Friday, December 13, 2013

Monkeys without artificial intelligence

5 Shocking Ways Monkeys Are Just as Dysfunctional as Us

The above blog show some non-surprising ways "monkeys" are similar to us. And why? Because we are monkeys, the differences are not about sex, power, lying and manipulation, social structure, etc. We are alike because we have a common family tree. The only thing they lack is all this reading, the concepts, the structures of intelligence we have created, replicated and perfected over hundred of thousands of years, using our own brains as repositories, and other things too (like paint, stone, paper or computers).

So, yeah! We're smart because we replicate that smartness, but, guess what, we still have our feet deeply plunged in the savannah environment where our deepest ways of being made perfect sense for survival.

Violence, bullies and happiness

He who is silent and bows his head dies every time he does so. He who speaks aloud and walks with his head held high dies only once.
—Giovanni Falcone

The short version

In my perspective, the main problem with bullying is that our society only effectively punishes sexual violence. Other forms of violence are considered "normal", and form in fact a large part of the devices through which we are "integrated". Perhaps in the future slapping someone will be treated as severely as groping them (unwillingly of course, in both cases,as they are people who'd like something like a fight club, nothing wrong about that, as long as it is consensual). However, for instance, in movies, there are many heroes who are great even though (or even because) they harass people.It's like there were movies where the hero would rape young girls and he would be great nevertheless! They would just have to accept it!! Of course that is completely absurd, but that's what we have regarding bullying. And so much of the advice we get to deal with bullies is not to give it too much importance (wave and smile), or to report it to people who will do nothing about it, or to try and see it lightly, etc. In short: just live with it. I'm sure bullies would love to hear that advice being giving to their victims, sexual predators still have that in some countries and, a few centuries ago, that was the prevailing view: you just had to accept it, especially if it was your husband or some very important person.

In my view, as long as society implicitly accepts (non-consensual) violence, there is only one way to deal with bullies and other forms of violence: we must be ready to die to defend our honor as much as we are ready to die for any other (good) cause. Not only in theory, but in practice too. Not only regarding abusive people, but institutions, habits, addictions, prejudices, ignorance, etc: everything that imprisons us.

It's tough, but it's tougher to live imprisoned in  fear.

So, if you are being bullied, take some karate lessons in a place where you feel at home, and master it. You'll gain much more than physical strength.

For the opposite / complementary perspective: 5 Bad Ideas for Dealing With Bullies You Learned in Movies

The longer version

If you can imagine a society where it would be so absurd to sexually rape someone as calling them bad names, then you are part of a very small percentage of the population. We are a violent species: man prefer fists and weapons, females prefer psychological warfare. Our self-made environment is filled with violence, from the workplace to the streets, shaping politics and the markets. But there are exceptions to that, small exceptions, everywhere. So you find business people that are fair and want to improve happiness around them, you find marriages where people actually want the best for the other, even if that implies leaving them, you find scientists who care not about their career but about the truth, artists who are not interested in selling but in the depth of their creations. Unfortunately, violence tends to win. It's like sex, you can have a community of people living in great love for each other, but if there is this one guy who starts raping every girl, he will spread, not only his genes, but his way of being. Feelings of revolt, of shame, desires of violent responses will be harboured by both the raped and their loved ones. Whoever wins, will win through violence.

You have movies like the Lord of the Rings, where there seems to be a middle ground (giving up the ring), but we fail to translate the metaphor to practice: there are weapons everywhere and how could it be otherwise? In the book you learn about Tom Bombadil, and then there is a poem about him, also written by Tolkien, where Bombadil escapes those that want to hurt him just by showing that he knows them, inside out.
 This vision is also comparable to some Kung Fu stories, like Bruce Lee liked to tell, where the enemy disappears once you understand him/her.

However poetic that image may be it is very difficult to find it a universal application in practice. In some cases that works, in some cases you can even turn your foes into friends. But that depends a lot on the situation. For instance, you might really like beetles, but if you want to feed from your backyard you'll have to fight all the animals that are trying to get to those juicy apples and tender vegetables. And it's not just a friendly "please go eat somewhere else", there might not be somewhere else, and they are simply too many, they will reproduce and they will infest what you are trying to cultivate. You may deal with that by investing in bug predators, or chemical poisons, but the end result is the same, you win they loose, and they will pay with their lives, in the thousands, for the sweet taste in your mouth.

How can Tom Bombadil deal with that? You might find all this a little bit obscure, after all we were speaking about violence among people, not about killing itsy-bitsy insects. We might indeed have to kill billions of insects in order to stay alive. Perhaps if we would kill them all in the first place we wouldn't have to do it again. Our hands would only be blood stained for a time, and, after that, we could be vegetarians with a cleaner soul. "This fruit was made without killing any living being," we could then say, "because they are none left who could feed from it!" What a wonderful solution! (I'm being ironic, of course)

But how does that translate into violence among humans? After all, that is what interests us, right? We are not interested about how many billions cannot live in order for us to feed, if they are insects. Even if they are cows, and pigs, and chickens, why should we give a damn? After all their just "animals" whereas we are the Sons and Daughters of the Almighty God, who has placed the rest of His Creation in our hands, so that we could prosper, right? Or in any case, if you're scientifically minded, they are just stupid, perhaps they are not even conscious, who knows? We are just following the laws of life.

