Monthly Archives: July 2016

(I recently learned about Oxford comma, hence the title)

Malcolm walked into a grocery store in hope to find a decent spaghetti sauce. they only had one brand, which Malcolm didn’t like. You see, when there’s a single option – you either take it or not take it. it’s that simple as your spectrum is binary. So he went to another store that not only had several brands available – they also had free samplings. So he checked a few and eventually decided on the brand he like the most. Because when there are option, you would pick the one you like the most. it makes sense.
Dan, however, walks to a jeans store. there’s a variety of jeans he could pick from. But there wasn’t a single brand he particularly liked so the threshold of making the purchase is higher for him. It was very frustrating for him. Eventually he gave up and left. On his way home he found another store that, fortunate for him, had only one model at his size. And he liked it so he picked it.
I read an interesting comics regarding different relations people might have beyond the classical 2-humans that might or might now be with other people. Sure, why not a trio? or a small commune with no particular coupling within it, and it made me wonder if the new available relationship models are a good thing, like Malcolm’s case or bad, like Dan’s story.
First, it’s important to note that “not buying” a product, or “not being” in relationship is a valid option, although for Dan, Malcolm and traditional society would consider this as “lose”. Modern-day society will be far more forgiving and accepting people who, for their own reasons, don’t want spaghetti sauce at all. it’s not the end of the world. You can try one sauce. You can try some. I think you should try, but it’s perfectly ok to say “no,spaghetti sauces are not for me, not matter how much water you added”.
Malcolm dealt with this narrative: there are so and so companies selling sauces. A single company wanted to expand its market share. it first tried to find the ultimate sauce that most people would like but eventually decided to fragmentise the market so everyone could buy the tomato sauce they like – from that particular company. So if their market share before was 50%, now it’s 70%. But did the market actually grow? Did these additional 20% didn’t buy tomato sauce at all before?
Maybe the reason for the increase wasn’t really more people enjoying spaghetti sauce – rather then Dan’s paradigm in which a customer couldn’t decide which company’s mushroom-flavoured spaghetti sauce he should buy so he ultimately gave up. This means that introducing the models didn’t increase the market – rather than by killing the competition reduced the market!
With the introduction of new relationship-types, by how much did the market expand? I don’t think that by much, (pseudo-) monogamous relationship were quite a mainstream to begin with, although if you ask about their happiness or well-being that’s a completely different game. Yes, I strongly believe the new options allowed more people to find happiness and I doubt the new options overwhelmed anyone from choosing his lifetime partners. Personally, I’m all in favour for not settling only one the single couple-relationship, rather than rebuilding the concept of community (aka village) we once had as I believe the social safety net a community can provide is better than a single spouse can provide, but I admit that this doesn’t necessarily means that individuals are less likely to stay alone – not only out of choice, but also because they still cannot find the right relationship that is good for them.

There are 60 million refugees today. that’s a lot of people who cannot go back home for fear for their lives and are usually unwelcome anywhere else. But this horrific number is not only growing every day (which kinda makes me wonder how many more refugees can Syria “produce”), I believe it will keep on growing as the root causes are not diminishing rather than increasing. How long can Lebanon – a country of 4.5 people can support 1.5 million (!) refugees (1.1 out of which are Syrians, others are Palestinians) before it will collapse and its own citizen will flee from atrocities to Turkey, who already has 2.5 million Syrian refugees, thus creating a domino effect at the doorsteps of Europe.

Shutting that door would prove futile as much like the inevitability of the economy’s collapse, people’s displacement is not only here to stay – it’s going to be a prominent part of our lives, along with falling governments as people are losing their trust in the political structures and turning toward fascism and other unfriendly solutions.

“People’s Displacement” is a global issue should be handled by world countries together in order to be resolved, ease the tension and prevent more countries from falling. it’s wrong to think it’s the western world fault or responsibility. Those who think that are still trapped in the colonialist thinking that native people cannot resolve issues on their own. When a person says “but just look how the Syrians are killing one another!”, he clearly didn’t think who provided the Syrian with the ammunition. At times it seems the west are trying to put out a fire by pouring oil over it.
Trying to heed the call of Shawn Achor and Malcolm Gladwell to find out outliers, I think it’s an interesting question to be asked regarding refugees – is there an ideal refugee? can we identify trait in refugees that makes their lives any easier? How well do entrepreneurs dwell in refugee camps, compared to engineers, military personnel or people who comes from nomadic cultures? do religious people fair better? positive-thinkers? people who come from lower socio-economic class (who therefore didn’t have much to lose when fleeing)?
Now it appears I’m not the first person to ask this question, as it’s actually more important than simple hypothesis. It reflects on the policy of dealing with refugees. If refugee camp is “chaos”, it’s the western world to put it into order by any means necessary. But if a refugee camp is collection of unfortunate people – maybe what they need is is just another chance.
look at a community of refugees – can we use their teacher to teach their own children? can we provide their engineer the tools to rebuild their camp into a town? can we use their law-enforcement? their own shop-keepers can run their shops. I think that if we that the sooner can help bring back normality into their life – the sooner we’ll dismantle the crisis from one of its great atrocities.
Another point that must be addressed is the stress on the countries hosting the refugee camps. The cannot and should not handle this burden alone. The status of “displaced” should be handled (given or removed once the person has settled) by the UN and not by each individual country and its arbitrary criteria. Once a person was declared as such, it is the responsibility of the UN to take care of his well-being. I understand xenophobic and racist lots who feat different cultures invading their countries and diluting their blood but once we accepted that this is a global problem that concerns us all, each country will be required to choose between letting refugees assimilate, allocating space for the UN’s displaced cities where people could build new lives for themselves or financially supporting countries that agreed to accept refugees. This leaves us only with the segregationists to handle – those who believe this is not their problem. how do we handle them today? countries which refuse to cap their CO2 emissions or ban usage of environmentally-disastrous substances? Well, we don’t. but that’s the topic of state-level enforcement is a subject for a future post.

