The US imprisons more people than the rest of the world. Roughly, 3.5 million - that’s half a million more than China, despite the huge population differential between the two nations. According to Marc Mauer, author of “Race to Incarcerate”, no other society in history has ever imprisoned so many of its citizens for the purpose of crime control. . . . And the rate of incarceration is growing every year (currently, it’s about 50-80,000 new inmates per year).
The reason for this rapid growth isn’t due to an increase in violent crime. Violent crime has actually fallen by 20% since 1991, while prison populations have doubled. Instead, more sentences are being handed out to nonviolent offenders for crimes that in other countries would lead to community service, fines, or drug treatment. Locking people up, however, is the most expensive form of punishment. Prisons became over-crowded and increasingly violent.
Along came private prisons to take advantage of the situation.
Private prisons target States struggling to balance their budgets by promising to deliver better outcomes at a lower cost. How these outcomes are measured would be interesting given that so many of the private facilities have run afoul of the law by endangering the lives of their inmates, inciting riots, allowing sexual abuse and refusing basic medical care. Re-offending rates are up since privatisation.
According to a federal report in 2011, over 40% of juvenile delinquents are committed to private prisons, up 30% from the previous decade. This is equivalent to condemning the youth to a life of violence. Just do a search on Slattery and YSI, two of the larger juvenile prison providers, and read all the tawdry political shenanigans these firms have been involved in.
Running a private prison is big business. Contracts in the hundreds of millions of dollars are not uncommon with over $35b spent on corrections each year. Those contracts are assured by powerful lobbyists in Congress, kickbacks to local authorities and handsome political donations to key supporters.
Even though the War on Drugs (signed into law in 1986 by Ronald Reagan) has made no impact on drug trafficking, it has been very lucrative for private prisons when it comes to people trafficking. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of people put in jail for nonviolent drug offences increased from 50,000 to half a million. The law has resulted in more than 45 million arrests, 2 million new prisoners, and $1 trillion in government spending. Nevertheless, drugs are cheaper and more prevalent than ever.
The War on Drugs also has disproportionately affected African-American youth, even though their use of drugs is no greater than Whites. African-Americans make up 13% of the US population and 13% of the users of crack, whereas over 90% of the crack defendants are African-American. An African-American male is five times more likely to be arrested for a drug offence than a White male. Locking up so many African-American men, rather than offering drug treatment and education, has guaranteed a culture of single-parent families and contributed a great deal of unnecessary hardship and stress to many communities.
Prison conveniently accommodates other failures of the system. It is estimated that roughly 200,000 inmates have serious mental illnesses and would be better off treated by mental health agencies.
The prison-industrial complex, as it has come to be called, is a quick fix for larger social issues. And, as is often the case, out of sight is out of mind.
While pundits worry about a future explosion in Artificial Intelligence, some are beginning to worry about the creation of artificial life-forms within the laboratory. These new life-forms could mutate into their own intelligent systems, creating new opportunities and causing problems for our existing ecosystem.
Unlike genetically modified . . . organisms that use existing life-forms as a base, synthetic life promises to create entirely new life-forms from scratch without having to rely upon evolution.
Advocates of synthetic biology believe that the technology may be used to create better medical treatments, clean fuels, and reverse damage to our ecosystem, whereas skeptics are worried about new harmful pathogens released into the wild, particularly from the diverse and unregulated biohacking community. In addition, religious leaders caution of dangers inherent in playing “God”.
Government initiatives have studied bioethics and biosecurity issues surrounding synthetic life and have concluded that safeguards initiated by the genetically modified organism community are enough, but they based their assumptions on pretty early-stage research.
To date, “life from scratch” has not yet been created, but Dr Craig Venter and his team came close by fabricating a synthetic genome from an existing bacterium that went on to live and multiply on its own (the world’s first self-replicating species made in the lab). According to Venter, his team has made new software for the cell - “Software creates its own hardware”.
Venter believes that life is a DNA software system; if you change the software, you change the species.
Chromosomes are pieces of inert chemicals that act as software when inserted into a host cell (e.g. bacteria) and sequenced by the host into new life. Because chromosomes are essentially software, they can be patented. New life is likely to be owned by the companies that create it.
Assembling a genome used to require tremendous computing power for its design and many sequencing machines to output (produce) an error-free chromosome. Advances in computing power and production has rapidly brought down the time and cost required, while improving the quality of the result. We are not far off from having desktop-sized genomic printers.
Now that designing and sequencing genomes is a digital process, living organisms can be ‘sent’ through the Internet. In other words, genomic code can be beamed to a receiving sequencing device that can assemble the biological material in situ anywhere in the world (or, if need be, on other planets in space). Synthetic Genomics has built a commercially available, sequencing robot to do this. We can also use this process to take samples of materials on other planets and synthesise alien life forms in labs on earth.
This technology is being used today to beam vaccinations to production centres around the world. Novartis recently analysed an influenza outbreak in Asia and developed a synthetic genomic vaccination within 7 days, then produced enough vaccines in their American production distribution centres to stockpile it before the pandemic reached the US.
"We have all the time in the world."
That was probably a positive notion once-upon-a-time. Nowadays, nobody feels like they have enough time.
Kids complain of being bored, but as we grow older boredom seems like a luxury of youth. When you have kids, you begin to wonder what you did with all the time you used to have. Where did it all go?
As . . . technology speeds up our society, time becomes a rare commodity, or something precious. We speak of "quality time" versus whatever the opposite is. Our days become faster. Time is money. People's attention spans grow shorter. In the Internet economy, we are told that if we cannot grab someone's attention in 3 seconds or less, they're gone. More and more, we are encouraged to multi-task and spend less time thinking about one thing, or else we are "wasting" our time.
It seems that as society goes forward, time is shrinking. The "Long Now" Foundation describes this on their home page. They make a plea for long-term thinking, because it's seriously under threat.
In fact, there are dangerous consequences of this. ADHD is on the rise. Children are taught shortcuts to finding a solution, instead of the thought process that led to coming up with the tools that created the shortcuts. For example, calculators remove the urge to understand the theory behind the functions. Plug and chug. Google searches replace memory and critical thought.
Take the lure of Big Data and AI. As we amass huge quantities of data, we leave it up to computers to find correlations and we trust in algorithms that we, ourselves, don't understand. In various disciplines, the body of knowledge is becoming so immense that people must specialise in order to have any area of special expertise. And we leave it to 'geniuses' to synthesize all those seemingly diverse disciplines, because it just takes too long and requires too much brain power to bring it all together and come up with significant breakthroughs. Some have argued that we've reached our own limits of human cognition. Would you trust a machine to make decisions for you that you, yourself, could not understand the underlying relationships behind that decision?
When people don't give themselves time to digest and understand something, they look for short-cuts. In social terms, we call these stereotypes and we generally discourage them. Why, then, do we encourage stereotypes in other forms of critical thinking?
What happens to our lives when it becomes a "short attention span theatre"?
Eugene Jarecki's documentary, "The House I Live In", connects the dots between the War on Drugs in America and the slow, institutionalised genecide of the poor.
Here is the situation. Since the 70's, the US has spent over $1 trillion dollars on their War on Drugs, yet drug use is the same as it's always been. In fact, drugs are cheaper, purer, and . . . readily available. What has changed significantly, however, is the rate of incarceration. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of people behind bars went from 50,000 to 500,000. During this period 2.3m were incarcerated - most of whom were black. The number of drug-related arrests during the period is roughly 45 million.
Politicians want to appear tough on crime, so they sow fear around new designer drugs and inflate budgets for law enforcement. As the number of people incarcerated climbs, so does the need for products and services to support the industry. It's a virtuous circle that guarantees political support (aka, "re-election") and puts more money into law enforcement and the prison-industrial complex. The US has 5% of the world's population, but 25% of the world's incarcerated population.
Drug abuse should really be a matter of public health, yet talk of rehabilitation is noticeably absent from the political discussion. Instead, it has been framed as a law enforcement problem.
Incarcerating drug offenders for disproportionately long periods of time destroys communities and by not rehabilitating them ensures that the cycle will continue. There are too many vested interests in keeping the prison-industrial complex going. Not only are prisons being privatised, but are welcomed by towns desperate for employment and public funding.
