The “System” in the Educational System

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted here. Like….a couple of months. Was busy with college apps, then school work. But now, I have some time, so hopefully I’ll post more.

What I want to write about today is actually what’s been preventing me from blogging, from just sitting down quietly at my seat and just writing. I guess you could call it, school.

It’s annoying when I have to try to find a balance between school and art. I’m forced to squeeze in time to write what I want to write, to take photos at the most inconvenient times possible, or to listen and make lyrics to music. It’s as if school is trying to pull me away from my passion and forcing me to do a shit ton of grit work. It’s as if school is trying to say, yes we want you to be an enlightened individual, but you gotta follow our format. You gotta do what we say. And this system is annoying.

What I really wish for is the ability to squish this educational system with my passion into one. So that I can devote a good chuck of my time doing and sharpening what I like.

My English teacher one day noted how as kids, literature was everybody’s favorite subject. We all liked to listen to stories, to tell stories ourselves, to let our imaginations fly. But then came the educational system, which just butchered everything up and crammed into us grammar rules, analysis skills, and all that bullshit. And along the way, for many of us, literature became something boring. That magic was lost.

The educational system failed to capture the soul of the subject of literature. I could say the same goes with math, science, and so many other subjects. Most of us don’t see the beauty of it anymore; it’s just a bunch of facts and rote memorization.

Of course, however, it could have never captured it in the first place. It’s because the educational system is a system. 

But here’s the problem: there is no absolute way one can categorize the human learning experience. The fact we have first grades, second grades, and so on doesn’t make sense to me if it’s true that all of us learn at different paces. There’s no way either you could definitely pinpoint a person’s skill level to be either regular, AP, or honors level. We’re humans; you just can’t.

In fact, thinking that we can only hurts us more. A phenomenon called the Matthew Effect sums it up pretty nice, in which psychologist Roger Barnsley noticed that a huge majority of pro Canadian hockey players tended to be born in the earlier months of the year. Why? Because the recruiting system goes by year.

For instance, suppose the NHL recruits by year and takes all the little kids born in 1998. They’ll be put through some training or competition of sorts and from there, they’ll take the best few and put them in the “honors” camp — those likely to be pro. This seems fair, right? Not really so.

Psychologist Roger Barnsley

If you think about it, those born in December and later months are technically one year younger than those born in January and the earlier months. In other words, they’re less physically mature by one year, and therefore, easier to be beaten out. Do they suck? No, just that they’re younger. So what starts out as a small gap in age becomes a huge gap in skill once all those born in the earlier years are placed in the honors system and are bombarded with resources and whatnot. Those born later are likely to be put in the regular system and not given much attention.

Because of this systemic approach to athletics, society has just squandered the potential of nearly half the population– those born in later months of the year. So if you’re born in December, you should just give up playing pro hockey even if you have a talent in it– it’s almost impossible.

It’s unfair, and yes, it’s wrong. Because you cannot categorize how humans grow or develop as athletes. The same thing all applies to our education.

Fixing this is easier said than done, of course. But the utopian solution is if everything can be individual-based. It’s kind of like being home-schooled, or self-teaching yourself. In which you know what you want to do, in which you know how you learn, and you act on that. Instead of being forced into a system, you make your own system. You learn at your own pace, and you focus on what you know you want to do.

This does comes with problems of its own such as lack of motivation. So a good mix would be having a school system but trying to make it as individualized as possible. The only thing we should be wary of is not getting too much into the system itself.

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Do you really love me?

Recently, I’ve been swamped with school, and most dreadfully, college apps (to explain for my lack of blogging recently). As the issue of college  gets nearer and nearer to me, an inevitable conflict has risen up as my parents get involved in the college process. The problem is this: I want to pursue journalism and politics and something of that sort as my major; whereas my parents disagree.

Now, they don’t straight up disagree with me. They did, but now, they just say, “You know, Titus, it’s unfair to force you to do something you don’t want to, especially since you worked so hard. So we’ll support you.” Yet, it’s obvious they reluctantly did so. And reluctant support is not support at all.

