the Informed

Street Art In My Way

A slight departure, a short story:

Perfect by Alexandros Vasmoulakis

There is a tangible way that something unexpected and juxtiposingly beautiful can move you, right in the middle of the day, right when you least suspect it. Minding my own business, weaving through the streets of my own individual urban decay, there is such grim and grey dullness to it all, only to be broken incessantly with the lusty colours and mindless chattering of the corporate message, the new, dominating 'street art' that decorates our cities; the adverts, meant to manipulate not just our feelings, but by extension our behaviour and our empathy, or lack thereof. and despite its proliferation and abundance, there is only one message that they provide.

There is also something profound in the way that such welcome counter-images to the corporate doctrine, meant perhaps to lift us from this banality, stirs our consciousness in a way that the ads simply cannot. But the ads, in their psychologically well-studied approach to the shaping of our mental environment, contain perhaps the most profound concept after all, far more than any Banksy or Shepard Fairey could convey, simply because of their frequency, and their dubious placement on what was once our very own landscape. The corporate ownership of our physical environment is no dull analogy for their ownership over our mental one. But still, I only notice the street art, at least consciously. although the advertisers, no doubt, have a louder voice.

Meanwhile with dull and heavy footsteps, the mass of humanity moves around me with the singular preoccupation of adhering to the whim of the giant billboards and transit-stop images, to pay for that which they have already used up, as the financiers of it all continue to reap their just deserts long after the fact. Some would say unwittingly, but this is not the case - they know full-well and they hate themselves for it, but they know. And so they stomp, and trod trough the muck of their particular urban desires as they are sold ideas which they, in their last glimmers of consciousness, can still conceptualize that they have no power over, none at all. In this they realize that their free will is an illusion and nothing more. and I realize that I, too, am one of them. 

And so the giant gleaming ads continue to shout amid the silent roar of the city. Until, like a sudden flash of light in a cave that has been darkened for aeons, there comes into view a piece of art, a simple stencilled image amongst the static, and so powerful in its simplicity. A ten-dollar sentiment against the billboards of the billion-dollar behemoths, and I, for one, realize that I still have a beating heart, at least for a moment as its dark message laughs with me or at me in its ironic darkness and dark humourlessness. 

And so I wonder, is the creator of this silhouette lurking in the shadows as I literally stop momentarily in my tracks, taken aback by the sudden appearance of this hieroglyph? I have to wonder, for all of the other imagery I can see literally screams for us to be self-obsessed, to need validation from any source, to require the tallying of likes in a world full of so much hate. So why would someone do this, only to leave it in its place to be destroyed, or covered, or scrubbed, and for no forthcoming validation? Why? Unless they come from another time or place, one in which they were not considered merely a useful idiot. 

To that I can only imagine, but I do imagine that artist lurking and waiting; not to know if they have been validated by my own arrest by their piece, but to know that they are needed in a world we no longer own.

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What The Skepticism Towards Mark Zuckerberg's Gift To Society Says About What We Think Of Mark Zuckerberg

With the birth of their daughter Max, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced on his now ubiquitous social media website that they plan to create a massive initiative to better the world. Mainstream media jumped on the news as a great act of philanthropy, but many critics are claiming that this is nothing more than a cleverly disguised PR move and tax-avoidance scheme. So why are so many people skeptical about the billionaire's motives, and what does it say about what we think of Mr. Zuckerberg himself? Are we so jaded by the abuses of the rich that we can no longer graciously accept him or any billionaire at their word?

By giving people the power to share, we're making the world more transparent - Mark Zuckerberg

What are the differences between Mark Zuckerberg and me? I give private information on corporations to you for free, and I'm a villain. Zuckerberg gives your private information to corporations for money and he’s Man of the Year - Julian Assange

When I read Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan's post to their newborn girl Max, I was genuinely moved. It is well-written, inspiring and just what we all needed to hear in these grim times - truly an inspiring piece. And I'm also happy for them in the arrival of their addition to their family - a very happy time for them indeed. I really wanted to believe that what I was reading was true, honest and free from any ulterior motive, but after it sank in a bit, and after reading the countless articles of varying viewpoints about this incredibly generous pledge, I found myself wondering why I felt more than a little skeptical of it all. Being such a high-profile individual, he has certainly had his fair share of bad press (as is to be expected of high-profile people) and in that sense, this was a brilliant PR move. And the structure of it all does raise some complicated questions about tax-avoidance motives, naturally (which is arguably a problem with tax law, and not Mr. Zuckerberg himself). But what really stuck with me was the fact that this initiative will have almost zero transparency by virtue of its structure, much like the man and his company - a company that has made the rest of us incredibly, vulnerably transparent.

Cautious Optimism:

In short, I want to trust him, but I struggle to do so. But I will wait and see, with cautious optimism, like most of us (some have expressed outrage that we don't just take him at his word entirely), and hope that this is untimely a good thing, and not just a mega-billionaire's messiah complex playing out on the world stage. I truly want to see this man make the world a better place (god knows he has infinitely more power to do so than someone of my means), and the optimist in me believes that the arrival of his daughter has allowed him see the world in a new way - that he has, as he says, a responsibility to make the world a better place. While I do think that his intentions are good, I think it's also important to bear in mind that the road to hell is paved with them.

However, those who have been quick to judge this initiative harshly need to take a step back for a moment and realize that, thus far, all that has happened is the creation of a limitedAt this point, it is nothing more than a pledge (albeit a very grand one) and the changing of money "from one pocket to another" liability corporation (not a non-profit charity, which has been the cause of much criticism) and even though it is not technically a charity, it still has the potential to do a lot of good, despite it's lack of transparency. Therefore, we all need to wait and see what he actually does with the money. At this point, it is nothing more than a pledge (albeit a very grand one) and the changing of money "from one pocket to another", as Jesse Eisinger said in the New York Times. While the nay-sayers do need to take it down a notch before judging too harshly, the man has given us much cause for skepticism, and that is what many critics are feeding off of in their response to it.

Mixed Reactions:

I don't know Mark Zuckerberg personally, and therefore I can't comment on his character as an individual - that would be unfair, and such speculation would serve no purpose. Besides, Zuckerberg is incredibly secretive and private in his personal life, so we don't really know all that much about this man who has had such a huge impact on the world. That being said, people clearly do have an opinion of him based on the actions of his company, its dubious beginnings and the importance he places on his own personal privacy, as the mixed reaction to the news of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative would indicate.

