The BIG scam


“And here is the latest news. We have reports telling us that a large amount of counterfeit money is in circulation. Our expert, Mr F. Ake, will give us the details and also show everybody an easy way to differentiate between real and counterfeit dollars.”

I am sure everybody would be riveted to the TV if this was on the news. Of course we want to be aware of fake money, of course we want to learn how to see the difference, of course we don’t want to be ripped off.

But we are, in grand style!

Something very similar to this is going on right now, and have been going on for hundred of years, only on a global scale and influencing everybody, with or without dollars. Shouldn’t that be even greater news?

Yes, it should. And it would, were it not for that busy man behind the curtain.

Etymology, tracing the family tree of words, is mainly a pursuit for intellectual or academic folks, with little practical application in our everyday lives. But there are notable exceptions. The following is one of the most important ones, much more important than genuine and fake money. I would say, as important as being able to distinguish North and South.

The word in question is “progress”. Let us see what has happened to it through history, how it changed from simple spatial movement forward to cultural movement upward.

progress early 15c., “a going on, action of walking forward,” from O.Fr. progres, from L. progressus (see progression). Figurative sense of “growth, development, advancement to higher stages” is from c.1600.

Thus the word has two meanings: walking forward versus developing, advancing to higher stages. A literal and a figurative sense, clearly different.

How did the mix-up and confusion come about? I don’t know, but it is very valuable just to know that it DID. As to how and why — I suspect that chauvinism, the impulse to want to seem better than others, not least our forefathers, plays a role in it.

progression late 14c., “a going on, action of walking forward,” from Old French progres (Modern French progrès), from Latin progressus “a going forward,” from past participle of progredi (see progression).

from pro “forward” (see pro-) + gradi “to step, walk,” from gradus “a step”

So once upon a time “progress” just meant to move forward, taking a step forward. However, if you stood immediately facing a wall, that was not a very wise thing to do. Michel de Montaigne elegantly captured the whole dilemma in the following saying: “When you stand on the edge of a precipice there is only one way to make progress, and that is to take a step back.” A step forward means certain death, and that’s only progress if you are suicidal.

Old-fashioned progress

So, progress originally meant a linear forward-movement but then the figurative sense took over and taking steps forward became synonymous with “growth, development, advancement to higher stages”.

And that’ s where we are today; confusing taking steps forward with moving upwards in true development, maturity and evolution.

Some examples of A Step Forward-progress:

Our computers will soon have 1) more memory 2) faster processors 3) more functions.

The trains will travel 1) faster 2) be more comfortable 3) have wi-fi in all the wagons (except third class, which doesn’t exist…).

Robots will soon be 1) very affordable 2) cute and cuddly 3) as smart if not smarter than you 4) very good in warfare.

The parameters of these steps forward can be classified into a few main groups.

  • SPEED (things, processes and services will be faster, never slower)
  • PRICE (things, functions and services will be cheaper, maybe even free, but never more expensive (the Wide-eyes Boy in the Toyshop-model))
  • COMFORT and EASE (things, products and services will be more comfortable and easier, demanding almost nothing of us, at most a mouse click. Hungersite, where you help the poor of the world with (you guessed it) a mouse click is an example of this.)
  • EFFICIENCY (making processes faster, more cost-effective, streamlined, giving more product for a lesser price)
  • STREAMLINE (there will be less friction, mechanical and psychological)
  • AUTOMATED (humans need not be involved in the process at all; the field of AI and robotics today)
  • HIGHER SALES (the product or service will be bought by more people).

Now let’s bring out our mental scalpel. Are these examples steps forward or development? We have been inspired / manipulated to use the words as synonyms, but they are not the same thing.

We have in Pavlov’s dog fashion been taught to salivate before words like speed, comfort and efficiency. Ring the bell, our tongue comes out all wet. But if we really try to be Homo sapiens for a moment, WHO is gaining by these steps forward?

It differs. Sometimes almost everybody, sometimes a few people, very often mainly those who sell and market a product.

And WHAT are they gaining? Development, or more money?

