Milton Friedman’s Voucher Plan

More than 30 years ago – in 1979 – Milton Friedman and his wise Rose Friedman published the book Free to Choose, in which they made a (compelling) claim in favor of handing over authority to the free market, and taking it away from the government. The arguments they come up are profoundly grounded in empirical evidence, pointing at the inefficient and unequal spending of tax payers’ money on the ‘big issues’ of society (healthcare, Social Security, public assistance etc.). I want to focus at the expenditures on public education, about which the Friedmans say a lot, and in particular on the immoral and degrading effect this can have on citizens.

We humans are intelligent creatures. Some are – without a doubt – better equipped (mentally) for dealing with the whims of the free market than others, but still almost all of us are reasonably capable of fulfilling our needs in life. We can go the supermarket by ourselves, decide for ourselves what we want to eat for breakfast and dinner, and much more. The government doesn’t have to do this for us. We can decide for ourselves how we want to spend our leisure time: whether we want to go the movies or not. We don’t need the government to decide this for us. Not only because the government cannot know what each one of us wants – therefore inevitably being inefficient in the spending of its – or our – resources – but also because we know that we are intelligent beings, very much capable of making our own decisions in life.

And this intelligence of ours doesn’t have to confine itself to mundane decisions like how to spend our free time. We are equally competent in deciding for ourselves how we want to spend our money on more pressing issues in life: what hospital we want to attend, whether to assist our loved ones financially whenever the need might arise, and what school our children should attend. These issues are of such importance to our well-being – and our children’s – that, instead of putting the government in charge of these decisions, we should be the ones choosing what we consider to be best for our, and our children’s, future.

In 1979, the Friedmans noticed an upward trend in the government taking control of many of these decisions – decisions that, by the way, have a relatively big impact upon our financial resources. The most striking example of this might be the public financing of (elementary, secondary and higher) education. In 1979, the average US citizen paid 2.000 dollars per child that attended public education, even though not everyone’s child – assuming that you even have children – made use of public educational resources. The Friedmans found this state of affairs harming to the right of each individual to decide where to spend his money at, including the option to put one’s child at a privately financed educational institution.

Therefore they came up with a ‘voucher plan’: a plan in which every US citizen would – per child they have – get a voucher exchangeable for a certain amount of money – let’s say 2.000 dollars. They could cash in this voucher only if their child would attend an appropriate educational institution. This voucher plan would come in the place of the tax each US citizen is obliged to pay, irrespective of them having children and irrespective of their children attending a public educational institution. This plan would make sure that only the ones making use of pubic educational services would be charged, thereby excluding the non-using part of society.

The Friedmans made – primarily – financial arguments in favor of their voucher plan, saying that – on the whole – public educational costs would remain the same, and that parents would use their increase in autonomy to find the school that best suited the needs of their children. The relatively free market that would be created on the basis of the voucher plan, would improve the quality of both public and private education. I believe, however, that one argument in favor of the voucher plan, and the free market in general, has not received the attention it deserved – at least not in the Friedmans’ Free to Choose. And that argument has to do with human intelligence.

As pointed at above, humans are – for the biggest part – perfectly capable of deciding for themselves where to spend their money at. We wouldn’t want anyone else to do our groceries or schedule our leisure time for us – at least not for (our) money. But that is exactly what the government does when it comes down to public education. The government proclaims that – as the Friedmans explain – it is the only actor possessing the professional knowledge required for deciding what is best for our children – thereby implying that they are indispensable in order for our children to receive a qualitatively good education.

What this claim comes down to is the government saying – or not saying – that we (‘the crowd’) don’t understand what is important and what is not in regard to our children’s education, and that – because of that – they should step in and release us of this impossible duty of ours. We don’t understand what to do, but luckily they do. They are the father looking out for us, protecting us from doing harm to our children and to the rest of society.

I find this an insult to the basic level of intelligence the majority of the people has. We very well believe to know what is important in our children’s education – probably much better than the government, since, in contrast to the government, we know our children. Thus besides all the financial benefits of the voucher plan, by returning autonomy to the Average Joe, a voucher plan is required for respecting people’s intelligence. After all, we are no fools, are we?

