Do not judge for how I write, but for what I write.

In the past years, colleagues, friends, family, girlfriends have often criticised me for being … a pessimist. Since I am tired of justifying my pessimism, I have decided to write down my story, although, fundamentally it is a story about all of us.

I have always been the curious kind. Learning more about the world usually sparks my deepest emotions regardless of the beauty or ugliness of the things I witness. Fortunately for me, during my childhood, my thirst for knowledge had been satisfied with books, documentaries, field trips and even instruments (a microscope, a telescope, various electronics, etc.)

Later, during my teenage years, I had the opportunity to travel and visit many countries, meet many people and explore many capitals. Slowly, living in or just visiting famous cities, whether they were Paris or London, became less and less exciting. People from different countries, even though they may have dressed differently or spoke differently, or were more respectful, fundamentally started to seem all the same to me. As arrogant as this may sound, the truth is that for me the world was becoming smaller and smaller.

At the same time, in magazines, on TV and in movies, the future was looking better and better. Just a few centuries ago humans have set foot on the Moon, and the fall of the Berlin Wall filled our hearts with high expectations. Overall, the future looked bright.

All of us (especially Westerners) lived under the impression that there was nothing to stop us from solving the problems related to resources, poverty, corruption, so that we may reach beyond the limits of our planet. I was convinced that my generation will be different, that we will take the first steps towards a “wonderful” future.

This conviction led me to study physics and mathematics, in hope that one day I will become an accomplished physicist who will contribute to that bright future. Those aspirations seem childish now, but for a 17 year old kid, anything is possible.

However, before I applied to college, I had a moment of lucidity in which I realised that the technological progress of our world is not determined by the dreams of enthusiastic teenagers like me, nor by the benefits that it can bring, but by the will of the political establishment. Moreover, I was aware that it would not be wise to explore space as Europeans, Russians, Americans or Chinese. Not only because it would be completely inefficient, but also because it would be ridiculous to carry with us our earthly conflicts and start arguing over what patch of Moon belongs to whom, when we should focus on exploiting its resources for everyone’s benefit.

Thus, in the last minute I changed my mind and instead of following a career in physics or engineering, I chose to follow a career in international relations at a prestigious university in the United Kingdom. I thought that by doing so, I will have the best chances to help build a “better” future.

I was thrilled, certain that by going there I will learn how to help the world, how to manage the political and economic space in such a way that the distribution of resources and investments will benefit not only us today, but also countless generations to come. I was perfectly aware that my influence on the world will be mire at best. But I was not interested in feeding my ego, participating even in the slightest towards that “wonderful” future was more than enough for me. After all, even the most insignificant contribution is better than nothing. Strange as it may seem, I also felt a sort of responsibility for the world and its people. Most likely because I was aware that the “careless” life I was enjoying at the age of 20 was mostly thanks to those that were before me. It felt natural that in return, I should be preoccupied for those that will come after me, so that they too will enjoy the same quality of life as I did.

Unfortunately, the academic environment that I discovered had nothing in common with my enthusiasm and idealism. In the academic world and among my colleagues, their concerns were completely different from mine. Excluding the false preoccupation for those around them and their ephemeral friendships, mimicked for admiration and social prestige, almost everyone seemed to care only about their own personal and financial gains, advertised at different parties or social events. Initially I thought I lacked the ability to understand this world, but after 4 years of college I was certain that my preferences and expectations were parallel with this academic world.

To evade any misunderstandings: people have all the right to think of themselves and be egoistic. This is currently the rule in our world. But I am talking about universities that should represent the world’s elite and I am not exaggerating when I say that many of their graduates will reach important positions in ten-twenty-thirty years. Maybe I am absurd, but personally I was expecting their students to be different from others. Unfortunately, in 4 years of college I only met two people who were genuinely and unselfishly preoccupied by the future of our world. Otherwise, I met a lot of folks, driven by pure egoistic reasons, who would give their best to impress others with their preoccupation for different social causes or with their outstanding revelations discovered in some book or pint of beer.

What disappointed me even further was that the university invested no effort in helping us realise that our attitudes and way of thinking will determine our collective future. Most debates and discussions revolved around tolerance and discrimination, but most commonly about what theory of some group of scholars was better than another. Applying these theories to real world scenarios was usually off-limits, which is understandable, since most of them make no predictions that can truly be tested in the real world. Therefore, we were dragged into pointless debates wrapped in a subtle certainty that all of us there, participating in them, were somehow superior. Moreover, the discussions and the promoted way of thought focused almost entirely on “trendy” problems, and when attention was moved towards future developments, we all started to suffer from some form of acute mental myopia.

Even though I graduated with honours, I reassured myself thinking that, for some reason, I just did not understand that world. But I still hoped that as technology and communication evolves, it will start to penetrate deeper into the personal space of every individual, gradually changing their general attitude. I thought that as people become better informed, so their concerns will focus more on the actual and far-reaching future problems, and that the benefits of research and technology will become self-evident.

To my surprise, it seems the opposite is happening. We are indulging ourselves more and more into a virtual personal space, as the reality behind our screens is falling apart.

