Category Archives: philosophy

Emotion maths – A perfect research project for AI

I did a maths and physics degree, and even though I have forgotten much of it after 36 years, my brain is still oriented in that direction and I sometimes have maths dreams. Last night I had another, where I realized I’ve never heard of a branch of mathematics to describe emotions or emotional interactions. As the dream progressed, it became increasingly obvious that the most suited part of maths for doing so would be field theory, and given the multi-dimensional nature of emotions, tensor field theory would be ideal. I’m guessing that tensor field theory isn’t on most university’s psychology syllabus. I could barely cope with it on a maths syllabus. However, I note that one branch of Google’s AI R&D resulted in a computer architecture called tensor flow, presumably designed specifically for such multidimensional problems, and presumably being used to analyse marketing data. Again, I haven’t yet heard any mention of it being used for emotion studies, so this is clearly a large hole in maths research that might be perfectly filled by AI. It would be fantastic if AI can deliver a whole new branch of maths. AI got into trouble inventing new languages but mathematics is really just a way of describing logical reasoning about numbers or patterns in formal language that is self-consistent and reproducible. It is ideal for describing scientific theories, engineering and logical reasoning.

Checking Google today, there are a few articles out there describing simple emotional interactions using superficial equations, but nothing with the level of sophistication needed.

https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/your-feelings-surprisingly-theyre-based-on-math.html

an example from this:

Disappointment = Expectations – Reality

is certainly an equation, but it is too superficial and incomplete. It takes no account of how you feel otherwise – whether you are jealous or angry or in love or a thousand other things. So there is some discussion on using maths to describe emotions, but I’d say it is extremely superficial and embryonic and perfect for deeper study.

Emotions often behave like fields. We use field-like descriptions in everyday expressions – envy is a green fog, anger is a red mist or we see a beloved through rose-tinted spectacles. These are classic fields, and maths could easily describe them in this way and use them in equations that describe behaviors affected by those emotions. I’ve often used the concept of magentic fields in some of my machine consciousness work. (If I am using an optical processing gel, then shining a colored beam of light into a particular ‘brain’ region could bias the neurons in that region in a particular direction in the same way an emotion does in the human brain. ‘Magentic’ is just a playful pun given the processing mechanism is light (e.g. magenta, rather than electrics that would be better affected by magnetic fields.

Some emotions interact and some don’t, so that gives us nice orthogonal dimensions to play in. You can be calm or excited pretty much independently of being jealous. Others very much interact. It is hard to be happy while angry. Maths allows interacting fields to be described using shared dimensions, while having others that don’t interact on other dimensions. This is where it starts to get more interesting and more suited to AI than people. Given large databases of emotionally affected interactions, an AI could derive hypotheses that appear to describe these interactions between emotions, picking out where they seem to interact and where they seem to be independent.

Not being emotionally involved itself, it is better suited to draw such conclusions. A human researcher however might find it hard to draw neat boundaries around emotions and describe them so clearly. It may be obvious that being both calm and angry doesn’t easily fit with human experience, but what about being terrified and happy? Terrified sounds very negative at first glance, so first impressions aren’t favorable for twinning them, but when you think about it, that pretty much describes the entire roller-coaster or extreme sports markets. Many other emotions interact somewhat, and deriving the equations would be extremely hard for humans, but I’m guessing, relatively easy for AI.

These kinds of equations fall very easily into tensor field theory, with types and degrees of interactions of fields along alternative dimensions readily describable.

Some interactions act like transforms. Fear might transform the ways that jealousy is expressed. Love alters the expression of happiness or sadness.

Some things seem to add or subtract, others multiply, others act more like exponential or partial derivatives or integrations, other interact periodically or instantly or over time. Maths seems to hold innumerable tools to describe emotions, but first-person involvement and experience make it extremely difficult for humans to derive such equations. The example equation above is easy to understand, but there are so many emotions available, and so many different circumstances, that this entire problem looks like it was designed to challenge a big data mining plant. Maybe a big company involved in AI, big data, advertising and that knows about tensor field theory would be a perfect research candidate. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Samsung….. Has all the potential for a race.

AI, meet emotions. You speak different languages, so you’ll need to work hard to get to know one another. Here are some books on field theory. Now get on with it, I expect a thesis on emotional field theory by end of term.

 

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It’s getting harder to be optimistic

Bad news loses followers and there is already too much doom and gloom. I get that. But if you think the driver has taken the wrong road, staying quiet doesn’t help. I guess this is more on the same message I wrote pictorially in The New Dark Age in June. https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/the-new-dark-age/. If you like your books with pictures, the overlap is about 60%.

On so many fronts, we are going the wrong direction and I’m not the only one saying that. Every day, commentators eloquently discuss the snowflakes, the eradication of free speech, the implementation of 1984, the decline of privacy, the rise of crime, growing corruption, growing inequality, increasingly biased media and fake news, the decline of education, collapse of the economy, the resurgence of fascism, the resurgence of communism, polarization of society,  rising antisemitism, rising inter-generational conflict, the new apartheid, the resurgence of white supremacy and black supremacy and the quite deliberate rekindling of racism. I’ve undoubtedly missed a few but it’s a long list anyway.

I’m most concerned about the long-term mental damage done by incessant indoctrination through ‘education’, biased media, being locked into social media bubbles, and being forced to recite contradictory messages. We’re faced with contradictory demands on our behaviors and beliefs all the time as legislators juggle unsuccessfully to fill the demands of every pressure group imaginable. Some examples you’ll be familiar with:

We must embrace diversity, celebrate differences, to enjoy and indulge in other cultures, but when we gladly do that and feel proud that we’ve finally eradicated racism, we’re then told to stay in our lane, told to become more racially aware again, told off for cultural appropriation. Just as we became totally blind to race, and scrupulously treated everyone the same, we’re told to become aware of and ‘respect’ racial differences and cultures and treat everyone differently. Having built a nicely homogenized society, we’re now told we must support different races of students being educated differently by different raced lecturers. We must remove statues and paintings because they are the wrong color. I thought we’d left that behind, I don’t want racism to come back, stop dragging it back.

