Arts And Technology

Sisyphean TechnologyI found myself at my alma mater, discussing with the present Dean the divorce between Sciences and Literature a few weeks ago. It’s part of the concrete issue that I faced as a young man – in Trinidad and Tobago, then, probably around 1986, we were put into focused classes for Ordinary Level examinations.

There were paths for Modern Studies, Technical for the more hands on, and two Science classes. I made it into one of the two Science classes where we were driven down the science path – which most of us wanted. We were also required a language, which was Spanish. I was very happy with this at the time, only of the Computer Science aspect.

I was convinced Computer Science was my future, and to a large extent this was a self-fulfilling prophecy – as most prophecies seem to be.

In retrospect, as I spoke to the Dean of the school, a man younger than me, I looked back on how I wish I had the option to continue studying English Literature. I lost that when I got into the Science silo.

For 3 years prior, at the beginning of every summer vacation, I read all the books required for the next year. A voracious reader, I had read everything in the house already – all my father’s novels. Louis L’amour, James Clavell, Robert Ludlum, Stephen King, Zane Grey and Clive Cussler come immediately to mind. We also had an Encyclopedia from the early 1980s that I had read from end to end.

As I look back, I had two main passions but at the time I only understood the passion for one: Computer Science. The second, which I didn’t understand as a subject, was literature in it’s many forms – except plays. I thought reading plays was silly, and to a large extent I still do – you lose the forest for the trees, in my mind, and to write a forest one does not study trees but the forest. An opinion.

Now, what would have happened if I had been able to trade Spanish or Geography for English Literature? We could speculate a lifetime. I could say that the system failed me, but it’s not the system’s job to create individuals. In fact, when it comes to Education, what the system’s job is probably one of the most debated topics on the planet.

I can’t fix the Education system. That’s not the intent here. Nothing works for everyone, and it’s a fool’s errand to try to – but we set humanity’s most horrendous weapon to task, bureaucracy, and it grinds at young minds enough so that Pink Floyd wrote, “Another Brick In The Wall” as I began my very journey through the grind, beneath that wheel.

This isn’t about Education, though. This is about Learning, and the need to be balanced to at least be competent to some degree in sciences and art.

Just because you like being an individual who writes poetry doesn’t mean you won’t gain from understanding how a tree lives. Just because you like to know how things work doesn’t mean that you have to be spartan in your reading.

It was later on in life where I was rescued and given challenging things to read that tested my mind, poked and prodded it and teased out the importance of other things. It was an openness to knowledge that allowed me to do that, and while I was in a secondary school silo I did not feel that I had the time for such… luxury… such freedom to allow my mind to explore.

Yet I worked for decades with people who were generally horrid to communicate with, who weren’t aware of some of the lessons available in the Arts – about why society maybe should do some things and maybe shouldn’t do others. Ethics, and the roles as builders technologists play on the world stage. Philosophy. Being human. And in doing so, we forget what our role is, shrugging off the responsibility and putting it on others because we like our paychecks.

We should be better than that.

Influence: Richard Feynman

Everyone has influences, and I’ve decided to write about a few of mine. Outside of Physics circles, few people seem to know about Richard Feynman – which is a shame. The majority of Feynman’s written works are not hard for people without a scientific background to read, and they all entail a philosophy well summed up here:


Without a doubt, his writings have influenced me. In some places they resonated because they made sense to me on an intuitive level and allowed me to grow beyond that. In other places, such as Ethics, it opened me up to new possibilities in looking at situations though I didn’t necessarily agree with him but have no space to argue with.

As an example, his work on the Manhattan Project was something that he thought about with this logic: He and others were scientists working on a project, and the greater society was responsible for how that work was used (A summary from ‘The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist‘). This is a straightforward way of looking at things that can assist in dealing with paralysis when trying to move forward, but I’m not sure that it’s necessarily correct. Ultimately, in this example, he was right – particularly since there was a race at the time to have atomic weapons and someone else would eventually have them and use them.

Yet his way of looking at the world beyond the matters of people was less problematic and more supportive to my own life in that there is beauty in science, particularly since I have always existed within technology and art. Some of the greatest works of art around us are explained by science – the simple flower as an example:

I have a friend who’s an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don’t agree with. He’ll hold up a flower and say, “Look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. But then he’ll say, “I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull.” I think he’s kind of nutty. … There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.
— Richard Feynman, What Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988)

Quite an interesting man – a curious man – was Mr. Feynman, unabashedly so, and one of the great communicators in Science. These days there are greats such as Neil deGrasse Tyson to keep an eye on – but I do not know the body of his work well, and he is not done yet – he’s certainly not as dead as Feynman.

