The film about Churchill

Darkest Hour opened today in Ireland.

Spoiler: the most exciting thing about the film is Gary Oldman’s makeup.

The first half of the film captivates the viewer with the impossible situations Churchill is forced into, the many subplots shaping the final decision and lots of moral ambiguity. Churchill is portrayed as a somewhat flawed but likeable human being.

The second half, however, bores them with cliche rallying for a cause.

Interestingly, the audience was made up of a mix of school kids still in their uniforms and people over fifty. Millennials? Zero interest.

How to make your own conspiracy theory

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool
– Richard Feynman

So I was watching Jordan B Peterson‘s video – I will talk about him later. Look at the bottom right corner on YouTube (in full screen):

how to create a conspiracy theory

Looks like it’s straight off a Beutepanzer:

how to come up with a conspiracy theory

Half the plot for the next Da Vinci Code is in the bag: “Sergey Brin is Himmler’s long lost great grandson.”

 

More generally, here are some tips for making conspiracy theories.

You will need:

  • them, who are united by a trait and a
  • common goal, generally an evil one, signified with a
  • symbol, that recurs in all kinds of unexpected places.

If you’re low on inspiration,

  • get 100 of anything that has a variety of traits: banknotes, films, pieces of jewellery, anything
  • single out the traits and you will surely find a recurrent one
  • fit a goal and a type of people on as you see fit.

Never forget that everything

  • happens for a reason
  • has a deeper meaning
  • is all part of a connected universe

If anyone tries to disprove you, don’t worry because it’s impossible to prove you wrong. After all, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – and evidence is evidence.

On a more serious note, this TED talk on who controls the world the nature of complexity is pretty good. And every once in a while you will be reminded that just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean you’re wrong: Inside VW’s Campaign of Trickery

P.S. Over 1,300 followers on WordPress! So excited to have you guys, thank you.

P.P.S. Are you following this chap? He’s awesome.

Are we living at the end of an empire?

A thought experiment.

There is a nuclear war in morning. The capitals and major cities are all gone. You happened to have been visiting your aunt in Castle’elsewhere, a cute provincial town, and remained alive and well.

In the wake of the war, you realise that life will never be the same. There is an army barracks that remained unharmed down the road from your aunt’s house. The commanding officer is used to taking orders and is awaiting them. They aren’t coming. Your cousin just returned from the neighbouring Castle’nowhere and said that people have started looting the local shopping centre. Someone has to take charge and you’re not in the habit of relying on others. You win the trust of the commanding officer and now have an army at your disposal – although not much else.

What is the first thing that you do?

thought experiment philosophy

I would find food for the army. My particular Castle’elswhere happens to be in Ireland. We have milk and beef galore, and even some barley and rapeseed oil. Some artisanal cheese. Guinness and Jameson. But the ports are all in tatters and it will be a while until we will manage to import food. Scurvy is a real threat: there is no vitamin C on this island.

I am now Commanderina-in-Chief Martina and I have an army of malnourished men whose teeth will soon start falling out and their clothes are wearing thin. A man who used to grow a few carrots for himself arrives at my doorstep and explains that he can provide a steady supply of carrots, rich in Vitamin C. Let’s call him Captain Orange. Captain Orange is the only man in the country who had the foresight/luck/interest in growing carrots – and the ports are still closed, so he has no competitors. Captain Orange soon becomes a very rich and powerful man as he has something I need to retain my power. I make a deal with him that we should only supply a certain amount of carrots, enough to keep the army healthy and as for the general population we need to supply just over the scurvy-threshold because if we supply more that, it will weaken our power and if we supply less, there will be riots. Power, eh.

how does power work thought experiment

Back to the real world.

This got me thinking of the Googles and Facebooks – the multinationals in Ireland. The lads here aren’t the programmers/engineers that would be able to solve ubercomplex problems (I imagine they are mostly in California). They are human resources, corporate social responsibility, account managers, etc. In the event of such a near apocalyptic event, of what use are the official skills of the majority of these people?

During my short stint in a multinational, I used to always wonder how come there are so many people literally busy doing nothing, or something I simply didn’t understand. Making slides about making slides and trackers about other trackers.

