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Maoris and Gays

April 19, 2018 Leave a comment

Any minority group which hopes to gain acceptance and support from the wider population needs to manage its expectations carefully. Most people try to be positive about others, but sometimes that attitude can be taken advantage of. And groups shouldn’t just try to be fair and reasonable just because that is the best way to advance their own agenda, but also because it is the most morally correct thing to do.

Anyone who follows this blog will probably recognise the ominous signs of a potentially controversial argument coming up. And yes, that would be true, because I’m getting pretty sick of the excessive demands associated with two groups in particular: Maoris (the original inhabitants of New Zealand) and gays. Yes, I told you this would be controversial!

Notice that I didn’t say that I have any issues with members of either of those groups. I get on absolutely fine with Maori people and gays. It is the political correctness associated with these groups, and often shown by people who aren’t actually in the groups, that annoys me.

There are a few events which have particularly triggered my indignation recently, so now I need to list these and say why I find them problematic.

The first is something that happened at a ceremony for the Taite Prize, a relatively unknown and apparently fairly irrelevant New Zealand music award. The band, “The Headless Chickens” (one of my favourite band names), was receiving an award for an album they had released in 1988. One of the members had recently died and another member at the ceremony scattered a small amount of his ashes on the stage.

The band described the gesture as “wonderful and magical”, and many people agreed. Unfortunately some Maori people, and many others in the political correctness crowd, were immediately offended, saying it conflicted with Maori cultural beliefs. And as we all know, no matter how silly and excessive they are, all beliefs of minority cultural groups must be instantly promoted above the beliefs and needs of every other group!

I don’t think anyone should deliberately upset another person by doing something that conflicts with their beliefs, but if an action is meaningful to them, or relatively harmless, and not deliberately insulting, then why make a fuss? But it becomes a power game to many people. They use any excuse to take offence and inflict their beliefs on others under the guise of cultural sensitivity. Well what about some sensitivity towards the band who had lost a valued member and friend?

But this sort of thing happens almost every day. Another example recently involved “Heke” beer which was criticised because the name Heke has significance to Maori, especially as it was the name of a 19th century chief. But the actual origin of the name is the island the beer is made on: Waiheke Island. Again this looks like an attempt by one culture to dominate another by whatever devious means are available.

Yet another example is criticism of pronunciation of Maori words and names. Apparently the failure to get this right is seen as a form of insult and a deliberate failure to treat Maori culture with sufficient respect. But this is just more fake power politics, in my opinion.

In fact, because of these excessive reactions, many people are feel so resentful towards Maori cultural beliefs that they are more likely to ignore or deliberately challenge them in future. Here’s some examples of comments on Facebook about the Heke beer issue…

This ridiculous industry of Maori grievance and offense is getting out of control. We have to start telling them we don’t care so just shut up.

Teke Tane Heke is not a name unique to Hone Heke. You don’t see the family of Prince Tui Teka trying to ban Tui beer, do you?

Ah right, so there’s only ever been one Heke. Didn’t realise that, or that a ‘surname’ name can be copyrighted. I might complain to a certain American soup company who are using my ancestor’s name on their product. [posted by someone with the surname Campbell]

Something else to moan about, lets not worry about poor education levels, welfare and the crime rate, focus on the big things aye…

Call it whatever you like and ignore all calls to change it although if you pay the “IWI” a couple of cans they will probably say it is ok.

They talked about it on newstalkzb this morning. It’s brewed at Waiheke Island that’s where the name comes from. Nothing to do with Hone Heke.

Oh I dont think they grabbing name at all its not full name just happened to be heke exactly right bt Tui an the comment bt Tui Tekas Whanau you have campbell soups etc etc na dont wash sorry

Im going to go out of my way to buy this beer and support the people that make it, just to spite these iwi fools.

In other words pay us some money.

What IWI Stands 4 ??? I want income ????

