Monday, August 31, 2009

Discrimination Is Necessary For Social Reform

Today I just read an interesting and controversial article by Laura Wood, entitled Why We Must Discriminate. In it, she argues that for gender roles to be restored, for families to begin heading towards healing rather than towards the increasing dysfunction that is rampant in America, and for the resultant good of our nation, the legal environment must be changed in order to allow businesses to utilize customary discrimination and favor hiring men. In her own words:
First and foremost, we must restore customary economic discrimination in favor of men. America’s businesses and institutions must be free once again to favor men over women in hiring. If they are not, family life will never return to a reasonable state of health; the happiness of women and children will continue to decline; and men will fail to flourish and prosper.

Customary discrimination, in relation to the sexes, is the voluntary and informal practice of favoring men over women in hiring. It is not encoded in law or enforced by regulation. It exists as a result of a common understanding that men must support families and cannot adequately do so if they compete with large numbers of women, a form of competition that lowers their wages and reduces their marketability. The relative stagnation of men’s wages in the last 50 years proves the point.
I haven't read many articles specifically advocating discrimination, and I happen to agree with her argument. The truth is, feminism has been economically and socially detrimental to individuals, families and communities. Having gender-focused anti-discrimination laws does benefit businesses, but at the expense of everyone else. Personally, I believe that anti-discrimination laws of all sorts distort incentives, reduce liberty and encourage a flawed understanding of the concept of legal equality.

Specifically regarding women in the workforce, feminism may have initially appeared to be liberating. By allowing women to choose whether they pursue a family or choose a career, the apparent effect is that women have more freedom. When women first began entering the work force, it was economically advantageous for a family to earn a second income. The male provider already earned enough money to provide for his family and so adding a secondary income substantially boosted discretionary income. However, by nearly doubling the supply of labor, the equilibrium price of labor dropped dramatically. Because of the artificially low market value of labor, men and women both earn less money than if the labor market were limited to just men or just women. This decline in real income almost necessitates two incomes. Since men earn substantially less than they did before women entered the market, the amount of money needed to adequately provide for a family living in modern America is nearly equal to two full-time incomes. This means that with the rare exception of men who are wealthy, for most families, neither parent can afford to be jobless. While previously women had the option of having a job or staying at home and raising a family, now they are required to work, just to make ends meet. The resultant effect of feminism is that while previously most women didn't work, now most don't have the option of not working. Nearly twice as much work is required to earn the same amount of real income.

As bad as the economic aspect of women working is, the social effects of this are where the real harm lies. Since most women must work, they have significantly less time to spend raising children, making a difference in the world, and savoring life. There is less time for familial relationships, less time for being involved in the local community, less time to spend teaching children how to life virtuous lives, and less time for relaxation and personal hobbies. The lack of all these things serves to increase stress, decrease family unity, decrease enjoyment of life, decrease non-business related social development, and decrease the quality of childrens' education. Women's loss of social freedom and social influence is a major loss for them, directly, and for men and children, indirectly. Presently, there is a culture bias against women remaining at home and raising their families full-time. Educational instutitions and businesses profit from women in the workforce.
Why would women ever accept a return to discrimination?

The end of customary discrimination was never in the interests of women. It has forced the majority to help support their families while raising their children and managing a home. The experiment was tried. The apple was eaten. Women now see that careers come with personal costs and that many jobs are not as thrilling as feminists claim. They are ready to embrace discrimination again.
I think Laura is absolutely right. Right now, for the sake of individuals and families, America desperately needs to revoke anti-discrimination hiring laws and businesses need to intentionally choose to hire men over women. Gender discrimination is 100% necessary for America to begin true social reform. The health of our nation, the happiness of our people, the morality of our citizens, and the cohesion of our families depend on it. Let us discriminate intentionally and assertively, without apology!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Happy Endings

Why is it that most literature and most of the films of the past century embrace some sort of happy ending? Whether you are reading a typical modern fiction bestseller, watching a romantic comedy, reading an epic children's series or watching an action movie, happy endings are inescapable! Not only are cheerful endings pervasive and abundant, but there is something about a positive ending that resonates with the soul of a person (this is primarily true in the Western hemisphere). Does everything always end happily? Is this a realistic expectation to hold in our modern world? Are happy endings simply a form of escape from reality, or do they symbolize a deeper cosmic truth?

You've seen it more times that you can count. The story centers around a major conflict. Some evildoer is trying to inflict his maniacal schemes upon the helpless masses. A badass fellow with bulging muscles and a lot of weapons comes in to try and thwart the evil scheme. Eventually things go badly for him, as one of his trusted comrades betrays him for the promise of power, or maybe a sack of money. Whatever. Yet, even when everything seems to be at its bleakest, when the villain's plan is finally succeeding, when life is about to change for a lot of people, somehow, a miracle happens. Our bloodied hero concocts a reckless scheme that has little chance of success. With loads of special effects and countless clips of ammunition, the villain and his gang of cronies are laid to rest in some dramatic fashion, the hero goes home with the pretty lady, and the masses live happily ever after. The end.

Or, perhaps the setting is a little bit different. A young, single woman is on the prowl for some guy to date or marry. After a long series of unsuccessful dates, eventually she meets a smart, fun and sexy guy. They go out a few times, but then things don't work out because he's not looking for a serious relationship. Then she talks to all her girlfriends, and cries over the fact that things never seem to work out the way she wants. Her life goes on in the ordinary sort of way, all of it seeming to have lost its luster. Suddenly, out of the blue, he calls her up and tells her that he can't stop thinking about her. A few weeks later he plans some over-the-top hijinks that culminate in a short and cheesy proclamation of how he wants to be with her forever followed by presenting her with an engagement ring. A few choice clips from the wedding are shown and then the credits roll. They all live happily ever after. The end.

Why is that we so desperately crave a happy ending, no matter how implausible? Is it simply a marketing gimmick? All these happy endings lead us to believe that no matter how bad life gets and no matter how bleak our present situations are, everything is going to end well. It's all going to be okay, in the end. More hope and perseverance are justified, since eventually we're going to make it through to the other side and then we'll be fine. We're going to make it. It's going to be okay. Yet, one single glance around at the world should be enough to suggest that this sort of thinking is anything but realistic. In America, there are about half as many divorces every year as there are marriages. Those who try to be action heroes and stand up to evildoers don't often succeed. Last week I read the story of a fellow who tried to fight three crooks who were attempting to rob him. Here's how it ended:
I wake up and I can see my own reflection. I look bloodied and beat up and think I’m dreaming. I don’t know who I am, or where or what I’m doing. I quickly realize I’m awake and in a pizza restaurant and I’m looking in a mirror. There’s two nice people talking to me.

...the doctor tells me they fractured my eye socket and I will need plastic surgery and titanium plates implanted into my head.

...I just finished my operation and can now say I am MORE MACHINE THAN MAN since I now have a titanium plate in my skull.
Reality seems to often end with things turning out badly. Perhaps more often than not. My grandparents, who were married for over 35 years and are now in their late 70's are getting divorced. In the world of politics it seems that corruption, greed and a lust for power are prevailing over freedom, liberty, wisdom and common sense. Economically, our nation is setting records for new low points as unemployment skyrockets and bank failures become common occurences. Is it philosophically rational to hold out hope, when the world around us seems to be in destructive downward spiral?

