Some context about Charlie Hebdo: don’t judge a magazine by its cover

"It's hard to be loved by idiots" The past two days have been nerve wracking for the French, and for friends of freedom of speech. We’ve all been floored by the savagery of the attacks, but it’s been heartwarming to see support messages from all over the world, as well as the extraordinary unity of the French people overall, including the Muslim community and clergy, as well as all other confessions (but of course, let’s not fool ourselves, there are already brain-dead violent reactions against the whole Muslim community, which is exactly the sort of division the terrorists are trying to create).

All this makes it particularly irritating when several voices from supposedly smart people writing in reputable journals start blaming the victim. USA Today even went so far as to publish a commentary from a self-avowed radical extremist, something I find way more offensive than anything Charlie ever put on their front page:

Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression […] why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity of its citizens at risk?

It is time that the sanctity of a Prophet revered by up to one-quarter of the world's population was protected.

USA Today is not quoting an opposing view, in an article meant to give context to the attacks: they actually gave an unrestricted tribune to a dangerous extremist who misrepresents his own religion, and advocates against freedom of speech, in favor of blasphemy laws, without comment. It’s hard to fathom why USA Today would do that, but at least one can understand what this guy is saying and why. And it’s chilling.

Harder to understand is the chorus of reasonable journalists who attempt to paint Charlie Hebdo as a racist, islamophobic journal. Before I go into the details of the accusations, and why they don’t hold water, I want to point out what should be very obvious: this is the equivalent of showing up at a funeral and telling the family that the deceased had really looked for it. Only insensitive, tasteless assholes do that.

Case in point, David Brooks writes in the NY Times:

let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.

Notice the subtext here: in America, this wouldn’t stand, not because speech is less free, but because the French agree with “hate speech”? Give me a break and watch Fox News for 10 minutes to realize what Americans allow (which is fine, of course, just pointing out the hypocrisy of an article that aspires itself to denounce hypocrisy). It also takes about 30 seconds to find direct counter-examples of American campus newspapers that are nothing but racist hate speech

I’ll also point out that nobody but their readership can “cut financing and shut them down” in the case of Charlie: it’s completely independent, has no ads, and is not part of a large corporation. Imagine that: really free press. Now that’s something you don’t see every day.

So is Charlie hate speech? Of course not, but if your knowledge of it is limited to a few of the most provocative covers that you’ve seen on the Internet, it may seem to be.

Charlie Hebdo is one of the last journals in a long tradition of lampooning, political caricature, irreverence, humanism, secularism, and freedom that goes all the way back to the French Revolution. If you go beyond the cover and look inside, you’ll find something a lot different from what Brooks describes: the articles are about raising awareness on social issues, about defending the defenseless, such as immigrants, and the homeless, about culture, about the struggles of the Third World, the environment, and generally about fighting oppression in all its forms. Most articles aren’t even funny ;)

The authors of those articles and drawings who died in the attack were not immature 13 year-olds trying to “stick a finger in the eye of authority” and who belong at the “kids’ table”. They were very smart, respected and beloved journalists and cartoonists whom people of my generation have seen on TV and read in newspapers since our childhood. We know they are all the kindest, funniest, and smartest folks. They were also resolutely at the “adults’ table”, even by Brooks’ standard that “you must read Le Monde or the establishment organs”: they were not just reading those, they were writing and drawing in them.

Cabu drew on Antenne 2 (French TV), in Paris-Match, Le Journal du Dimanche, France-Soir, Le Figaro, Le Figaro Littéraire, Le Nouvel Observateur, Le Monde, Politique Hebdo, Jours de France, and many more.

Wolinski has drawn in France-Soir, L’Humanité, Paris-Match. In 2005, Jacques Chirac gave him the Légion d’honneur, the highest decoraration in France.

Tignous was drawing in Marianne, and Charb in Télérama and l’Humanité. He even drew illustrations in Le Petit Larousse, the most popular French dictionary. Bernard Maris was a PhD-holding University Professor of economy and “agrégé” who wrote for Marianne, Le Nouvel Observateur, Le Figaro Magazine, Le Monde, and France Inter.

This puts the front pages that created such controversy under a much different light: those were not racist caricatures reminiscent of the darkest anti-Semitic propaganda of the second quarter of the twentieth century. Rather, they were funny, courageous, and deliberate, if provocative, pieces from well-respected and well-understood humanist authors who thought that one should be able to laugh of anything, that it was an essential part of Democracy.