I am not just throwing around words, here are a few concrete examples:

  1. We kind of abused our planet through excessive deforestations and rampant pollution, and the effects will very soon become self-evident. No, I am not talking about warmer winters and rainier summers, I am talking about hundreds of millions of people who will suffer from starvation in the next 30-40 years. And not in some forsaken place in Africa, but right here, in our very own backyard. Few seem to genuinely care about this, although on words and “Likes” we are all great self-proclaimed environmentalists. Even sadder is that most “Green” NGOs or political parties come up with completely unrealistic proposals, with little regard for economic and social realities.

  1. Our ageing and declining population raises serious social and economic concerns, but the core of the problem is usually avoided. It mostly comes down to the lack of interest of current generations for conceiving more than one child (if they conceive one at all). I am aware that when it comes to children, everyone has the right to do as they see fit and I can understand that at our standard of living, having children can sometimes seem annoying and useless. The result however, is that in about 50 years entire societies will simply die out. Our biology has rules independent of our personal desires.

I find it alarming that this subject is very rarely opened to debate or it is immediately “solved” with the “immigration” solution. In the current conditions, immigration is nothing else but the replacement of one society with another. It is not a receipt for success, it is the symptom of a society which has failed biologically.


  1. Religious fundamentalism is gaining more ground. I have no issues with anyone’s religion, but when we have a large group of people who effectively reject any form of scientific research, without which we would still be travelling with ox and carriages across Europe, I think we have a serious problem. Even more so, given that a large part of this group can be found among the “immigrants” who solve our aging and declining population problem mentioned at point 2

  1. We are experiencing an economic crisis that I think will carry on for at least another decade. Because this is not just an economic crisis, it is a social crisis, rooted in our attitudes. We all want to live fine, happy lives, but between what we want and what we do for what we want, currently there is a massive chasm. I do not want to criticise our attitudes, because this is a debate which I can hardly cover with my thoughts. But I can criticise our lack of debating this subject on TV, on the internet or even over a pint of beer with our friends. The fact that we do not ask ourselves if this crisis we are experiencing is caused by us, but we mystically attribute it to “others”, suggests some sort of social schizophrenia.

To finalise…

When we were kids, in the 80s-90s, we were promised that by now we will have outposts on the Moon, massive space stations and our feet would have left their imprint on the dust of Mars. That our leaders will be more peaceful, wiser and less corrupt. That if we will study and work hard, our value and effort will be recognised, and that those who are lazy and mischievous will be prevented from climbing the social ladder.

In exchange, we have economic stagnation, radical demographic changes, natural catastrophes and resource depletion. The world sees these things but does not feel them, because their effects do not yet have a significant impact on our lives. Somehow, everyone lives under the impression that nothing bad will happen, that the future I am talking about is just a bad dream – they criticise me and tell me to be positive.

I resign myself with the thought that as “pessimistic” as I may be, and despite all I have written above, I still hope that one day humans will fly towards the stars. But I would have been much happier if they were “us”.

Translated version below.

 In the past decades, the media has often been sprinkled by debates regarding the future of the pensions system. Almost every time, the debates revolve around the unsustainability of current system and the need for reform. There are a few ideas on how to deal with this problem, like reducing the value of pensions, increasing the retirement age or moving towards private pension schemes. Unfortunately, these are temporary solutions that don’t solve the deeper problem which created this situation, which is the accelerated population decline of the developed countries.

How does the pension system work?

The pension system works like a loan between generations and is highly social in nature. To understand it, divide the population into 3 groups:

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What you are being told

You are paying a contribution to a large, government controlled fund, which then redistributes your contribution to those who are retired.

How it really works

The public system

In a nutshell: The active population is paying for the education of the young population so that when the young become active, they will be able to support themselves, their family, have a better life and a decent income. In turn, the young population when it turns into active population returns the favour by paying for the pension of the former active population, which has now turned into a retired population. This scheme has sometimes been called – a loan between generations.

The private system

Your pension contribution is largely invested in government bonds, since they’re the safest bet for maintaining the value of your contribution. Also, a small percentage of your contribution is used for financial investments. These investments can take many forms, but it’s not uncommon to be gambles on the stock market. The result is that your contribution is kept at a relatively fair value so that when you retire, you can get a good pension. The downside is that the company that invested your pension may go bankrupt and you are left with no pension or have your pension drastically reduced. This has actually happened in Argentine (2001) or with some pension schemes in the US and UK: example.

The mixed system

Throughout your life the state takes a certain percentage of your monthly salary and uses it for long term investments. These investments maintain the value of your initial contribution over long periods of time. After you retire, your contribution is returned to you in the form of pension. The value of your pension is calculated depending on the overall value of your contribution.

So what’s the problem?

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 The problem is related to how the overall social and economic system works. The above pyramids highlight the 3 areas of the population: the young, the active and the retired.

 In the developed countries, up to the 1970s, the distribution of the population was similar to the one in Angola: a small peak representing the retired population, a large middle section representing the active population and a large base representing the young population. Today, in the EU and in the US, the peak is becoming larger and larger, while the middle and bottom sections are gradually becoming smaller. As a consequence, the middle section is having a hard time coping with the (financial and economic) pressure exerted by the upper section.

