Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Meaning of Life

A few days ago, a reader sent me an email and asked, “as a fellow atheist, I've been struggling with a super cheesy but important question: what is the meaning of life?”

This is possibly one of the most difficult questions that has been posed by humanity since we have been capable of thought; and people are still seeking answers to this question. By tackling this question, I am in no way saying that I have the definitive answer to that question that will end the debate once and for all. My answer is mine alone.

However, before I begin, I have to state that I am, indeed, an atheist. Therefore, the answer that I am about to give will not deal with the supernatural or anything else that cannot be scientifically verified.

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As such, I am not entirely sure if the question itself is appropriately phrased. Concepts, the basic ideas that people carry in our minds, can have meaning precisely because we give them meaning. The fact of the matter is that existence exists. What that means is that even if humans were to become extinct some day, and there was no more sentient/teleological/intelligent beings left on the planet, it will not change the fact that existence will still continue to exist. Matter, though changeable, is indestructible; but life, and subsequently thought, is fragile and always caught on the precipice between existence and non-existence.

Whereas concepts can have meanings, I do not think that it is possible for non-concepts, such as life, to possibly have any objective meaning. For instance, can a rock have any meaning? A rock is a rock. True, people can mold a rock into something useful but that is a different thing entirely. To change a rock into a tool or an ornament that people value is the process of our minds being able to conceptualize and taking the necessary actions that are needed in order to transform the rock into something else that is useful to us. However, that does not change the fact that until an intelligent being comes along to change a rock into something else of value to the intelligent being, a rock is nothing more than just a rock.

Therefore, the only answer that I have to the question, “what is the meaning of life,” is this – “Life can have no meaning. It simply is.”

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Of course, I am being very literal with the word “meaning.” I have to be. As I said, I am an atheist. I do not believe that some kind of supernatural being invented life. If it could be objectively proven that life were an invention that was created by some kind of mystical entity, then I could apply the word “meaning” in a more non-literal way and say, “The meaning of life is love” or some such nonsense. However, I cannot and will not do that.

So, I never liked the way the question is phrased. Logically, there can be no answer; at least none that is satisfying. Therefore, in order to have a meatier answer than “it just is,” it is necessary to change the question. I prefer to ask “What is the purpose of life?”

Once asked that way, then the question can be answered with a bit more thought. And my answer to that question is this: “The purpose of life is simply to live.”

However, that answer breeds more questions. Firstly, what then does “to live” mean? Secondly, what is the point of it all? After all, the fact of the matter is that all living organisms inevitably die. It is the ultimate change in condition. To live is complex. There are innumerable things that a person has to do in order to maintain and improve one’s life. Death, on the other hand, is that permanent state of being where one simply ceases to live. With that ultimate goal hanging over all of our heads, what then is the point of it all?

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Wondering what the point of life is when we will all inevitably die, however, lies the assumption that, like death, life is a condition – a state of being. Though it is certainly true that life is, indeed, a state of being, it is an answer that has never satisfied me. That is because life is more than just a state of being. Life is also a process; a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action.

The important word here is “process.”

Life is not merely a state of being people achieve (by pure accident) and simply maintain until the day we meet the proverbial Boatman, but the process of reaching it. Life is action. It’s the things we do. It’s the process of accomplishing goals, not just the end results of the goals. It is the things that we do and accomplish.

For example, everyone needs money. However, none of us, with perhaps the exception of the genuine miser, makes money simply for the sake of making money. We make money in order to be able to better afford the things that we need and want to live comfortably. And living comfortably may be the end goal, but it’s the process of producing goods and services that we wish to buy and sell, the act of loving and being loved, that I would call life. Life is not simply the ends. Contrary to what Machiavellians might think, the means matter.

So, for example, if we are talking about money, it matters a great deal how we make the money we made. Did we earn it? Or did we steal it? Or did we come across it simply by sheer dumb luck? In other words, values matter because the values that we cognitively decide upon as being good are there not just to maintain life, but also to improve our ability to live our lives.

Bernie Madoff
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So what values must we pursue? Life is the end in itself. As such, the values that we must pursue are the values that help to maintain our lives. What is considered good and evil must therefore be measured by how it affects our lives. The most basic way to understand what is good and evil is Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian principles, which recognizes the fundamental role of pain and pleasure in human life, and equates good with pleasure and evil with pain. However, utilitarianism alone is insufficient.

That is because utilitarianism fails to define what “the good” is. When taken to its logical extreme, utilitarianism eventually boils down to majority rule whereby the majority can do whatever it damn well pleases at the expense of the minority. Furthermore, it fails to take into consideration how people reach the conclusion about what is good. Do they use reason, or do they resort to base epicurean whim? Although Bentham’s succesor, John Stuart Mill, later on built upon Bentham’s foundation by dividing pleasure into “higher” and “lower” forms of pleasure, utilitarianism still says nothing about reason.

Beyond pleasure and pain, we also have to take reason into consideration.

A good example of this is farming and storing food. Hunger is certainly painful and the best way to alleviate hunger is, of course, by eating. But how do we get the food?

Why can’t we simply steal the food?” a utilitarian might ask. “After all, as long as our goal is to live, isn’t the willful decision to steal food – the choice made to end pain and promote pleasure – a result of us using our reason?”

No, it is not. Firstly, we must separate reason from logic. When I was in middle school and I first learned about computer programming, a phrase that I came to learn was GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out. If our reasoning is faulty, we can still take our faulty reasons to their logical conclusions. That does not change, however, no matter how logical, that the reason (and the most likely outcome) is bad. Secondly, that is because we have to remember that before anything can be stolen, it must first be produced. Furthermore, we have to remember that human action does not take place in a vacuum. For every human action, there tends to be a direct and opposite overreaction. If we resort to violence to steal food (or anything for that matter), there is a very good chance that our actions will come back to haunt us in a myriad of ways.

