Parenting: is giving unfair advantage fair when it comes to our kids?

16 05 2011

Is equality worth fighting for? Should everyone have the same opportunities in life?

Of course!

Then why is it that so many of us bust our butts to fight for the complete opposite?

Of course, as the title suggests, I am talking about parenting. It seems that while we are happy to claim equality as a goal we work so fervently to create advantage for our kids? When it comes to our little angels, we suddenly forget our high-minded ideals, and act with a favoritism that would be illegal if it were based on colour, religion race or creed.

This may sound like a trivial point when you first think about it, but hold on two ticks and give it a little think.

How will society ever become equal if every parent is hell-bent on giving their kid every advantage they can?

Would I not try to get my kid into the class with the best teacher, or the school with the best record, or the college with the most prestige?

Would I not work hard to pay for ballet classes and piano lessons and school trips to DC and all the things a kid needs in order to be equipped for the high life? Would I not wish for them to inherit a fortune and thriving family business?

How can I compete in a meritocracy with my only aim being to give my kids an advantage in the next leg of the race?

The meritocracy is no meritocracy if you can inherit advantage, and if you can pass on no advantage to your kids, then what is the point of the fight?

It seems the very concept of a fair system where reward is based on individual effort is unstable as we all strive to pass on generational advantage.

It also seems to me that people’s fortunes do not depend on their own merits as individuals, but rather on the merits of their “node” in the web of society – where opportunities depend on connections. As the sayings go – no man is an island and it’s not what you know, but whom.

These realisations suggests to me that equality or even the idea of the meritocracy are mirages – good to aim at, but don’t go too close as they will recede, or worse still, vanish.

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Educational way to spend four minutes…

2 01 2011




Climate change solutions: mass behaviour simulation

16 07 2009

Saving our planet from catastrophic climate change might require an unprecedented mass co-ordination of all the people on our lonely little planet.

However, it requires co-ordinated sacrifice, the west are living unsustainably, the east have not had their fair share yet, Africa is unmanageable… how will we pull it off?

Pondering this issue, I am sure none of the experts will have any good prediction of how people will behave – when will the zeitgeist be strong enough to allow governments take the massive steps required? When will china be satisfied that they have pulled up their living standards enough such that it would be fair for them to sacrifice too?

With such imponderables, it seems to me, we might gain some insight if we can create on on-line simulation, a ‘game’ if you like, with a large number of participants, each with their own minds, their own priorities, their own feeling of what constitutes justice.

In this game, some would be wealthy, those that had benefited from the industrial revolution, the slave trade, etc, etc, and fiercely protective of their way of life, many more would represent the 3rd world, the developing nations, the disenfranchised, the war-torn…

These people would thus all live in a 2nd-life style world in which carbon emissions are sure to cause catastrophe (no-one knows when!) but carbon emissions are associated with the luxuries used by the people. Will people be able to co-ordinate themselves to reduce overall emissions? Or will they each take the ‘every man for himself’ route, ensuring that the fit survive, but perhaps with a lower total survival rate?

Could such a game be set up?

It would require a committed community of computer experts (which exist) and a committed community of environmentalists (which also exist) – but do they overlap?

How could we go about trying to make this happen?





Skeptical society, the logical next step from secular society

21 10 2008

Yes, it’s true, I’m one of those science nerds who thinks that a good scientific understanding of the world should underpin government. And education, healthcare, the law, etc.

However, I have set myself up for disappointment, because our society doesn’t work like that. It is simply much easier to use anecdotes to sway opinion, to spin data, and to manipulate with a vast arsenal of marketing tricks.

Politicians, salesmen and journalists all know that the full details (of anything), with all ifs and buts included, will not make a catchy headline or slogan, will not catch the eye or tug the heartstring.

Emotions matter more than facts. People vote with their hearts not their heads.

No amount of simple campaigning for ‘better conduct’ by will ever make a damn of difference, as the causesand incentives remain. To move on, what we need is a society that thinks for itself. A skeptical society.