The power of words

Quite often in a discussion I’ve heard the phrase “semantics”, as if the meaning of words didn’t really matter in a discussion. Words are the building blocks of complex ideas, and if we don’t have a solid agreement on what they mean, then how can we hope of ever transmitting our message? We might not need to use a specific meaning offered by a dictionary, we might not even need to use a real word, but we need the idea to be packaged in a neat container–a word–which we can send back and forth multiple times in a conversation.

Words do more than simply package ideas in a singular conversation; they can serve as Eureka moments; the first time an idea is not only realized, but packaged, captured like an exotic Pokémon. People might have had Eureka moments before the word “Eureka” was widely used, but it wasn’t until the coinage of the idea that our collective minds became fully aware of such phenomenon.

Have you noticed that when you learn a new word, it suddenly appears everywhere? You probably saw and heard such word many times before in your life, but you never paid any attention to it. It’s called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, which maybe you have never heard of before, but now that you have; ironically–it will pop up everywhere 🙂

It’s hard to explain how our minds work (or the current scientific understanding of it); but if I attempt to summarize; it’s all about recognizing patterns, and feedback loops. That’s why the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon makes so much sense: we can’t recognize a pattern we haven’t seen before, but once we identify it; our brain will try to see the world through different lenses in order to check if the pattern applies, if it does; the feedback loop will reinforce the idea so we can recognize the pattern better in the future.

So it makes sense to think that language affects our worldview, which is the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis. Imagine we didn’t have a word for “thought”, how would you describe a thought? It’s hard to describe a mind if you don’t have the word “thought”, so it is to describe “believe”, “remember”, “forget”, and dozens of other ideas related to thoughts.

This is not merely a theory (or rather; a hypothesis); we know it happened in Nicaragua in the Seventies because there were no schools for deaf people. When the first school was established dozens of people without language gathered, and they slowly created their own sign language. However, their language was very rudimentary. The second generation of kids learned the language from the first generation, but they added new words. These new words did not merely amplify their vocabulary; they changed the way they thought. The first generation merely focused on describing events, the second generation talked about feelings, thoughts, ideas. They got better at thinking about thinking, in one generation, simply because of language.

There is an test called the Sally-Anne test; it is used to measure the ability of a person to attribute false beliefs of another; something that cannot be done without theory of mind. The test goes as follows:

Sally takes a marble and hides it in her basket. She then “leaves” the room and goes for a walk. While she is away, Anne takes the marble out of Sally’s basket and puts it in her own box. Sally is then reintroduced and the child is asked the key question, the Belief Question: “Where will Sally look for her marble?”

Fully functioning adult persons know the answer: Sally would look in her basket. But young children answer differently: Sally would look in Anne’s box. They don’t understand that Sally’s worldview is different than their own; they don’t understand that each person has a different worldview, a mind different of their own. The ability to understand that each person has a different mind is called theory of mind; something so incredibly simple most people take for granted, is actually a gift that young children don’t have, neither do most animals. And it turns out the first generation of Nicaraguan kids didn’t have this ability either, even after they became adults, even in their fifties. Language is the tool that helps us understand other people’s minds; it is words like “belief”, “mind”, “point-of-view”. The second generation of Nicaraguan kids had these words, and with them they easily acquired theory of mind.

Imagine the first time somebody used the word “empathy“. Surely the concept of empathy existed long before the word was coined. However, like many patterns; it was elusive, hard to explain, and thus hard to identify, discuss, mold, evolve. How can I say “the most basic level of empathy arrives with theory-of-mind” if I don’t have the word “empathy” at my disposal, and for that matter, the word “theory-of-mind”?

The word “economy” wasn’t widely used until after the 19th century, and again; surely people understood the concept of economy long before the word, but they couldn’t exactly discuss it. How would you say “the economy is bad lately”? How would you discuss different economic models, like capitalism, or communism? How would you measure something that doesn’t have a name, like using the GDP? The answer is: you couldn’t, and they didn’t. It was the word that gave people such power, in a way the word “economy” changed the world. Certainly there were many other factors revolving the industrial revolution, but the coinage of the word “economy” was instrumental.

A more recent example is the word “meme“. Again; memes existed long before the word, in fact; words themselves are memes; they spread around society like viruses. Curiously enough the word “meme” wasn’t coined until the word “virus” sank into wide use, which could only happen after viruses were discovered, at the end of the 19th century. It is no coincidence that the word “meme” was coined by an evolutionary biologist–quite familiar with viruses.

But words do more than expand our understanding of the world, they change it, shatter it, shift it. Consider the word “gender“. Previously the word “gender” was fixed to the word “sex”, so a male is masculine, and a female feminine. Today we’ve been forced to change that notion, mainly due to transgenders. So a transgender man might have been born with a female biological sex, but considers himself to have a masculine gender as far as society is concerned. This paradigm shift hasn’t settled still with many people, which consider both gender and sex to be the same thing. Inevitable society will have to change its worldview, otherwise transgender people couldn’t fit, and they must.

An even more dramatic shift happens with the word “person“. The concept of personhood has changed dramatically through history, in many cases excluding certain races, or considering one sex less of a person than the other. Today we accept that all people regardless of sex or race should be considered full persons, and the people that don’t accept that are considered bigots; sexists, or racists. So grand of us, isn’t it?

But that’s still not enough. Consider a human being so psychologically disturbed that he lacks any consideration towards other beings, incapable of empathy, even without theory of mind… Is he a person? How about a dog that truly loves his human companion, cares for him, would risk his life if the need arises, and would miss him to death if he was gone.. Isn’t he a person? Indeed; many dog lovers would attest that their dogs are better beings that many humans, and they might be right. A dog doesn’t care for race or sex, and in that sense he might be better than many family members that gather at your typical Thanksgiving.

dog-tilt-crop

Personally, I see empathy as the essence of person; if you can’t feel another person’s suffering, then what good are you in a society? Every dog owner has seen the expression of tilting the head to one side; it’s an attempt dogs make in order to understand humans’ emotions (probably because they have trouble seeing our mouths due to their snout), they do this because they are empathic; they understand their human might be sad, even if they themselves feel happy. Contrast this with a human infant, who is barely able to see anything beyond his own hunger, and certainly doesn’t have a theory of mind. Who is more of a person? Why should the word “person” be fixed to the word “human” then?

When you see from this vantage point, you realize that if it’s hard to say a human infant is truly a person, then it’s even harder to call a human fetus a person, which is barely distinguishable from a chicken embryo–both in terms of physiology and mental processes. Certainly less of a person than a fully functional adult woman, whose life might get ruined by abortion laws.

Thus the importance of thinking about the meaning of words, specially important ones like “person”, regardless of how firm you think you have your grasp on it. Because of the way minds work; it’s much more difficult to change the meaning of a word, than it is to learn a new one; it’s much easier to recognize a new pattern than it is to change an engraved one, thanks to feedback loops–much like a drop of water falling on a rock millions of times–the damage is already done. But if you don’t do that paradigm shift, you might end up in the wrong side of history, just like your bigoted, racist and sexist ancestors, you might end up being the bigoted family member in a future Thanksgiving, facing your son’s spouse which might be–let’s go for a long shot–an artificial intelligence; not a human, but still a person, as worthy of our respect as any other.

Being honest about Islam

The typical leftist has the idea that everyone should be respected, and every idea as well. That we shall all live in an inclusive world where every faith is tolerated, and all cultures are valued equally. It sounds lovely, an utopia we all should thrive for.

One of the latest examples is Khizr Khan’s speech at the US Democratic convention; the father of a muslim American soldier. Of course the media celebrated this event as an example of their culture inclusiveness. One more step toward the multiculturalism utopia. How progressive of us to accept cannon fodder of all faiths.