What do you think?

Why the High Taxation on Cigarettes is Unjustified

According to a survey held by the British Action on Smoking and Health (the ASH, for short), 20 percent of the British adults smoke. Is this a good thing? I don’t know. I believe that the act of smoking isn’t intrinsically good or bad; it is something that each person should decide for himself. However, what I do believe is valuable in its own right is human autonomy. By autonomy I mean ‘the right each person has to decide for himself how to live his life without unjustified intervention from external parties‘. And it is this latter point I want to draw attention to.

According to the ASH, in 2012, 77 percent of the price of a pack of cigarettes consisted of tax. Multiply that by the number of cigarette packs sold, and you get an amount of £10,5 billion raised through tobacco taxation. This is six times as much as the spending by the the National Health Service (the NHS) on tobacco related diseases; these were ‘merely’ £1,7 billion. So the question that comes to mind is: what justifies the £8,8 billion that remains after subtracting the NHS costs from the money raised through tobacco taxation?

The ASH claims that the inequality between the two numbers is no issue, for ‘tobacco tax is not, and never has been, a down payment on the cost of dealing with ill health caused by smoking’. But what then is the purpose of this tax? The ASH claims that the high level of tobacco tax in Britain serves two purposes: (1) to reduce smoking through the price incentive, and (2) to raise taxes from a source that has little impact on the economy. The latter point has been scrutinized extensively by economists, and I don’t think I can add anything to that discussion. So let’s focus on the first point: the aim of reducing smoking through the price incentive.

By making this claim, the ASH implicitly assumes that it is within the government set of rights to reduce smoking among its citizens. But is it? One can justify tobacco taxation on the grounds of the (health care) costs incurred by the non-smoking part of society. But, as we have seen, this amount by no means adds up to the taxes levied on tobacco. I believe this question (‘But is it?’) directs us towards the fundamental question of where the boundaries lie between justified government intervention and morally objectionable behaviour. One could say that, as I believe, it is one thing (and justified) to prevent non-smokers from being financially hurt by the actions of smokers, but that it is a completely different thing (and not justified) to promote non-smoking values among citizens, merely for the sake of – what appear to be – paternalistic motives.

As with any government intervention, the benefits of the intervention should be weighed against its costs. Presumed that there might be an intrinsic value in having a non-smoking society – a point the ASH doesn’t provide any argument for – the costs of violating what might be an intrinsically valuable human right (autonomy, that is) should be included in the calculation as well. And until this has been done, the question of whether the £10,5 billion in tobacco taxation is justified remains open for debate.

But what do you think?

The Inevitable Unfairness of the Free Market

I just finished reading Milton Friedman’s book Free to Choose: a plea for the free market. Friedman has some compelling claims against government intervention in economic transactions. Price is – as he claims – the most informative entity there is in communicating individuals’ demand and supply of goods and services, and, in a capitalistic society at least, provides people with the incentive to utilize this information, thereby satisfying the needs of those that demand the goods/services. Furthermore, by acting upon the information, individuals provide themselves with the resources required to live a decent life. But although the free market – as Friedman describes it – seems a beautifully simple and elegant construct, there are some ‘side-effects’ of the system that might run against our intuitions about the notion of fairness.

It seems clear that the free market is the most efficient medium there is for maximizing the value of each of the individuals involved. And that (the ‘maximizing of value of each person involved’) is, according to libertarians, what makes the free market a fair system. After all, if you want to sell a computer, and another person is prepared to pay you the price you charge, then it’s only fair to let this deal take place, isn’t it? There is mutual consent between the parties involved, so what – if anything – could give a third party the right to intervene in this seemingly flawless transaction?

While there indeed might be nothing wrong with the free-market mechanism from the perspective of exchanging value, it might be doubted whether it is fair to make this mechanism the only mechanism for exchanging value. For while it’s no problem – and might even be beneficial – for those parties in a free market that possess the means to participate in the ‘game’ of exchanging value, it might be harder for those that – by nature or environment – have been unfortunate in acquiring the means required for satisfying their needs.

