How to be evil

So, my New Year’s resolutions were these two:

  1. Be more easy-going and less critical, less imposing.
  2. Read 200 books in 2016.

My average for the last two years has been around 15 books a year – just over one a month. This is a sad statistic for someone that can speed-read, and it’s disheartening for someone that has over 300 books on his to-read list. (If you wan’t to see what I’ve read or what I’m reading or planning to read, you can check out my Goodreads profile. I don’t really leave reviews and when I do, I do it in Croatian, but that might also change one day.)

Thus I started the year off with a book a day influence(or almost a book a day). I read them in no particular order, as they spark my interest at the time. It is mostly non-fiction, books I can extract useful information quickly and discard the rest, but I don’t discriminate against fiction. Somehow it happened that, after reading How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie, a book that has been recommended to me time and time again, I got interested in “people skills” – and so I started reading Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Now, this book is really good. It is based on scientific research on human psychology and how we make the decisions we make, and also how people use flaws in our decision making processes to make us do what they want us to do.

Naturally, I had a feeling that this was nothing new. We all know, at least intuitively, that salespeople have their “tricks” that make us comply with their sales requests. But the problem is we see their techniques as tricks, not as well-tested, research-based methods that use our weak spots to hack our brains. Simply put, as it so happens very often in life, we do not take certain things seriously enough. We just buzz past them, without noticing how deliberate, how studied, how professional – these techniques really are.

Anyway, the whole point of the book seems to be how to protect yourself from the bad effect these techniques might have on you. What I have done is the opposite: I have compiled a list of techniques based on fixed action patterns that can be used to influence and manipulate people into doing things they wouldn’t have done before. This is real grey area here, but it’s the same thing as learning to punch someone in the face.

I will not go into detail here; for that, you have to read the book. The author lists all the studies that he bases his conclusions on and you can check the studies out too. What I will explain is what fixed action patterns are and how they can be exploited to manipulate people, and I will list out all the possible practical applications of these findings. It is on you to decide if you will ever use them. I plan on field-testing them – not using them on a daily basis, but on trying them out and seeing how they work for me, and if I am able to use them in an efficient manner.

evil

So, what are fixed action patterns?

Fixed action patterns are actions that a certain species does in presence of a certain stimulus, and rarely (or never) differs from the fixed course of action. These are so called “instinctive responses”, but them being instinctive is not enough. They are simply fixed. If a certain stimulus is present, the animal does exactly the same thing over and over again, despite it not being a good decision. For example, some birds will roll any egg-shaped object into their nest because they have a fixed action pattern that says: “I always have to roll eggs back into the nest.” They simply cannot decide otherwise. They just perform an action without any will of their own. It just happens, the pattern takes over the brain and any brain processing whatsoever.

Needless to say, humans have also exhibited fixed action patterns in their behaviour. Despite it being a bit more complex and despite our wonderful ability to rationalize afterwards, we have our own ways of turning off the thinking brain and just completing the pattern that has been ingrained into our nervous system by evolution.

Here are the ways a knowledgeable person can exploit these fixed action patterns:

  1. Use the word “because” often, even if your reasons are just repeating something you just said, or saying something non-related. Science says that if you hear the word because, you are more likely to comply to whatever was needed, even though the reason itself might not be a good reason. It just suffices to have A reason.
  2. Do favours and give small gifts that are difficult to turn down. People are more likely to comply to your requests if they feel they owed you something, even though your original gift might be an order of magnitude smaller and insignificant compared to what you’re asking for.
  3. Make people commit to things. If they commit to what you’re asking them, however small it may be, it makes larger commitments possible. Want not to be robbed while you use the toilet in the café? Ask somebody to watch over your stuff. That way, they commit to a certain role they have now assumed.
  4. Commitment is best achieved not through spoken word but through action. If your commitment makes people DO something, anything, just writing a couple of lines of text for example, it is a much stronger commitment than without the action.
  5. “Lowballing” – if you want to enforce or sell something, you offer it for a small price (monetary or any other kind). After a test period, you raise the price, saying that you’ve mistakenly thought the price was lower. Because of the test period, people have committed themselves to a certain product or whatever it may be you were trying to sell/enforce. They are much more likely to accept the raise in the price. Car dealers routinely lowball people.
  6. If you want someone to do something, be as similar to them as possible. Profess to have the same hobbies, wear the same clothes, speak in the same way. The more you are similar, the more people are likely to comply with your request.
  7. Look good.
  8. Flatter. Flattery, even when perceived as flattery, is often just as effective.
  9. Create an image of authority, be it through the way you speak, through a title you might have, through the clothes you wear. People are more likely to comply if they feel a request is coming from an authority, despite it not being an appropriate authority.
  10. The less something is available, the more people want it. The less the information about the unavailability of something is available, even more the people will want it. This is amplified if this something was previously in abundance.

