This is a quick summary of the public beliefs I find important about reality, knowledge, ethics, politics, economics, ecology and free speech. Please share if you think itís worthy.

Reality. Reality is a generator of events that we measure indirectly. Perhaps they are caused by the interactions of little particles and forces born out of fields, or perhaps by a vast symphony of tiny strings, who knows? (nobody knows). Assume thatís enough, apply the principle of parsimony and thatís that. Keep your metaphysics as empty as possible. No invisible or intangible stuff, no gods, miracles or anything else supernatural. No magic.

Knowledge. The beliefs we hold about reality are not reality itself. The map is not the territory. Molded by natural selection, human brains have a hard time dealing with complex stuff. Our brains are lazy, they use many biases and sloppy ways of thinking. We are fuelled by and hungry for metaphors. Human senses are limited in number, scope and precision. To prevent these failings, support your beliefs with evidence, make experiments, put them, and yourself, to the test. Adapt, adjust. Most beliefs are not ready for public discussion, so be your own worst critic. Be an active skeptic: doubt everything you feel you need to but also search for answers. Stating that a belief is true is an approximation that might change with new evidence. We always deal with degrees of belief, certainties and absolutes are ideals that you should avoid. Keep your mind open but enforce a strict door policy. Do not just accept any explanation or prediction, check for coherence with previous knowledge: demand extraordinary evidence to consider extraordinary claims. The scientific method has proven to be quite efficient at producing true justified beliefs: most scientific core beliefs are already way beyond any reasonable doubt (like natural selection). But science is not the only game in town: try always to learn more about Art, Critical Thinking, History, Math, Philosophy, Statistics. Learning, like exercise, is hard but healthy.

Ethics. Refuse violence except in defense of violent acts (please, include animals). Do not (be the first to) break a promise, think first before making one. Donít lie but donít forget there usually are gentle ways of telling the truth. When possible, give more and take less. Be impartial. Consider the perspective of the Universe, not just your own side. We really are all in this together. Emotions and thoughts are morally neutral: think and feel what you want. Actions say more about us than our beliefs and words and, except if you are famous, they matter more. The practice of virtue make us virtuous, so practice a lot. Try to live a worthy life, its meaning is up to you. Be nice.

Politics. Every person has fundamental rights, but none is inviolable (rights do tend to conflict with each other). People and their cultures are more important than any institution, including nations. Ditto for ecosystems. Fight to live in a society where all citizens are equal before the law. Only laws without prejudice and discrimination that promote/defend ethical behavior or fundamental rights might be worthy of respect. Justice must be impartial, independent, indiscriminate, with known and limited scope of action (this is the Rule of Law). Do not accept victimless crimes. Corporativism and corporations will always promote unjust policies according to their own agenda. Distrust people with strong interests in any type of corporation, especially political (like parties and governments), religious and financial ones. Expect bureaucracy and corruption but donít resign with either. Keep yourself vigilant, sometimes dangerous ideas influence powerful people. Donít forget that the right to vote implies the right to be elected (if it doesnít, you are not living in a democracy) and that a majority rule doesnít mean a tyranny of the majority. As much freedom as possible is a desirable thing but it increases your responsibility (you can handle it). Be tolerant except in the defense of tolerance: tolerance does not mean meekness. Promote the secular education of every child. Let me say this last one again: promote the secular education of every child.

Economics. Economics, like Ethics, is an exercise over limited resources. The Earth is finite. Exponential growth is unsustainable, only ideological blindness thinks otherwise. The feedback of our decisions take time but they will come and many are unpredictable. For each credit thereís a debt and a due date. Future generations will gladly receive any benefits we leave but they should not pay our bills. Energy is not money. Thereís no such thing as a rational agent: information and decision are expensive, values are subjective and people do influence people in strange ways. Refuse monopolies and avoid centralized governments. Bankruptcy is nasty but no bankruptcies is nastier. Donít underestimate self-organization. However, markets are just the best solution to specific problems (where information is available, similar price and quality products, diversity of supply/demand, not relevant externalities, ...). Without most of these conditions, donít expect markets to solve your problem. On the other hand, States do have a mediocre historical success record (History didn't reset after World War II). Everything has diminishing returns, the margin counts more than you think. Thereís no miraculous technological solution ahead, no single straight answer to every problem. Yes, ideology sucks. Donít think you can wish away externalities and risks. Nor Physics. There are no free lunches (check Ďno magicí above).

Ecology. Humans are just another species, deeply tied together with almost all the others. This is the ecosystem we evolved into, think twice before each decision to simplify or destroy it. Every action has unintended consequences, some of them are costly in economic and ecological terms. Study natureís solutions: the ecosphere weeded out lots of bad solutions over the eons and has a delicate balance that should be respected before trying to mess with it. Economy is a subset of the ecosystem. Every decision, every attempt to change and grow, has a cost and part of it cannot be accounted. You always pay something to do something else. Both nature's capacity and heritage are finite. Donít think the garbage you dump away just disappears.

Free Speech. Beliefs donít have rights. When entering the public domain, they are faced with constant criticism and need of defense, they should never be imposed on others by force. So if you are not up for it, keep your private beliefs to yourself (thank you). People should be respected because they are people, beliefs donít have that status. Refuse censorship, dogma, arbitrary prohibitions, personal attacks. Promote free speech and critical thinking, how to listen, to dialogue and to question. Be just and impartial when criticizing, and give the position you disagree the best possible interpretation. Itís not easy but respect logic when arguing. Make yourself clear (the world is already full of empty discussions) and donít get stuck on words while arguing (taboo them if you must). Thereís no right to not be offended but one should be able to use the judicial system to answer slander or libel. Never forget the power of humor, of irony and sarcasm. Ideas have authors, not owners. The public domain is the source of all human ideas and inventions, of all our achievements. It truly is more important than any conflicting economic right. A free Internet is, together with education and voting, one of the most powerful social and political tools that common people ever had and should be cherished, fighted for and celebrated.


Jo„o Pedro Neto
Mar 2012, Jan 2013