Antinatalism and the Right to be Thrown Into this World

A fair trade is always based on a sense of mutual consent: you want something + I want something = let’s trade. That’s fair, right? The participants can deliberately weigh the pro’s and con’s of the trade and decide – based upon this information – whether to take part in the exchange or not. That’s a choice: the choice between doing and not doing something.

How different is it for the ‘choice‘ to be born? Well, there isn’t really much of a choice there, is there? No-one has asked you: ‘Hey Peter. You want to be born?’ You don’t have this choice; you don’t have a right to decide for yourself if you want to be thrown onto this earth. No-one has asked you whether you want to experience the suffering – and the joy – that you do. No-one. You are born. Period.

There is a philosophical position called ‘antinatalism‘ that assigns a negative value to birth. This makes it different from all the ‘christian’ doctrines that praise birth to be a miraculous phenomenon; a true gift from above. There are different arguments in favor of antinatalism. One – put forward by Schopenhauer – is that live is always filled with more pain than pleasure; therefore a living person would have always been better of if he wouldn’t have been born at all. After all, Schopenhauer claims,

A quick test of the assertion that enjoyment outweighs pain in this world, or that they are at any rate balanced, would be to compare the feelings of an animal engaged in eating another with those of the animal being eaten.

Other arguments for antinatalism point to the lack of autonomy or freedom of choice involved in the ‘decision’ to be born. See it as a trade in which, no matter what your preferences might be, the deal will always take place. Peter Wessel Zapffe – a Norwegian philosopher – said about this,

In accordance with my conception of life, I have chosen not to bring children into the world. A coin is examined, and only after careful deliberation, given to a beggar, whereas a child is flung out into the cosmic brutality without hesitation.

This decision – the choice whether or not to bring children into the world – is of course a choice you have to make for yourself: do you find it okay to throw a person into this world without ever knowing – or being able to know – whether or not this person wants to be thrown into this world? It you do, you are likely to be a natalist: someone who puts a positive value on human reproduction. And if most people on this world would be natalists, there are some problems we will inevitably run into. And these problems are getting closer and closer.

I am talking of course about the ever increasing world population. In 2011 the 7th billion person was added to our world’s population. It is expected that in 2050 this number will have increased to 11 billion and – given that the fertility rate keeps constant (an average of 2.5 children per women) – the 27 (!) billion will be reached in 2100. It seems save to say that these numbers are going to pose some problems. Events like a Malthusian catastrophe – a situation in which the increase in food production can’t keep up with the increase in the world population – might happen if we don’t do something. Darwin and his survival of the fittest-doctrine seem – if we continue like this – to become ever more apparent in this world of ours.

But let’s keep the ‘logistical’ problems aside, and focus ourselves solely on the (philosophical) issues attached to (anti)natalism. All these issues culminate into one question: is it okay for anyone to throw creatures like him- or herself into the world, without having their approval? Whenever we engage in other kinds of decisions – like the trading of collector cards – we firmly believe that mutual consent is a prerequisite for ethical conduct. So why don’t we apply this same principle to child birth? Surely: we might want children; we might want to reproduce ourselves because we find children cute or we find that this is the most reasonable thing to do. But what about the children’s self-determination? Shouldn’t we pay any attention to that? Or are we just so self-centered and so egocentric that we don’t even care about throwing other people into a world without even knowing – or caring – whether this is what they would have wanted to happen? It’s obviously impossible to ask children whether they would like to be born before them being born, but why would we – based upon that knowledge – decide to do – instead of not to do – it?

What do you think?

The Beauty of Guilt

Do you remember Lance Armstrong sitting at Oprah, feeling all guilty about his former doping usage? I couldn’t help but asking myself: why would he admit that? Why would he, after all those years of denying doping usage, suddenly declare to the world that he has indeed been using doping in order to win the Tour de France seven times? What did he believe he would gain by admitting this? He must have been aware of the consequences – the returning of prize money, lawsuits and loss of status – that were likely to result from him confessing? So why did he confess?

Armstrong is a smart guy. If you have seen video clips in which he is lying about his doping usage, you must have noticed that he is an excellent actor. He might have confessed because he would hope that by telling what had truly happened he would somehow gain the support of the crowd, and maybe even improve upon his current situation. Or maybe he is planning on writing a autobiography, titled The Fight or so, and the confession would make for an excellent ending chapter. All of that could very well be possible. But I want to look at another potential reason for him confessing. And that is the reason of guilt.