I recently found out that if I had wanted to go to any top journalism university, it was very likely that my family would have to pay around 40k to 50k. My parents said that was too much. Yet, I found out to my dismay that had I been pursuing the typical STEM that everybody at my school was chasing, my dad would have willingly hopped onto the board and invest his 50k into my education. The reason? Because journalism doesn’t pay much to be worth the 50k, my dad says.

So I wanted to ask him, is the worth of a career really dependent on the salary or on the content of your job? But it’s his goddam money, so I didn’t do much and dropped back.

I perfectly understand why he’s concerned with the salary part. If I don’t have a good enough salary, I might have to spend most of my time worrying about the next place I’m eating or sleeping at. I might have a harder time trying to make a living. He’s concerned with my future, definitely, and that’s why he wants me to pursue STEM. Many people interpret this concern as love. My parents do. But.. I don’t. So the second question I’ve always wanted to ask my parents: Do you really love me?

In class, I rewatched 500 Days of Summer, a fantastic movie by the way. It narrates in achronological order the experiences of one guy (Tom Hansen) who helplessly falls in love with a beautiful girl named Summer. So much so that he doesn’t see the fact she only sees him as a friend. And when reality hits him, he goes into super depression mode and has a change in perspective on life. My teacher brought up the theme of love and had us think about it. So I did, and I asked myself, did Tom really love Summer? I thought back to all my crushes, and I was like nah, it was just lust. But “lust” didn’t feel like the right answer for Tom– he really put so much thought and emotion into their shared experiences and he really, just really, “loved” her. It didn’t feel right to dismiss his efforts as merely lust. But yet, it wasn’t love.

Actually, now that I think about it, it was love. No, he didn’t love her. He loved himself. Tom had carved for himself the perfect image of Summer and placed it so high on a pedestal that he truly loved that image. But that image was formed by his own thoughts and ideas of what the relationship was like. None of that was from Summer. And I guess all the girls I fell for in the past weren’t those actual girls, but what I thought was the perfect girl and how she was the most cute and charming. Both Tom and I loved our own ideas, not the girl.

And so it’s the same here. I remember overhearing my dad say, from middle school to now he has been doing all the right things, getting good grades, good scores, good extracurricular activities, yada, yada, yada and all that bs. And now, says my dad, he takes the last wrong step and decides to pursue journalism. Now, when in the world did he have the supreme authority to decide what I did was right or wrong? I aimed for good grades and good extracurricular activities for myself, not for what my dad thought was right. I now aim to be a journalist for myself, not for him. And I realize that in the end, I was just an attempt for him to make his own ideas of a perfect son come true. He never loved me; he loved his own ideas of what his perfect son should be.

And I realize I’ m probably not the only parent-child pair in this situation; I can imagine many of my peers at my school being forced to pursue STEM are like this. But I will never buckle down to what my parents think is right for me. If a parent loved his or her child truly, he or she would freely support the child to follow what he wants of himself.

And now I ask myself, do I really love my parents? And to be honest, I don’t know the answer myself.

Why I Chase Suffering

Recently, ISIS has beheaded two Japanese journalists. Not too long ago last year, they also beheaded two American journalists. Were they soldiers? No. All they were was just normal people who wanted to travel to less fortunate places to help out. Some may call them brave, and I guess and in a sense yes they are. I’ve been mulling about it, though, ever since I was talking about this to a friend.

There was a picture that I stumbled upon, and here it is:

Photos like this stun me. (This won the Pulitzer Prize by the way.) They attract me. The deepness, the pain, the shame– all of it just really connects this to me. If I were to pursue anything in photography, I’ d like to take pictures like these. To be honest, in the bubbled society I live in, there’s really nothing too interesting to take pictures of. I mean, I could take pictures of streets or birds or flowers and make them WOW quality, but in the end, I don’t really connect that much. It’s just a picture. And the humans at my place are too well off to take anything too interesting. But I feel places of suffering are something more attractive, something much more connective.

When I showed this to my friend, he asked me, why do you want to put yourself in harm’s way? And he pointed to the journalists in ISIS and said I could end up just like them. True, true, I’ve always wanted to live in Honduras, and I know I’d probably be killed too. But my response would be– why wouldn’t I? I don’t want to grow up like the typical person, get a job, go home, and sleep everyday. That’s boring. I don’t want to be the ordinary person who just lives in the comforts of his home. I want to step out of this society and do something.

