Sin is the Enemy

I had a bit of a breakthrough today. I now understand who (what) the enemy is. The enemy is not faith. Sorry to disagree with folks like Bill Maher, but the enemy is not religion.

The enemy is sin.

I don’t mean that you should try to live a sinless life, i.e. attempt to eradicate sinful behavior from your lifestyle. Nor should you abandon discretion and common sense and live a dissolute and reckless lifestyle. In other words, give in to sin. No, you should simply abandon the idea of sin, the idea that there is a vindictive, jealous and vengeful God who will wreak judgment upon those He finds displeasing. And that you can somehow please him by living in a particular manner.

Let’s examine that idea closely. Take the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal contained in 1 Kings 18:23-40. As this site indicates, this story is a favorite among Christians. Invariably, Christians spiritualize the story without really examining the events themselves. In the story, Elijah proves that Yahweh was the true God, whereas Baal was a false god. Elijah does so by miraculous means, and the way he does so is quite spectacular and rather amusing, no question. But look what happens afterwards:

And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there. (1 Kings 18:40 KJV)

Now, assuming you believe in God (which I certainly do much of the time), then you must have some internal concept of the nature of God. You probably believe that God is loving and compassionate. Let’s call this a Loving and Compassionate God, or L&CG.

Now, which of these two scenarios is more likely:

  • Elijah called fire down from heaven, which L&CG obligingly sent, thereby proving His existence and power in graphic terms. Elijah then proceeded to massacre a religious minority, with the explicit approval of L&CG.
  • Elijah orchestrated the massacre of a powerful religious minority for political gain. He then exploited his religious culture to justify his war crimes.

I don’t know about you, but I find the first scenario entirely less likely than the second one. Yes, Elijah may have existed. He even may have called down fire from heaven, although I seriously doubt it. What I do not doubt, however, is that the annihilation of a religious minority within ancient Israel (or anywhere else in history for that matter) is not, never has been, and never will be justified and endorsed by L&CG.

I came up with a hypothesis based upon this idea. The gist is that sin-based religion has caused more religious war, persecution, etc., than non-sin-based religion. It turns out that this is certainly true. Of the major world religions, the number one culprit in terms of causing religious war, persecution, etc., is Christianity, with about 15 million deaths. Islam is next, with between 8 and 9 million, except that most Islam-related religious wars also involved Christians. Thus, much of that has to be credited to Christianity as well. Everything else is noise.

Religions where sin is not a major feature (Hinduism and Buddhism being the two major world religions that fall into this category) do not figure in religious wars very much at all. If they appear, it is in a defensive role. Thus, Buddhists or Hindus will defend themselves, violently if necessary, when they are persecuted by another religion (usually Christians and Muslims). Typically, Christians or Muslims attempt to convert Hindus or Buddhists forcibly. This does result in resistance, understandably. Otherwise, the non-sin-based religions simply do not figure in religious wars very much.

Thus, it appears that my hypothesis is correct: It is not religion that dramatically increases human suffering. It is instead the concept of sin, with the associated idea of a vindictive, judgmental and vengeful God.

This gets played out in daily life of ordinary folks as well. Take this scenario. A small child is killed in some senseless and brutal manner. The parents are understandably devastated. A well-meaning but clueless religious person shows up, sees the pathetic scene, and says something like the following:

We just can’t know God’s plan. Although we don’t understand it, we have to accept that God knows best, and somehow this was the best thing for <fill in child’s name>. I mean, who knows, <fill in child’s name> might have turned away from God. By taking her now, God knew for sure that she would be in his loving embrace for all eternity. Maybe this is God’s perfect will.

I am not exaggerating here. I have been to many funerals that sounded just like this. And what has this religious leader just done? He or she has made God to blame for little <fill in child’s name>’s death, and the suffering of these poor parents, who must now try to worship a God who countenanced this obscene event.

In some cases, the opposite occurs. My cousin Monty was the most egregious example of which I ever heard. That happened fairly soon after I had just become a born-again Christian. Monty was a severe alcoholic who was separated from his wife, having multiple affairs, and died in a drunk driving accident in which he was at fault. In the process, he killed an entire innocent family. At his funeral, which I personally attended, the Baptist preacher said the following, more or less:

We can know for sure that Monty is in heaven today in the loving arms of Jesus. That’s because he came down the aisle in this very church at the age of 12 and accepted Jesus into his heart, and was baptized in this very church.