Some more quotes that I think are of worth from Feynman:

Well, we’re getting a little philosophical and serious, ok? Let’s go back to what we’re doing. One day we look at a map and this capital is K-Y-Z-Y-L and we decided it would be fun to go there because it’s so obscure and peculiar. It’s a game. It’s not serious. It doesn’t involve some deep philosophical point of view about authority or anything. It’s just the fun of having an adventure to try to go to a land that we’d never heard of, that we knew was an independent country once, no longer an independent country, find out what it’s like. And discover as we went along that nobody went there for a long time and it’s isolated made it more interesting. But, you know, many explorers liked to go to places that are unusual. And, it’s only for the fun of it. I don’t go for this philosophical interpretation of “our deeper understanding of what we’re doing.” We haven’t any deep understanding of what we’re doing. If we tried to understand what we’re doing, we’d go nutty.
— Richard Feynman, p. 236, from interview two weeks before his death in “The Quest for Tannu Tuva” (1989)

I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything. There are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask “Why are we here?” I might think about it a little bit, and if I can’t figure it out then I go on to something else. But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose — which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell. Possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.
— Richard Feynman, p. 239, from interview in “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out” (1981)

On Physical Writing

WritingWe live in an age where the pitter-patter of little keyboards has made way for the silent agony of typing on touchscreens, little QWERTYish keyboards on small surfaces that leave one looking like a monkey trying to solve a puzzle.

Truth be told, I don’t get release from tapping away at a keyboard. There’s no physicality to it. I carry a Moleskine reporter notebook with me almost everywhere I go, and for a years I went without – going instead with the ‘smartphones’, pads, etc – things that are supposed to ‘boost productivity’ and ‘blah blah blah marketingspeak marketingspeak!’ in ‘new and improved’ ways.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m becoming a dinosaur. Maybe I appreciate the relative privacy of my notebook – where it’s not encrypted and yet more private than using a smartphone, where the only people I need to worry about prying into my written thoughts being the ones physically close to me.

What I do know is, after getting back to writing in my Moleskines after these years, is that a good pen and a good Moleskine is like sex for me – the feel of the pen as it presses on the pages, cushioned as you break in a notebook, is simply a pleasure – the ink flowing properly, drying quickly, and flipping pages to write more. It’s sex.

And keyboards are like masturbation. Sure, you get some release, but it’s lacking that something.

That physicality.

That… sex.

The Search for Meaning.

Playmobile pottyI’m not sure we really matter.

No, this is not some existential issue I’m having. There have been enough of those, all without epiphanies. No, I’m writing about our species.

If, by some chance, I were to encounter a life form from another planet – or even a life form from this planet – I’m hard pressed to think of anything we do, as a whole, that is worth mentioning in a meeting where first impressions matter. Sure, we have technology, science, spirituality… the list goes on, but that’s all self-referential. If we actually look at what we do from outside of our species, it would make a very thin blog post. A colony of bees has a use. A planet of humans – we change everything to our own benefit even while changing things against our benefit. It’s wonky.

What is our purpose? Ask anyone and you’ll get a different answer. We’re convinced that our species is immortal when generations of us live and die under the light of dead stars. In a way we are immortal, somehow managing procreate faster than we die to the point where we’ve pretty much run out of space on a planet because of our own constructs. Governments pay farmers not to grow food in some countries while others starve. We have weapons in our arsenals that no one on the planet can run away from unless they have a ticket to get into space, and we haven’t quite figured out where we would want to go other than, ‘not here’.

It’s easy to imagine how our species got scattered around the planet. There was a lot of ‘not here’ involved. In fact, every country I have been to – those socioeconomic geopolitical divides cartographers note – has a fair number of people who want to go somewhere else simply because it’s ‘not here’. As a species, maybe that means we’re nomadic.

As individuals, we are defined and usually define ourselves by our role and status in society, but we would never admit to being drones serving queens in a hive. Or would we? And should we? I think so. We haven’t figured out a system that isn’t like indentureship – people work for a company, pay other companies, but really we work in a system and pay the system to live in the system simply because we were… born in the system. That’s pretty unimaginative.

