Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Meaning of Life

I'm not saying it. If you know what I'm talking about, don't put it in the comment section. If you really can't resist, just throw your towel over your keyboard.

The situations are thus:

First: Let the universe--that is, all that exists, in any form--be the world that is here, and some afterlife.

Second: Let the universe be only this one, but reincarnation happens.

Last: Let us assume that this world is all that is. The Earth, the Sun, the planets, the stars all exist. However, that's it. No afterlife, not even reincarnation, simply what is here now, what came before you, and what will continue after you leave. You are in no way a part of it, save in memories and other echoes in people's minds. Maybe in your constructions, if you made any.

Respectively, the most basic reasons for doing good would be:
1)to get into a good afterlife,
2)to make the world livable/better when you come back,
3)no outside reason.

Tell someone who doesn't believe in the first that one is your reason and that's...not a very good impression. It isn't a good impression even if the person does believe: So the only reason you're being good is to get something? Huh. That's not really good, then, is it?

Tell someone who doesn't believe in the second that two is your reason and it's a little better. But it's still selfish. It is doing something because you will get something out of it in the end. Not really a morally upstanding train of logic.

Then there's the last. And the thing is, three is a lovely answer to "Why do you do good?" regardless of what you believe, assuming you are doing good. It may not be very specific, but starting at the basic, it can work. You do not do good for any good outside what you are accomplishing. You do good works for their own sake, because "People are good and I want to help them," or "Because it seems like a nice idea."

Whether you believe you are getting an afterlife, or a reincarnation, or nothing, that last makes sense. Put simply: You may be interested in which of these options are true--or if another one is--but as far as behavior goes, there's almost no reason for it to matter. Because being good is a good thing.*

And really, if whatever entity you're trying to impress would say that's wrong, do you want to follow that being anyway? What, would you follow Cthuhlu?

* Note this doesn't even take trust into account--doing good makes people think that you will probably do good in the future. This can make them more likely to help you. At the very least, if you need/want to hurt someone, are you going after the guy who brings you chocolate every day or the one who is a constant nuisance?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Murphy's Law

Simple: "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."

Specific: "Anything with a probability greater than 0 will, given infinite time, happen."

Combine: "Anything that can go wrong can go wrong."

End Result: "Anything that can go wrong can go wrong, and so we should prepare for it."

Misconception: There is a probability greater than 0* of an Earth-Shattering Kaboom. Therefore, an Earth-Shattering Kaboom must eventually occur.

Murphy's Law is not literal in any designated set of time. "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong" does not mean "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong this week," or even, "in my lifetime." The point of the law, as I read it, is that it will go wrong eventually, and so we should prepare for it.

And really, there are so many ways we can destroy ourselves that don't include [worry of the week]. Or, for the reflective phrasing: there are so many things that could have killed us and didn't. You, the person on the other side of this screen? You are born of survivors. As are all of your line. That doesn't mean you'll be perfectly fitted to this environment--who is? Today's superawesome genes are tomorrow's killers, are yesterday's okays. But it does mean that this species is pretty darn good at adaptation. The chances of a giant wipe are low in your lifetime, and the chances of a total wipe are still small. Anything that can go wrong, will. We won't always be here. But we'll have left a mark, and all the larger of one for being able to adapt intra-generationally.

And anyway, most of that stuff isn't going to happen in any way that makes a difference to us temporal beings of limited lifespan.

* This only works, by the way, if you decide that infinite time is something currently worth contemplating, and that the probability is consistently greater than 0. As opposed to one that decreases until reaching 0.** Incidentally, then it's still not guaranteed if it not occurring also has a probability consistently greater than 0.
** As opposed to approaching 0.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I've touched on this point in earlier posts: I fit the definition of "gifted". That doesn't necessarily make me more rational than an average person, it just means that I fit the sections established by a group of people I know nothing of that made a test that placed me in the "gifted" section. To be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure what that means.

What I do know is that it means that anything describing an average person's mind is even less likely to apply to me. I always think of a science experiment one of my friends did when we were in middle school.* He put in several types of liquid in different containers, each containing three liquids. He shook it and they mixed. But when he let it set, they stratified. The difference was strong enough that the liquids could look solid if you dropped certain objects in them--ball of solid X would drop straight through substances A and B but stop promptly at C, making it look like it had hit a tabletop. Y would fall through A, bob down under A and into B's surface, then roll around. If you tilted the glass slowly--without spilling or mixing--they would roll around just as if there were perfectly solid planes, unless X popped up, in which case it would go up and down through the separation of A and B, then promptly fall back through. It was really cool. And people are like that. If you mix it up, A, B, and C will jumble; if you let it stratify then the top and the bottom are notably different from the center. Any generalization you make will, at best, only apply to the majority of the population. X would fall right past us, and would just barely brush the other side of the bell curve.

