Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Seems like I'm an Anarchist

To me, the debate about government is often about the wrong things. We love to bicker about partisan this, bi-partisan that, government standstill, ineffective leaders, long-standing incumbents and all that, but we often ignore the most basic tenet of good governing, the overall welfare of the people. To me the central debate within government should be what we define as the welfare of the people, and to what ends the government should be involved in helping those things come about.

I think it's pretty clear that republicans and democrats agree on a lot of the same principles, but the methodology for fixing them is different. For instance, both want the general population to be healthy and to have access to healthcare, both want the nation to be secure from outside threats, both want americans to be able to find work, get education and a litany of other things. I'm not here to debate about what is and isn't the right methodology for these things. As an Economics Major, I have a tendency to view things from a fiscal point of view and also leaning towards the liberal viewpoint. What I do want to do is talk about the ideology of the people making the big decisions.

Which brings me to the main point, the thing I look for in a politician. The character trait of looking at a problem and trying to fix it in a way that hasn't been tried before. Far too often, government is stuck in a loop of trying new things, a new regime is in office, congress changes control, the new regime undoes the old changes and redoes their same old solution. This is true for both parties to at least a certain extent, but I'm tired of that cycle.

Give me someone trying to try something new everyday. Obviously, it still has to be rooted in realism, have the backing research and due diligence, but give me a break with the undoing and redoing of tax breaks and tax raises. Gov't spending and Go'vt cutbacks, the worst possible outcome for a government is when the people feel that it can never enact true change and stop believing in it. And in my opinion, we are heading there, there's a deep distrust of the things we don't know, and an equally deep cynicism for the things we do know.

So from now on, my vote is going to the person whose viewpoints and agendas are the most different from the person in office. I'm not even joking, thats the sad part.

Not 1000 words, but i'm tired. Also, this post made little sense and only covers about 10% of my thoughts about government.

Til Tomorrow

Tomorrow: Social Media Personality Disorder

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Least Valued Opinion in the World is any Type of Religious Opinion

I'm back, after a weekend away from writing due to some travel, lets get back to the groove of this, and I'm just gonna jump right in to today's topic.

Religion in the workplace is basically just a microcosm of religion in the modern world. "I'm okay with you believing in whatever, just as long as you don't evangelize to me". I've basically heard this on a few different occasions from a few different coworkers, and in a sense it's almost offensive. We put religion on this different plane than we put other topics, like if I've heard a good new song or been to a cool new restaurant, I'm definitely gonna tell my friends and co-workers, so why am I not allowed to be as enthusiastic about a thing that is central to life itself? Because it breaks some modern moral code of the business world? Because it makes people feel uncomfortable?

This is just one part of the issue that I see with how religion is thought of in today's world. I've heard far too many christians say that "If you work hard and work as if God is watching, then people will say, 'Wow, that person is hard-working, it totally must be their christianity thing that is the reason for that'" Obviously, that hypothetical reaction is a bit sarcastic, but I swear to you I've heard multiple christians (and yes pastors too) say that first part. I couldn't disagree more, we've become afraid to speak about our beliefs to the people around us and the only way we're willing to speak is through our actions with the hope that people notice, how backwards is that way of thinking?

Christians as a whole have become too careful of being politically correct and far too cautious in how we talk to non-believing friends. We treat non-believing friends as if they are this precious cargo that needs to be hand delivered to the non-threatening parts of our religion. The religion we believe in is pretty radical folks, it denounces many things that the world accepts, it fights every bit of post-modern thinking that the world has fundamentally shifted towards for decades. Sooner or later, the people we know will have to see those parts of Christianity, and if they can't face them now in a conversation with their friends, what better is it for them to face them in 6 months or ten years when a person they don't know says something in a non-loving way in a public forum. Even worse, what happens when they see a 'christian' say something that doesn't represent what God is (think Rob bell and Oprah).

Who better to hear these inconvenient truths from than the people they're close to? I value my friends views on arts and society and relationships and lots of other facets of life. Why shouldn't my religious opinions and views be just as influential in my friends lives as my other opinions? (Although, this must go both ways, you MUST be willing and engaging in listening to their religious beliefs and/or non-beliefs.)

It's just interesting to me, the thought that a religious opinion is less valued in today's society than just about any other opinion a person could have. Somehow we need to get that to shift in the modern world, and just like most other things, that starts with you and me.

Today's writing veered from religion in the workplace, to just, religion in the modern world, which I think is fine, because for many people, the workplace is where they spend more time than any other. The added hurdle when you throw in the business setting is the idea that you're wasting company time if you talk about religion when there is work to do. And yes, I get that, and that is a legitimate concern, but there's still more to be done than is currently being done.

Also, I find myself reasoning in this way "well, my co-workers know I'm christian, so if they ever have any questions, they can come to me". Sound familiar? I'm kind of disgusted by the thought of that as if that's enough to fulfill God's calling for all christians to evangelize. I'm out of thoughts on the subject for now though, so that's it for today.