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After we have reaped and sowed our crops, what then? Do we then eat everything that we produce? It will certainly end hunger. But then what happens next year? If we eat everything now, including the seed stock that is needed for planting next year, yes, we will be full now. But we will not stay full for long.

However, before all that, does anyone imagine that it would even be possible to farm without using reason? If we tried to grow a crop without the necessary knowledge that is required for farming, we would not be able to grow anything. This applies to the production of anything else. That is because our minds are the root of all production and therefore, the root of our survival.

It bears repeating that our minds, our reason, are the root of our survival. As the purpose of life is simply to live and our survival depends on our ability to use our reason, the barometer that is used to gauge our values is measured by how those values, which are defined by reason, help us to live. Values by themselves are not axiomatic. They must be of use to our lives in order to be considered virtuous or vicious.

From here on out, then we must weigh the options that are in front of us in regards to which values that we keep or toss. What are the values necessary to be respected and loved? Which are the ones necessary to become wealthy? Which are the ones needed to be happy? It is only through a process of reason and rational decision making that we can achieve those values that are good so that we may enjoy our lives.

In order to enjoy our lives, then what we need to pursue are the things that make us happy. So what makes us happy? I personally do not like to pose the question that way. That is because when the question is posed that way, it takes us away from the position that life is a process. For example, people assume that if we have a lot of money or if we find someone who will love us it would make us happy. However, my position is that that is not the way to look at it. The better way to look at happiness is to ask ourselves a series of questions such as “Am I excited about my future? Do I love the people in my life? Am I proud of who I am, and what I have done?”

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Essentially, happiness is an emotional response to a rational evaluation of my own life. Friendships and love are not mere ornaments that we collect. They are meant to be enjoyed.

However, seeing how death is inevitable, then what is the point of it all?” some may (and do) ask.

I have often thought that this was a ridiculous way to look at life. Life is “meaningful” precisely because we will all die some day. We have to go back to how we define values.

Our values are the things that we uphold in order for us to live. However, let us assume for the sake of argument that we are immortal; like some kind of omnipotent and omniscient god, we are immune from disease or pain or death. Only then would we be able to honestly say that we have nothing to lose or gain. Any action that we take or thought that we entertain will be meaningless. There would be no need to have values. There would be no need to be reasonable or unreasonable. There simply would be no reason to be. An eternity (itself a terrifying concept if any serious thought is given to it) of meaningless existence is far too evil to wish upon our worst enemies.

None of us can ever achieve immortality and despite Ray Kurzweil’s passionate arguments in defense of immortality in the form of the Singularity, I am disinclined to believe in its supposed merits. However, we can be immortal until the day we die. What I mean here is that we can remain true to our values; to ourselves. With every passing day, people die just a little bit. Try meeting that piss-and-vinegar filled idealist friend whom you had in college after not having met him for ten years. I can guarantee that he/she will not be the same person that you met last.

I don’t mean a change in tastes or the way we look or even the way we think. I mean the way people compromise, deny, and contradict their values – because it is supposedly the adult thing to do – until one day, they can no longer recognize themselves. That is something that we can avoid. That is how we achieve immortality. Not by avoiding death but by remaining true to our values, which are intended for us to enjoy our lives. And that is what the point of it all is – to last forever now.

One of my favorite plays that I have ever read is Goethe’s Faust and at the end of the play, the eponymous character recognizes at the “highest moment” that “the last word of wisdom” is:

No man deserves his freedom or his life
Who does not daily win them anew.

Once we understand that, then we can begin to understand what our purpose in life is and, perhaps, find meaning, too.


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Of course, if this was too long for you to read and you want something funnier, then I suppose you could always just watch Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Answering Readers' Comments

After having written several blog posts about the superiority of laissez-faire capitalism, I have seen quite a few comments that ranged from thoughtful responses to shrill insults. I have decided to focus on the comments that were aimed at my arguments than at my person. The following are the most common comments that I have received and my answers to them.


1. The free market, when left alone, does not solve every single problem.

I suppose that it is possible that I have been living under a rock but I have never heard of anyone, at least no one intelligent, on my side of the argument who has ever subscribed to such a caricature of an idea. The free market is merely the function of the free exchanges of goods and services entered into by individuals. How can the free exchange of goods and services “solve” anything other than the immediate needs of the sellers and the buyers to sell or buy the goods? Furthermore, I don’t understand where people get the idea that I think that the market “always knows exactly what to do and when to do it.” If I truly believed that, then I would need to come up with an answer as to how I would account for businesses that go bankrupt.

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2. Capitalism is immoral because the market economy is controlled by humans who are susceptible to greed, corruption, and exploitation.

People who think like this don’t ever seem to consider that government officials and bureaucrats, whom they want to regulate those greedy, corrupt, and exploitative corporations, might be susceptible to the same kind of greed, corruption, and exploitation. When I raise such an objection, they are quick to counter that such people can later be voted out of office, which, though charming, does not really hold much water considering incumbency rates that reach up to 90%. Furthermore, they do not ever seem to think that it is much easier to “vote out” businesses that they do not like simply by refusing to buy their products. As crazy as this may sound, unlike the government, businesses, not even the Almighty Samsung Electronics or the Great Exxon Mobil can force people to buy their products.


3. If free market principles were allowed to rule, what that means is everything would be based on maximizing profits.


And even if they did, this is bad because...?

I simply do not understand why there are so many people in the world who seem to think that profit is synonymous with evil. What is profit? Merriam-Webster defines profit as “the excess of returns over expenditure in a transaction or series of transactions; especially: the excess of the selling price of goods over their cost.”

With all due respect to Merriam-Webster, however, profit is more than that. It is also society’s way of ratifying a business’ past production decisions. To explain, when a business makes a profit (assuming that it makes a profit honestly without having to be bailed out by taxpayers), it is an indication that it is able to make products that consumers want to buy aka something that people think is beneficial enough for them to fork over their hard-earned money.

