Absolute conviction in the concentration camp

It was a sunny day, a Spring day such as when one might find themselves taking a leisurely walk outside to enjoy all the new life appearing everywhere, while breathing in all the smells of growth and life. Unless one found oneself stuck in a concentration camp, of course. Here there is no new life, only the slow extinction of it. Along with watching the dying hope in the eyes of those trapped here with us.

“It’s faith that keeps you going.” Set, my bunkmate, told me on one occasion. I guess that’s true, as it is the only thing that remains after the camp guards have taken everything else. Your clothing. Your valuables. Maybe a family member, or friend or two. I try not to remember the faces of those who didn’t make it through the initial selection. Those screams that became increasingly more desperate as their ultimate fate became unavoidable. The stories that trickled through from the prisoners who were selected to remove the corpses and clean the worst of the… mess. Before the next wagons with prisoners arrived for their selection. The black, acrid smoke that would waft over the camp for hours after the screams died down. I don’t want to remember the faces.

Faith. A word so uncomfortably close to ‘fate’ in its pronunciation. The latter a word that has come to mean certain doom to all of us here. Our fate is to die. Maybe not right after the selection, maybe not during the first weeks of back-breaking work, maybe not after the first few experiments that some unfortunate prisoners got selected for. Yet none of us prisoners came to this camp to leave it ever again. Our fate is to be as useful to those who keep us here, while we do our best to cling to our faith and the dwindling hope that one day we’ll leave this place again, alive, and ready to rejoin what is left of the world we knew before… all this.

This morning, Set and I were busy digging up soil and filling buckets for some reason along with other prisoners, out in the bright Spring-time Sun. As I stood up at one point to stretch my aching back, I could feel my grumbling tummy protest against this hard labour. Only a few chunks of bread and thin soup for dinner last night, and no breakfast, make for a poor foundation to work on. At least we were supposed to get a bit more food for lunch, which might at least make the worst hunger pangs go away. Just got to preserve one’s strength as much as possible without it appearing that you’re slowing down.

At that moment, I noticed Set drawing my attention to something that had happened elsewhere on the field on which we were working.

“Joan. I guess this is the end for her.” He mouthed at me, trying not to draw attention to us from the guards.

I could only watch on as I returned to the digging, noticing from the corner of my eyes a couple of guards making their way over to a fallen figure, before they prodded it with their rifles. One of them laughed. Eventually they yelled at some prisoners who picked up the body and dragged the skeletal remnants of Joan – still clad in a faded camp coverall – with them. Towards the big smokestacks.

Later that day, after we had all wolfed down our meagre dinner and collapsed onto our wooden bunks with thin straw-filled mattresses, we had some time to talk without the guards paying attention. Huddled closely in the dark on the lower bunk’s mattress, I felt acutely aware of how thin Set had become since we had arrived at the camp. It must have been months now. Touching my own arms and rib cage, I was forced to admit that I probably didn’t look much better than Set. Under my fingers, I felt almost as bad as Joan had looked when they dragged her away.

“Joan… she had a strong faith.” Set said quietly next to me.

After pausing a moment, he continued, seemingly almost oblivious to my presence.

“Before I came here, I had faith. I have read all the holy scriptures, I attended all the gatherings. I had assumed that we’d just have to live our lives by our faith and everything would be fine. But not any more. I cannot.”

I didn’t feel that it was my place to say anything, so I kept quiet. After a few moments of silence, Set turned around and looked at me. His gaunt, almost skeletal face looked particularly haunting at this angle, especially with how the few dim, bare light bulbs in the room drew out the hollow cheeks and eye sockets.

“Joan was convinced that her God would save her. Would save all of us. In the end her convictions are no better than the convictions held by those who imprison us here. What does absolute conviction bring but death and suffering?”

At Set’s words, I remembered my own religious upbringing and the certainties that this has provided me with. The conviction that I merely had to follow the rules laid out for me by the scriptures and our religious leaders. Yet what good were those rules now, in this place?

“You know what’s ironic?” Set said as his gaze wandered over the listless prisoners with us in these barracks. I shook my head.

“The people who built this camp and who run it, those who round up people like us to transport them to a fate worse than that reserved for cattle. All of them do it because of their conviction that it is the right thing. This absolute, blind conviction makes that we are here, and they are at the other side of the barbed wire. It’s why we’re dying and they are the ones holding the weapons.”

“So we should just give up, then?” I weakly respond.

Set shakes his head wearily.

