01
May
10

Why now?

To the average person, helping others in need isn’t given second thought, especially when the circumstances involve a catastrophic event, such as the recent earthquake in Haiti or even going back to Hurricane Katrina which ripped through New Orleans. But unless someone ever asked the question of “Why me,” the automated response to helping others would never be uncovered, and it would always be assumed that giving is the right thing to do. Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m not condoning selfishness or proposing that as a society, we become cold hearted and turn our backs on the less fortunate. However, I am asking that if you read this, you begin to think in other directions, and realize that helping people can actually be a quite complicated subject, depending on the circumstances. The following is an excerpt from Iain King’s “How To Make Good Decisions And Be Right All The Time.

Compare yourself with someone called Kintu who lives in Africa, whom you have never met. You are much, much richer than Kintu — he has to work hard in the fields every day just to survive. Several members of his extended family have already died of malnutrition, and his village suffers badly from a dirty water supply which has caused deaths from chlorea and makes diarrhoea endemic, weakening the whole community to whatever other diseases emerge. Your money is worth much more to him than it is to you, and he would put any extra resources to very good use by fixing the water and sanitation system in the village. He is especially deserving of your help — indeed, Kintu is actually the most deserving person in the world; the single person who will make the best use of the help you can offer him. If you applied the Help Principle (giving help to someone when your help is worth more to them than it is to you), then you should give him a large portion of your income. But you don’t. Why?
We could identify seven clear failings with the system making of making decisions with the motivation of “doing whatever has the best consequences.” There seem to be another seven why the Principles that flow form the Help Principle are not in place, either:

1. Information- You don’t know how hard Kintu works, or how much he’s helped others in the past. You don’t know how much help he needs, or what sort of help. You don’t know what would happen to the world economic system if everybody applied the Help Principle to people like Kintu. There is just too much information to know, and some of it can NEVER be known.

2. Certainty- Even if you did have some information about Kintu, how much could you trust it? If you send him some money, how do you know it would reach him? It’s not just a question of information, but of having reliable information.

3. Why him? There are at least a billion people facing chronic poverty. Why not help one of the others instead?

4. Who’s responsible? Why should it be you who helps Kintu — why not someone else? Surely there are people more responsible than you for helping Kintu.

5. Your relative status- If you did help Kintu, what would that mean for you in your local town? People often judge themselves relative to others, and giving to Kintu when others do not means you would lose out in your neighbourly social competition.

6. Your previous commitments.- Meanwhile, you have your own family to think about. You may have promised to help them, and honouring your promise means helping Kintu takes second place.

7. Inertia- Finally, the fact you have not helped Kintu in the past seems to provide a reason for not helping him now. Inertia means you act in the way you are not used to acting. You don’t challenge everything you do — that’s too much to think about. So you tend to do what you’ve done before and behave as people expect you to behave.

So there are lots of reasons why you don’t help Kintu (ends King’s work). How’s that for thought process? While I did not write any of that, I will put my spin on the subject of helping others. Something I find interesting is how people play on others emotions to evoke the spirit of giving, and from what I’ve observed, this is usually done because most people don’t fully understand the subject of help.

Why is it that it takes a national disaster to prompt others to help people in need? After the earthquake in Haiti hit, Americans everywhere felt enormous amounts of sympathy for the ravished nation. Images of destruction flooded the media, and filled television sets full of despair in almost every household in the country. Like any good-minded person, we don’t hesitate to act, and we begin to think of what we can do to help, and that’s where I want you to stop. Let’s step back a second to the line “don’t hesitate to think.” Why is this so? Why does it take an earthquake to convince you to give your help to less fortunate people? As of 2003, it was estimated that about 80% of Haiti’s population was living in poverty. 30-40% of Haiti’s economy is foreign aid. Both of those statistics are pre-earthquake Haiti. Now, if you had visited pre-earthquake Haiti, I’m sure you would have seen enough poverty that you would have felt sympathy for those living there, yet instead, you more than likely new nothing about pre-earthquake Haiti, and the only reason you gave money to those people was because of an earthquake. They were already living in poverty-stricken conditions and could have used your money a long time ago. Why does it take an earthquake to make you “cough it up?”

Having said that, I’m going to explain something that directly ties in to that type of thinking. When is the last time you went to a gas station, a supermarket, or even a shopping mall, and you were approached in the parking lot by some kid with a bucket, or you were asked to donate money by a person at the entrance to where you were going? Probably hasn’t been that long. The kid that approaches you sticks his bucket out, citing the saddest speech known to man and possibly puts on a face that makes a rainy day turn to sunshine. As he’s talking to you, chances are that no rational thought is being put into the dollar you’re about to drop in his bucket. Why? Let’s look back at two of King’s points on giving help. Certainty–you don’t know this kid, so how do you know you’re money is going to it’s proposed destination? Inertia–you don’t put any thought into what you’re doing so you do what’s expected of you. You give the kid money without any second thought because you see it as “the right thing to do.” A simpler way of explaining my point would be to ask yourself this: if you’re going to hand out you’re money, why not do some research and find out where your money should go? There are thousands of organizations looking for donations, and more than likely, there are at least a few that touch on areas of life that you feel are worth giving to. Yet, out of nowhere, a random kid walks into your day and begs for your money, and your impetuous decision making enables kids and others everywhere to take your money because they know that if they put on the right show, you’ll fork it over.

