Why Voting on Trump Now is Especially Bad

Today another terrorist attack hit a major city in Europe. After Paris, today Brussels was hit. Naturally people are scared, and want to feel safe. Hence it seems attractive to support a political party which implements policies that at first sight seem to increase one’s safety. Think about people such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, or Donald Trump in the USA.

Geert Wilders for example wants to close its country’s borders, and stop emigration from Muslim countries. Wilders’ policies are part of a much broader agenda; an agenda that is characterized by a core of anti-Islam. He condemns pretty much anything that has to do with the Islamic ideology. Donald Trump might be even worse: he wants to ban any Muslim from emigrating to the USA.

Although such measures might appear to improve the safety of the average citizen, one can legitimately doubt whether such policies will make our lives safer, instead of less safe.

For suppose more people vote on Wilders or Trump. Then Wilders/Trump will implement more anti-Muslim policies, which not only creates a more apparent difference between Muslims and not-Muslims, but might also make Muslims feel more oppressed in their own country, which in turn could cause resistance. They might start thinking: ‘If you guys won’t accept us and our ideas, then we might have to force you to respect us another way’. Or: ‘Given that you don’t respect us, we see little reason to respect you’. This feeling might not directly cause terrorism, but it could lead to an increased sense of suppression within the country’s Muslim community, which might stimulate the occurrence of a breeding ground for (violent) resistance.

But even without political anti-Muslim measures being implemented, increased support for anti-Muslim politicians might in itself make Muslims feel like they are not accepted, not even in their own country, thereby creating resistance. After all: how would you feel to live in a country (such as the Netherlands) in which 1 in every 3 people on the street votes for a party whose main message it is to suppress your kind of people. I can imagine that you won’t feel much compassion for your fellow citizens.

Especially in this time, when the tensions between Muslims and not-Muslims seems relatively large, voting for people who increase this tension even further might be particularly problematic.

What do you think?

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?

Violence against Public Servants: Should It be Punished Harder?

ambulance

Should ambulance personnel receive extra protection from the state?

Ambulance personnel, police officers and firemen: people that, day in and day out, prevent our society from turning into a complete chaos. They support us so that we can live our lives without having to worry about our human rights being infringed upon. But what if these servants themselves become infringed upon their basic human rights? What if they are violated, both mentally and physically? There are governments, including the Dutch one, that have made explicit their intention to punish violence against public servants harder than violence against ‘regular’ (non-public servant) citizens. But, is this decision justified? And, more importantly, why would that be so?

Let’s think about it. You could claim that abusing a public servant is more severe than abusing a regular citizen because, by abusing a public servant, the perpetrator not only violates the rights of the servant but also the rights of the other members of society who are entitled to the services of the servant. After all, attacking the staff of an ambulance not only harms the ambulance workers, but indirectly also the patient that is (supposed to be) treated by these men and women. The same goes for police officers: abusing these men and women not only harms them, but also the citizens waiting to be helped by the police officers. Thus the physical or mental abuse of a public servant not only hurts the servants themselves, but also the citizens who are supposed to be served by the servants. And therefore, you could say, should the abuse of a public servant be punished harder than the abuse of a regular citizen.

Also, by abusing a public servant you are infringing upon what might be the controlling or correcting power of the state, which might be a violation in itself. That is, public servants are appointed to guard the laws we have set as a society, including the law condemning violence against other persons. Therefore, by abusing a pubic servant, you are not only attacking a member of our society, but you also resist the authority (ambulance personnel, police etc.) a (democratic) society has decided should safeguard our rights. Hence, abusing public servants is more wrong than abusing a regular citizen, and thus should be punished harder.

One the other hand, a public servant is just as much human as a regular citizen. Therefore, you could say, should the abuse of a public servant be punished equally hard as the abuse of a regular citizen. There is no reason why the live of a public servant would be worth more than the life of a regular citizen, right? Just because he or she fulfils a certain position within our society? Isn’t someone’s profession totally irrelevant when it comes down to our most fundamental rights, including the right not the abused by others? If that would indeed be the case, then there would be no justification for punishing the abuse of a public servant any differently from the abuse of a regular citizen.

Also, you could say, the abuse of a public servant is in no way a more severe violation against the state and its controlling power than is the abuse of a regular citizen. That is to say that the violation of another person’s well-being is just as much a violation of a fundamental right as would be the violation of the state’s controlling power, and thus should be punished equally hard. After all: the state’s integrity is no more important than any citizen’s integrity. Hence, attacking the former should be punished equally as attacking the latter.

Personally, I believe that both positions are well defensible. However, I consider the first position to be more reasonable. By taking away another person’s right to be saved or defended by a public servant, more parties seem to be hurt in abusing a public servant than in the abuse of what is ‘only’ a regular citizen. And surely, it might not only be a servants’ duty to assist other people when they are in need; you and I might be just as capable in doing that. This might cast doubt on the idea of granting them an extra form of protection. But that doesn’t change the fact that a public servant is explicitly appointed to fulfil this duty within our society; and that might have to be taken into account.