For the sake of argument, if this gift had come from, say, Nelson Mandela (who obviously did not have 45 billion dollars in his lifetime, but go along with this for a moment if you will), I suspect that there would be absolutely no speculation as to the motives of the decision whatsoever - it would surely be met with universal praise and joy, and it would give us sincere hope for the future of humanity. 

His Incredible Desire For Privacy:

But Mr. Zuckerberg is not Nelson Mandela, he's a billionaire businessman who has dramatically changed the way we interact with one another. While he has, on the one hand, created an empire around the idea of the transparent surrender of privacy in the Internet age, he remains highly reclusive and private in his own life on the other. When he purchased his home, he also bought all of the homes around it in order to protect that privacy. And while he vehemently denied the tacit cooperation of Facebook with the Prism project, that proved to be not true. As each backlash from of our erosion of privacy created by his website unfolded, he stood by his stance that this is the new world - one where openness and transparency supersedes the old model for the betterment of all. And yet he does not live this way himself. His billions provide a privacy that the rest of us could only dream of. Perhaps it is his prerogative to spend his money as he sees fit, but it does seem to contravene the philosophy of his company - a company that he himself says was never about making money, but about changing the world.

Facebooks Has Changed The World:

And change the world he has done - to a huge degree. But, we also need to ask in light of this pledge, to what effect? Is the world a better place because of Facebook? The evidence suggests that it is not - there is more isolation, depression and envy associated with prolonged use of the site. Couple that with the fact that your private information is sold to corporations, many of whom work to actively worsen society, and the business model starts to topple. Obviously, Zuckerberg would not share that viewpoint. He views his company as a kind of salvation for humanity. And yet he doesn't personally subscribe to the philosophy of his company in his own life curiously. And let's not negate the fact that Facebook is considered the biggest killer of productivity in the workplace. It's a huge time-waster, let's face it.

An Anectode:

I do have a real-life experience with the company that I think is worth sharing, at least in relation to their lack of transparency and social conscience. In 2010, a friend of mine had her Facebook profile compromised when she took her laptop into a major electronics retailer to be fixed. When she got it back, she no longer had control of the account, and the effect it was having on her life was nothing short of devastating. I tried to help her retrieve the account, but to no avail. The endlessly frustrating loop of feeding back this information to the company was incredibly disheartening, and the abuses this thief was perpetrating continued to grow, as did the effect on her personal life. She was popular, attractive and had several thousand friends on the site, and her profile was now full of hatred, prejudice and lies, not to mention the fact that this thief now had access to all sorts of personal information about her. She wasn't just upset, but genuinely scared.

Coincidentally, I had been planning a trip to San Fransisco for a while (such a great city), and I suggested she come along with us and we could pay a visit to their offices in Palo Alto in person and see if we could get the account deactivated. It seemed like it should be no problem - she could easily prove that the account was rightfully hers, and the moment of its hijacking was obvious. The experience was aweful and surreal, to say the least. The place felt less like a high-tech firm and more like a government agency with its high level of security and generally uncaring attitude. The person at the front desk was aloof, dismissive and holier-than-thou, and all she was able to do was provide a little card on which my friend could scribble down her concern, with a vague promise that someone would contact her. No one ever did, and the account still remains active all these years later. Her online identity was stolen, at least in regard to how much of our identity is now tied into Facebook, and it was easy to prove, yet they did nothing. Zero. While this bit of anecdote may not be indicative of how they operate on the whole, there do seem to be many other similar stories out there, and they clearly have no real recourse for people in this position. The point - they have no desire in being either transparent or compassionate when their product adversely affects someone's life.

Similarly, there is an incredibly complicated and contrived set of hoops to jump through if you decide to actually delete your account. Here's a post on the rather complicated 11-step process. It doesn't feel like the interests of the users are held in very high esteem in this company, despite their mission of openness and transparency in the world. He even went so far as to call the site's user "dumb fucks" for trusting him with their personal information, although he has since expressed regret at making the comment. While much good has arguably come from the site, there has also been bullying, suicide, and divorce resulting from its use, and it also has proven to be an easy place to recruit radicalized people to various insidious causes - much of which the company does little about.

What Are His Plans For A Better World?:

All of this adds up to an unsettling feeling by many of us regarding Mr. Zuckerberg's intentions with this initiative. On the face it may seem incredibly benevolent, but let's not forget the story of the company that earned the money, and its effect on our society. If his intentions truly are to make the world a better place, then perhaps Facebook might be as good a place as any to start. He may think that it has created a better world, but those of us in the real world know that that's just not true. One of the goals of his newly-created initiative is the "building of strong communities", yet isn't his company actually doing the reverse to some degree? Are we truly better off in our world of virtualized relationships?

And let's also not forget that he is a tech guru, not a visionary of world peace and prosperity. There are experts in these fields who have devoted their entire lives to their causes, yet Mr. Zuckerberg thinks that he has a clearer vision of how to accomplish these things. I would speculate that a lot of billionaires feel this way. The reason that he claims that this LLC was created was to give him the flexibility to not only decide how the world specificaly needs to be improved, but also so that some of the money can be spent on political lobbying, and let's not underestimate the importance of this. A registered charity is not allowed under the law to lobby politicians, but an LLC can and most certainly does. He clearly, by his own admission, wants to manipulate policy to his vision of what needs to happen in the world. A very dangerous undertaking from someone who is not an expert in the field.

I sincerely hope that this money will be spent for good, and his desire to help humanity is most certainly a welcome one in today's world. I sincerely hope that Mark Zuckerberg I hope that he isn't just setting himself up to be some sort of philathopic despotwill diminish the growing inequality, help provide education and funding to the third world, and ultimately, create a better world for not only his daughter, but for all children being born into this utter mess. If I could make an appeal to him directly, it would be that he simply gift the billions to those already working towards these goals and let those with the expertise guide the decisions.