“No, not at all. It’s good to have faith, to keep up hope. If we’re going to die here, it shouldn’t be because we gave up. Yet I fear that perhaps the biggest challenge may come if we do survive.”

“What do you mean? Isn’t survival all that matters?” I respond, confused.

“Say we do make it out of here, or at least some of us do. What would prevent the same absolute convictions that have led all of us here, to do so again, and again? After all, what are convictions but good intentions, with the very road to damnation paved with the the strongest of all convictions?”

“Beyond this camp we have to fight against absolute convictions and dogma.” I say, as Set’s reasoning begins to dawn on me.

“Indeed. What humanity needs is a world filled with reason, with mutual understanding and empathy. Did you ever stop to question the rules laid upon us by our leaders and scriptures, or the wisdom of policies?”

I shake my head, feeling the shame and guilt at remembering my old gullibility.

Smiling faintly, Set reassuringly pats me on my coverall-clad shoulder.

“We got to have faith that we will be granted the chance to do better, once we walk out of this place.”

Wiping away a few tears, I nod in agreement and relief.

“Once we walk out of this place.” I agree.


Sovietwave and melancholic nostalgia for what never was to be

When it comes to the many new music genres that end in ‘wave’, they all cover quite specific themes. Retrowave is – as the name suggests – a genre that brings to mind the sights and sounds of the 1980s and 1990s, with Synthwave diving deep into the specific genre of synthesizer music and related explorations. What these all have in common, however, is that they all refer to a period or something equally concrete that was and can continue to exist in this new form.

Sovietwave on the other hand does not refer to a period or style, but to a feeling. A feeling about the worlds that we imagined as children during the 1980s, the 1990s and before, a world in which humankind would travel among the stars, in which peace would reign and human ingenuity would gradually resolve all ills that plague the world. A fantasy which we came to realise as we grew up was just that, and although the illusion faded, the feeling and the nostalgia for such a fictional world remained.

Although it’s a genre that’s most strongly associated with post-Soviet nations, it has found strong resonance around the world, where generations of people who grew up during the second half of the 20th century have found themselves disillusioned with the world they were promised they’d inherit once they became adults. Today, amidst the ruins of a world fought over for shallow power gains, it is the faint echo of a bright future – as once foretold – maintaining the tiny flame which keeps up our spirits. It is the feeling that resonates within the souls of all of us who crave a higher future for humankind.

Sovietwave is the nostalgia for what was never to be, and the painful hope that it may still be within our reach.


On the factuality of men, women and both combined

What makes a man a man, and a woman a woman? According to the dictionary definition, a man is defined as ‘an adult human male’ and a woman ‘an adult human female’. The state of being male or female is further defined as possessing the biological characteristics of male or female primary and secondary characteristics.

So where does this leave an intersex individual? Specifically those with clear ambiguity as it pertains to those primary and secondary characteristics. A popular pseudo-scientific tale is that a person’s brain is somehow ‘gendered’, creating clearly distinguishable ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains (dimorphic). This is not supported by scientific findings, however, as covered by e.g. Joel et al. [1].

Even if this dimorphic split of the human brain into two distinct versions were to be fact, it would lead to many further questions, such as how a brain could have a preference for a specific configuration of primary and secondary characteristics. A much less complicated, and scientifically supported explanation for the differences between male and female behaviour comes in the form of the human hormonal system, especially within the interaction between oestrogen, testosterone and oxytocin [2] and the presence or absence of specific receptors in the brain.

Oxytocin appears to be one of the main behaviour affecting hormones, promoting feelings of comfort, safety, intimacy and bonding between parents and their offspring. Here testosterone appears to inhibit oxytocin [3], while oestrogen promotes its effects. The effect here can be observed e.g. by activity in the amygdala, which is found to be stronger in females, presumably due to those factors [4].

Similarly, the development of oxytocin receptors (OXTRs) is essential for social and emotional development and interaction [5]. This demonstrates the intricate way that the neurological brain and the body’s hormonal system are interconnected. This includes in how these same hormones are involved in many aspects of the body’s operation, especially as it pertains to the body’s reproductive organs and physiological events related to them.

Looking at matters from this perspective, then, it seems rather clear that while the brain is neutral beyond the individual brain’s peculiarities, the hormonal system affects everything from mood to behaviour and beyond. This at least seems to confirm the core of the basic dictionary definition. With the primary sex characteristics setting the stage, the brain is then manipulated via the production of oxytocin and other hormones, along with their interactions and their ultimate effect upon the brain’s receptors, like the OXTRs in the amygdala.