As you surely know, experiencing guilt is terrible. Knowing that you have done something wrong through which you harmed others, even though these others might not even know what you did, hits you in your dignity like nothing else. You are confronted with a version of yourself that you are disgusted with. You know that you should have known better and you will try to prove towards others, but mainly towards yourself, that you are the good person you know you are. That you, after all that happened, decided to stay true to the good version of yourself. And this realization leads you to apologize and say that you will never, ever do it again.

Guilt is nature’s very own mechanism for unveiling the truth despite us being the hedonistic pain-avoiding creatures that we are. Just like we feel physical pain by hurting the outer part of our bodies, so we feel emotional pain by hurting our ‘inner self’. That is: by not staying true to who you think you truly are. And just like you want physical pain to stop as quickly as possible, by retreating your arm from a fire for example, so does nature wants you to avoid not staying true to yourself by endowing you with a sense of guilt. Nature seems to have programmed us with some sort of universal judgmental capability, guarding us from stepping away too far from the comforting warmth of ourselves and society.

Ah well: let’s be glad that nature tries to keep us on the right track, right? That we are inclined to be nice to each other because we don’t want to experience that nasty feeling of guilt. Or do you rather think of guilt as just another irrational byproduct of thousands of years of social and biological conditioning? A burden evolution forced upon us?

What do you think about it?

The Inevitability and Arbitrariness of Signs

Linguistics is the study of language. And language is, if you think about, a beautiful and very intricate system. It has all sorts of rules or conventions that allow us to communicate with each other. Without these rules, no-one would be able to understand each other. I want to take a look at a central concept in linguistics: ‘signs’. For what exactly is a sign? Probably all kinds of associations with road signs and the like pop into your mind. But when used in a different context, a religious context for example, it can refer to ‘a sign from above’; a message from God. In other words: the notion of ‘sign’ is multi-interpretable.

There is something very peculiar about signs. Something that a man called Ferdinand de Saussure pointed out: the inevitable – but utterly arbitrary – connection between ‘signifiers’ and ‘signifieds’. But what does this mean? And why is this connection both inevitable and arbitrary at the same time? Let’s take a look at that.

According to De Saussure, a sign consist of two parts: (1) a concept or meaning (the signified) and (2) a sound image (the signifier). The signified is your mental image of – let’s say – a tree. When you hear the word ‘tree’, you immediately think about a big green thing standing in a park. That’s the conceptual level of language. The other is the phonetic level or the sound image of ‘tree’. When you write the word tree, you write a ‘t’,’r’, ‘e’ and ‘e’. And when you pronounce these letters in your head, the meaning or concept of a tree immediately arises. De Saussure claims that every sign we know of (whether it is a road sign or a sign from God) consists of these two parts: the thing representing and the thing being represented.

Now De Saussure points out the following: the connection between the word ‘tree’ and the concept (or mental picture) of a tree is utterly arbitrary. It is just because the English community has chosen to take the word ‘tree’ to stand for the mental image of a tree that this connection – or sign – exists. The concept of a tree could have just as easily been called ‘worm’ or ‘water’. You can see this arbitrariness at work when comparing different languages. The Dutch word for a tree is ‘boom’, yet  it still refers to the same mental image as the English word ‘tree’. It’s a convention. Nothing more, nothing less.

Furthermore, De Saussure claims that the fact that we know that ‘tree’ refers to the mental image of a tree is because we also know what other terms refer too, and where the word ‘tree’ doesn’t refer to. By that he means that we can understand the meaning of a word only in relation to other words. It is only because we know that the word ‘branch’ refers to a specific part of a tree that we obtain the mental picture of what the concept of a tree looks like. If we wouldn’t have mental images of ranches or leaves, and all the other parts making up a tree, we wouldn’t know what a tree would be.

So now you know that the connection between a “word” and a “concept” is arbitrary but necessary for the mental image to exist. We can “choose” the connection between the word “tree” and the mental image “tree”, but it nevertheless has to exist for us to grasp the mental image of a “tree”. Because our mental image of a “tree” only exists in relation to other words referring to other mental images.

This observation made me ask the following question: if we wouldn’t have the “phonetic sound” (the tones you hear when a word is uttered) of the word “tree” resonating inside of our heads, would that imply that we wouldn’t know what a “tree” was? In other words: if we wouldn’t have the word “tree”, or any other word referring the the mental image “tree”, would that imply that we wouldn’t know what a “tree” – in our every day conception of it – was? That we wouldn’t know what that big green thing standing in the park was?