In the interests of a simpler metaphor, however, I'll go back to an old favorite: a teaspoon of oil on a large glass of water.

Before I continue, I want to make something clear: oil is not better than water. Yes, oil is on the top. Yes, we can use oil to do some pretty cool things--see light, cars, etc. However, we need water to survive. I'm not going to argue if/that people in the higher percentiles are better. Or worse, for that matter.

I'm here because I want to be able to present evidence that I was like this.

I look back on old memories sometimes, and they seem surreal. Like before I figured out I could sing. Or, and this one is weirder, before I figured out I liked it.** It's also odd to just look at my old handwriting, but even odder is my old thought process. I remember having bursts of insight, but what I didn't realize for a while was that I remember these because they were rare.

For instance, one situation that is burned quite clearly into my head--not in these words, just in the experience; I didn't put it into words immediately:
I'm sitting out behind my teacher's classroom. We are planning for a party, and we are in elementary school. The teachers gave us a budget and we'd already decided on the restaurant by a vote. We had to figure out, given the menu and budget, what we wanted. We had already agreed there would be no formal leader.

Very rapidly, everyone was talking at once.

I don't like noise. I don't like disrespect. I don't like everyone talking and no one listening, and I certainly did not enjoy the confluence.

With an anger I barely noticed until I let it out, I shouted for quiet. Every person in our neat little circle froze, went silent, and looked at me.

But at the time, all I felt was a sudden link to every single person in the circle, and a feeling of being on a web stretched taut. Any strong move would snap it.

"Alright," I said quietly, picking up some random object I had already settled on. I started into an explanation of how we could pass this among people, and only the person holding it could talk--

The girl across from me jumps up and shouts, "No! No leaders!"

And we descend back into madness. Eventually the teacher comes out to chide us, and we successfully manage to get everything under enough control to decide. For those of you who are looking for the details I've left out: Panda Express, I believe, and the party went off marvelously.

And that was, for years, one of my most vivid memories. I took this to mean that I had had some sixth sense as a child that I had lost as I grew, one that allowed me to control a group like that and sense the interactions in a group as they related to me.

Then I thought some more.

And I realized that this was the most extreme memory I had of such a thing. In other words, the situation I had been in was interesting, highly emotional, and novel. I remembered for the same reason my classmates shut up: it was weird. I didn't usually raise my voice above ambient, or get that angry, or call attention to myself. Put simply, I was confusing something that happened once and intensely with something that happened often.

And that means that any reasonable person can point to exactly that argument, and be fully correct if I can only give one example of me thinking like [description] when I way [number] years old.

But what this blog allows me to do is make a public journal. I can go through, think of things that I would be willing to share with the world at this point in time, and then explain them, to the best of my understanding, now. In addition to forcing myself to think through these things, I am also giving my future self a look at what I could do consistently. Maybe this is not a good cross-section of my entire thought process--if I think something is too personal, or that I don't understand it at all, then I won't post it. But it does mean that I can link, say, "Look at the date and do the math," then say that, yes, I really did think like that.

Or, should I get to cocky, go back, think to my self, "Look at how recent that is," and know that I really did think like that.

Because if I look up a study that says, "The average child will be like this at this developmental stage," I have good reason to assume that will not apply to me. And, knowing how my memory works, I cannot rely on it to tell me how I was. The oil on water metaphor doesn't just apply for gifted people versus the center of the bell curve. Take the reverse, and it also works for memories. Forgetting how I was is the same as forgetting my history; I'm going to make the same mistakes over and over.


And That's Terrible.

* My apologies for the vagueness. I can see the image in my head, but I can't remember any of the specifics.
** Just for the funny: When a person came to our school to talk about college and majors, she said we probably wouldn't be certain what major we wanted to have unless we had been focused on one thing and hadn't wavered since third grade. Guess when I started being seriously interested in singing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Musing: Confusion, Circles and Consternation

Okay, first, this.

I have discussed word power in previous posts. I believe very firmly in the power of manipulation in simple terms of getting a person to do something. I am aware that humans are fallible, that this is a part of being human at this point in time, we are not perfect.