Now, if anyone ever arguably deserved to burn in Hell, Monty would be up there. He was a cad, no question. Not a lot in Monty’s life to admire. However, for me, given a choice of believing that Monty is burning in Hell or in the embrace of Jesus, I will go with neither.

Monty was broken. I am broken. You are broken. We are all in a terrible state. But that does not mean that there is a vengeful and jealous God who will condemn us when we die.

A few Christians are even beginning to embrace this idea. Take for example Rob Bell, a Christian I have thoroughly enjoyed. Rob seriously pissed off the Evangelical establishment when he announced that he no longer believed in Hell. He later recanted when faced with serious persecution, I suppose. The question that got him: If there is no sin, then why did Jesus die?

Why indeed?


In my previous post Bad Sin, I talked briefly about Queen Isabella of Spain, and how her religious beliefs ended up directly affecting her policies. In this post I will punch that up a bit.

Queen Isabella was a devout Catholic. She certainly lived what appeared to be a virtuous and admirable life, at least from outward appearances. Most Christians would find little to criticize about Isabella’s personal conduct. In fact, her behavior was so exemplary that she was awarded sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church in 1874.

Problem is, she had a very bad counselor.  Her personal confessor was Tomás de Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition, which Queen Isabella herself created in 1478. Similarly to Queen Isabella, Torquemada also had a very devout and “sinless” lifestyle, at least from outward appearances. However, he believed something most Christians do not presently accept. Effectively, Torquemada believed that torture was justified, if it could prompt a person to confess their sins, repent, and accept Jesus. Once they were effectively in the kingdom, the killing them was doing them a favor. They might backslide after all! The gist of the idea is that it would be far worse for someone to die in sin, and spend eternity in Hell, than be tortured to death in this life, but receive forgiveness and a heavenly reward.

Obviously, the underlying basis for this idea is sin. Without sin, there would be no Hell, no heavenly reward, and so forth.

Torquemada was also one of the most virulent anti-semites in the dark history of Christianity. He orchestrated the forcible expulsion of the Jews from Spain. It would not be overstating the case to say that one of the main reasons that Spain is a poor country today was because of the stupid, blind, and senseless policies of Queen Isabella and Torquemada. By expelling the Jews, Spain decimated the Spanish middle class, where most of the economic activity was being generated. Up to that point, Spain was the superpower. Afterwards, once the economic impact was felt, Spain declined and the British Empire became pre-eminent.

This theology had serious practical for the entire world. A foolish and silly doctrine resulted in the direct death of thousands, and indirectly affected the lives of millions. Thus, what we believe matters. It affects our behavior dramatically.

I still stubbornly maintain that the concept of sin is pernicious and evil. Like I said previously, allowing another person to tell you what is, and is not, in the divine law is a very dangerous thing. Queen Isabella agreed to allow Torquemada to tell her that. He was the one who guided her in her daily life. He fed her the formula for success. And succeed she did! In the context of her culture, Queen Isabella was a superstar. Too bad her delusion had to be so catastrophic for the entire world.

My advice: If you hear a religious leader telling you what is, and is not, sin for you, do not hesitate. Run. Do not walk. Flee.

Bad Sin

Sin is bad. I know what you are thinking: No kidding. Like I didn’t know that!

But that’s not what I mean. I need to be a bit more clear here.

What I am saying is that the concept of sin, i.e. the idea of a vengeful, legalistic God, who puts concrete requirements on human behavior, and punishes disobedience, is a pernicious, evil concept which leads to terrible consequences. Thus, it is the idea of sin that is bad, not any specific sin itself.

I have been living in the “no sin” state for a while. Bear in mind, I am not saying that I live a life of sinless perfection. (That would be delusional!) No, I am merely saying that I have abandoned the sin-based way of thinking. I no longer believe that there is a divine law which I am required to obey, or face divine justice.

In the process of abandoning the concept of sin, I have become aware of the effect that consciousness of sin had on me. If you believe in sin, you believe in a divine law. Thus, there is an objective, non-cultural standard for right and wrong, good and evil, etc. Here’s the rub: How do you decide what is the content of the law of God? In other words, who decides what is and is not legal?

Typically, in our history, that has been left to religious leaders to decide. And I was no exception. I bought what religious leaders taught me was right and wrong. I attempted to live a relatively sinless life, as that term was defined by my cultural context, in that case Evangelical Christianity. Other religions which assume the existence of a legalistic God are no different, though. Islam, from what I can tell, leads to a very similar place.

