Tag Archives: Philosophy

The Philosophy of Victory – Machiavelli and Sun Tzu

Two great books, two timeless texts, two manuals on the differences between victory and defeat, success and failure. These two texts, I believe, cannot be read separately. I myself finished them both this December and found them to be everything I imagined them to be.

A short background: Machiavelli was a Renaissance court employee who bore witness to the daily affairs and politics of Europe’s leaders. He saw the way they handled themselves both in war and in peace and observed the traits which ended up leading to their success. While being a nice guy himself, he came to the conclusion that to succeed as a leader (or Prince), one has to be ruthless, conniving, bribe-happy and, most importantly, rule by terror, as opposed to love. Sun Tzu was a famous Chinese general who seemed to win every battle he was involved in. He collected and wrote an anthology of texts explaining the art of war, and how careful planning is to go into every battle. He outlined how and when to attack, when to retreat, how to deceive one’s opponent and how to ensure victory every time.

Why it’s important today if these two men lived 400 and 2600 years ago: The lessons learned from these texts extend to canvass far more than just the art of ruling a kingdom or fighting a battle. They are manuals of management for any environment, from managing a restaurant, to running a family, to building a corporate giant.

It goes without saying that there’s so much win in these two books that successfully applying either of them can ensure that your life will be one big victory pie. But it’s not that simple.

Lessons from each book which I thought were interesting:

The very first thing Sun Tzu said: “The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death,  a road to either safety or ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”

The very first thing on the agenda is to assert a huge contradiction to the attitude which dominates western thought. When in a state of war, you cannot ignore the uncomfortable things. War is itself a brutal affair. One cannot worry about how to treat the prisoners when the war has not been won yet, or ignore all of the possible dirty tricks one’s enemy may attempt, simply because that wouldn’t be fair. When in a state of war – in business, or in actual war – you cannot choose to ignore certain details in the hope that your enemy will also ignore them. If you do not choose to consider every possible betrayal and low move, those will be the things that surely lead to your demise. If you do not actively take those options into your strategy, then you will be disadvantaged throughout the fight. This is a rule that is ruthlessly applied to the corporate environment, but in everyday ‘moralistic’ life, people choose to ignore this fact, and pretend life is good, virtuous and easy. Unthinkable acts are just that: unthinkable. That’s all well and good if you’re a simple citizen, but if you want to play the big game and if you want to win, Sun Tzu says that you should, at some point, come to the realisation that going all out is the only rule. Failure to go all out will result in failure across the board.

Machiavelli likes to go on about the best possible way to ensure that your rule is long-lived and successful after the initial victory, rather than just looking at how to defeat the enemy’s army, which is why I think his philosophy complements that of Sun Tzu very well. The most intriguing lesson he brought forward was the effectiveness of two opposing methods of maintaining control over one’s kingdom: terror and love. Terror implies ensuring that your subordinates know that double-crossing you or under-performing at their jobs means harsh punishment, while love implies debauchery and a benevolent rule which benefits them, and thus results in an obligation to you. The problem that surfaces with the method of love is that when things get tough, and you are no longer able to supply your subordinates with a lavish lifestyle or keep low taxes, they will not be so loyal and will quickly get used to the idea of treachery, while a rule of terror will ensure their submission and loyalty no matter the situation.

A man is only as good as the books he reads. So read these books.

I’ll be writing again soon, I hope. Stay tuned/connected.


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Filed under Literature, Philosophy, War

The Future of Education

There’s something inherently wrong about our current system of education, and it’s not just me. Many top field educators are feeling it, and so are many of the students who go through it.


There are already many well-established problems with education which are simply not addressed because the solutions are too radical to make changes without half the world having a stroke about it. These problems are typically linked with the fact that modern education is based on an older system which was used to produce uniform, thoughtless robots instead of creative individuals. In the industrial age, this was what was required. A person trained in one country had to be able to interpret the administrative work of a person in a totally different country. The easiest solution to this challenge was to create a standardised global education system that was, for all intents and purposes, the same.

