Thursday, June 30, 2011

Globalization and Diversity

It’s no secret that globalization is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing for many areas from an economic perspective, both “First World” ones and up-and-coming powerhouse nations. On one hand, the collapse of Communism as a credible ideology and protectionism as a credible way to create home-grown prosperity opened up vast swaths of the globe to opportunities that simply did not exist even a quarter of a century ago (aside from the odd North Korea and similar such isolated nations). As if to drive this point home on cue, the rise of the Internet pretty much coincided with the breakdown of government-imposed controls of all sorts - including (perhaps especially) communications barriers, both regulatory and structural ones. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that one event came about to support the other (but I do know the practically simutaneous collapse of governmental barriers and the rise of the technology making The Internet as we know it possible was just a fortuitous accident of history).

Regardless of its causes, the Internet and the collapse of the barriers brought us all closer together. Who on here has not chatted, posted, or twittered with someone from a foreign nation?! In this sense, globalization and the Internet brings us (sort of) face to face with new perspectives and attitudes that shape the very ways we think - for good or ill. Truly this is the next step in creating a global culture that allows the common person to interact with people in other cultures while reducing the risk of unfortunate cultural communications breakdowns (at least in theory).

On the other hand, globalization also comes at the inevitable expense of losing at least some number of truths forever. Rarely is it due to any deliberate cultural extermination policy on the parts of governments, nor is it due to any cultural discrimination. It’s simply due to the fact that the predominant culture inevitably dominates the most paid-attention to media and Internet sources. The reason for this is simple mathematics. Whichever groups are largest are most likely to have their views expressed through the most watched, listened-to, or read communications channels.

The fact is that many cultures have different ideas, values, attitudes and general perspectives that may seem alien to the mainstream, but nevertheless they stand the test of time. Also, minority and indigenous cultures remind us that there are different ways of being human. This means that assumptions, actions, and attitudes that may be simple “human nature” or “common sense” to the majority may not necessarily be such if we take a closer look. These cultures are thus invaluable human resources, particularly as sources for new ideas (or even rediscovering old ones long forgotten by mainstream society - whether national or global). These ideas could very well prove to be humanity's salvation if we are convinced the minority belief about a matter is correct after all.

For example, languages themselves shape the way the brain thinks. The Finnish language, for example, uses a strikingly different grammar system from most other European languages. Therefore, when forming a thought, the Finnish mind automatically focuses on certain words, stressing certain words in a sentence, and so forth. Also, like all other languages, they invent short words and phrases that have no real easy equivalent in English. One example from German is Schadenfreude, the paradoxical joy of seeing pain come upon certain people, usually enemies. English has no such phrase that I know of. Still, in English itself there exists two common everyday words that sharply distinguish between two very roughly similar but still sharply different notions: “sky” and “heaven”. Spanish, French, and German do not have such simple phrases that I'm aware of. Of course it’s easy to overstate the case for how grammar and syntax shape our though process, but it does seem to be the case in subtle but no less significant ways.

From this vantage point, it’s easy to see the importance of preserving cultural diversity, specifically where it concerns advances in sciences, business fields, and the arts. The more differences that exist among people, the more people are forced to be flexible in their thinking, which is a fertile ground for creative thinking. Therefore, diversity, properly nourished and supported, can be a long-run economic advantage to a globalized world. Beyond the cultural and economic benefits, it helps us to see that many ideas and attitudes we hold are as more the product of our culture than of our genes. This is truly a nonrenewable resource – for once a culture dies, it and its ideas and assumptions are gone forever.

So while it’s true that a globalized culture can help reduce conflict and misunderstandings, the potential peace and understanding might well be obtained at the expense of truth. Therefore, for our own global society as well as our own souls, you might want to seek out people from different cultures and wiggle your way into a long conversation about their culture’s worldview. Both you and the world will be richly rewarded for doing so. Do it before the mass-global societal memes overpower its voice through the weight of sheer mass. Before it’s too late!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Transhumanism and Antinatalism

On the earlier post about transhumanism, Bazompora said something to the effect that both antinatalism and transhumanism have the same goals – eliminate suffering. I find nothing to strongly disagree with here, and in fact I think this is a self-evident truth. The only difference between the two groups is how we go about eliminating suffering.

Strictly speaking, I see no complete contradiction between these two schools of thought, for if we come to know how to switch off the genes giving rise to the parts of the sensory nervous system dealing with pain, plus similar knowledge regarding our ‘survival instincts’, then we could in theory eliminate all pain. As noted above, this is also a goal of antinatalism, probably the ultimate goal. However, eliminating all pain via transhumanist technologies comes with a price - it ultimately must eliminates our desire to live, though not our actual living existence itself (a root cause of pain is lack of desire satisfaction). This would essentially turn us into glorified robots in the classical connotation of the word. Picture a computer with self-awareness but without emotions and you get the picture.

