One Many

Criticizing capitalism is pretty fashionable these days, and one interesting way to do it is by using the board game Monopoly to illustrate some of the problems caused by a free market. But people who do this are overlooking a crucial piece of information: the market in Monopoly is far from free.

If we measure the number of rules by the number of individual statements, then there are 103 distinct rules in the game. These rules are described in 2,243 words over the course of 8 pages. Before we explore the nature and effects of these rules, we must first acknowledge that players are not free to do whatever they want. In other words, it’s not a free market.

Taking a closer look at the rules, we find some familiar forms of regulation that free-market advocates oppose, including:

  • A central bank
  • Fiat money
  • Fixed prices and income
  • The prohibition of loans between players
  • Supply management

In addition to these rules, there are various restrictions governing how players are permitted to buy, sell, rent, and mortgage properties. But there’s one special rule, right before the end, that stands out from the rest:

A bankrupt player must immediately retire from the game. The last player left in the game wins.

This is not real life. In real life, you don’t just disappear when you go broke, and the economy doesn’t just stop when some someone gets rich. Some argue that poverty does exclude people from participating in the economy, but even the most destitute individual is still (or should be) free to sell their labor.

Critics may also point out that the economy actually would end if one person obtained all the money, but this is obviously false. If we imagine that all wealth was confiscated and given to a single person, what would really happen? Would everyone just stop working, buying, and selling? Would they sit around all day watching the clouds float by? Of course not! They would simply barter or adopt a new currency.

Getting back to this special rule, what’s really interesting about it is that it doesn’t just restrict how people play the game, it actually forces players to accumulate wealth by dictating their objective.

In reality, we don’t just have one objective, and it isn’t dictated to us by an authority – we choose our own objectives. A small number of people spend all their time and energy accumulating as much wealth as possible, but most of us are perfectly happy to take up hobbies, spend time with friends and family, and occasionally watch the clouds float by.

Of course, simply omitting this rule from the game wouldn’t necessarily change much, since there isn’t any option in Monopoly to pick up hobbies or spend time with friends. But one thing it would do is allow players to continue playing the game, which produces interesting results. If no one is every truly out of the game, and if no winner is ever declared, then players who wanted to continue playing after someone declares bankruptcy would find ways to continue the game.

Monopoly isn’t a very good example of how a free market works, but it does teach us an important lesson: how we set up the rules makes all the difference. For example, consider what would happen if we simply added the following rules:

  1. The Banker sets the prices of hotels.
  2. The Banker can take money, properties, and hotels from players.
  3. The Banker can give money, properties, and hotels to players.

At first glance these rules don’t seem that bad. After all, wouldn’t it be great if the Banker gave discounts on properties to poor players or took from wealthier players in order to help poorer ones? That might actually be a neat way to play the game, but what would actually happen if players used these rules?

First of all, we have to remember that the special rule is still in place: when all the other players go bankrupt, the remaining player wins. If that is still the case, then players suddenly have a massive incentive to get the Banker to take stuff from their opponents and give it to them.

Since the rules allow gifts, it would be in the best interest of both the players and Banker to offer the Banker money in exchange for favors. In fact, the wealthier players would actually have an even bigger advantage than they do under the classic rules, since they can offer bigger gifts to the Banker.

Of course, these effects could be mitigated by tinkering with the rules, but if we’re going to criticize the free market for the problems caused by the original set of 103 rules, then it makes just as much sense to criticize a regulated economy for the problems caused by the set of 106 rules. In fact, the problems attributed to capitalism under the original rules are probably more accurately attributed to a regulated economy, since a set of 0 rules ( a completely free market) is far less similar to the original set of 103 rules than the set of 103 rules is from the set of 106 rules.

Perhaps the real flaw in our thinking here is that we’re trying to glean information about regulations and economics from a children’s board game. But suppose for a moment that we actually wanted to construct a version of Monopoly that represented a free market. What would that look like?

Well, it’s hard to say. Many of the rules of monopoly are built in to the board itself, as well as the cards and pieces. Instead, what if we amended the rules to allow players more freedom? That is a much more answerable question.

Rather than rewrite the entire set of rules, let’s just remove the special rule and replaced it with the following rule, which has priority over the others that contradict it:

Players are free to travel wherever they want on the board and buy, sell, trade, donate, share, and loan money, property, hotels, and debt under any conditions they agree upon. Each player chooses their own criteria for victory.

What would happen? What would players do if they were free to compete and cooperate and weren’t obligated to eliminate each other from the game? It’s hard to say, since most people probably aren’t interested in playing a game that doesn’t have an explicit win condition.

Some players might try to get as much money as possible, but maybe no one would go to that person’s property because he’s a jerk. Some players might try get everyone to work together toward a common goal, but maybe no one will agree to join them because it’s a stupid goal. Players would probably make all sorts of strange and unique choices, producing diverse, interesting, and unpredictable results. And in this way, the game would more closely resemble a free market.

The Actual Real Truth about Climate Change

People think that liberals are pushing climate change because liberals believe the world is going to end, and they also think that conservatives don’t believe that climate change is even happening. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

For a moment, let’s stop paying attention to what members of these groups are saying and instead examine their behavior.  If conservatives really thought that climate change was a myth, then why are they generally located toward the interior of the country? Why aren’t they taking advantage of low land costs along the coast? What possible reason could they have for living far from the ocean? After all, the sea levels aren’t rising.

In addition to avoiding the coast, conservatives are also far more likely to own guns than liberals are. Is it really a coincidence that they are stockpiling weapons as we race toward a climate cataclysm?

And why is it that conservatives, who tend to be religious and buy into conspiracies, are rejecting the apocalyptic predictions of climate scientists? After all, they have no problem buying into the idea that the world coming to an end, and even that it will end with fire. What could possibly be motivating them to reject a prophecy that confirms their religious notions?

Here’s the real truth about climate change: conservatives know that it’s real. Not only that, but they know that it’s too late to do anything about it. On top of that, they deny climate change so that they can accumulate all of the land and weapons for themselves. They’re trying to keep the panic under control so that they can quietly set themselves up for the apocalypse that they have been predicting for two thousand years. Contrary to what liberals claim, conservatives aren’t evil because they don’t think climate change is real – they’re evil because they know it’s coming, but they’re telling everyone else that everything is fine.

But if this is really true, then why are liberals, the ones who are constantly going on about climate change, buying land near the coast and trying to ban weapons? Why is Al Gore, champion of the climate change movement, buying oceanfront property? Is it because of their faith in humanity to resolve the climate crisis? Hardly.

