Frequent thinker, occasional writer, constant smart-arse

Category: Society (Page 1 of 3)

How we get told what to think

Have you ever wondered who decided to add that question when filling out a form? If you have, like me, then maybe you’ve also thought, what’s the hidden force influencing what we think, say, and do? A thinker, Curtis Yarvin, has a hypothesis that has had me thinking for a while now.

The default answer people give is “the government”. But Yarvin makes an interesting point. Governments, such as that “beacon of freedom” like America or that reincarnation of evil in Putin’s Russia (quotation marks to make you aware, we’ll get to this later), work very differently, to say a small business. They do what he calls bottom-up decision-making. That is to say, by the time it lands on President Biden or Putin’s desk, it’s because it is escalated as a problem. Or rather, a decision that someone below wanted to avoid making. Meaning a lot of decisions happen by the little people. Governments “leak power”.

So where do the little people who make these decisions get their ideas from?

The Cathedral

Yarvin invokes European medieval trauma by naming these influencers “the Cathedral”. A group of unaccountable thinkers who pass their ideas onto the media and high society for digestion and who then poo it out onto the rest of us to gobble on. Like the Catholic Church of the past, you cannot criticise them (or they will gobble you up).

So who is the Cathedral? Academia comes up with the thought and the media propagates it. People with the profession (or the time) to write and publish opinions. And so drives Yarvin with his authoritarian fan base to an accepted conservative view: blame the universities! Those damn bastions of lefty talk. In America, this is the source of the culture war or at least where pronouns are defined. In Russia, Alexander Dugin has been called Putin’s brain, and his work lays out Eurasia’s remaking of the world order that is shifting before our eyes.

But not so fast, Yardin: it takes work to popularise new ideas in universities, and it’s brutal. Something just did not click for me in what is an otherwise thought-provoking analysis of Western society. That’s because experts are people trained in its conventions and practices, meaning new ideas face resistance. How does a professor bootstrap support in their new ideas?

She could write some books. He could donate to some groups and encourage others to support his views. They might tap into a marginalised group and broker their support for this new worldview through their podcast. Google was built on the idea that good ideas get a lot of citations in universities, so likewise, a website with a lot of links should rise to the top of search results. I don’t know the game for how a professor gets their work cited. But I do know how online marketing works and what is the top search result for nearly every topic in the world. 

And click: I finally understood how the Cathedral works.

The editors of human knowledge

Wikipedia is one of the most amazing creations of humankind. Unpaid editors, usually with a pseudonym, write content that synthesises the sum of human knowledge. They do this in two main ways. The first is by curating what academic opinions to include, and the second is the behind-the-scenes discussions that decide what to present, shaping how articles get narrated. It goes deeper than that as well: baked into Wikipedia policies are a set of conventions that reflect a philosophical worldview. For example, the use–mention distinction comes from one of the West’s three main schools of philosophy, an idea that amounts to outright manipulation in my eyes when used for narratives like in the telling of history. (I might write more about that rabbit hole once — or maybe it’s if — I get out of it.)


Wikipedia is the 7th most visited website in the world.

Wikipedia has a dynamic process where articles are rewritten, merged, monitored, and reclassified. It embodies the original hypertext vision of Ted Nelson, whereby knowledge is linked. But what’s Wikipedia and the Cathedral have to do with anything?

Because search engines love content with lots of links. (And so does Artificial Intelligence.)

The machines — search engines and AI — are smart. But it’s not so much that they tell us what to think. Instead, what’s happening is that the machines transmit what one group of humans is saying to the other. Those who create and transmit the knowledge and those who search for knowledge—the everyday intellectual who educates their social group. More impactfully, the profession of journalism– underpaid people, on deadlines — trying to whip some knowledge on a topic quickly. According to the Economist, a newspaper whose business model is to be in every dentist’s office, you’d be surprised how many journalists copy content from what they find on the web, especially Wikipedia. That’s to say directly copying; what I’m talking about is even bigger: it’s the indirect impact,

Play it again, Sam

If I lost you, let’s play this out in sequence.

Step one: The academics produce and publish the ideas in books and journals. “America is a beacon.” Check.

Step two: Wikipedia’s community cherry-picks the knowledge by adding it randomly or through intense debates behind the scenes reverting someone’s edit. “America is a beacon that has consensus by people we deem to matter”. Check.

Step three and four: Search engines capture Wikipedia on any topic journalists use for background reading, and it narrates their writing. “America, widely accepted as a beacon…”

Steps 5 to 89: The content journalists generate transmits to dentists, government administrative staff, and beyond where pictures of beacons bamboozle the public. People talk about it on social media (“beacon! beacon! beacon!) and the media keeps talking about it, which feeds the academics to keep writing and shifting their practices that define the standards (“We evaluated 112 studies in pre-prints and with a badass new regression model have determined beacon is what fly-eating plants imply when prodded to describe America’s free society”). And like a virtuous cycle, these ideas eventually morph into the new conventions of the day. With the Wikipedia editors ready to upgrade it from a footnote to a lead sentence. And when the deputy assistant of forms uses a search engine, they see all the results with a concise, authoritative summary from Wikipedia, giving them the confidence to use beacon.