There’s also this weird perception that Charlie was going after the Muslim minority. In reality, they were going after all fundamentalisms, not after communities. In fact, over the years they got 14 lawsuits from Catholic organizations, but only one from Muslims (and Charlie won them all). It’s also worth mentioning that they were able to gather 173,000 signatures against Front National, the extreme right French party that is the real voice against the Muslim community in France, and that attacked the journal several times with lawsuits. During the Mohammed caricature controversy however, the F.N. weirdly supported Charlie, for their own partisan reasons. “It’s hard to be appreciated by idiots”, indeed.

Wolinski said in an interview that what they were doing was in fact to treat Muslims like the adults they are, with whom it’s possible to joke and laugh. Fundamentalists, on the other hand, are like bratty children who can’t stand contradiction. Brats with guns. They are the criminals here, let’s not be confused about that, and they are attacking us all, by assassinating journalists and policemen. They’re the ones we shouldn’t allow at the grownups’ table.


Discrimination by private businesses

Imperial Laundry Co. "We wash for white people only"I’ve been watching this video of Rachel Maddow interviewing Rand Paul about civil rights. Paul’s argument is that private businesses should be left free to discriminate, because Liberty. I think he’s profoundly wrong, here’s why.

Firstly, the argument that discrimination is a bad business decision is plain wrong. We may want it to be true, but there are places where it would actually be an excellent business decision. Just ask Chick-Fil-A.

Secondly, Paul repeatedly claims that racial segregation was a problem mostly in public institutions. While state discrimination was especially shocking, there is no shortage of legal cases showing that some business owners do shamelessly discriminate. To this day, ask any member of any minority, and they will tell you horror stories that happened to them personally, illustrating the reality of ordinary, everyday discrimination.

Thirdly, businesses have real power over people’s lives, a power that is highly asymmetrical. They can hire or fire, promote or demote, move abroad, destroy local economies, buy politicians, and they can refuse to provide their products and services. This great power however comes with very few counter-powers and responsibilities. As we’ve seen, public outrage does not constitute a credible deterrent for bigoted behavior, because there are more than enough bigoted customers to support bigoted businesses. If anything, those businesses are rewarded by the market. Additionally, if we were to listen to the likes of Rand Paul, the business world would be totally de-regulated. In his ideal, Libertarian word, the state is trivialized or non-existent, and as a consequence, the real power lies within the corporations, unchallenged, and free to discriminate. No, thanks.

“We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” Who do you think they mean?


What if… small businesses could get out of the patent system?

The Monopoly patent was granted in 1935It should be pretty clear at this point that our patent system is broken. It’s been designed to foster innovation, but is nowadays stifling it. It’s supposed to protect inventors, but instead threatens innovators. Patent trolls are extorting billions of dollars from our top tech companies, and are threatening to do the same to small businesses and individuals. Meanwhile, big corporations amass enormous patent portfolios that they use as currency, with contents so vague that they can be used to attack their smaller competitors before they even start: if you want to start a small technological business today, don’t do a patent search: you are going to find patents broad enough to cover your innovation, and you may have to give up for fear of litigation that would kill you from the legal fees alone.

There is a lot of debate about fighting patent trolls. The solution is probably multiple. I may have an original idea however to protect small businesses, that are more innovative than large ones, and against which the balance is today grossly tipped.

What if companies below a certain size (that are not owned by companies above that size), could be exempt of any patent litigation at all? This would eliminate altogether the threat against small innovators and inventors.

But what about big corporations? Wouldn’t they be harmed by swarms of unfair parasites that would only be living off their innovations? That’s unlikely, as no small business can rival the firepower of larger companies. They cannot benefit from the same economies of scale, and they can’t advertise as well. To do well and survive, they will have to innovate on top of whatever invention they would have “borrowed”. They have no other choice. They will also have to move fast.

Such a model, of course, is very close to what open source businesses are already doing. The difference is that the very real threat of patent litigation would disappear. Many businesses ignore it and try to stay under the radar, or donate their intellectual property to foundations that act as legal lightning rods. They wouldn’t need to do that if such a proposal got applied.

What do you think? Is this even possible? Would it work?


The tyranny of liberty

Liberty BellLast night, I watched one of Glenn Beck’s shows, and it surprised me: it actually had bits of thought in it, instead of the distilled lib’ral hating I was expecting. Sure, Beck is unnervingly arrogant and assumes everyone disagreeing with him is an idiot, but, maybe under the influence of his guest Penn Jillette, he followed a coherent train of thoughts and actually was interesting. I’m disagreeing vehemently with most of what both said in the show, but I also understood something.