If a business does not provide goods or services that people feel is worth paying for, the business won’t be in business for very long.

Furthermore, if these people do think that profits are evil, then barring the profit motive, how exactly should resources be allocated? We can either allow consumer preferences to guide production, or let the personal preferences of a monopolist (i.e., government) dictate what should be produced and how. But of course, the question is never posed this way.


4. Maximizing profits would mean that the quality of goods sold would suffer because greedy businesses would do everything to cut corners to make an extra buck.

As I mentioned earlier, no business can force people to buy their goods and services and businesses don’t always attempt to maximize profits. Furthermore, if a business owner were stupid enough to cut corners at every turn to maximize profits, consumers will eventually catch on and will seek alternatives. Goodbye, profits.

Incidentally, does that mean that when businesses are not motivated by profit, i.e. the desire to sell products that consumers want, the quality of goods sold would then improve? Would businesses then start to produce high quality products solely for the benefit of the Proletariat or the Fatherland? I suppose they would. If they were threatened with death but that arrangement will most likely not last for very long.

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5. Profit maximization means that only the rich will be able to afford to buy things like healthcare insurance or a good education, while the poor will have to stay poor.

Do I have to mention again that businesses don’t always attempt to maximize profits?

About halfway through the movie Elysium, I had to force myself to stop rolling my eyes lest they stay that way forever. At the end of the movie (SPOILER ALERT), Matt Damon and his band of merry revolutionaries raid the excess medical beds found on Elysium and then give universal health care to all the suffering masses.

Of course, non-economists who watched this movie did not seem to wonder why these excess beds were being stocked on Elysium when they clearly weren’t being used. It stands to reason that people are more likely to make a profit by making goods widely available to anyone who can afford to pay for them. Initially, prices would be high, just as the first cars or the first mobile phones were ridiculously expensive. However, over time, as more people consume products, the more it becomes mass produced. This means that in the long-run, per/unit cost falls.

But why try to make sense when people can instead make a dumb movie with a straw-man argument about universal healthcare with cyborg-like humans and robots shooting lasers and missiles at each other?

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6. The free market has to be regulated.

The people who make such an argument seem to have either never heard of or simply wish to ignore the vast amounts of literature on regulatory capture. Somehow, all regulation seems to be solely for the public good!


7. Deregulation was what got the world into its current-day economic mess.

Firstly, deregulation is a myth. For one thing, when financial institutions like Goldman Sachs are allowed to make riskier bets while the government still insures their deposits, that’s not deregulation.

Furthermore, people who make these arguments are prone to believe that the world has undergone a revival of laissez-faire economics since the Reagan-Thatcher years. I would like to know what they’re smoking because that seems to be really powerful stuff.

All of that aside, however, can any of those people actually empirically prove that we are indeed living in an era of deregulation? Have the number of regulations increased or decreased? Do governments spend more or less money on regulations? Are there more or less regulators or bureaucrats? What about the number of legislation on the books? What about the number of administrative agencies today versus thirty years ago?


8. Capitalists are all about competition until the government steps in to provide competition.

This fails to take into consideration that in the free market, despite the size of certain businesses, a large business does not, in fact, have the ability to dictate every single transaction the way it wants. If that were indeed possible, Wal-Mart shouldn’t have to pay for anything. However, that is simply not the case. That is because, though some are indeed bigger than others, it does not change the fact that all businesses are “players.”

However, once the government engages in the business side of any given industry, not only would it be the biggest player in the business, it would also be the umpire. This fact alone should make any sensible person averse to government engaging in business.

Secondly, businesses and the government are motivated by very different things. A business is typically motivated by profit maximization or market share maximization, etc. The governments actions, on the other hand, is motivated by politics.

The government has no rational basis to determine what to produce, or in what quantities. It gets its money not by providing a good that people voluntarily choose to purchase, but by seizing the funds from its subject population. Since it therefore lacks a profit-and-loss feedback mechanism, every single production decision it makes is absolutely arbitrary, and necessarily wastes resources. Case in point, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the Post Office, etc. etc. etc.

Furthermore, private businesses compete for consumers dollars and bear financial risks and absorb financial losses (again, this is assuming that businesses are not bailed out by the government). The government, however, is subsidized by the taxpayers, and the taxpayers would assume the risks and the liabilities for whatever mistakes or losses that the government incurs.



And these were my favorite ones. Perhaps some day I will come up with another list.


If your argument is not here and you’d like to see it addressed, feel free to write it in the comment section.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Arizona’s “Anti-Gay/Religious Freedom” Legislation

On February 20th 2014, the Arizona state legislature passed SB 1062, otherwise known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act SB 1062, and has since transmitted the bill to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a figure who is no stranger to controversy, to be signed into law on February 24th 2014. As yet, Governor Brewer has not officially announced whether to sign the bill into law or not.

The controversy behind this bill is that it allows business owners to refuse to serve anyone whom they perceive to be members of the gay community so long as the business owners were acting solely on their religious beliefs.

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For those of you who are familiar with this blog and my pro-Free Market stance, you might think that I am jumping for joy because this bill seemingly allows businesses to be regulated less by the government. You’d be wrong.

From my pro-Free Market point of view, I am not thrilled with this bill because it does not go far enough. No, I do not mean that I think the government should legalize the lynching of homosexuals. What I mean is that, just like no one should be forced to patron any business that he/she doesn’t like, no business person should be forced to deal with any client he/she doesn’t want to serve.

One shouldn’t have to cite a religious reason for denying service to a potential customer. So long as businesses are not harming anyone (no, hurt feelings don’t count), a business should be free to act for whatever reason it chooses. At best, this bill is a half-step towards economic liberty. At worst, it is a law, which is supported by diseased degenerates who think that a person’s sexuality can make him/her subhuman, that permits people to remain ridiculously irrational while hiding behind the supposedly respectable cover of a book that was written in the Bronze Age because that just sounds like it is chock full of good ideas!