It’s a process. The sausage does not get made overnight. But that, in my unprofessional opinion, is how we get told what to think as free citizens of democracies. What’s my advice for the next time you see a weird question appear on a form?

Yell out the word beacon. It may make you feel better.

Greece and Turkey

Last year for my birthday, my amazing wife treated me to a course I wanted to do. (It’s still being offered, on business writing and story telling, and I highly recommend it .) I’ve always been interested in good writing, and in my teenage years, I studied The Economist’s style guide like a bible. So this was an absolute treat for me.

As part of the course, we had an ongoing assignment. I picked a meaty international relations topic in an area I’ve always wanted to understand better: the relations between Greece and Turkey. Despite being complex, I made sense of it and produced something I was quite happy with.

It had a very important message. I was reminded of it as I read the news about the upcoming presidential election in Turkey. I thought I’d dust off the cobwebs on this blog and publish it.


Greece and Turkey’s strategic rivalry is getting more intense and more dangerous. The geopolitics of energy to Europe has reframed their old issues and may instead shape their resolution, increasing the probability of war.

Executive summary

Relations have gotten more complicated since the 1980s for historic rivals Greece and Turkey. Needless to say, it’s still about who has control over the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean. While Cyprus and rights over the Aegean Sea remained unresolved, energy politics is framing the rivalry as one of intense regional energy competition.

The main article

In recent decades, relations have become entangled for old rivals Greece and Turkey. However, it’s still about who has control over the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean.  Since the 1990s, the countries have pursued a strategy of encircling each other, which has made their conflict expand to other countries — and pulled in the EU. While Cyprus and rights over the Aegean remain unresolved, the discovery of hydrocarbons reframes their disputes. And importance.

In 1986 by the border at the Evros River, a Greek soldier was shot after an offer to trade cigarettes. His death sparked outrage.  In 1987, a Turkish survey ship, the Simsik, was ordered to be sunk to the bottom of the Greek waters if it floated too close. It nearly did. In 1995 the uninhabited rock island Imia, where both countries claim jurisdiction, had them close to starting a war.

The problem has grown. Lesser incidents often occur — where both sides exchange fire — which does not help when tensions fly high. Each country has become the other’s most visible threat. Yet despite busy newsrooms, the olives this harvest have not all been bitter.

The good old days    

In 1995, relations began to change with the Greek election of Kostas Simitis, who redefined priorities. In 1998, the capture of the Kurdish separatist Abdullah Ocalan – on the way from the Greek embassy in Kenya – and the related fallout led to the Greek foreign minister resigning, whose replacement was with a cheer squad member for discussions with Turkey. In 1999, violent earthquakes hit both countries and saw an outpouring of goodwill.

In the years that followed, relations improved. They included agreements on fighting organised crime, reducing military spending, preventing illegal immigration, and clearing land mines on the border. More significantly, Greece lifted its opposition to Turkey’s accession to the EU, bringing some Turkish delight. However, even though there was a change to the weather, it did not change the atmosphere on the issues that mattered.

The Aegean conflict: a negotiation minefield

The UN sea treaty UNCLOS evolved in 1982 and came into force in 1994. Turkey is not a signatory. The conflict is whether the Greek islands are allowed a continental shelf, the basis of claiming rights over the sea. Turkey disputes that Greece can claim 12 miles off the coast of their islands, which the sea treaty permits, implying only the mainland has this right.

There’s a good reason why this definition matters. It would restrict Turkey and give Greece dominant control of the Aegean. The EU requires the sea treaty’s membership as a pre-condition. Turkey on the other hand, has made a continental claim to split the Aegean Sea in the middle.

There are several issues at stake based on how this continental shelf is defined. One is protecting Turkey’s shipping lanes as the Dardanelles feed into the Aegean (despite international law protecting this). A second is on the rights to mineral wealth (which has yet to be found). A third is on the 1950s flight zone, which impacts the military (a non-issue that was challenged two decades later, after the Cyprus invasion, to match the continental shelf claim by Turkey). Ultimately, fear of sovereignty loss is what’s driving this conflict. The Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Greek reaction with the 1974 militarisation of the Greek islands near Turkey, and the Turkish creation of the 1975 Izmir army base (as large as the entire Greek army itself with amphibious capabilities) has created permanent military tensions.

Cyprus and the EU: elephants in the room

Cyprus remains a significant issue. The 1990s saw EU accession friction which was parallel to military tension. In 1994, Greece and Cyprus agreed on a security doctrine that would mean any Turkish attempt on Cyprus would cause war for Greece. In 1997 Cyprus purchased two Soviet-era missile systems, the S-300s, letting out a Turkish roar; Greece did a swap and installed them on Crete against heavy whimpering. Negotiations never settled the division on the island in the 1990s because of the non-negotiable by the Turkish side to recognise North Cyprus as an independent state. When Cyprus joined the EU in 2002, the negotiation took a different flare. With Greece and Cyprus as EU members, this has become an EU issue; but with the island only 60 miles from Turkey, it also remains a national security issue for Turkey.