All of this has a bit of a dubious undertone to it, but I hope that time proves that his intentions are true. While it's become clear from the response that many don't trust him and his motives, maybe it's time for the billionaires of the world to start being decent human beings after all, and he can lead this potential movement. I hope that he isn't just setting himself up to be some sort of philathopic despot. And to those who say that the critics are simply envious, I would ask them to look at the role Facebook has had in creating a world full of so much of it.

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The Internet Is Polarizing Society & Crippling Progress: What You Need To Know

The Internet, despite all of it's beautiful ability to connect, to inspire and to collapse the distances of space and time, is in fact distancing us, polarizing us, and inhibiting our ability to move forward. But it doesn't have to.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the Internet. Thank you, Mr. Gore. It's without a doubt the most transformative, life-altering, mind-bending technology to occur in my lifetime. When I was ten years old, my friend Sheldon and I would connect our Vic-20 computers via primitive modems that required we put the analogue receiver snugly into these rubber cups. If the seal was not just so, and the receiver didn't sit just right, you'd get errors which would result in a bunch of gobbledy-gook on the monochrome green screen (god I miss that thing). But when it worked, it was glorious. Our own personal network. We were on-line and it was a rush, although we were on a network of only two. Still, it was transformative for us, and even at that tender age we knew that we had the privilege to be living in an era of sweeping and unparalleled change. After an hour or so of typing messages back and forth, and working out the requisite bugs, we would get bored, say goodbye (ttyl), and go back to playing Gorf, silently smug in our secret understanding that we were on the thin cutting edge of the technological world.

A Man Performing A Google Search To Reinforce His Predetermined Viewpoint
Eventually, we both became a little more sophisticated, and with the advent of bulletin boards, AOL and the like, we were able to join larger communities. And so it went, until we arrived here, at the present day, living in the future of that which we could only have imagined so many years before. Yes, I love the Internet (is it still a capital "I"?), and it's a tool whereby great things can be achieved.  But I know how to use it, and sadly, the majority of users do not, and I'll tell you why.

The Filter Bubble:

You see, the funny thing is, after all these many years since the days of Sheldon and me wistfully creating our own digital universes (well, technically speaking they were digital-to-analogue-to-digital universes) there are still only really two people on the network. There's the Internet of you, and the Internet of them - and they are dramatically different from one another. It informs you in one way, and it informs them in another, entirely different manner. But this is not simply about the filter bubble that exists on the Internet, for that is only one component of the argument.

While the phenomenon of the filter bubble is becoming more common knowledge, it's still a largely unknown concept. In case you don't know, in a nutshell a filter bubble is when the personalization services offered by Google, Facebook, etc., feed you only like-minded viewpoints, and hide opposing opinions from your searches and feeds. If you've never tried this, Google something political with a friend, and compare results. On a larger scale, a filter bubble occurs when the like of FOX News compose a story by only researching one viewpoint, and selectively choosing information to fit and support that certain viewpoint. The information may not necessarily be wrong, but it is most certainly incomplete. A lie of omission, if you will.

If you need further proof to sway you to the existence of this phenomenon, pick a ridiculous argument; that the Holocaust never happened, that the earth is flat, that Al Gore invented the Internet, and get Googling. You'll soon realize that you can indeed support any argument under the sun if you want to. It doesn't mean that it's true.

Confirmation Bias:

The filter bubble also feeds into the phenomenon of confirmation bias, whereby a pre-determined viewpoint is proven by actively, if unwittingly, only learning about the supporting argument. We all learned in debate club that this is not how things are done, but this is how it's done on the Internet, especially inside the bubble in which most of us reside, happily unaware. Think of it like this: a filter bubble is the result of tailored, passive information gathering, whereas confirmation bias is when information is actively sought but in a biased, incomplete manner (only Googling supporting arguments compounded by Google tailoring results based on your known bias, for example). We won't get anywhere like this.

The Problem:

It's plain to see what the hazards of this information-shielding could potentially do to our society, and in fact already has. Politics has been shifting rapidly, and the left and right are more polarized than ever before. A healthy, bipartisan approach to politics no longer exists, particularly in the US, and progress has been crippled as aPolitics has been shifting rapidly, and the left and right are more polarized than ever before result in a time when radical progress is what we need. Along with this polarization comes a reduced empathy and understanding of one another, as we become a society of us-against-them. When someone only ends up being fed their own viewpoint, over time they become convinced that their opinion is the right one, and that everyone else is completely out to lunch.

And along with this polarization, we've received a whole other set of unintended consequences. Loneliness, isolation, despair and depression are greater than ever, as we become virtual friends and no longer real ones. The studies are in and yes, Facebook and other social media are isolating us, not the opposite. Who knew?

The Solution:

How, then, can we begin to utilize this wonderful tool called the Internet in a positive, constructive way, this tool at once so full of promise and freedom, and so utterly shackled and hijacked? As with any cognitive endeavour, the answer lies in an awareness, and a conscious application of that awareness to the problem. By understanding the problem, and sharing that understanding with others, we begin to get out of the darkness.

Darkness may reign in a cave for thousands of years, but bring in the light, and the darkness vanishes as though it had never been - Ancient Yogananda Saying

But beyond understanding, we need to ask better questions, be critical and seek out the other argument (an excellent article on the subject can be found here). We need to metaphorically revisit those debate club days in high-school and relearn those lessons. In short, we need to honour integrity in our arguments and in our collected and collective knowledge. Follow people on Twitter who don't share your viewpoint. Go on reddit and ask people with opposite viewpoints to enlighten you with their knowledge. Bear in mind, however, that they are likely suffering from confirmation bias themselves. Learn about the Internet's heinous bubble and how to avoid it. You can find some tips on that here. As well, here's a cool reference poster of logical fallacies, to keep you in check. It can be done, and done effectively. You can go from the Internet owning your mind, to being able to reclaim it entirely.

Take Responsibility For Your Mental Environment:

We live in an era where the natural environment has been polluted in insidious ways, but so too has the mental environment, and only on an individual basis can we defend against that and reclaim it. But with a mindful approach, it can be taken back. We need to realign our society with the values of the pursuit of truth above all else. Only then will we regain our integrity, our honour and our ability to know the truth of the matter. It's a fight for your mind, and the passive will lose this fight. If the battle is one of the mind, then education is the key to its victory.

After all these years I think maybe I'll dust off that old modem and dial up Sheldon for old time's sake. The information we exchanged on that network of two with our primitive computers was truer than most things I see on the Internet today. Truer and also much more fun.

