Freedom of speech in online communities

I have debated freedom of speech countless times, and it is my contention that today (in 2021) the meaning of that concept is lost.

The idea of freedom of speech didn’t exist as such until censorship started to be an issue, and that was after the invention of the printing press. It was after people starting to argue in favor of censorship that other people started to argue against censorship. Freedom of speech is an argument against censorship.

Today that useful meaning is pretty much lost. Now people wrongly believe that freedom of speech is a right, and only a right, and worse: they equate freedom of speech with the First Amendment, even though freedom of speech existed before such law, and exists in countries other than USA. I wrote about this fallacy in my other blog in the article: The fatal freedom of speech fallacy.

The first problem when considering freedom of speech a right is that it shuts down discussion about what it ought to be. This is the naturalistic fallacy (confusing what is to what ought to be). If we believed that whatever laws regarding cannabis are what we ought to have, then we can’t discuss any changes to the laws, because the answer to everything would be “that’s illegal”. The question is not if X is illegal currently, the question is should it? When James Damore was fired by Google for criticizing Google’s ideological echo chamber, a lot of people argued that Google was correct in firing him, because it was legal, but that completely misses the point: the fact that something is legal doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right (should be illegal).

Today people are not discussing what freedom of speech ought to be.

Mill’s argument

In the past people did debate what freedom of speech ought to be, not in terms of rights, but in terms of arguments. The strongest argument comes from John Stuart Mill which he presented in his seminal work On Liberty.

Mill’s argument consists on three parts:

  1. The censored idea may be right
  2. The censored idea may not be completely wrong
  3. If the censored idea is wrong, it strengthens the right idea

It’s obvious that if an idea is right, society will benefit from hearing it, but if an idea is wrong, Mill argues that it still benefits society.

Truth is antifragile. Like the inmune system it benefits from failed attacks. Just like a bubble boy which is shielded from the environment becomes weak, so do ideas. Even if an idea is right, shielding it from attacks makes the idea weak, because people forget why the idea was right in the first place.

I often put the example of the idea of flat-Earth. Obviously Earth is round, and flat-Earthers are wrong, but is that a justification for censoring them? Mill argues that it’s not. I’ve seen debates with flat-Earthers, and what I find interesting are the arguments trying to defend the round Earth, but even more interesting are the people that fail to demonstrate that the Earth is round. Ask ten people that you know how would they demonstrate that the Earth is round. Most would have less knowledge about the subject than a flat-Earther.

The worst reason to believe something is dogma. If you believe Earth is round because science says so, then you have a weak justification for your belief.

My notion of the round Earth only became stronger after flat-Earth debates.

Censorship hurts society, even if the idea being censored is wrong.

The true victim

A common argument against freedom of speech is that you don’t have the right to make others listen to your wrong ideas, but this commits all the fallacies I mentioned above, including confusing the argument of freedom of speech with the right, and ignores Mill’s argument.

When an idea is being censored, the person espousing this idea is not the true victim. When the idea was that Earth was circling the Sun (and not the other way around as it was believed), Galileo Galilei was not the victim: he already knew the truth: the victim was society. Even when the idea is wrong, like in the case of flat-Earth, the true victim is society, because by discussing wrong ideas everyone can realize by themselves precisely why they are wrong.

XKCD claims the right to free speech means the government can't arrest you for what you say.
XKCD doesn’t know what freedom of speech is

The famous comic author Randall Munroe–creator of XKCD–doesn’t get it either. Freedom of speech is an argument against censorship, not a right. The First Amendment came after freedom of speech was already argued, or in other words: after it was already argued that censorship hurts society. The important point is not that the First Amendment exists, the important point is why.

This doesn’t change if the censorship is overt, or the idea is merely ignored by applying social opprobrium. The end result for society is the same.

Censorship hides truth and weakens ideas. A society that holds wrong and weak ideas is the victim.

Different levels

Another wrong notion is that freedom of speech only applies in public spaces (because that’s where the First Amendment mostly applies), but if you follow Mill’s argument, when Google fired James Damore, the true victim was Google.

The victims of censorship are at all levels: society, organization, group, family, couple.

Even at the level of a couple, what would happen to a couple that just doesn’t speak about a certain topic, like say abortion?

What happens if the company you work for bans the topic of open spaces? Who do you think suffers? The people that want to criticize open spaces, or the whole company?

The First Amendment may apply only at a certain level, but freedom of speech, that is: the argument against censorship, is valid at every level.

Online communities

Organizations that attempt to defend freedom of speech struggle because while they want to avoid censorship, some people simply don’t have anything productive to say (e.g. trolls), and trying to achieve a balance is difficult, especially if they don’t have a clear understanding of what freedom of speech even is.

But my contention is that most of the struggle comes from the misunderstandings about freedom of speech.

If there’s a traditional debate between two people, there’s an audience of one hundred people, and one person in the audience starts to shout facts about the flat-Earth, would removing that person from the venue be a violation of freedom of speech? No. It’s just not part of the format. In this particular format an audience member can ask a question at the end in the Q&A part of the debate. It’s not the idea that is being censored, it’s the manner in which the idea was expressed that is the problem.

