On Antisocial Stoics

I would like to address a claim that is sometimes made against stoics, particularly against some of the ideas of Marcus Aurelius, who said, among other things, “Permit nothing to cleave to you that is not your own, and nothing to grow upon you that will give you agony when it is torn away.”  Given the extremely elevated status of friends and interpersonal relationships in our society, this concept doesn’t jive well with the idea that we all have to form deep bonds with one another.  The idea of being stoic and of suppressing your emotions as subservient to your mind seems to conflict with the idea that we’re supposed to share our feelings with others.  Why the belief is that if someone else is aware of the factual state of your existence creates a bond is beyond me, but it is implicitly assumed in our interactions with one another.  The most canonical example is when you encounter someone you know and ask them how they’re doing, what’s going on with them, or the like.  Both of you probably know, if you thought about it, that the other person’s answer is irrelevant.  Neither of you could give a damn.  But it’s the greeting you use because it is a sharing of information of a moderately personal nature, or at least it’s a question requesting that information which implies a certain closeness.  Whether you’re doing it to provoke that sense of intimacy in the other person, in the impressions of people listening in, or to convince yourself, I don’t know.  However I do know that very little of what is commonly thought of as conversation is an actual sharing of empathic significance or deep thoughts.  What is commonly accepted as “small talk” is the norm of human interaction, and it is accepted as having zero functionality.

Now, I am of course being a little over-literal here.  The purpose of small talk is that it is talk where everyone concerned might be uncomfortable in having a real conversation, it fills up the time and allows people to get comfortable with one another.  However it is not and will never be the goal or endpoint.  It is vital that just “being with” other people is never something you’re setting out to do, because standing next to other humanoid figures and flapping your vocal folds is, in and of itself, not really a worthwhile activity.  If you’re interacting on an empathic, mental, philosophical, or whatever medium in a way that gives you genuine enjoyment such that you would actively choose to enjoy that person’s presence in favor of some other activity you enjoy then of course it’s a good thing- that’s just a basic pursuit of your own satisfaction.  This is obvious and a trivial proof, but I think I need to inject it here so I’m not scaring off exactly the people who need to hear this.

The best corollary to this whole mess is our modern conception of sex, especially among men.  Men tend to be in a position of weakness and insecurity due to having conflicting internal models and programming and all manner of other nonsense going on in their heads leaving them a little lost and confused.  One of the dominant themes that result is a pursuit of sex that is driven more by social power than actual personal satisfaction.  Many men are more gratified by the fact that they are having sex than they are enjoying the sex itself.  They’ll brag to their buddies about it and allow themselves that extra iota of self-respect because they “got laid.”  The self-destructive side of this thinking is that they honestly believe they aren’t worth anything unless they can convince a woman that they are worthwhile enough to sleep with.  I am unsure of how many women have this problem, but it is widespread among men.  I suspect that because women are dealing with this population of men, they live in sexual abundance and don’t develop the same complex- attractive women at least if not all women.  I am speculating now, but I find it probable that women have a similar complex revolving around marriage, gratified more by the fact of being married than they enjoy the marriage itself, resulting in the “must get married” effect at a certain age.  Many, many people of both sexes are gratified more by the presence of other people than they are actually enjoying being with them.

The simple fact of the matter is that if you go out seeking deep bonds, what you will find is the most superficial of relations with people as desperate for companionship as yourself.  Deep bonds, described as such, actually don’t exist as we conceive of them.  It’s not that you spend a lot of time with someone or that you have known them for a long time, or even that you know a great deal about them and their personal preferences such as their favorite flavor of ice cream.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that knowing a huge amount about their preferential minutiae actually subtracts significantly from the goal that most people are seeking.  If there’s a woman I like, I could care less what her favorite flavor of ice cream is.  The question is whether or not she is fun to be around.  If I was to feverishly try to get her to like me or memorize her personal preferences, that’s work.  Stupid, counterproductive, and manipulative work, at that.  That’s all.  Perhaps we have deep empathy, perhaps we’re alike, maybe we have good discussions or great sex, it makes no difference (OK, I lie) the question is only if she’s a positive presence in some- preferably many- ways.

Part of the problem is the widespread perspective of the “personality.”  And for the love of life NEVER evaluate someone’s “personality” as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  Both those words are the most abused semantic identities ever created, and they both can mean nearly anything while being very specific about one thing and one thing only- and by hiding the implementation of that judgment there is no way to argue with it.  There is no such thing as a personality- a person is composed of the sum of their mind and actions derived from it.  There is no way that you can ascribe someone a personality which if they do something that is “not like them” then they’re being fake or somehow not being themselves.  Whatever the circumstances, they are merely exhibiting a decision-making pattern you haven’t previously observed or were otherwise unaware of.  It is the same person, ergo they are the same person.  This idea that we can understand someone else, ascribe them a simplified model that will predict their behavior and then expect that behavior from them is disgusting.  People are very complex- one person is far more complex than the sum of all of their understandings of other people, much less someone else’s understanding of them.  It can’t be your personality that you like coffee, and that you’re doing something bad when you don’t drink coffee.  The drive to be consistent is not a natural one- it’s a societal stamp mark on the inside of your brain that tells you to be simple so that others can understand you better.  But who gives a flying shit about whether other people understand you?  Do what you want!  If you wake up and wonder if eggs scrambled with cocoa and baking soda tastes good with ketchup, then go right ahead and try it!  It doesn’t have to be your personality that you eat weird things- it’s just something you want to do, so you do it.  That’s a bit of a weird example, but it holds.  Why we don’t expect one another to do what we want is just beyond me, especially in our day and age with so many options available.  There are all manner of stigma against jocks, nerds, cheerleaders, sluts, you name it, there’s a stereotype that someone wants to slot you into.  So, how about, just to screw with them, completely break their model of the world by totally not fitting into the model they would like you to.  Just for fun.