I don’t see much support for the political correctness team there, but I do see a lot of resentment expressed as disgust and ridicule. And yes, one of those comments was mine. I will leave the reader to guess which one!

So if that wasn’t awkward enough, I now need to move on to the second part of this post: the mindless reaction some people have when they think they detect insults against people of alternative sexual orientations, such as gays.

Again, I have a specific example. Australian rugby player, Israel Folau, has received a lot of criticism for his comment that “gays are destined for hell unless they repent their sins”. There is serious discussion about whether he should be allowed to stay in the team he plays for, and various leaders in the rugby world have made some very pompous comments on the subject.

Obviously i don’t agree with him because I have nothing against gays, and as an atheist I don’t think Hell exists, and even if it did, I wouldn’t agree with the idea of gay people going there. But this is clearly a strongly held belief for Folau, and doesn’t he have the right to say what he thinks?

It’s not like he has refused to play against teams with gay people in them, or personally abuses them, or wants homosexuality to be made illegal. Actually, he might support some or all of those ideas for all I know, but even if he does, that’s not the point under discussion.

So he’s a deluded moron who believes a primitive and evil religion, but isn’t that an opinion he is entitled to? And doesn’t the inclusivity the rugby bosses keep talking about apply to people with unusual religious views too?

It’s just another example of where fake outrage takes over and people in charge are just so enthusiastic to be making the right noises in support of a “repressed minority” that they put no real thought into what they say publicly.

In fact, I would be very surprised if a lot of the people who make the disingenuous statements in support of Maori culture and gay rights don’t secretly make inappropriate comments and jokes about them. I know a lot of people who do. Political correctness is not as widely accepted as it might seem. Not even when applied to Maoris and gays!

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Feminism and Trumpism

April 10, 2018 Leave a comment

During a visit to fix a computer issue today I got involved in a “vigorous debate” regarding the overbearing politically correct agenda currently favoured by the left. I emphasised to the person involved – who I respect and agree with far more than I disagree with – that I share her broad political agenda, but think that some of its extreme positions are counter-productive.

For example, I said that I basically reject feminism because of the way the more extreme advocates of that view have made it look ridiculous. She looked offended and reminded me that she was a feminist. I said that there are a range of views held by feminists and that her brand was likely to be more reasonable than the type I object to. But was I just being accommodating in order to avoid an argument with a person who I fundamentally agree with? Maybe.

I told her that the more extreme feminists are the problem, but she denied these even exist. I guess this depends on your view of what is far enough from the norm to be classed as extreme, but surely she was being naive because there are extremists in every group, and why should feminism be any different?

For example, I would say a feminist who says that it is OK for false accusations against men to result in their social destruction is an extremist. As is one who says that all men are rapists. And the view that micro-agressions, such as “offensive” comments, are equally as bad as physical agression, such as rape, is also extreme. These views have all been shared by feminists recently. They exist.

But because this woman identified as a feminist she had to defend, or possibly deny the existence of, these ideas. In other words, she had lost touch with reality, which just happens to be my number one complaint about feminism, along with all the other -isms. (see my blog post, “No More -isms” from 2018-02-10).

This is an example of the tribalism which is currently making fair and reasonable discussion almost impossible. Because she belongs to the feminist “tribe” she has to defend it, even when it is wrong. And every group is wrong at various times.

Maybe the saddest and most ironic aspect of this is that she criticises Trump supporters for being single-minded and supporting him whatever the situation, yet fails to recognise that she is doing exactly the same thing herself. This lack of self-awareness is a sure path to delusion.

There is no doubt that some groups are far more susceptible to this than others. And some groups have a far more fact-based and reasonable world-view from the very beginning. So although all tribes suffer from these defects in some way, not all tribes are equally bad.

So how does feminism compare with Trumpism in this regard? Well you could say the fundamental aim of feminism is to attain equality for women, and that is a noble aim. But you could also say the fundamental aim of Trumpism is to make America great again, which sounds OK too. Are either of these aims any more real or worthy than the other? Well, to some extent they are, but they are also both quite delusional, because the stated aim often has very little to do with the actual activities of the group.

