Home

Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

-----------------------------------------------

Individuals are free to act on their moral convictions. But a secular government doesn't have that option. Keep that idea in mind when you look at the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Governments are artificial systems designed by humans. When humans want to include a moral dimension in their government they design a system that has a particular religious belief at the core. That's what Hamas did. So far it isn't going well.

Israel, on the other hand, is a secular government by design. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think the government of Israel has anywhere in its charter the requirement to act according to any particular moral code. The point of a secular government is to maximize the wellbeing of its citizens. If a secular government started acting on morality instead of practicality the politicians in charge would be voted out.

When observers criticize Israel for lopsided violence against Hamas, or building settlements on disputed lands, or hoarding all the water in the region, or any of the other heavy-handed actions against the Palestinians, it is usually described according to some moral filter of right and wrong. That is missing the point. Israel's secular government doesn't have the option of acting according to ANY moral standard, much less the one you have in your head that is informed, in all likelihood, by incomplete information.

The government of Israel has one of the rarest national opportunities in history. Thanks to periodic rocket strikes and other ongoing aggression against them, Israel gets a semi-free pass from the international community to gobble up disputed lands and substantially increase the size of their future nation. In such a situation, the secular government of Israel that is chartered with maximizing the wellbeing of its citizens is wisely using the attacks against them as a political cover while they exert control over disputed land and water resources. If a secular government ignored this historic opportunity it would not be acting the way the system was designed to act.

Hamas has the opposite situation. Their government is built around a moral code that is informed by a religious belief. You might not agree with that code, but in the view of Hamas they are acting along moral lines when they attack Israel as the infidel "occupiers."

So let's all stop fantasizing that the government of Hamas and the government of Israel can make a lasting peace via traditional peace talks. To do so would mean one of their governments is operating outside its intended design. American efforts to broker such a peace are just for show. No one expects peace because the systems of government that Israel and Hamas each selected make that impossible. You can't have peace unless one of the two governments involved is replaced by an entirely new system that is designed in a way that allows peace to even be an option.

One could argue that governments of any design simply follow the will of the people, and the people can, if they want it badly enough, force the government to change its design and its mission. That is certainly true in principle. But there is one thing that makes it nearly impossible to change your form of government in a positive way: an external enemy. And both Israel and Hamas have an external enemy in each other.

We all know by now that any negotiations over details such as land, resources, and security are a waste of time because the two governments are designed in a way that guarantees permanent low-level conflict that benefits Israel more than Hamas.

You could think of the conflict between Israel and Hamas as a game of paper-rock-scissors. Hamas picked a rock government and Israel picked a paper government. Paper beats rock 100% of the time. You won't have peace until both parties' governments are rocks or both parties are paper or both parties are scissors.

So how would one solve the problem of a morality-based government that was designed to be immune to practicality (Hamas) versus a secular government that has a clear interest in continued low-level conflict (Israel)?

Answer: Information

I think this is an information problem masquerading as a religious difference. If you provide both sides with the right information, eventually the citizens will find a way to reform their government.

Imagine an international body such as the United Nations suggesting that instead of directly negotiating peace, each government must agree to be measured for its effectiveness across a broad range of parameters relative to the wellbeing of its citizens. Under this proposal, both governments would be required to report monthly on trends for the health, income, happiness, and education of their citizens. And those reports would be provided to the citizens of each nation in a way that no one could ignore. (You would need international auditors of course.)

What this approach does is cleverly divert attention from the unsolvable question of who God wanted to live on a particular patch of dirt to the perfectly practical and somewhat measurable question of how well the two competing systems of government are providing for their people. We humans are irrational creatures, so we are influenced most by what we see and hear the most. My hypothesis is that morality will trend in the direction that makes the citizens healthiest, safest, and happiest so long as they know which direction to head. Public information about the effectiveness of each government will create great pressure for the government that performs the worst to change.

As a citizen of the United States, and subject to lots of propaganda disguised as news, I assume Hamas has the government system most in need of improvement. And I further assume that the citizens under Hamas would have less support for their current system if they were exposed to continual comparisons to more effective systems. Over time, citizens can be trusted to evolve their ideas on morality in the direction of their self-interest.

