rationale

Human beings are rational creatures. In the sense that we’re pretty good at rationalizing our fucked up actions and beliefs.

I like to think that I’m a pretty rational person. I look at a problems logically and dispassionately, analyze all available information, and make a decision based on empirical evidence rather than emotion. Unlike all those other people out there who have ever disagreed with me about anything.

But emotions are insidious little bastards. They worm their way into your rational thinking and start twisting buttons and pushing knobs and totally derailing your otherwise logical thinking until the next thing you know you’re frantically hoarding tin. To make tinfoil hats out of.

I hear they’re in style this year.

You know what’s funny? You know that feeling you get when you just KNOW that you’re right? That deep, satisfying sensation that tells you that despite all evidence to the contrary, you are correct and anyone who disagrees with you is a gaping moron?

It’s total bullshit. Studies have shown* that there is absolutely no correlation between how right you think you are, and how right you actually are. That sense of certainty—or doubt—is just your emotions messing with you.

Don’t believe me? That’s them. THEY’RE DOING IT TO YOU RIGHT NOW.

If you think about it, this pretty much explains irrational people. And stupid people. And assholes. And pretty much everyone, really.

Everyone except me, that is. I am the center of logic and rational thinking that the entirety of human consciousness revolves around. How do I know this? I just KNOW I’m right about it. I just…..

Wait a minute……

Fuck.

The other day a friend of mine called me a moodle. What’s a moodle? I’m glad you asked. According to Urban Dictionary (and I’m paraphrasing), a moodle is a man poodle; a guy who goes to great and pathetic lengths to impress the girl he’s obsessed with, and while the girl likes the attention, she will never, ever sleep with him.

I was fucking pissed. Yeah, that was a pretty accurate description of me from about 2003 to 2009 (the Moodle Years), but I’ve moved past that. And I’m proud of the fact that I’ve moved past that. And him calling me a moodle now is like a slap in the face.

Well, apparently he meant it as a slap in the face. He said he was just trying to get my attention, so he could give me some advice on how to not be a moodle. Well, as anyone who has ever been slapped in the face can tell you it’s a great way to get someone’s attention, but it’s not exactly a good way to get someone to be receptive to what you have to say.

Don’t believe me? Try it yourself. Walk into a bar, slap a complete stranger in the face, and then start lecturing them on the finer points of sea otter fornication. See how far that gets you.

As I said, I was pissed. So I did what I always do when I’m furious to the point of near-incoherence: I wrote him an Angry Email. Because in my experience, this is always a Good Idea.

And the thing is, I honestly believed at the time that I was being completely rational. Because I was Right, and he was Wrong. And I thought that if I just calmly and clearly explained to him why he was mistaken, he would quickly come around to my way of thinking.

But in retrospect, my 2000-word essay entitled “Why You Are Wrong and Also Probably Impotent” may not have been the best way to convince him. Of anything.

Again, this illustrates just how sneaky emotions can be. Seriously, the moment he called me a moodle, my emotions took over without me even realizing it. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I can’t believe he called me a moodle!! How dare he??!! He doesn’t know ANYTHING about what’s going on in my life!! A moodle!! A man poodle!!  Wait a minute. A man poodle. He called me a man poodle. That’s what I’m pissed off about? Seriously?

And just like that, it was over. My emotions released their viselike grip on my brain, and I was back to my normal happy-go-lucky self.

Now I can’t even remember why I was so pissed off. It just seems extremely funny to me now. If nothing else, it’s reminded me to not take myself so damn seriously. I’m not a man poodle. I’m way more aggressive and tenacious than a poodle. More of a man terrier. A merrier, if you will. And the friend who called me a moodle? He’s seen me like 3 times in the past 5 years. He’s in no position to objectively judge my moodliciousness. Moodlocity? What’s the verb form of moodle?

Regardless, he’s just as entitled to his opinion as I am to mine. His is just wrong. And that’s ok too, because the best revenge I can have on him for calling me a moodle is to laugh at him for calling me a moodle.

That’s rational, right?

*I’m not making this up. There really was a study that showed this, but I can’t seem to find it now. But trust me, it was awesome.

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modern chivalry

A friend of mine told me she hates feminism because in her opinion, if a guy sees a pretty girl in tight jeans and high heels carrying more than she can handle comfortably, he should help her.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. And not just because I like thinking about pretty girls in tight jeans and high heels. But really, in this day and age, what constitutes chivalry?

I have a problem with the ancient idea of chivalry. Mostly because it was the men who decided what was chivalrous and what wasn’t, and it doesn’t seem like they consulted the ladies much in this. And yeah, I’m sure some women got a big kick out of men risking their lives to commit chivalrous acts, but I bet just as many would’ve been much happier if their knights gallantly brought them chocolate, or heroically took them out to dinner, or courageously helped them with the housework. Or, you know, just treated them as equally capable and worthy human beings.

And that was just for noblewomen. Peasant women got totally screwed.