Maybe animals can clarify this issue. Cats – for example – don’t seem to use words like “food” to refer to a mental image of “food”. However, they still are able to distinguish “food” from “non-food”. That is, when I put down real food in front of my cat, he runs straight to it. He doesn’t do this when I put a television in front of his nose. So he must have some “system of thought” that makes the concept of “food” different from the concept of “television”. The real question is: is this “system of thought” purely based on unconscious, intuitive and impulse driven forces – like “the smell of food” – that trigger him into moving towards the food, or does the cat have a “sound image” connected to his “mental image” of food that allows him to differentiate “food” from “non-food”?

I don’t know, but I find it pretty fascinating to think about.

But what do you think?

Swearing Bankers: Is That Going to Make any Difference?

Bankers want to make money. And that’s okay, right? Everyone wants to make money. But they should do so in an “ethical” way, right? They shouldn’t screw each and every customers just in order to gain some extra profit. No, they should be nice guys. They should respect the interests of their customers and not – for example – gamble with their savings and pensions. However, it is not always easy to respect the customers’ interests and make money at the same time. Sometimes it is just way easier to go straight for it; to take every (doubtful) opportunity to make money. And – as we have seen with the big crises that have occurred (or are still occurring) – “greed” can have negative effects on society. Governments need to step in with “their” tax money to save the day because, as they say, the banks are “too big too fail“. That is, it its much cheaper for the governments to pay “some” money to prevent the banks from collapsing, than to let the bank collapse.

It seems fair to say that banks keep us in an (economic) stranglehold; we can’t do anything but give into their wishes. They are like our big silly brother that holds the family fortune but likes to live the good life; buy drugs, drinks, smokes etc. So if you don’t watch him closely, the money will be gone (“Aaaaand it’s gone“, South Park, anyone?).

So what are we going to do? Just sit back and hope our silly brother won’t make any mistakes again? Or are we – somehow – trying to force him to act “wisely”, without violating the “rules of the free market”? Well, the first option seems kind of risky; so let’s try the second. What can we do? Well, as the Dutch government is trying, we can let the bankers swear to act nicely (link is in Dutch). Let the bankers put their hands on their hearts and say out loud: “we value our customers and we will do anything to prevent them from being hurt”. Well, isn’t that nice?

It it sure is. But will it work? Well, probably not. Because what will happen to the bankers if they don’t stick to “the oath”? Well, then the bank has to decide whether or not the banker is really capable of doing the “banking” job. Really….are we going to put the banks again in charge of what it means to do a good banking job? Then what has changed (again a Dutch link) compared to the situation before the bankers sworn to act nicely? Well, now the government has at least tried to make the bankers act nicely. Now, if they act evil again, it’s not the government fault anymore, right? They have done everything they could, right?

I think we all see that having bankers swear that they will act nicely will not make any difference. At least not without any legal consequences attached to not acting nicely. But the situation might be even worse than this. It might be that the situation after having the bankers sworn to act nicely is more “unethical” than the situation before. But why is that? Well, imagine a bank complying to the “bankers’ oath”. The bank is all acting “ethically” and respecting its customers. But then, suddenly, the bank goes bankrupt. Why is that? Well, the bank was the only bank really complying to the oath; the bigger and “smarter” banks did what they should do: make money no matter what it takes. So, by stimulating banks to act “ethically“, the government itself is acting unethical: they are promoting “unethical banks” (read: banks not complying to the oath) in continuing their greedy actions by weakening the competition of the “sweet” banks. That’s not really nice, is it?

So what’s the lesson we should learn from this state of affairs? Well, two things: first of all, governments that want to promote ethical behavior have to set firm rules – not just oaths without any legal repercussions – if they want to promote ethical banking behavior. And secondly, how can can we ever except companies – and especially banks – in a capitalistic society to act nicely if this acting nicely goes against their profit making interests? There aren’t charity organizations, are they?

But what do you think?

An Unequal Distribution of the World’s Wealth: Is It Fair?

50 percent of the world’s wealth is owned by 2 percent of the world’s (adult) population; the bottom half of the world’s population barely owns 1 percent of the global wealth; 10 percent of the population account for 82 percent of the world’s wealth; Africa owns 1 percent of the world’s wealth, while Europe and North America account for respectively 30 and 34 percent. These are figures, and figures don’t lie. So: what to infer from these figures, or more importantly: what should we infer from these figures? One thing is for sure: the world’s wealth is not fairly distributed, or at least not in an economical sense.