A big advantage of this approach to peace is that it causes folks to focus on the real problem which is that Hamas has a dysfunctional system of government by design. If the world reminds them of that fact often enough, using comparative data instead of rhetoric, and refuses to participate in the charade of fake peace plans, perhaps there will be some movement toward useful government reform. Israel shouldn't object to this process because in the short run it makes them look good and it will take a long time before there is any meaningful change. That gives them time to gobble up all the land and resources they can get before peace even becomes an option. Their system of government is designed to do just that if it is working properly.

Summarizing my main points:


1.       Hamas and Israel have systems of government that cannot make peace with each other because of their designs.

2.       Governments are unlikely to change their designs when there is an immediate external threat, unless it is to move toward a dictatorship. Hamas and Israel are each other's external threat.

3.       In the long run, the moral view that holds the most power over humans is whatever path leads to the most health, happiness, and safety.

4.       Humans reflexively assign the highest importance to whatever they see and hear the most. It is possible through repetition to shift the debate from God's real estate ownership preferences to which system of government God would prefer we use to produce the best health, happiness, and safety for the citizens. Would God ever prefer an ineffective government system?

5.       Israel is far better off without peace in the short term. Their system of government is working as it was designed because it ignores morality (except for lip service) and focuses on effectiveness. The United States has the same sort of system, roughly speaking. I'm not judging, just describing.

6.       Individuals can act on moral convictions. By design, a secular government cannot.

When you tell me my idea of focusing on government effectiveness won't work, be sure to compare it to the current approach that has a zero chance of success. If you think my approach has a 1% chance of working, it is the best plan that anyone has yet proposed.

I'll ask readers not to quote parts of this blog out of context. To do so would be misleading. And also keep in mind that I don't know what I'm talking about most of the time. This blog is for entertainment purposes only and is  designed to make you look at familiar situations in novel ways.

-----------------

Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com
Author of this book

 



 
Here are four well-known ways to boost creativity:

1.       Work near crowd noise, such as in a coffee shop.

2.       Take a walk (alone)

3.       Drive a car to a familiar destination (alone)

4.       Take a shower (yeah, alone)

I've experimented extensively with all four methods and I can report that doing any one of those activities has a huge and immediate impact on my quality and volume of ideas. This is purely anecdotal, but the impact on idea flow is so immediate and dramatic that something good is clearly happening.

Interestingly, the element that all four methods have in common is distraction. But the distractions are the type you can easily compartmentalize and move to an automatic processing part of your brain. They are distractions that don't distract.

My armchair guess about what is going on with the brain distractions is that we evolved to keep some important part of the brain on high alert for danger, food, and mating opportunities. If you distract that part of the brain with driving, walking, showering, and background noise it loosens its hold on the creative processing part of your brain.

This supports my hypothesis that creativity is something that happens naturally so long as your brain is not actively suppressing it for some sort of survival advantage. That makes sense because creative thinking usually isn't helpful in immediately dangerous situations.  If we were cave dwellers I would be the one that didn't see the mastodon stampede heading my way because I was daydreaming and inventing new stone tools in my head. Sometimes you don't need creative ideas so much as you just need to run.

Putting it in simpler terms, creativity is a mental luxury that your brain will not allow until it feels safe or until the watchdog part of your brain gets busy handling some routine task such as driving the car.

I would be interested in seeing a study that compares each of the distraction methods to find which one works best. And from there I would like to see A-B testing on new distraction methods until the best of the bunch emerges.

That might sound like a trivial study that would only interest cartoonists and academics. But imagine if the top 1% of creative folks in the world knew exactly which kinds of distractions helped generate the best ideas. These are the cats that invent the future and solve the biggest problems in the world. Removing even a tiny bit of friction from the effectiveness of that group could pay huge dividends.

-------------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 


 

 
Many of you told me that the uninspired artwork I did for the cover of my book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big was suppressing sales. You might be right. No one ever accused me of talent in that department. Here was my cover art:



So partly for fun, partly as an experiment, and partly to improve the product, I thought I would invite all interested parties to submit a better cover design for the upcoming soft cover release.

Here's how this will work.

Before September 5th, design a new cover, using the existing title, and email the jpeg or a download link to me at Dilbertcartoonist@gmail.com.