The United States Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. Some people seem to think that this means we’re all equally talented and capable, but I this is blatantly not true. We are clearly not all equally intelligent, strong, or of equal character—however you choose to define it. I think John Adams put it better when he wrote in the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, “All men are by nature free and equal…not a physical but a moral equality.” In other words, as fellow human beings we are all equally deserving of consideration.

So what does that mean for modern chivalry? For me, it means I’m equally considerate of everyone. I don’t care about age or sex or race or any other classification system someone can come up with to discriminate against someone else. As far as characteristics are concerned, I treat everyone equally.

But I do take other things into consideration. If I’m on the subway and I’ve actually managed to get a seat and I see a beautiful young woman and a tired-looking middle-aged man forced to stand, I’m going to offer my seat to the man. No question.

Because I’d rather stand next to the hot girl. This actually has nothing to do with chivalry.

Getting back to the original point, if I see a hot girl in tight jeans and high-heeled shoes carrying more than she can handle because she just really loves to shop, I’m really not going to feel too inclined to offer to help her. That said, if she actually asked for my help, I’d definitely help her.

I think there is a difference between men and women regarding the expectation of an offer to help. A while back my mom was complaining about how she and her sister were moving some heavy things while a group of young men just watched. She seemed kind of annoyed that none of these capable youths offered to help a pair of “mature” ladies, but my first question was, “Did you ask them for help?” No, she hadn’t.

I honestly think that if someone wants help, they should simply ask for it. I do understand that it can be difficult to ask a complete stranger for help when you intend to offer nothing but a sincere “thank you” in return, but I don’t think it’s justified to expect random strangers to spontaneously drop everything and rush to your aid without any expectation of reward, and I really don’t think it’s justified to get upset with people who don’t help you if you don’t actually bother to ask them for help.

In summary, I think modern chivalry consists of being willing to offer help to anyone regardless of who they are or what characteristics they possess, but as an individual you are perfectly free to decide for yourself if and when you will offer to help someone. While it is great and commendable and wonderful for sure, there is no obligation whatsoever to offer aid to anyone, and nor should there be.

Unless she’s really REALLY hot. Then I’ll carry her damn shopping bags.

Damn you Scott Adams

Who is the greatest philosopher of our time?

It occurred to me recently that I can’t name a single person still active today who is widely regarded as a great philosopher.  I’m not saying there isn’t one–rather just that I personally can’t think of one.  It seems to me that if there was one around today, their name would probably come to mind without too much thought.  Can you think of one?

Of course, it may be that the greatness of a philosopher can only be assessed in retrospect, and only future generations have the knowledge and insight to look back and say with any authority who the greatest philosopher of our time is, and anyone claiming to have an answer at the moment clearly doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

I think it’s Scott Adams.  Also known as “The Dilbert Guy”.  The creator of the “Dilbert” comic strip.

If you know of him at all, you may only know him as the guy who draws funny comics about people who work in cubicles, but there’s so much more to it than that.  There’s also a talking dog.  And cat.  And rat.  And an intern.  The subtleties are boundless.

The comic aside, Scott Adams is also a very thoughtful and thought-provoking writer.  His book, “God’s Debris”, (a free, authorized copy can be found here) and his blog are full of profound philosophical musings.  What I like best about his philosophy is that it’s grounded in science, logic, and reasoning, without too much dogmatic acceptance or rejection of anything without verifiable evidence.

And that’s why I’m pissed off at him.  Because he writes about a lot of the same things that I want to write about, and in the same way, but he’s a lot better at it than I am.  His writing is clear, easy to follow, and most of all, entertaining.  And I think that’s one of the reasons why he’s so successful.  I also think he’ll be remembered as much for his contributions to philosophy as for his contributions to the Sunday comics.  At least I hope so.

Just one example of his contribution to philosophy (and incidentally another reason why I’m pissed off at him) is “The Adams Theory of Content Value.”  This theory basically states that the easier it becomes for us to find free media on the internet, the less likely we’ll be willing to pay for it.  This is bad news for someone like me who has (probably unrealistic) dreams of making a living as a writer.

Still, aside from how it affects me personally, I think it’s a good thing.  People with passion will still write and create music, and people with that elusive combination of passion and talent will get the acclaim they deserve, but those motivated strictly by greed will find it more difficult.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

And if you want a better description and analysis of this theory, I highly recommend checking out Scott Adams’ blog.  He’s a very funny, informative, and thought-provoking guy, and I think someday he will be recognized as the greatest philosopher of our time.

Bastard.

Wikipedia Greatness

Having recently completed my two biggest goals in life–to get a PhD and to have something I’ve written published–I’ve decided that my new long-term goal (aside from living on every continent for a year) is to achieve Wikipedia Greatness.

Wikipedia Greatness is defined (by me) as doing something notable enough that someone else creates a Wikipedia entry about me–and that entry doesn’t subsequently get deleted by the site’s editors. The key point here is the someone else. It’s important to stress that in order to achieve Wikipedia Greatness, other people have to think I’m great.

As opposed to just me thinking I’m great. Or my mom.