Within this context, if we were to look at the aforementioned intersex individual again, a lot would thus depend on their overall hormone levels as to how they’d be affected. As for whether they’re male or female, the answer would be a definite ‘both’, due to the presence of both types of primary sex characteristics. Whether they’re happy with this state would be affected solely by environmental factors, not by any neurological or hormonal factors.


[1] Daphna Joel et al., 2015, https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1509654112
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin
[3] Shota Okabe et al, 2013, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938413001583
[4] Alexander Lischke et al., 2012, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306453012000339
[5] René Hurlemann et al., 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6632777/

Learned helplessness, depression and the importance of control

The brain is more than just an organ that responds to stimuli in a passive manner while following a biologically preprogrammed sequence of functions. It is supposed to learn, to adapt, to find and act upon motivations, to overcome and better itself. Yet all of this relies on a healthy balance within the brain’s core functionality.

Annoyingly, even when you are aware of your own brain not working as well as it should, it can be hard to impossible to figure out the cause and how to fix it. Even when it does not concern permanent changes to the physical structure of the brain, as with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or brain damage.

After trying to make sense for years of the unique ways in which my own brain is malfunctioning, sometimes you simply need to have someone else give you some hints to help you out. For me such a hint arrived a few days ago in the form of a new video by Dr. Tracey Marks [1], on the topic of learned helplessness [2].

As unfortunate as the name may be, the implications of this concept are rather severe and also very real. Essentially it explains some of the mechanisms behind depression and the acceptance of one’s powerlessness to improve a situation, even when there are clear ways to improve this situation. In the rather extreme experiments of the 1960s with dogs, one group of dogs was subjected to electric shocks with no way to turn them off, while a second group could push a button that would turn the shocks off.

The former group of dogs, when later given the choice to jump over a barrier and thus escape the shocks, would stay in place, while the dogs in the second group jumped over this barrier. In follow-up experiments, including with brain scans and on human subjects, it was found that the essential factor is that of being taught that one is in control, with the default neurological state being ignorance of this ability to control. As has been found while studying depression, trauma processing, syndromes like Stockholm Syndrome and from CIA ‘enhanced interrogations’ sessions, it’s possible to regress someone into this state of helplessness. [3]

With the dogs in the learned helplessness experiments, it was found that demonstrating to them by physically moving their limbs in a way that would allow them to jump over the barrier, they overcame this helplessness. For humans who are suffering from learned helplessness, this is likely to be due to trauma, including PTSD. By repeatedly being subjected to the experience of being powerless and helpless to change or improve one’s situation, and having this reinforced by positive feedback cycles within one’s mind – such as traumatic flashbacks and negative thoughts – breaking out of this behaviour can be impossible.

For my own situation the loss of control is quite apparent. From the initial traumatic childhood event that seems to have violated the most basic trust in adults, to the struggles at and around school, the divorce of my parents, and the subsequent repeated moving across the country, while losing contact with everything and everyone. While already feeling adrift, this was followed by losing any level of control over my own body, as it were the doctors and psychologists who told me what to think and believe when it came to my intersex condition, despite my misgivings.

All of which seems to have led to a persistent state of learned helplessness, amidst PTSD, depression, and shifting levels of negligence and apathy. Perhaps most astounding is that despite how clear this was in my case, it did not appear that any of the psychologists I spoke to ever picked up on this.

Thus the next question is of how to ‘get over’ this state. Clearly the issue is with the lack of trust in that one has any control, thus leading to the lack of motivation that will just ensure the subsequent failure which will just reinforce the feeling of helplessness. Generally it would appear that cognitive behaviour therapy is recommended. Being aware of what is bothering one is definitely essential, however.

For me this state of learned helplessness seems to translate itself into this persistent negative ‘voice’ or pressure. At the worst of times – usually when I’m feeling stressed or unhappy – it will dominate, and I’ll feel flooded with feelings of inadequacy, helplessness and the strong urge to just give up. The more in control I feel, the weaker this presence gets, until it is no longer noticeable. This corresponds with the neurological and other studies performed on the topic.

Naturally I can keep struggling through this dilemma myself, and there’s a good chance that I’ll come out in one piece at the other end. The main self-sabotage issue one has to deal with here is that of struggling to engage with important tasks, which includes job applications, as these are about the most intense examples of needing to self-motivate and feel in control. If you’re stuck in a mood of helplessness, your assumption is that everybody doesn’t care about you anyway, and your struggles will not amount to anything. After a few of such experiences and inevitable rejections, the helplessness becomes accepted.