The multinational is Captain Orange. They come to the government and tell them that they have what the government so needs to keep the population just over the (first world) poverty line: jobs. Not just in Ireland, but in lots of places. By moving to Ireland and paying let’s say 10,000 people wages to do nothing  corporate back/middle office jobs, they still save money on tax. By coming to other countries they will gain something else: the points isn’t that Ireland is a tax haven. The point is about solving problems. As Arthur Schopenhauer used to say, talent hits a target no one else can hit and genius hits a target no one else can see. Yes, we all know their product is phenomenal. But the real problem they solve, and the reason they have so much clout, isn’t what it seems. Genius, not just talented. The more enduring the problem and the more efficacious the solution, the more leverage you get.

The next thing I wondered about were our first world problems. Are we living in an age that’s analogous to the end of the Roman empire?

  • Tremendous centralisation and its cousin globalisation.
  • Society is tearing itself apart: different camps of Westerners seem to have more in common with other “tribes” than with each other (just think Clinton supporters vs Trump supporters). Diversity of thought is good, but this is diversity of non-thought. Most of these people aren’t pro x, y, z, they are anti a, b, c.
  • Research is mass produced for the sake of being published and isn’t really coming up with anything hugely new or even worthwhile.
  • The buildings of today look worse than the buildings of 100 years ago, even accounting for survivorship bias. Same with music. Same with art.
  • Lack of innovation. True monopolies: the two main credit card companies, call them V and M, are basically the same entity in their business practices, they interchange staff and outsource to each other in different countries. And they are also indispensable as far as the state is concerned. They aren’t the only example, of course. We neither incentivise innovation, nor do we have as burning a need for it. And then we wonder where the inequality comes from.
  • Changes in sexual behaviour: described pretty well by Gary Wilson

I am by no means saying that things are worse today than they were 100 years ago. But it is a different environment: where do we go from here?

UPD:

On a recent walk, I took these two pictures from the same place:

decline of the western civilisation

The above pier was built in 1821. Look dreamy.

western civilisation coming to an end

The structure closest to us was built in the 1980s. Looks dystopian.

When they dig up our stuff in 5,000 years, what will they say?

How our shrinking brains are turning us into Homo Domesticus

This is the first contribution, I hope of many, by T.J. His background is as varied as entrepreneurship, medicine, game development and politics.

I must admit, at the outset, that when I first vocalised the thoughts herein, I did it as a form of humour and out of frustration regarding my fellow man. However, the more I thought about it, the more I reckon there might be some validity in it. This is not necessarily in the sense that a new human subspecies has actually developed, but that process may have indeed started.

You probably learned in school that a species is a group in which two individuals can reproduce. If they can’t, they aren’t the same species. Things are a bit more complex than that, and there are many arguments regarding that definition. For example, what if A and C can’t mate, but B can mate with both?

what is homo domesticus

A subspecies is even harder to define. As a rule of thumb, if it looks a lot different but can theoretically breed, its a subspecies*. This generally involves some sort of “block” on breeding: how else would the populations look different? In fact, a definition regarding the propensity to breed can also be used. A great example is the tiger. In that case, the different subspecies are separated geographically so mating is difficult (tigers don’t do long distance relationships). Physical differences can reinforce the problem in a feedback loop. A female Chihuahua can conceive offspring with an Irish Wolfhound, but I’m not too sure how well things will workout in the long run (Wolfhounds always leave the seat up, you see).  Eventually, things get so bad, they just become two different species, and they don’t even require lawyers to do so. For our purposes we will be super pragmatic: if Wikipedia says it’s a subspecies, it is.

homo domesticus tame human being

“But T.J., Wikipedia doesn’t say there is a new human subspecies!” I hear you say. Well yes, I’m getting to that. First, let’s discuss a subspecies that is on Wikipedia, Canis Familiaris, but you might know him as Spot, or Fido, or something – the domestic dog. Of course, our oldest friend is also basically a wolf and can successfully breed with one. (In fact, different wolf species can even breed occasionally, as I said, it’s complicated). The point is, we consider the domestic dog a separate subspecies. The fact that we don’t consider each breed of dog a subspecies is basically down to taxonomical snobbery and a fear of having to come up with a bunch of Latin names.