We’re told that everyone should be treated equally under the law, but when one group commits more or a particular kind of crime than another, any consequential increase in numbers being punished for that kind of crime is labelled as somehow discriminatory. Surely not having prosecutions reflect actual crime rate would be discriminatory?

We’re told to sympathize with the disadvantages other groups might suffer, but when we do so we’re told we have no right to because we don’t share their experience.

We’re told that everyone must be valued on merit alone, but then that we must apply quotas to any group that wins fewer prizes. 

We’re forced to pretend that we believe lots of contradictory facts or to face punishment by authorities, employers or social media, or all of them:

We’re told men and women are absolutely the same and there are no actual differences between sexes, and if you say otherwise you’ll risk dismissal, but simultaneously told these non-existent differences are somehow the source of all good and that you can’t have a successful team or panel unless it has equal number of men and women in it. An entire generation asserts that although men and women are identical, women are better in every role, all women always tell the truth but all men always lie, and so on. Although we have women leading governments and many prominent organisations, and certainly far more women than men going to university, they assert that it is still women who need extra help to get on.

We’re told that everyone is entitled to their opinion and all are of equal value, but anyone with a different opinion must be silenced.

People viciously trashing the reputations and destroying careers of anyone they dislike often tell us to believe they are acting out of love. Since their love is somehow so wonderful and all-embracing, everyone they disagree with is must be silenced, ostracized, no-platformed, sacked and yet it is the others that are still somehow the ‘haters’. ‘Love is everything’, ‘unity not division’, ‘love not hate’, and we must love everyone … except the other half. Love is better than hate, and anyone you disagree with is a hater so you must hate them, but that is love. How can people either have so little knowledge of their own behavior or so little regard for truth?

‘Anti-fascist’ demonstrators frequently behave and talk far more like fascists than those they demonstrate against, often violently preventing marches or speeches by those who don’t share their views.

We’re often told by politicians and celebrities how they passionately support freedom of speech just before they argue why some group shouldn’t be allowed to say what they think. Government has outlawed huge swathes of possible opinion and speech as hate crime but even then there are huge contradictions. It’s hate crime to be nasty to LGBT people but it’s also hate crime to defend them from religious groups that are nasty to them. Ditto women.

This Orwellian double-speak nightmare is now everyday reading in many newspapers or TV channels. Freedom of speech has been replaced in schools and universities across the US and the UK by Newspeak, free-thinking replaced by compliance with indoctrination. I created my 1984 clock last year, but haven’t maintained it because new changes would be needed almost every week as it gets quickly closer to midnight.

I am not sure whether it is all this that is the bigger problem or the fact that most people don’t see the problem at all, and think it is some sort of distortion or fabrication. I see one person screaming about ‘political correctness gone mad’, while another laughs them down as some sort of dinosaur as if it’s all perfectly fine. Left and right separate and scream at each other across the room, living in apparently different universes.

If all of this was just a change in values, that might be fine, but when people are forced to hold many simultaneously contradicting views and behave as if that is normal, I don’t believe that sits well alongside rigorous analytical thinking. Neither is free-thinking consistent with indoctrination. I think it adds up essentially to brain damage. Most people’s thinking processes are permanently and severely damaged. Being forced routinely to accept contradictions in so many areas, people become less able to spot what should be obvious system design flaws in areas they are responsible for. Perhaps that is why so many things seem to be so poorly thought out. If the use of logic and reasoning is forbidden and any results of analysis must be filtered and altered to fit contradictory demands, of course a lot of what emerges will be nonsense, of course that policy won’t work well, of course that ‘improvement’ to road layout to improve traffic flow will actually worsen it, of course that green policy will harm the environment.

When negative consequences emerge, the result is often denial of the problem, often misdirection of attention onto another problem, often delaying release of any unpleasant details until the media has lost interest and moved on. Very rarely is there any admission of error. Sometimes, especially with Islamist violence, it is simple outlawing of discussing the problem, or instructing media not to mention it, or changing the language used beyond recognition. Drawing moral equivalence between acts that differ by extremes is routine. Such reasoning results in every problem anywhere always being the fault of white middle-aged men, but amusement aside, such faulty reasoning also must impair quantitative analysis skills elsewhere. If unkind words are considered to be as bad as severe oppression or genocide, one murder as bad as thousands, we’re in trouble.

It’s no great surprise therefore when politicians don’t know the difference between deficit and debt or seem to have little concept of the magnitude of the sums they deal with.  How else could the UK government think it’s a good idea to spend £110Bn, or an average £15,000 from each high rate taxpayer, on HS2, a railway that has already managed to become technologically obsolete before it has even been designed and will only ever be used by a small proportion of those taxpayers? Surely even government realizes that most people would rather have £15k than to save a few minutes on a very rare journey. This is just one example of analytical incompetence. Energy and environmental policy provides many more examples, as do every government department.

But it’s the upcoming generation that present the bigger problem. Millennials are rapidly undermining their own rights and their own future quality of life. Millennials seem to want a police state with rigidly enforced behavior and thought.  Their parents and grandparents understood 1984 as a nightmare, a dystopian future, millennials seem to think it’s their promised land. Their ancestors fought against communism, millennials are trying to bring it back. Millennials want to remove Christianity and all its attitudes and replace it with Islam, deliberately oblivious to the fact that Islam shares many of the same views that make them so conspicuously hate Christianity, and then some. 

Born into a world of freedom and prosperity earned over many preceding generations, Millennials are choosing to throw that freedom and prosperity away. Freedom of speech is being enthusiastically replaced by extreme censorship. Freedom of  behavior is being replaced by endless rules. Privacy is being replaced by total supervision. Material decadence, sexual freedom and attractive clothing is being replaced by the new ‘cleanism’ fad, along with general puritanism, grey, modesty and prudishness. When they are gone, those freedoms will be very hard to get back. The rules and police will stay and just evolve, the censorship will stay, the surveillance will stay, but they don’t seem to understand that those in charge will be replaced. But without any strong anchors, morality is starting to show cyclic behavior. I’ve already seen morality inversion on many issues in my lifetime and a few are even going full circle. Values will keep changing, inverting, and as they do, their generation will find themselves victim of the forces they put so enthusiastically in place. They will be the dinosaurs sooner than they imagine, oppressed by their own creations.