Giving someone else the power to decide what is and is not in compliance with the divine law is a very dangerous thing indeed. Especially if the law you are attempting to follow is from a completely different culture, geographic region, historical era, etc. Inevitably, you end up attempting to adapt the putative divine law from those conditions onto your current conditions, with often disastrous results.

Take slavery. Slavery is a well-understood anthropological phenomenon. Once neolithic cultures arose from pre-historical, paleolithic environments, then there was a huge increase in the number of available calories. That meant that part of the human society no longer needed to work on gathering food. This led to the development of government, religion, and the military. Early neolithic empires used soldiers armed with metal weapons to conquer and enslave the surrounding paleolithic humans (whom they regarded as “barbarians”). In the process, neolithic empires obtained access to a large number of captive humans.

What can you do with a captive human? You can kill him/her. But that has limited utility. How much better to force them to hang around and do stuff! Thus, slavery arose almost immediately in human history, following the neolithic revolution.

Once slavery took hold, it became a required part of life. The Roman Empire famously ran on slaves. Once all of the available surrounding cultures were conquered, and the supply of excess slaves dried up, Rome began to collapse. With slavery being the dominant way of organizing human activity in the ancient world, making it illegal under the “divine law” would be unthinkable.

Sure enough, various religious cultures have used their version of the divine law to justify the conquest and enslavement of surrounding primitive cultures. The Western European colonial expansion into the New World was depressingly typical. The annihilation of numerous primitive cultures was justified with the idea of winning new converts to Christ. Columbus’s voyage, for example, was underwritten by Queen Isabella of Spain, a devout Catholic. The explicit goal of the voyage was to find new converts to Christ, thereby increasing the glory of God, and of His faithful servant, i.e. Queen Isabella herself.

Further, the enslavement of Africans during the colonial period was justified using a silly and ridiculous reading of the book of Genesis. In Genesis 9:20-27 Noah prophesies a curse against his grandson Canaan, which includes these statements:

25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
26 And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

The Christian European invaders regarded the Africans as the descendants of Canaan, and thus naturally slaves to the other sons of Noah (notably themselves).

So there you have it: Giving the power to a religious leader to decide what is and is not in the law of God directly led to the institution of slavery, and the resulting enslavement of millions of primitive humans.

If that ain’t bad, I don’t know what is.

Richard L.

I had a moment of clarity today while talking to my wife. I realized that I have had the same experience multiple times with various Christians.

The title of my post was typical: We will call him Richard L. Richard and I were buds. He lived in Raleigh, and I lived in Chapel Hill, but that didn’t let that keep us apart. I would come to Raleigh regularly to help Rich with the storage shed he was building, ride bikes together, etc. We even went on several business trips together, as we were both members of the same professional trade organization.

My wife had a bad feeling though. She kept warning me that Rich was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Rich was the “leading brother” of the particular brand of Christianity that we were involved in at that point in our lives. I must admit that in that role, I found Rich to be a bit difficult. He was authoritarian, for sure. But I stuck with Rich stubbornly. He seemed genuinely interested in having a relationship with me. And, as usual, I had the emotional need for a relationship with another man.

Eventually, Rich completely and spectacularly rejected me. The circumstances around this are strange. One day Rich and I were best friends. The next day he simply stopped talking to me. I later found out, via gossip (which I normally try to avoid, but I was desperate) that Rich had had an affair, and his marriage was in trouble.

At that point, I called Rich and really pressed in. If he was having a tough time in his marriage, didn’t he need someone to talk to? Couldn’t I still help him? Couldn’t I still be his friend? I mean, how else was he going to process what had happened to him?

But, no, Rich would not talk to me. Most of all, he would not talk to me, because by doing so, he would have to confront his feelings. And we can’t have that, can we? Oh, no! In the Christian circles we ran in, if a man came home from a drunken brawl and confessed to an affair, his wife was expected to clean him up, put him to bed, and then continue to love and forgive him after that. All the while, never, ever talking about it. Oh, no! We don’t want to give any glory to Satan. Talking about our sin? How would that help?

Rich was only one example though. I have developed what I called last night a “flinch”. Basically, when I start to become intimate with someone, I want to spew out all of my stuff all at once, warts and all. I am saying: “Are you going to reject me? Go ahead, then. Please, get it over with. Put me out of my misery quickly, please. I don’t want to emotionally invest only to be disappointed again one more time.”

