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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Don’t Forget The Males

“I am a strong, independent woman,” she would tell me. “Be strong, independent women,” my English teachers would constantly say. A strong, independent woman. Society promotes, applauds, and praises such an image. Don’t get me wrong—I praise it too. Yet, along the line, as a male, I feel somewhat lost—I have never heard any encouraging statement regarding males ever. Although women’s rights are major stepping stones towards gender equality, gender equality is two-way—you cannot leave men out of the equation, something society is doing often.

The main reason behind why men’s equality isn’t focused upon often is the false notion that males already have it good. We males already have the resources. We males are already naturally supported by the work environment. We males can readily adapt because the status quo favors us. We males don’t have to worry as much because things will go our way.

False. False. False. False.

The last time I remembered, my high school classroom had perhaps more girls than guys. They were learning the same things as I was and had the same teachers as I had. I don’t remember receiving special VIP treatment just because I was a male. If anything, women have more resources, because there are always those pro-feminism organizations that offer scholarships and programs to females. Where are those pro-masculinity groups? Oh wait, society calls them sexist because it’s male-only, so they can’t exist. I guess somehow female-only is not sexist at all.

Trends are as well showing how more and more women are receiving college diplomas than men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are now 33% more likely than men to earn college degrees. As a result, there has been a correlation where women are gaining jobs and men are losing them. Two years since the recession, according to USA Today, men lost 74% of jobs while women only lost 26% of jobs. This is great news for women, and as a person who loves gender equality, I support this. However, once again, men don’t have it as good as society thinks.

Of course, women are behind in many areas, such as domestic abuse. Even in those cases, though, women get much coverage from the media, and society is actively improving the situation for women, as seen with the many anti-domestic abuse bills passed in the government. Yet, what happened to those cases where men are abused? Society often dismisses it as impossible or ridiculous, yet it is not impossible. There are as many as 10,000 cases in the United Kingdom, for instance, where men suffer the abuse. Yet, no coverage. For a man to be abused is simply not “manly” enough and deserves no special attention.

That leads into the most false notion– that we are adaptable because the status quo favors us. If anything, the male stereotype is perhaps the most rigid stereotype of all—the status quo lashes against men if they ever step outside of the stereotype. For instance, one would think that Brent Kroeger, a person who aspired to be a stay-at-home dad, is adaptable—he’s a male transitioning into female roles. One would think that a pro-gender equality society would support this—no. He has to avoid mentioning about it everyday, because of the nasty comments he receives and because “I don’t want other men to look at me like less of a man,” said Kroeger. Same goes with male nurses or male preschool teachers. While society is relentlessly promoting females to transition into male roles such as scientists and lawyers, there is a disturbing lack, if not criticism, of males moving into female roles. That is not gender equality—far from it.

Personally, I feel this rigidness. As a male, I am expected to be macho, buff, and courageous. Sometimes, though, I do get cowardly, such as when I shrink back from confessing to a girl I like. What do my male friends do? Do they support me? No. They relentlessly tease me, criticizing my lack of courage, that I wasn’t masculine enough. As University of Illinois sociology professor Barbara Risman said, “Boys make fun of other boys if they step just a little outside [the stereotype].” If girls are even called cute when they are shy, why can’t I be shy then too? As stupid as this sounds, my cowardliness or “feminine” side should be tolerated if this were a true gender-equality society.

I know many girls who dress up like boys, and there is a sense of pride in it. A boy wearing a tutu? He must be mentally flawed. It’s perfectly fine if a girl runs around crazy and dirty with a ball in her hand. A boy playing with dolls and knitting? He must be mentally flawed.

If anything, society is flawed when it comes to gender equality. Although there are still setbacks for women, there are perhaps even more setbacks for men when it comes to breaking traditional gender roles. True gender equality will require society to be equally supportive of males transitioning into female roles as it is now with females into male roles. We are far from that, but if society takes action now, it is never too late.

The “Physics” of History

Imagine building a house. Initially, all you have is wood, nails, glass panes, and a whole bunch of other materials just lying in random places. The first step is to somehow make a design to fit all those pieces together. Then, the builder actually starts working, by first building a base, and from the base he works bottom up. Through various techniques, a lot of work, and a lot of adjustments, the end product is one full house where a person can live in.

