Monday, January 10, 2011

On Anti-Materialism

People become pretty confused when I describe myself as an anti-materialist. There is a kind of materialism which places value in the material world: everything that can be seen, heard, touched, smelled, and tasted. If you are thinking of this type of materialism I am in fact a materialist to my very core. However, when I refer to myself as an anti-materialist I refer to the type of materialism which places value on human possessions: any objects which can be bought and sold or the currency itself. I recognize the need for certain objects like food and housing to be able to continue existing. Moreover I recognize that certain objects can be indeed pleasurable to use. I do not recognize the need to own material objects, and I am extremely baffled by those who see the value in acquiring massive amounts of those objects or currency.
Most importantly I believe in valuing the relationships between people above the value of material objects at all times. This has led some to refer me to a humanist, but I would never self apply this title. I do not believe that any deep or lasting happiness can come from ownership of material objects; moreover, placing value of those objects over human beings will lead to unhappiness.
I do not believe that any human being has a right to own any object. By what authority can we make this claim? Our founding fathers were mostly wealthy land owners who pursued property rights in order to ensure their own power. They had no right to kill millions of Indians who were living on this land before them. Indians who, by the way, asserted that no one has the right to own land. Most people in this country who are religious follow a god which tells them in clear language to abandon their worldly desires.
So I ask you what right do you or I have to own anything? We were born into this world owning nothing and we die the same way. We may claim that our parents gave us an object but where did they get it from? Every material object starts as raw material from the earth. Some may argue that the work we put into an object makes it ours to sell. I will agree that there should be value in work. I assert that while we may come into possession through hard work, it is not due purely to our hard work that we come into possession. We own things not from just rights but merely by the capricious hand of luck. Most of the rich did not earn their wealth but were born into it and simply made more. Can anyone say that Paris Hilton would be as famous and rich today if she were born to any other parent? There are some (such as Andrew Carnegie) who did start from humble beginnings and I do give credit to such people for their achievements. As much skill and will power as these people possess even they had to deal with a good amount of luck. So many factors leading up to their success were established without their knowledge by the hard work of others.
“That there are so many are ready to live by luck, and so get the means of commanding the labor of others less lucky, without contributing any value to society”-H.D. Thoreau
I submit that it’s a selfish and childish self importance that promotes others to claim the rights to property as if screaming and threatening made it true. So if you can accept that you have no right to ownership of material objects how can you (or anyone) claim that any object is worth more than a connection to a human being?

Next time you and your loved one have an argument about material objects or money remember to think and say: “It’s just a thing, its not worth hurting you or our relationship over”

Motivation and Action

Probably the most undervalued and unconsidered part of social interaction on a micro and macro scale is motivation (both negative and positive). There are those who do not take into to consideration at all in situations: “this person just should or shouldn’t do X action”. From a purely emotional standpoint this may make sense; however, this way of thinking is entirely useless when trying to change a person or persons behavior. There are those who do realize the value of motivation, but they make a critical fallacy in assuming that what motivates them to do or not do an action “Y factor motivates me to X action therefore it should motivate everyone to X action”.
Try to think of motivation the way energy and mass interact in our universe. According to Newton: “an object at rest will stay at rest and an object in motion will stay in motion unless being acted upon by an outside force.” Logically, it is safe to assume that a person or group of persons will stay the same unless being motivated to change. This is not to argue that all motivating factors are equal but are in fact relative to individuals according to their environmental conditions and cognitive thinking system. For an example of the former: I wish to motivate males to use condoms while engaging in sexual intercourse. In order to motivate them I may inform them that condoms prevent procreation. This attempt at motivation would not be successful for males who are in capable of procreation or desire procreation as an outcome of sexual intercourse. In order to motivate the men not deterred by my first factor I must devise a factor that takes into account each individuals environmental conditions. We may think it is universally true that people with do anything to avoid pain and death but experience will show us that this is not always true.
We must also think of motivation on as a quantities measure. We may find that a factor is successful at motivating a person or persons, yet yields insufficient or no change in action. If I paid you 50 dollars a day to be my chauffeur you may consider it but end up turning me down, but what if I offered you 500 dollars an hour. A parent may conclude that putting a child in a time out chair for 5 minutes does not motivate their children to behave, but they discover that it become very effective when used at least 1 hour. The quantity of motivation can sometimes be enormous to the point in which it exceeds the abilities of any one individual. It may be possible to attain assistance from others who may be motivated (or already are motivated) to help u motivate that individual.