One of the long term solutions is to de-couple the retired population from the active one by developing pensions schemes (be they private or public), which act like saving accounts for the population. Unfortunately, in the large scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter how you package the pension, since the economic and financial needs of the retired population still need to be fulfilled one way or another by the active population. The retired population is (in theory) a pure consumer, it doesn’t generate wealth and thus the state still needs to support itself from the active population (which is becoming smaller and smaller). In the same way, the interest generated by private pension funds is also highly depended on how well the active population is doing. The private pension funds generate their income and profit by investing in the activities of the active population and thus are depended on it for maintaining the value of your pension.

As a consequence, regardless of how you look at the problem, the current pension system is in difficulty, because the active population is unable to generate the economic wealth and financial resources needed to support the retired population at current levels. The short-term solution is to adjust these levels, either by reducing the value of pensions or by increasing the retirement age, thus reducing the number of people retiring every year.

Another quick way out of this situation is to increase the pool of the active population through immigration. Additionally, in developed countries, immigrants have the tendency of making far more kids than the local population (source), further strengthening the bottom sections of the population pyramid. This is a fair and decent solution for the survivability of the country, but it also marks a turning point in its society, because basically what is happening is that the local population is slowly being replaced by a new, foreign population.

The ideal solution?

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The ideal long-term solution is when the population remains stable over-time. This means that every year, the number of people who die must be almost equal to the number of new-borns. Thus, the population doesn’t change fundamentally over-time and it’s able to sustain itself. To have a stable population, a country requires that the local population has a fertility rate of 2 (basically each woman has to have 2 kids in her life-time). By comparison, in most developed countries fertility rates are very low, in Japan for instance, the fertility rate is 1.39. There is no indication that fertility rates will increase in the foreseeable future, and most of the current increase in fertility rates is the result of immigration, since immigrants usually have a fertility rate between 2.25 and 2.5.

P.S. Another (but far-fetched) solution is to discover means to increase the life-span of the population and maintain its youth for much longer periods of time. Sci-fi as it may seem, it does make the entire argument regarding pensions and population distribution entirely mute, since in world where everyone is young and eternal, such an argument is meaningless.

I cannot help to think that something is terribly wrong with our world. I cannot pin-point it, I cannot say for certain what it is, but it is there, like a splinter in my mind which gives no rest.

I know for certain that this feeling is not something which is specific to myself, but it is something shared by many people.

The difference is that for each us it manifests in a different way. We feel something is wrong and we try to blame it on something, like the stupidity of others, or the government, or the capitalist system, or inequality, or whatever else you can think of… but never ourselves.

Remarkably, all these issues we try to blame are social in nature, and far-reaching, indicating some sort of social connection between ourselves, our problems and our social world. Yet this is somewhat puzzling in a world where each of us thinks in a highly individualistic fashion. Basically, what happens to others shouldn’t affect us. Problem is, this works both ways, if we don’t care about others, then so will others not care about us.

My impression is that somehow we have lost ourselves along the way to modernity, we no longer identify with anything and we try to fill in that void with all sort of issues which, in our view are of concern for everyone. Basically we want to do something that matters and it is noticeable. We search for these issues which are social in nature because we want to be part of something larger, something that gives meaning to what we do. I am fairly certain that while this will patch up our need for social importance and consequently for identity (since our identity is constructed in relation to others) , it will not solve it. We are still making a mess of our planet, we are still trying to live on the back of others without even realising it, and we are stuck with the same social and political issues for decades. We may solve one or two minor problems with our social activism but the big issues are still there, pressing on us, while the average less-social-minded individual dreams of getting a well-paid job and a fancy car. Unfortunately, the more we dream of these material things, the less common they will become since they will not solve our real problems and not make our world better, in fact they lead to the opposite result.

Part of this problem is also because for many years the need for social identification and meaning was filled by religion, but with religion adapting or disappearing in our modern society, now there is a void that needs to be filled with something.

While I cannot give a clear argument for why our modern society has somehow stripped us of ourselves, (in short) my impression is that our modern way of life is at odds with what we are supposed to do; with our fundamental thoughts, feelings or instincts. Maybe the world we create is not compatible with the world we are made to live in. Sometimes, what we think is better, is not necessarily what is better. Maybe this is the splinter that we feel but cannot understand. In in the end, it’s easier to bury our heads in small things that give short-term pleasure, just like a chubby girl eating chocolate when she is upset because her friends told her she is fat, instead of facing the harsh reality.

Time will tell if what we do today is right or wrong. As evolution will continue to shape us both physically and socially, the social systems and personal philosophies that are inefficient will die out. If our world fails, there will be others to take its place. My only concern is that we could have achieved so much and yet we achieved so little.

The funny bit is that, we are not even certain any more who this “we” I just mentioned is. Our problems may run deeper than anyone can imagine.

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Freedom gives to the individual rights and importance, or in a simplistic way: it gives power. But most seem to forget that with power also comes responsibility. I believe that many of our problems today are rooted in the fact that no one wants to take up the responsibility of freedom. To be free does not mean to be free from constraints, it means to be a slave only to yourself.