And that is why I don’t belong to any groups. I look at every issue in a neutral way… well, let’s be honest here: no one really does that, but at least I do it unencumbered with the inherited beliefs of any particular tribe.

And, as I said in the post I referenced above, the tribes I could possibly be associated with – such as atheism – aren’t real tribes because atheism is just the refusal to belong to a any religious tribe. And a similar argument applies to skepticism, although I agree the case for claiming that is non-tribal is less strong. But I will say is that there is plenty of stuff I hear from the leadership of skepticism which I think is nonsense, often motivated by that same dreaded left-wing, politically correct agenda.

As I have said on several occasions in the past, I don’t just thoughtlessly and automatically criticise Trump like most people on the left do, but I do disagree with many of his political positions. And I agree with most of the stated aims of feminism, even though I disagree with many of the details of how these aims are allegedly achieved. So I guess I would rate feminism ahead of Trumpism… but not by much!

Home or Away?

April 2, 2018 Leave a comment

Last night I went to a music concert featuring popular performer, Ed Sheeran. Now, I do have to say that I’m not necessarily a big fan, and it was really an event my wife wanted to go to rather than me, but he is a competent musician, and some of his material is quite good. Yeah, I’m sort of damning with faint praise there, a bit!

The small city I live in invested in a covered stadium – the only one in New Zealand – a few years back, and it has been a real asset in many ways, attracting many music events which would not have been likely to come here otherwise. Ed Sheeran was one, and I also saw Robbie Williams, and Black Sabbath there recently.

But what’s the point? Well I do have to say that live concerts featuring leading performers, like Ed Sheeran (and Ozzie Osbourne!) are quite special and there’s something unique about being actually at a real event. A similar argument applies to watching movies in a real movie theatre instead of at home. But at the same time the standard of entertainment experience I now have at home is pretty exceptional too!

I was listening to some music on my AV system today and a particular song played which was beautifully recorded in the old-fashioned way: without a lot of digital processing or fancy techniques but with just a few mics and directly onto a fairly high quality medium (probably analog). The sound was just so pure and true, and orders of magnitude better than anything I have heard at a live concert where the sound quality (especially in a roofed stadium where echo can blur the sound) is actually pretty poor.

I have a fairly sophisticated AV system with a good quality multi-channel receiver, speakers, and other components. It’s nowhere near as high-end as a true fanatic with plenty of money might have, but it is far better than the average system. Anyway, when the source is good it really can sound great. There’s plenty of power, good bass from the sub, and I have fine-tuned everything to optimise the sound. The biggest issue is that I have some items in the room which vibrate when the bass gets too extreme – but my wife won’t let me remove them. I mean, does the wood burner really need a chimney (especially one that vibrates at about 30 Hz)? I don’t think so!

I also recently upgraded my TV to a UHD (4K) model with HDR. The screen is only moderately big at 58 inches, but the room isn’t big enough to make anything bigger practical. But again, the picture quality can be magnificent. With a really good source, recorded in UHD, at a high frame rate, and optimised for HDR, it’s almost like the picture is a real thing you can reach out and touch. The blacks are really deep, the whites are super bright, and the colours can be really saturated but also be subtle and realistic. Again, I spent a fair bit of time optimising the many settings the TV has to get it working the way I like.

So my point is why would I want to go to a movie or a live concert? The system I have at home offers a far better experience. Even if I ignore the tedium of the tasks associated with the outside experience – like finding parking, buying movie tickets, and driving home through massive traffic jams after concerts – the home system still looks and sounds better. And, if you ignore the initial cost of the equipment (over $15000 original full price), it is far cheaper too.

As I said above, there is something special about live events, so I will probably continue going to them, but home-based AV systems are certainly a great alternative, especially when combined with services like Apple Music and Netflix.