Let’s ponder the development, sorry, I mean progress of robotics.

In our confused, manipulated thinking, mixing progress and development into a muddy porridge, we have learnt to applaud or at least accept that

  1. robots are taking over more and more jobs.
    What does that do with us as workers, employees, humans? Is that good news? We don’t know…

2) robots are getting more and more smart, maybe soon surpassing humans.

The word “robot” originally means worker, but a worker that is smarter and more logical than us might not accept the role of worker-slave. What happens then? We don’t know…

So this is obviously progress, many fantastic steps forward for robotics, and for those making money on robots.

But what is it for everybody else…? Can it be called development?

In what way would this develop us as humans? Being able to live more comfortably does not count. Remember that optimal comfort is coma, and we are heading that way.

–Another example is motorism. Cars have in the last 150 years taken, or hijacked, a very central role in our lives. Not in every individual’s life (not everybody has a car) but in our culture, in the world. Our towns and cities, even villages look as they do to accommodate the car.

Is that progress or development?

It depends. There are some variations. But in the big picture the main advantages (to use a word that is neither progress or development) seem to be these:

a) We can travel faster
b) We can travel long distances, faster

Nothing stops us from walking to another continent, or bicycling. So the gain is in time and distance, and of course in what we can carry with us. (A bike or a backpack are of course limited in that respect.)

The picture is clearly not black or white. But for most if not all people it is generally white.

The thought that the car was basically a BAD IDEA, not helping but hindering humanity’s development (in contrast to progress), is not a thought that is permitted over the threshold. We don’t allow ourselves such rebellious thoughts, thank you. No Ludditism, we are scientific!

The examples are many, but the basic question is the same: Is it progress or development? Let’s ask that question as often as possible, making the work of the man behind the curtain a bit more challenging and less streamlined.

Of course it’s development!

Girl balance


(A girl is not a woman, language is quite clear about this. We can, and I often do, call a woman a girl, but there IS a difference. In age, in maturity, in grownupness.)

I am tired of Girl Power. The more noticeable (those most seen and heard in media, including social media) members of the “fair sex” are more and more masculine, more and more shouting, kicking and yelling. More and more Yang.

Yes, the times are a-changing and roles and energies are moving on. But I don´t think that women taking over the less desirable aspects of men (aggressivity, cockiness, commercial business attitude) is progress.

Both Yin and Yang have positive and negative aspects. Being more assertive (Yang) can be real retrogression if we do it from the negative pole.

While girls and women are turning more and more Yang I sometimes wonder if anybody understands Yin anymore.

And the emancipation is selective. I seldom if ever hear about women demanding to be soldiers. It still seems okay that it’s mainly young men who are going to die on the battlefields of war.

Power, yes. Yang, yes. But war is messy and it ruins your coiffure.


I am tired of power games but there is one kind we should talk more about: Boy Power.I am not talking about young men here, but about men and women who practice neither masculine nor feminine thinking, but BOYISH thinking

Boyish thinking means putting the values of technology, gadgetry, collecting (more of something is always better), duels of all kinds (from friendly wrestling in the schoolyard to prestige inflated debates in academia to fiery, hateful political brawls, eventually on to shooting and killing) on a pedestal.

Both men and women have turned boyish. Women politicians, but also feminists whose martial energies are the opposite of Yin. The political arena seems extremely boyish. The exceptions confirm the rule.


Girl power is about empowerment, so I am told.

“Empowerment” is a word with a positive ring, “disempowered” negative. But between the extremes there should be a balance where you are not disempowered but also do not seek more power.

However, power is as blood to a vampire. Taste it once, want it again. And again and again.

Who of us can say “ENOUGH! I have enough of what I want and need.” Most of us are happy with a bit more, and a bit more. Perhaps with a LOT more. The more-impulse is superbly captured in this great song by Stephen Sondheim.

But at the end of the first girl power video there was something worth serious consideration.

Girl power has come a long wayYes, let´s. Let´s look beyond power to something more balanced. What about Girl Balance?