I need to work on that, I suppose.


I met an interesting man recently, named Larry. We were total strangers when we met, but circumstances threw us together, and we ended up having dinner. In the course of dinner, we shared our views on spiritual matters. This discussion was very fascinating to me.

Larry is a putative Christian at the moment, but I suspect that is in flux. I sensed from Larry a bit of dissatisfaction with his current state, which I generally heard as this:

  • The existence of God is required due to the existence of the physical universe. I have previously talked about the anthropic argument (that is, arguing for the existence of God based upon the evidence of nature). I find this position fairly satisfying, actually. I am continually struck by the wonders of nature, and how they seem to speak loudly about the existence of God. Certainly, a person of faith receives a strong jolt of confidence when he or she considers nature.
  • If God does exist (see above), then He / She would naturally want to communicate with His / Her creations. That is a very common argument, but it does not necessarily hold water in my view. I call this belief the Personal God. That is, the creator of the universe, with all of the trillions of galaxies, etc., wants to have a personal relationship with me, which includes monitoring my very thoughts (including this one!) in real time. Several issues:
    • Many philosophers conclude that if God does exist, it would be utterly impossible for Him / Her to communicate with us. This view of God is referred to as the Divine Watchmaker. Deism holds this view, for example. Many founding fathers of the US, including Thomas Jefferson, for example, were famously deists. Thus, the idea that God is personal does not necessarily follow.
    • Even according to early Christian doctrine, it is not actually possible for God to “want” anything, due to His / Her eternal nature. This was the view of Augustine, for example, who famously stated that a special place in Hell was reserved for those who asked silly questions about such things. Augustine believed that God existed outside of the physical universe, and thus was not bound by space or time. Since He (we’ll stick with the masculine for the moment) does not exist within time, He is in the Eternal Now. Thus, He is perfectly wise, perfectly happy, perfectly at peace, etc. In that state, according to Augustine, God has no unmet desires and thus it is not possible for Him to “want” to be in relationship with His creation, or anything else for that matter.
  • And here is the clincher: Assuming God exists and wants to have a relationship with His creatures, then the Bible represents his attempt to do so. Bingo! And therein lies the rub. That simply does not follow logically, period. The collection of ancient documents we refer to as the Bible is simple one of dozens of alternative religious texts that exist on this planet, each of which is regarded as sacred. For example, the Buddhist scriptures represent the accumulated wisdom of the religion we know as Buddhism. Similarly the Hindu religion has several texts including the Gita, the Vedas, etc. And, finally, Islam has the Quran. One thing I did when I lost my faith in Christianity was to read many of these texts, and consider the claims made by each of them. I concluded that:
    • The competing claims of each religion cannot be reconciled.
    • There is no compelling reason to accept the writings of one religion (including the Bible) over any other. All religions have a similar basis for existence. Christianity is not unique in this regard, despite the claims of those within Christianity. Each set of writings of a given religion is a work of human culture, nothing more. Yes, they are beautiful. Yes, they can be transformational. But that does not make them divine, even if God exists.

The only reason that Larry accepted Christianity was because of his cultural context. If he had been born in Saudi Arabia, he would make a similar argument for Islam. Ditto for Bangalore with Hinduism, Tibet with Buddhism, etc.

Now, assuming that the Bible is not the Word of God, where does this leave me (and Larry)? Figuring it out on our own, I suppose. Based upon recent life experiences, I conclude that I am much better off doing that than trying to adhere to the teachings of an ancient religion based upon the assumptions of a different culture.

Nice, Nice, Very Nice

I have been thinking about the idea that religious people are somehow nicer or more compassionate than non-religious people. This seems to be a prevailing concept in our culture, especially among Christians. But is it true?

This website, which is by a Christian, points out that according to a large variety of measurements of morality, ethics, compassion, etc., Christians fare no better than non-Christians.