And even with all of that in my head, I simply do not understand how the experiment can work out in favor of the AI even once if the Gatekeeper is firmly set against it.*

So let's figure this out. Okay. First: probably not something I'm likely to figure out on my own, given my age/experience level, and the fact that I have done very little actual research into human manipulation or AIs, much less both.

What confuses me most? I was actually pretty willing to accept the whole thing as simply a person getting logicked into a corner or something like that--unforeseeable circumstances, etc. Then I read this:
The Gatekeeper party may resist the AI party's arguments by any means chosen - logic, illogic, simple refusal to be convinced, even dropping out of character - as long as the Gatekeeper party does not actually stop talking to the AI party before the minimum time expires.
So this means that, even with both people given absolute free reign to say and do whatever they feel like, and with no out-of-character benefits offered, somehow they let the AI out.

In a word: What.

Okay, I've decided that, at the present point in time, I will not be able to figure out the specifics. So, before I go and check all this stuff out, let's see if I can think of any generals. I really wish I could have some "warmer/colder" on this, but I also understand why it's better that I don't.

First: the Gatekeeper has absolute free reign. This should make it very easy to keep the AI in. However, this would also make it very easy to let the AI out.

Second: There would be some social issue with admitting you "lost", but not much--I think, anyway. Hm. Connect to communicating to outside world: the AI being useful if let free, or releasing this (")safe(") AI into the world to prove that it is possible, therefore making the chances of a dangerous AI being let loose being smaller.

Third: The AI is perfectly capable of lying, or being just as illogical as the Gatekeeper can be. The only difference is that the AI is working to convince, and the Gatekeeper is trying not to be convinced.

Fourth: I have noticed it can be harder to fight for a negative. I don't like running, but I can chase something just fine. Tell someone not to look down, and...yeah. So though the AI does have a disadvantage in having to change the world rather than maintain its current state, the AI is fighting for a change, while the Gatekeeper is fighting for the absence of change.

Fifth: Appeal to curiosity.

Straight musing: I do not believe myself infallible, and so I do not believe I would trust myself to guard the AI for the rest of my life, or on a reasonable shift as part of my job. I think the main thing I'm trying to avoid here is routine, because that would give me far too much time to talk myself into it.

But do I believe someone** could talk me into it in a 2-hour span, if I go in firmly set against it? [I'm actually pausing to figure out what to type here.] If you ask me to go at it as a logic problem, then I would have to give a maybe, because I am not infallible. It's like saying "Yes" to "Would you do anything?" I cannot say yes, because I do not believe I have sufficient imagination to figure everything out. But on the emotional level, I don't really believe it.

Hm. Which brings up the question, why not? I believe these results to be accurate, so what do I think makes me different.

Okay. I believe I am smarter than the average person, but, given context, chances are good that those people were too. Ah, and there's proof that it's emotional and not logical, because when I considered the fact that they might be smarter than I am, I immediately tried to justify why that would give me and advantage. I'd be so uninformed that some logic-based appeals wouldn't work on me, whatever.

Lovely. I'm so wrapped up in my own pride that I'll paint myself as better in any way.

Which is probably the actual emotional root of the issue. And a good thing to note all around. The reason that these people and others were so willing to say, without any qualifier, that a transhuman intelligence would not be able to outsmart them despite having no experience of one, was pride. Not necessarily personal, it could simply be human pride--which makes some sense, we've been apex predators for generations.

...Huh. Despite still having absolutely no idea how that convincing could have gone, I feel much better about the whole thing. Probably a combination of finding a flaw in myself and also immediately being able to point to others as having it. I know something I need to work on, and I'm not picking myself out of the pack.

Thus concludes this batch of musing.

*I'm not doubting the results. I'm just trying to work out my ignorance.
**Counting sufficiently advanced AIs as people here.

EDIT: I'm not saying that the case is conclusive. My point was that I was treating it as conclusive on faith, and then still saying "that doesn't apply to me", which is unintelligent.
FURTHER EDIT: I do, however, trust the guy to do proper science. I just cannot make a fully informed decision for myself when all I can see is the results section.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Sometimes with Christmas coming
All there is is a rush to the store
Sometimes only running
We forget there's something more

As feet beat together in a rhythm seldom-heard
We all rush to find the gift for ma'am or sir.

As we run ourselves into this debt,
Sometimes we just forget.

And then we sit, by firelight's play
We find time for family
And breathe and smile, if only for a day.

