Jonathan Brun

On War and Peace

Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, 1212. Credit: Francisco de Paula Van Halen / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

As I wrote the title to this blog post, I thought to myself, “I should really read the book War and Peace”. A few years back, I did watch the excellent BBC mini-series based on Tolstoy’s famed novel and one of the most searing moments in that mini series is when the father learns that he has lost his son in battle. The father’s expression and his decline into deep depression and death brought home that no amount of glory, fame or merit can overcome the abyss of losing your child. As I write this, on father’s day, with two of my own boys, I cannot help but think of all the parents and family who send their children to war – voluntarily or not – and who may very well never hug them again. Why do we do this?

Everyone seems to agree that war ravages horrors on people, the environment, and particularly – the collective and the individual psyche. A war and its consequential traumas can easily cascade down generations, leaving debilitated populations who struggle to advance because they are trapped in the memories and losses of their ancestors. In struggles where no clear wrong party emerged, the sense and desire for vengeance can easily last hundreds of years. At the moment I am reading the excellent book, Bush Runner, the life of Pierre-Esprit Radisson which tells the tale of the french explorer Radisson. He roamed North America, Europe and the Caribbean in the 17th century and through his adventures we see the vengeful wars between the various tribes in eastern North America. The wars between the Iroquois and the Algonquin and Huron, like many wars, only ended when one size was utterly and completely destroyed. Like with all wars, there were too much death, maiming, torture and horror to count. 

It has been said that sport is very much like war, but without the killing. While I do think this analogy is correct, my take is that the way we can understand war best is by looking at sport. Humans love sports. The amount of money, time and resources allocated to training athletes, watching sports, talking about sports and betting on sports is truly stupendous. I could find the numbers somewhere online, but I think it is clear that competitive sports are deeply ingrained in the human identity. The comic Seinfeld poignantly explained that a set of sports fans seem to have no problem cheering on different people as long as they are wearing the same jersey. A player who was on an opposing team last year can very quickly become the hometown darling when he dons the right jersey. What we care about in sport is not the person, nor their history, but rather whether we win. Humans want to win. This competitive spirit can be found even among toddlers who have never been taught to win. My three-year-old insists that he must be the fastest, the strongest and the quickest – we never taught this need to win, it is in him and most other children. Our personal thirst for victory carries over to our favourite sports teams and to our armies. 

If we look to sports for an analogy, we can often see that parents are willing to sacrifice their children’s happiness to satisfy their own un-quenched thirst for glory. How many parents cheer on their kids at hockey games, football games or at the gymnasium to vicariously live their kid’s victory? How many parents who had hoped to go further in sports, secretly (or not so secretly) hope their offspring complete what the parents could not achieve? War is no different. Parents very often see their children not as separate and distinct individuals, but rather as extensions of themselves. The children must bring glory and respect to their parents and their families. In peaceful times this often means becoming a doctor, but in war this can mean heading to the front-lines to sacrifice themselves for country and family. 

Social pressure is perhaps the third most important factor in our willingness to die for war. No child wants to be seen as the wuss. Look at any group of children anywhere on the planet in any culture and we will quickly see that peer pressure and a desire to fit in are present. From the jungles of the amazon to the elite schoolyards of private schools – kids are driven by their peers. The same can be said of adults. So much of what we do, from the things we buy, the things we say, the places we go, and the drive to work are driven by what our peers do. We just want to fit in. When it comes to war, there is no greater glue to pull a society together than a shared life and death conflict. It need not be an existential threat, even a small scale war where our own society is not threatened will create social coalescence around the cause, the war, and the sacrificed children. If we look at sports, a hometown team that is going to a league championship will make sports fans out of nearly everyone in town, even if they had no prior interest in the sport of the players. In a conflict, when we come under physical and psychological attack, this desire to collectively seek vengeance is even stronger. We very rapidly gravitate towards the cultural centre and align with the leadership even if we previously detested them. The examples are too numerous to count – U.S. after 9/11, Germany after WWI and then again during the fire bombings of WWII, or the French after the Franco-Prussian war. We want victory, we want revenge.