There is one caveat with this inclusiveness notion, and I’m going to show it with a single word, but first, it shouldn’t be hard to see that there’s a problem with inclusiveness; our body can’t ingest any substance. There are such things as toxic substances, things that just don’t belong inside our body–that are actively harmful. Similarly, there are certain ideas that are harmful, and can’t be included in a modern society that thrives to progress. If you have trouble thinking of one, here is an example: Nazism.

Now, the word Nazism is often overused, to the point that it has become a joke, but in this case it’s a good analogy; it’s an ideology that is toxic to modern values, and even the most inclusive societies must reject such ideology, we all agree on that. However, Islam is not Nazism, it’s a religion, it can’t be toxic, after all, we often hear it’s a religion of peace, right?

But is it a religion of peace? Let’s convert some of the common Muslim memes to Nazism to perhaps remove the veil: Nazism is an ideology of peace, not all Nazis are extremists, you are a Naziphobic.

So, if you follow the previous statements you might start to see a couple of issues. First of all, saying “Islam is a religion of peace” is worthless, you have to actually prove that it is (which I will try to explore in this post, it’s as worthless as saying “Nazism is an ideology of peace”). Second, when an ideology is toxic, it doesn’t matter if you are moderate or extreme; you are still toxic. And third, using a trump word like Islamophobic against all critics is not fair; the word implies an irrational fear against that ideology, but is it irrational? Plenty of Islam critics have been murdered, so would it be irrational for say, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, to fear for her life when her life has actually been threatened plenty of times?

A religion of peace

We often hear that Islam is a religion of peace, and that the terrorist attacks are an aberration of the faith. Sounds very reasonable, but is it true?

Christians often assume that Muhammad was like Jesus; peaceful, benevolent, surely Muhammad said something similar to turn to them the other cheek when you are hit. But that couldn’t be further from the truth: Muhammad was warlord, he spread the religion through the sword, many people had to die for his religion to be established.

Let’s see some verses from the Qur’an, to see how peaceful this religion is:

Quran (2:191-193) – “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out…”

Quran (8:39)“And fight with them until there is no more fitna (disorder, unbelief) and religion is all for Allah alone.”

Quran (9:123)“O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness.”

And there’s many more.

Very peaceful indeed! You might be tempted to justify this on Christian terms and say; “the Bible also has violent verses, but that’s the Old Testament”, or something along those lines. However, even the Old Testament wasn’t so violent as to encourage killing all unbelievers, and also, a key difference between the Bible and the Qur’an is that the later has the principle of abrogation: when verses conflict, the earlier is discarded. So, you might see a benevolent verse in the Qur’an about how to treat unbelievers, but that’s superseded by a later verse. The earlier parts of the Qur’an are more benevolent, and the later more violent. So there is significantly less room for interpretation.

So, when an ISIS fighter kills an unbeliever, is he really distorting the faith? The Qur’an is pretty much telling him to do so, without room for interpretation.

Islam is a violent religion. In fact, when people say “Muslim extremists” are the violent ones, that is pretty much conceding the point; they take their violent religion too seriously. Contrast that with Jane extremists, which are extremely peaceful, since Jainism is a truly peaceful religion.

Moderate Muslims

So maybe the religion itself is violent, but fortunately not all Muslims take the religion too seriously, and we shouldn’t worry about the vast majority of Muslims.

islam

Let’s start with a number from a Pew poll: 36% of Muslims (around 580 million) want the death penalty for leaving Islam. So if you have ten Muslim friends, and one of them leaves the religion, four of them would want him to be executed. And they are the moderates.

68% of Muslims think Sharia law should rule. Another reason why Islam is different than other religions, like Christianity, is that it is more than just a religion; it also comes with a legal framework, and other ways to run the society. In modern inclusive societies we follow the principle of secularism, so that all faiths are accepted, or at least, the ones compatible with modern values. Unfortunately, Islam is not one of such; it wants  to subvert the society’s legal framework, and impose its own; it’s incompatible.

So yeah, not all Muslims are extremists, not all Muslims want the death penalty for apostates, and not all Muslims want Sharia law, but dangerously high numbers of them do. So we have to be honest about their views and values; we know we don’t want extremists, but we don’t want Islamists either.

The only real difference between an extremist and an Islamist, is that the Islamist doesn’t kill people, they want to implement Sharia law through political means, so they disagree on the method, but they want the same goal.

Hear it from the mouth of one:

Now, take the example of Belgium; it accepted large number of Muslim immigrants (5%-7%), and now it is suffering the consequences, not just from terrorist attacks from the extreme minority (a minority of a large number of people is still an issue), but from the “moderate” Muslims who don’t agree with the attacks themselves, but they do agree the objective; the Belgium society must change to be more in accordance with the Qur’an, and they will not rest, through political movements or otherwise, until it does happen.

Islam is not compatible with modern secular societies, it is toxic, and there is a direct correlation between the amount of the Muslim population in a country, and the violence and terrorist attacks in such country.

Even moderate Muslims are a problem.

Denial

Let’s jump to the real issue with Islam; denial. As violent and dangerous as the ideology is, the real problem the denial of it. Just like the public health problem of tobacco smoking was exacerbated by the denial that happened in the sixties. Just like prominent doctors made quite a bit of money denying the link from tobacco smoking to lung cancer, so is people like Reza Aslan profiting by telling multiculturalist leftists what they want to hear; that there is no link between Islam and terrorist attacks. But the reality is very different.

To exemplify the extent of the denial I will use the case of the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, in particular I want to use the speech that president Obama made.

While it’s true that U.S.A. has an issue with gun control, and mental public health, the motivation of the killer was clearly religious, however, due to political correctness, and fear of Islamophobia Obama didn’t even mention the word “Islam”. Sure, he probably wanted to use this incident as a political tool to promote his anti-gun agenda, but to avoid the word completely is astonishing.

The media, again, in the name of multiculturalism, denied the link between Islam and the hate of homosexuals. But is there really no link?

For starters we have an Imam in Orlando, just before the attack saying that death is the sentence for homosexuality.

Maybe that’s just one crazy leader, and the majority of Muslims don’t share his views. So let’s see what the polls about homosexuality in different countries say:

gsi2-chp3-6

There is essentially no acceptance for homosexuality in the Muslim world, in fact it’s punishable by death in many Muslim countries. And it’s not that different in western countries like the U.K. where not even 1% of Muslims agreed homosexuality was morally acceptable in a recent poll.

The Qur’an is also clear (this is just one example):

Quran (7:80-84)“…For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds…. And we rained down on them a shower (of brimstone)”

So there is absolutely no reason to think that Muslims are O.K. with homosexuality, and yet when a Muslim person with links to terrorist Muslim groups, throws a terrorist attack in a gay nightclub the media denies any link between his ideology and the attack, and the president doesn’t even mention the word “Islam”.

How hard must reality hit us in the face before we accept it?

The victims and the heroes

Although the western world has seen the tip of the iceberg that is the horrific doctrine of Islam, the real victims are Muslims, in Muslim countries, since they suffer the bulk of the violence, predominantly for believing in the wrong flavor of Islam. And the heroes are Muslims, or ex-Muslims, who recognize the threat that nominal Islam is, and want to reform it, risking their own lives in doing so.

Many religions, including Christianity, had to change, to evolve, in order to be compatible with modern liberal values. Currently there is no religion that needs it more than Islam, and many Muslims recognize that reality. Unfortunately they are the minority.

Our job as defenders of liberal values should be to empower these reformist Muslims, like Maajid Nawaz (an ex-radical), who want to transform their religion into a version that is compatible with modern secular societies. Unfortunately we do the opposite; Maajid is constantly criticized by popular media, and denied a platform, in fact, he is called an Islamophobe (even though he is Muslim).