But the industrial age is over. Super-user-friendly software makes information sharing easy. We all know that. Alas, the old system remains. What the world desperately needs now, more than ever, is a generation of intelligent, innovative thinkers who can produce the new ideas and technology we need to sustain our way of life, because it’s not going to be this good forever. What was previously considered the field of logical thinkers is now recognised correctly as the playground of those who can dream new inventions seemingly out of nothing, and go about transforming those ideas into something tangible and helpful only after that initial process. Industry is no longer all about mass production, making processes cost-effective, or streamlining the work process. It is now primarily about thinking of something better than what already exists. Once you’ve done that, it doesn’t matter how wasteful your company is, you’re going to roll in money.

The most productive technology companies on the frontier of revolutionising human life already know this. Companies like Google aren’t interested in regimented work hours, matching uniforms and strict discipline. They have been bold enough to discard everything associated with a traditional workplace. Google replaces its chairs with bean bags and its stairs with slides. Its offices look like a playground for children, with vibrant colours everywhere. I daresay it’s an attempt to undo the creative damage done during school.

But this isn’t where it ends. These are the traditional problems with education, but what about the more abstract skills schools teach? I was glad to hear that some schools are replacing certain writing training courses for young children with typing classes. That’s a promising step in post-modernising an education system designed for a world that existed 200 years ago.

New propositions include teaching children to use research and computers to find information, rather than asking them to learn it. I believe a test should never ask a child to repeat information. It’s not helpful, not in an age where information is so cheap and easy to find. What could they possibly do with that information in their heads instead of in their phones? I dream of the day that children sit down in a history test and are asked to use the internet and their skills of information finding to critically analyse a historical event.

I hope this will be a reality one day. But what’s even better than that? What do schools condition out of children? The answer: the ability to co-operate. Children are taught from day one never to speak during tests. Asking for help or giving it is considered cheating. I say that’s wrong. I think a child’s ability to complete the questions on a test should be based on his resourcefulness at finding that information within a certain time constraint. That includes working in makeshift teams, and schools make half-arsed attempts at group work, but it’s token. The vast majority of a school experience is solitary, and that is deeply flawed. A person will work with other people more often than work alone, and I think people’s innate ability to co-operate would be vastly improved if schools pulled themselves together and understood that individual ability can only be improved when multiple individuals with their own idiosyncrasies are thrust into a socially demanding environment. It is imperative that educational institutions attempt to develop and streamline this skill, which is otherwise forced to develop in the workplace at the cost of a company.

This is simply an introductory post to enlighten you, the reader, of the broader underlying problems in our education system. Many more will follow, detailing the more specific areas which need refinement or radical change and showing you some of the myriad solutions that have been proposed. Stick around for more on the subject.

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Filed under Educational Reform

The Ultimate Unification of Humanity

What is it about humanity that forces people to categorise one another? Despite living in the most culturally diverse era of human history, we still tend to cling to old beliefs, traditions and points of origin. There are still concepts like nationalism and patriotism, which I find hard to discern from each other when things get heated. But what would eradicate all petty human differences for good? Turns out, there’s a definite answer.

There are still cultures in existence which advocate against pluralism and cosmopolitan life. Yet, it was predicted by (just about) everyone that once the Cold War ended, there would be a new era of globalisation and of absolute ideological unity. This never happened. In fact, quite the opposite happened. While each respective ideological faction in the world has been progressively weakened and diluted since, say the Great War, which might be considered the epitome of nationalist conflict, these factions have perhaps grown even more threatening  and aggressive in order to implement their own way of life on a global scale. Furthermore, at least for the past 50 years, the world has had the security of choosing between ‘Communism and Capitalism’, which seemed a relatively simple, black and white choice. Now, world relations are too complex to imagine for the average human, and even powerful bodies like the UN struggle to keep up with the world’s affairs and the needs of these differing cultures, some of which view all other cultures as abhorrent and unworthy of existence.