Scientists call this a reversal of entropy. The 2nd law of thermodynamics states that the natural order of things is to go from order to disorder. For example, the reason why every process generates heat is because the heat is the most disorderly of the energy forms for which other more orderly energy forms (i.e. electricity) can convert to. Or you can take a glass of wine. It’s easy to drop a glass of wine and watch all of it spill out and the glass shatter- that’s natural. But it’s near impossible to do the reverse of that.

However, in this case with the house, we see it going from disorder (a bunch of shit materials lying around) to order (one functioning house). Pretty much the reverse of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. And as all physicists know, to go from disorder to order, it requires an input of energy- as seen with the energy and effort exerted by the builder.

This analogy of the house is just like human history itself. We started off as a bunch of roaming primitives, but later came together to form one single unit- say a village. That right there was the first spark of the reversal of entropy- in other words, the first spark of history.

That was the first event. And each and every event that came after was another step towards a reversal of entropy. The formation of cities. The rise of a centralized government. The initialization of trade and commerce. A developing system of written laws. The Industrial Revolution, in its more efficient and unified way of manufacturing. The rise of the Internet. All these events helped in creating a more unified and less disorderly world. And all these events make up what we call now as history. It’s sort of like an arrow moving into a direction of orderliness- this is like history itself.

As mentioned, this direction towards orderliness requires input of energy. Where do this input of energy come from in terms of history? By the many individuals and groups that changed history. The kings, tyrants, inventors all were part of this input of energy. A anti-entropy reaction can only work because of an input of energy; similarly, history could only exist because of the many people that can allow it to happen.

World War 2 actually resulted in more order, such as the creation of what is now United Nations

Of course, people might point out to war events- how could these cause society to be more orderly? Wouldn’t it cause it to be more chaotic? The thing is, no. In fact, you could say that wars and bad events are like catalysts of this progression towards orderliness. A catalyst is an enzyme or anything that speeds up a reaction. This “reaction” here- history and its progression towards orderliness- has been sped up many times by bad events. Take the many conquerors throughout human history- they waged so many wars, but in the end, not only do they create a unified empire, but they also spread their own culture to other cultures and intake new cultures into their own.  Therefore, not only is it more orderly literally in terms of land controlled, but more importantly it is more orderly in terms of the exchange of ideas, money, etc. And all of this could be just from one big war.

Another way bad events serve as catalysts is because they force people to confront their problems which are making their lives disorderly and thus fix it, becoming more orderly. Another step into the direction of the arrow of history.

Pretty much, I am redefining history into this- history is the continual movement of the reversal of entropy. There may be some times in which disorder seems to dominate, but in the end, it all speeds up the general trend into orderliness.

Modern Consumerism

It all started after World War II, when young men returned back from their trenches oversees to their victorious homeland, enjoying the blood and black-powder stained spoils of war.  This was a very opportune time, considering the facts that America had created a strong middle class, and for the first time in history, the average citizen was able to afford luxury items and entertainment without being considered too extremely poor, nor too extremely rich.  It started off with simple things, like another car in the garage, or maybe a new microwave, or maybe that technicolor television you saw on a billboard on the way to work.  All things start off small, whether you realize it or not; this was the beginning of something bigger than life, an entire financial system with investors and corporations, billions of dollars flowing in and out.  Once people saw this as an opportunity, they began not only to embrace it, but rather, exploit it, drain and leech it dry if it meant the last dime in your pocket.   Over the years, it grew like a weed, rooting itself through each and every one of us, sapping our hard earned money, and for what?  We are constantly surrounded by product placement and advertisement.  Most times, you won’t even notice it.  You’ll just jog by that bus stop with the huge poster advertising for the latest apple product, the best deals on household appliances by Ikea, or that new double-stacked burger at mc donalds.

The truth is, you might say you need it, but you don’t, you won’t, and you never will.  You might say that you want it, but given you put a little more thought, you will realize that in all probability, you don’t even want it.  It’s only a temporary obligation, a small demand that urges you to get it, despite your current position or situation in your financial life.  The thing is, this whole economical system requires you to buy their junk so they can live another day.  They need you much more than you need them, never the other way around.  Poverty and famine?  None of that concerns us.  What does?  The latest nike running shoes with the cheap foam heel support and coarse fabric that was supposed to make you run twice as fast, the newest apple smartphone with 50 new features and a much wider screen.  Or how about that television with the 2160 resolution and Dolby surround sound?  Your eyes won’t tell the difference and your ears will hardly notice a thing.  You will later regret everything you ever bought and ponder your wasted life.  This is the world you and I live in, and it’s ending, one minute at a time.  What are you going to do about it?  Are you going to buy more vain and futile items?  Are you going to continue practicing materialism?  Do what you like, I am only here to provide the facts about reality, the only thing most people nowadays aren’t exactly synchronized with.

