Saturday, June 11, 2005

Eugenics of Political Thought

We are quickly approaching a dangerous end in our human history. The survival of a species is dependent on diversity, physical and mental. There are examples of this spread throughout earth's history, from the beginnings of fish with eyes survived better than without them, or smaller mammals were better off than larger ones. It's the whole premise behind Darwin's theory of evolution, as everyone knows (or should know). The survival of a species doesn't just rely on how it is equipped physically or what mental choices it makes individually (eat this, not that, sleep at night, or day, etc) but on how it organizes itself, as well. Strength in numbers through colonies of ants, or beehives, or a pride of lions, will be more successful in the long run than a species who relies on individuality to get by (spiders come to mind). With animals, how they organize themselves should be a key to humans in understanding how we, too, could survive longterm or be better off.

I'm not an anthropologist, but I'm sure that's how humans came together in the first place. Perhaps, they came togther to scavange for food off a carcass, but they wouldn't stick together after that. Maybe they witnessed lions hunting as a pride, or how the wildebeests/herding animals stuck together to protect themselves. Eventually, they started to form their own tribes that strengthened their way of life, and then onto cities. When forming cities and towns, it was more of a ant colony than our modern cities (as I envision it). Everyone had their place that helped out the city over all - masons, shepherds, marketplace people, etc. People came together to help eachother, while still looking after themselves. Systems grew to include the farmers on the outside, the fur trappers, the loggers, etc. Everything worked together.

But now our societies are falling apart. Gone is the sense of a system working for everyone else. It's individual freedoms that are the rule of law now. Have as much money as you can at the expense of others. Have a gun even though it may cause damage to you and surrounding people. Wear what you want, even if it offends others, smoke, drink, etc. Not only do our local societies encourage this sort of action, but our governments are striving for it now, as well. The Bush government is pushing for certain liberties for individuals, mainly financial freedom; however, it fails because it's directed at only the rich elite of the country. What bothers me the most is how Bush and Blair talk about bringing freedom and democracy to other countries.

There is nothing wrong with the ideals of democracy. Likewise, there isn't thing wrong with communist or socialist ideals. What has been wrong is their implementation. There are faults with all forms of government, from a national level to a local level. If this is the case, then how can Bush claim that the United State's form of government is best for all countries and solve their problems? What Bush and other world leaders should be doing is studying other foreign governments and see what their weaknesses are along with the positives. Start implementing these positive factors into the American government to help solve our problems. Instead of pushing for other countries to change to the American style, encourage them to read and study the political philosophers from Marx to Voltaire. Allow them to find their own form of government. If they feel the US style of democracy is right, then fine, but give them the options.

The reason for this, besides common courtesy to allow your host to do their own thing, is to further our species survival. By having several forms of government happening at once, humans can see what works and use it as the ultimate form of government - if we are to believe that the world will be under a universal government instead of a national one in the future. Adopting one way of life may be foolhardy and suicidal. The US form of democracy has continued to divide the country for centuries now. How is that form going to work in already heavily divided countries? Applying the American ideal of the cultural melting pot will not work in most countries, especially in countries that have had civil wars for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

I hope that the American government will realize this in the future, as well the world. Otherwise, we may be in danger of survival.

City of God

City of God is a film that I rented from MovieLink.Com (which is a video rental site where you download movies directly to your harddrive and then are removed automatically after a given time limit). I was feeling kind of bored tonight and wanted something a little gutsy to watch. Naturally, I turned to the Foreign films section and started browsing. I didn't have to go too far when this film popped out at me.

This is the short synopsis they provide while browsing a list of films:

      In Portuguese with English subtitles. 2004 Academy Award nominee. In Rio de Janeiro's most notorious slum, a young man tries to escape the violence around him through his photography.

I believe I wrote before about how people always find items from other cultures and environments as the most interesting and popular, so just reading "Portugeuse" and "Rio de Janeiro's most notorious slum," I was pretty much hooked. Then here is the extended synopsis:

      In Portuguese with English subtitles. Welcome to the world's most notorious slum: Rio de Janeiro's "City of God." A place where combat photographers fear to tread, where police rarely go, and residents are lucky if they live to the age of 20. This is the true story of a young man who grew up on these streets and whose ambition as a photographer is the world's window in and ultimately may be his only way out.