I believe there is one solid solution which would surely unite all humans. This would act as a radical shift in humanity’s context, and people’s perception of humanity as a whole. Despite the extraordinary advancements in astronomy and our understanding of the vastness of the universe, humans have yet to accept their utter insignificance in the cosmos. Or rather, they fail to contextualise it, because we still feel quite alone and sovereign in our little branch of space. Regardless of how huge the universe is, we still have not encountered anything which might suggest that we are not the only contemporary living thing in this general area of the Milky Way galaxy. In a nutshell, we still think we’re the ‘center’ of the universe, even if we know it to be untrue.

What if we did encounter something? What if humans – all humans – simultaneously looked up and saw something utterly alien, something unimaginably different, and then looked back at the humans around them? Suddenly, after centuries of ideological war to eradicate the petty differences between us, the man on the other side of the world would seem closer, more familiar and more friendly than ever before. After years of hatred, and after having expended millions of lives in the name of uniting humanity under one banner, we would realise that we were in fact under one banner all along.

I believe that on the day we make contact with an intelligent, ‘intimidating’ alien race, racism, nationalism, and all other ideological hatreds between us humans will disappear from the earth, and be replaced with Humanism, the love of all humans and all things human. While this might not be fair to the aliens and would bring up further moral concerns about what rights we should grant that which is not human, it certainly would be better for us. Goodness knows we need a little more empathy between humans of ‘different’ backgrounds right now.

This was just a thought I had a few months ago. Share your own thoughts in the comments if you wish.


Filed under Philosophy

On Melissa Bachman and Hunting in General

Well, if you don’t know about it already, a well-known TV presenter took a picture of herself with the lion she shot on a farm in South Africa. She was recently brought under the all-powerful microscope of society to be scrutinised and threatened by people who know nothing about what she did, except for the bare basics. Some of these comments, made by respectable people, celebrities and the common internet junkie, have been deplorable in their own right, calling this woman things like ‘monster’, ‘evil’, and ‘poes’ (If you’re not South African, this is a very rude word which one certainly would not use publicly to describe a person).

+10 points for the smile, Melissa. I don't care what the internet says. I have my own opinions, and I think you're alright.

+10 points for the smile, Melissa. I don’t care what the internet says. I don’t derive my opinions from the masses, and I think you’re alright.

And yet, the people doing the insulting don’t know the details of the situation, They simply follow others on-board the train to ‘higher moral ground’ and from there grant themselves the power in numbers to publicly condemn this woman without consequence. I find this quite disturbing. It brings to mind the idea that civilisation as we know it is only separated by a thin veil from absolute chaos. People just need an insignificant incident to excuse themselves from virtue and act with impunity.

Let’s get down to it then. Yes, yes, the moral saying of the day is that hunting is evil, that we should condemn it as a barbaric, savage act of cruelty to animals. I think that’s a perfectly valid opinion, or rather, it would be if we did not live in a society which uses animal products on a massive scale, which effectively makes anyone who uses the colourful aforementioned words look like a total moron (I’m looking at you, Jeremy Mansfield. Way to go for propagating ignorance and redundant values).

Here are some fun facts I picked up after 5 minutes of research: Throughout the world, 50 billion chickens a year are raised (meaning this number will die within the year) for human consumption. These chickens are kept in cages which are comparable in size to an A4 paper. You eat chicken burgers/chicken fillet/eggs/chicken wings/chicken anything, really. This means that you are condoning the mass-genocide of animals every year. What’s that you’re sitting on? Leather? No, no. It looks more like SHAME.

A typical and very legal chicken laying farm.

A typical and very legal chicken laying farm.

My frustrations on the subject: It’s alright to condemn hunting if you’re a vegan and live like a hippie. But it’s not alright to condemn hunting when you eat meat, own leather products or use animal produce in any way, which implicates almost everyone on Earth. They have a name for someone like this: Hypocrite.