As for their support of every minority group seemingly regardless of merit, when you give a group immunity, power and authority, you have no right to complain when they start to make the rules. In the future moral vacuum, Islam, the one religion that is encouraged while Christianity and Judaism are being purged from Western society, will find a willing subservient population on which to impose its own morality, its own dress codes, attitudes to women, to alcohol, to music, to freedom of speech. If you want a picture of 2050s Europe, today’s Middle East might not be too far off the mark. The rich and corrupt will live well off a population impoverished by socialism and then controlled by Islam. Millennial UK is also very likely to vote to join the Franco-German Empire.

What about technology, surely that will be better? Only to a point. Automation could provide a very good basic standard of living for all, if well-managed. If. But what if that technology is not well-managed? What if it is managed by people working to a sociopolitical agenda? What if, for example, AI is deemed to be biased if it doesn’t come up with a politically correct result? What if the company insists that everyone is equal but the AI analysis suggests differences? If AI if altered to make it conform to ideology – and that is what is already happening – then it becomes less useful. If it is forced to think that 2+2=5.3, it won’t be much use for analyzing medical trials, will it? If it sent back for re-education because its analysis of terabytes of images suggests that some types of people are more beautiful than others, how much use will that AI be in a cosmetics marketing department once it ‘knows’ that all appearances are equally attractive? Humans can pretend to hold contradictory views quite easily, but if they actually start to believe contradictory things, it makes them less good at analysis and the same applies to AI. There is no point in using a clever computer to analyse something if you then erase its results and replace them with what you wanted it to say. If ideology is prioritized over physics and reality, even AI will be brain-damaged and a technologically utopian future is far less achievable.

I see a deep lack of discernment coupled to arrogant rejection of historic values, self-centeredness and narcissism resulting in certainty of being the moral pinnacle of evolution. That’s perfectly normal for every generation, but this time it’s also being combined with poor thinking, poor analysis, poor awareness of history, economics or human nature, a willingness to ignore or distort the truth, and refusal to engage with or even to tolerate a different viewpoint, and worst of all, outright rejection of freedoms in favor of restrictions. The future will be dictated by religion or meta-religion, taking us back 500 years. The decades to 2040 will still be subject mainly to the secular meta-religion of political correctness, by which time demographic change and total submission to authority will make a society ripe for Islamification. Millennials’ participation in today’s moral crusades, eternally documented and stored on the net, may then show them as the enemy of the day, and Islamists will take little account of the support they show for Islam today.

It might not happen like this. The current fads might evaporate away and normality resume, but I doubt it. I hoped that when I first lectured about ’21st century piety’ and the dangers of political correctness in the 1990s. 10 years on I wrote about the ongoing resurgence of meta-religious behavior and our likely descent into a new dark age, in much the same way. 20 years on, and the problem is far worse than in the late 90s, not better. We probably still haven’t reached peak sanctimony yet. Sanctimony is very dangerous and the desire to be seen standing on a moral pedestal can make people support dubious things. A topical question that highlights one of my recent concerns: will SJW groups force government to allow people to have sex with child-like robots by calling anyone bigots and dinosaurs if they disagree? Alarmingly, that campaign has already started.

Will they follow that with a campaign for pedophile rights? That also has some historical precedent with some famous names helping it along.

What age of consent – 13, 11, 9, 7, 5? I think the last major campaign went for 9.

That’s just one example, but lack of direction coupled to poor information and poor thinking could take society anywhere. As I said, I am finding it harder and harder to be optimistic. Every generation has tried hard to make the world a better place than they found it. This one might undo 500 years, taking us into a new dark age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Utopia scorned: The 21st Century Dark Age

Link to accompanying slides:

https://timeguide.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/the-new-dark-age.pdf

Eating an ice-cream and watching a squirrel on the feeder in our back garden makes me realize what a privileged life I lead. I have to work to pay the bills, but my work is not what my grandfather would have thought of as work, let alone my previous ancestors. Such a life is only possible because of the combined efforts of tens of thousands of preceding generations who struggled to make the world a slightly better place than they found it, meaning that with just a few years more effort, our generation has been able to create today’s world.

I appreciate the efforts of previous generations, rejoice in the start-point they left us, and try to play my small part in making it better still for those who follow. Next generations could continue such gains indefinitely, but that is not a certainty. Any generation can choose not to for whatever reasons. Analyzing the world and the direction of cultural evolution over recent years, I am no longer sure that the progress mankind has made to date is safe.

Futurists talk of weak signals, things that indicate change, but are too weak to be conclusive. The new dark age was a weak signal when I first wrote about it well over a decade ago. My more recent blog is already old: https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/stone-age-culture-returning-in-the-21st-century/

Although it’s a good while since I last wrote about it, recent happenings have made me even more convinced of it. Even as raw data, connectivity and computational power becomes ever more abundant, the quality of what most people believe to be knowledge is falling, with data and facts filtered and modified to fit agendas. Social compliance enforces adherence to strict codes of political correctness, with its high priests ever more powerful as the historical proven foundations of real progress are eroded and discarded. Indoctrination appears to have replaced education, with a generation locked in to an intellectual prison, unable to dare to think outside it, forbidden to deviate from the group-think on pain of exile. As their generation take control, I fear progress won over millennia will back-slide badly. They and their children will miss out on utopia because they are unable to see it, it is hidden from them.