The focus on regaining and accepting control, of differentiating between fact and fiction are important factors in recovery, as is general stress reduction. Annoyingly, others seem to generally take the times when you got ‘sucked under’ by another struggle with your own brain as a sign that you’re not interested in their offered help and/or contact attempts. This ends up setting the conditions for yet another feedback loop in which the learned helplessness is reinforced, and with essentially no chance of recovery.

I feel that generally I am doing better these days, and learning more ways like these to quantify what is broken and how to at least patch it up is definitely helpful. Even so, it remains an ironic aspect of recovering from learned helplessness that to do so means accepting that one isn’t helpless. The conflict that this struggle induces is psychologically extremely draining, which makes stress-free days to recover even more essential to prevent regressions.

Anyway, how this will work out still remains to be seen. All I can do is to keep trying, obviously.


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qw0Onc2qQ5I
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness
[3] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325355

Science fiction and the false hope of destiny

The nature of existence is something that most animals likely do not concern themselves with all too much, yet for us humans it is a question that has kept philosophers and others occupied for at least as long as written records have been kept. Whether it concerns religion or works of fiction that try to paint a possible future for humankind, they all attempt to look back upon the path carried us to the present, and to look forward to the path that humankind can, should or may take, depending on the work in question.

One type of work in particular is of significant interest here, and that is of science fiction. Unlike the mostly political and socio-political commentaries by works such as Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Huxley’s Brave New World, or modern takes like the Bladerunner and Idiocracy films, the notion in many so-called ‘hard’ science fiction (or ‘scifi’) is that humanity’s future is one of increasing technological advancement and the wisdom to go with it.

Next to the aforementioned rather dystopian works, such a notion of a utopian future for humankind seems rather odd, if not outright bizarre. Although it is highly tempting to look at the recent advances the past one-hundred years and extrapolate from there, it bears reminding that over the course of hundreds of years the ancient Romans had running water, sewage systems, central heating and many comforts we consider ‘modern’, but which really aren’t. Our ancestors over the past ~1,500 years simply forgot about them and had to do without. If anything, human history of even just the past 2,000 years – let alone all the way back to the early days of the Sumerian civilisation, over 8,000 years ago – is mostly a repetition of destruction and rediscovery.

Every time that this planet which we find ourselves on commences yet another cycle around its axis, and we blink groggily awake to another beautiful day, what is it that our minds are filled with? Perhaps we’re pondering on yet more new technologies and methods to advance the state, prosperity and overall happiness of humankind? Possibly we have impromptu meetings whenever a brilliant idea strikes us, and we must share it?

Rather it would seem that when we aren’t asleep – with our minds spending recuperating like this roughly one-third of our our natural lifespan – we concern ourselves with foraging, and keeping up this whole ‘economy’ system that we have decided underlies the happiness and well-being of every single individual in society. Where is the drive towards self-improvement in this kind of world? Why would any individual give anything for free, when they can sell it and stave off starvation for a bit longer?

The reality of the future is that nothing is set in stone. Although for the individual it may seem impossible to not deal with the obligations of society, it bears asking in the context of countless examples of dystopian works of fiction what in tarnation society’s plan is, or perhaps rather whether it even has any. Although we’d ask of a young adult that they figure out an acceptable way to spend the intervening decades until the cessation of their body’s life-sustaining functions, we never seem to ask of society what it wants to be when it grows up. Maybe we’ll just give it another few thousand years and see whether it has finally grown a sense of responsibility?

In the fictional Star Trek universe [1], for example, society would have gone through the Eugenics Wars (1993 – 1996) at this point, soon to be followed by World War 3 (2026 – 2053). From the remnants of humanity that arose from the world’s sundered ashes gradually grew a new awareness and a massive boost in technological development, essentially signalling an end to conflict on Earth. With the invention of the matter replicator scarcity was eliminated and with the invention of the warp engine humanity found out that it was not alone in the Universe.

From a fictional history like this we can conclude that even with an ultimately rather idyllic future, humanity still had to learn the harshest lessons possible, to the point of nearly going extinct as a species. After that it could be said that it was only the discovery of these marvellous new technologies that granted humanity essentially endless prosperity and freedom from a scarcity- and debt-based economy. Without this technology humanity in even the Star Trek universe would very likely have kept repeating the same cycle over and over, of creation and destruction.