There you have it, ten techniques to manipulate people into doing things you want them to do. Statistically, they should work with most people. Naturally, this information is of greatest interest to people that want to sell things, but many other uses are possible. Read the whole book for additional information and for greater understanding and appreciation of these techniques.

A final word of caution: be wise in your use of these techniques. It is better to tell the truth instead of lies. It is better to work in the open instead of plotting. And it is better to be honest instead of manipulating people’s fixed action patterns. But as you go through life, you will undoubtedly find yourself in situations where lying is necessary, where plotting is necessary and where using fixed action patterns is necessary. You might still decide not to use them but when you find yourself there, it’s better to know these things than not to know them.

 

Problems “beneath” an Overhuman

I didn’t know how to name this post and this is the best I came up with. Problems “beneath” an Overhuman are problems that are so commonplace and low-level and ubiquitous that an Overhuman does not deign to bother with them. (S)he is simply above them and considers them trifles, things not worth his/her time, things that – this is going to sound bad – are reserved for the “ordinary” people.

An Overhuman assumes what might be seen as a condescending attitude toward many things that other people worry about. Fortunately, this condescending attitude is not condescending at all because it is coupled with high emotional intelligence and, thus, empathy.

An Overhuman understands his fellow humans’ pain and suffering and anxiety, an Overhuman understands its causes and the mechanisms why these negative emotions come about, but the Overhuman does not share in their pain.

I shall give practical examples:

You have a bad relationship with a parent. Your parent is very controlling and has bad physiological influence over you. You are stressed because of your parent’s expectations, you are unsure of yourself and you seek your parent’s approval for everything you do.

You can be the best deductionist in the world and also speak 7 languages and be an incredible fighter, but if that is what’s bothering you – you are not yet an Overhuman.

An Overhuman cannot exist with problems that usually come up in normal human affairs. Why? Precisely because an Overhuman is not normal. Merely possessing Overhuman skills is not enough – it’s like having a Ferrari and not knowing how to drive it, or driving it badly, or only driving it during daytime. Skills are nothing without the state of mind that employs them.

Another example:

A war breaks out in your country and thousands of people are starving because the supply lines to your area have stopped. You starve too – primarily because you never stocked up on food in case of such events.

Or another example, based on that very same war I just mentioned: You are forced to take to the streets and because it is cold, you cannot bear it and have to change plans that involved you staying out.

What do these two examples have in common?

Well, generally speaking, the correct answer would be – weakness.

An Overhuman is an Overhuman because (s)he is not weak in any form, neither in body nor mind. For these two examples it is a certain weakness of the mind that has assured us that you are not yet an Overhuman: failure to prepare.

You see, an Overhuman is a prepper by default. Stocking up on food is done as a matter of course. It takes no thinking through – being a prepper, and – nota bene – a good prepper – is just something that goes without saying, something that is so blatantly obvious that it needs not be addressed.

And an Overhuman is also a practitioner of the Wim Hof method – by default. It goes without saying.

Are you starting to see the bigger picture?

Well, if no, I will outline it clearly.

The very foundation of an Overhuman, its base – is a high success level in other disciplines. What some may consider as the pinnacle of achievement in their art, an Overhuman considers as merely a starting point for his/her own art.

