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De omnibus dubitandum

There is a lot I want to say about the current situation involving Oscar Pistorius – the double amputee athlete who’s competing in the athletics world championship right now, alongside the world’s best fully able-bodied athletes – but it would turn in to a very long and rather confused garble as I’m not entirely sure yet myself where I stand on the issue.

So instead I’ll leave you with a selection of writings from people who spend a lot more time and effort thinking about these things.

Is Oscar Pistorius the first Posthuman? – Ishan Dasgupta:

“Whether one believes Pistorius should race with biologically intact men depends on how one feels about a variety of issues ranging from enhancement to the purpose of sport. Leaving this question aside I want to focus here on a broader question: Is Oscar Pistorius the first posthuman and what does this mean for the future of sport?”

Is it fair for ‘Blade Runner’ Oscar Pistorius to run in London Olympics? – The Observer:

“The reliably erudite Roger Black, our greatest 400m runner, was one of the first to speak out. No scientific consensus, he pointed out, had been reached on whether the blades provided Pistorius with a benefit and until that was clear we did not have the faintest idea whether he was “an amazing athlete or a very good athlete with an advantage”. Black also placed himself in the spikes of an athlete beaten – maybe even to a medal – by Pistorius. Would they think, perhaps even justifiably, that it was unfair?”

When Will We Be Transhuman? Seven Conditions for Attaining Transhumanism – Discover Magazine:

“As a movement philosophy, transhumanism and its proponents argue for a future of ageless bodies, transcendent experiences, and extraordinary minds. Not everyone supports every aspect of transhumanism, but you’d be amazed at how neatly current political struggles and technological progress point toward a transhuman future. Transhumanism isn’t just about cybernetics and robot bodies. Social and political progress must accompany the technological and biological advances for transhumanism to become a reality.”

Modern copyright law makes no sense

Imagine your grandfather worked in construction. Imagine he helped build roads and buildings that still exist today. Imagine you would now be getting money, a few pence at a time, every time someone used one of those roads or lived in one of those buildings.

That would be great, wouldn’t it? Free money for something you had nothing to do with! How awesome would that be?

Of course it’s a totally ridiculous concept. You didn’t put any effort in to creating those roads and buildings, and thus you shouldn’t get any reward from their usage either. It’s a plainly stupid idea.

Except that this is exactly how copyright works.

A creative person, a writer or musician or whatever, creates something and gets an initial payment for it. So far that’s no different than most jobs out there, mine included – we do work and get paid for it.

But then that creative person then gets paid every time their work gets used by someone else. Every time a book is reprinted or quoted, every time a song is played on the radio, every time a movie is shown on TV, the creators gets paid.

Hang on a second… why is that? I don’t get paid every time a website I helped create makes a bit of money. A nurse doesn’t get paid every time a patient she helped recover from illness gets a paycheck. A teacher doesn’t get paid every time a former student earns big money.

So why do creatives get paid over and over again for work they’ve done just once?

The thought behind copyright and royalties is that it should encourage artists of higher quality to create more works, as they would earn more money with high quality stuff that gets re-used. And it disallows other artists from copying other people’s work and making money off of that for themselves.

But modern times have caught up with copyright law in almost every single aspect, making a total mockery of the entire concept.

First of all, I don’t think it’s fair that an artist gets paid over and over again for work done just once. If the goal is to encourage good artists to create more art, then paying them once for a piece of work – and have that payment be in accordance to the quality of the work – suffices just fine. That’s how nearly all of us earn our money, and it’s how all of us ensure future employment: by making sure our work is of good quality so that our employers want more of it.

The fact that artists get paid for their entire life for the effort they put in to a piece of work just once is, in my opinion, mind-bogglingly stupid and unfair.

The other aspect of copyright is to protect an artist’s work, making sure others can’t copy it and make money off of it themselves. This was probably a fairly valid point 100 years ago, but nowadays it’s a mostly hollow argument.

First of all, it’s pretty impossible nowadays to find a piece of creative work that is not derivative. Original work is pretty impossible to find. Every piece of creative output, from music to art to design to writing, is inspired by what has come before. Everything is copied, mashed up, diluted and mixed.

