The Result of Force Feeding Morality

Hader wrote an interesting piece about how he observes the changes in the Egyptian society over the past 70 years and how he sees it since he left two years ago to Amsterdam.

It is a courageous piece. It will draw a lot of noise due to the openness by which Hader discusses how things changed. Which makes me break my rule of silence about Egypt and voice what I also see.

For me the biggest change to the Egyptian society, which was the deal breaker by which I decided to leave, is the change in the moral landscape of Egyptians and what they consider moral or not.

Egyptian kids — including myself — are never taught to think. We were force fed everything from our parents, the society, and the state media.

We were taught cheating is wrong, but most parents would be ok if their kids cheated and became the top of their class. We were taught not to bribe, and then we see our parents bribing others to get things done or escape a driving ticket.

You might argue “force feeding” is the same in every society, but there are three main differences between Egyptian/Middle Eastern societies and the west.

  1. Our education system didn’t teach us how to think to reach a conclusion.
  2. Those who think and disagree are not allowed to speak their minds for the fear of being despised by the society that’s dominated by conservatives.
  3. Egyptian parents stay involved in their kids’ life until they get married, others still have the same involvement even after their kids marry, which makes breaking the chain harder.
  4. The fundamental changes in the society starting from the 70s, led to a big divide in the moral landscape, which later resulted in the loss of common middle ground that was untouchable before.

This contradictory saying vs doing dilemma made most of us unstable when it came to moral judgement and decision making. Everyone was ok with it until two big things happened, the internet, and the revolution.

The internet made us realize what we are taught is not exactly right, and there are many others who are just like us.

The revolution made us distrust the people we used to admire and get inspiration from. The also used to establish the foundation/escape from which we derive our moral judgements.

We — as Egyptians — found ourselves suddenly in front of a big moral challenge. We had to make up our mind for really tough questions. The biggest one for me — which resulted in the decision of leaving the country — was:

Is it ok to kill people with whom we disagree on political issues on the basis we think they threaten social stability? Is it ok to arrest them? Torture them?

We were told “The wiping away of the world means less to Allah than a believer to be killed unjustly”, but we saw thousands being killed unjustly on the street in one day and other “believers” cheering and asking for more.

If someone would have told me this will happen, I would have said they are crazy. Sadly, many people were ok with that, more than I imagined, they were spread across almost everyone’s circle. I decided I don’t want to live with those people. I left.

We didn’t learn or got the freedom to think and decide. When you discover what you are told is wrong or not working anymore, without an alternative or a methodology to find an alternative, you get the extremes we have today, and the rest — such as my self — stay silent, or leave.

This cultural force feeding of morality led to where we are today. And it will get worse.

Thought Experiment: The end of trains in Europe

As someone fascinated by self driving cars, I keep thinking about a future where all cars are autonomous and people no longer own them. At the same time, I am working on helping customers book trains, buses, and flights for intercity transportation in Europe.

Trains are very limited in capacity, you have to build specific expensive roads for them, they have to run on specific times to transport as much people as possible, and they are very expensive (Many intercity journeys in Europe are cheaper by flights than trains, and much cheaper by carpooling using for example BlaBla Car).

In a world dominated by autonomous cars, part of the changing dynamics will include

  • Cars getting significantly cheaper, because car manufacturers won’t have to build and sell tens of models per year since people will no longer have to own them.
  • Hailing a car will get significantly cheaper as well, due to the elimination of humans, and the high utilization of the car. Currently cars are only utilized 1-2% of the time. Imagine a 50-60% utilization. That’s 6000% improvement.
  • Cars will get faster, you no longer need speed limits because of the possibilities of human errors. Networked machines will handle everything.
  • Roads: There are two theories about roads, one theory is roads will get more crowded since significantly more cars will be running and transporting people. The second theory is more people will be on the move which also means roads will be more utilized, and you don’t have the limits of train tracks.

