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“What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a ‘spark of life’. It is information, words, instruction.”

– Richard Dawkins, 1986.

Many of you have heard the term “meme” due to the recent popularity of internet memes. However, the word “meme” has existed long before the advent of funny pictures with poorly written English emblazoned on it. Interestingly, it was Richard Dawkins who invented the word in 1976 from Greek influences. He shortened it to “meme” because he wanted the word to be a monosyllable that sounded similar to “gene”. On a related note, that means it’s pronounced “meem” similar to “gene”, not as some people say “me-me” or the French word “meme” meaning same (I can’t do accents on my keyboard, but there’s one over the first “e”).

So what is a meme? This quote from the Smithsonian is pretty good to help build an initial understanding:

Our world is a place where information can behave like human genes and ideas can replicate, mutate and evolve.

Essentially, a meme is an idea or concept that is spread from generation to generation through means that are non-genetic (transmitted via writing, visual representation, speech, gestures or any other imitable phenomena). The importance of the word meme resembling the word gene is that memes are theorised to evolve by natural selection in a manner analogous to biological evolution – basically, a meme is like a gene for information. Here’s one more good quote:

A meme is an idea that behaves like a virus – that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects

– Malcolm Gladwell

Memes are powerful language tools because they can convey a vast array of inherent information with very few words (or actions/images depending on the meme). Dawkins defined a meme as a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation and replication. Internet memes are the most commonly known these days, and just think of the amount of information we can get out of a few words or an image.

This badly drawn picture by itself is enough to evoke a wide range of information. It means someone who is always unsuccessful at finding companionship and is used by the victim to demonstrate his/her emotions regarding their situation. There’s a huge list of internet memes; I’m not going to go through every one of them. Internet memes are plentiful though, which dilutes their potency a bit. Here’s a stronger example: Olympics. With that one word alone, I can make you think of competitions, athletes, races, medals and an overarching theme of unity and celebration.

However, remember Gladwell’s definition. Memes mutate over time and can end up misrepresenting something, or becoming impervious to change. Folk etymology is an example of this (I’ve gone into this in my etymology posts), where people start believing that a certain idiom originated one way when in actual fact it was another (such as the “cold shoulder”). Other good examples can be found in urban myths, which persist even when scientifically proven wrong. My girlfriend’s anatomy lecturer told her that your heart stops beating when you sneeze. This has been proven false already, what’s an anatomy lecturer doing not knowing this?

Now that we understand that memes are ideas and information transmitted over time, we have to accept that memes are prone to mutation and cannot be considered fully reliable. Here’s the interesting thing though – religion is also a meme. We can see evidence of religion changing or “mutating” over time as the Church changes its public stance on certain issues (heliocentric solar system, evolution, etc.).

It’s interesting that memes are often subject to “survival of the fittest”. It is for that reason why we don’t practice human sacrifice, because that is a weak idea from an evolutionary point of view (it doesn’t promote growth). There’s a whole scientific side to memes that I didn’t get into (I was focusing more on its power as a language tool). For those of you interested in finding out more, this is a good article:

Ok, so it’s a weird title, but I’m serious. I’m going to use some naughty words here so let’s try to be mature.

I was watching season 7 of How I Met Your Mother and there was this scene where Barney talks about his penis. He says something like “She’s magnificent”, to which Robin asks “She?”. Then Barney says “Of course it’s a girl. Every dude knows his penis is a girl. It’s like a ship.”

This actually got me thinking though. I’ve never thought of my penis as either a girl or boy; it’s just a part of my body.

However, I can see the emotional need for a man to consider his penis to be female. That would make masturbation/self-love less homosexual. I suppose it could even make regular sex more kinky because it would be like girl on girl (humour me, this idea is shaky at best).

So guys (and girls?), tell me. Is your penis male or female? If you have anything interesting to add, feel free to do so. Since I can’t make polls here, it’s just going to have to be in the comments below.

In the interest of making this a slightly more meaningful, I’m going to mention something a friend of mine brought to my attention. It’s called the Kinsey Scale (also known as the Homosexual-Heterosexual Rating Scale).