Thus fighters will strive to be incredible fighters and will consider it a great success when they become incredible. Overhumans are incredible fighters by default. For fighters, it will be their end-goal. For Overhumans, it will be their starting point.

Thus Zen monks and Stoics will strive towards mental clarity and acceptance of whatever life brings, and they will see this as “enlightenment”, as their final phase. Overhumans are enlightened by default. It’s their starting point.

Thus survivalists and preppers will strive to be as prepared as possible for various events, ranging from bad, to catastrophic to apocalyptic. Overhumans – you guessed it – are good survivalists by default. What the community of survivalists and preppers sees as high capability and preparedness, an Overhuman sees simply as a necessary base for other things.

And so, the problems “beneath” an Overhuman – being too fat or out of shape; having insecurities; not having enough money for strategical investments; speaking only one language; having a bad immune system; having bad people skills; having unresolved family disputes etc. – are truly “beneath” an Overhuman. An Overhuman simply has no time or patience to deal with such matters he or she considers as trifles. Naturally, (s)he will show empathy and give advice to those that need it, but in his/her personal life, such problems simply do not arise. They are just too low-level.

Killproof

A practical post for a practical idea.

Being killproof.

We know we want to survive. We do what we need to so that we have a chance of surviving. One of the greatest predators to humans are other humans – and I am not necessarily talking about serial killers. Wars, terrorism, random acts of violence – there are plenty of examples.

Obviously, I advocate martial arts training and being prepared for worst case scenarios (as in war, breakdown of the state or something else like that), but knowing how to punch well and having a stockpile of food at home isn’t really counter-intuitive. It’s normal. It’s what everyone does (or should be doing ).

We know, at least on an intuitive level, that doing the unexpected significantly improves the likelihood of winning in chaotic scenarios. People always have preconceptions and that’s a weakness an Overhuman will exploit, and not fall into the same trap. That’s why I will present you with some interesting but unusual ideas about killproofing yourself.

Neck training for chokeholds and hanging

An incredibly strong neck will help you sustain chokeholds and even hanging by the rope. Shaolin monks do it.

Exercise 1 – The Polygraph: lie on your back, have your head in the air and nod 100 times for “yes” and 100 times for “no”. When you can do it without a break, change exercise or increase volume.

Exercise 2 – Head and walls: Lean against a wall with your forehead, body and neck straight. Try to do a 45 degree angle, or even less if possible. Do it sideways, and on the back side of the head too. Achieve indefinite hold.

Exercise 3 – Wrestling neck routines:

Exercice 4 – Getting hanged: As the name implies, get a rope, make a noose and hang yourself. First support yourself with your hands, then try to do it without them. The goal is to be able to simulate death without dying.

Unorthodox weapons

Obtain and carry a kakute. Make or buy a blade that looks like a pendant on a necklace and train yourself to be able to get it out using teeth only. Learn to throw projectile weapons i.e. shurikens. Make cigarette-looking blowguns, and carry a pack with you.

All of the above are just some of the ideas how you can make a plan B, C, D, E and so on. The principle is this: go completely overboard. Carry an absurd amount of hidden weapons on you. Also, change your perception: everything is a weapon – a word, a gesture, a mobile phone, a car, a dog, a mob. There are many ways to fight, and fists, knives and guns are just… expected.

Life-savers

Around 40% of civilian deaths following trauma are because of blood loss. Meaning, someone cuts, stabs, or shoots you, you have a 40% chance of dying not because of damage to organs but for the dumb reason of having a leaking hole in your body. Obtain an XSTAT and a Vetigel syringe. One fills a gunshot wound with expanding sponge particles that plug up the hole immediately, and the other one is algae based and clogs the blood and closes cutting wounds. Actually, obtain everything you can afford from Suneris and RevMedX, they make stuff that really saves lives, like really really really saves lives. And, of course, always carry with you.

Dodging bullets

You can’t physically dodge an incoming bullet. It’s just moving too fast for any human to be able to respond. Yet there just might be a way to dodge several incoming shots if you’re dealing with someone that’s not a good shooter. You see, if you train your body to be really, really fast – which is possible – and if you train a certain movement pattern so good that it becomes second nature – which is also possible – you might stand a chance. There is no way to move faster than a bullet, but if you move faster than the shooter’s intention, finger movement and reflexes, you have a chance, however slim it may be.

