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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Justice, Integrity, and Objectivity

April 5, 2009 at 11:48 am (Wrongs of the World) (, , , , , , , , )

Objectivity is a rather uncanny concept. Every court case, every peer review, every time any issue of justice comes up, the call is to “be objective”. I would like to hypothesize that this doesn’t actually mean anything. We define objectivity as the best interests of the governing law system of the society in which the issue at hand has occurred, so really, we are just being socially subjective (assuming that the set of laws has been written to truly represent those best interest of that society). We can argue all we want, but I fell that I should describe a case that I presided over just today (without breaching confidentiality, of course).

I am Sergeant-at-Arms of Delta Beta Crescent Colony of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity at Carnegie Mellon University, a role that was assigned to me by a team of three (or four) consultants. Every chapter has it’s own organizational structure, but when colonies are formed is is simplest that the Sergeant-at-Arms serve in two roles: his own, and the Chairman of the Honor Board. The Sergeant-at-Arms writes the bylaws, and the HB Chairman enforces them. I am effectively Judge and Executioner, coupled with the Honor Board, which serves as Jury.

When first tasked with the above, I had intended to keep to the books, be wholly impartial, be wholly objective, and thereby act as a fair judge. This is the wrong way to go about it. The bylaws that I wrote are not simply my own: they are based on those of a well established chapter, and they have been reviewed by at least three alumni from other chapters a total of at least ten times. As well, the colony has been voting on these bylaws, article by article, making corrections where necessary, so as to ratify them.

The Accused at today’s hearing is a rather active Freshman, and has actually made the effort to offer corrections on my bylaws – the only one to do so without them coming up on screen at General Body meeting. So, the only one to offer suggestions of his own accord. Interestingly enough, I was morally opposed to almost every one of his many suggestions, and found the remainder to be worse than my original. We have not yet ratified everything, but what we have ratified is in agreement with me, and in direct disagreement with the accused.

He has been a problem from the start – both with his bad reputation on campus (which I still cannot fathom how he attained before even the conclusion of his Freshman year), and with his inability to function in a social setting without saying something stupid. His libertarian views apparently give him leave to have rude outbursts against the governing authority of just about every organization (unless he is the one leading it). So far as I understand, he is also a liar (or, more likely, he is in too much of a haze to actually remember the events that happen, what order they happen in, and when they haven’t actually happened).

As a result, when the Colony finally decided that yes, he should be brought to Honor Board, no one stepped up. So I took the flag, and was right to do so. Who better to protect the laws, then the man who wrote them? Those bylaws define our organization, determine what makes us us, separate us from other fraternities, and separate each member from non-members. I did my research on this guy, as biased as I was, and only became more biased as the evidence grew stronger. I would think that, finding more and more evidence against the accused’s Delthood, my bias against him was making me only more objective! In fact, the case that I built was structured only on the basis of the national bylaws. Objectivity was no longer defined in social terms, but in the terms of the Fraternity. No, not even so broad: in the terms of our thirty man colony. Objectivity does NOT scale.

I was chosen to serve as the Sergeant-at-Arms because I had first applied to be Risk Manager, and was transparent about my view for the organization from the very start. Well, following a decisive (and wholly unsurprising) Honor Board Hearing (which admittedly lasted an extra hour because I was nice about letting him say what he wanted to say), he proceeded to complain to the Vice President and President that I did not make a good Honor Board Chairman, because I was too biased. I say that, so long as I am biased in the best interests of the organization (which I defined, and the organization has apparently agreed with), I am just about the best Honor Board Chairman that the organization can currently have. And no, this isn’t power grubbing: I’ll be a senior next year, and so shall be ineligible for Executive positions.

My situation is so uniquely empowering, that it makes me cringe at the future, if it so happens that someone who does not share my views becomes Honor Board President, that the Colony amends the bylaws, and that the direction in which I have helped point the organization changes. Of course, we are human, so perhaps my direction isn’t the right one, but instead I am influential enough to have turned everyone toward it, so far.

Or maybe I’m being influenced by someone else, and just don’t know it yet. Regardless, I have a newfound appreciation for Thomas Jefferson and for all committed policy makers, and a disdain for those other policy makers who clearly don’t deserve their positions.

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