Monday, October 27, 2014

Creeping Criminality

In our society many people measure individual progress by steadily increasing wealth and the symbols of success. The bright and successful are envied and admired, the unintelligent and poor ignored and despised.

Society Favors the Smart

Starting from kindergarten and throughout the education process intelligence tests select the gifted for special preferences. High School SAT tests sift out the smart, who go to college and then enter the job market through a relentless selection process that chooses only the brainiest. The best-of-the-best win scholarships. The mediocre (driven by parents’ ambitions) pay hugely expensive tuitions. The wealthy, well-connected parents get their kids into the schools of their choice, irrespective of merit.

Brains  Success

We soon get used to the idea that smarts + drive = success; pay-raises, promotions, perks and prestige. It becomes a sort of fascism: the smarter you are, the more you push, the more you achieve, the higher you rise, the wealthier you become.

But, it’s quickly evident that brains alone do not bring success; lots of high IQ people are not successful, at least in terms of becoming rich. To achieve financial success other characteristics come into play: diligence, drive and determination. And something else.


Sometimes it takes a propensity for pretense, the inclination to cut corners, take short cuts.  The smarter a person is, the easier it is for them to tweak the truth.

Overstating is acceptable – after all, TV advertising does it all the time. One doesn't really believe all those claims – or does one? C’mon – sales people do it all the time.

Fabricating Falsehoods

Few people are out and out cheats and liars – most drift into increasingly dubious behavior through insidious wealth addiction. Bluffing and amplification and become the norm. Many drift into tweaking results, expecting that they can explain away the discrepancy if and when their bluff is called. They fudge (stretch the truth), and then the fiddling turns to lying, which extends to cheating and stealing. This is “creeping criminality.”

Avoiding or Evading

Let's take taxes. If you have a lot of income, you pay a lot of taxes. It's interesting how people, who wouldn't dream of ever doing anything crooked, will happily fiddle their taxes. The same lifestyle junkies, who spend recklessly on cars and boats and trips to Bermuda, try hard to either not think about, or find ways to avoid paying taxes.

There are lots of people who worry about the tax deductions they may be losing by not following a "tax strategy". They spend a lot on tax advice that leads them to buy time-share condos in out of the way places and make complicated investments in offshore partnerships, all to save on their taxes. As I listen to friends outlining their complicated strategies, I start to wonder how much income they must be making to go through such trouble. And, I wonder too how much time and money they must be spending to save how much money. And how much fudging?

Growing Addiction

Anyone is capable of cultivating creeping criminality. It grows and tends to become addictive.

Occasional borrowing from petty cash becomes a habit and the amounts grow. Pilfering the coffee cups and copier-paper with impunity for a while grows into more ambitious stealing. The waiter puts a few fresh beer bottles along with the empties outside with the trash for a buddy to pick up, and the habit soon extends to wine and steak. When caught, many plead innocence because they had not really intended to cheat.

Break the speed limit a bit and your propensity for speeding creeps up. Jump a couple of red lights and it becomes a dangerous habit. Driving after a couple of drinks may be harmless enough at first, but can escalate into deadly drunken driving. The occasional lapses simply escalate.

The patterns of addictive creeping criminality are everywhere. Political bribery often starts with harmless gifts and sponsored trips that drift into blatant bribery and boondoggles. Small security leaks become steadily more sinister. Harmless flirtations grow into full-fledged affairs. The friendly parish priest or scoutmaster may not have recognized his own latent pedophilia until it was too late.

Freedom to Fudge

The way business is organized today, there are lots of encouragements to exaggerate and even falsify.

Most companies pay senior management incentives and bonuses based on growth and profit performance. The diligence that starts out as ambition turns to plain old greed.

After a few years of generating high income it becomes the norm. The lifestyle is addictive. It's easy to scale up, but not scale down. How do you explain to your family that they will need to move to a smaller home and give up their cars because you failed at work? This is when deception becomes a dependency. The overhead perpetuates the prevarication.

Financial Fiddling

It is disingenuous to think that creeping criminality is not common. The disease is widespread. With a stock market that measures the worth of companies by their ability to meet quarterly forecasts, the temptation is too great: fudge the numbers today and catch up in the next quarter.

Over the past several years, several major financial institutions have been routinely accused of lying to their customers to sell securities that they knew were substandard. They make a multi-billion-dollar settlement, typically “without admitting anything prejudicial”.  Which means they get away with it.

Movies like “The Wolf of Wall Street” demonstrate the deception that is fairly common, though not so blatant.  Stockbrokers are ranked with used-car salesmen and politicians and as people who cannot be believed.  (I find it hard to accept that most politicians are corrupt.)