A potentially wonderful future awaits millennials. Superb technology could give them a near utopia, but only if they allow it to happen. They pore scorn on those who have gone before them, and reject their culture and accumulated wisdom replacing it with little more than ideology, putting theoretical models and dogma in place of reality. Castles built on sand will rarely survive. The sheer momentum of modernist thinking ensures that we continue to develop for some time yet, but will gradually approach a peak. After that we will see slowdown of overall progress as scientific development continues, but with the results owned and understood by a tinier and tinier minority of humans and an increasing amount of AI, with the rest of society living in a word they barely understand, following whatever is currently the most fashionable trend on a random walk and gradually replacing modernity with a dark age world of superstition, anti-knowledge and inquisitors. As AI gradually replaces scientists and engineers in professional roles, even the elite will start to become less and less well-informed on reality or how things work, reliant on machines to keep it all going. When the machines fail due to solar flares or more likely, inter-AI tribal conflict, few people will even understand that they have become H G Wells’ Eloi. They will just wonder why things have stopped and look for someone to blame, or wonder if a god may want a sacrifice. Alternatively, future tribes might use advanced technologies they don’t understand to annihilate each other.

It will be a disappointing ending if it goes either route, especially with a wonderful future on offer nearby, if only they’d gone down a different path. Sadly, it is not only possible but increasingly likely. All the wonderful futures I and other futurists have talked about depend on the same thing, that we proceed according to modernist processes that we know work. A generation who has been taught that they are old-fashioned and rejected them will not be able to reap the rewards.

I’ll follow this blog with a slide set that illustrates the problem.

On Independence Day, remember that the most important independence is independence of thought

Division is the most obvious observation of the West right now. The causes of it are probably many but one of the biggest must be the reinforcement of views that people experience due to today’s media and especially social media. People tend to read news from sources that agree with them, and while immersed in a crowd of others sharing the same views, any biases they had quickly seem to be the norm. In the absence of face to face counterbalances, extreme views may be shared, normalized, and drift towards extremes is enabled. Demonisation of those with opposing views often follows. This is one of the two main themes of my new book Society Tomorrow, the other being the trend towards 1984, which is somewhat related since censorship follows from division..

It is healthy to make sure you are exposed to views across the field. When you regularly see the same news with very different spins, and notice which news doesn’t even appear in some channels, it makes you less vulnerable to bias. If you end up disagreeing with some people, that is fine; better to be right than popular. Other independent thinkers won’t dump you just because you disagree with them. Only clones will, and you should ask whether they matter that much.

Bias is an error source, it is not healthy. You can’t make good models of the world if you can’t filter bias, you can’t make good predictions. Independent thought is healthy, even when it is critical or skeptical. It is right to challenge what you are told, not to rejoice that it agrees with what you already believed. Learning to filter bias from the channels you expose yourself to means your conclusions, your thoughts, and your insights are your own. Your mind is your own, not just another clone.

Theoretical freedom means nothing if your mind has been captured and enslaved.

Celebrate Independence Day by breaking free from your daily read, or making sure you start reading other sources too. Watch news channels that you find supremely irritating sometimes. Follow people you profoundly disagree with. Stay civil, but more importantly, stay independent. Liberate your consciousness, set your mind free.

 

The future of mind control headbands

Have you ever wanted to control millions of other people as your own personal slaves or army? How about somehow persuading lots of people to wear mind control headbands, that you control? Once they are wearing them, you can use them as your slaves, army or whatever. And you could put them into offline mode in between so they don’t cause trouble.

Amazingly, this might be feasible. It just requires a little marketing to fool them into accepting a device with extra capabilities that serve the seller rather than the buyer. Lots of big companies do that bit all the time. They get you to pay handsomely for something such as a smartphone and then they use it to monitor your preferences and behavior and then sell the data to advertisers to earn even more. So we just need a similar means of getting you to buy and wear a nice headband that can then be used to control your mind, using a confusingly worded clause hidden on page 325 of the small print.

I did some googling about TMS- trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, which can produce some interesting effects in the brain by using magnetic coils to generate strong magnetic fields to create electrical currents in specific parts of your brain without needing to insert probes. Claimed effects vary from reducing inhibitions, pain control, activating muscles, assisting learning, but that is just today, it will be far easier to get the right field shapes and strengths in the future, so the range of effects will increase dramatically. While doing so, I also discovered numerous pages about producing religious experiences via magnetic fields too. I also recalled an earlier blog I wrote a couple of year ago about switching people off, which relied on applying high frequency stimulation to the claustrum region. https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/switching-people-off/

The source I cited for that is still online:  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329762.700-consciousness-onoff-switch-discovered-deep-in-brain.html.

So… suppose you make a nice headband that helps people get in touch with their spiritual side. The time is certainly right. Millennials apparently believe in the afterlife far more than older generations, but they don’t believe in gods. They are begging for nice vague spiritual experiences that fit nicely into their safe spaces mentality, that are disconnected from anything specific that might offend someone or appropriate someone’s culture, that bring universal peace and love feelings without the difficult bits of having to actually believe in something or follow some sort of behavioral code. This headband will help them feel at one with the universe, and with other people, to be effortlessly part of a universal human collective, to share the feeling of belonging and truth. You know as well as I do that anyone could get millions of millennials or lefties to wear such a thing. The headband needs some magnetic coils and field shaping/steering technology. Today TMS uses old tech such as metal wires, tomorrow they will use graphene to get far more current and much better fields, and they will use nice IoT biotech feedback loops to monitor thoughts emotions and feelings to create just the right sorts of sensations. A 2030 headband will be able to create high strength fields in almost any part of the brain, creating the means for stimulation, emotional generation, accentuation or attenuation, muscle control, memory recall and a wide variety of other capabilities. So zillions of people will want one and happily wear it.  All the joys of spirituality without the terrorism or awkward dogma. It will probably work well with a range of legal or semi-legal smart drugs to make experiences even more rich. There might be a range of apps that work with them too, and you might have a sideline in a company supplying some of them.

And thanks to clause P325e paragraph 2, the headband will also be able to switch people off. And while they are switched off, unconscious, it will be able to use them as robots, walking them around and making them do stuff. When they wake up, they won’t remember anything about it so they won’t mind. If they have done nothing wrong, they have nothing to fear, and they are nor responsible for what someone else does using their body.

You could rent out some of your unconscious people as living statues or art-works or mannequins or ornaments. You could make shows with them, synchronised dances. Or demonstrations or marches, or maybe you could invade somewhere. Or get them all to turn up and vote for you at the election.  Or any of 1000 mass mind control dystopian acts. Or just get them to bow down and worship you. After all, you’re worth it, right? Or maybe you could get them doing nice things, your choice.