Concerns about Turkey like its human rights record and Greece’s veto ultimately had Turkey side-lined by the EU. Domestically, this contributed to the shift away from Turkey’s founding secular doctrine Kemalism and the rise of political Islam. The change was popular in inland Turkey because it adjusted the government’s amnesia of the Ottoman Empire’s past. It also evolved to an alternate identity of European orientation, as a regional center in the emerging Eurasian political formation.

In recent years, the Blue Homeland policy of Turkey positions it in the Mediterranean as a sea power. Greece’s fear, often explicitly communicated by Turkey’s politicians in the media, is that Turkey wants to renegotiate the Treaty of Lausanne. A treaty that created Turkey the country from the remnants of the defeated Ottoman Empire and defined its modern borders.

Pass the gas, please.

The countries have pursued a strategy of encircling each other. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia, both Greece and Turkey viewed each other with suspicion as they developed relations with the new countries. It wasn’t until 1995, however, that this fear materialised. Greece formed a defense cooperation agreement with Syria and between 1995-1998 established good relations with Turkey’s other neighbors, Iran and Armenia. In reaction, Turkey spoke with Israel in 1996, which caused outroar by the Arab countries.

The 2010 discovery of gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean first by Israel and then Egypt, has created new energy to fan the disputes. The historical security issues of the Aegean and Cyprus are now a focal point to resolving Europe’s energy needs. For example, the 2016 Turkey-Israel reconciliation led to Greece torpedoing the 2017 Cyprus UN talks due to their relationship’s risk for developing a gas pipeline. In 2019, the east Mediterranean gas forum was created, including seven countries but excluding Turkey. Turkey would work from 2018 with Libya to extend its economic rights over the sea, which has led to recent tensions with other members of the EU. This instability over the status of the Aegean and Cyprus prevents the needed investment from developing pipelines to Europe.

The region is considered the end-point for east-west pipelines. One of these originates in the remote Caspian Sea, one of the oldest oil-producing regions: it still has 48 billion barrels of oil in proven and probable reserves. That’s comparable to one year and a bit of global oil consumption. Its 292 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is enough to satisfy two years of global gas consumption. The opening up of these fields is recent after more than 20 years of negotiation following the 2018 A Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea.

Like the Balkan wars of 1912 that helped trigger World War 1 and the proxy wars in the 1940s in Greece that sparked the cold war, this region and Greece and Turkey’s local conflict have the potential to spill over. This is because the distribution of that gas is dependent on the shipping lanes and pipelines that go through Turkey and Greece. With Russia’s actions in Ukraine having Europe question where its gas comes from, expect their old issues to flare up. Let’s hope without adding gas to the regular fire sparks that occur.

The Income Ratio Problem

Income inequality is one of America’s biggest problems. My issue is not with what the wealthy make — even though they are richer than ever — but those on the other side of the socio-economic spectrum. I see it on the streets in San Francisco, one of America’s richest cities, with the chronic homeless problem but also with the local crime alerts constantly buzzing my phone.

American politicians are now jumping at this issue. The Progressive Left with its self-appointed mouthpieces of AOC and Elizabeth Warren are shaping the dialogue towards higher taxes. But unlike the reason why income tax was first introduced— which was to temporarily fund war — instead, their goal is to redistribute wealth in society. A point I’m sympathetic to due to the income inequality I see daily. But that equally kills a part of me, the enterprising side, as there is nothing more demotivating than to get taxed for your work.

And as much as I like that Jesuit heading up the Catholic Church these days, I disagre that inequality is the root of social evil. Consider this instead:

Income inequality in substance is the problem but framed the wrong way. It’s housing, health, nutrition, travel cost reduction that’s needed (not the penalisation of those who strive).

May 04 2019

The basic principle with a hypothetical

Let’s say Donald makes $1000 a month and Elizabeth makes $10 a month. And for Elizabeth to live a good life, with affordable housing and abundance to meet her nutritional needs, she needs $11 a month. If we tax Donald 70%, then Elizabeth can share with other low income people the $700 from Donald. But the cost of this, is that Donald will not be motivated to make $1000 or more realistically, he will find a tax scheme that reduces the chance he will pay the $700 which defeats the purpose of the tax.

Let’s look at it from another angle. Let’s say that Elizabeth still makes $10 a month. But it turns out, to cover her lifestyle costs, she only needs to pay $1. Why do we need to tax Donald if Elizabeth has what she needs?

Education is leading the charge

Of course, this sounds obvious but it’s not to politicians or papal leaders for some reason. Consider the explosion of online learning platforms like Udacity, Coursersa, Khan Academy to name a few — it’s a golden age of learning which previously was monopolised by universities and schools that charged expensive tuition to fund their expensive real estate. What’s happened in the world of MOOCS is that the cost to produce and distribute educational content has almost fallen to zero. We are in the midst of a transformation in society where a Stanford level of education is, quite literally, becoming free.

