When Education Becomes a Social Game

I have written in a previous blog about our modern world’s propensity to rank and monetise all that is of human interest (https://johnhtfrancis.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/capitalism-and-social-information). Equating intangibles with money is no modern invention; even barbaric societies in Europe around two thousand years ago used to price life and settle blood feuds with money. Nevertheless, the degree of practice across cultures in our days is quite clearly a by-product of ubiquitous modern consumerism. Education, which association with higher purpose is enshrined in the minds of most of us, is not immune to this trend. Capitalism on the whole is an effective economic system, or rather family of economic systems; there are however areas where raw capitalism should not belong, and one of them is, in my opinion, education. Education’s first mission, above any other, is the advancement of knowledge, technology, and understanding.

In theory, education provides individuals and groups with knowledge and skills, and educated people employ in practice some of what they have acquired in order to derive various benefits, including monetary ones. Only, there has been a growing twist: education has been increasingly used as a way to rank both people and institutions and then distribute income accordingly, often in a quite detached manner from actual utility. In other words, an implicit ranking through education is being used to entitle people and institutions to a certain slice of the economic pie. Now this fact may not matter much for those blessed with inherited wealth and are therefore financially independent, but for most people, it is a consequential mechanism. Worse still, social ranking happens among ones who have the same vested interest, giving all of them a false sense of importance. There is nothing wrong in having a selection process and in attributing merit based on selection, but it all depends on how the selection is made and on the nature of the merit given.

The long-term damage from practices and perceptions centred on social ranking, and behind it money, can be great. Bluntly put, when the purpose of those giving and seeking education becomes just that of acquiring higher social status in order to make money out of it or obtain larger grants than the next institution in line, then the long-term effect can be terrible. It is the typical case of short-term, complacent and self-serving behaviour leading to long-term degeneration of general utility. The malpractice in education, so to say, is both at the institutional and broader social levels. It concerns the modes by which many academic institutions operate; the ways by which societies interpret educational curriculums and ‘brands’; and the transmitted attitudes to young minds. I am not attempting to bash some prestigious institutions to which I was not able to have access – on the contrary, I was there.

Universities and research centres compete based on number of publications, rankings in journals, and calibre of professors, among others. I dare say that such metrics all have questionable relation to actual epistemological and technological merits. Research centres equally aim to attract certain economic benefactors; it does not take much to reckon the type of publications that they may favour in such a setup. The practice of appealing to particular third party interests is well utilised in business schools (most of them split hairs to get differentiated), but the situation is far from being limited to business education. Even when there are technological benefits from institutional publications, they often focus on ‘low-hanging fruit’ type of technologies rather than ambitious and risky long-cycle ones. And in educational systems where money prevails or where student selection is less meritocratic, these types of practices are arguably worse.

Is education primarily for the betterment of the individual or is it for chasing bigger money? For most people, the answer seems to be the second one. The ironic fact is that while traditional education provides on aggregate those who have it with above-average money, it is rarely the right path towards the ‘big money’ for which they long. Moreover, curriculums and schools become, based on some vague generalisations, brands to use when suitable for the purpose of more income. The media and entertainment industries add their own perceptions too; we see movie stars wearing the jerseys of a handful of Ivy League schools and reporters quoting some university as if it holds the monopoly of knowledge. As a result, flocks of students travel every year from aspiring nations to American and European universities, with their parents’ hard earned savings, principally to add these brands to their resume. Learning from professors with more knowledge and experience; building a network of mutually synergistic relationships among colleagues; and striving to be among the few who make the cut in a certain field, all are commendable objectives. Only, they are the beginnings of an educated life and not an eternal guarantee of economic entitlement. Rare are the people who follow through with consistent and continued effort.

It is no surprise that many of the inventors of new business and financial paradigms have been school dropouts or individuals who have taken distance from the educational establishment. Some of such inventors are in fact plain anarchists. Societies like to praise high risk & return behaviour, but the reality is that, with a few exceptions, social structures force most traditionally educated individuals into low-to-medium risk & return. Masses are sorted into income distribution systems based on their type of education; it is a vision comparable to the socioeconomic model that the old barons of industries, who were incidentally founders and benefactors to many of today’s reputed institutions in the US, had imagined.

The silver lining may be that an alternative is possible today. In older times, knowledge was indeed more centralised and localised; it is however more accessible now outside traditional systems, remotely and in a distributed manner. Gaining knowledge by those who wish to look for it can cost less than in previous times, and a great deal of it is in fact free. One is not required to pay hefty fees; sincere effort and motivation are that which is most needed. Indeed, people pay the hefty fees more for the social ranking and the branding rather than the actual knowledge.