Rather than use my own words, I’m going to be lazy and quote Kinsey himself:

Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories… The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.

While emphasizing the continuity of the gradations between exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual histories, it has seemed desirable to develop some sort of classification which could be based on the relative amounts of heterosexual and homosexual experience or response in each history […] An individual may be assigned a position on this scale, for each period in his life. […] A seven-point scale comes nearer to showing the many gradations that actually exist.

—Kinsey, et al. (1948). pp. 639, 656)

If you were to lazy to read that, basically it means almost nobody is fully straight or gay; people tend more strongly towards one sexual orientation than the other but they do not fully belong to that sexual orientation.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no actual test for this so don’t go trying to figure out whether you’re straight or gay online. The Kinsey Scale is just a seven level scale that basically tells you it’s not as simple as it being black and white – there’s another five shades to think about.

It’s been a while since I’ve made a new post, mainly because I’ve been busy with my last semester of university starting. That may just be an excuse for laziness on my part though, but we’ll go with the former. Anyway, the blog’s gone over 1,000 views now so I thought I’d do a good article with knowledge that will really benefit people’s thinking and their overall prospects for being an academic mind. Surely, knowing about this topic is considered “classier” than knowing the names of some celebrities, and since celebrities get so many readers I hope that this will get at least a few.

It also occurs to me that I may be losing some readers with the complexity of my diction, for which I apologise. This is simply how I write when talking about academic matters. It requires some paying attention to understand, but believe me, it’s an acquired taste.

Anyway, I was actually continuing a discussion of the nature of “evil”, following on from my blog post about villains, and was requested to make a post about ethics (specifically, Aristotle’s ethics). So here we go. Just a foreword, don’t go ratting on me about how these categories are not all-encompassing. I did not invent these, I’m merely redelivering information that I learned at university by consolidating all my knowledge and focusing it towards one particular topic. Unlike my three categories for villains, what I’m posting here are internationally accepted standards. Whilst I am sure that, for the purposes of psychoanalytical profiling, there exist many more categories, I assure you that the information I am about to divulge is correct to a university level academic standard.

The two types of ethics:

I’m not going to tell you who Aristotle is (because you should have an idea and can find this out for yourself), but Aristotle’s ethics fall into the category of teleological ethics. There are two broad groups of ethics: teleological and deontological. Teleological theories stipulate that behaviours/actions are considered ethical if the result is desirable, whereas deontological theories stipulate that a behaviour/action is only ethical if it is following some kind of paradigm such as duty or the law.

Examples of teleological theories include ethical egoism, utilitarianism, ethical elitism and ethical parochialism. Of these, I’ll explain the two most interesting (in my opinion), those being utilitarianism, which is the concept of “the greater good” in which sacrifices can be made to accomplish a larger aggregate gain in utility and ethical parochialism, which maximises the utility of your group (be that sports team, fans, company, family or any other discernible group). A good example of utilitarianism can be demonstrated through the hypothetical of a sinking ship. Your lifeboat can only support the weight of five people whereas you have six people trying to occupy the lifeboat. Either one person sacrifices himself to die (or is forced to by the group) or all of them die. If nobody volunteers, a utilitarian view would justify you forcibly removing a member of the boat to their death because you are saving five other lives by doing so (whereas it would be concerned unethical to kill somebody else using a deontological viewpoint). As for ethical parochialism, that should be axiomatic – you support your own “team” more than others.

A good example for a deontological theory would be Kant’s system, which we will get into later.Basically, deontological theories are heavily rule and duty based but they produced skewed results. For example, donating out of an act of compassion is not considered ethically valid as you have no duty or rule compelling you to donate. As such, teleological theories are generally considered superior.

Aristotle’s ethics:

Aristotle’s ethics were intended to apply to everyone, regardless of cultural background or belief. He believed that ethics should be axiomatic – that is self-evident once explained – and believed the purpose of all ethics should be towards the final goal, that being the achievement of “good”. The ultimate “good” that he suggested humans should all strive for was the flourishing of human life. Aristotle categorised his ethics into two groups of virtues: moral and intellectual. Now, there are 13 moral virtues and 5 major intellectual and 3 minor intellectual virtues so you can probably guess that I’m not going to list them all for you. You can probably just Google the list if you want. I will, however, explain how his virtues worked.