Because what if you’re not as intelligent as the average person, therefore getting a relatively low-income job, such as being a plumber, because of which you are unable to satisfy your needs to the same degree as – let’s say – a banker or lawyer? Of course, a libertarian might say, the plumber can still participate in the free market, just like the banker or lawyer can. But, even though the three parties might have the same needs (for luxury or otherwise), the plumber cannot satisfy as many of his as the banker and the lawyer can of theirs: only because nature happened to endow him – in contrast to the banker and lawyer – with capabilities that apparently are less appreciated (since less demanded) in society. So the question is: is it fair to let nature – and thus chance – play such a drastic role in the ability of any person to satisfy his needs?

A libertarian can answer this question in either of two ways. Either he admits that the extent in which we’re able to satisfy our needs is indeed – in principle – determined by nature’s authority over our capabilities, or he must come up with an ingenious invention for how to solve this negative side-effect of the free market without thereby endangering the libertarian heart of his plan. The first option, although this appears to be mostly ignored by libertarians, seems to imply a notion of ‘fairness’ that I – and I assume many others – find highly questionable. On the other hand, it at least is a notion, and – given that this truly is the libertarian’s view of a fair world – should be accepted for what it is.

The latter option – on the other hand – provides more room for discussion. Because how – if ever – could it be possible to solve nature’s capability-casino by means of a libertarian solution? There are of course many plans one could come up with, all of them mitigating the negative effects, but all of them being either (1) in conflict with the libertarian aspiration of a free market or (2) don’t get down to the root of the problem (that is, the unequal distribution of capabilities over mankind). It seems fair to say that (2) is a kind of unfairness that is inextinguishable – not by socialism nor by libertarianism. We after all cannot redesign our beings in order to endow everyone with the same capabilities. And even if we could do so, it’s high questionable whether this choice would be beneficial to society as a whole. So it seems we’re stuck with (1), pointing us to the possibly unfair consequences of the free market.

The above reflection shows that there seems to be an intuitively unfair side-effect of the free market; a side-effect that is unsolvable by means of the free market-paradigm itself. It either requires us to adopt the libertarian notion of ‘fairness’, or requires some sort of (government) intervention in order to compensate for nature’s ‘unfair’ distribution of capabilities.

What do you think?

Free Will and Why Determinism Would Not Change a Thing

I want to take a look at what – at first sight – might seem to be a dichotomy between free will and determinism. I’ve written a couple of articles dealing with the question whether there actually is something that can reasonably be called ‘free will’, and – if so – what this might consist of. These are important questions, for if it turns out that there is no fee will – or that there’s nothing ‘free’ about our free will – then we are left with determinism, a position many people are uncomfortable with. I want to look at what the implications might be of assuming determinism to be true, and in particular at what this assumption would imply for our experience of free will.

When we think of free will, we usually think of a certain autonomous power, residing within our minds, that is capable of initiating (our) actions. Whether it is picking up a teacup or stroking a dog, if we want to perform an action, we seem to be able to decide (consciously or unconsciously ) to execute this action. Now, let’s ask ourselves: how would this picture change if it turned out that we are not fully autonomous in deciding to pick up the teacup or stroking the dog? What if it turned out that our brains are just responding ‘automatically’ (that is, by triggering evolutionary developed neural networks) to the stimuli received from our environments? What if – in case of you picking up the teacup – the stimuli of (1) you being in the living room and (2) it being cold, trigger your neurons into making you believe you want to pick up the teacup and making you in fact pick up the teacup? Note the ‘what if’ in the former sentence, because theoretically it is possible that this is how we come to ‘decide’ on what actions to perform; just by means of nerve cells responding to external stimuli.