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The other problem that I have with this whole mess is the complaints that progressives have thrown at it. Firstly, I have heard many people comparing this bill with Jim Crow laws. That is not very accurate.

Jim Crow laws, as the name suggests, were laws that were passed by state governments that compelled businesses, as well as the government itself, to segregate, whether they wanted to or not.

This law that progressives are critiquing (for all the wrong reasons) allows businesses that want to enter into contract with everyone to do so, and allows businesses that want to cater to only members of the KKK to do so as well. So it is not a blanket law like the Jim Crow laws were like.

I also read what George Takei said about this when he said, “It gives bigotry against us gays and lesbians a powerful and unprecedented weapon.”

Now George Takei is a great actor whom I’ve seen on television since childhood who has gotten only better with age. That being said, allowing businesses to discriminate against people is hardly unprecedented. For example, I have seen numerous bars while I was in the United States that have posted signs that said “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason.”

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Even the bar that I spent many of my weekend evenings while I was in college carried such a sign. And it was a bar that was owned by an old hippie, who insisted that everyone call him “Loopy,” whose favorite song is John Lennon’s Imagine. Should Loopy be taken to court for that sign?




And for another, George Takei seems to imply that overturning this bill and continuing to force all businesses to serve LGBT people would somehow end the bigotry against LGBT people. There is no evidence that laws end hatred. It certainly forces people to hide their prejudices but it doesn’t get rid of them.

Why not let businesses declare to the whole world what their prejudices are? That way, people can know where not to spend their money.

That’s the fundamental thing that I don’t understand. Instead of wanting to know which businesses are being run by assholes so that people can know where not to spend their money, people who are advocating for laws that force businesses to serve everyone is saying “Excuse me, Mr. Government, there are these sexist/racist pigs that I want to give my money to so that I can be provided with services – services which will most likely be shoddy seeing how I am someone whom they have declared publicly to hate. Could you, please, force them to take my money so that they can make money, while providing me with what will most likely be shoddy services that I’m not sure that I really even want?”

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I’ve heard people say that the change in laws would lead to a change in culture. But I have never seen any evidence of that happening before. I’ve seen cultural changes eventually leading to changes in the law but never the other way around. Ending slavery did not end racism. It simply ended slavery. Ending Jim Crow laws also ended only the laws. It did not end racism. Both of which, by the way, were government laws that were put in place due to the prevalent culture of the time. Similarly, passing laws to force all businesses to serve LGBT people whether they want to or not won’t end homophobia. That will only happen after a change in the culture, which has already been happening for a while.

As a counter-example, assuming that the Westboro Baptist Church hires an actual PR team and changes tact and sends several of its members to a gay bar to order drinks, would the bartender have to serve them? The proper end result ought to be a huge bear of a man wearing leather straps telling them to get the fuck out unless they want their necks snapped. But a law that forces all businesses to serve everyone would then give the Westboro Baptist Church the legal precedent to sue the bar’s owners in court.



People might counter that being gay and/or black and/or female is not the same as being a religious bigot because people cannot choose their gender or sexuality or ethnicity when they are born but religion is something that people can choose. Although that is a valid moral point, legally, it’s irrelevant because what progressives are advocating is about identity, not the choice (or the lack thereof) of one’s identity.

So forcing all businesses to serve others is both illogical and potentially counterproductive.

I get the anger that progressives are feeling. And those bigots that people are angry at deserve moral censure, as well as healthy doses of boycotts, the one thing that George Takei got right in his letter, which is a right that every consumer has. But this law won’t change anything. The change that we want to see has to come through cultural changes. No, cultural changes are never fast enough but that’s the only sure way of moving on from anything old and decrepit.

Let those diseased idiots remain in their cesspool and let the rest of us associate and spend our money the way we want. They will die out sooner or later. The future is on our side.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Moral Duty to Help North Koreans?

In an announcement that came as a shock to no one, after a year-long investigation, a United Nations panel that was headed by retired Australian judge Michael Donald Kirby found that the North Korean regime was responsible for crimes against humanity.

Now that the report is out, Kim Jong-un may be “personally held liable in court for crimes against humanity committed by state institutions and officials under his direct control.”

How wonderful. Now we can all sleep better at night.

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And what does the report accomplish? Absolutely nothing. As everyone knows, both China and Russia will use their veto power in the Security Council to prevent anything that could potentially destabilize the North Korean regime any more than it already is. This would be in accordance with what they had done in 2012 to prevent the passing of a harmless resolution that condemned the Syrian regime and called for President Bashar Assad to step down.

The United Nations, and the Security Council in particular, is indeed a toothless tiger; and each time one of those permanent member nations wields its veto power, it causes anyone in the world with any sense of moral values the urge to vomit blood.

However, as much as the Security Council may be an insipid cesspool, in this case, seeing how it is actively preventing nation states from being forced to accept moral responsibility for the rights of others, it’s a blessing that such a disease-ridden entity exists.

That is because at the heart of the UN report about the hellhole that is North Korea’s crimes against humanity is the underlying assumption that we, as in anyone who is not North Korean, have the moral responsibility to liberate the suffering North Korean people from the yoke of tyranny.

For example, Roboseyo wrote recently in his blog post about this same subject:

With North Korea, we knew. We knew and we knew, and we ignored it. And this is what haunts me about North Korea’s condition: that one day, the surviving North Koreans will confront the world, and ask, “Why didn’t you do anything?” The media used their country’s condition to sell newspapers and ad space, but ignored mass starvation and concentration camps. South Korean politicians cynically used North Koreans' lives as a political wedge issue. No apology will be enough. With Auschwitz not even gone from living memory, we have let this happen again, to our shame as a species.

With all due respect to Roboseyo, this sense of shame and feeling of responsibility is one that I have never accepted nor will ever accept.

Frankly, though Christians may say otherwise, I am not my brother’s keeper. The North Koreans aren’t even my brothers for that matter. And that’s saying something seeing how I’m Korean.