That sounded like the movie for me. Any place that scares the police intrigues me, even though I'm not entirely sure if I would venture there myself in the real world. And after watching the movie, I can fully believe that the police wouldn't want to go in there.

I don't want to talk more about the storyline, because I think it would take away some of the glory of the film, but I will say that the style of the film was wonderful to watch. The story is built up in layers: some build up, others peel away, which is fascinating to see unfold before you. The action sequences are full of chaotic moments but are filmed in a chaotic way which makes sense to you as you're watching. This didn't work out so well in some movies (Bourne Supremacy comes to mind) but is incredible to watch when it does work. The story of the photographer is always present, but plays the role more of narrator than protagonist.

My favourite part of the whole film has to be the ending. The climax feels epic to me, and the denouement is eye-opening. I would like to say more about it, and I'm sure it'll easily be discovered with a few searches, but I won't say anything now.

Rent this film. It does contain violence, drugs, some sexuality. Not something to watch with kids, certainly.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A few months ago, I came across a website which expanded on the ideas found in the author's book Citizen Cyborg. An off-shoot of this website is another website focused around the idea of transhumanism (transcending the human being through implants, cybernetics, genetic modification, etc). A part of this website is the Changesurfer radio shows, which doesn't necessarily focus on the ideas of transhumanism directly. I've only gotten around to listen to some of the episodes, and thought I'd share my thoughts on them.

Are you a Transhuman? Remembering FM 2030 - the audio track to a film created by Dr. J

Having never heard of this figure before, FM-2030 (a Belgian) sounds like a man who lived ahead of his time. He was talking about a wired world, a connected world where far seems near, and how borders should be dissolved to create a global community. FM-2030 was writing and talking in the 60s and 70s, and was a guest on tv shows like Good Morning America and Larry King Live. He passed away in 2000.

Some of the items mentioned in this particular radio broadcast were:

Marriage isn't necessarily the best thing for the future. Children raised by a couple who are open to other relationships will help the child not be focused on his parents and fall victim to jealousies and mourning. A child raised be several adults will give the child a wider range of experiences and better prepare it for the real world ahead. A child should be raised by a small village or community of adults.

I have to agree with his statements about marriage and child-rearing. As more marriages disintergrate into rough separations and divorces, the need for another layer of support systems is needed for the child. Currently, that layer may be coming from therapists or a day care centre or school teachers. It is only temporary (a therapist session is only an hour, or only at school for 8 hours, etc). A more permanent and important solution for the child should be found. Having a household with two couples raising several children would provide that. It would give the child options at home to talk things over, hear other experiences, have more children to play and experiment with. The benefits of this could be endless. Numerous parents will sit their children in front of the tv or computer or video games so they can escape them for a little while. They have to hire babysitters who are mainly bored teenagers in it for the money. Having more people around will allow the child to socialize with other human beings, not with a television or computer. An intergrated family of various races would be a further enhancement to this model to help eliminate racism, along with sexism and possibly homophobia.

The world is becoming more fluid, mobile.

I agree with the fact that the world is becoming more mobile and fluid, but the catch is that this is only an option for a limited number of people. I don't think we'll ever see the day where a mass amount of people from the deserts of Africa can migrate to a European country freely, without worrying about immigration laws or having to be marked as refugees. People are too protective of what they own or claim ownership to. Especially in the current turblent times of our global politic scene. Opening borders to international people is seen as a security threat on both the potential for human violence front and job security. On one hand, I'd like to see a more global world to see where it would take us (new political organizations, morals, value systems, etc); but on the other hand, I like the idea of keeping human cultures separate and preserve them (language, dances, food, etc). I think it's a big part of what makes the human race so special throughout our history.

People need to re-evaluate themselves. If we eat animals, wear furs, watch violence on tv, and have the death penalty, we need to rethink our humanism. Rethink our values.

