RIP John Perry Barlow – On the right to free information

Sadly, John Perry Barlow, the founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation has died today. He was – to me – a huge inspiration for the internet anarchy and the cyberlibertarian movement I support.

His vision of the internet was to create “a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.”

As a tribute to Barlow, I would like to provide a summary of his speech on The Right To Know at TEDx Marin.

  1. The first time Barlow got online, he thought the internet would create the collective organism of mind.
  2. He believed that one day everyone on the planet would be endowed with the right to say whatever they want to say within their hearts, and nobody would be in the position to shut them up. In addition, everybody would have the right to not listen to what was said or written on the internet.
  3. The internet was going to be the great challenger of dogmatism.
  4. Having founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation in July 1990, he spent many years thinking about the intersection between Cyberspace and the physical world.
  5. All the existing power relations in the physical are being renegotiated in Cyberspace.
  6. We are now at the point where the physical world is starting to become terrified of Cyberspace. This is obviously shown by how governments deal with Wikileaks and the Arab awakening.
  7. Cyberspace has provided the bloggers, and journalists of Wikileaks and the Arab awakening with the opportunity to question the political structure. They knew that their real power was the ability to speak, and to be heard.
  8. They also understood that they had the right to know.
  9. If we play our cards right, the internet will make it possible for everybody on the internet to satisfy his curiosity to the fullest extent that is presently known by our species. Everyone interested, can know what is presently known.
  10. Nothing like this has had ever happened before.
  11. To achieve that, we have to realize that we cannot own free speech.
  12. Copyright is the wrong model for monetizing the expression of the mind. Thought is not a thing, … it is an action. The more a thought is heard and understood, the more powerful it becomes. It’s not like physical goods.
  13. Because of the old model of thinking of expression as a thing that must be regulated towards scarcity, there are many things going on right now that are militating against Freedom of expression.
  14. Comcast, yesterday, stopped all of our access to PirateBay. PirateBay is a notorious copyright infringement site, but is also an important cause with different members from European parliaments.
  15. The other thing is that the Freedom of expression necessarily includes tolerance to the other person’s right to speak up his mind. No matter how abominable his ideas may be.
  16. The answer to hate speech is love speech, and the answer of the speech you can’t stand is the speech of your own heart. Go out there and stop those who will try to own Freedom of expression.
  17. Take a look at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Catalonia: a philosophical case for Secession

Yesterday, the Catalan government has overwelmingly voted for independence from Spain and to establish an independent republic. 70 were in favour, 10 were against, and 2 votes were blank. Unfortunately, it was rejected by the central governments of Spain and many other countries. Nonetheless, the Catalan case may inspire the other independence movements in Europe.

In this post I’d like to provide a philosophical case for the ethical right of secession based on a libertarian perspective of self-ownership. My argument is exclusively theoretical, although a discussion on how secession could be achieved practically would be interesting as well. I may save that for a post in the future.

Below, you can find a map of other places in Europe with strong secessionist movements:

Structure of my argument

My argument is deductive and runs as follows:

  1. People have the right of self-ownership in accordance with the non-aggression principle, and based on the natural rights philosophy put forward by the political philosopher Murray Rothbard;
  2. If people have the right of self-ownership, they also have the right of voluntary association, voluntary formation of communities, and the right to choose their own leaders;
  3. Sometimes the state that the individual belongs to, violates the rights of the individual to the extent that the individual does not feel associated with it anymore;
  4. Under such circumstances the individual may perceive the state as an unacceptable aggressor, and he is justified to revolt by separating himself from the state. He can form communal associations to secede as a new political unit;
  5. There is no limit to secession. Provinces have the right to secede from a state, a district from the province, a town from the district, a neighbourhood from the town, a household from the neighbourhood, and an individual from the household.

The right of self-ownership and property rights

In For a New Liberty (1973), Murray Rothbard deduces natural law from the essential nature of human beings. He writes that it is in man’s nature to use his mind in order to select values, ends and the means to attain these ends so that he can “act purposively to maintain himself and advance his life”. He furthermore contends that it is absolutely “antihuman” to interfere violently with a man’s “learning and choices” as “it violates the natural law of man’s needs”. Therefore, man’s nature should be protected through his right of self-ownership. This right asserts that man has the absolute right to “own” his body and “to control that body free of coercive interferences”. This right includes the practice of such essential activities as thinking, learning, valuing, and choosing ends and means without any coercion, since such activities are necessary for the enhancement of man’s life.

From this natural right follows the right to do anything with one’s body, including the right to form free associations and communities, and the right not to be violated in one’s self-ownership. Thus, one has the right to associate oneself with the leader of one’s choice, but not the right to impose a leader unto someone else. Likewise, people should be free to join and to leave communities voluntarily.

In addition to the right of free association, people also have property rights. Rothbardian property rights are directly derived from self-ownership rights, and are based on the Lockean homesteading theory. It states that since man owns his person, he owns his labour, and therefore he also owns the fruits thereof. John Locke (1689) has put homesteading theory in the following way:

… every man has a property in his own person. … The labour of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state of nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with it, and joined it to something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.

