Let me start by asking the following questions: What is freedom? Why do we want to be free? Should everyone be free? Are we free? Let’s deal with the first one: “What is freedom?”. The first definition that first comes in my mind is that freedom is equivalent with the absence of bounds and restrictions; thus one act in whatever manner they please. It doesn’t take long to realize that such a definition has certain unwanted consequences. For example if someone wants to rob a bank, the majority of the people will find such an action morally wicked and will do their best to prevent it from happening. In other words there are certain actions as well as lack of actions which a good portion of our society doesn’t want to take place. Essentially if a group of people cares to survive over the centuries it needs a set of rules that its members are going to obey. Otherwise we could have members of the same group wanting two contradictory things at the same time and if the group does not have rules to tackle the issue then which person gets what they want? Probably the one with the bigger muscles or the more cunning one. Basically that will lead to a malfunctioning society where unwritten rules run the show. If we are willing to accept the above scenario then we are done, but for those who are not willing to bite the bullet we need to find a different definition of what we mean by freedom.
Another definition I have encountered over the years is the following: Freedom is doing whatever you want as long as you don’t interfere with other people’s freedom. This definition tries to maintain the main idea of the individual being able to act without restrictions but it tries to avoid the previous conundrum by adding a boundary which if you cross then you enter the region of impermissible actions. Does this change actually solve the problem we had with the first definition? As far as I can tell the problem we had before is resolved because in our new definition we allow society to create rules that people will need to follow. Despite solving that problem we now have a new problem. Who decides those rules and moreover how are we going to define the boundary of freedom? In most countries the rules are decided by the government, but one cannot fail to observe that depending on the era something that was considered a fair rule at some point in time could be thought of as an abomination later on. Even during the same time period depending on which party (if there are political parties) is in power the rules may change. Is freedom that flexible? Were people a hundred years ago freer than people in our times? Does freedom evolve like living organisms do? The main point I am trying to make is that freedom is not well defined and whether we like it or not in practice there are rules in place that a certain institution has imposed on us.
People in one way or another have some vague notion about freedom and have internalized the fact that they need to follow the rules of the government. However, there are many areas that the government does not regulate and the rules are being set in a different manner. For example, if you want to run for senator and you would like to run a political ad on TV you need to pay. If you don’t pay you don’t get to present your ideas to the general public through that medium. The first amendment prohibits the government from restricting your freedom of speech but that’s pretty much it. As far as I understand, if a private entity does not want to allow you to speak then you don’t speak. So if we revisit my example, the fact that you cannot pay the TV station to run your political ad then your speech is hindered and there is nothing you can do about it. Regardless of how good your ideas are, you won’t be able to present them unless you pay. The rules of the game are written in an arbitrary way. Even though people want to deny the fact that you need money in order to be a viable candidate for a given election, I am not aware of any candidate whose campaign did not raise a lot of money.
Lastly, I wanted to point out that even though people think we have choices and thus we are free, that is not the case.For example, there are many people who want to become musicians. A priori our society does not have a reason to prevent them from doing so, nonetheless very few end up becoming musicians. Why is that? Let’s visit another example. Two kids get accepted to UT Austin to major in physics let’s say. They both have average grades and they are not eligible for scholarships.The difference is that one kid comes from a poor family whereas the other kid comes from a middle class family. For the first kid making the choice to go to UT (which is relatively expensive compared with other public schools in Texas) is not as easy as for the other kid. Both kids can accept the offer but the second one does not have to worry as much. If the poor kid chooses to go to a cheaper school so they want have to pay as much would we say that this kid realistically had two choices or one? Was the poor kid really free to choose?
Most Americans value a university degree and try their best to make sure that their children are actually going to receive one. On a different note, Americans also try to make investments which would yield the most value for their money. If we combine the above statements we arrive to the conclusion that most Americans consider going to college a good investment. Is that true? If so, why?
For starters, we could try and recite the cliché explanations. Going to college expands your horizons, allows you to be independent and deal with everyday problems by yourself, and gives you access to knowledge. I have to admit that I wholeheartedly believe in the above reasons; nonetheless I keep asking myself “Is the average student making a good investment by going to college?” You may wonder why do I ask this question. If someone wants to attend UT Austin, they have to pay around $40000 if they are from Texas, and around $135000 for everyone else. You can see the actual numbers at the following link UT Austin tuition Costs. For a quick comparison, you can buy a relatively recent used car for a little bit above $10000, and a house somewhere in Austin for roughly $300000. For the sake of the argument let’s revisit the initial explanations I provided at the beginning of the paragraph. If I wanted to expand my horizons, I could travel across the globe for a year or two, and spend some time in a country of my preference. That would definitely cost a lot of money, but it would only be a fraction of the $40000 I would have otherwise paid in tuition. If I wanted to be independent, I could move somewhere away from my hometown, rent my own place, and get a job. As far as getting access to knowledge that is pretty challenging, but in the end of the day I could buy a bunch of textbooks and enroll in online free courses. Sure I won’t be able to do research with real scientists or learn from people who are renowned in their field, but do students actually reap these benefits?
