short: sex and love are essential for mammals like humans. If you find that sex should be forbidden and love is nothing more than a fairytale, why don't you just continue this line of thought by considering how we can prepare ourselves in ±80 years for the eradication of the human species.
Now the question is, what do are good reasons to refrain from sex? A physical defect or a transferable illness are plain good reasons. If sex is not agreeable for you, it may be because it indeed is unhealthy for you, or because something else is wrong, which could maybe be cured. But in general, the most important reason without any doubt, is that sex, without using preservatives, is much more than a simple pleasure. Unless you still believe in the stork, you know what the consequences can be. And it are exactly those consequences which are the purpose of sex. And raising children is not the easiest thing in life. On top of that, I found it anything but a reason to party when the 6th billion human was born, for there are by far too many people on this planet already.
What you should make very clear for yourself, or better: yourselves, when you feel like a bit of sex again, is whether you want a child or not. If the answer is "no", what should be practically always the case (considering the average amount of wanted children, divided by the average times a couple has sex in their life), it would be very stupid to take a chance on that the circumstances will be such that no impregnation would take place. For that chance may be much larger than you think, just consult a book about this subject. In other words, you then must use a contraceptive. You could wonder if it then wouldn't be better to just refrain from sex, hence follow Mr. John-Paul the IInd's advice. According to me, the answer is "no", for if you try to restrain your sexual urges all the time, you risk of becoming totally unable to control them one day, with all possible consequences. Like all animals, humans need a "discharge" from time to time, otherwise it could become unhealthy...
A common subject of magazine articles nowadays, are the differences between men and women. Certain writings claim that there are scientific evidences that the woman is "the strong sex". What surprises me then, is how such a contradictio in terminis can be published in journals with a fairly good reputation considering quality. But I don't think it was a coincidence that a recent article of this kind appeared right on the same day a new "men's magazine" was released. For the more controversy, the more sold copies of course...
To the point: it should be clear that the concepts "scientific" and "the strong sex" don't have much to do with each other. The latter is namely extremely subjective, hence by definition impossible to examine or prove in a scientific way. Just what would you say when I ask you: "define the strong sex"? Maybe you would say that it is the sex with the "strongest" muscular strength on an average (probably man). Someone else could claim that it is the longest living sex (without any doubt woman). Others would say it is the most intelligent sex.
You now probably expected a phrase between brackets too after the last sentence of the previous paragraph, didn't you? Many have already tried to prove that either man or woman is most intelligent, trotting out arguments which may at first sight seem to contain some truth, but appear to be total vacuum when taking a closer look. The fact that most scientists have until now been men, doesn't need to be due to a higher intellect of men at all. It was sufficient that one used to think that science is nothing for women, to make sure women didn't get the same chances as their male colleagues in the past. The fact that girls seem to get higher scores at school, doesn't need to mean at all that they are more intelligent. If you knew how such scores are actually achieved, you would understand this immediately. To keep it short: everybody who has a sufficiently functioning memory and enough discipline, can get the score (s)he wants, for exams still are based for 90% on the bluntly reproducing of data. And, looking attractive enough can even be sufficient to come up to the mark, even if you don't know what you're talking about. (Therefore I consider written exams somewhat more 'fair' than oral exams.)
And if you think a good memory is a guarantee for intelligence, just ask a computer with a bazillion bytes of RAM and a gazillion bytes of hard disk space what's the next number in the series "4, 5, 7, 11". It might give the answer, if someone would ever have programmed that series by chance. And if your PC would then answer "19", you would say "whew, what an intelligent machine!" Yet it didn't cost your computer more effort than looking up the pre-manufactured answer in the right memory bank. And I can assure you that with a lot of people, it goes just the same way. For they are convinced that you need to learn everything by heart, and that you'll then "succeed in life" automatically. Well, just start with your 18-volume encyclopaedia, then I can recommend the complete works of Pascal, Descartes, De Fermat, Leibniz, and if you're finished with that, you can try the complete human genome, ... and so on. You would be severely aged anyway if you'd ever get there. And then — taking abstraction of the effects of dementia — you wouldn't even be able to fix your broken coffee machine, for none of the aforementioned works tells you how to do that...
In fine, I'll end this long digression here, whose purpose was just to show that most things are much more complicated than one uses to think. Moreover, intelligence isn't a simple (in both meanings) thing. A plumber who is too "stupid" to solve a mathematical equation, may, depending on the point of view, be more intelligent than Albert Einstein.
At any rate, now I finally can tell you what's my opinion about how the average intelligence levels of men and women are related. Well, if one is able to "prove" that men are more intelligent than women, as well as the opposite, there can be only one possibility: the difference is just zero. It's just because the levels are equal, that it's so easy to slightly manipulate the results of certain experiments in a certain way, so that they point in the desired direction. Yet one claims that, for instance, female brains are "better developed", and that there is a larger connection between both brain halves with women than with men. And without any proof, some people conclude that women must therefore be more intelligent. Well, if there would be a difference anyway, it must be incredibly small, for I see none in practice. Above all, I don't see why a woman/man would need to have more intellectual capacities than a man/woman. By the way, what one should be asking himself in the first place, is: why is it that the female brain would be so-called "better developed"? It is very unlikely to me, that we have been put together in such a way that the brain develops fundamentally differently because there are either two X-chromosomes or an X- and Y-chromosome. The influence of hormones considering this, is also excluded because they only have a significant effect on the development of the body, when the brain already is in a far advanced stage of development.
The human brain is so complicated on itself already (biologically spoken, even redundantly complicated), that on top of that an extra mechanism, which would serve to create a different type of brain per sex, seems extremely far-fetched to me. So when one talks about "development", it must concern some external influence, like education (in the wide sense), of which most people find that it must be totally different for girls and boys — from the rest of this text, you'll soon understand that I consider this nonsense. And if that's the cause, to me it's a sign that something is wrong with it and it must be thoroughly revised. Most people however, already stop thinking at the phrase “there is a difference”. For me that's just the start of the research!
So it is quite likely that if one would ever be able to show this "difference" — if it exists — in a real quantitative way, they won't publish it in too large letters, for it would be rather ridiculous if it becomes evident that one has wasted so much time and effort on those few percents, of even only fractions of a percent...
All the above is not concluded from any scientific research. Just consider it the product of simple common sense. If you're a scientist, and you think you're able to reject or confirm the above, then you'd better start with it immediately, but be prepared to enter rather unexplored terrains... And remember: finding a cause for something is not the end point. It's just the sign that you have to start a new research.
From now on, just try to look in a different way at people, when trying to estimate their intelligence. You will see as many dumb women as men, and as many intelligent women as men. It's only because most people desperately want to see a difference, that they actually see one (and... remember the self-fulfilling prophecy). It suffices that they only look at the things they want to see, and ignore the things they don't want to. You see, not only horses wear eye-flaps.
Yet men still seem to dominate women in many aspects. How is this possible? Well, the reason is simple: it's not because there is no difference in intelligence or whatsoever, that everybody understands that too.