How to make housing cheap

Now let’s consider housing. San Francisco is one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world. Rent control, despite good intentions, has distorted the market and amongst many other issues is the reason why over 30,000 units sit vacant as landlords would rather not rent their properties (property values are also higher if without a tenant). The neighborhood groups prevent high rise apartment complexes from getting built, reinforcing the fact this is a big city acting like a small city. Add restrictive zoning controls like PDR that prevent residential development due to the politics of protecting blue-collar votes (and institutionalized with the ill-conceived Proposition X which prevents the cheapest way to create mass housing through the conversation of warehouses) and not to mention transportation and sewerage systems that cannot sustain population growth — and voila, you have a city that will always be too expensive. And will only get worse.

If Silicon Valley is grounded in San Francisco and there will be always jobs which is what’s largely driving demand to this global cultural city, then how else can we solve for limited housing supply? Here’s a hint: people drive to work…
Imagine the day when flights from Sydney to London will go from 24 hours to 4 hours, which is not a matter of if but when as the technology already exists (rockets going up and down versus planes flying sideways). Investments in transportation allow people to work from different cities, states and countries.

Or imagine if companies can support remote workforces where they don’t have to physically go into an office. Progressive Silicon Valley startups are now making this the defacto standard as the war on talent is settling in that direction.

Let’s change how we view the problem

Ideas like Universal Basic Income sounds great in concept, but also makes me nervous because higher average wages leads to demand-push inflation. But flip the idea — don’t give people more cash, give them cheaper access to goods and services they need. As you can see with the examples of education and housing, it’s already happening in the market.

We need government policies and investment in what will drive the cost down of life and human growth. Income redistribution due to higher taxes are almost as foolish as the wars that they were originally created to fund. Let’s start thinking about income inequality instead as a Income Ratio Problem, where improving the ratio of costs to income can be solved not just by increasing income but by more intelligently through reductions in cost. This can be done with capital investment, smart policies, and human ingenuity and not by eating the hand that feeds us — human incentive.

We shouldn’t own land

Should we abolish ownership rights over land?

It’s a crazy thought but it’s actually very logical.

Consider the factors of production. Classically defined, as land, labour, and capital. Along with entrepreneurship, which organises the factors, you have the building blocks of economic activity. Therefore, any controls on the factors leads to a limitation to the usage of the resources.

Remember how not so long ago, slavery — the ownership of humans over other humans — was a thing? Back then, it was an “economic” necessity but which fell apart when technology did the work of humans cheaper and led to the political revolution that now, thankfully, requires the treatment of all humans as equal in dignity. Less talked about is we’ve also seen a boom in economic output as well since slavery was abolished, as people are now free to use their time as *they* see fit (not another person). Slavery still exists, and economic slavery is more of an issue these days in developed economies, but my point remains: free the people.

It sounds not just absurd, but down right shameful, to suggest we own humans for economic reasons. And so I want to posit to you, that after years of trauma — like the micro issue of overpriced property where few can afford to buy a home especially the big cities or the macro issue like the wars caused by nationalism — that the ownership of “land” is one of the most damaging things we are doing to our economy (and society, if you ask me). Not just damaging, just out right wrong even.

Well that’s just ridiculous. How can the world function without ownership of land
This concept already exists: it’s called leasing. With leasing, you have a temporary control on the economic value and usage of an asset. The British had a 99 year lease with China before they had to give Hong Kong back to the communists. More relevantly, the Chinese communists themselves forbid foreigners from owning land, as its owned by the state and the collectives. Just because you don’t “own” the land, doesn’t mean you can’t own a home you build on top of it. It simply means that no one human has control of this factor of production indefinitely.

“Property rights” still exist….you just can’t sell the land as an asset and it’s a finite right you have.

So the government owns all the land?
I hope not. I’d rather say “society” does. Every few years, we allow an individual or a group to bid for a lease capped at a certain amount of years. At each bid, a group of independent people can assess what is the best usage of the land. The lease owner then gets to control the land like a land owner does and on the face of it, society will not have changed. But under the surface of it, we’ve changed the way we think about the world. We let creativity, demand and supply determine outcomes…and because nothing is assured, it keeps lease owners on their toes. It kills the concept of inheritance of land, which damages the dynamism of the economy.

Now, the devil is in the details. Replacing private ownership of land with a committee that approves land usage can be a slippery slope of sliding into horse shit again, but as long as the principle of ‘freedom’  is upheld for the resource that is land and it’s dynamic usage towards the best ideas, I think we’re good.

You could never convince existing land owners outside of China
No kidding. But that’s ok. I like to think of what we do on earth as a petri dish, where the best ideas will lead the way. What matters more is that we recognise this is the best way, so that when in the next century we begin a new phase of exploration as humans colonising other planets, moons of planets — and one day exoplanets — we have this principle down pat.

An evolving manifesto for earthlings

The evidence behind the Big Bang can explain how our universe developed from 10-43 seconds. Anything before “the bang”, however, science has no evidence and its reserved for the philosophers.

Following our own personal ‘bang’ into this world and as we grow as humans, we learn a fact that we spend the rest of our lives ignoring. That being, we all die some day.

