The tragic consequences of biological determinism

biodetI’ve always been a zoology lover. I grew up watching Animal Planet and comparing the behavior of humans to that of other animals. I ended up not pursuing a career in the area, but reading and watching video-lectures about biology has been one of my oldest and most constant hobbies. I am a fan of Darwin, Dawkins, Frans de Wall and Sapolsky. I always try to find the biological origins of human social behavior and, although I recognize both sides of the nature vs. nurture dilema, I must admit I have a bias towards the former when it comes to personal interest and curiosity. Lately, however, I’m a bit disillusioned. I’ve noticed that many still rely on factoids of the field to defend racist and sexist claims, the inevitability of certain social hierarchies and the maintenance of the status quo, sadly causing many on the other side to, as a defense mechanism, reject behavioral biology altogether. But is it really the case that by giving credibility to this science we inadvertently give basis for these supremacist and deterministic arguments? Is to reject it altogether really the only solution? Continue reading

Why do Brazilians refuse to speak English?

brnetI have always noticed that Brazilians have a certain aversion to English. A certain tendency to switch to Portuguese whenever the majority is Brazilian, a severe reluctance to make a comment directed towards a Brazilian using English, even if the comment is in the context of an English conversation with people from all over the world, etc. Of course, many other nationalities act similarly, but I’ve been living in Romania for a bit over a year now and things are quite different, to the point that it’s really hard to dismiss this attitude as something normal. Though I haven’t had much contact with other Brazilians personally in this period, I still have a lot of contact online, mainly through Facebook, and the more time passes by, the more my impressions are confirmed and even reinforced. And I’m not counting those who don’t know English well, I mean people who speak quite fluently, who have lived abroad, etc. Why is it so? Continue reading

Everyday hate speech in Romania

teodor-quoteIn Romania it’s common for people to condemn the accent from other regions without any pudency. And many don’t do it jokingly, they really mean it. They call people with accents “peasants” and “rednecks” that destroy the Romanian language and nobody reacts, it’s socially acceptable. Openly complaining about gypsies with strong language is even more common. Some even say they’re a “spoilt race” that is genetically damaged, although these tend to be more extreme than the majority. But even the less extreme ones seem to find it normal when they hear it. They’re used to it, and even if they disagree with the choice of words, they wouldn’t defend gypsies because, after all, all they do is steal, beg and destroy the reputation of Romanians in Western Europe. Continue reading

Is freedom of speech really the issue?

war-on-freedomWorse than hearing bad arguments from your opposer is hearing bad arguments from people on your side. And of course it shouldn’t surprise anyone that, after a hideous international event, heated outbursts of emotionally charged arguments will pour from the skies like a tropical summer rain from all sides. It has actually come to a point where I wonder if it makes sense at all to even say anybody is on my side. After all, what are the sides? Feeling compelled to take one of supposedly two sides in a complex situation is simplistic and unrealistic in itself. Of course, the Charlie Hebdo attackers were unjustifiably violent and their brutality is not even remotely comparable to any damage the newspaper may possibly have done to society. But does that really make the cartoonists the martyrs many are treating them as? Heroes in the battle to defend our most sacred value: freedom of speech? On the other extreme, is it really the best moment to accuse the cartoonists as Islamophobic racists who had it coming? And most importantly: should we be focusing on them at all? Continue reading

Slaves to the DNA?

dna-slavesSince its discovery in the early 20th century, the DNA has become a huge center of attention in biology. It has sparked new interest in the field of genetics, become basic knowledge for the more recent generations, a target of media coverage and even a common element of popular culture. But what do we really know about the DNA? Is our high-school curriculum up-to-date with current research and are educators aware of the implications this sensitive field of knowledge has on how we understand and deal with human differences?

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National Day

nationalismOn the first day of this month, Romanians celebrated their “National Day”, the day Transylvania united with the rest of the country. According to the state-owned national channel TVR1, it was a day to celebrate Romanian culture and Romanian values such as “faith and family”. There was a lot of patriotic songs, folk music, dancing and nostalgic displays of affection towards Basarabia, a former region of Romania that was taken by the Russians (oh, the Russians…) during the Soviet expansion and is still rather influenced by them, nowadays known as the Republic of Moldova. It was all very positive and peaceful but I must say one thing kept bugging me: there was no mention of Hungarian, Saxon or Gipsy (confusingly also known as Romi or Romani) culture. All significant minorities in terms of number and cultural contributions to music, architecture etc.

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Atheism is becoming politically incorrect and we have to stop it

Good Guy AtheistThe atheist movement has seen a somewhat recent boom. Some say it was triggered by the 9/11 attacks and call it the “New Atheism” movement. There are many great things about atheists speaking out and forming a community. It encourages other people to “come out of the closet”, it raises awareness about discrimination against religious minorities, mob rule, threats to secularism etc. On the other hand, many criticize the movement for its aggressiveness, arrogance and lack of diplomacy. Some even claim that atheists shouldn’t be outspoken at all. They say they’re being more religious than the believers they criticize, and attack any atheist association as being hypocritical and turning atheism into a cult. Continue reading

Proud of being a straight, white man

Straight white manMany people complain that black people can talk about “black pride” but that white people can’t. That a band called “Black City” is cool but one named “White City” with Caucasian members is racist. Or that a parade of gay pride is acceptable but one of straight pride is not. That the media turns to women on their day and some even receive flowers and chocolate, but that nobody remembers men on their day. Indeed, all of this seems to be true. However, many people usually criticize this as something illogical and hypocritical, an unfair double-standard. Is it really so? Let’s give it some thought. When did these movements begin? Why did minorities start to have this attitude in the first place?

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Reason, emotion and motivation

Imagine you’re in a restaurant, reading the menu and trying to decide what you’re gonna eat when magically, all of a sudden, you loose all your emotions and become a purely rational person. You become incapable of feeling fear, sadness, happiness, of suffering or feeling pleasure. You still have your senses, but even if you eat and feel a good taste, it won’t please you anymore. It won’t really feel good anymore. Actually, the word “good” will loose its meaning in your new universe, once nothing brings pleasure. If something touches you, you notice it, but there is no feeling of pleasure or pain. Even if you get hurt and feel what you used to call “pain”, it won’t bother you anymore. Under these conditions, what do you think you’d do? Continue reading