Actually, what I have just tried, is to erase that misunderstanding with you, although I'm very aware that it may not have worked out at all and that you're now already on another website instead of reading on. But if I somehow have succeeded, we can continue:
So it's just because people do believe that men are more suitable for "intelligent" jobs, that you'll actually find more men there too. And this belief is deeply rooted in most people. During education namely, it's being hammered in solidly, so that it can procreate excellently afterwards. This belief, together with other clichés, like "women are more emotional than men, men are technically more talented, women are more suited for cooking and running the household", just are part of "culture", of "civilisation". In other words, they are virtual again. But they do can spread well, because somebody who has been educated with them, will educate his/her children with them too. Therefore the term "second nature" is often being used for this too. Although there isn't much nature about it. (N.B.: with "education", I do not only mean education by the parents. Nowadays, children are probably for the largest part being "educated" by the junk which flows into the house by TV, magazines and other media.)
The word you've long been expecting and which runs through this text as a continuous thread, hasn't been mentioned in this chapter yet: if there is one thing where group behaviour dominates, it must be here. I already talked about racism, well the related term in this context, is sexism. All I told about racism, is — with some small adjustments — applicable here too, especially the “self-fulfilling prophecy”. Since men and women look so different, they are first-class candidates to stick together into two different groups automatically. This effect may be even stronger here than with different races. Once these groups have been created, then the road is free for all what will be described in the following paragraphs.
Strictly seen, the only really fundamental differences between men and women are anatomical. Due to these differences, it is logical that women are less suited for certain jobs (but these are much more rare than you might be thinking). And in certain cases, it may perhaps lead to a slightly different view on the matters, but this certainly is not frequent from a strict logical point of view. However, most people seem to depart from the idea that men and women are totally different 'creatures' and consider similarities are an exception to this rule, and therefore they focus on the differences. My view is just the inverse, namely men and woman are very similar and there are not that many fundamental differences, and there is no point in trying to blow up these differences to extreme proportions. We're all humans in God's sake, not aliens from two different planets!
But how about those other differences, of which I claim they are inventions? E.g., it appears that women do are unable to properly remember the rotational direction of a screw. For this, there are two common explanations. The first is that there would be a gene somewhere which is connected to the capability of memorising rotational directions. To my opinion, this explanation speaks of a lot of fantasy, but further is rather undeserving of belief. A much more plausible explanation is up for grabs in toy stores: just take a look at "typical boy's toys" and "typical girl's toys". The first will often contain technical things with screws and so on. The latter very seldom. The toys that kids get, namely are a reflection of the sexist differences which mankind has created itself in the course of time. Girls are supposed to play with dolls so they can take care of their children when they are grown up, for that is "the woman's job", isn't it? Boys must play with Mecano-like toys so that they can work "in the factory" or as engineer when grown up. For those are "typical men's jobs", aren't they? And then people are surprised that women aren't able to turn tight a little screw, and that men rather disassemble their car or bike than taking care of the children.
Girls can cry when they are hurt and can show their emotions, but boy's mustn't. The only thing they can do then with these emotions, is bottle them up. And then one is surprised to note that more men than women commit suicide, when they have run out of places to smuggle away the thousand and first corked-up emotion.
These are again examples of self-fulfilling prophecies, which nourish sexism. One assumes that man and women differ, and therefore those differences actually are being created... Remember that larger connection between the brain halves: is this a fundamental anatomical difference or is it a side effect of the typical girl's education? Yet another debate to keep scientists busy with...
Talking about science, one specific study has recently gained attention in 'popular science'. It's the one claiming that women are better at multitasking than men. No details at all about this study are ever given on TV or in magazines, but nearly all people I know now have a firm belief that women are better at "doing multiple things at once" than men, whatever that means. The only thing I believe, is that the results of that study have been pulled out of their context and grossly exaggerated, just for the sake of providing people with new fuel for their daily verbal sexist battles. I have to endure someone citing this study every few days, either to confirm his/her seemingly fragile masculinity/femininity, or just as an excuse (for men) to escape tasks which reek vaguely of multitasking. If this continues long enough, men could eventually become worse at multitasking indeed, because it may become another aspect of sexist education.
The funny thing is that another study attempted to prove that multitasking would be inefficient in some way. It really felt as if the researcher considered the other study as an attack on his masculinity and wanted to defend himself. If one looks at what kind of studies make it into news reports, it are mostly the ones about sex or differences between men and women, no matter how irrelevant, useless or dubiously executed they are. Tough luck getting media attention if you're a researcher in another field and have dicovered something really useful that has nothing to do with sex(uality) in some way.
Once people are more or less grown-up, one starts fiddling to try to eliminate those artificial differences again. This is called "emancipation". This is a palliative to erase the errors which have been made during education, which is almost impossible since they are too deep-rooted. Hence emancipation is rather useless. Now if we had never put those artificial differences between man and women into our children, a lot of problems now existing would vanish automatically. "Great! Thé solution!" you may now say. Alas, it's nowhere that simple. Namely, the problem is that this "second nature", although it concerns something virtual, has some strong defence mechanisms.
First: most people resist against changes, especially changes in their way of living — especially when the change appears to attack some advantages of their way of living.
Second: see a few paragraphs above, namely the "consumption society". A few of the 6 billion people walking around on this planet, take a lot of profit from all those fictive differences, while they do damage to the other people. The ratio of both groups must be approximately 1 to 1000, yet this situation is firmly maintained by this minority. For they are slaves of their own craving for money, which stuns every non-profit-yielding part of their common sense. Of course I'm talking about the manufacturers of all those products which are meant specifically for women or men alone. Strangely enough, these persons don't seem to realize that a lot of their production costs would halve (no specific ads, same packaging for products which actually are the same, but are now sold in separate versions for men & woman) or their potential market would double, if they would target their products at both sexes. Alas, the situation is somewhat more complex in the real world. The reason why one is actually doing this so-called "product differentiation", is that it often allows to get a position in the market which inclines more to a monopoly. But if you want to know more about this, I can recommend reading a book about economics.
Third: it's probably starting to sound hackneyed, but there it is: group behaviour yet again, yes indeed. Because it concerns only two groups which are clearly defined, it's very hard to break through their boundaries and bring them closer together. Each and every single individual of these groups will resist against that!
Thus, what one could do to destroy all these mechanisms, is eradicate almost all people and start over, a kind of "Noah's Ark". Of course this is only a scenario for sci-fi movies! (If you would find it a good idea anyway, then I suggest you start with yourself.) On top of that, after a while the situation would automatically again converge to an extreme anyway, whether it be in man's or woman's favour. So the only thing that can be taken into consideration, is trying to change the situation slowly, step by step, and if it ever gets better, making sure that it doesn't backslide. Think about the fact that it concerns groups here, and you won't achieve a thing by attacking the group. You must tackle each individual: a tiny bit per individual, times the number of individuals in the whole group, can make a large difference already.