But despite this mystery and gift of life, there is another fact that would pay dividends to be more consciously aware. That being, the human species is evolving, like how a stronger lit light fills a room more fully. We take our gift of life for granted, and it’s only when we lose it — ‘it’ being our health — that we can truly appreciate life. Building on those ideas, let me get to the point: the survival of our species is constantly under threat and we have no time to waste.

Meteoric objects that wiped out the dinosaurs are one good historical reason why we need to rush as I don’t think we’ll have much time to plan for it. For me, it’s more exciting: there’s a whole multi-verse out there for us to see.

Whilst we are destined to all die one day, our life shouldn’t be wasted.
We all should contribute to the future of humanity. I believe there are seven broad areas, from my vantage view, that could do with more engagement.

(1) Automation
Metric of success: percentage of the population that is able to work in the other sectors I list below. The more, the better.
Automation is a hot topic in industry and government alike, and for good reason: it’s happening, fast. But while industry is focussed on creating the automation, everyone else is fretting about the impacts it could create, which is mass structural unemployment.

Let me focus on why automation matters first. If we can automate any process, we should. The reason is for every human performing a service, we are wasting our collective opportunity by not having those people focussing on building our future (more on that below).

The issue of jobs disappearing is a temporary issue but it’s real. I prefer to call it “friction” as we retrain people to work on new types of jobs. Keep reading.

(2) Learning
Metric of success: structural unemployment rate is nil
Education is the institionalisation of learning (but it doesn’t have the monopoly on it). Learning to me is all encompassing, about the acquisition of knowledge and skills. Automation is one good short term reason where we need to rethink how we can retrain and reskill the workforce to reduce the friction. If automation will advance us, which it will, the speed bump will be our educational system and we — and by extension our economy — will only be as dynamic as our ability to learn and relearn.

School curriculas, learning methods, chips that we can implement in our brain and that query the internet. Whatever gets us to learn anything faster, is where we need to be.

(3) Sustainabilty
Metric of success: we have the ability to terraform another planet and/or can control Earths environment
It doesn’t matter what side of the climate change debate you’re on, logic dictates if it displaces one thing (such as the environment), it will end up costing us in other ways (ultimately our health, or our security!). Our ability to learn how to create sustainable ways of living — eliminating pollution as a by product, new types of food, methods that will allow us to habitate outside of earth— will underpin our ability to survive as a species. What we fine tune now on earth will be the model we can replicate across the universe.

(4) Healthcare
Metric of success: all disease is eliminated. Forever.
If we could eliminate human disease — and I include aging as part of that — imagine how different life would be. There would be less suffering. There would be more knowledge that we retain (by people staying alive) and less opportunity cost (by distracting our focus due to sickness). There would be more “resources” in the form of people working on problems.

Until we achieve this goal, humanity will be limited, like how a car is limited by its fuel to operate (worsened by it’s fuel tank suffering a leak).

We have the means to one day eliminate all disease. There is absolutely no good reason why we shouldn’t (and that includes the arguments supporting disease to solve ‘over-population’: we need as many humans possible to colonise space). Why aren’t we moving faster towards this goal?

(5) Transportation
Metric of success: we can travel from point A to B, instantly
With new ways of moving humans, we create new lives. When a city implements public transport, new parts of a city become accessible which allows a spreading out of the population and which in turn reduces housing demand and gives more cash in the hands of the communters. It allows different types of people to mingle to promote social cohesion, much like how NYC has more diversity than any other city I’ve seen.

Development of transportation leads to improved methods which reduce pollution.
In the long term, our ability to explore new planets gives humanity a capacity to grow our population and uncover new resources, such as asteroid mining for minerals and beyond, to enrich our society.

Whatever promotes the goal of transportation in this broad sense is arguably one of the biggest activites we can perform to grow the economy.

(6) Society
Metric of success: statistically absent percentages of harm and death caused by other humans
There is a lot of division in humanity. Nation state divisions, religious divisions, and racial divisions to name some of the main offenders. It won’t be until we come into contact with the first alien species, and especially one that threatens humanity as a whole, before we collectively wake up and willingly collaborate as a shared consciousness.

Compassion. Communication. Controlled violence. Power structures that optimise for the utilitarian goal. Whatever promotes social cohesion so as to leverage our collective consciousness rather than divide it, is the activity that will allow us to grow quicker as a force in the universe. To keep with the car analogy, it’s stepping on the accelerator rather than the break, in order to go forward. Technology is after all the faustian bargain: once we know how to do something, someone else will use it against us. The only insurance agains that, is by developing our society to prevent abuse.

(7) Exploration
Metric of success: the amount of people we have engaged in exploration.
I define exploration of the physical, mental and spiritual.

By exploring our world and our solar system, we create new opportunities for humanity to habitate for our survival or new resources to grow society.
By exploring ideas that lead to scientific answers or philosophical questions, we develop opportunities in the same way, if not more, as physical exploration.
And by exploring the spiritual; by acknowledging our sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell and cognitive capacity is limited in the same way a smaller antenna is limited in what radio frequencies it can capture, we can open up new worlds. Bats can see infrared light but we can’t. What else can’t we see that prevents us from understanding?