This reality of competitiveness, projection and social pressure is the underlying structure for war. Breaking through this reality is the fundamental challenge of the non-violent movement and the anti-war movement. These two movements, which as distinct, have struggled to make progress lately and I would argue it is because many of the people involved in the fight against large scale violence fail to recognize how deeply ingrained and natural it is for humans to want to kill each other. The late and great Gene Sharp wrote extensively at the Albert Einstein Institute on how to effectively wage non-violent battles and even topple dictatorships without bloodshed. Books such as A Force More Powerful or Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea chronicle successful battles for dignity through non-violence, from the Maoris in New Zealand to the end of the U.S.S.R, but these books do not explain how we can shift society from our tendency to embrace war to a desire to engage in non-violence. Even the word non-violence is counter productive. Non-violence or even worse, pacifism, gives most people the impression of giving up, of surrendering to an enemy. As discussed above, human nature is such that victory is critical to identify and social cohesion is essential to life. Therefore, any concept that implies limp submission will receive vigorous antagonism on the part of mainstream society. Gandhi attempted to create a new word, Satyagraha, to denote a fight for truth, but the word never caught on. As an entrepreneur myself I can assure everyone of something self-evident: branding matters. The peace movement has a branding problem. 

Almost all wars in history, and there have been a lot, have been forgotten by most people. Who regularly thinks of the English Civil wars of the 17th century, the hundred year war between France and England, or the battles for the control of China in the 4th century BCE? Outside historians and history buffs, very few people would be able to identify who was the protagonist and antagonist in most human conflicts. Even more recent conflicts such as WWI, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the wars in the Congo, the wars in the Middle East, or the wars in Afghanistan are considered by most people to have been useless losses of life and resources. If we generally agree, as a society, that most conflict is ultimately pointless, why do we still cheer on our country or sports team when a new war breaks out? While most conflicts have been relegated to the dustbin of collective memory, there is one conflict that looms large in our memory: WWII. No one, anywhere on the planet is unaware of the second world war. And nearly no one can rapidly point out who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. 

If there is one war that had great branding it is most certainly WW2. I recently read a book titled Leaving World War II Behind which attempts to dispel the myth that WWII was a noble and good war or that it was an unavoidable war.  While I tend to agree with the premise, the book itself makes the error of relying on logic to argue its point. The author identifies the various tactics used by the U.S. to goad Japan into war, he points out how Hitler proposed mass deportation of Jews as an alternative to their murder, and how the measures used by the Allies, such as dropping atomic bombs on population centres and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians was far from moral. All of his points may be true and valid, but when it comes to cheering on the home-team – no one is going to say that Hitler and the Nazis did not need to be taught a lesson. Estimates of the number of dead in WWII are about 75-95 million, with over 25 million coming from Russia and 7 million Jews, homosexuals, and dissenters in the Nazi death camps. It is my firm conviction that Hitler could have been defeated and the death camps prevented if we had engaged in strong nonviolent action and non-cooperation in Europe and beyond. This is of course one of those un-provable historical “what ifs”, but how many strikers would have had to die, how many people who had had to sacrifice themselves in public view for us to change the trajectory of Germany – surely not 80 million. Regardless of this hypothetical viewpoint, the point I wish to make is that until we create a strong branding for the non-violent, non-cooperation movement, we will not be able to stop war.

The rallying of the western world to the side of Ukraine is testament to our deeply ingrained belief that war can still, despite all the evidence, be used for good. Putin is horrible, no doubt, but so is war. Violent conflict between states has only two possible outcomes. First, one side can be completely and utterly devastated to the point of submission (Germany and Japan in WWII, the Britons in France, the Palestinians in Palestine, the Huron in Canada,…) or secondly, a negotiated peace settlement can be made (Germany in WWI, Ireland independence, Indian independence, U.S. independence). Some peace settlements are better than others, but at least they are peace settlements without complete devastation of one side. As Margaret Thatcher used to hammer home, there is no alternative. War only ends in one of these two outcomes. The question of what brings people to the peace table is documented in the book How Wars End by Dan Reiter. Ending war is not easy, fun or straightforward, but it must always happen. The choice we must make is how much death must happen before it ends. In the case of Ukraine, I do not know how this will end, but as long as Ukrainians are willing to die with western weapons and training and as long as Russians are willing to to die, the war will continue. Ukraine is unlikely to invade Moscow and destroy Russia and Russia is unlikely to settle a peace that leaves Nato in Ukraine – so the war must continue. This simple logic is true of all conflicts. 