But what do you think?

Why You Should Always Respect the Dustman

I have been a dustman for a while. And even though my stay in the ‘dustman-community”’ was short, I was long enough to become overwhelmed by the disrespect these people receive from their fellow species members. People are yelling things at them. People are telling them how shitty their job is. People treat them like the true pieces of garbage. I was wondering what the dustmen themselves were thinking about their profession. Were they also disgusted about what they were doing? I decided to ask them.

And this is what they told me: they absolutely loved what they were doing. They were proud of being the dustman of district x or district y. They took care of the streets that fell under their supervision. These were after all their streets, and their streets should not be dirty. One of the dustmen told me very proudly about his dustmen-crew. He said that, within the dustmen-community, his crew could be compared to FC Barcelona; that’s how well they anticipated each other’s actions. Dustman A knew exactly that, when Dustman B grabbed on to a new dustbin, he should be in the process of taking away his bin.

So it seems that people differ, to say the least, in what they like and what they don’t like to do for a living. And that’s a good thing, right? Of course it is. Because the fact that each one of us wants to do something different for a living makes that all the jobs that are required to keep our society functioning are filled. If everyone wanted to become a big time actor, no-one would be cleaning the streets of Hollywood. At least, not for a while. Because the demand for dustmen, and therefore the wages, would increase sooner or later thanks to the ‘beautiful’ mechanisms of the free market.

Also, the fact that people appreciate different ways to make their money provides you and me with the opportunity to make a unique contribution to this world of ours. And – I believe – it is only if you do what you like to do that you are likely to put the most effort in doing it. And, subsequently, it is only when you put serious effort into doing something that you are likely to make a difference. And it the ambition to ‘make a difference’, whether it is by cleaning the streets or by writing an article, that gives that feeling of happiness and fulfilment we are all so desperately longing for.

The moral of this story should be clear: never disrespect anyone or feel pity for anyone because of what they do for a living. Remember that (hopefully) most of us are doing something that we like to do. Be thankful for whatever their contribution to society might be, since it is because of their contribution that you and I can do the job that we like to do. Whatever that might be.

But what do you think?

The Difference between What You Get and What You Earn

In economic theory, it is claimed that if a market would function perfectly, people would get for their products and services whatever it is they contribute in terms of value. And the same goes the other way: people would pay whatever they find a product or service worthy of. But when you take a look at the real world markets, and all the actors in these real world markets, this principle doesn’t seem to hold. Not at all.

I want to show this by giving one example. That of the banker, and the hacker.

A banker invents all kinds of ingenious derivative constructs, futures and other financial products in order to make money. The more complex the better. For if a product is complex, the layman doesn’t understand it. And if the layman doesn’t understand it, it is easy to lure him into what might seem to be an attractive deal, but which in fact is nothing but a ticking time bomb.

It is generally acknowledged that bankers, and especially the bankers referred to above, are at least partially responsible for the credit crisis we have experienced. It is safe to say that a lot of wealth has been lost during the crisis; people lost their homes, their jobs, and governments had to step in to save the day. In other words: these bankers have, at least over the last couple of years, made a negative contribution to the overall utility of society.

Why then do they get paid so much? Why then do they get a high positive utility for acting in a manner that ultimately decreases society’s utility? Although I am not interested in explaining this phenomenon in this post, one explanation could be that it seems like the bankers contribute a lot of happiness, because they (can) create a lot of money, and – in our capitalist society – money equals happiness. Hence the bankers create a lot of happiness.

Luckily, there are also people who do the exact opposite: they don’t get paid anything while making lots of people happy. They are the modern day equivalent of Robin Hood. An example would be the people contributing content to Wikipedia. But also the people behind Popcorn Time; a digital platform at which you can stream pretty much any movie, and all for free. These people make very many people happy – an exception would be the film distributors of course – but don’t get paid anything. Even though, in contract to the banker, their net contribution to society’s utility is positive.

Although we don’t pay the Wikipedia guys and Popcorn Time geeks in terms of money, we can pay them in terms of a currency that is even more valuable: gratefulness and respect. Something the bankers cannot count on. Because after all: there is a difference between what you get, and what you earn.

But what do you think?

I Find it Offensive that You Find it Offensive

A while ago, I was watching a YouTube video of Hans Teeuwen (a Dutch comedian) having a discussion with three Muslim women. The women invited him to talk about – as they claimed – his discriminatory beliefs about Muslims. Teeuwen is a comedian who intents to provoke, make you think and attack dogma – not only the Islam. At a certain point in the interview, the women asked Teeuwen: ‘Don’t you mind offending people?’ Teeuwen responded: ‘I don’t think I’m offending anyone. Who do you think I’m offending?’ The women said: ‘Well, us for example. We are offended by your claims about Allah.’ Teeuwen said: ‘Really? Well, I’m offended that you’re offended by my claims about Allah.’ ‘I think it’s of great importance to be able to say what you want in a democratic society, without people like you trying to silence me. That’s what I find offending.’