Moral virtues are obtained through good habit formation and practice. Moral virtues have two extremes (known as vices), those being excess and deficiency. Every person is naturally closer to one extreme than the other (that is to say, nobody stands at the arithmetic mean between these two vices). For example for the moral virtue of courage, the unethical practice of cowardice would be courage by deficiency, whereas excess courage would be considered something akin to recklessness.

Intellectual virtues are obtained through education and training. These have only one extreme, deficiency, except for prudence which has two extremes. Excess prudence would be fraud and opportunism whereas a deficiency in prudence constitutes negligence.

Justice is a little special as it is divided into three different types.

Distributive justice ensures that common goods are distributed maintaining proper proportionality. This means that if you have two kids and one is larger, and thus has a bigger appetite, if you give them both the same amount of food you are actually violating distributive justice. The key word here is proportionality.

Remedial justice is in the realm of law; it ensures the remedy of a wrong (i.e. compensation equal to damages).

Commercial justice ensures that the value of something given should equal the value of what is given in return (where this value is determined by market forces; i.e. ripping someone off violates this).

Thomas Aquinas refined Aristotle’s virtues with a Christian influence, but I’m not going to talk about that.

Evolution of ethics and morality:

The evolution of ethics is axiomatic. Quite simply, ethics and morality evolved as a point of necessity. If they had not, we would not exist in our current state – we would probably still be hunter-gatherers or would have died out as a species. This is a fact. There is no way we would be living in civilisations if it were customary for us to kill and rob our neighbours, thus, to survive, we evolved certain ethics and morals. I reject the Christian belief that god gave us morals, because that is both a horribly pessimistic view (that humans are incapable of being good without someone giving it to us; also it doesn’t explain why evil exists), and because it is arrogant to assume that before Christianity came along a few thousand years ago, every life form on the planet was evil (remembering that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old).

To articulate this point further, let me put it this way. The very fact that you are even here to ponder how ethics came to be means that ethics were a necessary part of evolution. Without it being a part of evolution, we would only have rudimentary semblances of society. These are all facts. Now on to my own personal hypothesis.

I believe that there are two primal instincts at play here. First and foremost, the strongest human instinct is survival. For that purpose a human will do anything within their power. An extension of survival is selfishness. A human will always, within the boundaries of what is allowed, seek to gain as much for themselves as possible. Now, this begs the question why we don’t loot and pillage and rape all the time. Well, short answer is we used to. However, as social order developed into a more complex system of social paradigm and law, humans were faced with a choice between getting whatever you wanted at the cost of community (and thus the inherent benefits of community such as economies of scale and safety), or giving up certain things to establish a community.

Now, as I said, survival is the strongest instinct and that is closely followed by selfishness (as the two are strongly correlated – to have more is to survive better). In a primal state, it would not be considered wrong to kill or pillage. There would be no concept of right and wrong (as these are human fabrications). Why is it that we chose society over personal gain? Because the prospect of a large community (which would eventually become cities and countries) offered more than the prospect of fending for one’s self. First, there are the intrinsic benefits a community brings. These should be obvious. There are many things that you can accomplish as a team rather than alone. Communities also tend to prosper more and offer more chance to profit (thus appealing to the selfish side). At the same time, humans are social animals. We cannot reproduce asexually and inter-mixing genes within a family is bad. Diverse genetic breeding produces stronger children. So in a toss up between “I can take my neighbour’s stuff if I’m stronger than him” and “I can have good children, more potential mates, more potential material gain and more safety” (among other things of course), humans naturally went for the one with the highest chance of survival – community. This is axiomatic too. If any creature did not naturally choose their best option for survival, they would not exist anymore.

So there you go, the evolution of ethics and my take on why it occurred this way.