The current, nominal, version of Islam is incompatible, it is toxic, it is a cancer in modern society, and it is openly at war with us. Tolerating an intolerant ideology is a recipe for disaster. And the more time we deny the link between Islam and terrorism, the more people will suffer, both Muslims and non-Muslims. I wonder how many more Muslim terrorists attacks will have to happen before we as a society realize the truth; they will not stop until we do something about it.

The vanguard in the war of ideas

Language is interesting; it tells you about what’s going on inside somebody’s mind, but also; it tells you what’s going on inside the minds of a society.

At some point somebody came with the word “thought”, which changed the way we communicate forever. Same with many other words, like “racism”. There was a point where “racism” wasn’t a thing, and it’s essentially impossible to fight a concept for which you have no word.

“Racism” and “bigotry” are easy enough (although we don’t even have a word for “bigotry” in Spanish), but with them come more complicated notions, like “affirmative action”, and “the soft bigotry of low expectations”, both real things we should worry about.

I like “the soft bigotry of low expectations”, because it gives a name to an idea I adhere to; do not forgive a person that wronged you just because you are “morally superior”; hold other people to the same ethical and moral standards you hold yourself to, and you want others to hold you. It’s part of the golden rule, and it’s something the left doesn’t do with other cultures; we give them a free pass in the name of multiculturalism. It’s an issue.

But progressives don’t stop; while society catches on with ideas like “the soft bigotry of low expectations”, there’s even more novel ones, like “the regressive left” (also a real issue), which was coined only recently.

There’s a constant war of ideas, and it feels good when an issue finally gets identified and named, because all of us who felt the same way can rally and say; “yes! I feel the same way you do: the regressive left is an issue”. It feels good to be on the vanguard on the war of ideas, it feels good to know you are on the right side of history, just as I imagine the first people that said “racism is an issue” must have felt.

Social justice warriors and feminism, poster boys of the regressive liberals

A new term has been coined; the “regressive left” (or liberal), which perfectly describes a kind of thought that has become more and more prevalent of late, and it’s a real danger to real liberals, or “progressive” liberals, in fact, a danger to society in general.

Liberalism vs. conservatism

First of all, we have to define what a liberal person is. In it’s essence it’s the opposite of a conservative, a conservative is a person that doesn’t embrace change, that wants things to remain the same, because if it has been the same way for decades, centuries, or even millennia, it must be good, right? A liberal believes the opposite: we need to move forward, away from barbaric and backwards behaviors and thinking, that’s the way we progress as a species. A more appropriate term might be “progressive”, because, well, we want progress.

However, the crux of the matter is to find such things that need to be changed in order to progress. It might seem obvious to a rational person, but it turns out most liberals don’t realize this simple fact: not all change is good. Do we really need to even discuss about this? Apparently we do, as we will later see in this blog post; many liberals do not realize that just because a change is proposed, we must embrace it. Obviously just because we’ve frowned upon stealing for thousands of years, does it mean it’s time to change it? No.

So that is the key point: is the change progress or regress? Liberals tend to think change means progress, conservative that it’s regress. More often than not, liberals are right, and they end up being on “the right side of history“. Studies have shown that liberals tend to be smarter and better educated than conservatives, they tend to attend university and travel more, etc. However, society needs conservatives as much as liberals, in order to make sure that changes are going in the right direction. Sure, we need change in order to progress, but we also need devil’s advocates in order to make sure it’s progress, and not the opposite. Change for the sake of change is not good, and sometimes things are better the way they are, sometimes conservatives are right (although not often).

One of the best examples of progress in society was the abolition of slavery. In general, liberals were on the right side of history (as they often are), however, some conservative arguments did actually make sense, for example: some black people ended up worst being free that being slaves. We have moved ahead since those times, but still, in the United States black people fill their prisons and thus provide a good chunk of essentially free labor. Perhaps conservatives were right that you “can’t just abolish slavery”, maybe USA should have done it differently. Sometimes resisting change is a good thing, not just to make sure the change is in fact progress, but if change must be made, to find the best way to go about it, and not just go balls to the wall about it.

So it should now be clear what a “regressive liberal” is; a person that advocates change for the sake of change, and is in reality moving society towards the wrong direction; regressing.

Regression and reality

Lately there has been a tendency for liberals to act in an irrational manner, something that has historically not been the case. That is one of the problems with being right so often; you sometimes forget you can be wrong.

There are numerous examples of this way of thinking, too many to explore them all in dept, but I’ll mention a few.

Vegetarianism today is viewed as a liberal tendency; most vegetarians are liberal, many of them see it as a moral statement, some think we all should be vegetarians, and even go as far as saying that humans are vegetarian in nature. It’s the latter argument I want to tackle. I don’t have a problem if you are a vegetarian and say you do it for moral reasons, or health, or even push it to the rest of society for economic reasons, those are all valid arguments, and I might disagree, but the jury is still out.

The problem comes when people deny reality. It is very obvious to everyone that humans are not herbivores: first of all; we can eat meat, herbivores can’t. You give meat to a deer, and it will die of starvation. The opposite is true of carnivores as well. But we humans are in neither of these categories, we are omnivores, like dogs, and bears. We eat everything. It’s also very obvious from our physiology; we don’t have the stomachs of herbivores, nor the teeth. Since we have the technology and resources to gather vegetables from all over the world, we might be able to sustain a vegetable-only diet and be healthy, although it’s probably not economically feasible, not to mention that many vegetarians have health issues, precisely because it’s not easy to find all the nutrients with such diet (not impossible, it can be done, but it’s certainly not easy). The fact of the matter is that through most of the history of our species we have been omnivores; we are omnivores, we can eat both meat and vegetables in large amounts, and that’s an uncontroversial and undeniable scientific fact.

Yet there are some people–liberals, who deny those facts, who deny science, and claim that humans are vegetarians by nature. Things would be much easier if we were vegetarians, perhaps it would be ideal, but we are just not. When you deny reality, and reject facts in order to fit your ideal of how things should be, you are engaged in what is called wishful thinking. Reality doesn’t care about your ideals, things just are the way they are, it might not be fair, it might not be nice, but it just is. Is it fair–or ideal–for the female praying mantis to eat the head of the male during sex? Probably not, but that’s nature, that’s reality, we have to accept that such is the case.

A more controversial example is the whole idea that “Islam is a religion of peace”. In order to explore this topic I’m going to use many of Sam Harris’ arguments, which has done a superb job of shining light on the issue.

First of all, we have to understand that religions are different, that’s why there are so many of them, and they are not interchangeable. Religions are different, in the same way that sports are different; you can’t compare rugby with golf, and you can’t compare Jainism with Christianity; they are way too different to make any meaningful comparison. And you can’t generalize either; say that all sports are violent, or that all religions are peaceful. Different religions are different, and their differences matter.

Second, religions are ideologies, ideologies affect the behavior of people, and while it’s true that ideologies can be twisted to the point of breaking their core principles (at which point it can be argued you are not really following that ideology), the ideology itself remains having certain ideas, independently of how people interpret them. For example, a nazi that doesn’t consider the aryan race superior can’t really be considered a nazi, a nazi that adores the state can be said to be perfectly within the ideology. A Jainism follower that advocates violence is not really a Jane (violates the core principles), but one that is vegetarian is perfectly within.

The question then becomes; can a violent person be called a Muslim? By extension; does the ideology condone violence? There’s many verses on the Qur’an about violence, for example: (8:12) “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”. It’s pretty clear to anyone reading the Qur’an that it not only condones violence, it advocates it.

So it’s that simple: Jainism doesn’t condone violence, Islam does; Jainism is a religion of peace, Islam is not. Yet some people, liberals, like Reza Aslan, claim that all religions are exactly the same, and their holy books interpreted in any way, the problem is not the ideologies, but the people, the followers of the ideologies. We know this not to be true with ideologies like nazism, Islam is no different; we have to look at the ideology in order to decide if it’s peaceful or not, and just because an ideology happens to be a religion, that doesn’t mean it’s inherently peaceful.