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In The Year 2015, Why Does The Internet Remain Virtually Unused In The Direct Democratic Process?

How is it that, despite the information and social technologies we now have, we can't simply go on-line and vote for any and every decision our government proposes? Or anything related to our governance for that matter? Yet we can vote for our favourite American Idol contestant in a heartbeat via text or even by touch-tone telephone, and see the votes tally from far and wide on our television screens in real-time in front of our TV-addicted eyes? They'll tell you it's because of security reasons that we can't, at the same time as they complete million-dollar financial transactions on their smartphones.

And despite the existence of e-democracy in all its forms, and in all of the ways it can empower people (if used conscientiously), there have only really been a handful of attempts at on-line voting in the world. There still is no system to allow you to go to the respective government website, learn about the issue at hand, and if and when you feel informed enough on that topic, you could then cast your vote. Better yet, if you feel the issue is too complex and requires specific expertise, you could even delegate your vote to someone of your choosing who you trust to understand the issue and to vote ethically on it on your behalf. A system where you could vote on everything, every single, minute and mundane thing, right on up to the biggest issues, like if public bailout money should be given to wealthy bankers to distribute as huge bonuses. In theory, a system like this could exist one day, and all of this may indeed sound like a great system if put into practice, but the politicians will tell you that it's Utopian fantasy and would never work.

Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images.

And yet we queue up every four years or so, depending on which particular set of lines and which jurisdiction you live within, and just as some societies have done now for hundreds of years, we cast our vote for the all-powerful chosen one who will make all of our decisions for us henceforth, until we line up next time. Yeah, that's a great system - for nineteen fifteen. But this is 2015, and since it's obvious that the technology to operate society in a much more democratic way clearly not only exists but is also highly sophisticated (look at the sophistication of, say, Facebook - as a system and despite its general content of course), there must be a reason that it's not in use, or not at least being pursued in more than a casual way. Do the powers-that-be not know of the existence of the technology? Nope. Do they not know how it works? Sadly, nope. So why have there been no real steps forward to voting on public issues on-line?


Maybe they think that no one will use it, since we're all a bunch of apathetic consumers anyway. After all, 132 million people voted on American Idol in 2012, compared to only 122 million for the presidential election. Well if we're apathetic, they must like it this way for some reason. I don't know about you, but if I suddenly had a say in the way I am governed for the first time in my life, I would be all over it. I can barely think of anything more appealing and empowering. Having an actual say in things - without even having to become a snaky politician in order to do it. I have no empirical evidence to support it, but I suspect a great many other people feel the same way, and would use this technology extensively.

The politicians, however, would surely say in dark rooms behind closed doors that the populous is too dumb, to uninformed, to be able to handle their own affairs - hence the existence of these more-equipped, more honest and more caring leaders that we've collectively appointed to handle what we cannot. To that I say, I'd rather delegate David Suzuki to vote for me on environmental affairs that may be beyond my grasp, than Stephen Harper, thank you very much. But I'll let that argument mainly speak for itself.

The Internet Security Argument:

So maybe it's because the Internet isn't yet secure enough to do this. I mean, with all the hackers and hacktivists and crooks out there, surely the fragility of the system is the reason we're not permitted to vote on-line on all the issues that affect our lives. There seems to be a lot of testimonial from security experts on the government payroll leaning that way, after all. 

But I, just like billions of us, go on-line to do my banking as I've done for years and years now, and that seems more-or-less secure, with only the (very) rarest of breaches. And I bet that there's people out there, including those very politicians, that have used that technology this very day for sums of money far, far grander than the paltry sum of my electricity bill. And I bet they didn't bat an eye.

Yes, there are legitimate security concerns with on-line voting, and it is certainly more complex than voting on American Idol, but thete are also many proposed solutions to those problems. Maybe the Internet is secure enough for this, and maybe, just maybe we're being fed some hogwash. In fact, it seems that the current system of voting seems to be riddled with so many so-called security issues, many of which could be eliminated with an on-line system, that perhaps a more refined approach would be a good thing after all. At least something to debate, not just cast aside.

The Real Reason You can't Vote On-line:

Perhaps, then, the reason they don't want to give you access to this type of voting is that they don't want us to be utilizing democracy in that way, that directly of a way. Wouldn't it render them redundant, impotent, useless and out-moded entirely? Surely they need the system to remain as it is. After all, when I line up every four years or so, I don't really feel like I have an actual choice in things anyway. It kind of feels like it's an illusion of choice more than anything. The reason, ultimately, must be the lack of political will to make this type of democracy (an actual democracy, not our current system) a reality.

Well, if that's the case then I call bullshit. BullshitThere is so much vested interest by the establishment in today's world to maintain the status quo that such a forward-thinking and empowering system would in effect topple their regime in light of the fact that things are really, really bad at the present moment, and despite all of the promises of change we've been fed, it's become pretty clear that the corporate and elite interests seem to wield far, far more sway than our votes ever have. And the interests of the public are rarely if ever being served any more by politics. Voting on all issues in the hands of the people would be a disaster for them. These corporate bastards really know how to get shit done. They're like Joe Peschi, but in even more expensive suits, and without baseball bats most of the time.

You see, I know it's almost cliché at this point to say it, but there is so much vested interest by the establishment in today's world to maintain the status quo that such a forward-thinking and empowering system of any kind would in effect topple their regime. The reason that you cannot vote for your elected leaders and for any number of issues on-line is not becase it will be hacked. It's because, if it was allowed to exist, they would be hacked.

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Our Selfless Nature & The Equation For Peace In The World

Whenever and wherever there is a significant disaster in the world, human beings forget their colour, creed & nationality and flock to help one another. This is our nature, and it is this key element that holds the answer for peace in our turbulent world.