The key is to be chaotic and unpredictable, changing direction in such a way that an inexperienced shooter won’t be able to make contact. Think zig-zag, think rolls, think jumps, think bobbing and weaving. All these movements should be directed towards the attacker so that you get close and gain control of the firearm.

I can’t do this yet, so you don’t need to follow my advice. I’ll work on it some more and then test it with paintball bullets to see if it has any effect. Experiment, and remember: even if it saves your life only once, it was worth all the training.

That’s it. Do you have any additional unconventional ideas? How about conventional? Leave me a comment.

 

 

Resimplification or why basics are the most important thing

I’m currently investigating plotting, cunning and deceit, one might say my inner Slytherin, and for the purposes of this investigation I look to fiction to teach me life lessons. For example, I watch House of Cards and I can in all honesty recommend it to anyone looking to understand plotting.

Recently, I’ve discovered a concept that is so profound I wonder how I haven’t seen it before. It is resimplification.

Resimplification is, as it name says, simple. It is the idea that all things, no matter how complicated, eventually get simple again.

Examples: a very complex problem that demands different solving strategies and a highly complex approach. As time passes, and the conditions change, the solution isn’t to be found in complexity, but in simplicity. And then, as conditions change again and the problem gets more complex, your solutions adapt and follow lead and get complex themselves. But again, as a new situation arises, the best solution to look for is the most simple one.

This heuristic is applicable not only as a problem-solving tool, even though you may find most use of it there. It is a pervasive system that shows itself in life in general.

Even the introduction of this article is subject to resimplification – I have found that after all my investigations and all my research into the cunning and the plotting and the deceit – the conclusion becomes simple again.

Truth. Honesty. Openness.

Simplicity.

This is how you solve all the riddles created by those who constantly lie and deceive and plot, not through doing what they do.

Now there is a key difference between being stubborn and not adapting, and resimplifying. Not adapting is bad, never changing your approach is bad, but resimplifying is good – it is the one adaptation technique that guarantees success because it goes to basics, it goes to axioms, it goes to the simple.

Let me give you more examples of resimplification:

In Wing Tzun we have a drill called Chi Sao: it is somewhat like sparring but not exactly because it is designed to drill in certain hand techniques into muscle memory, so you spend a lot of time “stuck” to your training partner’s hands. As you do your free Chi Sao, situations in which you find yourselves get more and more complex, and hand positions and placements get weirder and weirder and you constantly have to adapt. Sometimes you get into a complex position you don’t know exactly what to do. Answer is simple: resimplify. If you don’t know what, do the basic: punch. In my experience, it always works. I assume it goes for other martial arts as well.

Resimplification is like a reset button for life.

I’ve just watched an episode of House of Cards where there was a whole lot of plotting and planning and negotiating and thinking and playing games of tactics.

What finally happened? The most simple possible solution to a conflict: physical violence. It is this “basicness” that put a end to the ever-rising series of complexity. It is because one of the conflicted parties was uneducated in the basics of the basics – fighting – that he lost. Not that he had a bad plan, or that he didn’t think things through. He didn’t have drilled-in basics, he wasn’t prepared for his opponent to resimplify and he lost. He lost because he didn’t know how to fight. Dumb.

Look wherever you want in life and you’ll see the need to resimplify and “start fresh”. Economics? Check. Politics? Check.

Everywhere around you, in your life, opportunities to resimplify. Relations with other humans – as they get complicated, you cut through all the bullshit and speak frankly and you resimplify. Relationships improved or relationships broken, but (good) change achieved. Check.

As you try to find the best diet, and you experiment and search and try, so you’re a bit Paleo, but then you’re looking to vegetarianism, but then you’re trying to balance your diet and take care of the micronutrients and so on… Eventually, after you consume all this knowledge, you’ll resimplify. Nutrition – check.