'Til Tomorrow

Tomorrow: My highest governmental values

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Give the People What They Need, Not What They Want

I want to start this post by saying that the media and individual celebrities and artists owe us (and therefore, me) absolutely nothing. They have their own lives to lead, their own families and friends to love, their own paths and dreams to follow and should not inherently be worried about me or you. The fact that they're entertaining us for little to no cost is already doing more than they're indebted to do for us. If you're sensing a big however coming up, you're right, cause here it is. HOWEVER, I do think that it is surprising that the media at large and more celebrities and culture-makers aren't concerned with the greater good of people and how their actions and their professional work affects the worldview of those who consume their creative output.

In order to understand where I'm coming from on this, allow me to elaborate a bit about what I mean when I say greater good. When I say greater good, I'm not talking about charities and humanitarian efforts, plenty of celebrities/artists give a lot of their money towards those efforts and I'm not here to praise/deride those who do/don't. What I mean when I say 'greater good' is more of an abstract good, the good that happens when people have a realistic view of the world, the crap that goes on in it, the fact that not everything goes right in life but thats okay, and the fact that through that all, we still need to find ways to enjoy life, enjoy family, enjoy simple pleasures and all that.

I say this because a trend that I've noticed is the tendency of most tv shows and movies to basically sedate the viewer. I watched Parks and Recreation all the way through and was onboard for the whole run of the series, for a sitcom that didn't shy away from some tough issues (feminism, gay marriage, etc.) the way the show ended left me ultimately unsatisfied. A bunch of friends all splitting paths and heading in different directions SUCKS, it's not fun, no amount of montages and memories makes it a fun enjoyable thing to go through. I do understand that sitcoms traditionally act as escape, and I'm not saying that sitcoms all need to try to hit us over the head with the fact that life can be rough, because we all need a place we can go 30 minutes a week and not think about tough issues. That's just one example though, I also think of Breaking Bad, a show that more than any other popular show in the last few years had a dark subject matter. For a show whose main characters were a bunch of lying, betraying, overall bad people, why was everybody okay with the show ending in a way where every single people got exactly what they wanted out of life? Even the people who died, died in a happy fulfilling way (minus maybe Gus), why is this acceptable out of the things that shape people's worldview in a huge way?

Americans spend hours a day in front of televisions, absorbing the programming that culture makers put on the various channels. Whether knowingly or not, these things shape the way we think about the world and what we expect out of life (especially so in an age where many kids are raised by TV). So many of these shows don't even try to deal with the issues that should be dealt with in society. Where are the characters in a TV drama who volunteer at homeless shelters in addition to having a 9-to-5? Protest unjust laws in addition to raising a family? By and large characters are absorbed with their own problems in TV shows, the characters we love (and in a weird way admire) are ultimately self-absorbed, so is it really a surprise that the majority of Americans are too?

So yes, maybe Americans shouldn't take so many cues from TV, but I think the onus is more on those who produce TV to make a higher level of show, more multi-dimensional characters who are concerned with bigger social issues on top of their personal ones and scripts that aren't afraid to end in a way which leaves characters confused, scared and not sure of the answers to life's big questions. Ask yourself a question, wouldn't that show be the most realistic show on TV? Instead, we get an escape from the real world when we watch TV, which is fine in small doses, the problem is that we are escaping the real world for 6 hours a day, which leaves no time to actually participate in the real world.

'Til Tomorrow

Tomorrow: Religion in the Workplace

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

So You've Thought a Thought, Now What?

cog·ni·tive dis·so·nance
  1. the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

I've been pondering the idea of cognitive dissonance as it relates to me and society as a whole. In the course of writing these posts I make a lot of claims about the way I think or the way I view things. The problem being is that when I take a step back and think about how those thought process and viewpoints affect the way I act on a daily basis, I really begin to question how much conviction I really have in those thoughts and viewpoints.

The two ways that I see of attacking this issue are as follows:
Firstly, at the thought level, where the solution would end up being something along the lines of me being more honest with myself and the thoughts I have and putting a more restrictive on the ways I let myself think and share those thoughts with others (I think presenting yourself in a dishonest way with others is pretty dejectable.)

Secondly, at the action level, basically continue to let myself think the way I think but do more on the action level to back those thoughts up. In essence, if I have a thought that I consider to be crucial, I would force myself (with the hope that eventually it would be less forceful, and more habitual) to back that thought up with some sort of tangible action.

Basically, when I go back and reread some of my posts (take for instance the one on mental health), I don't want to have the conclusion be so wishy-washy. I don't want to have myself be the type of person who has strong thoughts on a subject but doesn't do anything about it, and the reverse is also true, I don't want to just do things without taking the time to evaluate my motivations and reasoning for doing so.