In AD 397, Augustine's Confessions explored the idea of original sin, that we are all born broken and selfish and can only be saved through submission to God. A convenient doctrine if you need membership to your faith and if you hold the supposed keys to salvation. Thomas Hobbes elaborated on the idea in Leviathan, stating that we are savage, self-centred creatures by our nature. But recent research has indicated that, despite the age-old philosophical debate over the nature of humanity, we may in fact be fundamentally selfless in our impulses. In a world where people are pitted against one another to essentially compete for resources, this may be hard to see, but when you strip away the competition, the greed and the lust for money and power, our true nature can be allowed to rise to the surface.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta
While our competitive nature may seem to be a natural part of our existence, many would argue that this is merely learned behaviour. Sports, school, work - these institutions have all been carefully designed to breed this competitive spirit, and being the highly adaptable creatures that we are, when put into competitive arenas, we will fight. Lord Of The Flies, as an example of this idea, only teaches us that when given a threat to our survival, despots will seek to take advantage of and dominate others - but these people are the problem, and they are only a tiny minority.

But let's suppose for a minute that competition does not serve humanity, let's assume for a moment that it divides us and conditions us, serving to hide our true nature from ourselves. What possibilities would this open up? What could we achieve if we were set free from these oppressive ideas?

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other - Mother Theresa

Before we explore that concept, let's first debunk this erroneous adaptation of 'survival of the fittest' as it's been applied to society. Social Darwinism, this idea borne in the 1870's, that the strong should see their wealth and power grow while the weak see theirs shrink, has been used to justify innumerable atrocities in the world. War, racism, Nazism - these have all leveraged this concept for their benefit, yet the idea is flawed and does not hold up This idea that the strong should see their wealth and power grow while the weak see theirs shrink has been used to justify innumerable atrocities in the worldin light of what we know today. In a nutshell, this concept is a huge over-simplification of Darwin's theory of evolution, and does not apply to social conditions. 'Fittest' in this context does not refer to survival, it applies to the ability of a species to be able to reproduce. Yet this idea was hijacked by many a dictator in order to flourish and dominate, and it has contributed greatly to the pitting of man against man. The reality is, we could not have survived as a species if we did not learn how to cooperate for the common good - and this is an important lesson.

So if competition is a learned behaviour (and there has been endless debate regarding cooperation versus competition, yet cooperation has proven to be the victor), and we are ultimately an altruistic species, how can we embrace this idea to better the world and to overcome our divisions? Nelson Mandella had a beautiful and succinct suggestion for humanity in this regard:

If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner

 To examine this, let's take a look at some fundamental concepts:

  • we are ultimately a benevolent species, designed to help one another
  • our cooperation has led to our dominance as a species on the planet and allowed us to survive, being neither the strongest nor the fastest
  • competition is a false concept, created to keep people in a sort of slavery of the mind - when the people fight one another, they cannot come together to overthrow oppression
  • capitalism feeds this false concept of competition, hindering our progress
  • only through the rejection of competition in all of its forms can we begin to evolve
  • out-dated ideologies such as religion, borders, nations and left and right (ideas that divide) need to be replaced with ideologies that unite
  • we can work together and still retain our differences and individuality
  • when the notion of competition fades, our cooperative nature will take over
  • without competition, we begin to realize that we all have the same fundamental goals (family, happiness and love), and convincing others that our ideology is the right one will no longer be necessary
  • cooperation on a global scale will lead ultimately to peace
  • the more we learn to cooperate, the more we will begin to reject false leaders and their agendas
  • a life in service of others (our fundamental nature) is, therefore, the path to peace in the world

The huge obstacle to all of this exists only in our minds, in our ideas and thoughts. Since we have been so utterly conditioned to compete, it is hard to see any other way. Politics, the free market - these competitive ideas that seem self-evident but are in fact falsehoods, this is what holds us back. This is the obstacle to peace, and the path to healing our broken world begins with the first step of understanding. Humankind has achieved a great many astounding things, and our road does not end here. In this war-torn world full of divisions, we need to no longer divide everything in two, we need to remember that there is no two, there is only one.

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Why Do Liberals Think They're Smarter? Because They Are, Studies Show

Conservatives are mean and selfish; Liberals flaky and scattered, a bunch of stoned slackers. 

Republicans are blood-thirsty war mongers. Democrats are Utopian dreamers with no grasp on reality. The stereotypes are common in the seemingly endless left-versus-right debate, and these often closed-minded views ultimately serve no one and lead only to puerile name-calling and a distorted view of the other. At that point, we're no better than Trump. Case(s) in point:

The national Democratic Party is immoral to the core. Any American who would vote for Democrats is guilty of fostering the worst kind of degeneracy. The leaders of this party are severely out of touch with mainstream, traditional American values. They are crusaders for perversion, for licentiousness, for nihilism and worse. - Joseph Farah, World Net Daily

Republicans don't believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the planet. Human beings, who have imaginations, can see a recipe for disaster in the making; Republicans, whose goal in life is to profit from disaster and who don't give a hoot about human beings, either can't or won't. - Michael Feingold, Village Voice

That being said, a topic that always ruffles a few conservative feathers is that science has demonstrated that liberal-thinking individuals, altruistic people, and the non-religious tend to be smarter, plain and simple. This is, obviously, not to say that all conservatives are dumber than liberals, but the trend is clear, and is worth examining in light of the ever-growing rift in left-versus-right ideology.

Researcher Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science published a provocative and often-cited paper on the subject in March of 2010 (you can read an abstract of the paper here) wherein he attempted to not only find out if there was a correlation between intelligence and political ideology, but also why such a correlation might exist. 

What he found was that the more intelligent among us do tend to identify themselves as being liberal, and also that they were more open and able to comprehend evolutionarily new ideas, such as the desire to help people with whom they have no genetic relation. It has also been discovered that smarter people tend to be not only more altruistic and caring, but also more adaptable to new and shifting ideas, and less religious, particularly fundamentally religious. And none of this should be terribly surprising - conservative, by its nature, indicates an inclination towards traditional values, with less deviation from the norm than their liberal counterparts.

Common-sense and life experience (for many of us) backs up this research, generally speaking. Liberals typically While conservatives are generally more unyielding in their ideologies, even in the face of new and evolving evidence, they tend to benefit from thisfavour social programs at the expense of higher taxes, choose diplomacy over war, and equality over elitism. But the flip-side of this thinking is that while conservatives are generally more unyielding in their ideologies, even in the face of new and evolving evidence, they tend to benefit from this. Just look at the scattered organization of the Occupy movement, or the environmental movement as opposed to the rapid rise of say, the Tea Party. Very different ideologies and very different approaches. In fact, some research suggests that these qualities will ultimately result in more conservative policies being pushed through over time. And, let's be frank, life experience also teaches us that liberals have a much better sense of humour. Show me a conservative comedian that can hold a candle to Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert or John Oliver. Seriously, show me one.