 What is the point of all this? The historian John Keegan outlines his view of our relationship with War in his lecture series War and Our World and basically outlines how war is “collective killing for collective purpose” and comes from our group hunting skills that allowed groups of people to cooperate for the good of the tribe. There is nothing more fundamental than working together to bring food to the table. Undoing the human spirit is hopeless. We must therefore turn to the only way we have ever achieved progress: education. It has been said by the great H.G. Wells, that “Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe. Let us learn the truth and spread it as far and wide as our circumstances allow. For the truth is the greatest weapon we have.” As with Gandhi, who preached satyagraha – roughly translated to truth force – human society and civil society must find a way to teach the power of non-violence, the fallacy and consequences of armed conflict and educate children that justice is best achieved through the painful, difficult and counter-intuitive practice of negotiating with people we do not like or respect. Breaking free of our natural tendencies and elevating the better angels of our nature is hard work. To make this shift to non-violence compelling, we must use the same sophistication in marketing and communication that the war mongers use. We must find a way to link victory through non-violence with glory. 

Part II : Glorious Victory and Peace (coming soon)

Published on June 18, 2023

The fallacy of security through secrecy

The fight against secrecy is never ending. The most common battle with open government opponents is their argument that more transparency will reduce security and that the public will not be able to understand the data. They claim that the data will be taken out of context and the public sector’s hard work will be misrepresented, reducing their ability to do their job. Though this seems possible, it has yet to happen. For many years, I worked to fight this argument in Canada with organizations such as Montreal Ouvert, Quebec Ouvert and Open North. Though I am no longer involved in these organizations, the fight is far from over.

The same argument that greater transparency will lead to security risks is used by anti-transparency advocates to shut down access to information and hide behind various barriers. The recent European Court of Justice decision that the EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive breaches the right to privacy has led numerous EU countries to turn off access to beneficial ownership records of corporations. This will do serious damage to the fight for greater transparency in corporate records and will inevitably lead to more money laundering and tax evasion. Without the ability to analyze corporate records for connections, links and information – it becomes near impossible to track down the true owners who might control a vast swath of connected entities behind which they pull the strings. OpenCorporates has been working on making all corporate beneficial ownership records public, accessible and connected – this decision is a serious setback, but hopefully a temporary one. Beyond tax evasion, hiding corporate records will impede the fight against companies who break a variety of laws such as environmental ones.

In reality – more transparency of ownership, of technology and of information almost always leads to positive benefits and great security. The more people know the truth, the greater the ability to act based on facts. This seems obvious, yet many people have refused to believe it. In the software world, Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux, famously said that all bugs are shallow given enough eyeballs. Translated, this means all problems are solvable with enough resources. If we open information, journalists, law enforcement and average citizens can all contribute more actively towards progress. In addition, with easy access and distribution of information on the Internet, you can mobilize resources from around the world, who may be specialized in a specific problem at little to no cost. Open data and transparency allows citizens to come out of the woodwork and help improve services – from retired engineers to students. This does not mean open data will replace professional public servants, police or journalists, but if we truly open up data and create a two way dialogue this will inevitably lead to progress. 

All sorts or ridiculous arguments are used to fight this narrative and corporate media is often too happy to play along. Just today, The Globe and Mail published a ridiculous Opinion piece that advocates for hiding ownership of companies because a small cadre of owners who travel to high risk countries have some security concerns. There are millions (maybe billions) of corporate entities around the world and any decision to hide their data should be made based on the majority of the companies, not some small subsection with particular issues. 

