Making Bangladesh Suffer

I'll take a break from philosophy today and focus on the Obama Administration's recent decision to cut "trade benefits" (whatever those are) to Bangladesh. Reuters called the decision "mostly symbolic," but I wonder how symbolic Bangladeshi factory workers will feel that it is when their work decreases and they start to make less money.

Well, there are many false and idiotic reasons to restrict trade. I was curious which one Obama would decide to cite. He said, according to Reuters, "I have determined that it is appropriate to suspend Bangladesh ... because it is not taking steps to afford internationally recognized worker rights to workers in the country."

People who subscribe to this viewpoint believe that two countries must not trade with each other unless the poorer country pays its workers "decent" wages under "decent" conditions, and so on. The question is, what is "decent?" In Italy, for example, workers earn lower wages than in the United States, but are they "decent" wages? At $14,000 per year, an Italian garment worker is at or below the US poverty line. Shall we eliminate trade benefits to Italy? And if not, what is the appropriate line to draw?

This argument does not end at the Bangladeshi or Italian borders. Factory workers in Kansas, after all, make lower wages than factory workers in New Jersey. If Obama cared about the wages and working conditions of factory workers, then he should also cut all trade benefits between Kansas and New Jersey unless and until factories in Kansas set their working conditions exactly in line with those in New Jersey. Does anyone actually believe reducing trade between US states would equalize wages and working conditions between them? Does anyone believe that we can make Mississippi a more wealthy state by doing less business with them?

Garments are produced in Bangladesh precisely because wages are lower there. If wages increase, there is no longer any reason for an international garment company to manufacture garments in Bangladesh at all; it would be cheaper to do it at home. It is not merely the cost of wages that goes into factory work, but also the shipping costs, the political costs (money paid to foreign governments to "grease the wheels" enough to clear the regulatory hurdles), the higher taxes paid to the foreign countries, and so on. Increase the total cost of business, and the dynamic changes for the company. They will simply close the factory doors and do their business elsewhere.

Considering the reality of the situation, which do you think is better for Bangladesh: Factories in which there may be questionable working conditions, or no factories at all?


Lives That Could Have Been

Spend any time in downtown Denver during the summer, and you are sure to notice two important attributes of the city. The first is the large number of street kids. The second is the pianos.

The pianos were clearly some bureaucrat's idea of a downtown beautification project. They are old, upright pianos, brightly colored, positioned just far enough away from each other than the sound coming from one is inaudible to the person playing the next. There are signs urging the public to sit down and play.

In the early evening, during happy hour, there are exactly the kinds of people you might expect: Old, bearded has-beens who play "Piano Man," young hipsters trying to impress their dates with an introductory level knowledge of some recognizable Mozart themes, random people sheepishly poking at the keys to test whether or not the pianos are part of some marketing campaign, surprised that the pianos do, in fact work.

Later on, though, the street kids come out of their all-day drug binges, with their bellies full, thanks to the spoils of a full day's begging. They crowd around the pianos in groups of four or five, and one of them sits down to entertain the rest. And, I'm telling you, these kids are quite good.

I don't mean that they are "good, for being street kids." I mean they are legitimately good. One is an excellent R&B vocalist who sings what seems to be original compositions; love songs, mostly, the stuff of youth and R&B. Another plays what sounds like pop songs, but there is something uniquely "off" about the harmonic content - it doesn't sound bad, it sounds innovative. He taps his foot, and I can't help but notice his badly worn shoes. A great many of them play songs I've never heard before, greatly embellished with impressive improvisations.

All that is to say, they are great musicians. Any of them could draw a crowd, given a paid venue in which to play.

But they are street kids. Their lives consist mostly of begging and doing drugs. They form friendships and they treat each other well. They are nice enough. But they are street kids, without homes, without educations, without jobs, without any ambition. Their lives revolve around dealing, buying, eating at McDonald's, and... playing impressive music on free pianos.

Then the logician in me kicks in. It wonders how the same person who can be moved to learn how to play the piano, and play it well, can fully lack dedication in every other aspect of his or her life. Learning to play the piano well takes literal years of dedication, and normally that kind of dedication is associated with more positive life outcomes than homelessness and drug addiction.

Who are these kids? How did they get here? Where will they end up when they get older? How many of life's paths were altered by their decisions to surrender to life on the street? What will happen to these lives that could have been?

The Gnome Hypothesis

Yesterday, while arguing on the internet, I invented a new concept, which I have added to the Lexicon. I call it The Gnome Hypothesis. The gist of it runs something like this:

Suppose there is a nearby parallel universe inhabited by gnomes. If this is true, then they may live in a castle or a cave. Caves are more common than castles, so caves are the more likely scenario. If they do live in a cave, then they likely use a lot of torches and lanterns. Therefore, I assert that the gnomes who inhabit a parallel universe live in a cave and use a lot of torches and lanterns.

The appeal of the Gnome Hypothesis is that, like a real, scientific hypothesis, there is deductive logic involved. Unlike a real, scientific hypothesis, though, the Gnome Hypothesis is entirely dependent on the acceptance of a series of unknown assumptions.

Thus, I define the Gnome Hypothesis as follows: It is any chain of logic that is valid, but derived from imaginary assumptions. There are two subcategories of the Gnome Hypothesis.

Category "A" Gnome Hypotheses
A true, classic Gnome Hypothesis is one I'll call "Category A." In this version of it, the assumptions underlying the reasoning are pure conjecture in the same sense that a parallel universe inhabited by gnomes is pure conjecture. We have no underlying reason to believe that this is the case. We are simply imagining it.

While this sounds like something I am judging harshly, it need not be. I would suggest that the majority of cutting edge theoretical physics qualifies - initially, anyway - as a Gnome Hypothesis. A physicist will start by assuming a set of conditions that are mostly pure fantasy, and attempt to derive physical knowledge from those assumptions. For example, physicists have done great work by imagining what one would see if one were positioned at the event horizon of a black hole. Einstein himself theorized about what one would see if one were aboard a train travelling at the speed of light. Real, genuine advances in theoretical physics have unfolded this way. So Gnome Hypotheses are not all bad.

There is a crucial aspect of Gnome Hypotheses that are good, though. Physicists, having derived a set of conclusions from their hypotheses, next test these conclusions either in a laboratory, when possible, to determine their truth. If laboratory tests are not possible, as in the case of black holes, etc., then the conclusions are exposed to previously proven theoretical hypotheses to see whether the new ones conform to our existing body of knowledge. In either case, there is a test, and the truth is determined.

Popular Gnome Hypotheses, however, are never tested. Let's look at an example.

When I was a teenager, I used to park one of the family cars in front of the house. One day, though, I happened to park it beside the house rather than in front of it. My mother woke up, looked out her window (which faces the front of the house), and became worried that the car had been stolen. I quickly assured her that I had merely parked it in a different location, and all was right within a few tense minutes.

So, in this case my mother's belief that (a) she cannot see the car; (b) if the car were stolen, she would not be able to see it; (c) therefore, someone stole the car is an example of a Category A Gnome Hypothesis. It is a chain of logic based largely on pure speculation.

Category "B" Gnome Hypotheses
Now, we need to differentiate this case from the case of a person who engages in a valid chain of logic based on a set of assumptions that may or may not be true. That is, the assumptions are open to further investigation, but the logic proceeds with itself anyway.

It is easy to confuse a Category B Gnome Hypothesis with logic constructed for the explicit purpose of testing the validity of the assumptions. But in order to do that, additional assumptions are brought in to be reconciled with the assumptions of interest. For example, Peter might claim that gravity does not exist, and Paul would say, "Let us assume that there is no gravity; and yet, when you jump, you return to Earth. It must be true that some force is pulling you back down to Earth; thus what we observe is consistent with the view that the Law of Gravity exists."

A real Category B Hypothesis involves a claim that is both knowable and unknown. For example, Peter may state, "I believe the man walking over there is an Englishman." Paul would be committing a Category B Gnome Hypothesis if his response to Peter were along the lines of: "Let us assume that the man is an Englishman; if so, then he would speak English. But if I walk up to him and he speaks Russian to me, then he is a very peculiar Englishman indeed! It must be a puzzle, then."

In this case, what Paul says is convincingly probable, since, after all, an Englishman would be more likely to begin a conversation in English than in Russian. But there is no particular reason to venture a hypothesis such as this, since Peter and Paul may as well ask the man whether or not he is an Englishman. Or at least strike up a conversation with him to see whether they can otherwise infer that he is an Englishman.

In other words, instead of collecting data, Paul conjures up a story about what might be the case. Whether the observed man is English is a determinable fact. Paul may feel uncomfortable approaching the man, but in absence of asking him outright, all further conjecture is little more than a thought experiment. Perhaps it is entertaining as conversation, but it does not reveal much truth.

Well, I am sure you will read more from me about the Gnome Hypothesis in the future. For now, I thought I would merely define it, illustrate it briefly, and file it away for future reference.

Fuzzy Logic Produces Fuzzy Thoughts

Good reasoning is clear, concise, and consistent. Mediocre reasoning wants for clarity, brevity, consistence, or some combination thereof. Poor reasoning wants for all three.

Having a clear, concise, and consistent point of view is important because, in its absence, all you really have is a poorly reasoned justification for feeling a particular way. The only difference between this and the way a child feels is the quantity of words used to explain it.

The difference between a philosopher and an average joe is the fact that the philosopher actually takes his reasoning seriously. At a certain point, we must all start to take our own thoughts seriously, or content ourselves with essential vapidity.

