History Is Stranger Than Fiction

History is tricky business. Mostly because everyone has an angle, even if they don’t know it. Any source you can use to determine what exactly transpired must necessarily be suspect by hearsay procedures. Try this: get 10 people together and have someone walk into the group, say hi and some unusual phrase, then leave. Wait an hour, and then give each of the 10 people a questionnaire about the event asking questions like “what color shirt was the guy wearing” and “what was the first thing he said?” Depending on the impact each characteristic made on each person, you’ll get accounts that differ, perhaps significantly. Now factor in the telephone effect of one person telling someone else what happened, and them telling someone else, etc. etc… Plus, any source you use to verify or disprove another source is suspect under the same circumstances. Agreement does not necessarily constitute truth, in the same way that correlation does not imply causation. Determining objective history is a nightmare, as any court lawyer or historian will tell you.

However we have reams of history books. You can go to any library and find volume after volume of books claiming to report “what happened” as far back as ancient Egypt, or even further. Hell, some books go so far as to claim truth based on evidence derived from oral history alone. We then apply our favorite “truthiness test” to determine if it’s accurate or not. What I mean is that we go “does that sound realistic?” and if it does then we accept it as true, and if not then we disregard it. We read about oral history claiming that ancient Aborigines would play music on long wooden instruments and we go “yeah, OK, I can believe that.” We read that their gods made it rain and today still control the future, and we go “OK, that’s wrong.” Basically we’re using our own independent standards of truth to judge a historical artifact which may or may not be true, based upon evidence that may be faulty, derived from a telephone-game obscured source, based on perceptions of people that cannot be trusted. History as we know it is flat-out fiction. I’m sure you already know that history changes as the world changes? We reinterpret events to suit our current situations. In World War II we didn’t congratulate German princes for the original rise of secularity (albeit in the form of nationalism) in Europe, we transformed Nietzche into a Nazi. China has a heavy hand in the interpretation of reality of its people, and American media has its tendrils deep into the ongoing perception of most Americans.

Now I’m not saying that “assisted perception” is necessarily evil, due to the sheer volume of information in objective reality we can’t hope to handle even a miniscule fraction of it, it is absolutely necessary. However, it is vital that we understand what we know, and differentiate it from what we think we know, what we don’t know, and what we want to know. When you perceive there are a number of “mental protocols” that should be adopted like a patient being admitted into a hospital. You have to assume, based on the knowledge that there exist some patients with extremely contagious and horrific diseases, that everyone you admit does. Even though the precautions are often unnecessary, you can’t know beforehand that they’ll be unnecessary *this time*. Your dentist always wears gloves, always wraps everything in disposable plastic, etc. When you hear something, the process is similar. You put it in the clean room like a virologist with a sample and think “alright, this is the information presented.” And, like a virologist, you need to confirm that this sample is based in objective reality, practical to adopt, accurate, useful, and consistent. In order to ascertain if this information is something you can use, you have to run a sizable battery of tests on it. There are an endless variety of tests, I’m sure you can easily think of more. I’ll just go over some critical, bare bones examples here. Test 1: Does this information set contradict itself, or contain internal inconsistencies, anywhere at all? This establishes that, insofar as and according to your current body of confirmed knowledge and powers of analysis, the information is logically consistent (although not necessarily sound if an assumption is false). 2: Does the information reduce to a set of organized principles or is it derived from a predefined set of postulates? 2.1: If so, are these postulates consistent within themselves, 2.2: and objective reality? 3: When measured against objective reality as you currently conceive of it, is the set inconsistent or contradictory? Most people begin with this step, but use shoddy methods and internally contradictory conceptions of reality to begin with. Starting with nothing and rebuilding the world using strict, nearly medical levels of rigor, you can be assured that this analysis will yield useful results to the extent of your own faculties and intelligence, factoring in the possibility for error at all points. 4: Does the information have any immediate conclusions? 4.1 Are these conclusions consistent along the previous lines? 4.2 If carried forward indefinitely, does any conclusion eventually lead to a result which is inconsistent/contradictory/outright ridiculous? 5: Assuming for the sake of argument that the information is true (after establishing that it’s materially and logically feasible), what else must be true? Are these deductions consistent?

I could go on for a long time on these things, but as you can probably guess it makes for uninteresting reading after a little while. Besides, you don’t even need to know exactly what you’re doing. Allow me to give you an example. Let’s say you hear on CNN that George Bush has claimed Iran already possesses nuclear weapons, are shown a picture of a van, and an administration aide claims they have confirmed the truck contains weapons-grade plutonium and the TV then shows you a picture of documents to that effect. What do you actually know?

Well, in a profound sense, you don’t actually know anything because CNN is the one telling you that. Most lose the battle at square one with the implicit assumption that CNN must be objectively correct. Actually we have to add that we are implicitly assuming for the sake of practicality that CNN could be incorrect, and that information contained within that shell will be distorted to some unknown degree due to the telephone effect, not to mention the probability of deliberate misdirection to an unknown degree along the lines of unknown motives with unknown magnitude. So we’re going to assume for practical purposes of further analysis that CNN is telling “the truth,” never forgetting that that is a large assumption made for our sanity’s sake. Next, we have been told by CNN that George Bush has claimed (oh, dammit, now we have to go through all that, again…) that Iran has nuclear weapons. He does not claim to have been told this by Iran, and neither is he claiming that he personally saw nuclear weapons in Iran. So he’s implicitly saying that some unknown person removed from him an unknown number of degrees of intermediary people witnessed or otherwise inferred that Iran has nuclear weapons. By now you’re probably screaming “why are you doing this to me, you vile torturer! I don’t want to have to do this every time someone tells me anything!” A better question would be “show me the evidence already, damn you!” Direct observation, and inference if necessary, would remove all this mucking about. Of course, you’re never going to see any direct evidence with your own two eyes about whether or not Iran has nuclear weapons. And even if you did, that evidence would be suspect as well, did someone prepare or otherwise modify the evidence? Has your perception been artificially altered to limit your natural observation of objective truth, such as with a prior analysis? Etc. etc.

My point is not that you need an IQ of 2 billion in order to understand anything with any degree of certainty. My point is, rather, that it is not possible to know anything with certainty. It is possible to be certain to the degree to which it is possible to know anything, which is pretty far if you ask me. But you always have to allow for the possibility that your model is wrong, that your evidence is faulty, that there are variables you haven’t accounted for, etc. etc. ad infinitum. The possibilities of all these things added together is still fairly small, but absolutely vital nonetheless. Anyone who claims to know something and all the evidence can go to hell is just outright flipping insane. Very nearly by the definition of insanity; the inability to distinguish reality from fantasy.

So that leaves us with…. what, exactly? I seem to be saying that we need to live in objective reality, but at the same time also claiming that objective reality is so mind-bogglingly complex and so fraught with unknowns that it’s impossible for us to know anything. If that’s where you are, congratulations. You are a philosopher. I would like to introduce you to my friend Descartes, to whom we are all indebted for a singular stroke of genius. “Cogito ergo sum.” I think, therefore I am. The one thing which we can know a priori with absolutely no reliance on objective reality for input riddled with unknowns is that “I exist.” The reason for this is simply that you are able to think that you exist. Maybe you’re just a brain plugged into a computer, maybe a demon with a spear is prodding your soul, but in some way your consciousness exists because you can formulate the thought needed to think you do. From this we can begin to deduce all that we know about reality. Now, keep in mind that while Descartes is the source of this idea for you, actually everything he says is suspect under the same unknowns of perception. However, I hope you can see that when you conceive of “I think therefore I am” you can verify its own truth independent of objective reality. In a way you are conducting an experiment and getting your own results right now. However, anything else you read about in philosophy must necessarily be subject to the same questions and unknowns as the rest of objective reality. If you can’t prove it for yourself, don’t believe it just because this or that person said so. Ideally you can formulate your own conclusions from that single solid core of absolute objective reality. Your first task is doubtless going to be to create some sort of process for proving other things, but not necessarily because that suggestion is itself suspect.