All of this makes me think, by the time we reach this, trains will look as something from the past, something very old that you have to wait to get in it, something that needs high maintenance cost and high management cost to manage all the bottlenecks on the tracks. Something that looks very slow, and very inconvenient, in such a fast moving world.

Mercedes is the new Deutsche Bahn.

Five years out of FCI

This year marks 5 years since I graduated. I met two of my early friends at the university. They were the first two I become friend with after Hendawy.

We remembered the good old days and many of the people we met in college. We stalked some of their LinkedIn profiles and remembered different situations we had with them.

We remembered the weirdos, the good and the bad weirdos. And the most decent, respectful ones.

We reflected on our professors and TAs, the ones we liked and the ones we didn’t. The ones we respected, and the ones we consider not worth being a university professor.

Two things you realize is while some people changed, many remains as we left them. And how sticky someone’s reputation even after many years of changes.

And one more thing, I never want to go back to college.

Would it make a difference?

One question I learned to ask myself before posting something on social media is whether it would make a difference?

I am angry about so many things same as you, I don’t like the bullshit coming out of the startups scene, the non-sense in our politics, and even non-checked rumors being spread as facts.

However, I don’t exert much effort into expressing this because 1) It wouldn’t make any difference. 2) I should save this mental energy for a more productive task including but not limited to chilling out.

What’s the value in explaining debatable/controversial topics if everyone has already made up their mind and looking for what’s supporting their point of view?

Continuously asking this helps me think before I post anything online. I also believe that the best way to change someone’s opinion is by talking to them privately, not in a public heated online post where people’s brain survival mechanism kicks in to prove they are not wrong.

The Theseus Disclaimer: the only constant is change.

The paradox goes as follows, captain Theseus’s ship has a defect plank. The ship team changes the defect plank with a new one. After a while, another plank goes defect, another replacement. The changes keep coming until all the ship planks have been replaced by newer planks. Is it still the same ship?

Considering the ship planks are your thoughts and beliefs. Are you the same person since birth? Before you answer this question, go check your Facebook posts from two years ago. Do you still think you are the same person?

The internet is becoming a snapshot of your opinions at every single moment, giving you or others the chance to see what was your opinion about something, say 2 years ago and now.

As time move forward, there will always be someone who disagrees with you at the current moment, who can bring an opinion you had in the past and posted on social media ignoring the fact that people change.

I think if one wants to avoid this from happening, one shouldn’t post his opinion on any controversial matter. Or maybe, everyone should adopt the Theseus disclaimer:

The person who wrote this post is a human being, and might change their opinions or beliefs in the future. This doesn’t mean they are not liable for what they said now, but it means you have to understand and respect the fact of change.

Disclaimer: Theseus didn’t have a disclaimer. I made this up.

Data Driven Confirmation Bias

Two weeks ago I had a presentation at work as part of a training. The presentation meant to show a problem and my team’s proposed solution to this problem. I wanted to show at the beginning of the presentation how the problem is growing. I pulled data showing the month over month growth for the past year and a surprise was waiting for me.

It wasn’t growing. There was no pattern. Random fluctuations of ups and downs. No problem, let’s pull the data from the year before and compare the same month from the two years. Voila! We have a nice growth trend.

I just finished the book “How to lie with statistics?”. It is a nice short read about how statisticians, and politicians manipulate the way they present statistical facts to different audiences to convey a message.

What I found myself doing on this day is applying what’s in the book subconsciously because I was enthusiastic about proving my point, while what I did on this day wasn’t mentioned in the book, but I kept thinking about how to make the problem looks growing, regardless of the fact that there is no monthly trend. Someone even recommended using the cumulative numbers to display a nice growth chart.

Before this, I was telling a friend that being data driven doesn’t mean you are not biased. Most of the time you will find data to support your case (unless it is extremely illogical).

Our biases drive us to find the data that support our opinion, ignoring data that doesn’t. It is up to one’s self and to their self awareness to realize whether they are really looking for the truth, or dragged into a data driven confirmation bias.