Saturday, 16 April 2016

How to tell you’re a zombie.

We’ve all seen the movie. An intrepid band desperately holds out against a world gone zombie due to a mind controlling virus (I am Legend, World War Z) or evil mastermind (The Mummy). Zombies behave in scary and illogical and (self) destructive ways, all in an unrelenting effort to convert the uninfected into them.

But all of these movies one-sidedly show the perspective of the “normal” people. If anybody asked the zombies, they would be the normal ones, doing what is but the natural, the just, thing to do. The hold-outs would be the evil, weird ones, denying the blinding truth that every sane zombie agrees is obvious and just… right. The zombies are as sure of their stance as their opponents. If the zombies out-number the normal, as in many a movie, a free and fair democratic vote would settle the issue in favor of the zombies once and for all.

Thus we see that for everyone, he himself is utterly normal and others are the zombies. So who is the real zombie? Maybe we are the zombies right now?

Similarly, in history we have many examples of mass hysterias. For instance, the dancing plague of 1518 involved hundreds of people dancing unstoppably, for days on end, often to the death (1). Mass faintings are a dime a dozen (2, 3). Heaven's Gate members committed mass suicide in the belief that comet Hale-Bopp hid a spaceship which would take them to the "Next level" (4). But all of these examples are mass hysterias from the outside. For those inside, they are totally authentic.

"People present at the event were adamant that the symptoms were real and not the result of imagination or hysteria”.. Holinwell incident (3)"

We can only say these are false because we are outside and unaffected by them.

But what if there truly were mass hysteria, unlike most hysterias that affect large numbers but small percentages of the population? What if most of society were to fall into a spell of mass hysteria/zombiehood? How would we know then that our behavior was “abnormal”? What if we’re in such a spell right now? How could we possibly know?

These are not just quixotic, humorous questions. Right now we have left-wing and right-wing camps in society which vehemently accuse their opponents of evil and obscene behavior induced by malice and social conditioning. Both proponents and opponents of mass-migration, high taxation, affirmative action, gay marriage etc., accuse the other camp of evil, misguided, brain-washed behavior. So which of these are the zombies/hysterics and which are the heroic defenders of truth and justice? Or are both merely different zombie factions? What we need, then, is an asker- and context-independent method of judgement.

I attempt to develop one below.

What is the universal feature of zombies, from whichever movie? What is the common element in mass faintings, the dancing plague or the mewing or biting nuns (5)?

It is that they cannot self-perpetuate, reproduce, survive independently and sustainably. They know not Tark Marg (see previous post, 6).

Thus, zombies can only survive on a regular supply of fresh uninfected blood. If they harvested zombie crops, treated zombie disease, vaccinated their zombie babies and conducted zombie civil discourse, as is necessary for self-perpetuation, they would cease to be zombies. Similarly, mass hysterics, whether fainters, dancers, mewers, cannot form a sustainable society.  If they were not fainting or mewing but self-perpetuating by educating their children, doing regular jobs etc, they would simply become normal people. Thus the critical feature of zombies/mass hysterics is 1) the ability to infect others and 2) the inability to survive independently.

Put another way, bad (i.e. zombie or mass hysteric) behavior is that which impedes self-perpetuation, and conversely, moral behavior is defined by its ability to promote self-perpetuation (6). As a corollary, when comparing two or more options, the more moral option is that which better promotes the self-perpetuation of its followers.

Now we are in a position to judge which faction in real society is the zombie. Let’s focus on a particularly contentious issue.

We see today a movement, especially in the West, whereby the immigration of large numbers of people is encouraged and celebrated, as in the recent case of Germany and Angela Merkel's decision to allow in over a million Muslim migrants in 2015. Proponents of this choice seek to convert (or at least compel) others to their line of thinking by vociferously condemning opponents. Opponents push back. So who of the pro- and anti- migration faction is the zombie?

Let us apply the self-perpetuation test. It is evident that by allowing in large numbers of migrants who typically have high fertility and cultural conditioning diametrically opposite to that of their hosts, the proponents of mass migration have imperiled their own physical and philosophical selves. We saw an example of this in the mass sexual assault perpetrated in Cologne on New Year's Eve by crowds comprising a cross-section of the migrants. This point should have been obvious to German mass-migration supporters given the example of similar situations in the UK and France and elsewhere. Yet, the mental virus of empathobesity (a harmful excess of an otherwise useful instinct of empathy, analogous to obesity; see December 2015 post) compels proponents of mass migration of pursue this path despite the immense harm it will inflict on them.

