Darkness on Success and Failure, and the Responsibilities of a Society

These are a few subjects that I’d been thinking about conceptually for a few months now, and the current environment leads me to believe that now’s a good time to finally put them into words.

First I want to address the question “Is is possible to do everything completely right and still fail?” I would say “yes.” Some people might present the opposing idea, that if one failed, then they obviously did not make the right choices.

Say you appear in a situation that’s removed from all variables other than the ones described. The situation is that you are in a long line of people, in a sort of game. The game is that the person in the very front of the line chooses between two boxes, box 1 and box 2. There is a prize in one of the boxes. If they choose the box with the prize in it, then they win and get the prize. Then the game is re-set up for the next person in line to play.

Each person can see the choice and result of the people in front of them. Let’s say that there were a near infinite number of people in front of you, and you could remember the choice and result of each of them. About half of the people chose box 1 and half chose box 2.

You saw that of all the people who chose box 1, 99% of them won. Of the people who chose box 2, 99% of them lost. There was no repeating pattern about when the prize would be in one box or the other.

So based on this knowledge, you chose box 1, and it so happens that the prize was in box 2. Did you make the right choice or the wrong choice? Based on all the knowledge, experience, and ability of yourself, you chose the path with the greatest likelihood of success, but another path was actually the successful one. I believe that in this case right and wrong can exist simultaneously. Box 1 was the wrong choice, but it was the right choice to make.

So as the next step of this thought process: must it be possible for one to still fail in life when making all the right decisions to make? Is it situation or personal responsibility that leads people to where they are? To even begin, one first has to know what success and failure even mean in terms of life. From a biological standpoint, success means a life is able to replicate and pass on its genes. To the religious, a successful life may be one that was lived worthily enough for salvation; to the dutiful, it may mean a life that was lived fulfilling one’s duty to family or country; to the peaceful, it may mean a life that was lived happily; to the altruistic, it may mean a life that made life better for others; to the materialistic, it would mean a live of high wealth and standard of living.

The easiest definition, in my opinion, to examine is the materialistic view. So next one must think, “can a person, making all the right choices, still in any possible way end up impoverished or homeless?” To add to this, what obligations does society have to that individual, and what are their obligations to society in return?

In the ideal form of society, the one that we’re striving towards, the one that people imagine when they think of a just and fair society, is one in which a person, equipped with nothing other than hard work and honest attempts, will be successful no matter what. That is to say, if a person tries their best to achieve success, then there should be no way for that person to end up in poverty.

Here’s where a concept I’ve termed “person X” comes in. When designing the functionality and laws of a society, one should design that society with a hypothetical “person X” in the forefront of their mind.

Who is person X? Simple: person X is a person, such that for every privilege and opportunity that exists for at most 100%-1 members of the society, that privilege cannot exist for person X.

To put it in simpler terms, person X is a combination of every member of the society’s least favorable attributes combined. If Y% of a society starts their adult life with a hand-me-down car from their parents or better, if Y < 100 then you cannot assume that person X has the use of a car. Even if Y is 99.99999, person X must take the attribute of the worst-off member of the society.

When a random member A of a society compares itself with a random member B of that same society, there are usually a few overlaps and a few differences. Maybe A’s uncle owns a car dealership and gets A their first job. Perhaps B’s friend from church had a connection for an interview at some place of employment that they could provide. Maybe A was lucky enough to find a place to live with really cheap rent. Maybe B does not have that luxury. Maybe a different person C has parents that will pay their cell phone bill, something that neither A nor B has. Then perhaps there exists a person D with very high academic marks, lots of awards, and lots of extra-curricular activities to add to their resume, something that neither persons A, B, nor C can speak to. For every advantage that is not shared by 100% of the society, one must assume that X does not have it.

Even if it is near-impossible for person X to exist in reality, as long as it is physically possible for X to exist, we as the society have an obligation to assume that it does, and to strive to create and mold the society into one in which X, if they give their best effort, has a 100% guarantee of achieving a successful life.

Person X will look different in each society. In the US they wouldn’t have much. Is there any piece of property that can be said with absolute certainty that 100% of the people that exist within the US own? A toothbrush? Shoes? Food? I think there exists at least 1 person that is without each of these, so I have to assume that person X has none of them.

Neither can I assume person X has any connections, professional or personal, that can help them with money or finding employment. I can’t assume that person X can live with parents even one day after it is legally required.