Basically what I’m saying is that you have to find your own answers for yourself. Anyone who would get you to accept their perspective/views/reality because they believe it to be true is being inconsistent. And yes, I can respect the ironic ‘contradiction’ that I’m trying to tell you to think for yourself yet if you do as I say then you’re not thinking for yourself. While an amusing argument, it’s not truly a contradiction. It’s like telling a child to brush their teeth. You have basically two approaches. You can tell the child that they have to brush their teeth because you say so, because they’re a bad person if they don’t, because you’re providing incentives like toys for doing it and punishments for not brushing. This style of corrupt power is inconsistent when they’re trying to get you to adopt a specific perspective on reality because they believe it to be true. The alternative is to tell the child that you don’t care one way or the other if they brush their teeth. They’re free to do whatever they want. But, you provide them with the information needed to make that choice for themselves. Presumably you want them to brush their teeth for rational reasons, right? Otherwise you’re being a corrupt psychotic despot who wants your child to ritualistically do what you tell them and to worship arbitrary power irrespective of morality and objective truth. You can show them medical data about how their teeth will basically be taken over by germs, they’ll rot, and they’ll need expensive, invasive, and painful operations to fill cavities to keep their ability to eat functional, etc. etc. When presented with valid information for both sides, the child can choose either and you can have no issue with it. By assuming that there is an outcome that that person *must* take, you’re basically arguing that freedom is conditional on rationality. Haha! “In order to be free, you must do X, and nothing else.” How amusing. That said, I doubt that there’s a single person who would choose not to brush their teeth when they fully understand the implications of their choice.

Going on a medium tangent here- I will agree that young children tend not to be the most rational agents, and that as a parent you have something of an incentive to get your child to be rational in their own interest. Perfect. You’re free to add incentives to their choice as much as you like. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with altering the conditions of someone else’s choice- it’s the fundamental principle of the free market. Whoever can offer the most incentive (utility) for the least cost gets the most buyers. Simple. Doesn’t impinge on anyone’s freedom one whit. However, it’s vital that you understand the difference between the corrupt, abusive incentivization (is that a word? It is now!) and the freedom-creating form of incentivization, considering that you as a parent have unparalleled power, and equal ability to do either, so it can be a thin line. I have an easy way to make sure you never cross that line. Any and all contracts are optional. You can offer someone (not necessarily just children) the option to take your use of power, as well as whatever power you’re going to apply. So if you make the offer “whenever you don’t brush your teeth I’ll whip you 100 times, and if you do then I’ll say ‘good job.’ Deal or no deal?” They’re going to go “Pass!” However if you offer them “whenever you brush your teeth, you can have an extra 10 cents put forward into an ice cream account, and when it reaches enough to pay for ice cream, we’ll go get some.” They’ll probably agree to that, and they’ll brush their teeth like you want them to. You also need to get them to agree to terms under which their contract can be enforced, of course. “So you’re agreeing right now that if you void your responsibilities on this contract, I can do X?” Magic key to freedom: any and all agreements are always optional. Nobody makes an agreement that doesn’t give them a net benefit in some sense, and that applies to both you and whoever the other party is.

Back to finding your own answers for yourself. History is worse than fiction. At least fiction doesn’t pretend to be *true* in the purest sense. Fiction is true because it is exactly what it is, and you are free to draw whatever conclusions from it that you like without deception. That said, the process for analyzing either is basically the same. You have to assume the same level of doubt: total, for both. But with fiction, the assumed truth level is already virtually zero, so you can chill out a little. You’re already applying much of the needed doubt. Either way, triage your information intake. Otherwise you might read something online, or watch some speech, and just get sucked into believing it without really thinking about it. Information is organized to be transmitted from mind to mind, even if it’s only been encoded into language. It’s not that much of a stretch to assume that some might naturally be more contagious than others by its inherent nature. Your mind is a library, a laboratory, a temple, a hospital (and more of course) all rolled into one, and you need to triage your information so you don’t catch something nasty.

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Resistance

Every day we thwart our own efforts to some degree, and every day we “succeed” against our obstacles.  This up and down cycle can get us going in a big way, and can wreak havoc on your stability with stress and anxiety. We encounter situations or tasks which we *must* do, and though we dislike them, we do them anyway.  We force ourselves to.  In this post I’m going to discuss resistance, and internal conflicts which are the source of pretty much every stress or discontent not linked to a natural deficiency (i.e. hunger).

Let’s begin with bravery.  The “insanity” school of valiant action is that the ideal mode is to simply not be afraid.  Basically they take a concept-human and subtract a single characteristic: fear, and expect it to be instantiated in reality.  This is rather like taking a concept-human, adding wings and calling it an angel, and that it of course exists.  Of course if the sociopath style is the model to which others form their behavior, they’ll simply deny that they’re afraid and then exaggerate their display of non-fear.  The fiercest warriors are the most terrified ones, the guy over there in the corner shaking is at least sane enough to realize he doesn’t actually want to be there.   This is a similar process to religious fervor as well, where the most devout are often the least “believing” but they’re overcompensating.  This style of behavior is often brought about by what I will call a ‘restricted communication dilemma.’  Before I actually explain what it is, I’ll give you an example.  Get candy.  Then, get a group of school kids together, and tell them that whoever wants the candy the most gets the whole bag.  The situation will undoubtedly escalate with frightening speed, and may even turn violent.  You may have already considered the parallel; you get a bunch of religious people together and say “whoever believes X the most…”  It’s a restricted communication dilemma because A) each agent has no method to objectively communicate their utility in the context of the “game,” B) each agent has no criteria to judge the utility that others possess, and C) specific desired behaviors directly translate into real value irrespective of game-based utility.  Essentially, you have a herd of people competing under the radar for devoutness, each one fearing that they’re losing their religion, with no way to communicate positive or negative status in the competition.  The guys running the show can say “if you believe you will do X” and guess what?  The faithful will leap up and run, not walk, in a desperate attempt to prove their devoutness.  They hope for an arbitrary reward but of course can’t claim to actually be pursuing game utility.  It’s really a genius scheme.

Regarding resistance, this type of engine, applied more generally, not just to religion, produces internal conflicts.  For example, if you have work to do then you’ll resist doing it because it’s not fun.  However, there comes a time when prurient personal economic necessity demands that you overcome that resistance and just do it.  With repetition, this internal pressure system is confirmed to “work” because you produce results, but it stresses you out and you probably aren’t very happy living through it.  You know all those studies talking about people living in third world countries are about equally happy as richer nations, despite a serious economic discrepancy?  This explains why.  In order to get that economic value, you need to sacrifice equilibrium, and the exact degree that that equilibrium is disturbed is the degree to which that job is compensated.  Now, I think it’s important to note that on average the happiness of the first and third world countries is comparable, but the distribution is much wider in first world countries, resulting in climbing numbers of very satisfied people, as well as suicide rates.  Everyone copes with disturbed equilibrium differently, and differing circumstances produce different reactions in different people.  For example, someone who needs substantial sleep, can’t cope with intense time pressure and high risk, and who works as a surgeon, is going to be way, way more disturbed by their job than someone who needs little sleep, works well under pressure, and can deal with having a patient’s life in their hands.  However, the economic value of the job of surgeon only pays out to the value of the requisite medical knowledge, etc., and the average undesirability of the job in sleep lost, years of training, pressure, whatever.  So the first surgeon would be well off financially, but disproportionately stressed out by their job relative to the average.  The other would be just as well off financially, but way less stressed out than average.  The whole paradigm is a result of internal pressure escalation.