How (Legal and Illegal) Hunting Works: I live in a country which makes a great deal of its annual income from the hunting industry. Do we hunt animals in the wild? No, not legally. There is a reason for this, which is quite simple. Animals don’t really survive out in the wild – lions, leopards, rhino, you name it, they mean only one thing to poachers: money. A poacher is not restricted from finding these animals out in the wild. They are in essence walking money. A hunter-friend of mine tells me lions can be worth R200 000 and up. However, the legalised hunting industry in South Africa makes use of game farms, which are basically vast areas of untouched land which are fenced off and filled with a very low density population of animals of any variety. These animals are allowed to breed naturally, are not fed any funky stuff and pretty much lead the life of an animal in the wild, except that their natural predators are replaced by humans. Game farmers are people of the land. They live right next to nature every day. They rely on it for their livelihoods, and thus have an incentive to ensure that the population of animals on their farms does not decrease. The game farmer will allow hunters to enter the farm and enjoy a drive through the beautiful South African savannah for a few hours while searching for an animal. Professional hunting standards dictate that when you shoot an animal, it has to be an instant kill. This is enforced by the fact that animals are tough and will run away and die somewhere else if you hit them in the wrong place, and the hunter will end up having to pay a small fortune to take nothing home. The hunter pays for what he kills, the farmer ensures that the animal population remains consistent and a healthy ecosystem remains on the farm. A species like the west African lion, which would otherwise be hunted to extinction by poachers in the wild, is guaranteed survival as a species, protected from poachers who don’t care about how they kill, or how many they kill.

Lion populations are untenable outside designated reserves and national parks.

Why the Hunting Industry is Essential to Animals: That sounds very counter-intuitive, but it’s an established, albeit little-known fact. Let’s think about what would happen if hunting in South Africa were banned, if the fences came down and the hunters stopped coming and paying to hunt animals legally. The populations of these animals would decline dramatically, simply because there isn’t much ‘wild’ left. Old game farms would likely be turned into crop farms or developed, driving the animals into ever-shrinking habitats. Do the maths: So much land = so many animals. The less land, the less animals that can survive. Then take into account the poachers. Do you think they’d let a walking moneybag like a lion walk around in the wild for long? Consider every valuable animal in South Africa extinct within a few decades, probably less. Then the less valuable will follow as the numbers dwindle. Furthermore, consider the implications for the local environment, which would ultimately suffer in the total and very sudden absence of these animals. Whether you like it or not, hunting is here to stay. It is the foremost effort of wildlife conservation in South Africa. It’s sustainable, it’s definitely more humane than the factory-farms you get your burger-patties from, and it’s profitable so you can be damn sure it’s not going anywhere in a while.

The Moral Implications: A dear (and very sexy) friend of mine highlighted that she finds hunting more or less acceptable provided it’s not for recreation and that the catch is used to make food, etc. These two things are not mutually exclusive. Any hunter worth his salt knows how to turn his catch of the day into a month’s worth of delicious biltong (South African beef Jerky, but aeons better) or knows someone who can do it for him, but that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy the South African scenery, breathe the fresh air, enjoy looking at the other less interesting animals as he drives by and, of course, experience the thrill of having caught the damn thing. Believe it or not, aiming and firing a VERY heavy rifle at a moving animal’s head from far away is tough, and any human who doesn’t celebrate his or her ability to do it right is certainly not doing it right in the first place.

What? Jus' cause I'm ugly, you don't care if she kills me?

I’m a fish, and I know you don’t really care so much when you see this photo, because I’m not as gorgeous as that lion. You’re such a good person.

Hunting, whether you despise it or celebrate it, is an art as old as the human race itself. Sure, the weapons have changed, but the feeling of earning your dinner for the night with sweat and hard work is as ingrained in us as any emotion. It’s the exact same feeling the hunter feels today. It’s like experiencing a little piece of history.