You see, I believe everybody’s life is like a story. Most people decide to write their lives normally– college, jobs, family. But I want my story to be an epic– I want to experience experiences not normally experienced. I want to be the protagonist who goes through many tribulations but passes them. I’d rather have a short dramatic life than a long, boring life.

And it’s not just that. It’s also because, there is something beautiful about suffering. If our whole world was an Utopian society where everybody was happy and well-off, well bullshit. That’s stupid. I guess for most people it’d  be nice, but then what becomes the point of life then? Just to live happily and that’s it? There’s no purpose.

You see, when one suffers, something human comes out. Your weak places are exposed but your strong parts are revealed as well. You learn something too– you learn what it means to be human. It’s hard to explain, but maybe I’ll touch upon this later for another post.

Or maybe I’m just addicted to suffering. Ever since my incident, the only thing that really comforts me is suffering. There’s something that feels out of place when I see people laugh and have fun at my place– it’s a good feeling, but I feel something off. The balance is off– they’re having fun, but they’re not suffering as much. It’s like me and them we have it too good.

The point is, why do journalists like those beheaded by ISIS do what they do? I doubt it’s because they chase heroism. I doubt even if it’s just really only for a good cause. At least for me, it will be because I’m searching for the right place where I belong. I know it’s not where I live, and maybe it’s not in those poor places either. But I want to go where suffering goes, merely for the sake of it, even if I end up dead. Because if I don’t go, who I am will be dead. My spirit and identity will be dead.  My art won’t flourish.

Well I realized I accomplished practically nothing in this post haha. Signing off.

Education’s Competition Problem

To my readers, I am aware that I haven’t been blogging much, but thanks to a friend of mine, I will start a renewed interest in blogging more often, perhaps at least once a week, if not more. But for today, let’s start off by establishing how a typical competition works- say, something like a speech competition. There well be participants in the speech. There will also be judges. One by one, the participants go up and present,  and based on whatever rubric the judges have, each participant will earn a score. Through the score, the competitors are ranked first, second, and so on.

Now let’s take a second competition. It’s a competition of the animal kingdom. Our judge will be a human. And the competitors will be the following: a chimpanzee, a goldfish, a giraffe, an elephant, and another human. And what skill will they be competing in? The ability to climb a tree. It is this competition that will supposedly determine the future success rate of these competitors.

Now, we let this glorious competition begin. First, we have the chimpanzee. Dam, he can climb! Alright, he passes. Oh, then we have the goldfish. Nope, he fails. A giraffe– yea he can reach high, but he can’t climb. So much for the elephant. And the human– almost, but not as good as the chimp.

So obviously, the chimpanzee is gonna be really successful in his future survival, and all the other organisms can just give up in life. That’s what this competition is saying; that’s what our educational system is saying.

And that’s the precise problem with our educational system. It’s competition-based. It tells who wins and who loses based on only one asset of skills. But is the giraffe, elephant, and human really going to fail in life just because they can’t climb a tree? The giraffe has a high neck to make up for it. The elephant may not be agile, but it definitely has serious strength. And humans- why they’re the most dominant species on Earth right now. Same with the goldfish. As Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a goldfish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”

The same goes with us students. Our educational system aims to procure the most successful people in the future, and the way the system determines that is via a set standard. Oh, you have a higher SAT score? You have better grades? Alright, go ahead to a good college. You’re not doing so well in school? I’m sorry, you won’t be doing so well in your future. But really? As you can see, that’s definitely not the case. Grades, scores, and the amount of extracurricular activities– all those things colleges look for– they don’t tell anything. Once again, they test only one asset of skills. They miss out on the student’s hidden potential.

Each of us is unique– in the way we think, in the way we act, in the way we write, in the way we talk. There is no set standard, no set rubric, on what defines good or not. Each of us is good in one way or another. To repeat, we are all geniuses. So the aim of the educational system should not be to determine who’s better or not based on one scale, but to supply an environment where each and every individual can have his or her genius shine out.