So here’s the question.  “Permit nothing to cleave to you that is not your own, and nothing to grow upon you that will give you agony when it is torn away.”  The idea here is that you are your own pursuits and not permitting external people or objects to influence you or your goals.  This is both a warning against addictions of all forms, perhaps especially social ones, and a caveat emptor for everything you allow into your life.  You control your personal sphere- to the best of your ability at least.  It is your responsibility and nobody else’s to make sure that only elements you want are a part of your life, and it’s your duty to yourself to safeguard the vaults against the thieves that would seek to plunder your wealth.

I have something to say about victimization here.  Blaming the victim for a crime committed against them is the original scam.  It is the classical attempt to cheat and then get away with it, and the more serious the crime, the more potent a tactic it becomes.  The idea that you control your person means that yes, to a degree, you are responsible if something bad happens to you.  There are precautions you could have taken, etc. etc.  No matter the event, there are always choices you could have made to avoid that outcome you deem makes you a victim.  However part of the idea of being actually in control means that you are never a “victim” of other people’s choices or actions, because the very idea implies that you aren’t actually in control.  So you are only actually a victim when the aggressor has actively applied intelligence to disable, short-circuit, or otherwise evade whatever defenses or precautions you have taken against being taken advantage of.  Think of it like this: if you’re on a desert island and a bear comes and steals your food, then you’re a victim.  But you could have done any number of things to prevent your food from being stolen, such as hanging your food from a tree, out of reach.  The bear is fundamentally at fault here (I don’t believe the conventional idea of “blame” either, so this explanation might be a little awkward without a background but I’ll have to go on anyway) but that doesn’t mean you can sit there and rage about how that damn bear has made you a victim.  Your actions, to the degree that you invested resources to prevent an undesirable outcome, resulted in some probability of that undesirable outcome occurring- a risk.  Now, there are obviously far too many *possible* risks to address, but we can exercise our reason to determine which ones we need to address, which ones are worthwhile to address, and which ones we can safely ignore.  If you ignore a risk you should not have, then you are responsible for that mistake, even if you aren’t the acting agent of the aggression committed.  A bear is too animate.  Let’s go with physics.  You leave your food outside for a long time, and it rots.  Well?  You are responsible because you misjudged the risk of it rotting, didn’t take sufficient precautions, and now your food is gone.  In this case, there is no aggressor at all- it’s you against the laws of physics, but the situation is exactly identical.  You can mope around claiming to be a victim, perhaps go to the government and demand that your food be replaced…  yada yada.  Now, I absolutely do not want this concept of judgment and addressing of risk to be confused with actually blaming the victim as the active agent in their own victimization.  These are completely different concepts entirely.  An agent acting in a way that is exploitative of another agent is doing so because their incentives line up appropriately to make that a course of action they find acceptable.  The idea of punishing them is to tip these scales enough that it is no longer economical to exploit others.  There is of course the problem of giving the power of retribution to who, exactly, which I won’t go into here because this isn’t a post about anarchism.  The reason why you can’t have the punishment be equal to the crime (remove connotations of law or government) committed is that the risk of capture is never 100%.  Let’s say a thief steals purses.  If he gets caught 50% of the time, but each time he’s caught he only has to return the amount he stole, then it doesn’t really change the thief’s decision-making circumstances that much.  However, if the cost is losing a hand then the thief will think twice before stealing that purse because there would need to be a lot of money in there to justify a 50% chance, or even a 1% chance, of losing a hand.  Now, the funny thing about punishment is that you also have to account for a certain probability of false positives.  So if an innocent man is accused of stealing that purse and gets his hand cut off, well that’s pretty damn unjust, isn’t it?  So we have to scale back the punishment until it is enough to stop thieves while being acceptable to the innocents based on the risk of being hit with that false positive.  Keeping in mind that we are assuming the populace has a say in what the punishments are.  If you’re a totalitarian government, you could give a damn what the civvies say, and drastic punishments make sense because it’s less crime you have to deal with, freeing up resources for you to put towards your own ends.  Draconian methods of control are, pound for pound, more efficient in terms of resources spent versus results achieved.  Their main problem, in fact, is that they are so efficient that it makes life a living hell for nearly everyone.