I’m not saying if you’re working on something that’s not the above, its not a good thing. I’m just saying you’re wasting our time. This list is not comprehensive, but it’s also fairly broad and encompasses multiple approaches to solving our problems. But it harks back to one idea: what are you doing to propel humanity forward?

Gay marriage is asking a deeper question about humanity

In Australia right now, there is a intense debate about legalising gay marriage. The outcome of it will be significant. Although Supreme Courts and legislatures around the world have made it legal since 2003 (starting with Belgium), only Ireland has voted for it by the citizenry through a referendum. Australia isn’t doing a referendum, it’s a survey instead. It’s not binding, but it’s doing a good thing: creating debate.

I think this debate is a good thing because it will explore the issues, helping educate people. But I don’t think its going far enough. This is a debate that we will see again, thanks to the marvel of technology — and how Australia votes, actually helps establish the parameters of the future debates which is why it’s significant. However, before I go into that, I need to establish some assumptions with you.

(1) There is only one way to make humans without technology
(2) More humans is a universal goal of most institutions
(3) Marriage is about family

Now let me explain the assumptions

(1) There is only one way to make humans without technology

Whatever your views are on gay marriage, I hope you accept that the idea of creating a human, has long been through a male and female reproducing.

If it sounds ridiculous that I’m even pointing this out, it is because we have forgotten how much technology has changed our lives, starting with the test tube baby. For the first time in history, we could conceive a human outside of the body. In the years that have followed, we can now (almost) engineer sex cells so that two women or two men can have their DNA combined. Whatever your beliefs, you have to admit that’s a remarkable feat of science.

But the point remains, without technology, there is only one way to create humans.

(2) More humans is a universal goal of most institutions

There are two ways that an economy grows: through productivity improvements, or through population growth. This is a topic in itself, because in the next 50 years I believe there will be a crisis around economic growth as we’ve always taken for granted its growth due to population growth — with Japan, Italy and other western nations now declining in population and transioning to this new reality.

Population growth, for most countries (China being the notable exception) for most of history, have wanted more people for economic reasons. However, not just economic: if you’re fighting a war, pre 21st Century technology, you needed more people. If you’re running a institution that exists off its members contributions (like religions or nations), more people means more resources to advance the institution.

I could go on with this, but my point is simply this: let’s just take it as an assumption that human creation is built into nearly all human institutions as a positive thing.

(3) Marriage is about family

You don’t need society to have a loving relationship (other than freedom from persecution). You also don’t need society to make babies, as a man and woman. But if you’re going to have children, you want to be an integrated economic union with a partner, you want to be treated as a unit. You want to capture the tax benefits as well as the property rights to protect your progeny.  Marriage-lite, is about sharing a life with another person; but marriage full-blown, is about incubating new life into the world under the sponsorship of a couple.

(Which actually, is a point most people don’t realise about the US Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. It was about removing discrimination from couples, who were denied the same federal benefits in tax, pensions, and legal transfer as heterosexual couples.)

OK — that’s a lot of ground work. Argue if you wish on the above, but that’s not the interesting bit — let’s now get into the meat of the topic.

Gay marriage will be an issue in future about children thanks to technology and adoption rights

The US Supreme Court argument is intellectually a valid one around discrimination. But what it also does, is open up the can of worms on other issues, which I believe is at the core of resistance of gay marriage. Specifically, the rights of homosexual couples to bring up children.

If you are a progressive today, the question of gay marriage is “how could you deny people this benefit”. And for the true progressive, this would extend from not just relationships rights, but children rights — such as the right to adopt children, and engineer embryos in a test tube with the DNA of two people.

But to the progressive 50 years ago, they would have been befuddled. Because outside of adoption, the technology didn’t exist to create embryos outside of the body. Technology is now creating options we previously didn’t have available to us and it’s reasonable that we are taking time to consider its consequences.

Being against homosexual child rearing isn’t logical

If you can accept my second assumption, it can help you understand the resistance to homosexual unions and gender types beyond male and female. Because if you believe (as some people do) that being gay is a choice, then sanctioning against it is a way to preserve the growth of the population. However, technology is changing this.

If we can create a normal functioning human in a test tube, why does homosexuality matter any more?  I’ve heard the pain of gay people come out to their parents, and I assess the root issues is due to embarrassment but also a sense of loss: the parents won’t have grandchildren. However, we are nearly at the point where any two people can have their DNA recombined to form an embryo. And with the assistance of surrogates (currently banned in Australia: the ability for someone else to bring to term your baby) and a third person’s sex cell (you need a woman’s egg as a shell and for the critical mitichondia), we can give birth to a human of any combination of people.

Which, funnily enough, actually supports the goal of population growth. Homosexual couples, with technology, can be like heterosexual couples now. If we could just get over the embarrassment bit, which I think we’ve seen a sea change this decade but still not enough, we probably will see more families in future — a thing people are mourning to be in “decline”.

The bigger question

All this is actually a debate on a much bigger issue: are we ready to play God, and evolve into a new human species?

The moment we can engineer sex cells, is the moment we can decide what DNA we want in that embryo. We are using technology to create human life with precision. Allowing gay couples to create their own baby is simply an insight into the much bigger debate of should we even be playing God?