To be honest, I don’t have a good solution. But this is a problem that will require more than one mind to solve. It will require a collaborate effort from students, parents, and society as a whole.

More Than Just A Gift

Christmas—what is it? Look up the dictionary and it will say: “A legal holiday celebrated on Dec. 25 and an occasion for exchanging gifts.” So, according to the dictionary, it is about presents. I mean, why else do people flock the stores during Black Friday to buy gifts? Why else is the most anticipating time of Christmas the moment you get to open your presents? Why else are the wrappings and bow ties so delicate and fancy?

The aspect of gifts seems to as well dominate many Christmas stories. Santa—he delivers gifts. Frosty—in the end, the antagonist gives in because he wants gifts. Grinch—he tries to take away gifts but realizes he’s wrong. Same with The Nightmare Before Christmas, the Nutcracker, and other stories—just gifts, gifts, gifts. As a result, I grew up believing that the meaning of Christmas laid underneath all those gift wrappings. The meaning of Christmas had to be gifts.

The Christmas Carol is, as well, no exception from this theme of presents.

I remember in 7th grade, my English teacher made us read The Christmas Carol. I was shocked—I had read the story before during elementary school, so why was a middle school teacher making us read this? The plot was fairly simple for any little kid to understand. A cranky old guy named Scrooge hates giving presents and is very egocentric. During the night before Christmas, he sleeps and encounters three ghosts: one of the past, present, and future. With each ghost, Scrooge goes through many experiences, and by the time he leaves the last ghost, he realizes that it’s better to be nice and give gifts. Moral of the story? Give gifts. Seriously. This was just like any naive children’s book with “inspiring” generic messages like “Believe in yourself” or “Never give up.”

By this time, I wasn’t even bothering with the story in class. I knew all there was to know. I mean, after all, this is just another dumb children’s tale, I thought to myself.

Turns out I was the dumb one myself. After reading the story, our teacher made us watch the Tim Burton’s movie version of The Christmas Carol, and suddenly, what seemed pathetic on paper became heart-stirring on screen. The words on paper came to life. The symbolism, the imagery, the contrast, but most importantly, the raw feelings one could get from it—the frustration Scrooge felt, the intense sadness of the poor, and the joy when Scrooge corrects his wrongs—all of that connected with me intensely.

So I realized that the greatest gift is the spirit of giving itself. But let me define what this “spirit” is—it is the very feeling of joy that one experiences when helping out others. It is also the very hole in one’s heart when one sees people in need. It is the very ecstasy I felt when I saw Scrooge, a sinful man, change and develop into a better character. In other words, it is feeling itself—the type that bonds one with another. That is Christmas.

It is a bit ironic that the whole time I was reading The Christmas Carol without feeling—without Christmas itself. Only through the movie could I feel it. Had I read the story with more emotion instead of regarding it as dumb, I would have perhaps felt the connection from the first instance. However, just like Scrooge, I changed for the better. From my materialistic view of Christmas, I finally saw the emotional value behind it.

Each gift you will get during Christmas is like the story The Christmas Carol. Initially, I saw it as just as story, and so can you see your gift as simply a gift. But to truly understand Christmas, don’t just view it as a gift, but try to see the emotional meaning behind it, the love and effort made, just like how I saw the emotional connection from the movie.

Too many times in our daily lives, whether it is a story or a gift, we miss out on this emotional connection. We usually take things at face value, not realizing a deeper level behind everything that we encounter. Christmas is the time to remember that a gift is more than a gift, that a story is more than the words one see, that one’s family is more than just the people it comprises of. Christmas, once again, is the emotion and feeling between people. Once we realize this we can truly appreciate and understand the meaning of Christmas.

Confessions of a Speciesist

For my first post of 2014, I’m gonna share this opinion article that I read from Scientific American by Michael Shermer. It’s a problem with humans that really bugs me.

Where do nonhuman mammals fit in our moral hierarchy?