The example of the child with the bucket now ties in to the story of giving to Haiti. My original question, “Why does it take an earthquake to motivate you to give money to a country that has needed it for years,” can be linked to the decision making of donating money randomly to strangers you’ve never met. With the problem of Haiti, your decision is tweaked when the right front is put on, meaning–when you see images of disaster or images that make you pity others’ circumstances–and you have no problem giving up your own belongings. This is the same problem with the strangers approaching you in public asking for your money. You don’t know them, yet if they preform a good “dog and pony show,” they’re much more likely to walk away with your cash. So the next time someone’s trying to sell you (not literally), you don’t have to write them off, but you should think about your motivations.

07
Feb
10

bullshit

bullshit (n)- speech neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false; speech that is not on the facts at all, as the speech of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as it may be pertinent to getting away with what one says; speech that is not relative to whether the things one says describe reality correctly, rather, it is speech that is picked out, or made up, to suit one’s purpose.
You may have never heard of such a definition before, as the term bullshit is often looked at in the English language as an explicit term and not accepted as commonly used language. Bullshit, however, is something that the world is full of, and that more importantly, the average human mind tends to create on a somewhat regular basis (average being everyone); thus, the human mind is the origin of where the bullshit that the world is full of is originally created. So, it is very clear that the world itself doesn’t create bullshit; the last time I checked, the trees on the side of the highway, the grass in my backyard, and the pavement that makes our interstates doesn’t produce bullshit, just humans. So with that said, you’re human if you’re reading this and you can relate to this note, and you might begin to wonder how much thought you give to limiting the bullshit you contribute to society, because as we all know, there is entirely too much of it. As simple science has proved, no one is perfect, and with that said, it would be impossible to completely eliminate bullshit from our world. But we can all do our best to put more thought into what we say. I’ll give some examples of bullshit, and while they may not be serious or have real consequences, they prove that sometimes, people simply don’t put any thought into what they say.
Some people have the notion that a cigar smoker has “money to spend,” and while sometimes this may be the case, I’m going to present a case that begs to differ. I don’t spend $15 everytime I light up, because if I did, I would be spending around $375 on a box of 25 cigars, which is money I don’t have. Rather, I’d spend about $175 on a box of 25 $7 cigars. While I certainly enjoy a more expensive cigar, I don’t have the income to support such a habit. So think about this: I spend $175 on 25 $7 cigars, and it lasts me for 3 months. Take another person that smokes cigarettes…a pack every 2 days to be exact. That pack costs say…$3.50. If that person were to follow that pattern for 2 months, he’d be spending $105 in 2 months. Now, you tell me: who’s Mr. Money Bags? I sometimes get comments from people that support the notion that I “have money,” and while I certainly am living a life that is 100% dedicated to living that way someday, I am not under those circumstances just yet; so, that bothers me from the perspective of how people automatically judge based off inadequate evidence. That just goes to show that a simple misconception and thoughts with no concern for the truth are more easily created than most people might think. This example to most people doesn’t really have any severe consequences, but if I were to break it down further and take a look into the Law of Causation, you would certainly see otherwise.
Here’s another example: I cringe when people say things as such: “If you knew the conditions some people live in, you wouldn’t waste food either.” This bothers me because ultimately, to whoever has said that to me, you do not know what other people would do, or what “you” would do either. This is completely opinion based, yet some people say it as if it is factual, hence the phrase “you wouldn’t.” If a homeless person saw someone throw away a perfectly good burger, he might say, “If I had food to spare, I would never throw it away.” That’s bullshit. It would be perfectly fine to say, “I would hope that I wouldn’t be that way,” but to say it as though he knows he wouldn’t…as though he were presenting it as a fact, is bullshit. The homeless person does not know that to be true, despite the fact that he believes his statement to be true. The homeless person’s situation influences his thoughts, or rather, his lack of shelter, food, water, clothes, etc. His situation influences him to say such a statement, yet given the chance to live life with a six-figure income, (while throwing the burger away) he might say something along the lines of, “It’s just a dollar.” So when someone says to me that I wouldn’t throw food away if I knew the conditions some people live in, I’d really like to tell them, “I do know the conditions some people live in, but I’m not them, and if they were in my shoes, who’s to say they wouldn’t waste food either?” But of course, I wouldn’t say that, because something that’s changed my life in relation to dealing with people is the notion that people tend to believe what they want to.
02
Feb
10

Theory on Equality

For this article to come together, start at the three asterisks, then go all the way down, and then come all the way back to the top.