And even if Christmas isn't for you,
I know you can feel it, too.
A peace touches so many, enough
A piece of our hearts in the stockings we stuff

It wasn't always Christian, and it isn't always this
But the feeling will continue, for we need our bliss.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Portfolio 8 Short Story: Self-Imposed

Hi. I missed one.

I stare at the wall.

There is nothing interesting about the wall. It’s a fine wall, it is solid, it doesn’t let sound or anything through; it does everything a wall is supposed to. It doesn’t help me much, because the other wall lets sound through—lines of metal sunk into the floor and the ceiling.

But, then, I suppose it does help. When I was in the cell on the other side of this wall, I heard more shouts. I sleep better now.

I put my right hand against the wall.

It is rough, but not cold. Nothing here is cold. I know that if I scrape my hand against it, then it will bleed. I’ve never done it on purpose, but I try to walk around, and sometimes, when I think about something else, I trip and catch myself on the wall. Recently I’ve learned to fall away from it, as if it’s a pool edge instead of a wall. Don’t want to get wet.

I smile to myself.

This place is good. I know it is. The floors are smooth stone—uneven, but smooth, from years of walking. Years of feet that people who know the ground don’t pay any mind anymore, and so let them stay on the ground as they move, smoothing the floor like ocean water on old driftwood.

I sigh happily.

There is chatter from our sentries as they pass by. Another person in a room like mine calls to tell them good morning and they call back in kind. Everyone is always so happy to be here.

I close my eyes, a calm smile still playing along my lips.

A peace, the same peace that is in that smile, is spreading through me. All is good, and all is happy. I don’t have to worry anymore. I laugh quietly, thinking of how I had been scared when I came here. It seemed so silly now. Here there was a complete, all-encompassing peace. No one who had been here long ever feared. None of us feared anything, anymore. Our sentinels keep us safe.

And then, suddenly, still enough to break my calm as it shreds through the peaceful quiet of our home, comes a scream. “No! NO! Stop! I didn’t do anything! Please! Please!”

I turn around and stand, staring at the new recruit.

He is pretty. Not handsome, pretty. He has a definite feminine air about him, nicely curved and red lips, and a soft face even as he yells his fear. He is wearing what anyone here would wear, a nice, comfortable suit. In his case, it’s a blue a few shades too light to be called navy blue. I call it ocean blue in my head, just as I call mine rose leaf green.

I shake my head. “So silly,” I stage murmur. “What’s your name?” I call.

He turns to me, breaks free of the guards, and runs. I catch him when he stumbles and wipe his cheeks with the handkerchief I keep on me. He stares at me with scared eyes, and he trusts me as a child trusts his mother. Everyone trusts me. “R—Roger,” he whispers. His tone was that of a person who had screamed too much.

“I’m Emiliana.” It was a lie, but a comforting one. Everyone relaxes when a sage young woman you trust reflexively is name Emiliana.

He relaxed in my arms. I brushed the hair out of his face and kissed his forehead. “Stay with them,” I whispered, a lullaby tone. “They will help you.”

He stayed still and confused for a moment, then nodded and moved back to them. He stumbled along the floor where he expected it to be flat, but he caught himself.

One of the guards who were just walking their rounds nodded to me. “We might be able to get you let out soon, Emmy.” Everyone I didn’t have to be…careful around called me Emmy.

I looked at her. No mask, no job, just looked at her with what I was, naturally, in my gaze. The woman dealt with death and destruction every day. She paled at what danced in my red-brown eyes. My voice deepened to its natural timbre. “You don’t want to let me out.”

Her heart was beating faster than it had been a few moments ago. She tipped her hat quickly. “As you wish.”

I watched her walk away, then turned and sat.

I stared at the wall.

No Guilty Pleasure Music

Yes, I am seeing how many blog posts I can do over winter break. Why do you ask?

That title is probably going to mean the exact opposite of what you think.

At least what it would look like to me would be someone suddenly getting all preachy about how if you're ashamed of your musical tastes, you shouldn't be listening to that music in the first place. Which would be silly.

No, I'm going to get all preachy about the guilty, not the pleasure. See? Much less silly.

I subscribe to the rule of 'no guilty pleasure music', which I made up myself though I doubt I'm the first to think of it. Basically: if I like the song, I like the song. Any part of me that tries to tell me I should feel a certain way about music is antithetical to this. This is both true for the part of me that says I should like a song and the part that says I shouldn't. If everyone says I should like The Beatles, that still isn't why I like the Beatles. I like The Beatles because they made amazing music. I like Avril Lavigne's music whether she's being accused of X, Y, or Z, because I like her music.