The truth that has emerged from the documentary is that drugs are highly politicised and have historically been used for racial profiling and abuse. The way in which drugs are classified is highly political. For instance, Crack is simply cocaine that has been baked and bonded with bicarbonate of soda to deliver it in a different package. There is no proof that it is any more addictive than regular cocaine. Nevertheless, possession of Crack had a sentencing ration of 100:1 when compared to cocaine (Obama has since reduced this to 18:1). Plus, it has minimum sentencing that ensures a new offender is hardened in prison. Crack was typically identified as a 'black drug' and, so, has led to an inordinate proportion of black men being imprisoned, compared to the rest of the population. Despite the fact that black Americans do not use crack anymore than whites (in fact, whites use more), they represent 90% of the defendants in court over this issue (and are only 13% of the population).
The same was true of the opium den crackdowns during the expansion of the American West. Heroin, opium, and cocaine were freely available at the time and used by a wide cross-section of the population, but opium dens were associated with Chinese, who were putting locals jobs in danger, so they were rounded up using the anti-opium legislation. The same again occurred with the demonising of marijuana in the fifties in order to round up and incarcerate mexicans who were, again, a threat to the native workforce.
Whether the current "profiling by drugs" is intentional racism, or not, is under debate. Nobody can deny, however, that it has affected the black community disproportionally more than any other for the last forty years. These issues have only become part of a wider public debate ever since the criminalisation of crystal meth. That is because meth has mostly been used by white people - often, blue collar workers who have lost their jobs. Consequently, more white people are entering the prison system. This is starting to get the attention of the public at large.
What is particularly chilling about all this is that it is not far off from class genocide. It has been referred to as the "Chain of Destruction" and goes like this:
Identification - a group of people are identified as the cause of problems in a society; they are perceived of by fellow citizens as evil or dangerous and their lives become worthless.
Ostracism - citizens learn to hate these people and take their jobs and support networks away, so it is more difficult for them to survive; they are often forced to go live in ghettos, where they become physically isolated from the rest of society.
Confiscation - these people lose their rights and civil liberties; laws are changed to enable them to be searched, property seized, and they, themselves, locked up.
Concentration - they are put into prisons and camps; their rights are gone; they cannot vote, or have children; their labour is systematically exploited.
Annihilation - this could be direct killing, or by degrees - withholding food, medical care, preventing future births.
This has already happened within many black communities within the US. Drug addicts have been identified, ostracised, their property seized (police can confiscate anything they want under the circumstances and keep it), put into prisons, and paid to have vasectomies. Plus, when they get out of prison, they have difficulty finding employment and cannot get social security services.
Since drug use is really about disenfranchisement, then it becomes a problem associated with poverty. What the US is doing by degrees is killing its poor. This is a class holocaust.
"No pain, no gain" - was a motto I heard a lot of as a youth. Nowadays, I don't hear it very much anymore, because people are quick to avoid pain of any kind.
Addiction to prescription drugs, particularly opioid painkillers, kills around 17,000 Americans a year - a fourfold increase over the past decade. In 2009, 257m painkiller subscriptions were . . . dispensed in the US and the CDC estimates that 12m Americans abuse prescription painkillers - of these, a growing number are turning to heroin (doubling in at the last decade to 669,000 people).
I knew several people who had terrible post-surgery harm come to them, because painkillers masked the pain of something that was going wrong inside them. In one person, the anti-inflammatory used ate away at her intestines, resulting in a colostomy bag.
I even lost a relative who had an early warning sign of an impending heart-attack and took a prescription painkiller instead, ultimately dying in their sleep, instead of seeking out help. The painkiller hid the symptoms, so they were unaware of what was wrong with them.
Prescriptions are given freely and people self-medicate freely, often sharing prescription drugs with other members of family - particularly, painkillers.
Not only has this resulted in many unnecessary deaths and injuries, but our pill-popping trend and prescription abuse (and overuse) is leading to the end of the "Age of Antibiotics", as well, since so many things are immune to our treatments.
Why is it that we've become so intolerant of pain? We treat it as a nuisance when, in fact, our body is trying to communicate something to us that we need to listen and respond to.
What is the responsibility of the medical care community? The pharmaceutical industry says 100m Americans suffer chronic pain, but doesn't explain this, so they can justify promoting painkillers ad nauseum. Should doctors tell their patients to buck-up and endure more pain?
According to an article in "The Atlantic", pain has become a very political issue. Sixty years ago, president Eisenhower's decision of how much private pain resources to devote to pain relief in military hospitals, was informed by considerations of grit, sacrifice, and virtue. He wouldn't allow "mere sympathy" to drive government expansion. As people grew older and chronic conditions developed and the workforce changed, courts took a different view of pain and rejected the notion that discomfort was a fact of life. Medicare and Medicaid were born and a "bureaucracy of relief" expanded. When the welfare state was attacked by Reagan in the '80s, deregulation allowed the pharmaceutical industry to meet and increase the demand for painkillers without oversight. It created new products and new markets.
A situation has developed of "overmedicated and undertreated".
Maybe it's time to rethink health care. Sending people home, unsupervised, with pills that can kill them, doesn't seem to be working particularly well, if so many people are dying.
A mother who lost her veteran son, recovering from a shoulder injury, and who died from an overdose of heroine and OxyContin abuse, had this to say about her situation:
"The pain is unbearable. And yet it is born to be endured."
The symptoms of love are very much like a sickness. Sweaty palms, elevated heart rate, the inability to get someone out of your mind, depression from rejection...
Turns out, love follows a predictable chemical course. It can even be “manufactured” by using the right chemical cocktail.
Better Living through Chemistry
Pairie voles mate for life. When . . . they copulate, oxytocin and vasopressin are released into their bloodstreams, resulting in a life-long bond. If these hormones are suppressed, then they don’t. If these hormones are injected without any copulation, the same effect is produced. Voles, then, can be chemically induced to fall in love and stay that way for the rest of their lives.
This level of control hasn’t worked with other types of vole, because only the prairie vole has the receptors to make this hormonal cocktail meaningful. Further research into the prairie vole has led to a theory that they sexually imprint with a mate based on an olfactory image of their partner. This leads to a reward mechanism of addiction to keep them monogamous.
Could humans have a similar mechanism?
Brain scans of people who claim to be madly in love has revealed that a small area of the brain is involved in maintaining this feeling. It is different from brain areas that mediate other feelings, such as anger and fear. It does involve areas of the brain responsible for gut feelings and euphoria (such as when recreational drugs are used). Human love, then, uses a similar process to addiction.
People, like prairie moles, have diversity in their vasopressin receptors. By analysing your vasopressin-receptor gene, it may be possible to determine your fidelity.
3 Kinds of Love
A new theory posits that love comes in three forms: lust, romantic love, and long-term attachment. There is some overlap, but these are fairly distinct states that come with specific chemistry. The brief is that these have evolved to regulate our mating, pair-bonding, and parenting activities.
Lust results in sex, which releases serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin and endogenous opioids.
The feeling of being in love shares some characteristics of the manic portion of manic depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. It focuses our mind on a single mate, as we try to elicit the same response from them. It is characterised by lower levels of serotonin. Taking anti-depressants has the same effect and could be used to reduce romantic feelings, because they boost serotonin. Love is very much like a drug in that it stimulates the same reward system and is neurochemically similar to taking recreational drugs.
These three states can operate independently, which can get us into trouble when we love more than one person in different ways. The reason being, we were designed to reproduce, even if this is mitigated at times by other factors. These are neurochemical systems that evolved for our ancestors’ reproductive needs.
Persistent grief from unrequited love could be mitigated by blocking corticotropin-releasing factor, which has been shown to be effective in treating prairie moles who have lost a partner and, also, their own will to live.
People appear to learn whom to fall in love with early on, thus creating “love maps”, which would explain why they are attracted to the same type of person. They are not born with this proclivity, it is learned behaviour through social and sexual experience.
Cure for Love
Biotechnology could be used to cure people of lovesickness, which could be beneficial when it leads to feelings of despair and suicidal tendencies. For example, when treating someone who is a victim of domestic abuse and cannot tear themselves away from their abusive partner. For the time being, guidelines are being suggested that future treatment should only be used for people in dangerous situations, as there are serious moral and ethical considerations, otherwise.
Unfortunately, drug companies like to sell product and often create new markets - such as “female viagra”. It’s possible that they might traffic in drugs for relationship “diseases” that would be better treated in other ways than popping pills.
Another concern is that drugs could be misappropriated for political agendas, such as “gay conversion therapy”.
We are not born alone. But, over time, we perceive our differences, our uniqueness, and, sometimes, our own isolation.
Human beings are tribal. Individuals create communities for mutual benefit - benefits for themselves and for the community as a whole. It can be a virtuous circle.
Of course, there is a cruel side to this. Communities distinguish . . . between insiders and outsiders. Being an outsider can be painful, especially when the community is less tolerant of diversity.