Which is why I think more debate is needed. This isn’t just a debate about relationship equality, but about homosexual child rearing. But actually it’s not even that which matters: this debate will be seeding the battle of the future, which is human-designed embryos, where we will also be able to decide what genes we want.

This is an emotive topic. It’s complicated. But if we apply a purely rational, logical approach to this issue, what would it be?  Well, let me help with this and phrase it another way: I believe this evolution is inevitable because it won’t be practical to have the activity restricted. We would need every country in the world to ban it, but you only have to look on drugs as an example of how even that doesn’t work, a $360 billion industry.

Consequently, you will have a choice: where you can choose to remain a Homo Sapiens Sapiens, much like how the sibling of our shared ancestor chose to stay in the trees as monkeys and apes, or accept this evolution of the human species.

The irony being this isn’t actually a vote towards this future or not, because it’s going towards one outcome anyway. What it is actually is, is a vote of how ready you are for it.

And that’s ok if you’re not ready…because I’m sure if you ask the monkeys and apes, they are very happy.

Is this the f—g button?

Islamic terrorism distresses me just as much as the nationalistic movements that Brexit, Trumpism and the rest of Europe are working towards for the same reason: it’s not progress towards future.

Islamism bothers me because it crushes individual freedoms. Nationalism bothers me because it kills open trade and travel, which has underpinned the stability the world has seen post world war two. Truthfully, both repulse me as forces because they divide humanity.

I’ve often half-joked to friends that the only time human’s will finally unite is when we get a door knock from an alien civilisation wanting to take us and our planet over. But we don’t need to wait for that either.

One day, an asteroid could wipe out all living species on earth like it did with the dinosaurs. And if that does not happened, then the next ice-age will give us a run on our gas bills (like how we had remarkably as low as 40 “breeding pairs” of homo Sapiens 70,000 years ago, and ice ages happen more often than you realise like the last one which happened 12,000 years ago). If we have any  hope of surviving as a human species, to not consider the need to colonise other planets, develop technologies to survive from our own earth’s changes, or address the need to one day eliminate all disease which is, quite literally, killing us — is short-term (human species) thinking. Life is a magical mystery but the survival of our species depends on further exploration and technology — but we can’t get there until we start thinking like this. 

(There is nothing wrong with short term thinking: putting your right foot ahead of your left foot as you breathe is critically important. I just hope you appreciate, that equally, you’re an idiot if that’s all you do when there’s a pot hole with a sleeping alligator two steps ahead of you.)

I get what’s going on with all the politics and why the actors are doing it. The cost of it, is they are just wasting our potential (and survival) as a species. That potential will only eventuate when we don’t squander our mind space and energy. Which is why I’ve decided I don’t have the headspace for it any more (outside of entertainment). Unless your survival as an individual human is at risk — and for some of you, that’s more pressing that others and I respect that — I’m going to ask you join me and start thinking about what really matters, as humanity. When you start thinking like that, hopefully that will follow with the doing which is what we need right now.

If you need help to get into this frame of mind, let me help.  Just ask yourself this question next time you catch yourself reading the news or getting into a debate with someone: how does this help us — and what are you doing — from not getting frozen by aliens or injected with a deadly disease and while we are at it did anyone remember to make a fucking eject button to get us to Mars?

Why automation excites me

Most of human society was engaged in farming once upon a time. Slavery meant richer nations (or classes in those nations) moved to others work as slaves focussed on farming — and then one day, after thousands of years, slavery was abolished. Ignoring the human element to this, what drove this economic change? Technology. No coincidence that this happened in the same hundred years of the industrial revolution starting. Machines are simply more efficient than humans — and yet I think you would agree wth me that we are working more than ever since this transition in the world happened. 
This is a good thing. It’s just the transition isn’t good — it’s friction. This is happening again and will continue to happen.
In the current form of friction, I believe automation is likely going to be one of the biggest political issues in the coming decade. The politics should be centered on how do we manage the friction (or if a country wants to fall behind, ignore it).  There is a trend toward nationalism in America and Europe especially, and foreign labour is the catch cry but truthfully, it’s also largely due to technology, or rather the automation in manufacturing replacing jobs. We need to realise this is a permanent trend and this will extend to other sectors of the economy like services in future (as we saw with farming in the last 200 years).
For those scared of a future where the machines replace our jobs or even for those who think profit is a bad word, you just need a different perspective. Let me try to do this in just four sentences.
  • Economic theory suggests that we can make money either through rent (land ownership), wages (your time), interest (tool ownership), or profit (creativity).
  • However, unlike the first three factors of production (land, labour, capital), entrepreneurship (creativity) is limitless.
  • (Well, almost unlimited — it’s limited only by our imagination and our time.)
  • Which is why we need machines to replace jobs that have us rent our time by the hour to survive, as instead we need to be unlocking human creativity.

America shouldn’t ban guns, but the world should learn from them instead

The US Supreme court this week reversed the Massachusetts High Court Caetano v. Massachusetts decision that said a “stun gun” does not qualify under the second amendment, with  a reason used because the technology did not exist at the time of the framing constitution. Actually, I agree with the US Supreme court on this, but it confirms something that I’ve long thought was bound to happen which is where do you draw the line for what constitutes “arms”?