But the translation into human violence is very simple: if you feel entitled to kill just because you want that apple, even if it is just insects, you are applying a principle which states that your life (or your pleasure) is more important than that little guy's life. You may also imagine that he does not have a real life, that he's just like a robot, and you can call the little guy "it" to reinforce the hiatus that separates the value of your two existences. The problem with that is that you can do that same reasoning to anyone, not only insects but to mammals, primates and yes, even those that share the same language with you.

After all, why shouldn't your life be more important that so and so... what objective criteria determines who should live? That would demand knowing the mind of God, or if God exists or not... But all we can really determine with our calibrated instruments, from a scientific perspective, tells nothing about values. We have to decide for ourselves what is valuable and what is not. So you may say that your life is more valuable that your neighbour's. You may say even that your pleasure is more valuable than your neighbour's life. From a logical point of view, it's just a declaration, an axiom, as much unproven as any other value attribution.

The fact that this actually works that way in our actual present-day society, can be seen from the way we do commerce, from pharmaceuticals to oil, to computer systems, etc. We don't sell what people actually need (like the health and happiness that comes from a quiet life of understanding), we create needs, the more the merrier, even if they tend to make people miserable. And then we keep selling them products. That excess accelerates the level of destruction we are producing in our own environment. So, in a couple of centuries, Earth will have much less variety, it will be less pleasant, which may take us into an ever growing spiral of destruction, a dystopia which seems only too likely.

Why do we do this? Why do we sell unhealthy food, anti-depressives when people needed to relax and enjoy life more, TVs when what they need is to be together, leave the house and enjoy nature? We do this for money. Now money is just a convenient illusion to organize work in a society. Having lots and lots of those pieces of paper in general should be seen as an inconvenience, because people will look at you with envy, you might get abducted or, even if you live in a "secured" area, people might interact with you because of your money, and so they won't tell you what you need to know or what they really think about you, unless it doesn't affect their chances of eventually getting some of that. In general you will become more and more alone, surrounded  by people who don't love you, as people will see less and less of you and more and more of your money. So why would anyone want to have a big pile?

Part of the reason comes from violence again: if we were satisfied with our affective, emotional, relations, we would gladly give away a large part of those pieces of paper if we knew we would be seen by what we really are, by our thoughts, feelings, deeds and ideals, we would be happy showing our "true colors", being loved by what we truly are. We would have "togetherness", and who needs piles of money where you can have piles of love, understanding and companionship instead?

But the thing is: some of us simply don't believe in that togetherness, we have never experienced it. Some of us have "learned" that the only respect they will ever have is through the power they have gathered. And so they will search for the closeness they can get through power and money. That's the only way they know to feel close and safe.

As you can see, this may be seen as a direct consequence of the widespread acceptance of violence and competition in our present societies. It is far from being the only cause, however. If it was, we would certainly have records of human societies where violence is absent. But although that appears among many species of animals, it is very rare among primates (the bonobo for instance seem to escape that fight for power, but even then their power is constantly being traded through sex - however, many other species, like most dolphins and elephants, don't fight among themselves).

Our history has shaped us to be violent, it's in our genes. But there are many things in our genes that culture has controlled. Sexual violence is one of them in most western democracies. Today rape, pedophilia, etc, is strictly forbidden in most western countries, not just in principle, but in practice. So why are other forms of violence still able to be accepted, even though they create the same kind of trauma, leading many times to suicide? Why is sexual rape so severely punished whereas psychological abuse and other forms of physical abuse are treated with such leniency?

I suspect that the reason for that is just habit. It's the same reason that has allowed man to rape women for millennia, and that was just, you know, "normal", the thing to do ("one survey found that 74% of women in Mali said that a husband is justified to beat his wife if she refuses to have sex with him." (wikipedia)). We still have countries where to marry a woman you just kidnap her and rape her. And then she has (or at least should) marry you. The Bible also has stories of that kind, where the rapist gets as punishment marriage to the one he raped. ( "Marriage gave conjugal rights to a spouse, and marriage could not be revoked except by private Act of Parliament—it therefore seemed to follow that a spouse could not legally revoke consent to sexual intercourse, and if there was consent there was no rape." (idem))

Today these stories seem absurd to the extreme, a well-educated person may feel outraged by how they ever happened among mankind. But they do continue to exist in erotic stories and couples who like to explore a more SM side of their relationship. And what could be wrong with that? I mean if two people consensually desire to explore being tied up, flogging and so on, who are we to say they are wrong?

Rape is not the physical act, it's the fact that the act is being done without consent.

If you are playing with someone and you both agree that you are playing the raping kind of game, then there is nothing wrong with that: you're experimenting with a part of our personalities, long ago engrained in our species, and of which I think we should not be ashamed of. In fact, many couples say that it allows for a deep degree of closeness that they wouldn't be able to achieve in other ways.

In my view the same thing happens with other forms of violence: there is nothing wrong in doing martial arts, going into box fightings or simulating fights in "wrestling" shows. If you like it, and if the other person you're doing it with likes it, then go for it. Smash your face all over, it's your life, do whatever you want with it.