Paradoxes Are Shallow
You  may have heard the old question, "Is god so powerful that he can create a boulder so heavy that he himself cannot lift it?" It seems like a ridiculous question, but at the heart of it is the notion of what it means to be omnipotent. The question is really more about omnipotence than it is about god. If god has limits either in terms of what he can create or what he can lift, then (by definition) he is not omnipotent.

Really, that question is a logical paradox. The confusion comes from conceptual ambiguity. Being omnipotent means being capable of anything. The paradox arises when you define any act to be impossible. It might be the creation of a stone too heavy to lift, or it might be a pancake too large too eat, or it might be a universe too vast to be understood. At any rate, the rhetorical trick employed here amounts to the same thing: Is god powerful enough to do that which is by definition impossible. As I have written before, paradoxes always come down to either linguistic ambiguity or outright contradiction.

But if you are simply unaware of the fact that a paradox is really just a contradiction in terms, then you will find yourself doing as Aristotle wrote: "Men wish to prove paradoxes that they me be counted clever[.]" That is to say, there are a great many entertaining blog posts to be written about apparent contradictions, which are little more than contradictions in terms. An omnipotent god that cannot lift a stone is exactly as meaningful as a pair of gloves that are meant to be worn by a man with no arms. There is no profundity to be had. It is a bad parlor trick, consisting only of providing a definition that contradicts itself and then decorating it with invalid logic that merely appears valid to those inattentive enough to identify the contradiction.

Shotgun Theories Are Shallow
I have written before about shotgun theories. This is another shallow parlor trick. The way it works is that one posits a theory with sufficient ambiguity to feel truthful at first glance. Upon greater scrutiny, however, the statement is revealed to be false.

A common shotgun theory I can cite for example is Kahlil Gibran's famous quote: "It is when you give of yourself that you truly give." Superficially, everyone is ready to agree with this statement immediately. But upon close scrutiny, how is one to know when one is giving "of oneself"? The phrase is too ambiguous to take seriously.

Similarly, the coward "John Doe" offers a shotgun theory against immigration: immigrants who do not pay taxes are like roommates who do not pay the rent. There are many problems with this hypothesis, but the main one is that if John Doe pays his takes while Pablo Inmigrante does not, only Pablo faces extradition; John will be just fine. Whereas, when I pay my share of the rent and my roommate does not pay his share, we both get evicted. Of course, this is only one of many ways in which immigration is nothing like being someone's roommate. I tried to make this point to John Doe, but he would rather cling to his shotgun theory than take his own propositions seriously enough that he subject them to heavy scrutiny. Of course, I would expect nothing less of a man who cannot even sign his own name to his own opinions. One can only expect so much of a person who is reluctant to go public with his own beliefs.

Rhetorical questions are a subtler form of shotgun theory. Rather than saying "It is when you give of yourself that you truly give," I can express the same sentiment in the form of a question. "Isn't it truly giving when you give of yourself?" The expression is slightly different, but the sentiment is the same.

Thus, if John Doe is spouting shotgun theories by declaring that immigrants are roommates who don't pay the rent, then Sonic Charmer's spin on this same notion is to ask rhetorically (although he won't admit that it's a rhetorical question because he wants to argue about it), "How can this be? Why would it be? [...] Do you believe it?" Sure, it's an invitation to answer his questions, but his opinion is firmly couched in his positing the questions in the first place.

Of course, the answer to Sonic Charmer's questions are obvious. On the one hand, we can merely look to the facts to determine whether illegal immigrants cost more than they contribute. For all his criticism of CBO numbers, he has not produced a single speck of evidence for the notion that illegal immigrants cost us all money. Instead, he asks rhetorical questions.

But on the other hand, the answer might simply be that illegal immigrants are more interested in an honest day's work than in receiving social services. That would make them more or less the same as any member of the "working poor." This explanation is so obvious that the mind fairly reels as to why Sonic Charmer didn't consider it himself. Really, this is not a rhetorical question: Why didn't Sonic Charmer think of this explanation himself? I do not not want to believe that it is racism, but what are the other possibilities?

At any rate, whether we are talking about shotgun theories expressed through rhetorical questions or by actual declarations, the result is the same: Things sound much more appealing when they are vague. It's difficult to prove a logical proposition with real intellectual rigor, but the alternative is laziness. That simply won't do.

Well, it is simply very difficult to prove a logical proposition conclusively. In the field of philosophy, very few people managed to prove any important ideas between the time of Aristotle and the time of Foucault. The few who did were nothing short of geniuses. Logic requires a rigor that few can live up to. I myself might be incapable of it. To suggest that some people have fallen far short is not to suggest that I myself am capable of more.

But philosophy is a pursuit of truth, and falsehood cannot be tolerated, even among those who are not completely capable of proving the truth conclusively themselves. Similarly, we are all required to adhere to Newton's Laws regardless of whether or not we can prove them. Believing only what is true is a much lower standard than proving a totally new truth.

We do not sidestep this issue by ignoring the rigor demanded of us when we stake a bold position. Although it is easier to ignore the difficult steps in the process, it does not get us off the hook. We cannot simply proffer contradictory definitions, shotgun theories, or rhetorical questions as a substitute for intellectual rigor. It might feel good to blow off some steam, but it doesn't put you on the right side of an issue.

In short, fuzzy logic produces fuzzy thoughts. When people call those thoughts into question, they are doing so because those thoughts are fuzzy, not because they are irksome people. At the end of the day, truth is more important than expedience.


The Acoustic Scale

I haven't found very much information about this beautiful scale, so I thought I would take some time to blog about it, share what little I have discovered, and discuss some applications as far as I've been able to discover them.

What Is The Acoustic Scale?
I discovered the Acoustic Scale quite by accident. I was trying to write a riff for a new song. I tried to play a melody that I first thought was in Lydian Mode (when I was hearing it in my head), but the problem was one of the notes was wrong. So I moved that note down a half-step, figuring that I was just playing Lydian Mode incorrectly. Bingo - there was my melody, and it sounded great.

...Except when I wrote down the notes, I realized that the "wrong" note that now sounded "right" was outside of Lydian Mode. What I had on my hands was a melody that featured a sharp 4th (the defining feature of Lydian Mode), but it also had a flat 7th (the defining feature of Mixolydian Mode). But I knew of no mode that contained both.

A search for common scales revealed that my melody was utilizing something called "The Acoustic Scale," which I had never heard of until yesterday. This scale is also known as "Lydian Dominant" (#4 = Lydian, b7 = Dominant), and "the Bartok Scale."

What It Sounds Like
You don't really get a good sense of this scale by playing it through. It has a subtle charm to it (initially). Because it is basically a half-Lydian and half-Mixolydian cross-breed, I think the human brain has a tendency to interpret the first half of the scale as being typical Lydian, and the second half as typical Mixolydian. I think this happens psychoacoustically, so quickly that it becomes difficult to become aware of the Acoustic Scale as its own distinct tonality.

One starts to understand it when one starts to build harmonic content atop it, rather than simply expressing it modally. For a good sense of what this sounds like, start by listening to the man who first mastered it:

Once you've digested the appetizer, try the main course.

Discussion And Application
The Acoustic Scale has a really pleasant sound to it that begs for exploration. The challenge is figuring out how to build beautiful harmonic content from it. Jazz gets away with it because it only ever uses it as a passing thing. Bartok got away with it because he was specifically defying convention.

Perhaps the core challenge to utilizing the Acoustic Scale pertains to what I said in the previous section. It seems as though the brain wants to split the scale into two. We are so familiar with Lydian and Mixolydian phrases that, for any Lydian Dominant melody, the brain freaks out a little bit. If you can keep your mind on task, though, you can learn to appreciate its inherent charms.

There are some really interesting turns of phrase you can employ. My ear automatically gravitated to the v --> v/sus2 --> II transition. This sounds a little bit like IV-iv-I with a twist. A newcomer to the mode will want to gravitate toward the v and the vi along with the I and the II, but the problem with that is that you run into a problem of variety. You can come up with a good melody that spans the I and the II; you can come up with a good melody that spans the v and the vi... but when you put all 4 chords together, there only seem to be a few that "work."

The VII+ is a nice addition, but in the context of guitar music, the tendency to play it as a 1/5+ interval screws with the tonality of the overall composition.

But, in a rock context at least, it's common to waver back and forth between two key signatures. If you lean heavily on the harmonic minor scale of the v then you get some interesting changes. Lean on it too much, and you get sucked into that tonality, but throwing in the occasional G major when you're playing in E makes for some good times.

I have yet to finish the job of exploring this mode, but I already love the breath of fresh air it brings to the composition process. I highly recommend exploring this beautiful scale and finding your own approach to it. I hope to revisit this topic again soon, with an audio example of my own.


Stationary Waves And Immigration

This morning Bryan Caplan links to a thirteen-year-old article by Marginal Revolution's Alex Tabarrok that briefly justifies open immigration policy using various systems of normative ethics. Caplan is correct; the Tabarrok article is excellent.

The article is of particular interest to Stationary Waves readers because, not only has poor Sonic Charmer been haplessly railing against open borders lately (here, here, and here), but also because I have been thinking about - and writing about - normative ethics a lot this week. The strength of Tabarrok's article is that he assesses the merits of immigration according to nearly ever kind of objection that could raised, at least every objection that is rooted in a formal theory of normative ethics. Those who object, then, face the responsibility of explaining why immigration is not ethical, in the language of normative ethics. It is a powerful rhetorical tool, and I doubt Sonic Charmer and those who share his opinions would ever undertake the task. (Lending credence to this is the fact that Sonic Charmer's written response this morning favors snark over substance.)

But, rather than discuss Tabarrok's points, I thought I would give immigration the Stationary Waves treatment.

