The Myth of Personal Responsibility

Two chickens having a conversation.

Circumstances compelled me to use this image of two chickens having a conversation.

We are often exhorted to take personal responsibility for our lives. If you don’t like your job, instead of complaining about it just get a different one. If you’re fat, just eat less. If someone commits a crime, they should be in jail, because that’s the consequence. And it makes me wonder: why do we hear this so often; why has it become a mantra that you are in charge? And can each of us really be in charge of everything on our own, in a world of seven billion other humans, and very powerful companies and governments? Continue reading

Review: The Quest for Juice

The Quest for Juice
The Quest for Juice by Jonathan-David Jackson

This was actually a pretty interesting book. It’s been three years since I wrote it, so I figured I’d read it and see how it is after all this time.

I felt sympathetic to the main character, Oscar, even early on when he’s actually killing people and beating others into a coma for no good reason. Maybe that’s because in some ways I wrote him like myself, or like people I know. (I’m not saying I did write him like myself or people I know, none of us are murderers. I’m just saying maybe we have a certain murdery quality that he shares.) Continue reading

No, Britain is not wondering “What is the EU?”

Everybody but me is stupid? That's exactly what I've always thought!

There are a bunch of articles around the internet implying that on the day of the EU referendum (link to read if you don’t know what that is), a significant proportion of UK voters were not even sure what the EU is. The articles are very convenient, because I for one love to be shocked at the ignorance of others.

Here’s one article, which is representative of the others I’ve seen: After Brexit Vote, Britain Asks Google: ‘What Is The EU?’  That’s from NPR, but there are many others. The Washington Post, Ars Technica, Vox, Metro, CNet, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, News.Com.Au, and on and on. I had to go 10 pages into a Google search before they started to thin out. And of those 100+ sites running with this story, only one that I could find, GeekTime, questioned it. I’m going to go deeper. Continue reading

How Self-Driving Cars Will Change the World

(Source: Wikimedia)

This is you ten years from now. (Source: Wikimedia)

I hope you like to read about self driving cars, because I like to write about them. Hopefully I’ll get to do that for a few years before they learn how to write about themselves. Self-driving cars are going to change everything, with effects far beyond just the experience for the driver; they’re going to change it soon, and here’s how. Continue reading

Time: Scourge of Humanity

"Who, me?"

“Who, me?”

Time wakes you up in the morning. Time puts you to bed at night. Time whips you while you work, telling you that you must do it faster, must get it done sooner. While you sip a cup of hot chocolate, time blows the cream off the top and tells you to hurry up, there are things to be done! When you are satisfied with your life, and are perhaps gently stroking a cat, time tells you that it will all end you when you least expect it, so don’t get too relaxed.

As nearly as I can tell from my time as a biologist at the British Museum of Natural History*, humans are the only creature afflicted by time. Certainly all animals move through time, but only humans know it.

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The Politics of Hate

(Source: Tom Gauld)

(Source: Tom Gauld)

It’s fair to say that political parties hate their opposite. Liberals think conservatives are mean and stupid. Conservatives think liberals are spineless and stupid. Both sides can’t be right, and in fact I think both sides are wrong.

Politics are broken in some way. You only need to have the misfortune to wander into the comments section of any politics-related website to see what I mean. I have read comments suggesting that President Obama is an agent of Al-Qaeda, and that he is a homosexual and his wife is actually a transgender man. When it was President Bush, there were equally as many comments from the other side suggesting such things as him having been personally responsible for 9/11 and that he only had a grade school education. People from one side will excuse “their” guy from something they were crucifying the other guy for in the previous election.

On any one article you can scroll for pages and pages, with each side shouting their message at the other, and nothing happening except each side becoming more firmly convinced they are right and that the other side are wrong, and in addition are idiots.

