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Why Making Money is the Modern Solution to Nihilism — June 19, 2021

Why Making Money is the Modern Solution to Nihilism

Having covered the most common responses to the question “what is the meaning of your life”, I thought it would be best if I explained my conception of it. As you can tell by the title, my purpose in life is rather controversial. I essentially want to become a capitalist and make as much money as possible. And for that, I want to work towards keeping capitalism as the system whereby society organizes itself. I can imagine Marx rolling in his grave right now. Jokes aside, my rationale for this telos isn’t malignant by any means; in fact, it’s moral: I intend to make as much money as possible so that I can help as many people as possible.

There can be many objections against holding making money as one’s meaning of life. Well, first is the Marxist objection: extracting profits (only possible through surplus labor according to Marx) is immoral. It doesn’t matter what you do with that money, whether you use it to buy yourself a private jet or give it away to starving children in Africa. You should not extract profits in the first place. For extracting profits means you are exploiting someone; you are paying someone less than their worth. You are deceiving them.

A Kantian objection against this telos would be that you are denying the worker—the person whose surplus labor you are using to make a profit—their rational autonomy. Kant said morals should be based upon whether an act respects or denies a person’s autonomy. By lying to the worker regarding the true value of their labor, you are disrespecting their ability to think for themselves, denying their rationality. If the worker is OK with being deceived, then by all means. For then the worker made this decision by own choice, exercising own will, rather than foisting your values upon them.

So the chain becomes something like this: you pay workers less than their worth; you don’t disclose this to them; you, therefore, disrespect their autonomy. That’s immoral. Thus, the profits are morally stained, and you should avoid this at all costs, regardless of whether you donate it or not.

This objection is valid. Of course, the classical repudiation of Marx’s surplus labor enabling profits—that the market value of a product doesn’t arise solely through social labor, but also through innovation value addition via marketing (more common nowadays as people have found ways to make marketing exceptionally effective)—repudiates this objection as well. But, there’s another reason why making money isn’t an immoral act per se., summarized by “the means justify the ends.” That is, donating loads of money to people—the end—is noble enough to offset the immorality involved in profiteering.

Moreover, the workers being exploited (which aren’t in many cases), are living in better standards than those who aren’t even employed or belong to the lower classes in underdeveloped countries. These folks truly have it bad. Therefore, by making money and giving it away to needy people, you are essentially acting as a redistributive machine: redirecting it from the less needy to the needier. This is also essentially what progressive taxation does, and I don’t see anyone up in arms against that. Indeed, even folks who are against social programs tend to support progressive taxation.

And, you are correct if you guessed this is also a utilitarian mission, for it rests on the argument of the greatest well-being of the greatest number of people. The workers you know personally aren’t being given the profits, in the form of stock options or bonuses, let’s say, but rather folks thousands of miles away are being handed over the profits, simply because that money can do more good there. It does not matter if you know those people far afield. All that matters is that they are just as conscious and sentient as any one of your workers and so their suffering, objectively speaking, equals the suffering of anyone you happen to be acquainted with. Making money, therefore, is my meaning of life, for it is the only goal that feels both realistic (pardon my overconfidence) and impactful.

Which Feels Worse, Regret or Remorse? — June 5, 2021

Which Feels Worse, Regret or Remorse?

What do the words regret and remorse mean to you? People often use them interchangeably, but there are major differences between them, not least that regret is about not doing something and then agonizing about it, whereas remorse is about admitting to one’s fault in doing something. Following that, the second difference is regret is an internal thing, while remorse is external. That is, regret is a personal affair of yours since you neglected to do something, and that brings you pain. It need not involve other people. Conversely, remorse is more like guilt. You only feel guilty when you have done something wrong and that affects others. Remorse is therefore external. Now, which one do you find worse?

For me regret always arises from acts of omission rather than acts of commission. That is, we always regret missing an opportunity rather than taking up an opportunity. Taking up an opportunity and then wishing you had not is remorse, by definition. Remorse is essentially trial and error. You tried something. You failed. And then hopefully you learned. Most importantly, that learning could not have happened if you had no remorse. The pain arising from that remorse is quintessential for you to learn from the mistake you made. The pain will encourage you to understand what you did wrong and how you can do better in the future. 