Trying to find a good workout? You try crossfit, then you try standard weight lifting, then you go for some very complex stuff like dancing or circus arts, then marathon running. All these little investigations are fine, but if you’re always searching, you might find that the answer is to resimplify. Do the simple stuff again. Exercise – check.

I really think it’s applicable in life, both as a lens to perceive life, and as a way of solving problems in a complex world.

In short:

Don’t do only simple stuff, but always do simple stuff AGAIN.

That’s resimplification.

 

Dig your well NOW

It is too late to just start to dig a well when you feel thirsty.

This old Chinese proverb sums up what becoming overhuman is all about.

You could look at it from a financial perspective, and you wouldn’t be wrong: you need to start providing for yourself before you start starving, because then it’s already too late.

But there is more to it. Every area in our lives is subject to this one principle: preparedness.

When you get cancer from smoking, is it not already too late to think about stopping?
When you get diabetes, is it not already too late to consider changing your diet?
When you get robbed and stabbed on the street while returning home, is it not already too late to start training sprinting?
When you get attacked by a group of hooligans, is it not already too late to learn a martial art?
When your country goes to war, or there is a strong economic crisis, and the system fails miserably, is it not already too late to create your own self-sustainable system?

These are just some of the things that can happen, some of the potential risks we face. How often do you think about them? How often do you look at the greater picture? Do you just live your life day-to-day, oblivious of the realities to come?

Be present, yes, but be mindful of the future, for the future will be your present at some point.

Naturally, one could argue that for some things, you need not prepare yourself because the probability for a certain event is small and thus you should invest your energies into things of higher probability. For example, if you live in a peaceful area with next to zero crime rate, but there is a lot of wildlife danger, you might not learn Wing Tzun but how to shoot a rifle. Such reasoning is true but you need to take into account two things:

1. Never make a negative conclusion based on the probability of an event you calculated with assumed statistics.

If you only assume certain statistics, but don’t know for sure, it is okay to make a positive conclusion – “I SHOULD train martial arts”, “I SHOULD quit smoking”, “I SHOULD stop eating trans-fats” – but not a negative one – “I SHOULD NOT try to create another source of income”, “I SHOULD NOT learn how to handle a firearm”, etc.

The reason for this is simple: it is okay to make an error on the safe side, but it is immensely stupid to make errors on the unsafe side. When you don’t know, don’t make dumb risks. You need to be able to objectively appraise your situation.

2. Take into account your entire lifespan.

Yes, maybe you won’t be seeing war anytime soon. But what do the statistics tell you? How are things looking from an international geopolitical perspective? If the statistics say that, for example, every 30 years there is war, and you expect to live more than 30, is it not reasonable to be prepared for the event of war, even though it may never come?

 

For some reason, we do not prepare. We go about our business, oblivious to the dangers we may face, and only after facing them we ask ourselves “why hadn’t we thought about this sooner?”

Like a deer staring into the lights of an incoming truck that is about to splatter it all across the road.

Why do we make these mistakes? Why don’t we intervene in our own destinies?

I don’t know the reason because I am equally guilty as anybody else for this type of behavior.

But I’m working on it.

So should you.

 

 

The Power of Fiction & The Slytherin Component

Or perhaps in Slytherin,Sorting_Hat.
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means,
To achieve their ends.
” 
—The Sorting Hat

I am a firm believer in the power of fiction. Books of fiction often have the power to convey ideas that nonfiction books never could hope to attain. If nonfiction can be regarded as handbooks, information deposits, a source for references, then fiction is a journey of the mind.

Reading a smart book is the same as having an intelligent conversation. A person (or a book) gives you ideas, some of them are new for you, and some of them are not. After finishing reading the book, and after finishing your conversation with a smart person, it is impossible to walk away unchanged: the mere process of having been exposed to new ideas is enough to change. If you approach these ideas with an open mind, then you change a lot.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
— Winston Churchill

Fiction is powerful because it is not only an information depository. It is an initiation of a process of thinking. If you follow the narrative presented in the book, the ideas that the characters think about, the challenges they face, the decisions they make, their ways of behaving and doing things – you absorb much more than you would in a nonfiction book. The personal nature of books of fiction brings not only information, but also inspiration. The information you get, you have higher chances of applying it. The ideas you not only learn, you internalize them. Take the Dune series, for example: it is a story about the interaction of politics, religion, economy and ecology. I have taken so much from Dune I cannot even begin to describe its influence on me. Is this blog not a blog about becoming a Bene Gesserit (a faction in Dune)? Yes, I have named it Becoming Overhuman, but what true difference is there between an Overhuman and a Bene Gesserit?

