Posts Tagged With: Being nice

Why is Socialism So Scary?

Why is everyone so afraid to be called a socialist?

A lot of the knee-jerk, frothy-mouthed repulsion to socialism can still be attributed to fallout from the red scare. Americans have been programmed to worship the virtue of capitalism and lump socialism in with communism, fascism, and other “scary” political systems that are incompatible with capitalistic ideals. But even Americans who aren’t completely brain washed and dried by past propaganda and fear-mongering media outlets often still cringe at the mention of the “s” word. So what’s the deal?

With the rising popularity of self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” presidential candidate Bernie Sanders comes a debate about what his ideas mean for the United States. Although the U.S. is a country with social safety nets on paper, these programs often fall far short of lifting citizens out of poverty and homelessness. In a country where the minimum wage hasn’t been adjusted for inflation, housing prices continue to climb, and universal healthcare is in its troubled, complicated infancy, more people than ever struggle to make ends meet.

Yet voices from the right call for further constriction of the social safety net. Welfare encourages people to live on the taxpayers’ dollar they say. Hardworking people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, so to speak, and escape poverty with that good old-fashioned American ingenuity, not help from Uncle Sam.

In stark contrast, there exists the Nordic model of government. Scandinavian countries, often cited as some of the most statistically happy in the world, have much more robust welfare programs. They have a free-market, capitalist economy like the United States, but tax rates between 30-50% (some of the highest in the world) that support healthcare, education, public housing, and other social services. Wikipedia calls Scandinavian countries “welfare states.” While to many Americans this may sound like an insult, it’s actually just a highly logical and intelligent way to ensure citizens in a society have their basic needs met.

I could spend years writing about what socialism actually means to me philosophically or what Bernie Sanders does and does not stand for. I could also delve into the facts that show Denmark’s form of capitalism to be more successful than ours. But in the interest of brevity and relevance to everyday conversations, I’m going to focus on the main arguments I hear from people who hate the idea of socialism or welfare states, and how I might verbally (but in most cases mentally) respond.

 

  1. The Robin Hood Economy

Why should we take one person’s hard-earned money and give it to another? In the words of every 4-year-old ever, “That’s not fair.” People with large incomes generally work very hard to bring in that money and forcing them to pay higher taxes to support those who don’t work as hard is wrong.

 

This objection is based on the flawed assumption that people who earn less do so because they work less. It ignores the existence of privilege, institutional racism, cycles of poverty, and education inequality. It conveniently forgets that college tuition in this country has increased 1,120 percent (for comparison, food prices have only risen about 244 percent due to inflation). Overwhelmingly, those with advanced degrees, thus greater opportunity and earning power, are those who could afford to go to school; not those who worked the hardest to. It also forgets that if everyone had the ingenuity or risk-taking personality to be a entrepreneur, we’d have a bit of trouble functioning as a society.

Those who did overcome all odds and adversity to succeed often don’t help the situation. People who pulled themselves out of poverty by working four jobs, starving, or abandoning the idea of sleep throughout college in order to be successful and debt free are shockingly not the first to speak up for social safety nets. In fact, they’re often some of the strongest opponents. “Well I worked hard for my success, why should someone just get it for free?” They miss the point completely that they shouldn’t have had to jeopardized their health or sanity just to ensure they didn’t spend their life in government housing while their peers’ parents simply paid for tuition. They also seem to suffer from the delusion that if things get better or a little easier for people around them, or in the generations below them, it somehow invalidates their success. It doesn’t. And their insecurity over their own self-worth is hurting people.

 

  1. Competition is King

Natural selection dude. Some people succeed, others don’t. It’s “natural” to have poverty, homelessness, and income inequality.

 

Wow, there are just so many things wrong with this one. Where do I even start? First, as I’ve already said several times in this blog, just because something is “natural” does not mean it is right, desirable, or appropriate. Infectious diseases are natural, yet we generally try to stave those off. Reproduction is natural, yet most (sane) people support the use of birth control. The provision of a social safety net is meant to ensure that all people enjoy basic human rights. It’s not so someone can afford a new video game console, it’s so they don’t have to sleep in a tent under an overpass every night. To me this is an ethical no-brainer.

