Monday, December 29, 2008

The Importance of Introspecting

This should be the greatest of all New Year's resolutions, the one most fundamental to well-being while others are merely supplements.

I. The Base of Happiness

The basic key to happiness is to know it. When one does not know what makes one happy, then there is no way to maintain it or even have a clue to pursue it. You cannot cross a line that has never been drawn.

The majority of unhappiness today is not caused solely by the dreariness of our culture's direction or of the goings-on in our personal lives, but rather, in principle, what we base our happiness on. It is a fatal mistake to base happiness on things such as the number of friendships established or how the political horizon looks, because then that is to place it on something out of one's control and demolish any hope for consistency throughout life. A proper standard of happiness is to be based on something directly within control, and the only thing in absolute control is oneself.

For a proper happiness we must focus entirely on ourselves and how true we are to the values we hold (the achievement of said values is what constitutes happiness). In order to be true to those values and thereby maintain a consistent sense of life, we have to reflect inwardly to make sure those values are consistent, that the satisfaction of one premise does not mean betraying another premise.

This piece contains information on the method I have found most effective in establishing happiness: introspection. With it I have managed to drastically change my view on life and my habits, as well as give myself more motivation and increase my productivity. I will describe (in section four) my own personal method of introspection, but it certainly is not limited to that and one can choose one's own method or variety of execution.

First some terms must be defined for the less technical readers.

II. Introspection and Premises Defined

Introspection is the process of analyzing one's mental content, a specific form of thinking. This definition does not discriminate as to what mental contents are being analyzed, only that they are mental contents.

A premise, in the context of this piece, is an idea that a person has integrated into their subconscious that serves as a standing order that will affect how the subconscious functions later on in the future. Premises greatly influence (but do not determine) what habits of thinking and acting a person will have, as well as what emotions they will experience. What premises a person chooses to accept or reject matters greatly, because it will decide how hard or easy it will be to pursue one's goals.

Through introspection one can examine one's premises and decide properly on a course of action to either enforce or uproot them and integrate new ones, thereby indirectly controlling the subconscious. When you find out what makes something tick, you can control those "ticks". One could use this to eliminate the urge to be lazy or the life's view that life is nothing but boredom, or perhaps to start and maintain good habits.

But why should we introspect? Can we not just let the subconscious alone and let it pick up whatever it may? You would be surprised how many people have already answered yes to this. They may have not answered explicitly, but the results are certainly for all to see.

III. The Importance of Introspection and the Consequences of Not Doing So

Cumbersome to you or not, everyone needs to introspect, or, as the famous saying goes, you need to "check your premises." The subconscious can be viewed as a computer. It programs into itself (automizes) what ideas you consciously choose to accept and then operates according to those principles. If you feed it contradictions, then, both in your emotions and thinking, it will feed back to you contradicting data. To be concrete, you will have conflicting feelings which will hamper your ability to make a decision and be satisfied with what decision you do make.

Take, for example, Jake, who has integrated the "duty" premise that he should visit his brother (whom he dislikes) at least once a week and the value premise that his favorite television show is Monk. Monk comes on during the only one spare hour he has during the entire week (Jake is busy!), but he pledges to visit his brother for one hour also (his visits are not included in his normal schedule). Now he has a conflict between two premises, a “duty” and a value. If he chooses to visit his brother, then he will increasingly hate his visits for they deprive him of a value. If he chooses to watch television, then he will feel guilty for not fulfilling his duty and will be less able to enjoy the show. With this contradiction heeding attention to one premise necessarily means betraying another.

If Jake chooses not to identify and then resolve the conflict through introspection, then he will always experience those emotions and achieve less happiness. If he were ever to engage in introspection, he would have to make explicit *why* he thinks such an obligation to his brother exists. (Rationally he should give up his visits, as they do not contribute any value to his life and the duty is arbitrary.)

So then the reason we need to introspect is to make sure that our premises are consistent, otherwise we will not be able to act, think, or feel consistently. If you do not introspect then contradictions will simply pile up on one another and become harder to alter. It is during youth that it is the easiest time to do such work, as then there is not too many deeply rooted, if any at all, premises.