Why is it immediately assumed that people have the duty to perform certain actions for no reason other than obedience to some higher moral authority, without regard to any personal goal, motive, desire or interest? Why does the fact that some random strangers are suffering mean that they have the right to claim moral authority over me?

However, Roboseyo's statement that the question is not “What can the world do to help North Korea” but rather “How can the world empower North Koreans to demand a different kind of country for themselves” is at least somewhat reasonable.  On the other hand, there was the special brand of idiots from the Chosun Ilbo.

The opinion piece from The Chosun Ilbo which I am talking about stated:

There is no point denying that whatever support Seoul provides will eventually end up helping the regime and military. But if that is what it takes to feed the truly hungry, that is a price worth paying to make them feel that South Korea cares.

Firstly, have those idiots at the Chosun Ilbo forgotten that the de facto junta that Seoul’s support would eventually end up helping is run by the same people who were responsible for all this:

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Are South Korean taxpayers supposed to hand over their hard earned money to help pay to keep those thugs in power? Those very same thugs who have committed so many crimes against their own people as well as against South Koreans? Just so that North Koreans, strangers whom we have never met, may feel that “South Korea cares?”

Though the Chosun Ilbo has never been known for being particularly intelligent, this is a new low even for them.

There is without a doubt that North Korea is one of the worst dictatorships that the world has seen in modern times, and as such, it is an outlaw state. Any free(ish) nation in the world has the political, as well as moral, right to invade North Korea to liberate its people as well as dismantle the state apparatus.

However, no free nation in the world has the political or moral duty to invade outlaw nations. Whether a free nation chooses to invade an outlaw nation in order to dispense justice or not is a matter of its own self-interest, not of respect for the non-existent “rights” of gang rulers or their suffering subjects. It is not a free nation’s duty to liberate other nations at the price of self-sacrifice, but a free nation has the right to do it, when and if it so chooses, depending on its goals, motives, desires and interests.

And to be blunt, regardless of the fact that some people may think that the reunification of the Korean peninsula would be a jackpot, invading North Korea to liberate its long suffering people is simply not in anyone’s interests – economically, socially, or politically.

What I do agree with Roboseyo about this is that when we think of North Korea (or Syria or Darfur or Rwanda or East Timor or Kurdistan or Kosovo) the phrase “Never Again” does ring hollow.

Personally, however, “Never Again” has always sounded much more meaningful when it came from Israelis themselves because I always took it to mean that they would never allow something like the Holocaust to happen to themselves ever again.

But as soon those words come from the mouths of anyone else, when it typically means “we cannot stand by and let such crimes occur in any god-forsaken corner of the world,” especially considering how many mass killings there have been since the Holocaust, “Never Again” has always been a meaningless phrase. And that is precisely because no country in the world, not even the United States with all of its supposed exceptionalism, acts against its own selfish interests.

But instead of being proud of being rational and refusing to give in to emotionalism, countries prefer to espouse a morality that none can truly practice for seemingly no other purpose than to wring one’s hands.

If the North Koreans ever overthrow their leaders, they will have my support. If the North Koreans then want to consider reunification with the South on South Korea’s terms (itself a fantasy), they will have my support. But their fate is theirs to make and I will not feel guilty for their suffering or envy for whatever glories they may or may not achieve.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Road to Happiness

I left the United States on a freezing and snowy morning in February 2011. God, how I was miserable that day. I put on a brave face and smiled as much as I  could, or at least I think I did. After the 2008 housing bubble burst and as the US economy continued to struggle to recover, I had no choice but to leave the country I so desperately wanted to call home. I was deeply miserable.

After I arrived in Korea, I spent the next four months being completely unproductive and wallowing in self-pity. Later, after receiving a letter from the Military Manpower Administration, which stated that I was to report for duty to begin my compulsory military service, I joined (was conscripted) the Republic of Korea Army. Though it didn’t feel like it was ever going to end, I was finally discharged in March 2013.

As much as the ROK Army wishes to modernize and train soldiers who can think critically, it is still the Army and like any other army in the world, one of the things that it takes most seriously is the chain of command. What that means is that High Command isn’t going to micromanage every little thing; it’s only going to try to micromanage as much as humanly possible.

So, as a peon, my job was to the do the job that I had been ordered to do the best way I could and only start to think critically when the chain of command had been broken, aka when High Command had been obliterated by North Korean artillery and/or rockets. Seeing how the ROK Army is only preparing for war and not actually at war, High Command is always there, and God, how it loves to remind the soldiers of that fact every waking moment of their lives. So, I didn’t ever really think on the job all that much. I just did as I was told.

Since being discharged, after a few months of unemployment, I had finally found a job that paid decently. But as far as thinking critically goes, however, it’s not all that different from the way I thought critically while I was in the Army.

This was how I felt being in the Army.  Here's the kicker.  I was in Military Intelligence.
Source: http://images.fanpop.com/images/image_uploads/Homer-Brain-X-Ray-the-simpsons-60337_1024_768.jpg

As a result of the peculiar situation that I have found myself in, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder, question, and philosophize. And one of the many questions that I’ve asked myself is “Why am I so unhappy all the time?”

Seeing how many of you have never met me in person, the word that was most used to describe my personality for most of my life was “dour.”

My typical reaction to the sound of babies cooing.
Source: http://iheardin.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Sam-Spratt-Rage-Face-FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUU.jpg

To find the answer, I had to reexamine my most deeply held convictions and had to be honest with myself, no matter how much I hated what I was going to find. And my God, how I hated what I found.

The first step that Alcoholics Anonymous requires of its patients is that they admit to themselves that they have a problem. The next step about accepting that they’re helpless and needing to accept a higher power to drag them out of their hell hole, which allows them to avoid personal responsibility for their own actions, is a whimsical irony but the first step, I agree, is important. And I had a problem. My problem was that I was a resentful person.