It seems to be a trivial observation that Libertarians would care first and foremost about liberty, but for some reason it had escaped me that it is in fact the only value that they recognize. They seem to be oblivious to any virtue that doesn’t have a simple mapping on an axis of freedom that spans from anarchy to totalitarianism, that Beck shows on his trademark blackboard at the beginning of the show. This axis, of course, exists, and the multi-dimensional complexity of reality does project on it. That’s what makes the whole worldview consistent and appealing.

Its problem is not that it’s wrong. Its problem is that it’s incomplete and simplistic. That also is, however, its greatest strength.

Penn Jillette illustrates that very well when he enumerates a bunch of complex issues and gives each a seemingly simple resolution by expressing them in exclusive terms of individual freedom, excluding any considerations of fairness, justice, or the greater good.

At 28:50, he stands with the pharmacist who would refuse to fill a doctor’s prescription that he morally objects to, and with the Catholic hospital that refuses to perform a life-saving procedure that goes against Church dogma. He also stands behind the Boy Scouts of America against gays and defends private discrimination at large. He’s “totally OK with that”.

He thus ignores the duty of the pharmacist and the hospital to his patient’s health (which is the defining virtue of the health sector), and he ignores the right of all human beings to be treated fairly, not just by the government, but by anybody who holds any kind of power, such as an employer or the holder of a monopoly.

Simplistic ideologies are dangerous because they are so seductive. They offer simple explanations to a complex world. They make everything look clear-cut and leave no place for ambiguity. By doing so, they don’t just ignore most of reality, they also exclude it from consideration, creating moral issues bigger than the few they superficially solve.

Refuse simplistic worldviews. Instead, broaden your horizons, embrace complexity and ambiguity. Consider all points of view, in every issue, before you judge. Not because they are all true, but because they all contribute to weaving the tapestry of humanity.


Elections are not democratic

AgoraIt’s becoming increasingly clear that our so-called democracies really are plutocracies and always have been. But, I hear you ask, aren’t elections the guarantee that we the people are getting represented properly? Of course not.

To get elected, you need to be a candidate. To be a candidate, you had to belong to a very specific category of individuals who actually desire power. It’s very easy to see how this can result in elected assemblies that are constituted exclusively of rich people: they are the ones who desire power and can afford to spend the money to get there. And like it or not, the rich are not necessarily the most caring of people. After all, how many of your own caring, decent low or middle-class friends want to become politicians? My bet, which coincides with my personal experience, is precisely zero.

How is that representative? Doesn’t this show clearly that elections result in precisely the opposite of democracy? More importantly, what would work better than that? Isn’t democracy the least bad of all systems?

Democracy means power by the people. Part of the problem is that we the people let that term get hijacked by a system that is anything but. When a system results in the exact opposite of representation, assemblies that are statistical aberrations with no correlation whatsoever with the general population, that cannot possibly be called a democracy. When the people in power are systematically the rich -elected or not- that is the definition of a plutocracy.

I understand that some are perfectly fine with a plutocracy, but can we at least call things by their names and stop pretending to live in a democracy?

So what would be a real democracy then, you may ask? Well, that’s easy, the Greek had it all figured out (except for the part about women and slaves of course, but come on it was 2,500 years ago).

The only truly democratic system is one where the assembly is not elected but randomly selected. Only chance can select a sample of the population that is truly representative.

Think about it.

More on this later. This text was inspired by a TEDx talk by Etienne Chouard, unfortunately in French, but nonetheless one of the most inspiring things I’ve heard in years.


I care that everyone can get married

Holy MatrimonyThis post started as a comment on my friend Ambrose's blog but it was getting long enough to justify a post. Check it out for context.

Let's start with this: marriage cannot be defined by the biological prospect of having children, because that would rule out sterile couples and menopausal women. As simple as that.

On adoption, Ambrose said:

"it seems likely that the child raised by a homosexual couple will have at least some issues similar to other children who are raised without a mother or without a father"

What are those issues? Is there evidence of that? Rigorous studies on those problems exist, we don't have to guess.

I'm glad that Ambrose does mention that:

"It is [commitment] not infatuation, not sex, not even children--that is essential to marriage and is also its primary joy."