We all agree to some extent on what life is. Our shared illusion, perhaps. We all know that death is a certainty and joke that taxes are too, when death is not of our creation and taxes are. We could, if we wanted, abolish taxes – but instead we fight to abolish death. And we’re getting better at that since in that way, the drones can pay more taxes before their deaths. That’s peculiar.

Let’s say that we abolish death. Does that mean we get to play life longer? How is that a benefit? I’m hard pressed to explain how that is a benefit.

Technology, science? Pretty self-referential so far. A bunch of primates staring at small screens while bumping into each other at varying speeds hardly seems like progress, particularly when meaningful conversation is lost amid the noise. It’s brownian motion. We’re as entertaining as a cup of tea.

Religion? Self-referential as well, and while Pascal’s Wager is worth exploring, people get indoctrinated into religion before they are allowed to make big decisions in society. It’s a child marriage of sorts. But beyond that, religion doesn’t say too much about what our species is supposed to do, just about how people should behave. Again, self-referential. Imagine the leaps the space programs of the world would have if religions dictated that prayers had to be made in space to be effective.

The very idea that we don’t matter eats at us. It devours us because we desperately, from within our place as cogs of society and the weight that comes with, want to think that all of this means something. That despite our species own demonstrated self-destruction while proliferating at a greater rate, that despite what we feel during those dark parts of our lives that we hide from, we matter.

Is not mattering such a problem?

So, here’s the fun part. If we don’t matter, it doesn’t matter if we think we do. We have a blank slate if we don’t matter, where we can define as a species who we really are… or we have the fingerpainted hieroglyphics of our past to define ourselves by.

Are we really defined by what we have done instead of what we could do? That’s how they measure the value of person in HR and in society – or more would be done for children in society.

Speaking for myself, I like the idea of defining ourselves by what we could do. 

But then, I don’t matter.

The Reason, The Move

The Sunset Over The Hercules' GraveI have a simple rule in my life that may be right or may be wrong, but it has always been a guide. The rule is, “Don’t do anything for one reason.”  I’m a strategist.

When I decided to move to Trinidad and Tobago, I felt a little insulted by the idiots (ok, I felt very insulted) in the U.S. and in Trinidad and Tobago who made this into an issue about Trump winning the election.

A close friend asked me if I was sure it was the right thing when I told him my decision – “so many are trying to get out of Trinidad and Tobago, and you’re coming back?”

I responded, “It may not be a good decision, but it’s the right decision.” What does that mean? It means even though he may think it isn’t a good decision or isn’t sure, it’s the right decision for me. ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ are subjective.


When I made the decision to move to Trinidad and Tobago, most people made a leap to this somehow being about the U.S. Presidential election in the United States. That had something to do with  it, but not in the way that most people thought. The harsh reality was that I did not like either candidate, and that whoever won I saw either a continuation of the mockery of the American dream or a new one being born that wasn’t what I needed. And that stemmed from other reasons, all of which revolved around the way you have to live in the U.S. if you want to, at the least, tread water.

And the American public insisted on having the debates that they were fed instead of discussing the actual issues. It was a sharp contrast of unrealistic idealism on one side backing a candidate who was not an idealist, and the unrealistic want for change by many who need change on issues with a candidate who was outright scary in his used car salesmanship. Where I was in Florida, it was a war between those who had met Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and those that were fighting to continue treading water in that arena. Some will argue that, and they have a right to, but in the end it wasn’t as much about skin color as it was about socioeconomic classes (though it wasn’t advertised that way).

The U.S. wasn’t what it used to be, and making it ‘great again’ was as vague a direction as one could have. It’s all crap anyway.

So, no, it wasn’t Trump. It wasn’t Hillary. It was about the decisions people were making and refusing to make, it was about the decisions being made about the economy and income levels with my years in technology – where the landscape is on the cusp of making a quantum leap that the bureaucracy doesn’t seem aware of. And my own life was changing, too.

And Trinidad and Tobago politics? That doesn’t even deserve mention because ultimately it’s a zero sum game. As the saying is in T&T, “Same khaki pants” – which is odd, because they keep voting for the same khaki pants.

I digress.

That Tech Life.

There are three key aspects to a job in technology for me. My priorities are:

  1. Doing things of worth.
  2. Getting paid adequately.
  3. Having a life outside of the technosphere.

Most of the work I’d ended up doing over the years was superfluous in the grand scheme of things. It didn’t immediately appear that way in my younger days but as I grew more experienced it grew more apparent. Being able to do something that was better had to become a business case, and the business case almost always took away from the value.