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.

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.

Compassion, Intelligence, and Evolution

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

Today I want to speak about compassion. By compassion I mean the ability to feel some other being’s pain. I say being, and not human being, because I want to venture a hypothesis that correlates compassion and intelligence. To do that, I have to look at compassion in animals.

There are different degrees of compassion. Most human beings feel compassion towards their children. A smaller subset feels compassion towards their parents. In decreasing order of frequency, human beings feel compassion towards their family, friends, reduced social group, extended social group, nation, continent and humanity as a whole.

Compassion is a fairly recent invention. For example, bacteria don’t feel compassion. They don’t feel much, in fact. Worms, fish and cephalopods also don’t seem to have much compassion either, not even towards their children. Reptiles in general don’t take care of their young: they lay their eggs and leave their offspring to fend for themselves. One may say they couldn’t care less.

Only mammals and birds seem to feel some sort of compassion, though it is mostly confined to the family unit. Mammals and birds also have the biggest brain sizes in the animal kingdom. It is probably not a coincidence: feeling compassion requires the capacity to make simulations of another living thing. But let me elaborate, because I believe the simulation point to be important.

Most living beings are capable of making some type of simulation of their environment. That’s how we make decisions: we simulate possible outcomes based on our different courses of action and we choose the one that leads to the most pleasure and the least pain. At least, that’s the basic framework. Bacteria don’t have to simulate much: when their food detectors fire, they move towards the food. That’s pretty much it. But, as the complexity in situations increases, so does the need for more accurate simulations.

Any software engineer will tell you that simulating something inorganic is millions of times easier than simulating something organic. A rock’s trajectory is easy to calculate; a sparrow’s, not so much. The capability for simulating other living things, then, requires significant processing power. Since this capability is needed for compassion, it is not surprising that only animals with highly developed brains have developed it. In fact, one may even see compassion as a by-product: as animals learned to simulate others (in order to eat them, for example) they also learned to simulate their peers, which lead to some kind of understanding that these peers also feel pain. Mirror neurons may also have evolved in this context.

Monkey surprise

A sociable animal

Monkeys are capable of compassion. Unlike other mammals, theirs extends a little further from their family and into their social group. If a chimpanzee is beat up in a fight, it is common to see another one trying to comfort it by putting its arm around it, something which may look spookily familiar. However, chimpanzees are only capable of compassion within their social group. They couldn’t care less about what happens to individuals outside it.

This is the way it works in humans, most of the time. Every time there’s a plane accident, the first we ask is “were there any people from my country?” We don’t care what happened to all of those foreigners. We want to know that our people are safe. The same thing happened recently with the Boston bombings: even though much more horrid acts take place daily in Iraq or Syria, we shrug them off without much thought, while being struck with grief with the ones that hit close to home.

However, that’s only part of the story. Some humans do feel empathy towards other people that are not in their social group. According to primatologist Frans de Waal, this kind of compassion is “a fragile experiment” being conducted by our species. That is, we are the first species to feel universal empathy. And I think this is significant, because it signals a trend from less compassion to more: from not caring about any other individual to caring about your children to caring about your family, to your social group, to every single member of your species.

Can this trend continue? As we get smarter, be it with technology or evolution, will we become even more compassionate? Is caring for the welfare of animals the next step, which is already taking place? As we get smarter, will we be able to simulate other living beings better? Will that increase our compassion? Where does this lead?

People usually see evolution (rightly) as this really cruel, blind process where the strong step on the weak. However, I find it encouraging that, even so, it seems to have led to the emergence of increasingly compassionate species. This outcome was far from obvious, given the way natural selection works. I like the idea of evolution being a blind, cruel, horrid process that somehow gives birth to a species that stops being blind and cruel. Evolution as a process that can put a stop to itself and become something better, gentler, more nurturing, more creative.

Who knows, maybe there’s still hope for us all.

Getting More And More Spoiled

In my last last post about a former North Korean prisoner, I talked about how it was maybe not that bad if everybody were to experience what he went through. Today, I will go deeper.