In my dictionary, failure is a good thing, probably even better than outright success. And for that reason, trial and error is great, and the remorse that comes attached with it is critical. However, regret is the psychic pain from a missed opportunity—an act of omission. Regret is therefore the feeling that you are not living up to your potential. And that’s worse for me.

But remorse is by no means a good thing, especially when it is mostly external. Remorse arises from acts of commission—doing something but doing it wrong. If the action affected others adversely, then this becomes an ethical issue, for it is the guilt of an immoral act that you have committed. Therefore, remorse also has an element of not living up to your (ethical) potential, but it has a moral dimension because it is your attitude towards others that you find lacking. 

I find regret much harder to deal with than remorse. This is simply because of the reason that others will much more easily forgive me for my acts, which helps me reduce the remorse I feel, but I would not forgive myself for missing an opportunity. And clearly, every one of us will find these two disparately bothering. 

What’s our Purpose in Life? Shortcomings of the Common Responses — May 29, 2021

What’s our Purpose in Life? Shortcomings of the Common Responses

The classical question that makes people lost, or at least makes most undergraduate students choke, is what is the meaning of their life. What’s your teleos? What is it all about for you? To a philosopher, purpose and meaning are different concepts. But a layman like myself would just use them interchangeably. Regardless, as soon as someone asks such a question, people stay schtum. It is undoubtedly hard to answer such a broad question on the fly. Moreover, it’s even harder to think about existential matters like these, and most people would rather avoid contemplating. So what constitutes a plausible answer to such a question? 

As a precursor, let’s consider the most common answers. Again, this is based on my experience. I suspect though what follows are indeed generally the most common answers.

  • First is the response “I want to make a change in the world.” Most of these responses are generic and don’t point to what specific change they want to make, or if that change will be good or bad. 

I particularly despise this response, not only because it is vague, but also because, strictly speaking, it is something everyone does just by the mere fact of existing in society. The moment you are born, you already made a change: you brought joy to your mother (assuming the birth wasn’t tragic, in which case you still made a change, but not quite the one you wanted.) Every time you cry as a baby (or as an adult) you prompt others to soothe you. That’s a change too. To be a bit more cynical, when you eat, you’re the reason plants are being destroyed or animals are being killed. You’re the cause of carbon emissions—just by existing. You are constantly making a change in the world, and  wouldn’t say that’s a noble purpose to have, unless it is elaborated on.

  • Another common response is “I want to make my family happy and see my children grow successful.” This collectivist sort of response is more prevalent in tight cultures, usually in third world nations. To me, this response sounds more direct and hence better than the first one, and it aligns well with a Darwinian perspective. Humans are reproducing machines and are self-interested (which extends to kin, by the definition of self-interest.) And being the Darwinian response does not make it wrong in any way. Darwinian analysis gets stigmatized way too much; it is not  wrong to mind your business and keep your moral circle within the family bounds. 

Still, I feel this response is lacking something. Of course you should prioritize your family (though some hardcore utilitarians would argue against that, claiming evolution has fooled us to think family should always come first, which, I suppose, it has), but there’s more to life than that. You’re born into a culture; your milieu sets your axiology and provides some meaning to your life, however unclear that might be. It, therefore, seems your teleos should extend beyond the family—to your culture. You owe society something. Whether the values society bestowed on you were good or bad, by your judgement, is a normative question; the point is, values were bestowed, and you therefore are a product of society and, as such, you ought to provide society some utility. Now whether this “society” is your district, your city, your nation, or even the world rests on you to decide. Though, ideally, it should be the entire world, with priority descending as you consider bigger societal circles, e.g., family priority higher and city priority lower. 

  • Lastly, the third most common response is “to do the most good possible” or some variant of this like “make the world as best as I can.” These are, in essence, utilitarian statements. My own purpose in life falls in this category of utilitarian statements but it is not of this sort where you aim to increase the well-being of the majority, for if you want to do the most good possible you will aim to please the majority of the people in the best way possible. This is also my argument against this particular statement. Sometimes, or oftentimes, the majority is in the wrong. Thus, to please the majority you may have to do what is either rationally wrong or morally wrong.

For instance, if the majority is a bunch of Islamists and want to jihad on the world, would you abet the jihad? That will, after all, bring pleasure to the greatest number of people. If you have an ounce of rationality or justice in you, you would realize that’s wrong. Therefore, sometimes, you ought to say eff you to the majority and do what you think is morally right (which could also be wrong, for you are no saint.) 

These are the most common meanings of life people hold. There are many things both going for them and against them, and I described only some pros and cons. Feel free to drop your meaning of life below; I’m always interested in hearing answers to this question. 

Worldly Philosophers Book: The Good and Bad — May 15, 2021

Worldly Philosophers Book: The Good and Bad

Before going into the content of this book, I must mention that I had always assumed this book was all about Philosophy, had nothing to do with Economics, and whenever I came across it in my book recommendations on Goodreads I ignored it. This continued until a friend recommended this book to learn more about Economics. I was flabbergasted. But boy, was this book about Economics. It is the best comprehensive summary of all the currents Economics as a discipline has swam in, and which philosopher was riding these currents or even, sometimes, causing them.

The most striking thing about this book is how engaging the writing is. Robert Heilbroner does a phenomenal job in this regard. I never once felt bored. (I was about to say I never once yawned, but research shows yawning actually has little to do with boredom.) The length was also decent, enough to provide a comprehensive account of the philosophers and their contribution to Economics but not too long to make the read a slog. The analogies and explanations were both great. Any layman, without any strong background in Economics, can easily understand the theories and the reasoning behind them. And there was no Mathematics, for those who loathe math (though the use of math in Economics was indeed mentioned.)

Second thing that stood out was the structure and depth of this book. The structure was fairly chronological, though comparisons to different time periods were frequently made (which only helped develop understanding.) Most prominent economists were covered, but more importantly some underrated economists who I had never even heard of were also well covered. Henry Gibson, for instance, was one such economist. I had never heard of him, but his theory that savings—arising naturally from Capitalism’s unequal distribution of wealth and the rich’s lower marginal propensity to consume—cause depressions made sense to me. Similarly, I had never heard of “Utopian Socialists” but they turned out to be a rather interesting bunch (though not significant in the grand scheme of things, or not in my opinion anyway.) Saint Simon was a particularly interesting individual who was so gung-ho about education and obtaining knowledge that he spent all his money on lectures and meeting intellectuals; he ended up homeless on the roads. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Stories like these—the history and persona lives of these philosophers—made this book an entertaining while intellectually stimulating read. Regardless, all books have flaws, and this one did too. But the one that stood out to me was the bias of Robert Heilbroner. He shone a benevolent light on the socialist and leftist figures in the book while skimping over the relatively conservative philosophers. Indeed, come to think of it, there weren’t many conservative philosophers mentioned in toto. And when they were, they weren’t treated too well. However, this book was still impartial from today’s standards. Perhaps I’m just being too critical.

Overall, I loved this book and am looking forward to reading more of Robert Heilbroner. Economics’ history is often glossed over in universities and colleges. Indeed, there is not much research into the history of Economics either. Any economist who ignores the discipline’s history does so at their own peril.

Maniaopoly: Instagram Hashtags & Digital Marketing — April 27, 2021

Maniaopoly: Instagram Hashtags & Digital Marketing

Recently, I have been interning as a social media marketing manager at a digital marketing firm. It is not a big name, but our work is well above average (though I’m clearly biased here.) But we can’t quite communicate our superior quality to potential consumers, at least not free of cost. We can run an advertisement campaign, but the need is not so dire and our budget is constrained. I must, therefore, drive up customer engagement and views through social media, and two weeks into this job, I am in awe.

What surprised me the most about the digital marketing world is just how saturated it is. As I mentioned, we, Galag Studio, provide animation, motion graphics, and other design services. But, after a whole day of observing and analyzing posts from other graphic designing firms on Instagram, I’m shaken by the sheer number of posts and activity that takes place. With Instagram, hashtags are key. Under the #logodesigning alone, there were at least 20 new posts every 10 seconds, i.e., 3 posts per second, or 120 posts every minute! (This figure may vary at different hours of the day. My observations were around peak hours.)

As an economist, I am not sure if I should be glad or not about this hyperactivity. On the one hand, competition is good. The more posts and individuals competing for attention the better. It gives people more choice regarding what to view. On the other hand, this is simply competition overload. Too much. As a consumer, I can’t imagine being pleased by seeing 20 different posts every 10 seconds. Overwhelming. I wouldn’t know where to look, what to pay attention to, and hence would be unable to chafe the wheat from the shaft.

Competition is supposed to allow consumers greater choice and agency to choose. That’s why monopolies are (theoretically) bad. But the Instagram world is the exact opposite of a monopoly. It is a maniaopoly. That’s what I have been calling it ever since.

Ultimately, the best logo designer among all those posters would drown, just like the worst would. But the odds of a consumer choosing the worst designer in a maniaopoly where there is a deluge of posts is much higher than in an ordinary competition. This is what makes this hyper-competitive environment, maniaopoly, all the worse. The good is awash with the bad and is less likely to be chosen. That’s the antithesis of what competition ought to do.

Moreover, in a maniaopoly, customers are less likely to return. No one likes being overwhelmed like that. At least the older, less tech-savvy customers would shun Instagram. And this is exactly what we see (or at least what I saw): hardly any purchases were being made in the tag section of Instagram. Sure, people were dropping hearts, but weren’t making purchases (at least not during peak hours.) I realized hashtags aren’t the way to make sales. Indeed, that’s not what folks are using them for anyway. They are merely being used to put yourself out in the maniaopoly—the tumultuous sea of neverending posts. Only to gain some likes and comments, though even that’s hard to do under such conditions.

Taking off my economist hat, I admit I absolutely hate marketing through Instagram. I don’t wanna be a part of a maniaopoly. But I’m finding ways to get traction via other ways. For starters, I’m prioritizing content over frequency. That’s not an optimal way to take benefit of Instagram’s algorithm, but it is better than competing in a maniaopoly. I’m also using trying other avenues, and they are proving worthwhile. But this post has gotten long enough; I will ruse over the rest of my digital marketing experiences in future posts.

Acting Under Uncertainty and Judging Ourselves Harshly — April 14, 2021

Acting Under Uncertainty and Judging Ourselves Harshly

There was once a small tribe, called KPO, which had come upon a gold mine in its land. KPO, however, was under threat from another tribe, let’s call it Vicious. The leader of KPO lost sleep on countless nights, imagining how her tribe would be demolished if Vicious attacks: how the women would be raped, how the children would be slaved, and how the men would be decapitated. The leader, however, knew if she used the bonanza of gold to negotiate with Vicious, it may escape doom. But there was a huge uncertainty here, for it is possible that once KPO lets Vicious know about its gold, Vicious would be even more gung-ho about raiding KPO. The leader was caught in a dilemma: to inform Vicious about the gold or not.

We all face choices under such uncertainty, though without such high stakes. As a reader, what would you suggest the leader do? Should she divulge the Vicious tribe about the gold and either manage to strike a deal or get killed even faster, or should she not tell at all and hope the Vicious tribe doesn’t raid? There’s extreme uncertainty in both choices, for the leader doesn’t know an iota about Vicious’s leader. She doesn’t know how savage or civil he is. Our gut instinct is to negotiate using the gold because it seems better than doing nothing and waiting for hell to break loose. Humans regret acts of omission much more than acts of commission.

But say she informs Vicious of the gold KPO has been bestowed with, and the tribes manage to strike a deal: Vicious won’t attack KPO in return for some ounces of gold each month. Alas, a few months later, after Vicious has scouted the KPO tribe and prepared its men, it decides to attack KPO. They wreak havoc on the KPO tribe and raid all their gold.

After reading this, our instinct is to say negotiating was the wrong decision. But was it? How can we presume the alternative—doing nothing—would’ve been better? Perhaps the Vicious tribe would’ve decided to attack immediately rather than months later, so the KPO people wouldn’t even had the chance to live as long they did after negotiating. Or perhaps the Vicious tribe would have been killed by some other tribe, or maybe they would’ve starved to death, hence allowing KPO to live peacefully (ceteris paribus). That’s the thing about uncertainty. We just don’t know what could have happened. In retrospect, every decision leading to failure seems wrong. But the alternatives could have been even worse. They could have led to more hellish failures. Or maybe not.

The matter of fact is, we have got to make decisions under uncertainty. Under the limited information we have in the present moment, we can’t judge ourselves harshly for taking this or that decision if it leads to what we consider a failure. Taking decisions is what matters. Though that doesn’t mean doing something. Taking no decision is a decision per se, just like the leader of KPO could have decided to do nothing. Sometimes that’s the best route to take. It often feels like doing nothing is the lazy way out, but under constrained information, it is often the most sensible thing to do. That is, still, not the point of this piece. The point is, to live life as a game—to see all big decisions as pieces on a chessboard and find thrill in the fact that you don’t know what moving this or that piece will do. That’s where the entire fun lies.

Islamism and Totalitarianism Go Way Back — April 4, 2021

Islamism and Totalitarianism Go Way Back

What happens when a group of people loses reason? What happens when they do not believe in the ability of reason to understand the world and metaphysics? Certainly, nothing good happens. Worse, though, happens when reason is supplanted by will: that is when the use of force ascends the use of reason.

This is exactly the fate that faced Islam, particularly in the Arab world where the notion that Muslims could be inferior to non-muslims (to “infidels”) in economics, politics, and education was utterly incomprehensible. As the Turkish caliphate fell in the 1920s and Christians started ruling over Muslim countries, the Muslim world descended into mass confusion. How could this be when the Quran has promised otherwise?

The answer of an Islamist to this was similar to the answer of a Nazi to Germany’s failure in WW1: that there were enemies within Islam and of course outside Islam. The enemy outside were the Jews, as always. Jews are always the scapegoat. Apparently, some mullahs even opined that Jews poison food and then export it to Muslim countries. Another demanded that Tom & Jerry be banned because Jerry represents Jews in that it is extremely cunning but also robs Tom all the time. The Jew card is always the go-to for an Islamist.

The enemy within, however, was the infidel Muslim who was debauched with the Western way of life; it was the Muslim, or rather the infidel, who used reason, instead of the scripture and force, to conclude. Such infidels must be killed if Islam is to become pure. That was the philosophy of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian author who appealed to Muslims all over the world. He wanted Islam to go back to its root—to revert to the way of the companions of the prophet. He was a fan of secular western philosophy, particularly that of Nietzsche and Marx. The reason he espoused these wasn’t merely because they were anti-christian, but because they advocated for the use of will, of power, in order to dominate and succeed. This, above all else, appealed to Islamists, who never believed in reason but only in pure will, like that of God. We have Al Ashari and Al Ghazali to thank for this change in the Muslim mindset, but that’s another post for another day.

With reason out of the game and with the primacy of power, equipped with the appropriate western philosophies of fascism and Communism, it was easy to descend into totalitarianism. That is exactly what we observe in Muslim nations around the world—a dictator using whatever force to squelch any dissent and wipe out “infidels”. Reason is not compatible with totalitarianism, as far as I can see. But Islamists need not worry about reason, hence the attraction of fascism and Communism in the Muslim world.

Free markets, on the other hand, make little sense, even to those with reason. How could transactions take place, how could the economy function, without a leader or an arbiter giving orders and dictating actions? How could such order emerge? Of course one can say Allah is what makes this beautiful order emerge, but that’s not what Economics or society points to; rather, it is the entrepreneurs, the consumers, the forces of supply and demand all combined which make this order emerge. But these things are not reasonable nor sovereign, by any means, in the mind of an Islamist. What nonsense are these “forces” of supply and demand? Do you mean to imply they are transcendental? How dare you.

All this, the rise of Totalitarianism and the fall of free markets and liberalism, has led to the dismal current state of the Arab world, which has fewer books published, as a whole, than Spain alone. The same Arab world would be poorer than Sub-Saharah Africa were it not for oil. And that bonanza might die out soon: not the supply, but the demand, as electric cars reign and the world minimizes the use of oil. One can only imagine the aftereffects and the mass confusion this gradual shift will bring to the Arab world.

The Gap between Knowledge and Implementation — March 24, 2021

The Gap between Knowledge and Implementation

The pain was unlike anything I had experienced. I could tell there was something wrong with my arm—something missing. Indeed there was: the x-ray scan showed a fracture—three tears just below my elbow. Sports gives and takes, and today it had taken from me. 13 year old me sat there waiting for the doctor, a short corpulent man who carried himself around confidently. While trying to bear the excruciating pain (was my first fracture, after all), I had a thought—a question. I immediately asked my father, who was sitting beside me staring at my x-ray scan. To this day, I haven’t received a good answer to the question, while the issue encompassing the question seems more pressing now.

The question was this: how can someone as knowledgeable of physical health as a doctor can be obese? How can someone be an expert in a field and ignore their expertise? Back then, it was the doctor. Now, it is also the writer who writes about the rules of good writing but constantly breaks them; the financial adviser who is knee-deep in debt; the cop who rather than preventing violence begets it instead. If you think about it, this phenomenon of personal negligence—of hypocrisy, in a way—exists in many fields and professions. You start seeing it everywhere. And then you arrive at the question: why?

For the doctor, the answer, though not obvious, is graspable. Doctors may tell you to exercise and eat healthily, but they don’t adhere to this advice for it is hard work to do so. In modern times, when processed food is cheap, flavorful, and is the norm, it is hard to beat the temptation. Once you start eating junk, you form a narrative: you’re not the kind of person who remains fit. Every unhealthy meal you then eat reinforces that narrative, and then it becomes a vicious loop until all your resolutions become fruitless.

Moreover, the fact that doctors have a busy and stressful life doesn’t make it any easier to change this narrative. It is then easier to convince yourself you don’t have time for exercise; and even if you do, then spending it with your family provides a higher marginal benefit.

Similarly, for financial advisers, it is tempting to splurge and be wasteful rather than be frugal. For cops, it is also sometimes more alluring to be belligerent and evince the natural human impulse of violence. Therefore, this becomes a matter of self-control, like much else in life. People fail to implement what they’ve learned and preached because of Akrasia—lack of will.

It seems tempting enough to put paid to this question and conclude Akrasia as the answer, but I feel there is more to it—much more. While self-control does explain this hypocrisy phenomenon to some extent, it doesn’t explain it all; many exceptions exist—people who are well disciplined but don’t follow what they preach. You know such individuals; I know such individuals. And these are the outliers—the phenomenon to be explained. Or we can also reverse the explanandum and instead ask, given how difficult modern society has made it to be disciplined, how is it that some folks follow what they preach? There are too many tantalizers now; how is it that some people maintain their self-control and avoid straying from the path they’ve determined as correct? Perhaps these are the outliers. Either way, the question stands: why do some people, even with full knowledge of the right course, don’t stay on that course, or don’t even bother to get on it?

On Free Will: Who owns your brain? — March 16, 2021

On Free Will: Who owns your brain?

One of the most interesting philosophical questions, or at least the most popular one, is whether people have free will. I’m probably the last person to have a legitimate opinion on this, but I can nonetheless express it. And the way I see it, free will does exist (at least how I define free will here.)

It’s interesting to note I used to be on the other side of the equation. I didn’t believe in free will and belittled those who insisted that it does exist. This is because I ran with a different definition of free will. What does it mean to you? I find that people are befuddled by the word “will”. What is will? Is it the power to make decisions? Or is it the power to take action? Could it rather be the ability to choose between your options?

The last way is how I define free will. However, there’s a difference between the ability to decide between options and taking an action between them. That is, free will isn’t free action. I believe we have free will, for when facing options, we can weigh up the pros and cons and choose accordingly. This does not mean we choose the option that’s more “rational”; it merely means we pick the one that’s overall more attractive, both in hedonistic and rational realms.

How does this look in practice? Imagine it’s the weekend and your family wants you to go out with them to a relative’s wedding. However, the wedding clashes with your gym timing. You can’t go to both places. This is where you deliberate: you are looking forward to today’s workout, but your family is also important to you, not to mention the wedding’s dinner. Tough choice. You are weighing up the pros and cons. In the end, your love for the gym wins out and you decide to forgo the wedding.

What happened here? You did a cost/benefit analysis for both the options and chose one. Was this action based on your preferences? Was your choice your choice? Damn right it was. Was it a “rational” choice though? Certainly, missing one day at the gym wouldn’t have killed your gains. Conversely, the psychological harm to the family of your selfish decision outweighed the benefit of going to the gym. Perhaps the dinner alone outweighed that benefit. But you made the decision nonetheless. Irrational, yes. Hedonistically speaking, it is quite sensible. Whatever the case, the decision was entirely yours and no one else’s. It was you who put your own welfare on top of the priority list. Your neurons and feelings decided it. Yours. Even if you didn’t feel you had conscious control over those neurons, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are a part of you. Why the bias towards consciously recognizing them as a part of you? Not everything within you needs to be at the forefront of your consciousness to be considered under your control.

This is where people lose belief in free will. Neuroscience has shown decisions are made by our brain much earlier than they’re consciously registered. This is called readiness potential—the delay of becoming aware of our decisions. It’s not a matter of milliseconds but entire seconds. That’s a long while. After those seconds, this decision of yours arises to your consciousness. But it is, still, a decision of YOURS. Whether your brain made this decision seven seconds earlier or an hour earlier, it is YOUR brain that made it. Nobody else’s. And neuroscience has also shown the plasticity of brian: your brain is molded to your life. Your brain is a reflection of you.

Lastly, there is this contention against free will: it’s not you who is deciding but a bunch of neurons and neurotransmitters releasing alien chemicals, like oxytocin, serotonin, and whatnot. What bullpucky, honestly. Every single thing you do is directed through your brain. Your brain is the originator of every decision. If it isn’t your brain that’s responsible for your actions, then what else? Would you rather have it that someone else is responsible for your decisions? Or would you rather that your stomach is responsible for your decisions? Herein lies the fallacy: your decisions have to originate from somewhere, and they do so from your brain. We should be glad that is indeed our brain and not our stomachs making these decisions. God knows how disastrous things would be then.

The Natural Inclination Towards Authoritarianism — March 9, 2021

The Natural Inclination Towards Authoritarianism

Liberty is ostensibly what humans (or at least Western people) desire. Pure freedom: free from the orders and constraints of society and any dictator. This is a general notion upon which all modern political and economic discourse is based; but then this is also the fundamental contentious issue where ideologies like libertarianism and communism or socialism diverge. Rather than approaching this axiom normatively, which is done enough as it is in most political discourse, we should consider the extent to which it is true—if true at all.

From one perspective, almost all human behavior evinces a penchant for totalitarianism. We like to be given orders to do something, especially under uncertainty and chaos. After all, we humans prefer order over chaos, and it is no coincidence the verb order and the noun order are epistemically the same. We like to be led by our leaders, teachers, parents, gurus, and all kinds of sages. We deem their opinions and decisions inspirational and worthy to be followed. We deem their orders worthy. The demand for sages and religious bigwigs is no coincidence—it is merely humans revealing their preference.

Of course, one may argue that what we want from these folks is not orders, but for advice. While that is true, it still doesn’t refute the fact that there is a demand for some kind of order—some kind of interference. It is then clearly not absolute freedom and no interference that we demand. And this totalitarian inclination of ours is by no means a recent phenomenon: if anything, it is on the wane in the modern world if we are to judge by the falling demand for religion and the uptick in “acceptance” parenting.

Speaking of religion, that is perhaps the epitome of our authoritarian proclivities. It evolved as a form of tethering humans to some transcendental truth—something bigger and beyond humans and hence worthy of being followed, worthy of being totalitarian. It dissolves chaos, and that is one of the prime appeals of religion apart from its communal aspect. Nor is it coincidental that the most authoritarian religions, particularly Islam (if not its liberal branches), are also the ones most followed. Religion seems to be a hard bullet to bite for a freedom-loving moral animal.

Finally, there’s also another aspect of this totalitarian impulse of humans, namely that of precommitment and self-governance. Precommitment is a fascinating phenomenon: it is essentially when an individual forecloses the option of doing something he/she deems harmful. That is, the individual pre-commits or makes a vow beforehand. This may also involve holding yourself accountable to family and friends and including stipulations like “you can post whatever you like through my Facebook account if I eat that fifth slice of pizza.” That does sound something like authority; that does sound something like we are taking orders from someone, even if that individual is just ourselves here. Remember, the name of the game is constraints and restrictions, not freedom. The source of those constraints can be external, as in a guru or a religious authority, or just internal but via external means as in through pre-commitment devices, which might be our friends or even robots in the future.

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