Let’s put this in concrete terms. You want to motivate your mother in-law to stop nagging you. We first acknowledge that the behavior is a one way verbal interaction. We must carefully observe the current motivating factors that stimulate said mother in-law to nag you. Does she call you up or arrive unprovoked to nag you? Does she nag after you say something in particular? Let’s assume that after some investigation we determine that said mother in-law
gets motivated by the love of her daughter to nag you as a direct reaction to your wife/husband conversing with her: specifically complaints about you. We can approach the solution to this problem in a number of ways. If you make an emotional plea for sympathy to your mother in-law this may evoke feelings of guilt in her motivating her away from the action of nagging. However, she is likely to feel more motivated by complaints from your wife/husband than by your attempts at motivation. Your motivation is +50 but she is negatively motivated -75 so you are still 25 points in the hole. Instead we will attempt to attack this motivation at its source while providing a new motivation not to engage in the act of nagging. If we cannot motivate the mother directly we can use your spouse to do so. We explain to your spouse how hurt you are by this nagging and how it damages your marriage. We may then convince your spouse a) to not complain to your mother in-law about you or b) he/she can continue to complain but only if your spouse agrees to motivate your mother not to nag you. Assuming that we come to solution B your mother in-law will then be now motivated to not nag you by the same sources that motivated her to nag you in the first place.

As an exercise I want you to think of someone or some group of people that you’d like to change their behavior. Ask yourself what can I do to motivate that person or group? What assumptions am I making about my source(s) of motivation? What motivates this person toward the action that I don’t like and how can I overcome that motivation?

The Depresion Scale

When people ask me how I feel and earnestly want an answer I often struggle to define in concrete terms exactly how good (or bad) I feel at that moment or in general. I think it would be useful to use a quantifiable measure of mood. A sequenced scale of 1-10 would seem most appropriate for this use. A 10 would mean that you feel no signs of depression as in you are completely content. Note that this does not mean you are perfectly happy, but merely not feeling bad in any measurable way. Perhaps we could use 11-20 for a happiness scale, but I fear that would exclude those who are feeling both happiness and depression simultaneously through different aspects of their life (ie: they were dumped but just got a pay raise). In any case let’s focus on the 1-10 depression scale. A 1 would mean that that person has reached their own personal lowest emotional state before losing sanity or experiencing an emotional breakdown. By its nature this value would be relative and often unknown as the person may not have experienced their true maximum depression threshold. I would define my own 1 as the point to which I become overwhelmingly suicidal. I would not only think about suicide but plan the ways I could do it and be convinced to go through with those plans if not act on them.
When I defined this scale to my friend she inquired where I’d rate myself at that moment. I told her I was a 5. This shocked her: “that bad huh?” I tried to explain that for those of us who suffer from some form of lifelong depression a 5 wasn’t that bad. For most of us I would assume that this would be the norm in fact. Someone who is functionally handling their depression (depression can never be “cured”) knows ways to manage being at that level on a consistent basis and may not show any outward signs of depression whatsoever. This is why is a bad idea to assume that you know whether a person is depressed (no matter how close you are to that person). I would submit that if a person is only a 5 or lower once in a great while (even if they hit a 7 or 8 once a week) that would be a person I would define as normal or not depressed. I really can’t say how many people would fit into this category but I would be greatly surprised if this number was over 50% of the population. Doesn’t depression become the norm then. I would say it does not simply because the evidence shows that in other periods and cultures the depressive state expressed in nowhere close to the majority. In this country (as well as some others like Japan) individuals put such high pressure on themselves and others to achieve that it causes many if not must of use to suffer mental disorders. Expecting ourselves to do more than what is logically possible is a recipe for insanity. Our senses conflict with what our brain is telling us and the conflict causes cognitive damage.

I’d like you all as my readers to think about how you would rate yourself on my depression scale both how you feel about life in general and how you are feeling on this particular day/moment. Ask yourself if you feel that you are alone in this feeling and ask yourself if there is anything you can reasonably do to make yourself feel better (if you need to). If you don’t see yourself as depressed ask yourself: how many people do I think are depressed in my environment and how should I interact with them?