Here’s the actual real truth about climate change: liberals don’t really believe it’s real. If they did, they wouldn’t be paying high prices for oceanfront property, and they wouldn’t be protesting nuclear and hydroelectric energy development. But if they don’t believe in climate change, then what possible reason could they have to push it? The answer is that they know that a large portion of the population, particularly those susceptible to apocalyptic predictions, will buy into the idea, move to the interior of the country, acquire weapons, and make themselves look like lunatics by denying climate science. Liberals aren’t evil because they push the climate change agenda – they’re evil because they know the crisis isn’t coming, but they’re telling everyone else to panic.


The world is a crazy, amazing thing full of unbelievable places, people, creatures and stories. But despite the overwhelming quantity of fantastic and fascinating things all around us, we still have a desire to believe in something more.

Some would argue that religion exists to fill this void, and it does, but religion serves many other purposes: providing a moral compass, explaining human origins, and giving us an excuse to dress up on Sundays. Conspiracies, on the other hand, provide no practical benefit – they merely grant us the sensation that we’re in the know about what’s really going on.

But what is a conspiracy, exactly, and what separates a conspiracy from a mere fictional tale or historical fact? And why is it that people who believe in one conspiracy tend to believe in many? Let’s start by identifying a conspiracy.

There are two important and interconnected components of any conspiracy: implausibility and secrecy. Conspiracies are, by their very nature, implausible. If a conspiracy were plausible, then it would be investigated and verified. And if a conspiracy was well known to be true, then it wouldn’t really be a secret. And if a conspiracy wasn’t a secret, then it wouldn’t be a very good conspiracy at all, because it wouldn’t provide the sensation that we get from having special knowledge.

As an example of the necessity of secrecy, let’s say that the dwelling place of Bigfoot was discovered. Biologists would study the creatures, hunters would kill them, and conspiracy believers would stop talking about them. After all, what’s there to talk about? Bigfoot is now no more mythological or fascinating than the gorilla or the chimpanzee.

As for plausibility, there’s actually a quick and easy way to determine whether or not a conspiracy theory is plausible. Simply ask yourself, would this require a large number of people working together in secret? If the answer is yes, then it’s implausible.

This is because humans have repeatedly and consistently shown themselves to be completely incapable of accomplishing even the simplest of tasks without complaining, bickering, fighting or dividing. There are countless examples of both public and private programs, large and small, that fizzled out before seeing the light of day. Believing in conspiracies requires an incredibly large and undeserved faith in the competence of humanity.

Take chemtrails for example. If the government were really dispensing chemicals into the atmosphere by aircraft, then this would require the silent collaboration of thousands, if not millions, of chemical manufacturers, delivery workers, pilots, security personnel, inspectors, air traffic controllers and countless others. This easily fails the test of plausibility without even considering how stupid it would be to use a commercial transportation system to deliver a clearly visible chemical agent in clear weather, over highly-populated areas, beneath cloud cover, and in open view of the public.

Before we continue, it’s important to make a clear distinction between people who believe in conspiracies (believers), and those who don’t (non-believers). In truth, many of us will sometimes entertain one conspiracy or another. However, occasionally contemplating the existence of a conspiracy is most certainly different from fervently propagating it as fact.

Actually, many non-believers have a proclivity toward the acceptance of one or more ideas that contradict conventional thought. Whether it’s the lunar landing hoax, the presence of a second gunman on the grassy knoll, the existence of and our visitation by extraterrestrials, the US government committing the September 11 attacks or climate change, we all seem to be attracted to one conspiracy or another. What separates non-believers from believers is that one group merely postulate the possibility that the theory may be true, while the other accepts it completely and will passionately proliferate the message to anyone who will listen. In this way, the conspiracy believer’s supposed skepticism of mainstream ideas manifests as a conviction which more closely resembles that of a religious zealot than a skeptic.

So why do some people believe while others merely speculate? Well, a conspiracy requires certain conditions in order to sprout. These include any of the following:

  • A mysterious or anomalous event or activity
  • An absence of explanation or of satisfactory explanation
  • A need to assign blame
  • A desire to feel important or intelligent
  • A preexisting belief in supernatural or paranormal phenomenon
  • A distrust or resentment of authority

The first two reasons describe conditions that are external to the believer, and the last four describe the believer themself. After all, every one of us lives in the same world and are aware of these conspiracies, but not all of us believe in them, so belief must depend, in some part, on the characteristics of the individual. Conspiracy-believers would argue that it’s the ignorance of non-believers that leads them to reject these ideas, but as we’ll see, the belief in conspiracies actually says more about the believer than it does about the conspiracy.

Sometimes things happen for no apparent reason. Obviously there are forces at play that cause the event to unfold, but sometimes there just isn’t any intent behind it, despite what we’d like to believe. Mistakes happen, as the saying goes, but this is unacceptable to the conspiracy believer. This is the kind of person who cannot accept that something disastrous can happen by chance or even by mistake. A meaningless tragedy is a breeding ground for conspiracy.

For some, believing in a conspiracy is a way of asserting their superiority over others. While they may not state this directly in conversation, believers often perceive themselves to be more intelligent, more aware or somehow unique because of their special knowledge. They also tend to frequently use the word sheeple.

sheeple. [shee-puhl] -noun.

1. a group of people who, like sheep, mindlessly obey their masters. Why don’t people realize that this crazy thing I believe in is actually true? Wake up, sheeple!

As mentioned earlier, believers also tend to subscribe to more than one conspiracy. Here are some of the more popular topics about which conspiracies have been formulated:

  • Alien abductions, UFOs and crop circles
  • Chemtrails
  • The Lunar landing
  • The Loch Ness Monster
  • The September 11 attacks
  • JFK’s assassination
  • The Bermuda Triangle
  • Vaccinations
  • Global warming
  • Bigfoot

In order to best understand the inner-workings of conspiracy-belief, let’s focus on the most complex and significant conspiracy affecting humanity today: the existence of Bigfoot.

Myths of gigantic ape-like humanoids are as old as the hills which the creatures are said to inhabit. Not only are these stories ancient, they are also widespread. There are myths about massive, bipedal wildmen from every corner of the world, including:

  • The Yeren of Mongolia
  • The Yeti of the Himalayas (also called Abominable Snowman)
  • The Sasquatch of Pacific North America
  • The Hibagon of Japan
  • The Yowie of Australia

But what’s the difference between a myth and a conspiracy? First of all, myths tend to be hundreds or even thousands of years old, while conspiracies have usually only been around few decades. Second, there isn’t necessarily anything sinister or secret about a myth. Myths are usually more mysterious than they are nefarious, and while they may be unproven, they’re not intentionally hidden. A conspiracy, on the other hand, requires a cover-up or at least a suspicious lack of information. Third and finally, myths tend to be a little less plausible than conspiracies, often incorporating magic, spirituality and fantastic creatures. This means that myth believers are usually less adamant about the veracity of the story than conspiracy believers. In fact, myths are often presented as simply an elaborate moral lesson or a tale meant to astonish.