Or we could as well do nothing, and wait until the situation has amplified itself so strongly that it destroys itself (and possibly humanity with it)...
It is clear what this sickly urge for group-forming has induced: when I look around me, I see girls having almost only girlfriends, and boys having almost only boyfriends. And girls seem to consider boys as a different species, and vice versa. Logical, for most of them believe firmly as a rock in all artificial differences I already talked about, and lots more. Some girls/women also get a kick from those would-be scientific articles which claim that they are more intelligent (see above), and since they labour under the delusion that they are "better", they don't want to have anything to do anymore with the so-called "inferior" species — an attitude which doesn't immediately show a lot of intelligence, rather a total lack of mental maturity.
There are no humans anymore, only "men" and "women". The one sex simply doesn't fit in the group of the other. And I have the impression that both groups are getting more and more dissociated.
The majority of girls nowadays try to transform themselves into a clone of the current beauty ideal. Although it is completely useless, yet 99% of all women epilate themselves. Even though it has been proven high heels are unhealthy, women keep on wearing them. And although in lots of cases it is inconvenient, yet a large part of the women drags along a purse, as if they will drop dead spontaneously without the thing. Surprisingly enough (or not), it's hard to find information on when the use of purses was introduced, but I have a strong suspicion that it was somewhere in the renaissance. It must have been a miracle that women were able to get through the entire medieval ages without purses! I suspect high heels and purses to be invented by men, because no sane woman could want to inflict such things on herself. I also suspect that regardless of your age, this text is about the first time in your entire life, that someone ever questioned the inseparable association of purses with women so thoroughly.
All these habits are seemingly considered as essential aspects of "being a woman". It are the requirements to belong to the "group". And therefore the largest part of all women look the same. How boring. Lots of present-day girls have a real "plastic" look, which fills me with disgust. And what a waste of time it must be to dress up yourself every day like a Barbie doll. And who knows, maybe all those unnatural cosmetic substances have long-term noxious effects which haven't appeared in laboratory tests. But people do keep themselves occupied that way, of course. And when you're busy, you don't think of what I started this text with.
Of course, all this also counts for men too. If you would try to divide the majority of men into certain "categories", you would probably — just like with women — have enough fingers on your both hands to count the number of different categories. Some of these would then match up with similar categories at the women's side, and others won't. People from the latter categories have a high chance of staying single for the rest of their lives. And of course there are typical "men's characteristics" too, like drinking beer, watching football/soccer and so on. However, the amount of "plastic"-looking boys today seems lower than with girls. But as the producers of cosmetic junk want to increase their profits, this may change soon.
So it comes down to the fact that mankind has cleaved an enormous gap between both sexes. And this gap only seems to broaden, certainly not to narrow... Because most people find all this self-evident. They have — yet again — the "feeling" that it just needs to be that way. They feel blissful if they can confirm themselves being a member of their group, they have become so dependent of it that the present-day image of the so-called "independent woman" almost has to be a caricature.
Of course this artificial "separation of sexes" has its impact: the birth number in lots of "civilized" countries is decreasing. In Belgium it's even that bad, that parents receive the more money from the state, the more children they have (while in countries like China, it's just the opposite situation). For it is a fact that the Belgian population would decrease, if there wouldn't be so many immigrants entering the country all the time. I didn't even know about this while I wrote the above text, albeit I had a strong suspicion, for it's no more than logical.
But actually, all this is not such a real disaster. Like I said before: there are way too many people on this planet and a decrease of the population is rather welcome. I do wonder then, whether this really needs to happen in such an unpleasant way.
The most ironic thing about all this, is that this extreme manifestation of the both sexes as totally different and independent groups, undoes all efforts to eradicate sexism. What is the origin of sexism? The idea that both sexes are different, right! Extremizing these differences is amplifying sexism. I believe that sexism has become even worse today than it was when women were oppressed by men (which is by no means saying that I found it a better situation). In fact, nothing has really improved about this situation, on the contrary. While formerly, you had an oppressing (men) and an oppressed (women) group, you now have two oppressing groups! That's twice as bad! Of course going back to the previous situation (or its inverse) is no solution at all. But the way we are going now is no solution either. The way lots of men and women distantiate each other from 'the other side' makes me downward sick.
Something which bothers me too somehow — and now I'm without any doubt touching a delicate subject — is that today, one calls off gay and lesbian relations as completely 'normal'. (For the sake of simplicity, in the remainder of this text I mean with 'homosexual' or 'gay': "attracted to the same sex".) One claims that 5% to 10% or even more of the population is homosexual, which I find a suspiciously large number. Everything depends on your definition of 'normal' of course. If by 'normal', you mean "it's the norm or majority", then I think you are in dire need of a reality check. Yet it seems like many people do use this definition of 'normal'. On the other hand, if by 'normal' you mean "it can happen", then I say that homosexuality is normal indeed.
I believe, namely, that each human being is constructed from the same blueprint. Many or even all of the qualities that are typically male and female, are present in every human being. They are selectively activated, by hormones and/or other mechanisms, some during the development of the foetus, but many after birth. The two key qualities here, are the abilities to feel attracted to women, and to men. Mind that these are two completely disjunct mechanisms. Which of these two is activated, depends mainly on hormones. Of course nobody will want to do an experiment like this (and nobody should), but I bet that one could turn any man/woman into a gay/lesbian by manipulating his/her hormone levels. In certain individuals, it is possible for both mechanisms to be activated in parallel; these people are bisexuals. When the attraction mechanism in an individual for their own sex is dominant, they become homosexual. This is all speculation, but until I see a sound scientific study to prove me wrong, this is what makes the most sense and best explains my experiences and observations.
We could distinguish three possible categories of causes for a deviation from the 'normal' activation pattern of sexual attraction.
The first cause could be called 'natural'. In this case, the activation of the same-sex-attraction is somehow fixed at birth. This would mean that there would be a 'gene for homosexuality', or at least a condition in which it is pretty much guaranteed. Natural selection is what made this condition rare. Nevertheless it still occurs, and people who have it, either consider it a curse or gift. Considering how much fun many gay people seem to have, I think the latter option is justified. Yet I can't believe that this would explain the > 10% figure. Therefore the two other causes.
The second cause should be called 'unnatural'. This involves an alteration of sexual attraction by external factors, i.e. a change in the environment caused by human activity, like pollution. There are quite a lot of chemicals which have similar effects as hormones. Some studies may have been made about this, but if so, they are vague, unknown and rather undecided because nobody knows about them. Nevertheless I believe it exists. If it could be shown that this is true, would you just accept it or try to do something about it? Many people just seem to want to accept it. Yet I don't like at all the idea of pollution changing anything about the way our bodies work.