So the next model is that somehow you have to be strong enough to overcome your fear.  The next level is that you acknowledge that you’re afraid- a big step for someone back in psycholand- and proceed to try and push on anyway.  This will produce one of two types of people whom we commonly, and incorrectly, refer to as introverts and extroverts.  Introverts are the ones who have tried and failed to overcome their barriers, and as a result they languor around in stagnant mental backwaters, yet at the same time pushing hard in all directions where there aren’t any barriers.  Extroverts are different.  Extroverts are those brilliant few who have… tried and failed to overcome their barriers, and instead of persisting wherever there aren’t barriers, they go “OK, this isn’t working” and revert back to psycholand, deny the barrier exists, yet instead of leaping screaming over the wall like a trueborn delusional, they just walk back and forth bumping into it over and over again, like a fly in a window.  They like comforting social circles where not much happens, enabling them to play up small occurrences that mean nothing just to have something to talk about.  They can’t handle real discussion like philosophy, science, art, whatever, and instead enjoy digesting premasticated garbage, following one another in herds, checking for what everyone else is doing before acting, such as fashion and gossip for girls, or football and cars for boys.  It’s unfashionable to have a long attention span, to actually have integrity, to go against the grain, or do something else that makes anyone else uncomfortable.   Having value will freak them out, being of substance or class will make them react with hostility, and refusing to put up with their bullshit will make them calm down immediately and start acting (temporarily, alas) like a semi-normal person.  You thought I was going to say extroverts were good, didn’t you?  Admit it.  That’s the widely held opinion.  Most of the population are extroverts. Our society holds up niceness, political correctness, friendliness, and validation.  Self-licking ice cream cone anyone?  If you’ve read a few of my posts I’m sure you can connect the dots on this familiar persistent systemic framework.  I’m not saying that these traits are necessarily bad, but I am saying that if they’re the goal, rather than the side effect of integrity, a great deal degenerates fast.

You cannot overpower your own barriers.  I’m letting you off the hook right now.  In a way.  Any barrier you create in yourself, you will not be able to directly overcome, because the same force holding up the barrier is pushing on it.  The tension will just stress you out and reduce your performance.  In very Stoic fashion- the solution is not to overcome your barriers, but to identify them and then just stop propping them up.  Down they fall, and you can just walk over into once impassable territory.  So now I’m putting you back on the hook.  You cannot overcome your own barriers, but at the same time you are fundamentally responsible for their existence, and it’s your problem to figure out how to get rid of them.  I’m prepared to guarantee you haven’t heard anything like this before, so I’ll put forward a single thought right here at the end for your enjoyment.

Do you choose who you  are?  Why aren’t you your true self all the time?

The Rationality of Man

I hate that I have to say this.  But no, the title of this post does not exclude women.  Anyone who claims it does is hunting for semantic ambiguities they can themselves fill to satisfy their political/socio-psychological agenda. It’s rather like a child asking its parents “can’t I have a candy?” and when they say “no” the child happily munches away.

Now, I’ve had an interesting email conversation about whether or not man is actually rational.  It’s actually an extremely difficult proposition to prove either way, because you can cite evidence on either side in the form of anecdotes about people who acted rationally or irrationally, or create hypothetical situations in which the default response for someone is similarly obfuscated.  You can hem and haw all day and still not get anywhere decisively about the true nature of man.  The biggest obstacle to the argument that humans are rational is basically that sometimes humans act irrationally.  Conversely, the argument that humans are irrational is sunk because there are rational human decisions.  According to the popular relativist mode of thinking, we now reach an impasse, a compromise, a non-answer such as “humans are neither rational nor irrational” or “some humans are, and some aren’t” or worse “we can’t prove it, therefore it cannot be determined.”

Such a situation seems to indicate that we’re missing something, as I have often repeated.  To resolve this issue, let’s instead look at what exactly we mean by rationality in this context.  Do we mean that humans are like calculators with mouths, capable of maximizing every last erg of their efficiency and output in order to acquire the most material prosperity?  Obviously not- life is so much richer than cold monetarism.  I use the term ‘personal economics’ which includes subjective value relative to each person.  Family, psychological needs, preferences, etc. all sum together into a complex mass which we use to make choices, different for each person.  Now, I would argue that someone’s choices are always, always going to be rational relative to this standard that they’re carrying around in their heads.  Otherwise they would have done something else, or if they deviate from this model for a reason they consider rational, the act of contradicting that model would have changed the model to accommodate the behavior.  This is called cognitive dissonance.  The issue we’re really after, then, is whether or not this model we have is rational, and not whether the decision-making process used upon this model is rational.  My argument thus runs that the actual data operated upon is not a prerequisite for being a rational being.  If you punch into your calculator “what is the opposite of a hippo?” it’s going to go “ERROR” but that’s not because the calculator isn’t rational (bad example; calculators aren’t sentient… yet!)- it obeys perfectly objective, rational laws, and does so perfectly every time.  In human terms, if your brain were plugged into a computer that simulated reality exactly, with the small exception that you were in the body of a hippo, your rationality will not be affected by the irrational data being given to it.  In all probability you’ll figure out how to do your hippo thing and live life as a hippo with a very large IQ, at least until you’re unplugged.

The opposite argument basically claims that the information contained within your thought entity- i.e. mind, is actually an inseparable and fundamental building block of rationality.  Claiming rationality is dependent upon your actual thoughts/sense data/ideas is not that strange, considering that you have to learn how to be rational.  Otherwise you would be born just as rational as any scholar, and education is just claptrap.  We know for a fact that teaching, or specific sensory data designed to produce specific (usually useful) thought patterns makes people more rational, so rationality is learned and is therefore dependent upon what memories and information are actually in your head.  If a human mind was utterly deprived of sensory input, it would hardly become a rational entity.  I actually agree with this analysis, believe it or not.  However I will make the assertion that by teaching, you aren’t modifying the fundamental operations used to determine choices or actions, you’re actually modifying the model in the person’s head so that the same intrinsic operations will produce a more desirable result relative to objective reality.

Let’s look at an example.  You have to learn that 2 + 2 = 4.  If you haven’t been taught addition, you don’t know that.  I would argue that, rather, you did already know that, but you didn’t actually know the significance of the symbols 2, +, =, and 4 until you had been taught addition.  If you only understand numbers, you can certainly understand you have two, and if they add two, you can just count again and reach the result of 4.  Indeed, you don’t even have to understand counting to recognize the concept of numbers, that three of something is different from four of something in a specific, definite capacity, and that capacity of difference semantically formalized and transmitted through teaching is how we arrive at counting.  In fact, just by understanding numbers on the level of a 4 year old, you fundamentally understand mathematics up to basic algebra.  If you count two, and you count four, what operation will transform this into that?  We have just divined 2 + x = 4.  Furthermore, if you’re really that much smarter than the average bear, you might even develop a formulaic system of mathematics such as u%4/u.  I just made this notation up, and don’t claim it’s as flexible or useful as standard, but in order for someone else to understand, I would have to teach it to them.  Of course, this same reasoning applies to words and concepts as well.  An actual apple is completely different from the semantic identity of the word representing it, in just the same way that a pre-verbal child can understand quantities without knowing how to manipulate or communicate them as concepts.  This seems a trivial point, but the fact that multiple languages exist proves that semantic identity is not equivalent to reality, because if there was an equivalence, there could exist only one “true” language.  And let’s not even get into the idea of sensory data transmission of the nature of language, not just a language itself.