Why is the dog important here? Well one way to make a new subspecies is domestication. This is the manner in which I think we have formed a new subspecies of human. Let’s call him Homo Domesticus.

In 1959, a Soviet scientist called Dmitri Belyaev conducted an experiment.

He hypothesised that domestication was the result of selecting for “tameability”, not other traits like fertility or strength.

Had the Soviets not starved all the farmers in the country to death beforehand, they could have just asked them about it instead of conducting a 50 year experiment. But then again, that was the result of policy created by Soviet academics, so maybe there was some conflict of interest. Anyway, the experiment involved selectively breeding foxes to domesticate them. Belyaev was right. By the tenth generation of foxes, 18% were so tame that he had to come up with a new category of tameness for them. It is theorised that this is linked to lower adrenaline production by the “domestic” foxes.

homo domesticus explained

What is very interesting is that domestic rats also have smaller adrenal glands than their wild counterparts. I am conflating an atrophied adrenal gland with lesser adrenal production, but it is not an unsound assumption. They also have smaller brains, hearts and other organs. So could it be that domestication is simply the result of lesser adrenal production? Let’s park this idea for a minute and move on to a more popular species (for reasons I will never know).

Humans have had a decreasing brain size for the last 28,000 years, Wikipedia reliably informs me. Upon discovering this, I immediately thought, could we be domesticating ourselves?! It turns out I’m not the first to think this. A study by Bailey and Geary used population density as a proxy for advanced societies and found that there was a correlation between this and brain size reduction in history. The conclusion was that “life got easier”, basically.

Since individuals had more security from those around them, they could scrape by with less intelligence.

Now I am tempted to leave things here with a note that a reliance on our fellow man will therefore lead to humans becoming stupid – brain size does map to intelligence on a large scale such as human evolution, but that would be intellectually dishonest. There is a large body of academics that think that the reliance on others may have nothing to do with intelligence. It could be down to heat loss, or that our brains became more efficient at doing what they do and needed less volume. I am tempted to discuss why I think those ideas have merit but are untrue, but do not have the space here. Furthermore, I want to keep this light and cutting rather than scientific and thorough (too late, say you).

homo domesticus smaller brain

Personally, I have a much darker theory. Brain size did correlate to intelligence and to societal complexity. But not because we are all happy bunnies living in wonderland. Let me take the case of one our “best” moments as a species: agriculture!

Agriculture is great, apparently. Yet human health suffered immensely as a result. The fossil record shows (is it a fossil record if the bones have not petrified?) that human height dropped four inches and there is a myriad of pathologies that developed upon the adoption of agriculture. This later changed but only after about 8,000 years. So why did we do it? Or a better question would be, why did we keep doing it? Perhaps it was because societal elites were able to domesticate others. Whether they are slaves or peasants, the result is the same.

One group forces the other to farm, and if they don’t, they are killed. Almost as if they are selecting for tameness…

Of course, that wasn’t 28,000 years ago. It isn’t hard to imagine the same process earlier in history? In fact, for the farming peasants to be tame enough to stay, they would likely have already been tamed in prior generations. Remember the foxes? 18% in only ten generations. I should also have mentioned that domestic rats do not run away after losing a fight like wild rats, they stay and lie submissively. By the twentieth generation, 35% of foxes were of the super tame variety. How many human generations in 28,000 years? About 1,000, actually.

But hold on! How is that a subspecies? Well, for most of human history there has been a tendency to mate with those of a similar social standing. This functions as a block to mating and could result in certain traits becoming concentrated, forming two subspecies. Maybe it’s not so far fetched.

So who are they then? In areas where there are wolves and dogs, wolf-dog hybrid occur. They might be a different subspecies, but that doesn’t mean that the big bad wolves aren’t utterly dashing to the refined domesticated ladies. Sort of like a canid James Dean, I guess. Furthermore, in humans, we know that while there was a tendency to mate in a certain social circles historically, it was by no means as rigid as portrayed today. William the Conqueror is a good case in point. (His mother was the daughter of a tanner.) Therefore, the process of domestication and subspeciation is likely incomplete in us. We all probably have both traits, to varying degrees. There are the wild men and the servile.