The third cause could be called 'compulsory'. It is likely that some people labour under the delusion that they are gay or lesbian, while they actually are heterosexual by nature. Reasons for this can be for instance, the "trendy" aspect of it, or just an urge to get some attention. But I'm convinced that what I explained in the previous section, contributes its mite the most. Because such a deep gap has been smashed between the male and female sexes, for a lot of people it's becoming hard to bridge this gap. And if they don't succeed in doing so, there's nothing else for it but to seek his/her sexual satisfaction at the own side of the gap. Or if you want it explained in terms of groups: then it's easier to tear oneself away from the group of the own sex and form a new group, than to penetrate into the group of the other sex. Hence people who could have felt better in a heterosexual relationship, are 'forced' into an artificially homosexual relation.
As usual, people might be tempted to pick one of these 3 causes and say that it's the absolute truth, excluding the other 2. The real truth is that they all exist in parallel. The only thing that's unknown, is their distribution. What this all means, is that 'being gay or not' is not as strictly binary as most people seem to think. And with that I also mean that people aren't always either strictly homosexual or strictly heterosexual.
In many countries, there is a tendency towards giving rights, traditionally reserved to heterosexual couples, to gay couples too. Up to a certain degree, this is a positive evolution, as there are no sane objections against allowing two men or two women to live together. Yet I feel there are certain limits to this. No matter how hard one wants homosexual relationships to be equivalent to heterosexual relations, there will always be fundamental differences. For instance, some people find it self-evident that the next logical step to gay marriage, is to allow gay couples to adopt and raise children from any age on. I don't, and that's not from the couple's perspective, but from the — often easily overlooked — child's perspective. Imagine you're a kid with two fathers or two mothers, while all of your friends have a father and a mother. That could be quite confusing to say the least. And if you think such children will be readily accepted by other children, you have a pretty idealistic view of the kind of world small children live in. I wouldn't object against such adoption if there would be an age limit, so that the child has the ability to decide by itself.
To finally make an end to this subject, here's a summary for who doesn't see the wood for the trees anymore.
There do are differences between men and women and we need take these into account. But we must not be obsessed by these differences, and certainly not inflate them to the extreme and invent new ones too. This only leads to a chain reaction of problems. If sexism is what you want, extremism is the way to go. Instead of trying to dissociate ourselves as far as possible as man and woman — as almost everyone is trying nowadays with might and main, mainly because a small minority can take profit from it — we'd better try to get as close to each other as possible.
If humanity is a large piece of rock, then the difference between man and woman is a crack. And what one does now, is jamming a crowbar into this crack, and trying to enlarge it as far as possible. Now why should we be doing this? What is it good for? Just think about that.
People have always been obsessed with immortality in some way. Even Lindbergh, the aviator who first flew over the Pacific, tried to construct machines that could extend the life of a human being. Immortality sounds like a cool concept if one doesn't think deeply about it. As a kid, I once drew comic strips and in the second story I made the main character immortal because it seemed cool. But it soon became apparent that it wasn't. And that's exactly the problem with people's craving for immortality. It's a childish emotion which few people have ever thought of deeply.
There are many, many problems with immortality. First of all, it is impossible. Everything must die at some point in time. This will be explained further on in this text. "Immortality" would merely mean that you can't die from getting older or from simple diseases. It would not mean that someone couldn't pulverize your head with a rifle or detonate a bomb next to you. It won't matter if the "you" is a being of flesh and bones, a robot, or currents in an electric circuit. A sufficiently strong bomb or other destructive forces can wipe out all of those. In other words, you can still die, and that's a troubling thought when you have invested in probably extremely expensive, complicated and possibly painful methods to become "invulnerable".
Most people enjoy their life especially because they know it will end some day. They do crazy things because they know they may not be able to do them tomorrow anymore. If you're immortal, there is no incentive to do anything exciting at all, on the contrary. You may not want to risk a parachute jump because the parachute might not work and you'll die. You shouldn't risk a deep-sea dive because your respirator or whatever power source might fail. Even if you've turned yourself into a near-indestructible machine, you could still make a misstep and have to spend the rest of your eternal life at the bottom of the ocean where you can't move and nobody will ever find you. You might not even want to step into a car because there's a considerable chance that you'll get into a lethal accident.
Even if you're not afraid of all those things, you could do all possible exciting things over and over until you're totally bored of all of them and there is nothing left to try. It seems that the life of an immortal is doomed to become boring inevitably. The most exciting thing for an immortal will eventually end up being death itself. I don't know about you, but I'd rather live a short interesting life than spending eternity in boredom.
I'm pretty sure that in the heads of most people reading this, there will still be a little voice that screams "don't believe it, immortality is cool!" So let's go even deeper. Even if we accept the fact that "immortality" has to be toned down to the less exciting "living much longer than ±80 years", it's still very problematic. Suppose that all people on this planet would become immortal. That would be an outright disaster in many ways. We would be stuck with all the same people who want to kill each other and fight stupid wars for nothing. Nobody would want to procreate, because otherwise this planet would become very cramped very quickly, and natural resources would be destroyed even faster than they are now, up to the point where everyone does die because there's nothing left to eat. Even if we're able to sustain a planet full of immortals, the fact that everyone's life situation has pretty much been frozen, would cause huge problems. Any profession related to birth, growth, aging, death or diseases would become useless, and those may be much more numerous than you think. What are all those people going to do? This is one of the key questions with immortality: what are you going to do with it? How are you going to spend "eternity"? The most likely answer may end up being: finding a way to die to escape boredom. Immortality would bring a halt to the most fundamental dynamics of life: birth and death. Any definition of life somehow includes those two elements, so if they are cancelled, life ends. We would effectively be dead already even though we won't be able to die.
Of course, the previous paragraph is very improbable. Becoming immortal would be a privilege for the happy few, not for everyone like the people in poor African countries. It will involve expensive procedures and will likely even require continuous 'maintenance', making your immortality last as long as your bank account. Moreover, if you look back in history at all people who seriously considered immortality, you'll end up with a list of mostly freaks and lunatics, to give you an idea who those 'few' will probably end up being. Even Lindbergh, who is respected by many, believed his inventions should not be available to the 'lesser' people. He sympathized with the Nazis and their eugenics.
So the most likely future in case immortality is achieved, is one where almost everybody is still mortal, governed by some immortal deranged dictator who will make the mortals' life expectancy even shorter than it is now. No matter how you look at it, immortality is a far cry from the romantic thought that many people have. The only thing it really is, is in the best case a guarantee for eternal boredom, and in the worst case a sure road to hell on earth. There's simply no point in trying to extend the lifespan of people indefinitely. Efforts should rather be spent in improving the quality of life at old ages.
In this paragraph, I'll try to explain some things which often go completely wrong in the way of thinking — or the lack thereof — of many people, and I'll use this subject as an example.
The pre-eminent trend at the moment of this writing, is the title of this paragraph. Nowadays, one flings all kinds of predictions at your head, that we will soon be able to manufacture humans to measure, that everything will be perfect and so on. Because now we finally seem to have found a way to patch up the consequences of the bungling with previous technologies. Instead of cleaning up pollution, we now are going to try to fix the diseases and deviations caused by it. But there, tackling the consequences of problems instead of their origins is a typical human error, so I'll overlook it for now, although it's of course a stupid way of working.