There’s a very big irony that I find in dreams, such as the American dream. In the stereotypical American Dream, a poor person hopes to settle in America, find a job, bring his poor family over, and establish great prosperity for later generations. However, it takes years of hard work, pain, prejudice, and suffering for this poor person to achieve his goal. He hopes that in the end, it will pay off not for himself, but for future descendants.

Yet, the irony is here: usually it will not pay off. In fact, although it will make his descendants physically and emotionally more well off, it will morally deteriorate the future generations. Why? Because as these descendants are living the high life and enjoying the success of their forebears, they do not understand the hard work that got them this high life. Rather, they take it for granted, and thus become more taking and more unappreciative and more wasteful and more spoiled.

Perhaps we can put this in a larger scale, say the country of the USA. Before America was ever established, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and all those rights were unheard of. To many people around the world, that was like being able to go to heaven guaranteed. When America was founded and the Constitution created, for the first time such things existed. The first American colonists didn’t take this for granted. They cheered for it, and they were content with it.

Another Example of  Past American Spoiledness

Yet, we then began to see a shift in attitude as those former colonists died off and their descendants lived on. First, we begin to see discontent with the government. People begin demanding for more rights, more change, when they should already be happy with what millions of people didn’t (and still don’t) have. We also see these descendants becoming more spoiled and more morally corrupt. For instance, when the first immigrants came through Ellis Island, these American descendants started prejudicing against them, thinking they were taking away jobs. What happened to them remembering about free rights for everybody? About how their forebears were just like those immigrants seeking for a new life in America?

Obviously, the problem shows: these descendants took these rights for granted, and thus became more un-content and more morally degraded. The former colonists didn’t, because they had been through the suffering and realized how lucky they were to even receive these constitutional rights. The posterity didn’t go through the suffering and thus were unhappy on not receiving more.

One can apply this to my generation- teenagers today, in America. I do admit that we are taking things for granted every time. That we are lazy, corrupt, and don’t realize suffering around the world unless it’s in our faces. For example, I don’t like eating most vegetables. That just shows that I’m taking my privilege to eat any kind of food I want for granted, because many children out there in the world don’t have my luxury and in fact don’t have any food at all. However, I am so spoiled to the extent that I don’t see this food pickiness as a luxury. Obviously, I have just shown my spoiledness. And why is this? Because I haven’t been through the suffering that my mother, grandmother, and ancestors went to allow me to have this kind of luxury. (In fact, my mother was homeless before for most of her childhood.)

Simply the solution is that everybody should have to suffer at least once in their life. Not the easy kind of suffering, such as mourning for a dead relative, but rather, the suffering of a starving kid in Africa, the suffering of living in nature by yourself, the suffering of that former North Korean prisoner. If everybody were to go through this and follow it, we all would be more appreciative of everything around us.

When was the last time while you ate your wonderful food that you ever thought about them? I bet you never did; therefore I have proven your indifference to suffering unless it’s in front of your face and your spoiledness.

Unfortunately, we are also spoiled to the extent that we are not willing to take up this challenge. Therefore, my forecast: the human generation will become more spoiled and spoiled as life for everybody gets better and better (due to technology and science) and thus everybody gets more greedy and greedy and thus we will use up all the resources of the Earth without taking any thought of conserving it and of the hard work of previous generations. (And please, don’t give me that eco-friendly sh-t, because we will still be using up resources, either way.) Once all the resources are gone, then the human race would have realized that they took things for granted too much. But it’s too late, and so end of the world.

From A North Korean Prison Camp

Imagine being born where you experience no family, no love, no nothing. All you do everyday is work constantly, being slaves. You are constantly starving, and food is the only thing that you care about. You cannot escape, but you feel no need to escape for you feel that the whole world is like this- cruel, mean, and heartless. You don’t know that the Earth is round. You don’t know where China is. You don’t even know that China exists.

To me, this sounds like a dystopian society- the sort that you see in science fiction books. People are working constantly like robots and treated like animals. Although this may sound like science fiction, such things do exist today, in North Korea. Below is a story of a former North Korean prisoner who was born into a North Korean camp and grew up not knowing the outside world. He was perhaps the only one to escape the prison camp and make it alive to tell the story.

It seems kind of weird, doesn’t it? I mean, it seems kind of hard to imagine that such things do exist today in a modern world. But it does make me appreciate the fact that I live in America, a place definitely not North Korea.