I am strongly for this idea. I don't understand how violence can be so accepted in our world today. It's rather ridiculous how the US stresses the importance of gun ownership and the freedom of death, but not when it comes to abortions. If they believed in life so much, they should ban the death penalty and severely limit how guns are used and owned. If showing a breast on national television is a crime, maybe all the gun fights and beating of women should be, too. If kids grew up in a non-violent atmosphere, who knows what the world would be like. It's only one problem to solve, but it would be a huge one.

A totally unbiological body, allowing us to get a new body, a new shell to live in.

FM made this statement while in a hospital to the interviewer, ironically, He believes by 2030, people will be able to live indefinitely through various technological advances. The possibilities range from transferring our conscious minds to a computer or replacing the human body completely. He felt that if humans can replace certain organs with live or artificial ones and can change entire limbs with prosthetics, we should be able to replace the entire body. I'm not sure how this would be entirely possible, but it's interesting to think about. The other question is whether it is the right thing to do. Should humans want to live forever or for 120 years? How long of a life is too long for our species? Would this be a new form of eugenics for the 21st century, where only privledged people are allowed to extend their lives indefinitely while the lower class people from India and China perish after 60 some years? It feels like too fantastic of an idea to be workable in our society. Maybe a thousand years ago when our human population was much lower and the chances of including everyone were higher. But it feels like an impossibility to include every person of the six billion on Earth - some exclusion would have to happen. The more I think about it, the more I realize how screwed up the world could potentially get with this. You could have a select number of people in the US and other first world democracies living extended lives, with another group in he same countries living to be 80, while the third world countries still struggle in their current (or worse) situations and barely managing to live past 45 or 60. Maybe a thousand years from now when the world's problems have been solved and our population has leveled out would extending human age boundaries be reasonable.

I'll continue these posts another night. Didn't realize how much I actually had to say on this subject.

Here's a biographical website of FM-2030 with articles, pictures, etc: FM 2030


Why do obsessions exist and are they healthy for a person or not? What separates an obsession from a neccessity in someone's life?

I was thinking about these two questions after reflecting back upon my experience of not having my laptop for almost a week. In the previous post, I was writing about how humans have become attached to technology like it was a friend or person in their life who had significance to them. But then I started thinking about today how email isn't just a tool anymore for people, or how cellphones aren't just a convenience. People have started obsessing about these things, amongst other things.

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Syracuse and went into the theatre department was how frequently the students whipped out their cellphones while walking out of a classroom. Worse was how people called people on their cells even though they only had a five-ten minute break. Are their people in the world that are that important that we have to talk to them at any given chance? During the major wars of the century, people back home could wait weeks to receive a letter from the soldiers abroad. They didn't go insane because it had been less than an hour since they had heard from them. I know we're a much more connected in our world now, but these social networks have become extreme to the point where we're at a loss if we don't have them.

I've seen several people get rather annoyed when looking down at their phone and they had a missed call, or they didn't have any calls or texts, or even more frustrating was not being able to get a decent connection while in the basement of a concrete building. I've seen people check their phones every five or ten minutes for no apparent resaon. We all have our subtle body gestures when we're uncomfortable or bored, but I guess that has expanded into looking at our cellphone in hopes of escape.

The same seems to be true with email, with all the various software notifiying you instantly of new messages. It doesn't matter if the messages are important or not, most people will check them to just delete them (if they aren't important) or read them. The annoying thing for me is how people will take the time out of their day to read a message at that instant, but can't take the time to reply to it then. It's kind of a double standard - your emails are important when addressed to me, but my time is more important than sending an email back to you. Knowing that someone could respond that moment but doesn't is a frustrating feeling for a lot of people.

This has even become worse in the world of instant messages. Even though people may carry on a handful of conversations, everyone has the same expectation of being responded to quickly. People actually get annoyed at me because sometimes I'll use my cellphone to communicate with them and it's slower compared to when I'm sitting at a computer. It's only a delay of maybe 10-15 seconds, but it's still the end of the world. I suppose it's a carry-over from the real world. It's a problem with me, because instead of saying "uh" or some other filler words, I'll just leave pauses while I'm thinking or looking for something. A lot of people will think I was disconnected from the phone. But it's rather unfair to give the same sort of expectations to people using the IM clients. People use the clients as secondary uses of their computer. They're surfing the web, writing a paper, listening to music, etc. They don't turn on their computer to primarily chat, so why should they be expected to respond immediately if that's not their sole purpose of actually being online? I'm going to have to start putting messages in saying "Chatting is not a priority at the moment" and maybe people will understand better.