Whether or not humanity today will not repeat the same pattern that the Sumerians, Akkadians, ancient Egyptians, Romans, Greek, Chinese and so many other societies went through over the past ten-thousand odd years is still very much up to debate. Naturally, we got further than any civilisation we know of so far, with our semiconductor technology, flatscreen TVs and satellites zipping around the Earth and Mars, along with an assortment of space probes currently scouring the beginnings of Deep Space, just beyond the borders of our Solar System.

Yet we have seen the warning signs already, with for example the decades long pause in space exploration, where humanity essentially didn’t bother with anything outside of low-Earth orbit (LEO), and where one got the distinct impression that most of the scientific exploration during the preceding decades had been mostly the result of territorial mudslinging and nationalistic chest pounding, rather than out of sheer scientific curiosity. Perhaps this also sheds light on the clearest path to break this constant cycle of rebirth and destruction: the pursuit of science and the natural drive towards self-improvement that comes with it.

When it comes to differentiating ourselves as human beings from other apes, primates and mammals in general, it has to be our ability to express scientific curiosity through experiments, inventions, discoveries and the astounding improvements to our quality of life that come with embracing this pursuit of intellectual challenges. In light of human history it is easy to argue that it is the dismissal of scientific curiosity and scientific findings which is what reverts and regresses the quality of life, and with it humanity’s steps on this path to an idyllic future.

These are all choices that we make. When we accept anti-intellectualism in whatever guise, it harms all of us. This is easily observed in such matters as energy policy – with a refusal to accept the scientific consensus on the necessity of nuclear power – as well as health, with even basic healthcare unavailable to many. Not to mention food, with the rejection of genetically engineered plants, and unfounded scepticism in medicine, including vaccinations, while anti-scientific superstitions like homoeopathy and kin find increasingly fertile ground.

Even as pollution from burning fossil fuels threatens millions due to anthropogenic climate change, starvation and malnutrition kill and maim countless children, and diseases long thought eradicated in wealthy nations make a triumphant return, few if any minds find themselves swayed towards scientific consensus. Meanwhile conflicts and war loom threateningly on the horizon as one geopolitical crisis after the other pops up, amidst an energy crisis of a severity not seen before.

Although humans seem incessant about not being merely another primate species, but one which will conquer this Galaxy and beyond, while eradicating disease, scarcity and all other known ills, the fact of the matter remains that if we wish to accomplish even a fraction of what science fiction promises us, it is essential that we fully embrace the first part of it, namely science. You don’t pick and choose the bits of science that you like, as though it’s a buffet. Either humanity is fully onboard with science, or it’ll just keep using the parts that fit the current narrative.

Humanity doesn’t show off its intellect through conflict and wars, but by preventing them. Whether or not we will learn this lesson this time is anyone’s guess, but it’s the difference between this civilisation accomplishing all those marvellous things, or another civilisation giving it another spin in another few thousand years or so.


[1] https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Human_history

Traumatic ideologies: the harm of evidence-free populism

The human psyche has the unfortunate property of being susceptible to unbending conviction. As much as societies praise such convictions, it is however the primary enabler behind virtually all of the atrocities committed during human history, no matter the justification. Because of this existing conviction, the people involved know that what they are doing is the righteous serving of justice. It is this knowledge that promotes the production of neurotransmitters in the brain which evoke the pleasurable sensations that will ultimately reinforces these convictions.

The intoxicating effect of the conviction of being correct and doing the right thing is what drives much of human societies, along with other addictive experiences, whether chemical in nature, or induced by our brain chemistries. History is in many ways written by what felt good and right at the time. Regrets and reflection are for later once the dust has settled and we can look upon the past events with clear vision once more. If more than a fraction of the population does so at all, as we can observe after e.g. the major conflicts of the 20th century.

Is all of this noticeably different from a person struggling with substance abuse or, say, a gambling addiction? The constant conflict between parts of the psyche and society which advocate for the impulsive, for what feels good, for what seems right, versus the plodding, tedious task of applying reason and seeking out evidence with which to support cautiously postulated theorems and theories and thus convince one’s peers based on the strength of the evidence thus found. Or to be convinced instead due to the strength of their evidence, as befits the scientific method.

Rather than the latter process, we see humanity’s thousands of years of written history littered with the ruins and eternal scars of these mental shortcuts. There never was a reasonable argument to be made or evidence presented to support the invading of nations, in favour of mass-incarceration, work camps, slavery, eugenics, genocide or the treatment of other humans as somehow being ‘lesser’ based on their ethnicity.

