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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Communication, Confidentiality, and Open-Ended Prompting

October 8, 2008 at 10:57 pm (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , , , , )

I have recently been accepted into SAA training at my college. SAA stands for Sexual Assault Advisor – a confidential peer that a sexual assault survivor can speak to and get information from (regarding various legal and college related processes). When I started this blog I thought, for the very first time, about the repercussions of not having grown up with any sort of religion (and thereby not having any morals and ethics hard coded into my childhood). Some time back in middle school I had developed an uncanny habit of stealing – breaking into lockers at the YMCA and extracting cash. When I was finally caught I received a brutal non-physical release of anger from my parents, in the form of the grandiose maxim “imagine if you were in their shoes”. I most certainly do not want anyone stealing from me, and that episode is the first time that I distinctly remember using my imagination. (Everyone uses their imagination, but how often is that memorable?)

So I wondered, when I wrote the first entries of this blog, about what ethics and morals and humanism and whatnot meant to me. And I honestly couldn’t say. One of my “proposed” theological models is the queue of souls, lining up for their turn on Earth to experience it, feel it, sense it. And death on Earth is non-permanent: the soul simply lines back up and gets another creature the next time around. However, given sentience, a soul in a human can lose its spot in the queue permanently (“burn in hell for all eternity”) by ruining this sensory Earth for others (for example through deforestation, genocide, rape, murder, etc). So by my model, we should all strive to make the world a better place (for our soul and others, the next time around the queue).

Let me add a caveat here. I don’t “believe” in this theological model. That is illogical, and “quantity” of total souls comes into question among many contradictions and incongruities. Still, just as (some) stories of the Bible are useful for illustrating socially acceptable and unacceptable behavior, so does this model loosely dictate some “rules” to live by.

Despite providing this model as a reason to be “good”, I reflected and did not find myself actually doing anything “good”. What kind of humanist was I, preaching (or at least accepting) humanism as a way of life, but not actively promoting it through my actions? To alleviate my internal conflict, I applied for SafeWalk and SAA. Safewalk sends teams of two out, from 10pm-2am, to walk any caller between any two locations on and around campus, to promote safety and security. In large part, to prevent violent assaults (and unwanted attention from passing drunk students). SAA then is a program to help survivors of sexual assaults (rapes) come to terms with their lives, accept the event, and move past it.

Communication (starting with body language) is the very first element of being an SAA. Poor posture, tension, or an overtly laid-back attitude can all break a survivor’s confidence and prevent the session from being at all effective. Then there is confidentiality – while I can describe the methods used by the SAAs, I obviously cannot disclose the details of any particular case. Confidentiality helps maintain the integrity of the SAA program, and keeps survivors willing to call us for help. If their confidence in our confidentiality was lost then they would not seek our help (and would be less likely to receive help from elsewhere).

And last is the mode of conversation: open-ended prompting. I wrote an article on Play-by-post forum-based dueling for the Role Play Academy, and started it with Open-Ended Prompting. The premise there was to keep the duel going by giving that person something they had to respond to, and open-ended prompts in SAA conversation are no different: to make a session productive, the SAA needs to keep the survivor talking (or at least able to talk, as pauses in conversation are not only allowed by are encouraged when necessary). To keep the conversation going, the answers to questions need to be long but possible to recall (rather than requiring analysis). As such, yes-or-no questions are a bust due to their one word answers (great for ending a conversation, but not necessarily on a good or useful note). But also “why” questions are a taboo. Questions that start with “why” require active analytical commitment to respond to. As the survivor is likely preoccupied with overwhelming emotions (rage, terror, hate, disgust, etc), requesting that they take a moment to analyze the situation objectively and answer your “why” questions is both selfish and unlikely to be successful.

It is one thing to speak on a subject; it is a whole ‘nother to do. It is easy to say that we should all be supportive of each other, so as to make the world a better place. I’m not saying that I’m now making the world a better place, but I think that I’m en route to figuring out how I would go about doing so. Baby steps.

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Incentives, Fear, and Organized Mindrot

September 29, 2008 at 4:55 pm (Wrongs of the World) (, , , , , )

The most painful part of my daily routine is my laziness to do the things that I should do, like go to class and do assignments and prepare for tests. I have no incentives to do these things, nor any fears of not doing these things, but I still do, however, accomplish them, most of the time. While not doing them will create problems with my tuition, I do not consider this when the question of being diligent or slacking off comes up. Many parents, however, egg their children on with fears (You’ll be working at McDonalds for the rest of you life!) or with incentives (Do your homework and you can play with your friends!).