The truth of the matter is that we don’t know – and we might never know – whether this is the way our actions come about. It might indeed be that our actions – and thus our decisions – are fully deterministic in nature. However, it wouldn’t make a difference if this would be the case: not as long as we keep on having the perception of having a free will. Even though we might come deterministically to the actions we perform, we still experience the sense of free will. And this experience will not change, not even if we’d come to know that our actions come about fully deterministically.

Because think about it: what if it would turn out that you – who considers him- or herself to be a creative person – depend fully upon the aforementioned neural networks and stimuli for coming to your ‘creative’ ideas? Although you believe you came up with the ideas ‘all by yourself’, fully autonomous and purely free, it turns out that your ideas are a logical result of the environment you’re in and the configuration of your neural networks.

At first you might feel a little hurt in your ego, but when you start thinking about it, you quickly come to realize that this observation doesn’t change a thing. After all, your experience of having a free will is exactly the same as it was before – when you truly believed to have free will. You can still do anything you want to; you’ve merely come to know where this “want to” finds its origin. You have come to know that you don’t have a free will; but you still experience having a free will. And since experience is all we have, nothing has practically changed.

But what do you think?

Where do our Minds Go to When We’re Asleep?

Where does your mind turn to when you fall asleep? It must be still there, right? Somewhere, lurking between your unfilled wishes and animalistic desires? Maybe your mind is sleeping too…but then, who’s in control of you, the “thing” I’m talking to right now? Something must be in charge, right? After all, you wake up every morning, thinking to yourself: “damn, it’s early”. That seems to be the point where your (conscious) mind takes over control again, right? But taking over control of whom? And why is that we are so powerless when we try to get some sleep? What is going on here?

You might have seen the film Inception. It’s about the possibility of having a dream in a dream in another dream etc. But while Leonardo DiCaprio seems pretty much in charge of his dream-worlds, and the moment he decides to enter them, we seem to have much more difficulties doing just that. Because while it’s pretty clear that our brains are doing all sorts of things while we are sleeping – sorting out memories, paving neural pathways and throwing away awkward experiences the brain does not consider to be awkward enough – our mind, the entity that is “you”, is nowhere around. But where did he go? He probably handed over the key of our control station to our unconsciousness, the evil brother of our minds, the one still firmly rooted in our evolutionary longings, and the one totally uncontrollable. But it is still weird though how – and when – this “handing over the key” takes place exactly, right? It’s only when the unconsciousness wants to that “we” lose control. This shows again how powerless we are when confronted with Mother Nature and its compelling powers.

Still though, it’s interesting to ask “where” in our minds our dreams take place. Surely, we can point out in MRI-scans what parts of our brains are busy sorting our thoughts etc. while we’re asleep, but that doesn’t explain which parts of the mind are busy when sorting out our thoughts and producing our dreams? And does the mind even consist of “parts”? Parts like the “conscious” and the “unconscious” mind? Or is the unconscious mind not really part of the mind, but merely a biological tool helping us to function in life? Just like our arms and legs?

Let’s assume – for the sake of this article – that there is an unconscious mind and that it takes “control of us” while we’re asleep. But then, when our unconscious mind takes over control, “what” then becomes in control of what our memories will come to look like? Given that this would be our unconscious mind, and that our unconscious mind doesn’t want us to remember a particular thought, can it then just prevent our brains from laying down the corresponding neural networks? But wouldn’t that imply that our unconscious mind would be fully in charge of who we are/become? We are after all little more than walking bundles of memories. Our memories shape us into who we are. So being in charge of our memories, implies being in charge of us, doesn’t it?

What do you think?

What We can Learn from Children

There is a lot we can learn from children. To name a few things: children don’t mind who they play with, as you as they can play. Children don’t mind what team they are in, as long as they are in a team. Children don’t mind about letting their imagination run free. They don’t even think about it. Children aren’t judgmental regarding others’ dreams; it’s okay if you want to become an astronaut or a rock star. Children are true artists; they have a direct connection between their creative minds and their bodily powers (read: “muscularly finger powers”). Children just go for it; they want to complete their collection of Pokémon cards (or FarmVille animals or whatever it is kids are doing these days). They don’t care – or even think about – the difficulties in “obtaining that goal”. They just wait and see where their ambitions will lead them.