 

  1. But won’t everyone just become lazy?

Giving people stuff for free will just discourage them from getting a job. We’d be encouraging people to sit around all day.

 

Who cares? Take a second to think about all the people you know. Now think about their occupations. How many of them are actually engaged in maintaining or bettering society? Are they working in healthcare or public service? Are they generating products or services people actually need? Are they working for the common good in politics or research? Or perhaps creating beautiful works of art? On the flip side, how many are just busy? Busy pushing paper around in an office, doing a job a robot could do, or hocking stuff no one needs.

Chances are, many of the busy people would choose to leave their soul-sucking jobs if their basic needs were met. Could they choose to then pursue more worthwhile careers that benefit society? Yes! Could they also choose to sit around on their asses all day, living on food stamps and jerking off? Probably! However, I would bet both my kidneys the number of healthy, functional people who would choose option B would be comparatively very low. The number of people who would choose to pursue more worthwhile careers would more than make up for the “tax burden” of the few who chose to live on government money.

Furthermore, needing to work more than full-time just to stay alive creates a desperate populace that falls right into the hands of unscrupulous and socially irresponsible businesses. Personally, I’d rather someone stay home than spend their time selling sweatshop-made items at Wal-Mart* or convincing customers to upgrade their Comcast plan.

*The three largest private employers in the U.S. are Wal-Mart, Yum Brands (Taco Bell, KFC), and McDonalds. Still glad everyone’s employed?

 

When you really take some time to look at it, you can grind this whole issue down to a very simple dichotomy. There are those who believe life should be a lottery, and if you’re unlucky enough to draw a shit number (for example by being born poor or disabled), you should have to work harder your entire life to get the same things others obtain easily. Then, there are those who believe the playing field should be leveled to the best of our ability, and all people should be given relatively the same chance to succeed.

I’d like to reiterate again that arguing the first option is right because it’s natural is absolute, unrefined bullshit. Society itself is not “natural.” Nothing humans do in 2016 meshes with the normal order of the world. The economy does not exist, country borders are imaginary, and your job is made up. But even at a fundamental “natural” level, the whole point of animal social structures are to benefit the various members of the group. If we are going to insist society function in a dog-eat-dog fashion, I’d prefer to just not have one frankly.

The hilarious thing to me is that proponents of the first model consider themselves to be “anti-entitlement” and “against handouts.” Yet, for some reason, they ignore the fact that life is just one big handout for those who were lucky enough to be born into a privileged setting.

“Well, rich people don’t cost anything to support, while government handouts cost the taxpayers money,” they say.

Wrong again. The tendency of rich people to soak up more resources than most other human beings absolutely costs something. The very wealthy can afford to consume more, produce more waste, accrue more land, and even pay off pollution disincentives. Our modern economic system places an infinite growth model on a planet with finite resources. The result is that anyone who can save up enough intrinsically worthless paper currency can buy unlimited amounts of the most precious substances, such as water, land, and food. Make no mistake, concentrating large portions of the resources needed by all of humanity into the hands of just a few people costs a great deal on a much larger scale. Mitigating the water crisis in Flint will now cost millions in state and federal government assistance; investing in insuring all citizens had access to safe water from the beginning would have cost far less.

To me, there are really only two reasons why someone might be vehemently against social safety nets. The first option is pure ignorance. People don’t understand where our tax money actually goes, what privilege and institutional racism are, or what degree luck has played in their success. Or, perhaps, they really just don’t understand the scope of the problem in the first place. If you’ve never lived in a big city and seen the struggle homeless and impoverished people face, you may never truly understand.

The other option however is much more depressing. If you understand how unlevel the playing field really is and how much a country, as a whole, can benefit from evening this playing field, yet you still don’t think people should pay into a system that supports others when they fall, you might just be an ass hole.

There, I said it.

You might just be the kind of person who thinks so lowly of your fellow human beings, that you’d rather believe they’re lazy than misfortuned. You might be the kind of person who attributes all your success to yourself and ignores those who helped you along the way.

Regardless of the genetic, developmental, and environmental factors that led to you feeling this way, I can’t help but see you as someone I do not like.

At the end of the day, if you can look at another human being and say “you should be homeless while I should be warm and well-fed,” I just honestly don’t know what to do with you.