Given that man has the right of self-ownership, and that he must employ natural objects for his survival, then the sculptor has the right to own the product he has made through the mixing of his labour. In other words, by producing something with one’s energy through the utilization of unowned nature, one has, as Rothbard calls it, “placed the stamp of his person upon the raw material”. One therefore rightfully owns the product. Any violation of self-ownership and property rights should hence be regarded as an act of aggression.

The state

The state is nonetheless a social institution that has historically interfered most often with people’s self-ownership and property rights. Max Weber has recognized it as an institution with a territorial monopoly of compulsion in his essay ‘Politics as a Vocation’ (1919). Hoppe, in Democracy – the God that failed (2001), asserts that every government will use this monopoly to exploit its citizens in order to increase its wealth and income.

“Hence every government should be expected to have an inherent tendency toward growth”. (Hoppe)

State exploitation happens in the form of expropriation, taxation, and regulation of private property owners. A state at best respects the rights of individual sovereignty and private property, but because its functioning is dependent on the expropriation of its citizens’ wealth there is a natural conflict between the state and its citizens. According to Franz Oppenheimer (1908), the state can impossibly finance itself without its productive citizens. It can only take that what has already been produced, and therefore it can only exist as a result of the “economic means”. However, this confiscation often involves state violence and aggression as nearly no one is willing to give up on his property voluntarily.

Under such circumstances, it is understandable that conflicts may arise between citizens and the state; sometimes resulting in citizens’ feelings of dissociation from their governments.

Secession

Frédérik Bastiat maintains in The Law (1850) that if everyone has the right to “his person, his liberty, and his property”, then

“a number of men have the right to combine together to extend, to organize a common force to provide regularly for this defense.”

Following Bastiat’s reasoning, I believe that citizens who feel dissociated can then revolt and opt for secession as a form of self-defense against state aggression on their self-ownership and property. Any state that does not recognize its citizens’ rights of secession does not sufficiently recognize the sovereignty of its people. Secession is a powerful means of political action to show the people’s discontent with their leaders. If secession would be impermissible, then the people who want to disassociate themselves from the state have the following three options:
(1) continue living under the oppressive state rule;
or (2) revolt against the state;
or (3) emigrate to another state.

By doing (1), the people continue living under perpetual state aggression, and their sovereignty is continually violated.

If the people choose option (2), then there will be severe and costly consequences which can involve war and destruction of private property. In addition, there are also no guarantees that the revolt against the state will be successful. For these two reasons, this option seems to most secessionists to be the least preferable of the three.

The people can alternatively choose (3) and emigrate to another state. This alternative is often used as an argument against secession under the presumption that those who are unhappy within one particular state, should simply emigrate. However, the cost of emigration can be so significantly high that it is unfeasible. One has for example the costs of finding information on the procedure of emigration, becoming accepted by the other state, finding a new workplace etc… The state can also exert barriers of emigration through tedious bureaucratic processes and passport controls, which makes emigration even more unattractive.

Who are morally justified to secede?

Following man’s right of free association, the answer should be: anyone, as long as it happens on a voluntary basis. Even though most secessionist movements are built on a common ethnicity or common cultural heritage, such precepts are not necessary to justify secession. Moreover, secessionists should not be prescribed any form of social organization as they should be free to choose their own form of government. This means that a multitude of social organizations are possible, including those that are currently non-existent. By being epistemologically modest of what governmental form is best, communities are allowed to experiment and find their own form of government. This will eventually add to our understanding of human social organizations.

Lastly, it is important to note that if secession is ethical, ultimately based on the principle of self-ownership, then it follows that the individual has the right to secede as well.

This right cannot be exclusively granted to groups, because only individuals can have ownership of their own bodies. Self-ownership cannot be shared, just like the mind cannot be shared. The mind is an attribute, inherent only to individuals, and collectives only derive their rights from the rights of their individual members. Therefore the right of self-ownership must necessarily imply the right to practice unlimited secession.

As Rothbard would assert, provinces should have the right to secede from a state, a district from the province, a town from the district, a neighbourhood from the town, a household from the neighbourhood, and an individual from the household. This logical consequence is anarchism.

Conclusion

In setting forward a natural rights defense of self-ownership, I have concluded that individuals have the right to free association and property rights. Unfortunately, states sometimes violate these rights to the extent that its people do not want to be associated with their state anymore. Under such circumstances they retain the right to secede. Secession should however not only be limited to communities. Single individuals also bear the right to secede, since only individuals can possess self-ownership, and since groups can only derive their rights from its individual members.

The case of James Damore: defending the Google engineer who was fired over a ‘controversial memo’

Yesterday, news broke out that Google had fired their engineer James Damore for disseminating a memo which was meant to be an invitation for open and honest discussion on Google’s left bias. CEO Sundar Pichai said the engineer had violated Google’s code of conduct by ‘advancing harmful gender stereotypes’.

DasKapital calls Damore a ‘diversity hater’, and Metro News calls him ‘anti-women’. The Guardian calls the memo ‘sexist’ and shamelessly maintains that the memo argues for the “biological inferiority of his female colleagues, and how this made them less suitable for tech.”

Reading through the 10-page memo myself, I find the memo very reasonable and I stand behind it 100%. Like Damore, I believe that we should stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.

What is Damore arguing against?

Damore argues that “Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.”

The several discriminatory practices that Google has instituted as a result of their left bias are:

  • Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race.
  • A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates.
  • Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate.
  • Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias).
  • Setting org level OKRs for increased representation which can incentivize illegal discrimination.

In short, Damore argues that:

  • Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
  • This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
  • The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
  • Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression.
  • Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression.
  • Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

What did Damore write about women?

Damore writes that women and men differ biologically and that this results in different personality traits, preferences they hold, and the career choices they make.

On biological differences

Damore writes that men and women differ biologically in many ways and that not all differences are socially constructed:

I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.

On personality differences

Damore writes that women, on average, have more openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. This makes them have a stronger interest in people rather than things and explains in part why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas.

In addition, women express their extraversion as gregariousness and agreeableness rather than assertiveness.

Women, on average, also have higher anxiety, and lower stress tolerance which makes high stress jobs less attractive to women.

Compared to men, women on average also look for more work-life balance.

Damore’s overall message

Damore explains his overall message as follows:

I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority. My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology. I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).

Again, I think this is extremely reasonable. Unfortunately, in a world driven by irrational and zealous egalitarians, those who use logic and reason are easily labeled bigots.

Reference

Damore, J. (2017). Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber

Bruce Lee’s Application Of Taoist Philosophy In Jeet Kune Do

Bruce Lee - Jeet Kune Do

Bruce Lee was born on November 27, 1940 and died on July 20, 1973. Even though he was just 32 upon his death, he had achieved so much in his limited lifetime. He was recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.[1] He was a cha cha champion in Hong Kong at age 18, a world renowned martial artist and a Chinese actor who was not only immensely popular in Asia, but who also made his breakthrough in Hollywood at a time when oriental actors were rarely accepted for lead roles. What is less known among the public is his keen interest in philosophy, a subject he studied at the University of Washington. Writing about where his interest in philosophy came from, he wrote:

My majoring in philosophy was closely related to the pugnacity of my childhood. I often asked myself these questions: What comes after victory? Why do people value victory so much? What is ‘glory’? What kind of ‘victory’ is ‘glorious’?[2]

In one of my previous posts, I discussed the similarities between the libertarian concept of Spontaneous Order and the Taoist concept of the Tao. In this post I will discuss the application of Taoist philosophy in Jeet Kune Do (‘the way of the intercepting fist’), the martial arts that Bruce Lee founded in his mid-20s, and its roots in Taoist philosophy. I will identify several Taoist aspects that form the philosophical foundation of Jeet Kune Do. First however, I will give an anecdote of his wife Linda Cadwell on Bruce Lee’s initial motivation to develop Jeet Kune Do at all.

Bruce Lee’s initial motivation for Jeet Kune Do
Bruce Lee started teaching martial arts to Westerners in his newly founded Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, a training gym in Oakland, California. Then by late 1964, Bruce Lee received a letter with the signatures of the most important elder Chinese martial arts masters in San Francisco who did not

look favourably on Bruce’s teaching martial art to Westerners, or actually to anyone who was not Chinese. So strongly did they harbour this historically bound belief, that a formal challenge was issued to Bruce, insisting that he participate in a confrontation, the result of which would decide whether he could continue to teach the ‘foreign devils’. (Cadwell, 1998, p. 8)

Without hesitation, Bruce Lee accepted the challenge. Linda Cadwell remembers the fight that followed as a pivotal point in Bruce Lee’s life:

Within moments of the initial clash, the Chinese gung fu man [Bruce Lee’s contender] had proceeded to run in a circle around the room, out a door that led to a small back room, then in through another door to the main room. He completed this circle several times, with Bruce in hot pursuit. Finally, Bruce brought the man to the floor, pinning him helplessly, and shouted (in Chinese), ‘Do you give up?’ After repeating this question two or three times, the man conceded, and the San Francisco party departed quickly. The entire fight lasted about three minutes, leaving James and me ecstatic that the decisive conquest was so quickly concluded. Not Bruce. Like it was yesterday, I remember Bruce sitting on the back steps of the gym, head in hands, despairing over his inability to finish off the opponent with efficient technique, and the failure of his stamina when he attempted to capture the running man. For what probably was the first time in his life, Bruce was winded and weakened. Instead of triumphing in his win, he was disappointed that his physical condition and gung fu training had not lived up to his expectations. This momentous event, then was the impetus for the evolution of Jeet Kune Do and the birth of his new training regime. (Cadwell, 1998, pp. 11-12)

Now that we know that Jeet Kune Do originated from Bruce Lee’s discontent with the physical condition he had achieved through traditional gung fu training, I will discuss how Bruce Lee was striving for a new martial arts that was superior to the already existent ones, and how this martial arts is ultimately rooted in Taoist philosophy.

Jeet Kune Do as a way of life
Bruce Lee had, throughout his whole life, always been intrigued by the question how to find his true potential, and how to express himself honestly. He wrote:

“Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential”.[3]

“When I look around, I always learn something, and that is to always be yourself, express yourself, to have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate him. They always copy mannerism; they never start from the root of their being: that is, how can I be me?”[4]

Bruce Lee believed that the answers to both questions – how can I find my true potential and how can I be me so that I can express myself honestly – are ultimately related to one another.

1. Be one with the Tao; be formless like water, and be pliable
Bruce Lee believed that the person who is trained within a particular martial arts style and who clings to it indefinitely or a person who is only trained within a particular philosophical doctrine becomes self-delusional. He thought that the person who is incapable of exceeding his style or doctrine is stiff and narrow-minded. His narrow-mindedness makes him blind to observe objectively and to see the truth. He is what Bruce Lee calls, ‘the traditional man’. Bruce Lee wrote:

One can function freely and totally if he is ‘beyond system.’ The man who is really serious, with the urge to find out what truth is, has no style at all. He lives only in what is. (Bruce Lee, 1975, p. 17)

But in classical styles, system becomes more important than the man! The classical man functions with the pattern of a style! (Bruce Lee, 1975, p. 18)

How can there be methods and systems to arrive at something that is living? To that which is static, fixed, dead, there can be a way, a definite path, but not to that which is living. Do not reduce reality to a static thing and then invent methods to reach it. (Bruce Lee, 1975, p. 18)

Classical forms dull your creativity, condition and freeze your sense of freedom. You no longer ‘be,’ but merely ‘do,’ without sensitivity. (Bruce Lee, 1975, p. 19)

You cannot see a street fight in its totality, observing it from the viewpoint of a boxer, a kung-fu man, a karateka, a wrestler, a judo man and so forth. You can see clearly only when style does not interfere. You then see it without ‘like’ or ‘dislike;’ you simply see and what you see is the whole and not the partial. (Bruce Lee, 1975, p. 24)

He thought that committing himself to styles limits both his potential and his self-expression. This critique is however not only limited to martial arts. He extended this critique to Confucianism, a philosophy which he considered as too rigid, and too narrowly focused on set rules and traditions. According to Bruce Lee, man ceases being a human being and instead becomes a mechanical man, a product of mere tradition if he reveres and just follows rules and mannerisms. The philosophy that perfectly fits Bruce Lee’s vision of a self-expressive and ‘style-less’ martial arts is the epistemologically anarchistic Taoism. How can a person, according to Bruce Lee and Taoism, find his true potential and express himself honestly? The answer is to become formless, pliable, and forever adaptable just like the Tao is formless, pliable, and forever in flux.

The Tao Te Ching states the following metaphor of life (flexibility and softness) and death (rigidity and hardness):

A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.
Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.
Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.
The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome. (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 76)

Both Lao Tze and Bruce Lee took water as the ultimate metaphor for that which is flexible and soft. Bruce Lee maintains that in order to fulfil your true potential and express yourself honestly you should become like water, formless. To be like water means to be an objective observant, relaxed and to be flowing with life – to be one with the Tao.

In the Tao Te Ching one can find the following lines:

Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.
Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;
It has no equal.
The weak can overcome the strong;
The supple can overcome the stiff. (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 78)

There is a story about Bruce Lee’s discovery of what it means to be like water and to be united with the Tao. I am not sure about the authenticity of the story, but I will share it nonetheless as it helps to illustrate the significance of being formless in combat or in life:

Bruce, at the age of seventeen, had been training in gung fu for four years with Sifu Yip Man, yet had reached an impasse. When engaged in sparring Bruce found that his body would become tense, his mind perturbed. Such instability worked against his goal of efficiency in combat.

Sifu Yip Man sensed his trouble, and approached him. ‘Lee,’ he said, ‘relax and calm your mind. Forget about yourself and follow the opponent’s movements. Let your mind, the basic reality, do the counter-movement without any interfering deliberation. Above all, learn the art of detachment.’

Bruce Lee believed he had the answer to his problem. He must relax! Yet there was a paradox: the effort in trying to relax was inconsistent with the effortlessness in relaxing, and Bruce found himself back in the same situation.

Again Sifu Yip Man came to Bruce and said, ‘Lee, preserve yourself by following the natural bends of things and don’t interfere. Remember never to assert yourself: never be in frontal opposition to any problem, but control it by swinging with it.’

Sifu Yip Man told Bruce to go home for a week and think about his words. Bruce spent many hours in meditation and practice, with nothing coming of it. Finally, Bruce decided to go sailing in a junk (boat). Bruce would have a great epiphany. ‘On the sea, I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched the water. Right then at that moment, a thought suddenly struck me. Wasn’t this water the essence of gung fu? I struck it, but it did not suffer hurt. I then tried to grasp a handful of it but it was impossible. This water, the softest substance, could fit into any container. Although it seemed weak, it could penetrate the hardest substance. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water.

Therefore in order to control myself I must accept myself by going with, and not against, my nature. I lay on the boat and felt that I had united with Tao; I had become one with nature.[5]

Bruce Lee emphasized the importance of ‘a style of no style’ that he later would regret the name Jeet Kune Do as a name implies limitations or specific parameters. Bruce Lee wanted it to resemble the Tao, nameless and of almost supernatural power. Chapter one of the Tao Te Ching states:

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name. (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1)

See this video in which Bruce Lee asserts that we should be like water:

2. Break rules and conventions and have no way as your way
Jeet Kune Do does not limit itself to styles. It takes from other styles what is useful, discards what is useless, and adds what is uniquely our own. The slogan of the Jeet Kune Do logo reads two things: (a) take no way as your way, and (b) take no limitation as your limitation. As styles, rules, conventions, mannerisms limit us we should deconstruct and transcend them. Jeet Kune Do is therefore iconoclastic. Bruce Lee wrote:

Jeet Kune Do favors formlessness so that it can assume all forms and since Jeet Kune Do has no style, it can fit in with all styles. As a result, Jeet Kune Do utilizes all ways and is bound by none and, likewise, uses any techniques or means which serve its end. (Bruce Lee, 1975, p. 12)

What are the characteristics of a martial arts with no style? According to Bruce Lee, it becomes open-minded, non-traditional, simple, direct, and effective.

Bruce Lee contended that:

Jeet Kune Do does not beat around the bush. It does not take winding detours. It follows a straight line to the objective. Simplicity is the shortest distance between two points. (Bruce Lee, 1975, p. 12)

In Enter the Dragon, there is a scene in which an ostentatious man asks Bruce Lee what his style is. Bruce Lee answers: “You can call it the art of fighting without fighting”. Being challenged by the man to show this style, Bruce Lee cunningly proposes to take a boat to a nearby island where they can fight. When the man set foot on the boat, Bruce Lee let the boat drift away and pulls it on a line. The essence of the story is that (a) one should not be pretentious as that is not honest self-expression, and (b) a fight should be won in the most direct and easiest manner, preferably without the use of violence.[6]

You can find the videoclip here:

In order to break with traditions and conventions means that we should also get rid of our past attachments. This is what Bruce Lee meant when he metaphorically said that we should ‘empty our cup’.

3. Empty your cup and learn the art of dying
To empty your cup means to get rid of your self-delusion so that you can look at the world from a new and refreshed perspective. In order to find your true potential and your nature, you should first be self-conscious. You should know what you want, what you desire, what your strengths and weaknesses are, your pride, your fears, your accomplishments, your ambitions and eventually get rid of all that as they maintain an ego that interferes with who you truly are – a fluid personality who cannot be narrowly defined by your desires, fears, achievements etc.

In the Tao Te Ching one can read:

Empty yourself of everything.
Let the mind become still.
The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return. (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 16)

This is frightening for most of us, because it confronts us with our own prejudices; we may find that our traditions that have previously given us a sense of security may be baseless. However, Bruce Lee did not only want us to break with the archaic, but he also showed us an alternative – a way of creating new values and skills to supersede the old. In this respect, Bruce Lee’s views of how to progress in life is very much in line with the iconoclastic Nietzschean übermensch: we must first break with traditions and try to rise above our culture so that a higher being can emerge from our renewed self-creation. This is how I personally interpret Bruce Lee’s saying that we should learn the “art of dying”.

In a famous scene in Longstreet, Bruce Lee taught us not to make a plan of fighting, he told us to empty our mind, and to be formless like water. The “art of dying” is the “art of being non-fixed” – the art of being a different person tomorrow than we are today by letting go our past attachments including our ambitions. I believe it is similar to the Nietzschean ideal of self-creation: continuously subjecting our current values to our personal judgements, breaking down ‘lower values’ and creating ‘higher values’. The art of dying is hence a metaphor for continuously breaking down our past selves, values, attachments, pride, desires (dying) and creating our new selves (being reborn) so that we can continuously improve. The “art of dying” is therefore also the “art of self-forgetfulness”, a skill that is characteristic of the ‘baby’ who is its self-propelling wheel in Nietzsche’s story of the ‘three metamorphoses’ from Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

See here the scene of Longstreet:

Bruce Lee wrote:

Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality. (Bruce Lee, 1975, p. 14)

Emptying our cup precedes our discovery of new truths or new values so that hopefully we can find ourselves and become our own standard. Bruce Lee told us not to despair when we cannot find solace within our past attachments as the creation of personal values is vastly more valuable.

See here a great explanation of ‘emptying our cup’:

The logical consequence of self-creation is that one becomes his own standard.

4. Become your own standard and accept life
According to Bruce Lee, we should not worry about what others think of us. He advised us not to look for a personality to duplicate as that would be a betrayal to our selves – one might call this practice ‘other-expression’ instead of ‘self-expression’. Being our own standard also encompasses the acceptance of disgrace and losses as much as accepting grace and victories. How else can we accept ourselves and fulfill our own potential?

The Tao Te Ching advises us the following:

Accept disgrace willingly.
Accept misfortune as the human condition.

What do you mean by “Accept disgrace willingly”?
Accept being unimportant.
Do not be concerned with loss or gain.
This is called “accepting disgrace willingly.”

What do you mean by “Accept misfortune as the human condition”?
Misfortune comes from having a body.
Without a body, how could there be misfortune?

Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for all things.
Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things. (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 13)

5. Wei Wu Wei
Lastly, I would like to discuss another aspect of ‘having no way as your way’. To have ‘no way as your way’, is also Bruce Lee’s expression for following the Taoist doctrine of ‘wei wu wei’ (‘action without action’ or ‘effortless action’). Bruce Lee maintained that when a person is truly in control of himself, he experiences his action without consciously forcing his actions to happen. Self-consciousness is initially required for the understanding of ourselves, but to be truly expressing ourselves through our actions we must move into a state where we act unconsciously. I think it is best comparable with the English expression of ‘being in a state of flow’. Bruce Lee said:

I’m moving and not moving at all. I’m like the moon underneath the waves that ever go on rolling and rocking. It is not, ‘I am doing this,’ but rather, an inner realization that ‘this is happening through me,’ or ‘it is doing this for me.’ The consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action. (Bruce Lee, 1975, p. 7)

This idea is expressed as follows in the Tao Te Ching:

Tao abides in non-action (‘wu wei’),
Yet nothing is left undone. (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 37)

Footnotes
[1] See http://www.ranker.com/list/time-magazine-100-most-important-people-of-the-20th-century/theomanlenz?format=SLIDESHOW&page=55http://www.ranker.com/list/time-magazine-100-most-important-people-of-the-20th-century/theomanlenz?format=SLIDESHOW&page=55

[2] I do not remember where I have found this quote.

[3] Idem

[4] Idem

[5] From http://www.becoming.8m.net/bruce02.htm

[6] The scene is actually based on an old Japanese Samurai folk tale. The tale goes as follows:

“While travelling on a ferry, a young samurai began bullying and intimidating some of the other passengers, boasting of his fighting prowess and claiming to be the best in the country with a samurai sword. When the young warrior noticed how unmoved [Tsukahara] Bokuden [a legendary Japanese swordsman] was, he was enraged and not knowing who he was dealing with challenged the old master to a duel. Bokuden told him;

‘My art is different from yours. It consists not so much in defeating others but in not being defeated.’

He continued to inform him that his school was called The Mutekatsu Ryu meaning ‘to defeat an enemy without hands’. The young samurai saw this as cowardice and demanded satisfaction so he told the boats-man to stop at an island so they could do battle there.

However when he jumped into the shallow waters to make his way to the fight venue, Bokuden got hold of the boats-man’s pole and proceeded back to deeper waters minus a now irate young samurai. The wise old master laughed and shouted to his would be adversary; ‘Here is my no sword school!’” (See, http://www.historyoffighting.com/tsukahara-bokuden.php)

Bibliography
History Of Fighting. Retrieved from http://www.historyoffighting.com/tsukahara-bokuden.php

Lao Tze. Tao Te Ching. Retrieved from http://www.schrades.com/tao/taotext.cfm?TaoID=1

Lee, B. (1975). Tao Of Jeet Kune Do. Santa Clarita: Ohara Publications.

Little, J. (1998). Bruce Lee: The Art Of Expressing The Human Body. North Clarendon: Tuttle Publishing.

SteemFest interview

The first ever international Steemit conference was held on November 11, 12 and 13. I loved the positive vibe that radiated from the community and I enjoyed meeting people I have had known only from the Steemit online platform.

Steemit is a social network that looks quite similar to Reddit and that rewards people with the cryptocurrency Steem for blogging and curating content. SteemFest, consisting of 206 attendees, had a remarkable mix of people from different nationalities. They joined the event from 32 different countries including Russia, China, India, Japan, Panama, Lithuania, Cambodia, Mexico, and the US. There were also many female attendees, something that you don’t see often in other cryptocommunities. 35% were female and 25% were developers. The event attracted famous writers like for example Neil Strauss, bitcoin artists like Tatiana Moroz, and Ned Scott who is the co-founder of Steemit. I loved listening to people’s stories and how they got involved with Steemit. I met someone who lived together with Vitalik Buterin (founder of Ethereum) in Barcelona, a homeless person who tries to get by by living on the cryptocurrency Steem, and so many other interesting people.

I was one of the 35 speakers at the event, and was also interviewed on some of my libertarian philosophical views. You can see the interview above.

If you’d like to know more about Steemit, then visit Steemit.com to see what it’s all about.

The Genetics of Success

In this article, I will explore the latest science on how our genetic makeup is correlated to our ‘life success’. This post is not for egalitarians who believe that everyone is equally beautiful and talented or that everyone can become an Aristotle through immense self-effort. No, this post argues that our genetic differences result in different expected life outcomes.

genetics-of-success
Image source

We are living in extremely interesting times. We may have reached a tipping point in genomic research. It seems that we can now weakly predict life outcomes based on genetic tests. Daniel Belsky from Duke University and his team of researchers have recently released a paper asserting that genetic tests can predict adult life outcomes. The magnitude of correlation between genomic tests and adult life outcomes is still very modest, but I believe that the predictions will grow more accurate once we gain more knowledge about the genetic makeup of ‘success’. I believe that this is big news, since this is the first well-developed psychometric/genetic research I have read so far that asserts that life success is to some extent related to our genetic makeup.

When Belsky et al looked at the genetic profiles and the people they studied, they found that people with higher polygenic scores did not only have greater educational attainments, but also had more prestigious occupations, higher incomes, more assets, greater upward social mobility, and were more likable and friendly.

Main research findings

The main research findings can be summed up as follow:

  1. polygenic scores predicted adult economic outcomes even after accounting for educational attainments;
  2. genes and environments were correlated: Children with higher polygenic scores were born into better-off homes;
  3. children’s polygenic scores predicted their adult outcomes even when analyses accounted for their social-class origins; social-mobility analysis showed that children with higher polygenic scores were more upwardly mobile than children with lower scores;
  4. polygenic scores predicted behavior across the life course, from early acquisition of speech and reading skills through geographic mobility and mate choice and on to financial planning for retirement;
  5. polygenic-score associations were mediated by psychological characteristics, including intelligence, self-control, and interpersonal skill.

Belsky’s main research question

In 2013, Rietveld et al reported the first successful genome-wide association study (GWAS) of educational attainment. They analyzed millions of genetic variants in more than 100,000 individuals and found a genetic map that was related to people’s educational attainment. This genetic map could even explain differences in educational attainment between siblings in the same family.

The main research question that Belsky et al ask is: “do genetic discoveries for educational attainment predict outcomes beyond schooling?”

If so, what are the developmental and behavioral pathways that connect differences in DNA sequences with divergent life outcomes?


Image source

Belsky’s research methodology

1,037 people born between April 1972 and March 1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand, were tracked through a 38-year assessment of their socioeconomic development. This study became known as ‘the Dunedin study’. The cohort represented the full range of socioeconomic status (SES).

The researchers derived polygenic scores from the approximately 2.3 million genotypes that according to Rietveld et al would make up the genetic predisposition to educational attainment. In addition, adult-attainment scores were derived from extensive analyses of Dunedin members’ life developments. See table 1 for developments that were tracked and the methods through which these developments were measured.

The researchers have for example measured SES, determined from the higher of either parent’s occupational status throughout the Dunedin Study members’ childhoods. Educational attainment was measured, looking at the highest obtained degree. Attainment beyond education were measured by members’ reports of occupation, income, assets, credit problems when they were 38 years old and from social welfare and credit-score records. Reading abilities, taken when the Dunedin Study members were 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, and 18 years old, were measured as well. What I find extremely interesting is the fact that the researchers have measured not only cognitive ability through picture vocabulary tests and IQ tests, but also certain personal traits like self-control, impulsive aggression, hyperactivity, lack of persistence, inattention and interpersonal skills.

More substantive research results

I will list all research results here:

  1. people with higher polygenic scores tended to achieve higher degrees;
  2. people with higher polygenic scores tended to be more socioeconomically successful, holding more prestigious occupations, earning higher incomes, having more assets, relying less on social-welfare benefits, having higher credit scores and reporting fewer difficulties paying expenses;
  3. children with higher polygenic scores tended to come from families with higher SES;
  4. children with higher polygenic scores tended to attain more regardless of whether they began life in a family of low SES or high SES. Children from low SES with high polygenic scores tended to have greater upward social mobility than their low SES peers with low polygenic scores;
  5. children with higher polygenic scores were more likely to talk earlier and quicker to begin communicating using sentences;
  6. children with higher polygenic scores were able to read at younger ages;
  7. adolescents with higher polygenic scores had higher educational aspirations at the age of 15;
  8. adolescents with higher polygenic scores performed better academically and outperformed their peers on standardized tests;
  9. people with higher polygenic scores were more likely to pursue occupational opportunities outside of New Zealand;
  10. people with higher polygenic scores were more financially planful;
  11. people with higher polygenic scores tended to find partners with higher socioeconomic attainments;
  12. people with higher polygenic scores were not more satisfied with their lives;
  13. people with higher polygenic scores performed better on IQ tests and showed more rapid cognitive development during childhood;
  14. people with higher polygenic scores had stronger noncognitive skills, such as self-control, friendliness, confidence, being cooperative and communicative;
  15. children with higher polygenic scores were no healthier than their peers.

Tough questions

Knowing that our genetic makeup partly determine our success in life, would it be ethical to screen embryos for genetic signs of success in life? In some cases, embryologists already check embryos for major diseases, but should we allow parents to select embryos with the greatest genetic odds of future success?

These are interesting questions that, I believe, we will be facing in the near future.


Image source

Reference

Belsky et al – The genetics of success

Early childhood memories of a Cambodian refugee camp

In 1991, sixteen Khmer families from Cambodian refugee camps (mostly from Khao I Dang) received asylum in the Netherlands. This Saturday, November 5, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary. To commemorate our stay in the Netherlands, I would like to share some of my early childhood memories about being born in a Cambodian refugee camp in 1986.

I understand that my story is just one small, but essential part of my family’s overall journey for safety from the civil war (1967-1975), Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) regime, and the subsequent Vietnamese occupation. According to some estimates, 2 million out of 8 million people died during this long period. This figure has been contested many times. I don’t think anyone knows how many people have actually died, but if I look at the family members of my parents’ households: 40% from my mum’s side died and 25% from my dad’s side.

Khao I Dang, the refugee camp where I was born

My parents were forced to work in labour camps in the countryside in Battambang by the Khmer Rouge. They eventually met each other while fleeing from Battambang to the Thai border when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia. As with most fleeing Cambodians, my parents decided to get together – not out of love, but more out of the need and desire to share their hardships. This was after all, a months-long journey through the heart of the Cambodian jungle in which my father lost his father, the granddad I never came to know. My mother lost her brother and her father. As my mother was separated from her brother early on during the Khmer Rouge regime and never witnessed his death, she had always held hope that one day she would find him again.

My parents’ long journey towards Thailand brought them to the Sa Kaeo camp which was the first organized refugee camp that opened in 1979. Within just 8 days, the refugee population grew to 30,000. The camp eventually closed down half a year later, because of unfavorable conditions. The drainage in the campsite was for example so poor that several refugees, too weak to lift their heads, drowned from a flood as they laid on the floor in tents made of plastic sheets.

One month after the opening of Sa Kaeo, the Khao I Dang camp was opened and many people were repatriated into Khao I Dang. My parents eventually ended up there as well.

Khao I Dang camp

Khao I Dang was a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border where I was born. It was a bamboo village with dirt roads, barbed wire, and armed guards. Within just 5 months, the camp’s population reached 160,000. Population wise, this would make the camp the 11th largest municipality in the Netherlands.

Although the camp gave us more safety, violence and theft ran rampant.

Religion and death

People continued their religious activities and some houses were transformed into places for Buddhist ceremonies. In this picture you see my two brothers, my father, and I wearing our best clothes. We just came back from a visit to a local ‘temple’. The husband of my aunty, who had just been allowed to find refuge in Australia, had recently died in the camp.

My two brothers, me, and my father

Behind me is a grave of him. My father hired a photographer to take this picture so that he could send it to my aunty. I am the one barefooted.

Hospital

My father worked at the hospital. The hospital was a large hall with beds placed next to each other. I remember that I visited the hospital where I was given a doctor’s gloves to play with. I would blow it and enjoy a child’s kick out of it.

Hospital in Khao I Dang

Night raids

I remember that during some nights, rebels with guns would raid people’s houses to steal their belongings. Often, the word about night raids spread faster than the rebels themselves, and so most of the times we were warned before the rebels reached us. I remember very well one incident when we did not flee early enough.

My brothers and I ran after my father, while my mother took my baby sister in her arms to flee in separate directions. My father brought us into a nearby canal to hide there. When the Thai patrolling soldiers within the camp arrived at the scene, shooting between the two groups erupted. When I think back to this moment, I can still clearly feel the fear I had. I wanted to cry, but my father put his hands tightly on my mouth so that I would not make any sound. We then fled to the hospital where my father was working, and stayed there during the night. We were too afraid to go back home, and waited until the next morning.

In another incident, our neighbors were too late to flee and somehow for reasons unknown, a rebel threw a hand grenade inside their little home that killed the whole family.

Kindergarten

Despite the violence and misery, people tried to rebuild their normal lives. I went to kindergarten and remember so well one incident that I played hooky.

I was 4 years old and walking to school by myself, I stopped and decided to return home to my mother’s small shop. This is an incident that I am personally extremely proud of. As long as I can remember, I have always detested school. I hated to sit still and to be told what to do and what not to do. I took this attitude with me to the Netherlands, and still today I am very critical of schooling. My mother, a soft young woman, let me stay with her at the shop. But then my father came by, got angry with me, and spanked me for not going to school. Until this day I still don’t think that I did anything wrong.

Our little shop

Trade went on. Although it was illegal, industrious people were trying to make money by starting small businesses. This shows to me that entrepreneurship is natural to us human beings, and that economics and trade are naturally emerging processes as people are always looking for ways to improve their lot and to fulfill their needs.

Thai merchants would come to the fences, away from the Thai soldiers who were patrolling, in order to sell food to the refugees inside. Such activities occurred during night-time. When Thai soldiers would find out that we were trading with outsiders, they would beat us and take away our belongings. We, refugees, were also not allowed to get outside of the camp or we would risk being shot dead by Thai soldiers.

My mother, my brothers and I at our little shop. I am the one in the blue jersey

During day-time, people inside the camp would expose their new belongings and small shops would emerge. My mother sold small products of convenience. Some of it was smuggled by Thai people into the camps that we, Cambodians, were selling to other Cambodians. Other things like oil and sugar were given to us as part of a food relief program that we used sparingly so that we could sell it further. With the money we earned, we could then buy other goods that we needed more.

Other ways through which we made money was by brewing alcohol made from rice and apples. Although alcohol was illegal, it did not stop my parents from brewing it. Whenever a Thai soldier would come to our house for inspection – I don’t think you can really hide the alcoholic odor that was surrounding our little house when we were brewing alcohol – my parents would bribe him with money so that he would leave us alone.

Continuing story

These are some of my childhood memories of our lives in Khao I Dang. Maybe next time I can tell more about our life in the camp, share some of my older brothers’ memories, our cat that was lost, killed and eaten by someone or my first encounter with inspiring Superman and Spider-Man comic books. Maybe, I will also write about our continuing journey to the Netherlands and the psychological impact my experiences in Khao I Dang had on me. I can tell about the nightmares that haunted me until my teenage years, how I always felt alienated from the people here and the inferiority complex towards Dutch people that I developed as a little child for feeling different. Feeling different made me feel insecure. Every time I met someone, and I think it lasted until my later teenage years, I would always ponder whether the person would kill me if he would be put in similar circumstances as those many killers from the Khmer Rouge period. In other words: as a child, I already wondered excessively about the “banality of evil”. These thoughts were of course extremely unhealthy, especially when you are as young as 4 or 5 years old.

The biggest lesson I have learned from my childhood is that both good and bad experiences are important in our lives. Happiness, in my opinion, is very much overrated and hardship is at least as valuable.

I have not written this so that people pity me. Pity, and in particular self-pity, is an extremely damaging emotion. It multiplies our suffering and reveals an extremely pathological egoism. When I look back at the hardships my family has overcome, I like to remind myself of Haruki Murakami’s saying that “only assholes feel sorry for themselves”.