All that being said, it’s possible for something to be both a myth and a conspiracy. This is exactly what happens when conspiracy believer adopts a myth as a conspiracy by asserting that it is factual and being concealed by some malevolent force. Because Bigfoot believers are so adamant that Bigfoot is real, even to the point of dedicating their lives to finding him, the Bigfoot myth can also function as a conspiracy.

So why do people believe in Bigfoot? One explanation could be that Bigfoot is real, but this doesn’t explain why people believe so strongly that they would sacrifice their time and money to find him, nor does it explain why they feel compelled to convince everyone they meet of his existence. Sure, they’ll point to the many volumes of pictures, videos and stories compiled over decades as evidence of Bigfoot’s existence, but the real reason they believe isn’t the evidence. They believe because they are enchanted by idea of a mysterious, ancient beast roaming the wilderness, undiscovered by humans. They want Bigfoot to be real.

The discovery of a living Bigfoot creature could have a significant impact on zoology, origins and animal rights, but Bigfoot believers aren’t scientists or anthropologists – they’re merely infatuated with the idea of Bigfoot being real. After all, what would they do if Bigfoot was confirmed to exist? And whose ends are served by spreading the news that Bigfoot is out there waiting to be found? If humanity’s track record is any indication, discovering Bigfoot likely wouldn’t turn out well for the beast. If they really cared about Bigfoot, believers would be participating in the cover-up.

Unfortunately, Bigfoot believers are more interested in exposing the truth than they are with scientific discovery or animal rights. The allure of spewing shocking facts and blowing the minds of unbelievers is just too powerful for them to resist. The fact that those who believe in Bigfoot also tend to subscribe to other conspiracy theories is evidence of this. After all, what are the chances that someone who believes in Bigfoot also believes in alien UFOs, chemtrails and the Loch Ness monster? Extremely high, apparently.

This actually highlights an important concept: the purpose of perpetuating a conspiracy. What do believers hope to accomplish by spreading the truth about a conspiracy? Even if, for example, one was to accept the idea that the September 11 attacks were perpetuated by the American government, that individual has no ability to administer justice to those responsible. The only thing they can do is spread the conspiracy. Conspiracies are self-serving, sensational stories that accomplish nothing other than to assert intellectual superiority and tantalize the imagination. Actually, it’s likely that a conspiracy believer would be disappointed to learn that a conspiracy has migrated to the realm of fact, since they would no longer be able to spread the truth about it.

Conspiracy believers like to think, and would like us to think, that they are doing us a favor by babbling on into monotony about some crackpot theory. But in truth, it is the listener who is performing the favor. The believer is engaged, passionate and filled with purpose as they outline the precise details by which the conspiracy is orchestrated. All the while, the listener is patiently feigning interest and concealing their criticism. This allows the believer to feel as though they are the listener’s savior – a valiant champion of truth – delivering them from ignorance and deceit into the loving arms of delusion and paranoia. As Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons state in Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort:

“Conspiracism is a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames the enemy as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm.”

There are also costs associated with being a conspiracy believer. As we just mentioned, anyone coerced into listening to a believer’s stories will likely suffer boredom and irritation, but believers themselves also pay a price for their conviction. Depending on the nature of the conspiracy and both the frequency and aggression with which the believer shares it, the believer may be insulted, ignored or avoided. This can result in damaged relationships and a tarnished reputation, which may affect the believer’s credibility and career.

If you’re a conspiracy believer, ask yourself what you’re willing to sacrifice on the altar of conspiracy. Ask yourself if it’s worth it to bother people with your wild tales. Ask yourself why it’s so important that this person agrees with you. Ask yourself what you’re really accomplishing by spreading rumors and accusations. Ask yourself what would happen if the conspiracy was confirmed as fact.

And if you truly love Bigfoot, leave him be.


There is no greater issue facing our world today than human rights. Ever since the dawn of humanity, we have excluded, mistreated and marginalized certain people groups, and things are no different today.

We like to think that we’re more evolved, more advanced than those ancient, primitive tribes. The truth, however, is that we practice the same ostracizing and dehumanizing behaviors as our ancestors. Despite the fact that we’ve made great strides in securing human rights for a majority of people, there are still those who remain unprotected by these efforts.

This is not an issue of politics or cost – it’s a matter of conscience. All people deserve to be protected by the same laws and receive both equal opportunity and equal treatment. It is pathetic and shameful that such a vast number of people don’t experience these necessities, especially in a place and time where many of us enjoy unprecedented freedom, wealth and security.

This is why we need to take action. We can no longer afford to ignore those among us who are being excluded from the most critical and basic of human rights. We need to stand up to those who would silence the voices of the disenfranchised and exploited.

We may pay a cost for our actions. After all, this issue is considered irritating or even offensive by those who care nothing for the marginalized. But we must persevere and overcome social stigma. We must make them listen. We must make them see that these people are people too. Now is the time for all of us to join together and declare to the world that we care about one of the following groups:

  • Refugees
  • Immigrants
  • Aboriginals
  • Blacks
  • Whites
  • The unborn
  • Seniors
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Women
  • Men
  • People with mental illness
  • People with physical disabilities
  • Christians
  • Atheists
  • Buddhists
  • Muslims
  • Jews
  • Homosexuals
  • Heterosexuals
  • Transgendered people
  • Domestic violence victims
  • Rape victims
  • Sex trade workers
  • Addicts
  • Overweight people
  • Uneducated people
  • Poor people
  • Homeless people
  • Prisoners

Highway Miles

Car shopping can be a frustrating experience. Thanks to dubious salespeople, a liberal use of the word sale, as well as the ambiguous and deceitful nature of bartering, we have reason to suspect that we may be getting duped, especially when we’re shopping for a used car.

We try to make ourselves informed consumers by e-searching reviews, recalls and prices. We may even write ourselves a list of important questions to ask, such as:

  • How long have you owned this vehicle?
  • Why are you selling it?
  • Has it been involved in any accidents?
  • Do you have the service records?
  • Can I take it for a test drive?
  • Can I take it to my mechanic?
  • How many miles are on it?

But despite our best efforts, we often can’t shake the feeling that we’re not being told the whole story. No matter its condition, the seller always assures us that we’re paying a fair price for a quality vehicle. They even try to convince us not to trust the odometer.

Used car owners will tell us that the mileage on the car doesn’t really reflect its condition. They’ll explain how the vehicle was driven gently and that the only reason for the high mileage is that it was used for commuting. But should the fact that the car was driven on the highway every day really relieve our fears? No, it shouldn’t, and here’s why:

First of all, although it’s true that a vehicle will look worse after 5 miles in a destruction derby than it will after the same distance on a quiet rural avenue, the idea we should ignore a car’s high mileage because it was accumulated through commuting is ridiculous.