The case for exploiting animals for food, clothing and entertainment often relies on our superior intelligence, language and self-awareness: the rights of the superior being trump those of the inferior. A poignant counterargument is Mark Devries’s Speciesism: The Movie, which I saw at the premiere in September 2013. The animal advocates who filled the Los Angeles theater cheered wildly for Princeton University ethicist Peter Singer. In the film, Singer and Devries argue that some animals have the mental upper hand over certain humans, such as infants, people in comas, and the severely mentally handicapped. The argument for our moral superiority thus breaks down, Devries told me: “The presumption that nonhuman animals’ interests are less important than human interests could be

cow illustrationmerely a prejudice—similar in kind to prejudices against groups of humans such as racism—termed speciesism.”

I guess I am a speciesist. I find few foods more pleasurable than a lean cut of meat. I relish the feel of leather. And I laughed out loud at the joke about the farmer who castrates his horses with two bricks: “Does it hurt?” “Not if you keep your thumbs out of the way.” I am also troubled by an analogy made by rights activists that animals are undergoing a “holocaust.” Historian Charles Patterson draws the analogy in his 2002 book Eternal Treblinka, and Devries makes visual reference to it by comparing the layout of factory-farm buildings with that of prisoner barracks at Auschwitz. The flaw in the analogy is in the motivation of the perpetrators. As someone who has written a book on the Holocaust (Denying History, University of California Press, revised edition, 2009), I see a vast moral gulf between farmers and Nazis. Even factory-farm corporate suits motivated by profits are still far down the ladder of evil from Adolf Eichmann and Heinrich Himmler. There are no signs at factory farms reading “Arbeit Macht Frei.”

Yet I cannot fully rebuke those who equate factory farms with concentration camps. While working as a graduate student in an experimental psychology animal laboratory in 1978 at California State University, Fullerton, it was my job to dispose of lab rats that had outlived our experiments. I was instructed to euthanize them with chloroform, but I hesitated. I wanted to take them up into the local hills and let them go, figuring that death by predation or starvation was better than gassing. But releasing lab animals was illegal. So I exterminated them … with gas. It was one of the most dreadful things I ever had to do.

Just writing those words saddens me, but nothing like a video clip posted at freefromharm.org. Appropriately described as the “saddest slaughterhouse footage ever,” the clip shows a bull waiting in line to die. He hears his mates in front of him being killed, backs up into the rear wall of the metal chute, and turns his head around, seeking an escape. He looks scared. A worker then zaps him with a cattle prod. The bull shuffles forward far enough for the final death wall to come down behind him. His rear legs try one last time to exit the trap and then … Thug! … down he goes in a heap. Dead. Am I projecting human emotions into a head of cattle? Maybe, but as one meat plant worker told an undercover usda inspector who inquired about the waste stench: “They’re scared. They don’t want to die.”

Mammals are sentient beings that want to live and are afraid to die. Evolution vouchsafed us all with an instinct to survive, reproduce and flourish. Our genealogical connectedness, demonstrated through evolutionary biology, provides a scientific foundation from which to expand the moral sphere to include not just all humans—as rights revolutions of the past two centuries have done—but all nonhuman sentient beings as well.

And here was an interesting comment I saw: The “vast moral gulf” you see between a genocide like the Holocaust and that perpetrated against 60 billion land animals intentionally and annually in animal agriculture is in the vast perceived difference we see as a speciesist culture who believes, without any rational basis, that simply being a member of a different species is grounds for exploitation. The victims are indeed different but the methodologies, strategies, ideologies and propaganda used by the perpetrators of oppression are always consistent in both of these cases and indeed in all cases of genocide. The same “otherization” is perpetrated against those based on race, religion, color, sex, etc. It’s all part of the same “naturalization” of violence and hierarchy by those in a position of power against those who have little or no power.

“There is a vast mythology surrounding meat, but all the myths are in one way or another related to what I refer to as the Three Ns of Justification: eating meat is normal, natural, and necessary. The Three Ns have been invoked to justify all exploitative systems, from African slavery to the Nazi Holocaust. When an ideology is in its prime, these myths rarely come under scrutiny. However, when the system finally collapses, the Three Ns are recognized as ludicrous.” ~ Melanie Joy, author of Why We Loves Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism.