Remember to like this and follow my blog if you share my interests.

And always remember to stand back and look at the big picture before stoning someone to death.

I won’t be posting related articles because they are all essentially saying the exact same thing, which happens to be incorrect and uninformed.



Filed under South Africa

Altruism < Effective Altruism

We live in a world where the concept of charity is popular and encouraged, yet frequently abused, under-prioritised and often just doesn’t make any permanent difference.

That’s why the concept of effective altruism is rapidly growing more popular. It’s the next step in a middle-class person’s endeavours to be virtuous and giving, albeit for various reasons. Whether it is self-gratification you seek, or you simply want to appear philanthropic to the ladies, it’s a good thing to do.

In a nutshell, instead of handing money out with the noble yet often deluded notion that your money will somehow reach those in need, hand your money to a group which you know will make better, more effective use of it.

‘Charity’ is a very broad term. In modern society, there are fully legitimate and well-known charities which only end up devoting a tiny portion of their funds to actually helping others, or in some other cases, they are simply straight up fraudulent organisations which have no intention of using your donation for good.

This is relatively easy to solve. It’s a problem that’s been noted for a long time. There are dozens of organisations devoted to checking and rating charities and the quality of their delivery of services. If a charity only ends up delivering 10% of its funds to the needy, you can know about it with very little effort. The same goes for those groups that deliver almost everything they receive to whoever it is they are meant to support.

That’s all fine. It’s common practice to check the inside deal on a group to whom you are about to donate money. But that’s not effective altruism.

The inherent problem with effective altruism arrives here, when deciding which cause you want to support. Do you go for breast cancer research? Polio inoculations in third world countries? Food for the homeless? The SPCA? Environmental conservation groups? The options are quite limitless, just like humanity’s problems. Typically, people like to support initiatives against a disease or problem that they have experienced or observed in life. A guy who makes it out of the slums and becomes a wealthy philanthropist would likely be more inclined to address issues of poverty and education, rather than the environment. Similarly, someone with a family member who was diagnosed with cancer will probably want to donate to that cause, rather than to curing malaria in Central Africa. Unfortunately, it is usually the problems we do not witness that are the most deadly.

As a South African, I feel obliged to do something about HIV and AIDS. It’s a terrible problem, yet I am academically aware that malaria does far more damage, albeit further up north, in countries I have never visited. Sometimes, the emotional obligations we have while donating to charity seem to outweigh the intellectual. What if a relative dies of an obscenely rare and non-contagious disease? Do you support research for this disease which may kill a dozen people a year around the world, or do you support something which has a greater impact? There is no truly correct answer here, but effective altruism takes the side of the most pressing. It tells you to give where your money will save or enhance the most lives in the most beneficial way possible.

Peter Singer discusses the issues of effective altruism quite well (I’ll link the video). He outlines a perfect situation in which effective altruism can make your donations literally dozens of times more effective.

It costs $40 000 to train a guide dog and its blind future owner to use it. It also costs between $20 and $50 to cure the blindness caused by a disease that is prevalent in parts of Africa. With the exact same money, you could provide an aid to a single blind person, or totally cure 800 people or more. That’s something worth thinking about. He goes on to show us a picture of a man who anonymously donated a kidney to anyone who was in need of it. Apparently the man was slightly bummed when he calculated that he could have made the same impact by donating $5000 to the Against Malaria Fund.

It’s about finding the balance between out emotional response to situations which require our help, and our logical response. If we all suddenly invested effort and money in charities which had the highest effectiveness, we would essentially leave everybody else out. So where do we begin to implement such an objective, somewhat ‘soulless’ form of generosity?

Here’s his video:


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The Drug-Parks of Hillbrow

Almost a year ago, I had the absolute privilege of being escorted through South Africa’s most notorious urban nightmare.

After the tour, I was asked to write a small piece on it, and I stumbled on it this morning. I felt there would be no better place to share it than here.

Note: A South African Rand (R) is exchanged at about 9.5 to the dollar as of this post.