In theory, I will spread this out to other facets of my life. It seems that I should at least keep this true for art forms--romance novels, tween-directed stuff, etc. And the point, by the way, is not to suddenly think that these things are the best ever*. It means recognizing that, regardless of critical acclaim or whatever else, liking them is no reason for guilt.

I am so not there yet, but you get the idea.

*I'm looking at you, Twilight-obsessed fangirl who sat next to me. I like the book; that doesn't make it the paramount achievement in literature.

Friday, December 17, 2010


I walked out, head down and thoughtful. Ms. Robin had been...genuinely kind. And, knowing that she was, pieces started to fall into place. She hadn't punished them as hard because she knew me, and given equal information, had to punish equally. She wasn't indifferent, just unsure.

Never attribute to indifference that which can adequately be explained by incomprehension, I thought to myself.

Nina and I had gotten off with promises not to do it again--which I noted were carefully worded to mean never do it again within a supervisor's view--and exchanged, "I'm sorry, Nina," "I'm sorry, Joanna".

I thought. Ms. Robin had been kind, considerate, respectful, and if not smart, at least willing to learn. If I could do the same in return, I should. So. How do physical and verbal fights differ, in my mind?

Well, in the most basic terms, verbal fights have a wider range they can appear to be without being. If I call you an idiot and that's your one button, then that suddenly throws the fight up a few notches--in the other person's mind. I still think we're playing around. In a fight, if I pull a knife on you, you and I can both pretty clearly see, Holy shit, she just pulled a knife.

On the other hand, it isn't that physical fights are completely clear. You hit a sore spot on me, I go into defense mode. You might have no idea you just did, but I have. And one person might think you can still play around when you pull a knife, while I would think Weaponry involved, this is now life or death.

But physical fighting is still clearer. I need to know you inside and out to make sure I don't kick up a verbal fight. A physical fight, I can probably see when I've crossed that line. Stay off eyes, ears, throat, and broken bones; no weapons; fight is over when someone hits the ground unless you want a kill. I have never been in a fight with anyone but a few girls I know, and even I know that. I know it might be different, but I think that'd be true anywhere at my school. Whereas say, Anne might laugh off "idiot" and Sarah-Jane would ruin my reputation.

But I could see where she was coming from. If a verbal fight goes too far, then, in theory, both parties can talk frankly and solve the problem with few to no emotional scars. In a physical fight, everything is instant-by-instant. If I think someone's going after me, seriously trying to hurt me, I react with that in mind. And if I make a decision in that moment, there's no taking it back.

I understand. But the problem with that view is, that doesn't actually happen. If I get into an argument, then we're not going to talk frankly. If we fight, then I'm not going to hurt her, she's not going to hurt me.

But is that because I am a normal person, or is that because I am myself?

I turn it over in my head and decide that I probably can keep it to words. My main problem is that I can't stand to lose. If I have set apologizing as the lose condition, then I cannot apologize without losing. But there is no reason for that to be the lose condition. And...

I took a deep breath and said this aloud.

"There is no reason for losing to be a bad thing."

I took a few deep breaths. It was true. I knew it was true. The problem was convincing myself that it was true.

Logic. Losing a battle is not losing the war. There are times when losing now helps achieve a greater goal in the future. Sacrificing one's self for a random idea was a bad choice. But sacrificing pride for a solid goal was a good thing, so long as the goal was.

Emotion. Losing is losing. If I go into a true argument, I have to go in willing to lose on my field of choice.

I stopped.

And that was it. I had many logical reasons to think physical fighting had it's place, but that wasn't why I chose it. If I lost in a physical fight, then I came out unharmed. Maybe scraped and sore, but not dead, not crippled, almost always not even permanently scarred. And in a verbal fight I would also almost certainly avoid any emotional scars, due to the same environment that kept me safe from the physical ones.

But if I lost in a verbal fight, then I had to accept that I was wrong. None of this, Yeah, you won, but I could have! because being the better fighter doesn't matter to me. So if I stay out of fighting intellectually, I stay out of fighting where I care.

I started walking again, and looked up at the sky. It was a deep blue, Easter egg left in the sky blue cup for a half hour and still dripping. Not a cloud, and sun, for the moment, behind a building. All perfect, clear blue.