Of course, there are different levels of Wikipedia Greatness. The first level is to simply have a stub. Basically, just my name and a brief, almost apologetic explanation of why I have an article in the first place. At the bottom it will say something like, “This article about an Unimportant person is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.” But why would you want to? You have better things to do.

It’s beyond this first level (the stub-level) that things really get interesting and Wikipedia Greatness really comes alive. Pictures, detailed biographical information, subsections, controversies, links, references, and so on. The possibilities are virtually endless, and the level of detail is directly proportional to how important other people think I am.

But I don’t care about any of that. I just want a stub. I simply want to plant my feet firmly on that first step of The Wikipedia Ladder of Greatness. Or maybe it’s an escalator. I’m not really sure. Metaphors were never my strong suit.

So what exactly is Greatness anyway, and how can it be achieved? Naturally, Wikipedia has an article on Greatness which goes into some detail, but I’m not going to rehash it all here. What I did find interesting though was at the very bottom of the article, a guy named Bill Dorris did an extensive study of individuals throughout history and came up with a complicated argument for how Greatness is achieved (although ironically he does not yet have a Wikipedia article of his own).

Having just now done an extensive study of glancing at a few pages on Wikipedia, I’ve come up with my own theory for how Greatness is achieved. And while Dorris’s argument has the advantage of sound research and professional-sounding terms, mine has the advantage of being easy to understand and not requiring a whole book to explain.

So according to me, the three keys to Greatness are: talent, opportunity, and hard work. Now I don’t know about the exact proportions, but I think some amount of each of these things is required. And yeah, maybe if you have a lot of talent and a great opportunity you might not have to work so hard, or with a lot of hard work and a decent opportunity you can achieve greatness even if you don’t have a lot of talent, but I think at least some amount of all three is required for Greatness.

If my goal were to simply make enough money to live comfortably, I think I would be just fine with a career in science. But if my goal is Wikipedia Greatness, I’m going to have to do something else. Because while I do have some talent for research, I just don’t know what direction to take in order to discover something Great. Plus, I don’t want to work that hard because I’m just not that passionate about it.

But when it comes to writing, I feel like I can see an opportunity for myself. I think I could achieve a minor level of Greatness as a writer/philosopher. I have a lot of stories in my head–more than 60 at the moment–and I have a way of looking at things that’s slightly different compared to most people. And while I may not have an exceptional amount of talent for writing, I think I do have an adequate amount, and I’m willing to work hard. After all, I’m not looking for a Shakespeare- or Aristotle-sized Wikipedia entry.

I just want a stub.

More on Going for It

One of my friends here in China tells me I’m indecisive. I like to think that I’m simply just really good at clearly seeing both the positives and negatives of each potential choice in any given decision, and therefore I weigh my options carefully before I take any irrevocable action.

But that’s a bunch of crap. I really am just pretty indecisive.

Most of the big decisions I’ve made in my life have been on a whim, or a coin toss, or on the advice of someone else—basically I let them decide for me. But the decision to put my career in science at least temporarily on hold to go to Australia to finish my novel was one I made all on my own.

At first I was going to let Fate decide. I applied for a postdoc which I was reasonably qualified for in Melbourne, and I figured if I got it I’d take it, and if not I’d go to Australia anyway on a “Work and Travel” visa, which lets me stay in Australia for a year, but forbids me to work any one job for more than six months.

But then I got to thinking about what a friend of mine in the Peace Corps told me: “If you want to pursue your dream, you can’t have a plan B; otherwise it will become your plan A.”

I don’t know if that’s true in all cases, but it was certainly true for me once before. When I left Africa in 2004 I wanted to be a writer, but I decided that getting a PhD in chemistry would be my plan B. Well, six years later I have a PhD, but I still haven’t finished my novel. I think that pretty much says it all.

So I made a decision. I decided that I was going to stop putting in a half-assed effort, and finally commit my whole ass to something. I decided to intentionally and willfully give up on the postdoc, and just focus completely on writing. That decision made, I went ahead and applied for the “Work and Travel” visa.

My mommy helped me pay for it.

The thing is, once I made that decision, everything in my life seemed to snap into place. I was granted the visa in less than a week, and didn’t even have to show them any supporting documentation. My friend mentioned the book she was writing, and I agreed to edit it—and in doing so, my own writing and even my perception of writing has improved. I feel energized and inspired; I feel like I have some direction in my life, and I’m finally doing what I’m really supposed to be doing. I am, unfortunately, a rather tense, anxious person, but lately I’ve been feeling a lot more relaxed and happy. And while I can’t say for sure, I like to think that I’m feeling better now because I finally made a decision to do what’s best for me to do.

Yeah, I finally made a decision for myself. Go me. Seriously, my mom picked my college for me, a friend suggested I go to Hawaii, I let the Peace Corps choose Tanzania, I went to England for a girl, I came to China to get as far away from—nevermind. The point is, I’ve always let Fate or other people make my choices for me because I’m indecisive, but this time I’m actually making a decision for myself. And it feels pretty good.

Oh yeah, and I got an email last week saying I was turned down for the postdoc anyway, so I guess that settles it.