But the fact that consensual violence should be free for everyone who wants it, should never trespass into the lives of those who chose not to live that way. Now that line, which should be as clear as anything, is not at all present in our society. We are taught to suffer the bully, not to give him/her importance. He / She will go away, eventually, hopefully. Now that is sooooo wrong. That is actually the basis of the widespread use of bullying in our society. Because, once you admit that the bully is somewhat entitled to "rape you" (non sexually, of course) the only way we have to defend yourself is well, by entering the game. There is no other way! If a country engages in a fight with some other country, then the response must be of the same kind. In our society this would only be avoided if law enforcement would immediately and effectively repress that kind of unwanted violence, just as it does with rape. This would necessarily mean heavy penalties for the ones involved, prison, etc. As long as that does not happen you'll have to fight for yourself.

Now there are other perspectives on this, one that may seem the opposite is this: 5 Bad Ideas for Dealing With Bullies You Learned in Movies.
In this link you'll find a story of a guy of fighted back and it only got worse. Now, he was not fighting one bully, but a whole region full of them. In that case you're obviously going to die or kill lots of people if you live long enough (the chance that you won't die is almost like the chance of winning the lottery). But even if you don't die, your grades will suffer, because you will be suspend, just like they are, and so your downward spiral toward the violent life that you're trying to elope is going forward and forward. Now he presents his preferred solutions, one of them is to get back in the crowd, don't stand out and you will not be seen by the bully, if this works it is because the bully will "find someone else to pick on". Wow! Great solution, right! But in the case of this guy what made the difference was when their mother understood the seriousness of the situation and they all moved to another city. Now that really can't be a global solution. We can't all run away, and besides, that's stupid. It's them who should run away or accept that their freedom stops when the freedom of the other starts.

So the solution must be to vote on politicians that give this subject enough importance to solve it on a nation-wide scale. That means changing the laws and enforcing them strictly. I'm not saying we should be "pussies", I'm saying use your martial arts where they are needed, in training or if an actual fight to defend your country or your loved ones. Using your martial skills to attack some defenceless one is just a way of showing that you need treatment and/or isolation, just like any other kind of rapist. The problem with this solution is that big politics is usually involved with big money, and big money is usually involved with lots of violence, be it physical, manipulative, etc. So most of the people who are in power are there precisely because they are some sort of bullies to begin with. I'm not sure how to solve that one. Perhaps war after war after war will teach us that there's better ways to solving our problems than trying to step others down. Collaboration might be the key, a hint got by the bees and the flowers a long time ago.

In any case, as long as laws don't protect us, we are on our own, and we must do whatever is necessary to guarantee our honour, our sanity, our peace of mind. And we should feel responsible for maintaining peace for others too, for the bully is like a disease, it's like a cancer, it spreads and even if it starts far away from you, it will eventually get to you, at least in your mind. Because in every moment of your life you'll know that people are suffering unnecessarily, just because they're weak. And that process expands violence everywhere. Violence begets violence, in a never-ending spiral.

Of course, the "vigilante" may himself become a source of more violence. Wasn't that how the mob began? But there is a very clear line between those that only interfere with the freedom of others as a last, hugely undesirable, resource, trying to minimize the amount of destruction they create, and those that attack by pleasure, and simply because they can. But the vigilante is, of course, far from the ideal response. Without society, and in the presence of violent men, we can only resort to the law of the strongest (we are primates after all!), only society could repress rape and other forms of sexual violence. The vigilante solution is always a last case solution, it will never work out in the long run for it is likely yo generate even more violence (the perception of a single error in the application of "justice" is all that it takes for more vigilantes to appear, this time to take care of our vigilante's violence.) Only we, has a society, have the power to stop it.

Vote! Vote for people who will end this nightmare.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The news presenter

It is easy to see the news presenter as a disposable element when we see the tv news. After all we're interested in the news, the presenter is just presenting them, it's the agreeable in-between in what we really want to see. But just imagine what it would be like to see the news without the accompanying presenter... First of all it is extremely rare to find such a news report, but if you could find it, how would it be like. Suppose it would show the hungry faces of some African kids, the desperate faces of refugees fleeing from war zones in a farway place, your town-team that just won or lost its game.

Now, in direct, uninterpreted, connection in all of that, you might feel tempted to think for a long time on those African kids, on those refugees, you might even cry thinking about them, feel indignation, ignited even, to protest, to change your vote. But looking at the face of the news pivot, you see how one well-behaved, illustrious member of your own society, should react to such news. It's subtle, very subtle, but the reaction is there. Important events, like the team winning the championship, will invoke many interviews, commentaries, even a sign of deep (but hidden) commotion from the presenter. And you'll know this is important, by all those subtle signs. Now the kids in Africa will be discussed with the usual unconcern, and the "in other news" will be just around the corner...

The pivot is not just an accessory: he is the main character in all the news report, in a subtle way (unconsciously) he is telling us how to react, how to interpret, how to feel, how not to feel, about this and that... he is truly modeling and helping to maintain some stability on society.