We can thus conclude that in the case of mass migration, the proponents are zombies, enslaved by their own runaway sense of empathy to act against their self-perpetuation interests.

Much the same can be said about many other leftist fashions like gay marriage, which also arise from an empathobese tendency. Without going into detail, some right wing policies (especially in the USA) such as climate change denial, opposition to abortion, or (in India) blind subservience to scientifically untenable traditions  like banning beef or fantastical claims about the technological abilities of one's ancestors, also fall into this category.

In conclusion, I hope this post will enable the reader to rise above the zombie viruses of obsolete instincts, herd mentality and tendentious assumptions.  Please inform others if you found this post interesting.


1)       Viegas, Jennifer (1 August 2008). "'Dancing Plague' and Other Odd Afflictions Explained". Discovery News. Discovery Communications. Via
2)      Moss, P. D. and C. P. McEvedy. “An epidemic of overbreathing among schoolgirls.” British Medical Journal 2(5525) (1966):1295–1300. Web. 17 Dec. 2009.
5) Via


Sunday, 3 April 2016



Most of the vociferous disputes in society hinge on the question, “what is the moral/right thing to do?” For instance, the entry of large numbers of Middle Eastern migrants into Germany at the behest of Chancellor Merkel is either a fine example of European values in action, or a disastrous decision which could destroy European values, depending on whom you ask (1,2). Gay marriage, transgender rights etc are either self-evident justice or gross deviancy. A similar divergence of views exists regarding everything from taxation and redistribution to housing policy and affirmative action. Throughout history, most intra-society conflict has hinged on disagreement over what constitutes the right thing to do. A clear answer to this question will go a long way to addressing these conflicts.


These disputes exist because moral behavior has no unambiguous, commonly agreed upon definition, unlike say, questions from mathematics or physics. Instead, most people’s conception of morality is heavily colored by subjective, circumstantial and selfish interest factors.

Thus, unlike the objective theorems of Euclidean geometry or arithmetic, what is considered morally acceptable behavior in 2016 in the Western world, such as gay marriage, would be considered ludicrously libertine by the standards of the West in 1916. 1916 itself, being on the cusp of female suffrage etc, would’ve been disapproved of in 1816 and so on. Extrapolating this trend into the future, perhaps the world of 2116 will look upon in horror at the cruelty and callousness of 2016, at the absence of cetacean or chimpanzee personhood (3, 4), or at “animal slavery” or factory farming (5, 6) etc. Or, if the trend towards greater liberalism has gone into reverse by 2116, 2016 may be seen as the high water mark of libertinism and decadence after which sense was restored; there is absolutely no way to say.

One only has to recall that people once were exactly as secure in their beliefs about witchcraft or Geocentrism as we are in our beliefs today. For instance, the English Parliament passed a Witchcraft Act in 1604 supported by the great and the good of the land, under which convicted witches could be hanged and King James I even apparently published a book on Demonology (7, 8). Famously, people once believed with utter confidence that the sun revolved around the earth, and Galileo’s attempt to refute this notion by evidence and reasoning only earned him house arrest (9).

Just as the sense of morality varies with time, it also varies over space, with perfectly acceptable behavior in the liberal West like homosexuality or public nudity being considered depravity punishable by death in some cases, as in Islamic countries. Similar variation occurs with other parameters like age, sex, income, religion, family background etc. Moreover, as popular fashions change, people’s conception of morality changes with the herd. For example, Hillary Clinton or President Obama have totally inverted their earlier stances on issues like gay marriage and immigration just as the popular mood shifted (10, 11, 12).

Thus we see that in general, people’s sense of morality is not an autonomous, logical stance taken after careful observation and consideration, but is mostly a function of A) their individual instincts and B) social milieu.