Jus Naturale

All of us were raised on the ideals that one day we would become famous actors, wealthy businessmen, revered philanthropists, successful musicians, filthy rich diamond mine managers, powerful politicians, unforgettable athletes, inquisitive thinkers, gods and goddesses made to be worshiped by those below us.  We all had the hope that one day we’d be happy with everything we wanted.  This is the world you and I live in: the lifestyle obsession, the race toward an Alpha Male, the materialistic consumerism, the life of strife and unsatisfactory results, the life of the slowly dying.  We will continue this madness till we realize the truth on our deathbeds.  Nothing will ever satisfy us.  We can be that close to having it all, but it will only feel like having nothing at all.  The human race is caught up in social standards, always worrying that people will judge them for what they do.  They want to fit in, be “normal”, and have the privilege to look down at other people because they aren’t good enough.  Everything has become very mechanical, lacking purpose and reason.  Lets take politics as an example:  the life of a politician is to earn money and power.  They don’t understand the balance of human rights and government force.  They only care about personal interests.  The whole pace of human involvement is slowly declining, and we sit here trying to pretend it’s “ok”.

I had a recent talk to one of my friends.  I asked him,

“What is the purpose of living?”

“Well, I guess people want to achieve certain things.  There’s only 5 I can think of:

1. Go to college

2. Get a job

3. Get married

4. Have Children

5. Earn a meager salary to support yourself in retirement

Yeah, that’s all I can think of.”

“If this is the goal of humanity now, then there is absolutely no hope.”

I have come to an sudden conclusion.  God has blessed me with an insightful vision of stupendous proportions.

We are the middle children of history without a great depression nor a great war.  Our great war is the bellicose bloodthirsty beast within ourselves.  Our great depression is our very lives.

You are not your Alma Mater.

You are not your education.

You are not your job.

You are not the car you drive.

You are not the money in the bank or the content of your wallet.

You are not the cosmetics you wear or the size of your cock.

You are not your children or your wife.

You are not the trophies on your decaying shelf.

And you’re not your fucking big-boy pants.

You are dilapidated and decaying just like all the rest of us, bidding your time on the earth and learning to enjoy the premature enlightenment.  You are the filth and scum the bible foretells of, the fire that burned Sodom and the stones that slew Steven.  Don’t kid yourself about life achievement, because all you are is worthless masses of hydrogen and oxygen, creating more greenhouse gasses, consuming more energy, filling more of the world with your waste.  You are not special, you are not unique.  You are like all the rest of us, so find your place in line.  There is no hope, because everyone believes in it.  Those that do believe that there is no hope do nothing, ensuring no hope.  Man was created to destroy ourselves.  Give up, you’re fighting a losing fight that nobody will remember.  You think you’re all smart and know everything about what living means.  Fuck what you know, you need to let go.  The things you own end up owning you.  It’s not after we lose everything that we’re free to do anything.  Give up hope, resistance is futile.

If you are still reading then this warning is for you.  Every word you read of the useless bytes, pixels, binary digits, and fine print is another second of your pathetic life.  Don’t you have better things to do?  Is your life honestly so empty that you honestly can’t think of a better way to spend these moments?  Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and credence to all who claim it?  Do you read everything you’re supposed to read?  Do you think everything you’re supposed to think?  Do you believe what you want to believe?  Buy what you’re told to want?  This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.  You are no different from those with terminal illnesses, because both of you will end up returning nitrogen and other vital nutrients to the earth.  Stop the excessive shopping and masturbation.  Give up all your flaming worldly possessions.  Get out of your apartment.  Meet a member of the opposite sex.

Quit you’re daily lifeless jobs.

Start a fight.

Prove to yourself that you are still alive.

If you don’t claim your God given humanity you will become a statistic variable.

You have been warned.

But do what you like.

The Pinnacle of Human Civilization

At one point in human history, mankind rejected the laws of nature and began to develop a social system comprising of all the humans that existed.  This system is defined today as “society”.  Early humans developed agriculture, government, architecture, art in the form of etchings, pigment paints, music, arguably dance, and most importantly: recording of events also known as history.  Such epiphany doesn’t appear out of thin air, unless readers are considering the possibility of a creator according to his/her tastes and views.  Therefore, there must have been a height or climax to prehistoric men.  From extensive research, I found that this climax was actually a discovery of a well known substance, one we all use daily.  I’m not talking about salt, or agriculture, animals have already mastered those techniques; this was completely human intuition.  This revered occasion was the arbitrary discovery of soap.