Yeah, it does. From what you’ve said, I take it that there is no way to use math to try and prove that equality can’t ever possibly exist, because you are presenting me with the exact problem I had: my equation can’t express any type of equality, other than in a mathematical sense.

In my equation, I was using financial income as a random example. Those two variables could represent education, careers, or…you fill in the blank. I was using those variables to try and say that no matter the two people, equality isn’t possible because there will always be variables in a person’s life that can be added to or taken away, thus making the two people being compared unequal. You stated a view on equality in terms of ethics and/or politics, whereas I’m stating a view that sees equality based on many factors of life, and I think this results in society always being in a state of inequality. I suppose someone could divide income equality from social equality, but I think equality is equality, no matter how you slice it, especially since the two are pretty much inseparable (my link at the bottom should touch on that). One definition of social that I found was “of or pertaining to human society,” and it is very easy to see that money and/or worldly possessions tie into how a person “pertains to society.” So, I don’t believe it’s just things money can’t buy (so to speak) that create equality (i.e. it shouldn’t take money to buy protection under the law, civil rights, etc.); rather, I think every factor of life comprises each person’s “social equation.” And what I mean by that is that even if one man has the same protection under the law and the same civil rights as another, he will still probably feel unequal because he might not have as much money, as nice of a car, as big of a house, etc (notice the last two variables proceed the first, money). I believe that even if you give the same rights to two given people, the effects of worldly possessions and the natural human instinct to want more out of life will typically cause one person to feel unequal to another (given the right comparison of people), almost as to say those who feel unequal pick and choose their battles on defining equality, because they know they can’t truly be equal solely based on social rights. I believe someone fighting for equality is like someone striving for perfection: they will never attain it.

Touching a little bit on opportunity, I know it’s easier for some to make it in life because of the circumstances they were born into, because of the people they know, etc; however, I also know that there are plenty of people who would agree that we just as well “create opportunity” for ourselves. So if there are people who believe everyone in society should have equal access to opportunity, it is very much possible for me to argue that because opportunity can be created, it is of access to everyone, or at least to some degree; it’s just a matter of when and/or where someone sees it. Something I find funny about opportunity is that it’s everywhere we look; I believe people usually tend to think of opportunity only in a positive way, when in fact, opportunities to fail are also everywhere we look. Example: Dave needs a job but will only look for one at a select number of places, because he doesn’t want to be a cook at Wendy’s or do data entry for a car dealership; Dave has his mind set on what he wants. After two weeks, he still has no job and complains about having no money, yet there is opportunity everywhere for him; he just refuses to find it. So, on the plus side, he could easily keep looking and get a job eventually, even if it’s somewhere that’s not of his particular liking. On the down side, he has completely limited himself to only a few workplaces and in turn, hasn’t gotten a job and now, has completely given up on getting one at all. Either way, there are two opportunities presented to him; it’s just that one has a better outcome than the other.

My original message was just to try and see what the problem was with using math to show equality on a non-mathematical scale, but I couldn’t help but elaborate on what I am trying to prove, mostly because I like to have someone else’s perspective on what I’ve come up with. I threw in financial income as a random variable, but really, since so many circumstances in life are traced back to how much money a person has, I think using income as an example only helps my case in regards to equality being much more than just social rights. I found this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/markeaston/2010/01/is_inequality_iniquitous.html. That pretty much speaks on behalf of this conversation.

Thanks for taking the time to write back.

Blake

***Hi Blake,

Me: Hey ______, I wanted to get your take on something if you had a minute.

Him: No problem.

Me: What type of problems do you see arising when trying to use an equation in relation to the equality of two people? Simply enough, 1 = 1, but this is strictly in a mathematical sense.

Him: The thing about that symbol is that it does not express moral equality; it expresses identity (either in a mathematical sense or some other sense). For example, you could say ‘(2 + 2) = 4′, meaning that the expression ‘(2 + 2)’ refers to the same number as the numeral ‘4’. Or you could say ‘Bruce Wayne = Batman’, meaning that Bruce Wayne is identical to Batman–they’re the same guy.

But the identity sign does not really refer to equality in a *moral * or *legal* sense. You wouldn’t really express the idea that you and I are on an equal moral standing by saying ‘______ = Blake’. It would be a little better, though still kind of unnatural, to say ‘______’s moral standing = Blake’s moral standing’.

Moving on, you say,

Me: but when variables are added (1 + x = 1 + y), they become unequal, and the two variables, for this example, could be financial incomes.

Him: I don’t understand what you’re saying here. Obviously, not everyone has the same income. And although there are people who think everyone *should* have the same income, that’s not a very mainstream view–it’s pretty far out. “Equality” as a shorthand for an ethical or political doctrine means something like these: everyone should have equal protection under the law; everyone should have equal access to society’s institutions (such as education and other public services); everyone should have equal access to opportunity; stuff like that. I’m not aware of anyone who defends the thesis that everyone should be equally well-off either in terms of income or well-being.




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