The equivalent of society in this case is not hurt by a disruptive person being removed.

Online communities decide in what format they wish to have discussions in, and if a person not following the format is removed, that doesn’t hide novel ideas nor weakens existing ideas. In order words: the argument against censorship doesn’t apply.

But in addition the community can decide which topics are off-topic. It makes no sense to talk about flat-Earth in a community about socialism.

But when a person is following the format, and talking about something that should be on-topic, but such discussion is hindered either by overt censorship (e.g. ban), or social opprobrium (e.g. downvotes), then it is the community that suffers.

Ironically when online communities censor the topic of vaccine skepticism, the only thing being achieved is that the idea becomes weak, that is: the people that believe in vaccines do so for the wrong reasons (even if correct), so they become easy targets for anti-vaxxers. In other words: censorship creates the exact opposite of what it attempts to solve.

Online communities should fight ideas with ideas, not censorship.

The amount fallacy

Finding a new star nobody has found before is rare, but it happens—the same goes for fallacies. Errors in reasoning happen all the time, and most of those times people don’t bother looking up the specific name of that error; identifying it as an error suffices. When an error is too common, somebody eventually bothers to name it and thus a fallacy is born. It’s convenient to name fallacies because it saves time trying to disentangle the logic; you can just google the fallacy, and soon enough you will find examples and explanations.

I believe I have found a new fallacy, but unlike most new fallacies, this one has been under our nose for god knows how long.

I’ve decided to coin it the “amount fallacy”, although a close second was “toxic fallacy”, and also “sweet spot fallacy”. This concept is far from new, but it doesn’t seem to have a name. It has already been spread around in toxicology for at least four centuries with the aphorism “the dose makes the poison”. The idea is simple: everything is toxic. Yes, even water can be toxic, it all depends on the amount.

This concept applies absolutely everywhere, which is perhaps why nobody has bothered to name it. Is hot water good or bad? It depends on what precisely you mean by “hot”; it can be 40°C, 60°C, 1000°C, or just about any amount. Since language is often imprecise, the fallacy can sneak by very inconspicuously.

It can be spotted much more easily by realizing sweet spots; too little or too much of something is bad. Water above a certain temperature is bad, but so is water below certain temperature. A similar notion is the Goldilocks principle.

As obvious as this fallacy is, it’s committed all the time, even by very intelligent people.

Take for example income inequality. The debate about inequality is still raging in 2020, perhaps more than ever, and the positions are very clear: one side argues it’s possible for income inequality to be “too high” (and in fact it already is), the other side argues income inequality is inevitable (and in fact desirable). These two positions don’t contradict each other; all you have to do is accept that there is a sweet spot. It’s that simple.

Income inequality for different Gini coefficients

Surely it cannot be that easy. Surely people must have realized this obvious fallacy while discussing income inequality. Of course they have! But they also haven’t named it. This makes it so people fall into the same fallacy over and over, and it has to be explained why it’s a fallacy over and over.

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!

William Shakespeare

People often aggrandize the intellectual capabilities of the human mind, so they assume intelligent people surely can’t be making fallacies this ludicrous, and if they do; surely they would realize when somebody points that out, and if they don’t; surely somebody would record this kind of fallacy so others don’t fall for it. But remember that it took thousands of years after the invention of the wheel before humans came up with the brilliant idea of putting them on luggage (around 50 years ago). So don’t be too quick to assume the grandioseness of the human mind.

Here’s another example: immigration. One side argues immigration enriches the culture of a country, the other side argues immigration dilutes the national identity. Perhaps there’s an amount of immigration which isn’t too much or too little? Yes, there’s some people that argue precisely this, except without naming the fallacy.

Another example: exposure to germs. Too many germs can certainly overwhelm any immune system, but too little weakens it. The immune system requires constant training, and in fact there’s a theory that the current allergy epidemic is due to children’s underexposure to germs (hygiene hypothesis).

A more recent example: epidemic mitigation measures. Many people argue that masks must be compulsory, because not wearing them “kills people”, this is of course very likely true. But what part is missing in the argument? The amount. Everything kills people. Just driving a car increases the probability that you will kill somebody. Driving cars kill people; that’s a fact. But how many? Richard Dawkins—a famous evolutionary biologist, and author—recently made precisely this fallacy in a popular tweet.

The same applies to anything antifragile, but the examples are countless: recreation, safety, criticism, politeness, solitude, trust, spending, studying, exercise, thinking, planning, working, management, circumlocution, sun exposure, child play, child discipline, vitamin consumption, etc.

Technically this falls into the category of hasty generalization fallacies; the fact that some rich people are greedy doesn’t mean all rich people are greedy. In particular it’s an imprecision fallacy, similar to the apex/nadir fallacies, except in terms of amounts.

The form is:

  • 1. Some amounts of X are bad
  • 2. Some amounts of X don’t represent all amounts of X (ignored)
  • ∴ All amounts of X are bad

The amount fallacy happens because premise 2 is ignored. An exception could be cheating: a small amount of cheating is bad, even more so a large amount; the amount of cheating doesn’t change its desirability.