Education level is slightly harder for me to figure. I must assume that person X did everything to try their very best to be successful, and public education is provided to every citizen, so in theory it may be permissible to assume person X has at least a high school diploma. On the other hand, I must also assume that person X has no extraordinary skills. It is also possible that a person who is born into the worst-case scenario will have a personal situation which, even despite the person’s best honest efforts, would not allow them to fully participate in the public school system or graduate.

As far as location, I must assume the crime rate is that of the US city with the highest crime. I must assume the cost of living is that of the US city with the highest cost of living.

So with all of these variables, a mental picture can start to be formed. Person X just turned 18, and has lost access to their parent’s resources. They have no possessions, no job, no car, no home, no connections, possibly a high school diploma, and no particularly extraordinary skills.

If we tell this person “your adult life starts now, go!” will they have, assuming they give their best effort, a 100% chance of living a decent life?

If my honest answer is “no,” then by default I must conclude that the society is imperfect, and as a member of that society it becomes my duty to attempt to improve it. The society, which person X did not get to choose to be born into, is not fulfilling its obligation toward its members relative to what it obligates them to it. The difference between 100% and the actual percent of the successful life chance that the society gives to person X is the amount of crime or abandoned people that the society willingly creates for itself.

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“Maximum Voltage!” – 7 August 2016

Last Sunday one of the main Boyos Gabin came down to San Jose to visit me. He had recently gotten a job a about a half hour away, which would allow us to hang out more often.

First we decided to grab some lunch. I listed off a few places nearby and Gab liked the idea of Johnny Rockets, so we went there. We had some burgers and caught up on old times, then we went exploring downtown.

Gav noted just how big the buildings were, a contrast to where he lived. One building that caught his eye was the Museum of Technology, so we went inside to have a look around.

First, Gavin strolled behind this roped-off area while this employee was right next to it. The person tells him he can’t be back there and he fakes that he was interested and asks some questions.

So we walked further in and arrived at a balcony area overlooking the main part of the museum. “I wonder how you get down there…” Gavin said.

We eventually found around a corner a short hallway with a staircase leading down. Gavin took a few steps toward it and stopped. I assumed it was because he saw an employee behind a podium who appeared to be taking tickets to enter.

Gav paused for a few seconds, looking forward, then he looked to the side and went through this sliding door into a completely dark room that wasn’t in use. I was caught completely off guard by this. The ticket-taker was only about five meters away and looking directly at us, so I expected at any moment for him to say “hey you can’t go in there,” but he never did.

I hesitated for a few seconds, then followed after Gavin. Again, I assumed, if the ticket-taker hadn’t seen Gavin, then surely he would have seen me, so I braced for the awkward scene of someone behind me telling me that no one was allowed in, but it didn’t happen.

The room was pretty large, it looked like an auditorium or panel room. There were about ten rows of eight or so chairs, and a stage at the front. Near the back were a few rectangular tables. The only light coming in was from the open doors on the side we entered and the back.

I noticed Gavin skulking around near the back so I slowly made my way through the dark room and followed him. On the same side that we had entered from, right next to the back corner, Gavin slid open a second door, and some light poured in.

It was all happening so fast and my nervousness was at a peak, so I couldn’t tell how far down the room we had walked, meaning that exiting in the direction that we entered meant that we could walk out right in front of the ticket-taker, on his side, or behind him.

I saw Gavin stroll out the door so there was nothing left for me to do but follow him. Directly in front of the door was the staircase we had seen earlier; between the two ran the perpendicular hallway guarded by the ticket-taker. The few steps out the door, into the bright light, and on to the staircase took only seconds, but felt like a year.

The whole time a million things were running through my mind. “Is the ticket-taker looking this way? Are there other employees around here that could see me? Did someone hear that metal sliding door open? Should I keep looking forward or scan my sides? Who are the people I’m crossing paths with? Is this staircase the way to the museum floor or are we going to wind up somewhere else we shouldn’t be?”

The overhead lights felt like spotlights, tracking my movement. The whole time I stared directly ahead toward Gav, without focusing on anything in particular and trying to use my peripheral vision to the best of my ability. My stomach felt like it had condensed into a rock. I didn’t even remember to keep breathing. I was able to barely catch vague glimpses of people walking from my right to my left. I made out from the side of my vision varying sizes and colors to them, so I concluded that they must be regular museum-goers.

When my foot touched the downward staircase I let out a sigh of relief and jokingly said “I was not ready for that.”

With that we traveled downward and made it on to the museum floor. We messed with a lot of the hands-on gadgets that they had set up. There were experiments where one could learn lock picking, test out the efficiency of wind-turbine designs, create music using blocks on a circular table, and recreate famous earthquakes on a platform that shook.

At one of these experiment stations, there were pieces where one could assemble a custom array of mirrors in an attempt to redirect light to sensors, generating power. There was a couple next to us and this lady was explaining in great depth to this gentleman just how to create the most optimal design. Gavin took a few pieces and haphazardly threw them together, while repeating a phrase he overheard from the conversation next to us: “maximum voltage!”

After having had our fill of the museum, we were hanging around near the exit on the third floor when we saw a family exit a large theater-like room. I think that the theater and the museum required different tickets to experience, as they shared a common exit but were separated from each other by a waist-high swinging door and a straight black belt stanchion pair.

“Can we come in?” They asked us from the other side of the barriers. I don’t know if they thought we worked there or perhaps thought that we were also from the theater.

Without even hesitating, Gavin confidently and immediately replied “Yeah.” He moved one of the stanchions aside and the family filed in through the swinging waist-high door.

“Wow this place has really bad security, someone could just walk right in,” mused Gavin.

“This way would have probably been a lot easier than the way we took,” I remarked with a smirk.

We passed through the barrier to the exit side, but decided to check out the theater before leaving. It was massive inside, and appeared to have a somewhat dome-like screen. The place was empty, save for a few people cleaning up. Gavin took out his phone to get a picture of the screen, but within three seconds a lady cleaning the place told us “you guys can’t be here unless you have tickets.” Gavin feigned curious ignorance and we left.

We decided to stop by the frozen-yogurt shop and get a treat. Inside, we immediately noticed two very attractive young ladies at a center table. Gavin stood about a meter away from them looking the other direction for about 10 seconds, then turned around and asked them “What flavor would you two recommend?”

“The mango, definitely the mango,” one of the ladies replied.

“Oh which one’s that?”

“The third from the left.”

“That one?” he asked pointing.

“Yeah that one.”

“Alright I’ll check it out.”

We got some yogurt cups and started making our yogurt. Gavin, faithful to his word, got the mango flavor. I was a little skeptical and went for some flavors that were tried and tested, cake batter, chocolate gelato, banana, and pop sickle.

As soon as we got our toppings and paid, we noticed the ladies from before get up and leave. We went over and sat at the table they were at.

“Wow, those ladies left really fast,” Gavin noted.

“Yup, the ladies around here tend to be a bit meaner than the ones back home,” I replied.

We continued eating our froyo for a few minutes and I asked Gavin “what type did you get?”

“Mango, what about you?”

“Cake batter.”

“I should have gotten that, that sounds so much better.”

“Those girls probably told you the worst flavor on purpose.”

“They probably did!”

Gavin leaned back in his chair and looked out the window. “Damn, these girls around here really are bangin’,” he said, “I’m starting to feel like Nick!”

Darkness on Gun Control and Abortion

People have been swarming me the past couple of weeks to make a formal statement about my opinions on these issues. Many rely on me to give them the most objective answer to difficult questions like these. I will attempt to give the people what they want, and go through the logical options for whether one should support or oppose each of these.

Let me start with gun control. This is a weird one because in the US we usually see the leftward ideologies calling for more control on the business and less control of the individual, like the case with drugs, abortion, and marriage. Gun ownership is one of few cases where an individual liberty is opposed by the left and supported by the right.

Usually I found myself in the past leaning more leftward on most issues, but like all issues, I am forced to go through the logic and arguments of all sides and come to the conclusion that I think must be right.

Now a few real world examples could point one in either direction. For the side against control, I’ve seen Switzerland used as an example. They say that there’s a firearm for nearly every person in Switzerland, and everyone is taught how to properly use it. As a result, we see a highly independent people with very little to fear from threats within or without.

On the other hand I’ve seen Australia used as an example of the opposite side. According to some, Australia used to have a mass-shooting rate similar to that of the current US. This stopped abruptly and permanently when a ban on firearms was introduced, leading to a reduction in firearm deaths.

It seemed to me that the issue was shaping up to be one of individual rights vs. societal utility. It could be the case that x number of people would be murdered by firearms, and y number of people would prevent loss of life and property with firearms.

If that were the case, then if x > y, as my personal research would lead me to believe, then society as a whole would benefit from a ban on firearms. However, one must consider that for each case of person y, who would now be injured or trespassed against because of the now lack of adequate personal defense, the society that removed that personal defense is now directly responsible for that injury.

So the issue translates to “what is better, to directly hurt some, which indirectly saves more, or to do nothing at all?”

A hypothetical that reflects the same question I’ve seen presented in the past is as follows: “You are the leader of a society with 10 people you are responsible for. 9 of the people are infected with a disease that will surely kill them. The blood of the 10th person contains genetic information needed to produce a cure, but to get it, you must kill the person. What do you do?”

It’s one of those question that doesn’t really have a right answer. Even when a person believes they’ve found the correct choice, one could represent the problem with different circumstances to make them reconsider. If they wouldn’t kill the one to save the nine, would they do it if the nine was actually 1,000? How about 1,000,000? Similarly, if they would kill the one, would they still do it if the nine were actually just two? Or if the nine were criminals and the one were innocent?

Then comes my personal, individual tendencies of thought on the matter. Whenever I hear of the possibility of a complete ban of firearms, the thought that always involuntarily pops into my head is “well I’d get one from the black market anyway. Even if I didn’t think I really needed it. The law would never find out, they would never have a reason to search my belongings.” Even with the current restrictions, I have in the past entertained the thought of some day obtaining a firearm with features that would make it illegal.

I’m sure the vast majority of society would be okay with Sally Sue owning pepper spray to ward off a potential rapist. At the same time that same society would be starkly against Sally Sue owning a ballistic missile to protect her home from foreign invasion. So we know that most of us can agree on a “too far” in either direction, the only problem is hashing out where that “just right” is with regards to weapons.

In the end, I don’t believe there is a definite right on this one, it puts the well being of the society against the personal rights of the individual. For me, the sweet spot lies somewhere in the gray middle. So I guess I couldn’t say I’m definitely for or against, but I am against the extremes of both sides.

That brings me to abortion. I’ve had a lot of opposing viewpoints shared with me by nature of the position I grew up in: that being, a very liberal state with a lot of friends and neighbors telling me one thing, and a very conservative religious family telling me something else. To come to a proper conclusion, I have to approach the issue as an objective machine, free of emotion and past influences.

Nearly all of society agrees that murder, the killing of another human, is wrong, by virtue of either societal utility, personal morals, or divine law. I’ll use that stance as a given. The act of masturbation is seen as okay, and even healthy to some, while immoral and depraved to others; but even to those against it, it is not seen as the equivalent of murder. So I will use as a given that this is not a definite wrong.

We know that each sperm x in a males body has the potential to create a human life, yet the act of masturbation ends that potential definitely for that sperm x. Going further, of all the thousands of sperm used per ejaculation, at most just one (usually) ever ends up forming into human life. The sperm themselves are designed to be so numerous that most of them die off. From this we can glean the statement that while to end a human life is wrong, to prevent biological matter that could have been a human life from becoming human life is not wrong or at least not equivalent.

So the argument becomes “at what point of time does the biological matter created by a human or set of humans become not their biological matter but a separate human entirely?” If I were a machine looking at humans, it would be hard to tell. We are just carbon-based matter constantly rebuilding itself larger and splitting into pieces, like a slime mold.

As one lacking belief in a religious system, there can be no definitive answer from an authority on life. Based on that, it’s possible for the correct answer to be any random point x between the sperm cell alone and the fully formed human capable of living outside the parent. Since the answer could be any point, we must consider all points simultaneously. If the answer is true for any one point but not another, then we cannot hold it as true.

In the past I had heard viewpoints that state that the fetus can be considered human when it is capable of feeling pain, or when the brain is formed. These are immediately off the table for me due to failing the “at any point” rule.

Since we don’t know for sure whether the fetus is considered biological matter belonging to the individual or a separate entity, we must consider the morals of both possibilities.

If it is simply biological matter, then one must treat it the same as any other biological matter. That being, if we condone, for example, removing a mole, or cutting off one’s own toe (if one so desires), then we must consider abortion acceptable as well.

If it is not simply biological matter, but another human entirely, then we must treat it the same as if it were any other human entirely. Well we can’t simply murder another human when we please. At the same time, we aren’t responsible for personally keeping alive any other human. So if Sally Sue came over and decided that she wanted to receive her sustenance from my belly button, it is within my rights to either allow it or disallow it. If I disallowed it and Sally Sue did not receive another form of sustenance, whether by choice or not, I would not be held accountable for her death.

One could make the argument, “the only possible way for the fetus to live is by absorbing the nutrients of the mother, and it did not choose to be created.” This is true, and to think about this we have to use a somewhat nonsensical example but it does hold up in this case: vampires. One does not choose to become a vampire (in most cases), yet the need to drink the blood of humans still exists, or the vampire itself will die. In this scenario we assume that human blood is the only type that will work. Is it then the responsibility of the nearby humans to consent to this blood drinking, in order for the vampire to live? If the answer is “no,” then one cannot also obligate one human to provide sustenance for another.

Going further, one may then say “while the pregnant woman has not responsibility to personally provide sustenance to the fetus, she is still not within her rights to kill it.” That’s true, as in the earlier example while I was within my rights to refuse Sally Sue from my sustenance, I still did not have the right to shoot her in the head at my whim.

But what does this imply? A pregnant woman may remove the fetus at any time, and allow it a chance to live on its own? In most cases, removing a fetus mean certain death anyway. Furthermore the act of removing the fetus would in most cases necessarily put the woman herself in harm’s way, which she is not obligated to do.

This is where it gets even more bizarre. Could I say to a vampire “well I’m not obligated to provide you my blood, but I also can’t morally kill you, and removing your fangs from my neck would actually put my self in danger. So I’m just going to walk through this garlic field, and you’re free to stay with me or go.” If that is acceptable, it must necessarily also be acceptable for a woman to say to her fetus “well I’m not obligated to provide you my nutrients, but I can’t kill you, and removing you would put me in harm’s way, so I’m just going to relax in this spa for a few hours, and you are free to stay or go,” or “I’m just going to inject my own self with these certain chemicals, and you can stay and be dissolved or go and do whatever you like,” which is just abortion itself. For each option regarding what to classify a fetus as, the flow of moral logic leads to allowing abortion.

Issues like this, where the potential consequences might mean murder, usually call for an observation of human rights rather than utilitarianism. But to cover all bases, one should look at utilitarianism as well. From a utilitarianism perspective, it doesn’t matter where life formally begins, we just have to view the total well-being of the society with and without abortion.

When abortion is illegal, according to my own research, we see a rise in births to mothers who are unprepared for, or do not desire, children, especially those in low income communities. From this we get a number of things: parents who now have to sacrifice or post-pone plans of education or greater employment in order to care for a child, children who grow up resentful of a society that wasn’t prepared to take care of them, and a greater stress on the resources of a species that is stripping the planet bare already.

As a society and a species we are not hurting for more people. We do have many economies throughout the world that are dependent on an ever-expanding consumer base, but this is not sustainable eternally; Eventually we will reach the leveling out of the population.

Then we have to address the problem of if abortion were made illegal, it would not end the practice, instead it would create a booming black market for it. Sometimes a black market is just an inevitable consequence of the best possible choice, but in this case, it does a lot more harm than it’s worth. The main difference, in my opinion, between the black market of abortions vs say the black market of hard drugs for example, is that if those hard drugs were legalized, there is still no way to make them safe. You can’t, for instance, somehow make heroin a lot safer in a legal market by allowing medical professionals to administer it. It definitely would eliminate diseases transferred by shared needles, the dangers of dealing with a black market itself, and the possibility that it was mixed with some even more dangerous filler, but the drug itself would still be as damaging to a person had they got it illegally. Whereas an over-the-table abortion conducted by a trained medical professional is aeons safer.

Not only is is safer, but it is more definite. One of the main problems with back-alley abortions is that if they fail, the fetus may still grow but be irreversibly damaged. From a moral perspective there’s certainly nothing wrong with a physically or mentally handicapped person, but from a strictly utilitarian perspective, looking at it as a computer evaluating a society, it is undesirable compared to an alternative.

As a final thought, once one comes to the conclusion that one is not obligated towards a child until it is fully birthed as a separate life form with the capability to live without directly being connected to the mother, one must, in the virtue of fairness, apply the same standard to males. This means that just as the mother has the choice to step out of the responsibility for the child’s life by getting the abortion, so too must the father be able to void himself of the responsibility.

Most would agree that the male aborting would have to be somewhat different than the way the female does. One can not just force the female to get the abortion, which would be against the right of the female in both viewpoints of the fetus classification. If one were to consider the fetus biological matter belonging to the female, then to remove it against her will would be the same as removing a limb. If one considers the fetus to be a separate human entity, then to remove it against her will would be the same as preventing her from taking care of any random human by force.

The only practical choice we are left with is to allow the female to opt out of the parenting process by use of the abortion itself, and to allow both the female and the male the option to legally opt-out of the parenting process at any point up until the birth itself, an abortion in practicality.