Many people wonder if we really need this technology. Because the fear of abuse is large, and certainly with reason. Actually there are, as usual, two camps: one part of the people surely wants to use this technology, preferably as fast as possible. Another part is being deterred from it, and doesn't want it. The first group is being fooled by the already explained phenomenon of trends and hypes. The second group is being fooled as well, but then by emotions. Both attitudes are equally wrong, for they are both equally extreme, hence equally far divided from reality, which is in the middle of them.
The first group is seized so much by the new technology, that they consider it as the summit of everything, and are convinced that all problems can be solved with it. In this euphoric intoxication, one forgets or shuts out all fundamental problems and imperfections which inevitably come with the new invention. For "if it's new, it must be definitely better than the old stuff, isn't it?"
The second group spontaneously gets a feeling of fear and aversion when one claims to be able to manipulate the fundamentals of life. This emotion is justified, for if a person like Hitler would seize the power nowadays, the consequences would be disastrous and horrible. Yet it is strongly exaggerated, for such persons luckily are rare, and the circumstances which can lead to abuse are even more rare (although...) Moreover, the technology does have its good sides, and not only bad ones as being dictated by that emotion.
So both groups are off the beam. Now is this technology good or bad? None of both. Not a single technology is good or bad. Only what one does with it, is good or bad.
When Nobel invented dynamite, he thought of possibilities like blasting tunnels and roads in rocks, or blow out fires. Not much later, people were being blown to bits by the same invention.
After Einstein had discovered the possibilities of radio-activity, not only power plants were built which could provide enormous amounts of electrical energy, but atom bombs were also designed, and used in 1945 to annihilate countless innocent people.
Recently, someone on TV claimed that the new mobility applications will bring people closer together, and that one will achieve more respect and understanding for one another. An extremely roseate vision, indeed. The same cellular phones which one thinks to realize this heaven on earth with, are used by hooligans and robbers to better organize themselves.
The same technology which ensures a better privacy for everybody, allows the easier executing of illegal actions without being traced.
And you don't even need to search that far for other examples: with a kitchen knife, you can prepare meals, but you can also cut someone's throat. Nothing is good or bad. Only people are.
So returning to biotechnology, it comes down to the fact that everybody will need to see to it that it is not being abused, and that it is not being used when unnecessary. Like each technology, it will have inevitable defects, and why should we be introducing those defects somewhere if we can do without. Just imagine that, like in a lot of current cheap sci-fi movies, it would be forbidden in the future to procreate children the natural way, because that would supposedly introduce too much errors. Then humanity would have reached a quite low level indeed. If we would make our procreation dependent of a fragile and delicate technology, the continuance of mankind would hang by a thread. Not to mention the enormous potentials for abuse which would then show up. The comic-book situations from Paul Verhoeven-movies could then become reality...
We must not adapt to our technology, technology must adapt to us.
I will now generalise the previous paragraph, hence make an attempt — whether it be successful or not — to sum up some typical errors in human behaviour.
For the Belgians amidst us: Dutroux, Herald of Free Enterprise, Agusta, Dioxin '99. For the Dutchmen: Enschede 2000. For the others: Challenger '87, Concorde 2000, ... or even: World Trade Center 2001. These are all things which went horribly wrong while they could have been avoided. Divergent as these examples may be, they always follow the same canvas: suddenly, somewhere something goes thoroughly wrong (sometimes very thoroughly), and then people suddenly focus all their attention on that problem, to try to avoid it from reoccurring in the future. Practically always, one comes to the conclusion that incredible blunders have been made, or that lots of fundamental things don't work properly. The reason why the Challenger, as an example, has exploded, was the fact that the rubber joints of the booster rockets lost their indispensable flexibility at a too low temperature. The night before the launch had been very cold, and you know the sequel. A dramatically simple experiment afterwards, where the rubber was being submerged in a coffee cup filled with ice, showed the flaw. And nobody had thought of that beforehand — or had they?
In Enschede, it was even much more striking: a fireworks storage site in the middle of a residential quarter... Is any more comment necessary? Yet it was all conform to the rules, they said. Again a proof that rules alone don't suffice, or can even completely come to nothing. If it's legal to store 100 tons of explosives in a residential quarter, I'd like to know what kind of imbecile has approved that law. And of course, immediately after the disaster, people everywhere started to look if there weren't any such situations in their neighbourhood. But a week before, not the slightest danger existed, for then nothing had yet exploded.
The same with the Dutroux-case: before it, child abuse was barely taken notice of, after it, children were protected in an exaggerated way and everybody was terribly anxious at the slightest suspicious event. In the UK it was even worse: during the anti-paedophile-hype, which was started by "The News of the World", some people had set the house of an innocent person on fire, because a paedophile would have lived there. (This man, however, had been in jail for more than a year already.) The three children living in the house only barely escaped death by that fire!
And I could go on like this for a while. The summit of this way of acting, is that it actually stimulates problems. Not the one which one is obsessed by, but just those which one thereby loses sight of. For it is clear without further preface that the average human is able to consider only one thing at a time. When one focuses all his attention onto that single problem, attention for other situations fades, hence the risk for a problem there increases.
Of course this phenomenon doesn't limit itself to the relatively short-term examples I gave above. Nowadays there's what could be called a hype about 'global warming'. Nobody seems to be able to prove or disprove it, but if some people are right, we're right at the point of no return. This is exceptional, because theoretically it's not yet too late to act, so we could avoid a scenario like the ones described above. However, you can call me a pessimist, but if the whole global warming story is true, I'm quite sure that it's way too late already, not theoretically but in practice. Most of the people who can do something about it, are way too lazy or selfish to give up any of their polluting luxury, even if they know it might backfire even within their own lifespan. Many people even boycot any initiatives to save energy, for reasons that can only be traced down to the fact that they're, well, assholes.
It's easy to prove that time travel is impossible. If at some point in the future a time machine would be invented, there's no way that everyone would be able to resist going back to this time period, to punch us in the face for leaving them such an incredible mess. People would gladly take the risk of creating a time paradox for that!
There is an upside to the global warming hype, though. Even though the (few) willing people are focusing on reducing supposedly climate-warming emissions, they are generally inclined to do more environmentally friendly efforts in other areas too, which is a good thing. Even if the human impact on climate is negligible, there are lots of other things about the environment that we are messing up with much higher certainty. Of course, there is also a huge downside. The fact that it's a hype may prove disastrous in the future. All hypes come to an end at some point, often leaving people with even more indifference about the hyped subject than before.
(John Peers, Logical Machine Corp.)
So it's always the same story: people need a kick under their arse before they start acting: first the facts, then the thinking. Now imagine that one day, something goes wrong very thoroughly, and a world-scale disaster occurs, causing all humans to perish. Who will then try to avoid such disaster in the future? The insects, which may have survived it? Or the Martians? No need to mention that this way of running after the facts is not quite the most intelligent. It does fit well, however, within the common philosophy of mankind to mould everything in neatly prepared rules: "let's first wait what goes wrong now, and then try to invent a rule against that, to prevent it from happening again". And often there is another error within that rule, which one didn't foresee. This way, we stay busy, and we get completely strangled in a chaos of little rules, of which we often don't even know anymore why they exist. The same scenario will probably happen with biotechnology. The major problem is, this technology is so close to the fundamentals of life, that a disaster may lead to unrepairable damage, which may only appear when it's already way too late. So I hold my breath...