Human condition

Soon, and perhaps too late, the recognition comes that lying generates a large overhead; the lies must be consistent. No matter how smart the liar is, the Peter Principle of prevarication applies: getting caught when the lies exceed the liar's level of lying competence.

Creeping criminality is a human condition that can afflict anyone and everyone. How do we stop ourselves from this insidious infirmity? Watch the little things, and don't even start!

Jim Pinto
27 October 2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Transition to a very different Future

More than ever before, the world seems to be poised for rapid change. Only dreamers expect a return to the "good old days". More and more people are beginning to recognize the naiveté and inadequacy of the present social order. There is an awakening acceptance that many of the old icons are being broken beyond repair and a new age is being ushered in.

Technology Acceleration

Technology laws dictate annual doubling of processing and networking performance. Today’s handheld computers have more processing power than the mainframe super-computers of a couple of decades ago.

Among the multitude of smart gadgets everywhere is the ubiquitous cellphone. (1) Today there are almost as many cell-phones as there are people on this earth (about 7 billion) and it took a little more than 20 years for that to happen. (Strange – by comparison, only about 60% have access to working toilets.) As we move into the future, expect more functionality: health and fitness monitoring, fingerprint scanning, augmented reality overlays, paper-thin screens, 3D and holograms, built-in projectors, voice-control, smart-wallets, ubiquitous and automatic WiFi. The possibilities are endless.

Robots have loomed over the future of labor for decades. Optimists say that more robots will lead to greater productivity and economic growth, while pessimists complain that huge swaths of the labor force will see their employment options automated out of existence. (2) Some even think that robots will end up producing more than enough of everything that everyone needs. Then what?

Biotechnology Revolution

For over a decade now, biotechnology and genetic engineering has been advancing steadily. The accelerating unraveling of medical discoveries and breakthroughs, centered on the manipulations of the very essence of life – DNA, the human genome and synthetic biology. (3)

Cloned livestock are already proliferating. (4) Already, breeders are concerned that the opportunity for creative combinations may be eliminated from the process if they simply cloned the prize bulls. Hitherto, sexual reproduction has maintained biodiversity that generated greater long-term sustainability. Imagine a flock of cloned prize cattle from 2002 in the year 2050 – nothing new, nothing evolved, perhaps succumbing to a disease and obliterated.

Human Cloning

Within a few short years genetic engineering and human cloning will be relatively commonplace. (5) (6) When the relatively safe and successful delivery of an increasing number of genetically engineered human clones is demonstrated, who will choose instead the painful process and dangerous lottery of the conventional birthing process?

Millions of childless couples will wait and watch for their turn to get a clone of their own, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there are many millions of unfortunate real babies in poor countries, waiting to be adopted.

Many “less advanced” people will still be following the old tried-and-true birthing mechanisms. In the long run they may turn out stronger as a result. Imagine if the "more advanced" countries were stuck with outdated genes, looking for DNA handouts.

Human animal hybrids, termed chimeras, are sometimes used for medical purposes – for example, organs suitable for transplantation or research into immune systems. (7)  If chimeras can be bred, what would differentiate them as human? Could they be used as workers at less than minimum wage? Do chimeras or clones have souls? Should they be allowed to vote? Can they be bred as soldiers? Scary possibilities! The specter of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World looms.

With these technology shifts will come the need for new thinking in all the systems of human society: laws, ethics, morals, theology, and philosophy.

Life extension

Human life expectancy has already increased from about 45 at the start of the 20th century to 80 today. Because of technology advancements, life expectancy could increase to 120 as early as 2050. (8)

Some scholars even consider that mankind is undergoing a major evolutionary transition comparable to the shifts from monkeys to apes, and apes to humans. In addition to longer lives, humans will likely delay the timing of biological reproduction and reduce the number of offspring too. These changes could signify new types of human, more focused on culture and learning than biology and reproduction. (9)

Hey! When human life-extension technology becomes commonplace, perhaps I'll still be alive at the age of 115, on my seventh career (engineer, doctor, lawyer, clergyman, plumber, space scientist and then politician) and perhaps I'll be romancing some cute 90-year-old.

Back to the Present

Many countries have simply been printing money, showing increased weakness, with debt-to-GDP ratios reaching clearly unstable heights. In 2014, China and other emerging markets are dragging instead of driving growth. The global economy is facing its biggest test of confidence in decades. Many gurus have been predicting a serious decline and, even as I write this, the stock market is showing signs that another big crash is imminent.

