Sunday, February 26, 2012

Does Altruism Exist?


"Why do good for others," many have asked, "when it results in a cost to you?" It is a fair question raised throughout the years. Does doing good for others, at your own expense, have positive gains in the long run? Surely it does, I don't really think that there is an argument there. What I'd like to dive into, is the notion of whether these benefits, render altruism itself, non-existent.

Altruism is generally defined as the "principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others (opposed to egoism)" or more simply "a concern for the welfare of others." So altruism is caring for others and doing helpful deeds to them. But does it matter where those altruistic motives come from? If you are only helping someone, because you seek to gain something immediate in return, is this still altruism? For example, if I offer to help you fix your car only because I know that you will drive me to places I want to go, am I then really just acting out of my own selfish best interests? Can all thinkable acts of altruism be found to have motivations in one's own self interests? Would acting ultimately out of one's own self interest, cancel the notion of altruism itself?

When I think of altruism, one of the best examples I can think of is giving your seat up for a stranger on a bus or subway, or helping a stranger carry a large package they are having difficulty with. The stranger in this case is of no relation to me, and in a large city, there is little chance that I will see them again and that my altruism will ever be reciprocated. Altruism cannot be motivated out of one's duty or obligation. So a firefighter who saves a child from a burning building is not performing an act of altruism because they have a sworn duty to do so that their job commands of them, and they will face punishment if they fail to do so. Altruism must be voluntary with no commandments involved. It is true to note however, that many police, firefighters and doctors are motivated my altruism to get into their career fields in the first place.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Manifest Destiny


None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.
 -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I've been increasingly complaining to friends on how I am currently dissatisfied with my life. Sure I appear to have plenty of fun debating the issues of the day, as well as the ones of years past. But with the pleasures of drinking and partying diminishing, and with discontent with my job and overall lifestyle growing, I have recently had a lot to reflect on. One downtrodden friend of mine, proclaims how lucky I am to even have a job in such hard times. He sounds as if he'd instantly switch places with me, and take my job in cubicle hell.

I, in a way, don't blame him, but rebut his ideas that having a job is anything good. I then wonder, why do feel the need to keep my job? Well the money first and foremost. I have to pay down my debts; I have to pay my rent and my other bills. It are these liabilities that I feel keep me in the mental bondage that is work. If only I were debt-free, if only I didn't have to pay rent or worry about money at all. If I could only somehow, live like a free-loading hippie, traveling where I want, being a political activist, or a champion for the atheist cause, with no rent to pay, or bills for that matter, maybe then I would be, are I say it, happy.

Is working in a cubicle for the next 40 years my idea of considered life? I don't hold on tightly to ideas that are against any form of structured work. There's nothing wrong with sitting in a cubicle if that's what one fancies. Perhaps if behind my desk I was writing for secular causes, or collaborating with link-minded individuals on such matters, I wouldn't be so discontent.

It deeply scares me that I might have to sit in a cubicle for even just another 5 years laboring towards something I don't really care about, and around people I don't really care to be around. The problem I have is that the things I am most passionate about, are not really things that make one particularly wealthy, apart from a select few. Sometimes I think, that if only I was one of those Wall Street types, preoccupied with money and financial markets, I would be able to maximize my passion and get ridiculously wealthy off of it. But such is not my character; I detest those greedy Wall Street, money market schemers.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Moment or two on Urban Sociology


I have written on this blog quite extensively about cities, most notably New York City, where I live. New York is where I've lived almost all of my life and in a way, how I look at the world is from the perspective of New York City. As an urban dweller and lover of city life, I am often awestruck by the loneliness and desolation of smaller cities, towns and suburbs.

Arguments For and Against Suburbia

I've been addicted to this site called topdocumentaryfilms.com, where I have been watching on most of my free time for the past few weeks, documentary films about religion, history, science, and society. This one documentary about the cause and effects of suburban sprawl called Radiant City, mentions all the philosophical, societal, and statistical facts of why I already hate the suburbs. Mainly that (1) suburbs, designed around the automobile, disengage people from having to interact in person with others, and foster a cocoon so to speak, of social isolation. (2) Reliance on the automobile creates a culture of laziness, where people don't walk to where they have to go, and this results in further social isolation. (3) Suburbs also force people to live further away from their jobs and where they shop, increasing commute time. And finally, (4) suburbs are typically bland, homogeneous, and decentralize their urban spaces.

In defense of suburban living, many argue in favor of cleaner, safer and quieter streets, better schools and friendlier neighbors. Mind you that cities do not have to be dirty, and dirty city streets are largely a result of their neglect by their residents, and local, state and federal governments due to the absence of the middle class tax base, which was a direct effect of suburbanization. Cities can be clean and vibrant places to live, if society has enough interest to care for them and is willing to devote necessary capital. The unfriendliness or urbanites, characterized by the stereotypical jaded New York attitude is largely a result of the size of the city: with millions of people living in one place, you can expect that most people will be strangers who you will never get to know, and you cannot be on first named basis with all of them as you can in a small town or suburb. It might also be unwise to even smile and gesture at fellow pedestrians on the street because there are simply so many of them.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Winter's Despair


A wave of sorrow and procrastination has over taken me recently. I can do no more than click my laptop to play the next video that slowly cradles me toward the end. I have come across a fantastic site called topdocumentaryfilms.com. It contains over a thousand streamed documentaries on all different subjects, including my favorite topics of obsession: religion, philosophy, science, and history. I have been superglued to my computer due to this, and have as a result, been as lethargic as a sloth; barely able to expend enough energy to feed myself.