The key question remains, if you had all the money and luxuries in the world, would you still think it worthy to seek an educated life?



Five Trends and Their Impact on Today’s Geopolitics

A great deal is being said on the geopolitical and security fronts; they warrant this short piece. Terror attacks; migrant crisis; resurgence of extremes; demagogy and populism; isolationist tendencies and calls for trade barriers and secessions, the world’s public discourse is rife with them. We feel that we are in the midst of some major geopolitical transitions, and as it is often the case with geopolitics and the media, there are determining trends that are addressed only too little; they are, for the most part, of a socio-economic nature. Five trends underlie most of the current geopolitical rhetoric in my view.

The first one of those trends may seem at odds with the news: wealth is rising globally, mostly driven by the economic development and increased technological penetration in several populous countries in Asia and emerging markets. The world’s economic centre of gravity is moving back East, after having moved constantly West from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution and the economic rise of the USA. In fact, the largest part of this economic shift has already taken place and it explains the commodities super cycle that we had witnessed globally and which has come to a rather abrupt end 5-6 years ago. A slower continuation of this shift East will follow now, that is until India, if at all, undertakes the same type of economic breakout as China, at which point this centre of gravity will accelerate further East again. Given the large populations of Asia, all of it means that the world is, in general, getting less poor and less underdeveloped – and this is rather wonderful.

The second important trend is the dominance of the services sector in the economies of all developed nations. We live in a world where services constitute more than two-third of the economic output of developed countries, even those countries with reputed manufacturing sectors such as Germany and Japan; and with the continued automation, interconnectivity, and advancement of artificial intelligence, this trend towards more services is likely to continue. French farmers may pursue their protests, but it will not change much to the fact that agriculture is today only a small and decreasing percentage of the economies of all developed nations.

By combining the first and the second trends, we can easily see that the West, Japan, and China, among others, are becoming less dependent on foreign commodities, in relative terms to their past, even if some of them still need to import a great deal of them for their economies to function properly. It explains the current economic struggle of many commodity-exporting countries, as well as the wish for a geopolitical ‘pivot’ of the USA and Europe out of the Middle East and Africa towards the Pacific region.

A substantial percentage of the population of advanced economies is getting older and retiring; this is the third important trend. As this generation of ‘baby boomers’ is both the holder of the greater part of the wealth in developed economies and the one that requires the most of the state benefits of pension and healthcare, the political landscape in developed countries has become divided and deadlocked; and should we add to this observation the job losses in low-skill sectors as a consequence of the first and second trends, we see how it all converges to lead to a rise in income and wealth disparities in developed nations, despite the global economic prosperity. Populism; tendencies to retrench; inability to reform social contracts on pension and healthcare; changes to taxation as a way of transferring wealth from one group to another; and blame games (e.g. against the rich, the bankers, or foreign migrants), all become effective political means for garnering votes. Many people want to change the system drastically; many people feel the need to blame or attack someone; but different social groups have, simply, contradictory views on how the economic systems should be changed, given their conflicting priorities. Opposing extremes emerge, and the traditional political parties see themselves stuck in the middle.

The Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa have high number of youth coming to the job market, and most societies in these regions are having great difficulty adjusting to the pace of demographic change, which is fuelling tensions, inequalities, and political disillusionment. Things are only made worse by the traditional reliance of these regions on the export of commodities at times where the developed world does not need them as much anymore and, therefore, is not as interested in intervening politically in these countries as much either. When a great number of young people are looking for subsistence without finding one, it almost always results in tectonic shifts within a country. Moreover, the failure of most countries in the Middle East at effective economic and political self-governance since the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, the chaos of the Iraq war, and the missed chances at democracy following the Arab Spring, all add to the mix of political tension, which seems to be reaching its apex in our days. The result is a wide geography marred by 1848-like revolutions mixed with Thirty Year War-like sectarian strife. One ought to say that continental Europe also missed its chance at democracy immediately following its populous revolutions, and it is only in the late 19th century and early 20th century that democracy started to effectively take hold in it. As the problems worsen and the chaos endures, anarcho-nihilist and destructive movements start to attract more in the youth. Not finding their place in society, some in the youth start to wish only for the destruction of everything, including their own person; they are joined by some of the marginalised youth in the developed world. In this particular case, the anarcho-nihilist ideology is wrapped in religious cloth for further validation. Furthermore, given that most of the troubled countries belong to a religion distinct from that of the developed world and, we must admit, have a long legacy of conflict with it, the tension becomes quickly a global religious one. The US and Europe want to disinvest themselves from the Middle East and Africa towards the higher priority regions of East Asia, but, in an integrated world, the troubles coming from these regions will not allow them to easily escape from the challenges.