My publisher and I will pick some of the best submissions and run Twitter ads using different cover designs to see if one produces measurably better sales than the others. If any design outperforms my original cover, and the other submissions we test, we'll use it for the softcover.

If your design is the winner, you will receive praise in my blog, attention for yourself and whatever business you wish to promote, ego gratification, bragging rights, a credit on the book jacket, increased happiness from the thrill of victory, and in all likelihood a temporary boost in your sex life. And if you find yourself anywhere near San Francisco, I'll take you to dinner. Those last two items are not related.

I expect to show all of the better entries in this blog as well. So let me know what kind of credit line you would like with it. Feel free to include a link to your website.

Keep in mind that I don't believe a change in the cover will improve sales. If we show that it does, one has to wonder why the entire publishing industry hasn't yet figured out that testing cover designs matters. Perhaps it all goes back to the old saying that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. I think the science would support the idea that a saying so accepted and ingrained could blind even professionals to the idea that cover design drives sales.

But we will find out if the cover design matters, and that's the fun part. I predict that no alternative cover will outperform my original by a meaningful margin. This isn't a controlled experiment, but I would expect to see a noticeable difference if any is to be found.

Here are the rules:

Dimensions of art: Trim size is 5 ½ x 8 7/16. There is a 0.125 inch bleed on each side for printing.

Format: jpeg file, high resolution. (The original art should be at least 300 dpi). CMYK (not RBG)

Must include all copy:

            Title: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

            Subtitle: Kind of the Story of My Life

            Author: Scott Adams

            Burst: New York Times Bestseller

            Quote: "Some of the simplest, most profound advice." - TIME Magazine

            Submit to: Dilbertcartoonist@gmail.com

            Deadline: September 5th, Midnight PST

           Key theme: Readers of the book have most enjoyed the "systems versus goals" idea, but you are not          
           required to match your art to that concept.

          Use: You agree to sign over to my publisher all rights to the artwork.

         Winner Selected: The Twitter ads will end by September 19th (ish). If any of the entries beat my
         original cover by a meaningful margin I will announce the winner in this blog soon after.

-----

I'll probably post the better submissions on this blog for you to render your opinions before I pick the best of the best for the Twitter test. That way all of you can be part of the process if you like.This should be fun and interesting.

I'll be fascinated to see how much the cover art influences consumer behavior.

_________________________________

Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com
Author of this book


 
There are only two reasons to have privacy and both of them involve dysfunction. You might want privacy because...

1.       you plan to do something illegal or unethical.

or

2.       to protect you from a dysfunctional world.

I think we can agree that if the ONLY reason for privacy were to make it easier to get away with crimes and unethical behavior, society would be better off without privacy. So let's ignore the first category because it is only useful to criminals and scumbags.

The second category is more fun. My hypothesis is that in every situation in which you can think of a legitimate use for privacy you will find that the root problem is a lack of information about something else. My hypothesis is that if you fix the root problem, society no longer needs nor cares about privacy, and that is the best situation of all.

For example, let's say you have a medical condition and you would prefer that your employer not be aware of it. Is that ethical behavior? I would argue that it is unethical to withhold that information if you have a reason to think it will impact your employer in the future.

But let's say you know your medical condition will NOT impact your job performance but you fear that your boss will discriminate against you anyway. That situation feels like a legitimate use for privacy. But imagine a world in which all employees know the track record of every potential boss, sort of like Yelp for managers. If you add that information to the mix, potential employees will avoid bad managers, or at least keep the bad ones under control, and that removes some need for privacy. No boss wants a Yelp-like review saying he fires people because they have treatable cancer.

You can also alleviate some of the privacy risk in the employment realm by having better information about job openings. In the United States, we have plenty of jobs unfilled because of an information gap. If we solve that situation with better information an employee with a medical condition will have more options. Perhaps a work-from-home job would be a better fit for both the employee and the employer.

Let's pick another example.

Suppose you have some non-mainstream sexual preferences that you prefer to keep private. I would argue that this is an information problem not a privacy problem. If you remove the magical thinking about our bodies and our alleged immortal souls, we are nothing but moist robots pushing buttons and seeing which combinations feel the best. I think you can educate away any shame about people's sexual preferences. The ubiquity of Internet porn is making that happen now. Twenty years ago if someone asked you if you watched porn you probably lied and said something such as "I don't need it." Today if a male says he doesn't enjoy Internet porn at least occasionally he is presumed to be a liar.