Yet all of that happened, repeatedly, and thus this is the history as it was written. Even if we, the victors, wrote said history to make it look less ugly than it really was. After all, what is the purpose of expressing regret at a past event if nothing is done to prevent the same tragedy from happening again? What purpose serves reflecting upon these thousand years of tragedies other than to make one question the theorem of human civilisation and its foundation of intelligence and reason?

When we look at the war waged on Ukrainian soil today, it’s almost impossible to not see it blur together with the countless conflicts of the past centuries. What justification is given there, but that of nationalism and some allusions to ‘serving justice’? When Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, it was basically the same story. Only there the Western countries were even more convinced that the aggressor in this case would relent once they had obtained that bit of extra ‘Lebensraum’ to satisfy the needs of its rapidly growing population.

Yet instead of a firm response to today’s aggressor – in the form of a totalitarian Russia – the world’s nations and parts of its populations find themselves stuck in their respective ideologies. Thus rather than a response based on the available evidence with a calculated response to fit the situation, we get a patchwork of responses, all of which has to be forced through the biases and mazes of countless forms of nationalism, ideologies and what can only be described as a refusal to engage with the situation.

When there’s the weekly mass-shooting in the United States of America, grief is expressed and thoughts and prayers are poured onto the altar of populist rhetoric. Here it is beyond obvious that none of the discussion is waged on an intellectual basis, but is instead a visceral, purely emotional response where the rare voices that propose an evidence-based solution are drowned out and legislation vetoed into oblivion. Thus nothing will change, and any progress made on this and other topics will happen through sheer coincidence rather than any expression of intelligence or planning.

The sole difference between the quality of policies being pursued would appear to be the severity and quantity of ideologies that affect the minds in a particular region. This is why e.g. nations like New Zealand, Australia and the UK managed to both restrict the availability of firearms and other weapons, while simultaneously improving mental healthcare as mental health problems are often indicated as factors in mass-shootings. This is an indication of evidence-based policies leading to a favourable outcome. Such incidences of reason are however tragically uncommon.

Evidence-free policies and rhetoric are not an issue only with these topics, however. Beyond such large-scale tragedies and events of human suffering there exists suffering that is less visible, yet no less the result of ideology-driven policies. The most well-known here is probably that of poverty, which is unimaginable when we live on a planet with so many resources, and every day many tons of perfectly fine food are trashed. Where it becomes clear that this is wilful policy rather than coincidence is in the realisation that while the poor are heavily audited by the tax office and other government instances, the wealthy not only get to dodge taxes via off-shore banking accounts, but also create these severe auditing rules for the less affluent.

Is any of this based on evidence that such enforced poverty is good for anyone? Not quite. This is where scientific studies on e.g. universal base income (UBI) show that policies such as UBI are not only far more humane, but also more efficient and less costly to society in the long run than enforced poverty.

Finally, perhaps the most insidious forms of evidence-free ideologies come draped in the flag of personal freedom. This is not only a problem with e.g. the policy response in the case of a pandemic, but even more so when it concerns pseudo-scientific topics, with ‘gender identity’ being one of the most prominent ones. Much like with homoeopathy where it is stated that water ‘remembers’ the last substance it came into contact with, so with gender identity it is assumed that the human brain possesses an innate preference for a specific gender role.

Even when for both homoeopathy and gender identity there exists no scientific evidence that would make either seem even remotely plausible, both nevertheless see continued and even increasing popularity. In both cases there are communities where these forms of pseudo-science are preferred over accepted scientific theory, despite the clear harm posed by denying appropriate care.

Where homoeopathy and similar forms of ‘alternative medicine’ have shown their harm is in e.g. the death of well-known people like Steve Jobs, who refused medical care for his pancreatic cancer, instead opting for ineffective pseudo-science ‘treatments’ which allowed the cancer to progress unchecked until he died from the cancer’s effects on his body. It took nine months for Jobs’ conviction that avoiding medical care was the right choice to wear off, at which point only palliative care rather than a potential cure was left as treatment option.

The issue with such evidence-free systems like alternative medicine is that they give a person false hope, convincing them that a ‘natural’ treatment is best. Even though a cursory look would be enough to convince oneself that such pseudo-science is fully devoid of evidence, each year millions nevertheless put their trust into it.

