Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Nov 29, 2012

Some Musings on Crime and Sense of Life

So, the book I've currently got stored in the Porcelain Reading Room--isn't that a clever euphemism? I thought so, too! sometimes I kill me--is my massive leather-bound volume of The Complete Sherlock Holmes.  One of the things that struck me about Sir Doyle's stories is how benevolent even most of the criminals are.  I am not kidding.  Even the most dastardly and vile of them are after something simple and wholesome like money or revenge.  No nihilists here, just purposeful people in pursuit (haha alliteration!) of values.  It's just that some of them get confused due to emotion and use some spectacularly ugly means of pursuing their goals.  Still, it says something about your view of mankind when even your CRIMINALS are rational.

Compare this to TV crime dramas, where the motivations are much, much uglier.  Every flavor of insanity, religion, hate . . . and then, people with the most rational of motives who aren't doing anything criminal are often portrayed as monstrous, and clearly the law HAS to be stretched to cover their case!  Ugh.  It's night and day.

So, there's that.  But it brought to mind a quote from Terry Pratchett (paraphrase): "Most people will shy away from killing a complete stranger".  Which, from what I've read (admittedly an unscientific survey of anecdotes), is pretty much true.  Generally, if you're going to get killed, it'll be by someone you know.

Now you're probably wondering, okay, what the heck does this have to do with sense of life?  But it occurred to me that this tendency for people to behave in a benevolent manner towards strangers (even MORE benevolent than their treatment of people they know) is not a universal of human behavior, it is, in fact, a cultural artifact.  There have existed (and still do exist, I suppose), cultures where the reverse is true, where people shy away from doing harm to someone who belongs to their "group", but gleefully embrace the torture and killing of strangers.

Which brings me to a third and final thought.  Civilization means not having to live in fear of your neighbors.  So what is it that we have now?

Nov 28, 2012

Hence my Semi-voluntary Strike

Now, I have some serious problems with these statistics.  Receiving some kind of welfare benefits doesn't mean that you're not also working and being productive.  Nor does being a government employee, because the government has spread, fungus-like, into so many legitimate areas of the economy (and some government functions, like the police and military, are legit in and of themselves) that it's not this straightforward to draw the line between producers and parasites.  So it's not entirely true that every 1.25 taxpayers are completely supporting 1 other person.

Granted, if those taxpayers have non-working dependents of their own, they may be supporting MORE than 1 person.  My housemate Adam, for instance, pays his full mandated amount of taxes (probably more than that, actually, since he doesn't itemize deductions) AND supports me at the same time.  I don't think this is a great state of affairs.  I would much rather be self-supporting, more because it'd give me somewhat more freedom and control over my life than because I consider our current situation to be straight-out immoral.  Our setup is one of voluntary exchange (although I'm getting more than he is from my perspective, at least), in contrast to whatever other invisible stranger he's helping to support at the point of a gun.

Enough about me, though.  I think one of the more grievous aspects of this situation is the incredible distortions it produces.  A lot of these welfare programs, for instance, can only be spent on specific goods, like medical care, food, housing, power, etc.  So regardless, money is being drained out of other areas of the economy and directed toward this, instead.  The various education benefits aren't even mentioned.  Here's the thing, too--I have NEVER made more money in a year than the final benefits cliff in that graphic, yet I have never received money from ANY of these programs.  Maybe I should have gotten myself knocked up.

And people wonder why I'm not rushing around straining myself to find a job.

Nov 23, 2012


My hard work is paying off.  After weeks of being plateau'd at 310 lbs, I've finally cracked 300, meaning I've lost over 95 lbs.

Next goal: 200.  Should take about six weeks, right? :o)

Nov 16, 2012

Thought of the Day

One indication that your grasp of a given topic is progressing is when your first reaction to a dictionary definition is that you could improve that definition substantially.

Nov 10, 2012

Toxic People

Via Gus Van Horn I ran across this interesting article about detecting and dealing with toxic customers.  While I've dealt with my share of this sort of thing in my work life, what I find most interesting is that I run across huge numbers of people with precisely this kind of toxicity in their interpersonal dealings, particularly online.