Lloyd Geering

March 24, 2018 Leave a comment

Lloyd Geering is a famous New Zealand theologian. Actually, that isn’t necessarily much of a claim because my country isn’t exactly famous for its religious belief or its theologians, but Geering is still a pretty interesting character. He is Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, and recently turned 100.

Maybe the most famous aspect of his life was an incident where he faced charges of heresy (or, more accurately, disturbing the peace of the Church, and doctrinal error) in 1967 for his controversial views. He is the only person to have faced that charge, and it was withdrawn after an agreement was reached.

The Church might have decided it would be best to avoid the whole issue after Geering addressed the Presbyterian General Assembly for 90 minutes, disputing the belief that God created the Earth and is still watching over it, and claiming that Jesus’ remains are still somewhere in Palestine.

It’s pretty moderate stuff, really, and shows just how far we have come since then. Today we would think very little of that sort of claim. In fact it might be more worthwhile to discuss whether Jesus even really existed, making the claims of what happened after his death somewhat irrelevant.

But now I should move on from that incident to some of the opinions he presented in a recent interview I listened to. I have to say that the majority of what he said made perfect sense, but there were a few things I disagreed with. So let’s look at some of his thoughts…

He initially became interested in religion when he joined a student Christian group at Otago University. He did this primarily for the social benefits, rather than any true religious interest, but that grew later.

I have often said that churches are a great place to meet people and establish social connections. This has nothing to do with the existence of any supernatural entities, of course.

He initially saw god as a mystery beyond human understanding, but later realized that god is not a supernatural being, but an important word or concept created by humans.

I guess there is a lot of truth in this. Obviously, as an atheist, I think god is a human invention, but the idea that the concept of god is important, even if it has no real physical existence, seems fair. The word “god” is often used by completely non-religious people, including myself. And it features in 8 of the quotes I have from Stephen Hawking (also an atheist) including stuff like “God not only plays dice, He also sometimes throws the dice where they cannot be seen.” Clearly god is a useful metaphor.

He thinks faith is an attitude of hope or trust in the future, and in friends. He tries not to undermine the faith of others, but has said that “god is over” in his books.

If people choose to read his books they should be prepared to have their faith challenged as well, I guess. But I think defining faith in the way he does just avoids the real issue. The sort of faith people have in religious teachings is far beyond simple hope or confidence. It is an often unshakeable belief in something, even though that belief would be absurd in any other context. I think he over-rates faith in this way, but so do most other people.

After the heresy trial he realised that the church is really just another human organisation, and primarily intent on maintaining itself. He thinks the church hasn’t kept up with theology.

I have discussed theology with several people and this seems to be true. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised about this because in most fields the academic, theoretical branch (like theology) is generally ahead of the more mundane, day-to-day implementation of that field (the church).

But it seems apparent that churches are less driven by theory and by new information than other organisations, and change happens very slowly, so I guess the practice of religion is likely to be more behind the theory that in other areas. And it seems that the practice is changing so slowly that the whole idea of religion is being rejected. Good thing too!

He thinks people have realised that the secular world is OK, but use Christian tradition to draw upon. He goes to a church called St. Andrews on the Terrrace. When asked, what is the point he says it is to join other people, who are more tolerant of gays, etc. He says that churches were opposed initially to all the great forward steps, and were regressive, but they didn’t use to be like that, before the 18th century. The church is opposed to the secular world, but the secular world is a natural extension to Christianity.

So, where do I start? It is true that our modern science-based, secular societies did originate from Christianity dominated societies, but I don’t think that implies that we should thank Christianity in many ways for what we have today. It is more like we progressed to where we are despite Christianity, not because of it. And he is right that churches, in general, are opposed to progress, but (again in general, because there are exceptions) I cannot see how it has been any better in the past.

He says the central doctrine of Christianity is that god became human, but god is just people’s highest ideas or values, such as love, justice, honesty, and purity. There is only one world, the physical world. The world of thought allows us to interpret reality, through the concept of god, which has no real existence.