Now let's assume that in exchange for losing your privacy about your non-mainstream sexual preferences you improve your odds of satisfying those itches by a factor of ten. Once the world can see your preferences, people who match up with it will be drawn to you. Now instead of dressing as a "furry" in the privacy of your home, you can easily find likeminded people in town to join you. Your loss of privacy makes your life far better, at least on the weekends. It seems to me that gays have followed this path, cleverly giving up their personal privacy in order to gain power, respect, legal rights, and access to potential partners. The history of the gay rights movement is probably the best example of privacy being the problem and not the solution.

Most of you fear losing privacy to the government because that invites abuse. But here again the root problem is a lack of government transparency. I'm a little bothered that the government records all of my conversations, but I agree that it might make me safer. However, the fact that the government didn't tell me it was taking my privacy is unforgiveable and in my opinion impeachable. As a practical matter, I don't see how a dysfunctional and corrupt government can heal itself and become more transparent. But in principle, I think you can see that adding transparency to the government process would remove a citizen's need for privacy.

If a government employee decides to snoop into my personal data, I want an automatic email that gives me a link to see everything about that employee. If he sees my stuff, I can see his. And he will have a hard time getting a job once he is known as a creeper. So here again, adding information to the system reduces my need for privacy.

My larger point is that society should not be looking for ways to maintain privacy. It should be looking for ways to make privacy unnecessary. We will never be free until we lose our unnecessary secrets and discover we are better off without them.

I know this sort of topic gets massive down votes because you don't want to risk losing privacy. But please do me a favor and rate this post on the entertainment value alone. I'm trying to gauge how interesting this topic is to you. Thank you!
-------------------------

Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 


 
Rank Up Rank Down +109 votes | 63 comments | add a comment
  • Print
  • Share

One of the most dependable rules of investing is that stocks as a whole revert to their mean price-earnings ratio over time. When stock prices are high compared to company earnings, on a historical basis, you can count on prices to come down in the long run.

But why?

Is the barrier to permanently higher price-earnings ratios a physical or psychological one?

If the barrier is physical, what might it be? During times of stock bubbles I never see stories about a physical limit being hit.

So the limiting factor to upward price-earnings growth, once you are beyond the historical mean, must be purely psychological, right? If everyone bid up the price of stocks and agreed to keep them high, prices could stay there indefinitely.

For this discussion we can’t ignore alternative investment opportunities. It only makes sense to own stocks if the alternatives are worse. So the alternatives exert an invisible hand to keep stocks modestly priced in the long run.

I’ll accept a 3% tax-free return on a safe investment such as a municipal bond, but I want an 8% return on something risky such as stocks. So as long as the risk-reward ratio of bonds stays put, it limits how much the rational investor will be interested in stocks. I would take a medium-sized risk for a potential 8% return but I wouldn’t take a gigantic risk for that kind of potential payoff.

So stocks are anchored by peoples’ risk-reward reflexes and a sense of the alternatives. But in theory, if the risk of owning stocks became lower for any reason, people would perceive a better risk-reward ratio and bid up the price of stocks.

And that means that if we humans can figure out how to remove any risk from stock picking, the value of stocks will increase, and stock owners will become wealthier with no other change to the environment.

So what makes stock investments so risky?


Answer: professional investment advisors


An investment advisor needs to justify his pay, and that means pretending to have stock-picking magical powers that science has never discovered. Every study on the topic shows that the professionals generally don’t beat the market average over time. But they do cause a lot of churn that causes a lot of unnecessary taxpaying on gains. And the professionals charge enough to take perhaps 25% of your potential annual gain in fees.

Meanwhile, wise people such as you buy your market index ETFs and avoid all of the risks injected by the professional investment advisors. But your potential stock gains are suppressed because so many other people are using professional advice and losing money. That makes the category of “investing in stocks” look riskier than it is.

So my suggestion for permanently lifting the value of the stock market to new sustainably high price-earnings ratios is to pass a law making it illegal to offer financial services without disclosing the truth – that they are mostly a waste of your time.