After that long digression, back to the main issue.  If you’re simply enjoying another person’s presence, then there’s no further expectation in the matter.  If they leave, you’re no longer enjoying their presence.  You start to run into problems when you ascribe ultimate value to people or objects, because you can’t unlink ultimate value as long as you actually perceive it as “the ultimate good in the whole universe.”  Now we run into a very controversial edge case when dealing with the loss of loved ones.  I say it’s an edge case because it doesn’t happen very often relative to our lifetimes.  We’re not losing loved ones every other week.  A model that was focused primarily on dealing with death of the most intimate friends (I will not say “and family” because if your family are not your close friends then why are you with them?).  You know what, I’m going to elaborate on that parenthetical thought.  Your family, especially your nuclear family such as parents and immediate siblings, are people.  You know them for longer, and have more opportunity to become very good friends with them, and when you’re a child there is a certain amount of not-having-a-choice in the matter that forces you to make friends or make war, and rational individuals choose the former in all but the most extreme circumstances.  So there’s just very close friends.  The fact that you’re biologically related is of no philosophical significance whatsoever.  Medical significance, yes, but only because knowledge of your family’s genes can be used to deduce your genes.  Social significance, of course not.  So I will treat death of family as the death of friends who were equally close as family members.  Now, to be honest, this is a topic that I’m reluctant to exercise my usual methods of beating to death because there may be readers who have such a powerful subjective experience of the matter that I will waste my time if I try to dismiss the bits that require dismissal, focus in on what is significant , and use it build up a new model that more accurately fits reality and rationality.  We have arrived at the idea that being with people is something you do for yourself, but it seems like lunacy to say that the death of a loved one shouldn’t hurt because you aren’t able to enjoy their presence any more.  That’s just not strong enough, right?  BUt isn’t that exactly what mourning is?  You won’t speak to that person again, or see them, or talk to them, or whatever else.  If you could do those things then you wouldn’t care if they were technically dead- that’s just a cessation of some bodily functions.  If they could die and leave the person intact, now wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing- you wouldn’t have to worry about death.  This is actually a fairly direct deduction for most people, but the idea that the physical death isn’t the source of their trouble, isn’t.  It is the result of the event of death that they’re mourning.  Many religions exploit this weakness in thinking to interject “But life does continue after death!” and then the explanations, the fairy tales, and the bullshit that follows.  They are careful, however, to always exclude the very functionality that death precludes because they are unable to provide it.  They can’t help you talk to your dead loved ones, so they hide them away somewhere as ghosts or in heaven where you will go, too, once you die.  The intuitive universality of the death process makes this nearly logical, except that a slight elaboration can add a significant degree of control over the behavior of the people who want to believe.  And some of the crueler religions take advantage of exactly these people, and make this death process conditional upon your life, and exactly prescribed behaviors.  The most common trick is to exploit vague semantic identities such as “good” and “bad” which enable retroactive changing of what exactly those conditions are for live updating of the behavior of the believers based on what is expedient at the time.  I’m always amazed and fascinated at the complexity of religion as an organism, and the huge potential that religion proves memes have as a life form.

I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t feel pain- what a ridiculous assertion for a stoic.  The idea is that pain, like other sensations or emotions, are there to help you, not govern you.  If you felt fear and were unable to do anything else but freeze up, curl up into the fetal position, and pray, then what use is that?  For animals like the possum, it is an irresistible instinctive reaction programmed into them because in 99% of cases (at least in the genes’ experience) this is an effective defense mechanism, and giving the possum control over the matter would just screw up the system.  This isn’t strictly accurate because possums evolved their primary featureset in the time before memetic delegation had been “invented” by evolutionary processes.  The application of reason is itself a major feature of humanity, and quite novel in genetic terms.  If you wanted to be truly biological about it, you can look at memetic evolution as the ultimate genetic trick, but the problem is that it is so effective it makes genes obsolete.  Also, intelligence is so effective that genetic evolution can’t keep up with the rate of change.  For the prurient example, we have invented cars and now they’re everywhere.  And now possums, with their very effective defense mechanism of freezing up when afraid, causes them to get run over by speeding cars, and the genes can’t un-wire that feature given the new environment because they aren’t able to perceive and judge.  I would like to say, though, that genes are definitely alive.  Not just in the sense that a person is alive, but the gene of HUMANS is alive in a strange information amalgamation of the genes in every person in a way that we really can’t quite comprehend because there’s too many people, too much noise, and too much uncertainty about genes themselves.  The day that we truly understand genes completely, we won’t need them anymore because we’ll be able to construct our own biological machines to any specification or design we like.  They’re just like any other machine, but far more complicated and sophisticated.  Especially the organic ability to reproduce.  Interestingly, though, the body is itself one of the few things that we are currently unable to separate our selves from.  Some can conceive of what that might be like, and most of them have it wrong (I guarantee that I do, but it’s more complete than most, at least).  Note that the objective is to separate your self from as much as possible of what you don’t want, of that which subtracts from your good or your happiness.  I would argue that, for as long as it works, your body adds immensely to that happiness.  And as far as it doesn’t, it subtracts immensely.  So an ability to perfectly fix the human body, a hypothetical perfect medicine, would obsolete the need for mechanical bodies unless their features were so far beyond those of a human body (which is the case) that you could get even more out of one.  Probably the main advantage is the ability to add processing power and memory, and the ability to have direct inputs.  Anyway, permit nothing to cleave to you that is not your own.  I am not my body, but insofar as I use it, rely upon it, and wish to keep it, it is mine.

