Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Nature of Man

All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge. So all good is due to sufficient knowledge. This is the principle of optimism. This means that for every evil act, had the evildoer known that his act was evil, and that there was a good option available to him, he would have done good instead of evil. To explain this principle, I'll consider a few hypothetical situations.

The first situation involves a parent giving her baby a bottle of formula. The baby takes a sip and puts the bottle down on his tray. Then the parent tried to coax the baby with cute feeding methods involving airplane sounds. The baby kept turning his head. Then the parent got anxious and tried to force it in his mouth thinking that she's doing it in the best interest of her baby. The baby hit the bottle, knocking it to the floor. Then the parent used more force and succeeded in getting her baby to drink the formula. Hours later, the baby died. The autopsy showed that the baby was poisoned. The police learned that the formula was tainted -- not just the formula in the baby's bottle, but also the whole batch of formula shipped by the manufacturer.

It’s important to consider who committed evil; the parent, the baby, or both. The baby knew that the formula tasted really bad, so each time that he rejected it, he was doing good. The parent knew that her baby rejected the formula, so each time that she tried to coerce her baby to drink it, she was committing evil.

Now consider a situation identical in all respects but one -- the formula wasn't tainted, so the baby didn't die. Who acted immorally? Can the answer be different? Logically, the answer cannot be different. Morality does not depend on the actual results, but rather only the expected results. To illustrate this point, consider whether or not it is moral for a father of five young children to choose to spend all his wealth on lottery tickets. Does the moral choice depend on whether or not he wins? No, the moral choice depends on whether or not he’s expected to win.

As I’ve illustrated, every evil act is caused by insufficient knowledge. In the case of the parent who forced her baby to drink the bottle, had she known that coercing people is expected to lead to bad results, and that persuasion doesn't have that fault, she would not have resorted to coercion. In the case of the father who spent his entire life savings on lottery tickets, had he known that his choice is expected to lead to bad results, and that he had a better way to spend the wealth, he would not have committed evil.

At some point in the future, when every human being understands this principle of optimism well, and has sufficient knowledge, all evils will be eradicated.

- If you read this far, then you'd enjoy this.


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Monday, November 12, 2012

How to deal with peer pressure

To understand how to deal with peer pressure, one must first understand what peer pressure is. A dictionary definition for peer pressure is : social pressure by members of one's peer group to take a certain action, adopt certain values, or otherwise conform in order to be accepted. Note the "to be accepted" part of the definition. It means that the reason that one would "feel pressure" is if and only if he *wanted* to be accepted by his peers. So, what if he didn't want that? Then he wouldn't "feel pressured". Interestingly, the conventional understanding is that people, by nature, want to be socially accepted, and that people that don't want that, are mentally ill -- but this is a parochial mistake. To illustrate that this conventional understanding is false, consider this:
"I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses."
-- Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630 AD)
Whats the implication?

Why do people want to "fit in"? -- why do they crave other people's approval? -- why do they want to be accepted by a group? Instead of having a goal of social acceptance, why don't they have a goal of living morally? One might say that he can have both goals, but he'd be wrong.

Either he seeks to do the right thing, or he seeks to do what other's will approve of. Sometimes these two goals don't conflict, in which case there's no problem, and seeking approval was unnecessary. But what about when these goals do conflict? How should one choose which goal matters? Should he choose (1) the right thing that won't be accepted by the group, or (2) the wrong thing that will be accepted by the group? If he chooses (1), then the group is immoral and he shouldn't want acceptance from immoral people. If he chooses (2), then he's choosing immorality, and to make matter's worse he's partaking and thus condoning the group's immorality.

Consider this hypothetical situation. A person enjoys biology and she wants to earn money doing some kind of work involving biology. She wants to get good grades in highschool so that she can be accepted into a good university. And she wants to attend a good university so that she can have lots of opportunities after university. One day some friends of hers say they are skipping school that day and have asked her to join them. She declines explaining her reasoning that she wants to stay in school to keep up her grades. They respond by saying that one day won't cause a problem and they again ask  her to go, this time with some peer pressure tactics like "come on, it won't be fun without you".

Now she's conflicted. She wants to stay in school so that she can keep up her grades but she also wants to join her friends so that they will accept her in the social group. How does she resolve this conflict of goals? If she goes with them, she is sacrificing her preference for staying in school to keep up her grades. If she doesn't go with them, she is sacrificing her preference for acceptance. So she loses either way. What should she do? The conventional understanding of how she should choose involves "weighing" options. It implies that she could figure out which of the two options she values "more", but this doesn't work. We cannot meaningfully "weigh" options. What we should do is refute the options that are bad, leaving only one good option. How does this work? In the case of this hypothetical, the girl should criticize her options. She could ask herself the following questions:

After having told my friends my reasoning for wanting to stay in school, why did they insist on me sacrificing my values just so that they could get what they want? Because they are thinking selfishly.

Why don't they care that I get what I want? Because they are thinking selfishly.

If I sacrifice what I want, and if that leads to failure, will they support me financially? No, because they are thinking selfishly.

If I don't go with them, thus preserving my life plan, is that selfish thinking? Yes.

What do I gain by doing what they want? I gain acceptance by people who don't care about my values and are willing to coerce me to sacrifice my values -- not only are they selfish, they are also willing to hurt me to get their way.

What do I gain by staying in school? I get to preserve my life plan.


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