Large corporations are hoarding cash and going offshore to escape taxation in the U.S. Unemployment is high in all developed nations, with only low-wage service jobs available, causing serious decline of the middle-class. The gap between the haves and have-nots is growing ever more unbridgeable. (10)

The developing world sees the West as greedy and arrogant. Millions of people are dying in Africa and other parts of the world while pharmaceutical companies won't allow poor countries to make much-needed drugs because they demand more profit from their investments.

The Present is not pleasant

For the majority of the world, the spread of disease is the most urgent problem. The major scare right now (October 2014) is the Ebola virus; no one knows whether it can or will be contained, and if it spreads, how can it be stopped?  In America and Europe, panic is spreading faster than the disease.

Today a large part of humanity is generating instability and discontent. Extremists and religious zealots keep inciting ever more dangerous unrest to exploit this situation. In the Middle East, disparate worlds are colliding. All recognize the direct, bold-faced threats made by ISIS/ISIL, though few even try to understand their motivations for hating Western society so much.

In the midst of this continuous turmoil of events, the ever-present media do little else than repeat the instantly available news, with refresh-cycles of hours, sometimes minutes. Each TV channel competes for attention with a succession of talking heads breathlessly breaking the news of harsh events as they unfold. And the global village grows ever smaller.

Hunger Games

While disaster looms, the vast majority remains silent, feeling like helpless onlookers completely incapable of doing anything. While a future of harmony and health is still a vague and unformed possibility in our collective imaginations, a future of conflict and suffering is easy to envision.

The film “Hunger Games” presents a heroic struggle in a world that has failed to make the transition to some form of widespread, sustainable prosperity. (11) People are barely surviving on a ruined Earth in a society that has regressed to ritualistic, annual killings for the entertainment of a privileged few. Who can deny that the premise of this movie is plausible?

Soft Solutions for Hard Problems

The conventional hard solutions are completely inadequate – guns, tanks and warplanes cannot stop suicide bombers. How many millions must die before the paradigm shifts? What is the catalyst that will signal the recognition and acceptance that no one is right or wrong?

The mass of humanity yearns to renew itself and the time for transition is near. The change will come when we care enough to ask each other, "What am I doing that makes you feel you must hurt me?" With understanding will come perhaps the beginning of a universal brotherhood of humanity. (12)

Ever the optimist, I predict – perhaps I just “feel” – that the solutions already lie within the problems themselves. Inventive, innovative, caring, charitable, far-sighted humans will indeed find a way. The future will be a better place.


  1. Number of mobile phones exceed world population 2014:
  2. Robots Take All the Work, What’ll Be Left for Us to Do?
  3. Craig Venter Envisions Future of Synthetic Life:
  4. Cloned Livestock Poised To Receive FDA Clearance:
  5. Human Cloning:
  6. Adult Human Cells Cloned for First Time:
  7. Human-animal hybrids and chimeras:
  8. Life Expectancy:
  9. Humans In The Middle Of A Huge Evolutionary Transition:
  10. Inequality gap between super rich and poor widens:
  11. Hunger Games – The Price of Failed Transition:
  12. Soft Solutions for Hard Problems (Jim Pinto 2001):

Jim Pinto

17 October 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

Creation Allegory

I was born and brought up in India, in a strongly Catholic family. Three of my sisters were nuns and there were several priests and nuns among my uncles and aunts. 

From childhood, I wondered why we kept being told: God loves you and loves everyone else too. Why did God also love the bully and the cheat and the bad guys too? Somehow it didn’t seem fair. (1)

Biblical View

With this Christian upbringing and schooling, my thinking was centered on the Biblical view of God and Creation. (2)

The bible relates that some time after creation, God was displeased and brought a great flood that drowned everyone – except Noah and his family. If God loved everyone, why did he cause all those people to be drowned? They were his own creation!

Then some time later God ordered Abraham to kill his son Isaac. Obediently, Abraham was ready to do the foul deed; I questioned the man’s love for his own son. My bible history book showed a picture of Abraham with a knife raised, intent on the murder.  But, just in time God intervened and provided a convenient lamb to be sacrificed instead. What a cruel trick on a dedicated servant!

I never understood how God could be so cruel to Job, his loyal devotee.  He took away Job’s wealth, health and even his loved ones, piece by piece, one by one, just to prove to the devil how much Job loved him. Then, after taking everything away (including  killing off  Job's wife and family), after Job proved that he was still faithful, God gave it all back! To me, this seemed cruel and even hateful.