Bullying, for example, is a failure of the community to take care of its members. It is not the failure of the victim for standing up for themselves, or of the tormentor who has not been held to task by the community. Dangerous children often become that way, because they have never been held accountable for their actions.
The more isolated a community becomes, the more difficult it is to be an outsider, as the community becomes more insular. Thankfully, the world is large and opportunities abound to find like-minded souls and kindred spirits.
Take Comicon, for example (as illustrated in the photo). Here people from all over the world come together to celebrate cosplay and their favourite characters. A lot of these people would be considered outsiders back home. But, here, they are in their element. They feel part of something greater than themselves, can demonstrate their own creativity, and can make life-long friendships.
Community, then, can be both good and bad.
Nevertheless, belonging to a community makes us an insider and relieves feelings of isolation.
There is a danger that, as societies become increasingly diverse, that communities fragment into a kaleidoscope. This is a positive trend in that people can increasingly find communities that they can belong to, but it's negative because it creates friction between communities that must share the same territory. It can be a precursor to war. We are already seeing a breakdown in "shared experience" within our own, post-Internet communities. When people feel as if they have less in common with their neighbour, it should be cause for concern.
Despite the downsides, though, community is what makes an individual stronger. Without community, we feel isolation, which leads to desperation, violence or depression.
A healthy community, which encourages a broad membership and fully supports its members, reinforces its rules and corrects anti-social behaviour (as defined by the community). Identity of the members is defined by the community. So long as the rules promote the welfare of all members, it enables everyone to lead happy and fulfilling lives. In other words, community makes us stronger. Without it, we are alone. And that is a desperate place to be.
"What is the Meaning of Life?"
The answer is that Life is whatever you make it. There is no meaning, unless you give it purpose. You can either lead a life of fulfilment, or one that is empty and devoid of meaning. The choice is yours.
The impetus to give Life it's meaning, though, is Death. Without death, we would not be motivated to ask the . . . question in the first place, since there would be no catalyst to survive, to create, to destroy, or to evolve. Evolution, then, is a struggle to avoid death in the first place, a struggle to make it obsolete.
It is often said that the pursuit of happiness is a sure-fire way to court unhappiness. The reason being that happiness is not hiding behind some rock or tree, waiting for you to discover it. Instead, it is something that must be manufactured from within. Life gives you a rich playground in which to play, but it is up to you to get into the sandbox, make new friends and share your toys, or stand on the sidelines wishing that you could have as much fun as everyone else is.
Death gives life structure. It gives life a beginning and an end. That, in itself, provides some impetus to make something of what you've got. However, it's not enough. So, fate was invented to provide the twists and turns that make things more exciting. Fate is the roller coaster ride. In other words, you never know exactly when you're going to die. Not knowing makes life more exhilarating.
It is not a leap, then, to say that Death makes Life more fun. Flirting with Death is, also, very exciting. Success is sweeter when it is born from hardship, because it means you have out-manouevered failure, which is, in itself, a kind of death.
We have often advocated, here on SEAM, the importance of "Thinking inside the box". Without a box, thinking can't flourish. We need boundaries in which to be more creative. By struggling against something, against the box, innovation is born.
This may explain why struggle is so inherent to Life, itself. It makes achievement worthwhile, brings people together (just as it can drive them apart), and helps us to manufacture meaning.
Death is what makes life worth living.
Can anybody ever really escape their destiny?
Geneticists say that you are 50% of your parents. Of the remaining 50% that isn’t, your genes predispose you to think, feel, and behave a certain way.
Can a person every really change themselves? We are told that the first 5-7 years of our lives are formative ones in terms of psychological development. . . . As far as our personality goes, the die is cast. This may be nurture’s greatest moment to make a difference.
As we get older, we learn our limits, our faults and foibles, and we are encouraged by others to undo all our bad habits. The self-help industry is booming. Perhaps, it’s booming, because it’s an impossible goal? Even as we change over time, as we mature, can this change ever be fundamental? Can we ever become completely unlike our earlier selves?
Recent studies suggest that roughly 60% of our perspective - our world view - is unalterable. In other words, we either have a happy or unhappy disposition through which everything gets filtered. We can move the needle along the continuum only as much as 40%. So, for someone who is at one end of the spectrum - for example, someone who’s often depressed - they can learn to cope, but never to be considered ‘happy’.
If this is true, then nurture cannot radically alter our destiny, because we cannot nurture ourselves to radically change. We are forever trapped in our own heads, the circuitry of which was mainly forged before birth and in our first few years of life. We can subsequently spend a lifetime trying to modify it.
On the other hand, we cannot ignore that nurture has a major role to play in society. For example, great societies come and go. Think back on where Egypt, Greece, and Italy were a millennia ago and where they are now. It’s difficult to argue that their genetic make-up has radically altered. Instead, their culture must have had an instrumental role to play in their brilliance, once upon a time. So, nurture may have little effect on the individual. But, on a society as a collective whole, it’s effect can be profound.
Polygamy is more efficient than Nuclear Family
I’ve seen several articles lately in which two families have agreed to share the same household in order to pool financial resources and spread the burden of childcare without having to hire a nanny.
As the poverty gap widens, people will increasingly look for alternatives to the nuclear family, which . . . is already under threat from divorce (which is currently just under 50% in most developed countries).
It stands to reason, then, that multiple families cohabiting makes a lot of sense. Even living within an extended family sounds more reasonable, especially when you factor in the costs of care for the elderly.
Will this result in a bunch of new family paradigms?
One possibility is that the super rich will have hareems, or polygamous relationships with multiple partners. A super-earner can support many partners and children, which is advantageous to both parties. Rather than having extra-marital affairs, new legal constructs could be devised to allow the same behaviour to continue without creating a “poverty class”.
The middle-class, on the other hand, will be forced to create family structures that support as many members as possible being in the workforce. Their close proximity to one another will open up new relationship opportunities.
If both of these constructs come to pass, then it is likely that polygamy will become fashionable. Not only will it indicate a higher social status, but it helps pool resources in new and clever ways.
Remember, “Sharing is caring!”
The rights of the group are more important than the individual
You can’t have a society without a group of people. As groups become larger and more diverse, they become socially more complex. Maintaining civil order, security, safety and liberty for all members of the society requires rules, traditions and other social controls for the benefit of . . . all.
We understand that people need individual rights and protections, sometimes from the group itself. Nevertheless, the group’s needs trump those of the individual, especially when there are many lives at stake.
For the most part, this has been accepted and is codified in our laws and in our government. Mass surveillance has become commonplace and accepted by the majority, as the trade-off that comes with maintaining security over personal privacy.
Within the last few decades, we’ve seen a rise in individual liberties and a pre-occupation with the self in pursuit of happiness. This has eroded some group structures (like the nuclear family). It has also led to an increase in narcissism, which has longterm health affects. Tools and information that empower the individual also have adverse affects on society. For example, the more choice that is available, the more confused, depressed and disillusioned people become as a result (The Paradox of Choice).
At the end of the day, social order breaks down when the individual is prioritised. The rights of the group are more important than those of the individual.
I heard doctor Peter Attia put forth a theory that diabetes could be a pre-cursor to obesity and not the other way around. In particular, he posited that obesity could be a self-defence mechanism of the body to store toxins rather than be forced to ‘process’ them and harm other organs.
This got me thinking, “Could over-indulgence be a form of . . . self-defence?”
For example, aren’t there times when drink and drugs are used to avoid dealing with something else? When you really want to put off doing something, doesn’t binge-watching the television, or having a gluttonous meal help put off that thing we just can’t face? These things make us feel good for a little while, but they also help us to procrastinate, while giving us an excuse not to do what we should've been doing in the first place ("I'm to drunk to work", "I'm to full to do that now").
When it comes to gluttony, we’ve seen obesity levels skyrocket in industrialised countries. Unhealthy “comfort” foods are always within reach and give us a temporary high. Could this be a self-defence mechanism against all the stresses we face in our daily lives? The long commute, the pressure at work, our responsibilities to our friends and family, our duties as a mother/father/wife/husband…?
The more I think on it, the more I feel that we overindulge so as to avoid.
But, avoidance isn’t a good long-term strategy.
“Unconditional Love”, like many ideals that we strive for, is just that - an ideal. Striving for it may help us become better people, but achieving it makes us inhuman.
Love always comes with conditions. If someone abuses you, there is no nobility in welcoming their abuse, or in refusing to acknowledge it.
Loving unconditionally - no matter what - . . . requires a reality distortion field. It means that no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the reality, you will love unequivocally without any strings attached.