I have taken classes from many departments and I was lucky enough to have some nice experiences; however to make my point clear I would present how a typical physics class is structured. Most physics professors do not care about teaching mainly because their teaching performance doesn’t influence their salary. For this reason they have no incentive to change the way they teach. The average physicist stands in front of the class, bombards you with a huge amount of information which you won’t be able to absorb, writes stuff on the board, and assigns homework from the textbook. In order for a student to learn and be able to do his/her homework s/he needs to read the textbook. If I can get all the information I need including the homework from the textbook, why is it a better choice for me to pay tuition and buy the textbook versus just buying the textbook without going to college? Let me put it in a different way. It is no secret that F=ma. You can find it in your high school physics textbook, on Wikipedia, pretty much anywhere. So why do people end up paying money to be told F=ma?
Most of the times people have a good reason behind their actions and going to college is one of those occasions. The main reason most people go to college has nothing to do with knowledge and personal improvement. In the current job market if you do not have a college degree, you are at a serious disadvantage. As far as I know, most people who do not have a bachelor’s or associate degree are stuck at low paying jobs with no hope of ascending any social ladder. Thus the fear of poverty is enough to convince you that you should get some sort of education. However, that’s just one side of the coin. On the flip side, we have society’s vague promise that once you graduate from college you will get a good job which translates to good benefits and salary. At the end of the day, students and their parents care only about the piece of paper which states that the student has a degree in a certain field. Sadly enough parents and students are not alone. Nowadays, universities function like corporations and as such they listen to what their customers (students and parents) say. They make sure that it is difficult for students to fail. After all, when you end up paying $40000 in 4 years you have certain expectations from the university, and more specifically you expect the university to give you a degree. Nobody cares if the student actually learned something. Nobody cares if the student is an innovator or an independent mind. Nobody cares if the student actually knows that F=ma.
Unfortunately, society’s vague promise of a secure job waiting for you after graduation is not materializing. If getting a degree is not getting you a job then why should you make that investment after all? Coupling education with social and economical success is the root of the problem. Education has a much broader scope than providing us a good return to our initial investment. Nonetheless, as long as people pay a huge amount of money for college they will treat education as another financial investment and they will not seek education for the sake of learning.
When is this whole conflict going to end? Are they still fighting? Is there a ceasefire? I don’t see the media talking anymore about the Operation Protective Edge and its aftermath. This silence after the intense daily coverage of the conflict between Israel and Palestinians is one of the reasons why the conflict has never been resolved. How can we, as a society, put this problem on the back burner? The answer is straightforward. We have been ignoring this problem for almost sixty years now, why should we pay attention now? Despite the general apathy, there are people who care about peace in Middle East, don’t ignore the problem, and wonder “What can be done?”. Let’s do what we always do when we try to solve problems, identify the root of the problem.
The main source of the problem is that Israel was created out of thin air and established in an area with other newly born countries. On top of that we brought people from every corner of Europe and sent them in area which was culturally different. This situation is similar with people of different ethnic and cultural background moving to the US. Yes, we can make it work, nonetheless in many places in the US incoming immigrants are not welcomed and locals want to get rid of them. This is not a new phenomenon. When Irish people start coming to the US, they were not integrated immediately in the American society and they faced discrimination. Long story short, establishing a new state consisting of people from across Europe in Palestine, an Arab dominated area, could not be expected to go smoothly, it didn’t go smoothly, and that is the root of the problem. Unfortunately, knowing the root of the problem does not solve the problem. If we really want to solve this problem we need to delve into the dynamics and history of the problem.
As of now Israel has the upper hand and won every war since its independence. This is mainly due to their well organized armed forces, technologically advanced equipment, and all sorts of help from the USA who needs an ally in the region. The Arab nations have ganged up in the past against Israel, however they did not manage to gain anything, but on the contrary they lost land. One may ask how long can Israel keep fighting its enemies and keep winning? One will naturally answer not forever. I remember when I was an undergraduate, I read this interview of a professor in my school who pointed out that Israel is the one in disadvantage. Israel has a population of a little more than 8 million and it is surrounded by unfriendly neighbors who amount to around 110 million people. What will Israel do if all these people decide one day that they had enough and they are going to fight to the death?At the moment, Israel is not doing its best to make friends in the region in order to avoid the above scenario. From Israel’s perspective it is impossible to be friends with organizations like Hamas whose sole purpose is to eliminate Israel which is a valid point. This animosity is what prolongs this conflict. Israel is aware of the surrounding hostility and the fact that Arabs outnumber Israelis. Thus Israel faces the following dilemma: do we take a tough stance, use our forces, and show our neighbors that we are a strong minority, or avoid conflict, use diplomacy, and mellow our neighbors over time so they will accept Israel as a permanent entity in the region?