The reason it is legal to open a palm reading shop is that the public understands it to be entertainment and not prediction. Investment advice should be the same situation: You can buy investment advice if you want it, but not until you sign a document acknowledging that science says no one has magical stock-picking skills.

I know you don’t like big government getting involved when it isn’t needed. But the financial industry as it stands now is the world’s biggest scam, and most of us agree that the government is the right agency for rooting out crime, pyramid schemes and the like. And I think most people would agree that putting warning labels on cigarettes, and nutrition information on food, has served us well. It’s time to do the same with investment advice.

I think the government could do for investment advice what it did with the food pyramid. Ignore for the moment that the food pyramid was done wrong because we didn’t understand the science; the idea of the food pyramid was excellent. We don’t have the food pyramid problem with investments because the science of stock picking is settled: It doesn’t work. So I believe the government could produce a simple investment chart for the public that shows most people should own broad market ETFs under a certain set of simple conditions. Or perhaps the government could develop twenty-or-so example portfolios for different family situations and you just need to pick one that is similar to your situation. That would be far better than today’s system in which people either get no investment help or they pay an investment advisor who actively harms them.

Once society gets rid of the risk of professional investment advice, stocks should go to a permanently higher price-earnings ratio. Given the massive dollar amounts in the investment economy, this instant increase in the value of stocks would have an enormous impact on humanity.

Let me boil this down to one question: Do you think the government should require investment advisors to disclose to customers that their services are proven by studies to be harmful to your wealth?

 

UPDATE: By one measure (CAPE) stocks have been historically overpriced for the past 20 years. One could argue that being overpriced for 20 years means stocks have moved to a new and somewhat "permanent" higher value. The past 20 years also correlates with the biggest improvement in small investor knowledge, specifically the knowledge that ETF and index investing is better than hiring stock-pickers. This is merely correlation not causation, but according to my hypothesis in this post one would expect to see permanently higher stock values as investor ignorance -- and the risk that comes with it -- is reduced.

-------------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 

 P.S. Sorry about the formatting of the post. Technical problems today.

 
Rank Up Rank Down +175 votes | 66 comments | add a comment
  • Print
  • Share
Is it technologically possible, using today's technology, to make a phone app that renders a spy nearly impossible to photograph with another smartphone in a public place?

Assume the spy has with him nothing but a standard smartphone and normal clothing. He isn't doing anything special to disguise his face. All the work is done by the app on a normal smartphone, interacting with the cloud, of course.

Can it work? Think about it for a minute before I give you a solution. Otherwise you might be bugged that you didn't think of it on your own.

Okay, here's how this could work.

First, assume the maker of the app is the United States government, and assume they have hooks into all the major phone makers' operating systems and all of the phone carriers' networks. I think this is a fair assumption. And if they don't have that access, they can get it with some arm-twisting.

The app that the spy uses would do nothing but continuously transmit his GPS location to the cloud. The real magic comes from the government's control of all the other smartphones in the world. The spy agency could force any smartphone within photo distance of the spy to forward pictures taken during that time - and that time only - up to the cloud for facial recognition processing. The tourist who takes the photo is unaware that the photo is being uploaded to the cloud.

Once in the cloud, facial recognition software looks for signs that the spy, who is known to be in the vicinity of the photo, actually appears in the photo. If it gets a match, the spy's face is automatically replaced with stock photo of another person's face that is roughly the same age, gender, and ethnicity. The new photo is downloaded to the original phone and replaces the one that had the spy picture.

The spy software would have to intercept any photos before they get posted to social media, so there might be a time lag when a user posts to social media anything within a block of a spy. But most people would assume the lag is from network congestion or a server hiccup at Facebook.

This is another example of what I call the upcoming Age of Magic, when technology will do for us the types of things we would only see in a Harry Potter movie.

_________________________________

 

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 



 

 
[Update: I haven't seen in the comments an example of intelligent behavior that a human has and a computer does not (or can not have) with today's technology. I see examples of things that GROUPS of humans can do (design a better computer) and I see examples where the missing ingredient is motive, not intelligence, and I see examples where emotion is conflated with intelligence, and I see examples where humans do things by trial and error. I can't comment on your older comments because my blogging software doesn't display them in my stupid CMS. -- Scott]


Maybe the reason that scientists are having a hard time creating artificial intelligence is because human intelligence is an illusion. You can't duplicate something that doesn't exist in the first place. I'm not saying that as a joke. Most of what we regard as human intelligence is an illusion.

