Sunday, April 6, 2014

Not At Any Price

Those were the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about whether Israel was still willing to continue peace negotiations with Palestine.

What he probably meant was that there is a limit to how much Israel is willing to sacrifice.  That is, there is a certain price that they are not willing to pay.

But the words have another meaning, and one that seems a bit more apt given how these negotiations tend to go.  Namely, Israel is not willing to sacrifice anything to achieve peace.  That is, there is no price Israel is willing to pay to get peace, so we just have to hand it to them for free.

So which is it, Bibi?

Sunday, March 16, 2014


The other day I heard this song, in which one of the main parts of the chorus states:  I don't want to be your hero.  Take a listen, it is a really good song.

Given that I have been thinking about heroes lately, this got me thinking.  Whey wouldn't you want to be someones hero?  Maybe it is too much responsibility?  Maybe.  But I think it has to do more with a conflict in trying to live up to someone else's expectations.  Sports stars often complain that they don't want to be held up as heroes, for example.

On a related note, I have also been rethinking my view on the phrase "What Would Jesus Do?"  I always thought this phrase was a bit funny because we really don't know that much about Jesus as a person.  We are just projecting what we think of as the ideal person onto him.  But different people might have a different idea about what the ideal person might look like.

Anyway, then I decided that this might be a good thing.  In order to avoid adopting someone else's idea of a hero we might need to create our own in our own image.  That is, we need an Avatar that represents our own personal hero.  If calling the Avatar Jesus helps us feel like it is legitimate, then so be it.  The key is that we should be able to choose our own image of what we want to be, and then strive to be it.  The danger is that when we choose our hero we won't rally be true to ourselves.  That is, we can easily confuse what everyone expects us to be with what we really want to be.

The moral of the story?  Choose your own hero, and be it.

Side note:  I wonder if playing role playing games helps people to be able to independently construct a personal hero?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Satan ⊂ Gamification

Gamification is a major trend in the modern education reform community.  I have written previously about it here, and have even developed my own game to teach math.

But this post isn't really about using games to teach math.  It's about using games to teach morality.

Last night Mercedes and I watched the final episode of a new tv show called True Detective.  In the end I was a bit disappointed in the primary villain.  He a a bit of a cliche for a psychotic, satanic serial killer.

But then my thoughts took a left turn and I started to think about the meaning of evil.  Why do we like to represent evil in an incarnate form as some psychotic killer?  Seems to me that most bad things are the result of natural and social forces that are much bigger than a single man.  Take hurricanes, for example, or war.

Anyway, my thought was that evil as we know it is actually an emotional reaction.  We feel evil the way we do because of how our emotions have evolved.  You may remember that I have said something similar about truth and love.

Basically, I think evil is related to our capacity for hating our enemy.  In group - out group associations are some of the most basic emotional responses we have.  One purpose of our moral code is to distinguish between who is in and who is out.  The actions of people from different cultural groups appear barbaric, foreign, and well, evil.

If this is correct, then it may be true that in order for us to feel evil, we have to anthropomorphize it.  That is, it is an emotion that is triggered by the thought of an enemy that we must fight against.  If we don't incarnate evil, we can't really feel the proper level of competitive hatred.  This can help to explain why churches often represent their moral struggles as a battle against Satan.

In this sense, the incarnation of evil is equivalent to the gamification of math.  Gamification is simply a technique to put learning in an emotional context, to tap the vast stores of motivational potential that can be released with the right evolutionary triggers.  So Satan is the gamification of morality.  There are a lot of moral rules that don't exactly excite our competitive warrior spirits.  Even the thought of a crucial natural challenge, like overcoming global warming, leaves us emotionally flat.  In order to get moving we have to have an enemy, and the enemy must be personified.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


Yesterday Mercedes and I were talking about how important it would be for young women to have a role model like Hillary Clinton become president.  It got me thinking about different types of role models, and especially about role models for women.