What I opt for, is to only use each technology when it's really necessary, after first having checked if there aren't any other, less risky or complicated, ways to solve the problem in question. And above all, problems must be pulled up by the roots. If you only tackle their consequences, you just keep on bungling, for the problem itself persists, like the root of a stinging nettle which remains in the soil after you have cut away the rest of the plant. Once the problem itself is obliterated, its consequences will never recur, and may even disappear automatically. And then the aphorism above the paragraph won't be valid anymore, like it mostly is nowadays. Do not shift your problems, solve them!
Unfortunately, really solving problems isn't humanity's strongest skill, as all the examples I summed up earlier have illustrated. What's the actual cause of this? There are two reasonable explanations. One: people are simply stupid. I'm afraid this is true to some extent. Most people can be pretty intelligent on their own, but put them into groups and as by magic, their intelligence drops to nearly the level of the most dumb person in the group, or even below that. Two: people are lazy. Being lazy to some extent is good, because it prevents doing unnecessary things, and stimulates to do things in the most efficient way. However, there's an upper limit to this, and many people far exceed this limit. They're so lazy that they wont't solve an obvious problem until they're immediately threatened by it. Solving the problem then, is most often a few factors of magnitude harder than if it would have been tackled earlier, and all the 'saved' work due to laziness is back with a nasty vengeance. And often it's so bad that the problem simply kills them.
It may seem strange that natural selection hasn't managed to wipe out this stupid behavioral trait yet, but it's not all that strange considering how young a species mankind is. I'm not very optimistic regarding this, and I say that the human species as it is now, is unfit for survival. The more I look at people, the more I tend to see ordinary animals that can talk and wear clothes. Their lives are like the ride of the ball in a pinball machine, bouncing back and forth between instincts that still date from the time when we were hunting in the jungles and savannahs, and emotions that are either natural too, or drug-induced. Their intellect, if any, could be compared to the flippers in the machine that try to prevent the ball from vanishing into the hole of death. If you've ever played a pinball machine, you probably know that the flippers are idle most of the time. The only other times when their intellect engages, is when they need to find cheap excuses to justify this 'lifestyle', on the rare occasions that it is questioned.
As an ‘intelligent’ species, humanity only seems like a first draft. We are ordinary animals coated with a thin, fragile shell of intelligence that very often cracks and makes our primal nature show through. Regardless of whether one believes in Darwinism or not, there's no way around it: we are destroying our own habitat, and this will kill us. That's plain hard simple logic and no god or disbelief in (or disdain for) natural selection will save us from this collective suicide. If something kills itself, it dies, what's so goddamn hard about that?! Maybe, after the next world-scale disaster, some people will survive and get a chance to start over. If you are someone who still has a minimum of dignity and desire for mankind to survive, there's a gleam of hope for you. Maybe the reason why those people survive will be due to them having a little more common sense than the ones who mainly contributed to the disaster. If this process repeats itself a few times, humanity could actually become somewhat fit for survival after all. This is of course a horribly inefficient and painful future, and now already there are people who are both able and willing to avoid it. But as it is now, the ratio between such people and those who are either insufficiently intelligent or too unwilling to prevent it, is way too small. You could call me pessimistic, but I think I'm just being realistic.
I don't know if it's really contemporary or just something I didn't notice when I was younger, but there seems to be an increasing 'censorship-attitude' nowadays towards criticism, which may also explain why problems are postponed until it's too late. As an exercise, try to find user reviews on IMDb which are both negative about the movie and are ranked "useful". They exist, but you'll have to go to the really awful movies to find them. I've written some reviews myself where I used sound arguments to explain why a certain movie was bad. I gave up on writing such reviews because they're systematically deemed "not useful" by the 'community'. I wrote another very positive review and it got near 100% "usefulness". It seems that for most people, "useful" means "happy happy joy joy". I thought it meant "does this review help you in determining whether it's worth watching this movie", but that seems to be too far-fetched. The same goes for music and anything else: write something negative about a song that's even a slight bit popular and people will scream fire and murder and call you a 'hater' and a moron.
The summit of all this forced positiveness is so-called "political correctness". Some people tend to believe we should avoid using negative terms in language, especially when talking about people. It's not appropriate to speak of 'handicapped' people, no, they're 'challenged' in some way. This paragraph bears the title from Orwell's most famous book, because the concept of PC-ness reminds many people of 'newspeak'. In the book, newspeak is a language designed to prevent people from thinking in certain negative ways. Sounds familiar? It's not the same of course, because newspeak only served to protect the communist-like dictatorship. But still, the similarity is uncanny. Tell me, how is replacing words by 'less negatively sounding' ones going to improve anything? People tend to think in extremes, and once the 'more negative' words have faded, the 'less negative' words will simply become the new extremes. It just doesn't work. You can't have anything positive if there isn't something negative to balance it with. Of course I'm talking in a politically incorrect way now, but I don't give a fuck.
My point is that this political correctness seems to have spread beyond the soothing of 'negative' terms for certain groups of people. People seem to get mad at anything negative nowadays. Everything is positive and good, especially when it's trendy and new. Even I am getting tired of repeating it, but group behaviour again seems to be a driving factor. No matter how horribly bad a certain song may be, if it somehow managed to make people think that many other people like it, you're suddenly a moron if you explain to people why a cheap drum loop and sample don't make a good song. Wait 10 years and tell them again, and they'll agree, because then the song has lost its Magical Shield of Hype. Politically correct people will now want to tell me that hype is good and joy, but I can't help believing the world would be so much less full of shit without hypes. Now why would this "happy joy"-attitude stimulate problems? Simple: problems are negative. You're not supposed to talk about negative stuff. Of course this solves nothing, on the contrary. All the postponed negativeness will explode in a concentrated ball of misery once the problem gets out of hand. And then we're back at the start of this section...
I believe one of the driving forces behind this kind of attitude, is overexposure to misery from all over the world. The main problem is too much communication. 200 years ago, a whole city could explode and it would take days or weeks before a severely watered-down version of the news would reach the other side of the globe. Nowadays, we're engulfed in all the pain and misery of the entire world in near real-time, with detailed images and sound. For instance, on September 11, 2001, one could repeatedly see 2973 people dying on TV, from all kinds of angles, with re-runs every few minutes. For many people, the only way to cope with all this is to become apathetic to it. For if they would care even a bit about every person who's reported dead or injured every day, life would be non-stop pain and sadness. The problem is that those people don't just seem to become apathetic to misery in news reports, but to about everything. If you explain a problem to them, they will tell you to cool down and adapt to it, instead of even giving a hint of wanting to get it solved. As a matter of speaking, when their house is on fire such people would rather put on a fireproof suit, and ignore the fire until it kills them, than trying to extinguish it. This is of course exaggerated because they will act if a problem is an obvious immediate threat, but otherwise they'll just let it escalate until it becomes enough of a 'real' problem. Of course this makes such people ideal targets for all kinds of abuse: it suffices to keep the abuse below the threshold of apathetic laziness.
