On the Rise of Hate

On the Rise of Hate

As we recover from yet another mass killing we hear a lot of smart people saying that the rise of hate is driven by a fear of loss of power. But they don’t clearly identify where that fear comes from.

At the same time, even though we might not be aware of it most of us already know where it comes from on a visceral level. We worry about our debt load, about what kind of world our children and grandchildren will grow up in, about the environment, about our jobs, our pensions, and ironically about the rise of hate.

Humans are a competitive species. Our political systems are a gossamer barrier between modern civilization and tribalism. It’s far too easy to transfer our anxieties into an identification of some “other” that we can blame for our worries. It is a dangerously small step from resentment to hatred, and from there to violence.

What few seem to notice, or at least to explicitly identify, is the correlation between the confidence of the middle class and the strength of social liberalism. If most people think the future will be bright and there will be more than enough prosperity to go around, suddenly we’re a lot less concerned about differences in race, religion, gender, and so on.

It is a cruel irony that this social conservatism has a affinity for autocratic politicians, precisely the type that are going to ensure that the wealth gap increases. The real way to alleviate social anxiety is to vote for a party that will actually work to redistribute wealth. Instead of gravitating towards populists the anxious middle class should be gravitating to socialism.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d assert that the Illuminati (or whoever) are manipulating society to achieve this result, but I just can’t see that. I think it’s just our base human nature. We all have a responsibility to fight these instincts, for nothing good can come from the alternative.

Theory vs. Scientific Theory

The video below has been around for a few years. It’s a great clip. The issue I have with it is that I think it supports people who already understand the scientific process, but it fails to fully explain the distinction between the casual and scientific uses of “theory”.

There is a critical distinction between a theory and a Scientific Theory. For example, I have a theory that a significant proportion of people react to headlines without digging into the content behind that headline.

Theory vs Hypothesis

Colloquially, that’s a theory. Scientifically, it’s a Hypothesis. If I do a study to test this Hypothesis and I get data that confirms it, then it’s a Valid Hypothesis. It’s still not a Theory. [Note that if I indeed were to do such a study and publish it, it’s likely to be reported as “Study Proves People Only Read Headlines”. That headline is bullshit. Which is why just reading headlines is dangerous.]

Now if a bunch of other people also do studies and get the same result, then it’s on its way to becoming a Theory. That’s where Evolutionary Theory is now. There are hundreds of thousands of experiments that not only prove that evolution is a fact, there are millions that depend on it being a fact.

Science is Just Our Best Guess at Fact

Now it is true that sometimes science gets it wrong. Especially in life sciences. The attack on dietary fat that we’ve seen for the past 40 years or so is a prime example, but that’s starting to be corrected with new research. This is how the scientific method works. Science is still done by people, and people can get things wrong. Frequently science self-corrects fairly quickly, but sometimes it takes quite some time. When it’s wrong the contradictions eventually get exposed, and those contradictions lead to more focused research. Eventually the right answer emerges, even if it means contradicting previous conclusions. Evolutionary Theory has been around for over 150 years, and nobody has managed to invalidate it yet… and I’m sure many have tried. That’s the point the video makes well: there’s an overwhelming body of work that proves evolution is real. This proof is well beyond reasonable doubt.

So when you here the word “theory”, ask yourself which meaning the person is using. Is it “I have a theory that someone steals one of each pair of my socks” theory, or is it “Gravitational Theory says that gravitational attraction is proportional to the square of the distance between two massive bodies” theory. It’s a pretty important distinction.

Creative Downloads: Everything Is Not Free, at Least Not Yet

A few minutes ago I didn’t know Sara Madison existed. Until an author friend shared her brilliant post “Dear Broke Reader: Your Sense of Entitlement is Killing Me” on Facebook.

Readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of open source. Be it software, designs, engineering, etc. There’s a huge body of work that I believe benefits from the open source movement. That belief is predicated around freedom. I strongly believe that people who use products should have the ability to control their destiny after they acquire a product, and the best way to do that is to give them the tools to recreate and modify the product.

But that doesn’t mean everything should be free. While it’s true that I have contributed to collaborative open source projects that give the code away, it is not an entirely altruistic endeavour, for at the same time I’ve taken advantage of similar efforts by hundreds of others to build things that I never could have built alone. The key thing here is that these projects are collaborative works where all the participants in a community benefit.

Individual creative works are another thing entirely. There’s no similar multiplier that gives a creator back a multiple of what they’ve contributed. Someone who illegally downloads a book by a small author isn’t gaining any freedom, they’re just getting a product for free. If you download one of my Creative Commons licensed low resolution photographs and use it to print a crappy large format print, you deserve to waste your money. Book authors don’t enjoy that ability to constrain the clarity of digital versions of their work.

At some point, as individual labour stops being the way most of us add value to the economy, we’ll have to transition to some form of guaranteed minimum income scheme. At that point, there might be a rationalization that goes along the line of “this author is already receiving enough to get by, so they’re getting enough”. While I can’t say I agree with that position, at least someone who is passionate about creating has the knowledge that they won’t starve to death in the process. But neither will they live comfortably, nor will they receive the value that others derive from reading their work. A survivable system still isn’t a sustainable system. But this is futurism. We’re not there yet, and until then, taking advantage of someone who needs the money to keep doing what they’re doing is outright theft.

Enough with the Omnibus Petitions

I’m getting really tired of online petitions that act like omnibus bills. The title says “Stop X” and I happen to think “Stop X” is a darn fine idea, but then you get to the actual text and it’s “Stop X, Build more Y, Change Z, and unionize everyone”.

That’s one less signature for “Stop X”, right there. We hate it when legislators pull this crap, maybe you should consider not doing the same thing in your petitions. Stick to a single issue.

Information Era

Holy crap. I just discovered that in a digital era, relying on gatekeepers of reproduction to earn a living is impossible. People told me that being an independent writer / artist / musician / developer was going to be a tough way to earn a living, but still I held to my parent’s paradigm and somehow believed I’d get paid for every single physical copy of my work ever made. Now it turns out that I don’t stand a hope of being as rich as Stephen King / Picasso / Paul McCartney / Bill Gates, and that even to earn a subsistence living I need to find a new model for delivering value. But instead of dealing with this I will demand that you pay me for using recordable media for your own creative works, I’ll demand that we revert to an impossible outmoded system, while still begging you to send me money and whining that it’s not fair. I refuse to take responsibility for following my dreams / muse / passion instead of getting a job like everyone else. My failure to adapt is your problem, not mine!