So despite doing a  Bachelor of Commerce, I don’t feel qualified posting about economics. Maybe studying something makes you realise how little you know about it. However, this is going to be quite basic so I should get all my info right.

I remembered a recent article I read about the UK prime minister stating that he will use “extraordinary legal powers” to close its borders to migrants in the case that the Eurozone collapses. Not very comforting news. This is tantamount to saying “we know the Eurozone is going to fall apart so we’ve found a legal way to deny entrance for people fleeing collapsed economies”. As it is, I think the collapse of the Eurozone is inevitable. The sovereign debt crisis is spreading and over the last few years, more and more countries have been added to the list.

The problem here is that there is no solution. I remember a post somewhere explaining how injecting money into the economy works. It showed money changing hands between people in Greece, who used that money to pay off their debt to another Greek person, and eventually the money all returned back to the person who spent it in the first place. It was then captioned “no money was spent but everyone paid off their debt” (or something along those lines). That’s all very well to pay off your debt to the butcher or pub owner, but the problem here is that these countries owe money to the rest of the world. Increasing domestic spending does very little to help with that. Why is there no solution? Because countries in the European Union use a common currency whose value is determined by an algorithm based on the combined economies of all member countries. That means the weaker countries are stuck with a stronger currency that their economy can’t support. With no fiscal or monetary policy available to them, the failing European economies lose all their international competitiveness for exports. Giving them money will not fix this problem – in the end, they can’t generate revenue because they can’t control the value of their currency. Rescue packages are just another of the human tendency to delay problems rather than solve them.

I remember an academic paper predicting that either the EU would collapse or it would split into two – with Germany championing the new European Union and taking its fellow strong-economy countries with it. That would be an interesting process to observe, but there are legal implications to kicking countries out of the EU, which is why they haven’t kicked out the PIIGS yet. Maybe the wealthier countries will voluntarily leave to form their own group. As always, I find the cyclical nature of a country’s power to be very interesting. Ancient Greek and Italy were the centers of the world in their time, and now they’re drowning in debt. This applies to many other civilisations, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Let’s go a bit closer to home. Sydney, Australia, is facing its own little economic struggle. Compared to the rest of the world, we’re quite sheltered. We weathered the GFC well owing to China’s huge spending in our resources sector, the fact that very few banks here invested in dodgy CDOs (collateralised debt obligations), and that the US banks reduced their interest rates and pushed their housing bubble higher whereas Australian banks increased interest rates significantly, slowing down the economy. As Australians, we were probably more chill about everything too, because there wasn’t any panic withdrawal and things proceeded as usual. Now the Eurocrisis is affected companies, and the advent of internet retail and the strong AUD, so we have another battle. Similarly to the currency problem I mentioned above, Australia’s strong dollar (pushed up by demand for natural resources) has hurt all other sectors in the economy. The government did really badly in this. Despite multiple academic papers saying that the resources sector was not a long-term replacement for every other sector in the economy, the government thought it would be a good idea to push the resources boom and sacrifice everything else. Well, retail is the shit that hit the fan first. All Australian retailers have been doing badly, and Darrel Lea recently went into administration, shutting down all across Australia. Of all Australian retailers, only Woolworths and Coles are doing alright, the two stores recently entering the top 25 retailers of the world. JB Hi-fi and Myer shares have been dropping steadily and both report tough times ahead.

On an even smaller scale, some particular stores are fighting with each other. Here’s an Easyway poster. Hopefully my fellow Sydney-siders can already see the humour in this. “Way more yummy than that time” with the T slanted to look like a C. This is blatantly trying to shake Chatime’s success in the bubble tea industry which has obviously damaged Easyway’s business. It’s funny because the sentence makes no sense by itself, as there is not context at all. The T is purposely slanted, and is the only letter out of place. It’s so obvious that it’s hilarious. Looks like everyone’s having a tough time.

I notice that I don’t source a lot of my stuff. This is mostly because it’s information off the top of my head. I know I’ve read it somewhere but I can’t remember exactly where and can’t be bothered finding it. However, this one was easy to find so I’ll source the article that says that the UK is closing it’s borders in response to the Eurozone crisis:

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