Back to the topic, we can all agree that at some point there existed a time when humans did not understand basic principles in rational terms.  Even if that requires we go back to before there was life on earth, we can do it.  So at some point, beginning with nothing, we developed every last one of those principles which we now teach.  The fact that they were discerned from out of the fabric of objective reality proves that the faculty needed to conceptualize those principles is separate from them.  Because we needed something to start with, some tool we used to derive all our other tools.  Now it is possible that we have a wide variety of tools genetically ingrained in us, such as an understanding of Newtonian physics derived from our monkey days of jumping between trees, and an implicit grasp of inductive reasoning ingrained in our behaviorist psychologies.  My only assertion is that the basic, universal, master decision-making system is one of those tools.  All the other tools, including inductive reasoning and others, are servile to your decision-making algorithm, whether in a sensory or in an enabling capacity.  They either provide you with (presumably accurate) information, or give you the power to act on your environment, or some other form of utility.  The faculty of memory is a very significant, but still servile, form of information storage for recall when useful.

This is a huge topic, actually, and I’ve only touched on it a little bit.  I’ll almost certainly do another post on this.  At least one.

Choosing Happiness

Freedom is a kind of death.  This is a difficult concept.  Think about it, though, it’s in this post.

Choice is a difficult issue to talk about with philosophical, psychological, or scientific rigor.  Simply put, there are way too many possible choices for generalizations to cover them all.  I am the most ardent advocate of true freedom you will find, but actually, choice is not necessarily a desirable position. I have seen, generally, there are two breeds of choice drawn from two possible life situations, matching two possible conscious processes.  Constructive or reductive.  For choices, that is to say you will face either a constructive or a reductive choice.  Reductive choices are the bad ones- these are the choices of “OK, A or B.  Go.”  You have a finite number of options and it is the addition of an option that is notable.  Your field of choice is best defined by what you can choose.  By contrast, constructive choices are best represented by what you cannot choose.  Constructive choice: “What do you want to do?”  Reductive choice: “Would you like fries with that?”  The distinction is important because we tend not to think about our constructive choices, at all, ever.  A reductive choice, however, forces you to actually conceptualize that you have in fact got to make a choice.  If you’re faced with millions of these you are given the illusion of having a great deal of freedom, when in fact you’re essentially little more than a slave.  Reductive choices are subject to only two forces: personal economics and subjective value.  That is to say, if someone offered you $10 or $100, you’ll take the larger sum, of course.  If someone offered you an equivalent amount of chocolate or brussel sprouts, you probably prefer the chocolate because you think it tastes better, and will take that.  Yet if you don’t like chocolate or you’re a health nut, then perhaps the brussel sprouts give you a greater subjective value.

Constructive choices are not subject to the same personal economics plus subjective value analysis.  If you have a completely free day to do whatever you want, you might not necessarily do whatever you can to maximize your immediate payoff, or push your subjective value to the absolute limit.  I don’t think it’s even possible to rationally predict what a conscious entity of significant complexity will do in a situation of constructive choice.  What you can predict is what they won’t do.  Let’s say you walk into a massive grocery store and there’s a sign that says “you can buy anything in here, except this thing.”  Well we don’t know what the person is going to buy, but we can be sure they’re not going to take that option.  By the way, the reason why I call these choices constructive or reductive is that in a reductive choice you have a finite number of options and an indefinite/infinite number of non-options, or prohibited options, and in a constructive choice you have a finite number of non-options and an indefinite/infinite number of options.  It’s rather like the proposition of “innocent until proven guilty” is the constructive framing of prosecution, or the “legal until expressly prohibited” mentality.  We know we would be in trouble if our government began to mandate that all activity is illegal unless the government expressly allows it.  Nonetheless this exact same type of choice crops up everywhere, and everyone begins to think they are more free, when in reality their freedom is being systematically infringed upon by people who want you to choose to their advantage.  Don’t believe me?  McDonald’s or Burger King?  Christian, Jewish, Muslim?  15” or 17” laptop?  4% or 6% levy increase?  Democrat or Republican?  You get to pick!  Aren’t you powerful?  The easiest way to get someone to do what you want is to give them a reductive choice, and then restrict any unsatisfactory options until eventually they start choosing the one you want, ideally when they still have several options left other than the one they chose so they don’t feel manipulated.

True freedom consists entirely of constructive choices.  Of course in practical reality we will always have reductive choices, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  At any particular sandwich joint there will be a definite number of possible condiments.  How do we reconcile this with true freedom?  Easy.  In a much grander sense, you’re gifted with the inalienable freedom to restrict your own choices.  By walking up to that particular sandwich joint and agreeing to buy a sandwich, you chose to restrict the possible combinations of sandwich materiél to whatever was available right there.  You signed an implicit contract saying you were totally OK with the available condiment choices.  Nobody pointed a gun at your head and said “you, yes you, are going to buy a goddamn sandwich, right here, right now.  But, you are free to put whatever condiments you like on it from our generous selection.”  Even if it was a cheap and tasty sandwich with a diverse selection of toppings, I would still be extremely annoyed, to put it mildly.  Not to mention how those sandwiches, under that business model, won’t stay cheap and tasty for long.  However that is exactly what is happening today.  The government’s primary mode of, for want of a better word,  oppression, is to bait-and-switch your constructive choices for reductive ones and claim to have given you something.  The most obvious case is voting, “would you like the puppet on the left, or maybe the puppet on the right?”  Now, not all politicians are puppets, but there’s too much money and power sloshing around for rational idealists to stay that way for long.  But the other areas are no less significant, from taxes (you’re going to pay, but you have a say in where they’re spent), to public schools (you’re going to go, but you can pick your classes), to social security (you’re going to pay for it, but you don’t necessarily have to collect).  Unfortunately, most people are so used to having reductive choices that when they get the opportunity to be free, they reduce their situation to a reductive choice so they can psychologically deal with it.  Has it ever happened to you?  “What do you want to do?”  “I don’t know.  What do you want to do?”  “I don’t know.  Maybe we could X?”  “OK, sure.”

I’m not going to go too deep into this as a concept, but there’s a lot more to it.  Rather, I want to move onto the original intended topic of this post, with this new model in hand. Do we choose to be happy? Or, do choices make us happy?  My answer is no.  Ideally, choices don’t do anything for your level of happiness, because you’re faced with constructive choices.  Your actions can make you happy, but that’s totally different from the choice itself being the source of your happiness.  You might enjoy paintball, but you don’t wake up in the morning thinking “isn’t it great that in this life I have the option of choosing to play paintball?”  In fact, if you’re of that slant of mind, then having reduced choices might increase your happiness.  I’m not, but if you are then it does not mean there’s something wrong with you.  A choice is a stressor, in the purest terms.  Or perhaps an open door is not psychologically useful to you.  The most famous example of this is that ancient Chinese general, not sure of his name, who burned his ships so his troops would fight harder since they knew they wouldn’t go home unless they won.  Some types just want to be given a fixed situation, and they want to know what they need to do so they can just do it, and do it well.