Second, I admit there is a good case to be made for copyright to be in effect for a certain period of time. A writer for example should be able to sell his books for a number of years without having to worry about someone else copying his books and selling them as well. A period of, say, 10 years sounds pretty reasonable. That gives the original creator plenty of time to capitalise on their creative output. And after 10 years the work becomes available for others to build upon, mix and remix, and generally integrate in to the collective cultural output of a society.

But copyright law in most countries have set this period of copyright to be insanely long. In the UK for example copyright on any piece of work is valid for the creator’s entire life, and then for another 70 years.

Yes, you read that right. Copyright is valid for 70 years after the creator has died.

This is of course totally and utterly bonkers. People who had nothing to do at all with the creation of a piece of art get paid for decades after the original artist has died. There is no sensible reason at all for these people to be paid, and yet this is exactly how the law works in this country.

This is of course because the people who make the most money off of copyright – the record companies, the movie studios, the big publishing houses – have a vested interest in making copyright last as long as possible. They want to keep on making money from the work the artists they’ve contracted have done, for decades and decades after those artists have died. And they’ve lobbied our politicians – with amazing success – to have the law go their way.

It’s pure and simple greed. There is not an ounce of genuine cultural enrichment at the core of modern copyright law. It’s only about padding the pockets of big corporate media organisations, and keeping the politicians they support in power.

Modern copyright law makes no sense. None whatsoever.

The UK Riots

I want to write about the riots currently raging throughout many major UK cities, but my point of view on the matter is expressed much more clearly in the following opinion pieces:

The UK riots: the psychology of looting (The Guardian):

“Between these poles is a more pragmatic reading: this is what happens when people don’t have anything, when they have their noses constantly rubbed in stuff they can’t afford, and they have no reason ever to believe that they will be able to afford it. Hiller takes up this idea: “Consumer society relies on your ability to participate in it. So what we recognise as a consumer now was born out of shorter hours, higher wages and the availability of credit. If you’re dealing with a lot of people who don’t have the last two, that contract doesn’t work. They seem to be targeting the stores selling goods they would normally consume. So perhaps they’re rebelling against the system that denies its bounty to them because they can’t afford it.””

Caring costs – but so do riots (The Independent):

“How, we ask, could they attack their own community with such disregard? But the young people would reply “easily”, because they feel they don’t actually belong to the community. Community, they would say, has nothing to offer them. Instead, for years they have experienced themselves cut adrift from civil society’s legitimate structures. Society relies on collaborative behaviour; individuals are held accountable because belonging brings personal benefit. Fear or shame of being alienated keeps most of us pro-social.”

London riots: the underclass lashes out (The Telegraph):

“This is not a gospel of determinism, for poverty does not ordain lawlessness. Nor, however, is it sufficient to heap contempt on the rioters as if they are a pariah caste. One of the most tragic aspects of London’s meltdowns is that we need this ruined generation if Britain is ever to feel prosperous and safe again. If there are no jobs for today’s malcontents and no means to exploit their skills, then the UK is in graver trouble than it thinks.”

So Top Gear (a humorous entertainment show that some hapless morons confuse for a serious car programme) did a segment on electric cars, and a lot of people are very upset about it. (Exhibit A, exhibit B)

“Big, mean Top Gear,” they say, “they always pick on electric cars! The segment wasn’t fair! It made electric cars look bad!”

No, you whiney little twats, Top Gear didn’t make electric cars look bad. Electric cars do a spectacular job at sucking all on their own, they don’t need Top Gear’s infantile humour to make them look bad.

Because, right now, in the UK, electric cars only make sense if you live in a big city and have shitloads of money. Let me explain:

  1. Electric cars have a range of, at most, 100 miles. Which makes them ideal city cars.
  2. Charge stations for electric cars are present mainly in big cities.
  3. That means that electric cars are not much use if you live in the country or venture out there much.
  4. Electric cars are about twice as expensive as their combustion-engine counterparts.
  5. If you own an electric car and you do want to venture out more than 100 miles without having to plan your trip around charge stations and nearby hotels (because charging an electric car takes time), you’re better off taking public transport.
  6. Public transport in the UK is ridiculously, mind-bogglingly expensive.