That I can agree with if we are speaking of marriage in our time and regions, but we should also not forget that in the past, and in many regions of the world, marriage has been and still is mostly arranged and more a matter of business than consensual commitment. But let's pass on that.

Then Ambrose says:

"it must be understood that this is an unbreakable, unquestionable lifetime commitment that no one, not even those who enter into it, can break".

That, I must say, sounds to me like an archaic and patriarchal vision of things. Surely Ambrose would agree that if a woman is routinely beaten by her husband, that marriage should be broken? I agree on the commitment, but I also think that a commitment can only be meaningful if it is consensual and if there is a way out. Otherwise, you have built a prison, not a marriage. At least not a modern one (oh, yes, I do think these concepts must evolve as our understanding of ethics does (and it does)). That does not mean it's subject to the "whims of passion" as Ambrose says. Actually, I find this slightly insulting: I do not remain my wife's partner because we're married. That's backwards. I am married to my wife because we have had and continue to have an adult relationship based on love, trust and shared values. That marriage will last because we don't see an end to these things, not because marriage is sacred. That commitment that Ambrose speaks of is not coming out of nowhere. It's not marriage that is creating it, marriage is only the representation and consequence of it, it existed before.

I would go so far as attributing the higher rate of divorces in the most religious parts of the US to sexual repression (if you can't experiment freely with sex, you are more likely to confuse lust with love), silly notions about contraception and an archaic notion of ownership of women by men that still permeates religious thought (but that I'm not accusing Ambrose of personally, of course).

Back on topic: even if Ambrose was right that marriage is fundamentally a granting of privilege and not a right (and I don't think he is), there exists a right to this privilege, and I don't think any privileges should be granted on anything that does not boil down to merit. He did not show why these privileges should be granted only to some. Gay people can commit to each other and adopt children just as well as, say, a sterile couple.

I also do not share his view that marriage should be translated into quasi-economic terms of cost and benefit to society. The state does guarantee all kind of rights on their own merits (plus it's quite tricky to define the "common good"). Reading the Declaration of Human Rights or the Bill of Rights should convince anyone of that.

Finally, if those civil unions that religious people so generously grant gay people (after having fought them), if those civil unions were enough, why does the gay community still insist that they aren't? Simply because the recognition they provide is not enough, yes.

Looping back to Ambrose's original point, yes, it's about recognition, the recognition that gay people are just as capable of commitment and love as anybody. Anything less is insulting and discriminatory.

Let's not forget that it's also about the happy couple being able to show their commitment to friends and family. We haven't talked about the ceremony and the celebration, but they are essential. You *can* do them with a civil union contract, of course, but it's clearly not the same thing to celebrate the "civil union" of Pierre and Paul or of Susan and Amy as it is to celebrate their marriage. There is a symbol here for which no substitute will do.

There are privileges associated with marriage for sure, but that's only one more reason why it should be a universal right.


The Many Tribes Society

King DavidIf I told you that the emergence of blogs, Twitter and Facebook have changed our societies in more profound ways than we imagine, you’d be justified in telling me that I’m being neither original nor very pertinent. There is certainly something to be said about the amplification effect those services have on self-centeredness and gossip, and how those are sometimes more powerful than the few examples we have of new media spreading freedom, truth and democracy. Still, I think we are seeing the first signs of a profound revolution, one that is remodeling society in a way that is more in tune with our evolutionary origins. One where the notion of tribe makes a comeback, but with a couple of twists.

We all belong to many tribes.

I belong to a small tribe of French people living in the Pacific Northwest. That tribe is defined by geography, friendship and a shared cultural heritage.

I belong to a tribe of godless liberals. This one is also circumscribed by geographical proximity. It values debate, evidence and a certain willingness to show the finger to bigots and conservatives. It is brought closer together by what we perceive to be the radicalization of the USA towards religious conservatism.

I belong to the tribe of my family. This one is defined by genetics, not at all by geography. Common values are almost non-existent in this tribe, but still it exists.

I belong to the tribe that is building an open-source content management platform with Microsoft. Work, a commitment to open software and some ideas around software design are what keeps us together.

I belong to the tribe of people I follow and people who follow me on Twitter. The only thing these people have in common is... me.

This last example is troubling: the borders of this community are well-defined but still it seems fuzzy, because it is just one in a cloud of many millions of others like it. Nothing about it is particularly extraordinary or interesting: it is only valuable as a part of a complex network of similar entities.