It would be nice if what Reza Aslan said was true; all religions are equally peaceful and/or violent, all religions are faces of the same prism through which we see the same truth. But just because something is nice doesn’t mean it’s true; that is wishful thinking. However, many liberals drink this Kool-Aid, precisely because of that; it would be nice if it was true, therefore it must be true. The evidence is clear; not all religions are equal, Islam is a violent religion, the Qur’an endorses violence, as much as we would want it to be otherwise, we shouldn’t deny reality, the praying mantis is the way it is, and the Qur’an is the way it is.

Now, there’s a difference between is and ought. One thing is to recognize human nature, another is accept it as desired behavior. We humans have a tendency to crave sugar, does that mean we ought to eat a lot of sugar? No. In order for humans to progress, we first must recognize our nature, in order to reject it and actively fight against it. If science demonstrates humans are xenophobic by nature (which seems to be the case), the answer is not to close our ears to the evidence, the answer is to accept it, and find ways to fight against our nature.

By rejecting evidence, and thus denying reality, liberals are doing a disservice to society, and pushing for changes that might as well be moving us backwards. If liberals push for vegetarianism because humans are herbivores, that’s wrong. If liberals want to label every criticism of Islam as islamophobe, on the basis that it’s a peaceful religion, like any other religion, that’s also wrong. Both liberals and conservatives must seek to be in contact with reality, even if reality is not nice.

Third wave feminism

This is the definition of feminism:

1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

Once upon a time, not long ago, women did not have the same rights nor opportunities as men, so a movement was needed to achieve equality between the sexes by pushing for women’s rights, and that was perfectly fine, that was feminism.

Today, the world is different (at least the western modern world ), and women have as many rights as men, if not more, women have as many opportunities as men, some argue even more. Today, the need to push exclusively for women’s rights is just not as urgent as before, and perhaps even not necessary.

Today the discourse about sexism and gender issues has advanced tremendously, in part thanks to the first wave feminists, and that’s why today we recognize that actually men have gender issues as well, like being raped in prisons, be victims of domestic violence, much more likely to commit suicide, and die earlier than women from disease. Males are also raped, but society doesn’t want to hear about it, even ridicules them, that’s an issue, why are feminists who supposedly fight for the “equality” of sexes not fighting to change this? Why is Emma Watson’s movement called “he for she”? What happened to “she for he”?

The fact of the matter is that feminism was never about male issues, we all know that, even the name itself implies which gender was the focus of the movement. That might have been necessary in the first wave of feminists, but now?

Some people argue that in fact, women are the privileged gender today, and with good reason, yet third wave feminists continue to push to privilege women even more. Society is catching up to the fact that perhaps liberals pushed way too hard and we are in effect moving backwards in terms of gender equality.

These third wave feminists want still more change, as liberals that’s expected, but they are doing so denying plenty of evidence that goes against their agenda.

One particularly worrying aspect is that many deny that men and women are in effect different. We all know we are different from our anecdotal evidence, we have always been different since the dawn of time, and plenty of parents of boys and girls see this obvious fact. Yet these “sameness” feminists deny that fact and argue that it’s all due to culture, even though it has happened in all cultures in history.

Differences in men and women are not just obvious, they are scientifically proven. Sexual dimorphism happens through all the animal kingdom, why would humans be the exception? Yes, some differences can be explained by culture, like blue for boys, pink for girls, but certainly not all of them.

Let’s keep in mind that being different doesn’t mean one is better than the other, just different. Women seem to be better at some things, men at others, there’s nothing wrong with that. But more importantly; if our understanding of human nature advances to the point where we find that in truth, men are better than women (in general), what does that mean? Nothing. That’s just reality. But fortunately for us, no gender seems to have a leg up, and even if it did, it probably wouldn’t be by much, and evolution is always happening anyway, so things might flip in the future.

Let’s look at a very concrete example: chess. Men dominate the competitive chess scene, even though women have been given every opportunity, and many women have become indeed pretty good at chess; they haven’t reached the top positions. Why is that? “Sameness” feminists would argue that it’s all because of culture; women are discouraged from such endeavors, the culture of chess is toxic, women feel inferior, therefore they act inferior. While all of that might be true to some extent, there are always exceptions, and there are strong women who don’t give a damn about society’s expectations of them, or the culture around an activity, and that’s why many women through history have achieved great things despite the fact that they were not supposed to. Still, no woman has become a chess world champion, even come close to that, even with all the help from feminists to “empower” them in such activities.

IQ might be a controversial way to measure general intelligence, but certainly not the intelligence needed to play chess; if you are good at chess, you have high IQ, if you have high IQ, you have potential to be a good chess player. So, is men’s IQ higher than women’s?

IQ

The answer is; not likely, but this graph shows the distribution is different. You are likely to find a good amount of really stupid men, but also, really intelligent ones, on the other hand, the average woman is smarter than the average man. Does this not match to pretty much everyone’s experience? Most of the women I know are pretty smart, smarter than most men, yet, the smartest people I know, are men. And that’s why we don’t see women in the top chess competitions; exceptional men are more exceptional than exceptional women, at the same time stupid men are more stupid than the stupidest woman. It’s just a matter of distribution.

Why would we want to change that? It’s just chess. Plenty of men are bad at chess, the vast majority of men are bad at many disciplines that require exceptional people. Women are better at plenty of other things that men, and that’s fine.

The more science finds about the nature of the human brain, the more we find that there are plenty of inherent differences between the genders, that’s just a fact, that’s reality, and there’s still plenty more to find.

Why can’t we embrace and accept our differences? One example scientists have found is that a region of the brain called the corpus callosum tends to be bigger in women, what does that mean? It means women in general are more likely to associate seemingly unrelated ideas, which is very useful in the arts in general, so is it really a surprise that women are more artsy than men? Plenty of men have complained that when discussing with their partners, women often bring issues of the past, issues that–in the opinion of men–are not related at all. Why can’t we just accept this and say: “I’m sorry honey, but I just don’t see what X has to do with Y, I’m a man, remember?”? It’s not an excuse for us men, but it’s an explanation, and a reason for us to try harder.

It’s not sexist to say that praying mantises females eat the males’ heads, that’s just a fact, so if science proves that men and women are different in certain aspect, that’s not sexist either, just reality. Yet “sameness” feminists insist–and will keep insisting–that we are the same, and to argue otherwise is sexist. I don’t see a better recipe for unhappiness than denying our human nature.

In fact, studies have shown that women have become unhappier of late, in a pretty significant way, and this trend started–unsurprisingly–when feminism started. Maybe women really like to feel protected, maybe demonizing stay-at-home moms was not such a great idea, maybe there was nothing wrong with women being feminine. I personally don’t know, but what seems to be clear is that the feminist movement doesn’t seem to be moving us forward as a society any more.

Every indication seems to suggest that third wave feminism might be the first liberal movement that is actually on the wrong side of history (as far as I know). Society, especially millennials, are starting to turn away from this bitter form of feminism, and people are realizing that maybe there’s nothing wrong with masculinity. Polls suggest that the feminist movement is collapsing, and in a couple of years the amount of women that identify themselves as feminists have decreased from 28% to 18% in the US (source). Given the fact that feminism has never pushed for men’s rights, and has no intention of doing so, and really have failed completely to try to understand the male position, and discover the reality of gender differences, it seems that such backlash is well deserved. Perhaps it’s time to stop talking about feminism, and start talking about equalism.

True equality

Richard Dawkins when asked about MRAs said “I hardly know there was–is there a men’s rights movement? I mean… If there is discrimination against men, then that’s bad too. I don’t know whether there is, I haven’t heard of it”. I think that is pretty much the experience the vast majority of people, including men, and including me, until not long ago.