In the seventeenth century Bishop Wilkins wrote the first book on cryptography, a subject that had remained secret, he felt the need to justify himself: “If all those useful Inventions that are liable to abuse, should therefore be concealed, there is not any Art or Science which might be lawfully profest”. That is to say, if we agree to the argument that secrecy of invention is critical to its protection, we will arrest progress rather rapidly. In the nineteenth century, locksmiths objected to the publication of books on their craft; although villains already knew which locks were easy to pick, the locksmiths’ customers mostly didn’t. In the 1970s, the NSA tried to block academic research in cryptography; in the 1990s, big software firms tried to claim that proprietary software is more secure than its open-source competitors. All of these claims that secrecy was somehow essential to their work were proved false. If anything, opening up the information on these topics led to better cryptography, better locks and safer software. However, it was a genuine battle to make this information public. 

This argument of greater transparency leading to high quality service is equally applicable to government and public service information. The more people know what’s going on, the more opportunity and incentive there is to improve the system. This is also true of the patent and copyright laws. During the industrial revolution, Germany and the United States were able to catch up to England due in part to their lack of patent law. Though there are reasons for certain patents when development costs are exorbitantly high, such as with medicine, these patents and copyrights have been pushed into an extreme where hundred year old creations such as Mickey Mouse are still under copyright. These laws create walled gardens where the public must pay a price to access something that was created decades ago. Instead, opening up many of these creations will almost inevitably lead to greater creativity and innovation. 

Whether it is information on corporate ownership, patents, copyrights, or government records – the claim that secrecy will lead to greater security for society is patently false. Though it is false, it does not follow that governments will act to ensure more information is made publicly accessible in digital and open format. The hard reality is that there are many people, companies and organizations who would prefer to keep information secret or hidden behind a complex legal structure to avoid being exposed to inquiry. This is as true of government officials as it is of wealthy families trying to avoid paying taxes. Governments, elected officials and civil society must work tirelessly to  open records for the benefit of all. Better access to information will benefit the vast majority of society. We must be very firm in our fight against those who claim to use secrecy for security, but are in fact using obscurity to mask nefarious activities. 

Published on December 27, 2022

Innate human behaviour – or what I have learned from my kids

When you are an adult, you can find all sorts of theories to explain the way the world is, the way the world could be or the way the world should be. However, it is remarkable how much of human nature is innate and quite easily observable as humans grow up. Here are a few things I have learned, so far, from my kids (1 and 3 years old now). Caveat : due their young age, I reserve the right to change my findings!


The concept of private property is very strong. Even at 1 year old a child has internalized the notion of mine and yours and they defend their property (toy, blanket, bottle,…) with as much viciousness and courage as a high paid lawyer. They do learn to share, but let us just say it is not nearly as natural as the concept of possession. Perhaps this shows the limits of communism and the need for all societies to have a certain degree of private property to ensure we do not act against the basic nature of human beings.


The ability to manipulate and exert influence starts very young. The main strategy I have observed so far is to simply wear down the parents with repeated demands or a steadfast refusal to cooperate. So far, in most cases, we have persevered through these battles, but if you are already tired the child can easily gain the upper hand – beware! The same rules are used with adults. Napoleon Bonaparte was famous for making negotiations long late into the night in an effort to tire out his opponents. I heard a rumour that the Americans got the Canadian delegation drunk when negotiating the Quebec – Maine border and consequently gained hundreds of kilometres of land. Relentless pressure works for both young and old.

Outsourcing Work

The desire to have others do work for you is present from the start. This somewhat connects to number two, but our three year old is adept at asking us to do things he could very well do himself – wipe his nose, get a toy,… etc. More and more we are insisting that he do any task that he is physically capable of doing and in general it works. However, I must admit that to expedite an activity – meals, leaving the daycare,… I will cave in and do things for him. In general, for both young and old it is critical that you let people do any task they are capable of doing themselves. It helps build confidence, autonomy and a sense of independence. I was once making salad with my 95 year old grandmother and I ensured she contributed as much as she could! She lived to 102, just saying!


When the kids are upset/crying, it is usually because they are uncomfortable, sick, hungry or tired. The discomfort can be physical or mental. While you can’t magically heal a sick kid, you can feed and encourage a kid – a little snack will do wonders. Holding them upside down by their feet also will help get them out of a meltdown, which is very much an out-of-body experience.