To understand why this is new and worth noticing, we need to take ourselves back in time to the society of our parents or grandparents, the society of nations, the centralized hierarchical society. Every aspect of public life was then structured as a tree, with a supreme authority on top.  Government is most obviously an example of that. Whether our ancestors lived in a theocracy, a monarchy or a democracy, there was an authority on top, and everybody else spread in a pyramid of authority beneath it. Democracy’s saving grace is that it allows people on the bottom to choose who’s on top, but the structure remains essentially unchanged.

Hierarchical models are being challenged today by the idea that a network is more efficient that a pyramid. By the idea that talent, ideas and leadership can emerge from any point in the network and maybe also the thought that no authority should be permanent.

Beyond this, what interests me in blogs, Twitter and Facebook is that they leverage a powerful instinct of our kind: tribalism. Instead of bringing a small group of primates together around a dominant male and against neighboring tribes, like tribes of old were doing, they make us all the patriarchs and matriarchs of our own local tribe. In such a model, there are no frontiers, no wars to wage: the limits of your personal kingdom overlap those of everyone else’s around you. There is a continuum of tribes that now covers the world (or at least, the industrialized world).

That brings us to the second fundamental change: connectedness. Bacon’s six degrees of separation have become a cliché, but they are also outdated. They have very much become no degrees of separation. I can now have a direct connection –if one-directional– to all the living people that I admire. That rich connectedness is far from meaningless. In the same way that our brains use local and global connections to function, there is a fundamentally new society that can emerge from social networks that feature both local and global connections. It takes only a few hours for a brilliant idea to conquer the world today.

Think about that: a few centuries ago, when no global communication existed, an idea had to spread organically in concentric circles, and was often stopped by geographical constraints (seas, mountains), or political ones (frontiers, confessions). That’s a most inefficient system.

Then with the sort of global hierarchical societies that were characteristic of our more recent history, ideas had to make their way to the top from the branch where they emerged, before trickling down from there to the other branches. In this configuration the reach of your idea is determined by how far up you can take it. This model gives a disproportional amount of power to authorities, as they can whimsically stop anything in its tracks.

In a networked society, ideas start locally and spread globally. They seduce nearest neighbors first, then get picked up by more distant nodes that start spreading them in their own neighborhoods, and this repeats until it dies down or it has covered the whole world, which happens with exponential acceleration instead of a linear pace.

There is a selection mechanism at play here, that amplifies some signals and dampens down others. It’s not just dumb transmission of a signal, unchanged. The signal is modified and reformulated as it moves. When it’s factual news being communicated, that’s a problem (a.k.a. the grapevine). But when it’s a concept, a pure idea, something marvelous happens: the concept can be enriched by each person it transits through. It can adapt to new environments. That is an essential difference with, say, genetic information, for which the substrate is purely mechanical. Because the substrate of ideas is brains, they can get smarter as they gather the thinking power of hundreds along its path, instead of having to wait for random mutations.

This is why I don’t believe in the old concept of intellectual property anymore. What ideas we have we should share freely with our tribe. Think local. Don’t attempt to bastardize your thoughts by attempting to make them universal. Know you can count on the rest of the network to adopt the good ones, massage them and adapt them to their needs. For that to work, we need to let go of ownership and accept to give and receive. Open Source software and hardware is of course in perfect tune with this worldview. As is scientific thought.

Today you need to think locally if you are going to have global reach. Centralized, feudal systems are but the remnants of old societies that should lose pertinence over the next few decades.

Even democracy should reinvent itself to adapt to these lighter-weight and decentralized networks. Rules and decisions could one day be made within diffuse entities that bear little resemblance to the political structures of today that were determined in a large part by the arbitrary rules of geography.

That’s what I hope for.


About nuclear energy

Credit: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory CommissionI just read Brian Dunning's post about the Fukushima explosion and was about to comment there but they are blocking comments from behind proxies, which is incredibly stupid on their part. So there, new post.

Dunning is a strong supporter of nuclear energy, which is fine. I used to be fiercely in that camp until fairly recently, based on scientific facts about our current technical ability to build secure plants and about the danger that other traditional energies present in a much more real way (look up the death toll for coal to see what I mean).

What made me change my mind is the realization that nuclear energy is surrounded by an opaque cloud of secret, all over the world. This is essentially a world where no transparency exists at all. We know very well what happens when there is no transparency: people cut corners and get away with it. In the case of nuclear energy, cutting corners is particularly tragic.