And finally, there is the salient fifth trend of rising expectations about what constitutes good lifestyle and good livelihood. With the fall of barriers of information and, hence, of barriers to social comparisons, there has been a sharp transformation of expectations about what constitutes a successful and worthy life. Something has outrun even our technological advancement and our economic prosperity, and it is our expectations about how easily and fast technology and economic prosperity should be delivered to us; they have become, simply, unachievable. We cannot all become billionaire tech entrepreneurs or multimillionaire fashion icons; we cannot all have the latest supercars and the finest luxury items; and we cannot all afford traveling the world constantly looking for new entertainment. And yet, this is what is being ‘sold’ to us everyday due to the fall of barriers of information. With the fast penetration of technology in our lives, we have witnessed great gains in productivity, but also certain complacency towards the ‘more… faster… now…’ I reckon that a large part of the economic malaise about which everybody seems to be talking – whether in the US, Europe, or China – can be explained not by economic figures, but by the run of material expectations of most people; it stands at odds with the wonderful prosperity and technological democratisation that the world has realised over the past decades. This run of expectations, mirrored by the incessant leveraging to meet them, is, in my view, the most alarming of all trends; it represents a dangerous potential of destruction from within. Often, we do not realise how good we have it until we lose it – ask any pre-war generation.

If we combine the third and the fifth trends, we explain a great deal of the anger at the domestic level; and if we combine the first, fourth and the fifth trends, we explain a great deal of the anger at the global level.

As these trends evolve or dissipate, and many factors can come to influence each, so will the doomy political rhetoric, the dissatisfaction, and the incessant promises of something unattainable. The reasons behind the current geopolitical trends are understandable, and their roots are less sensational, of a general conspiracy kind, or of a tribal/clash-of-cultures kind. Unfortunately, violence and the fear of other draw more interest than cool observation; too many in politics and the media take advantage of this fact without a shred of self-respect. But that is nothing new in human history either.


Working on the Story

Anyone who is mildly curious has tried, at least at some point, to make sense of the world around and has attempted to look beyond first appearances; a curious mind asks questions – I guess this is what curiosity is mostly about. Questions can concern why things are the way they are, and why people behave the way they behave. Of course, a young and curious person is unable to go far in answering such questions without the help of people around him. And so, in the first steps of the momentous task of answering this type of questions, the young and curious relies on what people in his immediate environment, his parents, his siblings, his teachers, and his friends tell him; he accumulates their tales, and he adds to them some of his own with time. As he grows older, more people contribute additional tales; some of such people are living individuals, while others are passed away; some are immediate contacts, while others are known only indirectly; all, however, participate in one way or another to his general understanding of things. Numerous tales get forgotten with time (or at least one thinks so); others evolve; and all get mixed together somehow.

If the curious person is percipient enough, she notices, rather quickly, that what people tell her or have told her does not always work well with what she, for herself, can observe; of course, much of what they tell her is also quite contradictory in itself. Moreover, she notices that what she tells herself does not work that well with what she observes either. And if the curious person has practiced science, in one field or another, or, in other words, if she has learned to test and verify the validity of statements told by others or created by herself, then it becomes all the more apparent that most of these statements, by her and by others, do not hold well together. Following such difficulties, many curious minds give up and simply enjoy life; some may specialise their search in one particular area and focus less on the rest.

I have few things I may be able to say about this challenge, although I will not claim to have resolved it. I find that the difficulty arises not necessarily in how things of the world are, but, rather, in how they are told and why they are told in certain ways; the challenge is in what is being told. Having considered these difficulties for some time now, it is clearer to me that the crux is with the stories we form and trade. The influence of stories may seem obvious to warrant too much thinking; only, what may not be as obvious is to what extent stories influence our lives.