Parents understand that this is not a good way to raise children. If a child behaves badly, you do not encourage them to continue. You attempt to modify their bad behaviour by setting conditions and boundaries. You don’t deny your love, but you make it conditional on good behaviour.
Unconditional love, therefore, is love without boundaries and this is not a healthy condition when other people do not respect those boundaries.
The reason for adhering to the ideal, however, is to encourage self-sacrifice. Given that we are inherently selfish creatures, we use it to remind ourselves that collaboration, community and altruism can provide advantages for ourselves that may not be immediately apparent in the short-term, but can confer long-term benefits.
It’s better, then, to be realistic about love. Love can endure despite unfavourable circumstances, so long as both parties are committed to respecting one another’s boundaries. This is a modified form of unconditional love. Love without blindness.
If love was really unconditional, it would encourage suffering, because someone would suffer.
Some might argue that unconditional love is akin to faith. For example, “God loves me unconditionally and, so, I must love him back unconditionally.” If that were true, then the bible wouldn’t be full of stories of God’s wrath. It seems he is perfectly happy to punish people who he feels are not worthy of his affection. Does he, then, demand of us that which he himself does not adhere to?
Mother Theresa is held up as an example of someone who sacrificed their own life to give unconditional love to others. Yet, this is glossing over the reality. As beneficent as she was, she did not give her love without conditions. For instance, despite the millions of dollars she received each year to run her clinics, she kept them sparse, refused to have any modern equipment, reused needles without sterilising them, gave no painkillers save aspirin to those in pain, and refused to send patients who needed emergency medical care to the hospital. Why? Because she believed that human suffering was beneficial and, even, “beautiful”. She publicly stated that AIDS was, “just retribution for improper sexual conduct”. She frequently spoke out against contraception, abortion and divorce as crimes against humanity. This negligent and rudimentary care was given on purpose, because she wanted to see people suffer towards their salvation, as suffering brought them closer to Christ. In some respects, she saw herself as God’s housekeeper, cleaning up the filth and caring for the sick, so that they may contemplate the error of their ways and ask for God’s mercy. They had to receive care on her terms, or die. This was tough love, but not unconditional.
Unconditional love, if it were to exist, would be harmful. It is the love of an idiot who invites others to take advantage of them.
We are secretly happy when friends don’t succeed
Your best friend calls you excitedly. They’ve just won the $80m lottery jackpot.
How do you feel? Can you honestly say that you are as elated as they are? If so, that’s great. You’re one in a million -probably the same odds as winning that lottery.
Let’s be honest. Jealousy is a natural reaction, . . . whenever someone close to us gets a better deal - even if they’re our friend. Sometimes, all the more so because they are our friend.
You joined the company at the same time, yet they got the promotion and the raise. Or, your partner gets the success they’ve been dreaming of, which means putting your dreams on hold, while you uproot yourself and go to a city you don’t like and park your career.
We might get upset when someone we don’t like gets something great that we don’t feel they deserve, but how does that compare to the feeling that a friend of ours getting something way better than us, despite the fact that we’re equally as good as they are? Maybe, you feel you’re even better than them? That’s just rubbing salt in the wound.
For example, take the teflon friend to whom nothing sticks. They act terrible at times, yet always get away with it. Even worse, they’re rewarded for their bad behaviour, or their carelessness. They seem to coast through life, while good luck hurls itself at them. Frustratingly, the same never happens to you. You’re far more contientious, far more careful, and, yet, you’re never rewarded for your good behaviour. You might consider taking a page from their book, but, then, you’d never get away with it, would you? People would be affronted, tell you that you’re terrible and treat you like a social pariah.
Why can’t you get a break like they can? It makes you less of a friend. If they experience a little hardship, you’re secretly glad. But, then, you feel terrible. You’re supposed to be their friend. You’re not supposed to have those feelings. But, you do. It’s only natural.
The truth is, we live in a competitive world. We pay lip service to altruism. We believe it’s important, but it’s so damn hard to live by. When these things happen, the friendship is tested. It’s then you learn what kind of friend they really are.
Perhaps, you were simply friends of convenience, thrown into the trenches at the same time. You’ve got lots of shared experience, but that’s really the only ties that bind. When you’re forced to think on it, you find that you’re really incredibly different and that friend of yours is very annoying. Always has been. You coped with it before, because you were equal. And, now, you’re not.
You might have been friends once upon a time and held onto that notion. But, things have changed. You’ve both grown in different directions and developed different priorities. You don’t need to confront this fact, until it’s tested. That’s when you find you’re not really friends any more. It’s easier not to be, when you feel this much jealousy.
If you still need convincing, then think about someone who’s really worse off than you. Think about that really, unfortunate thing that makes their life a daily misery that they must struggle to overcome. Doesn’t that make you feel better about yourself? No matter how bad life gets, you’re not as bad off as they are. It makes you feel better about yourself and your own predicament. Well, that’s just the same feeling in reverse. Other people’s misery makes us feel better, but a friend’s success makes us feel worse. Perhaps, it’s the opportunity cost? If only I did something differently, their success could have been mine.
At the end of the day, when a stranger gets a windfall, you can blame fate, their social status, society, or somebody else. But, when a friend - someone just like you - gets exactly what they want, you can’t help feeling that there’s no one to blame but yourself. It could have easily been yours - had you been different, somehow. That hurts.
The reason why we’re secretly happy when a friend doesn’t succeed is because it re-establishes the status quo - the one in which we are on an equal footing. That’s because we perceive ourselves as having to struggle to get our way and we want to see our friends having to persevere in the same struggle as ourselves. If they find things easier than us, enjoy better luck than us, or move further ahead, we feel left behind and we resent it.
When a friend fails, we can console them and re-assert our friendship. It’s an opportunity for us to say, “We are the same, you and I” - all the while, thinking that we’re superior. That’s why we’re secretly happy inside. We can be the magnanimous one. We get to console, yet keep things as they are in the hope that, one day, we’ll pull ahead and become more successful than they are. Then, we can show them our generosity and what a good friend we are.
In our more enlightened society, we accept the importance of diversity. Every faith, religion, race, creed and credence should be acknowledged and accepted. For example, we want handicapped people to have the same access as non-handicapped people when it comes to our public buildings and toilets.
Why is it, then, we don’t do the same for our . . . intelligentsia?
Smart people are forced to suffer fools every day of their lives without any compensation or special treatment. For example, in schools they are forced to sit the same classes as dumb people. In the media, there are fewer programmes and publications that cater to smart people. Entertainment has become dumbed-down to make it more appealing to the majority of not-so-smart people. Everywhere you look, smart people’s culture is under attack.
Now, you might be saying, “Wait a minute, here. Smart People and Handicapped people are entirely different. Handicapped people are disenfranchised. They have special needs. We need to provide assistance to them in order to be inclusive.”
First of all, if you really were to say that, then you would offend handicapped people, as you are suggesting that they’re retarded.
Nevertheless, smart people have, themselves, become disenfranchised by the dumb people who are running our society. Without special treatment, they are liable to become depressed, suicidal, or to seek jobs in finance, as opposed to more socially responsible work that could lead to productive lives.
Look around and ask yourself, “Where would we be today without smart people?” We wouldn’t have electricity. We wouldn’t have nuclear power, the iPhone, or chicken fries. Hell, without Newton, we wouldn’t even have gravity! We owe everything around us to smart people, who have sacrificed their brain cells to make our lives more comfortable.
When I was a child, I was taught that “everyone is special”. If that’s true, then we should all receive benefits for our specialness. However, we need to start somewhere and I would suggest that we start a “Save the Smart” campaign.
Let’s brainstorm a little on what this campaign could do…
In every public establishment and on the metro, I’d like to see a separate area reserved for smart people, so they can get easy access to like-minded individuals and where they don’t have to listen to inane conversation. It should be well stocked with single malt (nothing less than 15 years), pipe cleaners, and the latest copies of the New Yorker. Classical music only - no Pop.
I’d like to see affirmative action in the workplace for smart people. For instance, Ambercrombie & Fitch should not discriminate against smart people, no matter what they look like. Smart people need money, too. It is insulting to be told that you are “overqualified” for fast food. If a smart person wants to do a dumb person’s job, they should have equal opportunity.
Universities have initiated scholarships and programmes to enlist smart people (even though they, then, mix them together with dumb people). I suggest we do something similar by having post-graduate scholarships for smart people, giving them special bus passes, stipends, child support and pensions, so that they don’t have to work as much. It upsets me that stupid people get these benefits, when they really aren’t very special anymore. At the end of the day, don’t we want to encourage more smart people to lead productive lives, marry and have children with other smart people, so we get more smart people? That’s a no-brainer.