I am not going to make a plea for worldwide communism, in the sense that the world’s wealth should be distributed equally among all of its inhabitants. That would be unfair, right? To have people working to pay for other people’s laziness? No, that doesn’t seem to be the optimal option. It could work, of course, if everyone of us would be prepared to work his ass off in favor of a more prosperous world overall. But we don’t want a world that is more prosperous ‘overall’: we want our wallets to be filled with more prosperity; we want to make sure that we are fairly rewarded for our contribution to society (or the world for that matter). Because, as is the case with the worldwide pollution and exploitation of fossil fuels: you can play the nice guy but, in the end, the nice guy will get screwed by the more selfish – or more intelligent; depends on your perspective – people. The prisoner’s dilemma seems unsolvable in a world like ours that is crowded by insecure people; people that see each opportunity to cooperate as an opportunity to be screwed.

Nonetheless, I want to trigger your imagination with the following (unrealistic) idea: what if we could take the world’s total wealth as it currently is and divide it by the total number of people living on this earth, and give every individual this average amount of wealth to start their lives with. See it as a kickstarter: when you are thrown in this world of ours, you will be given some certainty; a buffer, so to say. You can decide for yourself what you want to do with your buffer; you can spend it on drugs, or you can use it to start your own business; you can decide to buy a car that you don’t actually need, or you can save your buffer money for buying a house later on. You can even bundle your wealth with the wealth of others in order to create bigger and collectively shared goods (like roads, schools etc.)! It’s totally up to you.

In our world this ‘starting amount’ of wealth would be 26.202 dollars. Note that this is wealth per capita and not income per capita. Income is nothing more than a temporary reflection of a country’s wealth; therefore a one time change in income will not make much of a difference; not without increasing the wealth (factories, technology etc.) that underlie it.

This ‘wealth sharing kick-start idea’ I’ve presented can be though of as a variation of John Rawls’ idea of the the veil of ignorance. This is a well-known philosophical thought-experiment, that goes (more or less) as follows: imagine that every person on this world wouldn’t have been born yet. All of us would be standing behind some kind of curtain separating us from the earth that we are about to enter. We don’t have any idea about what our own capabilities (where we’re good at) and the capabilities of others will turn out to be when we in fact enter the world. Also, we don’t know what our fate will be: we might become a plumber, but we might just as well become a CEO. All you know is that you have to make one decision now, and that decision is: when all of us will enter earth, what will be the ‘fair’ manner of distributing the income we will come to earn and the wealth we will accumulate? Are we prepared to pay for the medical care required for someone’s handicapped son (which, remember, could be you; you after all don’t have a clue about how you will turn out to be), or don’t we find that fair? And if we would find it fair, how much money would you be prepared to lay aside for these expenditures? Again the question is: what is fair?

Rawls’ message with this veil of ignorance is that, if everyone of us would imagine him or her standing their, behind the veil of ignorance, we might come to notice what a truly fair world might look like; irrespective of our own particular situation. Like any thought experiment, one can debate whether it would even be possible to think about ‘how the world should be’ without knowing anything about yourself or the world. Let’s however, for the sake of the argument, assume that we could. Now I ask you: what would you do? Would you commit to the wealth kickstarting plan, or would you gamble and hope you will become the next Bill Gates?

What do you think?

Financial Markets: Keeping Up the Illusion of Confidence

Financial markets are trading grounds on which not products but ‘packets of confidence‘ are exchanged. Do you dare to face the uncertainty, or do you rather pass the opportunity to some guy more manly than you? Who is the 21th century knight, galloping over the battlefield of fallen companies, always leaving just in time not to get hit by the sweeping sword of bankruptcy, but just long enough to receive the fortune and fame? Who has got the balls to take the risk? That’s the question.

A financial market is a special market. In contrast to ‘normal’ markets – markets at which tangible goods like tables or computers are traded, or services like car-washing and theater – this market is build on top of confidence, or at least the perception of it. Surely, through such things as valuation techniques, financial considerations play a more than average role in deciding whether or not to buy stocks, derivatives, obligations or other financial products. However, just as it is in science, there is always a leap of faith required to take the final step: no matter whether it is in jumping to the conclusion on the basis of data, or making the purchase of a stock based upon a ‘reasonable’ level of confidence. No absolute truths and absolute values exist.

Thus – given that confidence plays such an important role in financial markets – you might expect that regulators overseeing these markets will try to do anything in order to keep this fragile little entity up and running. Just like a friend might gloze over the truth in order to keep you – and therefore himself – happy, so a regulator might tell investors that everything is going according to plan; that there’s nothing to worry about. And although lying might be immoral – according to Kant’s Categorical Imperative at least – that’s exactly what he (the regulator) should do, right? If not, the whole house of cards will collapse; investors become (more) insecure and run away as fast as they can. So you need a Santa Claus kind of figure; someone who, above all, should be trustworthy; someone who, no matter how naughty you have been, will always be there to comfort you. Of course: it wouldn’t mind if he or she would have at least some understanding of financial markets, but that’s just only a bonus (you get it? That was a joke).