As much pleasure as there is in getting free, no commercially interrupted, full length and albeit, illegal documentaries steamed to my comfortable living room(take that SOPA!), I have also been gloating over the current situation in my professional life. I still do retain employment, so I cannot despair as deep as millions of my fellow countrymen do at the moment, but I am hopelessly out of place in the IT industry.

I originally came to this industry because of the multitudinous touting I heard while growing up. They all proclaimed an exponentially growing industry, that delivered large financial payloads. This has more or less held up in some regard, and I testify to this only as anecdotal evidence. But what I forgot to remember, is how much I, as someone who is somewhat antisocial, who doesn't make friends easily, who doesn't vibrate to the stereo-typical, socially popular, favorite pastimes of the "average" person, and who finds trouble befriending those who do, how important it is to be doing something that is dear to my heart.

I'm really a simple man, and I know what makes me happy. Happiness for me resides with in three basic conditions. I am happy when I am doing something I like, with people I like, in a place that I like. I've noticed that if these three conditions are met, I am almost always happy. I hate my job because I am doing something I don't like, with people I don't like, in a place that I don't like. At least with some jobs you may hate the work, but like your coworkers, or you may hate your coworkers, but like the easy commute, I don't have any such thing.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Porn and perspective


I, like most men occasionally watch porn. The internet has made it so easy for all of us to access virtually unlimited amounts of hardcore pornography, the levels of which I would have only dreamed about when I has a preteen. Discussing porn one day with a friend, the idea of pornographic etiquette of sorts came up. I mentioned that in a porn movie, I wouldn't be able to watch it if I knew the guy in the movie, like if he was my friend or coworker. That would be just too personal and weird. The guy in a porn movie should merely be a faceless, nameless male, in a way vicariously acting out the position that I would want to be in. Anything more than that is just too, dare I say it, gay.

This is largely why women tend to not get off on male oriented porn, because of the lack of emotion and focus on the male. Instead porn made for or by women tends to be more story oriented and sensual, where the guy in it has a much larger personality.

Notice throughout this I don't even bring up the questions of whether porn is moral. We have been so desensitized to hardcore porn, largely through the internet, that most of the arguments of generations past, over whether porn is immoral, have nearly all but dissipated. I have no problem with porn as long as it is consenting adults who are performing in it. And porn, just like anything else, such as a drug, should be done in moderation.

Me and my friend both agree how awkward it would be to see another guy we know in a porn movie. It would render the film, un-jerkoffable. I'm sure most other heterosexual men would agree. Porn as it appears, has roles of normalcy and notions of taste and perspective.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Case For "Just" War


With the Iraq War having officially ended this month, I want to reflect on the concept of "just" war. Many of us have an elementary criteria that we apply in determining whether a war is justified or not. But what do we mean when we say that a particular war is "just" or "unjust"? Under what conditions would an act of war be justified? And if we could agree upon a set of standards to justify an act of war, then when applied down to a micro level of individual physical violence and aggression between people, with some exceptions it should be more or less the same.

Self defense is the most commonly agreed upon legitimate motive for a justified act of violence toward another person or persons. That is to say, one has the right to defend themselves against another person's physical aggression, and therefore the injuries incurred to the aggressor are justifiably so. And, if this is true for individuals, the same more or less applies to nations.

With retaliation things get a bit more complicated. Some agree that once one has been the victim of an act of violence or aggression that they could not stop, one then has the right to then retaliate against their attackers. If you agree with this, then revenge could be a "just" cause for violent retribution. And once again, if inflated to the macro level, nations and societies might be justified in their acts of retaliation against their victimizers. Others do not agree, and maintain that only self defensive violence can be reasonably just.

This brings us to to the idea of preemptive acts of violence or war. The invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies in 2003, was a preemptive strike against a rouge totalitarian State, in order to prevent it from being a more imminent, immediate and formidable threat later on. For some, preemptive foreign policy is never justified, and in the case of the Iraq War the supposed reasons for the preemptive strike in the first place, were either fabricated intentionally or the result of embarrassingly bad intelligence.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What's an Atheist to do Around the Holiday Season?


Christmas is here already. I've been so busy with work and other things that I haven't had time to get into the holiday spirit. I don't really get into the holiday spirit anyway, I'm an atheist. Christmas today, at least in America, is all about mass consumption of goods. That is to say, spending money you don't have, to buy things you don't need, for people you don't like, so that you can get deeper into debt, and so the credit card companies can charge you interest, and profit off of your "holiday spirit". That's how I see Christmas anyway, and I do not wish to take part in this festival of floating capital.

Christmas isn't really a Christian holiday anyway. The Roman empire combined their pagan holidays in the end of December when it was adopting Christianity. It was the winter solstice they celebrated, and the birth of pagan gods like Mithra. Scandinavian pagan traditions were included, such as the tree lighting, and Santa Claus, a 19th Century American creation, added secular chapters to the holiday. The birth of Jesus' significance seems to fade away with each passing year.

It is Christmas' reincarnation into a celebration of material consumption that I most have a problem with. I am well aware of its importance in the business world and in truth, many of us benefit financially directly or indirectly because of this. But still, I do not take part for reasons of principal.

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