Where did it all go wrong? Where did we get so caught up in our socially conditioned dogma’s? Why is it that we all want to get “a job by which we can make a decent living”? Why are we prepared to put our dreams aside in order for “normal lives” to interfere? Life is a game; and although children might not “consciously” realize this, they act according to this principle. They “understand” that the game of Monopoly and life are intertwined; that you can have pogs (“flippo’s”, for the Dutch readers) and that you can lose them at any time. They understand that you have to take risks (read: bet your pogs) in order to make progress. But we don’t. We don’t want to bet our pogs because we are afraid that we might lose them. We might lose the pearls of our efforts, the sweat of our creations, by taking a bet; by risking what’s at stake. But how can you ever make progress if you are afraid to lose what’s at stake?

I would like to ask you to watch an episode of Sesame Street. To look at Big Bird (“Pino”, for the Dutch readers) and try to feel his or her (I don’t know what Big Bird is) sense of naivety; its sense of not thinking about anything, and just doing what comes up in its big feather-like head. Big Bird always lives “in the now”; he’s a damn good hippy. And when you’re done watching Sesame Street, go watch an episode of Pokémon (or whatever series you people in the USA looked at while you were a child). Not only will you get overwhelmed by feelings of nostalgia; you will also come one step closer to the truth: the truth of “Gotta Catch ‘em All”; a motto that isn’t just applicable to the Pokémon world.

And oh, to the people in North-Korea: if you are reading this (which – for some reason – I doubt), why don’t you try to be a littler nicer to everyone else? I mean: Cookie Monster is also angry sometimes – at Elmo or Kermit or whoever stole his cookies – but he isn’t threatening to use nuclear weapons or so. He just comes up with “good” arguments in favor of why his cookies are his cookies; and not someone else’s.

The moral of this story is: although children can be a pain in the ass in transatlantic flights, when they just can’t seem to stop kicking the back of your seat, they are damn much closer to “the truth” than we are.

But what do you think?

Euthanasia and the Right to Voluntarily End your Life

Ladies and gentlemen. Because of a collision with a person, the trains to Amsterdam will not run for the next three hours. We thank you for your patience and hope to solve this issue as quickly as possible.

Fuck, another person jumped in front of a train. That wasn’t very nice of him, was it? Making an end to his life by traumatizing an innocent conductor and delaying hundreds of people who do want to live their lives. Why did he chose this option? Why not jump of a bridge, take a few too many pills or buy a shotgun from the nearest creep in town?

This train ‘accident’ – which is by no means a sporadic event – seems a good opportunity to open the debate about voluntary life ending, and in particular about legalization of euthanasia. In many countries – except for the USA, in which it is illegal in all states – euthanasia is reserved only for people who ‘are incurable, or suffer without having any chance of improvement’. Only then, the doctor can drop by and make an end to it. And even then, even when someone is terminally ill and sees no reason to prolong his life, it is often very difficult to be allowed to end your life in a ‘decent’ manner – by means of euthanasia, that is. But why is that? And – to take it one step further – why is euthanasia only reserved for terminally ill people? Let’s take a look at that.

If you don’t like going to the cinema, you don’t go, right? You aren’t forced to go. The same goes for a football game or a birthday party. If you don’t want go, that’s fine: you don’t have to go. When applied to the act of giving birth, the same choice, although to a lesser extent, is available: for what if you don’t want to produce offspring? That’s fine: use a condom. And if something went wrong during the protection process? You still have the possibility, in many countries, to abort the fetus. Giving life is an option; and so it should be, right? For why would the government – or any person or institution for that matter – have the right to decide that you should or shouldn’t give life? We aren’t sheep, right? We aren’t living in a totalitarian regime, are we?