There is a fundamental problem when it comes to explaining people why they're wrong. I call the problem ‘perceptual aliasing’, a term which apparently has already been coined in machine learning literature in a different context. In this text, I define perceptual aliasing as the phenomenon where a judgement about something is the more incorrect, the larger the judge's inability is to comprehend the subject. This may sound obvious because I haven't yet fully specified what I mean with “the more incorrect”. There is a certain regularity in how the judgement is distorted as I'll explain below.
Suppose two persons, A and B, have vastly differing intellectual capacities with A being the most intelligent. If A tries to explain something which is far above B's level, B will not just be unable to understand the explanation. The key problem that lies at the base of perceptual aliasing is that B will also be unable to realise his inability. The farther B's upper limit is removed from the required level to understand the matter at hand, the worse this phenomenon becomes. It is possible that B ends up thinking A is dumber than him and is telling nonsense, or even that he does understand the explanation even though he doesn't.
The term ‘aliasing’ means that B's judgement about the correctness of A's explanation will be an incorrect projection of the right judgement inside B's limited frame-of-reference. This may all seem a bit abstract, so I'll explain the physical phenomenon from which the concept of aliasing originates. According to Nyquist's sampling theorem, if a signal is sampled at a certain rate, any frequencies higher than half this rate (the Nyquist frequency FN) cannot be represented, and will ‘fold back’. The frequency of their sampled counterpart will be below FN, by the same amount as the actual signal is above FN. The seemingly lower frequencies in the sampled signal are said to be ‘aliased’. They are incorrect projections of the real thing, but there is regularity in where the projections end up. A signal of twice FN will appear as a frequency of zero, and from that point on the aliased frequency will rise again. It constantly bounces back and forth between zero and FN (strictly spoken, between -FN and +FN). Aliasing is best known from the phenomenon in video recordings where spinning wheels appear to start rotating backwards as they spin faster and faster. This starts happening when the wheel makes more than half a turn in between two video frames, in other words when the number of revolutions per second is more than half the video framerate. Within the ‘universe’ of classic cinema where the framerate is 24 FPS, wheels that spin faster than 12 rotations per second don't exist. They are all aliased to wheels spinning at apparent velocities between 0 and 12 rotations per second.
I believe a similar phenomenon applies to humans when they judge a situation, problem or subject. Intelligence is one example, but it also applies to other subjects like a certain field in science or the appreciation of a certain art form. The ‘frequency’ would then correspond to an intelligence level, knowledge about works of art of that kind, etc. One can see why this can make it useless or even risky to explain someone's mistakes. If the person is vastly unable to understand the cause of the mistakes, (s)he may think you're telling nonsense, or worse, that you're insane. Of course, the parallel between perceptual aliasing and the sampling theorem is not to be taken too strictly. It's hard if not impossible to map for instance an intelligence level to a single number like a frequency. Moreover, while aliasing in the frequency domain is strict, there is a certain ‘fuzziness’ at the edges in the case of perception. If people are only slightly below the level of another person, they might actually learn from this, and boost their own level. This is why the best way to learn a game like chess, is to play against opponents who play slightly better than you. Otherwise, the moves of an opponent whose level is way beyond yours will seem random to you.
As with the sampling theorem, it's possible to ‘fold back’ between zero and the maximum frequency indefinitely. It is perfectly possible that someone thinks he understands something while he doesn't, because his perception may have folded back exactly to a point of apparent understanding.
Now I have fully explained what I mean with perceptual aliasing, let's go back to our persons A and B for an example. Suppose they face a complex problem. B might come up with a solution that seems perfect because he doesn't see any obstacles. However, A may detect hidden flaws in this solution that will cause more problems later on, or subparts with an unacceptably high probability of failing. However, person B may ignore those obstacles because he cannot even understand they exist. A's explanation may seem like nonsense, or may fold back in B's perception to something that is solvable after all. If B is lucky while executing his solution, the highly risky action(s) may work by chance, and the hidden flaws may take too long to be detected. Because person A had concluded there was no acceptable solution, person B may then appear more suited for the task of problem solving, and be assigned to solve other problems in the future, with disastrous consequences. I believe this scenario occurs often in reality.
A more direct example is witchcraft and sorcery. Suppose I'm a modern female doctor and I'm able to travel back in time. I teleport myself to a village in the Middle Ages, carrying current medications with me. I will end up being burned at the stake as a witch in no time, because people from that time period don't have any background to understand state-of-the-art medicine. It would take way too long to teach them about how the medication actually works, they'd rather kill me instead of going through that steep learning curve. A similar story holds if I would be a male scientist carrying current technology like lasers. I would be judged as being a sorcerer, because the people from that time period have no clue at all about quantum physics.
This phenomenon has been known for ages, as evidenced by Plato's allegory of the cave. In short, it tells a story of people who have since birth been chained inside a cave, lit only by a torch which casts their shadows on a wall before them. Some day, one of the people is freed and allowed to view the outside world. When going back into the cave, the people who remained inside cannot understand what he is talking about because their frame of reference is limited to seeing shadows on a wall. They will rather assume that he has gone insane than believe him. A more modern version of this story is the movie “The Matrix”.
The funny thing is, knowing about perceptual aliasing does not always make things easier because it works in both directions. If someone explains you something that doesn't seem to make sense, it might be because it is indeed flawed reasoning or because you are unable to understand it. The only way to get around this is studying the explanation in detail and looking for things that may be beyond your level. If you can't find any, you can analyse the explanation and prove its (in)correctness. Otherwise, you can't and mustn't judge the correctness. Perceptual aliasing can make you feel smarter than other people because they say and do things that don't make sense to you, while in reality it may be the other way round. Sarcasm is a nice example: if someone makes a sarcastic remark and you don't detect the sarcasm, you may think the person just made a dumb remark. On the other hand, if you reply to the sarcasm with more sarcasm, the other person may get confused because you could either have used sarcasm as a reply to something perceived as serious, or as a reply to the other sarcasm.
No matter how good their intentions are, teachers at schools often fail because they try to teach at a level way above the current level of the pupils. What the students actually learn, if anything at all, is often not what was intended. The right way to teach something complex is to estimate the level of the pupils, and then teach something that is only slightly above that level. Once that has been mastered, complexity can be increased incrementally. There is no point in starting at a level way beyond what the students can handle, they will either learn nothing at all or something completely wrong. And most often they will end up with a hatred towards the subject because it doesn't seem to make any sense.