All these factors combined means that rich inner city toffs are the only sensible demographic for electric cars. And guess who’s doing the complaining about Top Gear’s ‘misleading’ electric car segment? Exactly.

The simple fact is that currently, as things stand, electric cars are not a valid alternative for cars with internal combustion engines. Electric cars only work in a limited amount of transport scenarios, and in nearly all of those public transport is probably a better option anyway (if only marginally cheaper).

The ‘controversial’ Top Gear segment in question contains no lies and no falsehoods. A few self-righteous environmental campaigners have taken it upon themselves to create a huge fuss about the whole thing (makes you wonder exactly who has an agenda here, doesn’t it?), but the facts cannot be changed.

On top of that, has anyone ever wondered where all that electricity powering those electric cars actually comes from?

So – instead of trying to re-invent motoring, create a whole new transport infrastructure to facilitate those grossly inadequate electrical machines, and generally keep on ruining the environment whilst generating all this electricity – why don’t we just skip the electric car phase all together and instead focus our energy (pun intended) on the thing that will really take transport in to the next century, something that doesn’t require us to radically change the way we approach transport, something that will literally never run out and will power humankind for all eternity?


Right.

The Infinite Monkey Cage podcastThanks to my friend Derek I’ve now discovered the BBC podcast The Infinite Monkey Cage. It’s a great show that, in its own words, provides a “witty, irreverent look at the world through scientists eyes.”

In going through its archive of recent episodes, I came across one about philosophy. In this podcast the regular hosts professor Brian Cox and Robin Ince debate the virtues of philosophy with professor Raymond Tallis and philosopher Julian Baggini.

When listening to this podcast, what struck me from the start was the supreme arrogance of the pro-philosophy side of the debate. Immediately the philosophers attempted to take a position of superiority, insinuating theirs was a superior intellectual discipline and that science dealt with the inferior dirty, material stuff.

But in fact the questions that philosophy asks seem to me to be little more than linguistic tricks, devoid of any real meaning or purpose. Philosophy, to me, is just the limitations of our human intellect made manifest.

Philosophy doesn’t ask questions science can’t or won’t answer – no, philosophy asks questions that are meaningless and, instead of conveying a deep understanding of the world, betray a deep ignorance of the nature of our reality. In that regard I completely agree with Stephen Hawking when he says that philosophy is dead. It has become a meaningless, deeply confused pseudo-intellectual pursuit.

At the end the podcast makes a good point, inadvertently so. In an attempt to deride science in favour of philosophy, a parallel is drawn between mathematics and philosophy. Mathematics being the ‘purest’ of all science, dealing with absolute truths that will never change.

But that parallel falls flat on many points, most obviously on the fact that philosophy doesn’t use mathematics. Physics does – abundantly so.

In no particular order:

1. Because I don’t want to turn in to a douchebag that says things like “well you’re not a parent so you wouldn’t understand…

2. Because the world is crowded enough as it is.

3. Because I’d make a lousy parent.
– “Dad, can I play videogames until 2 AM?
– “Sure thing son, let’s fire up that Xbox and do some co-op!

4. Because they don’t know what to do with just one of me.

5. Because the wife doesn’t have any maternal instinct in her. At all.

6. Because not becoming a parent is a victory of reason and logic over the crude biological impulses embedded within me by evolution.

7. Because I’ll never have an excuse not to go to the pub.

8. Because of stuff like this.

9. Because eventually Skynet will win and the human race will be made extinct.

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  • State of Grace

    Peter Watts, a science fiction author whose work I worship to frightening degrees(exhibit A, exhibit B), is working on a new novel. Two new novels actually: Sunflower and State of Grace.

    For this latter novel he’s put up the first chapter online for everyone to read. If you’re a fan of Peter Watts, or any kind of proper SF, go and read it.

    In typical Watts style that first chapter is so densely packed with ideas and concepts, other sci-fi authors would take decades to come up with even half of that stuff.

    I can’t wait for this book to be published.

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  • Filed under: books, sci-fi
  • Adamus

     Adamus
    Adamus is the online identity of Barry Adams. A Dutchman living in Northern Ireland, Barry / Adamus is an internet fanatic, skeptic, technophile, gamer, and geek.

    On this personal blog he provides his unpolished view of the world and its insanities.

    Identity 2.0

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