I will hedge my claim a little bit and say human intelligence is mostly an illusion because math skills are real, for example. But a computer can do math. Language skills are real too, but a computer can understand words and sentence structure. In fact, all of the parts of intelligence that are real have probably already been duplicated by computers.

So what parts of intelligence are computers failing to duplicate? Answer: The parts that only LOOK like intelligence to humans but are in fact just illusions.

For example, science knows that we make decisions before the rational parts of our brains activate. So if you make a computer that thinks first and then decides, you haven't duplicated human intelligence. If you want your computer to think like people it has to start with an irrational set of biases, make decisions based on those irrational biases then rationalize it after the fact in ways that observers think are stupid. But no one would build such a useless computer, or even try.

I laughed about the recent reports of a computer that passed the Turing test by pretending to be a teenager that was such an airhead jerk that he never answered questions directly. That fooled at least some of the observers into thinking a real teen was behind the curtain instead of a computer. In other words, the researchers duplicated human "intelligence" by making the computer a non-responsive idiot. Nailed it!

Allow me to go through some examples of what we might regard as human intelligence and I'll show you why it is nothing but illusions.

Politics: When it comes to politics, humans are joiners, not thinkers. The reason a computer can't have a political conversation is because politics is not a subset of intelligence. It is dogma, bias, inertia, fear, and a whole lot of misunderstanding. If you wanted to program a computer to duplicate human intelligence in politics you would have to make the computer an idiot that agreed with whatever group it belonged regardless of the facts or logic of the situation.

If you insisted on making your computer rational, all it would ever say is stuff such as "I don't have enough information to make a decision. Let's legalize weed in Colorado and see what happens. If it works there, I favor legalizing it everywhere." In other words, you can program a computer to recommend gathering relevant information before making political decisions, which is totally reasonable and intelligent, but 99% of humans would vehemently disagree with that approach. Intelligent opinions from machines would fail the Turing test because irrational humans wouldn't recognize it as intelligent.

Love: A computer can't feel love, but love is an irrational chemical reaction that causes us to mate and care for families. There's no intelligence in love.

Buying a New Car: Do you need intelligence to select a new car? Apparently you don't need much, because two people in the same situation will select different cars. We get influenced by the color, the style, and other factors that appeal to our bias. From there we rationalize away the low gas mileage and the bad reliability. The only genuine thinking involved in buying a car involves knowing if you have enough money for it, and a computer can do that. A computer could do the rest by being programmed to have a favorite color and a particular style preference (flashy or boxy). Then the computer can rationalize the choice after the fact, same as humans. But there is very little human "intelligence" involved.

Following Complicated Instructions: We humans often need to follow complicated instructions to complete tasks. When the directions are clear, about half of all humans will get the job done right and half will get it wrong. A computer could probably succeed at about the same rate already. If we try to create a computer that always gets instructions right, we aren't duplicating human intelligence because humans can't do that. Humans only get things right on a regular basis when the instructions are simple and clear. Computers can already do that.

I could go on forever with different examples of human behavior that appear intelligent but are not. My point is that we are looking to the future for the day when computers equal us in intelligence when in reality that day is behind us.

Okay, commenters, give me an example of human "intelligence" that a computer can't already duplicate with a little programming effort. And keep in mind that it has to be an example in which nearly all humans would make the same choice. Otherwise the computer can duplicate the behavior by randomness or a set of programmed biases, and none of that is intelligence.
_________________________________

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 



 

 
If you can write down what you are thinking, that's the only skill you need to become a professional writer. (Editors can fix your grammar and spelling.)

But writing what you are thinking is much harder than it sounds.

An amateur writer usually writes what he imagines other people think, or what other people have already written, or what other people might expect to be written. It is surprisingly difficult to capture your own thoughts in prose. And that means vast amounts of knowledge and creativity are stranded in skulls all over the world.

So I thought I would try to free some of that creativity by telling you how to write down what you are thinking.