We're all familiar with "Analysis, Paralysis". What may come as a surprise is that we are now paralysed by choice in our everyday lives. As a consequence of this, we are less happy than we were before we had such abundance of choice.
In "The Paradox of Choice", Barry Schwartz eloquently explains why this is the case. It begins with the assumption . . . that we maximise welfare of our society by maximising individual freedom. It follows, then, that we maximise individual freedom by maximising individual choice.
This is not a bad assumption to make when we haven't got much to begin with. However, we have long passed the tipping point. Every aspect of our material lives is saturated with choice. In our healthcare system, we are given multiple options, instead of told by doctors what to do (thus, shifting the burden of responsibility onto us). Our technologies allow us to invent our identity every day of our lives, instead of inheriting one. There was a time when the default assumption was that we'd get married as soon as we could and have children as soon as we could, but, now, we wonder not just to whom, but when would be a good time to do it - if at all. Technology allows us to work every waking minute from wherever we want, so we take a battery of gadgets with us wherever we go and must constantly divide our time and attention.
In other words, our lives have become a do-it-yourself kit. Big things, small things, material things, lifestyle things - we have an abundance of options. At some point, this became something negative.
First of all, it produces paralysis, rather than liberation. People find it difficult to choose anything at all and often put off important decisions into the future, until it's punitive, or too late.
Second, if we manage to overcome our paralysis and make a decision, we end up less satisfied with the choice we made than if we'd had fewer options to begin with. That's because if what we get isn't "perfect", we can easily imagine that we could have made a different choice that would have been better and this feeling of regret detracts from the enjoyment. We suspect that there are Opportunity Costs involved in our decision, so that the way we value something depends upon what we compare it to - again, detracting from our satisfaction.
Finally, there is an escalation of expectations. All the choice makes us feel it's possible to do better, but we feel worse. More choice increases expectations. If you had lower expectations to begin with, you're going to be more satisfied. If what you get falls short of your expectations, you can't enjoy it.
Clinical depression is on the rise. It's possible that a reason for this could be unreasonably high expectations. When you live in a world where there is little choice, you can blame the world for your unhappiness. When you have infinite options and the choice is yours, you have nobody to blame but yourself. We do well objectively, but feel relatively worse.
We are afflicted by mass affluence. It is a peculiar problem of wealthy, industrialised nations.
"Everything was better back when everything was worse". In a world of limited options, there is room to be pleasantly surprised. But we can't be pleasantly surprised when we have high expectations. The secret to happiness, then, is to set low expectations and enjoy the ride.
For additional articles on how to achieve happiness, on why "materialism makes us sad", and the importance of "awe", check out this link.
You should never marry someone like yourself.
It might sound like a good idea. You'll never argue. You'll be used to one another's idiosyncrasies, so they won't be annoying. Lots of harmony ahead. But, that's just the problem. This stability, this comfort... this inevitability... will prevent you from growing and evolving. You'll simply become more . . . stuck in your ways and you'll miss out on all that life has to offer.
You might think that you're already God's gift to mankind, so partnering with a clone of yourself sounds like a match made in Heaven. However, you might not be all that great - even if you think you are. How are you going to ever know what an asshole you are, unless there's someone else with a bit of perspective who can point that out to you? Marrying someone unlike yourself gives you something to strive for. You will need to earn their love by becoming a better person, because - no matter what you think now - you're not really there, yet.
Psychologists have said that they can tell whether a couple will remain with one another five years down the line from simply observing how well they respond to one another's attempts to connect. For example, one of the partners tells a lame joke and the other laughs, even though they think it's stupid. Or, they say something banal, but the other takes a moment to react and reply. By contrast, the ones that don't last shut each other down. They ignore, or criticise, or signal that they're not interested. If you were with someone like yourself all the time, you wouldn't need these opportunities to connect, because you'd already know what the other person was thinking. Then, over time, you're going to ignore one another all the more. This isn't a recipe for good relations.
If you do think it's better to marry someone just like you, then just make sure they aren't better than you. Otherwise, it will sow disappointment.
We have been warned of the dangers of overpopulation to the environment, the habitat and ecology of other species, urban migration, disease, etc. We can see our weather and landscapes changing rapidly to compensate. As people flock to cities, consumption patterns change. The increasing appetite for meat and staples has led to a boom in industrial . . . farming and genetically modified foods to feed the planet. This, of course, has knock-on effects on everything else.
Normally, the population of a species is moderated by predators. In the absence of predators, then, a species will most likely deplete all the available resources and expire nonetheless. However, man has improved his technology to allow him to keep shifting the goalposts with advancements in medicine, energy and agriculture. In so doing, are we heading towards a true calamity that will affect all species, not just ourselves? Will we become our own predators through war, pestilence, or other factors? Or, will we reinvent ecology as we know it?
Some nations appear to be turning back the clock. Fertility rates are declining in many mature, industrialised nations. What is the consequence of this?
The ocean is still a vast, unconquered space. Will this be the next frontier?
Within a couple generations it's likely that the planet will be populated by as many people as have ever lived throughout recorded history. What kind of world will this bring? Imagine all the geniuses, the despots, the innovators, and the criminals who've ever inhabited the planet - all alive at the same time? What kind of world will this be?
Common sense can't be taught, but what about Positive Failure?
Its high time we no longer fish for our children and teach them to catch them on their own.
What do I mean by that? We need to be proactive in the constant reforming of the No Child Left Behind Act. Get involved. This is targeted at all educators, i.e. parents, teachers, counselors, . . . principals. Basically, if you have any part of the process in which a child receives his or her education, you are included. That means all the teenage babysitters too. The economy is rough, but the only investment that is guaranteed to bear substantial returns are the ones we make in our children.
Who ever had the idea that it was a bad thing to have winners because it makes everyone feel bad is a selfish, sore loser who is either, too embarrassed, too apathetic, or just plain ignorant to see the repercussions. If we do not claim a winner, then we are sending a message that tells our youth that progression isn't a necessity, its an option. Its a vicious cycle with cancerous qualities. When the feelings of individuals are held higher than the needs off the nation, things need to change. Fortunately, the budget request for 2015 aims more toward a risk and reward format rather than the current standard. Nearly 90% of the education budget will be allocated to formula based education (normal school) and competitive education will only receive 11%, thus restoring the prestige to accelerated education.
I know that no one wants to see their child upset because they didn't succeed, or you might feel bad for giving them an F so it gets smudged to a D-.The fact of the matter is, you need to let them fail. The worse they fail, the better. We as a human race have proven time and again that the harder we fall from a loss, the stronger we return to face the next challenge. We need to get better at recognizing when failures can bring positive results.
Consider this: As long as we prepare for moments of failure by properly educating ourselves to use the correct techniques to guide them in the right direction, they will find their own way to succeed.
If they aren't accepting help, don't help them. Why on Earth would it seem like a good idea to hinder the education of capable students to accommodate a few less fortunate for more than one lesson? We have jobs targeted for their level of education and motivation to maintain their status a productive member of society: Fast Food. Don't like it? Good. Now we have fuel for the motivational fire. With a system that allows for failure, they have the option to prevent future unfavorable results. Without what I like to call positive failure, we have allowed extremely under qualified people in positions that over qualified employees hope for a chance at. We have an alarming amount of people stuck in a paycheck to paycheck life that I guarantee possess the ability to run things better than the current operations manager.
DO NOT take my word for any of this. I purposely left out all resources for my information as a first step to properly educate anyone who may read this. With that said, I leave you with 2 options:
Option 1: Prove me wrong. I want you to challenge this idea of positive failure. I want you to try and discredit all of my arguments with proper research. The more it's validity is tested, the more the need becomes more apparent. Nothing would satisfy me more than knowing I am completely wrong and our youth is being properly educated.
Option 2: If you agree with me and you don't feel the need to prove me wrong, then write about how we can raise awareness. Look for any other aspects in the education process that could have huge impacts on how we function in society. Maybe look at teen pregnancy? Or even under age drinking? A proper education is an 18 year long process that requires complete dedication from all parties. Hopefully this will help target some under lying issues.
Who doesn't want to live forever?
We invent mythical beings to live out our fantasies in literature and entertainment. Science and technology promises us that someday our dreams will come true.
But, is immortality a good thing? Has evolution planned built-in obsolescence of a reason?
Would life be any better if it went on forever? If you have a . . . crappy life to begin with, extending it won't be much of an improvement, but more of a life-sentence.
Our society is already facing significant problems from increased life-expectancy. Pensions, for one. The young cannot currently pay to keep the old. What happens, then, when the old live forever?