Aside from special cases, vehicles are only used for two things: driving in town and driving on highways. And while highway driving may be slightly less taxing on certain components, city driving is hardly harmful by comparison. If it were, then we’d be taking the freeway at every opportunity in order to avoid the ruinous hazard of traversing city streets.

This also may cause us to wonder what mileage really means when it comes to wear and tear. Are we just talking about the number of rotations of the drive shaft? Of course not. Mileage tells us the extent to which the vehicle was used.

The odometer is a window into the life of the car. It allows us to imagine how many rocks have chipped the paint, how many spilled coffees have stained the upholstery and how much gum has accrued beneath the seats. Sure, it doesn’t tell the whole story, but high mileage does indicate that the vehicle was highly used.

Another problem with attempting to convince potential buyers to ignore highway miles is that this strategy assumes that there are viable alternative explanations as to why a vehicle might have high mileage.

The average annual mileage of a vehicle falls somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 miles (16,000 and 24,000 km). When we encounter a vehicle with an average annual mileage of, let’s say, 25,000 miles, there’s really only one conclusion to make: it was driven on the highway. Of course, there are special cases. It’s possible that the car was used for local business deliveries, but this is rare, especially since those vehicles are usually driven into oblivion.

The third and final issue lies in the fact that all vehicles are driven in town, even the ones used to commute. Perhaps it’s to a slightly lesser extent, but commuter vehicles must at least travel to and from the highway, which is often a significant distance.

So even if there was a notable difference in wear and tear between driving in town and driving on the highway, which there isn’t, all vehicles are subjected to a similar amount of city driving. This means that the vehicle with higher mileage will, barring other factors, be in worse condition than the car with less mileage.

Maybe we can’t be expected to be completely transparent about the fault in our cars, but we shouldn’t pretend that highway miles don’t count.

Auntle, Mousin and Fousin

Of the following family relationships, which one stands out from the rest:

  1. great-aunt
  2. great-uncle
  3. aunt
  4. uncle
  5. niece
  6. nephew
  7. cousin
  8. grandmother
  9. grandfather
  10. mother
  11. father
  12. daughter
  13. son
  14. sister
  15. brother

The answer, of course, is cousin. Of all the family relationships, including those forged by marriage, it’s the only term that doesn’t describe the sex of the relative.

Of course, grandparent, parent, child and sibling don’t describe the sex either, but each of these terms is the unisex form of one that does so.

It doesn’t really seem like a problem, but that’s probably just because we don’t know what it’s like to have access to the proper tools. Removing sister and brother from our vocabulary would seem like a massive hindrance, but this is exactly the limitation we face when describing the children of our aunts and uncles.

Once we begin to contemplate these issues, we also realize that there are other gaps in our language. There is no unisex form of aunt and uncle, and though the term nibling has been created in order to describe both nieces and nephews, it hasn’t really caught on.

It’s not clear why people don’t use nibling. Perhaps it just needs to be publicized in a popular book, blog or magazine. But if we’re going to start filling in the missing words, let’s just complete the whole set.

auntle. [ahnt-uhl]


1. the sibling of a parent.

mousin. [muhz-uhn]


1. the son of an auntle.

fousin. [fuhz-uhn]


1. the daughter of an auntle.


In many ways, the developed world is becoming increasingly tolerant. We are more educated on mental health, more informed on social and global issues, more sensitive to other cultures and religions, and we even allow those of the same sex to marry. Supporters of a more progressive society continue to advocate for these causes, often summarizing their position with the following statement:

People should be allowed to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.

When first heard, this seems like a modern, insightful and reasonable thing to say. In fact, this point of view is actually very old, and this statement has so many glaring flaws and omissions that it’s hardly worth uttering in this context. Let’s begin unraveling this hideous tapestry by exploring its history.

Popularized by John Stuart Mill in his 1859 book, On Liberty, this idea, known as the harm principle, is one of the foundational doctrines of Liberalism. Although Mill coined the phrase, a similar statement appears 70 years earlier in France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen: “Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else…”

This idea has carried on through the centuries and has recently become a maxim for progressive citizens. The modern form of the harm principle can be expressed in a number of ways, usually appearing as one of the following:

  • People should be allowed to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.
  • People should be allowed to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t affect others.
  • As long as everyone involved approves and it doesn’t affect anyone else, then people can do whatever they want.
  • Consenting adults can do whatever they want, as long as no one else gets hurt.

It’s important to note the small differences because this statement is extremely broad and has powerful, far-reaching implications. After all, the written word is the only thing that protects our most basic rights and freedoms, and as we’ve already discussed, the claims we make often support views that we don’t agree with. In addition, we usually aren’t even aware of the assumptions behind our claims. Let’s illustrate these issues using a relevant example.

In the recent push to legalize gay marriage in the United States, many came forward with pleas for tolerance, and many of them invoked some variation on the harm principle. Their views were frequently summarized in this way:

People should be allowed to marry anyone they want.

This seems like a perfectly reasonable opinion, but hold on a minute. Is that really what they mean? After all, they weren’t addressing the age of consent, and yet this statement implies that there should be no distinction between adults and minors.

The point here isn’t to say who should and shouldn’t be allowed to get married, just that we are often careless with the phrasing of our views and values, and we are often unaware of the implications that follow. After all, most of those who spoke in favor of gay marriage still support a number of the following marriage restrictions:

  • People should not be allowed to marry minors.
  • People should not be allowed to marry ideas, inanimate objects, artificial intelligences or animals.
  • People should not be allowed to marry either blood and adoptive relatives.
  • People should not be allowed to marry temporarily.
  • People should not be allowed to marry those who are already married.
  • People should not be allowed to marry those they don’t know or those who don’t know them.
  • People should not be allowed to marry those they don’t love or those who don’t love them.
  • People should not be allowed to marry those living in other countries.
  • People should not be allowed to marry those who are severely mentally impaired.

Some make the defense that the statement is not meant to address these other issues, but because of its phrasing it does exactly that. If a law was passed stating that anyone could marry anyone else, then all of these conditions, along with many others, would be perfectly legal.