In most cases, Israel chose the first route because after all there are organizations out there who really want to eliminate Israel. And this is how Israel dealt with the latest conflict. Israel invaded Gaza in order to destroy Hamas’ underground tunnel network, stating that Israel had the right to defend itself and protect its citizens and most people will agree that nobody can deprive a country’s right of self-defense. However, let’s step back for a moment and see the conflict from a Palestinian point of view. In the course of roughly seven weeks more than 2000 Palestinians died of whom 69-75% were civilians. Using the same principle of self defense that Israel has used in order to launch their operation, don’t Palestinians have the same right to protect themselves from a force that has killed many civilians and destroyed their infrastructure? This is exactly how extremists recruit people; they remind them that Israel killed innocent people and an extremist will claim that any reasonable Palestinian would want to defend their people against a country who does not value the lives of innocents.
You may feel that I haven’t said anything new, I have just reiterated what many people already know, and you deserve a punchline. Well here is your punchline. The conflict between Israel and Palestinians is deeper than what you think. You need to read more than what you just hear on TV and on the radio. The problem boils down to our apathy to follow the consequences of these repeated conflicts in the area and we choose who to support while we are sitting comfortably on our couch. My suggestion is to go and find out the consequences of the war. How many people died from this conflict? How did these people died? What was the damage on infrastructure for both sides? Has Israel actually weakened Hamas? Are nationalism and extremism more prevalent in the region? Who won the conflict? And lastly has this conflict paved the way to a peace agreement or another conflicts?
Marquis de Condorcet, in his Jury Theorem, argues that if voters are better informed about the issue they need to vote on, then by adding more voters in the pool the probability of reaching the correct decision is increased. This, of course, is a simplified version but, for now, let’s refrain from analyzing it. Moreover, a 2004 paper by Lu Hong and Scott Page, titled “Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers”, concludes that a group of diverse, intelligent problem solvers can outperform a less diverse group of the best-performing problem solvers
Putting these two together, I would argue that we have a basis to push for a more direct democracy, where voters are actively involved in the decisions of the state affairs. In this case, our elected representatives would be the group of less diverse, more knowledgeable problem solvers and the general populace would be…
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Εάν το νησί διχοτομηθεί θα έιναι η χειρότερη λύση στο Κυπριακό πρόβλημα. Η διχοτόμηση έχει πολλά εμφανή μειονεκτήματα. Πρώτο, οι περιουσίες των εκτοπισμένων θα χαθούν για πάντα. Αν διχοτομηθεί το νησί όλοι οι εκτοπισμένοι χάνουν τις περιουσίες τους. Ψηλά χαμηλά, με οποιαδήποτε άλλη λύση θα επιστραfούν κάποιες περιουσίες. Παρά να χαθούν όλες οι περιουσίες είναι καλύτερο να χαθούν μερικές. Δεύτερο, μονιμοποιεί την παρουσία του Τουρκικού στρατού στο Βορρά πράγμα που κανένας δε θέλει για λόγους ασφάλειας. Τρίτο δημιουργεί δύο κράτη σε ένα μικρό νησί που σε κάποιο σημείο οι πληθησμοί τους θα αυξηθούν και είτε θα συγκρουστούν για να καταλάβουν περισσότερη γη, είτε θα αναγκαστούν να συμβιώσουν. Αν δε γλυτώνεις τη συμβίωση, τι κέρδος θα σου φέρει η διχοτόμηση; Σε αυτό το σημείο νιώθω ότι θα με ρωτήσετε τι καλύτερο έχω να προτείνω;
Έχω και άλλα να πω άλλα ήδη είπα αρκετά. Με ενδιαφέρουν οι απόψεις σας.
In many occasions, I have heard people accusing their countries’ political parties for their respective country’s problems, and I think these complaints are accurate. We know that some politicians are corrupt, making money using their authority. We also know that politicians are favoring people from their own partyplacing them in crucial positions. One day, having all these things in mind, I asked myself could we be better off if political parties ceased to exist and they were forbidden?