Who and what was I resentful of? I think the better question to ask is who and what was I not resentful of. This might or might not come as a surprise to many of you but despite my ardent adherence to capitalism and the free market, I resented the rich; especially those whom I considered to be my intellectual inferiors. For example, let’s take everyone’s favorite punching bag – Donald Trump.

The man is easy to hate, isn’t he? He has the aesthetic tastes of a boorish philistine, the petulance of a spoilt child, the vanity of a prima donna, the intelligence of a slug, and the convictions of a whore. And his hairpiece looks pretty stupid, too. On the other hand, I like to think my tastes as somewhat refined, my diction and cadence polished; that I am well-read and well-educated, and though, at times, I find it bothersome, I do have a conscience.

The fact that such a man as Donald Trump is a billionaire whereas I live from month to month on my paychecks seems to be a gross mockery of Karmic justice. Only if society recognized my real self worth, well, I still probably wouldn’t be a billionaire but I’d easily be able to count myself as part of the upper-middle class.

Asshole!
Source: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01106/Donald_Trump_1106836c.jpg

At least that was what I thought. Actually, that wasn’t what I thought; it was what I felt. Thought requires logic and reason; emotion requires neither. And my resentment of Donald Trump and all those other rich people who attained their “unearned income” through inheritance was nothing more than an irrational tantrum. I had to ask myself whether I genuinely believed, more importantly, whether I could empirically prove that Donald Trump’s wealth somehow caused my poverty. The only logical answer that I could come up with was “No.”

I also had to admit to myself that I have no idea how to run a business successfully. In fact, not many people do. That is why most businesses fail within the first year of opening. The reason that Donald Trump is a billionaire while so many people in the world can’t even run a hot dog stand, despite all his flaws, is that Donald Trump has that something that many people lack – business acumen. Now I had to ask myself, “Is that gift of his something I ought to resent or something I ought to emulate?” The answer is obvious.

The same goes for the children of the wealthy. Yes, it goes without saying that those who inherit their parents’ fortunes will have a greater head-start in their lives than I ever had. But does the fact that they started out rich mean that they are guaranteed to stay rich? No. Even if someone inherits great wealth, the only way to maintain or even increase that wealth is via intelligent and profitable investments. If they squander it, or if they invest it poorly, they will end up losing everything. For proof, one only needs to read up on the litany of woes that befell those who won the lottery. Conversely, does the fact that I started out poor mean that I am destined to stay poor? No. With hard work, perseverance, rational thought, and a little luck, anything is possible. In the midst of my resentment of the rich, I tended to forget that.

This is NOT how people stay rich.
Source: http://docreno.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Rich-Businessman-Lighting-Cigar-With-100-Dollar-Bill-Shutterstock.jpg

So instead of resenting the rich, wouldn’t it be more prudent of me to invest my finite time and energy to improve my own economic condition instead?

The second batch of people whom I resented were those men who were successful in love; particularly those men whom we all love to call ‘douchebags.’ You know which ones I’m talking about. Those boys who have that Chinese character that says “retard” tattooed on their arm; the good looking guy who knows that he’s good looking and because he knows that there is a line of women whose collective biological instinct is telling them to mate with this male right the hell now, he can treat them like dirt with impunity. The guys who smell like as though they’ve just bathed in a vat full of Axe body spray. And the amount of gel they’ve applied to their hair makes them look like they’ve just ripped off the scalp of one of those ridiculous looking mannequins from ‘Hot Topic’ and glued them onto their own heads. And they’re incredibly shallow. All they want is tits and ass whereas I want something so much deeper, like, I don’t know, the spleen? I meant love. Tits, ass, and love. Not spleen. And my God, their intelligence, or the lack thereof. Some of these guys make Donald Trump sound like Albert Einstein. All those guys seem to have is good genes and an unlimited stash of Axe body spray.

On the other hand, I can be kind, generous, sweet, and I can quote Shakespeare and Keats. The fact that these douchebags practically throw women away whereas I have difficulties competing with a dead man for a woman’s affections is just ridiculous. Life is just one giant cosmic gag reel, isn’t it?

Source: http://www.dippedincream.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Blind-douche_bag1.jpg

But is it really? Some may think so (or at least Douglas Adams seems to have thought so) but upon closer inspection of myself, I am inclined to think that it’s not. Just like I had to ask myself whether or not I could empirically prove that Donald Trump’s wealth caused my poverty, I also had to ask whether I could prove that good looking men caused my being single.

Well, technically, yes, I can prove it; especially after one of those men steals a woman’s attention, whom I’ve been talking up all evening, by saying “Hey, what’s up? You want to check out my biceps?”

All right, those men aren’t actually that moronic but in my hate-addled mind, that’s what they sounded like.

Honestly, however, that’s blame-shifting. The real blame never lied with them. It lied with me. Being kind, generous, and sweet are indeed virtues. However, no one in the world holds a monopoly on kindness, generosity, or sweetness. Especially when it comes to getting a woman’s attention, everyone is kind, generous, and sweet. There’s just so much sweetness in the world that I’m constantly shocked that the entire world hasn’t gotten itself into a diabetic coma.

What did those men have that I didn’t? Plenty, as it turned out. They lived in nice apartments; I lived in an attic that leaked whenever it rained. They had jobs that paid well, or at least consistently; I depended on tips working in a bar that catered to people who seemingly have never heard of tipping. They could play the guitar; I can’t sing without making every song sound like a somber rendition of “Danny Boy.”

This is a crowd's typical reaction right after hearing my rendition of The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations."
Source: http://cdn.theatlantic.com/static/mt/assets/international/nk%20dec22%20p.jpg

They played football and ice hockey; I’m not even good at Frisbee golf – a game so lame that even those who are good at it can’t get laid. They drove convertible Ford Mustangs. On the other hand, when I had a car, briefly, it was a beat up lemon of a 1989 Dodge Shadow, which I bought for, I kid you not, US$150 from an English professor from my university, who was also poor at the time but now probably diving from a springboard into his pile of money, just like Scrooge McDuck.