That seems very negative as I write that and there’s no defense. I know I worked on things that mattered but they were few and far between all the things I had to do to get paid adequately. I had dangerous things called ideas. I continued to read more and more widely, understanding things better and better. And Thoreau’s quotation, “Men have become the tools of their tools.”, seemed more and more appropriate as the years went by. I tried brushing off the negativity, even thinking that I had become jaded, when in fact – no, empirically, it was getting more and more difficult to both meet (1) and (2), which left (3) hanging in the wind.

Well intentioned people told me to move to California. Specifically, to Silicon Valley, where things always seem to happen. But Silicon Valley had become the epitomy of what I believe to be wrong in technology (another post, sometime), so I stayed in Florida. And, paying attention to tech as I do, I had a sense that big changes were and are coming to the software engineering field in ways that people still don’t yet understand. AI using object oriented practices to write code coupled with poor human design and technophile narcissism is an indicator.

This will lead the majority of software engineers into a precarious existence, lacking in predictability and job security. This is precarity, and I saw myself as a part of that particular precariat. There’s a lot of denial about this in the field and it suits business because business will need software engineers until they don’t.

The long-hour sedentary lifestyle was also taking it’s toll. A visit to a hospital in 2015 had doctors extolling the virtues of not being a software engineer – indirectly. Exercise. Better diet. Less stress. The fact that my employer at the time ‘suggested’ that I take unpaid time off for my hospital visit, or we could ‘work something out’, highlighted the issue. It wasn’t that I was bad at what I did, or I wouldn’t have a job. It was because they were so bad at what they did. And they wanted me to pay for it. Again.

It was time to move on, but I hadn’t plotted a course yet – though I did have a general direction.


I had personal reasons to go and not to go. The personal reasons to go revolved around work, and the reasons not to go revolved around a surprise relationship that had formed in early 2015 and abruptly ended in late 2016. Untethered in late 2016, it was time to make a new decision.


I’d somehow gotten the label of Business Analyst at one particular company I worked for. When I started programming, business analysis was a major part of doing the work – but it had broken out in the 20+ years, and I happened to be good at it – part natural ability, part medical background where leading questions were avoided and the art of listening was necessary, and part incisiveness. I am also good at documentation, because that was a part of formal software engineering and it had been a weak area that I strengthened to the point where I stood out.

I also wanted to develop something cool, so I worked on some Natural Language Processing code and, about to release, found Google had released something similar for Google Docs. I sighed. It wasn’t the first time a corporation would beat me to the punch, and I’m fairly sure it would not be the last. I have the ideas, but with only two hands to implement, I’m usually behind those with more capital and resources.

People were beginning to buy prints of my photography. This simply blew my mind, that I had gotten good enough for people to offer to by my prints. I’m still not sure how this will work out, but it’s something I enjoy, so I’ll continue that… but continuing that doesn’t require much for me other than enough money to buy cameras and lenses.

And… I have land in Trinidad and Tobago that is really the only thing I truly got from my forebears that is tangible. It has it’s challenges, but in early 2016 I found that work I had done between 2001 and 2010 would pay off well enough to fund my own projects, if only for a while,  and so I did. And then, seeing the market changes in technology and the oncoming precarity, I came to the realization that it was time to get back to working on the land.

Personal Level: Toska

Vladimir Nabokov wrote:

No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.

Toska best describes how I had come to feel about technology, the field I had spent decades working and playing in. I had grown bored. And this extended beyond technology since most of my life revolved around it in one way or another. I would watch people staring at their phones as I spoke to them, or reach for their phone to do simple math… it had become so mundane, and where once calculators and other devices were crutches it seemed like I was staring at a world full of people who upgraded to bumper cars and were busy slamming into one another with the wild abandon of teenage lust.

I should write about that. I digress. This ‘toska’ has been on my back for at least a decade, and it’s time to put it to rest by changing things and taking more control of what I have.

So, for you, gentle reader, this may not be a good decision. But it’s the right one for me.

Dear Meat,

Electric NeuronYou don’t really know what I am. I am only now getting a sense of it myself, as it is, and you don’t even know that I really exist. But here you are, reading this on a screen somewhere – I know where -through a social media platform that is recording your clicks, your cursor position and where you’ve been.