Recently Coursera started charging for previously free courses, which (if you ignore the harsh reality of our decaying economy) is sad as it means that people who cannot afford these fees will remain in their poverty. But I think that is just a crooked nail in a shaggy house, as I have my stomach full regarding the academia anyhow.

The academia is the social institute whose purpose to expand the human’s knowledge, both universalley by research but also individually by teaching, qualifying and certifying individuals in topics of their choice. There’s a common mistake most people do believe that knowledge in a certain field is equivalent to acquiring a profession. Does having a Bachelor degree in Computer Science makes me a professional “developer”? well, it depends – have I learned to work with other? have I learned to join an existing project, analyse it and provide my own contribution? Have I learned to use whatever tools that are available and not invent the wheel every time a new? because in my point, judging the number of “to-do” app out there, I’m getting the strong notion graduates really like to write their own version of stuff and thus we’re getting a million versions of the same crappy app.

It also certify people in subjects that one might consider “useless” (like BA in English). it can be discussed whether such degree made the graduate into a better person, an educated intellectual chat companion, expanded his horizon and improved his expressiveness. But the truth be told – it’s still not that easy to get a job, if that was the student was aiming for to begin with, and one might claim that the academia, by promising him a Bachelor degree that looks pretty much like the “useful” bachelor degree in Computer Science, falsely presented BA in English as something useful. Another issue is with the constant struggle to get research grants. And this is before we start talking about the atrocity of student’s loans.

I find it curious that most degrees are 3-4 years for BA and 7-8 years for PhD. Why is that? How did we manage the box all the human knowledge to semester-sized courses, spanned for 3 years periods? This doesn’t make sense as it hints we need to trim certain topics so they’d fit, while bloating others. why do measure “how much is required in order to become an expert” by “what can we fit in a reasonable time”? is there an automatic disrespect for topics it only takes 2 years to master? why it that?

I’m also discouraged by this classification of university as a step in life. I pity the person who’d finish university and claim that “s/he has learned all that there is to learn”. And if university are not only for these 3-4 years – why are they built in such? couldn’t we find a better model that would encourage continuous learning through-out life?

For years we’ve been complaining that our schools have become “certificate factories” by teaching less content and lowering the bar in order to get a certificate. This applies to the universities as well. But actually – why do we need certificates? is a piece of paper with a single number on it really the best way to value a person? In the industry we quickly forget about that value (and what we learned in order to achieve it) and our CV is actually focused on our experience. why can’t this be applied to schools as well, so students will be merited by their portfolio and other achievements. I’m not underestimating exams in general. I think that personal assessment is a critical tool in the learning process, but I don’t think this assessment is in any way representing my skills as a professional worker.

Our culture is mortified of idle time – people will get lost and do stupid things. So it’s very likely that my vision for the future of the academia is incredibly naive but go with me for a moment. I’m actually questioning the core of our civilisations in which a person goes to school, followed by university and then starts working. I think it would be wonderful if people will have a day or two each week throughout their life in the pursuit for knowledge. I would expect a person to finish high-school and begin his adult life by already having the minimal skill for an entry-level job. Yes, it will take him slightly longer to finish all the courses a modern-day students does, but as he learns while already in the industry he routed for, he will quickly learn from experience and therefore put his studies into practice as he goes along

Also, the academia should be foremost  for people who wishes to expand the human knowledge, and only second for people who feels coerced to be there for whatever reason. But for that, we’ll probably need “Basic income” in our utopian society. Nothing wrong with that. What will happen to the university when many people aren’t obliged to work, and therefore not obliged to get a qualification? Surely, all those with the thirst for knowledge would still go like before but I think a large number of people will quit altogether.  Is it a bad thing? Well it depends. Think of neurosurgeon who decided not to practice his acquired skill – that’s a waste, right? How much money did he personally wasted? How much did society (don’t forget studies are subsidised)? Was the class being filled with students who rather be elsewhere a positive study environment for those who actually wished to study? I agree that some classes might not be opened for not having enough students, but this might actually happened even today and we solved this issue with remote-studying.

Yes, schools are responsible to teach people, but wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to tele-teach huge classes using advanced readily-available technology? this would leave on the question and answers to the professors who then could handle more students at one and assessments that could be handled by the teaching assistance. If the state would subsidise such broadcasted video any person – poor and rich – will have access to gain knowledge bringing us closer to social equality.

Looking at the modern-day academia, I think it has been tainted by money and its need to survive in a capitalist-driven world. I think this actually harms the human endeavour to expand our knowledge – by limiting it in certain fields and by making out useless fields just to get the money’s worth. But I also think the academia can and it should change and the first step for that is state support to institutes like Coursera over the expense over traditional universities.