However, there are two possibilities: a) either there is no discrimination against men, or b) there is discrimination, but we haven’t heard of it.

There is in fact a men’s rights movement, and it is largely ignored or attacked. They do claim there are men issues, I won’t go through all of them, I’ll just focus on one: men are held financially responsible for fathering a child.

In the face of it, it seems perfectly reasonable to hold men responsible for the future of a child they bred, but let’s look at the women’s perspective. If a woman doesn’t want a child, she can just have an abortion (depending on the local laws), the father doesn’t even have a say on that, he might not even know about it, but even leaving the controversial issue of abortion aside, a woman can chose to give the baby away for adoption. Let’s look at this closely; a woman can opt out of parenthood. It also seems reasonable; a woman’s life is a woman’s choice, and the baby might not suffer at all from that choice, it might benefit him/her, and perhaps never be aware that such choice was made. Where is the man’s choice? Can a man opt out of parenthood? No. Can a man hold a woman responsible, raise the child, and demand alimony from the mother? No. Where is the equality in that? It seems to me this is a real gender issue, one that genuinely destroys many lives of men.

To be honest, I never really thought about it, but now that I’m aware of it; it’s impossible not to see the discrimination against men in this case. So, maybe it’s b): there is discrimination against men, but we just haven’t heard of it.

Well, no problem, we just have to make a social movement to bring these men’s issues to light, and surely enough society will mobilize to fix these problems, just like it happened with the women’s right movement. Wait a second, wasn’t there already a movement that claimed to advocate for the rights of both genders? I have never heard a feminist bring up this issue, in fact, I have never heard a feminist complain about any male issue.

When an educated man like Richard Dawkins is not even aware of men’s right issues, it becomes pretty clear that somebody has not been doing their job of shining a light on these issues. If feminism truly aims to advocate for men’s rights, they have done such a poor job.

We are all perfectly aware of feminism, we all know all the women’s issues, or at least the claims, some of us might not agree with all of them, or the severity of them, but we are aware of the claims.

If anybody laughed at a women’s issue, that person would be harshly criticized, but not only we can’t laugh at the issues, we can’t even criticize them. A commonly mentioned issue is the wage gap: women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns—for doing the same work. This factoid is repeated again and again by the media, politicians, celebrities, activists, you name it. In reality, it turns out to be a myth.

Wage gap

The only way this number could be true is if you ignore a variety of factors, like life and career choices, but if you take those into account, the gap essentially disappears. Yet we can’t even say the wage gap is a myth without being labeled as sexist, misogynist, patriarchal.

However, when Richard Dawkins claimed he didn’t know about men’s issues, the whole audience laughed, even more, I saw shows where people replayed this bit, and the host laughs as well. What is there to laugh about? The fact that men have gender issues too? The fact that some men complain about these issues? Wasn’t feminism supposed to advance equality for both genders? Maybe that was a joke too.

The fact of the matter is that feminism has managed to mobilize entire societies to the pursuit of wellbeing solely for women, while at the same time completely ignoring the male perspective. Men rights activists are mocked, bullied, and completely ignored. Every time somebody mentions a gender issue that affects men, they are ignored, and immediately people point out a women’s issue, because apparently, those are the only ones that truly matter.

Perhaps it is because men are privileged, and women are oppressed, but is that truly so? Maybe it was at some point in history, perhaps most of history, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case now. Yet hardcore feminists insist men are privileged, men hate women, men are patriarchal, and prefer men over women for work. None of this is really true, but I can’t provide a succinct way to prove otherwise, except for the claim that men hate women, for which I will provide an excellent comment by Karen Straughan:

I don’t think there is a universe that could exist where men, in general, hate women.

So maybe the first thing would be to stop accusing men of hating women? And to call out the women in positions of power who accuse men of hating women? And to call out the women like Quinn Norton who claim that men are raised to hate women, or Chloe Angyal of Feministing who claim that our entire society hates women?

Honestly, the Nazis hated the Jews. The Hutus hated the Tutsis. The KKK hated blacks. And yet this male dominated society, where men hold the majority of the positions of power, somehow HATES women despite not a single lynching of a woman for wronging a man, despite NOMAAS and the White Ribbon Campaign and HeForShe and a male feminist president, despite Boko Haram’s sparing of girls while burning boys in their dormitories, despite the unbelievable (and unbelievably unspoken-of) gender gap in executions and criminal sentencing in Islamic countries, despite males being the primary receptacles of violence by both males and females from infancy to old age GLOBALLY, despite not a single genocide in history that DIDN’T begin with the systematic extermination of almost exclusively men and boys.

And you think men hate women. If men hate women, then how do men feel about men? On any given day, any given male is more likely to assault a male, undermine a male, ignore a male in need, murder a male, celebrate the suffering of a male wrongdoer, hit his male child, make a decision to mutilate his male child, arrest a male, convict a male, and sentence a male to incarceration or death, than he is a female.

And yet women–yes, women–have allowed a narrative to become entrenched in all our systems and institutions that males favor other males at the expense of females. That somehow, there is a “team men” that has been oppressing, subjugating and subordinating women since the dawn of human history. That men have waged a “war on women” since we descended from the trees and first tottered on two legs on the African Savannah.

Men have bled for their women, fought to protect their women, died for their women, and admonished each other for millennia to love their virtuous women as Christ loves the Church, to treat their honorable women as queens and as jewels, to present to them the heads of the men who displease them, and to duel to the death to defend their honor. The literary canon, written primarily by men, has always lauded a masculinity that protects women–the villains identified by their willingness to harm women, and the heroes identified by their willingness to avenge those harms.

And you think men hate women?

Men have never hated women. Men will never hate women.

(complete comment)

In fact, we love women so much, that we have given them many rights and privileges without asking anything in return, so much that more and more men give up their masculine human nature, just because of the fear of being labeled as misogynistic.

We have done so much just to please women that quite honestly, it’s ridiculous.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying that men are being oppressed, but we are certainly suffering. The worst jobs are done by men (military, trash collection, construction), the most job-related injuries are suffered by men, men have a huge societal pressure to succeed, men are much more likely to commit suicide, men die at a younger age. On top of that, we can’t complain about any of these issues, because apparently we are oppressing women, and we can’t argue that either. We can’t follow our masculine nature, because doing that would be sexist, apparently now even smiling to a woman is sexist.

If a woman breaks her hand hitting a man in the face, guess who is going to jail?

Call me crazy, but this doesn’t seem to be fair towards men.

Social justice warriors

If staunch feminism wasn’t enough, we now have social justice warriors, which do exactly the same things as feminists do (most of them are feminists anyway), because well, feminism has done such great things for our society! But they do it on all aspects of it.

The modus operandi seems to be: find an ideal, make it a cause, do everything in your power to advance that ideal, ignore any evidence that it’s really not the best thing to do, and label everyone that criticizes this ideal as a backwards, close minded, bigoted person.

For example, ideally all religions should be peaceful, therefore we should tolerate all religions, some people are intolerant towards Islam, that must be changed, there is evidence that Islam is in reality not a religion of peace, ignore that, label anybody that criticizes Islam as a racist and an islamophobe, and you win.

What doesn’t seem to enter into this equation is: what if you are wrong? For some reason SJWs never entertain the possibility that they might be wrong, which is the quintessential feature of a rational person. If you don’t entertain the possibility that you might be wrong, well, you will end up being wrong plenty of times. If you are wrong with your life choices, well, so bad for you, but if you push society towards the wrong direction, that’s actually terrible.

A study showed that you only need 10% of the population to believe in an idea in order for it to spread to the rest of the population. It doesn’t matter if the idea is true or false, if 10% of the population believes in this idea wholeheartedly, it will spread. Feminists believe it’s absolutely true we live in a misogynistic society, so, we all as a society believe that. It doesn’t matter if it’s indeed true or not. Such is the danger of herd mentality, and such is the power of ideas.