You might think I’m losing my marbles, but I am being very serious about this.  It all starts in early recorded Babylonian and Sumerian tablets, rich in the history of our predecessors.  Indianna Jones would murder you and I for a chance to glimpse on these tablets.  Anyways, these tablets revealed the birth of soap (2200BC) and human sacrifice.  Here is the story in a chemistry approach and an archaeology approach:

The ancient Babylonians realized that washing clothing in a certain river made their clothing cleaner compared to washing it in other rivers.  On the top of that river, human sacrifice was performed, and the corpses of the brave sacrifices were cremated, their ashes and melted fat thrown into the river.  As the ashes and fats slowly flow down, the ashes were purified into Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) and the fat slowly liquefied.  The mixing of these fats (C3H8O3)and Sodium Hydroxide became Sodium Stearate, or Soap.  This solution left a bubbly discharge, of which the average civilian would wash their clothing in.  It was only a matter of time before they discovered exactly why all that was happening, though the chemical formulas weren’t discovered until 4 millennia later.  After the discovery, humans began to notice the difference between dirty and clean, later black and white, to desire or cringe, law and chaos, even what is and isn’t aesthetically pleasing.  After this, humans were able to separate themselves from their instinctive side, and move on with their new-founded curiosity and innovation.  Soap is the pinnacle of human civilization, the peak of which man discovered independence from natural forces and government by the world around them.

Can We Really Control Sexual Preference?

Homosexuality is a serious issue for Christians, especially since America and other nations around the world have become more accepting of gays and lesbians. They worry of this because they believe that homosexuality is a sin (by the way, I’m a Christian, too, and I actually advocate for sexual equality, so I am referring to Christians in general). But what defines a sin? God wants us to get rid of sin, so if he is asking us to do this, then it must be reasonable to assume that sin is something that we can control and get rid of. For instance, sexual lust is a sin, because it is something that we know not only is bad, but also can control. But what about gayness? Say it is morally bad. But can you control it?

Nobody knows the answer for sure, but recent experiments have been pointing to the fact that maybe it can’t be controlled. In China and Korea, scientists have identified a gene-related chemical called serotonin that are commonly found in many animals. It is thought to be related to the mood of happiness. But things have been indicating otherwise.

In the lab, scientists took a group of lab mice. When females were put with males, the females mated with the males. When females were put with only females, the females still preferred to mate with the males and thus, didn’t mate at all. Overall, this was how a normal female mouse was supposed to react.

Then, scientists genetically engineered the female mice’s gene by taking the serotonin gene out, and put the mice once again in the same conditions. When the female mice were grouped with only the female mice, they started and attempted to sexually mount other females- mice of the same gender. Even when put with males, too, the female mice simply ignored the males and tried to mount the females.

Two male fruit flies

We see this not only with mice, but also fruit flies. In this case, it is not serotonin that seemingly controls sexual preference, but a master sex gene known as fru. A normal male fly will act like this when beginning to mate: It pursues a waiting virgin female. It gently taps the girl with its leg, played her a song (using wings as instruments) and, only then, dared to lick her – all part of standard fruit fly seduction. Yet, scientists were surprised when they saw a female fly doing this to another female fly- after giving the female suitor a male-type fru. Similarly, when males were given a female-type fru, they became more passive in their sexual behavior.

Overall, we see that genes is the cause of sexual preference for two animals- fruit flies and mice. But could we not extend this possibility to humans? Perhaps there is a gene, not identified yet, that is linked to human sexual preference? In other words, the only reason why gays and lesbians are homosexual is maybe because they were born with it- they lacked the gene necessary for heterosexuality.

If this is the case, then this is big controversy, scientifically and morally. You can’t now blame a gay for being gay, because it wasn’t his choice. And if homosexuality is just an inherited gene thing, then it must not be a sin, for in order for it to be a sin, they have to be able to control it. But they cannot. It’s just like a boy not being able to control the fact he is a boy or a human not being able to control the fact he’s human. They were born with it.