How can one break through the mist and fog and determine the actual truth? Would physics or mathematics have gotten anywhere if it was simply a product of collective gut feeling rather than logical observation and hypothesis formation? Should we be content to be driftwood pushed back and forth by the tides and currents of popular passions and fashions?
This is not an idle theoretical question either; the fate of whole societies may hinge on being able to carefully ascertain what constitutes optimal behavior, as for instance in the case of the recent migrant crisis in Europe.

I shall therefore ambitiously attempt in this post to derive an objective, explicit guiding principle for moral behavior which holds true always and everywhere, like the Pole Star, which unerringly points due North from wherever and by whoever observed.

As with other fields of rational enquiry, I shall start by establishing a basic axiom. An axiom is a starting point known to be true based on everyday observation, using which further principles may be derived. Some common examples from geometry and mathematics are “it is possible to draw a straight line between any two points”, or that “if A = C, and B = C, then A = B”. Based on these empirically validated starting points, further principles can be derived.

What axiom can we deduce from an examination of human behavior? Let us consider the two major drivers of human behavior, hardwired individual instincts and social norms.


Let us look at a few well known, universal, culturally invariant human instincts. As I see it, these can be divided into two categories; 1) those that urge repetition of certain situations and 2) those seeking to avoid certain circumstances. Examples of the first category are love of rich foods, peer approval, wealth, sex etc, while examples of the latter are avoidance of physical injury, deprivation, social isolation, etc. What pattern can one spot here? Are these universal instincts mere random whims or is there an underlying logic?

It is apparent that the former are situations that enhance one’s chances of survival and reproduction, while the latter diminish these chances. Thus calories, peer approval, wealth, sex etc improve one’s likelihood of survival and reproduction, while the converse is true of injury, poverty or peer rejection. 

We can thus assume that instincts have evolved to bring about the self-perpetuation of the individual whose behavior they shape. Instincts that did otherwise would have driven the person they influenced and thereby themselves, extinct over the generations.

The same can be deduced from an examination of universal social norms. Practically all societies promote, at least internally, behaviors like honesty, altruism, hard work and prohibit behaviors like dishonesty, theft, gratuitous violence etc. It is particularly noteworthy that societies as widely separated by distinct as the European, Islamic and Australian Aboriginal all subscribe to a similar set of basic social norms. In my view, this is an example of an evolutionary biology concept called convergent evolution (13). The gist of convergent evolution is that widely differing species that face similar situations will likely evolve similar responses. A famous example is that of sharks (cold blooded fish) and dolphins (warm blooded mammals), which have independently evolved similar streamlined shapes despite being from very different parts of the evolutionary tree because this is the most efficient shape for their common problem, cutting through water.

Similarly, conservation of social norms like avoidance of gratuitous violence or theft or promotion of altruism, is a good sign that there is an underlying logic behind these norms. They can only be sensibly explained, in my view, in the context of social survival and propagation. Thus, it is evident that a society whose members are honest, eschew gratuitous violence towards each other, help each other in times of need will be more competitive in the long run. 

A particularly illustrative norm is the almost universal prohibition of incest. Incest does not necessarily involve force or fraud typical of other prohibited behaviors like murder or theft, yet practically all societies all over the world consider it taboo. Even societies where cousin marriage is acceptable, as in the Middle East, prohibit marriage between direct siblings. This prohibition is not explained logically but is instead articulated as a kind of disgust into which people are indoctrinated. 

Why should this be? The answer has become apparent with the advent of modern genetics. Offspring of closely related persons are at much greater risk of contracting homozygous recessive diseases and susceptibility to infectious disease (14), and by outlawing incest society avoids the burden of having a large number of its citizens debilitated by avoidable diseases, thus increasing its potential for self-perpetuation. Thus we see that social norms have evolved solely to ensure the collective survival of its members. 

Based on the above reasoning, we can conclude that the underlying basis for both individual instincts as well as collective norms is an impulse for self-perpetuation. This, of course, is a direct corollary of the theory of evolution.

Extrapolating from this, an eternally valid, context independent morality statement can be formulated as follows:

That is moral which leads to maximal long term individual and collective self-perpetuation.

For any given set of possible actions, the one whose pros regarding self-perpetuation most outweigh the cons is the most moral choice; i.e. maximizes P(act) - C(act),  where P(act) is the self-perpetuation benefit (pro) of a given action while C(act) is the con. I shall refer to this perspective as Tark Marg.