So, what would happen if, instead of Santa Claus, you would put a politician in charge of regulating the financial markets? A guy like, let’s say, Jeroen Dijsselbloem? A guy who says that, ‘If the banks can’t do it, then we’ll talk to their shareholders and bondholders, we’ll ask them to contribute in recapitalising the bank, and – if necessary – the uninsured deposit holders.’ Then shit is getting messy, right? The insecure investors, longing for a pat on the back, or at least a little sympathy, start running; like Forrest Gump, the investors get the sign to ‘Run, investors, run!’

Honesty is not appreciated in financial markets, so don’t even try it. Lie as hard as you can. Do everything to keep the rat-race going. Do all that is required to ‘restore the confidence in the financial markets‘; be the 21st century Machiavelli. Don’t listen to the crowd yelling that the banks must bleed for their sins. Just assure that they – the crowd – will get their money back. Illusion leads to confidence, and confidence is king. So lie as hard as you can mister regulators; Go for it!

But what do you think?

People Spend 1/6 of their Lives In Front Of the Television

The average person spends 4 to 5 hours a day in front of the television. That means that, in a 65-year period, the average person would have spent 9 years glued to the tube. That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? But that’s not all, since there is – on average – 18 minutes of commercial airtime during an hour-long broadcasted television program. Thus, a simple calculation shows that the average person – given that he only watches commercial airtime – spends almost 2,5 years (!) of his life watching commercials on television. Add to that the Tel Sells of this world, and you’ll come to even more years of commercial television usage. So, let’s make this very clear: on a global scale, people are spending more than 1/6th of their lives in front of the television, and possibly more than 1/24th of their lives watching commercials on television.

Imagine what the world could be like if – instead of sitting in front of the television watching commercials – people would be doing something useful with their time: helping their neighbors, teaching their children, taking care of their garden etc. Then we would gain 1/24th of ‘extra’ human life, and even more if we would stop – or at least lessen – our television usage at all. We could in the time saved by not watching television (commercials) help people in Africa, think about what we’re going to do about global warning or play games with friends. We could, instead of watching people promote their books on television, actually read a book. That would surely be a better use of our time, wouldn’t it? Surely it can be pleasant to just relax and watch something on autopilot; to not think about anything for a while. To just let the ‘entertainment’ of television blow you away. But don’t you mind that – in this time that you’re ‘not thinking about anything’ – you’re in fact (unconsciously) being indoctrinated with thoughts and desires about deodorant, ice-cream, cars and beer? Don’t you mind being used as a puppet; companies using your precious time supporting their own wealth?

There are, as always, exceptions to the rule: there are documentaries broadcasted on television that might actually widen your perspective on the world, instead of narrowing it. Documentaries that actually teach you something and therefore might actually be worthy of your time. But – given that there are such documentaries – can’t we just watch them online, without having to suffer from any commercial breaks whatsoever? There are plenty of sites (Top Documentary Films and DocumentaryHeaven, to name only two) that provide you with such documentaries for free. And if you want to watch less educational programs (series etc.), there are equally many sites at which you can stream your favorite series for free. That might save you a lot of time watching commercials; time that can be used to watch more of your favorite series. However, as you might have noticed, many of such series – like Californication – are interwoven with implicit advertisement (Why does Hank Moody drive a Porsche? Why does he smoke Camel?). But that’s the price we’ve got to pay for entertainment.

But what do you think?

The Poisonous Culture of Football

It was 2 December 2012: the day that a Dutch assistant referee got kicked to death by a bunch of young football (“soccer“) players. This pitiful event started a chain reaction of discussions in the Netherlands about (the lack of) respect in football. The professional football teams wore “Respect-logos” on their shirts, and everyone of the Dutch people stood forth and yelled that it was utterly disgraceful what had happened to the man. “How could children do that? How could they kick a man to death just because of (an allegedly) wrong decision he made? Where did it all go wrong?”

I have played football myself for 14 years. I have witnessed the utter disrespect football players have for the referee. I would even dare to say that you are not a real football player if you don’t yell at the referee and tell him what a fool he is. How am I so sure about this? Well, I was one of them. I was indoctrinated by the football culture; a culture that teaches children to disrespect arbitration. But this disrespectful behavior doesn’t restrict itself towards to children’s “interactions” with the referees; it is deeply ingrained into the football culture. Children are taught by the “older and wiser” football players, which they look up to enormously (I did, at least), that you have to show that you consider yourself to be better than the others. You have to show that you feel sorry for the youngsters, the ones that aren’t as good as you. You have to show them who’s boss. But why was that again? Because that’s what everybody does! So there must be some essence of truth in it, right?