It breaks my heart to see this happening. How can two people truly work for the good of their country if they fundamentally disagree on what that good is, and on top of that think the other person is actively working against their country? Continue reading

Why You Shouldn’t Lie About Santa

Why not just say this guy delivers the presents? Look, kids: the real Santa. (Source: Flickr)

Why not just say this guy delivers the presents? Look, kids: the real Santa. (Source: Flickr)

Santa might seem like harmless fun (he’s certainly jolly), but I think he’s actually bad. Bad for your, bad for your kids, bad for the parent-child relationship.

Lying to children is bad. That seems like something we can all agree on. Perhaps a case can be made for some protective lies, like saying “He died in his sleep” about the child’s pet dog, when really you know what happened is that it was hit by a car and dragged its intestines for a hundred yards before collapsing in a pool of its own blood. But for some reason, when it comes to Santa, we’re fine with the lies. We expect our children to trust us, but how can you really trust someone who has lied to you for years? As children get older, they listen to their parents less and less, and we assume that’s just natural, but perhaps it’s simply the obvious result of years of lies about the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa.

In nearly all other cases, we tell our kids the truth. We don’t tell them that the Sun goes around the Earth, even though it would certainly be more special if we were the center of the universe. If you really wanted it to be special, you could tell the child the Sun went around them, and them alone, so that it’s lucky for the rest of us they happen to live on Earth so we get it going around us too and powering our entire planet. No, we tell them the plain facts and abandon the magic: Earth goes around the Sun.
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Getting a Job is Demeaning and Wasteful

(Source: Jenni C)

(Source: Jenni C)

So, you need a job. What do you do? First, you spend days, weeks, or months looking for a job. You try to find a job that matches your skills, because what a waste it is to you personally and to the national economy if you are overqualified for a job (which also then prevents someone perfectly qualified for that job from getting it). Once you’ve found a suitable job and have tailored your resume to suit, then you find out that they have an electronic application form online and you have to take all the info from your resume and spend an hour manually typing it in. Of course, this all assumes that  you have the luxury of looking for a job that fits with your skills, instead of being like most people and simply having to get a job – any job – because you have bills to pay and will be homeless and then dead if you don’t get one.

Alright, so you’re not homeless or dead (or at least not dead, since you’re still reading this). Continue reading

The Unnecessary Stress of Modern Parenting

None of this is as stressful as holding your child on your feet all winter while you don't eat anything and your wife has gone off to hunt in the frigid Arctic waters where killer whales and sea lions may eat her at any moment, but still. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

None of the things in this post are as stressful as holding your child (as an egg) on your feet all winter while you don’t eat anything and your wife has gone off to hunt in the frigid Arctic waters where killer whales and sea lions may eat her at any moment, but still. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Parenting can probably not be totally free of stress and responsibilities. Human young take a very long time to fully mature compared to other animals, so there is some responsibility inherent in being a parent. However, I think there are many ways that humans have created unneccessary stress and responsibilities for parents.

Take the common complain from parents about being a taxi. The internal combustion engine wasn’t invented until last century. Prior to that it was impossible to be a taxi for your kids. There was nowhere that you could take your kids that they couldn’t go themselves, unless they were too young to walk.

Before the last few centuries, nearly everyone lived in small towns of less than 300 people. Almost all of those people would be related by blood or marriage. This meant there was no need to worry about strangers. You knew every person your child was likely to come into contact with, and most of those people would be relatives.
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We Offer Nothing

_45550314_currencies_226x170I recently read an article titled “They used to love shopping and selfies, now they’re jihadi brides”, written about teenage girls who had gone to join Isis. Not that I think Isis is necessarily better than shopping and selfies (personally I enjoy buying a pair of pants much more than beheading someone), but I don’t think it’s hard to see how someone (i.e. a teenager) who is looking for meaning in life is absolutely not going to find it in the prevailing messages our culture gives.

They see people working themselves to death just so they can buy more things that they’re not really happy with. In school, they’re told an education is important not so you become a better person, not so you can improve the world, but only so that you can then get a job (the higher paying the better), which you can use to get money and buy stuff. Continue reading