I need to think about it some more, but offhand I'd have to say that it all seems to originate in the article's point #4: unrealistic expectations.  I think that's the biggest, brightest, and easiest-to-detect warning sign of toxicity in a person, and it seems to be pretty darn universal.  So the solution is that when somebody starts complaining or asking for things you don't intend to provide, do not bend over backwards for them.

This isn't the same as being a jerk and just refusing all requests.  Someone with realistic expectations and respect for you will articulate a reason as to why you should deviate from your course in order to help them out.  Things like,  "I'm terribly sorry, but I hurt my back yesterday and I just can't get this ladder down off the shelf . . ." or "I only have 40 minutes so could we do the ones I need first?"

The other good thing to note is that a non-toxic person will learn as much as possible from the general information you have available before asking questions.  It's a terrible red flag for me when I'm playing Dungeons and Dragons Online, have a quest posted in the Looking for More panel, and when someone joins the group the very first thing they ask is something they could determine for themselves by looking at the panel.  "What quest are you doing?" "Are you in progress?"  "What difficulty?"  "How long have you been in the quest?"  Now, I'll grant you, when I've got a group going and we switch between quests, sometimes I do forget to update which quest is the current quest.  If you're an experienced player, though, you can still tell by looking at the location listed for the party members.

The sad part is that toxic people are not always bad people.  Some of them are very nice, it's just that they are so befuddled and their skills for dealing with that befuddlement are so poor that there's just no profit for you of any kind in even attempting to deal with them.

Which leads to one last point.  The most valuable skill anyone can cultivate is to learn how to un-befuddle yourself.  You can know absolutely NOTHING about the task at hand and still be manage a valuable contribution if you grasp a method of fixing that problem rather than flailing about wildly and attempting to dump your issues onto whoever is closest.  Or, if worse comes to worst, you can maintain enough self-awareness to say "sorry, I'm too far out of my depth here" and get out of the way.

Nov 1, 2012

Brain Exclusivity

I ran across an interesting article today about some research that seems to indicate the parts of the brain responsible for processing certain types of information may exercise a large degree of exclusivity.  When you're feeling emotional connections, the analytic portion is largely inhibited, and vice versa when you're doing analytic work the emotional centers are largely inhibited.

It's true that this happens, at least from my own personal experience, because I have problems with depression and anxiety so I generally keep my emotions suppressed by being as analytical as I can manage at all times.  Chances are, when I'm being emotional (and it happens more often than I'd like), I'm completely non-functional.  The analytic part of my brain works.  The emotional part is a mess, so I have to stomp on it.  Unfortunately, this has unpleasant consequences in that a lot of the time I don't consciously feel much of anything at all.

Here's the thing, though, and this is why I have a different take on this than the researcher quoted in that article. I can have physical reactions to emotions I'm not consciously aware of "having".  When I got my wisdom teeth out, for instance, I was extremely shaky to the point that the dentist noticed even though I wasn't consciously aware of being any more nervous than I am all the time about everything.  So, I'm wondering if it isn't that your *emotions* are shut down, it's that the part of your brain that processes your emotions and passes them on to your, um, consciousness in the form of a "feeling" is shut down.  So the emotional reaction, whatever it is, is still humming along in the background, it's just not at the forefront of your attention.

I find this particularly interesting because research of this kind might actually be the key to discovering just how consciousness and volition actually operate.  What mechanism allows you to inhibit your awareness of emotion while bringing analysis to the forefront, and vice versa?  How is that mechanism controlled and initiated?

This may also be an explanation for the phenomenon of catharsis and also of self-abuse.  Possibly, even of sexual preferences.  It's clear to me that the switching mechanism, whatever it is, can develop problems.  There may even be multiple different kinds of switches, all of which can develop their own problems, so that flipping the switch to allow the experience of sexual desire or the release of extreme anxiety may require people to go through some strange or pretty extreme behavior.  Much like intentionally calling up a buried memory, you may have to get there through a circuitous route, summoning up one bit of context at a time until the path is established or the switch is flipped and the desired memory or feeling reaches your conscious awareness.