Although, surprisingly, continuous introspection becomes more crucial after one assumes the responsibility of thinking. This is because introspecting with the purpose of checking or altering your premises , after a while, means that you have accepted the premise that analyzing oneself is a good thing and to refrain from it is bad. If one chooses to ignore one’s faults and vices after a thinking session, then the subconscious will send the thought and emotion of deserved guilt. This will then become a sore which will resend that guilt-inducing response whenever stimulated, whether it be conversation, a poor action, or the likes. Over time if there is continuous evasion then there will be a sore on just about every critical part of the subconscious. Such a person as that would be unbearable in almost all human associations (to both parties), because there would be little to no ways to avoid upsetting them. So, if you choose to introspect, keep it up despite what emotional uneasiness you may feel. With practice it will form into an action you are indifferent to and feel uneasy refraining from.

Also, aside from keeping the subconscious consistent, introspection can open one up to consistent happiness. Being subconsciously consistent *does not* mean one is or can be happy. Happiness is achieved by pursuing and gaining values, which requires that you know what those values are and how you should pursue them. Of course, I will not forget, before one can ask “What makes me happy?” one must ask “How do I introspect?”

IV. Methods of Introspecting

I am sure that with some thinking you can find what personal method you would like to use, but I am going to stick to explaining two methods only: one method everyone should use regardless of their tastes and the method that works for me.

The first method consists in merely examining yourself *immediately* after you have a mood swing, whether it is good or bad. This way you will remember the stimulus that set it off or what action you took and it will be the easiest time to do it. To illustrate with an absurd example:

Let us say that Jane is afraid of teddy bears, but since she keeps herself so busy during the day it never occurs to her to actually examine why. Really, she would never think of it again if she never saw another teddy bear again (which would make the second method we will discuss absolutely useless. This is why this method must be accepted: some premises will only remain within one's mind clearly during a mood swing.).

But, terribly, she walks by a toy store that is advertising a new line of Rumpelstilskin bears. At that window she feels anxiety and a desire to escape. Even during such emotional distress this would be one of the best times to examine herself and ask “Why am I frightened of teddy bears?”

Checking her memories while walking, she suddenly remembers that her mean Uncle Tom used to whap her over the head with her stuff animals, particularly teddy bears. “I am afraid,” she explicitly and consciously thinks to herself, “of teddy bears because I associate them with the memory of my mean uncle.”

Jane has completed two tasks: she has identified a premise (that she is frightened of teddy bears) and why she is so (abuse from her uncle). Now she needs to figure out what she should do about that knowledge. “In the future,” she thinks, “when I am confronted by my fear I will tell myself in my mind ‘it is just an inanimate object. I fear it merely because of a dead relative.’” In this case, she only has to actively recite the cause of her fear every time she is confronted by it. Sooner or later (and this is an important point: how long it takes to alter a premise greatly depends on how long one has held it), this premise will be uprooted because she will subconsciously understand there is nothing to fear. But if she evaded the knowledge of this premise, she would have to deal with guilt too.

When you have a mood swing, ask yourself these three questions: 1.) what is the premise causing this emotion, 2.) why does this premise exist, and 3.) what should I do about it. Never let your emotions overwhelm you into not thinking, lest you become a wreck of a human being later on who cannot desire anything but a wish to ignore reality exists.

The second method is writing in a diary/introspection journal, which is my personal method. In fact, this is one of the most effective methods. This is because of the nature of the involvement of the subconscious during the writing process (*before* editing). Writing a first draft consciously is literally impossible because then one would never get done, as one would have to actively search for deliberate about each and every single word. Everyone must write according to what knowledge their subconscious has made automatic. It is very appropriate to say everyone writes their rough drafts according to their feelings (though further drafts or editing is not needed in a personal journal). Identifying premises and their causes become much easier when letting the subconscious speak for itself. Upon rereading what you have written you can see whether you are telling the truth or rationalizing.

Although the only requirement of this method may slow some down at the beginning: writing competence. Such skill can be developed with continued practice, but it will be discouraging to the sloppy at first. It is not required that one be *good* at writing per say, only that one write grammatically. Writing and thinking are connected. The quality of your thinking shows up when you write, so if you think in vague approximations then you are going to write vague approximations, so in the area of introspection approximates are a cardinal sin, as they defeat the purpose. To know something is to know it precisely, not fuzzily.

I choose this method because not only do I think and understand better when thoughts are put into written words, but it also trains my writing ability as well (I go so far as to fill a set number of pages everyday). However, there are other methods to choose from, such as audio diary. But since these two methods suffice for me I choose not to entertain the idea of anything else.
To be clear, concerning both methods, it is of absolute importance that one tell the truth when one introspects or at least recognize when one is rationalizing. Rationalizing is when one uses an arbitrary or distorted standard of logic in order to make seem logical something that is obviously illogical or irrational.

Lying to oneself or purposely distorting one's perception is not hazardous to one's habit of thinking, but it negates entirely the purpose of introspecting to begin with. Such deceptions do not give a sense of comfort by satisfying a subjective desire, but rather they replace one bad premise with another and resolve no contradictions, making for a waste of time. Using the methods above make sure to make explicit whenever one should happen to, or be tempted to, distort thinking.

V. Results

To sum up my own experience, I have managed to change myself drastically, both in how I act and think. For a brief example (I give permission for you to ask for a deeper explanation), in the past I had difficulty getting anything done and was not able to focus on my personal studies at all, but after a bit of writing my productivity keeps increasing as well as becoming more efficient, and studying is such a value to me that I feel unproductive and brain-starved a single day without it. But it has taken me tons of thinking and over ninety journal entries to get myself up to this point. So most importantly, remember that it takes a long time to uproot or alter your premises, for premises unchecked can be held for years and take years to dispose of. Have patience. Take a look at overweight people who are just starting out at the gym. They may set ambitious goals for them to achieve, such as running five miles every other day, but right when they first start out they will not be able to maintain pace within half of the track’s length. The difficulty is always at the start of things.

In the long run the person who introspects will feel much more in control of their life and will be more easily able to control themselves, unlike their opposites. The person who does not introspect will feel like life is out of control for him, and that their feelings and actions are determined by outside forces. In short, they will have chosen to build and maintain their own personal hell.

Either way, you have a choice and make a choice in either regard. Whatever choice you make, you get what you deserve in the end. You just ought to make sure that what you deserve is what you want.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Consequences of Not Facing Consequences

It is astounding how one can see something coming miles away and yet people still act stupefied when it comes and have no clue as to its obvious cause. Specifically, it is amazing how some people can be confused as to why every other business seems to be opting for a bailout now that the financial industry has (somewhat) secured one and another one for the auto industry is in the works.

It is because the government has made promises it cannot keep that people are acting irrationally and demanding that they not suffer for it. The government has been making the promise that people will not have to face the consequences of acting irrationally, and with the dangers seemingly removed people feel free to make any type of decision regardless of any consideration, with the hope that the government will have a net ready.

Anyone can see what would result if a parent either did not act on their threats or gave rewards despite disobedience. If a parent threatens to take away dessert if their child does not eat all of their dinner but gives it to them anyways, then the child will cease to believe in the validity of the threat and will actively ignore its presence. The continued practice of this will make the parent's authority dwindle down to nothing.

Our government has bred economic children. Because the government has offered up assistance to the banks, everyone else simply cannot see why they should have to face failure while other people do not. Or, in the words of children, "if he gets a bailout then I get a bailout too!" Sure, the assistance was given under the notion that we would be better off economically, that nobody would be able to get a loan otherwise, but that is not true. If the banks had failed then it would be the case that it would be difficult to borrow millions of dollars, not impossible to get a loan altogether, and the economy would be able to recover from the liquidation of the banks' assets. An important rule to remember is that that wealth creation is what is essential to the health of an economy, not the number of people employed. (Though the rate of wealth production and rate of employment cannot be separated. The greater the wealth, the greater the possibility for wealth creation, which also means a higher demand for employment for those productive endeavors. I am just stating that wealth has primacy over employment and production primacy over wealth.)

In fact, the worst drawback of avoiding consequences is that, ironically, it makes the consequences even worse or come in a different form. Reality allows for no one to escape their consequences, good or bad (“consequences” here is a synonym of "result"); "there is no free lunch." The bailouts, if fully implemented, will achieve the depression it was trying to avoid. When the bailout was approved there was no mention of any new tax or of a redirection of funding, so where are they going to get all this money? By printing it. This makes things worse because then our money will lose even more of its value and will have exceeded economic growth, meaning higher prices will be required to make any sort of "true" profit.

If the government had let the banks fail to begin with the benefit would have been twofold: 1.) the economy would be recovering right now and 2.) a message would be sent to every major business in the economy that everyone must strive to make rational decisions, for their failures are theirs to face.

It is not only harmful economically that the government makes such promises, but it has also destroyed lives. This is why Hurricane Katrina was so devastating.

The government promised that if anyone should happen to decide to live in such disaster prone areas. such as New Orleans, they would be insured against the damages of the storms. Thousands and thousands of people then move into such areas thinking "I am only but a drop in the government's budget", and these drops fill cities. A storm hits, and that's when the reality of the government's impotence comes to surface.

In the case of Hurricane Katrina, the government was inadequate to be able to respond in short amount of time, and was unable to provide aid or compensation to so massive a number of people. Even though people realize that the government was incompetent, they do not realize that this will always be the case (since such aid is outside the nature and proper function of government) and have called for expansions of government aid.

The absence of the government would have stopped any problem from forming in the first place: people would see that help is all but nonexistent, for insurance rates in that area are either sky-high or not available, their lives would be on the line every hurricane season, and, as a result, fewer people will choose to live there.

Even if the government refuses to stop making such false promises, the people can save themselves by understanding that consequences can never be avoided and that no one can collect the burden.

The principle to remember is: you can either drop a stone on your foot today, a brick on your hand tomorrow, or a cinder block on your head next week. The alternatives are unavoidable, but you are able to choose and act to avoid those situations in the future.

America is in for a rough time. With the bailouts we will have to face many businesses calling for the same, with many politicians hoping to try and please their calls due to “economic necessity”, and we will have to face the consequences of not facing consequences.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An Insufficient Diet

In a land not very far away, in a time just minutes ago, there was a village called Amerika. It was a place of about one thousand people, all fed by a single farmer, Paul. This farmer was the only man on his workforce; he planted all the vegetables, slaughtered all the pigs and chickens, built all farming structures, and maintained all his equipment. In fact, he didn't even use any power tools; he had nothing but manual tools.

But the people of the village did not think highly, if they thought at all, about farmer Paul. "He's selfish," they complained. "Our town is barely living by a thread and he has the audacity to keep to himself half of every harvest."

These complaints went on for so long that eventually they reached all the way up to court. People started filing cases like mad, which were dismissed equally mad. All stated the damaged done by farmer Paul was that he kept into his stomach what should have been put in theirs.

For weeks and weeks the judges kept refusing to consider these lawsuits. That is, until the opinion section of the newspaper started becoming filled with calls for the judges to be evicted from their seats. If popular opinion kept on going the way it was, then these judges would be voted out next term. Out of fear for their job, they allowed one case through, which was titled Paul versus the People.

The prosecutor accused Paul of causing harm to the public by withholding what they needed, but Paul defended himself by saying he needed the food just as equally. "The need of one man!" shouted the prosecutor. "The need of one man is equivalent to the need of one thousand? He is so needy that he needs to eat the amount of food that could feed hundreds? Is this not the epitome of selfishness and greed? We're suffering and he's profiting! Profiting on our empty stomachs!" The crowd applauded approvingly; Paul offered nothing.

Influenced by the anger in the crowd, the judge ruled against farmer Paul and ordered that he offer up to the food market three-quarters of his harvest. The crowd celebrated, confidently hopeful that health was on the way; Paul offered nothing.

And for a while people were getting fatter. But soon enough Paul was to find his way around the ruling.