So here’s an unedited extract from my experiences a year ago:


On that day, of the 200 students involved, not a single one was prepared for what was to come. After a buffet breakfast and a short presentation by the manager of the programme, we were driven by the busload to the Inner city of Johannesburg, inquisitive and fresh. We met the Hillbrow Community Watch guards, people who volunteer to patrol some of the most dangerous locations in South Africa… at night. They were tough, serious, solid people. I felt safer with them in the streets of Joburg  than I would feel on my own  in any other, significantly safer place. They escorted us through some of the scalier streets in Joburg. We passed a stall selling fake ID books and driver’s licenses. We passed hundreds of thousands of plastic bags. We smelled every smell we deemed possible within a few hours, some assaulting, some nostalgic, some alluring. I recognized old computer cables I thought were extinct, and TV’s the size of a fairly large book were abundant.

The buses were waiting a few kilometres down for the group. Once we all boarded, they drove us to Hillbrow. The very centre of Hillbrow, where the gangs run rampant and decent drivers are scarce. We marched past the Hillbrow clinic, its structural integrity seeming to be on the brink of collapse. We walked past a group of Nigerian gangsters, looking away as they taunted the familiar, antagonistic Hillbrow Watch guards. Eventually, a dead end to the road loomed. Strange characters walked in and out of an enclosed park the size of two tennis courts. Some infants attempted to play soccer in one spot. A lady stared at us from her car with bloodshot eyes from the other side of the road.

Our group of 200 separated into several smaller groups, each climbing through a space in the wall to get inside the park. “Come look at the sea!” screamed a woman in her insanity, pointing out toward the end of the park, where thousands of small plastic packets amalgamated on the grass as it dipped down into a treacherous rolling hill. We walked over the packets, disregarding them as a part of the abundant rubbish that formed the grounds of Hillbrow. The park was strewn with small groups of Nigerian men, all of them smoking something, but not typical cigarettes. They eyed us out, perhaps wondering if these were potential trouble-makers. Individual groups of students were escorted by the Hillbrow watch to some dealers who were willing to talk about the drugs they were selling. A young man came up to us first. He was Zulu. He was well-educated, well spoken for a drug-addict. He claimed to have passed matric. He was no taller than I, and certainly not older than 20. He told us of the drugs.

“I sell drugs so that I have money to buy drugs so that I can live. If I do not smoke it, my body will destroy itself. I will die. I live to smoke, and I smoke to live. That is my life. You cannot escape it.”

He opened up a small plastic packet. Inside was a yellowish block of dust. Everyone jumped in disgust as they realised what they were standing on. Old drug doses, discarded on the floor. “This is 1 shot of heroin. It costs R20 a shot. You need about two shots to get high. Instead of injecting it, we like to put it in cigarette paper and smoke it because it hits you harder and faster.”

He went on to explain more about the drugs, how people steal or beg to find the money to fuel their addiction. “People who would not usually steal or kill will do it for the drug. They have to survive,” he said. “I hate it, it’s a death trap. But I cannot escape the drug.”

We went to the next man willing to speak. An abject, pitiful old man. His beard was overgrown and he used crutches to support his limp leg. He had a decaying pink backpack. He explained that, years ago, Hillbrow was prosperous, nobody was homeless. The drug on the market back then was called brown sugar. It was a less dangerous and less addictive version of heroin. Eventually, brown sugar disappeared and was replaced by heroin, once people smoked it or injected it, according to the old man, within seven days, it would leave your system entirely and you would be addicted, craving more. People were consumed by it and living conditions soon plummeted. Once again he explained the death trap. “When I get up in the morning, before I can move, before I can do anything, I must have 2 shots of heroin, or I cannot function. Then, by 2 o’ clock, it wears off and I need another two shots. If I don’t get them in time then I slow down, I get headaches, I can’t move.” He said that he spends R200 a day fuelling his addiction. He cannot afford rehab tablets or doctor appointments. He is destitute, destroyed by the drugs his body requires to live.