Extraneous options are only appreciated by a rational agent with useful power to act.  If you’re in that position, however, then there is no such thing as a bad option.  Now, useful power to act is almost always derived from either property or skills, broadly speaking.  Information such as from book can be either, and a rational entity would have no problem reading any “controversial” work from Huck Finn to Mein Kampf, and derive whatever truth it can from either while avoiding being influenced by irrational or delusional ideas, and dealing with difficult issues and inappropriate material in a rational, mature way.  A hypothetical truly rational entity would have absolutely no issue with learning even usually “evil” skills such as how to hotwire cars, pick pockets, make bombs, whatever.  The reason for this is that even though those skills have a very low probability of ever being used in a rationalistic moral situation, they won’t be used until and unless they’re appropriate.  The same logic applies to everything- there’s no such thing as “bad property” as long as the holder is rational.  People accuse iPods of creating antisocial behavior in adolescents, and for the most part they’re right.  However, in their delusion, they then claim that the iPods are the problem, and not the rationality of the entity which owns them.  In the same manner you can’t say that any characteristic, part of the world, or your environment, is “bad.”  Unless you lack the rationality or the capacity to deal with it in a useful way, you can’t say that any aspect is somehow detrimental.  The internet is the perfect example.  It’s now a fact of life, and ingrained in our environment.  However there are people who think that we need to control what information is writable, or accessible, over the internet.  By doing so, by restricting your options, the agent doing the controlling is assuming that you, yes you, are too irrational and stupid to act in your own interest.  They are assuming that you will be adversely affected by whatever material they are suppressing in a manner which you cannot control.  They consider you a sheep that will eat whatever grass you randomly stumble across, and they need to make absolutely certain that it’s not poisonous, or even unpleasant for you to taste.  The way they do this is to restrict your choices, by impinging upon your freedom they can make sure that they can control you if you are actually rational, and if you aren’t then they are restructuring your environment to make sure that your fantasy world isn’t breached by reality.  You are the deer being protected from the T-Rexes, stopping you from evolving to fit actual objective reality.

So, do we choose to be happy?  No.  Is our happiness conditional on our surroundings, our property, or even our emotions?  We want to be free, but what are we really asking for when we ask for freedom?  We want to be faced with objective reality, our mettle against the tests of the world, discerning truth from our surroundings and acting upon it.  Rationality is pivotal towards being truly free.  But this I will tell you, rationality will not make you happy in and of itself.  As a matter of fact, rationality puts you in the hot seat, forces you to truly take responsibility and account for your own actions and forces you to compete in an evolutionary system.  Such competition is not fun!  I believe that we humans are imprinted in a very, very deep way about the horrors of being “in the wild,” of desperately scrabbling for food, avoiding predators, of freezing in the night and sweating from days of chasing our prey.  Short lives, uncertain prospects, a constant struggle.  Now, we wear clothes and live in secure homes with water, food, and shelter all conveniently packaged.  We can satisfy our desires for contact, sensory stimulation, and  self-actualization in zero-risk ways.  We visit nature reserves, go hunting and fishing, to even further reinforce our escape from and dominion over the uncaring and unforgiving Eden of Nature.  But it made us strong, and very, very smart.  That same fortitude is what is necessary to be rational in the modern world.  It’s so easy to just submerge in comforting delusions of consumerism, premasticated thought, and social nicety, but that way leads to the fall of the Roman Empire.  Every major state has fallen because their peoples have escaped from reality to the point that they can no longer sustain themselves in true competition, bringing the whole empire down.  They fell too far beneath the evolutionary system, to the point that those competing were unable to bail out those who weren’t, and the whole lot were selected out, as simple as that.

Choice will not make you happy.  Rationality will not make you happy.  What will make you happy, what ultimately will give you what you want, is the power to grasp what it is you want.  Free choice will let you search for it, and rationality, the struggle to keep up with the human evolutionary pressures derived from Truth, will give you the mettle to get it.  You need to seek it.  Seeking happiness is exactly what will make you happy.  And you’ll never get there.  It’s exactly like trying to keep up with the evolutionary system of objective reality and truth, only you’re trying to keep up with your own subjective reality instead.  Both are constantly changing and require constant attention.  You will never be finished.  So we arrive at the immortality of consciousness, the balance in biology of life and death extended into memetics.  Freedom is a kind of death.  Remember that.

Radical Judgment

A relativist would say that it isn’t our place to judge other cultures. However, such people are flaming hypocrites. Two seconds afterwards they’ll turn around and tell you what they think of somebody, or that a certain movie is terrible, or that one artist is better than another, and so on and so forth. Judgment, in the sense of forming impressions, is an inescapable part of being a thinking being. To dismiss a certain type of judgment as “improper” because all the possible permutations must be appreciated equally, is just nonsense. It’s an attempt to make you stop thinking, just like how religion will tell you to trust your faith. There are indeed numerous hideous cultural practices that the world would be better off without, from genocide to female genital mutilation. However, the statement that they are horrible and unnecessary does not automatically follow through into action. I do not believe that it is anyone’s place, particularly in an international sense, to use military power to force anyone to do anything. If you’re going to point a gun at someone’s head and tell them not to kill people, OK, I can see what your intent is, but you’re kind of not being morally consistent. Not to mention that use of force is going to eventually tempt one of the gun’s holders to go a little farther, maybe to see infrastructure built, and then maybe anti-corruption laws (haha, no hypocrisy there), and then taxation, at which point the ones with the guns are basically muggers. Although they are very powerful, methodical, and have lots of mindless patriots willing to back them up for no better reason than the location of their birth, but they’re still muggers. Well, not exactly. I can at least respect the honesty of a real mugger, since he isn’t going to try to convince you that you’re a bad person if you don’t hand over your money.

Now, I would like to point out the twisted chain of reasoning which leads to this suspension of a necessary mental faculty. First, bring forth the evidence in the racial inequalities of the past and in other nations. Conclude that this is a bad thing. Therefore, since judging people based on the color of their skin, or eyes, or I don’t care what, is unjust, therefore we shouldn’t judge people. This is then used as a rationalization to suspend reactions to other cultures because we have to “respect” them, to religions in the form of “you can’t judge someone by their religion, therefore saying (religion X/religious people) are crazy is religious persecution=racism=bad.” Therefore we should conclude that talking to people about their religion is something we should avoid- you’ve probably observed the sensitivity to such discussion, at least in the US.

To get at the nitty-gritty of the issue- the issue isn’t that judgment is bad. That is a fallacy of the first order perpetuated in a masterwork of propaganda and conditioning. No, the evil is in irrational judgment. You can’t damn someone for making a judgment. You can, however, damn someone for a judgment that has no basis or bearing on reality and the truth. You don’t start a flame war when someone tries a food you like and says it tastes awful. If you’re over the age of 6, at least. They’re just responding to their own sensory impression, just as you would. However, there is always a huge, often violent reaction to racial injustice such as stereotypes based on skin colors because the ones being victimized know on a very deep level that their persecutors are being completely and totally irrational, yet they have the power to make their fantasy-world take shape in reality, and that will irritate the living shit out of absolutely anyone, including you. Don’t believe me? You’ve been in this exact situation many times before. Have you ever been talking with someone, and you observed some event, and then afterwards the other person has unequivocally deluded themselves about what just occurred? A true to life example would take some explication, so I’ll make a synthetic one just to keep it compact. Let’s say you’re playing a game where you roll a die- a 6 earns you $100, and a 1 makes you lose $100. It’s your turn, and you roll 6, 4, 3, 6, 2, 2, 3. After you finish you turn to your buddy, hand him the die, and go “Hey, that was pretty lucky. You owe me $200.” Your buddy looks at you quizzically and says “No, you owe me $400. You got four ones, idiot.” Ah, yes, I can hear the ire in my readers rising already. Now imagine that this deluded fool is your boss, and if you piss him off at all he’ll simply fire your ass, so you have no choice but to concede and hand over the money. This is the exact analogue of injustice- racial, religious, whatever, but on a teeny, tiny scale. The issue isn’t that judgment is bad, it’s that irrationality is horrifyingly damaging on a very deep emotional level. Kind of ironic that that exact brand of irrationality is used to perpetuate the suspension of judgment- another form of irrationality. However it isn’t surprising because you can’t back up such a proposition with true rationality.