A few things that caught my interest. First, Shin himself told that he did not feel any love or emotion when his mother and brother were executed. He only started to feel guilty after seeing other people with loving families. So brings up the question: most people say that children are naturally good and learn hate. However, in this case, it seems as if Shin had to learn love himself. Does this mean that children not only learn hate, but must also learn love, too?

Another thing: is this experience that Shin went through necessarily bad? On the outset it sure does look bad. I mean, who would want to go through what Shin went through? But, if all the spoiled children in the world were to go through his experience, they would definitely be a lot less spoiled. In fact, not just to children but also to grown-ups, for they also waste things and take things for granted, too.

In my next post, I would like to perhaps delve deeper into some of the things that I have pondered about for this story.

A Thought On Morality

Here is an intriguing article from http://www.davidyerle.com:

You’ve probably heard this sentence before: “if there is no God, everything’s permitted.” One of the brothers Karamazov says it in the famous Dostoyevski novel (which, religious apologetics or not, is one of the best books I’ve ever read).

But what does this sentence even mean? The most straightforward interpretation is we can do whatever we want. But this is true, with or without God. According to Christians, we have free will: we can do evil and we do, all the time. Evil is permitted. So how does there being a God change anything? Without a God, everything is permitted. With a God, we are in exactly the same situation.

The obvious answer is punishment. The existence of a God adds punishment to the equation, so that you will do no evil, in fear of being condemned to eternal damnation. To me, this is not morality at all: it is just a reward system, similar to training a dog. God tells you what to do and defines that to be “right” or “good.” If you don’t do what he says, you get punished. If you do, you get a reward.

How is this any different from a society with laws?

In a society with laws, if you do evil deeds (things that go against the law) you are punished: you pay a fine or go to jail. If you live in America or China, you may even be put to death. Now, one could say: “without laws, everything is permitted.” The morality argument for God is exactly equivalent to the morality argument for Law.

Dostoyevsky

To most people, the idea of a morality based on a reward system is repulsive. We shouldn’t do good because we’ll get in trouble if we don’t: we should do good because it’s the right thing to do. But what is the right thing to do? There are many possible answers. Some people will say: “look inside your heart and do whatever feels right.” It’s a line of argumentation that does wonders with sadists and psychopaths. Some will tell you what’s moral is what some philosophy says is moral. At the end, however, “right” and “wrong” have to be based on something. If they weren’t they would be completely random. Therefore, “right” and “wrong” are, to some extent, necessarily utilitarian, even in the case of religion. Dostoyevski’s point is moot: everything is permitted, no matter what. Whatever we decide to do or not to do, we do because of some reason. Those reasons have usually nothing to do with good and evil, though they are sometimes disguised as such.

To me, morality is something we need in order to keep people without empathy under control. I don’t need a morality and neither do most of the people on this Earth. I can feel other people’s pain, which is why I try not to hurt them. I don’t do it because it’s right: I do it because of how it makes me feel. As long as we have the ability to put ourselves in somebody else’s position, we don’t need a set of rules to tell us what to do. We can decide at each moment. Morality is a useful lie: we tell some people there’s something “right” and “wrong” because we can’t make them understand that other people besides them are also capable of suffering. So we put these ideas in their heads in the hopes that they will reign in the monster and stay their hand. When they don’t, we resort to state-administered violence in the form of prison or death.

However, my beautiful theory about empathy does not explain what I did this morning.

Sometimes I go to school by subway. The subway stop is a 30-minute walk away from the school: fortunately, the school provides a shuttle service. Today I left home too early and I got to the bus stop way ahead of time, so I decided to take a taxi instead. This way, I’d have 20 extra minutes to get all my stuff ready.

As I got out of the metro a taxi driver approached me. Now, I know the trip to my school costs 10 RMB, but I asked him anyway: “how much to the school?” To my dismay, he didn’t say “10 RMB.” He said 15. And that pissed me off. So I said: “forget it.” And I left. The man started to chase me and said “OK, 10!” But it was too late. I didn’t get on the taxi, even though it would have saved me 20 minutes of waiting for a bus in the cold.

Why, if it was exactly what I was willing to pay? Well, because it wasn’t right. I didn’t want the guy to think he could get away with trying to cheat people: I wanted him to know that, sometimes, being dishonest has consequences. If I had gotten on his taxi, I’d have been endorsing his behavior. And I couldn’t do that.

Doing this didn’t make me feel any better and probably won’t change this person’s behavior in the future. It was futile, absurd. But I just couldn’t get on the taxi. I couldn’t.

It wouldn’t have been right.