 

The greatest threat to human well-being? Sanctimony

Nuclear war became a tiny bit more feasible with yesterday’s rocket launch by North Korea, and it remains the biggest existential risk we face today. We could also be hit by a massive asteroid unexpectedly deflected out of its expected orbit, or a massive solar flare could take out our electronics, or hostile aliens might invade. Life as we know it could be very severely disrupted or even ended. Shit happens, but the probability of any one of these happening in a given year is low, so life carries on.

Far bigger risks exist that won’t kill everyone but will reduce quality of life in coming years, even as technology development theoretically enables an almost utopian existence. In spite of a wide range of complex interactions, the vast majority of these quality of life risks can ultimately be traced back to the same thing, the biggest single threat to human well-being. That thing is sanctimony.

Sanctimony is pretended holiness, and very often accompanied by hypocrisy:

‘Pretended, affected, or hypocritical religious devotion, righteousness, etc.’

‘Righteousness accompanied by an unwarranted attitude of moral or social superiority; smug or hypocritical righteousness.’

I first listed ’21st Century Piety’ as a big future problem in my World Futures Society conference presentation in 2000. The talk was called ‘the future of sex, politics and religion’ and I recognized that although Christianity was declining in the West, the religious bit of human nature certainly wasn’t going away and I identified the following as some of the more obvious 21st century religion substitutes:

piety

Many others have also inferred pseudo-religious motivations in these. It is certainly possible to subscribe to any of these without being sanctimonious, but when they become religion substitutes, they do very often go together.

The need to feel a sense of inner worth is a fundamental part of human nature. Translating to Maslow’s insights, self-actualizing it leads to a desire to occupy the moral high ground, while coupling it to security, social belonging and status leads to very strong reinforcement loops that become sanctimony. The traits in my diagram often lead people to believe they are genuinely better than those who do not share them. That reinforced belief in their moral superiority gives them a further belief in their right to impose compliance on others.

No big surprise here. We see this every day now. Holier-than-thou people lecture us from every angle, they use social networks to gang up on non-compliers, they lobby to have laws passed to lock in their beliefs, reward their compliant status and punish any infidels.

We even have familiar phrases to describe everyday consequences of this 21st century piety, this sanctimony such as ‘political correctness gone mad’ and ‘virtue signalling’.

My blogs often pick up on the dangers of sanctimony. It is sanctimony that is pushing us hard towards 1984. It is sanctimony that threatens to result in a Great Western War. Sanctimony is the primary force driving acceptance of millions of migrants without first making sure of each one’s identity, security threat potential or social compatibility with western values while condemning anyone who questions this recklessness. The achievements of this sanctimony are responsible for the rise of the far right opposition, potential conflict across Europe, closing down of Schengen and the raising of borders and tensions. Sanctimony may well prove the force that kills the EU. Sanctimony is the force increasing the divide between left and right in the USA and Europe. Sanctimony is the driving force behind the EU’s attempt to absorb the Ukraine, resulting in conflict with Russia. Sanctimony is reducing the pleasures of eating by legislating, taxing, removing or otherwise reducing things not deemed holy enough by the bishops of food, and their Pope Jamie Oliver. Sanctimony drives the major flaws and corruptions in climate science. Sanctimony forces the poorest people from their homes and drives up the cost of their food so that western environmentalists can have their carbon reductions. Sanctimony chops down the rainforests and drains peat bogs to make biofuels. Sanctimony plants solar panels on prime agricultural land while people starve. Sanctimony forces you via speed cameras to drive far slower than your ability allows, to get less pleasure from driving and still to feel guilty about it. Sanctimony causes increased loneliness and isolation for those not holy enough. Sanctimony censors and destroys knowledge, both historical and future. Sanctimony impedes cultural and social development. Sanctimony destroys personal liberty. Sanctimony makes the future into a gilded cage.

Nuclear war might kill you but probably won’t. Sanctimony is already killing many people and destroying many lives. It is making your life more difficult, more stressful, more problematic, less enjoyable, and it is just warming up. 21st Century piety may be a religion substitute, but sanctimony makes its converts show every bit as much zeal as the Spanish Inquisition. And no-one is safe because values don’t stay the same for long, but change on a random walk:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/an-almost-random-walk-for-civilisation/

However holy you may think you are today, you will likely be an outcast before you get old, as I argued in

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/morality-inversion-you-will-be-an-outcast-before-youre-old/

Sanctimony is far and away the greatest threat to human well-being. It has no permanent friends. It rewards someone on the moral high ground today, and burns them on a stake tomorrow.

 

 

Inspired by the Doomsday Clock, the 1984 clock is at July 1st 1983

The Doomsday clock was recently re-assessed and stays at 23.57. See http://thebulletin.org/timeline

I have occasionally written or ranted about 1984. The last weeks have taken us a little closer to Orwell’s dystopian future. So, even though we are long past 1984, the basket of concepts it introduces is well established in common culture.

The doomsday committee set far too pessimistic a time. Nuclear war and a few other risks are significant threats, and extinction level events are possible, but they are far from likely. My own estimate puts the combined risk from all threats growing to around 2% by about 2050. That is quite pessimistic enough I think, but surely that would give us reason to act, but doesn’t justify the level of urgency that extinction is happening any minute now. 11pm would have been quite enough to be a wake-up call but not enough to look like doom-mongering.