The first thing you must understand about writing your internal thoughts is that they are dangerous. If you can't handle some danger, this sort of writing probably isn't for you. If you only write down your non-dangerous thoughts, no one will want to read them.

Danger is a necessary ingredient for humor writing in particular. The audience should be thinking some form of "I'll bet that guy's wife is going to divorce him after she reads that," or "I wonder if that put him on the TSA no-fly list" or "I wonder if his family will disown him."

Danger is why we laugh when a comedian makes fun of the powerful, because on some level we feel that the powerful could strike back if they chose to do so. When John Stewart does his bleeped-profanity attacks on the powerful, all of our danger alarms sound.

The perception of danger is what helped Dilbert in the early years. Readers learned that I had a day job while at the same time I was mocking the stupidity of management. Folks rightfully wondered how long I would keep my job. They sensed danger. And as it turns out, they were right, because senior management did paint a target on my back.

What follows is an example of dangerous writing. If I do it right, you should be thinking I can't believe he actually wrote down those thoughts. That will bite him in the ass later.

True story:

Yesterday I was thinking about the fact that for every human skill there is bell-shaped curve of talent. Some people are extra-bad, most people are in the middle, and a few people are extraordinarily talented. This pattern seems to hold for every type of human skill from dancing to math to poetry.

So I started wondering if there is such a thing as the best masturbator in the world. I have to assume such a person exists. Clearly there is no way to rank one person's masturbation skills against another, but you have to assume some people are terrible at doing it, most people are average, but a few are - one assumes - truly sensational.

I can't decide if being a world-class masturbator is a blessing or a curse. I could see it going either way. The blessing part is obvious, at least while it is happening. But how does such a person ever hold down a job, succeed in a relationship that cuts into masturbation time, or generally function in the world?

And how would you feel if you had a world-class talent and no one knew about it? That would be frustrating. Maybe you have a friend who has an amazing job, another friend who can bench press 300 pounds, and another who a terrific artist. They all look at you and think you have no special talent. But you do!

Then I started thinking that most human talents tend to improve over the years. The best athletes are better than ever. The best engineers are better than ever. The best doctors are better than ever. And most of that improvement comes from the environment and not the DNA of the individual. For example, doctors are better because teaching methods and medical technology have improved. Athletes are better because nutrition, coaching, and science have advanced.

So what about world-class masturbators?

Well, the Internet has certainly improved their lot. In my childhood you were lucky to find a Sears catalog with a bra section. Today you can find on the Internet your exact fantasy preference, and lots of it. Your preferences can vary on any given day, but that's no problem because whatever you want is a few clicks away.

I also assume that porn sites are continually improving their offerings by monitoring customer patterns and developing more of whatever gets the best reaction. That sort of A-B testing should, in theory, take porn from "Oh, wow, this is good!" to somewhere in the range of "Can anyone find the part of my head that just blew off?"

Interestingly, while porn is presumably improving in leaps and bounds, just like every other business than can track consumer reactions and respond intelligently, the competition for porn (real humans) has largely stagnated.

Sure, people today are fitter, and they have better teeth and hair and makeup. But there is a limit to how sexy humans can be because we refuse to upgrade our personalities. For some reason we think it is noble to be true to ourselves, to "be real" instead of steadily improving.

So porn is improving every day, one assumes, whereas in-person human sexiness has already peaked. Humans are rapidly becoming uncompetitive with masturbation.

If that observation is true, we would expect to see some trends emerging.

1.    Decline in marriage rates (check!)
2.    High unemployment of the young who are happy living at home (check!)
3.    Lower rates of reproduction where the Internet has the highest penetration (check!)

Those trends could be correlation and not causation. But my point is that for the best masturbators among us, humans have probably already become uncompetitive for sex. And as you know, humans became uncompetitive for conversation the minute you got your first smartphone.

So here's another path for robots to take over the Earth. They just have to wait until the porn industry makes in-person sex seem antiquated, dangerous, and annoying. I give it fifteen years.
_________________________________

Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 



 

 
I think I figured out how to build a new country.

Let's say the country is a human-made island in some hospitable ocean, formed by lots of floating platforms so it can grow and rearrange itself as needed. That solves most of your climate-change risks because the entire nation can navigate slowly to the best ocean climates.