If we look at films from other cultures, such as a pre-Westernized Japan, we see that most of their best movies end with the death of the hero. Rather than running from reality, Eastern thought seems to have reached a very different philosophy than Western thought. Instead of the notion that everything is going to be okay in the end, the Japanese aesthetic philosophy (wabi-sabi) could be expressed as, "It nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect." In Nogaku, a major form of classical Japanese musical drama, there are several different sorts of plays. One of the sorts of plays, Shura Mono, features the protagonist as a ghost in the afterlife. Eventually, the play builds to its climax where the warrior's death is shown. While it wouldn't be quite right to consider it a celebration of death, it is clear that one of the pivotal truths expressed is simply that everything ends. Whether for right reasons or wrong, whether in honor or ignominy, life ends for all.

Greek Theater presents yet a another perspective on endings. In their tragedies, often Greek plays would center around a prominent man who is neither especially virtuous nor excessively wicked. At some point, due to some mistake or moral blindness, the hero would experience a reversal of fortune. Sometimes death would be involved. Occasionally, the hero may gain a new insight about human fate, destiny or the will of the gods. The central theme of such tragedies is the idea that humans are flawed, either in their character or simply in their actions. William Shakespeare took a similar approach to writing his tragedies, perhaps being influenced by Aristotle, and most of his tradegies end in the deaths of all the major characters. These sorts of tragedies force the audience to take a reflective look at their own lives and consider the moral paths of their actions. If moral flaws can have such a profoundly disastrous effect upon one's own life and the lives of others, then it is critical to examine life and to temper weaknesses of character. Perhaps one way to express this aesthetic philosophy is that even seemingly minor shortcomings can have calamitous effects.

As you see, modern theater and literary works seem to bear a very different message than works from past times or from Eastern cultures. Although it would be easy to dismiss the modern attitude that everything is going to end well as simply irrational optimism, I don't think that is the whole story. Christianity may be the reason that the Western world holds such a hopeful outlook on life. Apart from a belief in heaven, it is hard to escape the philosophies of the East which cling to the transcience and ultimately illusory nature of reality. If there is no God, there can be no real hope for cosmic justice. If life ends at the grave then the nihilists are quite right to declare that life lacks any ultimate meaning and that all is futility. But the ancient Greeks didn't have Jesus. Christianity was completely foreign to pre-westernized Japan. Maybe that is the answer. Jesus saw the condition of the world, the state of the human heart and brought a message of hope and redemption. He taught us that there is a way to overcome the sin nature and to live in newness of life. Yet, his preaching went much further than that. Jesus boldly preached the reality of heaven and taught that how we live in this life has eternal consequences. Christianity alone offers the answer that through Jesus Christ's triumph over death and sin on the cross, death is ultimately powerless. Christianity alone offers the answer that reward and punishment in the afterlife is directly determine by works in this life. No good deed will go unnoticed and no evil action will be left unpunished. These are central messages of Christianity.

If modern happy endings are based on the philosophical truths that stem from Christianity, then they certainly aren't appropriately qualified. Christianity doesn't promise that things will end well for everyone. Jesus doesn't say that things are going to work out great in this life at all. The message of Christianity is that those who are righteous followers of Jesus Christ will endure certain suffering and pain in this life, but that in eternity every tear will be wiped away. The message of Christianity is that those who are not followers of Jesus Christ, and those who prefer living in carnal hedonism or wickedness, are guaranteed an eternity of suffering. However, when you strip away all the controversial elements of those truths (such as condemnation, justice and punishment), the message of Christianity sounds an awful lot like, "Since God is loving and merciful, everyone will live happily ever after." To me that sounds similar to some of our contemporary televangelists and best-seller authors. But it's not the truth. Just because we want everything to end well and for everyone to live happily ever after doesn't mean that reality will match our expectations.

The truth is, Jesus teaches that suffering, pain, turmoil and sacrifice are facts of life in this world. To those who live righteously, those are promised in greater degrees. Happy endings won't come soon and they won't come easily, but they are promised to those who persevere in their devotion to Jesus Christ and their love of righteousness. For everyone else, they are an empty delusion. The Christian view of the ultimate triumph of good over evil, of cosmic justice and of righteous living is not swift and painless. Virtuous living is a daily battle requiring courage, dedication, moral fortitude and commitment. The Greeks were closer to the truth than they realized. Happy endings only come to those who are vigilant, watchful and wise. Don't be deceived by the baseless, but well-meaning optimism of American culture. Not everyone lives happily ever after.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Women Are Romantically Irrational

There are some men who think that women are impossible to understand or comprehend. I am not one of those men. However, it makes sense to me why some would have that sentiment. Though women are comprehensible, they are typically romantically irrational. Though there is certainly nothing precluding them from acting and speaking rationally, this is not the status quo in modern America.

What exactly do I mean by irrational? Something that is rational is driven by logical thought and follows the ideal path as set forth by the intellect. Therefore, irrational behavior is anything that is inconsistent with logical, intellect-based living. More specifically, when I refer to the romantic irrationality I mean a few different things. First, a woman's stated romantic criteria often differs from her actual romantic criteria. Second, a woman's romantic interest and romantic pursuits are governed more by emotions, physical chemistry and subconscious psychological drives than by their rational criteria. Third, few women realize this discrepancy.

By irrational, I do not mean simply that women often make decisions primarily based on non-logical criteria. For example, supposing intellectual reasoning and emotional resonance lead to the same decision, there is nothing intrinsically irrational about making such a decision. However, when conscious thoughts and emotions lead in opposing directions, choosing to follow one's emotions even when it will result in a substantial loss or personal harm is irrational since the decision flies in the face of reason and logical behavior. A pattern of behavior is irrational if, when a woman is confronted with choices that causes her intellect and emotions to be divided, she consistently chooses to make choices based on emotion rather than intellect. In such a case, she is primarily governed by non-logical, non-rational urges. This is not something that is biologically hardwired into women, since scientific experiments have shown that men and women typically reach the same decisions when using pure logic and intellect. Since there is not a biological reason for irrational romantic behavior, irrationality is a choice.

Often in searching for a romantic partner, men and women have a list of qualities that they are looking for. However, for women, the type of man they are actually looking for and the sort of criteria they are actually seeking are quite different than the qualities that they say they are looking for and truly believe they are looking for. Examples of this are evident everywhere. I have no doubt that you know of some girl who has rejected a suitor or broken up with a boyfriend who nearly perfectly matches her stated criteria. Personally, I have been told, "You are exactly the sort of guy I'm looking for; I just don't love you that way." With said girl, I know for a fact that I met virtually all of her stated criteria. But, she wasn't looking for the sort of man she thought she was. Another common example of this irrational behavior is witnessed with girls who are in unhealthy relationships, but are unable or unwilling to leave. Recently, I was talking to a friend who was considering breaking up with her boyfriend. He is broke, selfish, alcoholic, slightly overweight and doesn't treat her considerately. All of her friends were urging her to dump him because of his parasitic effects on her life, but after a few days of deliberation she chose to stay with him and try to work things out. Her logical mind sees the obvious truth, but that is not what drives her to make the choices she does. These two examples are hardly rare.

Does this inner divide render women incomprehensible? Not at all. This practical divide does make interacting with women quite confusing. When you assume that women want what they say they want and you get an unexpected reaction, it leads you to question something. One might think that women are intentionally lying and being manipulative. Though true in some circumstances, this is generally not the case. Most women are quite convinced that what they think they want is what they actually want. Both men and women err when they think that a woman's mind is what drives her decisions and causes her to act. Once a woman's irrationality is taken as a given, she then becomes comprehensible.