Even worse, apparently universities today have a concept called “safe places”, where susceptive people can go when there’s a talk about a subject they find distressing, but even more, prevent certain talks to happen altogether. Universities are supposed to be the place where all ideas are discussed, if you can’t discuss a topic in a university, where can you? Endangering free speech because some people might find the comments offensive, especially in a university, is certainly one of the worst policies ever.

Why would SJWs act this way? Why would anybody reject evidence, reality? When you are confronted with evidence that contradicts your beliefs, you enter into a state called cognitive dissonance, which doesn’t feel good. If the objective is to better society, then you must confront your wrong beliefs, and you must risk feeling bad, and realizing you were wrong. So why don’t they do that? It seems pretty clear that their objective is actually not to better society, but to feel good about themselves, thinking they are bettering society, while in effect they might be doing the opposite.

The way forward

This is where we are today, thanks to staunch feminists, thanks to SJWs, thanks to the whole “political correctness” idea. We can’t criticize feminism, we can’t criticize Islam, we can’t criticize certain ideas, because some people find that “offensive”. It is such a recipe for disaster.

It is quite ironic that the places where most women are genuinely objectively oppressed are Islamic countries, however, even the most staunch feminists wouldn’t touch the subject, because, well, it’s not politically correct (a few feminists truly do). So the people that push for women’s rights the most around the globe, might very well be atheists (or new atheists as some people like to say). The people that prevent the women’s right to choose (pro-choice), are not actually men, or “the patriarchy”, but the ones that follow “christian values”, in fact mostly christian women.

The whole situation is incredibly depressing. Even if feminism seems to be on the way out, pretty much the same manner of dealing with social issues is spreading through liberal circles. Such an epidemic of–quite frankly–stupid liberals, deserves a name: regressive liberals.

Hopefully the majority of liberals can recognize this toxic behavior and distance themselves from these regressive liberals, otherwise we are heading to a period of pretty much no progress in society.

Feminism symbol

My favorite public intellectuals

Here’s a selection of my favorite public intellectuals. I love how these guys talk, write, and generally everything they do. Might be worth checking them out 🙂

Sam Harris

Sam Harris is an author, philosopher, and neuroscientist. Among his most notable books are The End of Faith, and The Moral Landscape. He has a blog, is on Twitter, appears on many TV shows as guest, has been on many debates, as well as lengthy talks, and has written numerous articles in respectable magazines such as The New York Times.

His topics mostly concentrate around religion, faith, morality, and science.

What I like about Sam Harris the most is the way he conveys very complex and nuanced ideas in a very effective way. He is very precise with words and has the patience to go on for ages in order to explain his ideas, but also, he is very witty and can deliver crushingly funny one-liners.

@samharrisorg

In the following video Harris is in a debate with a religious apologist and shows with very funny train of thought the ridiculousness of believing in things without evidence.

This is a quick talk at TED in which he explains how science can answer moral questions, which is the main idea behind The Moral Landscape.

Finally, my favorite talk, in which he basically destroys the idea of free will. Every minute in this hour long talk is pure gold.

Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist, and popular science author. He is best known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology, and the computational theory of mind.

Being an expert of language, the way he communicates in every medium is simply superb. Aside from linguistics, he goes into other topics, such as the history of violence, religion, and reason.

@sapinker

Here Pinker explains why taboos are bad, and political correctness can be dangerous.

This is a quick video where Pinker explains the importance of language in order to understand human nature.

Here’s a much longer version in which he goes into a lot of detail to explain language, and what we know about it.

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky should need no introduction, he is a linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, political commentator, anarcho-syndicalist activist. He has hundreds of books, countless articles, has been in many debates, constant talks all around the globe, in fact, he has done so many things in his life that there is even a documentary devoted to him; Noam Chomsky: Rebel Without a Pause. Not content with defining the whole field of modern linguistics at an early age, he devoted his life to political activism, even risking the well being of his own family. Today he is considered the most influential living intellectual, and the most cited author alive, right after Plato. Even at his advanced age and after losing his wife of almost 60 years, he continues to tirelessly inform the public about what happens in the world, and as he stated before, he will continue to do so as long as he is ambulatory.

Chomsky might not be the most entertaining public speaker, but what he lacks in charisma, he provides in full of content. He is basically a human encyclopedia, and he rarely states his opinion, everything he says is basically facts gathered from one place or another, and for every fact he says, he knows the reference where you can verify it.

It’s hard to find a short video that shows Chomsky’s brilliance, but this interview seems to do the job perfectly. Watch this interviewer get completely owned by Chomsky. Don’t forget part two.


Manufacturing Consent is one of Chomsky’s most powerful ideas, and if you are not in the mood of reading the book, this documentary explains the idea very well. It’s long, but you wouldn’t regret watching it.

Without dissent, there’s no progress

We all know free speech is “good”, but many people don’t know why, or even, have a misconception of what free speech actually means. Others argue that free speech is good in a society, but not on certain communities, like online forums, or technical mailing lists, and are quick to ban the dissidents. I have been called a troll simply for speaking my mind, which happened to be against the established view, but is that really the case? Should everyone that disagrees vigorously be called a troll and be banned? Should dissidence be prohibited? Are there communities where free will is not desirable? Let’s explore.

Dissent is merely defined as a difference in opinion, but more broadly; to actively challenge an established doctrine, policy, or institution[1]. In some cases it’s clear that there’s nothing wrong with dissent, it might be even desirable–as in the case of Mahatma Gandhi opposing the British Empire. In other cases it’s not so clear, or so it would appear judging from the reactions of many people.

If you were a king (before the french revolution) you probably were against peasant dissidence, but if you were a peasant, you would probably be OK with it–in fact, you would think it’s essential for the well-being of the republic and constitute free speech as an inalienable right, as in fact many revolutionaries did, after getting rid of monarchies, dictatorships, etc.

Watch Stephen Colbert roasting George W. Bush in front of his face, and that’s fine–that’s how a modern society is supposed to work.

Is this offensive? Is this demeaning? Of course, but there’s nothing wrong with that; criticism is part of a modern society, even if it’s towards the most important man in that society (in theory), and it should be protected specially in those cases. In the past it would be inconceivable to do this against the king, even in modern societies, as for example against Vladimir Putin. It certainly would be convenient to the Bush administration to just shut up the press, but that shouldn’t happen in a modern society.

And that is something that is often forgotten: free speech laws are specifically designed to protect the weak; the majority of the population doesn’t need a government to grant them free speech. It’s not the majority that loves the king that needs protection to speak against him; it’s the minority that needs it. It’s not the majority that thought slavery was OK in the past, it was the minority that was against the establishment. It is unpopular ideas that need protection.

Free speech has limits, of course; your right to free speech ends when you violate the right of somebody else, like committing defamation. The problem is that a lot of people don’t understand what free speech actually means, and what the law actually says (as in the case of defamation). For example, in modern societies I wouldn’t have any problem saying that Obama is stupid, that Jesus is gay, or that Muhammad the prophet can kiss my ass. Some of this might be false, offensive, and maybe even stupid, but there’s no law that protects people from offense, lies, or stupidity. And there’s a reason for that; it’s not easy to define what is wrong or stupid, and what should be offensive. A king might say that criticizing the king is offensive–very conveniently for himself–and therefore nobody would be safe to throw criticism, and unless the king was indeed flawless–that’s a problem.

Even the UN Secretary-General seems to not understand this, as he tried to push to make blasphemy a crime, probably in response to the increasing violence from Muslims all around the world angry about videos and cartoons that are protected by this very basic freedom in modern societies.

Barack Obama does a pretty good job in explaining why free speech is important.