Even writing this post has the massive potential in my life to further exacerbate the problem of cognitive dissonance. It's like it reaches a meta-level when somebody writes about their hatred for their own cognitive dissonance and then continues to be cognitively dissonant.

Now, I don't think that I'm alone in the world in not having my thoughts reinforced by the actions that I take on a daily basis. There's definitely a a certain overarching detachment in my generation of Americans from a lot of social problems. I look around my office and I see a lot of me-first thinking while being very willing to acknowledge a lot of socio-cultural problems that exist in the world. This fact alone doesn't excuse me more than it kind of points out a trend, we're so insulated that we don't see the problems and therefore don't feel obligated to do anything about them.

Put yourself in this situation: you're walking down the street and a 12-year old girl is abducted and thrown into sex slavery halfway around the world. Would you do something? Chase the attacker down? Get his license plate and inform police? This is an act that happens hundreds if not thousands of times a day around the world, but we don't see it, so we do nothing. In fact, somebody in your city is the person on the receiving end of that 'business transaction'. It's a growing epidemic in America, but we don't see it.

This to me is very similar to cognitive dissonance, your actions in some circumstances back up a thought process but aren't the same as your actions in other circumstances even given the same thought process.

Like a lot of things in life, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle of all this, but it definitely warrants some more thought on my part, but it's almost midnight so I'm gonna sleep on it.

'Til Tomorrow

Tomorrow: The role and responsibility of media

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Bunch of Sentences about Competitiveness with no Conclusion (CLICKBAIT ENOUGH FOR YOU??)

One thing I've noticed as I go through this writing process on a daily basis is that my routine tends to be to open up a new blank post on blogspot, then stare at it for a few minutes while thinking about how to write about that day's topic. Already, in a week and a half I've noticed that I'm no longer intimidated by a blank page, as I was staring at it just now I thought of it more as an empty canvas than as some type of video game boss that I had to figure out how to conquer. It's interesting how writing for enjoyment rather than on assignment has so quickly changed my view on the process.

As for the day's chosen topic competitiveness, I want to start by saying that I've lived the majority of of my life under the impression that every human has a basic human instinct of competitiveness (although to some varying degree depending on the person), and that people who describe themselves as not being competitive are for whatever reason, holding back their instincts to be competitive. Now there's a few assumptions that I'm operating under so I should probably go back and define those so as to not seem like a complete ass on the internet.

First off, competitiveness is defined in my head as if you're in a situation where there is a clear winner and a clear loser, you would rather be the winner than the loser and when the outcome is decided you will be happier for having won than lost. Secondly, when I say that competitiveness is instinctual, I think of it on an almost evolutional level, where men are striving to prove themselves as more manly to attract females and potentially vis-a-versa. Lastly, this doesn't mean that in the case of victory, the winner has the right to degrade other people or make fun of the losers, and it also doesn't mean that the loser can give excuses or blame his teammates or whatever. The basic rule is, gracious in victory, gracious in defeat.

Now, maybe I'm mistaken in my assumption that everyone is competitive, I've certainly met a few people and even call a few of those people my friends that say they aren't competitive (although, in my experience, get them in the right circumstances and they are, in fact, very competitive), but I should probably leave room for them to exist in this universe.

What I really want to get at with today's writing is the question of, what causes a person to be more competitive than others? Why does society seem to frown on those who are competitive?

I've been told more than a few times that I was overly competitive, and from my viewpoint I always thought "either be in a competition and give 100% effort or don't be in it at all", now my viewpoint was and is maybe too simplistic, but is that viewpoint really too much to ask? I think I might be coming off as being whiney about this all and I'm totally okay with that, sometimes we as a society value feelings too much. Get beat by too much and your feelings might be hurt, try too hard and people label you as 'that kid' in gym class. Why do we treat getting beat as a bad thing? Shouldn't we turn that into motivation to become better? Isn't an honest realization of our shortcomings and then turning that shortcoming into a strength through hardwork and perseverance one of the greatest things a human can do?

I don't know, I'm a tryhard at heart and I always try to excel at the things I do. If there's one thing that I know about myself, it's that I sometimes lack motivation to work at things, but one thing that's motivated me as always been a competitive spirit, is that so bad?

In the words of Forrest Gump, "And that's about all I've got to say about that." It's interesting that a thing like writing that has no competitive aspect about it, I still manage a way to make it competitive. I catch myself watching my view counter to see if people are liking my writing, when the whole point of this project was to do a thing for myself not in the view of anyone else. Sometimes I love my own competitiveness and sometimes I hate it. Sometimes I do both in the same paragraph.

No big conclusions today, just some drawn out thoughts on a subject. Oh well, not every day has a conclusion.