So if I don’t even value my own body enough to want to keep it, what does that mean?  Well, I never said that I didn’t value my body, just that the value it provides is of the material sort, similar to eating a burrito, except that instead of the satisfaction of the burrito, my body contains the hardware necessary to eat the burrito, and without it any sort of gustatory satisfaction would be impossible (not strictly true- a perfect simulation of the experience is an identity).  This is similar to having a computer.  The computer in and of itself doesn’t actually provide a whole lot of satisfaction, but the things you can do with it will.  Perhaps the computer hardware hobbyists who make it a point of pride to have the best possible machine wired up in the best possible configuration get significant enjoyment out of simply possessing the hardware itself.  However, even with that example, we see parallels with the human body, such as with fitness junkies who make it a point of pride to have bodies sculpted out of steel, and enjoy simply having it.  Important note: most of these “fitness junkies” are doing it because of other people, not because they genuinely enjoy it, or because they even want the results.  And they get further conflicted by the fact that they are causing a change, which might conflict with their perception of themselves, or with others’ perceptions, and for some reason they’re anxious to step outside of that box.

Anyway, my entire point is quite simple, as usual, but it’s dressed up with many trimmings like mirrors in every corner of the room to show off the gleam on the little gem in the middle.  The idea that you should be dependent on others, the idea that that constitutes good social practices, the concept of a social personality, all of these things are foisted upon us because others had them foisted upon them.  We are the monkeys conditioned not to reach for the bananas within our reach because someone, at some point in the past, was punished for trying.  So now we have to live with everyone else.  But the most vital point is this: they don’t matter.  If you want to reach for that banana, they could physically stop you, but if they do then you have a clear and objective obstacle in your way, which can be overcome, instead of the hazy, confusing aimlessness of contradiction.

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The Intelligence Process

I have generalized the scientific method, at least for my own use, because while the scientific method works perfectly for science there is as yet no model which ideally describes the application of intelligence against objective reality. Now, this basically is the scientific method, but factors in a number of elements which are useful to exclude in scientific discourse.

1.) Assumptions: Intelligent agents always begin from assumptions, and although there is nothing we can do about it, it’s not a bad place to start unless you use poor assumptions and do not recognize them as assumptions. Also includes circumstantial evidence about surroundings, self, etc. The initial information set at any reference point you choose.

2.) Deficit: Any set of assumptions will find a case or situation where information is lacking, possibly a method to do a certain thing, maybe a rule about the world, or perhaps unknown circumstantial information. Formally phrased this would end up something like a question, spurring the creation of a solution. This step is also significant in providing us with the drive to seek stimuli.

3.) Hypothesis: A solution/guess is derived based on assumptions, utilizes rational, predictive, and imaginative abilities. Given accurate starting information and sound methods, this result will be useful. Otherwise, it is suspect (although it may still be useful or accurate- by the “the moon is made of cheese, therefore the sky is blue” effect, it’s just not reliable).

4.) Ecology Check: The hypothesis is actually cross-checked with the assumptions before being tested against reality. This is, for example, why people who don’t like broccoli may decide not to eat broccoli. Without this step, there would be no reason to assume that you wouldn’t like broccoli now, regardless of how you thought it tasted yesterday. While not a strictly logical approach, this is usually an immensely useful heuristic process.

5.) Test: I have actually combined a number of the scientific method’s steps here- steps like “prepare” and “procedure” and somewhat pointlessly specific and I just rolled them into this step. The objective of the test is to analyze the effectiveness of a piece of information you have put into “sandbox mode” as a hypothesis. The reason for this is that you cannot test a deficit, you can only test positive information. It can be disproved. Statements like “there is no such thing as a goose” are disprovable- they are simply about the nonexistence of something rather than its existence, all you need to do is find a goose. A negative statement might be “a goose can transform into an elephant under some conditions.” [s] Wow, that’s helpful [/sarcasm] Now, here’s the rub. Testing is the most important part of intelligence, but at the same time it is the most liable to fail. It is inherently an inductive process, as I have said before. So statements like “all swans are white” cannot be proven authoritatively. They can, however, be disproven, by finding a swan that is not white (as there indeed are). Yet if you have seen a million swans and they were all white, and you have no reason to believe your field of swan observation to have been constricted by some other factor, then you may conclude that all swans are white, and you would be quite rational in doing so. Provided that you recognize that you are making an assumption for practical purposes.

6.) Inference: The test only provides you with the data to make an analysis. Deciding what the test means is a whole ‘nother can of worms. In the case of our goose example, perhaps I’m a goose breeder who wants to grow a better goose. This is a subjective and situational step, so I’m just going to make something up here, but let’s say this here goose breeder is of the entrepreneurial variety and decides that because there are only white geese, if he could produce multicolor geese he would make a killing. Goose show spectators around the world would be shocked into buying spectrum geese at exorbitant prices. Now, even in this extremely short example, look at all the other factors and assumptions I brought to bear to determine what the meaning behind “there are only white geese” was. I needed some ideas about the nature of the world, the economy, my own experiences and tendencies, all these things which are a complete construction on top of the conclusion “all geese are white.”