This is all fine and good if you don’t mind the idea of being a DNA-based robot. However, most people would mind, and emphatically so at that. For this reason, transhumanism is not likely to be a realistic route to true happiness, although "non-robotic" variations of it might increase our pleasures (two different things if you think about it). Nevertheless, barring a very tiny fraction of the population who would see a robotic existence as preferable to a “human-like” one, transhumanism cannot be a permanent solution because most people will not use it to eliminate the very emotions and survival instincts which cause so much pain in the first place, suffering and evil (i.e, that which causes suffering).

Given all this, I throw my lot with antinatalism as the most realistic route to suffering elimination, though I use "realistic" loosely; for there is practically no chance of everyone embracing antinatalism before they embrace transhumanism. Antinatalism offers the promise of a permanent solution to both suffering and evil (at the very least for humans, and potentially for other neurological life). It does so in a theoretically simple way besides - simply stop having children. By contrast, transhumanism, were it to be successfully implemented, would be just a means to an end. That end to increase the emotions and joys of human existence, even if it still means at least some inevitable misery, and even retaining the risk of severe misery besides. In the end, though, it’s much easier and simpler to just not procreate in the first place.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Is "Manliness" Obsolete?

This blog entry is inspired by a discussion by my friend Karl and a commenter named dali at this Page. His post wasn't about manliness but certain reader comments did steer into that topic. In particular, the commenter dali said that men pushing buggies and taking care of children in the middle of the afternoon was effectively "unmanly", which Karl implicitly agreed with. This blog post counters the claim, namely by showing that "manliness", as defined by popular culture, is inherently arbitrary - i.e. just a bunch of ideas pulled willy-nilly out of thin air with little to no rhyme-or-reason about them. In fact, I conclude by saying that "manliness" is obsolete at best and even potentially counterproductive for a society with our level of sophistication and especially our level of technology.

Manliness is an elusive term in many respects. Personally, I stick to the minimalist definition, the one that makes the most sense scientifically because it’s the least ambiguous and most objective - “a physically mature member of the species Homo sapiens with an XY chromosome configuration that allows for unambiguously male physical reproductive traits and simultaneously unambiguously lacks any female reproductive organs”. Popular culture, on the other hand, while agreeing with this definition, goes a lot further. It adds traits that while not specifically male are usually associated with traits many (if not most) cultures consider to be characteristic of an adult human male: strength, decisiveness, take-charge attitudes, plus inspiring loyalty and respect in others.

My definition plus the popular addition is highly likely satisfy most people. Even so, plenty of others will go still further - namely all the above plus a tendency toward bluster, swagger, and a slightly cocky and aggressive mannerism. If we take these traits still further - and some people do - it conflates “manliness” with frank “douchebaggery”. Even where most people are concerned, they would still consider “douchebags” to be “real men, although of a very unpleasant and – ironically – immature sort”.

This last phrase shows a blatant contradiction. Either maturity is necessary for manliness or it’s not. Of course it depends on what one (or in this case prevailing societal opinion) means by "maturity". Even so, most people would consider mature behavior as necessarily including civility, consideration of others, self-control, judicious thinking, planning ahead, considering the consequences of your actions, and almost always refusing to break the rules of civility and etiquette. Even in refusals to abide by the last point, mature people break the rules only when there is absolutely no other choice if you are to successfully secure your life, liberty, dignity, and reputation - or those of your loved ones and friends. Yet for all this, many people would still consider douchebags as "real men".

This is at least one place where popular definitions of manliness are arbitrary. The only way to escape this contradiction is to say that the aforementioned douchebag traits (bluster, swagger, and a very cocky and aggressive mannerism) are more "manly" than the aforementioned civilized traits. Few, if anybody, will go that far; including many knee-jerk fans of douchebags themselves. So this definition of a "real man" ultimately contradicts itself.

The social and psychological sciences also imply there are mental and emotional components to maturity, although having more to do with the civilized traits plus my minimalist definition (to a degree) than to the popular definition. To this, these sciences add what is basically definable as "meeting my minimalist definition AND functioning independently in society" (though even "independent functioning" itself, ironically, inevitably depends on prudent interdependence with other functionally independent adults). Under this definition, mentally challenged male humans would not qualify for this definition of manliness. Still, in some contexts popular culture almost certainly would call this person one, albeit more in the sense of character strength and "giving it the hero's try”, as opposed to independent functioning in a financial and related senses.

Therefore, so far, I seems that “manliness”, the popular definition, is based more on imagery than productive content. I'm still open to alternative popular, widely believed-in definitions of manliness but so far the evidence seems to point to a popular definition of it that is very much arbitrary and contradictory, and therefore cannot stand up to logic and rational judgment.

In yet another way, the popular definition of “manliness” ultimately refutes itself, which further reinforces its meaninglessness. If “manliness” necessarily includes not caring deeply about what others think (and most of mainstream society does), then what about a so-called "alpha male"* who cares about maintaining an "alpha" image? This is especially so if he does so for reasons of his social status and sexual access. How is worrying about status among peers or sexual interests alpha behavior - especially in light of the next described man?