'Til Tomorrow

Tomorrow: Cognitive Dissonance (at least I think that's the term for what I'm thinking about)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Grappling with the Idea of Mental Health Problems

It seems like the cyclical nature of the world thrusts topics into our lives once in a while. And while we enjoy not thinking about them when they're not in the news, and we don't know what to really do about them when they are in the news, they exist the whole time even as much as the world at large would love to forget about them. This could apply to a lot of different things, but specifically I'm thinking of mental health as one of those issues. The most common way that mental health comes to the forefront of the collective American mind is when something goes terribly wrong (the kind of events that leap into my mind are mass shootings), and we tend to talk about mental health in America in terms like, "Oh, we really should do more as a country to help those with mental illnesses" or "Mental health professionals and research is so underpaid and underfunded".

Doesn't an issue this large and complex deserve a lot more than our occasional pity? Isn't it offensive that the only things that bring it into the spotlight are tragedies? Why don't we hear about the daily triumphs that mental health professionals make? Why do we only think of mental health in terms of the psychopaths that occasionally turn violent?

The last thing I want to do here is blame the media for not showing us a lot of the real issues that go on in America (although they aren't innocent in this matter), for a large part I think that the media gives Americans what we want to see and hear whether we realize we want to see and hear it or not. I think largely we like to hear news about stuff that we can't control and can't do anything about in our daily lives because we don't to feel obligated to do something, to feel empathy and to participate in the system as part of the cure for a societal ailment.

I don't know where I'm ultimately going with this thought train, and I don't have any sort of proposal to do something about it. It's just one of those things that a person points out and doesn't personally pitch in to do anything about it themselves and then points the finger at society as a whole for not doing that thing either. It's interesting how I can write these things that try to point out societal woes and ways that the world is unjust and ultimately be hypocritical myself and not do anything about the thing I'm pointing out.

One of the things I want to work on is picking a few battles/causes that I believe in and want to volunteer my time/effort/money towards. Maybe mental health can be one of them, I've always been shaken to the core by thinking about the effects of myself coming down with a sort of mental illness, recently the movie, 'Still Alice' stressed me out so much with it's depiction of early onset alzheimer's that I couldn't even bear to watch it. I get even further stressed out when I think of the possibility of a child of mine having any sort of mental handicap, not only for their quality of life, but for my quality of life as that kid's parent (how crazily selfish is that?). And while I know that just about no parent ever thinks of them as being capable of knowing how to handle that situation and the majority of them deal with that and in a lot of cases flourish with it, it still stresses me out to think of it.

So much of my life depends on the fact that I feel like a very rational, intuitive person. The idea that a person's brain could betray them, or that my own brain could betray me is one of the scariest thoughts. You wouldn't even know that anything is going wrong! That's part of the illness! I think as admittedly a very minimal first step, I want to be thankful for the rational, intuitive, fully-functioning brain I have as I still have it. Be more wary of and thoughtful towards those less fortunate than myself and perhaps keep my eyes open for an opportunity to help out (and the courage to take that opportunity).

'Til tomorrow

Tomorrow: Competitive Nature

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Movies as the Highest Form of Art?

It's time for a culturally relevant post! It's time for a post about movies! On Oscar Sunday!

There's a part of me that tends to think that a great movie can be the highest form of artistic expression that we have in the modern age. This is a bold statement (at least in my mind), so I'll take a couple minutes to try to back that up with at least some semblance of reasoning. 

By definition, I think that art has to be culturally relevant, in the world we live in, if you make a great painting that is considered by critics and viewers alike to be a masterpiece but 1,000 people see it. How does that compare to a movie that is thought of as a masterpiece by critics and viewers but 50 million people see it? If the goal of art is to lift society to a place that it wouldn't have gotten on its own, a place of higher knowledge, a greater sense of self, of being in more in tune with our emotions, wouldn't a movie that does those things that reaches a wider audience mean more than a symphony? or a modern masterpiece painting?

Granted, the movies that are most likely to be considered artistic masterpieces generally aren't the same movies that are being seen by 50 million people, but I think the point remains the same even if you scale back the numbers from one thousand versus 50 million to 1 million versus 5 million.

So that's one way of reasoning my bold statement, here's another. A great movie can combine so many different artistic elements when other forms of art are limited to one element. Think about it this way, a great movie tends to have a great soundtrack or score. It has great actors, it might feature dancing or other highly choreographed routines (think fighting or other). All together there are so many elements that each seperately can be considered a form of high art, that when combined in a great manner it is much more powerful than one piece. It's like going to a museum full of art as opposed to looking at one piece in a person's private collection.

Even when you think of the all the effort that goes into making each scene visually stunning (think of the lighting, the angles, the sound and more), it just makes it so that when a movie pulls that "woah" moment off even more special. Plus, in my mind at least, the dynamic moving images of a movie usually means more and hits harder than the static image that a painting shows.

So yeah, that's my argument and I'm sticking to it, and that's coming from a self-proclaimed musician.