The significance of all this is that in the last few decades publicly traded corporations and the state encroached more into our everyday lives, filling the role of our trainers and being run by the most domesticated, institutionalised humans of all.

Due to the above, we risk completing the process of domestication. Don’t be under the illusion that we have more personal freedoms than in yesteryear, but that’s an argument for another day.

* To qualify as breeding in this context, the offspring must be “viable”, that is, fertile.

20 valuable lessons on human nature from the last 5,000 years

“Most history is guessing, and the rest is prejudice”

Will and Ariel Durant

I have a strong feeling that I shouldn’t be a fan of a hedge fund guy who married a Vanderbilt, but Ray Dalio is a really interesting person. He’s arguably the worlds most successful hedge fund manager. The average hedge fund lasts 18 months; his Bridgewater is 42 years old as of 2017. He is an avid meditator of the transcendental/Beatles variety. He’s also a warm and fuzzy ENTP. Lol jk, as they say.

I read his Principles a while ago. They make a lot of sense. The name is obviously quite aspirational and part so the opus are quite philosophical. I am sure that Dalio chose it with posterity in mind. At some point, he answered the question, “What is the best book you’ve ever read?” with a definitive The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant, 1968.

the lessons of history will ariel durant highlights review

It’s a short, captivatingly well-written book. W&A really don’t mince their words (except in the last chapter on whether progress is real). While their opening chapter is called Hesitations, it’s pretty definitive:

As his studies come to a close, the historian faces the challenge: Of what use have your studies been? Have you found in your work only the amusement of recounting the rise and fall of nation, and retelling “sad stories of the death of kings”?

Don’t you just want to read on? History was almost ruined for me as a discipline back when I was in school – and this book revived it. At the time, I found that the book was very difficult to get, so I ended up requesting it from stacks in a copyright library of Trinity College Dublin. Here it is now, thank you Jeff Bezos: The Lessons of History.

Really, the purpose of the book is to use history as the study of human nature:

Since man is a moment in astronomic time, a transient guest of the earth, a spore of his species, a scion of his race, a composite of body,character, and mind, a member of a family and a community, a believer or doubter of a faith, a unit in an economy, perhaps a citizen in a state or a soldier in an army, we may ask under the corresponding heads – astronomy, geology, geography, biology, ethnology, psychology, morality, religion, economics, politics, and war-what history has to say about the nature, conduct, and prospects of man.

will durant lessons in history human nature

It has this Art of War quality to it, only it makes more sense. Here are my “underlines” of the superb and oftentimes controversial views of the Durants:

  1. Known history shows little alteration in the conduct of mankind. The Greeks of Plato’s time behaved very much like the French of modern centuries; and the Romans behaved like the English.
  2. Inequality is not only natural and inborn, it grows with the complexity of civilization. Hereditary inequalities breed social and artificial inequalities; every invention or discovery is made or seized by the exceptional individual, and makes the strong stronger, the weak relatively weaker, than before.
  3. Nature smiles at the union of freedom and equality in our utopias. For freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies.
  4. “Racial” antipathies have some roots in ethnic origin, but they are also generated, perhaps predominantly, by differences of acquired culture-of language, dress, habits, morals, or religion. There is no cure for such antipathies except a broadened education. A knowledge of history may teach us that civilization is a co-operative product, that nearly all peoples have contributed to it; it is our common heritage and debt; and the civilized soul will reveal itself in treating every man or woman, however lowly, as a representative of one of these creative and contributory groups.
  5. Intellect is a vital force in history, but it can also be a dissolvent and destructive power. Out of every hundred new ideas ninety-nine or more will probably be inferior to the traditional responses which they propose to replace. No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history.
  6. The conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical who proposes it-perhaps as much more valuable as roots are more vital than grafts. It is good that new ideas should be heard, for the sake of the few that can be used; but it is also good that new ideas should be compelled to go through the mill of objection, opposition, and contumely; this is the trial heat which innovations must survive before being allowed to enter the human race.
  7. History offers some consolation by reminding us that sin has flourished in every age. Even our generation has not yet rivalled the popularity of homosexualism in ancient Greece or Rome or Renaissance Italy.” Prostitution has been perennial and universal, from the state-regulated brothels of Assyria to the “night clubs” of West-European and American cities today. In the University of Wittenberg in 1544, according to Luther, “the race of girls is getting bold, and run after the fellows into their rooms and chambers and wherever they can, and offer them their free love.” Montaigne tells us that in his time (1533-92) obscene literature found a ready market, the immorality of our stage differs in kind rather than degree from that of Restoration England; and John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure -a veritable catena of coitus-was as popular in 1749 as in 1965.
  8. We must remind ourselves again that history as usually written is quite different from history as usually lived: the historian records the exceptional because it is interesting-because it is exceptional.
  9. The influence of geographic factors diminishes as technology grows. The character and contour of a terrain may offer opportunities for agriculture, mining, or trade, but only the imagination and initiative of leaders, and the hardy industry of followers, can transform the possibilities into fact; and only a similar combination (as in Israel today) can make a culture take form over a thousand natural obstacles. Man, not the earth, makes civilization.
  10. History has justified the Church in the belief that the masses of mankind desire a religion rich in miracle, mystery, and myth. Some minor modifications have been allowed in ritual, in ecclesiastical costume, and in episcopal authority; but the Church dares not alter the doctrines that reason smiles at, for such changes would offend and disillusion the millions whose hopes have been tied to inspiring and consolatory imaginations.
  11. There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.
  12. History reports that “the men who can manage men manage the men who can manage only things, and the men who can manage money manage all”. From the Medici of Florence and the Fuggers of Augsburg to the Rothschilds of Paris and London and the Morgans of New York, bankers have sat in the councils of governments, financing wars and popes, and occasionally sparking a revolution. Perhaps it is one secret of their power that, having studied the fluctuations of prices, they know that history is inflationary, and that money is the last thing a wise man will hoard.
  13. The experience of the past leaves little doubt that every economic system must sooner or later rely upon some form of the profit motive to stir individuals and groups to productivity. Substitutes like slavery, police supervision, or ideological enthusiasm prove too unproductive, too expensive, or too transient.
  14. The concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial redistribution. In this view all economic history is the slow heartbeat of the social organism, a vast systole and diastole of concentrating wealth and compulsive recirculation.
  15. The fear of capitalism has compelled socialism to widen freedom, and the fear of socialism has compelled capitalism to increase equality.
  16. Alexander Pope thought that only a fool would dispute over forms of government. History has a good word to say for all of them, and for government in general. Since men love freedom, and the freedom of individuals in society requires some regulation of conduct, the first condition of freedom is its limitation; make it absolute and it dies in chaos.
  17. Since wealth is an order and procedure of production and exchange rather than an accumulation of (mostly perishable) goods, and is a trust (the “credit system”) in men and institutions rather than in the intrinsic value of paper money or checks, violent revolutions do not so much redistribute wealth as destroy it.
  18. Is democracy responsible for the current debasement of art? The debasement, of course, is not unquestioned; it is a matter of subjective judgment; and those of us who shudder at its excesses-its meaningless blotches of color, its collages of debris, its Babels of cacophony – are doubtless imprisoned in our past and dull to the courage of experiment. The producers of such nonsense are appealing not to the general public – which scorns them as lunatics, degenerates, or charlatans – but to gullible middle – class purchasers who are hypnotized by auctioneers and are thrilled by the new, however deformed.
  19. No student takes seriously the seventeenth-century notion that states arose out of a “social contract” among individuals or between the people and a ruler. Probably most states (i.e., societies politically organized) took form through the conquest of one group by another, and the establishment of a continuing force over the conquered by the conqueror; his decrees were their first laws; and these, added to the customs of the people, created a new social order.
  20. When the group or a civilization declines, it is through no mystic limitation of a corporate life, but through the failure of its political or intellectual leaders to meet the challenges of change.

will and ariel duran the lessons of history summary