You may have suspected by now that I am building up to some kind of announcement so, despite my general rule of seldom using this blog for marketing purposes, I will go ahead and say it: I would like to share with you first, followers of this blog, that I am about to publish a new work on the Story. In fact, I have been dedicating energy over the past years to thinking about the Story under many angles and about its impact on all that is around us; this work has now reached a level where I find it appropriate to publicly share some of it. My work on the Story will be published in three parts, and each part will treat this subject in a different manner. I call it a trilogy; only, it is not a fictional trilogy but a mixed one. The first part of this work will be published this summer, and the two other parts will hopefully follow separately over the coming several months.

Below are extracts of the description of The Story in Three Parts:

What if all the world around us unfolds in certain ways while we, human beings, constantly tell ourselves different stories about it? What if what we call human understanding is nothing else than stories we make up about some of the world’s events, stories that are for the most part either flawed or incomplete? And if that is the case, to what extent do we do so and why do we even do it? What if we have always been living more in our stories than in the real world? These are some of the important questions John H.T. Francis addresses in his new trilogy The Story in Three Parts. […] Each part of this Trilogy highlights the central role of the Story to human meaning and understanding in a different way: simply through a story (Part I); in a theoretic-philosophical way (Part II); and in a practical way (Part III).


News of Gloom and Doom

I am sure it happened to many of you as it often happens to me. You open a news channel or website and all you hear or read about is doom and gloom. From one place to the next, stories of murder, death, and suffering succeed each other; it sometimes sounds as if Armageddon is upon us. The same themes of violence and threats are repeated, again and again, to put anyone in a dark and anxious mood. Violence is spreading; talk about diseases like SARS or Ebola that threaten to turn into mass epidemic surface every now and then; people kill each other on ethnic and religious grounds; and people fight each other over economic rights. Politicians play up threats for political gains and media outlets repeatedly trumpet threats of an almost tribal kind, hidden in modern clothing. I have news for you: we live in one of the most secure and prosperous periods in humanity. Whether you measure it in world mortality rate, real GDP per capita, or technology penetration, we are frankly blessed to be living in such prosperous times. In saying this, I am not trying to belittle the tragedy of people today; some people continue to suffer greatly, there are still many injustices in this world, and we have serious risks of regressing to general barbarous and close-minded behaviour. However, in the grand scheme of things, such threats and tragedies have always existed, and their proportion to world population continues to decline. In fact, cardiovascular diseases and lung diseases and infections kill many more today than terrorism and ethnic violence; and outside death by natural causes, road accidents are commonly top of the list. On average, we would have had much greater trouble, economic difficulties, and greater threats to our lives to deal with if we were born a century or two ago. So how can we explain this discrepancy between the dark spirit the news can put us in and the reality of our world affairs?

The answer is likely twofold: (1) Evolutionary; and (2) The result of the combination of greater numbers and lower information barriers. I will not dwell too much on the first; suffice to say that we are biologically predisposed to pay more attention to potential threats to our existence than the good things that happen to us, which we take most of the time for granted. We always want more, and it does not take us much to get alarmed. It is a sort of genetic ‘better-be-safe-than-sorry’ attitude we have.

I would like to focus on the second of these reasons. We live in a world with many more people, and so, with many more human events and affairs than decades ago. In addition, we have the technological capability of reporting anything we want much faster than before and to many more people than before. World population was less than 2 billion at the beginning of the 20th century; it reached 3 billion around 1960; and we are more than 7 billion people in the world today. When you are 7 billion people, you can have more stories of violence than when you are 2 billion, and when you have the technology to transmit information faster, you can report more stories of violence and gloom. And so, if you have a tendency to only report stories of a violent or threatening kind, you will find more stories to report on when you are 7 billion people, even if the percentage of tragedies is on the decline. In this way, you can end up with news filled with sad stories if you wish it to be the case. One of the important roles of media outlets is to report on potential threats and to increase the general public’s awareness about injustices and violence in the world. But diverse news, reflective of the grand picture is also responsible news. The world is much bigger than what is being generally reported, and more is happening in our human affairs. Someone who is looking at the news today may get the impression that all that there is in this world revolves, at any one point in time, around a handful of stories.