Now we’ve seen how improper or incomplete phrasing can cause problems, so how does the harm principle square up? If we really want to enact a law stating that people should be allowed to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, then there at least 205 important questions that need to be answered:

    1.  What does it mean to harm someone?
      1. Does it mean failing to help others?
        • Does it include refusing to donate blood and organs?
        • Does it include refusing to give to a panhandler?
        • Does it include refusing to foil a robbery?
        • Does it include refusing to volunteer?
        • Does it include refusing to donate to charity?
        • Does it include refusing to discourage unhealthy behavior?
        • Does it include refusing to comfort someone who is upset?
        • Does it include refusing to do business with those who can’t afford it?
        • Does it include refusing to share trade secrets?
      2. Does it mean providing unwanted help?
        • Does it include providing poor quality help?
        • Does it include providing untimely help?
      3. Does it mean intending to harm?
        • Does it include failing to cause harm?
        • Does it include helping by mistake?
      4. Does it mean failing to fulfill a responsibility?
        • Does it include failing to converse with acquaintances?
        • Does it include failing to spend time with friends and relatives?
        • Does it include failing to provide quality services and products?
        • Does it include failing to diagnose or assess a problem?
      5. Does it mean causing physical harm?
        1. Does it mean causing pain?
          • Does it include small amounts of pain?
          • Does it include very short duration of pain?
          • Does it include pain caused during medical procedures?
          • Does it include pain caused during sports?
        2. Does it mean causing unwanted contact?
          • Does it include pushing and shoving?
          • Does it include playing?
          • Does it include tickling?
          • Does it include hugging and kissing?
        3. Does it mean causing an injury?
          • Does it include small injuries
          • Does it include temporary injuries?
          • Does it include painless injuries?
        4. Does it include negatively affecting health?
          • Does it include spreading an illness or disease?
          • Does it include enabling unhealthy behavior?
          • Does it include tempting those with addictions?
          • Does it include serving unhealthy food?
      6. Does it mean causing emotional harm?
        1. Does it mean causing emotional discomfort?
          • Does it include saying something controversial?
          • Does it include confronting someone?
          • Does it include approaching a stranger?
        2. Does it mean causing emotional pain?
          • Does it include deceiving someone?
          • Does it include criticizing someone?
          • Does it include insulting someone?
          • Does it include mocking someone?
          • Does it include disappointing fans, friends and family?
          • Does it include disciplining children?
          • Does it include cheating on a lover?
          • Does it include ending a relationship?
        3. Does it mean causing offense?
          • Does it include using crude language or gestures?
          • Does it include showing irreverence toward a religion?
          • Does it include being insensitive to those who have suffered traumatic experiences?
          • Does it include living a controversial lifestyle?
      7. Does it mean causing financial harm?
        1. Does it include disrupting finances?
          • Does it include spreading false information about a person, product or organization?
          • Does it include spreading accurate but controversial information about a person, product or organization?
          • Does it include spreading positive information about a harmful person, product or organization?
          • Does it include refusing to do business with a person or organization?
          • Does it include protesting or boycotting a product or organization?
          • Does it include automating or oursourcing jobs?
          • Does it include putting a competing company out of business?
        2. Does it include failing to properly raise children?
          • Does it include failing to provide life skills?
          • Does it include failing to pay for college?
          • Does it include refusing to buy toys?
          • Does it include refusing to go on vacations?
          • Does it include failing to properly educate students?
        3. Does it include exploitation?
      8. Does it mean causing harm unintentionally or as a consequence?
      9. Does it mean causing risk of harm?
        • Does it include driving above the speed limit?
        • Does it include engaging in dangerous sports or activities?
        • Does it include leaving hazards about?
        • Does it include failing to wash one’s hands?
      10. Does it mean causing indirect or ambiguous harm?
        • Does it include condoning or enabling harmful behavior?
        • Does it include failing to discourage harmful behavior?
        • Does it include supporting exploitative organizations?
        • Does it include hurting someone by affecting those they care about?
        • Does it include supplying substances to an addict?
        • Does it include gossiping or spreading rumors?
        • Does it include using language that some might consider offensive?
        • Does it include illegally copying music, movies and software?
        • Does it include cheating on a test?
        • Does it include buying illicit drugs?
        • Does it include hurting someone without their knowledge?
        • Does it include hurting someone who accepts or invites harm?
    2. Who are the people participating in the behavior?
      1. Does this mean people of all types?
        • Does this include minors?
        • Does this include the elderly?
        • Does this include the mentally disabled?
        • Does this include the mentally ill?
        • Does this include the drug addicted?
        • Does this include convicted or suspected criminals?
        • Does this include businesses, governments and institutions?
        • Does this include the homeless?
        • Does this include illegal immigrants?
        • Does this include politicians and public figures?
        • Does this include people in other countries?
      2. Does this mean people of all beliefs?
    3. Who are those affected by the behavior?
      1. Does this mean all life?
        • Does this include animals?
        • Does this include plants?
        • Does this include microscopic organisms?
      2. Does this mean all people?
        • Does this include the participants?
        • Does this include friends and family?
        • Does this include people from other places in the world?
        • Does this include people who don’t yet exist?
      3. Does this mean the collective?
        1. Does this mean burdening society?
          • Does this include getting a divorce?
          • Does this include engaging in sexual promiscuity?
          • Does this include eating unhealthy food?
          • Does this include failing to exercise?
          • Does this include smoking, using drugs or drinking alcohol?
          • Does this include being homeless?
        2. Does this mean taxing collective or government resources?
          • Does this include overusing parks and public facilities?
          • Does this include misusing emergency services?
          • Does this include having numerous children?
          • Does this include suing insurance companies?
          • Does this include living with a disability?
        3. Does this mean failing to fulfill social responsibilities?
          • Does this include failing to recycle or pick up trash?
          • Does this include failing to be informed on social issues?
          • Does this include failing to hold the government accountable?
          • Does this include refusing to vote?
          • Does this include refusing to procreate?
          • Does this include failing to maintain employment?
          • Does this include refusing to engage in consumerism?
          • Does this include failing to manage personal finances?
    4. What does it mean for a person to want something?
      1. Does this mean people with addictions?
        • Does this include people who are addicted to substances like tobacco, drugs or alcohol?
        • Does this include people who are addicted to activities like lying, stealing or having sex?
      2. Does this mean people with mental health issues?
        • Does this include people who are insane?
        • Does this include people with depression?
        • Does this include people with dementia?
      3. Does this mean people with a dire need for attention or approval?
        • Does this include pressuring peers?
        • Does this include hazing initiates?
      4. Does this mean people who are very poor?
        1. Does this mean allowing any work terms?
          • Does this include voluntary slavery?
          • Does this include unsafe working conditions?
        2. Does this mean allowing any depraved or harmful acts in exchange for money?
          • Does this include paying for permission to humiliate?
          • Does this include paying for permission to rape?
          • Does this include paying for permission to torture or mutilate?
          • Does this include paying for permission to murder?
          • Does this include paying people to fight, even to the death?
          • Does this include paying people for their blood, organs or body parts?
      5. Does this mean people with extreme, demented or violent interests?
        • Does this include engaging in self mutilation?
        • Does this include committing suicide or making suicide pacts?
        • Does this include cannibalism?
        • Does this include incest?
    5. How do we demonstrate whether or not behavior is harmful?
      1. Who is responsible for demonstrating whether or not behavior is harmful?
        • Does this mean the government?
        • Does this mean the people participating in the behavior?
        • Does this mean the people who are affected by the behavior?
      2. What kinds of arguments are acceptable?
        • Does this include surveys and studies?
        • Does this include philosophical speculations?
        • Does this include anecdotal evidence?
      3. How much harm is required for behavior to be considered harmful?
        • Does this mean that a certain number of people must be harmed?
        • Does this mean that a certain degree of harm must be inflicted?
    6. What should be done when behavior is determined to be harmful?
      1. Does this mean that all acts that are harmful should be discouraged?
        • Does this include using government advertisements?
        • Does this include using public schools?
        • Does this include banning dangerous activities?
        • Does this include banning offensive words?
      2. Does this mean that all acts that are harmful should be illegal?
        • Does this mean that it’s okay to harm those who harm others?
        • Does this mean that it’s okay to cause harm in order to prevent harm?
      3. Does this mean that those who accept or invite harm should be protected?
        • Does this include those who welcome harm in the name of a belief?
        • Does this include those who instigate harmful behavior?
        • Does this include those who are indifferent to harm?