When looking back on my “amateur football career”, I feel bad and ashamed. I have been indulged in disrespectful behavior, without even knowing it. Although I have not so much yelled at referees, I have been arrogant and degrading towards younger players. And all of this came forth out of a sense of insecurity; a need for validation that I wasn’t able to fulfill in those years that I was the younger player. Because, for those who don’t know it, you are clustered by age in football: the youngsters with the youngsters, and the elder with elder. But there is always some kind of overlap between the youngsters and the elder.

My point is that you cannot blame the children playing football for their disgraceful behaviors: they simply don’t know any better. They look up to the older and “cooler” players, and simply copy their behaviors. Behaviors that are based on values like disrespecting younger players, and arrogant behavior. And those who, without even knowing it, “teach these values” to the youngsters have also learned them from the older and cooler children. It’s a chain reaction. And it is this culture that spawn all sorts of pitiful consequences, like kicking to death a referee.

What worries me the most is that there is no reason for these behaviors to restrict themselves to the football playing ground: they become part of children’s nature, of who they are. So that means that all the disrespectful football norms and values are being carried into society; into real life. And that might contribute to “the youth of these days” lacking respect, in the broadest sense of the word. And with 240 million people playing football worldwide, of which a substantive part are children, the consequences of this might be worth taking a look at.

It’s an analogy often made, the analogy between football and rugby, in order to show the difference in norms between these two cultures. I want to point you to the following article of a guy who speaks about the norms he has been indoctrinated with in his rugby career. Especially the following quote seems worth noting:

“Having played rugby for nine years of my life, I am completely indoctrinated into calling the match officials ‘Sir’ and being chastised for answering back to any decisions made. It is severely frowned upon to comment on a referee’s call, and not only will it more often than not result in a penalty against you, but the perpetrator will receive temporary animosity from the rest of his teammates.”

So it can go both ways: it doesn’t necessarily have to be a disrespectful culture that is promoted within the sport you play; it can just as well be a respectful culture. So maybe we should start doing something about it: change the core of the disrespectful football culture that by times looks more like acting (Cristiano Ronaldo? Arjen Robben?) than sport. Let’s banish these values from football and – consequently – from society. Let’s make sure that people don’t look back on their football lives and think: “shit, I’ve behaved like an asshole” (like I did). Can we do that?

What do you think?

Why Are there Only Men and Women?

Have you ever heard of the New Mexico whiptail? Probably not. Well, the New Mexico whiptail is the only animal species – that I know – whose members all have the same gender: all New Mexico whiptails are female. There is no need for mating with male New Mexico whiptails in order for the females to lay eggs, which is a good thing since there are no male New Mexico whiptails. This made me wonder: why are there so few species having only one gender? Why do we human beings, and so many other animals, need two ‘versions’ of our species in order to prevent ourselves from extinction? Why not three or four? Is this number utterly random? Or might there be some reason behind it?

Before thinking about this question, I saw absolutely no reason for there to be this dichotomy of men and women ruling the animal kingdom. I always thought to myself, ‘Why can’t there just be one “type” of human – which we could then simply call “human” – that, just like the whiptails, gives birth every now and then, without requiring any “intervention” of a different sex? What would be wrong with that?’

Maybe it’s inadequate to ask whether it is ‘right or wrong’ for there to be both men and women. Nature, after all, doesn’t seem to care much about being morally right or wrong. Why else would it give AIDS to babies, who have done absolutely no harm to this world of ours? It is more likely that – assuming there is a reason explanation – there is a biological explanation for there the widespread division between men and women.

So let’s see: what could be nature’s ‘purpose’ in making two types of human? How could that ever be beneficial for so many animal species – including our own? Well, the distinction could be nothing more than a very fundamental evolutionary developed instance of Adam Smith‘s idea of division of labor. A division that appeared to be working so well that nature extinguished almost all species not conforming to this division. However, for this evolutionary explanation to be true, it would have to be the case that men and women together should be able to achieve more than only men or only women could ever do. Let’s take a look at that.

One could claim that a division of labor in which the woman carries the baby and the man gathers food (for the woman, the baby and himself) could benefit the reproduction chances of both the woman and the man. Because think about it: chasing swine while being pregnant does not seem to be very convenient. In this case, having the woman at home – safely warming herself at the fire – and having the man out hunting – not having to worry about endangering the life of his unborn child – could be a set-up benefiting both parties.