7.) Compression: Another step which, while being illogical most of the time, is highly useful. Concept compression takes a number of forms, usually dependent on someone’s learning style. There are auditory learners, visual learners, kinesthetic learners, etc. etc. My experience is that each of these labels is an oversimplification. When I’m learning a method or a set of information I mainly gauge how familiar any given piece feels. This is extremely effective for nonlinear processes like abstraction, but extremely poor for rigorous linear processes, or arbitrary elements like rote memorization. If I have to give a presentation, I cannot memorize a script, and memorizing bullet points is even tougher. I can, however, just learn holistically about the entire topic to be covered and then just stream of consciousness about it and do quite well. Now, I have other methods for lots of different things, as do we all, but I’m reasonably sure that’s my main label. I have my own theories about how we label thoughts and sensory data, but that’s probably for another time. For now, I think we can agree that we don’t encode in memory the actual sensory data or concepts or ideas received/conceived/whatever, but actually a compressed interpretation of that information.

8.) Association: The issue with putting this step at number 8 is that association is the sole purpose of the neuron in the brain, so this is actually going on all the time, at every step along the way. Whenever you string two bits together in your brain you’re making an association, so the entire process itself is associating one step with the next. Also, anything that happens to be going on might be associated with the thoughts you had at the time, or maybe you’re connecting together two similar things, maybe tests you’ve made or hypotheses from different times, whatever. However I think this is the best place to put it because in the strictest sense, you can’t associate anything that you don’t remember, and you can’t remember something until it has been compressed. If you’ve ever done that experiment where you have to count the number of R’s in a sentence, but the question afterward asks about the number of H’s, or similar, you know what I’m talking about. You didn’t encode how many H’s there were. (Actually, to be proper, you didn’t encode the number of R’s either, you created a program on-the-fly that would increment a number whenever you saw R as you scanned the line, encoding a single number which is much more efficient. Encoding the number of R’s would be memorizing “there are 7 R’s in the sentence [blah]” which you probably didn’t do because it’s stupid and wasteful.)

9.) State Hook: This step has the same issue as associations in that you are experiencing some sort of state all the time, however it goes after association because it is used as a sort of meta-tag on top of any inter-idea associations you may have made. If you make the association of press button->get candy conceptualized and ready to go, realizing that you can now have candy if you want it, then your state, perhaps happiness, sadness, hunger, or other conditions (not necessarily related to your body) are applied. If you wanted candy, for example, you’ll get a state change, some different associations, and a different resulting behavior than if you just ate. For example, you might be more inclined to find that candy tasty.

10.) Framing: I’m wrapping up all the higher-level thinking into one big category, because you’re basically just repeating this step over and over again to go from beliefs to values to paradigms or whatever else. Ascribing synthetic meaning to things is framing. Rearranging models or performing manipulations on your conceptions is performing operations by adding synthetic meaning to delete, replace, or augment bits. Naming something is a framing operation. Grouping things is a framing operation. Note the distinction between associating two things, and grouping two things. When two things are associated, one might lead you to the other. However a fir and a poplar can both be trees without the mention of firs causing you to think of poplars. There are also a number of interesting oddities of peoples’ histories of associating groups with individual members, or maybe something else entirely. Free association: “Tree” and they say “Larch” then that’s one model they have of the standard tree, perhaps representative of trees as a class to them.

11.) Confirmation: Any given piece of information has several stages to go through before it is really accepted, and some will always be more respected than others. This level of trust or integration is a full spectrum extending from violent opposition to devil’s advocate thought experiment to skepticism to acceptance to total faith. Your belief may increase due to emotional reaction, resonance, application, utility, or any of a number of other reasons. Healthy systems of thought will tend to eradicate false beliefs in one shot once they are disproved- systems that are unhealthy may have a tug-of-war with emotional reactions, etc. pulling in both or (god forbid) more than two directions. Persisting beliefs will tend to gradually increase in acceptance due to increased association and exposure, and extinct beliefs are just not even in your head anymore. I’m going to use this step as a placeholder for several significant levels of acceptance, to the point that a given piece of information is trusted/believed to 1. the same degree as your original thoughts, 2. the same as your perceptions, and 3. on the level with your beliefs.

12.) Utility: The function of intelligence to maximize its utility given a specific information set, defined by the previous steps.

13.) Morality: The function of intelligence to deduce and follow morality. The reason why this is a product of intelligence is that morality is simply the application of reciprocity in society to utility. Morality is doing what is best for everyone, an abstraction out from doing what is best for you, with the significant difference that morality is a higher level, and therefore guides and supersedes personal utility. On a slightly related note, arbitrary social laws are a hijacking of this function to no real benefit- or more commonly, to an impossibly small benefit at the expense of a potentially massive gain. If they did blatant harm they would be abandoned as corrupt and pointless by the lower-level and more powerful utility principles.