When we use computers, are we using them as a tool or have we been trained that we *have* to use them, similar to what happened with television? First, television was an entertainment centre for the family, but as it exploded in popularity, it suddenly become odd if a family didn't have a tv, or two tvs for that matter. It become a neccessity, even though there are better things in the world than a television. I'm thinking that trend is continuing with computing, and by extension, gaming, cellphones, PDAs, etc. It's not that we need to use a computer at home for stuff, it's more that we're accustomed to having them around us everywhere. Instead of picking up a book to read, we're more likely to rely on technology to entertain us rather than our own brains.

I think of tools as something that helps us in accomplishing a task that normally we couldn't do on our own. For example, a hammer allows us to bang in a nail - something we couldn't do with our bare hands, and something that's easier than using a rock. When we go to a hardware store, there are a lot of variety of hammers to choose from, but each hammer has a specific purpose where it's better suited. At a computer store, however, every computer isn't fine-tuned for certain applications. There's no true home computer to buy (that allows you to surf the web, email, word/office applications, basic games, etc). Instead, people are talked into having to buy the 80 Gb hard drive, 3.0 ghz and 1 gig of RAM machines. That sort of power is not needed for basic things, but that's all there exists on the store shelves. Humans have this obsession over "newer is better" which was probably true in other times, but I don't think it's neccessary anymore.

And a neccessity is just that: something that you need to survive. We need to eat. We need to drink. We don't need to email daily.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Friend MIA

Recently, the charger for my laptop started to die on me. It wouldn't hold a steady current that would allow my laptop to stay powered up - I knew I was going to have to get a new one before this happened because the cord from the charger to the laptop was mildly damaged. I bought a new one off of eBay which was a lot cheaper than getting it repaired through Dell, buying a new one through Dell or buying new through CompUSA or something. I'm happy that it's up and running again, but the period when it was down was incredibly enlightening for me. It was just over five days without the laptop at home - no big deal, except I don't have a tv either and I listen to a lot of music on my laptop. If I had had my laptop, I would've blogged this experience. Of course, I couldn't, so now I have to write about it after the fact.

The whole point of this is not to write about what I did (mainly a lot of reading and listening to music on my stereo) but rather how it felt like a part of me was gone. I didn't do any research into this, but I'm sure others have reported feeling similar if they had a piece of technology fail on them. I'm fairly certain a large portion of our society (western society) has become unofficial cyborgs of their own - not a true fusion of technology and man, but a symbiotic form, needing the other to really survive properly. If someone's cellphone just dies out of the blue, that person may have lost all of their contact numbers and their only form of communication as people rely more and more on cellphones and less on landlines. It can be a humbling experience trying to remember so-and-so's phone number, or where you're supposed to be if you use a calendar of some sort. It must be quite unnerving, but they always have a backup (a friend's cell, pay phones, etc) or have all the information stored on a computer as well. It's an inconvenience, but there are ways to work around it.

When my laptop became useless, it was a very humbling experience for me. I use my laptop to watch movies, listen to music, email, chat, browse the web, read news feeds, sometimes play games, etc. When it went down, a significant portion of my lifestyle went with it. Any plans to rent a movie or to type up my resume were� dashed and I was kind of upset. I lost five days of productivity (especially considering that Monday was a holiday). It took a day or two to really adjust to this absence and I started thinking about how tied in we are to technology and how our ancestors would've laughed at us for this failure. We put so much trust into our computer technology and yet we're accustomed to it failing on us as well. Isn't this a stupid invention on our part? When paper was first invented and used on a mass scale, would they have continued using paper if once a week that piece of paper just burst into flames and destoryed half of the information or more? I think not. And yet we still use these machines to store critical data, for major processes that aren't necessary or have alternative methods of accomplishing. It seems to me that as technology races forward in advances, the less we're really able to control it. I'm certain that it would take another few years of work for a team of programmers at Apple to fix their older computer OS's so they never crashed, ever. Would people go back in time and start using these perfect machines even if they weren't capable of doing the major work that modern computers can do? I'm sure it would be appealing for the home-user to know they never had to worry about a computer crashing or losing data.