In the words of Ayn Rand, “Judge, and prepare to be judged.” Think about this statement, it has a lot of depth. Market capitalism works because each vendor is competing with others selling the same thing, and each buyer is competing to get the products they want. Human social interaction is meant to work in the same organic fashion, where each person is free to do what they want, including to judge others, while at the same time others have the freedom to judge them (including for their judgments). Companies selling good products get more customers in an evolutionary system meant to produce the most happiness in the most efficient manner with the resources available. In every exchange, value is created because if both parties didn’t benefit then they wouldn’t make the deal. In the same way, human judgments should function within an evolutionary system to produce the most accurate picture, because the more useful judgments are perpetuated while the inferior or irrational ones are tested and recognized as such before being discarded. Modern science is an evolutionary system matching the body of knowledge against reality, using an evolutionary system of many scientists, and theories proved false are discarded because they detract from the accurateness of the picture as a whole.

The evolutionary system is the greatest discovery in the history of mankind. With the possible exceptions of language and agriculture (the distinction between discovery and invention is purely semantic and totally unnecessary). Problems arise when you try to interfere in this system using force. For example, let’s say we have a population of deer in some forest. These deer have lived in peace for millions of years, but now, because of mankind, they are faced with a new predator: the T-Rex. Thousands of Tyrannosaurus Rex specimens have escaped from Area 51 and run all the way from Roswell to eat these tasty deer. Now, as humans, some might say we have a responsibility to intervene because we caused this problem. They may have a legitimate point ethically, but that’s not what we’re talking about at this moment: we’re talking about the equilibrium of evolutionary systems. Let’s say for a moment that we decide the wacko environmentalists, as opposed to the rational environmentalists (i.e. me), are right, and we use SCUD missiles and machine guns and whatnot to keep down the population of T-Rexes. Lots of deer still get eaten, but they aren’t going to even approach the black chasmy brink of extinction. The wacko environmentalists cheer a successful cause, and the rationalists mourn the fact that now we, humans, are mired in mediating a war we cannot win, because our very objective is to keep the war going by maintaining a supply of defenseless deer. The sane, rational perspective is that the deer is just going to get evolutionarily selected out because of the presence of T-Rexes. War over, problem solved. Every day we insulate the deer population from its environment is another day that it is evolving for our artificially created fantasy bubble reality, and another day it’s not evolving for the actual problems it needs to face in the world. So, the hard truth is that in the long run it’s better to let the deer go by the wayside. Now, in real-life terms, this might result in a cascade effect which brings down the whole ecosystem, so we might decide to do something about it in that light, but the evolutionary system being artificially disrupted and warped is still true.

Now consider applying this idea to the economy. Insulating industry from overseas competition using tariffs is more or less equivalent to giving our hypothetical deer some badass anti-T-Rex device that means a T-Rex will run screaming back to its mama when faced by a mighty doe, if so equipped. In fact, given enough time these deer might even become so bold as to exercise their newfound T-Rex herding powers to useful effect. Perhaps they choose to hang around near them so that if some other predator shows up they can just dart past the T-Rex and their predator is sitting there, shaking, thinking “nuh uh, no way, man!” This will obviously mean the deer won’t evolve the means to protect themselves from these T-Rexes. So, if at some point in the future that protective shield is removed, the resulting correction in the system will be swift and brutal. Plus, if the deer had adapted to an environment in which they had T-Rex scarer devices then they’re living in a fantasy world that leaves them even more poorly equipped to deal with reality. To use the previous example, they’d probably seek out T-Rexes to hide near, only to their surprise now the T-Rex just eats their deluded mammalian ass. Though that trend would end fairly quickly because all the deer using that strategy would be devoured pretty fast. Leaving analogy-metaphor-land, tariffs are exactly that type of interference in an evolutionary system. As are taxes, regulation, and oh so many other economic interferences. The problem is that a) the government can enforce its fantasy land on a consistent basis, and does so, and b) we’ve been in consistent fantasy land for so long now that we have become totally unable to survive “in the economic wild.” American car companies have been producing poorer vehicles at higher prices than foreign car companies for a loooong time. But nevertheless, they get government funding, legislative aid, and a whole gaggle of loonies decrying that you should “buy American! Be patriotic!” The big problem is that it’s so tempting to just help them a little bit. There’s a rough patch a long time ago and we go “Alright, it’s OK, we’ll give you a teensy little edge, but only for a little while, OK?” Of course, it doesn’t last just a little while because the car companies adapt to the new environment to maximize profit and minimize cost, often producing a poorer product that will be equally competitive, factoring in their edge. You can’t strip their new advantage because they’ll cry bloody murder at how the government is destroying them, killing jobs, etc. etc. It’s gotten to the point that, if those aids were relaxed, the American car companies would have a very, very hard time, and probably fold.

Judgment falls into the same category. The ideal system is a free field because evolutionary systems will just appear wherever necessary to maximize utility. Don’t believe me? Get a group of 100 third grade students, lock them in a gym somewhere, give them 10 chips each, and give them a list of prizes- like 1 chip for a piece of candy, 5 for a toy, etc. etc., up to 1000 for a bike. Any prize list, any number of chips, it doesn’t matter. Watch what happens. You will see deals, contracts, breaches of faith, economic retribution, and in the end, on the whole, each kid will be relatively satisfied, having transformed their 10 chips into 10 chips of value for them, which will be subjectively different than 10 chips of value for each other kid. The ones who prefer candy have no qualms about getting 10 candies, although they will probably lent their 10 chips out to the kid who wants the video game for 40 chips, in return for an 11th candy. These kids have no training, and precious little reasoning ability, but nevertheless they can create a myriad of evolutionary systems to select for maximizing happiness.   The same methodology should apply to human truth, to history, opinions, to elections.  I have no problem with the idea of elections at all- they’re very representative.  What I have a problem with is the idea that the will of the majority can be enforced on everyone else by men with guns and blue uniforms.  Anyone who agrees to abide by the majority’s decision, fine, that’s great.  Otherwise you’re saying that if five men want to ambush and rape one woman, they’re the majority in that particular subset of humanity, and so therefore the woman is morally obligated to obey and if she doesn’t then the brutes have the moral authority to use violence.  Or, if you’re of the beauraucratic persuasion, you could argue that they have to be wearing blue uniforms.  It’s not the vote I have the problem with- it’s the idea that violent enforcement must, well of course somehow follow.  That’s my judgment, you’re free to make yours.  Just don’t tell me I shouldn’t judge just because it’s convenient for someone else if I don’t think.

The Persistence of Magic

The idea of magic is interesting because it appears that humans have always had some idea of “impossible powers” and some group of people who believed that they had them, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Even today, there are those who still ascribe to psychic phenomenon, UFO’s, magic, or (let’s be blunt) God.  I would like to specify that I’m talking about people who claim to have powers, and claim that all humanity has such powers.  Sometimes they’ll even go so far as to claim that “you can learn how right now, for the low, low, price of $1,500.”  I am not referring to trick shop magicians, illusionists, or the like, even if their routines involve claims like “I can read your mind.”  I have done, and do routines like this from time to time because they are quite entertaining.

