Monthly Archives: September 2007

Things that occupy my time

Things that have been occupying my time, a list:

  • football, watching
  • school work, mostly reading — goddamn, so much reading
  • clubs
  • long naps
  • cable television
  • the internets
  • chatting with friends

Things that should occupy my time more, a list:

  • The Chalkboard Manifesto
  • reading for pleasure
  • regular sleep
  • planning for club activities
  • blogging

Things that should occupy my time less, a list:

  • the internets
  • long naps
  • cable television
  • football?

Quote of the Day

“Once all was ready, the archbishop of Milan ordered the leading citizens of Bologna to be arrested as though they were guilty of a conspiracy. He extracted from them under torture, as he had intended, a confession that they had held discussions with the Florentine People about throwing off his lordship and freeing the city. This became the pretext for war. Is there anything more common than for tyrants to invent false reasons in place of true ones?” — Leonardo Bruni, History of the Florentine People, vol II, book VII


I’m frustrated. I need to manage my time better.

I think I need to focus on getting everything else in order (especially getting reading done) before I move on with such a big project.

There may be a few entries which are more substantive, but don’t expect many this week. This week I’m really going to try to block time for reading.

Faith and Sense

So I was on the internets in some place where people can talk towards each other (I will not mention exactly where, suffice it to say, I was bored and just wandering around), and I discovered a very interesting conversation concerning God. A guy asked whether Jesus was God, or just the son of God.

The girl replied, “BOTH. That’s the purpose of the TRINITY – it doesn’t have to make sense. I accept it by FAITH.”

Is this what people of faith really think? I would like to think that there are people out there who conceive of faith in a very different manner.

A note on e-reserves

Ethics stuff on hold. Work today. Hitchens tomorrow. No time.

In other news, I hacked the library e-reserves. Or rather, I figured out all the passwords. It’s just the first three letters of the professor’s name and then the course number (not the department number). What’s hilarious is that I thought I’d have to search through the course catalog for numbers and stuff, but all the information is on the e-reserve page. Supposedly, they introduced the passwords to further protect the copyrights of academics. If I were an obscure academic, though, I’d rather have more people reading my work. Kidding.

Maybe they don’t need passwords even a moron can figure out.

Note to self: Do other schools have the same e-reserves system?

Strategies for Devising Alternate Ethical Schemes

The idea of alternate ethical schemes was sparked by a shooting star. After I had seen it, I sat in the tent thinking, “What would I really wish for?” I decided that I would not wish for a change in the composition of human nature, such as making us more benevolent, because our institutions, like government, are designed to take account of human nature. If human nature changed, our societies would collapse. Or so thinks the conservative me, who still places a lot of value on contingency.

Way later on, now that I’m taking a class on ethics — a philosophy class, not a jailed CEO’s re-education course — I’m beginning to wonder if ethics are contingent on human nature. That is to say, are our moral systems dependent on human psychology? If we came across alien creatures, would have they have ethics in a way we could conceive? Would it be entirely different? Or would they necessarily have ethics, the way they would necessarily have mathematics (although even this is up for debate)?

At this point, I don’t know. I’m leaning towards believing that there are some universal conceptions they’d have to share, like fairness and justice, but that these could be expressed in completely different fashions, thus making our two ethical systems incompatible. I’m leaning towards believing that ethics are contingent on human nature, and that to believe that ethics are God-given is completely wrong.

Before I even broach the topic of God, I must first decide to what degree ethics are contingent on human nature. I plan on using a strategy of first attempting to devise alternate ethical systems.

Here are my different ideas:

  • Find differences in morality between different cultures and exaggerate them.
  • Find psychological subjects and imagine an entire society of these brain-damaged or neuro-atypical individuals
  • Examine Asimov’s 3 Laws and see how they’d work for robots with free will
  • Look at the structure of animal societies and see how they’d work with more intelligent agents
  • Scour science-fiction literature for alien ethics
  • Examine tit-for-tat and other strategies in economics literature and see if I can imagine societies

But even before I do all that, I’ve got to look at what “ethics” and “morality” mean.

Tomorrow: Defining morality and ethics in a broad sense.

A personal note: I have an unidentified disease at the moment. I’m enjoying calling myself a medical mystery. But I’m seeing someone who’s not a general practitioner on Monday, and hopefully he’ll figure it out. I’d recommend limiting contact with me until further notice.

The Return to Searching

I have lost track of an important part of my self-identity. There used to be a searching me. I would spend nights thinking about life and life’s purpose. I would ponder over the meaning of abstract concepts (like love and morality).

I was searching for a complete theory of everything — of morality, government, etc. I have since decided that such an abstract all-encompassing theory is not the right way to go about things. In addition, I discovered two fundamental truths: 1) Life is absurd and 2) Love everything. Maybe figuring out how these “answers” worked together discouraged me from further searching.

But my quest for a life philosophy is still incomplete. These answers have no grounding. Can they have grounding? What sort of grounding can they have?

Furthermore, these aren’t fully practical guides for living my life. They are good broad philosophical stances (or commands, in the case of the latter truth), but they can’t tell me what to do in certain situations.

In a certain way, this year has been devoted to practical personal improvement. I like to think that I’ve made some strides: I’ve introduced new paradigms into my life (more on that some other time). What I’m missing, however, is an attachment between these purely practical considerations and my metaphysicals considerations.

That sounds like a very interesting project which I have no idea how to begin. I will start by writing junk in my notebook, like always.

I have a different project, which I think I will link up to this other project eventually. I am trying to answer a question: Are ethics contingent on human nature?

I believe this question cuts to the very nature of ethics and understanding ethics will help me apply it in my life.

Tomorrow: What sparked this question and how I intend to explore it.

Note on politics: The surge has not accomplished what it was supposed to accomplish: There was no political reconciliation in the Iraqi government. And now, Bush intends to draw down 30,000 troops? Surely, the violence of the insurgents and sectarians will increase! What was the purpose of the surge, then, except to buy 6 more months and to keep us in Iraq indefinitely? Our military is not big enough to do what Bush wants done. Our military is not structured for nation-building. We should withdraw.

A little ramble about the other day

I really struggled as to whether I would do my usual 9/11 “tribute”. Isn’t it time to “move on”? But in the midst of so much propaganda and lies, I figured it would be good to take just a moment to engage in the act of remembrance. It is a useful exercise to expunge our frames from our minds and remember 9/11 not as a geopolitical event, but as a tragedy involving real families. The word “remember” changes for me each year, and this year brought completely different emotions to mind. The flashbulb-type memory is gone. Instead of feeling like just five years ago, it feels like ages ago. Undoubtedly, this is due to my personal experiences. This summer just felt long in general, and I started working for a bit. The increasing burden of responsibility seems to demarcate a new era in my life.

Where I really struggled was whether to put the usual tribute comic for Chalkboard Manifesto, or to go with comedy. In fact, I had the comic drawn and I had decided not to publish the 9/11 comic at one point, but then I changed my mind.

Remember the dead. The enemy still exists and we have not yet devised an appropriate strategy to defeat him.

It feels different now. Iraq feels like so much bigger a problem than 9/11.

Still, I read over what I wrote last year and decided that it was important to take some time to remember.

Leaving the Best Coast Again

I’ll have a lot to do when I get back. I’ll have a lot of opportunities. Unfortunately, I still can’t trick myself into looking forward to going back to Baltimore.

I will try to enjoy myself as best I can, but my heart will always belong here in the Bay Area.