Immigration And The Collectivist-Individualist Divide
One way of viewing the immigration issue is as a conflict between individualism and collectivism.

The immigrant, by the very act of leaving his community at home for a chance at a better life, is engaged in an individualist - and therefore existential - pursuit. The community he joins, however, consists of people having two different attitudes.

Those who welcome the immigrant primarily do so for moral reasons, in that they feel it would be unjust to make him suffer simply because came from another place. Even if they don't find moral arguments for immigration compelling, they nonetheless feel that treating someone poorly is immoral if their only real justification is xenophobia.

Those who reject the immigrant primarily do so for existential reasons. Properly understood, their arguments are not about whether or not open immigration policy is "moral." Instead, their concern is how an influx of immigrants will affect their lives. Their strongest objection is wholly existential: What, they ask, is the meaning of a border, if that border is not enforced? Weaker objections are no less existential: What will become of the nation's welfare policies? What will happen to rates of crime and disease? Finally, there is the nuanced existential question of how groups are defined. Many anti-immigrationists suggest that allowing foreigners into the local community significantly alters the constitution of that community. While this appears to be a social concern, it is actually existential because it speaks to the definition of the community, as well as their own individual relationship to it. That is to say, it involves their perception of how they themselves exist in relation to the community, as opposed to how they and the community interact together.

All that is to say that the immigrant's existential motives create existential conflict among some, and moral harmony among others. This is consistent with what I wrote before, when I stated that "where there is existential conflict, there is moral hope."

Thus, using the collectivist-individualist analytical framework, the only way the immigration conflict can actually be resolved is through morality. You might not enjoy the fact that your home value has decreased thanks to immigration (oh, brother...), but how ethical is it to prevent certain ethnic groups from moving in next door?

Well, Tabarrok undertook this question from a variety of moral directions and reached the same conclusion with all of them. Sonic Charmer may snark, but can he offer a moral justification for closed borders?

Immigration And The Rules-Merit Schema
Next we move on to the rules vs. merit schema I introduced earlier this month.

Every argument in favor of immigration is an appeal to the merits of the enterprise. Immigrants bring with them labor skills that are either not present in our country, or not present in equal supply. An increase in the supply of anything of value is a net gain; and this is not just true ceteris parabus, but in each and every case. More of a good is better by definition. The only time that isn't the case is when we are prevented by law from employing our new-found surplus (by anti-immigration and minimum wage laws, for example).

Rhetoric against open immigration are frequently appeals to the "merit" of keeping the borders closed. The reasons such arguments must appeal to merit is because the merits of immigration are pervasive and overwhelming. In order to defeat the case for immigration, opponents must convince us that the demerits of an influx of immigrants outweigh the merits. So, they will argue that immigrants adversely impact that social order, drive down wages, increase unemployment and national debt, cause us to have to learn new languages and smell foreign foods. And, incredibly, they even say that immigration undermines democracy through the importation of anti-democratic sentiment.

The alternative to the merit-based policy is the rule-based policy, which is what we have today. There are rules defining who can come into the country to seek work. There are rules defining which countries the immigrants can come from. There are rules about what skills they must possess, how much money they must possess, and how many medical examinations they must pass. Every aspect of anti-immigration sentiment is codified in laws, in rules that act as barriers to a merit-based system settling the question by a proper weighing of all risks.

Currently, the question is set by the rules, and the rules are drafted by those who oppose immigration. However, if we were allowed to settle the question on a comparison of merits, then we would once and for all see whether the merits offered by the pro-immigration crowd outweigh the demerits offered by immigration's opponents.

Except that we do not actually have to wait for that day, because the evidence is already clear. Despite the heaping of additional costs on immigrants through the above-mentioned rules, they continue to come to America. Despite the many demerits cited against immigration, we continue to welcome immigrants into our communities. We buy their food, shop in their stores, hire them for labor both skilled and unskilled. Gauged by our economic actions, we spend every single day reaping the benefits of immigration. Judging from our actions, the merits outweigh the demerits. Immigration is net positive. We are all better off.

This leads to my final framework for analyzing the issue.

Immigration And Actions Versus Feelings
Also earlier this month, I wrote about how it is our actions, not our feelings, that determines our worth. This is related to the points I made in the previous section because, if we are going to talk about settling an issue on the merits of each position, we need to determine how we will assess merit.

Economics is a handy way to do this, because whenever you value something, you prove that you are willing to pay for it, even if you complain about the price you pay. When you no longer value something enough, you stop complaining because you stop paying for it. The jargon term for this is "revealed preference." To wit, what does it matter whether Sonic Charmer or anyone else complains about immigration if all opponents of immigration continue to make economic decisions consistent with the fact that they are economically better off when there are more immigrants around? They might say they dislike immigration, but their purchases suggest otherwise.

Expanding the lens a little bit, it is significant enough that the black market for illegal immigrant labor is sizable. The American community at large welcomes immigrants even despite the laws it has passed to try to fight their own preferences. Anti-immigration laws and immigration regulations are all just rules designed to fight the revealed preferences of Americans. We know we are better off, at least economically, when borders are relatively open. We know this so well that we have to threaten each other with jail time if one of us decides to act on it. Silly, right?

Well, the economic merits of immigration are overwhelming, and all of us act in reflection of that fact every day of our lives. It does not even matter how we think we feel about it. What matters only is our actions.

Immigration opponents could suggest at this point that there is more to the issue than economics. They would raise social, political, and cultural concerns against immigration and insist that these factors must also be considered with respect to immigration.

Fine, but then why does society act in opposition to those concerns at the end of the day?

Thus, our actions reflect an embrace of pro-immigration sentiment and a rejection of anti-immigration sentiment. All the rest is commentary.

Inspired by Alex Tabarrok, I thought it would fun to employ some recurring Stationary Waves concepts to defend immigration. What I have said above is certainly not an exhaustive treatment of the issue. In fact, what I've just written doesn't even come close to expressing every reason I am in favor of open immigration. Mostly, it was an exercise in applying my philosophical concepts to a particular issue.

It is encouraging to note that these concepts can be applied consistently.


Another Business Idea

I have been working out regularly for nearly a quarter-century now. I started young, quickly became familiar with the local coaches and fitness experts, and I've been driving myself hard ever since. Let there be no doubt about it: It feels great.

Not once, however, have I ever felt like the person in this and similar pictures:
Photo courtesy my Google+ feed
Okay, so I'm also not female, but that's not really the point. When you look at pictures like this, you suddenly have the impression that fit people experience this zen sensation of being able to demand anything physical from their bodies and, with concentration, deliver.

Come to think of it, it's a lot like old kung fu movies, in which we see the protagonist preparing to punch through a brick wall or something. He pauses to collect his chi, inhales deeply, and for a moment reaches a level of mental zen that mere brown-belts can only dream of. Then, at the zenith of his mental bliss, he powerfully drives his fist through any obstacle in its path.

Like I say, I've never felt anything like that before, not even close. The truth is, no one feels like this, not even Olympic athletes. It's just a picture.

But what a picture! The person in this picture - or any such picture - is just like that kung fu master punching through a brick wall, or a Buddhist monk achieving Nirvana, combined with a prize fighter whose personal Nirvana is some kind of medicine ball push-up. Wouldn't it be great if we could all feel that way?

So that's my business idea: Combine a well-equipped elite gym with personal training and... personal photography. As an added membership service, photographers would work with the gym's clients and develop a series of social media photos like the above, fit for use as profile photos, cover photos, photo albums, mobile uploads, or however else you may wish to express your fitness zen!


Inconsistent Morality Is Immorality

At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen writes:
Presidents must live with a great sense of responsibility for their decisions, and this [potentially] makes them more utilitarian and less deontological.  Arguably the same is true of CEOs of major companies, and of the major characters in the new Superman movie.  Superman seems willing to toss around infrastructure to increase his chance of taking out some bad guys, and none of the viewers in the Angelika Mosaic multiplex seemed to find this implausible or undesirable.
But does utilitarianism exist on a continuum with deontology, such that as you practice one to a greater degree, you can no longer practice the other?

The Main Ethical Systems
There are three main categories of "normative ethics," as follows:

  1. Deontology is often also called "rule-based" ethics. The rules can be established by, for example, a deity whose commandments represent the final word on ethics. For this reason, many theists apply deontology to their ethical decisions. It need not be a theist ethical system, though. John Locke's "natural rights" theories are often said to be deontological, since they are ultimately traced to a foundational principle (natural rights) that governs subsequent ethical analysis.
  2. Consequentialism is the system of ethics that grows out of analysis of a course of action's consequences. Of this, there are many varieties. Utilitarianism, "the greatest good for the greatest number," is a form of consequentialism because the underlying decision is based on determining how many people benefit from that decision. Although there are other sub-categories of consequentialism, the easiest way to think about them is that they are all a form of Utilitarianism, where "utility" is defined specifically as "economic utility," or "love," or "preference," or etc. 
  3. Virtue ethics is a system of ethics that emphasizes the character of the actor, rather than the particular decision itself. This form of ethics was basically invented by Aristotle, and subsequent advocates for virtue ethics (like Thomas Aquinas) have rested their arguments mostly on Aristotle's original ideas. 
Let's take a quick look at these theories using examples.