Since a woman is romantically driven by emotions, physical chemistry and subconscious psychological drives, understanding these is key to understanding women. Understanding the thoughts that fuel emotions, physical conditions that affect emotions, and psychological drives that trigger attraction set a solid foundation for better interaction. Possessing the ability to discern the real meaning of a woman's words, rather than simply interpreting them literally, is also integral to developing and sustaining quality romantic relationships. Because of this, knowing how to listen for the deeper message in a statement or question is a vital skill to have. Learning to read the tonal variances and body language of a woman will provide much more insight into what she is thinking and feeling than her words ever will.

Is it a bad thing to be irrational? Not necessarily. Though foolish decisions are harmful to everyone involved, irrationality itself isn't always a harmful thing. In some ways, the very fact that women are emotional creatures who are more empathic, more nurturing and more driven by emotions than men makes them special and beautiful. Gender differences are meant to be enjoyed, valued and savored. When the romantic irrationality of women is not properly understand it will unswervingly lead to confusion and frustration. However, when people recognize that women do not primarily interact with the world on a logical, intellectual basis, then they are free to fully enjoy the best that women have to offer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Foreknowledge and Freewill - Mutually Exclusive?

There are many philosophical problems that seem to present major challenges to a Christian worldview. To some, any apparent inconsistencies invalidate the whole of Christianity, since it presents seemingly contradictory truths. God's foreknowledge and man's freewill are a prime example of such an ostensible contradiction. What is the alleged contradiction? Is there a solution to such a dilemma?

Except for those who subscribe to Calvinism, Reformed Theology, a generic belief in Omniderigence, or simply some other brand of determinism, it is commonly accepted that humans have freewill. For all practical purposes, it seems that people choose how they conduct their lives and what actions they take. This process of making choices to do or not do something is what we call freewill. The conflict is encountered when we consider the Biblical truth that God possesses foreknowledge. He clearly knows what will happen before it actually happens (hundreds of Biblical prophecies) and is specifically described as possessing foreknowledge. Romans 8:28-29 says, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren." Now, if God already knows that something is destined to happen, then since His knowledge is infallible, the foreknown event must come to pass. There is no way for something that God knows will happen to be prevented. This seems to be contrary to freewill.

For example, suppose that God foreknows that I will die in a car crash tomorrow. Supposing that God's knowledge is accurate (and it must be, else He is not God), then there will be no actions I can take to avert my demise. Though I can try to resist fate by staying in my apartment all day and hiding in my kitchen, the event must occur. Therefore, it would appear that I have no control over the matter. Fate has sealed my death and nothing can stop the sheer force of destiny. Similarly, suppose God foreknows that I will murder a prominent politician next year. God's foreknowledge of the event seems to render my freewill nonexistent. No matter how much I detest killing and no matter how hard I try to resist making such a choice, since God's knowledge is infallible, I have no ultimate choice in the matter. Inevitability renders all my efforts and intentions inert.

This is the apparent conflict. Superficially, it appears that God's foreknowledge and mankind's freewill are mutually exclusive truths. If God foreknows events then people have no choice in the matter, and if people do have freewill then God must be incapable of foreknowing their choices. It then appears that there are only three philosophically rational ideologies to choose from: Omniderigence, where God knows and predetermines every single event, Voliscience, where God is capable of knowing whatever He wishes to know at a given moment but does not know everything, or Open Theism, where God does not know what people will choose to do. Yet, this limitation to three worldviews is founded on one single logical error.

Freewill and foreknowledge appear mutually-exclusive because it seems that the knowledge causally determines the occurrence. This is a mistake. Though it is certainly possible that foreknowledge implies no free choice, it is also possible that this is backwards. Is it not possible that the event itself is the cause of the knowledge? Maybe it is not the knowledge of the future event that determines the future event, but instead the future event that determines the foreknowledge. Maybe God knows what will happen because of the choice that will be made. Perhaps my decision to drink a refreshing cup of ice water right now is foreknown by God exactly because I have chosen to drink it. In such a case whatever is foreknown is foreknown because of the choices that are actually made, in which case all knowledge is dependent upon freewill.

This is exactly how knowledge of the past works. Just because I know that my brother was in a car accident last week doesn't mean that the event couldn't have happened any other way. Instead, I know that my brother was in a car accident precisely because of the choices made and the actual occurrence. No one would ever suggest that my knowledge caused what is known; it is precisely the reverse. What is known is always caused by what is done.

The only possible objection to this is that future events cannot determine present knowledge because the future does not yet exist. If time were a universal constraint, then such an argument would render foreknowledge impossible since the future would be nonexistent. However, God is an eternal being and is not bound by time. To God there is no past, present or future. Instead, there is an eternal present. All earthly moments simultaneously exist to God. So, because of His eternal nature, He presently knows what choices are made by all people at all times. It is seen that God's timeless nature renders this objection powerless, since there is no future to an eternal being. Present knowledge is caused by present actions. No reverse causality occurs.

Therefore, foreknowledge and freewill can perfectly coincide if and only if events determine what is foreknown. In this way, God is sovereign, man has freewill, and God is still omniscient. Though this does not disprove Omniderigence, Open Theism or Voliscience, it certainly leaves one free to believe in the doctrines of the Bible and remain on philosophically defensible ground. If freewill exists, then Omniderigence is false. If God is omniscient, then Voliscience and Open Theism are false. If both God is omniscient and mankind possesses freewill, then metaphysical Libertarianism must be true.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Game Review - The World Ends With You

The World Ends With You, a role-playing game for the Nintendo DS, was released in the US about a year ago. The first time I played through it, not long after its release, I thought that it was a good game--but not especially amazing. Having picked it up again this summer, I am on my second playthrough. Perhaps it's more a reflection of how I have changed in the past year than of the game itself, but this time I have been absolutely awestruck by how brilliant the game is. The sheer scope of content and the quality of it all is quite mind-boggling. The World Ends With You is fun, intellectually stimulating and takes you through quite a compelling narrative.

Though many modern RPGs are heavily based on a medieval fantasy setting with some sort of cookie-cutter tale of good versus evil, The World Ends With You completely breaks free from such clich├Ęd elements. Instead, it is unflinchingly modern in nearly every way conceivable. The entire game takes place in the Shibuya district of Tokyo and many of the in-game locations are modeled after real locations and shops in Shibuya. As you visit new places, encounter various characters, see the way people dress and find out what sort of things are sold in various shops, you catch a glimpse of many aspects of modern Japanese culture. Several of the notable locations are emphasized as characters in the game actually tell you about their real-world significance. The genius of using a real-world location is that it actually piques interest in the location itself and can inspire players to learn more Shibuya itself and contemporary culture in Japan.