This is okay, but only because children, until some uncertain age, are not self aware. They cannot draw those extended conclusions themselves (that studying should eventually lead to a larger salary and better quality of life), nor can they fully comprehend these conclusions even if parents tried their hardest to explain. So incentives and instilled fears are an acceptable substitute for understanding and logic, for children.

What is NOT acceptable is when these children grow up and are still self-unaware! Adults who need to be scared by Hell or induced with Heaven just to be moral and ethical people most certainly skipped a necessary step in their adaptation to adulthood.

I run a Roleplaying Academy at RPGFO, and a few months back I abolished the old “class” system for a new tutoring based system. Graduation from the old classes was “rewarded” with a medal that appeared beneath the avatar on every one of that user’s posts on the forum. My new system did not, because there were no distinct classes and because I did not feel that learning required any more sugar on top. Well, just recently I got a very determined, perhaps socially challenged member coming out and saying that he wanted those old and no longer attainable medals, and simply would not accept that the medals were abolished in part because knowledge is the greatest reward for learning (and that public flaunting thereof is socially stupid).

Similarly, it seems that the greatest reward for being a good/ethical person is knowing that you either contributed to making the world a better place or that you helped slow the worsening of the world. If you want to be self-centric, then your good deeds hopefully inspired more good deeds from others in a chain-reaction of goodness, which will eventually ripple back to you (and make your life better). The incentive of a deity’s favor (or the fear of a deity’s disfavor) based on the presence or lack of ethics in a person’s daily life seem like childish sugar coating to me. And you know what too much sugar leads to, right? Rotten teeth. By indoctrinating people into religion before their mental development can take hold, organized religions are eliminating the need for asking questions and finding answers: the religion becomes a necessary crutch that dictates that individual’s actions and prevents that individual from forming their own opinions.

Incentives and instilled fears rot the mind just as much as sugary treats rot the teeth. Induced and fearful individuals then depend on, and often expect, incentives in other facets of their lives, meaning that the person is willing to give only when he/she gets something back as well (or give to cancel out something they don’t want to get, like hell for all eternity). Why not be unimpeded by incentives and be willing to give just for the good of it? Increase the net goodness without looking for personal benefits? Incentives make me sad on the inside. Dropping off religion and leaving just the doing good thing is called humanism… which needs no indoctrination from birth, has no set of laws or code of conduct, makes no promises of heaven nor any threats of hell, and has a huge support network of just about anyone and everyone who bothers with websites like Richard Dawkins Forums (and there are a LOT of us that do)! If the point of organized religion is to promote ethics (read: humanism) then simply learning about humanism is a better method of getting that point across. If organized religion has any other agenda, then that agenda is most certainly NOT within the bounds of an ethical organization. Organized religion is obsolete in our day and age, and we would all do better without incentives and instilled fears, at least in adulthood. After all, we eventually give up the notion that Santa Clause, Saint Nicholas, Ded Moroz, and others are just our father dressed up in a funky coat with a stick or strap on beard acting to demonstrate a kid’s story. So why do so many people keep believing in God and Satan and all that, well after they have graduated from childhood?

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God, Sims, Spore, Matrix, Reboot, MiB

September 27, 2008 at 6:11 pm (Metaphors and Allegories) (, , , , )

In ninth grade I watched Men in Black and had a thought: Why not? The last scene, where the locker door reveals a window to a meta universe of exponentially larger life to contrast the aforementioned Orion Galaxy, coupled in my mind with the Sims and The Matrix, and I came up with Username God. Since then I have made several revisions after playing Spore, watching Reboot, and learning to program.


Username God

Setting aside the beliefs of the usual everyday religious activists, and those who believe in the generic all-powerful God, I observe that the world evolves in all aspects, starting with us. Of course, other creatures evolve as well, but only our evolution is truly notable, for no species is able to comment upon the evolution of all others save for ourselves. And as time marches inexorably, and as we watch the incessant sway towards entropy, we find that intelligence and will and thought can no longer be housed within a set of singly instincts, but rather within a pseudo-infinite processing unit that is our brains. Why pseudo-infinite? Our brains are only matter, in our eyes, and thus, cannot hold more than their limit. However, since so few neurons are at work at any given time, the true capacity of the human brain is really quite large, by proportion far greater than any amount of knowledge needed for basic day-to-day survival.