In my own life, I have experienced the “not-niceness” of Christian religion. Being a fundamentalist, Evangelical Christian kind of made me an asshole. There were several things about this mindset that did not sit well with my personality at all:

  • As a Christian I was taught that the world was divided into two groups of people: Folks like me who have been saved by the blood of Jesus, and are therefore going to heaven, and other folks who are lost, and are therefore going to Hell.
  • I was also taught that there is one Revealed Truth of the heart of God: The Holy Bible. Other so-called religious books were works of the devil.
  • Even where the Christian teachings were moral, I always complied with a reluctant heart, out of obligation and fear. Thus, I was not very loving and giving, oddly

Now that I am in what I call a “post-Christian” state, I seem to be nicer. At least that is what the folks around me (notably my wife) tell me. One thing I have noticed, especially with respect to my wife, is that my attitude about her dramatically shifted after I let go of the sin thing. Prior to that point, I loved my wife dearly, and wanted to be married to her. But there was something galling about the religious obligation. It was almost like I was doing something that I should do, according to the religious traditions, and that took some of the joy out of doing it.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to be with my wife, and I want her to be with me. But now I basically woo her continuously. I don’t assume that she will stay with me out of religious obligation. It’s a moment-by-moment thing. I actually want her to choose to be with me, continuously. The only way to achieve that is to truly love her, out of my heart, not out of duty. Thus, letting go of the idea of religious duty gave me something more in that very important relationship.

The first two points, though, caused me to have great hubris. When I was a Christian, I was utterly convinced of my own righteousness, and the correctness of my position. I had no doubt at all about that! And that made me completely obnoxious to many people, especially non-Christians. I looked down upon these poor lost souls. I prayed for them, but only in a hope that they would become like me. It never occurred to me that I might have something to learn from them.

Since I let go of religion, I have been having a lot more interesting relationships with random perfect strangers. I seem to be able to relate better. Since I am now equally convinced that I know absolutely nothing, I am more teachable.

Not saying I have arrived here, but I seem to be on the right track.

Platform Wars

I recently returned from Barcelona, Spain, where I traveled for VMworld 2013 Europe. As usual, I was “traveling heavy” as I call it. Here is my charging station from my hotel room in Barcelona:


I call this the “Tower of Power”. I am charging six devices here, which include:

  • A MacBook Pro 17″ which I am typing on as I write this. By far, my favorite electronic device of any kind. I am constantly embarrassed about how much better the Mac is than an equivalent Windows box. But more on that later. I just updated this device to Mac OS 10 Mavericks.
  • My EMC-supplied Lenovo Thinkpad, running Windows 8, fairly current build.
  • An Apple iPad 2, rather dated now, but still running the current iOS 7 build.
  • An Apple iPhone 4s, which has now gone into a state where it stubbornly refuses to update itself. This is a recurring problem, and I have spent time fixing this before, but since I don’t really like this device very much, I am not willing to mess with it right now. As a result the iPhone is running the older iOS 6.
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 2. Also getting rather long in the tooth. But quite a capable device, for the money. Very favorably compares to the iPad, in my opinion. And the newer version, the Galaxy Tab 3 (which AT&T will not allow me to buy annoyingly) blows the iPad away, especially at the inflated price Apple is asking. Again, more on this later.
  • Samsung Note 2 cell phone. This is my personal phone, and the device I probably use the most. A stunning phone overall. In every way this device blows the Apple iPhone away, and the new Note 3 is even better.

That means that I am presently carrying around every relevant platform known to man. Especially considering that I have a variety of Linux distributions running in VMs on both my Mac and Windows box. The question is, with that level of platform exposure, where I use all platforms available everyday, which one is better?

In my opinion, for the kind of work I do, I almost always figure out a way to use the Mac if I am going to be creating content. With VMware Fusion, on my Mac I have been able to create a mobile lab running 5 VMs:

  • 2 VMs running Linux as Oracle database servers
  • 2 VNX simulators as source and target storage arrays
  • A Windows client running things like Unisphere, EMC Replication Manager server, etc.

I am told that’s a lot by most folks I show this to. I am able to do this on an 8 GB box because Mac OS is fairly stable and well-behaved, and the underlying mass storage is all SSD. Even when the device swaps a bit, performance is still OK. Thus, I can over commit the memory without a huge issue.

For any type of creative work, definitely the Mac is better. Even for browsing the web, or reading email, I would prefer the Mac over Windows at this point.

Not that I don’t use the Windows laptop. I do, many hours per day. Especially for my corporate Outlook client which still runs better under Windows. Also, things like VPN, IM, and such, especially if they are supported by our IT folks, seem to work a bit more cleanly on the Windows box.