As for tonight's picks.... this is my picks, not who I think is going to win

Best Movie: Birdman. Just narrowly edges out Whiplash as my favorite movie this year. While Whiplash is the closest thing I've ever seen to a depiction of what it is truly like to connect with an instrument and with another person in a musical sense, Birdman has a lot more elements going on in my mind and I think Keaton and Norton kill it slightly harder than Teller and Simmons. Plus the whole movie being one continuous shot is in my mind a little more impressive than the 5 minute drum solo that Whiplash finished with.

My other favorite movies this year: Gone Girl, Nightcrawler. These 4 were in the top tier and a decent distance before you get to the Boyhood, Interstellar, Grand Budapest tier of movies.

Best Director: Linklater. Takes a lot of fine tuning for the story of the movie to outshine the gag of the way the movie was shot. I think the emotional connecting in this movie was top notch and it's not easy to do that with child actors.

Best Actor: Of the nominees: Keaton. Of all movies: Gyllenhall. Maybe I'm the only one who loved Nightcrawler so much but Gyllenhall is becoming one of my favorite actors.

Best Actress: Julianne Moore, I had to literally stop watching this movie because her portrayal of alzheimers had me so stressed out. Rosamund Pike was great in Gone Girl, but damn, I still stress out about Julianne Moore's character in that movie (which was just an okay movie overall).

Supporting Actor: JK Simmons
Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette

Whiplash and Nightcrawler for their respective writing genres.

That's it for week one of this project.

'Til Tomorrow

Tomorrow: Something to do with Mental Health (I'll try to figure out my angle later)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Figuring Out my Cynicism towards Nature-Lovers

The Great Outdoors.

Or is it?

When I stated yesterday that today's topic was "valuing the environment", I probably should've clarified that I meant from a personal enjoyment sense, not a do we or do we not need to take care of the world around us from an ecological perspective. I think pretty clearly that the answer to that is yes and that we are so heavily dependent on the earth that we've been given that we can't afford to not take care of it and the current path of destruction we're on is not a good one. But, since that statement isn't up for debate really (at least not in my mind), I want to focus on the aesthetic beauty of the world around us and how much the average person should feel obligated to go out and enjoy all the world has to offer.

It seems like anybody who doesn't feel a sense of obligation to enjoy nature and the outdoors (not that I don't get at least some amount of enjoyment from it) gets a bit of scorn from most others and is looked down upon by the more smug members of society. I think the question I ask myself when given the opportunity is, "will I get more enjoyment from 8 hours driving to and from the adirondacks to go on a 4+ hour hike or from watching movies with friends or going to the local bar and shooting some pool." 9.8 times out of ten in my life I've gone with one of the latter options.

I think the majority of people of who feel the way I do come from vastly different circumstances which makes me feel a bit isolated. Typically, I think of city-dwellers or people who aren't in shape enough to really enjoy nature due to the physical aspects that it takes to do a lot of nature activities. Since I'm not particularly a city-dweller and I'm relatively in-shape, I wonder why I don't seem to 'get it'.

The cynical side of me wants to think that in the technology-driven, experience-sharing (via instagram and snapchat and whatever else) world that we live in, a lot of people want to go on nature adventures to do a couple things. 1) Have a shareable moment that seems 'genuine'. 2)feel like you're escaping the modern life for a day.

As for that first point, nobody want to questions anyone else's motivations for going on a nature excursion, and going on a hike and taking photos of the mountainscapes with some thoughtful quote is a surefire way to get a lot of likes and/or "oh wow, that person does cool things in their free time" thoughts from a lot of their 'friends'. The second one is more of a 'genuine' reason, but it's still caused by the same tech-driven instincts, oftentimes we feel shackled to our devices and nature is a great escape from the city sprawl. So in my cynical mind (which is like 85% of my overall mind), a lot of the reasons people my age go into nature are not purely for a love of nature but due to the addiction we have to technology.

Maybe that's just me trying to justify my own rationale, but I think there is something there. Or maybe I've just seen one too many picturesque lakeviews and mountainscapes with 100 "ooooh, thats amazing, im jealous" comments in my various social media feeds.

Side note, I kinda hate how cynical I sound of other people enjoying nature.

I dont know whether to steer this word vomit more towards myself or others, but I think one thing I'm realizing about myself is that one reason that I dont enjoy nature as much as I could is that I wrap it up and tie it together with so many other things that I can never just go out and enjoy nature in a pure unadulterated manner. I think my motivations tend to steer more towards what others think of my doing things and not purely what I think of them, which isn't the case when i do more secluded activities (like play piano.)

Maybe what I need to do to enjoy nature is to go out alone into nature with nothing but the necessary materials for the day and not tell anybody what I did. Kind of like what the idea for this blog is, do something for myself and not tell anybody I know.

Interesting conclusions, maybe once we get out of this deep freeze in upstate ny, I'll test it out. For 60-ish more days though, I'll stick with my cynical self.

'Til Tomorrow

Tomorrow: For the Love of Movies

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Singularity is Near! Or How I Learned to Start Worrying, and Distrust the Data.

I gotta admit, writing a new post after finishing a work week that consists of sitting at and looking at computer screens for 90% of the time isn't particularly thrilling to me, but a commitment is a commitment for better or worse so I guess here goes nothing. Noting that though, the quality of this particular post might be a little sub-par.

One other thought before I delve into today's post, it seems that I'm really interested in how I've become who I've become. And now I'm interested to know why I'm interested in that....weird?

Anyways, Data. Data. Data. Data.

It seems that the modern world is very driven by and fascinated with the word 'data'. Or is the world fascinated by the idea of data? I know from working in a consulting firm and having the job title of 'data analyst', that a lot of people have no idea what data is all about and what it can and can't do (sometimes my bosses have this issue, that's probably why they employ people like me), but it seems that most people whether they understand data or not, they at least recognize how much data drives a lot of (or all of) the business and economic world around us and therefore hold this word/idea in a very high regard.

The advent of the internet and the interconnected world that we now live in has produced a lot of ways to measure data that we as the human race didn't previously have. And now people like me, (and people much smarter than me) are fascinated by the idea that everything that we could ever want to know is hidden in data somewhere. Which data has the answer we want is a mystery, and what question we have to ask the data to get the answer we want is also another mystery, (also sometimes even what answer we're looking for is a mystery), but there seems to be a general consensus that the answer is there, somewhere.

(I feel like this is a good time to point out that everything I'm saying is unbacked by any data whatsoever, which yes, is very ironic considering that I think of myself as a data nerd.)

What drives humanity's blind faith in data? Is that faith really blind? I sometimes think that we've created this data monster that spits out statistics based answers and trust it implicitly in a way that something we discover/create shouldn't be trusted, since humans inherently shouldn't be trusted either (or at least everything we do/say should be taken with a grain of salt.) It reminds me of that age old question which always fascinated me, "Did we discover mathematics? or did we invent it, and find that it had a lot more uses than we originally planned?"

I think that a more skeptic approach should be taken to blindly trusting data in general, but how that would play out in the modern world is up in the air (let alone the improbability of that actually happening.) A lot of people think about the upcoming singularity (the point at which the things people create are smarter than the people who create them) as a landmark event in the timeline of humanity (which it totally is). Naturally, a lot of questions abound about how this superintelligence will make choices and how those choices will affect mankind occur, along with questions about what powers we should give to this thing that is smarter than the collective intelligence of all mankind. One thing that seems to be true to me is that this superintelligence would make decisions based on data and then blindly follow them given that one action would have a higher probability of achieving a desired outcome than another.

I think that one of the best qualities about mankind is the ability to question these things that seem obvious or unstoppable and the ability to fight to achieve a goal that has infinitesimally small probabilities of ever happening (think about every inspiring movie you've ever watched). What I don't humanity to lose in this data driven age is that very human trait of distrust, and I'm worried that if we continue in our blind trust of data that we will ultimately lose this.

Just goes to show, for every data nerd out there we need an artist. And for every statistician out there, we need a person who is willing to fight the odds and exceed at all costs. I know I find myself using probabilities and expected values of outcomes to feed my decisions and I think that leads to a safe style of living and never straying far enough from the path to really enjoy some great things in life. May it never be true about humans that we all lose that key characteristic of distrust and fighting "the machine".

'Til Tomorrow

Tomorrow: Valuing the Environment

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Standing at The Crossroads as a Young Twenty-Something

While I don't definitely don't plan on always writing about 'heavy' topics, it seems to be where my mind is lately, so for the time being that's how it's gonna be. Also, I seem to have picked 'Stuff that's on my mind' as a topic theme, which might be normal for writer types, but not thinking of myself as a writer, I wouldn't know about what writers think of as normal, or what they usually talk about.

Anyways, one of the things that I've been thinking about and which I also find intriguing is how it seems like the landscape of my own mind has been evolving at an ever faster pace. This has come to my attention as I think about the things that I was passionate about at different points in my life. I think a lot of people are embarrassed to think about the things they cared deeply about in high school or in middle school, but to me I'm not embarrassed by that thought. I think the only thing that I would regret is how those passions played themselves out, and how I tried to relate to others my passion for things (probably very similarly to how any teenager telling their parents about post-rock music or jackson pollack paintings sounds.)

A lot of the things that fueled my passions at a younger age were heavily influenced by my older brothers (I realized this at a relatively young age too.) The reasons that I became interested in playing basketball or trying to write music or even eventually tried smoking weed was in a large part due to the fact that my brothers did those things and I not only thought of them as cool, but also wanted to emulate a lot of the things that they did. So naturally, when my brothers moved away for school or jobs or whatever, there goes a reevaluation process as to what I wanted to consider as my passion. To this day I still am pretty heavily invested in music and musical culture (although I wouldn't say I'm as passionate about finding new music as I used to be) and I still follow sports a lot (although, yet again, I don't play nearly as much basketball as I used to). But what I do think as changed as I think about those two passions of my teenage self is how I choose to invest my time in them currently as a more grown-up version of Aaron.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is, what determines our passions in life? when is the point that a person can make a truly independent choice about what they are passionate about? or is it always a product of your environment, the people around you and choices you make as a young person? To filter this into one question: Are the things that I, Aaron Stauter, passionate about, the product of my own personal decision or merely from the influence of the people around me?

