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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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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