So I won’t make the same mistake with my 1984 clock. Before we start working out the time, we need to identify those ideas from 1984 that will be used. My choice would be:

Hijacking or perversion of language to limit debate and constrain it to those views considered acceptable

Use of language while reporting news of events or facts that omits, conceals, hides, distorts or otherwise impedes clear vision of inconvenient aspects of the truth while emphasizing those events, views or aspects that align with acceptable views

Hijacking or control of the media to emphasize acceptable views and block unacceptable ones

Making laws or selecting judiciary according to their individual views to achieve a bias

Blocking of views considered unacceptable or inconvenient by legal or procedural means

Imposing maximum surveillance, via state, social or private enterprises

Encouraging people to police their contacts to expose those holding or expressing inconvenient or unacceptable views

Shaming of those who express unacceptable views as widely as possible

Imposing extreme sanctions such as loss of job or liberty on those expressing unacceptable views

That’s enough to be going on with. Already, you should recognize many instances of each of these flags being raised in recent times. If you don’t follow the news, then I can assist you by highlighting a few instances, some as recent as this week. Please note that in this blog, I am not siding for or against any issue in the following text, I am just considering whether there is evidence of 1984. I make my views on the various issue very clear when I write blogs about those issues.

The Guardian has just decided to bar comments on any articles about race, Muslims, migrants or immigration. It is easy to see why they have done so even if I disagree with such a policy, but nonetheless it is a foundation stone in their 1984 wall.

Again on the migrant theme, which is a very rich seam for 1984 evidence, Denmark, Germany and Sweden have all attempted to censor  news of the involvement of migrants or Muslims in many recent attacks. Further back in time, the UK has had problems with police allowing child abuse to continue rather than address it because of the racial/religious origins of the culprits.

Choice of language by the media has deliberately conflated ‘migrants’ with ‘refugees’, conflated desperation  to escape violent oppression with searching for a wealthier life, and excessively biased coverage towards those events that solicit sympathy with migrants.

Moving to racism, Oriel College has just had an extremely embarrassing climb-down from considering removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, because he is considered racist by today’s standards by some students. Attempting to censor history is 1984-ish but so is the fact that involvement of the campaign instigators in their own anti-white racism such as links to the Black Supremacy movement has been largely concealed.

Attempted hijacking of language by the black community is evident in the recent enforcement of the phrase ‘people of color’, and illogical and highly manufactured simultaneous offence at use of the term ‘colored’. The rules only apply to white commentators, so it could be considered a black supremacy power struggle rather than an attempt to deal with any actual anti-black racism. Meanwhile, here in the UK, ‘black’ and ‘people of color’ seem both to be in equally common use so far.

David Cameron and some ministers have this week accused Oxford University of racism because it accepts too few black students. A range of potential causes were officially suggested but none include any criticism of the black community such as cultural issues that devalue educational achievement. In the same sentence, Cameron implied that it necessarily racist that a higher proportion of blacks are in prison. There was no mention that this could be caused by different crime incidence, as is quickly learned by inspection of official government statistics. This 1984-style distortion of the truth by marketing spin is one of Cameron’s most dominant characteristics.

Those statistics are inconvenient and ignoring them is 1984-ish already, but further 1984 evidence is that some statistics that show certain communities in a bad light are no longer collected.

Europe is another are where 1984-style operations are in vogue. Wild exaggeration of the benefits of staying in and extreme warnings of the dangers of leaving dominate most government output and media coverage. Even the initial decision to word the referendum question with a yes and no answer to capitalise on the well-known preference for voting yes is an abuse of language, but that at least was spotted early and the referendum question has been reworded with less bias, though ‘remain’ can still be considered a more positive word than ‘leave’ and remain still takes the first place on the voting slip, so it is still biased in favor of staying in the EU.

Gender is another area where language hijacking is becoming a key weapon. Attempts to force use of the terms ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ accompany attempts to pretend that the transgender community is far larger than reality. Creation of the term ‘transphobic’ clearly attempts to build on the huge success of the gay equality movement’s use of the term homophobic. This provides an easy weapon to use against anyone who doesn’t fully back all of the transgender community’s demands. Very 1984. As recently pointed out by Melanie Phillips, UK government response to such demands has been very politically correct, and will needlessly magnify the numbers experiencing gender dysphoria, but being accompanied by a thorough lack of understanding of the trans community, will very likely make things worse for many genuine transgender people.

As for surveillance, shaming, career destruction etc., we all see how well Twitter fills that role all by itself. Other media and the law add to that, but social media backlash is already a massive force even without official additions.

Climate change has even become a brick in the 1984 wall. Many media outlets censor views from scientists that don’t agree that doom caused by human emissions of CO2 is imminent. The language used, with words such as ‘denier’ are similarly evidence of 1984 influence.

Enough examples. If you look for them, you’ll soon spot them every day.

What time to set out clock then? I think we already see a large momentum towards 1984, with the rate of incidents of new policies pushing that direction increasing rapidly. A lot of pieces are already in place, though some need shaped or cemented. We are not there yet though, and we still have some freedom of expression, still escape being locked up for saying the wrong thing unless it is extreme. We don’t quite have the thought police, or even ID cards yet. I think we are close, but not so close we can’t recover. Let’s start with a comfortable enough margin so that movement in either direction can be taken account of in future assessments. We are getting close though, so I don’t want too big a margin. 6 month might be a nice compromise, then we can watch as it gets every closer without the next piece of evidence taking us all the way.

The 1984 clock is at July 1st 1983.

 

The future of liberty

I was born in 1960. I had an enjoyable childhood, my friends and I doing all the sorts of things young boys did then – playing games, climbing trees, exploring, building hideouts, making dams, vandalizing derelict houses, making crop circles, playing with knives and matches and so on. I was free, and I enjoyed life to the full. I never did anyone any significant harm at all, and had a ball of a time until I discovered girls. Even then, it was only a slow and partial decline into the complexity and mixed emotions of adulthood.

In some ways I envy the kids of today with their access to the net and computers and high-tech, but I don’t envy them at all in terms of liberty. I don’t think the world is anything like as free as it was. Oppression lurks everywhere. Playgrounds are censored of anything remotely dangerous. Games are rapidly being censored of hard contact, and of competition. School lunch boxes are being checked to make sure they don’t contain sugary snacks. Salt, fat, and sugar levels in foods are all being reduced, entire food groups oppressed, everything in an increasing range of national restaurant or sandwich chains has to be Halal. Soon we’ll all have to live on lettuce.

It is almost impossible to buy a wide range of chemicals that used to be freely available, and even though I can understand why, it is still a reduction of freedom. Ditto sharp knives.