In the case of gender identity pseudo-science, it gives people the idea that rather than society’s rigid social structures being the problem – as was the focus of feminism’s first and second waves and the demands for the eradication of these structures – the problem is with a supposed mismatch between the ‘gender’ of the body and the brain. What is perhaps the most tragic aspect of this pseudo-scientific ‘theory’ is that it makes the affected person into ‘the problem’, with very expensive and life-long surgeries and medication being offered as the purported ‘solution’.

Considering the incredible physical, emotional and financial burden which this puts on an individual, there are increasingly more voices raised in concern. Not just because of the lack of applicable evidence that would justify these massive, often permanent changes to a person’s body, but also due to the real harm done among those for whom the conviction wears off, and for the children who saw themselves taking so-called ‘puberty blockers’, with the latter resulting in e.g. early osteoporosis and other severe health effects early in life.

As someone who saw themselves thrown into this world of gender identity against their will, the trauma that this experience has left me with is very real. To experience first-hand the pressure from healthcare professionals who push you towards accepting surgery and essentially want you to beg them for hormone therapy as part of them ‘helping you’, even when you came there with a very different set of questions. As a more scientifically-minded person I tried to argue with the people in these ‘gender teams’ using scientific citations and references, but to no avail. Even when the conviction that you are being led to accept there is that you will become ‘happy’ if you follow their protocols, you have to be susceptible.

Where things didn’t quite work for me there was probably due to my body being intersex (true hermaphrodite), as I later found out. The mere fact that the focus at these hospitals was on implanting this conviction rather than providing medical care was traumatic enough. It also shows the dizzying shift from the message from second-wave feminism, where it was stated that there are no fundamental differences between men and women, and both can do the same work, whether physically or intellectually. Whereas this movement was (largely) backed up by science, gender identity can be seen as an ideology which seeks to undo this push for equality.

Rather than pointing out the inflexible ideological gender roles that exist in society, gender identity pseudo-science instead insists that those gender roles are the inevitable result of ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains, and thus that the second-wave feminism calls for equality between the sexes was flawed. Much like how embracing homoeopathy for cancer treatment may not be the smartest decision, accepting such an evidence-free ideology like gender identity over established science will very likely have tragic consequences.

At the end of all these thoughts and musings, does one have any more evidence for the theorem of intelligence and reason underpinning human civilisations? Clearly humanity has achieved more in the past hundred years on a scientific and technological level than can be explained purely by coincidence. Assuming that human intelligence is real and plays at least some role within human societies would thus seem reasonable.

The biggest question that remains then to be answered would seem to be what role intelligence and reason play in human societies, and in how far ideologies hamper their progress. That progress occurs despite rather than because of this unfortunate part of the human psyche would seem to be established beyond any shade of doubt, however.


The individual’s responsibility to fix themselves

In a recent video [1] on the ‘How to ADHD’ channel an interesting point was raised, namely the notion that it is generally deemed the responsibility of people with ADHD and similar to ‘fix’ themselves. These ‘fixes’ are so that they (i.e. people with ADHD/ADD) can participate in society. If they use time-management tools like certain smartphone apps and notebook techniques, get therapy, perhaps even take medication, they can blend into society and not be noticed despite the flaws in their brains. Or else they are bad people and bad friends, or something.

Apparently there is not only some idealised view of what a well-adjusted member of society is, but also that society as it exists today does not need to adjust and is essentially perfect. But isn’t that backwards? As noted in the referenced video, this idea puts the responsibility and also the entirety of the flaws that are presumed to exist at the feet of the affected people. For the referenced video’s host, this is also the point where the idea that she has also contributed to this view becomes apparent.

When the topic of your YouTube channel is to teach people with ADHD ways to achieve this blending into society, with the idea being that this makes them happier, what is the lesson that is being taught here? Is having ADHD or ADD really so wrong? Does having it mean that you can essentially give up on a ‘regular’ life unless you work yourself to the bone trying to figure out better ways to disguise it, expending many times the energy on basic things which are easy for everyone else?

If so, then having ADHD and not putting in all this effort then by definition would mean that you do not intend to be happy and live a happy life. That you’re either a bad person, or someone who cannot be bothered to struggle for the rest of their days to pretend to be someone who they are actually not.

Because in the end, isn’t that what society is about? That we are all unique individuals. The very notion that there’s some societal ideal that is perfect and unchanging is nonsense. Even the most flawed individual is part of society, even if society does its utmost to cast them out. In fact, one could argue that the way in which the rest of society treats these individuals reflects more on them than those ‘flawed’ individuals.

