I told me so, was right, and should have taken my own advice.

May 29, 2009 at 2:12 pm (Metaphors and Allegories) (, , , , , , , )

Several years ago when I wrote Username God I also wrote a second short essay, Chapter 2, which I have been unable to find. It was an overextended metaphor wherein each person was a car (literally, an automobile). I took the essay too far, surely, but came out with a “moral of the story”.

That moral was to stop, and help someone out. Regardless of who you were, where you were going, where you came from, the essay damn-near preached to perform unprovoked good deeds. I followed my own advice minimally (almost hypocritically so), and primarily while on the road (almost ironically so) but without actually stopping. I tended to drive (each summer that I had a car and worked more than 10 miles from home) as unobtrusively as possible. I would let someone who needed to get to an exit change lanes ahead of me, rather than speeding past them and having them fend against the driver behind me. I would let someone making a left turn get it over with (so long as my action wasn’t impeding traffic), and I would let someone pull out of their driveway when I was heading towards a red light anyway.

A normal person would say those fall under basic roadway etiquette, and yet so few drivers actually stick to non-aggressive driving. Well, apparently, I should have taken my selflessness advice to all aspects of my life, due to Upstream Reciprocity. Doing something nice (on the roadway) that makes another driver think “Oh, why thank you!” rather than “What an asshole!” should ideally spread forward, pushing that driver to repeat a nice action later on, increasing the levels of overall happiness. In smaller circles (among friends), altruistic acts come back to improve your quality of life by having your recipients become your suppliers, of happiness.

Better late than never, right? Time to hub away, being an unselfishly selfish person. The alternative would fall along the lines of being an inefficiently selfish person, so I’ll stick with the former (everyone is selfish, but this way we win the Prisoner’s dilemma!). And it doesn’t hurt: if I further my ends by furthering yours, you reap the benefits anyway. Just make sure to reciprocate if you want to preserve the arrangement.

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A Shot at Conscience

September 30, 2008 at 4:45 pm (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , , )

His mother spoke at the television as he stood from the dinner table, Don’t forget to clean your placemat, I wont, he replied, And go do your homework, I know, and with that their exchange halted. He ascended the six step staircase and entered his room. Sitting down, he had barely touched the power button when his mother called out again, Are you doing your homework, Of course I am, why do you ask such stupid questions, you were the one who told me to go and do that homework, If my question is so stupid, why you bark at me for my simple questions rather than simply answering? He was in silence, she was frowning, but was happy, amused by her success, and neither could see the other, but they didn’t need to see to know what the other was thinking. Because I don’t like it when you take a shot at my conscience, the boy almost said, but instead pressed the power button again, and as the computer whirred down he instead started his work.

I wrote that in August of 2005 as the preface to a 20 short-chapter Book of Summer for a Literature class. The style is meant to tribute Jose Saramago, author of Blindness.

I have always had trouble choosing to do what was necessary (read: dictated by others) over doing what was appealing. I still do, am doing so right now: writing is far more appealing than physical mechanics homework. Perhaps I am in the wrong major?

Still, why do we do what others dictate over what we want? The answer is society, and our obligation to it. We are taxed by our governments, forced to donate to them funds with which to perpetuate this way of life. We are also taxed by society of our time and energy, forced to learn professions and provide labor to perpetuate progress. When looked at life from that perspective, I find the humanist in my suddenly agreeing, accepting that conforming to the school to career progression is necessary. I get through the day, through my necessary but unwanted tasks knowing that I am working towards being a productive cell in that organism that is our world. If only our central processing unit would stop taking heavy shots of heroin that propagate down and affect us all.

So it doesn’t hurt to reiterate, to myself and others, that maxim that grandparents love to recite: Love what you do, and do what you love. My problem is figuring out if I love physics – I love the premise, but I might be doomed for philosophy rather than discrete phenomenology. (I also dislike calculus.) The question I have, though, is regarding getting to the thing you love. There are almost always obstacles in the way, so it is necessary to gauge if overcoming them is worth the end result. The equally important maxim here is that The thing you love might be nice from afar, but might be far from nice. What you want now might very well not be what you really wanted – perhaps I need to take a spirit walk, like Parkman, and figure out what lies in my future.

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