Another profound aspect of the game is the modern narrative structure. Rather than a lengthy page of text or an intricate action sequence, the game begins almost immediately with no formal introduction. Much of the narrative is driven forward by use of the erotetic method. The player is continually presented with pieces of seemingly unconnected information and given very little explanantion for any of them up front. The story revolves around Neku Sakuruba, who finds himself waking up in Shibuya with no memory of anything at all. Why is he there? Where is he? Why can he hear people's thoughts? During the course of three weeks, the tale becomes increasingly clearer and yet more convoluted with every new bit of information. The more that you understand the more you realize you don't yet know. As it weaves its intricate tale, the plot integrates many different modern ideologies and touches on numerous philosophical topics. For a person who is philosophically inclined, the morally-ambiguous characters, the ethical dilemmas, the ontological questions of meaning and purpose, the various models of social interaction, the possibilities for transcendence, and the multiple planes of existence all provide copious amounts of intellectual stimulation.

The entire art direction of the game is unmistakably modern, as well. You won't see a single piece of traditional art or hear a single piece of classical music. The soundtrack is written and presented in a way that bears much resemblance to modern radio stations and our 21st-century iPod generation. The tunes are played semi-randomly and do not attach to specific locations, activities or events. There is no battle theme or overworld theme, instead just a playlist for both that may vary from day-to-day much like radio stations change their rotation of songs from week to week or like individuals who listen to different sorts of music on different days, based on their current mood. Likewise, many of the clothing and fashion designs are modern, youthful and trendy rather than classic and conservative. In fact, fashion trends actually are used as a game mechanic and as a player, you will benefit from following trends, setting new trends and avoiding unfashionable items; the pins used in battle are directly impacted by local trends. In addition to the fashion items and the contemporary soundtrack, there is a lot of urban art and contemporary abstract design used in the game. One mysterious fictional popular artist in the game actually plays a central role in the story, and several of his works are featured prominently.

However, setting and trappings are hardly the most important part of a game. Gameplay is one of the most important and compelling aspects of a great game. The World Ends With You utilizes a lot of various elements. Though the plot progresses in a linear fashion, beyond the plot, the way you play is very freeform. The battle system is intricate and exceedingly complex. Though it is fairly simple to learn the basics of battle, there are so many elements that even masters of the game will find themselves challenged to fully utilize every feature. Since battles occur on two screens, with two different independently controlled characters whose attacks, moves and stats are customizable, just controlling both characters requires a lot of work. Given that scores are given based on speed, consistency of damage and achieving special conditions, there is a certain amount of pressure to fight as fast, powerfully and efficiently as possible. Throw in fusion attacks, partner synchronicity, the power puck and dodging enemy attacks, and players are presented with an overwhelming amount of information. Though some people view such complexity as a negative thing, I think that having such a complicated battle system is one of the best features of the game. With most games, simply by playing enough you will soon find that you've virtually mastered the art of battle and can fight maximally well most of the time. With this game, since there are so many elements intertwined and since scoring well in battles requires well-customized characters, the ability to simultaneously process several thread of information and split-second reflexes to execute and dodge attacks, there is always room for improvement. But, rather than forcing you to master the complicated battle system, The World Ends With You allows you to completely choose your own ideal level of challenge. Apart from a few required battles, most battles are self-instigated and completely optional. You can choose when to fight, where to fight, which enemies to fight, and how difficult your battles should be. If you're having too much trouble processing so much information, play the game on Easy and you'll never find yourself in much danger. If fighting skillfully comes easily to you, then crank the difficulty up to Ultimate and you'll be forced to bring your best to every battle.

This existential, flexible way of playing extends beyond the battle system. With nearly everything you can choose to capitalize on it or ignore it completely. You can choose how much or how little to shop. Fashion trends can be followed or ignored. Collecting and mastering various battle pins can be done as much or as little as desired. If there are some pins that you really love, you can stay with them for as long as you like. Alternately, you can constantly acquire and fight with new pins. There are enough that you will never run out of new pins to try. You can rush through the story or take it at a leisurely pace and try to acquire everything you can at each location. Eating various foods and trying to find the best stat-boosting foods is a lot of fun, but you could also choose to ignore cuisine and not worry about powering up your character's attributes. Likewise, even once you've beat the game, there is countless more to do, find and collect. There are plenty of extra boss fights, new foods, sources of backstory information and battle pins to go back and acquire, if you want.

In summary, The World Ends With You is a fresh, unique, and groundbreakingly modern role-playing game. The gameplay is fun, complex and endlessly challenging. Utilizing a potent narrative method, the story is creative, compelling and thought-provoking as it continually raises questions in your mind and touches on deeper philosophical and social issues. Additionally, the ability to customize your characters and choose how you want to experience the game makes it more flexible and adaptable than most role-playing games. One thing that I found surprising is the replayability of the game. With most games I play through once and then don't touch it much again. However, with The World Ends With You, I have found that the second playthrough is even richer and better than the first ever was. Quite simply, it is a creative and thoroughly enjoyable masterpiece. It is a work of art!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Generalizations

Generalizations are used ubiquitously in modern communication. They are very useful ways of expressing principles and truths without adding billions of disclaimers to every statement. A generalization is: "a principle, statement, or idea having general application." In everyday speech, we use generalizations to talk about how things usually are and generally work. This is in direct contrast to universals, which apply to every instance of a given thing.

The reason that we predominantly use generalizations rather than universals is that our world is an exception-based one. Though things typically are certain ways, and though things typically work the same way, there are nearly always exceptions to things. For example, if I were to say that all humans have two arms, I would be stating such a fact as a generalization. Even though most people have two arms, I'm certain that there are some people who have lost a limb and have only one. There are probably even some people who have no arms at all. If I were to state that all humans have two arms as a universal, I would obviously be wrong, since there are some humans who have less than (or perhaps more than) two arms. Universals have their appropriate place in the realms of mathematics, abstract principles and definitions. Valid universal statements such as "1+1=2," "all planets have physical form" and, "nothing evil is good," are always true in all circumstances because of how we have defined such things. Anything that is stated as a universal must have no exceptions in order to be true. Therefore, very few statements can both be universal and true.

For this reason, Scott Adams has coined a little acronym that he applies to all statements.
I'd also like to proclaim here and now that all future sentences I utter are appended with the silent disclaimer "but of course there are obvious exceptions." The abbreviation is BOCTAOE.

This is important because about half of my time spent interacting with people involves me staring dully at them while they point out the obvious exception to whatever I've just said."

Example:
Me: Nice weather.
Other Person: Not everywhere on Earth. Plus, the day is young. It could still get cloudy later.
Me: Nice try, but I append all of my statements with a silent BOCTAOE.
Other Person: Damn the silent disclaimers!!!"
This is the strength of generalizations; since generalizations are general and do not claim to be universal, they are much easier to use validly. A generalization is true as long as it truly describes the standard way a thing is or functions. If I say that chairs have four legs, then my generalization is true as long as more four-legged chairs exist than three-legged chairs, two-legged chairs, or five-legged chairs...etc. If I say that Americans are illiterate, then my generalization is false if there are more illiterate Americans than literate ones.

The limitation of generalizations is that they vary in strength. Some generalizations have a strong correlation to reality, while others have a weak correlation. Sometimes the strength of a generalization is not readily apparent, which means that often a little bit of thinking is necessary to determine how strong a given generalization is. A generalization can vary in strength from 0.01% (impossibly weak) to 99.99% (shockingly strong). Anything that is true 100% of the time is a universal. Here are examples of some generalizations:

1 - Businesses seek profit above all else. This generalization is fairly strong. The main goal of most businesses is to earn a profit by providing a valuable service or selling a compelling product. However, there are certainly some business that are more concerned with helping society than with generating a profit. Non-profit organizations, some government-run businesses and a few other assorted businesses would fall into this category. However, since most businesses (more than 90%) pursue a profit, this generalization is strong.