Perhaps this fallacy already has a name, but I don’t think so; I’ve looked extensively. Even if it’s too obvious, it needs to have a name, because people commit it all the time.

So there you have it. Any time somebody says something is bad (or good) because some amount of it is bad, be on your guard; that doesn’t mean any amount of it is bad.

Basics in rational discussion

Lately I’ve been having deep discussions that get so abstract we reach deep into the nature of reality. One might think that in the 21st century we would at least have gotten that right, we could agree on some fundamentals, and move on to more important stuff–after all, philosophy is taught in high school (last I checked)–sadly, that’s not the case.

Nature of reality

The first thing we have to agree is the nature of reality. For example, it’s possible that there are multiple realities, maybe your reality is different than mine. Maybe I see an apple as red, and you see the apple as yellow, both our perceptions are correct, but the realities are different; you take a picture, and it’s yellow, I take a picture, and it’s red.

If this was the case, it would be useless to discuss reality; what does it matter if I see the apple as red and you as yellow? In fact, it’s pointless to discuss about anything; does she loves you? Or is she using you? Maybe there’s two versions of her, and if that’s the case, the discussion is over. It gets even more hypothetical than that: maybe I’m alive in my reality, but dead in everybody else’s.

This is where philosophy enters the picture, and more specifically; epistemology–the study of knowledge. We, rational people, have decided that we need to assume there’s only one reality, which is objective. It makes sense if we want to discuss about anything. What makes the apple look red to me, and yellow to you, is our subjective experience of the objective reality. Experience can be subjective, but reality is not.

So if somebody tells you there’s many realities, or that reality is subjective; end the discussion. Just say: fine, your reality is different, whatever it is, we would never know. Look for other rational people willing to discuss about the real reality we all live in.

Discerning reality

We have agreed that there’s one objective reality, but, can we really know it? If I’m thirsty can I really know that drinking water will help me? We can’t know for sure, but we have to assume reality is discernable. If I don’t drink water and I die, well, we know that drinking water would probably have helped me.

There really is no alternative; if there’s no way to know if water will help, then there’s no point in discussing anything.

But what if the first time a human being drinks water it helps, but the second one it doesn’t? What if reality is constantly changing, including the laws of physics? If that was the case it would be quite tricky to discern reality, and again; there would be no point in discussing.

Here enters science–the method to build and organize knowledge. Science assumes uniformitarianism; the basic laws of nature are the same everywhere, have always been, and would continue to be. It’s only with this assumption that we can even begin to attempt to recognize reality.

Now we have to decide the method. We can go with dogma, tradition, or even feelings, however, the only method that has reliably produced results through history is science. Science has taken us to the Moon, and improved dramatically our way of living–precisely by recognizing reality correctly. Science has proven dogma and tradition wrong, many times, and never has any of these methods proved science wrong. To put it simply; science works.

So, again, if somebody tells you reality can’t be known, just move on, and if he tells you he doesn’t believe in science, well, he isn’t interested the real reality.

Basic tips

After we have aligned all our necessary assumptions, and agreed on a method to find out reality, we can start the real discussion. In the process of doing this for centuries, we have identified a bunch of common mistakes in reasoning, and we call them fallacies.

Our minds are faulty, but what’s even worse; bad at recognizing our own faults. Fortunately we have given names to many of our faults in reasoning, in the hope that it will make it easier to recognize them.

However, not many people are interested in their faults in reasoning. Again, if somebody tells you he isn’t interested in fallacies, move on; it will be quite unlikely that you will be able to show him when his reasoning is faulty.

fallaciesposterhigherres

Summary

So to engage in a rational discussion we need to agree on:

  • Objective reality
  • Reality is knowable
  • Uniformitarianism
  • Science is the best method
  • Fallacies should be avoided

If anybody disagrees, you should be free to end the discussion immediately. Perhaps you can point that person to this post, so you don’t have to explain why yourself 🙂

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?

Who Hugo Chavez really is?

Another great post from Jon Phillips.

He now talks about Hugo Chavez and his recent recommendation of Noams Chomky‘s book: Hegemony or Survival. He did so last wednesday during a speech in the United Nations. In just a few days the book has reached #1 in Amazon’s most popular items.

According to Chavez:

“It’s an excellent book to help us understand what has been happening in the world throughout the 20th century, and what’s happening now, and the greatest threat looming over our planet.”

Answering Jon Phillips’ question, I have only heard bad things about Chavez, and I pictured him as an anti-american extremist, pretty much like Fidel Castro. But this is a totally undocumented perception, probably influenced by the Mexican media, which is somewhat influenced by American media.

After this post I will read more about him, and try to read the book.

Free TV episodes: Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (fun and enlightening)

I found this Links to free episodes of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!.

I watched a few of them and I must say I love them.

They’re simple, straight, fun, honest, and obvious.

I specially liked the one about the War on Drugs; very enlightening.

I like to respect other people’s opinions, but in this case, I will say that if somebody don’t believe what these guys are saying, that somebody is nuts.

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