Back to my laptop.

I had been using computers and the internet for the past ten years now. I never knew how truly dependent I was on them until this past weekend with the laptop going down. I knew I had my routine in life (wake up, eat, check email, surf to catch up on news, etc) but I always thought I could survive without it and not be too distraught when it failed. But I become obsessive over fixing it or finding a solution to the problem. Even though it was out of my control, I still kept continually checking and rechecking the charger, contemplated opening it up and seeing if something was just loose, etc. It wasn't until the Monday when I finally gave up and knew the new charger would arrive soon (used�a computer at work to buy one). I went to the mall that day and found myself in a computer store. I seriously thought about just buying a new laptop all together. When I caught myself thinking of this, I thought what�a moron I was. Buy a new laptop for $700 when the part I needed cost less than $50. I suppose that's how society has brainwashed us into thinking that new is definitely better than old. Whoever came up with that was a genius.

After the shopping trip, I was able to come home and relax. I read a book until nearly 2 or 3am and I hadn't done that in years. A solid six hours of just reading a book and not being able to put it down except for a few short breaks to rest my eyes. I was thrilled, and had started reading the next morning as well. Then my charger arrived in the afternoon and everything collapsed, again.

I'm back to my regular schedule now - which is good and bad. I enjoy being able to contact people whenever I want to or check up on sports scores, but it still bothers me how much I use the laptop in�a day on things I don't need to be doing. I should be using it to write up a cover letter to apply for jobs, but instead I'm writing up something that no one will read.

Go figure.

Thoughts and Memories

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if blogs and/or the media had existed 400+ years ago? What would our civilizations be like if the common folk (well, I don't know if I can consider myself common folk in comparison to the billions living in poverty around the world) had been freely expressing their thoughts and being read - or if not read, at least putting their thoughts onto a medium that could be read in the future. What sort of art forms would have been created, or political organizations, or prejudices erased or strengthened?

So thinking about what the world would be like from all of that is one thing, but then start to imagine the collective waste of thoughts that were never said in human history. Even on a personal level, each of us could probably write several books full of our opinions on things (from the mundane to the politically important, from the nanny when you were 4 to the mailman). All of that mental energy expended for what? Nothing. Nothing will ever come out of those thoughts - or could something be produced by them? What if amongst all those billions of thoughts there were some magical gems that held some universal truth that no one else knew, but the person who thought it never felt it important to say it? What if someone did stumble upon an alien but couldn't speak or write? Or knew the answer to some of the world's greatest mysteries?

I wonder if there's a way to harness all our current thoughts and put them toward a good cause. I know David Rushkoff has mentioned an Open-Source Democracy, but could that extend further that was more inclusive than exclusive? How do we hear the ideas of all the refugee camps or the people starving in Africa? Are their thoughts worthless? Do we have to use technology to achieve it or are their some low-tech answers that could be used to help this?

What if every citizen of the earth was required to do an exchange trip to a remote part of the world to talk with a person or a group of people? A Thought Missionary, who's only responsibility is to record someone's thoughts, stories, experiences and then bring them back to their home community to share, or to enter into some grand thought bank that was open to anyone in the world. Would some of the yuppies who exist benefit by talking face-to-face with someone who lives on pennies? Would it stop human greed or destroy our capitalistic/materialistic world knowing that money can't solve the world's problems? Will it help remind people that there are only four important things in the world: food, water, family, Earth.

I have no idea, but maybe it would make us stop living such a fake and useless life and get us onto a higher road. I mean, think about it. We have people who make a living serving gourmet coffee to people and people who make a living by just talking to other people because they claim to be crazy or in need. It's absurd when the world is just falling apart and the only thing we care about is a Starbuck's coffee.

Drives me insane.