But how was all of this created? The big bang, the spontaneous generation of the first cell, the proper conditions and a well placed bolt of lightning. All by chance, or by God we say. But God is inexplicable or so say the Saints. We are told God is omnipotent and then try to disprove that with paradoxes life “If God is all powerful, and can create and destroy whatever God may wish, can God create what God cannot destroy?”. Surely God can, if God is all-powerful. This would mean God would by no means be able to destroy it. And thus, with an infinitely recursive set of negations we define paradox and move on. But does it matter that God is omnipotent? Why would we even bother with such a premise, if it were not to rebel against him and his word. Are we that unhappy, that to stifle our blather we need to be told that our powers against him are null and void? Perhaps that is true. So what is this “miracle” we call life, and who is this “God” that is so much more powerful than us?

Life is a game. Cliché, and yet, this expression might shed some light on the essence of God. Life is a game, a personal game of the Sims or Spore where the user has called himself God. Why? For preparation for the multiplayer gameplay, where new worlds and other beings are introduced and can interact. If we are in a game, then we are in some form virtual, programmed. Our world is quantized, composed of elementary particles, bits. There are fundamental laws, just as in programming we define how addition and subtraction works. And there are objects and routines and functions, and we are cells and people and our cells do things and we do things. We are the not-yet-conscious sprites of Reboot. We form corporations and objects interact in subroutines, and we theorize and philosophize and programs produce output and error codes. But our world, as much as it evolves, does not change at the most basic states: atoms are atoms, electricity is electricity, cells are cells. The game has been written, and God is just playing. So no, just as we are not omnipotent with regards to our creatures in Spore, God is equally not omnipotent regarding us.

The repercussions? We, as what appears to be the chosen race of God, share his personality just as our Spore creatures reflect who we are inside, if not outside. We are omnivorous, ruthless, and reflective. So must be God, a conqueror, considerate afterwards, willing to do what is necessary but at times depressed and angry for the decisions he has made. God is no figure to be idolized: he may very well be one of many such players and we are one of many sentient races. We’ll find out when we finally enter the Heinleinic Diaspora of the space age and meet some ETs. Perhaps adoring our God will make him happy with our performance: or perhaps he will be frustrated with our stale inaction and actually pleasing him lies instead in ruthless progress. So who is right, the capitalists or theists?

Written by Yuriy Zubovski, 2003, edited 2008.


I also had a frivolous discussion about “afterlife” just now, and had an alternative set of thoughts. It seems rather unfair that we live for ~80 years on Earth and are then thrust into an eternity of suffering. Which leads me to ask: did we sign up for this? We must have, if “sinning” leads to eternal damnation in the pits of one hell or another: something on Earth is so worth it that our meta selves, our souls, made the choice to dive in and experience life. So worth it that an eternity of damnation is totally worth it. Could it be love? Maybe souls can’t experience love. Physical love? Physical sensation in general? Or maybe there is no eternal damnation, and souls just line up, waiting for their turn to get a body, any kind of body, and experience the greatest attraction of the meta-existence? Choose humans, and you get the widest range of sensation and emotion, the largest variety of physical experiences, but also eternal damnation for a social misuse. Meanwhile, pick some other being and forfeit sentience, but once you’re out it’s over, line up again. Perhaps it really is worth it to live, to sin, to deserve hell and then experience it, for the sake of living and loving it. So yes, maybe being faithful to the higher powers, preserving the world order, maintaining existence for the next souls that come is some form of meta-public service, commendable and unrewarded. Destroying others and ruining the world for future generations then is the true sin, what really should be reciprocated with eternal damnation. If there is a limited number of souls, then the good will cycle while the bad will rot, and unless we screw up the world too early, the only souls left to fill the bodies of Earth will be the good souls.

So going back to that, the moral of the story: realize for yourself what is good and what is bad. Will the consequences of your decision directly harm the world, for others and for future occupants? Do your actions now bring an end to the sensation for some else? Don’t rape, don’t kill, don’t pollute. Perhaps those are the cardinal sins, the sins worthy of eternal damnation. Don’t live with malice in your heart or malicious intent on your mind. Perhaps that, and just that, is the key to fulfillment. Forget the other rules, laws, maxims, ultimatums, lessons, and the word of whatever gods: Live for yourself but together with others. Oh, and progress. God likes progress.

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