Again, this is only if humans do have a gene for sexual preference. If we do,  then I think it is time for the church to embrace them- heterosexual people should not superimpose their own values on homosexual people. We should embrace this difference, just like we embrace differences in race, gender, and ethnicity. Pretty much, if sexual preference is determined by genes, then homosexuality is not a sin.

Monkeys, Ideas, And Social Status

Reblogged from http://www.davidyerle.com:

I’ve been recently analyzing my reaction to disagreements in my blog and I don’t like what I’ve seen. Now, my answers are usually quite measured and level-headed, even when I strongly disagree with the person. Does this mean I am a measured, level-headed man? Quite the opposite, in fact.

The Monkey Inside All of Us

Some (though not all) criticisms cause in me something that can only be described as aggression. It is not a conscious reaction, but an instinctive, animalistic one. Whenever my ideas are challenged, especially when I hold them dear (and especially when the commenter uses a confrontational style), my body reacts with adrenaline and a metaphorical thirst for blood. I can almost feel the monkey inside, seething, wanting to beat up the stranger who has come to challenge my right to the territory.

It is not a pleasant feeling; it is also not a feeling I’m proud of.

But I don’t want to get into a morality play in which I digress about how evil we are all inside. I want to analyze what it is about disagreements that makes me (anyone else?) react as if there was a physical challenge happening from a rival male.

Here’s my theory, which I just made up five minutes ago, so it’s likely to be wrong. It’s also likely to be wrong because it only applies to males, but I’ve seen similar urges in women, so it can’t be the whole story. Anyway, even if it’s only for your amusement, here it goes.

Back in the day, primates fought for territory. More territory meant more females, which in turn meant more offspring. Thus, males who were obsessed about protecting their territory and could use aggression to do so were more likely to have offspring, which would in turn be similarly inclined to protect and expand their land.

This drive for territory soon became more complex and turned into what we would now call “the drive for social status.”  Higher social status usually means attracting more females and the rest follows as before. That having social status attracts more females has been researched for a while (see here and here). And yes, I am perfectly aware that this is just a statistical result that does not imply that all women are attracted to social status. In fact, I’d never date one that was.

social status

Social status is a hard thing to measure. Nowadays we can probably do it with money: the more money, the more status. However, that is not completely accurate. There are a lot of intangibles: influence, reputation. Bono may not have as much money as Bill Gates, but he’s probably more successful with the opposite sex. One could say that social status is related to image and that this image is tied to a number of intangibles, thus making status quite hard to define.

This influence is of course measured, partly, by how much sway our opinions have over the rest of the world. As such, then, opinions are part of our “virtual territory”: just like our net worth (by the way, am I the only person who’s appalled by calling how much money a person has their “worth”?). And, just like it, we feel a need to protect it from intruders: opinions are our domains and, when a stranger comes and tries to take them down, we react just as if someone was trying to enter our house and burn it.

That is why changing your mind is so hard: in a way, it’s like letting the other person violate you. It’s admitting they have won; like giving them part of your territory. It’s not a question of ideas but a battle with winners or losers. Just like a war fought over a piece of land, each argument is a confrontation over a piece of mental landscape, over a piece of influence.

It takes a lot of self-control to override this instinct. In fact, most people are not capable of such feats and thus seem unable to change their minds, no matter how much evidence piles up against their views. It is remarkable, then, that a whole branch of human knowledge – science – has been built precisely on the willingness to be proven wrong. This speaks volumes of scientists, who must overcome these urges every day in the service of a greater goal, which is knowledge. It is also not surprising that some of them will succumb to their instincts and try to cover up results, disregard evidence or purposely misunderstand their colleagues’ research in order to keep their ideas intact.

Summarizing, behind the civilized appearance of my replies, there is a beast that just want to tear the commenters apart and let out a cry of victory. Thankfully for all of us, I (and most, if not all of the people who interact with me) am able to look at my instincts from above and see them for what they are: a vestige from a more animalistic past.

That said, I do think it would be fun if the next philosophical debate was settled with the philosophers just fighting for it.