And what will happen to the division between the rich and poor? No doubt, the rich will be the first to benefit. It's going to create all sorts of class conflicts.
Dictators would live forever, too. Isn't it good to know that the worst ones will eventually die and be replaced by someone else who just might give people a better chance?
We live in an age of hyper consumption as it is. Would immortality not accelerate the destruction of our planet by extinguishing all our available resources? Or, would it encourage people to actually care by taking precautions in the present, because they know they'll have to deal with the consequences themselves down the line?
Life-extension could usher in a kinder and more tolerant world, or encourage a gerontocratic tyranny.
As we take on more responsibilities in life, our loyalties become divided.
First, we are asked to be respectful children and to show filial piety. Then, we are asked to give our loyalty to our community, to our nation, and, possibly, to our faith (religious piety). Also, loyalty to our spouse (until death do us part), to our children, to our . . . friends, to our employer... the list is endless.
Are we supposed to divide our loyalty in equal parts? Or, is there a hierarchy of loyalties? If so, what should that hierarchy be?
Unfortunately, the more divided our loyalties become, the less trustworthy we appear to be. Nobody appreciates a friend, or partner, who is oft conflicted. Everyone wants the most consideration in our calculus, otherwise they reappraise the value of our relationship with them. Should there be a limit to how much of our loyalty we extend, so as not to spread ourselves too thin?
It seems, therefore, that at the crux of loyalty lies the requirement of sacrifice. In other words, we must sacrifice ourselves to all the others that require our commitment. But, is there enough to go around? What happens when we martyr ourselves to the point that we lose sight of our own needs? What, then?
How can we maintain our integrity, yet offer our loyalty to all those who demand it from us?
We are in the midst of a narcissism epidemic. This is not meant to be taken lightly. Psychologists are weighing in with evidence that this is a serious social and psychological problem.
The meaning of narcissism is an inflated view of the self, coupled with relative indifference to others. Those who suffer from this, fail to help others, unless . . . there is immediate gain and recognition to themselves for doing so. They often violate the law and feel that they are above it. They are highly competitive and believe that every competition is winner-takes-all. They believe that the top is their rightful place. They are self-obsessed and entitled, but increasingly unprepared for the realities in life.
You'd think that narcissists would be happy, since they're so full of themselves, but often they are not. Instead, they are angry at the world for not recognising their superiority. It is difficult for them to form deep, everlasting and meaningful relationships. They have a severe lack of empathy.
Empathy is really the issue here.
Empathy is the capacity to experience life from the point of view of others - which is to share in their joys and sorrows and to care about their well-being. It is the foundation of human compassion and morality.
One would think that social networking would increase empathy, but the jury is out. Instead, it's often used to self-promote, which makes it increasingly impersonal and anti-social. Social media may not be to blame, but it certainly is an enabler.
Facebook's timeline is the ultimate curator of the "cult of me". Apparently, the average Facebooker creates 90 pieces of content per week. That's quite an explosion of creativity, or is it? When was the last time you saw something truly profound on Facebook? Facebook is more of a slideshow than it is a conversation. It works, however, because it caters to the self-obsessed "brand me" generation. Oversharing is big business now.
This has resulted in some very perverse behaviour, as people compete to outdo each other in terms of what a wonderful day/meal/holiday/experience they are having. An extreme example of this is that emergency crews now have to carry tarps and other materials to shield accident victims from Instagrammers and phone snappers. According to the president of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, this is now standard equipment to deal with an everyday phenomenon. Whenever there's an accident where people are badly injured, bystanders take out their phones and begin taking pictures, which they post onto their social networking accounts. "It's like everyone is a reality-show producer," he says. Not only does this outrage grieving family members, but it's a gross indecency to the victims. It is a severe lack of empathy.
And then, there's the Selfie. In a positive light, Selfies could be seen as a way of controlling how other people perceive you - empowering you to project the image and identity that you want. Unfortunately, it has a very dark side, too. It's not uncommon when people come across the scene of disaster - or, as in recently, a suicide-selfie incident of a jumper on a bridge - they pull out their camera phones and take selfies of themselves with the disaster in the background. Is this a case of "technology turning us all into artists", or technology turning us all into narcissists?
Products and services are only going to become ever more customised to individual customers, cultivating more of a "cult of me". It began with the one-to-one marketing movement a few decades ago, but now we have personalised medicine on the horizon. No doubt, this will lead to better care and services, but it only helps to feed our ego at the expense of others.
In terms of the "Makers Movement", we are all creatives, now. Etsy makes a fortune from people selling their arts and crafts. This is probably a more positive side of the "cult of me" in that we can all see ourselves as innovators who want to be part of new communities and cultures.
Parents are far more protective of children these days than they used to be. In fact, children nowadays spend far less time alone, or without the presence of a parent than was true in the past. Many are over-stimulated, spoon-fed, shuttled to activities, told that they are wonder kind and encouraged to compete against everyone in everything. No wonder these people turn into narcissists. They are born into the Age of Entitlement.
Speaking of entitlement, this may explain some of the momentum behind materialism coupled with credit card debt. People are encouraged to want and have more than those around them, even if they cannot afford it.
In the UK, there is a concern that, as younger males read less and less, that they will fail to develop fundamental empathy skills. The reason being that novels are a great way to foster and encourage empathy, because you literally inhabit the mind of someone else, which forces you to care about their hopes and fears, as well as seeing the world from a different point of view.
Moving from a "cult of me" to a "cult of we" is going to take a lot of empathy.
Is self-esteem really the key to success, or is it from something else? For example, what about gumption?
Maybe, a healthy dose of failure is a good thing - especially, if it builds moral fibre.
While it is said that the rich are getting poorer than they were a hundred years ago, it isn't by much. The top 10% in Europe and America still own 60-70% of the total wealth in their respective area. Wealth has become even more concentrated within the rich - the top 1% owns 25% of everything - to the detriment of the shrinking . . . middle-class.
Apparently, the problem derives from the ability of "superstars" to set their own wages and command an enormous premium over the rest of the population in our new "winner-takes-all" economy, which is further enabled by technology and globalisation. This, in turn, gives them better access to capital, which they accumulate at a faster rate to everyone else. As taxes on the wealthy are lowered and more favourable inheritance and gifting laws passed, it's only going to get worse. Concentration of wealth will continue to favour the uber elite.
One suggestion to alleviate this is to increase taxes on the rich and bring back the progressive income redistribution strategies of yesteryear. However, there are some doubts that this, in itself, makes a difference, as opposed to focusing on the levers that encourage growth. This is born out by some evidence in the US that the most thriving cities have the biggest income gap, so the link between cause and effect needs further investigation.
It's also possible that, since the elites control the allocation of resources and encourage an overconsumption of them, yet are buffered from the consequences (until it's too late), the poverty gap could lead to the destruction of our society. If so, expect to see more demonstrations and riots in the future.
The middle-class is important to social and economic stability, because the super-rich just can't consume enough themselves to keep the economy going. This becomes exacerbated by the concentration of wealth amongst the rich to the one percenters. A thriving middle-class means more people can contribute to the growth of the economy and consume the goods and services that it produces, leading to greater employment and self-sufficiency.
Consider the alternative. In the poorest parts of the world, criminality is rife and a fertile ground for the spread of terrorism. Generation after generation of desperate and destitute people does not provide much hope for the future. Eventually, people give up.
Unfortunately, social mobility - especially, in the US - has remained low and stagnant. 70% of those born into the lowest quintile of income distribution never make it to middle-class and 40% remain poor into adulthood and only 20% of the middle quintile make it to the top, so the wealth of the family you are born into has pretty much everything to do with your future earning capacity.
It looks like the income gap is not only here to stay, but likely to get wider.
First, let's establish some definitions:
Duty - a moral or legal obligation; a responsibility; a task or action that is required by one's job.
Honour - the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right; high respect; great esteem.
Loyalty - a strong feeling of support or allegiance.
Loyalty is worth considering in this context, because we . . . often have a hierarchy of loyalties - to our family, friends, colleagues, company, neighbourhood, city, country, military, clubs, affiliations, etc - that often come into conflict when they are at cross-purposes.
To be dutiful, then, is to recognise that a conflict of loyalties can be overridden by a moral or legal obligation, which is expected to take precedence.
However, the situation is muddied by the addition of the 'legal' obligation, since there are going to be times when something is legal, but considerably amoral (e.g. the Holocaust).
How, then, do we square that circle?
Possibly, "Honour" comes to the rescue. Honour is the most basic of principles to guide behaviour. An honourable person must determine for themselves what is morally right or wrong. If their loyalties are in conflict, asking what is the honourable course of action could be the deciding factor.