And who do you think would be the more likely to beleive in scientific evidence? An independent study on the scientific accuracy of the US political candidates' comments with respect to climate change indicated a wide rift between the liberals and the conservatives. Ted Cruz, for example, scored 6 out of 100 for accuracy while Hilary Clinton scored 94. The study is as predictable as you might imagine. 

So why, exactly, do the more intelligent define themselves as liberal? So what are the general qualities of an intelligent person, and how does that correlate with a liberal viewpoint? Following is a list of what many psychologists agree are the common traits of intelligent people:

  • the ability to see not just black and white for a given issue, but the shades in-between
  • greater compassion and empathy for the less-fortunate and for those in need
  • intelligent people are funnier
  • more easily adaptable to new ideas
  • much higher acceptance of scientifically proven truths
  • less likely to be highly religious
  • more open-minded
  • they understand and accept they don't know all the answers
  • they are much more curious in nature

The correlation becomes obvious. Interestingly, or perhaps ironically, conservatives, being much more likely to dismiss scientific evidence are not very likely statistically to put any stock in these findings. And the cosmic ballet goes on.

Bertrand Russel famously said that:

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

This can help to explain just why it is that conservatives, when looking for a leader, tend to gravitate towards those who are self-assured, even when dead-wrong, as opposed to questioning, thoughtfulPerhaps ironically, conservatives are not very likely statistically to put any stock in these findings individuals. Just look at the huge numbers being boasted by Donald Trump in the current polls. Further to this is the notion that conservatives tend to demonstrate more qualities consistent with criminal behaviour. While commonly accepted in the psychology community that criminals tend to be, on average, ten points less intelligent than non-criminals, this is consistent with several conservative traits such as the willingness to go to war (murder) or to pay less tax for the rich (theft) for example.

Beyond all of the common-sense, all of the anecdotal and even all of the scientific evidence to support this theory is the deep underlying subtext of the American political landscape, namely that conservatives hate liberals, and liberals think that conservatives are dumb. With the growing partisan sentiments in the US and elsewhere in the developed world, these limited views of the so-called other side are neither healthy nor constructive. What politics needs more than ever, if politics is indeed even able to get to the root of society's problems in the slightest way, is a bipartisan conversation and bipartisan solutions. We need new ways of thinking over dogma, creativity over boxed-in thinking. And if liberals need to extend the olive branch to the conservatives in order to foster a political climate of cooperation then let them be the first to do so. They are far more likely to be the ones to go first, so says the science.

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Bad Policy, Bad Taste: Why The Rising Popularity Of Trump Is A Symptom Of A Bigger Problem In America

Donald Trump, for longer than most people care to remember, has been degrading himself for fame and glory, like some orange-faced bully in a school yard who never got the attention at home he needed.

And, like the bully in the school yard, he has no real goal other than to just be loved. Every out-of-place bully the world has ever known has only wanted that, in their tantrums, their insults and their boisterous cries for help and attention.

The Donald explaining how much money he has
But this particular bully, this caricature who is pitiable in his own transparent need for acceptance, is not as dumb as he may seem when he opens him mouth. He may not be as cruel and unthinking as he makes himself out to be: he's a businessman and entertainer and he knows that the American public want an entertainer-in-chief this time around the political circus, not a commander - in fact he's counting on it. And that's what they will get if they don't start to open up their eyes and get serious for a moment. The stakes have never been higher, and wisdom, care and thoughtfulness is what the country needs for their next leader, not an insecure, inarticulate man Wisdom, care and thoughtfulness is what the country needs, not an insecure, inarticulate man who stomps his feet and throws around insults as if they were wisdomwho stomps his feet and throws around insults as if they were wisdom. His insults are so commonplace that Time in fact has created a Trump Insult Generator on their website, just in case you feel left out that he hasn't gotten around to you just yet.

While 'The Donald' has not yet paid a dime for television promotion (and why should he, considering all the free publicity he gets every time he opens his mouth?), he is leading the Republican nomination race for the 2016 election by a substantial margin. His popularity swells with each passing racist & sexist remark, with each act of bravado and with each swagger of his overly-confident ego. This fact is, quite frankly, scaring the shit out of a lot of people - this is no joke, we're in serious trouble right now on Planet Earth, and, I'm sorry to tell you, 'The Donald' is not going to bring peace. This guy will surely tear the world apart, and as we go down in flames, he will care not, because he was loved in the end, just as he wanted all along.

At first a side-show, now a contender:

What was at first considered a side-show, a piece of entertainment in these grim times, has actually become a viable option for the White House despite himself (which he'll undoubtedly gold-plate if he makes it to office, right after he renames it the "Trump House" of course), and this has got to change. We need to wake people up to this buffoonery and impress upon those who only want reality TV that we are in real trouble here and we need a real leader. If you want spectacle, then watch your programs - don't We need to wake people up to this buffoonery and impress upon those who only want reality TV that we are in real trouble here and we need a real leaderbring it into politics at a time when politics needs intelligence, thoughtfulness and character.

As a side-note, I have to say that in doing this research, I really started to get that sinking feeling when you start to lose your faith that humanity can solve these problems we face. The sheer ludicrousness of this circus side-show is disheartening. I did not simply Google 'Trump Is An Idiot', (About 4,470,000 results (0.46 seconds)) but I made a real attempt to get inside the heads of his supporters - for it is there that this battle must be waged (his supporters tend to be a little older, typically earn a little less and have a less-than-average education - curiously similar to the TV generation demographic). I watched an hour-long video of  what one supporter called 'The BEST speech EVER' to try to get a sense of just why these people adore this man so, and just who these people are that adore him. This hour of my life I cannot get back, and I went to bed afterwards with that sick feeling in my stomach, but it did yield some insight. He is an entertainer, he is a messiah of sorts, he is appealing to the lowest common denominator, and he is going for the popular vote like no one before him. But he is not honest, he is neither kind nor compassionate, and he certainly is not a leader. If the American people want reality TV in a time when we need a leader of unprecedented skill, then they will all get what they deserve. I'm sure he is already planning the White House reality TV show, "Commander-In-Trump".