 

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How to Make Your Life Better, Right Now

Alright bare with me folks, I promise I’m not selling essential oils, shake weights, or sex toys (but if I was going to suggest any of the three for making life better, I would definitely go with the sex toys). I’m also not touting “4 Ways To Fix Your Life and Be Happy”. Anyone who tells you they’ve figured out how to be happy is either lying or assuming you’re an identical person to them. Either way run.

I have simply observed the power of certain tasks to improve my life and I’d like to share them. Some of these tips may seem obvious, but I encourage you to take a look at those around you and determine how many of them actually do these things regularly. I’m guessing not many. The selling point of these tips is they require almost no time, money, or changes in philosophy, just perhaps a little dedication. So, for anyone who needs a little pick-me-up, here are 5 EASY ways to make your experience on planet earth a little better, almost immediately.

  1. Drink water.

It feels so silly to have to say this but after seeing people day in and day out drink nothing but coffee, soda, and alcohol I feel the need to remind the human species that we RUN ON WATER. While coffee and soda don’t dehydrate your body as per a common myth*, completely replacing water with them in your diet brings several other ill effects such as increased sugar intake and serious caffeine dependency. Water is the ultimate refreshing beverage and hey, if you’re fortunate enough to live in a developed nation it’s usually cheap or free! Aside from just generally keeping your body a nice, squishy, well-oiled machine, the most shockingly beneficial thing about water to me is its ability to ward off headaches. I used to get a lot of headaches and now not so much. Although some of this is likely due to improved stress reduction and management, I actually believe most of it is just hydration. I tend to get headaches when I leave my water bottle at home, but days I keep it on me and sip periodically are typically smooth sailing. Now, I’m not saying you need to drink the absurd amount of water some health gurus recommend, in fact sources say even the oft-repeated “8 glasses a day” is bull (see same article I cited above). Judging by the size of my water bottle, I probably drink around 35 oz of water on an average day but much more on a day full of strenuous exercise.

  1. Start monitoring your sleep.

As most of us know, sleep makes a world of difference in how you feel each day. However saying, “Hey, you should just get more sleep!” to someone who works two jobs to pay rent or is getting their phD is a dick move. I’m sure most people would just LOVE to “get more sleep” but their schedule and responsibilities do not allow that right now. Therefore, a smaller and more tangible step for someone feeling tired or sleep deprived all the time is to start monitoring your sleep in some way. This could range from just keeping a journal on your nightstand to buying a fancy activity tracker wristband such as a Jawbone or FitBit. I personally use a $1 app for my iPhone called Sleep Cycle. The app (supposedly) uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to track your movements while you sleep to judge what phase of sleep you are in at all times throughout your night. It then uses this judgment to try to wake you up at an “appropriate” time—aka when you’re not in a deep, dark, tar pit of a sleep coma. Although according to current research, the sleep stage you’re awoken in doesn’t affect cognitive performance**, I for one believe it affects my mood and immediate feelings about how my day’s going to go. Most people I talk to agree getting woken up during deep sleep or an intense dream is pretty awful.

Although I won’t say the app works perfectly, I certainly prefer it to my old alarm and the data it provides are where the real usefulness lies. Whether using an app, journal, or device, the goal is to take note of the factors each day that may be affecting your sleep length or quality, and matching those up with feelings and behaviors you observe in yourself. Do you often eat a large dinner close to bedtime? Start writing down when you do or don’t and you may begin to notice a correlation with the way you sleep or wake up. Once you start to pick out these patterns, it often becomes clear that small and easy changes could make a huge difference for your sleep quality. One of the most important things I found was that I sleep much better when I read before bed than when I spend time on my phone or computer. Although this pattern is statistically validated, the push for me to stop reading on my phone before bed came from my own data instead of from real science. Go figure.

  1. Do something to improve your space.

Do you find yourself sitting at home sometimes feeling frustrated yet not sure why? Perhaps it’s just me but this tends to happen a lot. I discovered some time ago that all I need to quell this restlessness is a change of functional scenery. I say functional scenery because I don’t believe just decorating can produce this affect. Aesthetics are important and feng shui is great but I’m all about maximizing the utility of a space. A functional space improvement adds a new, usable dimension or property to your environment, specifically the one you see every day. An example of this could be moving your furniture into a more “social” arrangement, perhaps facing each other instead of a TV. Another could be de-cluttering and organizing a table so the top can now be used as a workspace. Often, you don’t even need to buy anything for this; it’s just a small, seemingly obvious change you just never thought to try. Sometimes you won’t notice the difference or even dislike it. But most of the time it improves your space in a way that allows you to be more of something desirable to you: organized, social, creative, hardworking, sexually devious, whatever!