Some fiction books haven’t had a big influence on me, and some haven’t had an influence at all. These books I will not name because I tend to remember the remarkable, not the unremarkable. Maybe one day if I read them again, I will find greater value and greater pleasure in reading them.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling has played a great role in my development while I was in elementary school, but its use hasn’t ended even today. I reread it in another language and then I read the fanfiction Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and discovered new and wonderful ideas and thoughts that found their way into this very blog. So, today’s subject will be The Slytherin Component.

(For those that haven’t read the Harry Potter series, there are four Hogwarts Houses where young wizards and witches are sorted into: Gryffindor, the House of the brave, Ravenclaw, the House of the wise, Hufflepuff, the House of the hard-working and Slytherin, the House of the ambitious.)

slytherin

Slytherins. Evil, power-hungry, they will stop at nothing to gain what they wish to gain.

This is simply not true.

These are some of the wrong answers to the question “What makes a Slytherin?”

The more true answers are being ambitious, being cunning, seeking greatness, will to improve, intelligence, practicality, ingenuity, knowing how to navigate the world of humans, achieving goals…

Being evil has absolutely nothing to do with being Slytherin. Even the word cunning has an undertone of evil, which is a reflection of the general populace’s stance on intelligence, the same with the word “manipulation”, even though education of their children is nothing more than manipulation. Not being lawful good is not the same as being chaotic evil – there is plenty of room in between, and the fact that the Slytherin sees rules as an arbitrary deal between people, not as divine law that is its own purpose, is by no means the same as being an evil person.

So, what does a Slytherin make?

Ambition, yes. Cunning, yes. A thirst for greatness, yes. But a Gryffindor can also be ambitious, a Ravenclaw cunning and there is no reason for a Hufflepuff not to wish to be great.

Francis Underwood

No, the unique feature of a Slytherin is that s/he has a plan. The Slytherin is ambitious, and wishes to see his/her ambitions realized. A Slytherin doesn’t linger in simply wanting things, s/he actually does things to get his/her goals. Everything happens for a reason, and if there is no reason for something to happen, then it doesn’t. There is no time to waste on uncertainties and on not working on your goals. There is always an agenda, and a Slytherin always has this agenda in mind. This can be a purely evil agenda, gaining power and not stopping at anything in order to get it, like Frank Underwood, a true Slytherin if there ever was one. Or the agenda can be a neutral one. Or the agenda can be a good one, change the world for the good. But this ever-present agenda, proactively doing stuff to achieve your goals using intelligence and good planning – that is a Slytherin. A Slytherin may decide to be secretive about his/her plans, and that often happens. Sometimes, s/he will be completely honest and open about them. A good Slytherin will circumvent irrational laws and obsolete rules, a bad Slytherin will break what the rest of us call moral codes.

Do you have an inner Slytherin? If you do, I would advise to use it, because Slytherins get things done.

The eating conundrum

In the post The Overhuman Diet, I describe what I eat and why I eat it. I mention that I eat a lot of protein and that a lot of that protein is animal protein. Dabbling in vegetarianism and knowing quite a few vegans, I’ve started reconsidering my opinions on food, trying to see if there is any new piece of information that might induce me to change my eating behavior. (note: this type of thinking, always reconsidering your own behavior, criticizing your patterns and being prepared to change – this is absolutely critical for an Overhuman). This is what I found.

NOTICE: This is going to be a long and somewhat complicated post. At times, it will seem that I’m splitting hairs. What I am doing is trying to get as pure an ethical image as possible. The big problem with ethics in eating is that it’s not as simple as omnivores want it to be and definitely not as simple as vegans want it to be.