"Local Gilroy's Out of Seeds" headlines read. "Discontent with the ruling that he take only his fair share of the harvest, farmer Paul thundered over to Gilroy's and promptly purchased all the vegetable and fruit seeds. First he stole from out stomachs and now he must steal our backyard gardens? What is the depth of cruelty in a man who would punish us for rightfully taking our sustenance?"

A ruling was quickly made within hours of the judges becoming aware of Paul's doings. It was from then on that it was illegal for Paul to purchase any food at the market, whether it be potential (e.g. seeds) or actual. He was to stick only to what he produced, and he was only to take his fair share.

Over time then the quality of Paul's work declined greatly. "Malnutrition" he reasoned in his newsletters. People wrote him replies of calling him a liar, for after all how could one man starve when he had food that could satisfy two hundred and fifty people? Paul offered nothing in return.

Eventually the village went right back to its prior poor state of health, before the first ruling was made. People were rolling their eyes and saying they didn't need such a terrible farmer as Paul. Newspapers were stating that Paul was incompetent. The opinion section filled with calls for the nationalization of the farm.

The third ruling came weeks later. The government and its employees were to take over all the farming and Paul was to live on welfare and have his meals delivered to him, to assure no greedy appetites should come about.

There was no time for a victory. Less than two weeks later, Paul, the fifty foot tall farmer, died and killed fifty people with the coming-down of his corpse

The town learned its lesson, but a lesson they would never have time to apply. Due to the incompetent of the government workers, everyone else died too.


This is the metaphor that comes to my mind whenever I read unfavorable opinions against Big Oil, about how they're being greedy and taking more than their fair share of the profits. The people that rallied against the giant and the people who rally against Big Oil are both guilty of the same logical fallacy: context dropping. It is always a must that one keep in mind the *entire context* of relevant information before drawing a conclusion, otherwise the chance of falsity increases limitlessly.

You can see what the faulty conclusions of the villagers brought them. They thought of most everything except the requirements of survival for a man who is fifty feet tall, and so thus they forced him into an insufficient diet, ending up killing what they refused to believe was the lifeblood of their village.

We face the same danger today. People are condemning oil companies for the same reasons and calling for the same actions: that their profits be "rightfully" redistributed to the public and that the government nationalize the industry.

But is anyone asking what the requirements of survival is for the oil companies, or how the economy works to begin with? According to the Wall Street Journal, the profits of the oil companies average to about 9% to 11%. That means that the other 91% to 89% is pure expense, money they had to pay to stay in business (employees' paychecks, equipment, etc.). If their profits are only average, then what are people angry about? Some computer companies make over *20%* profit, a much larger margin.

Here we have our context dropping. People are looking at the oil companies' profits listed as a whole number, instead of a percentage, and then quickly concluding "That's way too many digits! Surely they don't need that much do they?"

So then they go on to support actions to lower gas prices that are actually the cause of high prices to begin with. Taxes to punish their greed? They already have high taxes, so higher taxes mean....higher prices! Prohibit drilling? As it stands now, their future oil supply is already uncertain. This is because there is great inconsistency and contradictions in the realm of politics, such as Bush lifting the ban on offshore drilling while Obama seeks to reinforce it. Making the future oil supply even more uncertain means...higher prices!

Worst yet, some people say we should abandon the oil companies and opt for alternative sources of power. As the villagers doubted the giant, people doubt that oil is the lifeblood of our nation, that it can be replaced and we'll be fine. All this despite the fact that billions have been wasted on research with little results and that people are not purchasing or switching (large scale) to what environmentally-friendly technology is available. This should all send the signal that "green" power is just not viable. Not to say that it never will be, only that a mass scale switch right now would deal a near fatal blow to the economy. The rule here is that as technology and knowledge advances and changes, so do the requirements of life. They both progress in symmetry.

So, next time, make sure you have *all* the relevant date before drawing a conclusion. Some lessons of reality cannot be learned by experience, as it may be a fatal lesson. Learn beforehand. If Big Oil is brought down, then their coming-down will surely be just as fatal to us as it was to the villagers.