A few days ago, I used the example of lying in an application of virtue ethics. More concisely, we can look at it as follows:

  • A deontologist might argue that lying is always wrong, because it is always dishonest. There is a "rule" here that governs the deontologist's position: Lying is said to be wrong, and wrong is bad, hence lying in any circumstance is always unethical.
  • A consequentialist, by contrast, might argue that lying is perfectly ethical if it leads positive consequences. If by lying you make a person happier at no cost to anyone else, then the lie had a net good impact, and was thus more ethical than a potentially abrasive truth. A different situation might change the decision. In some instances, one might lie, and in others one might not.
  • A virtue ethicist would examine a person's motives in lying. If the liar lied purely for personal gain, or to make another person suffer, or to otherwise cause trouble, then the lie was clearly unethical. If, however, a person lied to save a child's life, or to maintain a good relationship with someone, then his or her motives were virtuous, and the lie would not be deemed unethical.
On a superficial level, it all seems clear enough. But since when have ethical decisions been clear-cut?

Complicating And Criss-Crossing
The greater scrutiny we apply to normative ethical theories, the more the lines between them blur. Let me illustrate this by again using lying as our ethical example.

If a person's moral character is to be analyzed in applications of virtue ethics, then motives matter. If the person being analyzed subscribes to deontology or consequentialism, then - according to virtue ethics - his or her motives are virtuous.

Suppose Cary Consequentialist lies in order to take the blame for a conspiracy committed by his five closest family members. His decision to lie and accept responsibility for a crime he didn't commit is fully consistent with utilitarianism: His family members are spared punishment, while justice is served for society at large. No one suffers except Cary, who does so in order to maximize utility. But note that Cary's decision is thus ethical according to both consequentialism and virtue ethics.

A similar example could be constructed for Denny Deontologist, who, by deploying deontological ethics in a particular scenario, demonstrates his moral character and thus satisfies both deonotology and virtue ethics.

On the other hand, recall that deontological decisions are based on an application of the rules. If the rules are established by consistently applying a principle of rights, such as "the greatest good for the greatest number," then those rules are simultaneously deontological and consequential.

For this reason, we might consider The Golden Rule to be an incarnation of both consequentialism and deontology. It is not at all surprising to note that The Golden Rule is often cited by practitioners of both forms of ethics. The deontologists like it, because it is rule-based, and often rooted in theism. The consequentialists like it because, if it is consistently applied, it leads to maximal utility.

A final complication here is that, indeed, every ethical guideline is utilitarian if it is applied consistently and unanimously. Nothing can be deemed unethical if every actor is assumed to agree with every other actor about what the most ethical course of action might be. Hence, if every man is a Christ-like Christian, then utility is maximized. (And, I might add, everyone's virtue is consistent with virtue ethics in that case as well.)

In truth, no one person subscribes wholly to one ethical system. We all prefer utilitarian arguments for certain moral problems, deonotological arguments for other problems, and virtue ethics for others still. Human ethics are frequently a blend of all three approaches. During ethical disputes, we will often try to convince the person we are disputing with one set of principles, and then switch to another set when that argument proves unconvincing.

Ethical Disputes
Deontologists can argue among themselves about whose application of a rule is the most consistent with the spirit of that rule. Hence, we observe many colorful debates among libertarians regarding the Non-Aggression Principle. Consequentialists can argue among themselves about what are the relevant consequences worth analyzing in a particular dilemma. Hence, we observe many colorful debates among conservatives regarding the impact immigration might have on the nation. Virtue ethicists can argue among themselves about what is the exact moral character of the actor facing a dilemma, and whether his motives are fundamentally good or bad ones. Hence, we observe leftists as they debate the relative merits of Obama's thug-headed surveillance decisions.

But a deontologist cannot argue with a consequentialist about the application of rules unless and until the consequentialist accepts the premise that rule must be applied. Likewise, that consequentialist will never convince the deontologist that "the end justifies the means" in a moral dilemma if the "means" involves a violation of the deontologist's "rule." And no set of rules or consequences will ever absolve a guilty party if a virtue ethicist has deemed that party's virtue to be substandard.

Thus, ethical discussions can only be had by people who are applying the same ethical principle to the dilemma in question. Each approach has its own moral reasoning that is fundamentally incompatible with the reasoning of other approaches to normative ethics.

The Normative Ethics Fallacy
In political discussions, we frequently see pundits making arguments based on one ethical approach and then changing their ethical approach mid-way through the argument. The argument itself never changes, but the underlying justification for it does.

Gun control advocates, for example, frequently begin by stating the principle that a natural right to keep and bear arms should not compromise a natural right to life: the deontological rules are in conflict. When gun control opponents respond to this argument with natural rights arguments of their own, the gun control advocates will respond with statistics on how many gun-related deaths occur each year. The greatest good is not being served under the current set of regulations. When their opponents respond with their own set of statistics and applications of utility, the advocates will respond that there is no justifiable reason for citizens to own particular kinds of weapons. Thus the virtues of gun owners are being called into question under a virtue ethics scheme. When opponents respond with virtue arguments of their own, the gun control advocates return to their original claims about natural rights.

While each individual point made by gun control advocates is ethically consistent, all points taken as a whole represent a fallacious application of ethical logic.

If something is ethically wrong because of a rule, then that is the reason it is wrong. If something is wrong because it fails to maximize utility, then that is the reason it is wrong. If something is wrong because it calls a person's virtue into question, then that is the reason. To argue all three points to three different people might also be consistent, so long as one sticks to one set of reasoning with any one person.

But it is fallacious and wrong to change one's system of normative ethics when its logic is called into question, merely in order to continue making the same point. For any issue, once a person has chosen their set of ethical reasoning, to change one's moral reasoning when that reasoning proves to be problematic is disingenuous and creates bad faith in the discussion.

Even worse: To change one's underlying moral reasoning when the reasoning proves to be inadequate is to fail to adhere to one's moral principles. If you believe X for reason Y only up until the point that Y is demonstrated to be insufficient to uphold your reasoning, then switching to reason Z proves that your reasoning is not based on any kind of moral knowledge at all.

If you did that, you'd be engaged in rationalization. You'd simply be using any available argument to justify that which is not justifiable. All you'd really be demonstrating is a lack of principles.

Getting back to the Cowen quote above, it is indeed possible that presidents change their underlying moral reasoning upon gaining the presidency. However, for reasons I have just provided, if they do so they have demonstrated a complete lack of morality. In that case, Cowen's hypothesis must be rejected, since it is contingent on the actor being moral. The hypothesis is equivalent to the statement that presidents change their moral behaviors at different points in time because they never had any moral character to begin with. In the case of Barack Obama, I would have to agree.

The key points to take away from this article are:

  • There are three main approaches to moral dilemmas.
  • In general, people prefer different approaches to different kinds of dilemmas.
  • To change one's approach in the middle of a debate is to demonstrate a lack of moral character.
In the past, I have argued my preference for virtue ethics. In a subsequent post, I hope to provide my reasons for why this approach works best for nearly all ethical decisions, but before I wrote that post, I wanted to supply an overview of normative ethics in general.


Unanswered Love Questions

My last post on love inspired some additional follow-up questions and issues, which I would like to now take the time to briefly discuss and clarify.

First of all, I may have caused some confusion when talking about the "factors" involved in forming the parent-child bond. Here's what I said about oxytocin:
Here I note that the love-as-evolution theory can handle this objection. It has been widely reported, for example, that hugging someone for merely 20 seconds is sufficient to release a rush of oxytocin (aka "the bonding chemical") in the brain. A full scientific treatment of oxytocin's relationship to parental and spousal bonding (and social affiliation more broadly) is far out-of-scope for this post, but you can read an excellent summary of the role oxytocin plays in mammals here.
Nurturing behaviors can result in a neuro-chemical response, namely one that is associated with the formation of human social bonds. This is exactly analogous to how I described situationism:
Being a parent is a highly significant psychological situation, one that includes stress, sleep deprivation, increased responsibility, increased scrutiny from family members, and so on. If situationism carries any scientific validity at all, it seems that the parental experience is the ultimate showpiece for it. Parents love their children unconditionally, perhaps in large part due to the mere fact that being a parent is a situation that demands that each parent take on that situational role. This isn't altogether different than accepting the role of a brutal prison guard or an obedient and hopeless prisoner, except that in this case the situation demands behaviors associated with unconditional love, rather than unconditional order.
Again, the key point here is mere participation. Simply "acting as if" there is a parent-child bond is sufficient to create a behavioral response consistent with a parent's love for a child.

Here's the clarification: I'm suggesting that one of two things must be the case: (1) both of these phenomenon prove that love is nothing more than a chemical response produced by our biology, hence entirely illusory; (2) the word "love" only applies to those feelings that cannot be attributed to chemical- or situation-based illusion.

In other words, my proposition is that "love," properly understood, only consists of those feelings that involve some choice we've made voluntarily. Love through habituation is, according to me, not love in the "philosophical" sense.

Talking about "unconditional" love, I wrote, "What is the value of a love that carries with it no reference to the recipient's identity or personal character?"

This met with some objection based on the idea that a parent's unconditional love for a child kept that child alive, and was thus valuable. Here I must reiterate the point I made above. Only if we call involuntary chemical reactions "love" can we say that the (initial) parent-child bond really is love, unconditional or otherwise.

The point here is that such a bond does have an obvious value. Not only does it keep the child alive, but it fosters enough "togetherness" for a real, love-based relationship to emerge. So there is value in that sort of thing, but until there is some sort of choice beyond chemical or situational reactions, we cannot properly call it love. (I.e. love is not the only valuable thing in the universe.)

Of course, this point is contingent on the idea that the relationship itself is worth nurturing. Between a parent and a child, that question is a no-brainer. But between two romantic partners, one of whom is being abused by the other, the whole dynamic changes.

This is really what I was getting at from the beginning, and hence my repeated references to Jiah Khan as an example of what happens to a lot of young women who give themselves over to abusive relationships. The mere habit of behaving as though you love someone reinforces a non-love bond. That bond may be forged through chemistry, psychology, or both. But if it's not voluntary, then it's not love; instead, it's habit. This sort of relationship is not at all worth nurturing.