Sleep, I am convinced, is the greatest cure of all. We have been “lucky” to have great sleepers, but I am also fairly convinced that there are tactics to improve sleep. A quiet, dark, cool room helps a lot. A bottle of milk is critical and in my humble opinion, society is pushing breastfeeding on women way, way too aggressively with detrimental impacts to the mothers and children. As a father, it is a pleasure to put my kids to sleep and that is possible because they take the bottle. My wife breastfeed until six months, but we introduce the bottle and formula early on (a few weeks old) and have kept it going since. It gave her the freedom to leave the kids, detached the kids a bit from mom and allowed them more flexibility in their schedules. We never stuck to sleep schedules and I am not convinced they really work. Kids should sleep when they are tired and play when they have energy.

We have never used white noise, but we have made an effort to ensure there is background noise when the kids sleep to ensure they do not become accustomed to silence and consequently wake up with the slightest noise. Shhh, shhh, one last secret – we put our kids to sleep on their stomach right at a young age. They sleep – waaaaayyyyy better. Sudden infant death syndrome is, as far as science can tell, linked to cigarettes and alcohol in the house, not sleeping on your stomach. Oh yes, one more thing, a friend of mine recommended giving the older kid mild doses of Melatonin to help him fall asleep (about 1 mg). It works. Studies out there have not seen any negative impacts.

One more tip, do NOT do co-sleeping with your kids. Mom’s who breastfeed a lot will tend to do this more as it facilitates feeding, but you then enter a vicious cycle where the kid will not only require to sleep with you, but will wake mom up for feedings all the time. Do not do it. We kept our kids in a separate bassinet in our room for the first three months and then transferred them to their own rooms and cribs with a firm mattress and clear instructions to not wake us up – it has worked fairly well I must admit.


The solution to many problems in life is practice. Michael Jordan once explained that he repeatedly practised every conceivable play and setup so that during game time, he was ready for anything. With kids, repetition is critical. From a young age I made a point of pouring water over their head and eyes during bath-time so that they got used to it. They now have no problem washing their hair and having their heads soaked. Teaching them to swim is the same – repeat, repeat, repeat. We bicycle to daycare every day, rain or shine, snow or sleet, so they are used to that and actually relish the adventure (it is safe, don’t worry, Montreal has great bicycle paths). We also make a point of having our kids stay at our grandparents often (or as often as they will take them) to build their confidence in sleeping in other places and dealing without us. We just need to find some friends now who are willing to take them for a sleep-over! In short, I believe firmly that doing something repetitively (like writing) is the best path to building confidence – this is even more true with young children.


In short, my general parenting philosophy is mostly based on the work of Cesar Milan, the dog whisperer. If you watched his show where he takes trouble-making dogs and tries to correct your behaviour, you will have noticed that the conclusion to each show is nearly always the same: the owners have to change their behaviour. Dogs are simpler animals the people and are even more influence by their owners than children are by their parents, but the same fundamentals hold true. It is the parents who control the situation and the actions parents take or do not take are most of the reason kids behave in a certain way.

In the equine world, Monty Roberts, the horse whisperer, has demonstrated the same thing over and over again. A horse with bad habits is usually an owner with bad habits. Historically, horses were beat into submission (and may still are), but there are cooperative and intelligent ways to change a horse’s behaviour. I hope my tips do not come across the wrong way. Each parent, family and child have different realities an constraints. Gabor Mate is an excellent resource on understanding the human mind and its actual needs. My wife and I have been blessed with two health children, flexible jobs that allow for work at home, low cost day care and healthy grandparents who can help with the kids. Many people are not nearly as fortunate.

I can only share what I have learned so far and it will likely change in the future, but I want to point out that having children is awesome. More people should do it (see my post on population imposition). Too much of modern day society focuses on the negatives of having kids, when in reality, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives. My last point in favour of having kids is that to live the full human experience, the ups and downs, to see your own reflection in your children’s eyes, you must have (or adopt) and raise children. To opt for childlessness, when you have the health and finances to have children, is to miss out on the most fundamental part of life : to raise the next generation.

Published on December 11, 2022

The coming Population Implosion

I used to worry about three things – Solar flares, Antibiotic resistance and meteorites destroying the earth. Now, my main concern for the future of humanity is a remarkable one: Population Implosion.