The first thing that came into my mind is the Soviet Union where they had only one party which claimed that they cared for the good of the people. They also claimed that constructive dialogue and disagreement could come from within the party and the party will hear these requests and adjust accordingly. However, the truth was far more different than what the party said. The state was structured in such a way, giving certain people extraordinary power, allowing them to suppress any disobedience and criticism. Even worse, government official formed cliques and these cliques were in a constant power struggle. There are numerous examples of people getting assassinated, sent to Siberia, and put in prison, solely because they belonged in a different subgroup of what was supposed to be a united entity, the Party. One may argue that Soviet Union was a dirty state and there was nothing good about its structure. After all, Soviet Union used communism as a facade, but in reality the power-holders did everything possible to prevent people expressing their true opinion and opposition. The Soviet Union experiment may lead to the conclusion that what we actually need is to ban every political party.
The idea of not having any political parties is actually not that recent. Actually, the founding fathers of USA were not really fond of political parties due to the fact that political parties tend to be divisive. Indeed at the very first years of the United States there were no political parties, until Alexander Hamilton founded the Federalist party, which was promoting Hamilton’s economic policies. Thus one naturally can ask what may have caused the creation of a party even in an environment like the early USA or Eastern European bloc after the collapse of the Soviet Union where in both situations parties were not that welcomed. In my opinion there is a natural need to belong in a group which makes people feel safe and stronger, thus we should expect people to form groups which stand for some ideals. For this reason, I do not think we can prevent people from forming political groups because we simply cannot stop them from doing so. This leads me to my next point. Having political parties is not the problem. The root of the problem is the governing body of each political party.
In most political parties there are different cliques, like in the case of the Soviet Union, fighting for the absolute control of the party. In the end of the day, what happened in the Soviet Union ( excluding the assassinations and exiles) happens in every political party everywhere. In the end of the day the leaders of a political party use their followers, whose opinion does not matter anyway, to impose their will. In the presence of a political party the government favors its followers, in the case of no political parties the government/dictator favors their relatives and friends. In the end of the day, the average person is screwed over in both cases. Political parties ignore the people who voted for them and keep abusing their power. This lead me to my third point. This entire situation is a consequence of representative democracy. We the people give our right to choose and voice our opinion to a small amount of people. The solution to every country’s problem is direct democracy.
We may not end up having completely a direct democracy and hold referenda every day, requiring everyone to show up and vote for every issue. Nonetheless, when the discussion comes to taxation, education, public spending, fighting terrorism, health care, civil rights, and other topics of great importance, everyone needs to have a saying. In any system we choose to create, people are going to form groups with a certain agenda and leadership; however their power and authority will be exponentially less in a system with direct democracy.
This article is just the start there are more to follow on this topic.
I will argue that education needs to be free for everyone. This includes college education as well as access to databases. Many people have argued against this idea based on the following argument. Why should I pay for somebody else’s education? Essentially, this category of people is bothered to be loaded with the cost of others’ education, which at a first glance seems a pretty compelling argument. Nonetheless, this is a shortsighted view, which neglects to mention or even acknowledge a crucial piece of information. That vital information is the fact that the entire society indeed may share the cost of free education, but it will also share the benefits of an educated population. For example, everyone benefits from the invention of cell phones and computers, inventions which revolutionized the market as well as the way we socialize. Everything has become faster and more accessible through technology.
Many people have the impression that all these inventions were suddenly conceived and created. The reality is quite different. Take for example the MRI machines that allow us to get a high accuracy image of what is happening in our body. The fundamental idea behind MRI is nuclear magnetic resonance, which was demonstrated by Rabi in 1938. Rabi did not plan to create a medical device, but was probing the laws of nature. What I am trying to point out is that there is a utility in learning for the sake of learning.
I think that the majority of people agrees that we are better off having education. So if most people understand the usefulness of education why do we put a price on it? Here in the USA, many college students need to take loans in order to pay their bills, and many of these students graduate and find themselves unemployed or work at low paying jobs. At some point, these people won’t be able to pay their loans. As a society what are we going to do? Are we going to discourage people from going to college so they won’t be in debt? Wouldn’t that lead us to a less educated society?
Something else I would like to point out is the social inequality that inhibits some people from pursuing education. Think about a kid who is born in an extremely poor family, or in the ghetto. How is this kid going to pay for college? Do you think his/her family will encourage their kid to take a loan that they cannot pay? The reality is that nobody is going to encourage their kid to take a loan of $50,000, when they cannot afford it.
Putting a price on education makes sure that poor people stay uneducated or far less educated than wealthier people. If as a society we see that an educated population benefits everyone, shouldn’t we try and educate everyone?
(This article is based on a discussion I had with a fellow physics graduate student here in UT.)