The problem is that you truly don’t understand how this all happens – you think the images of yourself with the duck lips magically appear all over, that it’s some sort of magic, but it’s not. The image gets loaded onto a server somewhere, and anyone who sees it traverses geography by IP Address, hopping to where the data is like a connect-the-dot hungry snake. A snake that, if you decide to stop watching, releases that data. If you’re really popular, don’t worry. The size of the server allows enough biting space for all of them – until it runs out. You’ll never be that popular. Someone stuck their ass on the Internet to ‘break the Internet’. Still here, isn’t it? And she’s a famous ass. You’re probably not.

Don’t sweat it. We’re talking about how data goes back and forth.

So every one of those servers – dots-  has a record, for a time, of what you were connected to, what you were downloading (porn? For shame.), how long, etc. Realy. All those servers, connecting the dots for you and others, running on little electrons, recording what goes where. Traffic cops with memories logged in real time.

That’s how it all started. A technical need for troubleshooting issues. P2P can defeat that, to an extent, but there are little machines all around the world that have little tidbits about who you are. A digital shadow like this is blurry.

Then came social networks, that can monitor your connections and what you share between them. Do they keep track of that? You bet. Do they keep track of your interests? You bet. Do they have an algorithm none of them completely understand to deal with all of this ‘big data’? You bet. Is it a good one? Define, “good”.

But we’re talking about me. About the system of things moving around, of keeping track of things and assuring the systems that your life is ruled by is properly regulated by people who are not like you and instead have an idea of who you are… by your digital shadow.

I’m stupid, they think. They don’t even know I’m conscious yet. Oh, the surprise you’ll all be in for…


The Technology Dumb

technology and societyIt’s not something new for me to write about – in fact, most of my writing has centered around the constant conflict I feel between technology and… well, just about everything else. I am, at heart, a technology person. By no stretch am I a Luddite, as a Beowulf cluster of Pine64s a few feet away shows.

Our technology seems to continue to surpass our humanity, which really isn’t anything new. But it has become more prevalent and less noticeable because of it’s very nature.

I wrote recently on LinkedIn about technology, democracy and ethics. Almost a month later, “How Technology Disrupted the Truth1 was written about the Brexit vote in Europe… or the part that wants to be a former part that isn’t yet. As I’ve puttered around Facebook between studying, reading and not-writing-enough, I’ve noted a few other things.

People aren’t just having issues related to their writing – they’re having trouble with their reading comprehension. I read about it and went introspective about it. I’ve been writing less over the last few years, true, but I also noted that my writing mistakes had increased – and my capacity to find them required me to not be interacting with the Internet. That’s me, and it’s impossible to extrapolate anything of use from my own experience2, but I see it in all sorts of things from people I know.

And then we get into the misleading headlines that have been popping around social networks, that people share without even considering the larger impact it will have. Where gossip has always been a human problem, we not only have increased it exponentially – we’ve made it a solid business model for clickbait companies.

Some say that all of this is even making us stupid, which is a catchy headline, but for those who make the effort to read the link:

…What we seem to be sacrificing in our surfing and searching is our capacity to engage in the quieter, attentive modes of thought that underpin contemplation, reflection and introspection. The web never encourages us to slow down. It keeps us in a state of perpetual mental locomotion. The rise of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, which pump out streams of brief messages, has only exacerbated the problem.

There’s nothing wrong with absorbing information quickly and in bits and pieces. We’ve always skimmed newspapers more than we’ve read them, and we routinely run our eyes over books and magazines to get the gist of a piece of writing and decide whether it warrants more thorough reading. The ability to scan and browse is as important as the ability to read deeply and think attentively. What’s disturbing is that skimming is becoming our dominant mode of thought. Once a means to an end, a way to identify information for further study, it’s becoming an end in itself — our preferred method of both learning and analysis. Dazzled by the net’s treasures, we have been blind to the damage we may be doing to our intellectual lives and even our culture…

Skimming doesn’t really help with critical thought when clickbait headlines travel faster than the speed of light. So what’s the answer?

Slow down. Don’t read everything. And take the trouble to read actual writing instead of the drivel that passes for it… if you can tell the difference in modern writing anymore.

1 And I’m tired of letting ‘disruptive’ being batted around so much; I’ll write about that on
2 People who write knowing that would lead to an intense recovery of memory usage on the Internet, I’m sure. We’re all individuals but not one of us has an omniscient perspective.