14.) Creation: Intelligence seeks to produce. Artistically, socially, culturally, whatever. We’re seeking to stimulate others’ perceptions and minds, satisfying the sensory deficit with the richest material we can produce because we want to experience also. This works even if nobody else existed in the world because the act of creation is a bottomless supply of auto-stimulation.

15.) Self-Actualization: Realizing your potential, from Maslow. Drives artists to be artists and accountants to suicide. Just kidding. Not everyone’s greatest potential is in direct creation of memetically or mentally stimulating material.

16.) Philosophy: Understanding and wisdom. The drive to understand ourselves, our world, our thoughts, everything. The problem is that we are like computers seeking to describe their own code. We can’t do it because every line of code used to help the computer understand its other code…. is one other line of code requiring explanation. What makes me happy? What do I want, really? What should I do? If you had everything you could conceivably want- infinite utility, morality, etc. then is life pointless? Why or why not? What would you do?

Ancient Wisdom

I just read a fascinating article, about how ancient knowledge is, strictly speaking, younger than modern thought. Somewhere in the middle I was struck by the remarkable feeling of “why on earth didn’t I think of this?” I suppose to some degree I’ve always thought this, but never articulated it. When you read older texts the natural inclination is to pick bits out, I like that, I like that, that’s just nonsense, and that’s freaky but there might be some truth to that… and so on.

That the article is a response to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is actually a coincidence, but I suppose I need to address some of the ancient wisdom aspects of the stoic school of thought. At its core, stoicism is a single tenet in similar fashion to cynicism (philosophical Cynicism, not the colloquial use). Stoicism is the belief that the pursuit of truth, the application of rationality, will make you happy. Cynicism says that being virtuous will make you happy, and stoicism extends that by saying that being virtuous is the pursuit of truth. All evil is the product of ignorance, bias, error, or some other irrationality. To me this seems perfectly obvious, but I imagine most of the people reading this are puzzled by that assertion.

Well, let’s start with the basic question here: What is morality? Morality is adherence to a moral system. A moral system is a set of principles governing ideal or preferred behavior for human action or choice. Ethics is the art/science of determining what system of morality produces the most desirable behavior. So basically what we’re saying is that if everyone could conclusively figure out what the best behavior for them would be, they would do it because by definition that’s the behavior that is best for them. The basic argument here is that morality is not arbitrary: it has a very definite function of producing the most positive gain for you, as well as everyone else. Therefore, the application of reason to figure out the best course is essentially the basic building block of morality. Once you’ve figured it out, assuming you’re still sane, you really have only one course because it’s the one that gives you (and everyone else) the most utility.

The clinch comes when we try to distinguish utility from utility, for example by saying that it’s more moral to help others than to help yourself- which is of course nonsense. If you have a job, you are under no moral obligation to give away all your money to the unemployed. In fact, such an action could (and I would) be construed as evil because you are incentivizing unemployment for those most vulnerable to it. Now there is nothing wrong with giving them money, but do not attempt to argue that there is a moral compunction to do so. Reasoning such as “the greatest good to the greatest number” sounds very appealing on the surface because it is the heuristic that most people use to maximize utility. As a heuristic, it is dazzlingly effective. However, applying that principle without having a firm grasp on what morality actually is, treating the heuristic as the primary model, produces some absolutely stunningly delusional behavior.

Let’s take an example. You have a month’s supply of food, and you go to Africa where there are millions of starving children. Your month’s supply of food is meant to feed 1 person for 30 days, or about 90 meals. That could easily be stretched out to feed 90 starving African children for 1 meal, or maybe even 180 kids for half a meal. But then of course you have no food for a month and nearly starve yourself. Not to mention that all those kids you fed are still in the same position: plus one meal, looking for the next one. What exactly have you accomplished? The greatest good to the greatest number is quite authoritative: um, yeah, 180 starving people versus 1 well-fed person? Hey, you should even volunteer to be killed and eaten (sarcastically speaking- a real utilitarian places an extremely high negative consequence on death so they wouldn’t argue that). I would instead argue that you have, at best, accomplished nothing. At worst, you are actually helping to create more starving African children, making it impossible for African agriculture to get off the ground, etc. etc. etc. resulting in a net negative utility for both parties. I’m not saying you shouldn’t help, I’m just saying you picked a damn stupid way to help out. How about this instead: employ 180 starving African children in such a way that you can pay them and make money at the same time. That way you feed them indefinitely, and turn a profit at the same time. Sound like a smarter plan? Just maybe? Perhaps big companies find it unprofitable to purchase African labor for one reason or another, perhaps Chinese labor is cheaper, or it’s riskier, or something. Well, that’s a perfect situation for charity to step in. Sure, we’ll accept paying slightly more for labor, or suffer some extra risk, because we want to employ starving African kids. We can charge just enough extra to cover it and slap a label on the front with a truly pitiful, heart-wrenching picture of African poverty to make up the difference. People are nice- if they think you’re doing something worthwhile they might pay slightly more to help you out as a kind of donation. Here’s the magic behind this tactic: the more money you get in donations the more resistance you’re going to get to getting more (of course you also have more resources so it may even out, but that’s more complicated). It’s harder to get a $100 donation than a $50 donation, basically. However, as you sell more African-labor products, you can expand and employ even more starving African children to make even more product, which even more people will buy, and so on. And on top of that, you have more money in profits which you can turn around and do what conventional charities do as well.