For those who are fans of fantasy novels, this name might ring a bell, and just to say that I met and knew a famous person, that professor’s name is Pat Rothfuss.

But I digress.

And no, it’s not just that they had more money and toys than I did. They were also better looking than me. Way better looking than me. And I hated them for it, which made just about as much sense as hating the rich for being rich. Just as Donald Trump’s wealth didn’t cause my poverty, their good looks didn’t cause me to look like a fat slob. That was all my doing.

Pig out on crack-sprinkled fast food almost every other day? Check. Don’t ever exercise and limit my movement to the area between the microwave oven, refrigerator, and the couch? Check. Expecting any other result would have been a show of supreme idiocy.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you The Steakinator!
Source: http://27.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l3zmsjf5AM1qc5kdko1_500.jpg

Fat people are always looking for excuses to feel better about themselves. “I have glandular problems, I am a stress eater, depression causes me to eat, society’s standard of beauty is unrealistic.” Etc. etc. It’s all a lie. And this lie serves two purposes. Firstly, it allows them to blame everything but themselves for being obese. Secondly, it gives them an excuse to stay obese.

The honest answer that fat people, and I, didn’t want to accept was that I became a ball of lard because I was lazy and I didn’t respect myself enough to take better care of myself. There is no other answer. Everything else is merely one excuse stacked on top of another.

So let’s see. I was broke, drove a car that could be barely called one, lived in an attic that leaked whenever it rained, terrible at sports, almost always drunk, an obese slob, miserable, hated myself, and the whole time I couldn’t understand what women saw in those good looking Neanderthals and why they couldn’t recognize me for my real worth.

Dear reader, if you have a friend who fits that description or anything similar along those lines and you really consider yourself their friend, stop being afraid of hurting their feelings. If they have any intelligence to speak of, they’ll get over being “hurt,” get a grip on reality, and start taking responsibility for their own lives. If they refuse to speak to you and stubbornly cling on to their pathetic lifestyles, forget them. No one can be made happy against their own will. People have to choose to be happy. Trust me, if you truly consider yourself their friend, tell them the truth in all of its gory detail. You’ll be doing them a favor. They might or might not thank you for it but if you really value them as friends, even if they don’t end up thanking you, you’ll at least have the satisfaction of knowing that you helped turn their lives around for the better.

As for me, as I said earlier, I served in one of the most combat ready armies in the world for a little under two years. When I left the United States, I weighed 230 lbs. I now weigh 185 lbs. Sure, I could definitely afford to shed a few more pounds but the point is that I’m in the best shape that I’ve been in years.

It wasn’t those Neanderthals’ fault that I couldn’t get a woman to like me. It wasn’t the women’s fault for not being able to see pass the drunk lard to find the “real me” either. There was no one to blame besides me.

Were there other people I resented? Yes, there were lots but if we go through everyone I ever resented, this will never end. Now we have to get to the heart of the matter. Realizing that resenting others for reasons that defied logic was asinine was, indeed, a positive step. But that was merely a symptom and as any doctor will tell you, treating a disease’s symptom is not going to cure the patient; that will require treating the cause.

What was the cause of all this irrational resentment? The reason was that like so many people in the world, I had confused cause and effect, and more importantly, my core philosophy was inconsistent.

How often do people really ask themselves whether they actually like themselves? Every once in a while, during those rare of moments of honesty and clarity, I asked myself whether if I were not me but a separate individual and knew me, really knew me as I knew myself and not merely the image of me that I portrayed to others, would I like me? Would I want to befriend me? The answer was always “No.“ I hated the answer and it always made me feel miserable. I am sure that I am not the only one who feels that way.

If you see this in the mirror, you should try to find out what is bothering you or check yourself into rehab ASAP.
Source: http://i753.photobucket.com/albums/xx180/cmedea10/Random%20Anime/familyguy-9-7-3.jpg

I despised myself and in order to compensate for that, I tried to gain self-esteem from others. I wanted my friends to like me; to think highly of me. I wanted women to find me charming. And for the most part, I was successful. My friends did like me and some even thought highly of me and some women found me to be quite the charmer. However, none of it gave me the self-esteem I craved. I realize now that that was because friendship, love, and respect are not the cause, but an effect and an expression of a person’s sense of his own value, his own self-worth.

The same can be said of wealth. Wealth does not, in fact, come from mere material resources nor is it without intellectual root or meaning. Wealth does not appear out of thin air in order to favor some while cursing others. It has to be created and earned. A wealthy man earns his wealth by providing goods and services that the masses want or need. And he retains his wealth by doing that cheaper than his competitors.

Money, to be sure, is a poor barometer to judge one’s morals or integrity. Just because a man is wealthy doesn’t mean that he is good as poverty doesn’t make a man evil. That being said, money is a very good barometer to gauge one’s social worth, ie., to be considered as a source of good for society. The late Steve Jobs may have had his flaws but he supplied society with goods and services that the masses, directly or indirectly, want or need. Resenting him is a poor use of one’s finite time and energy. It would be far more profitable, in more ways that one, for people to want to emulate him instead.

Sure the Joker is a popular character but he'd be even more popular if he didn't kill so many people... or perhaps the Joker should find someone else to emulate instead.
Source: http://www.imperfectenjoyment.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Ronald-McJoker.jpg

Whether we like to admit it or not, the wealthy possess what many of us merely pretend to have – a rational mind. And wealth concentrates only around rational minds. If we look at an iPhone, many of us just see the iPhone. We take its existence for granted. What many of us neglect to recognize is that the iPhone we’re looking at is the end result of a rational mind. Someone had to first imagine a small handheld device that could act as a telephone, computer, camera, television, radio, navigation device, dictionary, journal, calculator, calendar. etc. all at once, and then, using that same rational mind and knowledge, had to work to make what was a mere imagination into a reality. That is what the iPhone and every other device or commodity that we all use and take for granted are – the end result of a rational mind. Before the advent of the iPhone, the vast majority of humanity could not even imagine such a device, much less create it.