Reconsidering ethics

You all remember that story about Cecil the lion and how he was killed by an American hunter?

Well, a couple of days later, Tim Shieff, a well-known vegan freerunner posted this on his Facebook:

Click for full size

Click for full size

Both his text and the comic itself make a good point from an ethical perspective: given that you can take everything you need from vegetables and their derivatives, it is unethical to kill animals – or is it as simple as that?

To be able to respond to this question, we must go way, way back into the domain of values, starting with life in general. So here goes:

Nothing is important of itself, everything is just matter and energy and we (conscious beings, who are, by the way, also only matter and energy) decide that some things are important. One of these things is life. Some conscious beings might decide that life isn’t important, and they wouldn’t be wrong. It would just be their decision, which is completely OK. Right. so far, so good.

If you’re one of the group that decided that life (like, generally) was important, things get sort of complicated for you. If you decided that life wasn’t important, alright, if you kill to eat (or pay to kill to eat), you know that you can also kill yourself? Or at least not care if somebody kills you – because you decided that life in general isn’t important.

So, let’s continue with those that believe that life is important – i.e. almost everybody in the world.

Life is generally important.
I am a life form.
Therefore, my life is important.

This is the train of reasoning that follows from the decision that life is generally important. If you believe this, then it also follows that sustaining your life is important, and the primary method humans utilize for sustaining their lives is food.

Food (calories, macro and micro nutrients) comes from two main sources: fruit/leaves/animal byproduct and killed life forms.

Fruit, leaves and animal byproduct

Fruit, leaves and some animal byproducts are the only foods that entail not killing directly, even though you can support killing if you buy certain fruits, so not even fruit is, by definition, kill-free. Take, for example, a tomato, which gets killed after it has given its yield in fruit, or, for an animal byproduct example, hens that get slaughtered after a certain age when they stop laying eggs “efficiently”. In general, eating fruit from fruit-bearing trees is often kill-free, especially if you eat organic fruit which doesn’t entail the use of chemicals which kill life forms. In that respect, pears, oranges, apples, grapes etc, are the only sources of food that are completely kill-free every time. If you are a human, eating exclusively a wide assortment of fruits can give you sufficient calories (immediate survival) but not enough micronutrients and even macronutrients (protein and fat) – meaning that long-term survival is not guaranteed because of illnesses that could arise from lack of nutrients. Some fruits will give you enough fat (for example an avocado) but if you eat only regional fruit, chances are that you are not able to get a very wide assortment of fruits. It follows that you must decide if you will buy fruit from a very faraway place (and still risk not to have all micronutrients covered) or you will add killed life to your diet.

What is helpful that some vegetables are kill-free and will help you with micronutrients. For example, you can harvest kale, cabbage, Swiss chard and other leafy greens by the leaf so as to not kill them. What is definitely impossible is to buy vegetables that have been harvested by the leaf, so here you must grow your own or assure some way of procuring leaf-harvested greens.

And again, animal byproducts come to the rescue: eggs and dairy. Most eggs and dairy are a result of industrial torture systems that get the most out of a chicken or a cow and then slaughter them. Even free range eggs often mean that, after the hen stops producing a regular quota of eggs, it gets slaughtered. You can, however, eat kill-free eggs or dairy: the same principle as with plants – don’t buy it in markets, grow your own or buy from somebody you know isn’t going to kill the animals.

At this stage, you must decide if your life is worth more than the life of other life forms. We have already established that your life is important, but who will you choose, yourself or a different life form? Time plays a special role here, and this you must also take into consideration, because you might choose a course of action that doesn’t instantly bring your health down, but that might do so over the course of some months or years. For example, if you decide to go completely kill-free and eat only fruit, but you eat only regional fruit, let’s say plums, apples, pears and grapes, this will, over time, cause significant health problems (correct me if I’m wrong here). Buying of exotic and faraway fruit also has several ethical problems tied: you need a lot of fossil fuels to get it to your habitat, and CO2 emissions from fossil fuels also cause death on a wider, global scale through global warming. It thereby follows that as a completely kill-free vegan, you should also not buy fruit from far away.