For a video that claims that he delivered the best speech of all time, I had high expectations, and I went into it with an open mind. But he did not deliver. I kept waiting for it, for that moment of presidential glory and hopefulness, hoping that despite myself I would not get shivers down my spine and goosebumps on my arms, but luckily I did not. There was no wow moment, no glimpse into the greatest leader that ever was or ever will be, no moment of presidential inspiration. It was a clumsy stand-up routine, and not all that funny. I kind of felt bad for The Donald for the first time, and saw that he just really wants a big hug - a hug that will come at the cost of our planet and our future if he were to win.

The man & his policies:

For the sake of perspective, let's take a brief look at this man's background and record. Like virtually every billionaire in the world today, he received a generous head start from his father who was a real estate developer in New York and who left the family somewhere between 250 and 500 million dollars. One of five children, born of an immigrant mother no less (she wouldn't have been allowed into the US under his policies), he followed in his father's footsteps and studied real estate development. He came of age during the Vietnam War and was able to avoid the draft on five separate occasions, four for academic deferral and once for heel-splints. While he has managed to amass quite a fortune (estimated at four billion by Forbes, but Trump claims that the figure is more in the ten billion range) he has had four of his businesses file for bankruptcy and has had a string of business ventures fail quite epically. While entrepreneurs do often have to fail in order to succeed (Steve Jobs, for example, had his fair share), that's fine in the private sector but not when a nation is on the line. He is also know for being incredibly defensive when his net worth is estimated at even a dollar less than he himself thinks it to be. In fact. he's overly-defensive and sensitive about every criticism cast his way.

But let's talk about Trump the man, and his character, or lack thereof. He is known as a bully, and his intimidation tactics are well-documented. He often criticizes people based on their appearance when he has no other recourse, and although he is often touted as being liked for his straight-talk, he verges on obscenity almost daily. His racist remarks about Mexican immigrants lost him business deals with Macy's, NBC and Universal amongst others, and his claim to be "really good at the military" is completely unfounded. 

The problem:

And this is where the fact of his rising popularity needs to be addressed as a national problem. His incredibly obtuse policies on ISIS, His incredibly obtuse policies on ISIS, healthcare, immigration, social security and other issues just don't stand up to a moment of scrutinyhealthcare, immigration, social security and other issues just don't stand up to a moment of scrutiny - and they would be dangerous policies in practice. He wants to build a wall between Mexico and the US and make them pay for it? Let's get real for just a moment. The fact that anyone can entertain that kind of thinking is downright scary in these downright dangerous times. The fact is, he is utterly unqualified to be the president of the United States in every possible way. His policies often ignore the other branches of government, the limits of presidential authority and the US's other global commitments. Even his economics, which are his supposed strong suit, do not hold up to scrutiny in the geo-political world in which we live. Does anyone think that this man can create real, working relationships with other nations in this fragile and unstable world? His whole platform revolves around America and America alone, and his appeal is to those who want wealth for the nation and screw the rest (read Make America Rich Again). His supporters may argue that they need a businessman to get them back on track, and they may, but they also need so much more - much more than Trump can offer.

The only thing that 'The Donald' really has going for him is a lot of money and a talent for getting the media to pay attention. But these are not the qualities of a great leader. In fact, he paid people $50 to wear Trump shirts and cheer at his announcement speech. He has also used 'like farms' to rack up the likes on Facebook, hence the disproportionate amount of Filipino and Manilan supporters overseas. Needing likes on social media is what teenage girls do, isn't it? A reactionary man who shows his thin skin over and over is not the stuff of a leader. In fact, if he were in office, his thin skin would cause him to launch war after war. When he has the power to not simply insult someone on Twitter because they fired a shot at him, when he has the power to launch nuclear bombs on them, then we are truly doomed. And his latest gaffe: he wants to have all Muslims in the US put on a registry.  

No, Donald Trump is not a viable candidate for president, and the fact that he is even being considered at all is not only scary, but should be taken as a wake-up call for all of us to reconsider just what American politics has become and what the values of the nation are. Does a misogynistic, childish, mean-spirited and racist man deserve to lead the nation? Serious times require serious candidates, and that is something he surely is not. We'd all be far better off to simply give him a big collective hug and tell him that we like him, and then tell him to just please go away and let the big boys and girls sort out the issues at hand.

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The Paris Attacks & What We Haven't Learned Since 9/11

Following the attacks on New York & Washington on September 11th, 2001, the United States government announced their decision in 2003 to go to war in retaliation, albeit not with the perpetrators of the crime. Not only was the terror event used to launch a brutal & illegal war, it was also the motivation behind the Patriot Act, creating the Department of Homeland Security and allowing authorities to search citizens without warrant, arrest without accusation and detain without cause in the name of defeating terror in the US and abroad. 

Fourteen years later, we have seen the slow erosion of rights and freedoms not just in the US, but in all Western countries, and this gradual change has created a new reality, a new order. Sadly, France is following suit in the days after the tragic attack on Paris in a predictable removal of the liberties of its people. They promise to return those rights eventually, but there's no indication things are getting better any time soon.

by Jean Jullien
Although many decried the use of such drastic measures to deal with terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11, it soon became clear to the world that the event was being capitalized upon to further an agenda that ultimately led to another war in the Middle East, a militarized police force within the US in addition to the creation of the DHS, and a blanket domestic surveillance program in effect creating the beginnings of a police state - one that has been steadily growing in Western countries. Although gradual, their agenda was becoming exposed. In fact, some high level sources have said that there was a plan in place to go to war in Iraq at least a year prior to 9/11.

But when the twin towers fell, their war machine finally had its raison d'être. Before that, the American people would never have supported this initiative. There are far too many examples of this in modern history. Although impossible to know if 9/11 was a false flag, an event designed to allow the conditions for war, it sure did begin to feel like it. Was Paris yet another attempt to escalate war and eliminate freedom without pushback from the people?