Since the 1950s, there has been an ongoing concern that our population would exceed the limits of the planet. The projections saw the population growing to over 13 billion people and consuming all of our resources, like a horde of locusts descending on Egypt. We were told by the UN and others that this growing population would lead to a variety of disasters. One proponent of this theory was Paul Ehrlich, an evolutionary biologist who had a lot of charisma and would go on mainstream television to promote the concept of a “Population Bomb”. He explained that the population would continue to grow until there were no resources left for it and it would then implode. This theory appealed to the general public because it had a certain algorithmic clarity. You could, on a graph, just extend the line of population growth from 1800-1950 and conclude we would keep growing at the same rate. But, everything he proposed with regards to population growth turned out to be completely wrong. 

Interestingly the projections have proven stubbornly wrong and we are now faced with the inverse problem – a declining and aging population. What in fact happened is that with women’s education, easy access to contraception, general material prosperity and mass migration into cities – women just stopped having lots of kids. Despite the massive evidence, the general public still thinks the world is overpopulated and that it is getting worse. In fact, we face the exact opposite problem – way, way too few babies.

The book Empty Planet outlines how almost no country on earth is currently having more than 2.1 children per woman (the replacement rate) and most countries are well under that mark. Some demographers believe China may have a birth rate as low as 0.9 children per woman and in fact, China registered less than 10 million births in 2021. Despite lifting the one child policy, China has entered into a downward spiral that is likely impossible to reverse. In fact, this was recently recognized at the 2022 Communist Party of China Congress where the goals of China were shifted away from becoming the world’s largest economy per capita and only general GDP goals were proposed. 

The reason we are entering into a depopulation spiral is a bit unclear to the general public who sees the population continuing to increase. The main reason the population has continued to increase for the past few decades is not because of babies per se, but rather because people live longer (or die less). However, as birth rates plummet and we have less children, there are less children who will ultimately have their own children. Your “birthing” population is decreasing, which enters you into a spiral that is nearly impossible to escape. 

This issue is not specific to China and is visible in numerous other countries such as Japan, Korea, Italy and other places. Even developing countries are having far fewer babies per woman than any time in history. In short, a declining population is almost a self fulfilling prophecy. This means that population will likely peak very soon and we will be left with an old and declining population for the next couple hundred years. 

To my knowledge, there is no robust analysis of this coming societal change. Certain countries such as Japan, Korea and Italy are already dealing with a population decline and an elderly population, but what are the impacts of such a demographic change on the entire world? Countries such as Canada (with over 400,000 immigrants per year for a population of 35 million) and the United States with over 1 million immigrants per year avoid population declines by bringing in people from other countries. This works, but only while there are immigrants. The other impact of immigration, is that the countries these people leave are losing some of their brightest and best minds and their young population – hardly a winning proposition for those countries. Even African countries have rapidly declining birth rates and almost no country on earth has a birth rate above 3.3 children per woman. Unless something dramatically changes (which seems unlikely) Earth will see a lot of old humans and then fewer and fewer of us. The current projections for working population decline in Japan, China, Europe, and the US are rather staggering. 

What does a society with a declining population and many elderly people look like?

A population that is demographically dominated by one group will inevitably be politically dominated by that group – especially in a democracy. Therefore a country that is dominated by older people will lean more conservative, be more adverse to change and progress. They will allocate resources to preserve the status quo. Politically, older people tend to vote in a more conservative manner, they tend to innovate and change less. How many 60 year old people are starting companies or proposing to overturn cultural norms? Some, but few. 

As the working population ages, more and more resources will be required to support them. With many countries already spending 30-40% of their budgets on healthcare, we can only imagine what it could look like in 20-30 years. If we thought COVID was bad in 2020, imagine a similar outbreak when 10-15% of the population is much older and more susceptible to a pandemic. To protect these people more cautious policies, more resources and more protection will need to be allocated. As a consequence it seems self-evident that a society that leans towards older people will have less innovation, more conservative policies and be able to produce less goods and services. 