Thus, "unconditional love" is not inherently valuable. 

Another objection I received was that unconditional love has been decreed by god. Anyone who reads my blog regularly already has an idea about how I might respond to that. (If you're new to the blog, you might want to start here and here.) It is difficult for me to respond to this objection fairly, given my pre-existing bias against theism.

Difficult, but not impossible.

Applying the ideas I have outlined across these blog posts about love means that we can only really call it love if there is some choice involved. The only other valid possibility is that love is thoroughly chemical, and that there is no choice involved beyond mere acquiescence to habit.

This means that, if we accept that premise, then we must necessarily reject the idea that we can be commanded by god to love each other. In short, it doesn't make a difference what god commands us to do: what matters is whether we are able to find merit in the actions and behaviors of others. If we can, then we love them; if we cannot, we do not. Similarly, your parents may have wanted to you to become a doctor, but their wishes do not count for college credit. In order to become a doctor, you have to actually study to be one, finish your exams, finish a residency, etc. 

One can argue that only those who succeed in loving all other human beings unconditionally are living lives that are consistent with a god's wishes, but one cannot argue that one can love another person just because a god told them to do it. It doesn't work that way.

However, there is consistency in this objection if it is made along with all the others. That is, if you feel that your biology can force you to love someone, then why not also god? More to the point, if you believe that love can exist without your having made any personal choices in the matter, then it doesn't matter if the entity that is commanding you to love is an entity called "Oxytocin" or an entity called "God." In either case, it's deus ex machina

I wrote this post because it enabled me to cite some specific examples of how my ideas can be applied in your life. 

First and foremost, it can help you "get out of the habit" of being in a bad or abusive relationship. It can help you understand that, since love is a choice, you should choose only the best kind of love. Nothing else is worth it. That's an important point.

Second, it helps highlight the point that, whatever biological or psychological factors might be involved in the initial formation of the parent-child bond, what really matters is the relationship that develops between a parent and a child after the magic of oxytocin wears off. It simply doesn't suffice to love your child just because your child exists. That's not good enough. What should happen, ethically speaking, is that the parent work to develop a bond with that child out of a recognition of that child's own unique worth. Everyone has their own sense of humor, their own skill set, their own set of strengths. Forming a real, ever-lasting, and love-based bond with a child should, ideally, come down to more than their mere fact of existence. I would go so far as to say that such "unconditional love" puts you at risk of severely disappointing that child once he or she matures enough to recognize the difference.


Written Out Of The History Books

For nearly twenty years (by my count, spanning from approximately 1974 to 1994), the musical genre known loosely as "hair metal" or "glam metal" or "80s hard rock" or whatever you want to call it constituted the music of choice for millions of people around the world. One day, an anti-80s-glam-metal marketing campaign was launched by the media, presumably at the bidding of record companies who were looking for a new way to market new artists and albums without getting lost in what had become an endless stream of neon guitars, elaborate guitar solos, screamy vocals, and basically predictable song structures.

That marketing campaign marked the dawn of the age of what we now refer to as "grunge," but which was at the time called "alternative rock," owing mostly to the frothing-at-the-mouth that would ensue of anyone dared to call these bands "metal." Again, the reason for this was mostly marketing. Every artist tries to shirk artistic labels from a desire to be judged on his or her own merits, of course. But in the early 90s, it became vital for artists to defy this particular label, and my best guess as to why is that the metal bands weren't getting the marketing support anymore.

This is all rational and predictable economic behavior:

  • Traditional marketing campaigns that focused on the guitar prowess and rock and roll excess of their artists having reached the point of diminishing returns, the record labels needed a "new brand," which they found in "grunge." (How much sweeter was the deal that by giving the whole genre a name that was vehemently disputed, it got people talking about "what to call this new music." Prince employed the same strategy when he changed his name to the Love Symbol, making himself millions despite rendering himself un-marketable by Warner Bros.)
  • Artists, hungry for record deals and a shot at the big time, quickly removed their spandex and straightened their hair in order to seek record label dollars. In many cases, the only differences between a 1992 "grunge band" and a 1992 "metal band" were clothing and production techniques. (If I need to supply evidence for this, I will.)
Meanwhile, the old metal bands found themselves in a catch-22: to evolve with the times and appeal to the grunge crowd meant alienating their millions of faithful fans, but to stick to their guns meant to lose record label support, perhaps losing their record contracts in the process, and basically winding up like all the has-been 80s rockers we see these days. They couldn't win. Different bands chose different strategies, to varying levels of success. For the most part, metal was eliminated from the playing field, at least until it regained popularity through its relative kitsch value.

Today, however, many of these bands tour highly successfully. The reason for this is that the core fan base never really went anywhere. These fans were alienated every bit as much as the artists who supplied them with music. And this brings me to today's point.

Somehow, written out of the musical history books dutifully kept by Rolling Stone Magazine and every other record label tool designed to define for you what you think is cool, are the millions and millions of regular people, non-musicians who happened to have grown up on a genre of music now deemed to be un-cool. I cannot help but think that there is something incredibly, morally wrong about this.

Think about it: there's nothing wrong with having a love of 80s hair metal. It's just music. If you don't like it, don't listen to it. But who cares how "lame" it is that other people really love it? Why should they be denied the ability to have their preferred music broadcast in retail stores and on radio stations? There is obviously money to be made in this, or else these fans wouldn't exist. Why instead are they force-fed a diet of the five industry-approved hard rock bands from the 70s and 80s that Rolling Stone somehow feels are acceptable? (If you're wondering, the current list appears to be Van Halen, Kiss, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, and one rotational slot made available to whichever of the insiders needs money the most - currently Ozzy Osborne.)

People wonder why music is facing a critical low point in its lengthy decline. One important factor is that music scenes used to be the hotbeds of all the action. Music clubs is where you went to meet people. The best parties in town involved performances by the best local bands; those who weren't performing were invited as guests. These parties and performances featured all the decadence that earned the 1980s its infamous reputation. The really stunning part about the whole 80s rock world is that it really was like it is storied to have been. On the one hand, the bad behavior was an extremely unfortunate consequence of this, but on the other hand, modern music lacks something important that used to be far more commonplace.

Spend some time on YouTube perusing the dozens of 80s metal music videos in which tour footage is featured prominently. Observe the massive stage-shows that all really happened. Observe the crowd as they listen to the music playing. Men, women, everyone moving to the music. You can say what you want about how lame certain genres of music might be, but any music that can have that effect on people can't be all bad.

A return to that kind of passion for music is exactly what today's music world needs.

Some Links

Comprehension of proper running form was understood as early as 1836 in Great Britain. To my surprise, people were running faster than five minutes per mile back then, or so the blurb implies.

David Henderson gives a good account of how to make money. He summarizes: Go where others don't want to, and save. I note that this is highly similar to The Stationary Waves Principle Of Coming Out On TopWhen you see a crowd of people all going one direction, that's your queue to go the opposite direction.

Redmond Weissenberger is stunned by photos of Chinese people lining up to buy gold, but based on my brief visit to Beijing, I'd say this is more or less how Chinese people line up to do anything.

Restless leg syndrome has been linked to increased risk of an early death. I have had RLS for most of my life. My self-observational findings is that the condition completely disappears with regular exercise.

Can you bench press 185 pounds? This 91-year-old man has you beat.

Most people outside of Texas have no idea why Rick Perry is so successful. Time Magazine offers up an analysis on this topic, and please note that the Time article is critical of Perry, too. As I try to tell people: Texas is an idea - either you get it, or you don't. 


Movie Review: Man Of Steel

For my money, Superman has always been one of the least interesting of all super-heroes. The basic conflict simply isn't interesting. This is a man who can pretty much do anything, and who is basically invincible. So, for the most part, he must simply spend his time rounding up bad guys and plopping them in jail. Ho-hum.

Then we have the matter of his one weakness: Kryptonite. Exposed to this mineral, he becomes weak and, I guess, potentially dies. So the basic plot of any episodic installment of the Superman franchise is going to come down to some variation of an evil criminal somehow acquiring Kryptonite and discovering its effect on Superman, and then using it to attempt to kill Superman and walk away with piles of money or something. Lucky for Superman, one of the few people who manages to figure out his secret identity somehow defies the odds and takes Superman away from the Kryptonite and its ill effects. Having thus been rehabilitated, Superman returns to capture and conquer the villain.

If you've seen one such episode, you've seen them all.

So, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the plot of the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, was a welcome departure from this over-worked storyline. Instead, Man of Steel tells the story of the final days of the planet Krypton, the motives of its long-dead inhabitants, the story of that race of people, and how it was that Superman ended up on Earth. For those of us more accustomed to beginning any Superman story with his mysterious crash-landing on a mid-western farm, this was a delicious slice of back-story that had the power to breath new life into the Superman legend.

Also surprising is that the chief antagonist of the story not Lex Luther, but rather General Zod. Of course, this would come as no real surprise to Superman aficionados, since Zod has long since been a mainstay of the actual comic books. But a Zod with no direct relationship to Lex Luther provides a new kind of Superman story to be told to the general movie-going public, and this under-utilized variation of the Superman oeuvre offers up yet another refreshing change for the franchise.

Man of Steel likewise provides some excellent script elements that add depth to Superman's character. Rather than painting him as bumbling idiot Clark Kent on the one hand, and stern-faced invincible god Superman on the other, Man of Steel tells the story of a young man who has grown comfortable in his own skin through years of patient study and ethical discipline. At one point in the movie, we see Superman as a boy, completely engrossed in a book about Plato. His sometimes torturous youth, rather than spawning the barely controlled temper that we usually find beneath the surface of superficial superheroes, spawns a serene and philosophical wisdom, a profound sense of morality that governs his every decision once he reaches adulthood.