Despite the complete lack of evidence that there were any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (there never ended up being any and it's now known that they already knew this), and despite the fact that there In the pro-war groupthink that followed, it was wholly un-American to criticisewas no indication that al Qaeda was being harboured by Saddam's regime, the US went in with guns blazing in retaliation. Forget the fact that al Qaeda was backed, trained and supported by the CIA and the US government during its inception, forget the fact that the 9/11 Commission Report was a fraud and an utter insult to the American people, forget that building 7 collapsed without sustaining any damage from the attack and was in fact reported in more than one news outlet as having fallen before it even happened - the US had made their decision (if you don't know about building 7, you should and you can learn about it here). In the pro-war groupthink that followed, it was wholly un-American to criticise these actions, but the thoughtful and the passionate did. If you refuse to speak out against tyranny, then you are already a slave (John Bryant)Michael Moore used his opportunity in front of the world when he won and Academy Award for his anti-gun documentary "Bowling For Columbine" in March of 2003, four days after the war had begun:

[We] live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious President. We — We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons? Whether it’s the fictition of duct tape or the fictitious [sic] of orange alerts, we are against this war, Mr. Bush? Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you.

In so much smoke and so many mirrors, we let the terrorists win, as we lived in fear of heightened alert levels, as we submitted to the police state, as we let Big Brother listen to our every word, and we did it because it was the right thing to do to help combat the evil that exists. It was the only way, or so they thought. Indeed, was any other option even tabled?

As the years dragged on and the world became war-weary and the death toll rose on every side of the conflict, it became appallingly clear that this war was not about terror at all, but about oil and other interests, that this loss of liberty was not about patriotism but instead control. We were all lied to but we proved to be complacent and apathetic. One-time allies and CIA-created groups in the Middle East became enemies, and weapons in massive quantities flowed to the region as the fat cats at Halliburton and the Carlisle Group became grotesquely wealthy from it all. Merchants of death. And thousands of young American men and women would die to facilitate this greed, not to mention the untold death toll of civilians.

In those early days of the conflict, at a time when it was considered un-American to criticize the war effort, Chirac would declare, in 2003, the position of the French government on the matter of the illegal US invasion of Iraq:

France is not pacifist,  we are not anti-American either. We are not just going to use our [UN] veto to nag and annoy the U.S. But we just feel that there is another option, another way, another more normal way, a less dramatic way than war, and that we have to go through that path. And we should pursue it until we’ve come to a dead end, but that isn’t the case.

But the France of that era is gone, eroded and jaded by years of terrorism and war, replaced by an ever-growing xenophobic and heavy-handed government, and an increasingly immigrant-intolerant population. Interestingly, France stands as the largest exporter of weapons to the Middle East as a dollar-per-capita figure, and their foreign policy has become ever-more brutal as the years since 9/11 have passed. 

The current political climate of Europe, with it's stream of refugees fleeing Islamic State in war-torn Syria and elsewhere, with it's increasingly prevalent populist far-right governments taking power across the continent (look to pre-WWII Europe for a chilling parallel), is fragile to say the least. Economic woes, civil unrest, and a regular, debilitating incidence of terror have created a new world indeed.

And it is in this current climate that the terrible attacks on Paris took place on November 13th. The world watched in horror as multiple attacks took place throughout the city simultaneously, as Paris descended into turmoil and later, into grief and anger and fear. This attack came on the heels of suicide bombings in Beirut and Baghdad just days before, and the downing of a Russian jet with 224 passengers just the previous month - although the media treated these events as barely news-worthy. The frequency of terror was indeed increasing, and Islamic State was winning as they claimed responsibility for attack after attack and as they took more territory for their self-proclaimed caliphate. But in mere hours after the attacks that took place in Paris, dramatic decisions had already been made - far-reaching decisions that should not be made lightly, regardless of the impetus.

As President Hollande proclaimed that this was an "act of war" and that France would destroy Islamic State in a "pitiless war" (like there is any other kind of war), the all-too-familiar diatribe against terrorism resounded across the globe. Without his government's approval or even consultation, he made this decision. Without the legal channels being followed, he declared a state of emergency and, without yet concrete proof that the Islamic State was indeed behind these attacks (there still remains to be any concrete evidence, only a vague statement from the terror group), Hollande declared that he would destroy this enemy of France and the world, both at home and abroad.

Such decisions may appeal to the blood-thirsty culture in which we now live, but maybe we should take pause to look at whether more of the same is, in fact, what is needed or what is effective. Yes, Islamic State is an evil that needs to be contained, but if we have learned anything in the last 14 years, is it not that the Middle East is a hydra, a multi-headed beast that will grow seven new heads as soon as one is chopped off? And these new heads will be more militant that the last, and they will fight with the arms and training from those that were previously called allies. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. 

Not only does this decision by France's president mean more arms flowing into the region, it also means severely restricted liberties for The global assumption at this point is that not only does war not have to be legal or ratified by the United Nations anymore, but that war is the only waythose at home. Liberté, égalité, fraternité . These tenets of French society were removed in a matter of mere moments, and without protest the day following the attacks in Paris. The global assumption at this point is that not only does war not have to be legal or ratified by the United Nations anymore, but that war is the only way. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. (George Orwell, 1984). We now live in a world of perpetual war, and this is what those in power want. If actions can be the measure of motive, it would seem that at every turn, every opportunity, intensified war is the agenda, along with its benefits (for a few powerful men).

A country that valued liberty above all, the very model for democracy in the US and its mentor and friend, now can search its citizens without warrant, arrest without cause or accusation and detain without trail. All in the name of peace and freedom. The way to peace is to bomb them, bomb them and bomb them some more, as one blood-thirsty FOX News reporter once pointed out. Thank you for that well thought out and compassionate analysis, FOX.

Perhaps nowadays war is the only way, perhaps there is no other recourse left. After all, we have armed the region, created the conditions for Islamic State to flourish and have made every bad possible decision for peace to prevail. And yet we continue to think that more of this will solve the problem. I can tell you, more of it will not.

All of us agree, Islamic State must be contained, for their evil and their ideology is a barbarism, but we now move into incredibly dangerous territory without even dialogue or debate, without weighing the costs. What then, after we destroy Islamic State? As each generation breeds more and more radicalized youth in the region and around the world, we blindly push on. The so-called War on Terror has seen the creation of far more terrorists than we have ever seen before. Is there another way, as Chirac posited in 2003? Or have we forgotten? Have we learned nothing since 9/11?

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