The issue isn’t that the harm principle has no value, it’s that those who use it to argue a position usually haven’t considered the many ramifications of such a belief. This is true of many other popular sayings. Take a look at the following statements and try to identify any potential problems:

  • We should not implement socialist programs.
  • The government should not regulate the economy.
  • People should be allowed to own weapons.
  • Parents should not indoctrinate their children.
  • The government should not censor anything.
  • Parents should be allowed to raise their children however they choose.
  • People should not force their beliefs on others.
  • The government should stay out of the bedroom.
  • We should do whatever it takes to stop terrorists.

The world is an incredibly complicated place, and a great deal of thought and discussion that goes into making important decisions. Pretending that the our problems can be solved by such simple rules hardly improves the conversation, and making declarations that we don’t fully understand is foolish and irresponsible.

Mind Control

Robotic prosthetic limbs are truly amazing. These devices allow those who have suffered catastrophic, life-altering illnesses and injuries to regain lost mobility or dexterity and to experience aspects of life that were once inaccessible. In addition to improving the quality of life for millions of people, robotic prostheses have also inspired us to imagine new, exciting ways that the technology could be used.

While modern electronics continue to offer more immersive and intuitive interfaces, these inventions are still bound by the limitation of physical interaction. Touchscreens, mice and keyboards are very useful devices, but they still require us to translate our thoughts into actions before accepting input. This might lead us to wonder, “wouldn’t it be great if we could control devices with our minds?”

Although telepathic communication is often depicted as a lightning-quick, visceral technology in science fiction, there’s actually no convincing evidence that it would increase the speed or ease of communication, and the details of such interfaces appear anything but simple and intuitive. Let’s find out why this is the case.

Most of us believe that we can think faster than we can move or speak. This is based on the false assumption that the physical body merely limits the conscious mind. In actuality, the truth is often the opposite.

Our bodies not only optimize our cognitive abilities by sending important data to the brain, prioritizing things that require our immediate attention, they also carry out critical, complex tasks without conscious direction, often without our knowledge or consent, which frees our minds to spend attention in other ways. Examples include everything from walking and talking to biking and typing. By restricting our interface to only accept conscious thought, we are actually forcing ourselves to take control of automated systems, which impedes our mental capacity. It forces us to think about every individual instruction rather than the function as a whole. Imagine trying to think out a sentence one word or even one character at a time.

Another problem is that we don’t actually know how fast our brains can think. We also don’t know how fast they think whatever type of thoughts a telepathic device would accept. What we do know is that a comfortable rate of speech is about 150 words per minute and that skilled typists can reach upward of 120 words per minute. It’s likely that an improved keyboard configuration would allow for even faster speeds, so the disparity between speech and typing is actually very small. We also know that the average person reads at about 250 words per minute, which is about as fast as an auctioneer speaks. Using speed reading techniques, it’s possible to achieve a pace exceeding 500 words per minute. While comprehension at these rates usually falls between 60 and 70 per cent, these figures reveal that our brains can actually accept data far faster than they can generate it.

Of course, it’s possible that our rates of comprehension and speech are limited by our senses, so we we might accept and transmit data faster if we removed our mouth, fingers, ears, eyes and other body parts from the equation. But as it stands, the average person can type and speak at a rate similar to how they read and listen, which means that the bottleneck that telepathy would supposedly overcome has not yet been observed.

If we take a look at how modern robotic prostheses work, we observe yet another hurdle. Robotic limbs pick up signals sent from the brain, but they do not sense them within the brain. They merely intercept instructions in the nervous system on the way to the muscles. The difference is a significant because the type of thought that moves a limb is very different from other thoughts that occur in the brain. And this is precisely the problem: there are many different types of thoughts.

Our brains carry out a variety tasks, both conscious and otherwise. They are constantly sending and receiving signals to and from various locations in the body, monitoring and controlling our cardiovascular, nervous, endocrine, muscular, respiratory, lymphatic, urinary, excretory, reproductive, digestive and immune systems. Our brains are also remembering the past, perceiving the present and predicting the future, and they’re usually doing more than one of these at any given moment.

The thought protocol for each functions is unique and must be distinguished if we plan to implement telepathic technology, for even the way we ponder a simple idea can vary significantly. We don’t just think in complete, coherent sentences, like mind-readers would have us believe. Our brains process emotions, sensations, opinions, images, music and ideas, and we’re thinking all these things while both consciously and unconsciously controlling our bodies. To illustrate the variation in thought, let’s examine all of the ways that we can think about a dog.

First of all, thinking the word dog is different from thinking about the word dog. It’s different from saying the word dog, thinking about saying the word dog and reading the word dog. It’s also different from thinking about a dog, some dogs or dogs in general, and it’s different from imagining or remembering a dog. It’s different from wanting a dog, missing a dog and loving or hating a dog. It’s different from looking at a dog, looking at a picture of dog, imagining a picture of a dog, and it’s different from imagining a picture of the word dog. It’s different from thinking about what it’s like to be a dog, from wanting to be a dog, and it’s different from actually being a dog. And thinking the word dog is different than thinking about thinking the word dog, and it’s different from considering thinking the word dog. Of course, considering thinking about the word dog is impossible, which brings us to our next point.

There’s a big difference between thinking something and doing or saying it, but if devices are controlled by thoughts directly from the brain, how would they know the difference? If someone with a prosthetic arm imagines punching another person in the face, the arm doesn’t do it, because it is merely sensing signals in the nervous system. But if we were controlling a device purely through thoughts in the brain, how would it distinguish which thoughts to obey and which to ignore?

If we consider taking an action, our body does not execute that action until we have made the decision to send the signal to our muscles. But in the brain there is no such confirmation through action. If we were to try and write an e-mail using a telepathically-controlled computer, how would we separate the words we wanted to send from the words we were considering? And how would we control punctuation, spacing, format and other details? Would we have to construct each sentence using individual words, or would we simply send raw thoughts, ideas or emotions? Would we be able to mute incoming signals or control their priority or storage? Would we be able to transmit images, music and other media? How about emotions? How would our brain receive emotional signals? And how would we deal with distractions and multitasking?