Another explanation could be that the existence of both men and women provides both parties with some sort of purpose in life: the purpose to form little groups, called ‘families’, thereby creating structure into – what otherwise might have been – chaos in the animal kingdom, or an utterly meaningless life; a structure that would make every creature better of. Because, again, think about it: what would the world be like in case there was only one type of purposeless creature wandering around? Wouldn’t that lead to an utterly unstructured and – therefore – unsafe environment? The families that provide the confines in which each one of us can life relatively safe have fallen away.

If that would indeed be the case, it might have been evolutionary beneficial for our species to ‘develop’ the distinction between men and women; simply in order to program the species members with a goal: to create that save little world they can call ‘my family’.

However, none of these explanations explains why there are only two sexes; maybe humanity would be even more organized – and even better off – if there were three, four or even more sexes. So why only two? Well, maybe nature ‘decided’ to go for only two because creating more than two might have complicated things a little too much. Now it’s at least clear what everyone has got to do: find a man or a woman, make a family, and live happily ever after.

But what do you think?

Perspective on Renewable Energy from a Non-engineer or Physicist

Let’s face it: we are going to run out of fossil fuels. Although the exact predictions might differ, there is little doubt that between 15 and 60 years from now our fossil fuel sources will be depleted. But that’s not our only problem: the water level is rising as well. A recent study shows that we can expect the water level to rise between 0,8 and 2 meters by 2100; more drastic predictions even talk about a rise of 7 meters (!) by the year of 2100.

We might not be alive any more by the year 2100, or much sooner for that matter: so why would we care? ‘Think about our children,’ is an argument often heard. ‘We have to leave the world behind in such manner that they have the same opportunities as we had.’ To be honest, I don’t think we should be too worried about our children’s destiny. Humanity has managed to do pretty well in coming up with all kinds of solutions for all kinds of problems, especially when we had to. Our children will do fine. But there might be another reason, next to an economical one, why we should focus on coming up with new sources of energy. And that reason is: we simply can, so why wouldn’t we try it? Also, it has to happen sooner or later, right? We can put our heads in the sand and hope the storm will pass by, but that isn’t going to solve the problem. So: let’s take a look at what we can do.

I am not an engineer or a physicist. Neither do I have any (decent) technical knowledge. Nevertheless, it seems fair to say that the storage of electrical energy in batteries is difficult, to say the least, to implement on a global scale. So we must look for other ways to store (electrical) energy. Because that’s what we need: storing energy is required as long as we cannot exactly match supply and demand. And that’s the way it is: people aren’t going to watch television at night simply because there is an oversupply of electrical energy at that point in time. No, people want their needs met right now. It might be possible to mold people’s desires into a form that better matches the (electrical) energy supply at a particular point in time; for example, by charging the use of electricity on peak hours. However, this, like tax on smoking, seems to hurt us in our self-determination: we want to decide what to do and when to do it, not the government or any other party.

So what options are left? Dams? Sure: that could be possible. We could use excess electrical energy to pump up water, so that we can use this potential energy at a later point in time (at peak hours, for example). But that’s expensive, right? Building dams? So what about this bold conjecture: since the water level is getting higher and higher, why can’t we use the rising water level as a potential energy source? I understand that using the rising water level is not going to lower the water level: the water comes, one way or another, always back in the oceans. It’s not like we can deplete the oceans by using its water. However, that is not to say that there might not be a win-win situation available: what if we could mitigate the rise of the water level and at the same time create (potential) electrical energy?

Again: I am not an engineer, but the following plan seems pretty cool to me: what if we could use holes in the ground, like the giant holes created by depleting coal mines, in order to create waterfall like structures that drive generators. Then we could come up with electrical energy, right? Furthermore, we would mitigate the rise of the water level. Think about it: why do we have to build dams up high? Why can’t we use the depths of nature, the natural spaces in the ground, in order to let gravity do what it does best, and supply us with energy?

Another, possibly far-fetched, idea is a smaller one: it is about freighters (ships) crossing the oceans. Why do these ships always have to run on fuel? They don’t seem to be in that much of a hurry, right? Can’t we just use the power of the wind to blow them forth? Or solar energy, for that matter.

I don’t know how to save the planet, but I do know one thing: we should let our imagination do the work: be wild and think about it. When the point is reached at which the economic benefits of renewable energy are more profitable than fossil fuels, the paradigm shift will be made: we will all go green. And the great thing about this paradigm shift is: you can see it coming.