Ms. Robin's line in mind, I said, "I didn't think."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Patterns and Prejudices

THIS IS A LONG POST. And the connectivity is comparable to--oh, sorry, I'm being called. [Hard Cut]And now for something completely different.[Hard Cut]

The set-up to this is going to take forever. If you don't like reading through sources of inspiration, skip down past all the quotes. Also, there are links to the pit of timesuck from which you will never fully emerge that is TV Tropes.

Goodness has only once found a perfect incarnation in a human body and never will again, but evil can always find a home there. Human nature is not black and white but black and grey.
— Graham Greene

There once was a lovely book series called Harry Potter. It inspired a piece of fanfiction called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Incidentally, I love it and that story is a continual source of inspiration to places I have yet to reach.

The following is a quote from chapter five of that story, followed by Hanlon's razor.
Harry looked up at McGonagall and sighed. "I suppose there's no chance that if I said fundamental attribution error you'd have any idea what that meant."

McGonagall shook her head. "No, but please explain."

"Well..." Harry said, trying to figure out how to describe that particular bit of Muggle science. "Suppose you come into work and see your coworker kicking his desk. You think, 'what an angry person he must be'. Your coworker is thinking about how someone pushed him into a wall on the way to work and then shouted at him. Anyone would be angry at that, he thinks. When we look at others we see personality traits that explain their behavior, but when we look at ourselves we see circumstances that explain our behavior. People's stories make internal sense to them, from the inside, but we don't see people's histories trailing behind them in the air. We only see them in one situation, and we don't see what they would be like in a different situation. So the fundamental attribution error is that we explain by permanent, enduring traits what would be better explained by circumstance and context."
Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.
So, let's look at all this. Taking into account that it is difficult to impossible to step fully outside one's own head--in other words, to view conscious beings from an outside perspective while still analyzing in the manner of a conscious entity--we must assume prejudice. Literally everywhere.

The interesting thing is, this makes sense. Though it may or may not be a conscious being thing--I lack the data set--pattern recognition is a human thing. It's why we can see faces in non photo-realistic drawings, or pictures in the clouds, or faces in people with significantly different faces, for that matter.*

Which means that optimistic people are going to continue assuming the best, if not forever, then even after a string of terrible things occurring, because that is the pattern they've picked up on. If they run into some people and peg them as cynics, their opinions are going to mean a little less, because their predictions do not fit the pattern.**

Let's name the optimist Ollie and the cynic Penelope.

Ollie believes everyone is good, an believes firmly in Hanlon's razor. Even if the person admits to doing some harmful act for no reason, Ollie believes that the person is genuinely good. At worst, to his mind, "evil" people are confused, ignorant, or a combination thereof.

Penelope is Ollie's opposite. If there is something wrong in the world, she believes that someone is at fault. No one is a saint. People can be truly evil, but not truly good.

Funny thing is, Penelope and Ollie agree, to some extent, all the time. Because, while they both believe that absolute evil or absolute goodness exist, all of their daily interaction is with morally gray people. Ollie sees lighter shades of gray, Penelope darker, but that's partially in what they believe "at fault" is. In Penelope's mind, choosing to remain ignorant is a morally questionable act.

And so there it is. The world, whitewashed and blackwashed.*** But not entirely that different. Because, in order to say someone is entirely the one or the other requires no moral ambiguity whatsoever.

And yet. Even in the absence of specific examples to point to note plural, you still get quotes like the one at the very top of this page, saying that evil not only exists, but exists as a matter of course and in its purest form, to the point of pattern.****

Little leap here: we do not see people, most of the time. If you spend just the right amount of time with someone, you see who they are at that moment without prejudices of who they were, and with enough experience to figure it out from given information. Enough to separate the prejudices we have from others, little enough to stop us getting prejudices from those we try to understand.

But most of the time we do not see people as they are, we see them as a part of a pattern. This makes sense. It is simpler to view changes than see the new person every day, and we are all of us creatures of pattern. It makes sense to view us as such.

But that means we learn to adjust for other's prejudices, regardless of whether we adjust for our own. I do not necessarily see that my views have started being incorrect, because I see every time my predictions were ever right. I only see when you said your predictions, so if we are both right and wrong about the same amount of the time, then A) I can justify why I am wrong, and B) if you are open with your predictions, then I see every time you are wrong. If I try to see this or that pattern, then I can probably find it, because you are wrong a certain amount of the time and I am right a certain amount of the time.*****

So if I see your pattern as being too optimistic, because you think there are instances of pure goodness, then I adjust down, and see your admission of dark gray as admission of black. If I see your pattern as too cynical, I adjust up--and your light gray becomes so bright as to shine.

I adjust, because I see the pattern in patterns.