The root of the problem is the superstition effect, as I call it.  The superstition effect is a combination of a basic post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy and human gullibility.  The human brain is wired to make associations, and it does so very quickly.  This is a good thing, because the process will catch most all patterns that really exist, however the same advantage causes our pattern perception to also jump at shadows, and produce patterns where none exist.  On that throw that you randomly blew on the dice, you won.  Your mind goes- connection?  Let’s try that again…  We’ve all been there, though perhaps in more subtle ways.  That day you played some sport well, you happened to wear red underwear.  That time your date went well you had an Altoid beforehand.  Whatever.  The common element in all these situations is that there is a certain fundamental element of randomness, of unpredictability.  Your mind doesn’t like things it cannot predict, and the wired-up assumption of cause and effect causes it to start looking for patterns to help understand that situation to do better next time.  This is, incidentally, one of the reasons why gambling is addictive.  Any rational entity can see that in the long run, at slots or roulette, there is absolutely no way for you to win.  None.  However, that logical analysis is actually overridden by several factors, such as the emotional rollercoaster of win-lose-lose-win, and the flawed assumption that there must be *something* you can do to increase your odds over the next guy.  You can win because you are smarter/luckier/cooler/insert-adjective-here-er, and you can find the pattern.  The casino obviously likes this perspective and spreads it around- lotteries run ads on this principle, though they frequently add the semantic obfuscation of “it could be you” or “why not you?”  This is simply because it seems extremely improbable to Joe that he’ll win because of all the other people playing, despite his ideal of fuzzy specialness- why not him, he’s just like everyone else.  Note the fascinating contradiction in people to want to be both normal, and special, at the same time.  It’s like shouting quietly or whispering loudly.  Do you want to be heard, or not?

Back to magic, yes this is related.  The people selling magic are catering to a specific subsection of the people who feel “special.”  They’re interested in the people who feel special, and are conscious of it, but don’t really know why.  More specifically, they’re interested in people looking for a rationalization for their own specialness.  This manifests itself as being attracted to “arcane powers.”  True, they aren’t the only ones, but the others aren’t being marketed to because the ones drawn to impossible power are impossible to advertise to.  It would be like attempting to sell chocolate to a bear.  Those selling magic, or psychic powers, instead want to weaken your certainty in the fact that they’re full of hot air. Attention: you are probably vulnerable to to exactly this type of attack.  For them, it’s a victory if you are no longer 100% sure.  If you slip even .01% then they’ve won.  According to that doctrine, it doesn’t matter if they prove their argument, only that they attack yours.  This is the guiding principle of modern religious apologists who obviously can’t prove anything from their end.  Instead they say “there are holes in the fossil record” and assume therefore God must have created the world 6,000 years ago.  It doesn’t matter that it’s insane and illogical, or even self-contradictory at times.  All they need to do is introduce a seed of doubt.  In the short run, it allows them to claim that their delusion should be respected.  In the long run, some fraction of those so affected will probably become religious themselves.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  Conversion is an intricate process, and religions themselves are the single most fascinating example of an evolved process designed to obtain and retain as many believers (read: hosts) as possible.  The line between superstition and religion is minimal.  Religion is to superstition as a squirrel is to a hermit crab: one is more highly evolved than the other, but they each have their niche.  And, unlike squirrels and hermit crabs, they have a symbiotic relationship.  The existence of superstition, and the superstition effect, makes religion possible, while religion justifies and maintains the mindset needed to keep the superstition flowing.  Prayer, anyone?  You pray, and they get better.  It must be God!  Therefore, prayer is valid, and therefore we should continue to pray so people will get better.  Self-licking ice cream cone.

Religion and superstition are so ingrained in our society that very little thought has been put into the methods behind our thinking.  Now you’re going wait, wait, now he’s just cooking up random stuff.  Religion kills philosophy the same way that God kills morality.  If God was really omnipotent, then no matter what you do, it’s God’s fault, his responsibility, and you’re clean.  Or let’s try a different tack- if God is omniscient and perfectly just, then no matter what you do, your punishment will be in exact justice to your crime, and therefore you can do whatever you want because the punishment will be perfectly fair.  Even you, the convicted, will go “yeah, I can see how I deserve that, bring it on.”  Let’s not even go into the problem of evil.  Religion kills philosophy in the same manner- don’t think, just read this book!  The answers are all in here!  Praise the Lord!  In the Dark Ages, if you were a philosopher you had better support God or not only are you going to be suppressed, you’re going to get tortured.  Why?  Because you’re making a lot of people uncomfortable, you’re causing them to sin, you’re serving the Devil.  Because they react violently to having their delusions questioned because on some level they know they’re full of shit, but unwilling to admit it because otherwise that same engine they’re part of will turn on them instead- to the degree they believe they are rewarded, to the degree they don’t they are disproportionately punished.  Because God is good.

And now, the part that you’ve been waiting for.  The part where I obliterate Harry Potter.  Let’s start slow- like a demonic sadist barbecuer.  HAHAHA!!  J.K. Rowling is a poor writer.  Harry Potter is a dumbass with a protagonist complex living in a world that makes no sense, riddled with a worse deus ex machina than the Bible, that could never develop if magic weren’t randomly interjected at the start of the first book, and the magic itself is arbitrary, nonfunctional, and nonsensical.  I won’t go into the myriad of reasons behind those assertions- like the evolutionary fitness of wizards vs. muggles, or how the spells are crappy, mangled Latin, and how the power just comes from nowhere, and what would actually happen if wizards could kill one another with a wand and a word, or how they can possibly control one another in the sort of regime they have…  Alright.  I’m vented.  On to serious issues.  Harry Potter is one element of a genre that is incredibly enabling to superstition hucksters and religious groups.  I’m not suggesting that Rowling or her compatriots are at fault- they are providing fodder for a niche in the human psyche that exists anyway.  To expect the market to ignore a niche because you think it’s “wrong” is just stupid, and enforcing a ban or such would be stark raving mad.   Still, the magic culture stunts the preventive vaccine of skepticism with the subtle leading edge of imagination.

Magic is a recurring element of our minds and culture, in more ways than just blatant magic.  Stories about how the impossible underdog comes back to beat the juggernaut champion, for example.  Doesn’t happen in real life in a statistically significant way (they wouldn’t be the underdog if they were), but it does happen.  Focusing on “based on a true story” blends a certain infusion of magical realism with truth, creating a quite compelling work.  It sometimes appears like the movie- usually it is a movie, these days- knows what it’s about more than you do.  I suspect the reason for this is that it provides a nearly full suite of sensory data which has been fabricated, in whole or in part.  So it appears like you’re judging between your own “normal” senses, and the quite similar ones depicted in the movie.  The movie’s, however, are lent strength by the fact that a large number of people have a massive amount of money invested in making it as compelling as possible, and that other people have perceived exactly the same sensory sequence, and implicitly accepted it.  This graduated blending of truth and imagination into a kind of magical reality necessitates some new thinking and perceiving tools to deal with it, but we don’t because we’re too busy getting sucked into it.  Just like how religion suppresses your inquiry, and also all sources creating tension.  Look at it this way: how often does the stereotypical chick-flick story play out in real life?  Yep.  And how many times has it been depicted?  It could feasibly happen in real life- there’s nothing materially or logically impossible about The Chick Flick Story.  It’s just that… life doesn’t work like that.  Yet we have tons of people walking around with this model in their head that that is The Way The World Works.  In more ways than just chick flicks, of course, but that’s a particularly virulent strain.  Most of the victims aren’t even aware of the degree to which they have been affected.  Hell, I’m sure I have at least several hundred misperceptions of the world due to input I have received that I implicitly trust more than my own senses because it seems authoritative, or because I’d like to believe it.  Or because I’m afraid to.  I just don’t know what they are- if I did, they’d be gone, I’d see to that.

Sex, the True Self, & Social Interaction

Sex is the primary motivator of biological life. Stop giggling you immature high school girls- get over it. Now the obvious issue with sex is that if you’re a biological organism, you can’t have any if you’re dead. So sex and death drive human motivations. It’s really not that hard to draw a direct line from any and all choices back to either sex or death. Eat a big mac or a ham sandwich? One of them will make you fat and slow- easier for a predator to catch, as well as making you less attractive. However, it also provides a high amount of energy in the short term, despite its notable lack of nutritional content. The other is cheap, freeing up resources to finance more materiel to attract the opposite sex, or to avoid death.