One possible solution to a few of these issues could be to use the nervous system to communicate. This would involve training our minds to control imaginary limbs that we pretend are part of our bodies. The instructions could then be translated into other signals that could be interpreted by a device. We can prove that this is possible by simply imagining that we have another set of arms beneath our normal arms and then imagining moving them around. This produces an eerie sensation that is likely similar to phantom limb syndrome.

Another less efficient option would be to confirm thoughts by thinking the words out loud (or speaking internally). It’s much harder to articulate how this type of thought works, but it’s probably best described as strongly imagining saying a word. Unfortunately, this solution would mean that we could only transmit words and only do so one at a time.

One of the more serious problems with telepathic technology would be deciding exactly what would be transmitted. Thoughts would have to converted into electrical signals, but our thoughts are usually very abstract, and the brain hides the complexities of most of its functions from our consciousness. In addition, the brain also prioritizes, categorizes and filters incoming information, so sending mere words would not only be incredibly difficult, but also incredibly incomplete when compared to the advanced level of thought that normally occurs in the mind.

In addition to all these barriers, there is also the issue that our brains, while absolutely amazing, are quite terrible. We are constantly overlooking, misinterpreting and forgetting things, and we get distracted easily and often. Just stop and think about your thoughts for a moment. Are they ordered, logical, focused and useful? Are they even coherent? The brain is a complex, damaged, dysfunctional machine, so if we want mind control, we must control our minds and do so in a much different way than we do now.

There’s also the serious and inescapable problem of connecting a human brain, which both controls our bodies and defines who we are, to a electronic device that can be forged, faulty or even compromised. That’s right, hackers could potentially gain access to our minds and monitor, steal, copy, corrupt or destroy our thoughts and memories. They could also take control our bodies, forcing us to obey their instructions, or even tell our hearts to stop beating.

Finally, though this is more of an indirect and ethical issue, it is interesting to note that even as society is beginning to recognize and prioritize the importance of regular physical activity, technology continues to alleviates us from physical duties. Standing desks, for example, have recently become a trendy way to improve our health. But with telepathically-controlled devices, we certainly don’t need a desk, and we may not even need to get out of bed. In fact, we may not need to wake up or even have bodies.

Thoughts aren’t what you thought. Think about it.


Uncertainty about the future is something that plagues us all. Indeed, in every civilization throughout history there have been those who claim to have special insight into events that have yet to unfold. In our eagerness to rid ourselves of our fears, we often reward these people handsomely for their supposed knowledge.

Although astrology and mediumship are still popular in Western culture, a more modern profession of precognition has recently arisen: the futurist. Rather than observing heavenly bodies or communicating with spirits to obtain special knowledge, a futurist uses their knowledge and expertise in a given field to predict the future. One of the most well-known of this new breed of  fortune teller is Ray Kurzweil, and he’s made a number of shocking predictions about the future of technology and ascension of artificial intelligence. While his claims have brought him great fame and profit, he’s certainly no prophet.

The fact that he doesn’t deserve the label of prophet is not a commentary of the accuracy of Kurzweil’s predictions, though they are certainly worthy of suspicion, but rather an important distinction about the method by which his knowledge is attained. A prophet is someone who communicates a message on behalf of a divine or supernatural source. While Kurzweil’s predictions are certainly otherworldly, they are not the result of divine inspiration or supernatural powers (as far as we know).

Another difference is that prophets usually do not benefit from their insight, but freely offer their knowledge to help others, usually in response to a divine command. Without getting too deep into the issue of discerning the authenticity of a prophecy, we can probably assume that the presence of praise and reward is probably a strong indication of a false prophet. Now let’s take a closer look at prophecies and what it means to be a prophet.

Nostradamus is one of the most popular of those who claimed to predict the future. Born in 16th century France, he produced thousands of predictions. Some of these were accurate, some inaccurate but most are too vague to determine their meaning. Consider Nostradamus’ quatrain #1-35:

The young lion, shall overcome the older

On the field of battle, by singular duel;

Through armor of gold, his eye will be pierced,

Two wounds in one, then to die a cruel death.

Those who believe in Nostradamus’ abilities claim that this verse describes the accidental death of King Henry II of France during a jousting tournament. Followers also claim that Nostradamus predicted the rule of Hitler, the September 11 attacks, the conquest of Napoleon, the Kennedy assassinations and many other major events. However, even if we can determine with certainty that the predictions are referring to these historical events, of what use are they? After all, the events still happened. And if we’re only able to associate a prediction with an event after the event unfolds, then it serves no purpose other than to astonish.

Nostradamus admitted that he wasn’t a prophet, and he based his predictions on a number of sources, including astrology, Biblical text and other works of prognostication. He also didn’t meet the requirement that he help others with his clairvoyance. This doesn’t mean that Nostradamus meant harm or didn’t care about others. Perhaps he meant well, but without specific instruction on how to respond to a prediction, it is impossible to help. And if he actually could predict the future, Nostradamus would have known that his predictions wouldn’t change anything. A true prophecy is meant to be understood before it unfolds, and it includes a response. This leads us to our next point: the purpose of a prophecy.

Aside form their divine or supernatural origin, prophecies tend to function as warnings, usually warnings of catastrophe. Astrologers, mediums and futurists tend to focus on the positive. After all, who would pay for a prediction that makes them upset? On the other hand, just because a prophecy warns us of a threat does not guarantee that it is authentic. There have been plenty of false prophecies about the end of the world, including the famous Mayan apocalypse, which was supposed to occur in 2012. With all of these predictions of the end of the world, it seems that we can be certain of one thing:

“No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen…” (Matthew 24:36)

Another trait of a prophecy is that it is specific. As we mentioned earlier, a vague prediction is of no use to anyone. While it’s easy to make ambiguous statements about lions, wounds and golden armor, it also draws much less attention than a claim about the day the world will end. The specificity of a prediction is usually also proportional to the number of predictions made, offering a choice between quality and quantity. In addition to being extremely specific, a prophecy usually contains only a single prediction.

In summary, here are the defining characteristics of a prophecy:

  • Its origin is divine or supernatural, not based on mere observations.
  • It doesn’t benefit the prophet.
  • It is understood before it unfolds.
  • It warns of a catastrophe and includes a call to respond.
  • It’s very specific and usually contains a single prediction.

Alright, so now we can identify a prophecy from a prediction, but predictions actually come in many shapes and sizes. Every day we ask meteorologists to make a prediction about the weather, and it’s a relatively easy one to make. This is because of the high availability of information about coming trends and the fact that there are only a limited number of possibilities. It’s also easier to predict something that’s closer to the present, which is why a weather forecast rarely reaches beyond a week or two.