Well, that kind of story-telling is rare for Hollywood these days, and in Man of Steel, it pays off in spades. This, we learn (although it is never stated outright, only subtly implied), is how Superman becomes the archon of "truth, justice, and the American way." The point is driven home throughout the movie as we see peripheral characters interacting with Superman and suddenly becoming inspired to rise to the trying circumstances that they face without Superman, and prevail. This was Jor-El's hope for Superman, and this is what the script writers give us. Bravo!

Speaking of peripheral characters, the supporting cast of this movie must surely be one of the most star-studded list of great performers to grace the non-starring roles on a single movie in recent memory. Russell Crowe stars as Jor-El, and performs wonderfully, lending the role a level of intelligence not typically associated with Crowe. That casting decision is further juxtaposed by the ordinarily-intelligent-role-playing Kevin Costner as Superman's adopted father on Earth. Costner's acting chops, too, are on great display as he delivers his lines with a genuineness and ease that we wouldn't expect from the man who played more wooden characters like The Postman. Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and Amy Adams all play their roles perfectly, along with a long list of less-known but recognizeable actors like Christopher Meloni (of Law & Order: SVU fame), Harry Lennix (perhaps best remembered for his role on TV's E.R.), and the surprisingly awesome Michael Shannon, whose portrayal of General Zod is a real show-stealer.

Unfortunately, Man of Steel was not all good. There are a number of flaws in the movie that, for me, greatly compromised how good a film it could have been.

For one thing, starting a franchise re-boot by pitting Superman against his most powerful enemy creates a real dilemma for any future installment. Having now breathed new life into a very tired franchise that has major plot problems, the filmmakers are left with few new places to take the story. A plot involving Lex Luther would be the next logical step, but how do you tell that story without resorting to all the tired cliches of Superman stories in general? If this team reassembles to produce another Superman movie, we already know how that sequel will pan out: Lex Luther will appear; he will initially be popular and well-respected, and then we will discover that he has sinister motives and also a small but significant quantity of Kryptonite. He will lure Superman into a trap and then expose him to Kryptonite. Lois Lane or perhaps Jimmy will show up to save Superman from the Kyrptonite, and then Superman will save the world from Luther. Again. Boring!

A more reasonable way to approach the franchise would have been to introduce Lex Luther first, or perhaps both arch-villains at the same time, but unrelated. To gradually build a story of multiple worthy foes who each, for their own reasons, want to rid the world of Superman, but who each individually lack the means to do so could supply the movie franchise with enough parallel plot lines to generate a dozen Superman movies, and a stunning grand finale. But this was not the way the filmmakers chose to go.

Another problem with Man of Steel was its depiction of the Kryptonians. As is usually the case, Hollywood has once again proven itself to be incapable of depicting a logical, scientifically advanced society that is not somehow also a society of religious nuts. This is a common complaint I have about Hollywood in general: Genius can never be genius, it can only be the flip-side of insanity; reason can never be reason, it can only be the more stoic version of religious devotion. Hollywood is unable to conceive of intelligence except to call it lunacy, unable to conceive of logic except to say that it looks to them a lot like religion. So again and again we are bombarded by theocratic Kryptonians, mystical Klingons, drug-addled and psychotic Sherlock Holmeses, papal Jedis, and so on. Invincible aliens are not too much for Hollywood; a person who is both super-intelligent and perfectly sane is beyond the pale.

Finally, I found that the action sequences in Man of Steel were excessive to the point of caricature. I am all for violence and destruction in movies, but when one begins to wonder whether there is a single skyscraper left standing in New York City, a single satellite left in the sky, a single drop of water left in the ocean, then we have surely pushed the apocalyptic scenarios to their limit.

In summary, there is a great deal to love about this movie, but also a great deal to hate. If I had to guess, I'd say that Christopher Nolan fans will call it amazing, while those who are not Nolan fans will ultimately find it as anti-climactic as I did. A running criticism I have of Nolan is that his stories are "all wind-up, no follow-through," and that criticism applies equally to Man of Steel. The wind-up was good enough, however, to make the movie basically worthwhile.

We Call The Shots Around Here

Jim Oliver at Un-Thought writes:
I have seen news reports that have lead me to believe that the skills taught in schools in many countries are very badly matched to what people need to know in those countries. In those countries education becomes like a very costly lottery.  If you are at the very top of the class it might enable you to get visa to work in a developed country or to get one the few high level jobs available domestically but if you are not at the top of your class you get very little that is useful in your life.  There was a News report that focused on a girl in India and one of the comments by her family was that her older sister went to school for what they considered a long time and she was still a goat herder.
Of course, this is heresy. In the modern world, we are supposed to accept the dictum that education is the most important way to improve one's lot in life without any follow up questions. Questioning education is a holy taboo, which explains why Bryan Caplan gets so much guff for arguing that education is all about signalling, not human capital.

But if education were really about building "human capital," then the necessary condition for this is that it teach students skills that they really do need in their real lives. Less social studies, and more basic mechanics. Never mind goatherds in India, few college graduates right here in America can give you the full list of simple machines. If a solar storm wiped out all electrical machines tomorrow, our population would be (if not decimated) wiped out completely.

Yet, the fact that that education systems all over the world teach a particularly useless blend of algorithmic-arithmetic-problem-resolution (rather than geometrically founded mathematical reasoning), nationalistic narrative formation (rather than history), weights-and-measurements (rather than science and physics), spelling and book reading (rather than literature), and organized social play (rather than health and physical education) suggests to me that education ignores the real needs of real human beings by design.

This fact may wound your ego if you were particularly awesome in school, but it's true. The only really useful skills we learn in school are things we happen to pick up along the way. For example, someone whose educational experience with numbers inspires her to learn real mathematics is better off having had exposure to numbers in the first place - but that need not have happened in a classroom. Someone who learns to enjoy books thanks to homework might end up picking up a book from which he learns something incredibly important; but again, school is not a direct cause.

That many of us learn these peripheral lessons while growing up might obfuscate the fact that it's not school that is doing the trick. We might incorrectly ascribe a power to the modern education system that it does not actually possess. Knowledge is power, but education is not knowledge.

The only explanation for the state of modern education is lobbying. Teachers are a powerful lobby whose livelihood is almost fully funded by the government in nearly every county. In those countries (such as India) that have both a robust private and public education system, the public system is large enough to basically set the private system's curriculum through oligopoly power, as well as through the influence of the publicly funded universities that both systems feed.

To describe the whole system in a single paragraph: Modern education seems to be a union/subsidy scheme in which children are forced to clear iterative hoops in order to gain the privilege of joining the workforce. The curriculum is nominal-only, and established through the influence of sub-groups within the education lobbies. No really useful skills are provided, but that was never the point. The point was to establish the cultural rule that "we value education." Once that rule is established, it becomes unthinkable to go through life without a culturally accepted level of schooling, despite the fact that sticking it out all those years delivers no discernible addition to one's set of life-skills.

One caveat: I am not a conspiracy theorist who believes government schools are designed to control us. I just think the education system is a product of the influence and lobbying of the people who run it. We get the education system we deserve, and apparently we deserve one takes up a third of our lifetime and delivers few real skills.

Closed Shops And Seniority
The reason I keep using the language of labor unions to describe schooling is that there is a clear parallel between them, and I mean a parallel that goes beyond the fact that teachers' unions are some of the most powerful labor unions in the modern world.

In a union shop, seniority rules. You are not allowed to move up the food chain until you've both literally and figuratively "paid your dues." (That's where the phrase "paid your dues" comes from, anyway.) If it all came down to paying money, though, then we wouldn't be talking about a labor union, we'd be talking about an oligarchy. The key to running a union shop is seniority. Seniority ensures that, no matter how meritorious the work of a young innovator might be, he'll never surpass the senior member on staff, not ever. His only hope is to stick it out long enough to be the senior staff member. After all, every employee has a starting date on the job, so every employee will eventually be the senior staff member.

Along the way, members of a union shop have to clear certain hurdles before they are entitled to certain benefits. A five-year employment anniversary, for example, might correspond to certain additional voting rights, or a higher wage, or more overtime, or whatever benefits the union may deem appropriate for that particular hurdle's having been cleared.

Now back to education: You can't get a lousy job without a high school diploma. You can't get a good job without some sort of post-high-school certificate. You can't get a mid-level job without a college degree, and you can't get into management without something better than a bachelor's degree. Now do you see the connection? Here we are, clearing hurdles based on putting in the right amount of time.

In terms of actual knowledge, there's nothing important that studying two years' of "general education requirements" plus another two years of studying business administration classes will get you that you can't get from an associate's degree in business studies at the local junior college. Not in terms of knowledge, but remember: that isn't the point of education. If it were, then we'd all have learned some very important life skills over our 12-18 years of education, when all we really came out with was basic reading comprehension and algorithmic, arithmetic problem-resolution skills.

So, it simply must be that education is more about clearing hurdles and demonstrating seniority. I stuck it out for a full sixteen years, so I get a cubicle, while you're stuck working on cars. But that guy over there stuck it out for eighteen years, and so he gets an office window, and he gets to tell me what to do despite the fact that he knows less than I do and has less actual work experience. (The really funny thing is that the guy working on cars has all the skills he needs to start his own business and beat the rest of us in the rat race. But assuming the education lobby is powerful enough, he'll never be able to raise enough money to get his business off the ground.)