But, then, there's the phrase "moral obligation" thrown into the definition of "Duty", so we're back where we started. In other words, 'duty' comes into conflict with 'honour' when we believe that doing our duty will result in something morally reprehensible.
Just to make things more complicated, there is a legal definition, "Duty of Loyalty", which means that it is a company director's fiduciary duty to the company to put the company's requirements over their own personal interests.
So, what we have here is a very complicated web of loyalties and duties that frequently test and define us. The sum total of which determines our Honour. But, is honour absolute, or malleable (like 'the truth')?
Is the honourable thing to do always the right thing - the morally correct thing?
Let's ponder for a moment the Captain of the Titanic, as his ship is sinking. His loyalty is to the company, but it's not unreasonable at this stage to suggest it should be to his colleagues. His duty is to save as many passengers as he can. His honour demands that he go down with the ship.
Does it follow that it would be more honourable of him to go down with his ship, or keep himself alive as long as possible to save as many people as possible - even after the ship sinks?
Laws around the world vary - even within countries - when it comes to surrogate motherhood. Suffice to say, it's prohibited in many parts of the first world, which has led to a boom in third world services, particularly in India.
Made in India
Womb Outsourcing in India is big business. Some estimate the "Reproductive Tourism" market to be worth . . . more than $500m each year.
Surrogate mothers are attached to clinics, which manage the process of finding donor parents and transact fees in the region of $6-10,000, passing on less than half to the mothers, themselves.
Even when surrogate parenting is legal in the first world, costs can be prohibitive (around $80,000 in total in parts of the US), so this makes India very attractive.
Critics say that this is financial exploitation, plain and simple. On the other hand, Indian surrogates claim benefits. The money is far more than they would make in a lifetime, which they argue is far less exploitive than doing hard labour in an unsafe factory for $2/day with little hope of a better future. Furthermore, they are relatively well taken care of at the clinic, where they are forced to live in dormitories for the duration of their pregnancy.
Nevertheless, there are extreme stigmas attached to surrogacy within India. If relatives found out what they were doing, the consequences could be severe. Accordingly, the women often lie about what they are up to, saying that they are moving to a new city to follow work.
Not withstanding the moral implications of all this, there have been some peculiar legal challenges. In one case in particular, a Japanese couple got divorced before their surrogate baby was born. When the wife refused to accept the child, the father tried to claim custody, but a law in India forbidding single fathers from adopting put the child's status in limbo. Without a passport, the child could not leave the country. Without legal parents, it was orphaned.
Is this an immoral activity?
Never mind what they say about the "Hedonistic Treadmill" or "Miswanting", or that "Materialism makes us sad" - happiness is relative and having more than the other people around you confers a feeling of accomplishment, better-ness, and security. Do you think that the one percenters are any less happy, because they are so rich? No. It pays . . . dividends to have more than anybody else.
For starters, you feel proud when you're better off than everybody else - and they say that happiness comes from a sense of pride and accomplishment. Box ticked.
And if you're in the one-percenters group, then you can have a sense of belonging - another happiness factor. In fact, you'll probably want to hang out exclusively with that group anyways, since they're the only ones who can afford to keep up with you, plus they don't dress as badly as some of the people you used to know.
Solidarity with other people and recognition from them of your (net) worth ticks another box on the happiness list.
Also, you get more power and more control over your life and other people's. Lots of people will do whatever you want, because they want what you have. That will give you a sense of purpose, which ticks another box.
You can pay for frivolous things and then assuage your guilt by giving vast amounts to charity. This serves double-duty to remind your children that they must earn your love, if they expect to have any inheritance.
You don't have to worry about medical bills, childcare, train schedules, or any of those other mundane things that everyone else is worrying about. Instead, you can try out fancy restaurants, cutting-edge surgical procedures, private planes, or anything else your heart desires. When you're rich, the world really is your oyster!
They say that engaging in something to the point of losing yourself in the moment - aka, "Flow" - is the highest state of happiness. It is a productive activity that resonates with your own core values and leverages your unique skills, which probably explains why so many CEOs on Wall Street get tremendous satisfaction from taking lots of money from other people without having to use any of their own. That takes skill, dedication, and tremendous powers of persuasion.
Unfortunately, there have been some reports of the super-rich experiencing ennui, because they have all they can have and spending it doesn't confer any additional happiness. They employ consultants to help them figure out what to do with it. Well, maybe they just need to take a break. If they went on a survivalist course for a week, they'd probably welcome back their original lifestyle with open arms.
Then there is, "Gratefulness". This has been posited as the true source of happiness. That we are given something of tremendous value and it is given to us for free - that is something for which we are grateful and confers lasting happiness.
If that's the case, then it isn't enough to just be rich. You must be MORE rich than everybody else. That's because we're only really happy when we're relatively happier than other people.
The key to breaking the Hedonistic Treadmill is simply to have everything - then, there isn't anything more you could possible want!
"The Hedonic Treadmill" - sometimes, referred to as "Hedonic Adaptation" - is a term coined by Phillip Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff-Bullman.
It describes how people rapidly adjust and grow accustomed to change in their lives such that they cannot be satiated.
"The more you have, the less you appreciate what you have, and the more it . . . takes to make you happy."
The problem is that expectations rise in tandem with accumulation, so that there is no permanent gain in happiness.
How do you break the cycle?
I recall an experiment in which two groups were given a mindless and repetitive task to perform for money. One group was given a relatively large sum for the work, whereas the other was paid a pittance. Over time, the underpaid group became the more efficient and, also, the happiest (even putting in overtime). The reason being that when there wasn't an extrinsic reward (i.e. money), they found ways to make the work more enjoyable amongst themselves.
Many studies of lottery winners have shown how detrimental winning can be. At best, many winners feel as if their life was no better several years down the line than it had been before. At worst, they destroy themselves, or are destroyed by sharks who took advantage of them.
The solution, then, is to be thankful with what you have and not to want more. To live within one's means.
This is easier said than done.
Happiness can be very elusive. It can be derived from a sense of belonging, of "awe", from empathy, and losing oneself in the moment. When joy is derived from the accumulation of material things, it is short-lived. Like a drug, it begins to take more and more of a hit to get your fix.
Those who believe in the "Hedonistic Treadmill" theory suggest that we all have a baseline of happiness, which we return to (eventually) after a life-changing event (good or bad). This would explain why people who win the lottery, or suffer a calamity, can trend back to the way they were before the incident. This isn't always true, however. People in prison tend to have their baseline lowered (but can bounce back when released).
Your personal baseline could be influenced by how much of an extrovert/introvert you are. Extroverts are happiest when extrinsically rewarded. Introverts are the opposite. It may be that introverts are naturally happier in the long-run, because they can find so much reward in doing solitary things that increase their sense of well-being, without having to rely as much upon others for positive reinforcement. In these days of social media, this skill may become increasingly important to maintain a positive self-image.
Daniel Gilbert has coined the term, "Miswanting", which he uses to describe how people continue to strive for the very things - materially goods, especially - that do not contribute to their satisfaction. He suggests that unhappiness doesn't come so much from not getting what we want, but, rather, it comes from not liking what we've wanted as much as we expected we would before we got it. Miswanting is a mismatch between what we want and what actually makes us happy.
Unfortunately, we are surrounded by false promises that only exacerbate this feeling. Junk food may temporarily satisfy a craving, but it is designed to make us hungry for more, so we can never be satisfied. Constant advertising makes us want stuff that we don't really need, but feel compelled to compete with our peers for. It never delivers on our dreams, yet we want to have more of it - more of what the other guy's got -and then some.
If we love objects more than the people around us, what does that say about us?
We all know what happens to liars and cheaters. They always get their comeuppance. At least, they do in fiction, anyways.
In real life, however, all of us lie - apparently, many times a day. We're not talking about the real whoppers, necessarily. These might be what we'd call, "White Lies".
"Do I look fat in this?"
A lie is a lie, no matter what . . . shade. It seems we need to lie regularly to grease the wheels of social congress.
If you don't believe me, then spend today telling the whole truth, the absolute truth and nothing but the truth. Give your honest opinion, even if unsolicited. Keep this up for a week and see if you have any friends left.
Some people are better at lying than others. They are the ones who tend to get away with it most of the time. If the other party doesn't know they're being lied to - and it doesn't hurt them, either - where's the harm in that? If a tree falls in the forest and there's nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound? A good lie doesn't make a sound. Besides, the other party might not want to know the truth, anyway - no matter what they say. The truth can hurt.