2 - Middle-aged white men are dull and boring. This generalization is weak. Though there are certainly a lot of middle-aged white men who are boring and live quite dull lives, there are a good many who are interesting, fun, social and adventurous. This generalization probably isn't even true close to 60% of the time. Therefore it is a weak generalization and shouldn't be taken too seriously, even if it might have a hint of truth.

3 - Young children do not vote in elections. This generalization is exceptionally strong. However, if even a single young child votes in an election, it cannot be a universal. Given that underage people have been able to join the military, and given that identity theft is a reality in our world, it is not too far-fetched to imagine a politically-minded youngster finding a way to vote. However, since the exceptions to this are probably nearly zero, this generalization has a strength of around 99.99%. It is exceptionally strong.

Now that we have established what a generalization is and set forth standards for determining validity and strength, let us examine how they are used in everyday speech. As the excerpt I quoted from Scott Adams has demonstrated, rational people rarely use universals. Most intelligent people are acutely aware that there are many exceptions to most of their statements, exactly because such statements are generalizations rather than universals. However, if that short excerpt wasn't enough to conclusively demonstrate the cumbersomeness of speaking using universals, I shall give you another example.

When an ordinary person says, "The sky is blue," they are really saying something like the following. "Typically the sky appears blue in color to the unimpaired human eye during the daytime, except when there is odd pollution in the air, or when clouds are obstructing a view of the plain sky, or during sunrise or sunset when the sky appears red, yellow or some other color. The blue color that is seen may vary from being a light bluish color to being a darker, deeper blue; it may vary during the day, or season or based on your vantage point. This is also supposing that you are looking directly at the sky and not through a colored window or tinted sunglasses or any other sort of vision-filtering implement. Additionally, if you are not presently on the planet Earth, the sky may be imperceptible to you completely, in which case the sky appears transparent and colorless. But apart from all these exceptions and any other possible exceptions that I did not fully consider or articulate, under ordinary circumstances the sky appears blue."

To actually have to think about all that or state all the possible exceptions would render conversation prohibitively cumbersome and tedious. Therefore, when someone says, "The sky is blue," reasonable people assume that all of those disclaimers automatically apply, even when they are unstated. If ever a person says something, if there is even a single obvious exception, the only rational thing to do is assume that what is being stated is a generalization and is understood to be a generalization by the people speaking.

Because of this, even many things that might otherwise appear to be universal statements actually aren't and aren't intended to be interpreted as such. If I say that Christians read their Bibles, that coffee is tasty, that all people are sinners, or that I love music, I am not at all interested in hearing that some Christians don't read their Bibles, that some blends of coffee are horribly nasty, that Jesus wasn't a sinner or that there are plenty of bands and types of music that I wouldn't like. I already know all that! That's what all of those silent disclaimers are for. Other people also don't want to hear lots of nit-picky exceptions to their statements either. They also, are quite aware that there are exceptions.

This common sense rule will make all communication easier and less frustrating:
Unless something is explicitly a universal statement, it should not be treated as such.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Death In Adam, Life In Christ

The response to my last essay, "Are People Born Evil?" was quite overwhelming. There was some contentions over semantics, some contention over my thesis itself and some contentions over my interpretations of various passages. In this essay I hope to provide an in-depth analysis of the passages used to support the position that people are born sinners and are sinners even if they have not yet sinned. Personally, I find this to be an untenable and unbiblical position. In this essay I hope to put forth interpretations that do include the many nuances and subtleties of doctrine on human nature, while avoiding the pitfalls of jumping to conclusions or resorting to using "mysterious and mystical" doctrines to explain away the clear truths of Scripture.

Before I begin, I would like to address one misconception. In my last essay I wrote:
"Some would argue that all humans bear the guilt and penalty for Adam's sin. After all, speaking of Adam's sin, Romans 5:18 says, '...through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation...' However, this is not how God works. God's judgment is based on the actions of each individual person, and no person bears the guilt for another's sin."
A couple of people misread this and thought that I was contradicting the Bible by saying that God does not work the way He says He does. I quite agree that this would be heresy. However, when I said, "this is not how God works" I was not suggesting that the Bible was in error, but instead I was referring to those who argue that "all humans bear the guilt and penalty for Adam's sin" as being in error. I am a firm believer in the divine inspiration of Scripture, and it's complete truthfulness. If any human doctrine contradicts Scripiture, it is certain that the doctrine is in error, and not Scripture. That is my stance concerning those who claim that in Adam, all sinned. Though Scripture is infallible, I believe that there are many who misinterpret it out of ignorance, fear or denial.

Let us now consider various objections to the idea that people are not sinners until they have sinned.

Objection #1 - Sin cannot be reduced to actions. Sin is a state of being.
The support for this objection comes from Ephesians. "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others." (Eph. 2:1-3) There is a legitimate point in this objection. A sinful nature is something that is clearly more than just a sinful action, or even a series of sinful actions. If, when we say that someone is a sinner, we simply mean that such a person committed one or more sins at some point in their life, then such a statement does not mean much at all. Maybe Bob is a sinner just because he stole a couple cookies from a jar when he was young and has lived a perfectly moral life ever since. Obviously, sinner is a very weak word in such a context. However, if by sinner, we mean that a person IS sinful and regularly engages in sinful actions because of a twisted and defiled nature, then we are making quite a strong statement. Likewise, we may call someone an adulterer if they have committed a single act of adultery. But there is quite a difference between a righteous man who made one wrong decision and someone who is a committed adulterer, who has honed his skills of seduction and makes a practice of committing adultery as frequently as possible. In the first case, adulterer merely refers to an action, in the second case adulterer describes a person's state of being; this man practices adultery. Likewise, there is quite a difference between someone who killed his neighbor in a fit of rage, and a contract killer who has honed his art of killing, is skilled at taking human lives, enjoys the scheming and execution of a hit, and is quite knowledgeable about various methods of murder. In the first case we are refer to murder simply as an action, in the second case we are referring to a killer as someone whose very livelihood and life revolves around killing. He is not just someone who has killed; he is, by nature, a killer!

This is the distinction that this objection seeks to raise. There is a difference between simply committing a sin, and being a sinner. The Bible clearly teaches that all people not only have committed sins, but practice sin. We are skilled at it. Though the manifestation of sin varies from person to person, all people are skilled at their own particular brand of sin. Some engage in the ordinary sorts of vices Christians condemn: fornication, thievery, alcoholism, drug abuse, witchcraft, violence, rebellion, greediness and other such sins. While in other people sin manifests itself as self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, legalism and pride. People not only commit sins, but are sinners by nature. With this, I quite agree.

However, though sin cannot be reduced to mere actions, it cannot possibly be less than actions. When we say someone is an adulterer, we do not mean merely that he or she might have a propensity for adultery. Instead, we must mean that such a person has actually committed adultery. In the stronger case, we mean that a person habitually commits adultery and is quite skilled at it. But, we certainly do not mean that no actions are involved. Likewise, when we say that a person is a sinner we cannot mean that a person merely has a propensity for sin. Unless we mean that a person has actually committed a sin, we mean nothing at all. Anything else makes a perfect mockery of language and common sense. And this is exactly the point that I made in my previous essay. To be a sinner, you must have committed at least one sin, or else it means nothing to be a sinner. Now, you may be a sinner and have committed 10 million sins, but you certainly cannot be called a sinner if you have committed zero. Also me to illustrate the raw absurdity of using the word sinner, murderer, liar, painter or runner to simply mean that one might have the propensity to do such an action.