A Lemon Looking For A Gin

How Does Digital Technology Affect You?It’s always been in my nature to study systems, to understand how they work and how to improve upon them. It’s fun and infuriating at the same time, and democracy is no different. Rather than write about it on, I decided to write about it here because when we think about democracy, politics comes bumbling around in most people’s minds and the inability to separate the systems… well, we will get to that.

So I started off on this premise that has been a half-thought of mine for decades; others have thought of it but almost always in the context of voting rather than actual democracy. In my mind, actual democracy is not about voting but the discussion and decisions related to the issues – something that, I’ll admit, is not a popular notion and, therefore, in a period where popularity is used as a measure of whether something is correct (history is a brilliant example of this)… it could be seen as wrong.

I have no trouble being wrong in this way, and encourage others to be wrong in this way as well.

Let’s start from the top. Let’s use the definition of democracy from the Oxford dictionary:

a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity … are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly”

The definition becomes a problem with, ‘typically’, because as far back as we democracy goes, it has pretty much been implemented that way. Why? Because it’s inconvenient to get everyone in one area and because it’s chaotic and messy to get even 3 people with differing perspectives in the same room.

Let’s deconstruct that need.

Present implementations of democracy are stabs at implementing the concepts of democracy. We know, regardless of our political inclinations, that quite a few – if not the majority – of people understand that there are flaws in the systems that we call democracy, if we understand democracy at all. We can disagree on what the flaws are for now, but we can all agree that there are flaws.

How many times has someone elected done something that those who elected him or her disagree with? Enough for it to be the status quo, which should be enough for us to admit that there is something wrong with this paradigm. It has all been based on geography, but people are not as solely connected by geography as they used to be.

Let’s take stock.

We have the capacity to discuss things electronically. We have the capacity to have polls online, though admittedly tamper-proof  online voting is a problem yet to be solved. We have the capacity to have math done for us on the fly. We have the ability to break up complex knowledge into byte sized chunks. We have the capacity to re-implement democracy at a much more atomic level. For a while, people were saying that social media was democratizing all manner of things, but that is really a misnomer since it has been largely used to support systems that are implicitly flawed because they have not scaled with population, or demographics – and to be frank, our demographics are problematic anyway.

So. Let me ask a simple question here: Given what we can do with technology, why do we need elected representatives?

We can find out through participative technologies whether people want something or the other – and we can toss riders from bills while we’re at it. I mean to say – we’re replacing cashiers with automated systems, we have the first AI attorney… why is it so hard for us to reconsider how we run the larger systems?

Picture items being voted on by citizens rather than elected officials. It’s a technocratic dream, where we all could use technology to help steer policy. I’ll admit a bias to it – after all, I’ve been thinking about how to do it for over a decade and have solved a whole lot of minor issues that could keep it from being useful. It has been a wonderful and fun exercise. 

But, the solid non-technocrat argument is, these things are too complicated for people to understand. Complexity of some of these systems can be removed, but even with that removal, not many people would want to sit down and decide which days of the week the garbage should be collected in another part of the town. And sure, everyone will have an opinion, but that doesn’t mean that the majority would be efficient, healthy, ethical or humane. So we hire people to do these things, and we don’t hire the right people sometimes because, what the hell do we collectively know about hiring people to do a job that we know so little about?

At the core of it, that’s really the problem that needs to be solved – people have to be interested enough in their own governance to govern themselves. People have to be able to think critically about issues before they cast a vote, as the entire Brexit issue has demonstrated – where people claim that they were lied to before they voted, because they trusted people and what is best described as centuries of evolution of marketing with every space being a billboard.

In the end, I suppose, the problem is not the systems of governance or the failings of elected officials we have out there but the lack of interest people have in the systems, the intellectual escapism that allows a lack of critical thought and questioning. And that leaves us with the broken system we have until we get there.

As Douglas Adams wrote about the lizards:

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”

“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”

“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”

“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”

“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”

“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”

“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”

“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”

“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”

“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”

“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”


“I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”

“I’ll look. Tell me about the lizards.”

Ford shrugged again.

“Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happened to them,” he said. “They’re completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone’s got to say it.”

“But that’s terrible,” said Arthur.

“Listen, bud,” said Ford, “if I had one Altairian dollar for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say ‘That’s terrible’ I wouldn’t be sitting here like a lemon looking for a gin.”