“The drug walks hand in hand with the devil. When you take it, you will do things you can’t do when you are off it. When you need it you are prepared to do anything to get it. I am lucky because I have skills to persuade people to give me money. I can ask the gogo at the market to buy me some food. She will buy it for me, but I will sell it somewhere for cheaper to get money for heroin. I am lucky, but others, they can’t do the same thing, so they steal, they hijack, they find babies to use at robots so people will feel sorry for them and give them cash. They get huge money from that, people give hundreds, fifties, you can make a lot of money that way, but it all goes to drugs.”

The most profound realisation of that day was not the sight of real drugs, or the thousands of spent doses of heroin along the sides of the park, or the young people so close to my age, locked in a battle with death until they faltered or grew too tired to carry on. The greatest surprise was the hatred with which these people spoke of their addictions. They despised the drug, they detested the very thought of heroin, their dependence on it. Their aversion for the drug was powerful, but they had no choice but to take the drug. It is, after all, a true life-or-death addiction.


Makes for a good life-lesson. They always discuss these issues in South Africa – how to reduce poverty, raise the standard of education, create more employment, but this felt like a real issue. The underground heroin-empires of South Africa, preying on those who would try it the first time just to keep the hunger-pangs at bay.

Remember to tell me your thoughts in the comments!

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Filed under Philosophy, South Africa

Dystopia (And Why it still exists)

You’ve heard of utopia – a place where everyone is prosperous and lives freely. Unicorns roam the streets and humans don’t murder, steal or cheat. The streets are clean and the wars are only a distant memory, a legend of an imperfect era.

Well, surprisingly, nobody really cares to think about this place anymore, especially in the last hundred years. Perhaps those two world-encompassing conflicts and the subsequent threat of total nuclear destruction slapped people out of their trances and the smell of reality came rushing back.

No, the hot topic of post-modern thought and literature is now focused upon utopia’s rebellious, infinitely more interesting cousin, DYSTOPIA. It is a world where fire rains down from the heavens, food is rare enough to solicit ambush and murder, women are raped, men are slaughtered, children are worked to death, and war and destruction are constant companions. Disease ravages the countryside. Smog canvasses the city. Fascist groups are jostling for power at the expense of the impoverished population. There is only one thing to which everyone clings: hope.

What can I say? I suppose humanity just loves a challenge.


Remember that awesome movie series that you watched far too many times? No? That was just me then? Okay.

Needless to say, Hollywood has had a field day with the concept of dystopia, where the unsung hero to defies the odds to bring some semblance of hope back to humanity. It’s a refreshing turn from the traditional “Hero kills every bad guy in a big explosion and miraculously, none of the good guys die” scenario.

However, I want to explore the fact that our world can still be described as dystopic.

Let’s first establish that Utopia is ridiculous. It is impossible on every level, to such a degree that no living philosopher that I know of believes in its possibility. It seems they all just gave up on it. Dystopia, on the other hand, is very real and easily applicable to large periods of human history. I’ve already described the futuristic, Sci-Fi version of dystopia. Now, let me describe the industrial revolution and then WW1 in England, and see what you make of it:

London is a seething mess, growing rapidly without an end in sight. The growing urban class is far too large and unemployment soars. Most young women resort to prostitution to make enough to survive. Their unwanted children are either aborted or grow up alone in the streets of London. They will probably end up either criminals or chimney-sweeps and will die of lung-disease within a few years. Alternatively, they are recruited to work in crammed coal mines for 18 hours of the day, where they will either die also of lung disease from the poor ventilation or be crushed if the mines collapse. Riots are common, but so are the brutal retaliations by the government, which seeks to repress the population for as long as possible to minimise labour costs and keep profits high. The skyline of London is filled with factory chimney smoke. There is no regulation.  They produce uncontrolled amounts of poisonous waste that they dump in rivers. On many nights, ash rains down on London from the smoke released by these factories, colouring the snow a dark, murky grey. And just when these appalling conditions seem to have an end in sight, and the government takes notice of the horrible conditions of its country, a war with Germany seems imminent. The entire world is pulled into this conflict, which revolves purely around the multiple empires jostling for power over their colonies. What was first thought to be a three week affair turns into a five year nightmare. Leaders of the world don’t have a clue how to deal with it, and their attempts to prevent it from ever happening again will eventually lead to yet another, unimaginably worse war.