The core idea of what I'm trying to explain with this entire text is of course very susceptible to perceptual aliasing. It's pretty much a binary thing: you either get it or you don't, so the opportunities for aliasing are huge, in all directions. It's very possible that some parts of this text are a load of hogwash because I'm making mistakes that are too high above my level for me to detect. I'm also pretty certain that some people will think the entirety of this text is hogwash because they are unable to understand it. Don't feel too comfortable if you think you can understand or rebuke everything, because it could be an illusion. Don't just believe what you read here and anywhere else, verify it if you can. And realise that next to ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, there's also the possibility “I don't know”. In many cases, that's the most useful judgement one can make about something.
Another canvas in human behaviour, or maybe just another way of looking at the things I already described (actually, all paragraphs in this text are interconnected), is the metaphor of the balance. This balance can represent anything, but I won't use a concrete example at this moment yet, and hope that you possess enough powers of abstraction.
Now suppose that this balance represents a certain situation in the world, and that it leans over to one side, say the left. Since perfection never exists, the balance will always incline to one of both sides. People see that it leans over, hence they want to get it right. So what do they do? They take the largest weight they can find, and throw it on at the other side. Because this weight is way too heavy, the balance now tilts towards the other direction. And when people see that, they again take the heaviest weight they can find, and throw it onto the left side again. And it goes on like this.
- Why does one always take the largest weight? Because one is convinced that the heavier is also the better. Something lighter might not have enough effect. But mostly, people don't even think about it, but follow their emotions, and are by nature inclined towards the most extreme.
- Why doesn't one take off the too heavy weight again? For that's too difficult. If these weights represent a way of thinking, it is logical that one rather throws in another weight, than removing one. Psychologically it's harder to thoroughly modify or reject an existing thought, than to slightly alter it or create a new one.
In a somewhat more concrete way, the weights from this metaphor thus represent thoughts, attitudes. The heaviest weight then corresponds with the most extreme attitude. Apparently, most people aren't able to think in a more differentiated way, although everything in reality is shaded and nothing is extreme. And when people then see that their extreme vision is wrong, they go over to the other extreme, which corresponds with throwing on a weight at the other side. It's ironic that computers, based on binary principles, actually are able to 'think' in a more continuous way than most people, who only seem to know one and zero.
This metaphor corresponds with the image of the "pendulum movements", which has been known for a long time already. A concrete example: in the seventies, angular and sharp shapes were in fashion in art and design. Just look at car models from those days. If you look at cars from the nineties, you see nothing else than streamlined round shapes. These are now again making place for more sharp corners. Another example: at the end of the sixties, it was the time of the hippies. Everything was "peace and love", and everybody was "brother and sister" of each other. Now everybody is, if I may express myself in a crude way, self-seeker, and everybody tries to crank up his/her own ego as high as possible, and to obtain a maximum amount of privacy and independency. Just to give you an idea. The pendulum apparently now has reached the other extreme. Yet another example, see above: while for everybody at the beginning of the 20th century, it was evident that men were "superior" compared to women, it's currently exactly the opposite which lots of people are claiming. Newspapers and magazines today are filled with "men-bashing" articles, just because it's trendy (by the way, a funny thing about those articles, is that they're mostly written by men). As if one of both has to be superior. Apparently, it's too boring to live without such childish thought. Few people seem to grow to maturity anymore nowadays, but I already explained this.
The metaphor of the balance, however, has something extra compared to the one of the pendulum. One only keeps on throwing weights on it, without ever taking off any. This corresponds e.g., with the fact that we always invent new rules when a problem occurs, as described in previous chapters. The main problem now, is the following. The only possibility is, that at a certain moment, the thing becomes overloaded and collapses... What this then corresponds with concretely, is hard to tell, but it won't be pleasant at any rate.
A thing I may not forget to mention, is that I'm not talking of only one such balance here. There are thousands, or even millions of them, and they all move at different speeds. The positions of all those balances at a certain moment then determine the current ideas and situations at that point of time.
Apparently, we seem to be well on our way to mess up everything thoroughly. Now what if we would try to get the balance into perfect equilibrium, by adding the right weights? At first sight, everything would then be all right. Yet then there is a big problem too, because life is movement, and standstill is death. If the pendulum is motionless, nothing happens anymore, hence we would live in a perfect world. The major problem now is, that perfection doesn't exist. Perfection is a paradox: if something would be perfect, there would still be one thing which isn't perfect about it: just the being perfect of it is a flaw, for it means that nothing can be improved about it, which is boring, which is a negative property.
Another point of view from which you can look at this, is chemical: if everything is in equilibrium, say chemical equilibrium, nothing happens any more. Life is just the existence of chemical reactions, hence non-equilibria. If all chemical reactions would have come to a halt, everything would be necessarily dead. Hence the motionless balance can only be reached if we're all dead.
Now what does all this mean? That we're doomed to destroy ourselves, and kill ourselves to total death? At first sight, it does. But there is an alternative: if we can make sure at the same time that the balance stays in motion sufficiently, without overloading it, we will continue to exist, or at least vastly increase the duration and quality of our existence. Until now, we have succeeded in this, but this doesn't mean at all that it'll stay that way. In my opinion, we currently seem to be heading for an overload. Maybe we'll return in time, hence go back to equilibrium, and thus superpose a slow pendulum movement onto the fast one, in other words: modulate the fast pendular movement.
Or "humanity" will disappear within a certain time. Actually, there is barely any doubt concerning this. To explain why, you should know the meaning of the thermodynamic concept of "entropy". Entropy is a measure of disorder: the more disorder, the higher the entropy. Although this is an extremely fascinating concept, I won't elaborate on it here (see specialised literature for that) since this text is long enough already. What I do have to tell you, is that the entropy in a closed system can only increase, and a maximal entropy corresponds to equilibrium. Hence, the only gleam of hope remaining, is that the universe would not be a closed system. But this is far beyond me.
It's even very probable that the existence of life has as only real purpose, to hasten the increase of entropy in the universe. If this is true, there actually is an answer to the question I started this text with, but it undoubtedly isn't the kind of answer you had in mind!
So actually, only one choice remains for us: hasten the moment of our destruction, or delay it as far as possible. And this is actually the same choice I started this text with.
Instead of drowning ourselves in all these fatalistic thoughts, we'd better look at it from the bright side. Enjoy life! If it's bound to end, we're better off making the most of it, while still trying to delay "the end of times" as far as possible, so that future generations can also enjoy life. Stop imprisoning yourself in useless pre-fabricated rules, for life is so complex, that every attempt to simplify it with extra rules will only complicate it. There are, however, a few guidelines which are necessary for an agreeable existence for everybody. If you show respect and understanding for each other, you'll get back respect and understanding. If you show hate and incomprehension, you'll get back hate and incomprehension. Make the best of your life, but not at the expense of others. Make a bit more use of your reason instead of only your knowledge, and don't let yourself be fooled by your emotions. They can be correct, but also completely wrong. Don't turn yourself into an emotionless robot either, because then your life will become utterly boring.
I can't send more than this along with you. You have your life in your own hands, then do something with it yourself, instead of having yourself controlled by others.