The trouble with lying is not really the lying in and of itself, it's the complications that ensue. To tell a good lie requires skill. To maintain the lie, fortitude. To remember all the lies you've made, an exquisite memory. Perhaps, then, lying is an art form?
Maybe, we say lying is bad as a precautionary tale, because we're not very good at it and we're likely to get caught. Getting caught in a lie is much worse than getting away with it.
Lying prevents us from having to tell the truth, which might not be a bad thing. It gives us a chance to live out fantasies, explore other aspects of ourselves without fear of recrimination, and give ourselves permission to be who we WANT to be - instead of being trapped in other people's perceptions of us.
Honesty is not always the best policy, because, sometimes, it can be very cruel.
We admire principled people. They have discipline and demonstrate heroism when they stand up for what they believe in, no matter what the consequences. Pop culture recycles stories of protagonists who fight against impossible odds to preserve their ideals and protect the deserving.
What about you? Could you do the same under similar . . . circumstances?
We'd like to think so, but research is against us. It seems that most people will do as they're told by an authority figure when their careers are on the line, let alone their lives.
A common refrain might be, "I didn't have a choice". But, then again, that's an excuse. We always have a choice. However, when the choice is self-annihilation, few would sacrifice themselves for an abstract concept like, "the greater good".
Perhaps, the human survival instinct is just too great. We are thankful when we don't face such difficult choices against impossible odds.
Nevertheless, these things happen - often when we least suspect them. And there are people who willingly put their necks on the line to protect others, despite their survival instincts.
If you were asked to sacrifice yourself for someone you loved, could you do it? What if it was for a stranger - would that change anything?
Ideally, values shouldn't be malleable. They're not supposed to be "principles of convenience", chopped and changed the moment they become too dear.
But, is it too much to ask of someone to uphold their principles when there's a gun to their head?
It seems every nation of the world is experiencing an obesity epidemic. In 2009 a Newsweek article estimated that obesity was costing businesses $45b annually in medical expenses and lost productivity.
Amounts of food consumption and exercise are believed to be the main determinants of weight control, but this may be too simplistic a view.
In . . . particular, it may not simply be the quantity of food, but the way in which it is grown, harvested, and processed. A radical new theory has emerged that our food is becoming increasingly toxic to our bodies and that obesity is a natural form of defence; the body would rather store dangerous elements as fat, rather than risk running them through major organs.
For example, the rampant use of sugar, salt and chemicals (for preservation, consistency, and taste) could be throwing a Malatov Cocktail at our own metabolic processes.
The controversy over GM foods and the manner in which they are fashioned, deployed and tested could reveal interesting insights in the coming years. The enormous pressure to feed increasing populations from shrinking arable land will ensure a prosperous future for GM foods, but this will, also, invite much abuse (if it hasn't already).
Cultural values are at play, here, too. Once upon a time in the western world, being fat was "voluptuous" and beautiful. This remains true today in many developing countries. As a nation as a whole becomes larger, being fat becomes more acceptable. US garment sizes have already been re-calibrated to make people feel less self-conscious about their body size, despite the fact that an 'L' would equate to an 'XXXL' in many parts of Asia.
Some are clambering for an obesity tax - either put onto foods that are believed to be the culprit, or on people who are above a certain weight. The justification for this is that obesity is a huge drain on the economy and healthcare - not to mention, extremely detrimental to the person in question.
However, this presumes that obesity is a person's "fault"; that it comes from a lack of self-control. While this may be true in some cases, it's more likely that obesity is a systemic problem of some kind, involving many factors. It's easy to say that being fat is someone's fault when they're in the minority; less so, when they are the norm.
Given that obesity is now pandemic, it seems a good time to put it on the political agenda. What should we do? What can we do?
Before the Internet, we needed to be adept at figuring out how to solve problems. Now, all we need to know is where to search to find the solution.
We rely upon our tools to organise our lives - computers, smartphones, apps, Websites, etc. If these were to disappear tomorrow, there would be chaos and we would be lost.
Furthermore, most of our daily . . . tools have become addictive. How often do you check your phone each day? Do you do it in the presence of other people, even when they're talking to you? This behaviour is only encouraged as more and more activities in our lives become 'ramified'.
Big Data promises to help us identify patterns amongst enormous complexity, so that we can design algorithms that help us predict the future and make important decisions. Unfortunately, we often don't understand the relationship between cause and effect, preferring to trust the algorithm than figure out what's really going on. Big Data solutions, then, beget more information but less knowledge.
Crowdsourcing and outsourcing tools allow us to combine expertise of other individuals without developing any internal know-how. Thus, we can build more complex projects without actually going through a learning-curve ourselves.
On the World Web Wide, site owners are told that they have less than 3 seconds to grab someone's attention, or else they bounce off and go elsewhere. Consequently, headlines, photos, videos and commercials scream and shout at us. We become immunised to images that were once disturbing to us (i.e. news footage of atrocities). We become less empathetic and struggle to concentrate on one idea for more than a minute at a time.
Reading novels has been shown to nurture empathy, as readers are put into the minds and lives of others. Novel reading, however, is on the decline amongst young people.
Most of our technology distracts and disturbs us, leading to scattered and superficial thinking. Multi-tasking is a myth. The human brain is not good at it, despite what we tell ourselves. Instead, we grow better at not being able to think deeply about anything important to us. Concentration and contemplation become not just a luxury, but a skill that is lost to us.
In all of the above, our attention is divided - preventing us from leading richer inner lives. "To be everywhere is to be nowhere," said Seneca. Our thoughts become fractured, our memories weaken, our creativity languishes, our critical thinking diminishes, and our relationships suffer.
We are growing stupider by the hour.
How much of our privacy must we sacrifice for own security? Can freedom exist without liberty?
The intelligence community wants full transparency on their own terms. They promise not to misuse the information, but won't accept oversight. They believe that freedom should accept for a loss of liberty.
The corporate community, meanwhile, has much of . . . the same apparatus, if not more so. For commercial reasons, they want to eradicate privacy, altogether. They are not interested in either liberty or freedom, except when it results in regulation that encroaches on their data collection activities.
The public seems to be divided. However, a lot of people shrug off the debate between privacy and security by saying that they have, "Nothing to hide".
The problem with the "nothing to hide" argument is that we aren't talking about a discrete incident that we'd rather people didn't know about. Instead, we're talking about a mass aggregation of personal behaviour over a long period of time in order to build a profile.
To those people who are indifferent, I would like to know if they'd feel otherwise, if someone were to provide them with the last ten years of their browsing history, purchases, sexual activities, private correspondence, etc, etc.
Someone, somewhere out there, is building a profile on you right now. Do you have a right to know who and why, or even what conclusions they come to?
When mass surveillance is pervasive, hyper-connected, and omni-present, it begins to affect behaviour out of fear, mistrust, or libertarianism. It changes our culture. We begin to where more masks. It could eventually erode freedom of thought.
You cannot have liberty without privacy.
I first came across the phrase, "Prosthetic Memory", in an interview with William Gibson. In short, he is grateful that he can outsource his memories to the public collective (i.e. the Internet), so that he can use his brain power for other, more important things.
I'm not sure, however, if this is entirely a good thing. There have been numerous . . . articles suggesting that our memory is becoming degraded by technology and that this is re-wiring our brains.
In school, we used to learn concepts and frameworks that could be used to solve problems. Now, we can get all our answers from Google, so we spend less time worrying about how knowledge is created and, instead, use ready-made answers. Somebody else out there has already tackled and solved it, so why not simply copy that? Who needs to learn mathematical principles, when we have calculators?
For centuries, training the memory has been considered as important as learning the arts and sciences. As far back as ancient Greece, memory skills were a foundation of higher education. True, they didn't have the Internet back then, so they needed it, but that ignores the benefits that come with having a keen memory and a sharp mind.
As wonderful as the Internet is, it can make us very lazy. We don't really need to remember stuff, when we know it's already out there (somewhere). It's tempting to outsource our memories entirely to this wonderful, global database in the ether.
But, therein lies the problem - it's in the "ether", which is a substance that is easily altered. How can I know that I'm getting information from a trusted source? Just as data on a page can be corrected, it can also be modified to suit a political purpose.
What concerns me is that our technology is making us sloppy. We put far more trust into "the wisdom of the crowd" than is warranted. The meme is the message! "Ink never refused paper" is more true today than it ever was - especially, when something goes viral and is accepted as truth.
The upshot of this is that we open ourselves to more manipulation. Propaganda is much easier in an environment in which people think less for themselves and accept what they read on a Web page.
Prosthetic memory is a double-edged sword. It offers convenience by relinquishing responsibility, but it erodes our cognition. In short, it dumbs us all down.