It is of course, often difficult to quantitatively gauge this, and a large degree of subjectivity is unavoidable. Nonetheless, I believe that this line of thought will help society avoid many pitfalls, as shown later.


It’ll be apparent to the reader that a conflict can arise between individual and collective self-perpetuation. Individual self-perpetuation may be enhanced by theft, whereas collective self-perpetuation will be hurt by such actions. This is a classic case of the tragedy of the commons, a personally useful act can lead to collective loss. The solution is to realize that individual survival is impossible without collective strength. Thus, actions like theft or dishonesty, while beneficial in the short term to an individual, can and will hurt his progeny, and thus his personal self-perpetuation, by creating an unhealthy culture in society and making that society weak and dysfunctional compared to competitors. It is no coincidence that societies with high levels of transparency and low levels of corruption, like the Scandinavian countries or Singapore, are also the ones with the highest and most secure standards of living.


Although individual instincts and collective norms have evolved to ensure individual and collective survival, these can easily become obsolete in the face of rapid social change. As external circumstances can change abruptly, while changing hardwired instincts or deeply inculcated social norms often requires generations, instincts and norms can become obsolete or even counter-productive.

We see a stark example of this in the wave of obesity sweeping many parts of the world. For pretty much all of history, humankind has been short of calories. Hence our bodies/brains have evolved an attraction towards calorie rich (sweet/fatty) foods and a mechanism for storing these as fat. This helped to buffer against times of scarcity. However, with the advent of industrial agriculture, food is plentiful, while the need for hard manual labor which would burn up those calories has declined sharply. However, because the instinctive love of calories is hardwired, many people persist in consuming and storing excess calories, leading to a sharp spike in the obesity rate, with grievous health consequences and unfitness which are the precise opposite of what the calorie-loving instinct evolved for.

To avoid pitfalls like this, it is best to keep in mind the explicit underlying rationale behind instincts and norms, rather than merely following them blindly. I shall refer to this manner of thinking as Tark Marg (reason-path in Sanskrit).


Let us apply Tark Marg to some current topics:


Animal rights (and associated phenomena like vegetarianism, veganism, anti-cruelty laws etc) is a well-established and growing movement in various parts of the world. Indian civilization in particular has developed a very prominent vegetarian strand, possibly catalyzed by Buddhism and Jainism. In the West, as far my admittedly limited knowledge goes, there’ve been movements as far back as the 19th century (anti-vivisection society, 15) and more recently Peter Singer’s book “Animal Liberation” has become the bible of animal rights movement (16). Yet when seen from a Tark Marg perspective, conferring rights on animals is an unambiguous case of a negative P(act) – C(act).

Without belaboring the point, in my view rights are reciprocal concessions (such as freedom from unprovoked violence or theft) given by parties to each other for mutual self-perpetuation benefit. This requires that for all concerned parties, the P(act) – C(act) be greater in the case of a cooperative arrangement rather than a coercive one. In other words,

P(co-op) – C(co-op) –P(coer) + C(coer) > 0, where P and C stand for benefit (pro) and cost (con), and co-op and coer stand for cooperation and coercion respectively.

By and large the benefit of co-operation (P(co-op)) with humans is high and so is the cost of conflict (C(coer)) as humans can retaliate. Moreover humans can decrease the P(coer) term by destroying the resources for which coercion might be applied, so it makes sense for people to be cooperative, i.e. confer rights on each other.

As animals are unable to comprehend, let alone participate in this arrangement, concessions (i.e. rights) conferred on animals are nonsensical, and are an example of empathobesity in my view.
To elaborate briefly, much of the calorie product present in the natural environment, such as grass, straw, decaying or waste matter, marine plankton etc are indigestible by humans, but not to animals like ruminants, pigs, chickens or fish. Even in agriculturally intensive environments, a majority of the biomass of crop plants is in the form of straw, leaves etc and only a minority in grains. Thus the only way to access these calories is the consumption of animal products like meat, milk and eggs, and so the P(coer) term is very high for animals. Similarly, the C(coer) and P(co-op) terms are low for animals, rendering the above equation negative.  