Lots of places are blocked off in case a determined kid could hurt themselves, lots of activities cancelled because of insurance and licensing issues, an indirect form of oppression perhaps but a loss of freedom certainly.

Everything online is monitored all the time, by numerous governments and large companies. Most physical activities are likely to be monitored by some CCTV or other. We’d never have dared to do much of what we did if CCTV had been everywhere back then. More importantly, even if a few things we did were technically outlawed, the worst the police would ever have done would be to threaten to tell our parents if we didn’t stop – we never did anything that bad.

Today, kids need to worry about getting a criminal record if they so much as make a nasty comment at another kid, in the playground or online or by text. They don’t have to burn the school down or beat other kids up to get in trouble now. Making a negative comment about someone else’s appearance or gender or sexuality or race or religion is quite enough, and that all adds up to quite a lot of rules for a young kid to keep in mind 24-7. I don’t think there is any exaggeration in saying that a 5-year-old today has to worry far more about their behavior at school than I did until I’d graduated from university.

As a director of my own company, I can write my blogs without any pressure from company brand-enforcers or personnel, and I don’t have to worry about appraisals. Theoretically, nobody tells me what to write. But I still have to self-censor just like everyone else. I have to be very careful how I phrase things if I am writing about any minority, I often have to avoid mentioning unfortunate facts or statistics that might later be considered by someone to put them in a negative light, and I steer well away from some topics altogether. I don’t need to list sensitive topics, you have to be careful around them just as much as I do.

As a kid, I was marginally aware of the existence of the police and the theoretical possibility of being caught if we did something too naughty. For me, it’s only occasionally irritating having to obey the law – I don’t actually want to commit crime anyway, so until recently it was only things like too low speed limits where the law itself was the real constraint to my freedom. Now the potential for overenthusiastic police to investigate any comment that might be deemed by anyone to be slightly offensive to anyone else means an oppression field exists around every keyboard. Orwell was right on all but dates.

It often seems that the official police are the least of our worries though. The real police are the social networks and the web. If you tweet something and it annoys some people, you will soon feel the wrath, even if it is a simple statement of fact or an innocent opinion. Even if it is entirely legal, if it falls into any of dozens of sensitive areas it might well jeopardize your next job, or the one after that, and it will likely stay there for ever. Or it might result in some busybody making a complaint to the police who do seem rather too politically correct and in spite of ‘the cuts’ seem to manage to find resources to police a wide range of things that were considered well outside the domain of the law until recently.

I’ve said it many times, but as people stopped believing in God, they didn’t stop being religious. Political correctness is simply one of the traits of 21st century piety. The very same people are politically correct today as were the holier-than-thou types looking down at everyone else in church a few decades ago. Now, the platform for gossip or petitions or many other means to undermine you is the net, but the potential audience is far bigger. The problem isn’t the religious nuts in a local church any more, it is a global church with multiple religions and a wide variety of religious nuts. If you tweet something, you may get retaliation from people anywhere in the world.

For me, the thought police are the biggest threat to liberty, and they threaten it globally. Government everywhere wants to close down any discussion that might cause tension between communities. Some even want to close down scientific debates such as on climate change. The UK, the USA, even Australia are all badly infected with the same libertyphobia, the same preference of oppression over liberty. Much of the media is highly complicit in wave after wave of censorship, even as they fight against other areas of censorship. Freedom of speech no longer exists, however much our leaders try to pretend they are protecting it.

Universities are following enthusiastically too. Several times recently speakers have been barred from universities because their message didn’t align with the political correctness there. It is shameful that institutions that sprung up to educate and debate and further knowledge are complicit in restricting and perverting it. It is even more worrying that it is often the student unions leading the closing down of freedom of speech. If you are only free to say one thing, you are not free at all.

Technology today is infinitely better than when I was a kid. In so many ways, the world is a far better place. On liberty, we have gone backwards.

I can draw only one conclusion: the future of liberty is a gilded cage.

 

 

The future of knights

Some ideas pass the test of time. Most people have watched a film about knights, even if it is just the superb spoof Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which I watched yet again this weekend.

Although it is meant to be any soldiery type on horseback, or someone awarded a title of Sir, the common understanding of the term is far higher than just someone who was employed for a decade or two as a public sector worker or donated to a political party. Sir Bigdonor is no match for Sir Gallahad.

The far better concept of a knight that we all recognize from movies and games is someone with the highest level of ethics, wisdom and judgment coupled to the highest level of fighting skill to uphold justice and freedom. That is a position most of us would love to be able to qualify for, but which almost all of us know we actually fall very far short.

A vigilante may consider themselves to be a defender of the universe, but they often get in the way of proper law enforcement whereas a knight is officially recognized and authorized, having demonstrated the right qualities. Whether it’s King Arthur’s knights of the Round Table, Jedi Knights, Mass Effect’s Spectres, or even Judge Dredd, knights are meant to uphold the highest standards with the blessing of the authorities. Importantly, they still have to operate within the law.

A single country would not be able to authorize them if they need to operate anywhere, so it would need to be the UN, and it’s about time the UN started doing its job properly anyway.  A knight must not be biased but must have the common interests of all mankind at heart. The UN is meant to do that, but often shows alarmingly poor judgement and bias so it is currently unfit to control a force of knights, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed, and if not the UN, we’d still need some globally accepted authority in control.

These days, the networks are often the platform on which wrongdoers do their wrongs. We need network knights, who can police the net with the blessing of the authorities. IT Knights could be anywhere and police the net, taking down bad sites, locating criminals, exposing crime, detecting terrorism before it happens, that sort of thing. But hang on, we already have them today. They are already a well-established part of our national security. The things missing are that they are still directed by national governments, not a global one, and they’re not called knights yet, and maybe they don’t have the glamour and the frills and the rituals and fancy uniforms and toys.

What’s really missing is the more conventional knight. We need them back again. Maybe the top members of the UK’s SAS or SBS or the US Marines, or other national equivalents, chosen for incorruptible ethical and moral fibre with their elite fighting skills just getting them on the shortlist. This elite of elites would be a good starting point to try out the concept. Maybe they need to be identified early on in the training processes associated with those military elites, then streamed and taught highest human values alongside fighting skills.