We'd start the project by creating some sort of open source wiki platform in which people can contribute designs and ideas. The subjects would be organized by function:

1.    Governance structure
2.    Privacy
3.    Sewage
4.    Power
5.    Internet
6.    Optimal living space design
7.    Food (grow our own)
8.    Defense
9.    Immigration laws (getting the right talent)
10.  Fresh water
11.  Transportation
12.  Crime fighting
13.  Healthcare
14.  Education
15.  Etc.

We'd need some sort of voting system or panel of experts to pick the best of the competing ideas, and to know when there is a complete plan worthy of building. We might also need to run simulations and trials of each system before making decisions.

Once the plan is sufficiently complete, we go for funding. The floating country would be designed to scale up easily, so Version 1.0 need not be terribly large. Fifty billion dollars should get things going.

The nation would be organized from the start as more of a business than a country, but with extraordinary transparency. Common services would be paid by national profits instead of taxation. And if things are done right, there should be enough profit left over for the investors.

I imagine the island country getting into insurance, software, banking, Internet start-ups, and other industries that don't require physical production of goods.

A big part of making the new country work would involve recruiting the right kind of residents. I would suggest picking only applicants that have some minimum level of training and talent. For example, let's say that if you are qualified for any three useful skills, you're in, even if you don't plan to use any of the skills. I figure that anyone who has three skills is a learner who will find a way to be productive.

The cost of living on the island nation would be the lowest of anywhere on Earth, while providing the highest quality of life. The island wouldn't be built until the design had a high chance of achieving both goals.

The government - which would be more like a corporation - would handle banking, insurance, and healthcare. If you start from scratch to design those systems they could be simple and efficient.

Consider banking. All money on the island would be digital and controlled by your phone. No more wallet and cards. And there would be no banking fees because the residents control the bank, not the other way around.

Once all money is digital, your company accounting is done automatically. And there would be no tax code to worry about because there would be no taxes.

There would still be lawyers on the island, but it would be illegal to use "legalese" in documents and it would be illegal to have agreements longer than one page. All common agreements would be online and free.

Insurance would no longer be expensive and baffling. All citizens would have the same coverage from the same nationally-owned insurance company. And it would handle everything from injuries to health insurance.

Speaking of health insurance, imagine an island nation that bans tobacco, has exercise facilities near every home and office, and self-driving cars so there are no road injuries. The island would also ban junk food. Fresh fish and vegetables would be grown locally and prepared at central cafeterias that are walking distance from each home. Now imagine everyone has full preventive care and most doctor visits are done online by video. This would be a healthy island.

If you said to yourself, "I would never move to such a restrictive place!" keep in mind that it wouldn't be built until there were plenty of volunteers who appreciate the tradeoffs. No one is making you go.

Security would be an issue. My suggestion would be to position the new nation as Switzerland of the sea. It wouldn't have much strategic value because it would be indefensible. Still, it might help to sign some treaties with China and the United States. No one will screw with a nation that has those two allies. And in time there might be common business interests that offer some protection as well.

The great thing about building a country from scratch is that there are no legacy systems. You could, for example, decide to trade privacy for policing. If residents agree to give up privacy, any crime can be solved minutes after it happens. One cop could handle the entire country.

As a resident of your current country, you probably don't want to give up any privacy. But keep in mind that in the new nation it is unlikely that any of your dirty secrets would be illegal or disapproved. You could smoke a joint on the way to your same-sex massage with a happy ending and no one would care. Privacy doesn't matter so much when you don't have any reason to hide your behavior.

You can find lots to disagree with in the details of this plan. The main proposition here is that a crowd effort could design a floating nation that would avoid the legacy systems of current nations and be the best place on Earth to live.

The new nation would treat every system as a trial. If the first thing doesn't work, you scrap it and try a new thing. Over time, the nation would develop a set of best practices for everything from desalinization to banking, and that knowledge can be sold to existing countries. The island nation would be the world's test bed.

I think it would take twenty years to design the country if we started today, and another fifteen years to build it. Does it seem feasible to you?

________________________________________________________
Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 



 

 
 
 
 
Showing 1-10 of total 1040 entries
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog