This is how we become eloi

This is an interesting tiktok that the algorithms gave to me today.

A transcript is available on the next page, or you can click here.

If one alcoholic drink early in pregnancy is enough to cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), then probably something like >80% of all humans throughout history has had it.

Of course, a correlation to nature or tradition doesn’t imply goodness. Most people throughout history had malnutrition too, and it should be self-evident that our efforts towards eradicating malnutrition globally is unequivocally moral.

Still, it’s always interesting to me when something that used to be the default is now pathologized. In case you were curious, in the west, we didn’t realize that alcohol could lead to birth defects until the 70s, and presumably those who were pregnant weren’t taking much care to drink less before that.

(I want to note that the debate around drinking during pregnancy isn’t settled, even now. In the comments of the tiktok you see people complain about all their relatives or posters they see online that insist on continuing to drink while pregnant. But I’m pretty sure I know which side is going to win out in the long run.)

In the future we might see other sorts of features becoming classified as “birth defects” and pathologized. It’s not hard to imagine the construction of something called Fetal Adiposal Spectrum Disorder and an industry around it for treating people whose mothers were obese during their pregnancies. Or Fetal Stress Spectrum Disorder for people whose mothers were overly stressed. Maybe a Fetal Toxoplasmosis Spectrum Disorder. The list goes on.

Or maybe before we get to that point, we’ll realize that pregnancy is something best left to the experts or artificial wombs and that it’s barbaric to do it ourselves. It’ll become as taboo to carry your own child as it is to care for your own dead without the use of some professional mortuary service.

After that realization, how long is it going to be before we realize that having childrearing defaulting to bioparents is unethical and children should all be reared by an expert centralized body? There are a million ways to fuck up a child. And have you seen the abuse stats? In the US, in 2015, 15% of children and youth aged 0–17 years old underwent maltreatment by a caregiver, with 5% undergoing physical assault. Surely we can do better than this.

Perhaps one day there will be a study that says that the effects of child abuse costs the government ten trillion dollars a year 1 , and maybe in time that study will be used to justify the collection of all children by the state (except for the children of the very rich, who seem to always be exempt from these kinds of things).

The Scream by Kent Monkman
Like this but it’ll be ethical this time guys we promise (“The Scream”, Kent Monkman 2017)

One way to look at all this (the correct one, I think) is to say that we are trading in toxic and outdated traditions for better practices that benefit us all.

I was born after we started making these tradeoffs, and every trade that we’ve already done seems more than reasonable. I benefit from them, too. I take birth control, I appreciate living in a society that doesn’t ostracize me for my non-mainstream religious beliefs (I’m not religious), and I’m certainly not going to resist a cultural opposition to pregnant people drinking.

Still, I hesitate when looking at the tradeoffs that I see looming on the horizon. My heart illogically wants to draw the line in the sand, for us to progress to here and no further. But there’s no real argument to make for that.

  1. Actually, it turns out that someone had already written that paper. The annual economic burden was $2 trillion.[]

Coming of Age Rituals

[epistemic status: pure speculation]

1) There has been many articles written on the phenomenon of prolonged adolescence. Some downsides to this: immaturity, an unwillingness to learn about how to do your taxes even after you have to do your own taxes, and engaging in risky behaviour such as binge drinking, regular drug use, and unsafe sex. Let’s take the premise that this is bad, even though there are actually lots of upsides also to prolonging adolescence.

2) In a class I’m taking we’re learning about something called the Pygmalion Effect, which is that when you know you’re expected to do something, you will do it better than someone who doesn’t have this expectation.

w/r/t coming of age rituals: if there is an expectation that you’re more mature now, you’re going to start behaving more maturely. If you think that you should be wiser now, you’ll start to be more considerate of all your actions. If going through a widely used and recognized ritual causes everyone to expect you to start behaving like an adult, then that will happen.

Another good thing that will come from a widely used coming of age ritual is that it bridges the generational schism, which is currently awful and still getting worse.

If there was something that everyone has gone through, then it’s something that everyone can talk about. It’s a way to connect to everyone, from the bus driver to people in retirement homes to your professors and bosses. It might have to be something kind of unpleasant, to build a “haha yeah we all had to go through this hell” sense of camaraderie. I talked to a Danish person in a Discord that said that this is basically what happens in Denmark, because of mandatory military service.

(This would contribute to immigrants and refugees feeling even more isolated and not like part of the community, though.)

3) There are many problems with things that are similar to coming of age rituals in North America today. 