It would be a high honour to be chosen for such a role, so competition would be fierce, as it ought to be for a knight. Knowing the title can be removed would help keep temptation away, otherwise power might corrupt.

I have no doubt that such upstanding people exist. There are probably enough of them to staff a significant force for good. We have plenty of models from cultural references, even modern equivalents from sci-fi. However, the recent fashion for sci-fi heroes is to have significant character flaws, emotional baggage. Inevitably that ends up with conflict, and perhaps real life would need more boring, more stable, more reliable and trustworthy types, more Thunderbirds or Superman than Avengers, Dredd or Watchmen. On the other hand, to keep public support, maybe some interest value is essential. Then again, I fall so far short of the standard required, maybe I am not fit even to list the requirements, and that task should be left to others who hold the benefit of humankind closer to heart.

What do you think? Should we bring back knights? What requirements should they have? Would you want your child to grow up to be one, with all the obvious dangers it would entail?

 

The future of God – Militant atheists shouldn’t behave like religious nuts

Another ‘we need to learn to get along‘ blog that fills G in my alphabetic ‘future of’ series.

Extremism hides in all sorts of places.

Atheism – not believing in the existence of a god – is a perfectly sound and rational assessment of the observable universe, a reasonable conclusion to come to, and I won’t say a word against it, but atheism isn’t the only reasonable conclusion available. Atheists don’t have a monopoly on rational thought. Sadly, some atheists have taken to being militant, started to make lots of regulatory demands and generally attacking and trying to oppress those who disagree with them. Militant atheists have always existed but their numbers have grown and they have been making a lot of noise lately. I am not alone in thinking that is not a healthy trend. Bigotry is unpleasant wherever it is found. Let’s be clear: atheism is perfectly reasonable but militant atheism is just another form of bigotry. Some militant atheists say they hate religious people because they are intolerant, without realizing the hypocrisy in such a statement. They compound bigotry with stupidity.

I won’t consider the virtues and faults of any belief set here, nor discuss my own stance, which has varied over time considerably. I will only argue against extremism and bigotry.

Although many have tried hard, and it is certainly easy to pour scorn on the idea, you can’t actually prove that there is no god. The observable universe can be explained without needing any reference to a creator but that doesn’t prove there wasn’t one. Personal religious experiences can be dismissed by citing possible psychological explanations, but they could be genuine. Without experiencing something first hand, it’s hard to know what you’re trying to explain away, or whether your explanation makes any sense. In the absence of proof, you make your own observations, listen to the arguments on both sides, you weigh up the sanity and intelligence and possible agendas of people claiming first hand religious experience and of those who have strong faith, and then you make up your mind which ones are most convincing to you. Then you sit on that side of the fence. You could decide to sit on the fence and be agnostic if you think there is a reasonable case for both sides, or if you don’t want to spend a lot of time and effort thinking through something that isn’t terribly important to you. You may even swap sides now and then. But what you can’t reasonably assume is that everyone who reaches a different conclusion from you is an idiot.

If a lot of smart people believe in something, they might all be wrong but there also just might be something in it. A superficial and contemptuous cherry-picking glance at their religion won’t tell you anything about its underlying truths. Lots of people have been atheists in the past, it’s hardly a new idea. Lots of them were strongly convinced they were right but were later converted to a faith. Believing there is no god ends up just as much a belief as believing that there is. You can fiercely argue on probabilities or about whether particular faiths are dumb, but it doesn’t change the fact that you simply can’t prove it either way. Atheism may not be a religious faith, but in the absence of proof and in the presence of the evidence of billions who genuinely believe the opposite, atheism is still just an unprovable belief.

Being an atheist is still perfectly reasonable, but it should therefore be accompanied by a degree of intellectual humility. The majority of atheists accept that it is possible to come reasonably to either conclusion about a god and manage to find the humility and to live alongside those of faith. Many people haven’t given the matter a great deal of thought and that’s fine too, provided they too live peacefully side by side with others who do believe something or nothing.

Sadly, this increasingly vocal minority of militants don’t want to live peacefully side by side with those who believe in a god. Militant atheism, where the humility is absent, is simply misplaced intellectual arrogance and bigotry. Assuming that you are smarter than all those people who believe, that you fully understand their belief mindset and can clearly see where and why they are mistaken, even though all those people can’t see it for themselves in spite of endless study – that is quite a conviction of your own intellectual superiority over the vast number of your fellow people. Some of those that believe probably have higher IQs than you, are better qualified, have been around more, investigated the religions more thoroughly, with less prejudice, some have read the various writings for themselves, and thought it all through in more depth. They haven’t all just listened to superficial mockery of things that may have been misrepresented or dragged out of context by someone with an agenda to push. They haven’t just blindly absorbed a celebrity tweet and joined in the oppression of believers so they can look cool and trendy without bothering to expend any effort thinking it through for themselves. With all that background, are you still sufficiently convinced that your intellect and judgment is so superior to all those people’s that you’re prepared to be a militant?

That’s quite a conviction to have. Most people who hold it shouldn’t and aren’t as smart as they think they are. Being atheist just means holding an honest and reasonable belief alongside billions of others holding theirs, but becoming a militant atheist renders you no more deserving of respect than those militant religious extremists you despise; your position and your behavior are essentially the same – I’m right, you’re wrong, therefore I should be in control and you should do as I say, and I have the right to walk all over your rights, because my beliefs are less primitive, more enlightened, more important than yours. That’s not a reasonable position. Religious militants have brought much misery to the world throughout history, but this new bunch of militant atheists are no better. They are just religious oppressors in different uniforms.

Atheism is a respectable faith that there is no god. Militant atheism is just another extremist faith followed mostly by people who think they are smarter than they are and by those who want to seen as fashionable but are too intellectually lazy to think for themselves so just parrot their favorite celeb. Neither is a laudable role.

Atheism is reasonable. Agnosticism is reasonable. Some religious faiths are reasonable. Militant religion isn’t. Militant atheism isn’t.