  1. Do something for someone else.

My final and sappiest tip is to be selfless in some small way. Or big way. That depends on your passion, time, and resources. However, I believe all of us are capable of doing something at least small for someone just about every day. Now make no mistake; just as in the natural world, altruism is not the warm, fuzzy act it often appears. I don’t consider myself a bad person but I’m not Mother Theresa. Obviously I care about people and want them to be happy. But often, I do random acts of kindness predominantly because they make me happy. I would even wager that I often get more reciprocal happiness than the act was even worth. For example, giving a homeless man five dollars may make his hour better but it will probably make my whole day better. Perhaps this is why a study a few years back found spending money on other people is the best way to “buy happiness”***. So donate ten dollars to charity, share your lunch with someone who doesn’t have one, go play with the animals at a shelter, or at the very least smile at someone (sometimes this is all I can muster). I promise you won’t be disappointed.

* http://www.huffingtonpost.com/monica-reinagel-ms-ldn-cns/dehydration-myth_b_1080956.html

** http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/dream2.htm

*** http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88682320

Categories: Advice, Lifestyle | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Judge Me: Why Judgement is Both Unavoidable and Healthy

Judge me. No really, seriously, judge away. And don’t keep those thoughts to yourself, please share what it is about me that bothers you in some way. These phrases may sound like snarky text messages from your 13-year-old sister, but I actually expect them to be read as literally as possible. I am almost 100% in favor of judging.

Of course, to explain an opinion like this I need to do a bit of refining of terms and meanings. To me, being judgmental and being an ass hole are not the same. However, passing judgment where it is neither constructive nor warranted can turn you into an ass hole quite speedily. Furthermore, using judgment as a pretext for malice will seal the deal. I’d like to pull a quote from a book I just started reading, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. This is my first foray into the ideas of Stoicism, a philosophy developed in Ancient Greece and popular in Rome that bears some similarity to Buddhism. Although I’ve only read a few pages, and thus have gained only minimal insight into the inner workings of the late Roman Emperor’s mind, I am already stumbling upon useful ideas:

 

“Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I, who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it is in the same intelligence and the same potion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are all made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.”

 
 

Taking a second to ascertain the meaning behind ancient Rome’s longest run-on sentence, I sensed within it the same opinion I’ve harbored for years: It is not inherently wrong to judge someone. This is a rather unpopular stance in modern culture, where the phrase “don’t judge me” is a favorite mantra among the overly defensive, the ill advised, and guests of Maury. Yet as Aurelius hints at the beginning of this “meditation”, we all go through life each day encountering people whose beliefs and actions do not align with our personal code of conduct. We judge them against this code. To call for a society in which no individual passes judgment on another is not only impossible, it’s actually just a terrible idea. The goal is not to abstain from judgement, but to abstain from irritation, anger, and cruelty. Having said that, are there still millions of petty circumstances in which a person has no business sharing their opinion of another’s choices? Certainly. But are there also circumstances in which a healthy dose of judgment is not only warranted, but desperately needed? I say hell yes.

I judge the person who refuses to acknowledge their privilege, the person who thinks animals are ours to torment, or the person who lives upon the planet with no regard for the greater Earthly community just as Aurelius judges the ungrateful, the arrogant, and the deceitful. Simultaneously I judge myself for being “unsocial”, for being quick to anger, and for being overly concerned with self image. Without judgment there is no reflection; without reflection there is no progress. Do those who announce that no one has the right to judge another still reserve the right for a person to judge his or herself? If so, why is your own person so vile that you would do unto yourself what you should never, ever do to another? And if not, then how do they expect individuals to grow and mature? Loving yourself really does lead to loving others, but loving yourself so much that you never question your own beliefs is a recipe for disaster.

