Michael Battalio


Friday, December 09, 2011

Serious conversations (part 32):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirtieth through thirty-third entries deal with death.



More on being mechanized:


        The main problem I have with becoming mechanized is that for me some things are physical and would lose their meaning if I could just “download” a program to my computerized brain like how they could do in the Matrix and have superhuman speed, reflexes, strength.  As an example, how would you feel about being able to download a program to become a master at your instrument of choice?  Wouldn’t that remove the fun, the sense of accomplishment, the challenge of actually learning an instrument?  Being able to play an instrument or a game, to be really smart or a good artist, any skill or talent becomes meaningless because everyone could download the required algorithms necessary to excel at a certain task.  In a sense, some of our individuality, our uniqueness, is removed by becoming mechanized.  To become better at something, all we have to do is upgrade a given component – whether it is an arm, leg, brain.  They all just become tools.  They aren’t really you. Once we are mechanical it doesn't matter what is a higher brain function.  Those biological restrictions will be meaningless.  So now even though when I'm playing an instrument I don't have to consciously think about what notes I'm going to play when I play them, somewhere, something does make that thought, and it can be programmed and copied.  It doesn’t matter what conscious level the thought occurs, it can be copied. Although, I suppose it really matters exactly how our consciousness operates and in what medium that it operates in.  I do believe there must be some sense of self that decides what to download and learn.  That really is what we are and who we are-the personal decision making mechanism.  


        Going back to just genetics: Just because someone is at a certain age does not mean they must have what we commonly think of as characteristics or infirmities for that age.  I think that medicine will not only extend life but extend the quality of life as well (otherwise what is the point of living to be 150?).  I think that 100 year olds will be able to behave as those in their 50s today, and those who are 150 will be like 90 year olds.  This will make overpopulation a problem, but overpopulation is already a problem.  The planet is at 7 billion people.  It wasn’t that long ago when the 6 billionth person was born (just a few years).  The rate we are already reproducing will cause a population problem rather soon.  If the economy will fix itself in a few years, we’ll be able to resume advancement into space.  I think our progression into space is inevitable (assuming we don’t kill ourselves off first).  Necessity requires we leave this planet at some point.  I am of the opinion that as medicine advances so will the rest of science, particularly interplanetary flight.  Within the next 100 years, we should be mining the Moon, Mars, and perhaps even further out.  We might even have permanent bases there.  This is all just speculation on my part, but I don’t think we should worry about the older generations (and our generation at some point) being a burden.  We will solve the resource problems we have soon enough (We have to; there is no other option except die, which pessimistically, we might end up doing.).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Serious conversations (part 31):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirtieth through thirty-third entries deal with death.



        It has taken me a while to come to terms with the fact that there is a good chance my existence will simply cease upon my death instead of my soul joining God, but I now take solace in the fact that we may be able to cheat death for at least a while, which leads me to…



What do I think about medical technology extending life (perhaps indefinitely)?


        The people who are dying right now (the 70, 80 and 90 year olds) had a life expectancy of half that when they were young.  I do not believe it is unreasonable to assume that we will be able to live double the expectancy of right now (so about 150ish).  It always seems as if medical technology is on the cusp of something great but just out of reach.  At some point we will get there -assuming we don’t destroy ourselves first, whatever there is.  (This makes me mention the fact that when I retire from the profession of meteorology I want to pursue an MD, mostly because I want to work on life extending technologies and/or learn enough about medicine to help extend my own life at least. Just call me selfish.)  Either we will find the genes that control aging, figure out how to clone ourselves and insert our consciousness from one body to the next (like the asgard from Stargate), or (as my friend thinks will happen first and within the next few decades) we will be able to place our consciousness inside a computer.  We probably have a few more decades of Moore’s law (the law that says computer processing power doubles every 18 months) holding, and by the end of it we will have computers (perhaps quantum ones) that can process a lot faster than our brains can.  It will only be a matter of finding a way to put ourselves inside a computer.  I feel very uncomfortable with that.  I am not sure placing my consciousness inside a computer is really me anymore.  I do feel okay with slowly replacing my parts with computer parts until I am eventually completely computer.  I don’t know why. If tomorrow I could transfer my consciousness from a purely organic form to a purely mechanized form, I would not feel comfortable doing it, but if over the course of some arbitrary length of time I gradually exchanged pieces of my brain for silicon wafers, I would feel comfortable with that.  I’m not so sure I know why that is. A directly related question is what is the actuality of self, not just our feeling of it?  Are we actually just a collection of cleverly arranged molecules in our brain or is self the collection of all molecules in our body? I have no idea.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Serious conversations (part 30):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirtieth through thirty-third entries deal with death.



Are you afraid of death?  Why, why not?


        At present I am not.  Part of that is naïveté certainly.  Part of it is because I am rather young and in theory I won’t have to worry about it for at least half a century.  I take a dual approach (one from my vaguely Catholic side [I could pick any religion, but I’ll stick with Catholicism because I know it best and, well, I have to pick one.] and one from my agnostic side).  If God exists I think I’ll go to heaven or at least purgatory (assuming that exists) (I haven’t committed any of what the Catholic Church calls mortal sins, which is a debatable term in and of itself.); however, I no longer regularly confess what “sins” I do have to a priest.  I, of course, don’t know how important confession is to God, but neither does the Catholic Church really, so who knows.  It just happens to be one of the seven sacraments.  (I also question the authority of priests. I know some really sinful priests. How much can they really do to absolve me when they sin worse than I do?) I don’t preach the Bible anymore and seriously doubt the existence of God, but I think I’m a good person and remain open to the possibility of God and evidence asserting that claim.  I believe that being a good person and acting in genuine accordance with what you feel is moral is good enough to get you some points.  (I’ll repeat that if God really wanted us to blindly believe in him he shouldn’t have made his existence so logically improbable and given us reason and logic to have figured this out.  So how can he punish someone simply for using his “gift” of logic? [I refer you to my “This I Believe” series that can be found earlier in this blog on more about what I believe.])  I still attend church and try to pay attention, but I admit most of the reason of my attendance is because I get paid rather well to play music.  But I try to believe, and that is the point is it not?


So under the assumption that I will get to heaven, which I am reasonably confident of, and that heaven is a nice place, why worry about death?


        Agnostically, I have focused myself on not wasting my time under the assumption that when I am near death if I feel I have accomplished all that I can and want, I will have no regrets (besides wanting more time).  If I have lived a life I am proud of – one that has made me and others happy (I refer you back to the discussion of happiness [S.C. Parts 20 and 21] as to what I think makes me happy.) such that I feel fulfilled, then I will have done all I can do in life.  I think that it is the fear of regret that causes such fear of death.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Serious conversations (part 29):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The twenty-ninth entry is a selection of comments on relationships.

        This is more a comment about marriage and relationships in general, but to what extent are all relationships arranged.  I'm not talking about fate but mere happenstance.  By our choices in life we are arranging to meet and intersect with a certain subset of the world's population and diverge from the rest.  There is absolutely nothing stopping me from moving to Europe permanently (practically speaking), and by not doing so I have arranged for myself to not have any chance to be in a relationship with most people in Europe.  All of our choices set a sequence of events in motion that preclude certain individuals from intersecting with our lives and include others.  Our every action arranges who our eventual partner (or lack thereof) will be.

Arranged marriages:
        I think it is more than just selfishness and the idea that the family is important that keeps people from submitting to arranged marriages in the west. Some of it is that western society has decided that the family should support what an individual member does so long as it isn't self destructive.  Individuality is much more important than unity.  The family should be happy because its members are happy.
        I just don’t understand how arranged relationships can work at all unless one partner is submissive (or just really lucky that personalities match).  A relationship is a delicate balance of wills.  Unless one member doesn’t care ever, there will inevitably be conflict within a relationship.  Part of a relationship is coming to terms with differing opinions, and I believe that is what makes the healthiest relationships – those where both members are tolerant and patient.  Those relationships that are thrown together without a chance for the individuals to adapt to new surroundings and a new structure of power are doomed to at least be rocky. Also a relationship must be based in trust and be respectful. It would be difficult to trust someone you did not know.

In general:
        We are all told to strive toward a relationship.  Emphasis is placed on finding someone.  A lot of that has to do with the beliefs of religions, Christianity in particular, that the son leaves the mother and starts a family of his own etc. – that famous scripture from Corinthians that is read at every single wedding in the US.  I kind of resent that thought.  For the longest time in high school and for a few years of college I placed such emphasis on defining myself by a current relationship that I lost sight of who I really was.  It has only been recently that I no longer define myself by who I am with (or not with as the case might be).  I define me by me.
        Relationships are so very random and chance.  This might be why religions have embraced them so much.  This is another element of our lives we cannot control, but it certainly is something God can control.  If we pray enough and in the right way to him, perhaps he will grant us that perfect somebody to spend the rest of our lives with. I contribute my general success with relationships mostly to my luck and the fact that I’m quite patient and forgiving and I tend to attract similar people, not that I have been destined by fate or gifted by God.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Serious conversations (part 28):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth entries are a collection of comments on my views of academia.

        I’ll first clarify that in my experience professors generally have some amount of ability to teach otherwise they would have gone into some other research occupation, for the federal government or the private sector.
        Even where teacher student ratios are not 1:1, an enthusiastic instructor/professor can have a lot of the same qualities as an individual teacher.  Obviously they can’t have some qualities, like tailoring a class to fit one student, but they can redirect energies when the entire class is deficient in an area.  Imagine for a second if you had Richard Feynman teaching a class, that would be a lot of fun. Practically, there aren’t enough teachers for everyone to have that kind of one on one time with every student.  Would it probably be the best way for everyone to learn?  Yes, but it isn’t possible.  Education has turned into a mass production line.  We are tying to get as many people the highest education as humanly possible.  This is a commendable goal, but that goal is getting away from the ideal.  It isn’t enough to simply have an education – it must be a good education.

        Grading is also an issue, and it’s one I’ve had to start dealing with since I starting teaching classes myself within the last couple of years. The thing is that while grading is anonymous to some point, the teacher, being human, will remember that you are a good student or a bad student.  When I get tests back, I feel like I’m making the professor proud because they will usually give a nod of approval or comment on how I did.  Grading isn’t completely anonymous. I, too, when grading become disappointed in one of my ‘A’ students when they make too low a score. Conversely, I’m also very proud when one of my poorer students does very well. It shows me that I’ve been doing a good job of teaching.

Student opinion in the selection of professors:
        I’ve been privy to several professor searches. Each of the candidates had to give a lecture in a respective course their position would end up teaching. At the end of the lecture the students and current professors would rate the professor on how he/she did. I ended up sitting through most of the lectures, and quite a few of what were otherwise solid candidates were rejected based on the student’s opinion. Obviously a process like this doesn’t happen everywhere, but I found it very refreshing and eye opening. Additionally while I was working on my music minor a couple of years ago, they hired a new professor, and they had a process very much like this. And student opinion was again taken seriously. While State isn’t known for its great research in music, it is very well known for its meteorology department. What I am glad for is that the ability to teach is just as important to MSU as is the ability to bring in research dollars.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Serious conversations (part 27):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth entries are a collection of comments on my views of academia.

My friend had commented that she had a difficult time relating and communicating with professors. I replied:
        I see, understand, and respect the title and hierarchy (undergrad, masters, Ph.D. candidate, post-doc, professor) of academia, but I don't feel like I can only talk with people one level above me.  I find all the levels accessible.  In general, most professors I’ve found have been very friendly and approachable. Most of the professors are only 20 or so years older than I am, so they aren't intimidating (and actually I’m on a first name basis with several of them).
        Interacting with professors is very important.  They teach not just what you can learn in their classes, but so much more about what it is they do, how to do research, how to write.  The more I interact with them the more I think I'd like to become a professor.  The biggest thing I don't understand is finding and getting grant money and where it comes from etc.  I'm good at finding scholarship, assistantship money, but that seems much different.
        I do hold the title of professor in pretty high esteem though. The last year or so since I've been looking at grad schools, I've been going through lists of professors at universities and seeing their resumes and what they are working on, I do feel very intimidated and a bit nervous to contact them.  I think there is a perceived wall of academic separation because you don't know the professors well enough.
        I also believe that being able to meet a professor outside of academia would be different than going to them after class or during office hours. I think you’ve [my friend] just had bad luck with professors. The professors I know go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and not be too intimidating. Why be intimidating at all? Intimidation prevents the spread of ideas, which is the point of academia.

A comment on asking stupid questions:
        I know this is cliché, but often when you don't understand something, most other people don't understand it either, so I got over the problem of asking questions a while ago.  I'm probably one of the annoying people that asks too many questions, but that doesn't bother me.  If I'm known as the annoying questioner, so what.  I let my grades speak for how well I understand, not how many "stupid" questions I ask.  Although sometimes when I am taking a class from new professor, I do feel nervous about asking something, but once there have been a few grades in the class, and I know the professor knows that I'm attentive, I become much more comfortable asking.

Friday, August 05, 2011

A letter to my congressman

Sorry, but this is going to be one more post of a political nature before we resume the “serious conversations”. Instead of being continually frustrated with the Congress over the budget impasse, last weekend I decided to write my representative. He is Gregg Harper, a republican from the third district of MS, and one of the sponsors of the Cut, Cap, Balance bill the republicans originally pushed. I wrote:

“I realize most of our district is quite conservative, but I implore you to take a more moderate stance regarding the debt ceiling situation. Regardless of if you believe Cut, Cap, and Balance is the solution, it will not be able to pass. You need to compromise with Democrats, and I hope you do not consider compromise a dirty word the way many of your fellow Republicans do. It will only take a couple of house Republicans to stand up for the good of the country and say enough is enough with political posturing and break with the party line.

I am not saying that you should be the one to compromise simply because I lean more liberal than conservative. I would encourage the same if I were represented by a Democrat. I am saying this because most of the country wants and needs you to compromise, otherwise we quite possibly will be dooming ourselves to another recession. Would it not be an inspiration to the state of MS if you were one of the ones that spoke out for it - that thought of the need of the country before your party's own political aspirations.

We independents are tired of the partisan squabbling. I beseech you to work with the other side before it too late, or if you are unwilling to break on your own, encourage Reps. Boehner and Cantor to compromise on your party's behalf. Don't let a few outspoken individuals on the extremes of the political spectrum dictate the country's future. Work cooperatively, and do it soon.”

He (or one of his staffers) replied:
“Thank you for contacting my office regarding the federal debt limit.
 
Despite the president’s rhetoric, House Republicans are the only lawmakers in Washington who have moved not one, but two bills that offer a balanced approach. From calls and emails to my office, it is clear that the great majority of folks in Mississippi and our district understand defaulting on America’s financial obligations is not a realistic option for our economy.
 
I have supported two plans to prevent a national default, establish hard caps on future spending and ensure spending cuts that exceed a federal debt limit increase.
 
The “Budget Control Act of 2011,” which Congress passed on August 1, 2011, would cut and cap spending by $917 billion over 10 years, exceeding the $900 billion debt limit increase contained in the act. It also creates mechanisms for an additional debt limit increase with additional budget savings of $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years and requires both houses of Congress to vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment this year.
 
This action came after the Senate failed to proceed on the House-passed “Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011.” This bill remains stalled in the Senate along with the House-passed fiscal year 2012 budget resolution that reduces federal spending by $5.8 trillion over the next decade relative to the current-policy baseline and proposes entitlement reforms, which is a historical step for Congress.
 
The House of Representatives did its job this year, passing a budget and two plans to avoid a national default while waiting for the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House to get around to addressing the nation’s debt crisis.
 
With nearly one in ten Mississippians out of work, Washington continues to borrow at unsustainable levels, which is why Congress must act to drive down spending and shrink the size of the federal government. The “Budget Control Act of 2011” is a down payment on that effort.
 
I appreciate you sharing your views with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can ever be of assistance.”

That seems like a pretty canned response. Blah, blah, blah, this is what I did and sponsored even though I knew it wasn’t passible (ignoring that I directly asked him to compromise), but I tried anyway instead of compromising ...it’s their fault, not mine, etc. I wrote back:

“I appreciate your actions and work in resolving the budget impasse.  I will take issue with only one item.  You have said, "The House of Representatives did its job this year, passing a budget and two plans to avoid a national default while waiting for the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House to get around to addressing the nation’s debt crisis."  Let us not pretend that those bills the House passed were nothing but political maneuvers designed simply so that house republicans could respond to calls of inaction from constituents.  Certainly it was recognized that those bills would be non-workable to your partners in the senate or the white house, yet they were written and debated anyway, wasting time that could have been used working on an actual compromise.  Please, do not act as though the House of Representative's stubbornness did not contribute at all to the crisis.  The potential disaster was cause as much by Republican's stubbornness as Democrat's stubbornness.  I assure you the American people recognize that there is enough blame to go around for everyone.  Do not point fingers.  We are intelligent enough to assign blame on our own.  Again though, I thank you for your work in reaching the comprise that was passed.”

Shockingly, I didn’t hear back on this message. I hope they are understanding that we are tired of their power-hungry megalomania. Even though my representative almost assuredly doesn’t care what I think because I’m not a republican, everyone still needs to write your congressmen whenever they are doing something egregiously wrong and tell them what you think or vote them out. Realistically it probably won’t accomplish much, but at least then you earn the right to complain.

Edit (8/8/11): I just heard back from Rep. Harper. I reads as follows:

"Thank you for contacting my office regarding the federal debt limit.

Despite the president’s rhetoric, House Republicans are the only lawmakers in Washington who have moved not one, but two bills that offer a balanced approach. From calls and emails to my office, it is clear that the great majority of folks in Mississippi and our district understand defaulting on America’s financial obligations is not a realistic option for our economy.

I have supported two plans to prevent a national default, establish hard caps on future spending and ensure spending cuts that exceed a federal debt limit increase.

The “Budget Control Act of 2011,” which Congress passed on August 1, 2011, would cut and cap spending by $917 billion over 10 years, exceeding the $900 billion debt limit increase contained in the act. It also creates mechanisms for an additional debt limit increase with additional budget savings of $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years and requires both houses of Congress to vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment this year.

This action came after the Senate failed to proceed on the House-passed “Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011.” This bill remains stalled in the Senate along with the House-passed fiscal year 2012 budget resolution that reduces federal spending by $5.8 trillion over the next decade relative to the current-policy baseline and proposes entitlement reforms, which is a historical step for Congress.

The House of Representatives did its job this year, passing a budget and two plans to avoid a national default while waiting for the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House to get around to addressing the nation’s debt crisis.

With nearly one in ten Mississippians out of work, Washington continues to borrow at unsustainable levels, which is why Congress must act to drive down spending and shrink the size of the federal government. The “Budget Control Act of 2011” is a down payment on that effort.

I appreciate you sharing your views with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can ever be of assistance."

Sound familiar? It should; it is the same automated message that I got the first time. So, even though you can contact your congressman, you only probably get a staffer who decides which pre authored message you get replied with.

I'm going to try one last time. He is my latest e-mail:
"Just checking to see if a real person is behind this
In a previous e-mail, I took issue with a statement you sent me by e-mail regarding the budget crisis. This account replied with the exact same message as before. That somewhat aggravates me. Either there is just a robotic message that you send in reply to everything or there is a staffer behind this with a very poor sense of humor. Either way it is a waste to even bother with this form. If I cannot get in touch with my congressman and get a serious response, I'll just vote him out of office.

Again I say, don't pretend that the House had nothing to do with the impasse that occurred. It insults the intelligence of your constituents."

With today's 5.5% drop in the market again today (mainly because of the political stupidity of the Congress), I am instituting a new political strategy. If there is an incumbent, regardless of whether he was a republican or democrat, I am voting against him. I believe all of us moderates and independents are tired of being ignored. Gregg Harper, I am voting against you. I don't care if my only other option is a monkey. It can't be any worse than the congress we have right now.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Comment on the News

All the “news” is anymore is an opinionated commentary designed to sway a line of thought.   The “news” is not a delivery anymore. It is an ultimatum. Either you believe what the news tells you or you are wrong. And what it amounts to is simply a power grab by a lot of deluded megalomaniacs who have beliefs founded in nothing more than their own opinion which in turn, depending on the commentator, are dubiously based in fact.  It is an institution of stupid people just smart enough to know they can pander to an army of stupider people and wield immense power.  They influence the weak minded, and unfortunately there are a lot more stupid people in the world than there are smart people.  (Whether or not I’m one of those stupid people is up for debate.)

I could site examples of many people that are clueless when it comes to science, society, and politics, but I won’t because of politeness. They are convinced to believe because people on TV tell them that’s what Jesus, Yahweh, Mohammad [insert other favorite deity here] would want them to do or that a “real” American, Conservative, Liberal, Democrat, Republican [insert favorite political ideology here] would do this.  That terrifies me.  Again, I have no problem with a leader influencing when it is based off of facts and evidence, so I have no problem influencing those that listen to the “news” as long as only things that are truthful to best of human understanding are presented.  The problem is a lot of the news is only vaguely true. Rumors are published with little verification, and truths and statistics are misrepresented to assert a particular political ideal. A commentator’s opinion is given as fact. Speculation becomes substantive.

The best solution to the “news” is education.  More logic, math, science, and ethics courses need to be taught in high school. People should understand what a logical fallacy is (the “news” is brimming with examples of logical fallacies [e.g. straw man, appeal to the masses – which is a fallacy almost every single voter poll commits]); they should comprehend basic statistics so they know when a commentator is merely pulling numbers out of a hat. They should grasp basic scientific concepts like evolution. And they should at least have a clear understanding of what they personally believe is right and wrong. All of this is nice, but it will take a long time to change the public’s desire to be told what to think. Thus (as many things appear to be), the time to act and reform education is now. Individually, each of us should devote ourselves to being as educated on a subject that impacts society as we possibly can. Additionally, encourage others to seek out the facts on their own. Don’t just tell other people what the facts are. Educational growth comes from the journey to knowledge, not just the knowledge itself.

Secondly, let us all agree to just stop watching the Becks, O'Reillys, and Olbermanns of the world. The only way they go away is if we tell them to by ignoring them.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Serious conversations (part 26):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The twenty-seventh entry is a comment on my own self motivation and desire for power.

        I am pretty self motivated, but I get much more done when I am working within an organized structure (I believe I have mentioned this before).  And I very much agree that leadership roles force me to do things in a timely and organized manner when I otherwise would not be as efficient.  A couple of examples:  I love playing the piano, and I am highly motivated, but I get so much more done when I have a group that imposes deadlines or I am merely taking lessons with a teacher.  I practice more frequently and more diligently.  I get more done.  In choir, the piano is the lead instrument (a step below director if you will.), so I am looked towards in music direction, and I have to be prepared when I go into practice.  It forces me to be at the top of my game.  Two, I love being in school, and part of that is because I learn and do things so much faster than if I were left to learn of my own accord.  To tie it back to the subject at hand - in a way collecting all the degrees that I have is a way of becoming more powerful in that I can claim more knowledge in more subjects, assuming the truism knowledge is power.  Those structures pressure me to do my best, and leave me feeling much more accomplished than if I were to go off and self-impose those goals.  For me, structure is key in accomplishing all that I do. Without it, I would be the deadbeat that does nothing but watch tv.

        I agree with your (my friend’s) tendency toward social awkwardness argument, and it is an interesting thought that had never occurred to me before.  I also am certainly much more comfortable conversing when I am in a position of authority.  I could site numerous examples in my mind of the truth of this argument.  When I am a peon in an organization, I keep very much to myself, but I am very extroverted when I am in a position of power.  And I become more extroverted as I gain power.  I believe the relationship is directly proportional for me.  A lot of my friendships have occurred because I have introduced myself to someone in an organization because I had a position of authority.  And I must believe that had I not felt extroverted as a result of my position, I would have much fewer acquaintances.

        It is interesting that most of our actions and beliefs are a result of us trying to gain control of situations and circumstances that we would otherwise not be able to influence.  In a way we are slaves to our own need to be in charge.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Serious conversations (part 25):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The twenty-sixth entry is on power and generosity:

Why are people generous? You could make the case that every action is taken in self interest - that Gandhi did what he did to help better his country and by bettering his country, it made his life easier.  Or that Mother Theresa worked to help the world so that the world she lived in would be better.  You could go even farther than that.  Those who give to charity give to make the world they live in better and on top of that giving to charity makes the person feel better about themselves because they’ve been taught by society and religion to believe that giving is a good thing.  So following that line of reasoning, no one is generous or kind. We are all in it for ourselves.  

But is this truly the case? I don’t know. It comes down to, “can people be intrinsically good?” Who establishes what is good but our own moral compass?

I too am drawn toward power (I don’t turn down any sort of officer position in any group I’m a part of.); I don’t exactly know why, but I would speculate that it’s because I have a superiority complex (assuming that term exists).  I really believe I can do a better job at most things than at least a simple majority of other people – in other words I think I’m at least slightly above average.  There must be many people that can do everything that I do better; however, I realize that those people will inevitably usurp my power and take charge because they are better and probably smarter than me. If I am left in a position of power, I must be either doing a decent job or there isn’t anybody around who could do better than me.  So in my mind I’m helping any organization by taking charge.  (During the previous 8 years and to some extent now, I think I could do at least as good, if not many times a better job than the President of our country. [me and everybody else in the country probably])  I realize this makes me smug and a megalomaniac, but why deny what I know to be a character flaw.  Being aware of that fact allows me to better control it.  

Additionally, I get very bored quite easily (no matter how many hours a semester I take nor how many organizations I join, I always find myself bored rather frequently during any given semester.  [Aside:  I believe this to be one of the reasons why I like gardening so much.  I could work day and night for months and never completely finish working in it.  Weeds grow too fast, among other things.]), so I always find ways to give myself lots of things to do,  Generally you have more responsibility (and things to do) when you are in charge of instead of just being a part of some group.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Serious Conversations (Part 24):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The twenty-fifth entry is even more on leadership, power, and influence:

It is wrong to attempt to conceal your opinion inside a presentation of the facts.  An influential leader should clearly delineate what is fact and what is opinion, and no where in any of that should be any false presentation of information.  

There is a problem discerning who is grabbing for power simply to have it and who is seeking authority with the desire to better the world.  Those who have the betterment of society (and a well reasoned thought process) in mind when influencing are deserving of our attention.  Those who do not deserve our ridicule.  The problem is we often figure out after we have put someone into power whether or not they deserve our attention.  

I am of the opinion that our leader should represent the common good, so even if for example, Obama were to lead us away from oil against a majority opinion, he can still be wielding his influence for good because his reasons could be more just than the reasons for those who wish to remain with oil.  Example: a lot of people for continued offshore drilling are those that make money from it.  Again, it’s all about education.  If the random person on the street could see what is obvious to every scientist in the world - how much damage we are doing to the planet - we would have figured out how to rid our economy of oil decades ago. The random person on the street though believes what they are told by people they are influenced by, and those people might be influenced by ulterior motives (power, lobbying interests, money etc.) and don’t have the common good in mind.
But what represents the common good? It certainly isn’t majority opinion all the time. Even democracies can be fallible. A democracy after all is balanced carefully between the appeal to the masses fallacious argument (which is a fallacy every poll on any issue commits) and the appeal to legitimate authority (experts) which is a credible argument. The problem is how many people when presented an issue are an authority on the subject? Not many, so we have to hope that enough people understand enough of the subject such that adhering to a binding vote isn’t committing a fallacious argument. The line each democracy walks is very thin.

I think this is more of a question than we can answer: at what point is the exercise of power and influence too much by a leader of a democracy?  It depends I suppose.  We will know it’s too much when we see it.  The insurance against leaders eventually exerting too much influence and ensuring that any poll or vote is a legitimate referendum is education. By increasing the amount of independent thought, we can prevent one incorrect line of thinking from becoming too prevalent simply by means of being helped by influential leaders. To increase the education of the entire country helps everyone more than the mere sum of everyone’s individual education.  

Friday, January 07, 2011

Ninth Annual Christmas Mass E-mail

Greetings and Salutations,
        Welcome to the Ninth Annual Christmas Mass E-mail.  I hope this finds each and every one of you well.
        As I draw from the year’s experiences to write the Annual Christmas Mass E-mails, they always seem to be longer during the years where my life has been hectic and shorter during the dull years.  I’ll be honest, some years the e-mail ends up being rather short.  However, as I’m sure some of you will attest, this has been a very un-dull year:  leaving places behind, but finding new welcoming locales; losing many good friends, but gaining even more; doors closing, but windows opening.  
        In trying not to be loquacious, I’ll only touch on a couple of themes of my year.  I, along with a lot of my friends, turned a quarter of a century old this year.  Just wow; we’re getting old.  Now that I can rent a car, not much to look forward to next year I suppose.  (I hope some of the [older] adults this goes out go get a chuckle about me lamenting about age.)  Every year seems to go faster than the last (I think I said that last year, but I’m losing my memory in my advanced age).  Perhaps it has something to do with the pace of life demanded of us, but perhaps it has more to do with ourselves -– getting wrapped up in the things that need to get accomplished instead of enjoying the process of life itself.   Regardless of how busy I am, I try to take a few minutes every day to relax, meditate, do yoga (not really), and think.  It keeps life from passing by too quickly.  Being deliberate is certainly something all of us could do more of in our lives.
        I finally graduated college (2 majors and 3 minors no less), only to go straight back to grad school.  What can I say?  I love school.  I know a lot of you have moved on now, and I hope you’ve found a passion for what you are doing that enables you to be excited for every day.  Those of you that are stuck in a rut of sorts (and I don’t just mean a job), I challenge you to escape and never quit searching for what it is that motives and moves you.
        The last overarching theme/lesson I learned this year was one of humility.  (Admittedly, I am pretty awesome, but occasionally I get knocked down a peg or two.)  Not only does life demand of us a faster pace but a more narcissistic viewpoint.  (If you won’t fight for yourself and proclaim your amazingness, who will?)  However, occasionally a perspective is granted that shows you are not near infallible, you are not the most gifted, you are not even particularly special.  It is in those times that I’ve learned to ennoble those around me that /are/ near infallible, most gifted, and particularly special.  I have found that the ones who do continually exemplify those qualities are those that are humble, and the ones that often miss those qualities (including myself) are the ones who are not humble.  And it is generally the humble among us that are the best of us.  So here is to all of you near infallible, gifted, and special people, good job; don’t let us braggarts outshine you.

        And that’s it, although a bit more garrulous than usual.  Once again, congratulations to all of you who have really done something amazing this year, whether it’s finishing a degree, getting married, starting a family, finding a new passion in life or any other accomplishment.  But never be satisfied; always strive for more.  Always question, learn, grow; otherwise, what’s the point?
        Enjoy the season, appreciate the little things, and take the time to give yourself some credit for making it as far as you have.  Reply to let me know how you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished; it’s half the reason I send this every year.

And the bad joke...
There was a magician on a cruise ship, and he was quite good.  He was performing the highlight of his show when the captain’s parrot walked onstage and squawked, “It’s in his sleeve!”
The magician chased the bird away.
The next day the magician was performing his highlight again (in front of a smaller audience) when the parrot walked onstage and declared, ‘’It’s in his pocket!’’
The next day, as he was performing the highlight, he saw the parrot in the crowd, but before the parrot could ruin the magic trick, the boat crashed into a rock and sank.  The magician was lucky enough to find a board on which to float.  Unfortunately, on the other end of the board was the parrot.  They stared at each other for three full days, neither of them saying anything, when suddenly the parrot said, ‘’I give up, what did you do with the ship?’’


Happy holidays and best wishes,
Battalio
http://www.battalio.com/
 
2003-2016 Michael Battalio (michael[at]battalio.com)