  • The “sweet 16” celebration is very gendered, and has a very sexualized undertone. I would argue that it allows girls to see themselves as sex objects, instead of women.
  • Things like a hazing process in universities and colleges can be coercive and abusive. Also, they are limited to the group of people who go to institutes of higher education.
  • Things like losing your virginity is, like, just a bunch of patriarchy nonsense. Also the concept of virginity as we see it now is still kind of homophobic?
  • Some countries have mandatory military service or training, and this seems like a good idea in comparison with the rest of the things. My dad was in the generation that had all males doing mandatory military training in China. He said that it helped him a lot with some basic life things, like keeping organized and maintaining good posture. He also got to build forts out of school desks with his classmates, which sounds like the coolest thing ever. However, I’m iffy about having something innately nationalist, violent, and masculine being the rite of passage. I will reconsider this if I can be guaranteed an opportunity to build forts out of desks. (disclaimer: I am an immigrant and my family was dirt poor when we came to Canada. I remember being so amazed that not only did the government help us so much with just living stuff like housing credits and food stamps, there were also things like free, public libraries that gave away free passes to the zoo and subsidized swimming and skating classes at community centres. Ever since I moved here I have loved our government. It has major flaws, but I believe that Canada is a beautiful country still and I will be forever grateful to it for giving me the childhood that I had. But as much as I love Canada, I think standing for the national anthem during grade school is about as nationalist as it should get.)
  • Getting married. No.
  • Getting your driver’s licence. Maybe okay, but limited to those who can, well, drive. Which means, less prominence in urban areas, and in poorer communities. I have a feeling that as urbanization and ride-sharing tech progresses this one will be phased out.
  • Moving out. Won’t be applicable to cultures that live in inter-generational households.
  • Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Okay these are pretty great, carry on, except maybe the part where some girls are gifted with nose jobs. But too local to a specific community.

4. I think we should have a coming of age ritual. But what would a modern one look like? My first thought was that you can’t just make one up, since they’re entrenched in tradition. But some examples that I gave aren’t particularly ritualistic at all, and honestly, it doesn’t take very long at all for traditions to get entrenched.

What do I want in a coming of age ritual?

  • Civic pride and a sense of civic duty would be good, but it would need to be done very carefully to not veer into nationalism.
  • The seven unitarian principles might be a good starting point, but I have a feeling that it would inspire too much useless (or actively harmful) voluntourism.
  • In a previous iteration of this post I suggested a short internship in a government office, but wow, looking back, I can’t imagine anything less inspiring than that. No offence @civil servants, I will join your ranks after I’m done school after all!!!

If I’m allowed to indulge my inner romantic futurist, I think we can afford to shelve this idea until space travel is affordable to all. Because I think the ideal coming to age ritual might be a trip to the moon.

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.
— Neil Armstrong

The Turing Test

[Epistemic status: assume that I know absolutely nothing about computers.]

So I know that if a machine passes the Turing test, it means that it fools humans 50% of the time, right? At that point it emulates a human perfectly, and whether the interrogator chooses “correctly” is left to chance.

But imagine a machine that passes the test more than 50% of the time. Wouldn’t that be an interesting tool to realise and analyse inherent biases that humanity has about itself?

Maybe the machine will portray itself as having been shaped by childhood experiences more than most of us really are. Maybe the machine must exaggerate different traits in different cultures. Maybe we’ll realise that we’re all pretty boring when it comes down to it. The same way that characters in Serious Broody Literature™ are incredibly realised but my personality can pretty much be boiled down to “really, really likes naps”, maybe we’ll find that the archetype of the renaissance man or the “fully realized human” or whatever has only ever been an abstract ideal.

This is something that’s interesting to me, because humanity has always defined itself as being superior in all the ways that “count”, right? We’re the most intelligent species, the ones that are capable of abstract thought and symbolic language. We have that divine spark. It’s hard to find that upper bound on humanity when we are the definition of the upper bound, although one can argue that having something we made be the upper bound isn’t that much better.

And then, well, if we aren’t the best at being “human”, what then? How will we define ourselves, when programs can not only automate all our jobs, but can come up with more sublime poetry, more moving choreography, wittier social commentary? Will we let ourselves be defined by our sudden mediocrity?

Will we start put emphasis on the importance of that one thing that the system haven’t figured out perfectly yet? Imagine if, due to some inexplicable bug, the machine cannot answer convincingly the question “Why do you like the movie Mean Girls?” Imagine if, because of that, suddenly everyone is thinking Very Seriously about the movie

Mean Girls and writing think-pieces about how the movie

Mean Girls is the single most thorough interrogation about what being human entails. 

Imagine if cults start up worshipping the holiness that is being able to be allergic to things, being able to get sick, having breakable skin and fragile bones and dying. A return to worshipping death would be kind of poetic. 

And then the methods we’ll develop to get that percentage back down to 50% is also pretty fun to think about:

Interrogator: “So what do you do in your spare time?”

Player A: “I’m super into making origami models, because it’s soothing to me and I like making stuff with my hands, although making anything more substantial has always seemed daunting to me.”

Player B: “lol i smoke doobies and play overwatch”

Interrogator:

image