Now, how about the other devices? For the phone, no question, the Droid phones have the edge at this point, at least to me. Certainly, Droid is no less usable than iOS, and it is a lot cheaper. You can get a killer Droid phone for a fraction of the price of an iPhone. And I did. The Note 2 was around $200, and it kills the iPhone 5 that my wife bought (and returned) for $400. I see similar prices right now when I shop online at the AT&T store.

The tablet is similar. I had a platform moment earlier today. I have most of my online e-Books in the Nook marketplace because I started out with a Nook as my first tablet-like device. On the Droid devices, Nook is supported just like any other market. I can purchase books inside the app, no problem. With my iPad, though, when I finish reading the sample of a book I have downloaded, I cannot purchase that book inside the app. Similar restrictions exist for apps which sell music, video, etc.?

Why the Apple restrictions? With Droid invading Apple’s turf with the killer phones and tablets that are now available, Apple has to hold onto market share somehow. The way they are doing that is through jealous protection of the iTunes marketplace.

And therein lies the rub. As a person who prefers an open environment, where all of my personal data is available on all of my devices, Apple’s proprietary strategy definitely hurts my feelings. (Enough that I threw down the iPad in disgust, and went and got my Droid device, so that I could go ahead and complete the purchase inside my app.)

As long as Apple can hold onto enough customers with that kind of stranglehold, they are not going to go out of business anytime soon. Question is: Does that lead to customer loyalty, or (like me) customer annoyance?

So where am I? On my desktop-like platform, I have yet to find anything better than the Apple device I am typing on now. For mobile, I think the tides may be turning against Apple. I wish Apple well, always have. I was a Mac user way back in the 80s and 90s. I think Steve Jobs is one of the greatest humans to have ever graced this planet. Problem is, I have a job to do, and a life to live. My devices need to empower me, not encumber me. I am currently choosing to embrace Droid while I stay on Mac OS for my full-blown desktop. But I am very promiscuous when it comes to platforms, as you can tell.

Ender’s Game

I saw the trailer for the up-coming movie version of the book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (OSC). I had some travel on my calendar so I downloaded and started burning through the book again.

In my opinion, Ender’s Game is one of the supreme works of human genius. I know, I know. I am one of those. But, you have to remember that I am smack-dab in the middle of the baby-boom generation. So I was pretty much raw meat for the Ender’s Game thing.

Although I was a bit too old, really. Ender’s Game really appeals to young boys around the age of 10 – 12. The way it unflinchingly describes bullying and hazing, with all of the ugliness revealed. And Ender’s Game especially appeals to the technically oriented, math/science crowd. Well, that part was certainly me, only like I said a bit late.

Ender’s Game was first written as a short story way back in 1977, so the root of what OSC wrote is pretty old. But the book version appeared first in 1985, at the so-called dawn of the computer age. I was 31 at the time I first read Ender’s Game, and I had just touched my first computer, in my case an early RISC-based UNIX system. In that context, what OSC described was this:

  • A world-wide (planetary system-wide?) networked computer system which enabled communication in real time across vast distances among virtually all of mankind
  • Entire political movements arising and transforming human culture, as a result of this computer network
  • A three-dimensional virtual reality game with numerous players in which Ender interacts with avatars (either computer generated, or representing another player) in solving interesting problems (including battle) within the virtual landscape
  • A threaded written communications system in which you post messages in a forum, and others interested in that subject are free to read what you read
  • Another mode of the communication system in which individuals or groups can engage in private interaction, using either a real-time (like text) or store-and-forward (like email) method

To name just a few of the things OSC foresaw. I am sure you could argue that others had written similar things by the time OSC wrote what he did. And I would certainly not disagree. But that does not matter. Because of the period in history when OSC was writing, and was so hugely popular, he influenced the work of thousands upon thousands of technical professionals who worked in IT during the 80s, including myself. It would not be overstating the case to say that we built the environment that we did (on which I am typing as I write this) because OSC told us to do so. This very social networking environment is hauntingly familiar to me when I read the description of the world in which Ender lived.

Oddly, this slightly disadvantages OSC in the current era: Because he so perfectly describes the technologies that we use everyday, the tendency is to assume that OSC wrote the book after he had access to the internet. Not true, though. OSC did not have access to any of the technologies that he describes. He made it all up. It just looks so much like home to us now.

But even that is not the supreme genius that I mention at the beginning of my blog post. The one idea that affected me the most was the way he describes Ender’s unique insight. What Ender saw, what Ender understood when no one else did, was the power of individual initiative. Other armies in the Battle School practiced memorized drills. Ender would have none of that. Instead he created a group of individuals who were capable of exercising individual initiative in interestingly unpredictable ways, while still maintain coordination with each other. This became the team which was able to finally defeat the buggers.

I liken this to being in a jazz band. I have played many kinds of music. Classical music requires that you follow the notes on the page, and add value through your phrasing, intonation, dynamics, etc. Anything else is a mistake.

Jazz is not like that. When you are playing with a jazz band, even if you are not soloing at the moment, you are nonetheless expected to improvise a little. Otherwise, you sound too robotic. And of course, when you are soloing, then the sky’s the limit. You want to do a key change? No problem, and others playing along with you had better be able to follow.

Thus, a member of a jazz band, like a member of Ender’s army, is expected to intelligently exercise individual initiative in the context of being part of a team. And the level of individual contribution is much higher with a jazz band than it is with, say, a string quartet. But nonetheless, what matters most is still the performance of the entire group, not the contribution of the individual member.

And that resonates with me. I very much want to be in a team like that, even if it means I have to create it myself. But I am not delusional: I am not Ender. I have yet to get a large group of people to follow me like he did. Perhaps someday, though.


In my previous post entitled Lie to Me, I briefly discussed the show Lie to Me with Tim Roth. I have discovered that this show is not entirely fictional: There actually is a literal character who is similar to the Cal Lightman character from the show. That is, he co-discovered human micro-expressions and teaches others in the art and science of deception detection. This person is Dr. Paul Ekman.

I have looked at some of Dr. Ekman’s stuff. I have not taken any of his online classes, though. (They are quite pricey.) But I think I understand the science fairly well. What Dr. Ekman discovered was the following:

  • Dr. Ekman categorized and classified all human emotions, which are apparently completely universal.
  • Each human emotion has a corresponding facial expression. We are not taught this set of facial expressions, as humans know them regardless of whether they have had human contact. Thus, we have these expressions from birth. They are instinctive.

The conclusion is inescapable: In the area of emotions, at least, we are running a complex piece of software. We use our visual and auditory senses to observe others. This causes us to experience emotions, which are reflected on our faces. Others respond to those emotions, and so forth.

Each emotion is hardwired to a specific human expression. Thus, we are effectively born with a fairly complex system of communication.

I find this incredibly cool, actually.

Burning Down the House

Now that the US government shutdown is over, I have been thinking about the motivations of the Republicans, particularly the Tea Party wing, in orchestrating this particular crisis. Of course, my bias is showing now. But, from what I can tell, the Tea Party wing simply created a crisis out of the whole cloth, and marched us all the way down to the wire, before finally conceding defeat.

The interesting question is why would anyone want to do that? It’s simple really. The Republican Party is doomed, unless it fundamentally reinvents itself. This is due to the relentless march of demographics. The Republican Party (and particularly the Tea Party minority) are:

  • Caucasian
  • Old
  • Male
  • Affluent
  • Religious

For those reading my blog right now, if that sounds good to you, trust me, it isn’t. The problem is that the country is slowly but surely becoming:

  • Ethnic (i.e. non-caucasian)
  • Young
  • Female (in the sense of registered voters)
  • Poor
  • Secular (i.e. non-religious)

In every respect, the demographic trends are hurting the Republicans, and benefitting the Democrats. Like I said, it’s relentless. Eventually, unless the Republican Party fundamentally changes (and in the process becomes more similar to the Democratic Party) it will simply vanish. Once the Republican Party can no longer successfully compete for the Presidency, and the trend in both houses of Congress becomes clear, then the Republican Party could simply fade away. I think that’s very unlikely, though. The more likely scenario is that the Republican Party will simply become more, well, liberal.

Of course, that’s anathema to the Tea Party Republicans who have been called the American Taliban. Like the Taliban, many of the Tea Party folks are willing to do something I call “burning down the house“. A jealous ex-wife or ex-husband will often attempt to burn down the former family home, upon learning that it has been invaded by the ex-spouse’s new main squeeze. In a similar manner, the Tea Party may decide that if the Republican Party throws it out of the political process, it needs to become more radical.

That may lead to an insurgency. It is apparent from countries like Iran and Afghanistan that if a sufficiently large minority of the population does not want the current government to succeed, they can certainly sabotage that success. Is that what the Tea Party has come to?