Well, maybe we are. Because although we are mostly free to do what we want, if the government doesn’t like what we decide in this ‘freedom’ of ours, it can – and will – try to stop it: ‘Smoking? No, that’s bad for you. Let’s try to stop it. ‘Fast-food? Think about your cholesterol! Let’s tax it (just to help you! Always remember that!).’ And so it is with dying: ‘Dying? No, that’s bad for you! You shouldn’t die?! You should stay alive and be happy! Let’s make ‘voluntarily dying, in a decent manner, illegal.’

Surely: we should set some rules to make sure that we live peacefully together and don’t smash each other’s brains out. Or, to put it less dramatically, to make sure that people don’t exploit others generosity – like smokers’ exploiting non-smokers’ health expenditures. But to decide who should stay alive is something of a different order, isn’t it? It touches upon the most fundamental rights we people are born with: the right to live and its counterpart, the right to die.

But apparently, the government has a veto to decide who dies and who doesn’t. As long as it can make money out of people dying – as in a war – death promotes ‘a world free of suppression.’ But when death enters home territory, and the wish of suffering citizens, the choice to die voluntarily is no option. Weird, isn’t it?

But what do you think?

Why Our Lives Would Improve if We’d Die at Age 40

In The Middle Ages the average life expectancy at birth was 35. And even in the 20th century – so not even 100 years ago – the life expectancy at birth was as little as 31. But why I am talking about life expectancy ‘at birth’? Isn’t that obvious? Life, after all, always starts at birth, doesn’t it? That’s true, but in The Middle Ages about 1/3 of the children died before the age of 5, so not taking these first years into consideration could significantly change the numbers. But still: even when excluding this 1/3 of the children from the calculations, it seems save to say that in the (not so distant) past people died much younger than we do nowadays – today, the (world) average life expectancy is 67,2 years.

Now: imagine you are born in The Middle Ages. Imagine that you would survive your childhood, and wouldn’t be killed immediately by the plague or any other kind of nasty disease. Imagine that you experience everyone – including your mother, father and uncles – die when you are, let’s say, 16. Given that you would know that you are about to die pretty young, how would you live your life? And in particular: what would you do different compared to what you are doing today (in the 21th century)?

Maybe, after thinking about this question for a while, you will come to following conclusion: it might have been much better if we wouldn’t become as old as we do. If we – just like those people in The Middle Ages – would die in our thirties. Wouldn’t we live a much more honest life then? ‘Honest’ in the sense that we would stay true to what we really want? Or would you still start studying Law although you don’t really want to? Would you still quit your aspirations in the music business because ‘It’s so hard to make a decent living out of it’?  Would you keep being insecure and hope that someday – before your 35th – you can finally start living your life on your terms?

And there are other advantages of dying younger. No more need to pay for the old and sick people. No more need to increase governmental health expenditures. No more need to listen to those grumpy old people complaining about ‘the good old days’, and how those times will never come back. No, we would only have people who are young by heart (and body). People who are naive enough to believe that they can change the world. And people who know that, if they want to change the world, they should start doing so now and not wait until they die or until their dreams are killed by dogma. Sounds like utopia, doesn’t it?

But we should make sure that not everyone dies young. If we all died before the age of 30 we would never accumulate the scientific knowledge our society needs to prosper. No-one would be able to develop into a PhD-mind, which is required in order to come up with the next new gasoline. And dying in your early thirties might make your life more depressing than valuable: realizing in your twenties that you’ve only got five more years to live doesn’t necessarily make you live a more honest life. The only benefit might be that the alcohol business would flourish. So let’s extend the preferred life expectancy to – let’s say – the milestone of 40. That is: let’s make 40 the new 80.

Making sure that everyone dies at age 40 would prevent people from chasing status instead of following their hearts. After all, you don’t have time to climb the ladder of success when your time is short. By the time you are about to reach the top, your time is up, and you have missed that step that will make you the king of the crowd.

So maybe we should make a deal with the government. Maybe they should put some narcotics in the drinking water of people celebrating their 40th birthday. Sinister? Maybe. Twisted? Maybe. But I hope you can see through the gore and into the core of this message.

What do you think?

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?

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 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?