With foresight it’s easy to see that Martin Luther King Jr. was doing something good in fighting against the establishment, but that was not always the case, many people are considered activists, inciters, and even terrorists, just for speaking truth to power. Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist by the USA until 2008[2]. History determines, time and again, that people that fought to silence the dissidents were plain wrong.

Julian Assange is an example of a modern dissident that is still in mid-fight, and there’s still people that claim he should be killed, even though there are laws that protect the media from not divulging their sources precisely for that reason; in order for the media to criticize the government efficiently, government secrets should be exposed, especially those who are damming to the government.

Well, this is all well and good, for the freedom fighters such as Gandhi, Assange, Mandela, and you probably share a lot of ideas with them, but what about that annoying guy that criticizes everything, or maybe the conspiracy nut? They also need protection, they also need free speech.

Christopher Hitchens goes to great extents to explain not only why free speech–all free speech–is important, but also what exactly is free speech, something many people get wrong.

Hopefully at this point it should be clear that free speech is good, and dissent shouldn’t be squashed, but yet, one of the first things online communities do when encountering unpopular (or unpleasant) opinions, is ban the messenger. Have we not learned anything?

I have explained before why I think Linux is the most important software project in history, but I forgot one aspect: freedom of expression. Anybody can say anything they want in the mailing list, and they won’t be banned. If you are truly a pest and have nothing to contribute, the worst that will happen is that you will be ignored. Most open software projects don’t do that (to their detriment), and that’s one of the reason why many feel compelled and eventually fork, which would be homologous to a revolution; the old dictator didn’t listen, so we took over–unfortunately, they end up doing the same mistake, and eventually ban people that disagree with them.

So, the next time you feel somebody is annoying, or stupid, or just plainly obviously wrong to the point that you want them to shut up forever with a ban… don’t. Everybody deserves the right to say what they want, but more importantly; everybody should have the right to listen to them. You (and everybody else) have the right to ignore them.

Without dissent, there’s no progress.

The meaning of success

I once had a quite extensive discussion with a colleague about several topics related to the software industry, and slowly but methodically we reached a fundamental disagreement on what “success” means. Needless to say, without agreeing on what “success” means it’s really hard to reach a conclusion on anything else. I now believe that many problems in society — not only in the software industry — can be derived from our mismatches in our understanding of the word “success”. It is like trying to decide if abortion is moral without agreeing on what “moral” means — and we actually don’t have such an agreement — and in fact, some definitions of morality might rely on the definition of “success”.

For example: which is more successful? Android? iPhone? or Maemo? If you think a successful software platform is the one that sells more (as many gadgets geeks probably do), you would answer Android, if on the other hand you think success is defined by what is more profitable (as many business people would do), you would answer iPhone. But I contend that success is not relative only relative to a certain context; there’s also an objective success that gives a clear answer to this question, and I hope to reach it at the end of this post.

This not a meta-philosophical exercise, I believe “success” in the objective sense can be clearly defined and understood, but in order to do that, I would need to show some examples and counter-examples in different disciplines. If you don’t believe in the theory of evolution of species by natural selection, you should probably stop reading.

Definition

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines success as (among other definitions):

  • a : to turn out well
  • b : to attain a desired object or end <students who succeed in college>

From this we can say there’s two types of success; one is within a specific context (e.g. college), and the other one is in general. In this blog post I will talk about generic success, with no specific goal, or rather with the generic ultimate goal. Since it’s highly debatable (and difficult) how to define this “ultimate goal”, I will concentrate on the opposite; to try to define the ultimate failure in a way that no rational person would deny it.

Humans vs. Bacteria

My first example is: what organisms are more successful? Humans, or bacteria? There are many angles in which we could compare these two organisms, but few would reach a definite answer. The knee-jerk reaction of most people would be to say: “well, clearly humans are more evolved than bacteria, therefore we win”. I’m not an expert in the theory of evolution, but I believe the word “evolved” is misused here. Both bacteria and humans are the results of billions of years of evolution, in fact, one could say that some species of bacteria are more evolved because Homo Sapiens is a relatively new species and only appeared a few hundred thousands years ago, while many species of bacteria have been evolving for millions of years. “Kids these days with their fancy animal bodies… I have been killing animals since before you got out of the water… Punk” — A species of bacteria might say to younger generations if such a thing would be possible. At best humans are as evolved as bacteria. “Primitive” is probably the right word; bacteria is more primitive because it closely resembles its ancestors. But being primitive isn’t necessarily bad.

In order to reach a more definitive answer I will switch the comparison to dinosaurs vs. bacteria, and come back to the original question later. Dinosaurs are less primitive than bacteria, yet dinosaurs died, and bacteria survived. How something dead can be considered successful? Strictly speaking not all dinosaurs are dead, some evolved into birds, but that’s besides the point; let’s suppose for the sake of argument that they are all dead (which is in fact how many people consider them). A devil’s advocate might suggest that this comparison is unfair, because in different circumstances dinosaurs might have not died, and in fact they might be thriving today. Maybe luck is an important part of success, maybe not, but it’s pointless to discuss about what might have been; what is clear is that they are dead now, and that’s a clear failure. Excuses don’t turn a failure into a success.

Let me be clear about my contention; anything that ceases to exist is a failure, how could it not? In order to have even the smallest hope of winning the race, whatever the race may be, even if it doesn’t have a clear goal, or has many winners; you have to be on the race. It could not be clearer: what disappears can’t succeed.

Now, being more evolved, or less primitive, is not as a trump card as it might appear; nature is a ruthless arena, and there are no favorites. The vast majority of species that have ever lived are gone now, and it doesn’t matter how “unfair” it might seem, to nature only the living sons matter, everyone else was a failure.

If we accept that dinosaurs failed, then one can try to use the same metric for humans, but there’s a problem (for our exercise); humans are still alive. How do you compare two species that are not extinct? Strictly speaking all species alive today are still in the race. So how easy is it for humans to go extinct? This is a difficult question to answer, but lets suppose an extreme event turns the average temperature of the Earth 100°C colder; that would quite likely kill all humans (and probably a lot of plants and animals), but most certainly a lot of bacterial species would survive. It has been estimated that there’s 5×1030 bacteria on Earth, countless species, and possibly surpassing the biomass of all plants and animals. In fact, human beings could not survive without bacteria, since it’s essential to the human microbiome, and if you sum the bacteria genes in a human body, it probably outranks the human genes by a factor of 100-to-1. So, humans, like dinosaurs, could disappear rather easily, but bacteria would still be around for a long long time. From this point of view, bacteria are clearly more successful than humans.

Is there any scenario in which humans would survive, and bacteria would not? (therefore making humans more successful) I can think of some, but they would be far into the future, and most definitely we are not yet there. We are realizing the importance of our microbiome only now, and in the process of running the Human Microbiome Project, so we don’t even know what role our bacteria plays, therefore we don’t know how we could replace them with something else (like nanorobots). If bacteria disappeared today, so would we. It would follow then that bacteria are more successful, and there’s no getting around that.

Fundamentals and Morality

Could we define something more fundamental about success? I believe so: a worse failure than dying, is not being able to live in the first place, like a fetus that is automatically aborted because of a bad mutation, or even worse; an impossibility. Suppose “2 + 2 = 5”; this of course is impossible, so it follows that it’s a total failure. The opposite would be “2 + 2 = 4”; this is as true as anything can be, therefore it’s a total success.