I always feel like this tactic of defining god as some sort of immaterial human trait or other poorly defined concept, is a bit disingenuous. God has a specific meaning for most people: a supernatural, conscious entity. If Geering thinks there is some sort of conceptual idea common to humans which is an important force in our progress then he should use a different word to describe it, to avoid confusion.

He was asked: in the past god stopped us being too hubristic. What stops us now? He says use the example of Jesus. He was a great teacher of wisdom, lived life to full, and accepted others. God is in us as a set of values. In the past the notion of bad people getting their comeuppance in the next world provided some comfort for many, but that is not Christian. It is Biblical. The Bible is an important set of human writings, but shows prejudice, is fallible, and parts of it are wrong. We should also recognise that it contains a lot very valuable content too, and is of huge cultural importance.

It is true that Christianity does prevent hubris in many, but I think the price is far too great, because the message that everyone is a sinner and barely worthy of God’s forgiveness is a particularly damaging one, I think. I do agree about the Bible though: it is an important source of cultural detail, it is hugely compromised (especially in the Old Testament), and also has some fairly good positive philosophy. But in the end, it is just another work of mythology and should be treated as such.

When asked about his attitude to “new atheism” he says he agrees with a lot of what Richard Dawkins says, but thinks he is too extreme and doesn’t realize how important the concept of god is. He thinks that concept has caused a lot of trouble, but has done more good.

I always find Richard Dawkins extremely reasonable, except when severely tested by great ignorance, but I guess the fact that he dares to clearly say what he really thinks can be challenging to some people. Dawkins actually gives Christianity too much credit, in my opinion, because he concentrates far too much on the positivity of the New Testament without acknowledging the bad aspects.

And whether Christianity has done more good or more bad is very much open to question. I don’t think there is a clear case either way. I would tend towards saying the bad outweighs the good – especially because of its contribution to the Dark Ages, and the numerous atrocities carried out on its name – but I am open to alternative views on this.

Geering calls himself a non-theist. There are many definitions of god. The idea of a single god occurred 2500 years ago, and the opening lines of Genesis represent a dividing line in culture, because it was the first example of monotheism. The idea also lead to modern science.

It does seem that early Judaism was the first definitive example of monotheism, although there were many religions before that which had similar ideas. I’m not sure why that is so significant though, because supernatural belief in one or many deities still has the same negative consequences. And I always have problems with the idea that science came from Christianity when clearly it came from Greek philosophy and was actually repressed by Christianity.

He has faith in the human species, more so now than in past. He thinks things are getting better, and thinks we should have more confidence now than at the start of the 20th century. He says nationalism is weaker now, we have a global community, there was no World War 3 (and nukes helped prevent that), and that we are now more accepting of differences in cultures, gender roles, etc.

I tend to agree that things are gradually improving, apart from a few rather obvious issues we have today. This is mainly due to religion being abandoned I would have thought, so I’m not sure how this fits in with his other hypotheses.

Finally, prayer. He never prays – it is not even an option – but he does meditate. On the other hand, he thinks prayer is a form of meditation, that confession is self-reflective, and that we answer our own prayers.

Sure, there are positive benefits to prayer, but there a lot of negatives as well. While prayer can give people subconscious motivation to get things done, it can also give them a reason not to do anything, because “God will handle it for them”. And if he doesn’t? Well, God works in mysterious ways!

So I think Geeing has some interesting ideas, and a lot of them are quite rational. But he still has that underlying predisposition towards seeing Christianity as a source of positive influence. If he approached his ideas of how the world works from a more neutral starting point I think he would give religion a lot less consideration.

Still, he is just a theologian, so I think I can be generous to give him a pass mark!

Jobs, Hitchens, Hawking

March 21, 2018 3 comments

Is it normal to feel a real sense of loss when people you never even met die? I’m not sure, but there have been three occasions where this has happened for me. Anyone who really knows me might be able to guess the three people involved, especially when one of them should be fairly obvious given recent events. But I would like to discuss briefly these three and why they had that effect.