Now this is especially critical when applied to interpersonal relations. This is a widely understood argument, but I will reiterate it. Essentially, social ostracism is death because some predator will come along and eat you. However, more importantly (in the short term anyway), social ostracism is extreme negative progress in the sex direction because not only does it lower your value, if you’re alone in the wilds then there’s not a lot of opportunity anyway. So the need to “fit in” as it’s called, is hardwired into us as a sort of sex-and-death issue. If we were dumb sacks of meat that would work pretty well in maintaining social cohesion. However, humans are a dual entity. We are a genetic and therefore programmatically biological entity, and those genes also create for us a brain and a prototypical mental organism which then develops. The layers of abstraction up from raw chemical reactions to higher-level consciousness is evident in the brain. At the lowest level is basic chemical interaction like we witness in microbes. Once life becomes macroscopic, it needs an organizing brain and we see small organizing-only brains- think jellyfish. More complex lifeforms need motor functions, as well as organizing and processing ability and we see the first reptilian brains. This is used to process visual input usefully, for example. Then we see mammalian brains which use emotions as genetically programmed situational motivators so the genes can create archetypes of situations which the brain can use to react as the case warrants.

This is the point at which humans would function well in a puristic sex and death motivation scheme. However, humans go one more. We have developed a cerebral cortex capable of higher-level thinking such as logic, art, and constructive or reductive thought. As a result, humans often have conflicting drives between the three “thinking” brains. Our reason may tell us to do one thing, our mammalian emotions something else, and our reptilian brain physical body may want something else. Now, a conflict between just the mammalian and reptilian brain is pretty easy to resolve- you can just define one as always overmastering the other and you can’t go too far wrong. If the reptilian brain always wins then we’d have immense sex drives, be prone to territorial aggression, and react intensely to danger, hunger, and other stressors. If the mammalian brain always wins then- maybe you didn’t guess this- we’d have immense sex drives, be prone to aggression (not necessarily territorial), and react intensely to danger, hunger, or anything else that provoked a powerful emotional response.  Put a squirrel in an oven and observe the reaction.  Not a great deal of difference.  However, if it’s our cerebral cortex in charge, all bets are off.  The reason for this is that the cerebral cortex uses association as its primary mode of information transmission.  This allows us to construct systems of thinking such as logic and reason, or just random collections of emotional, psychosomatic, and abstract bullshit- for example, religion.  Now, it would be inaccurate to say that “lower mammals” use only their mammalian brains.  Rats, for example, can learn to navigate mazes, and that’s not an emotional function.  So there’s some associative processing going on, but it would be a stretch to say that a rat could understand logic or mathematics or other higher order thinking.  Similarly, a rat couldn’t understand religion because its associative circuitry is not voluminous enough.  Please note that “associations” are the only operation that a brain is actually capable of, in the same way that 0 and 1 are the only things a computer is capable of.  However, by associative thinking I am referring to connecting at least two thought-entities together by association, not associating hunger with getting food or a bell with salivating.

Returning to sex and death- the human brain is actually capable of anything, from being more reasoned than knee-jerk associations, to jetting off on a blind, insane, random romp through fantasy land.  So when presented with the opportunity to steal food, in a puristic sex-and-death scenario it would be obvious: scarf away!  However, we can decide not to due to some abstract, random concept called “morality.”  This is functionally identical to, say, giving a significant fraction of your income away to some entity claiming you’ll be in paradise after you die.  It is different, however, in its salient reasoning.  The reason why morality is a useful concept is because it gives you a clear functional benefit- if everyone obeys morality, then you can be confident that nobody will steal your stuff and you can concentrate on producing more instead of safeguarding what you have.  The degree to which everyone is immoral is the degree to which corruption reduces the efficiency of all human endeavors.  Unfortunately, there is a situation I will call ‘pragmatic immorality’ where you are well aware that, in the strictest sense, your actions are technically immoral.  However, the absolute payoff is high enough to justify that immoral action to yourself without rationalization.  My favorite example is with the button that you press, with a 1 in a million shot of killing someone, but in return you get $1 million.  While you could feasibly argue that pressing the button was categorically immoral using equivalence arguments like “that’s like killing someone for $1 trillion,” I am not ashamed to say I would press the button, meh, as many as 100 times.  I get $100 million, and am 99% sure that nobody was harmed.  The issue with this approach to morality is that each person’s position of pragmatic immorality is different.  So, while categorical morality is quite clear, we are willing to deviate from it for personal benefit provided the gain is large enough.

So now we arrive at the true self.  I am aware that it appears like all the topics raised so far have no connection whatsoever, but I’ll get there.  My thoughts on the true self/false self issue is that a human being is far more complicated than the common perception would lead you to believe.  This actually causes us to dramatically simplify ourselves to conform to others’ expectations.  I believe that this phenomenon is what causes us to get to know people better over time- at some point in our interaction with them, maybe over months or years, we’ll see a large variety of different sides of that person because they’ll gently push the boundaries on what they permit themselves to be like around you, or maybe circumstances will reveal them.  This is why we’re more comfortable around people we’ve spent more time with- because we feel less “rules” pressing in on our behavior that we subtly fear breaking.  The fact that this happens on both sides causes a generalized de-escalation of tension, which you translate as liking that person more because you feel better in their presence.  Now, I propose that our common model of social interaction is basically fundamentally broken, broken because it evolved randomly based on the whim of whoever wanted to jockey it.  Some symptoms are conformity and cronyism, anxiety and tension, as well as just plain meanness.  For myself, and people like me, the common method to avoid this is to simply restrict who you interact with to filter out the problem cases, who seem to relish “social structures.”

What do I really mean, you ask?  This post has become so cluttered with related but tertiary ideas that I’ll need to do another later.  Basically, our current mode of society is for everyone to feel unworthy.  Everyone is looking for something to be, desperately begging for a way to prove that they are somehow valid, silently begging to be led.  Predominantly, people are unhappy and told that material prosperity will solve their problems- if only they had X, you should go buy that.  Your true self is perpetually repressed- just for now- in the name of pragmatism, for that job, for sex, for acceptance, for whatever.  In fact, the trend is continuously shifting to younger people.  I feel that the last naturally occurring true-self to true-self interaction I ever experienced was in preschool.  As early as first grade I was harried for grades, for friends, told to draw “the right way” and so on.  Many of the people I meet nowadays have probably never experienced anything other than their current drab style.

You don’t believe me?  I’ll talk more about this, but for now I’ll give you a test and you can see for yourself.  Right now, get a piece of paper and something to write with.  Alright, in the words of Epictetus “First, decide who you would be.  Then, do what you must do.”  As an exercise this is a little hypocritical because I’m telling you what to do, but hopefully you’ll get the gist.  What you need to do is write down 5 characteristics that you think the ideal person, in your conception of them, has.  Of course don’t do anything that is logically, physically, or materially impossible like turn the moon into cheese.  But make them tough ones- here are three examples: 1) being unflappably honest all the time, or 2) being socially free to do whatever they want- talk to anyone, have a good time, not tolerate second-grade behavior, to cut out people who present too much of a problem, be congruent, be positive, be real. And 3) Be confident, powerful, unashamed of what you want, determined to get it, and you could care less what anyone else thinks.

Get your five.  And then, here’s the tough bit. Do them.  That’s all.

But! But! But!  What’s the problem, crybabies?  You’re telling me that the 5 things you thought of are what your ideal person does, and now you’re turning around and saying that for some reason you can’t do them?  Is your nature fixed by some agent that you can’t control?  If it is you might want to figure out what that agent is and either get rid of it or get the hell over it.  You are responsible for yourself, and you have now realized that there is no reason why you can’t be that person, save your own weakness to do so.

Sorry for the tough love.  You’ll get over it.