There’s a realm of mathematics that is closer to what we consider morality: game theory. But don’t be fooled by its name; game theory is as serious as any other realm of mathematics, and the findings as conclusive as probability. An example of game theory is the prisoner’s dilemma — here’s a classic version of it:

Two men are arrested, but the police do not possess enough information for a conviction. Following the separation of the two men, the police offer both a similar deal—if one testifies against his partner (defects/betrays), and the other remains silent (cooperates/assists), the betrayer goes free and the one that remains silent receives the full one-year sentence. If both remain silent, both are sentenced to only one month in jail for a minor charge. If each ‘rats out’ the other, each receives a three-month sentence. Each prisoner must choose either to betray or remain silent; the decision of each is kept quiet. What should they do? If it is supposed here that each player is only concerned with lessening his time in jail, the game becomes a non-zero sum game where the two players may either assist or betray the other. In the game, the sole worry of the prisoners seems to be increasing his own reward. The interesting symmetry of this problem is that the logical decision leads each to betray the other, even though their individual ‘prize’ would be greater if they cooperated.

There are different versions of this scenario; with different rules and more complex agents game theory arrives to different conclusions as to what rational agents should do to maximize their outcomes, but these strategies are quite factual and universal; we are not talking about human beings; they are independent of culture, or historicism; the rules are as true here as they are in the other side of the universe. So if game theory determines that a certain strategy fails in certain situation, that’s it; it’s as hard of a failure as “2 + 2 = 5”.

With this notion we might be able to dive into more realistic and controversial examples — like slavery. Nowadays we consider slavery immoral, but that wasn’t the case in the past. One might say that slavery was a failure (because it doesn’t exist (at least as a desirable concept)), but that is only the case in human society, perhaps there’s another civilization in an alien planet that still has slavery, and they are still debating, so one might be tempted to say that slavery’s failure is still contended (perhaps even more so if you live in Texas). But we got rid of slavery because of a reason; it’s not good for everybody. It might be good for the slave owners, and good for some slaves, but not good for everybody. It is hard to imagine how another civilization could arrive to a different conclusion. Therefore it is quite safe to say that in all likelihood slavery is a failure, because of its tendency to disappear. Perhaps at some point game theory would advance to the point where we can be sure about this, and the only reason it took so long to get rid of slavery is that we are not rational beings, and it takes time for our societies to reach this level of rationality.

Objective morality and the moral landscape

Similarly to the objective success I’m proposing, Sam Harris proposes a new version of objective morality in his book The Moral Landscape. I must admit I haven’t read the book, but I have watched his online lectures about the topic. Sam Harris asserts that the notion that science shouldn’t deal with morality is a myth, and that advances in neuroscience (his field of expertise) can, and should, enlighten us as to what should be considered moral. Thus, morality is not relative, but objective. The different “peaks” in the landscape of morality are points in which society aims to be, in order to be a good one, and historically the methods to find these “peaks” has been rather rudimentary, but a new field of moral science could be the ultimate tool.

Regardless of the method we use to find these “peaks”, the important notion (for this post), is that there’s an abyss; the lowest moral point. The worst possible misery for all beings is surely bad:

The worst-possible-misery-for-everyone is ‘bad.’ If the word ‘bad’ is going to be mean anything surely it applies to the worst-possible-misery-for-everyone. Now if you think the worst-possible-misery-for-everyone isn’t bad, or might have a silver lining, or there might be something worse… I don’t know what you’re talking about. What is more, I’m reasonably sure you don’t know what you’re talking about either.

I want to hijack this concept of the worst-possible-misery-for-everyone that is the basis of (scientific) objective morality, and use it as a comparison to my contention that ceasing-to-exist is the basis for objective success.

Today our society is confronted with moral dilemmas such as gay marriage and legal abortion, many of these are hijacked by religious bigotry and irrationality, and it’s hard to move forward because many still define morality through religious dogmas, and even people who don’t, and are extremely rational, still cling to the idea that morality comes from “God” (whatever that might mean). Even many scientists claim that morality cannot be found through science, and others that morality is relative. But yet others disagree and have tried to define morality in universal terms, like Sam Harris. The jury is still out on this topic, so I cannot say that morality should definitely be defined in terms of what is successful to our worldwide society, merely that it is a possibility — A rather strong one, in my opinion.

Life

It’s a little more tricky to define what constitutes a successful life, because all life ends. The solution must be one on the terms of transcendence: offspring, books, memes, etc. However people living a more hedonistic life might disagree; but lets be clear, a life can be unsuccessful in the grand scheme of things, but still be good, and the other way around. It might be tempting to define success in different terms: “if my goal is to enjoy life, and I do; I’m succeeding”, and while that is true, that’s being successful in relative terms, not general terms.

Some people might have trouble with this notion, so I would give an example: Grigori Perelman vs. Britney Spears. Most people probably don’t know Grigori, but he solved one of the most difficult problems in mathematics, and was awarded one million USD for it. Clearly this would have helped him to become famous, but he rejected interviews and rejected the money. Does this means he rejected success? Well, lets try to view this from the vantage point of 500 years into the future; both Britney Spears and Grigori Perelman would be dead by that time, so the only things that remain would be their transcendence. Most likely nobody would remember Britney Spears, nor listen to any of her music, while it’s quite likely that people would still be using Grigori Perelman’s mathematics, as he would be one of the giants upon which future scientists would stand. In this sense Grigori is more successful, and any other sense of success would be relative to something else, not objective.

Test

Hopefully my definition of success should be clear by now in order to apply it to the initial example.

iPhone

iPhone is clearly successful in being profitable, but many products have been profitable in the past and have gone with the wind. The real question is: What are the chances that the iPhone will not disappear? It is hard to defend the position that the iPhone will remain for a long period of time because it’s a single product, from a single company, and specially considering that many technology experts can’t find an explanation for its success other than the Apple Cult. While it was clearly superior from an aesthetic point of view while it was introduced, there’s many competitors that are on par today. Maybe it would not disappear in 10 years, but maybe it would. It’s totally unclear.

Android

Compared to the iPhone, Android has the advantage that many companies work on it, directly and indirectly, and it doesn’t live on a single product. So if a single company goes down, that would not kill Android, even if that company is Google. So, as a platform, it’s much more resilient than iOS. Because of this reason alone, Android is clearly more successful than the iPhone — according to the aforementioned definition.

Maemo

Maemo is dead (mostly), so that would automatically mean that it’s a failure. However, Maemo is not a single organism; it consists of many subsystems that are part of the typical Linux ecosystem: Linux kernel, X.org, Qt, WebKit, GStreamer, Telepathy, etc. These subsystems remain very much alive, in fact, they existed before Maemo, and will continue to exist, and grow. Some of these subsystems are used in other platforms, such as WebOS (also dead (mostly)), Tizen, MeeGo (also dead (kinda)), and Mer.

A common saying is that open source projects never die. Although this is not strictly true, the important thing is that they are extremely difficult to kill (just ask Microsoft). Perhaps the best analogy in the animal kingdom would be to compare Maemo to a sponge. You can divide a sponge into as many parts as you want, put it into a blender, even make sure the pieces pass through a filter with very minute holes. It doesn’t matter; the sponge would reorganize itself again. It’s hard to imagine a more resilient animal.

If this is the case, one would expect Maemo (or its pieces) to continue as Tizen, or Mer (on Jolla phones), or perhaps other platform yet to be born, even though today it seems dead. If this happens, then Maemo would be even more successful than Android. Time will tell.

Predictions

Like any a scientific theory, the really interesting bit of this idea would be it’s predictive power, so I will make a list of things in their order of success, and if I’m correct the less successful ones would tend to disappear first (or their legacy):

  • Mer > Android > iOS > WP
  • Linux > Windows
  • Bill Gates > Steve Jobs > Carlos Slim (Richest man in the world)
  • Gay marriage > Inequality
  • Rationality > Religious dogma
  • Collaboration > Institutions

To me, this definition of “success” is as true as “2 + 2 = 4” (in fact, it’s kind of based on such fundamental truths), unfortunately, it seems most people don’t share this point of view, as we still have debates over topics which are in my opinion a waste of time. What do you think? Are there examples where this definition of success doesn’t fit?