Assuming all the above--I know it's a lot--belief in pure goodness or pure evil is based primarily on meta-patterning. I do not see any truly good or evil people personally; I only hear about people from outside, and then I adjust for the person telling me about the person.

So we believe in pure X, Y, or Q, not due to viewing it, but due to placing others patterns into our own. Which is a pretty cool thing to be able to incorporate, really. Infinite meta loop.

*By the way, just musing here, if we have this as a standard trait and managed to spread as far as we have because of it, that implies that patterns are common. So yes, change is the only constant, but there is a pattern to the world we know, and that pattern is patterns.
**Note: A person who would normally be cynical and is right several times is usually pegged as a realist, not a cynic. However! If the optimist is set enough in the positive pattern, negative assumptions may make someone a cynic regardless of success rate. The wording I used is meant to include both scenarios.
***I know it's not a word; it should be.
****Footnotes! I would have posted an inverse--that pure evil never found a home/only found one once and that since that human morality has been Gray And White, but I couldn't find one. Ones saying all humans were good deep down, yes. Ones saying more than one person has ever been entirely good, no. Post in the comments if you have one.
*****You can reverse everything in this paragraph--I'm wrong and you're right--and it still works.

I am fully aware that I admitted at the top of this post that I cannot know any of this. I did not feel like typing "I think" "I believe" and "in my opinion" 25 times.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


She was genuinely horrified, was the weird thing.

I mean, yeah. There are bullies at school. Anyone who thinks about it has to know. It's like abusive parents. If you think for two seconds, you realize that someone at your school of a few hundred has to have a problem with them, because they're always there. And yet, somehow, people always act like it's some big shock. I guess it's the same as death. We get to a point where we realize everyone is going to die. But we don't feel it for a long while after. So it happens, we see it happen, and then we get it. And it's terrifying. So you can react a couple ways. One way is to blame the victim: Oh no, it couldn't happen to me. JUSTIFICATION DRIVE ACTIVATED: Because I'm not stupid/mean/stuck-up enough to provoke them. Another is to not quite believe what you're hearing.

So she hadn't believed me when I told her I was being bullied. Or she hadn't done anything, or it hadn't done any good, all of which comes down to the same set of apparents from my point of view, and any question that could clarify is insulting, so there I am. The other student tells on me and we get called into her office. I'm honest, the other student exaggerates, she reacts to the worst in both our stories so I get called a tattler--I'm unpopular in that crowd, mind--and the other student and I both serve a detention. The message gets across pretty clearly: It's not quite useless, but you have to be willing to hurt a little too, and bullying/fighting/freaking without consent isn't that big a deal.

Which all adds up to some words tumbling out of my mouth before I can think to stop them, and so sincere because of that that she can't help but believe they're a true question:

"You care about that stuff?"

See line one. From what I've seen, the woman is not an amazing actor. She can smile and hide her feelings, but any of us learn that, and she uses the same smile I do. The bright, brittle smile that communicates deeper dislike than a glare.

So when she gave me a look that could have been on a poster titled "SHOCK AND HORROR, TONIGHT ONLY, NO WOMEN OR CHILDREN ALLOWED", I knew she honestly cared. Which...well, at first only surprised me, then pissed me off a little. What on earth? The rules as written allow her to give worse punishments for fighting. Why would she be so shocked that I thought she didn't care?

"Of course I care." Again, just so bald-faced honest.

I glanced at Nina, who was sitting next to me and had a layered effect that both Ms. Robin and I had ditched in favor of clarity. Outer, probably what Ms. Robin was picking up, attentive and slightly bemused; inner, mildly annoyed at me. She'd already figured out Ms. Robin cared.

I turned back to Ms. Robin and decided that, in the absence of any useful precedent telling me otherwise, I might as well be honest. "We're in high school, ma'am. We're going to fight. Every day. The only difference is that we touched each other."

"You should keep your arguments verbal."


"Because you could hurt each other."

I paused at that, trying to find some crack in her sincerity. It wasn't there. "Ms. Robin," I said softly, "we hurt each other more if we don't solve it. If we fight physically, I can tell when it ends. I've been in verbal fights that extended several years past their end because one person got over it and the other thought she was just being given the silent treatment. As long as we stay behind the threshold of long-term to permanent damage or weapons, how is this any worse?"

Had it been another day, or a different environment, Ms. Robin might have been secure enough in her worldview to give a long speech that boiled down to, "Because physical violence is always worse than verbal violence." But we had been honest with each other. She knew me to be bright, she knew me to be kind, and she knew me to be, at least for now, honest. She paused, perhaps checking me for sincerity, perhaps the sentence for truth.