Wow that went off topic hardcore like a sky plunge. Before we return from the wilderness, I want to address utilitarianism again. Utilitarianism is a technique, a mental tool, that we all instinctively use to maximize value for ourselves, and presumably others as well. However, holding it up as the foundational moral rule is an error because it doesn’t actually maximize individual value- it’s a systemic attempt to justify social equilibrium and equal distribution. Consider: if everyone followed the principle of “the greatest good to the greatest number” then what would result? Well, for starters, it’s pretty obvious that poor people get more value out of money, so if you’re rich you would give them money until you were equal, after which giving them further money is a net subtraction because you would have less, and thus be losing more “value” than they would be getting. What about relationships? Clearly people with fewer friends would get more value from having an additional friends than people who have lots of friends, so you have to identify how many friends each person has, and attempt to address that inequality to the extent of your ability (I’m not even going to go into romantic relationships). Regarding ability, clearly anybody with a skill is deriving more value from it than those who don’t. However skill is difficult to transmit, so while it would be your moral duty to teach everyone your skill, during that process (continuous due to new people being born) you would have to surrender all products of your specialized skills to the community as a whole, etc. etc. etc. We’re going to call this here. Utilitarianism basically says that because you are one, and the world is legion, you deserve to have nothing that everyone else doesn’t already have. You’re powerless and worthless, and must sacrifice to others. Of course, this thinking is then applied to everyone- so who exactly is gaining from all this sacrificing?

Now we arrive back at stoicism. Your life and freedom are preconditions unto themselves- the fact that you are alive justifies your life, and while you have a natural right to it, you most certainly do not have my guarantee of it. In order for me or anyone else (read: government) to make that guarantee I would have to be prepared to defy legality, morality, perhaps even reality. Would I kill that guy over there to save this guy over here because this guy has my guarantee that he will live? No. The same holds true for your liberty. You’re free, but I have no responsibility to uphold that freedom. Even you have no responsibility to uphold your own freedom. Hey, maybe you enjoy being locked in a cell while prison guards deprive you of sleep and torture you with batons. Maybe you would pay good money to have that happen to you. And you’re thinking “uh uh, only if they’re strippers!” As you may have gathered, these aren’t fundamental tenets of stoicism: there is only one. These are corollaries that I have arrived at. Your mileage may vary, and that’s great. Marcus Aurelius is the same way- he’s got his answers, I have mine. Mine are the later draft, and I think I am more right than Aurelius was in his day, but in the future there will be other philosophers who have teased even more truth out of reality. However there is a constant: the power to pursue that truth. Previous thinkers always help- if those future thinkers were born into today’s world they probably wouldn’t do any better than I can. I have the unbridled arrogance to say that my own musings into this blog are as valid as the most famous thinker you can name: who do you want- Socrates? Rand? Newton? Nietzsche? Anything you happen to write falls under the same heading. While there exists some absolute truth, the simple fact is that we aren’t omni entities that can discern reality in such different ways from one another that one of us can say the other’s line of thinking is bunk to the extent that I can denounce a squirrel. True, if you say something that is just hogwash then I’ll call you on it. But this is just one squirrel talking to another. Albert Einstein is a squirrel. I’d love to see that sentence end up quoted on some other blog. “Today on the Zen Stoic: “Albert Einstein is a squirrel.” What do you think?”

I’ve gone from Ancient Wisdom and starving children, to dominatrices and “Albert Einstein is a squirrel.” I think I’m done here.

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.

Arranged Marriage

Earlier today I found myself in a discussion about a custom which a few cultures, such as Muslim, Indian, Hindu cultures, and others, practice.  Arranged marriage is interesting as material for discussion because I found, among Americans, a startling degree of high relativist “understanding.”  Now, there once was a time when I would have spearheaded the relativist movement decrying that “it’s not our place to judge- why is our culture better?” and all that other claptrap.  Now, I have arrived at a significantly more enlightened conclusion.

Right off, arranged marriage is on the level with slavery.  In whole, without compromise, it is just as ethically unjustifiable as forced labor.  As a matter of fact, it opens up the possibility- though I understand this doesn’t actually happen that often- for fully fledged repeat rape that is completely legal, and that would be far, far worse than mere forced labor.  If you say that arranged marriage is morally justifiable, you are stating that the use of violence by a third party to arrange a rape is acceptable.  Or, in the most generous interpretation, you are at least supporting the stripping away of freedom of association, the freedom to select sexual partners, the choice to bear children, and the right to independent living.  I don’t care if it’s the parents who are arranging the marriage- the parents have absolutely no special status whatsoever.  Imagine if it was some culture’s custom for your second cousin to be able to select your spouse, and you would be bound by that decision.  Worse, what if that cousin stood to make a significant amount of money in the form of a dowry in certain circumstances?  They say that “you may one day come to love each other.”  There’s a name for that.  It’s called “Stockholm Syndrome.”