Since I (and everyone else on earth) grew up with other people around and took cues about life from other people, it seems silly to think that any decision I could make would be purely 'my own decision'. But isn't it weird to think that your passions, the things that ultimately define who you are, are a product of other people, when you're allegedly an independent person with unique thoughts and a unique identity? I personally find that baffling and also really annoying, basically, given a different set of circumstances, I would have become an entirely different person even though I could have theoretically made all the same decisions.

Reading that back, its kind of an obvious conclusion that I'm sure millions of people have already reached, but it is also a conclusion that is vastly interesting to me as I enter a phase in life where I have the power to make a lot of choices in life that will shape the next 20-30 years of my life and how they look. I can chase new passions in life (like, why not woodworking? or skydiving? or writing?), I can dive deeper into the existing passions in my life, or change the angle of entry at which I look at my current passions. I have a lot of free time and energy and some spendable money to explore new things in life and now I have to decide how I want to do that. All of that along with the newfound realization of how much of my passions are influenced by the people around me, so do I make choices that go against the grain of the people around me? do I do something that seems completely off the map? or do I do something similar to the people around me? (not that that is inherently bad, most of those people around me are in my life for a reason, because I want them to be.)

Interesting stuff to think about for sure and I think it will be even more interesting to look back at this in a few years time to see how those ideas develop in my life. But for now, into the great expanse of life I blindly go, hoping to find some interesting things along the way....

'Til Tomorrow

Tomorrow: How'd I become a Data Nerd?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I Think I Might be a Backwards Racist

Hi world, it's me again.

Time to write about perhaps the most talked about topic of the last year or two. Race (and/or racism)! Yay! However, since the goal of this is to help develop my own viewpoints on theses topics, and potentially nobody is reading this then it doesn't matter that it's been talked about seemingly ad nauseum.

I've written the first sentence to this paragraph four times and then deleted it, just goes to show how hard it is to talk about race, even when you think nobody is listening... 

One of the things that feeds my viewpoint on race and racism is recognizing my own circumstances. As a 22 year-old WASP-y, indie rock listening, sports following, beer drinking type, I fit snugly into a lot of the key demographics that advertisers cater towards and in a lot of ways I feel like the average American guy. Couple that with being homeschooled all my childhood and raised in a Christian environment, and I certainly have the feeling and recognition that I was shielded from a lot of race issues that can rear their heads during life. I think that the single most determining factor in my view on race to this point has been realizing how fortunate I have been to not being coupled with any certain stereotypes and unfortunately how little I know what that's like and how that manifests itself.

Personally, I'm a sucker for absorbing cultural viewpoints about race, at least I have been for the past few months (a lot of the high profile things that happened this summer forced those things into a lot of people's minds, including my own, for better or worse.) So when I see somebody post an article or make a blog post or give a tv interview that exposes how fundamentally racist America and the establishment way of thinking is, I try to take down that information to better inform my own worldview. I think that being empathetic is the key thing to trying to understand racism and relating to other races/ethnicities, because as hard as it is for me to imagine racism and what it's like given my personal circumstance, the person who endures it daily and is trying to tell me what it's like and how it manifests itself has a pretty good idea and maybe I should be listening to that person's view on the matter.

That whole last paragraph, at least to me, summarizes my viewpoint on race. I try so hard to not be racist, that in essence, a lot of what I think about is race, just so I can mentally try to not make a big deal about it when I am around other people. In other words, I try so hard not to be racist, that in a twisted way, I ultimately bring race so far forwards into my own mind, that I am racist because I see other people's race and let it affect the way I think about them in a crazy internal struggle (call it backwards racism). In fact, one of the worst things a person could say to me, in terms of hurting my feelings, is calling me a racist. How crazy is that?! Is that similar to a lot of other people in similar circumstances to me? Does it feel like walking and talking in the modern world is akin to walking in a minefield of feelings/emotions? Is it supposed to feel that way?

Obviously I've put that a little hyperbolically, but the point remains the same. Until we as humankind get to the point where we don't bring up race or ethnicity either positively or negatively, we will in someway be racist (whether its the bigotry kind or the too sensitive to it kind). And since identity, culture, art, emotions and self-expression are so intertwined with race and ethnicity (and rightfully so (not to mention how race and ethnicity should be praised and held in high esteem)) I'm not sure we'll ever remove that issue from the human landscape. 