I found this a very accurate observation. Religious groups – but other minorities as well – have a tendency to act like they’re being victimized, like they’re are being attacked just because their beliefs differ from those of the mainstream. This is a trick they’ve taught themselves, and that they use as a shield whenever they’re being ‘attacked’ by non-believers because of whatever it is they happen to believe. They crawl back into their shell of convictions and claim to be offended, thereby hoping that the ‘offending’ party will stop throwing its beliefs at them, and just leave them alone.

But what if the beliefs of the offended party are considered to be offensive by other people? What if non-Muslims find headscarves to be a sign of suppression, a sign – religious or not – that should not be tolerated in a democratic society: a society in which equality of rights is considered to be a great good. What then? Who’s right and who’s wrong? Who is the offender and who is the offended? Or are both parties occupying both roles at the same time?

This is an important question because it points to the heart of democracy. In a democracy – especially through freedom of speech – people should be able to express themselves and, as a logical consequence of that, should lend others this right as well. And since it’s impossible to say what claims are offensive in any absolute way (see the Teeuwen example) we should be tolerant towards all claims, and hope that the ones we find most reasonable will be the ones that become accepted by the majority. And, since democracy is such a widespread institution in this world of ours, it seems that the majority of people has the same set of fundamental beliefs as you and I have, one of which is freedom of speech: whether we find this offensive or not.

But what do you think?

Culture and People being Good or Bad

Are people intrinsically good or bad? If there wouldn’t be any laws or social conventions, would we start killing each other and stealing each other’s property – the state of war as Thomas Hobbes described it? Or would we “still” be loving and caring towards each other? Would we “still” be willing to share our well-earned income with others, even if we weren’t “forced” to do so by means of legislation; would we “still” be altruistic like our Christian brothers seem to hope for? Or aren’t there particularly “social” and particularly “anti-social” actions? Can’t actions be “absolutely” evil or “absolutely” good? Do the “demons” committing the “evil” actions believe they are fighting the good fight, that they are the angels, promoting the values they find to be worthwhile dying for? What, for example, about Al-Qaeda? We can assume that the terrorists flying into the World Trade Center at 9/11 did so because they believed that this was the right thing to do, right? Because their God, and their norms and values, promote this sort of behavior, right?

Watch it; we have got to prudent here. We’ve got to watch out for “a dangerous territory” we’re about to enter: the territory of cultural relativism, the view that “our ideas and convictions are true only so far as our civilization goes.” If cultural relativism would indeed be true, we would have no right whatsoever for claiming that our “Western” set of beliefs is superior to the “Islamic (extremist)” set of beliefs; they would be equally true or equally false; what people find good or bad simply depends on what they’ve been taught at school. And that’s it.

Although cultural relativism might appear to be counter-intuitive – after all, many of us seem to believe that murder is “just” wrong, irrespective of the culture one is raised in – what if it would be right? What if there indeed are no absolute values we could turn to in order to decide – for once and for all – what’s wrong and what’s not; what if each culture has its own set of “absolute” values to turn to; are we then still legitimized in saying that “those other cultures are just crazy”?

Maybe cultural relativism is more than “merely” a philosophic concept used to explore the absoluteness of our ethics and knowledge; maybe it’s the reality we live in. After all, what evidence do we have for there being absolute norms and values? The Bible? The Quran? These prove to be already two conflicting value systems,  so no absoluteness can be attained by following the religious path. What about science; what about empirical data? Isn’t it true that many societies consider things like “rape” and “murder” to be wrong? Isn’t that an indication of the absoluteness of value? Maybe, but what about war? Is murder – or even rape – still wrong in case of war? And If so, why are so many people still violating these rules while in war? These people don’t seem to find it wrong, do they?

Maybe we have to face the truth people, no matter how hard it might be. Maybe we have to accept that we aren’t always – or fully – right in our beliefs. That, even when “the enemy” does things we find absolutely disgusting, they do these things because they think they should do so. And why “do they think they should do so”? Because that’s what they consider to be the right way to act; that’s what you do in war; that’s what you do for defending your system of beliefs. So although we might differ in what actions we find good and bad, our intention is – no matter how twisted it might seem – always good. No matter whether others agree with this notion of “good”. And that’s a weird but true conclusion we have to live with.

Thus the answer to the question this article started with is “Good”.

But what do you think?

Why Would You Ever Study Philosophy?