The world we live in is a world where hundreds of millions of people of different religions, ethnic backgrounds, orientations, and nationalities live and cooperate peacefully with each other. It is a world of many more joys and much more comfort. It is a world enriched with technology and knowledge. There are economies of billions of people trading with each other and interacting with each other in this tremendous interactive system that is our world economy. And intercultural relationships are probably at their historical high, even in percentage terms. Next time we look at the news, let us not forget that, and let us not have few stories condition our opinion entirely. These stories of tragedies are serious and some require immediate action; what is currently happening in Syria and Iraq, for example, in terms of slaughter, savageness, and wiping out of human heritage is beyond revolting. We should continue to pay great attention to world threats, and our recent history of relative peace is no guarantee of that peace continuing. Things can turn destructive faster than we might realise and this has happened before in history. For instance, few nuclear incidents are enough to change all our peace dramatically. But, whenever we can, we should also take some time to enjoy the peace we may have been blessed with compared with our forefathers. Some of us today may not be as lucky to have such economic or political peace, even if their percentage is decreasing, and some choose to only see the negative side of things; we ought, as a matter of basic empathy, to wish for others the greater peace we might have and be grateful for peace when we have it, rather than constantly being alarmist.

In our modern times, we have a greater challenge of maintaining this bizarre duality of seeing the big picture, which is improving, and continuing to pay attention to multiplying threats and tragedies.


Our Biology and Our Civilisation Disconnected

We live in a civilised and technological world very different from that of thousands of years ago. Civility, knowledge, and technology have been developed collectively through the efforts and hardships, and the needs and the wants, of many across times and ages. Great things have been achieved to alleviate some of the difficulties of the human condition and make us all, on average, more knowledgeable, more capable, but also more conscious. And while all has not always been for the better, and while threats of receding exist and should be recognised, the trend, even if not a smooth and steady one, has been towards greater civilisation and civility.

One of the key achievements of civilisation and technology is probably the remarkable general increase in life expectancy of humans around the world over the past few centuries, for a host of reasons, medical and other. And while this achievement is of tremendous value to us – as it would be to any living being – it does not come without new challenges. These challenges can be seen in the disconnect we increasingly face today between our biological condition and the civilisation we have created. We live much longer with civilisation and technology, and we need to live much longer to do something meaningful; all the while, some of the key characteristics of our biology did not change. Let us take few examples:

  • By late twenties, our cognitive processing speed is already well on the decline. We become wiser with age, and probably better decision-makers overall, but we do not have the same cognitive power as when we are young. We may also become less creative and imaginative in some areas, although the reasons behind this can be more due to longer periods of cultural conditioning than aging per se – the two are not possible to completely isolate from each other in any case.
  • Woman fertility declines substantially year-on-year in her thirties, and even faster in her forties, until the woman reaches menopause. Most men are technically fertile for most of their adult life, but their capacity for sexual activity also declines, some studies even claim as early as the beginning of the twenties.
  • And of course, physical power in humans is at its best in the late teens and early twenties, and it is on an incessant decline after that, all else being equal. As with cognition, some sports players manage to change their game as they grow older in order to last longer, but both intensity and endurance go down starting late twenties. The same goes for our motor skills and the sharpness of our senses.

We live today, on average, well beyond our physical, cognitive, sexual and sensing-capacity peaks. Life expectancy in the developed world is approaching eighty, and it has surpassed it in some countries already. And the one hundred-year mark for life expectancy is a distinct possibility in the coming two centuries. This means that we will live, on average, more than fifty years and more than two-thirds of our ‘useful’ life beyond our biological peak(s).

A world where we needed to reproduce fast and a lot, and conquer, dominate, and leave a legacy as quickly as possible before we die is no more – we have a greater leniency of time. And we need this leniency given where our civilisation and technology stand today. We need more time than centuries ago to absorb all that civilisation has developed, to learn, and to understand. And so, by the time we are done learning enough, understanding, and becoming sensible enough, we are already quite beyond our biological peak.

This disconnect creates us many practical challenges; we increasingly struggle to marry our biological condition and the civilisation and technologies we are creating. We try to remedy this disconnect by specialising (i.e. not learning everything but advancing in one particular path as quickly as possible in order to produce something new in it, while counting on others in society to do the rest); dropping school early to focus on a particular sport or modelling career, and returning to studying only after that (if at all); or looking for new medical ways of ‘going around’ our biological condition, such as freezing the eggs and finding a surrogate if the woman is too old by the time she decides to have a child. There is also another (lazier) way that is more dangerous to adopt; it is to blindly bypass in whole many aspects of civilisation, not bother understanding the achievements made so far, and become mere tools of civilisation and technology rather than conscious drivers of them.