China is perhaps the country where this gigantic wave is hitting first. China, due to its one child policy, already has a declining working population. Travelling through China in 2015 I was already thinking to myself that this was peak China. In a sense, China will never have more freedom, activity and buzz than around 2015. It is likely that part of the economic boom in China between 1980-2020 was due to smaller family size and the concentration of resources in fewer children. There are studies that correlated the rise of Ireland and the “Celtic Tiger” to the dramatic reduction in birth rates in Ireland in the 1960-70s. As Irish families went from 8 kids to 2 kids, more resources could be allocated to those children and they were able to pursue higher education and contribute to society. Having those types of demographics temporarily places your economy on steroids as the young generation is coming up through the workforce, and the older, more populous generation, is still active. Eventually you start hitting a wall where the older generation moves into retirement and now the young generation is stuck footing the bill and dealing with high property prices and more conservative decision making. 

In China, their period of insane expansion is at an end due simply to the fact the population is now shrinking. Because, as of 2015 the population is getting older and older and older with less workers, less activity and less creation of new ideas and eventually higher labour costs. Despite some government efforts, the birth rate in China remains somewhere between 0.8 and 1.3 children per woman (or maybe even lower) – which will lead China to HALVE its population in about 40-60 years. This is going to be wild – and by wild, I mean boring and depressing!

An aging population is a very big problem – a declining population is an even bigger problem. While there are obvious economic problems with a declining population – more resources going to support older people, healthcare costs, transport costs, and reduced consumption – the problem that worries me the most is the political impact. What does a society run by old people for old people look like? Japan may be the best current example of this and if there is one word that encapsulates its situation it is stagnation. Japan is just not innovating like it used to and one principal explanation is that more and more of the society is controlled by the elderly and devoted to servicing the elderly. 

Interestingly I find very little concern for this issue among the people I speak with. Maybe that is why no action is being taken. When I raise this concern most people usually brush it off saying that less people may be a good thing – better for the planet, more space available, less social issues. The challenge is to understand that a declining population will not solve our environmental problems. Most people live their lives using the law of expanding gases. This law of physics explains that a gaseous substance will expand until it fills the space it has. The parallel is that people expand their consumption of goods and services to the limits of their financial capacity. Less people will just expand their consumption as much as they can. If housing prices collapse due to a declining population, people will buy bigger houses. If SUV prices decrease as they have over the past 20 years, people will get bigger cars. However, the ultimate limitation on quality of life is our ability to purchase or produce the goods and services we want. With less workers and more retirees, we are very likely to see continued inflation, supply chain problems and less purchasing power for the average worker. This will (and is already) leading to frustration which will turn into political problems (see Italy as a case in point).

Population implosion is going to be the biggest problem of our lives. Like Global Warming, which is a communal problem that no individual can meaningfully affect, demographics is a society level issue that has far reaching consequences and is out of any one person’s control. Having or not having children is contagious. When you are surrounded by families with many children, it becomes the norm and the expectation. Additionally, as people have children, countries must invest in the infrastructure – schools, daycare, … etc. It is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Between 1850-1970 we saw this trend of growing population and infrastructure for children. However, the inverse is also true – if your entourage is remaining single and not having children, you are less likely to have kids. Ultimately, demographics is an issue that has been creeping up on the world for over thirty years, but no one really noticed. It will have cataclysmic impacts. 


The Sex Recession – The Atlantic

Empty Planet – book by John Ibbitson 

Sex is going out of fashion – Thread

Published on October 20, 2022

Ukraine and Non-Violence

A tragedy is a preventable outcome that ends in death. The current Ukraine war is clearly a tragedy, as are all wars. Western powers would have us believe that the Ukraine war is a just and noble cause that will end in a humiliating defeat for Russia. I would argue that anyone who has had a cursory look at Russian history will know they are a people capable of enduring terrible strife and suffering – the Napoleonic wars, Stalingrad, … etc. It is rarely wise to bet against the Russians in a war of attrition. The reality is that the western powers who proudly send arms to Ukraine are only in this war to see the Russians suffer, more than to see Ukraine triumph. Western powers do not seem to have a clear strategy or end game for this conflict and they are definitely not going to engage directly with Russia. One thing is clear, the European and Americans will happily see Ukraine fight to the last Ukrainian.