Occasionally, God got displeased with people’s bad behaviors. He killed off whole cities (Sodom and Gomorrah) while saving a selected few people – with a catch: He cautioned them to not look back at the destruction as they were leaving. Then, poor Lot’s wife was turned to salt, simply because she looked back. Huh? Why was God so neurotic? I couldn’t help wondering about the gullibility of the storyteller who expected me to believe all these things without questioning them.

God loves Man – why?

As I grew up, I sometimes brooded over the mystery of why God loves us all, to the extent that he sent his own son to save us. I wondered: Wasn’t God omnipotent? Why didn’t he simply produce a couple of miracles to save the people He loved, instead of this awful agony and suffering that Jesus had to go through?

These thought flitted through my mind now and then. I discussed them with some among my family, nun-sisters and others, but was never quite satisfied with the answers.

Then, just recently, I found a story that made things fall into place – at least for me. The title was “Sole Solution”, written by Eric Frank Russell, a British author best known for his science fiction novels and short stories. (3) (4) (5)

Below, I’ve provided a link to the complete text. Here’s my summary

Creation Story

It brooded in darkness and there was no one else. Not a voice, not a whisper. Not the touch of a hand. Not the warmth of another heart. Just darkness. Solitude. Its torments were those of boredom, loneliness, mental and physical sterility.  

No hope of rescue from elsewhere. No sorrow or sympathy or pity in another soul, another mind. No doors to be opened, no locks to be turned, no bars to be sawn apart. Only the thick, deep sable night in which to fumble and find nothing. It could touch and sense one thing only. And that was self.

Eternal confinement where all was black and silent and nothing stirred. Imprisonment without prior condemnation.  Punishment without sin. The unbearable that had to be borne unless some mode of escape could be devised.

The only available resources with which to overcome his predicament were those secreted within self. It must be the instrument of its own salvation. How? It was the ultimate scientist.  This was the ultimate challenge to Its capabilities.

The easiest escape was via the imagination. But dreams are not enough. They are unreal and all too brief. The freedom to be gained must be genuine and of long duration. That meant It must make a stern reality of dreams, a reality so contrived that it would persist for all time. It must be self-perpetuating. Nothing less would make escape complete.

So It sat in the great dark and battled the problem. There was no clock, no calendar to mark the length of thought. There were no external data upon which to compute. There was nothing, nothing except the workings within Its agile mind. And one thesis: no problem is beyond solution.

Then the ultimate scientist found the solution. It meant escape from everlasting night. It would provide experience, companionship, adventure, mental exercise, entertainment, warmth, love, the sound of voices, the touch of hands.

The plan was anything but rudimentary. On the contrary it was complicated enough to defy untangling for endless eons. It had to be like that to have permanence. The unwanted alternative was swift return to silence and the bitter dark.

It created a mighty dream of Its own; a place of infinite complexity schemed in every detail to the last dot and comma. Within this It would live anew – but not as Itself. It was going to dissipate Its person into numberless parts, a great multitude of variegated shapes and forms each of which would have to battle its own peculiar environment.

And It would toughen the struggle to the limit of endurance by unthinking Itself, handicapping Its parts with appalling ignorance and forcing them to learn afresh.

It considered “free will”. Without that, Its creation would simply be automatons – the universe would be a gigantic, mechanistic plaything. So, allowing Its creation to exercise free will would be the ultimate gift.

It would seed enmity between them by dictating the basic rules of the game. Those who observed the rules would be called good. Those who did not would be called bad. Thus there would be endless conflicts within the one great conflict.

When all was ready and prepared It itself would no longer be one, but an enormous concourse of entities. Then Its parts, using free will, must fight back to unity, trust, goodness and Itself.

But first It must make reality of the dream. That was the test! The time was now. The experiment must begin.

Leaning forward, It gazed into the dark and said, “Let there be light.”

My Own View of Creation

As I ponder the vastness and complexity of Time, Space and the Universe from my own infinitesimal viewpoint, this creation allegory makes a lot of sense. 

God is not some remote creator, but rather the essence of the universe that brought it into reality. The moment of creation was what may be considered the “big bang”. No one has yet explained how and why that occurred. This at least provides a rational back-story that somehow makes sense.

In the present moment, the here and now, God is not some remote observer or judge, but an active participant through you and I and every part of creation.


  1. Nine Views of Creation:
  2. Biblical Views of Creation:
  3. Eric Frank Russell – Background & Bio:
  4. “The Sole Solution” by Eric Frank Russell  - full text:
  5. Hear an excellent reading of, “The Sole Solution”: 
Jim Pinto
7 October 2014