^^ So, does that look kind of dystopic to you? ^^ It happened less than 100 years ago.

Finally, the war is over. Six million men have died, mostly from gangrene and sitting in cold, waterlogged trenches where the tea freezes if you don’t drink it in 15 minutes and rats the size of cats steal your meagre rations. They come back home to England. Many of them have amputated limbs or have lost their eyesight to gas attacks. Others shake uncontrollably from shell-shock.

The authorities vow to make things better. They improve living conditions and assign more power to unions. Workers are allowed to protest and women are enfranchised. The world seems to be getting better. But don’t be fooled. All they did was assign the hard work to other countries in Africa, Asia, and South America, where the population is treated as sub-human, and worked to death just as the people of England were only a few decades ago. But you don’t know about it. You buy cheap steel and fruits imported from other countries and believe life is good. You can afford to buy a refrigerator, a motor car, a tennis racquet.

Don’t be fooled. For every person who lives a life of comfort, there are probably about 3 or 4 others who barely survive.

Now, here comes the difficult part to stomach. We like to give to charities, play our part in making the world a better place, try to help those less fortunate. Those are all familiar phrases which inspire good in us. And by all means, continue. The poor populations of third world countries could certainly benefit from this small, if somewhat inadequate leakage of resources back to their origins. However, a cold fact which we do not (read that as: ‘don’t want to’) acknowledge is that those people we see in dire need of water, food and shelter are in those situations because we live consumer lifestyles, because we use more water to bathe once than they do to live for a week. We eat more, drink more, consume more electricity and use more resources of every kind to fuel our lives.

Did you know that there is enough fresh water on Earth to sustain all 7 billion of us with surplus? Indeed, there is. There is also enough food, enough fuel, enough electricity and enough living space. But a small fraction of the world consumes almost all of those resources. That small fraction is you and me. The consumers, they call us. The elite, the prosperous, but most importantly, the lucky.

We live in this reality. We don’t bother to acknowledge it, and probably never will. We will give 10% of our salary to a charity and forget about it, but we will not live on a ration of water and food, use carpooling extensively, live ascetic, humble lifestyles so that others can do the same and think it a luxury. It’s quite sad, really. I feel guilty.

Here is the reason I condone it (at least I’m not a hypocrite), and still possess a smartphone (among many other consumer products) which I know was produced in a sweatshop where people work 24 hour shifts for terrible pay and try to kill themselves on a regular basis.

If we were to do what I previously mentioned and distribute resources evenly so everyone could be fed, it would also halt technological progress, which would be worse, because even if we did use our resources in moderation, if we didn’t have aggressive capitalism to develop technologies and find news ways to make our resource consumption more efficient, we’d eventually run out of something and the world would be plunged into the same economic chaos that the USSR experienced in the 80’s, and then this would happen:


So tell me, are we indeed living in a permanent dystopia? Because nothing’s really changed in the last 200 years. There is an elite class that lives comfortably with plenty (that would be us) and the vast majority of the world which lives in appalling conditions and is essentially enslaved to cheaply produce goods for us (the rest of the world).

Perhaps we’ll one day stumble on a submissive alien race so we can outsource our labour to them and finally experience prosperity for all humans. Would you be down with that? Then for every happy, prosperous human, there would be ten aliens somewhere working to death to produce our stuff.

Please share your thoughts in the comments. I want to hear your opinion.


Filed under Philosophy, Politics, War