Another reason to be rationally against nuclear energy today of course is also that we should focus our efforts instead on making renewable energies viable.

Dunning, in his post, argues that coal is much more dangerous than nuclear energy. That's a feeble argument: we should also get rid of coal, starting now. One does not preclude the other, we can do both.

The Fukushima accident, even though not the final proof of the horribleness of nuclear energy in principle, should give us pause, and stimulate debate. What is the state of currently running plants? What should we replace them with at the end of their lifetimes? Did we tragically underestimate natural catastrophe risks for some of those plants? And also, very importantly, how do we reach transparency on nuclear energy and waste disposal? Those, I think, are questions worth asking.


Of taste and right

Portrait of James MadisonWhen a Dutch cartoonist drew the prophet Muhammad, the world split between those who thought that was a serious crime that deserved death, and those who thought freedom of speech was more important than anybody’s susceptibility.

The cartoons in question might have been of poor taste, maybe. But taste is by definition subjective and shouldn’t be made into law.

Only in a theocracy is speech against Scripture repressed (by definition). Even if you pursued the bizarre claim that all speech against all sacred texts should be repressed, you wouldn’t go very far with it. Why? Because those texts are contradictory and exclusive. The Qur'an is explicitly saying that both Jews and Christians are wrong (for example Al-Baqarah 2:120). So just by being a Christian or a Jew, you are contradicting the Qur’an and expressing opinions that go against a sacred text. Before you think you can talk yourself out of this one by saying that as long as religious practice remains private that’s not a problem, also remember that all those texts also have extensive sections ordering their followers to proselyte (sometimes through the use of force).

In consequence, unless you want to live in a theocracy, you have to realize that prohibiting the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion is a necessity. This is not repression against religions. To the contrary, this is protecting religions against each other and guaranteeing that all religions can coexist.

Now if you’re a follower of the dominant religion in any country, you might be tempted nonetheless, thinking you’ll be fine. Well, first that’s not a very charitable position for those who aren’t, and it goes a long way to show your ideas of tolerance and social life. Second, any given religion is in reality split into a multitude of currents (especially here in the States). What makes you think it’s your particular current that will be in power? Given how the people who seize power in the name of a religion are rarely the moderates, aren’t you just a little afraid?

It should be obvious then that the reasonable position is that we should live in democracies rather than theocracies (I’m not mentioning other grotesque forms of power here) and that those democracies should guarantee freedom of speech, including against religion.

Given that, you may or may not find caricatures of a prophet distasteful, but that does not entitle you to anything. It is your problem and nobody else’s.

Now move this out of the religious sphere into the political sphere. Let’s talk about Wikileaks. That is another case where we should refrain from desiring laws that would prevent such leaks into the public sphere lest we want to live in a dictatorship where the government is judge and party. There is no fundamental difference between Wikileaks and a press outlet. In many ways, Wikileaks is one of the modern evolutions of the press, for good or bad. Freedom of the press is another fundamental promise and guarantee of democracy.

We may find Wikileaks revelations distasteful or irresponsible, but that does not entitle us to anything. It’s our problem and nobody else’s. What I do find in very poor taste are the threats of legal action for espionage or terrorism. In even poorer taste are calls for assassination.

Careful what you wish for...


Despite all that, France is not a collectivist dictatorship. Go figure.


  • The state owns a majority of railways, energy production and distribution, aircraft and telecommunication industries of the country.
  • There is a minimum wage, and it's pretty high: 1300 euros a month.
  • Health care is mandatory, universal and state-managed.
  • Cities have an obligation to provide cheap homes to poor people.
  • Several of the top TV and radio stations are state-owned.
  • Movies and art in general are largely sponsored by the state.
  • Public schools are often better than private ones.
  • Free college education for all.
  • Top 3 scientific colleges pay their students for being promising future contributors to society.
  • Owning a gun is not a sacred right guaranteed by the constitution.
  • The constitution is only 52 years old, and it can be changed by referendum.
  • People can't get fired from a permanent position for no good reason and without a severance package or time to rebound.
  • If you get fired, you get substantial unemployment insurance.
  • Religion and the state are strictly separated, to the point that cults and religions pay taxes like everybody else, and politicians rarely talk about their religious convictions, or lack thereof. No mention of God is made on banknotes.
  • 64% of the population defines itself as atheists or agnostics according to
  • Children in school don't pledge allegiance to the flag.