Example 1:
Father, to teenage daughter: You better stay away from Charlie. He's a lying murderer.
Daughter: How do you know, did he kill someone?
Father: No. But sometime he might kill someone, so you need to keep away from him.

Example 2:
Friend, to a buddy: Hey George is a pretty good painter, you should hang out with him some time, since you're artistic, too
Buddy: Really? What sort of stuff does he paint?
Friend: Well, he doesn't actually paint. But he might have the propensity to paint.

Example 3:
Mother, concerning her new baby: Little Joey is such a sinner!
Friend: Why? What did he do?
Mother: Oh, nothing yet. But I just know that he is a big-time sinner!

See? This usage of language is quite absurd! To say that one has the possibility of doing something or the propensity for a certain kind of action says nothing at all about what will actually be done. In the passage itself we see a lot of action verbs: walked, lived, conducted and fulfilling. We were dead in the trespasses and sins that we walked in. We were children of wrath because we conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh. The state of being descriptions are inseparable from the descriptions of actions. Because you walked in sins, you were dead. The two are intertwined and inseparable. Therefore, we can clearly make a Scriptural case for people being dead in sins. And, we can make a case for people conducting their lives in wrong ways. But, there is no clear Scriptural case for suggest that we sin because we are dead. Since there is no case to be made against the common sense usage of the word sinner or sinned, it would be unreasonable to jump to an unsupported conclusion.

Objection #2: Scripture says that people are born sinners
There are couple of passages that people cite to suggest that people are born sinners. Yet, I cannot fathom how such a conclusion is reached, when actually reading such passages. Romans 3:10 says, "As it is written: there is none righteous, no not one." Yet this passage never expressed why there are none righteous, or whether people start out righteous or not. Psalm 51:5 says, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me." To me this is not saying that David himself was born sinful but simply that his mother was a sinner and that, since David was born to his mother, he was born into a sinful family, by a sinful mother. I don't really see that it can be conclusively interpreted otherwise. Genesis 6:5 says, "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." I quite agree that wickedness is pervasive and that all people act sinfully. But this verse doesn't say whether men were born that way or whether they choose to act that way. It simply describes the present condition of those evil-doers. Genesis 8:21 says, "the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth." Sure, from youthhood onwards, people are sinful, but this passage still does not speak about anything before youthhood. No matter what Scriptures you look at, you can make a clear case for arguing that all people are inherently sinful, but you simply cannot provide a verse that says babies are born as sinners.

Objection #3: Adam's sin is imputed to all people, therefore all have sinned, even before birth
This is one of the most cohesive and rational arguments against my position that people are not born sinners. There is certainly a plausible case to be made for all humans having a mystical union with Adam. Just to give the full context of the passage, I am going to quote the whole of Romans 5:12-21 and then break it down and look at what the passage is really saying.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Here are simple observations that we can state with 100% certainty:
- Sin entered the world through one man, Adam
- Death entered the world through sin
- All men sinned
- Death spread to all men because all sinned
- Judgment which came from one sin resulted in condemnation
- This judgment came to all men
- By one man's disobedience many became sinners

There are a few other observations that can be made, but these are some of the major ones we can make concerning the condemnation that comes through Adam. In between these clear statements there are several different ways to connect the dots. John Piper and others suggest that there is a mystical union with Adam which results in Adam's sin being imputed to all people. In his own words:
I believe the answer is that Paul means we all sinned in Adam, that his sin is imputed to us, and that universal human death and condemnation is God's judgment and penalty on all of us because we were in some deep and mysterious way we were united to Adam in his sinning.
This is certainly one possible explanation. It is certainly plausible and cohesive. However, simply because something is plausible and cohesive does not make it true. Allow me to illustrate. Sometimes when kids are young they are told that babies are brought by storks. This is a plausible explanation. I never saw my parents conceive me. In fact, I have never seen anyone's parents conceive them. I also have never seen storks carrying babies. However, it is certainly plausible (to the uninformed mind) that maybe storks are very stealthy and bring babies whenever we're sleeping. Or maybe parents arrange to meet the storks in a predefined location to receive the baby. To a young mind, storks bringing babies is plausible. It would account for why babies who weren't there a week ago are now in your house. But, it completely lacks supporting evidence. Plausibility alone is not enough to support a position.

I have an alternate interpretation of Romans 5 to present. Quite clearly, Adam was the first man to sin. Sin entered the world through Adam. And yet, perhaps when Adam and Eve sinned, only Adam and Eve sinned. Maybe there is no odd mystical connection between Adam and your second cousin's best friend. Since death is the penalty for sin, death entered the world along with sin, much like jumping off a cliff necessarily entails a little bit of free-fall. The two are intertwined and inseparable. Perhaps all men do sin separately. Just because Adam ate an apple doesn't mean that every future human also ate an apple. Just because Adam walked around naked in a garden doesn't mean everyone has. Just because Adam sinned, there is no natural reason to assume that everyone did. Since sin still carries with it that death penalty, perhaps everyone who sins does deserve death individually.

Concerning the judgment that came through Adam, I don't doubt that the sins of one person effect other people. After all, Exodus 20:5 says, "For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me." Scripture does suggest that the consequences of sins will effect people beyond the sinner. Children whose parents rebel against God by getting divorced still are harmed by their parents' actions, though they bear no responsibility for such actions. When a good friend dies because of a random gang shooting, his family and friends are effected by the evil actions of the gangster, even though they bear no responsibility for his actions. Likewise, it would make sense that Adam's sin would result in his children being forced to endure consequences of his sin (death and a tendency to sin) even though they bear no responsibility for his actions. Therefore, it would make sense that with each generation of sinners that is born and rebels against God, the death penalty and sin nature is continually passed on to every new generation.

By one man's disobedience all became sinners. Perhaps this was not something that happened instantaneously, but was a natural consequence of having sin in the world. For example, through Thomas Edison lightbulbs entered the world. Before Thomas Edison invented lightbulbs there were no lightbulb users in the world. After lightbulbs entered the world, many people became lightbulb users. This certainly doesn't mean that all people had a mystical union with Thomas Edison such that his lightbulb using was imputed to them. Instead, since lightbulbs became plentiful, many people chose to buy them and install them in their homes. Thomas Edison is the indirect causes of many people becoming lightbulb users. He is not the direct cause. Likewise, if sin never entered the world, there would be no sinners. But since sin entered the world, people are now capable of choosing to sin. We may even go so far as to say that because of Adam people have a propensity to choose to sin.

This interpretation makes sense of all the facts stated in the passage without resorting to any mystical answers or mysterious workings. It is a plausible and simple explanation of the facts. When we compare my interpretation with John Piper's interpretation of the passage, both provide plausible explanations of the facts. Occam's Razor states that, "when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is better." Unless my interpretation is neglecting to account for clear Scriptural truths, it is more reasonable to accept it than to believe in some mystical union with Adam's sin which causes 12 billion and 1 people to sin at exactly the same instant. If we're going to opt for unnecessary fantasy theories then we might as well believe in storks, the tooth fairy and Santa Claus.