Outside The Traditional Workforce
I've long believed that the art and music worlds are hopelessly corrupt. Success is by-invitation-only. Why else do you think that Taylor Swift is a superstar at the exact moment in history when any genius with a laptop webcam can upload his genius to YouTube and entertain millions upon millions of people at the touch of a button?

No, this isn't just sour grapes. I'm not talking about me. I know I'm an amateur. The point is not about me, it's about why this is more popular than this. Let's not be idiots here, there is no comparison. It's not a matter of "taste." No matter what you personally want to listen to this morning, in a world in which the most artistically skilled rose to the top, that kid who runs the StringsOfPassion YouTube channel would be in the band "Fun" and the music would be a lot more interesting. And you'd still love it, because guess what: The only reason you've even heard of Fun is because they have the marketing machine behind them.

There are thousands of bands that sounded like Fun before Fun got radio airplay. The reason Fun got on the air rather than all those other bands is because someone at the record company got together with someone at the radio programming corporation and they decided that Fun was the band they were going to use to extract art funding from consumers. At least Bieber earned his stripes on YouTube!

Of course, in art, the game runs a little differently. Newcomers are welcomed into the fold without having to adhere to a seniority scheme. But this is mainly because music and art scenes in general are most attractive to younger markets, so they need fresh faces to come along and make you forget about the fact that Bono and Sting are a bit too old to make you want to remove your bra and throw it at them. Hence: Fun.

Anyway, instead of running a seniority game, the art world runs its own sort of internal popularity contest. You get to be on top if you convince enough of your fellow artists that you're "cool." Suck-up to the right people, and you get to have your art displayed in the local gallery, as opposed to just on DeviantArt. Suck-up to the right people and you get to play Friday at the House of Blues instead of Saturday nights at the Fusion Bar & Grill. That's really how it works - I've seen awesome bands playing in dive bars. They only get the good gigs if they (1) join the local musicians' union, and (2) "have connections."

Those aren't scare-quotes, they're real quotes. Musicians really talk about this.

The Point
These all may seem like disparate topics to you, but recall what I wrote the other day about rules versus merit.

A world in which the path to success is not good work but staying in school is a world in which following the rules is a greater contributor to your success than doing something meritorious. It doesn't matter what you do to innovate in the workplace. In fact, the more meritorious your work, the more of a threat you are seen to be to those who closely adhere to the rules-based path to success. Imagine sticking it out through twenty years of schooling in order to earn your place as middle-manager, and along comes some high school graduate who figured out how to improve the performance of your entire team by replacing one employee with a line of computer code. You'd be shaking in your boots. He's a threat.

But if he lacks your credentials and seniority - if your credentials and seniority matter more than his hard work - then you're invincible. By keeping him down, you maintain a wage and status that you don't deserve, at least not according to the merits of your work.

If musicians were forced to compete only on their ability to entertain a crowd of people, then Taylor Swift would not be a musician. She's pretty, so she might have ended up a model or an actress, or possibly a paralegal. But not a singer, not a musician.

In every facet of our lives, once we have attained a comfortable level of success, we quickly establish rules that bar others from attaining the same success through different means. We reason that, since this is the way we did it, this is the way that everyone should have to do it. Anything less than these rules becomes a cutthroat competition based solely on the merits of the enterprise.

Now, when we restrict the analysis to a microcosm - your own workplace, for example - you might not see anything wrong with this per se. After all, why shouldn't we make people with advanced degrees managers? They have MBAs for chrissakes!

But when the whole world operates this way, then what we end up with a social system based on upholding a particular social order at the expense of innovation, increased efficiency, meritorious performance, and new ideas. Is it any surprise, then, that so many people complain about the fact that social class has become entrenched in our political systems? The poor cannot innovate their way out of being poor, nor can the middle class innovate their way into the elite.

In this sort social order, one's own personal efforts have no impact on the life that results. That's bad.

Thankfully, in many places throughout the world, merit does matter, even if only a little bit. It matters enough to enough people that we human beings still have some control over our lives.

What I'm advocating for here is that we resist the urge to put up barriers to other people's success. If a poor person wants to start a business, why make him jump through regulatory hurdles that only the rich have the time and resources to clear? If a Bangladeshi wants to become a surgeon, why should he have to spend sixteen years in the Bangladeshi education system, followed by another eight-to-ten years at a fancy western medical school just to be able to practice medicine?

These sorts of barriers are insane. We must try to eliminate them. I warn you: It may cost you something. You just might wind up in a cubicle instead of a corner office. On the other hand, you'll have a clear path to that corner office, and it will be fully within your control, through hard work rather than through seniority.

That is to say, through merit as opposed to rules.


What Is Love?

Faithful Stationary Waves reader AK notes that Jiah Khan's suicide letter was "highly disturbing." Of course, when I wrote about it, it was making the separate point that giving love without having any evidence of receiving it is utterly foolish. In my mind, it goes without saying that a woman who would kill herself over this sort of love affair was a bit disturbed. So AK and I are in agreement on all fronts (as is typically the case).

Meanwhile, another faithful reader, SU, raises a problem with my recent post on the self-esteem cult. Sure, she says, people love each other based on actions attesting to their worthiness. But what about a parent's (unconditional) love for child?

I must admit that I did not really have the Jiah Khan issue in mind when I wrote about the self-esteem cult, but perhaps my subconscious was deep at work. After all, both posts are closely tied together: both discuss the topic of being loved without doing anything to deserve it. With SU's permission, I will be quoting her throughout the missive. Let's take a closer look at love.

The Parent-Child Bond
What follows here is admittedly a little silly on my part: I don't have children. How can I possibly discuss the love a parent has for a child? Let me cede the point in advance and acknowledge that this sort of discourse is necessarily a little speculative. On the other hand, I do happen to be somebody else's child, so I know something about the parent-child bond from the other side. So there's that.

Anyway, let's get to it. Here is SU, objecting to the self-esteem cult's Deception #1 in her own words:
First, to (most) parents, the children they raise do have inherent value completely separate from any positive character traits the kids may show. You don't love your baby because he/she does anything special; you don't even love them just because they're tiny and cute (I don't love other people's tiny and cute children). You love them because they...are. For the first 3 months of their lives, they do absolutely nothing that merits anything, yet you love them like crazy.
She's right: parents love their infants long before those children have a chance to demonstrate any worthiness of love. What gives? Well, here are some possibilities:

Biological Factors
It is intuitive enough to state without proof that parents are emotionally attached to their children for purely biological reasons. If some evidence for this is required, then let me submit the following.

First, this parental attachment, while not universal in the animal kingdom, is fairly commonplace among mammals. Nearly all mammals care for their young, nurse them, raise them, etc. Mother birds teach their children how to fly. Some suggest that many animals grieve for their dead offspring.

Yet love is generally regarded as a uniquely human emotion. Here we reach the first epistemological choice in today's article about love: Either love is not unique to humans, or the biological attachment between a parent and child is not love.

The reason we have to make this choice is because it is relevant to what I have already claimed about love. Either love is a rational choice that we make based on merit, or it is something other than rational (I'll get to exactly what a little later). To elaborate even further, animals cannot reason. Some highly intelligent animals can get close. Border collies, for example, are intelligent enough to know that you're holding a treat behind your back, whereas less intelligent dogs literally think the treat is gone if they can't see it. (Playing peekaboo with infants is one way human beings teach our children about abstract reasoning. Did you know that?) Elephants can paint pictures and apes can learn sign language. All of this implies that animals are capable of abstraction, but today there is little evidence that any animals other than human beings can engage in the kind of deductive logic that even very young children can perform.

Therefore, if animals that cannot reason nonetheless feel love, this would mean that love is not at all a rational choice. What might it be instead? Evolutionary happenstance. Certainly a species that evolves with a chemical inclination toward caring for other members of its own species - and especially its own offspring - possesses a distinct reproductive advantage over, say, turtles and spiders, who merely lay their eggs en masse and let nature run its course in absentia.

If this is your belief, then for you the missive ends here. No sense subjecting something with a purely neurological explanation to excessive philosophical discourse.

...Not so fast, though. SU isn't satisfied with that explanation:
But what about adoption? Haven't you heard adoptive parents say they love their kid the moment they hold them? Where's the biology in that? Adoptive parents love their kid just for being in existence, without the kid doing anything good, and without the help of primal chemicals triggering love.
Here I note that the love-as-evolution theory can handle this objection. It has been widely reported, for example, that hugging someone for merely 20 seconds is sufficient to release a rush of oxytocin (aka "the bonding chemical") in the brain. A full scientific treatment of oxytocin's relationship to parental and spousal bonding (and social affiliation more broadly) is far out-of-scope for this post, but you can read an excellent summary of the role oxytocin plays in mammals here.

Insofar as this post is concerned, though, there are biological impulses that apply to adoptive parents. (Perhaps they apply to a lesser degree - Lee, et al note that oxytocin response increases during childbirth, for example - but they nonetheless do apply.)

When I initially responded to SU, I suggested that love is either fully rational, or fully irrational. In the latter case, the bio-neuro-evolutionary explanation provides almost a complete account for love. If you subscribe to this theory, which I might add has an incredible amount of scientific evidence supporting it, then the explanation is fully self-contained. I readily concede that this is a possibility.

But, personally, I'm not convinced.

Psychological Factors
Alternatively, we can accept the premise that love as humans understand it is an act of reason. If this is the case, then there are some additional factors to consider, which might help explain the seemingly "irrational" bond between a parent and a child.

The first one is what I have called The Bunny Effect. This is our natural tendency to be drawn toward things that are cute. Babies are certainly cute. If you'd like to see The Bunny Effect in action, take an infant into a roomful of adults who are otherwise minding their own business. If you don't succeed in drawing a crowd, some wide smiles, and some healthy pro-baby interaction, then I'll eat my proverbial hat.