Two nights ago, I was shown a semi-automatic rifle in the apartment of a friend and thought it was damn cool. But more broadly, my views on guns is simple: you need a gun, a human and a mistake or bad motive to create a tragedy. The political Right wing believe the answer to tragedies is mental health solutions (as my friend said, “people kill people, not guns”); the Left believe it’s banning the guns. I consider myself politically moderate and used to think the solution was banning them, but I’ve now realised it would be impractical (see the below video why).

How to Create a Gun-Free America in 5 Easy Steps

Want to create a gun-free America in 5 easy steps? Here's all there is to it.

Posted by Reason Magazine on Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Without going into a debate what the second amendment means in the United States (originally to protect citizens from a tyranny when organised into militias; which has now been clarified by the courts as a personal right, and a right to self-defense) my reasoning was not that I wanted to take people’s freedoms away; it’s that I think guns are correlated with violence and so controls on them make logical sense because it’s easier to control that then the people who use them unpredictability on innocent humans. As a case in point, when I asked my friend how easy  it was to get a gun and a license, even he grimaced at how easy it was — it should be as hard as getting your driver’s license.

What now?
I actually think people should keep their guns because it’s irrelevant. The reason I say irrelevant is for the same reason why they exist in the first place: technology. Living in Silicon Valley, I see and hear things ahead of the rest of the world. Everyone in my network — primarily investors and entrepreneurs — spend a lot time thinking about the future as a day job so naturally have developed insights about what a future world looks like. And one of the more chilling ones I’ve heard about are drones which is why the Caetano v. Massachusetts  interests me as you could argue one day drones are an ‘arms’ essential for self-defense as protected by the constitution.

But what can be used in self-defense and also be used in offense.

Let’s play a thought experiment: that drones one day can carry a payload that would blow up its surroundings. And let’s also assume that one day, miniaturisation technology enables them to be the size of a fly. So a would-be deranged human would fly in their drone through a crack of your window and blow you up. Think that’s unrealistic? Based on technological trends, it’s almost guaranteed to happen one day, technically speaking.

That’s not talking about another set of military technological feats that’s been consumerised, which can simply be called “hacking”. You don’t think that one day, the thing governments are doing to each other — like the literal cold war between China and the US happening right now — won’t happen at an individual level? When your “Internet-of-Things” fridge that talks to your microwave and front door lock and bed-warmer and thermostat — becomes remotely controlled to make you a prisoner in your own home? I’m not going to extend this thought experiment any further because it’s just scary what could happen as the home is just one area of risk.

What good are guns or stun guns when it comes to fly-sized drones and hacking you don’t see ? They are not. That’s why it is time to move the debate, globally, to not one of guns but of society and the individual. It’s about how much power we allow individual humans to inflict violence on other humans.

An individual has the right to life, which means security and dignity among other things. What penalties do we have when another human takes that away? And what power do we allow individuals to protect themselves, which as the Supreme court justices opined about Caetano v. Massachusetts argued was necessary, because the state wasn’t there to protect her due to ineffective restraining orders or a present police officer.

Here is my suggestion for some principles I think we can agree to:

  • In an urban environment, where there is population density, anything that is a tool who’s primary purpose is to commit some sort of violence, should be banned. No one should be allowed to possess them, more for the idea that if you have an arms race amongst people you will always have one who can out-do the other.
  • Self-defense and tools are to be encouraged. But only ones that can disarm and disable an attack, not kill. This is why I like stun guns over regular say regular guns and agreed with the Supreme Court’s comment.

The debate is not about guns. Or maybe it is now — but it won’t be in a few years.

The West and Islam (and soon, China)

Twenty years have passed since famed political scientist Samuel Huntington published his seminal work, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. He predicted a world where there would be a clash with the Islamic civilization.
Here is a summary and critique. A nice summary from the article:
Like the Islamic world, the Sinic civilization believes itself to be superior to the West, and Huntington predicted it would therefore seek to challenge the West and its designs for global influence. China’s resistance to Western supremacy stems from its Confucian values, which emphasize the importance of hierarchy, authority, consensus and the state’s dominion over society and which clash with American beliefs of liberty, equality, democracy and individualism. The chasm between the two makes a Western-style political structure incompatible with Chinese cultural and civilizational traditions, just as it is incompatible with the Islamic world’s rejection of the separation of church and state. As a result, the relationship between the two civilizations would become increasingly confrontational, especially as China’s economic and military power expands and Beijing begins to pursue a role as a regional hegemon.
Despite the criticism, he did say one thing that Stratfor agreed with that I love:
Instead of promoting the supposedly universal features of one civilization, the requisites for cultural coexistence demand a search for what is common to most civilizations. In a multicivilizational world the constructive course is to renounce universalism, accept diversity, and seek commonalities.
We have politicians currently campaigning in America and Europe taking advantage of bigotry, racism and other despicable traits that take us a step back. To me, the above mentioned quote is a timeless reminder, that there is no one system that is superior so let’s just settle to be different and celebrate that.
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