Obviously the third is Stephen Hawking, but who are the other two? Well, if you haven’t read every blog entry I have ever written (why not, because I’ve only done 1905 at the time I wrote this) you might still guess that the first is Steve Jobs, and the second is Christopher Hitchens.

I often say that I’m not into hero worship, but that doesn’t stop me from recognising a few really special people who I do admire more than most, even when they are flawed or controversial in some way (actually, for me, that makes them even better).

In fact, what is the point of being any sort of public figure or even being a person who participates meaningfully in modern society if you are not controversial? Really all that means is you don’t accept every rule or bias currently imposed by society. If you don’t have at least one controversial belief then why even bother existing? And if you have these beliefs why not share them, discuss them, and maybe even have your mind changed on the subject or possibly convert other people to your ideas?

Looked at this way it is everyone’s duty to be controversial, although there is a fine line between offering genuine controversial and original opinions and just being a troll for the sake of it – a line I might have even crossed myself on occasions!

But back to the three people. Maybe the most interesting aspect of my list is that it is so short, and doesn’t include any pop (movie, music) heroes, politicians, etc, which many other people might be tempted to choose. Also, the three people are from quite different backgrounds: Jobs was a business person and tech entrepreneur; Hitchens was a critic, essayist, and journalist; and Hawking was a theoretical physicist.

They all died after significant battles with diseases: pancreatic cancer in the case of Jobs, esophageal cancer for Hitchens, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis for Hawking. All of them knew the disease was going to kill them, but at least Hawking survived about 50 years longer than expected.

The battles they all had against these disabilities were quite inspiring, especially in the case of Hawking, and Hitchens wit and thoughtfulness about his imminent demise was made more compelling by the fact that his smoking and drinking habits were the likely cause.

Why I admired Steve Jobs is difficult to explain. He was fundamentally a business person, which is a category I don’t usually have much respect for, but Jobs was so atypical that he seemed above the others, except maybe for Tesla and now Elon Musk, who are similar types of characters.

Jobs wasn’t a tech genius and he wasn’t a business genius either. He was an ideas man and someone who could make his ideas happen, usually by ruthlessly utilising people who really were geniuses, especially in tech. There is no doubt that some parts of his character could be seen as being unpleasant, but what he did worked, at least most of the time.

I enjoy debating and arguing with people, and Christopher Hitchens was perhaps the greatest debater I have ever heard. I often felt sorry for his opponents before the debate even started because I knew Hitch would destroy them. Of course, he did tend to take on religious and excessively politically correct people, so my sympathy for them was limited!

But his recall of facts, use of language, and general knowledge of politics, history, and religion, amongst other topics, was impressive. Sure, his knowledge of science and tech was limited but that didn’t seem to matter in most of the situations he was in.

Some of his quotes are brilliant to, and include many of my favourites, like this one: “Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the transcendent and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.”

Finally, what about Hawking? Well he was a legendary figure in popular culture as well as in real science. If anyone was asked to name a cosmologist (or maybe even just a scientist) Hawking would be a common choice, because of his appearance due to his disability which required he live in a wheelchair and use a speech synthesiser, and for his appearances in popular TV shows such as the Simpsons and Big Bang Theory.

The speech synthesiser voice became so well known that it was like his trade mark and he didn’t want it changed even when more natural sounding synthetic voices were available.

Hawking is often pictured sitting in front of a blackboard full of obscure mathematical formulae, a sort of stereotyped image which goes back at least as far as Einstein. But he couldn’t write on a blackboard, and instead he manipulated complex mathematics purely in his mind. It is an astonishing ability and many of his great discoveries were made after his disability became more serious. Maybe being cut off from the world to some extent actually helped him focus on the science (he once said “I can’t say that my disability has helped my work, but it has allowed me to concentrate on research without having to lecture or sit on boring committees”).