A correct interpretation of Scripture is simply that Adam brought sin into the world, and that since Adam, all people choose to sin, causing them to become sinners, themselves. All people do receive a measure of judgment resulting from Adam's sin, even though they bear no personal guilt for his actions.

Summary
Having looked at Scripture itself and examined the various objections to my previous essay, I have yet to see an compelling argument proving that people are born sinners. First of all, though being a sinner is not simply a description of actions but is a state of being, one certainly cannot suggest that being a sinner can be reduced to exclude actions. This would result in semantic nonsense. Secondly, there is no Scripture that specifically states that people are born evil or born sinners. Third, the doctrine of imputed sin in Adam seems to go much further than Scripture and necessarily includes some assumptions that both contradict common sense and lack substantive Scriptural support of their own. While I happen to quite enjoy fiction, mythology and complicated accounts of things, when it comes to the Bible I refuse to accept anything that seems to bear more resemblance to fantasy than biblical truth.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Art of Solo Improvisation

Being in a jazz band gives me cause to frequently ask myself this simple question, "What makes a good jazz solo?" Sometimes, when I am feeling especially creative, I even ask, "What makes a great jazz solo?" A few years ago, when I first started playing jazz, I had no idea how to even consider such a question. I figured it must have something to do with playing a few notes -- or something like that. That was then. Now that I've been playing jazz bass for a few years, I feel that a better answer to that question is coalescing in my mind. Now, whenever I take a solo, I generally consider one or more of the following things:

Notes Don't Matter
Nobody cares what notes you are playing. Individual notes are only important to the listener in regards to how they sound. Nobody cares whether a note is a third, a fifth, a minor sixth or even a weird harmonic. What they do care about is how the note fits (or doesn't fit) with what the other instruments are playing. Sometimes "wrong" notes sound even better and more interesting than right notes. Sometimes a "right" note doesn't sound that great. With the perspective that notes don't matter, it is easier to focus on the sound than on the theoretical aspects of a solo.

Texture Is Vital
Musical texture is defined by several things. In the case of a single instrument texture varies based on articulation, phrasing, melodic speed, pacing and harmonic range. Playing a bunch of lower notes in succession creates a very different sound than a flurry of high notes. Playing several notes slowly and deliberately creates a completely different feel that fast, short licks. Note articulation also can create many different sorts of textures. For example, notes with a quick and strong attack sound more forceful and pronounced. Lightly picked notes sound a lot smoother and more flowing. Sliding up to, or down to a pitch creates a completely different sound than notes that are played straight. Vibrato can be used to add more emotion and power to a held note. Ridiculously fast sections generate energy and excitement, while slow melodic lines bring the energy down and place more emphasis on expressiveness. Utilizing texture well can give a jazz solo clear direction and serve as compelling sonic material for listeners to enjoy. When texture is not varied enough, a solo will sound quite bland and uninspired.

Dynamics Are Powerful
One thing that sets the pros apart from the amateurs is an understanding and utilization of dynamics. This is especially vital for the drummer, since the best drum solos always capitalize on dynamic changes, but dynamics are almost equally powerful for every instrument. By learning to bring things down to a low volume and then build energy through a solo, with dynamic changes at both expected and unexpected times, the listener more easily grasps the development of the solo. The usage of the soft passages makes the louder sections seem more powerful and the loud sections serve to highlight the subtlety and delicateness of the softer licks. This use of relative contrast can make bland musical ideas seem almost exciting, and incredible licks will shine more brightly than ever. Mastering the use of dynamics in an improvised solo will give it a rich luster, not to be quickly forgotten!

Notes Do Matter
I know that a few paragraphs ago I said that notes don't matter. That's still true. But in another sense, notes do matter. Though most people don't know or care which specific notes you are playing, sometimes musicians do. If you want to show off your virtuosity or impress other musicians then it's great to throw in some licks and arpeggios that clearly demonstrate your understanding of keys, modulation and scales. Alternate modal licks that fit over the current chord can add a really nice flavor to a solo. Playing that kind of stuff requires a firm knowledge of what notes normally fit, and which ones can be altered without clashing with the harmony.

Utilize The Full Range of Your Instrument
Sometimes it's easy to get stuck playing in the same range on your instrument. After all, some octaves sound better than others on any instrument. However, the best solos not only show off the skill of the musician, but also showcase the sounds of both the lower and upper registers of the instrument itself. Though there are no specific guidelines on how much time should be spent playing high notes and low notes, a good solo will definitely make use of both, in some fashion. There are many various ways to do this.

Most Importantly, Have Fun
In the end, the best determinant of a good solo is how much fun you're having with it. If the solo feels dull and uninspired to you, then it probably is. If you are bursting with cool ideas and keep wishing you could solo for several more choruses, then your solo is probably sounding really good. Most of the best solos I've played were the ones where I just focused on having fun and doing crazy things. They felt good. They were fun. And they sounded great!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Practical Rejection of Material Relativism

The philosophies of Immanuel Kant have influenced the modern mind a great deal. In fact, perhaps he is one of the most influential philosophers of today's postmodern thinking. Kant's theory of the difference between noumena and phenomena, the difference between the world as it appears and the world as it actually exists, has been used to call into question whether we can really trust our senses and whether we perceive the same things that others perceive. In particular, this perceptual skepticism has led to the modern paradigm of relativity.

In its most basic form, modern relativity is a belief that since you see things one way and I see things another way, perhaps the truth is that both views are equally correct and we are just looking at the universe in different ways. A common illustration used is an image of several blind men touching an elephant. One blind man feels the elephant's legs and thinks that the elephant is like a tree. Another feels the elephant's side and thinks that the elephant is like a wall. The third blind man feels the elephant's tail and thinks that the elephant is like a rope. The relativist suggests that perhaps our experience of the world is much like the blind men, that we have different conceptions of the universe and that though we each lack information, perhaps each person's view is equally correct. After all, the elephant is somewhat like a tree, a wall and a rope, although the elephant is certainly more than that. In like manner, the relativist suggests that perhaps each person's experience of the world is true and valid and that all philosophies are correct in so far as they go.

I will not deny that there do exist some real perceptual differences between one person's view of the world and another, especially in abstract conceptual matters. Also, I think that each person's experiences, thoughts and perceptions are of value and are worth learning from. Additionally, I appreciate the humility that stems from a realization of one's own limited knowledge. However, there are some major flaws with relativistic philosophies. For one, relativism is a self-defeating philosophy since it lacks internal consistency. The self-contradicting nature of relativism is certainly a strong argument against such a worldview, but there is a much stronger one. And this is it:

No one actually believes in relativism!

Now, I will readily grant that there are many who claim they believe in relativism, and that it is a very tolerant and open-minded sort of belief. I don't doubt that. However, I do find it quite perplexing that even those who claim to believe in relativism actually don't. Moreover, in this essay I will clearly show you that no rational human being believes in material relativism. In my next essay, I will show you that no rational human being believes in philosophical or conceptual relativism, either. I don't necessarily mean to say that a person couldn't believe in relativism, but I simply seek to show that no person actually does.

Though many people have many diverse beliefs about many things, there are a few things that we all firmly believe in. These things we are so convinced of that we would consider them to be self-evident and wouldn't even characterize them as beliefs. In particular, all people believe the following two things: first, all people believe that their sensory perceptions are trustworthy; second, all people believe that their sensory perceptions of the world are largely similar or identical to the perceptions of others. More simply, we believe that we experience the real world, and that others also experience the same real world.