The biggest tool for predicting the future is examining the past, or more accurately, comparing the past to the present. If we can find a recurring trend in the past and identify where we are in the trend, then we can theoretically predict what will happen next. Economists use this tactic to predict booms and busts. Here’s an example:

From our position in the present, we can use a number of different strategies to make our prediction. We can look back at a recent significant event, and use that to make our guess:

Or we can look at a recent or ancient measurement:

There are still other strategies to employ. We could take a number of measurements and average them, or we could try to find an algorithm that describes the occurrence of booms and busts. We could even ignore all past information and consider only current trends. Part of the reason why the predictions of futurists like Kurzweil are so extreme is that there isn’t a lot of past information on modern technology. There’s only been one computer age, one Internet and one Google, so it’s hard to say where we’re headed.

One of the great predictions of the 20th century was made by Gordon Moore in 1975. He observed that transistor density on integrated circuits was increasing at a steady rate, so he predicted that the transistors count would continue to double every two years. This prediction has largely proven accurate, though some say this is merely because the semiconductor industry uses it to set research and development targets.

However, even a prediction heralded for its longevity and accuracy hasn’t yet outlived its maker and may soon be proven irrelevant. The capacity to build smaller transistors will eventually end as they approach the atomic scale. In addition, quantum technology threatens to shatter the entire framework of computing architecture. Overall, the rapid change in technology makes it an exceedingly difficult subject to forecast.

If we take a look back at films that depict the future (our present), we scoff at their interpretations. Decades later, the flying cars, jet packs, food capsules, laser guns, tiny cellphones and robot dogs we saw on the big screen are nowhere to be found. Part of the reason for this folly is the inclination to imagine improved versions of things we already use, essentially futurizing things found in the present. This is because our imagination is largely limited by what we’ve already seen.

Visionaries like Gene Roddenberry were able to imagine a future quite different from our own, with inventions that weren’t just improvements, but whole new concepts never before seen or imagined. Yet even Roddenberry could not predict some of the advances in technology we see today. Although we may not have yet conquered poverty, disease or intergalactic travel, things we do every day on our smartphones were beyond his comprehension.

Another factor that makes prediction difficult is the chance of catastrophe. It’s possible that we establish a colony on Mars in the next 50 years, but it’s also possible that a massive earthquake hits Washington, D.C. and levels NASA headquarters. The problem with catastrophes is that we can’t be sure when, where or how they will happen, just that they will happen.

By contrast, there are also trends that come and go, cultural shifts brought on by subtle and gradual changes to our collective psyche. If we could turn back the clock to July 21, 1969, we likely couldn’t find anyone who would predict that we wouldn’t visit any other planets in the next 50 years, yet here we are still stuck on this boring old dust bowl. The lunar landing ignited imaginations and had a huge impact on television and film, but our interest in outer space fizzled. Likewise, virtual reality was a huge trend in the 1980s, but is only new seeing a resurgence 30 years later.

We also make a huge error when we consider the advances that humans have made in recent years and assume that everyone has experienced these improvements and that there have been no consequences. Billions of people across the globe have yet to experience sanitation and safe drinking water, which makes the whole futurist thing seem kind of vain and meaningless. We also tend to think of technology as the solution to the world’s problems, ignoring the huge environmental cost and health hazard of manufacturing integrated circuits and other electronic components. We like to think that we’re on a trajectory toward perfection, but in many ways we’re worse off than we’ve ever been. Here are just a few examples:

  • Obesity is a global health crisis.
  • Voter turnout continues to fall.
  • Education is failing our youth.
  • Social media, video game and pornography addiction are increasing.
  • We’re consuming and corrupting the Earth’s resources at an unsustainable rate.
  • The gap between the rich and poor is growing.
  • Depression and anxiety are on the rise.
  • More children are being raised without both parents.
  • Large sections of the population have no legal protection.
  • The government has alarming levels of surveillance on its citizens.
  • Sexual promiscuity among adolescents is increasing.

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. War, poverty, and disease are on the decline (in most places). The point here is merely that the world is a big, complicated place, and that it’s easy to believe that everyone’s lives are as good as ours and get caught up in the excitement for what’s ahead. The world is getting better, but not for everyone and not in every way.

So what’s the future going to be like? Well it’s probably going to be similar to the present. Despite all of the advances in technology and the social, political and economic change, we still get up, go to work, pay our rent, cook our food and so on. But predicting that things will generally stay the same is not interesting or provocative. If we want people to heed our warning or buy our book, then we have to predict something that grabs headlines. Let’s take a stab at creating our own prediction. Here’s how we do it:

First we need to make sure that people pay attention to us, so we should probably choose a subject that is interesting, relevant (or seemingly so), and a little controversial. How about the Internet?

Next we need to choose a timeline. We need to pick a date that is close enough to seem meaningful, but distant enough that we can’t be proven wrong anytime soon. Choosing a point too far in the future also makes our prediction seem less credible, since we have to provide a basis for our forecast. We should also choose a number that seems significant. Let’s go with 20 years.

As for actual the prediction itself, we merely need to spot a trend, then choose a point in recent history and extrapolate a seemingly-reasonable projection into the future. Access to the Internet is on the rise, so let’s predict that in the next 20 years everyone on the planet will be online. Now we just need to find some numbers to back it up.

Year Population (m) Users (m) Users (%) Increase (m) Increase (%)
2005 6514 1024 15.72
2006 6593 1151 17.46 127 1.74
2007 6673 1365 20.46 214 3.00
2008 6753 1561 23.12 196 2.66
2009 6834 1751 25.62 190 2.51
2010 6916 2019 29.19 268 3.57
2011 6997 2224 31.79 205 2.59
2012 7080 2494 35.23 270 3.44
2013 7162 2705 37.77 211 2.54
2014 7243 2937 40.55 232 2.78
2015 7324 3174 43.34 237 2.79

Pulling up some figures on global population and Internet access, we can clearly see that the number of people online is rapidly increasing. In the past 10 years, we’ve seen it jump from around 15 per cent of the world’s population to over 43 per cent, so it’s definitely believable.

Now we should think about the specificity of our prediction. It shouldn’t be so vague that it is indecipherable, but it also shouldn’t be so specific that people can agree on its meaning and critique it. We also want to leave room for reinterpretation, should things take an unexpected turn. For these reasons it’s important to choose our phrasing very carefully.

Let’s go with this: all people will have access to an Internet connection in the next 20 years.

We use all people instead of everyone because it could refer to groups as well as individuals. We also say have access to an Internet connection, not be connected or have Internet access, because it’s more broad. After all, anyone with the potential to have electricity and a satellite dish is already included. We also say in the next 20 years instead of by 2035 because the year 2035 seems like it’s further away.

And there we have our prediction. Now we just need to give ourselves a fancy title that doesn’t require any credentials, like futurist or technology expert, and we’re on our way to fame and fortune.