I’m not the only one to be affected by the loss of these people. I was quite surprised to see Hawking being mentioned in so many mainstream news services recently, and not just on the day of his death. It’s good to know that genuinely great people can get some recognition as well as the more mundane examples of celebrity, such as movie stars and other entertainers.

Finally, here are a couple of Hawking quotes I like: “Science is not only a disciple of reason but, also, one of romance and passion.” And, “Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”

Threat or Opportunity

March 12, 2018 Leave a comment

I have discussed the idea that our whole universe could be a simulation in past blog posts. I have also mentioned recent progress in virtual reality systems on multiple occasions. And finally, I have enthused over thought experiments at least once. How do all of these factors fit together? Well, read on to find out.

Pong was one of the first computer games. It was ultra-simple, involving a single bar moving up and down a screen which could “hit” a ball – a bit like table tennis (or ping pong, hence the name). Move forward almost 50 years and have a look at what we have now. People report being totally immersed in virtual reality (VR) games to the point where they almost accept them as reality.

So what will the simulations of reality be like in another 50 years? If we can already produce experiences which are almost indistinguishable from reality, surely in 50 years the experience will literally be impossible to distinguish from reality. Will that make it a type of reality in itself?

Apart from the philosophical question about what reality even is, if we assume the VR is not actually real, is it as good as, or even better than actual reality? And would people prefer to live in an artificial reality rather than the real world?

Most people will say no, but before they say that I would ask them some questions, as a sort of thought experiment (remember, these are one of my favourite things).

First I would ask this: if your “real” life wasn’t that great would you choose to live in a virtual world instead. This might be one where your body just exists in a facility with your life artificially maintained while you “live” in a virtual world. Most people would reject this idea.

But what about this: you are living your life which is pretty good, but you suddenly discover that it is really an artificial reality, and your life is far worse in the real world. Would you choose to terminate the simulation? In this case I think most people would be more hesitant.

If you had been paralysed by an accident, for example, why not live in a simulation where you are fully mobile? That might be tempting. What about if you are really poor and have a poor quality of life, would you live in a simulation where you have whatever you need (or at least a comfortable life, because realistic simulations probably shouldn’t go too far into fantasy). Maybe that might not be so appealing.

Many people will say that they need real human contact in the real world. But do they? People already enjoy interacting with their friends and family using phones, Skype, and other systems. If VR could make these interactions totally convincing, what would be the point of being in the same location as the other person?

And if people are happy to interact with other people through artificial means is it a big step to interact with artificial people instead, assuming they were indistinguishable from actual humans? In science fiction people often form bonds with non-humans and machines, although the machines are often portrayed as being like quirky humans (think of the android Lieutenant Commander Data in Star Trek) but surely the technology would be sufficient to make them just like any real human.

So if Data’s personality just existed in a computer and could be portrayed through VR then we have (paradoxically) an entirely artificial but totally authentic experience.

Emotionally these ideas seem distasteful to many people now, but I think they might be inevitable in the future, and I don’t think that future is far away. Would I want to live in a simulation? Well, I also have that emotional negative response but if it really is indistinguishable from reality then why not?

There are plenty of science fiction stories where characters live in artificial realities. Generally these have dystopian themes where the character wants to “escape” back to reality. But I wonder whether that would be the most likely response. I also wonder how soon this potential dystopia could become a real threat… or opportunity.

The End of an Error

March 10, 2018 Leave a comment

About 4 years ago my wife decided she would leave teaching (mainly because the school she taught at was managed by a bunch of incompetents, and the roll had reduced so much that some of the teachers were made redundant) and open a business of her own, in this case a cafe. Now, anyone who has been involved in owning or managing a cafe at this point is probably already thinking “bad idea”, and in many ways they would be right.

Why? Because it seems to be almost impossible to make any money from that kind of business, plus for the privilege of making little, if any money, the owner/manager has to work 12 hours a day – starting at 5 in the morning – 6 days a week.

But that’s not the worst of it either, because maybe an even more overwhelmingly soul-sapping aspect of owning a small business is the excess of mindless bureaucracy involved which results in very little of any value.

Of course, Inland Revenue is probably the worst offender, closely followed by other organisations like the local City Council. Then there are a collection of lesser parasites like insurance agents, body corporates, various health and safety organisations, lawyers, business experts, and advertisers.

I have a “real” job but also helped with running the cafe, especially with administration and accounting. Yes, you read that right: I helped with the tasks I most despise. While I felt as if most of them were a waste of time, at least I did gain a few skills in that area – but skills I hope I never have to use again!

On the other hand I did learn some more interesting stuff too. For example, at one point I was doing some baking and managed to make some pretty decent batches of scones and muffins. I never quite perfected making consistently good coffee though – that is a lot harder than you might think!

But getting back to the admin tasks. I had some major issues with those, so let me list a few of them here.

First, tax. Now I know that the two most onerous tax activities – GST and PAYE – are not actually costing me anything because I am just collecting tax for the government by adding an extra amount to prices and wages, but I do object to the amount of effort involved in doing that work. If the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) want to collect tax on sales of goods and services and on wages why don’t they do the work and collect the money themselves?

If I took the amount of time people spend on tax gathering activities (on behalf of the IRD) and multiplied by the number of businesses in New Zealand, it must come to a truly horrendous amount of time. How does IRD get away with this travesty of bureaucratic time wasting? Because they can. They can make whatever rules they like – whether they are fair or not – and impose them on whoever they want.

Note that I am not against tax, in fact far from it. It’s not paying the tax that worries me, it is the amount of time a person like myself, who is talented in many areas, wastes on doing IRD’s work for them.

And other government agencies are maybe even worse. We had to collect a payment from one employee, who had been incorrectly paid a benefit, and process the payment for the department involved. If we didn’t do this – even though it was nothing to do with us and had happened before we even employed the person – we would be fined. Again, this is an arbitrary and unfair law which was created simply because it could be.

Then there are the other forms of bureaucracy. The local council’s hygiene regulations are particularly silly. My wife took that very seriously and she maintained high standards, but I know that the inspection is more to do with paperwork being filled in correctly rather than any real measures designed to optimise food safety. I know other cafe owners who had terrible standards but kept the paper work up to date and achieved the top rating as a result.

My advice is to ignore the hygiene rating you see displayed at food premises, because that is just a measure of how well the person does documentation. Instead, have a look around any place you visit and search for signs of neglect.

It might seem to many people that running a small business is a truly worthwhile undertaking. Small businesses employee a lot of people and contribute significantly to the economy. And the government spends a lot of time talking about how important small businesses are, and how they want to encourage people to start one.

But they sure have a strange way of showing their enthusiasm. If they really wanted people to start a small business, why can’t the government and other authorities make the whole process a lot easier?

I’m sure that people running a cafe would rather make use of their talents in areas like baking, cooking, and hospitality instead of wasting hours every week on meaningless paper work. And I’m sure a struggling business where the owner is effectively making less than the minimum wage while working 70 hours a week would appreciate not having to pay provisional taxes on money which hasn’t even been earned yet.

I am contemplating becoming self-employed myself in the near future, but the advantages of being free of the stupidity of ignorant and dogmatic management decisions are at least partly negated by the dread I have of processing GST and other time-wasting accounting.

People might say that spending that time on tax calculations is just part of their “civic duty” as a citizen, but is it really? Would it not be better for the country if people spent their time doing what they’re good at? Why is accounting considered something everyone has to do, or pay an exorbitant fee to some accountant to do for them.

So yes, the end of our cafe means the end of processing payrolls, GST returns, tax payments, employer returns, hygiene certificates, building safety checks, and various other nonsense I can’t even bear to contemplate right now. It’s like the end of an era… or should that be end of an error?