The first premise that we all trust our sensory perceptions is based on practical, experience-based evidence. For example, as you are reading this, you believe that the words your brain tells you that your eyes are seeing actually exist. You do not for a second consider the unlikely possibility that this essay is simply a figment of your imagination, nor do you suppose that your eyes are misinterpreting reality and that perhaps this essay is actually a photograph or a drawing. Likewise, if you listen to a song on the radio, you do not question the nature of your sonic experience. You firmly believe that your experience of the world is exactly like, or at least mostly like your perception of it. You are completely convinced that you can tell the difference between purple and green, between a car and a cat, between the flavor of a grape and the taste of a grapefruit, between the scent of a flower and the stench of a skunk and between one spoken word and another. Every day, you interact with your world with complete confidence that what you perceive actually exists and that you perceive it correctly. You are completely convinced that if there is some difference between what you perceive and what actually exists, the difference is very small and practically negligible.

The second premise that we all believe that others experience the same world we do is also based or practical, everyday evidence. When children are taught their phonics in preschool and kindergarten, there is no-one who is concerned that what appears to be the letter "C" in my world might look like an "F" in your world. Likewise, we all assume that an object appearing blue will also appear blue to everyone else. If I cook some fresh fish filets over rice, I don't have to worry that my food doesn't exist in your world--of course it does! In a business presentation, I know that the slideshow on the wall exists in everyone's world alike and that the information it contains is equally accessible to all present. When parents tell their kids not to play in the street, the parents are completely convinced that streets do exist in their children's world and that streets are the same sort of thing in their children's world. We all believe that the world and the perceptions we experience are largely similar or identical to others' experience of the world.

How does this relate to relativity? Namely, for material relativity to be true, we must experience different worlds, and both of our worlds must truly exist as experienced by each person. What's true for you, must actually be true for you and what's true for me must actually be true for me. Now, given the above two premises, it is quite clear that nobody believes that we live in different worlds. I believe that the real world I experience is exactly the same as the real world that you experience, even though our perceptions might differ very slightly. The table that exists in my world is the very same table that exists in your world, and it exists as a table and not as a computer, a chair or a couch. The reason that Paris, Washington D.C. and Beijing exist in both my world and yours is not a fluke or coincidence--we live in the same real world!

If this is true, (and obviously everyone believes it to be true and bears witness to such truth by their very actions and words), then it follows that where there are perceptual differences, at least one perception must be incorrect. Returning to the elephant analogy, it is perfectly acceptable to notice a different aspect of the elephant, so long as you are experiencing the elephant. But, if you are touching the side of the elephant and feeling it's tough skin, and I claim to be touching the elephant but say that the elephant feels small and very furry, it is quite apparent that one of us is either lying, confused, or touching a different animal. You would quickly try to correct me or help me to find the elephant that I have obviously missed. Therefore, even the relativist firmly believes that we all live in the same real world, and that since there is an elephant in your world, the same elephant also exists in my world, because it is the same real world.

How then does one account for true perceptual differences? Given that the real worlds exists, there are two different types of perceptual differences possible. First, one may perceive less than actually exists. This would be sensory impairment. Second, one may perceive more than actually exists. This would be a form of hallucination. Let us examine each of these conditions in more depth.

Sensory impairment is a condition where a person experiences less than actually exists. There are numerous forms of this. For examples, I have a brother who is blue-yellow colorblind. To him, certain shades of green are indistinguishable from blue, and certain shades of yellow are indistinguishable from violet. Though he does experience the world as it actually exists, because of his visual impairment he is unable to experience the full range of colors that exist in the world. A completely blind person is unable to experience light in any form. Likewise, a completely deaf person is unable to experience the sounds that exist in the world and can never enjoy aural communication nor delight in hearing music. A sensory-impaired person experiences the world truly but not fully. However, it is certainly clear that though their experience is less than the experience of a normal person, that the world itself still contains whatever sights and sounds the sensory-impaired person is unable to experience.

When one perceives more than actually exists, this is categorized as a hallucination. Often one hears of people who hear voices when there is no-one around who is speaking. There are many drug-induced states that leads people to see people or things that are not actually there. One could possibly hallucinate about something crawling across one's skin or someone touching one's body when no-one is there. In these cases, the person is experiencing something that does not actually exist as a result of a mental disorder or a chemical imbalance. The very diagnosis of such disorders is performed by doctors who can correctly identify what is reality and what is not and can determine what is causing such faulty perceptions.

In both of these cases, we see that when a person experiences more or less than actually exists, the difference is not in the world, but in the observer. And these conditions are not the experience of a different world, but disorders that prevent them from fully recognizing all that is real. As such, perceiving an altered version of the world is a suboptimal condition and is a form of handicap. Therefore, we do see that there are some minor differences in people's perception of the world, but in such cases, at least one person's perception is flawed and suboptimal.

Summary
What then has been shown? We have seen that all people trust their sensory experience of the world and that all people believe that others experience the same real world. Given that there is one real world, any experience that is inconsistent with the world as it actually exists, is a form of distortion. Therefore, we do not believe that all perceptions of the world are equally true or valid. We believe that most sensory perceptions that people have are correct, and that when someone sees more or less than what actually exists, that they are incorrect. In terms of blind men feeling an elephant, all perceptions of various aspects of the elephant are correct as long as one is correctly perceiving the elephant. In other words, we all believe that, "What's true about the world for me is also true about the world for you because we live in the same real world, even if one of our perceptions of it is slightly flawed."

Monday, August 3, 2009

America's Justice System: Discouraging Courage

Today in the news, a bank teller was fired for chasing a would-be robber.
Bank tellers are trained to get robbers out the door quickly and are advised against possibly escalating a situation over money that's federally insured.

Seattle police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said the best course for citizens is to be good witnesses to crimes.

"When confronted by a violent criminal, it is best to comply unless they feel their personal safety is in jeopardy. It is possible that taking action and confronting the criminal may lead to the injury of the victim or other bystanders."

"You want tellers to be proactive, but you want them to do it safely," said FBI Special Agent Fred Gutt.
Wow! What amazing advice! Apparently our contemporary company policies and our modern political climate is actively encouraging people to be pansies. Personally, I admire the bank teller who refused to kowtow to the demands of a burglar. I admire a man who is assertive enough to stand his ground against evil-doers and who has courage enough to take action against them. Those are increasingly rare traits. In the case of this particular teller, he got flawless results. No money was stolen, nobody was hurt, and the bank robber was successfully apprehended. You can't possibly have a more successful outcome. All this because of the actions of one unarmed teller!

But, apparently our government says that we should just be good little citizens, give in to the demands of criminals and leave the administration of justice to trained professionals. They tell us to be proactive in a safe way--by doing absolutely nothing! I'm not sure how they define proactive, but I consider doing nothing to be the very least proactive response possible. What expectation of safety can there possibly be in the case of violent or potentially violent criminals? The very presence of a violent criminal strips all potential safety from the situation. Again, I'm not sure what sort of world police live in, but I'm pretty certain that wherever lawlessness and weapons are simultaneously involved, there is no such thing as safety. Maybe in their world, violent crimes are always carried out in a safe and civilized manner.

If I ever decide to become a criminal mastermind, I'll be sure to only rob banks that have company policies requiring bank tellers to cooperate with robbers' demands.