How also do we account for a widely-considered "beta male" or even an "omega male" who vigorously and passionately defends a guy's right to remain a virgin until after marriage on explicitly non-religious grounds, fully knowing the ridicule most "real men" will hurl his way?  Going against the crowd is not for the faint-hearted after all, certainly not public expressions of views widely ridiculed among many people.Never mind that he lacks social status in some way and/or has low to no sexual success.  Should we say that gutsy level of assertiveness - no doubt compounded by not caring what mainstream society thinks - not count as "manly" behavior?  If we say it does count as "manly", then how can that person be a true "beta" or "omega"?  This paragraph in conjunction with the previous one reveals a disproportion difficult to explain.

*Yes there is room to debate if this guy is a "true 'alpha male'".   Still, I think it's not that rare to find such men widely considered to be in the alpha-most 15% or so.

stay at home dad who helps take care of the kid and performs a lot of functions around the house – especially if he is, for example, studying for his PhD or working at home for a software company? Is he any less of a “man”. Furthermore, what if the man is a truck driver who has a week off? Surely the latter is entitled to spend even more time with his child because the child has fewer chances to see him, an important part of his or her life. Given that fathers are such an important part of a child’s life development, a man spending all the time he can with his children is far from being “unmanly”, it's more like being a good father. Surely you wouldn’t call “manly” a distant father who neglects the emotional well-being of his children, even if he is good at providing them a realistically humane standard of living AND good at protecting them from trouble.

Also, suppose a man backs down from a street fight because he realizes any benefits he may gain from punching them in the mouth aren’t worth the consequences (to say the least, getting arrested, which can very well hurt his resume. Even worse he might get stabbed, shot, or bludgeoned with a blunt object). That’s also far from being “unmanly”, that’s being judicious – a sure sign of real manliness, even by the standards of much of mainstream society itself. In fact, those same people would likely call risking the fight a rash action at best, lacking in self-control at middling, and childish at worst. Yet some people with a "Mortal Kombat" definition of manliness (basically the definition based on adolescent emotional reactions, only turbocharged) would call the guy backing down from the street fight a "pansy wimp" merely for being judicious. Yet another point at which the pop cultural definition contradicts itself, thereby rendering the "manliness" concept meaningless.

Or, what if the man may be physically timid but in a debate can hold his own in arguing his points convincingly, especially if he’s as experienced and well-trained in argumentation as any professional boxer is with his craft?

The other difficulties with manliness are legion. In the end, the closest thing to a coherent pop culture definition I can think of is "having physical survival skills, social dominance talents, and competence - especially as judged by our first intuitions,impressions, or animal instincts".

Even if this definition were complete and internally self-consistent, it still has the feel of someone throwing spaghetti against the wall - just chucking out initial reactions as they come out of the brain and mouth and hoping they'll stick to the wall and form some kind of recognizable pattern. It's one thing to define something in a way that's both complete and internally self-consistent, but entirely another thing say we should accept this as the only legitimate definition of the term. In this case, why should we accept those traits described in that definition as the only possible definition of "manly", thereby suggesting that any adult human male lacking in even one of those traits as automatically "unmanly". As I show below, anyone seeking to prove this as the only possible definition of "manly" will have a difficult task on his or her hands.

This 'best' popular definition of "manliness", even assuming it's very much defensible in the eyes of mainstream society, fails to take into account of the demands of a modern civilization, where the very means of making a living are incomprehensible to a hunter-gather or other Stone Age culture. Therefore, I have reason to believe that my proposed coherent pop culture definition of "manliness" is based on the demands of earlier ages - when physical survival skills were vital to even pick nuts and berries, let alone bring down mastodons with an obsidian-pointed spear and wolves with fire-sticks.

In short, I hold that contributing ideas and products that further humane development of civilization are far more important in the 21st Century than any conformity with society's gender expectations per my proposed definition above. This is because there's no logical relationship between pop culture definitions of "manliness" and ability to contribute high-valued, cutting-edge goods, services, and ideas that further widen the gap between ourselves and death/extinction. History shows that ideas and products are ultimately what create a world more pleasant and less painful to live in. The higher a society's level of organizational sophistication and especially it's level of technology, the more true this is and will become (although we in advanced technical societies certainly have pains and troubles that we did not have in the past).

Regardless of the pros and cons of 21st century living, we're here in this time and place and therefore we have to conform to its demands in terms of achieving prosperity and happiness. That includes creating new cultural and societal attitudes needed that allows us to achieve prosperity and happiness in our time on this earth. Common knowledge shows that "manliness" in the pop culture sense is not required for an adult human male to be a valuable contributor to society.

Therefore, even if "manliness" were somehow necessary in earlier ages (esp. the Stone Age and early Agricultural Age), the usefulness - even helpfulness - of the "manly" traits shrinks over time. It's time to put “manliness” in its proper context, respect it for helping us to survive and thrive as a species in earlier ages but today give it a respectful escort to the retirement home of ideas and behaviors that were perhaps necessary in their time, but no longer have any real usefulness in the betterment of the human condition.