The problem is not judgment, but dickishness. The personal codes of ethics that exist (hopefully) within each of the 7.something billion human beings on this planet will never “synch up”. There will not come a day when we all collectively wake up and realize hitting your kids is wrong or that mayonnaise is just gross. Barring some terrifying, Brave New World-esque overall in which humans become standardized from birth, difference in developmental pressures, culture, and perception will always produce individuals with different neural maps, thus opinions. To decide someone is less deserving of your kindness based on your judgment of his or her behavior is the folly. Ideally, I should judge people in much the same way I judge myself. I should see the ways in which a man’s actions negatively affect himself, those around him, or the planet and think to myself that he is wrong for those things. Yet just as I do not berate myself, I should not go over and push the man in dirt.

Although I see the righteousness of Aurelius’ Philosophy, I still struggle to live true to it. A couple weeks ago I beckoned to any of my Facebook friends who supported Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration” act to promptly lose my number. “Anyone who believes it is ok to treat a fellow human being this way has absolutely no place in my life!” I internet-screamed to the masses. I felt it was necessary to both judge and act against those who had acted against others in such a grotesque way. Simplified: I was being a dick to the dicks. This is the kind of behavior I have trouble avoiding. The better approach is obviously to judge silently, forgive ignorance, and should the issue ever come up in a civil environment, do my best to explain why their behavior is unacceptable to me. However, I am just not a big enough person yet. I feel compelled to be a dick to dicks. In this case, fundamentalists hating on gays irritates me in and of itself, but I am able to stay respectful and silent until something they do actually affects people.

I recognize that in order for us humans to have the type of beautiful world we’d like, we must learn to love and accept each other unconditionally. However this is the definition of “easier said than done”. Just how do you love the racist, the homophobic, the animal abuser, or the misogynist? I haven’t figured it out yet and am open to suggestions. Perhaps getting through the rest of Meditations will give me the tools I need to bridge the gap…but it’s an awfully short book.

Categories: Humanity, Philosophy | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Not Being a Dick

A post with this title could easily be one sentence or an entire book to rival the page count of Atlas Shrugged.

The fact that there’s so much debate surrounding how not to be a dick is pretty amazing, considering most people are pretty apt at discerning who is a dick in a crowded bar.

I’d like to believe most people strive not to be dicks, so with that in mind lets take a look at some simple ways to avoid it.

Personally, I believe not being a dick can be broken down into a handful of categories:

1. Don’t be a dick to other people.

The golden rule, right? This one is pretty straightforward yet people mess it up all the time. I’m not going to go very far into this here but how about if something you do physically or emotionally hurts someone else, try your hardest no to do that thing because it’s dickish, ok? Ok.

2. Don’t be a dick to other beings.

I think we’re far past the point in history where we think animals don’t feel pain, suffering, fear, etc. I’m aware of the circle of life and that some animals eat other animals or use them for beneficial purposes that may not be so beneficial to the later animal. But how about we just try to minimize the degree to which we make other beings suffer? Perhaps by not cramming them in cages roughly the size of their bodies for their entire lives or chaining them to a tree in our backyard and never feeding them. Just a thought.

3. Don’t be a dick to the environment.

I honestly kind of hate the phrase “the environment” because it gives the impression it is something existing outside the context of human civilization. I use it however because it’s easy, useful, and recognizable. “The environment” however would be better served if we all just admitted that the entire planet is “the environment” and it happens to be the only one we live on. It also so happens that the earth does not care whether we as a species live or die, so although I do love trees, birds, and other nice things like that I mostly care about our prolonged existence on this planet. I like this one and Mars looks kind of shitty to be honest.

4. Don’t be a dick to yourself.

This one can get dicey because when you start telling someone never to be hard on his or herself you start leading them to believe they shit gold. I think people need to judge their own actions and change where appropriate and no I do not believe everyone is a unique, beautiful, and special butterfly. I do however believe that judging yourself based on the ridiculous standards society outlines and generally hating yourself can lead to unhappiness not just for you but for those around you. So stop being unnecessarily dickish to yourself.

I tend to stick to these principles when I’m trying to decide what to do with my obnoxiously self-aware being and also when people ask me why I do something the way I do.

For example,

“why are you mostly vegetarian?”

“Well inquisitive someone, I’m fairly certain eating conventionally-produced meat is being a pretty big dick to both the environment and sentient beings!”

Nifty, right?

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