Naturally, in a society nothing is a one-way street, meaning rights and obligations for everyone. Thus while it could be expected from people with ADHD that they do a reasonable attempt to align themselves with society’s expectations and demands, society itself should do a reasonable attempt to do the same. Fair is only fair.

When I look at this issue from the perspective as someone who has found themselves in the uncomfortable corner of PTSD as well as giftedness and the overlap this creates with the areas of ADHD/ADD and autism (ASD), the referenced video brings a lot of recognition. Even though it could be argued that PTSD is a real, neurological flaw that should be treated, it’s also the cold reality that at this point in time it is only treatable, not curable. Not unlike ADHD and ASD, it is a neurological property – or set of properties – that deeply affects your life.

Of course you want to be rid of PTSD and never deal with any of that again. I imagine some people would be happy to be rid of their ADHD, ADD or ASD. But when that is not realistic, all you can do is make the best of it. All that you are asking from society in return for doing your best is that society also does so.

As controversial as mental health topics are still in modern day society, it would seem that more than ever do we have the means to address the topic in a meaningful way. Rather than to advise ‘flawed’ individuals on how to hide their undesirable traits, ways for general self- and societal improvement could be explored.

Topics such as what mental model of society we are (subconsciously) maintaining, addressing transgenerational traumas, as well as cognitive and other biases. Because clearly, to maintain the notion that society as it exists today is a perfect form for people to squeeze themselves into is a notion of Kafka’esque Dunning-Kruger proportions.


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeonwDjcaF8

A dust mote adrift in space

At the very beginning of Time itself, the laws of physics established themselves, and matter began to condense into the structures we refer to as ‘stars’, ‘planets’, ‘asteroids’ and so on. Yet in how far was it a given that on this minuscule mote of star dust something so intricate as a biosphere would form? Even though our view of even our own star system is still severely limited and we are restricted to mostly speculation, it would appear that nothing like this planet exists within the observable universe.

Called ‘Earth’ in the natural language which is referred to as English by its speakers, there is a lot that could be said about this planet. Yet what is most fascinating is perhaps what is absent within its immediate vicinity, namely other planets with a biosphere. Right next to the Earth we find the planet Venus which is so very similar, and yet so very different: the fragile lifeforms that have formed within the Earth’s biosphere could never survive in its sulphuric acid-filled atmosphere.

Yet even as we find ourselves marvelling at this apparent miraculous confluence of circumstances that have led to this very moment where we find ourselves alive and marvelling as perhaps the first and maybe the only ever lifeforms to marvel in this way, there are two subsequent questions which naturally follow after said marvelling.

The first and most obvious question is whether life is merely a fluke within this universe. After all, there do not appear to be any laws of physics or similarly overarching systems that would dictate that planets develop biospheres and lifeforms as has happened on this particular planet. The question of whether biospheres are truly a rare thing in the universe remains at the forefront of our so far limited exploration attempts. Along with it comes the question of whether so-called intelligent life that can marvel, question and feel curiosity exists elsewhere.

What would it mean to us as a species and collection of societies whether or not we are truly the only lifeforms in the universe capable of such things at this very brief point in the universe’s existence? In how far will this search for something or someone out there determine the future of humankind? All of which seems to lead to the second question: what is the meaning of humankind’s existence?

Often asked in the context of individuals, the meaning of existence is something that is essential to any lifeform in possession of reasoning skills. After all, there has to be a beginning and some destination to head towards, a reason to keep living and something to strive for. Something that gives being alive meaning. Yet what is the meaning of humankind? What goals does it have? Is humankind merely an accidental accumulation of individual lives lived through their own individual sense of meaning? Does humankind have a meaning?

Even though humans have existed only for the merest fraction of the universe’s or even the Earth’s age, they have worked themselves up from merely surviving, to a level of awareness and understanding where the question of ‘where to’ would seem pertinent. Even if it was just because of the accidental flow of history which brought us here, it would appear that we are on the cusp of what by all accounts may become an age like never seen before.

Through science and technology we have gained the means to shape our futures and that of the world around us in ways previously inconceivable. We have discarded superstitions and gods to realise the power that we have always had the potential for: the power to shape our own destiny. Which again circles us back to that second question: what is the meaning of humankind’s existence?

Freed from the bounds of superstition, we can travel beyond the limits of this biosphere that has sheltered us for so long, to observe this mote of star dust from afar and contemplate humankind’s past, present and potential future.