To reach balance we need to see clear. See the extremes and also what lies in between. There is a world of difference between getting power in order to reach equilibrium, and wanting power just to get more power, in a greedy way.

Plato said that wisdom consists in knowing how far to go, and to go precisely that far and no further. I am not sure about the quote but the thought is here to ponder:

Know how far to go. Don´t exceed.

This brings balance into the picture, not just power. So let´s have Girl Balance and Boy Balance and Man and Woman Balance. In one word: balance!

Instead of this incessant “I want more! More than I had, and definitely more than you had.”

PS: An exception. If what we want more of is balance, great. Sometimes more is just fine.

We are so much better now


I saw “The Imitation Game” yesterday, a natural choice of movie after having finished reading The Genius Famine.

I didn’t know much about Turing and didn’t know that Benedict Cumberbatch played in this movie, too. Fictional Sherlock and actual Turing were in the same league, and Benedict plays them both very well. The whole movie was good, enjoyable and, yes, intelligent, as one would wish in this case.

However we measure Turing’s contribution in the war, and for England, it seems difficult to avoid the following conclusion: Turing gave enormous value to England, more or less helped it to defeat the Germans. From the end text of the movie: “Historians estimate that breaking Enigma shortened the war by more than two years, saving over 13 millions lives.”

That’s a lot of lives. Just saving 100, or even 2, is a good deed. In any case one should think that England owed a lot to this eccentric, odd young man.

So what happened after the code was broken? Then another aspect of the relationship between Turing-England came to the fore, namely his oddity and deviation, in this case his homosexuality. For this crime Turin was sentenced to chemical castration, and soon after committed suicide (at least so the official story goes).

Now England owed him even more. But a bit late to repay, no?

Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a statement on 10 September 2009 (54 years after Turing’s death) apologizing and describing the treatment of Turing as “appalling”. (My underlining.)

“Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him … So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan‘s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.”

Proud to be sorry? And his treatment was “of course utterly unfair”?

No, not “of course”. That’s just us patting our own back, trying to make ourselves look better than we are.

However, OF COURSE it is very easy to nod and agree and to say “How terribly awful! How could they treat people like that…?”

The answer is that we are doing the same thing now. Only to other, different folks, with other, different mistreatments. (Don’t expect sin to come again in the same costume, that’s naive.)

Don’t tell me that if you had been contemporary with Turing — had met him, maybe been his neighbor — you would have been the one to stand up and protest to the way he was treated. I don’t believe you.

Much more likely you would have been just as most anybody was then. After all, that’s how we are today; as most anybody. Acting, thinking, even feeling like most anybody in our milieu.

So of course we are not better today. We’re just bad in a different way.

How I wish I could dispel this enormously popular and persistent myth: that we have progressed and are not guilty of the sins of yesteryear.

Of course we are. Our sins are just of a different colour and shape, turned towards folks not yet protected by the Posthumous Understanding of Posterity.

We probably commit much greater sins because today justice has been even more institutionalized, formalized, digitized (soon robots can do it), has become even more a machinery instead of being a question of the heart.

The real Turing and his “imitation”.

Another thing about Turing. If we can speak about his “type” (I don’t mean sexuality now) it seems to be very invisible, until a really large and urgent problem turns up. Then he shows his true colors, true brilliance. Until then, in more “normal” and lukewarm circumstances he is basically a nobody, a bit odd, maybe a recluse, not interesting to most people.

The cheese that lures this mouse out from his hole is some really dramatic challenge.

These we have today — poverty, wars, stress, cancer, environmental degradation, overpopulation, etc. — so this could be a great time for people like Turing, right?

Perhaps, perhaps not.

We have unfortunately gotten used to a very modern approach to problems: They are to be solved by organizations, experts and committees. (While we know that these are NEVER as smart, intelligent or creative as folks like Turing. By definition.)

So we have become genius-blind and organization-tilted. We are looking for answers in the wrong quarter, asking not the individual but groups stuck in groupthink.

In the Group we trust, in Committees we believe, in Experts we confide, in Statistics we invest. While it is in the exact opposite direction — the quarter of the odd, solitary thinker — that the answer lies.