In no way do I claim that Russia is in the right, but it is critical to understand that right and wrong are not very relevant in war. War is war. Death is death. Suffering is suffering. Regardless of the morality of a conflict, the people who suffer are those fighting, their families, communities and all the civilians caught in between. The glory of war is deeply embedded in human our culture. As a father of two beautiful boys, I would never be able to see them fight a war. Whenever someone extols the glory of war and the justice of a cause I ask them to re-read the history of the first world war. The images of young men enthusiastically enlisting and travelling to the trenches, only to have their heads blown off and their intestines spread over the mud of Europe breaks my heart.

Let us remember that single day at Verdun, when over 50,000 men were killed. Let us remember the noble French soldiers who laid down their arms in protest, only to be executed by the French army. Let us remember that ultimately, the first world war was just a stepping stone for the second. In the harsh reality of armed conflict, there are only two possible outcomes. One outcome is for the enemy force to be utterly destroyed and the second outcome is that a negotiated peace settlement is found. In the case of the first world war, a bad peace settlement was reached before the Allied forces crossed into German territory. Had a good peace agreement been found, it is probably that the second war would never have happened. The desire to humiliate Germany and the long term scars of the Franco-Prussian war sowed the seeds of the second world war.

Even the second world war, with nearly 26 million deaths and untold destruction and horror could have probably been resolved without so much war. It should be recalled that the Allied forces did not go to war to defend the Jews, gypsies, Romas and homosexuals who were being massacred by the Nazis. The Allied forces went to war to defend their interests. It is my firm belief that a sustained and coherent policy of non-violence and non-cooperation by Europeans and the Allied countries could have undone the Nazis without so many deaths or the Holocaust. Of course, we will never know, but it is worth the thought experiment.

After the dust settled on the second world war Germany and its army were completely destroyed. This destruction and the wisdom gained from the first war was thankfully put to good use with the formation of the United Nations, the European Union and other international organizations that have successfully avoided large scale war ever since. As imperfect as these institutions are, they have likely saved millions of lives.

In Ukraine, there is only one outcome possible – a negotiated peace settlement. Ukraine cannot defeat Russia, conquer its territory and destroy its entire army and Russia cannot entirely destroy Ukraine. This reality sets the stage for a long war of attrition where the suffering will echo through generations of Ukrainian and Russian families. The geographic reality is that Ukraine is on Russia’s doorstep and it is a deeply divided country between Ukrainian speakers and Russian speakers. Wish as we might, no amount of hope or guns or aid will change that reality. Just as the United States would never allow Canada to be militarily aligned with Russia, Russia will not allow Ukraine to be militarily aligned with the United States. The pro-Western Ukrainians may desperately want NATO membership and EU membership, but the problem is that a big Russian bear lives next door. The Russian bear gets angry when you poke him in the eye.

The sooner we realize that a negotiated settlement is inevitable the better. For the sake of the innocent children, someone must force a negotiation through any means necessary. The best candidate for such a push is likely China, but so far they seem uninterested in taking a leading role in international politics. Regardless of the instigator, Ukrainians and Russians must find a way to live together because they are neighbours. Any reasonable agreement, as admitted by President Zelensky, will likely mean Ukrainian neutrality (like Mexico) and abandoning the adherence to NATO. This main mean internal conflict in Ukraine, but what other option is there? The path of perpetual conflict with Russia is certainly not in Ukraine’s interest. Ukrainians who fought in the Orange revolution and in the Maiden revolution want Ukraine to be a European country, but there is a geographic and historical reality that cannot simply be wished away. Unless Russia integrates Europe, which may have been possible back in 1991, but seems unlikely anytime soon, Ukraine will not be able to fully integrate Europe. This is ultimately a political problem that cannot be solved through military force. The most likely outcome is probably Russia annexing parts of Ukraine.

The Ukraine conflict is only the most recent war. Millions continue to die in conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and many other countries around the world. Though violent deaths are decreasing globally, there remains a great amount of work to be done to bring about peace in our time. On this Father’s day, it is my hope that father’s the world over will choose a path of peace and non-violence in the name of justice. There is no glory in death, there is only suffering and misery.

For more on non-violence:

World Beyond
Einstein Institute

Published on June 19, 2022