Thus, a society that practices vegetarianism, let alone dogmatic veganism, will have fewer calories available form an otherwise equal environment than an omnivorous competitor society. This will result, other things being equal, in a smaller and weaker population, a recipe for extinction. This is without taking into account other animal products like leather and wool, as well as other benefits like serving as model systems for the study of human diseases etc. 

Thus it is indisputable that Tark Marg is highly in favor of animal usage and against the animal rights/vegetarianism meme.

As mentioned in Peter Singer’s book, the origin of the animal rights movement is an extension of the instinct of empathy, historically restricted to members of one’s society, to animals. But should instincts be extended ad infinitum? As we have seen with the example of obesity, instincts make sense only to a certain extent and in a certain context. What is this context when it comes to empathy?

As with other instincts, empathy can only be logically explained from a self-perpetuation rationale. In my view, empathy is useful in that in compels the subject to extend help to fellow citizens in distress, who may then reciprocate later, thus enhancing collective self-perpetuation.

The implication is that empathy is only relevant when applied to those willing and able to reciprocate for mutual benefit, thus ruling out its application to animals, who are incapable of understanding, let alone reciprocating the contract implicit in empathy.



Until recently, marriage was by default a prelude to reproduction, and as married couples are more likely than other parenting models like single mothers to give rise to productive citizens, (17), it made sense to confer special status/financial benefits on married couples. In other words, the most parsimonious explanation is that from a self-perpetuation perspective, society gains a net self-perpetuation benefit (P(act) > C(act)) in conferring special privileges on those who would privately bear burdens (i.e. Childbearing and rearing) which have public positive externalities (future taxpayers, workers etc).
In recent years the extension of marriage rights to homosexual couples has become a popular political trend in Western countries, and as such is likely to spread to others which are culturally downstream from the West (18, 19). This is in line with a centuries long trend of increasing empowerment, which was responsible for the rise of the West historically but has now run into negative returns, in my view (see December 2015 post). Marriage confers privileges like exemption from inheritance and gift taxes and others, so extension of this to homosexual couples imposes a cost (C(act)) to society in terms of foregone revenue. Yet I cannot see a clear countervailing P(act), given that homosexual couples are unable to produce future citizens. Thus, in my opinion, C(act) is greater than P(act) in the case of homosexual couples and gay marriage is therefore a unfavorable policy.    
In fact, in contrast to the trend of expanding marriage rights, the self-perpetuation rationale seems to me to require a contraction of marriage privileges. As the widespread availability of contraception means that many heterosexual couples are also childless, these too no longer produce the P(act) to justify being given subsidies/privilege historically associated with marriage.

Thus, the rational path, Tark Marg would be to modify the current arrangement and provide tax rebates/subsidies/exemptions etc to parents or guardians, including homosexual and single parents etc, whose children meet a minimum threshold of likelihood to be good taxpayers. As a rough example, all children scoring above, say, the 20th percentile in basic criteria like literacy and numeracy could qualify their parents/legal guardians for certain subsidies. These incentives could be formulated to achieve optimal outcomes in terms of number of children etc.

The availability of decades of data on individual citizens should enable estimation of what early childhood parameters are predictors of future potential as good citizens, and these could then be subsidized; however this should not be overdone as there are likely important parameters that are difficult to measure.
The details of this modified incentive structure are beyond the scope of this blog post, and will vary based on numerous variables. Suffice it to say that Tark Marg leads us to quite a different and, in my view, more sensible and sustainable direction than the default empathobese path which society is on now.   


I hope I have been able to convey the empirically and logically compelling, and rather beautiful reasoning that unifies disparate facts and observation into a coherent structure centered on the most basic impulse of all living creatures, self-perpetuation. Not only is it intellectually satisfying, it is an indispensable guide, like the Pole Star, in an otherwise complex and ever-changing world. I hope you’ll agree, dear reader.

It has not escaped my notice that some of the thoughts expressed here can cause disquiet or outrage. Yet outrage can also be a consequence of a creeping realization of the fragility of one's position. After all if I said something obviously false like 2 + 2 = 5000, this wouldn't likely cause outrage. I'd appreciate an attempt to examine one's own position from scratch and I promise to hear logical or factual rebuttals of my position with all the objectivity I can muster.

In the coming days I’ll try to discuss this in greater depth. Please spread the word if you found this post interesting and leave a comment if you have criticism or feedback.