How is arranged marriage at all different from the institution of sexual slavery?  Because the children obey the decrees of their parents?  The only reason the child is prepared to accept such terms is because their independence has already been destroyed by those parents.  Parents have absolutely no actual power over their children not derived from violence- that they couldn’t also have over anyone else, at least.  Note that I include, for example, social pain and punishment as merely a less extreme form of violence, but I also want to add that to children such small damages are still extremely harmful.  The parents are given the greatest degree of relative power that exists in the human universe, and it is their utmost responsibility to never, under any circumstances, use it.  If they are rational and persuasive and can communicate how it is in the child’s best interest to, for example, marry someone, they are equally entitled to their input as anyone else is.  But that’s a completely different situation.  Now you’re saying that the child would have made that choice on their own if they had absorbed the information their parents are providing because they honestly believe it is what they want to do.  What their reason actually is doesn’t matter- they might marry purely to make their parents rich of their own free will.  But it must be their own choice, completely devoid of coercive violence affecting their choice.  Anyone can provide you with whatever information or argument they wish.  You’re not going to take the command of some random stranger over who you should marry, you probably wouldn’t even take their advice.  However that stranger can tell you whatever advice they like on whatever terms they like, I have absolutely no problem with that.

Now, here I’m going to outline an argument for which many would call me a basket case.  Namely, that marriage itself is basically an unjustified and unethical system of forced association.  Yes, yes, I know, when you get married it’s definitely not forced association.  But “marriage” is just the application of a label to a process that was already occurring.  In cases where marriage is optional, and not arranged, the two parties usually consider themselves in love with one another to some extent- enough to marry, anyway.  So what exactly changes post-marriage?  The church gets to marry you, and the government now treats you as a combined entity.  The couple is then bound by a categorical moral imperative to never have sex with anyone else, and to “love one another until death.” I will pass on the obvious point that you really aren’t given to decide how you feel about a person.  I will also pass on the relevant observation that if humans lived to be ten thousand years old, the divorce rate would be incredible.  And I will pass on the somewhat saucy argument that your resources and finances are then intertwined, and somehow this gives (often the woman) some “claim” to the spouse’s future earnings.  Which is just the purest bullshit.  And I will ignore how the divorce process is heavily, heavily slanted towards the woman.  No, what I want to discuss is how a marriage is basically a relationship with an added technical label attached.  What I mean is that if you truly love someone, then you’ll stay together, marriage or not.  If twenty years into the future that relationship turns acidic, then you just walk away.  Why is this issue so terribly complicated?  If you want to be together, then be together.  If not, then don’t.  But why oh why oh why would you ever want to bet all your chips that mean anything on the slim chance that you are going to have a pristine relationship until death?  Talk about playing Russian Roulette with your life savings and a fully loaded gun, claiming “it’ll jam, I’m sure of it!”  Tell me, if you were going to die tomorrow, would you waste your last day getting married to the person you love?  If you were going to live to be a ten thousand years old, would you wager a donut that you were going to stay together for the entire duration?  OK, so why is it justified for however long you may happen to be married?  Alright, it may be a spiritual and social experience with family and everybody getting together and celebrating a union, but couldn’t you do that anyway?  If it’s the act of making a contract that gets you going, then for God’s sake don’t let the Church/religious body of your choice make the damn rules- they wrote those vows back when the life expectancy was 23 and you were going to live and die building a cathedral your grandchildren would never see finished because a priest told you so.  The priest then proceeded to collect a fraction of your wages to line his own and his superiors’ pockets so they could suppress all movement toward progress; scientific, political, social, anything, while the priest was busy molesting the 18 children you now have to feed because that selfsame priest forbids birth control.  Sound like a good deal?

If it’s the contract that’s significant about marriage- and that was its original purpose- then marriage needs a revamp.  Marriage was an agreement that the couple was ready to have children, and would stay together long enough to care for them until they were old enough to live on their own.  So maybe the conventional system should be rewritten- a marriage is a terminating union to last, say, 24 years and 7 months after exactly 2.2 children have been reared?  I don’t care what the agreement is, but the bottom line is that when the marriage “expires” that doesn’t mean that the couple is now disbanded, to be backed up by a goddamn restraining order.  More importantly, different people want different contracts.  What if I want an agreement that allows for me marrying 47 women simultaneously?  They can all live in my house, it’s cool.  The fundy neighbors get a little freaked out from time to time and roll by in their SUV, heads up in the sunroof screaming “WHOORES!”, but that’s OK.  Strength in numbers plus the right to bear arms….  No, I probably wouldn’t ever own a gun, but if guns are legal then the burglars don’t know that, and the probabilistic certainty of death is a fairly strong incentive not to burglarize.  But that’s neither here nor there.  Basically, why are you blindly allowing yourself to be suckered into this paradigm of morality that puts you in such a downright stupid situation?  They say that after marriage, the men become slobs, the women let themselves go, and the passion just dies.  There’s a reason for that.  Both of you think that it’s “in the bag” and that the coercive social violence of society will keep your spouse near you.