I want to make it clear, I'm not pretending like I have found the cure for racism, more than a personal  realization that I don't think we'll ever get fully past it. Like how do you celebrate certain races/cultures without making other cultures feel bad in comparison? And being that I'm so blind to so many forms of racism, I'm sure this word vomit only covers ~1% of racism in todays world (casual racism is so pervasive in modern culture and I know that it affects my thinking, but I think that I haven't even caught 5% of the ways that it affects my thinking, let alone how it might affect others.)

Anyways, being white can be tough, not in the same ways it is for other races, and while it doesn't negatively affect my earnings, my ability to walk down certain streets, or how I'm perceived by people, its more a synonym for me saying being empathetic is tough because I love being selfish, but that's how life is. A lot of the 'White Legacy' (is that a term?) is the physical suffering and mental anguish that we've put anyone that doesn't look like us through, and part of what I have to fight is my own natural selfish tendencies and how that influences my view on race, and the thousands of years of White Men using their leverage against other races (without even delving into how we've used that against females). Learning to get over selfishness and being sincerely empathetic can unlock a lot of doors in life both physical and mental.

I have no idea if any of this was readable, if people reading this who are not the same skin color as me think I'm racist, or if twenty years from now I'll be running for public office and this will be used against me, but it's how I feel right now and writing it seems to be good for my soul.

'Til Tomorrow


Tomorrow: The Birth and Death of Passion(s)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Starting a Project

6 years defunct, I'm planning on bringing this blog back to life again. But now as mainly just a mental outlet for my now 22-year old self. The project is to write 1000 words a day on whatever topic comes to mind on that day, also trying to keep it at one topic per day as that will be a bit more constricting, which i think in this sense, is a good thing.

Admittedly, having not taken many english classes, being a math/economics double major in college and not writing regularly, I wholeheartedly expect my grammar, writing style and prose to be far below par (although hopefully not my spelling, 6th grade spelling bee winners represent.) And while this project may only last a few days, I hope that it may last a few weeks or up to a year (my personal motivation as of late hasn't exactly been stellar though), however long it lasts I think it will be a good challenge for me to work on my weaknesses, develop my outlook on many items and become more self-examining in nature all while committing to a project, developing a hobby and having something as a record of my existence and unique identity on this planet (all of these things are in my mind good qualities to have). Also, side note, just look at how poorly formed this paragraph is!

All that brings me to my first topic, which will be the origins of this project (stated briefly in the above paragraph (if that's what you'd call that)).

Recently, as a 22 year-old college graduate who was fortunate to get a job in his field of study, I've come to the shocking (not really, probably bad writing form to include sarcastic hyperbole) conclusion that my 22 year path to adulthood and responsibility and finding a job has been a bit of a false pursuit. Having landed a job that people find respectable (which in hindsight was a bad thing to spend most of my life/energy pursuing from an existential point, but good from a financial/responsibility standpoint, this dichotomy being a common them in my life) isn't fulfilling in itself, not even in the slightest, and really, all it's done is point out the fact to me that a large portion of my life is largely empty, largely wasted and not ambitious enough for my own liking given the fact that I only have one shot on this planet to lead a life worth living. Currently, my time outside of work is spent watching tv, playing video games, playing some piano, and not a lot else, so this is a first step towards changing that.

A lot of this angst started from me questioning my own identity in the face of a lot of change. Of my current identities, I don't know which one is most important or what the hierarchy is, which I think is an issue that I need to face and do something about. Gone are the days of being a son, a brother, a friend and a student. I'm no longer dependent on my parents financially, my siblings live in different cities, I have a much smaller friend circle now, and I have graduated.

Currently I have a girlfriend who I love dearly and plan on marrying, I call myself a Christian (but its daily impacts on my life are relatively debatable compared to what a Christian is called to be), I have a job, and I have a few close friends, not much else is going on.

I guess what I'm trying to understand in this journey is, what is my identity in this changing environment of my life? who am i trying to be 5 or 10 years from now? what steps can I start to take now to become that person? how do i spend my time and my life so that i don't regret the inaction or the caution that I lived my life with?

So that brings me here, a relatively modest action (1000 words a day seems like a lot to a non-writer like me, but it doesn't cost money and won't hurt me if/when I fail), a simple pledge to myself and nobody else (except for you, internet stranger, do people still read blogspot??) to commit to something that I can't see an end goal of, to make myself do something I'm not good at, and to develop my voice in this world of 7 billion voices (most of which, like mine, are vastly underdeveloped and a lot more are under heard).

The last thing I want to say right now is at the end of each day's entry I want to state the topic for the next day's entry. This will do a couple things in my mind: make it harder for me to procrastinate from starting writing that day, as well as giving me the overnight and morning to brew that topic over in my head so that I have at least a couple sentences of fodder to start with that next night.

Tomorrows Topic: Being the definition of an average guy (demographically speaking) in the modern, digital, hyper-criticized, super sensitive to racism world

P.s. was that 1000 words? I don't even know, but it feels like a decent first entry, so I'm just gonna roll with it.

'Til Tomorrow