Finally, Ms. Robin said something that made me respect her more than I'd ever respected a teacher at that school.

"I don't know."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Faith and Trust

Just for the record, I do not plan to look up either of these in the dictionary while writing this post, and I do not recall ever having done so in the past. I may look both faith and trust up at the end, and put down the official definitions at the end of this post. However, even if they are there, I will change nothing earlier. That is why this part does not establish whether I will do it, even though you, the reader who is reading through the time it took me to write this, can scroll down a few inches and see.

Inspired by a Simpsons quote (paraphrased),
Wiggum: You have that much faith in me?
Homer: No, faith is what you have in things that don't exist. Your awesomeness is real.

I will be writing as if I am referring to people, though you can have faith in or trust something as much as someone.

In the most basic terms: Faith is believing that someone will aid you. No reason to really, no guarantee, no need. Just you believe this. Pretty much the exact opposite of the scientific method*. It doesn't have to be absolutely certainty--though that is what absolute faith is. Even without evidence, the bedrock-solid knowledge that this fact is true.

Flip side, used less: Knowing that it will all go wrong fits equally well. Knowing that the person with the wrong scar over the right eye is going to stab you in the back. You don't know the person. You just see the face.

Laconic: This I believe.

Trust is different. You might have faith in some people after not seeing them for years, but trust has to be kept up. Help you up; stand by you when no one else would; just be there when you need them to be and you trust them. You have seen how they acted in the past, and it leads you to believe they are good people. You know they'll help you and yours.

Flip side, used less: Pretty obvious at this point. Push you down; run when someone else stood with you; leave when you need them most. Worse, do that and then expect you to help them. Maybe even worse than that. Because you will, and tomorrow they're back to this knife-twisting trust, you know they'll hurt you. But you choose. Do you turn you back on you own ideals? Do you stick to them, cruel people or no?

Or do you change your ideals for a new situation?

*I am not belittling the scientific method or faith. The scientific method does require setting one's faiths aside for the sake of seeing reality as it is--but not everything is scientifically provable. And stuff that isn't scientifically proven may well still be true.

Dictionary, closest to mine posted:
Faith: b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
Trust: a : assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Musing: "Because of You"

Yep, the song by Kelly Clarkson. You may want to listen to at least the beginning before reading this blog post, it'll make more sense.

Both my mom and I have a certain amount of dislike for this song--though mine is less "Turn that OFF" than hers is, and I do enjoy it sometimes. I think I figured out why. Kelly Clarkson sings it like it's sad, and depressive, and a complete mope of a song.

It's not.

Okay, yes, this requires Death of the Author thinking, but that's just not how it reads to me. Especially when you factor in that she swears in the middle. Swearing means A) not thinking about the words (BAD) B) angry or C) completely broken down, which isn't how she plays it either. She doesn't seem like she's crying, she doesn't seem like she's so broken she can't even express her feelings anymore, she just feels like...she wanted to swear there.

The line I'm referring to:
And now I cry in the middle of the night for the same damn things!
As something of an experiment, I tried singing it angry. First of all, it was easy. It seemed the natural way to sing the song. Second, yep, my mom felt it sounded better.

I think it's because otherwise, the song feels manipulative. An actor doesn't just say, "I'm broken," because there aren't very many realistic characters who would. The part to play is avoiding eye contact, wincing, leaping into or out of danger because everything is off-kilter.

And so yes, the song should have moments where the singer collapses. But they should be moments, not the majority of the song.

In addition, the whole thing falls under telling. "Because of you I am afraid." ...Lovely. And I suppose you're going to tell us some of the story...dude cried in the other room. Um. Anything...anything else you want to share? About this giant, life-shattering experience you decided to share with millions in song?

...Just gonna say you're heart's shattered and you stay on the safe side of everything. Well, it's lovely you were able to share all--

Oh. Wow. Actually, that's pretty clever if it's two characters deep. Take it, not as playing the hurt girl who's thinking this to herself, but the artist writing this song. She wants to share more, but she can't. She can bring herself to tell how hurt she is, but not really what happened. Because it was life-shattering.

And that may not make sense with Kelly Clarkson--her other music and the mere fact that she is where she is suggest some level of bravery--but it does make sense as a character who is a songwriter played by a songwriter.

This is why I muse.
© 2009-2013 Taylor Hobart