I think there are a number of classic role model categories. 

The King.  The key attribute of the King is power.  There are a lot of King-type role models from actual kings to powerful business leaders and politicians.  I think Hillary Clinton would fit into this category.  There are some female role models in this category, say, Margaret Thatcher or Marissa Meyer, but I think the main value of a Hillary presidency would be to strengthen this model for women.

The Warrior.  The key attribute of the warrior is competitiveness.  The warrior wants to win.  These days I think we have very strong role models in the warrior mold because of our sports heroes.  In fact, I think one of the main roles that sports serve in society is to give us warrior role models.  A  lot of kids grow up wanting to the next Michael Jordan or Lebron James.

The Princess.  The key attribute of the princess is beauty.  The princess wants to be desired and fought over.  A lot of our princess models these days come from Disney, but a lot of the more recent disney princesses break the simple princess mold.

The Artist.  The key attribute of the Artist is the ability to evoke emotion.  I think a lot of modern female role models are princess-artists, like Madonna.

The Wizard.  The key attribute of the wizard is knowledge.  Wizard role models tend to peak a long time after they die.  A few great wizards are Aristotle, Newton, and Einstein.  One interesting difference between wizards and artists is that artists depend on a lot of people understanding their work.  Wizards depend on only a few people understanding their work.

The Mother.  The key attribute of the Mother is selfless love.  There are a few great Mother role models, say, Mother Theresa, but I think that a lot of Mother role models are more personal.  Thus, a lot of kids might have Mother role models even if there aren't a lot of world famous Mother models that people look up to.  Note: there can be male Mother models too.  None of these models are meant to be strictly gender-specific.

So there are my primary categories.  There are more, and most actual role models mix categories.  So, Bill Gates might be a Wizard-King and Steve Jobs a bit more of an Artist-Wizard-King.

I think that people try on all different sorts of heroes, and a lot of different things speak to us.  Some people who have been my heroes at one point or another include Ty Detmer (the Warrior), Abraham Lincoln (the Philosopher-King) and Albert Einstein (the Wizard).

I also think it is important for women to have a variety of heroes because history has often pushed them into certain roles, and having role models is an important part of being able to try out different roles for yourself and discover/build your idetity.  Thus, I think there is a need to strengthen the female King model, and I think electing Hillary would help in this regard.

I think it would be especially nice to have some more female Wizard role models.  Yes, there are some, like Marie Curie.  One list of the top 100 scientists of all time has her listed at number 26.  I think this is about right if we attribute to her the discovery of radiation (although there may be others who have better claim).  Also, the list gives pretty short shrift to Mathematicians.  I would probably put Gauss, Euler, and a few others on the list a bit higher.  Anyway, the point is that #26 isn't that high for the highest woman on the list.  Lists of the most influential people vary widely (see here, and here) with the highest women listed as between #13 and #48.  Interestingly, #13 on Time's list (Queen Victoria) isn't even on A & E's list.  (In any case, I don't think Queen Victoria should be ahead of Karl Marx).  Likewise, A & E's top lady (Mary Wollstonecraft at #48) isn't on Time's List.  

I doubt Hillary will ever make these lists, but it is something for the most powerful politician in the world to be a woman.  I wonder how long it will be before a woman is considered the most brilliant living scientist.  This list has Jane Goodall ranked as #3.  Madonna and Lady Gaga are already #1 and #2 on a list of the worlds highest paid musicians.  And their earnings dwarf those of the highest paid actors, and athletes.   

Of course, while earnings are not necessarily a great indicator of who are the greatest role models, they probably approximate how many people look up to someone.  Although in the case of golf heroes like Tiger a big factor in his earnings is that rich people look up to him.  Anyway, the point is that women role models are more prominent in some categories more than others.  Female athletes are prominent in some sports, and not so much in others.  I tend to think that the highest paid female athlete in the world owes part of her fame to the fact that she is something of a Warrior-Princess.