If your decision is that your life is important, but other life forms are more important, your diet is to consist exclusively of fruits/leaves that come from your region – and we do not include fruits or vegetables that, after being picked, have their original plant killed (zucchini, tomato, cucumber…) – and of leaves, eggs from free-range, not-killed-afterwards hens, and dairy from not-killed-afterwards cows and goats.

If your decision is that your life is important, and that it is more important than (at least some) other life forms, continue reading.

Killed life forms

Killed life forms are both plants and animals. If you eat bread – you support killing wheat. If you eat seitan – you support killing wheat. If you eat pasta – you support killing wheat. If you eat meat – you support killing animals.

Many vegans draw the line between animals and plants: the claim is that it’s ok to kill plants, but not animals. This reasoning is often based on the fact that plants do not experience pain. Indeed, it has not been proven that plants experience pain because they do not share the nervous system capable for pain. But on the other hand, there has been some research that points to the conclusion they might have analogous systems and actually be intelligent.

In any case, we do not know yet.

We may act on the assumption that plants don’t feel the same neurobiological phenomenon we describe as pain, but we also know that plants try to sustain their own lives. To be completely honest, we have to admit that the difference between killing a plant to eat it and killing a bug to eat it is not a big one. The difference between the two organisms is one of grade (of complexity, or genetic proximity to humans), not of category.

The only reason for this entire paragraph is to make clear one thought: If you don’t eat animals because of ethical reasons, you are actually not eating them because they seem close to you, and plants don’t. They’re one level lower on your empathy list.

The best part of it all? It’s actually ok, even though it is an elitist perspective. If you value your life more than the life of other organisms, you’re bound to certain moral choices, and genetic proximity is as good a reason as any.

Now, the real question is where do you draw the line? Where do you stop empathizing? When do you not care about killing a certain organism? Is it at nuts (tree embryos)? Is it at bugs? Is it at fish? Is it at birds? Is it at dogs, cats, cows and sheep? Is it at humans?

I’ve thought about this really long and hard, and came up with a complicated algorithm to ensure maximum ethical eating while preserving my own health. It goes something like this:

If you can, eat only kill-free. If not, add life forms from the lower empathy levels (wheat, nuts). If you’re still risking low health, add more killed life forms, but keep them on a low empathy level (i.e. it would be preferable to eat a fish instead of a chicken (because genetic proximity makes it easier to empathize with a chicken than with a fish) and preferable to eat a chicken instead of a cow). At some point, you will find the point where you stop valuing your life more – maybe it will happen with cows, maybe you’ll have to go all the way to humans, maybe not even then.

This is the only really good ethical algorithm for dietary choices that I know of. Take all your dietary choices, pull them through this algorithm, and you’re reasonably certain you’re eating ethically. Provided the fact that you in fact want to complicate things as much as I do. But the truth is rarely simple…

Technological innovations – a new perspective?

Lab meat

Lab meat

One way to eat meat without killing anyone is in-vitro meat. One day, when the technology advances sufficiently, it will be commercially available and widely consumed. Many object to growing meat in laboratories because it is “unnatural”, but this is the type of argument that would object to cars, computers, bicycles, electric power, bows and arrows, and fire. Just because humans created something with their brains instead of relying on what is immediately available doesn’t make it bad. I would gladly eat lab-grown meat, provided there aren’t any health side effects.

Final thoughts 

The reason for this post was mainly so that I clear my mind as regards ethics in eating. Not eating meat has always been clear to me from an environmentalist perspective, and not eating industrial meat has also always been clear to me from a health perspective. But I have always tended to ignore the ethical aspects of it and I never thought them through. Ethics tend to be a habit of learned behavior, not a result of conscious deliberation. In other words, most people (me, at least) will form their ethical standpoints on a combination of inert, learned behavior and a certain amount of natural empathy, instead of thinking and then making decisions. For most people, ethics are not conscious. For Overhumans, everything is conscious.

Thus the adage: “Never do anything unintentional.”