But what do you think?

The Coercive Power of Money

The Webster’s New Collegiate dictionary defines ‘to coerce‘ as ‘to compel to an act or choice’, or ‘to restrain or dominate by nullifying individual will’. We all have some kind of idea of what it means to coerce someone: to force someone into doing something they don’t necessarily want. When I hold a shotgun to your head, and tell you that you should give me your iPhone, that could very well be interpreted as an act of coercion. But there are also more subtle acts of coercion. If you told me a secret, and we would get into a fight, I could force you into doing something by threatening to make pubic your secret. But there are even more subtle acts of coercion. Acts that all of us experience on a daily basis. And the leading actor in this play is omnipotent and all-known: it is Mister Money himself.

Where does voluntary engaging in a deal stop and coercion start? When you offer me 300 dollars for me to repair your car, I could voluntarily decide whether or not to accept your offer. I might feel forced to do so, since I am short on money, but I am still able to compare the pro’s and con’s of your offer and come to a rather autonomous decision. It becomes a different story when I am an employee of a car repairing firm where you turn to for getting your car fixed. In that case I have no vote in deciding whether to accept your offer. That’s the boss’ decision: I just have to do as he says. But you could still claim that I voluntarily decided to go work for the company, so in that sense my ‘forced decision’ to repair your car would still be voluntary. Note that you could doubt these two examples of ‘voluntary’ action by claiming that, although in theory I might have decided whether to take the job or not, in practice I was more or less obliged to do so. I might have needed the money in order to stay alive, which could have forced me into accepting the job. But Iet’s not focus on that.

Because I want to provide you with a different case, and that is the following: imagine that a big construction company decides to build an apartment block next to where you live. Now I ask you: how much of a choice do you have in accepting this deal? Not much, right? Even though you aren’t offered any money, or anything for that matter, you are still supposed to accept the company’s plans. You have no authority at all. Your ‘individual will is nullified’ by the domination of the construction company. Thus it seems that money can force you into accepting an offer. That is, when parties engage in a deal, even though this deal might be executed voluntarily by the offering and accepting party, the will of other parties is rendered irrelevant. It’s nullified. And although this might not be a big issue if the deal is relatively small (like your neighbor buying a new car), the consequences can be much more severe when the parties involved are big and powerful (like the construction company and the government).

So it seems that money truly is power: coercive power.

But what do you think?

Longing for Dominance and Loving Dogs

Do you want people to obey you, or do you want them to be independent? Do you want people to nod and do as you say, or do you want people to be able to stand their ground? Do you want unconditional love, or do you value the whims of individuality? In other words: are you a dog-person, or are you a cat-person?

Each morning, afternoon and evening, millions of people are walking their dog: they are pulling the cord that connects them to their most loyal follower. They are yelling at the little creature like there is no tomorrow: ‘Max, don’t shit there!,’ ‘Sit! No, sit!’, ‘Listen to me!’. Why would you ever want a creature like that? To keep such a creature on a leash, while everything in nature screams that dogs aren’t meant to be kept on a leash. So why then do it?

You could also choose a cat, a night-walker, able to save his own ass in every situation. A creature whose nature it is to wander around through life, purposeless and autonomous. Not obeying anyone, just doing as he pleases. An entrepreneur following his instincts, grabbing each opportunity to satisfy his needs. Not interested in your validation, just in his own. Only caring about you in so far as you give him what he wants. The perfect citizen in this capitalistic constellation of ours.

Communism or capitalism. Dogs versus cats. Men is born to dominate: be it in communism or otherwise. We feel superior by watching others crave for our attention, hoping for us to come and rescue them. It makes us feel important. This is a universal need. That means that, if we can’t fulfill this need in our everyday working lives, we need to find different options for satisfying this need. We need to express our dominance in another way. We can do this by beating our wives, rebelling against society or by taking care of a creature that is fully dependent on us. A creature that, even if it wants to take shit, needs our approval to do so.

Do people with dogs have to compensate for something? For a feeling of powerlessness, disobedience, or any other sense of inferiority they experience in their daily lives? A need to execute their dominance, if not over human, then at least over an animal? ‘But he is so sweet,’ ‘He is always happy and wiggles his tail when I come home.’ That might be true, but do you want a creature longing for your validation? You don’t want a spouse that obeys you, no matter what you request, do you? Not if you can also have an independent soul, able to live a life on its own, even when you are not there to grant your permission.

Power structures are everywhere: even in our relation to our pets. Marx (and Darwin) would be jealous.

But what do you think?