I am curious to know how many of the people reading this article studies – or has studied – philosophy. I guess the percentage is rather low. And that’s a pity. It truly is. Because although philosophy doesn’t necessarily make you a multimillionaire, it can give you a great sense of satisfaction. Getting down the most fundamental of fundamentals of your thinking, and slowly starting to see things make more and more sense, is pretty much like an orgasm to the mind; or, to put it less sex-oriented, like candy to the mind. Personally I believe that philosophy should be the number one course taught to children. Starting on high school, since primary school is for chasing girls…

I am not saying that philosophy is the ‘one and only discipline seeking for the truest of truths’. No, there are many more disciplines sharing this ambition. What I am saying, however, is that philosophy is an ‘activity – not a topic – that can be very helpful in thinking within the conceptual frameworks of any discipline around. You can compare it to riding a bike; riding a bike is useful in a wide variety of environments: the city, the forest, at a farm…You get it. That’s how it is with philosophy as well: no matter where you are situated, no matter whether you are a mathematician or a physicist: you will benefit from philosophy.

When people ask me, ‘What exactly is philosophy?’ I tell them – like a true philosopher – that there isn’t ‘some thing’ that can be called philosophy. Philosophy is not a subject: it’s a manner of thinking. A manner of thinking that can be applied irrespective of the particular subject at issue. That’s why well-known philosophers have been – or are – involved in so many different disciplines: one philosopher can ‘easily’ be involved with such apparently different subjects as the mind-body problem (psychology and neuroscience), rationality (economics) and scientific realism (physics, chemistry and more). That is because philosophy is a ‘system of thinking’ one can apply to the world; it’s an angle from which you look at the world.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I am telling you this because philosophy has truly changed my life. It has made me – I believe – a more respectful person: more understanding towards opposing points of view. It has forced me to think about why I believe what I do, which made me appreciate my beliefs much more. And I am convinced that – besides the intellectual merits – philosophy has a therapeutic value. By that I mean that philosophy can ease your mind when you feel lost; when you need a shoulder to cry on. Pretty much like music, but then aimed straight at the mind.

Use philosophy like a hammer for the mind; to hit the mind it in the right shape. The ‘right shape’? What does that mean? To be honest: I don’t know. But it sounds philosophical, doesn’t it?

But 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?

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?

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?

Are Women Appreciated for Who They Are?

There are two types of human walking on this earth of ours. How come that they are looked upon so differently? How come women are appreciated for different reasons than men, and vice versa? Aren’t we both “just” human? And, the next question would be, aren’t women being valued – or criticized – for the wrong reasons? Don’t they deserve better? Aren’t they judged too much based upon the way they look? Or is this nonsense, as they don’t consider themselves being object of sexism in any way?

Maybe it is just because of the male companionship I find myself primarily in, but it seems to me that women – compared to men – are being valued for different (and possibly wrong) reasons. I am referring to the rather sexist manner in which men usually talk about – and look at – women. However, it also seems to me that women don’t really mind being looked upon in this manner. I mean: if you want to compliment a guy, you are likely to say something about how intelligent he is, or how funny or sweet he is. But when you compliment a girl, one thing that is often mentioned is how beautiful she is. And although this might very well be true, and although this might truly be a quality a man appreciates about a woman, isn’t it a sign of disrespect to value someone – a man or a woman – for the way (s)he looks? Isn’t this a sign of not respecting her for who she is but rather for the way she looks? Or is a compliment based upon her looks interpreted to be a sign of respecting her for who she truly is? That is, do women consider their looks to be an integral part of who they are or of their personality?

Maybe this is something that cannot be judged from my male point of view. Maybe beauty is valued differently by both men and women. That wouldn’t be too illogical, right? I mean: aren’t there very compelling biological reasons for why men and women could value beauty differently? One could after all go back to the ancient times in which men and women were living in tribes and in which the men had to take care of the food, for which they had to be strong, and the women had to take care of the children, for which they had to be tender and have certain physical characteristics (waist to hip ratio etc.).

However, assuming that this would indeed be the case, wouldn’t you think that in this 21st century we are living in, with all of its values of equality and non-discrimination, women might want to get rid of them being valued for being in possession of certain physical characteristics that set them apart from men? And surely, men might also be appreciated for having certain physical characteristics like muscles and length, but women seem to be object of many more sexist valuations.

The truth of the matter remains that an average woman takes (much) more time than an average man to get ready in the morning. Women just seem to find it more important to spend time on becoming beautiful – or on showing their beauty – than men do. On the other hand, it could just as easily be said that men might spend more time training their physique by working out in the gym and that their way of becoming – or being – beautiful. And that doesn’t seem unreasonable, right? Biology might just have programmed us with different qualities that we consider to be worthwhile developing. However, none of this implies that any specific quality should be considered to be inferior to any other quality. Irrespective of whether these qualities are “typically” male or “typically” female.

But what do you think?