It is likely that the disconnect between our biological condition and civilisation will increase even further with the continuous improvement in life expectancy and the continuous increase in the information and knowledge richness of the environment on which civilisation depends. We have to do something about it, no doubt. And maybe our cue comes from evolution. As we evolved to become human beings, we, and most primates for that matter, dropped biological features that may have been advantageous individually for the benefit of other features, while relying more on the community we started to live in to compensate for that. For example, our capacity to see wider angles was reduced for the benefit of much better three-dimensional vision, while counting on others in the community to spot any danger coming from angles we lost the capacity of seeing. Today, it seems reasonable that we may need to do more of such ‘outsourcing’ and sharing as we live much beyond our biological peak(s). With civilisation and technology, we increasingly rely not only on the community but also on machines and outsourced intelligence. This may raise some genuine fears of dependency and loss of control in us, but it does not seem that there is a reasonable way around it unless we start learning and understanding faster – we need only to strongly mitigate any possible risks.

As to another corollary, it is quite likely that greatness going forward becomes even more disconnected from biological peak(s). The greats of tomorrow may be very different from the greats of the past, and collective greatness may become entirely dominant over individual greatness.


The Common Status of Reading and Writing

Outside strict professional (i.e. largely for the sake of money-making) and academic (i.e., for many but not all, social climbing towards a better-earning professional position, and hence, ultimately again money-making) purposes, most people read to be entertained and most writers write to entertain. Some people write to communicate necessary ideas, even if such ideas are not generally of the ‘entertaining kind’, but they are more of a rare breed. Most commonly acclaimed books and most ‘Best Sellers’, as they are called in the industry, tend to be of the entertaining kind. Sensationalism, mystery, fantasy, fiction, romance, sexuality, ridicule, gossip, and conspiracy are some of the most popular types of reading and writing; they are entertaining, they trigger emotions in us, and they sell more easily. There are exceptions of course, but they are far and few in between. Seldom, books of outstanding quality and value-add make it through to common fame. Such books tend to standout and surpass entertainment books only over longer periods of time, and in many cases, through some form of academic push that ‘forces’ the many students who are going through the ranks of academia to read them (or at least purchase them but not actually read them in their entirety). The academic push is far from being utterly benign; serious books in academia are unfortunately often selected with some cultural and social bias (e.g., the French will predominantly select French authors and ideas, the Americans predominantly American authors and ideas, and so on and so forth; and institutions belonging to particular economic, political or religious schools of thought will only select self-serving books in subtle or openly propagandistic ways).

When television, radio, and the Internet did not exist, many people might have been drawn towards reading books and novels, as it was one of the fewer ways of being entertained. But in our days, with the constant emergence of new entertainment possibilities (thanks again to the money-making potential of the entertainment industry), being entertained through reading may have become for many people a reward not worth the effort. And so, the general interest in reading outside academic and professional spheres has been on the decline, at least in relative terms. Most of what is being written today in the form of books, essays, and papers is not being read enough; most does not penetrate or influence societies enough. Indeed, there are easier and quicker ways of being entertained, such as watching a movie that tells the gist of a book in 90mins or so – emotional roller coaster in condensed form. More so, thanks to new forms of writing over the Internet, long and focused reading has been replaced by short, quick and unfocused blips, which reduces even further an already weakened and lazy attention span in most of us.

It seems that reading serious thoughts and doing serious thinking are becoming more of a rarity, particularly outside academia and normal working hours. Note that we need not to read and write to do serious thinking, but elaborate thinking is very difficult without ultimately some form of reading and writing. We can justify to ourselves staying away from serious reading and writing by claiming that Technology today solves most of our daily preoccupations, and hence going back to making an effort to think is not necessary anymore, unless we stand to benefit monetarily from it in direct manners in a professional or academic setting. Indeed, most efforts in society are towards technological and material mastery. And that would be fine, if people did not regularly complain about unanswered questions in their lives, about disillusionments, about void and uncertainty, and about general dissatisfaction with the way things are. In other words, we want to be lazy, but we also desire that all our remaining problems be solved on their own, or by others, without any personal effort of ours.

I will continue to stand on the unpopular side against this degenerative evolution of our reading and writing habits, on the side of the long, serious, and developed, even if the usefulness of such might seem to be commonly questioned. One can indeed choose to forego serious thinking, to suppress any identity, and to walk blindly down a road set by others and by circumstances. But sooner or later, circumstances will eventually turn unfavourable; this almost always leads to wake-up calls in most of us and to the sudden need to search for the more serious things in life. A depersonalized way of living can be lived, but I doubt that more than very few can ultimately make peace with it – we can pretend that volition, self-esteem, self-respect, and expression of individuality are things without which we can do, but I have yet to see someone really going without them all of his/her life.