Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Future form of democracy

Today in school the question what effect it would have if there were no political parties was raised. While almost all opinions were that democracy would not be possible without, I think otherwise. The current democratic form in Germany is a representative democracy, meaning we elect parties and their representatives, which then decide upon matters (more or less according to what they promised before the elections). 

An alternative which would give citizens more possibilities to express their opinion would be direct democracy, defined by Wikipedia as "[...] a form of democracy and a theory of civics in which sovereignty is lodged in the assembly of all citizens who choose to participate".  The problem commonly mentioned first for a direct democracy is  how to manage the countless amounts of votes which would be necessary. Well, I think the technological developments of the last years or decades have made it at least possible for the more important decisions to be voted upon.

For example, there is a technology called "LiquidFeedback" (German Wikipedia link), which was developed on suggestion by members of the German pirate party (Link). LiquidFeedback is a free software that enables users to submit initiatives and vote upon them, and also to delegate their vote to others. The pirate party uses it in test mode to hold votes on topics on which it's position hasn't been decided yet.

Considering the current percentage of 72% households in Germany which have internet access (a number that grows by 2-3% per year), and if the voting technologies would be properly developed, I think it could be used now or in a few years as a first step in the direction of more civic participation, at least in some mixed form of direct and representative democracy, in which the citizens directly decide upon the most important and controversial topics.

What do you think about this? Do you think future developments could go in this direction or to something completely different?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I want a suit

The thing I really want badly is to wear a nice suit. Most people ask themselves now: Well, why don't you buy one? The answer is kind of complicated, of course I could buy one, but I wouldn't have any chance to wear it.
At work, I'm still an apprentice, and I would be considered overdressed by everyone.  Furthermore, not even the regular employees wear suits. Only the managers do.

Apart from work, there also aren't many possibilities. Which 22-year-old guy you know is running around in a suit in his free time? Not many I guess, it's just not common anymore. Not that I give much about what's currently in fashion or not, but there are limits on how noticeable I want to be to others.

Do you recognize the guy in the upper right corner? I bet most gamers will. It's Benny from Fallout New Vegas, drawn by Gobeur, and hell, he looks great in his suit.

More examples:

Dean Martin

Reservoir Dogs guys

Paul Newman

Stormtrooper guy

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gullibility of some individuals

Another topic that bothers me are people who believe stuff they get told by someone without actually questioning arguments in general, or especially their credibility.

For example, alternative medicine. The term itself is debated (for instance, Richard Dawkins said that "there is no alternative medicine. There is only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't work."), and I can't judge every method that isn't already acknowledged as convential medicine, but I would like to state my own experience with a particular "medicine" called Homeopathy, which was first developed by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in 1796. 

For those not familiar with it, I quote Wikipedia:  
Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine in which practitioners treat patients using highly diluted preparations that are believed to cause healthy people to exhibit symptoms that are similar to those exhibited by the patient.

It is based on the principle of  "potency", which is basically the dilution of the original substance. A 6C dilution, for instance, is the original material diluted by a factor of 100−6=10−12 (one part in one trillion or 1/1,000,000,000,000), what isn't the limit (200C also exists).

Another example given by a critic of homeopathy states that a 12C solution is equivalent to a "pinch of salt in both the North and South Atlantic Oceans", which is approximately correct.

Homeopathy depends on subject word of mouth instead of scientific testing ("The collective weight of scientific evidence has found homeopathy to be no more effective than a placebo.", Wikipedia).
An example for that would be the opinion of a close relative of mine, who firmly believes in Homeopathy.

If confronted by studies and scientific research, all stating that Homeopathy is completely without effect except maybe the placebo effect, the response usually is: Person X told me that Person Y had a headache, took some [insert Homeopathic substance] and got better in no time!

How should one argue with that? Any suggestions?

For anyone interested in this or similar topics, I recommend "The Enemies of Reason", written and presented by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Death sentence

A thing that bothers me for a quite long time is the media's influence over the common folk here in Germany.

I'm glad I live in a country that abolished the death sentence a long time ago.
However, from time to time when newspapers like the German version of "The Sun" (Bild-Zeitung) publish their sensational articles about a recent topic, for example the murder of Mirco, a 10-year-old little boy, people start to rage about our judicial system.

Furious Facebook posts demand the culprit should be beheaded, stoned, castrated or punished with a fanciful combination of those. In one of our regular courts, they claim, the murderer will only get a ridiculous lax form of punishment anyway.

What especially bothers me about all of this is how many "Likes" and comments those posts get. Everyone spouting in their most primitive way possible about how the perpetrator is a "insert random curse word here" and should be put to death.

The problem here, as I see it, is that those people don't bother to use any rationality or whatsoever, they fully commit to their most primitive emotions. Basically, there is no harm in that, but with topics like that, it is indeed harmful. In my opinion they should consider all of the factors before they build their opinion, and do some research beforehand. For example, many prisoners sitting on the death row turn out to be innocent before or after their execution in the USA. What would you do if you were in a jury that decided that a person's life has to end, and they turn out innocent? Basically, you are no better than a murderer yourself.

The more emotions stir up about a certain topic, the more rationality is lost. But exactly that is what a jury or a judge need to pass a fair sentence. A good example for this is the film "12 Angry Men" (imdb Link). A lone juror is not certain about the suspect’s guilt and stands against the others, while trying to convince them of his doubts. He slowly manages to do so and in the end, the suspect is declared innocent.

tl; dr-Version: Don't rage so much when building your opinion, use more rationality.