Source: http://rlv.zcache.com/caveman_invented_grocery_stores_postcard-racd15b65e62c4492bc288f5792e65585_vgbaq_8byvr_512.jpg

Of course, not every rich person attains his wealth from possessing a rational mind. There are criminals who steal and launder money, politicians who raid the public treasury, businessmen who ‘earn’ their wealth through political influence. However, people tend to forget that wealth has to be created before it can be looted by parasites. People also tend to forget that money has an intellectual root – the rational mind.

Money will not serve the mind that cannot match it. For evidence, look at all those major corporations that have needed one bailout after another. They do not have the ability to create and sell goods or services that people want – they lack the rational mind that translates to business acumen. That’s why they’re always out of money no matter how much of the public treasury is handed over to them on a silver platter.

It turned out that that "giant sucking sound" was not the sound of American jobs going to Mexico, as Ross Perot once predicted, but rather the sound of bailing out Bank of America
Source: http://files.tomnunamaker.com.s3.amazonaws.com/images/2012/11/Money-Sinkhole.jpg

Money, that is, the fruits of the rational mind, is so honest a medium that it will never allow itself to be cheated. For those men whose minds cannot match their wealth, money, the very thing that they think is the cause of their self-worth rather than their effect, becomes a scourge. Money will not purchase self-esteem nor happiness nor admiration nor respect for the man who never had any of it within himself to begin with.

All the money they have looted may give them a momentary satisfaction but on some gray morning, in one of those rare moments of honesty and clarity, when they ask themselves whether they like themselves, when they ask themselves whether they truly think that they deserve their wealth, then that momentary satisfaction that they felt will be all but forgotten as they realize that their money is not a tribute to their greatness but rather a reminder of their shame, incompetence, and lack of self-worth. And they will live out the rest of their days loathing themselves and their money that had failed to buy them the self-esteem that they so desperately crave but cannot have.

The same can be said for love. I have often heard people say to their friends, “There is nothing wrong with you. You don’t have to change a single thing about yourself. You’ll meet the right person soon enough.” I have also heard people say to themselves, myself included, “I just want to be loved for myself.” This is utter rubbish.

Just as money is the fruit of a rational mind, the effect, rather than its cause, love is not the cause of one’s self-worth; it is the effect. Even the Dalai Lama fails to understand what love really is when he utters nonsensical bromides such as “Love is the absence of judgment.” Love is neither universal nor blind. Just as money must be earned, love must be also.

Seeing how those monks thought that this was the ultimate form of protesting, is it any wonder that after you see peer through their soundbites, they are just as bereft of rationality as any other mystic?
Source: http://i.imgur.com/w0m8yGM.jpg

When people tell their friends that they don’t have to change a thing about themselves, I wonder if they ever truly valued their friendship at all. People are not loved in spite of things, but for things. People are loved for their courage, ambition, ability, intelligence – the virtues that they possess. People often claim that love is universal but no one practices it. No one can practice it. It is an impossible ideal. If a man is cowardly, slothful, foolish, and evil, what rational person could possibly love him?

Of course, no one is perfect. Earthly perfection is impossible. Everyone has virtues and vices. People are loved in spite of their vices only if their vices are outweighed by their virtues. True love is not blind. Blind love is not love, but childish infatuation. True love judges and just as wealth can only be kept if it is earned daily anew, love, too, must be earned daily anew.

Unless you're Anne Hathaway.  Then you're perfect and can do no wrong whatsoever.
Source: http://dailybeautyandfashion.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/anne-hathaway-wallpaper.jpg

And to desire to be loved for no other reason than “for being myself” is absurd. It is the desire to be loved merely for existing, an unearned love. To demand to be loved when one hasn’t earned it is to demand of others to surrender their values, their reason. And anyone who voluntarily abdicates his values or reason is no longer a rational being. He is no different from a zombie. Such a being is not capable of love. And anyone who makes such a demand is one who wants to be loved without the necessity of possessing the qualities that are needed to be loved. Such a love is not merely an abomination, it is also an impossibility.

It seems to me, therefore, that the root of all unhappiness is not so much poverty or being unlucky in love, but, rather, one’s own lack of self-worth. And self-worth cannot be faked. People can lie to themselves, as people are wont to do. They can pretend that they are happy with their own integrity and values. But all the self-deception one may come up with will never fool one’s own subconscious.

A man who lies to himself will be living a contradiction and it will cause his soul, for the lack of a better word, to be halved in two. All the money he loots will not buy him the self-worth he wants and he will begin to hate money and will accuse it of being the root of all evil when in reality, what he will really hate is not money but rather himself. The woman that he professes to love will not arouse within him any passion and he will instead seek any whore he can find because he will, mistakenly, believe that those sexual conquests will give him self-worth.

Source: http://reaids.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/red-button-blue-button3.jpg

So where does all this philosophizing leave me? The circumstances that surround me have not changed. I still have very little money saved up for what can only be described as an uncertain future; my job, though it pays decently, bores me; and I still haven’t found a woman I can love who will reciprocate my feelings.

As for the state of the world and humanity in general, well, as the song goes, the wheels of the bus go round and round. However, there is one thing that has certainly changed. I reexamined my core values, confronted them, found them wanting, and began the process of becoming a man of self-worth that I can be proud of. For the first time in my life since I can remember, I am not racked with miserable self-loathing. I am beginning to love myself. Armed with this knowledge, I am no longer afraid to live.

Source: http://images2.fanpop.com/images/photos/7900000/Depressing-Comic-Week-3-cyanide-and-happiness-7950183-719-545.jpg

And I leave you now with a quote from Goethe’s Faust who recognizes at the “highest moment” that “the last word of wisdom” is:

No man deserves his freedom or his life
Who does not daily win them anew.