Now, a "natural tendency" may very well also be the incarnation of a biological factor, but it also might not be. People differ in what they consider to be cute. Some of us love cats, for example, while others hate them. There is no real evolutionary reason to feel an affinity toward cats, unless it is the product of a random genetic variation that neither facilitates species success nor inhibits it. At any rate, it seems to be a matter of personal opinion, and opinion is as psychological as anything can be.

Regarding The Bunny Effect, SU counters that a newborn is "a squished, red-faced swollen mess for a few weeks. This... serves to ruin the cuteness idea[.]" She further adds: "[M]ore compelling is the fact that we don't love other people's tiny and/or cute children."

Well, my own experience being around crowds of adults when an infant happens to be present runs contrary to SU's second claim here. Furthermore, history is replete with examples of noble people who put their own lives on the line to save the babies of pure strangers. There seems to be evidence that at least some people appear to love other people's tiny and/or cute children.

She's right, however, that not everyone does, and I can own up to this myself. (But remember, in my case, I'm suggesting that love is a rational choice based on worthiness, rather than an innate, non-rational, biological phenomenon.) Thus, The Bunny Effect should be regarded as a psychological factor that facilitates the parent-child bond, not the factor.

Next up is a series of factors we might call "egotistical" factors. I put that term in scare-quotes because I think these factors pertain to the human ego, but do not really have the negative connotation that the word "egotism" usually carries.

These egotistical factors are things such as: The desire to leave a legacy; The desire to be responsible for the well-being of another human being; The desire to watch innocence run its course; The desire to "see oneself" in one's child; The desire to live certain life experiences a second time, vicariously through one's offspring, and so on.

Such factors are very real, and different people experience them to different degrees. SU correctly remarks that adoptive parents certainly wouldn't "see themselves" in their adopted children, but that would not preclude them from feeling some of these other "egotistical" factors. Once again, none of these factors individually constitute the source of a parent-child bond, but certainly many of them experienced to various degrees and in summation help facilitate this bond.

There is one last, perhaps most-important, psychological factor that I think applies here, but I want to give it its own sub-heading because it seems particularly important.

My personal beliefs about human nature have been greatly shaped by researchers like Philip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram. One of Zimbardo's landmark articles is called A Situationist Perspective on the Psychology of Evil: Understanding How Good People Are Transformed into Perpetrators. Of course, that article is about evil, not love, but here is a note from the abstract to give you a clue about where I'm going with this:
This body of research [situationist research in social psychology - ed.] demonstrates the under-recognized power of social situations to alter the mental representations and behavior of individuals, groups and nations.
Naturally, Zimbardo has focused much of his professional life on evil, where it comes from, and how it can be prevented. However, any situationist theory of evil, if true, must certainly also hold true for love.

I neither have the credentials, nor the research, to be able to argue this point scientifically. Instead, I'll rest it on the contingency that if you agree with Zimbardo, as I do, then a logical conclusion to draw is that love can also be a situational response to a set of environmental conditions.

Does that sound far-fetched? Listen to what this contestant from the reality-TV show The Bachelor has to say about what it's like finding love in the context of a game show.

Being a parent is a highly significant psychological situation, one that includes stress, sleep deprivation, increased responsibility, increased scrutiny from family members, and so on. If situationism carries any scientific validity at all, it seems that the parental experience is the ultimate showpiece for it. Parents love their children unconditionally, perhaps in large part due to the mere fact that being a parent is a situation that demands that each parent take on that situational role. This isn't altogether different than accepting the role of a brutal prison guard or an obedient and hopeless prisoner, except that in this case the situation demands behaviors associated with unconditional love, rather than unconditional order.

True, this is not a particularly romantic way of viewing the parent-child bond (and happy Father's Day to you, too, by the way, ha ha ha), but if we lend any credence to situationist theory, then it's a hard set of evidence to ignore.

Unconditional Love
I had a college roommate, Mike (Mike! Where are you now?), who liked to joke: "They say that money can't buy you love, but money can buy you unconditional love at the local pet store!" If you accept the bio-neuro-evolutionary explanation of love outlined above, then Mike was absolutely - and hilariously - correct. (Even funnier is the fact that Mike was studying to be a veterinarian.)

Of course, if you're a dog, you have a very good reason to love unconditionally: Your master will give you food and throw the occasional tennis ball at you. So long as that's all you want out of life, you're good to go. Humans, though, require more.

I've done my best to counter some of SU's arguments, but the truth of the matter is that she makes some excellent points. All things considered, most of what we're debating is a matter of personal opinion. You decide what you believe, and go with it. At the end of the day, that's all that really matters. If you feel loved, then what does it matter whether it is a chemical phenomenon, or a situational one, a rational choice, or a haplessly irrational dictum of the human experience?

However, SU did say one thing with which I strongly disagree:
So when you're feeling like trash and then perk up a bit because you feel you have value just for being an entity in the universe, know that at least one person agrees with you: MOM!
I don't doubt SU's maternal sincerity here, nor the meaningfulness of her being loved by her own mother. But I do have a question: What is the value of a love that carries with it no reference to the recipient's identity or personal character?

Put another way, why should I be happy about the fact that someone else has decided to love me without any regard to any of my own redeeming qualities? What is such unconditional love worth to me?

I am certainly happy that I have loving parents; but I'm not happy because they agree that I have value just for being an entity in the universe. No, I'm happy specifically because my parents seem to understand me, to know what I need when I need it, to appreciate the very things about myself that I value most. In short, I am happy with the love my parents give me because it seems to reflect a genuine appreciation for who I am and what my best qualities are.

Receiving this kind of love is extremely important during those moments of life when we feel we have failed or come up short, i.e. when we're "feeling like trash." In those moments, we temporarily forget or set aside our best qualities and focus on our shortcomings. Having loved ones nearby who can remind you of your best qualities and help you understand that those good qualities far outweigh the bad ones with respect to their love for you is extremely therapeutic.

But what is the consolation in knowing that someone just loves you, just because, when you're feeling down? How does it help a person feel better, knowing that someone doesn't much care how much you fail, because after all, you are a pile of flesh who happens to be included in the family unit? Wouldn't it be better to know that they love you for specific reasons with which you happen to agree?

More importantly, what would this imply about Jiah Khan's situation? Despite all her boyfriend's bad behavior, she loved him unconditionally. He didn't respond. The relationship was one-sided. What Ms. Khan gained from the unconditional love she gave was the ability to live in a mental fantasy in which she was a Great Giver Of Love. Her final act of life on Earth was, at least in her mind and according to her concept of love, an act of tremendous love: She claimed to have loved him so much that she could no longer bear living in a world in which he did not return the same kind of devotion. Her final words were a terrible, dire warning that "No other woman will... love you as much as I do." And her suicide was submitted as evidence of that fact. By denying her boyfriend a lifetime of happiness with her, she enacted her final revenge on the man who was unmoved by her unconditional love for him.

Love without evidence, love without reason, love without cause... This is where it leads. Did Ms. Khan's ex-boyfriend benefit in the slightest from knowing that she loved him unconditionally? Should he have?

My answer is no.

Love And Not-Love
All of the above factors being considered, I think I can now make a few comments about what love is, at least in the philosophical sense.

First, as I said before, if you subscribe to the belief that love is merely a biological fact of evolution, then you have a full, self-contained and valid story. No other issue need be considered, other than a semantic one. To wit, if by "love" you mean the biological processes that result in human emotional bonds, then love is neither rational nor irrational, but simply non-rational. Call it exogenous, if you like.

But note: the statement "the biological processes that result in... bonds" implies that the process is different than the bond. Therefore, if by "love" you mean the bond itself, then what we are discussing is indeed a rational thing.

Even if certain natural processes create a bond, those processes will be rationalized in the human mind and justified with logic. If the natural processes make you feel that your child is your legacy, and therefore lovable, then the bond is fully rational even if the source of the rationale is chemical. If the natural processes make you aware of your partner's high degree of genetic variation from your own, your mind will reason that your partner possesses a compelling beauty, and is therefore lovable; the resulting bond is rational, even if its source is chemical. And so on...

Thus, it could be argued that these natural processes are not really love as the human mind understands it, even if they are the chemical source of it.

The case is even better if you don't buy the evolutionary explanation. The many psychological motivating factors that would convince a person to love another might include those "egotistical" factors, and many situational ones. If so, such factors merely facilitate the formation of a bond that is otherwise justified by the human mind. At any rate, those factors are not love. The bond, however, is.

What I'm suggesting is that any time one finds that one loves "irrationally," or "innately," or otherwise "just because," then one of two possibilities exists: (1) You are unable to explain the logical reasons for that love, despite the fact that they do exist; (2) What you are experiencing is not really love.

Back to Jiah Khan. Hers was not love, but obsession. She had no specific logical reason to love her boyfriend. Contributing factors may have been situational (South Asian culture tends to place a higher significance on sexual relationships than Western culture, for example), or perhaps Ms. Khan was, as AK notes, deeply disturbed. Whatever it was, it wasn't love.

Such "love" certainly did not benefit the recipient; unconditional love never really does. Who cares if someone loves you for no reason at all? Such love is wholly unattractive, and his behavior attests well to this fact.

But love based on specific reasons is validated beyond the mere firing of brain synapses or familial happenstance. Love that acknowledges a person's character, values, and actions is a bond unbreakable. When you choose to love a person because that person reflects the things you value, then and only then are we talking about love in the philosophical sense of the word.

Anything short of that could well be a biochemical, psychological, or situational illusion.