Posted in Life & Happiness

Approval Voting

Let’s say you have to organise a group dinner. With so many preferences, dietary restrictions and non-specifically fussy eaters, what is the best method to decide where to eat without starving to death while deciding?

The classic method relies on old-fashioned democracy, where people vote on their most desired place. However, the smaller the group size, the less reliable this method becomes as the results become more split. Furthermore, this method can make the minority unhappy as the majority choice may not even be the minority’s second or third choice. Lastly, it runs the risk of the wolf and sheep” problem, where two wolves vote to eat the sheep and the sheep has no say because it is the minority.

A much better method is the approval voting system. Here, all you have to ask is for everyone to vote on every place that they are okay with going to. For example, let us say that 6 people have to vote between three potential options: burgers, dumplings and fried chicken.

In the old system, it could have been that 2 people voted on each option, making the vote useless. Or, 3 people may have voted dumplings when the other 3 hate it (but voted 2 burgers, 1 chicken), meaning half the group is unhappy with the final result.

With the new system, 3 people are okay with burgers, 3 people are okay with dumplings and 5 people are okay with fried chicken. Fried chicken wins the vote and a much greater majority of the participants are okay with the result, because the vote reflects some of their preference, even if it wasn’t what they most wanted.

The approval voting system also has the strength of accounting for people who are indecisive and vote on everything, or nothing. Voting on all the options essentially cancels out the ratio, so it counts as a null vote. This means that people have less power to swing the votes one way or another.

All in all, it is a simple but powerful tool to help decision-making in a group setting, which can be painfully frustrating when you are just trying to have fun together and relax.

Posted in History & Literature

Noblesse Oblige

Noblesse oblige is a French term that literally translates to “nobility obliges”, stating that those with wealth and power must also take responsibility of the society they lead. Also, it requires the nobles to show a high level of morality, acting out the duties of a citizen. The etymology of this term dates back to the 14th century in the French city of Calais during the Hundred Years’ War.

During the war, the city of Calais was under siege from the English army. They fought valiantly for a year but ultimately surrendered to the English. The English desired to execute every citizen for making them fight for so long, but considering the bad press they instead announced that they would let the citizens live on the condition that six people take responsibility for the battle and are executed for it. The citizens were in agony. Who would sacrifice their life to protect the lives and safety of the other citizens? At that moment, Calais’ wealthiest man, Saint Pierre, volunteered to be sacrificed. Following his brave act, five other bourgeois of Calais, including the rich, noble and lawyers, put up their hands and stated that they would gladly give up their lives for the city. Moved by this sacrificial spirit, the queen of England convinced Edward the Third (then English king) to cancel the execution and have mercy. This story became the foundation of the noblesse oblige spirit of “those who are noble should take responsibility first”.

Although it is a very touching story, it is also an uncommon one. Instead, it is much more common to hear stories of the upper class fleeing the country and protecting their own lives when their country is in peril. A true developed nation should have those who lead a wealthy life work harder for the country than regular citizens. We should not be following the social Darwinistic belief of survival of the fittest, but rather show harmony where the strong help out the weak. In the case of the Roman Empire, nobles believed that what set themselves apart from slaves was not their status, but their ability to carry out social duties, having great pride in practising noblesse oblige.

The most common example of noblesse oblige would be the rich giving money to charity, but there are other duties of a citizen other than paying taxes (a way of redistributing wealth). A citizen must respect and follow the law, vote to practise democracy, pay their taxes, receive education and much more (in some countries, conscription is a duty too).

When the Korean War broke out, the first chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong, sent his first son to participate in the war. After his son was killed in action and many people asked him why he sent his own son to war, he replied: “How could I as a leader ask my people to send away their sons to war when I am not willing to send my own son away?”.

The higher your social status, the more wealth and power you have, you should thoroughly upkeep your duties as a citizen and help out so that everyone can live happily.

(Les Bourgeois de Calais by Auguste Rodin, a sculpture depicting the six nobles of Calais who stepped up to be executed)

Posted in History & Literature


If you think of an election as a game, it is a rather fascinating game. Let us pretend that you are a player participating in a game called Elections. As a player, what is the most rational decision you can make?

The obvious answer is to not vote on the day of the election and do something else instead. As elections tend to be decided by a significant difference in the number of votes between parties, the probability that your single vote will make a difference is near 0. Ergo, instead of wasting your time submitting a vote that will have virtually no effect on the results, you are better off doing something more productive.

However, despite this, there are fools who vote in every election. The fools’ votes pile up and make the world keep on moving forward.