Selfish decisionmaking

Haemin and I met up last night, and she started talking about how she felt that people should be able to answer questions about their motivations. One of the simpler examples she used was deciding whether or not you want a family (a question she’d put to a roommate).

It really bothered her that the reasons she heard all sounded selfish, even if you had to deconstruct the motive a bit before the selfishness revealed itself. So I’ve been thinking about it.

But all I can come up with is that these kinds of decisions are inherently selfish, it’s just that some are win-win, and others are win-lose. It’s especially stark when you consider the decision to have kids, because the hypothetical kid is not there to represent their own interests. Even if you adopt a child, there’s still an element of your own desire to raise a child, and making a choice to satisfy a desire, no matter how beneficial it may be to another person or even to a cause, is selfish because that desire belongs to you. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If someone tries to be unselfish and choose something she doesn’t want, for example choosing to raise a kid when she has no desire to do so, it’s not just going to be a sacrifice on her part but it’s also going to hurt the unwanted kid. Kids still need to be wanted. They need to be part of the parent’s selfishness at some level.

Parents can tell their kids that they sacrificed so much for their kids, and it may be true, but it’s also true that the kids didn’t ask to be born into the family. I mean, this doesn’t mean that the parent should serve the child and can’t ask anything of the child. The kid should still appreciate whatever their parents sacrificed for them because appreciation at a certain level is probably good for the kid’s character. I’m just saying that if we’re being honest, the ultimate choice was the parent’s.

Just to cover my bases, I want to note that even if the decision is selfish at a deeper level, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter how many levels the selfishness is at. If the parent thinks they can just demand that their child fit into whatever box they ask them to, that’s obviously a terrible thing. From when the child reaches the age where he or she has a mind of his or her own to when the child becomes an adult, the child’s life is a dialogue between two egos. There needs to be negotiation, and the intention of negotiation has to be nurturing a mutual trust between parent and child.

Anyway. I guess you can’t totally escape selfishness but you can try for win-win outcomes as much as possible.

I know theoretically a Christian should be able to love selflessly with Christ’s love but I don’t think that my conclusion necessarily contradicts this. People inevitably hurt each other and commit sins. Because of Christ’s love, the new reality is that it is arrogance against God to say that anyone is unlovable or any sin unforgivable. If we tried to be completely selfless, though, we might say that because we don’t deserve grace and redemption, we should refuse it and suffer the consequences. That’s not the point. So at the right level, selfishness is inevitable and we should just accept it.

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Mental Health Today

You all know someone who’s struggled with thoughts of suicide. If you think you don’t, they just didn’t tell you. Or maybe you are the someone. Just something to consider.

A few tips if you want them:

  • There’s no point in comparing the validity of people’s struggles. When you talk to somebody who is struggling, before you say the wrong thing, remember that a dead body is a dead body, no matter how trivial their reasons were.
    • Know that people are not rational beings, no matter how good they are at logic. You cannot reason someone out of depression. Or anxiety, etc.
  • Isolation is a huge factor in mental health. Everybody needs somebody who accepts their darkness. Acceptance is different from pretending that the darkness isn’t dark, which is as bad as rejection. It means protecting the trust they expressed when they chose to reveal it.
    • For example, if someone tells you that they feel like their existence is a curse to everyone around them, hear them out and ask probing questions if you need to keep them talking.
    • Expect them to be thinking, “I shouldn’t even be telling you this.” They may be afraid of what your reaction will be, or of their own feelings of guilt over ‘burdening’ you with their feelings. You can’t make them feel safe and comfortable talking to you but a reasonable goal would be convincing them that you want them to keep the lines of communication open.
  • People who support others also need support themselves, even mental health professionals. You don’t have to go spilling secrets but if you break yourself trying to carry other people’s burdens, you can’t be a pillar any more.
  • Finally and importantly, always suggest talking to a professional. You can’t make an adult seek therapy but there is liability involved if you don’t act responsibly.
    • There’s a good chance that their answer is gonna be no, so it’s important to start working on the trust part before you pop a sensitive question.

On a somewhat unrelated note, you’ve probably also known at some point a person who has shared at least at some point the mindset of one of those mass shooters. I’m speaking as someone who used to fantasize about torturing to death the people that made me angry and got called into the counseling office as a 14 year old right after the Virginia Tech shooting. Everyone has anger (yes, like the little red cube guy from Inside Out) but some of us have rage on a different level. I have no idea where it comes from but I know the rage was there before the berserk buttons were created. I’m saying that the berserk buttons were created as a retcon, as an excuse to rationalize an irrational impulse for destruction.

Personally, my gut says that it’s more of as sociological problem than a psychological one, and that even though each individual shooter has some mental health problem, one-on-one intervention is not going to be effective against the epidemic. We need to figure out what’s really fueling the collective rage. These guys think, for example, that it’s women that they’re mad at, and that killing people will teach women to put out for “involuntary incelibates”. That’s not the true reason. I don’t know what it is, but it’s obviously not that simple. And treating it is not going to be as simple as just trying to teach schoolteachers and kids to look out for the overlooked, although that will help some.

We can keep guns out of violent hands like the Swiss do, but without a long, hard look at what’s wrong, the hate will continue to breed, and they’re gonna find other ways to be violent. Unfortunately, the risk factor may turn out to be something that we are powerless to undo, whether it’s poverty, or exposure to artificial hormones (if I remember right, there was this study that showed chemicals in common plastic were being read like estrogen and affecting reproductive health on like a global scale, and maybe something similar is affecting people’s aggression levels), or something else.

(subj: stocks)

Any mention of the word “stocks” makes my blood run cold because when I was in 4th grade, my teacher had us pretend to buy stocks and track them using the daily newspaper, so between the tedium of squinting at the tiny rows and filling out the worksheets, and the general depressing-ness of losing money, it was a nauseating experience.

(I don’t know why I’m thinking about that right now. Blech.)

(subj: sportsmanship)

Some of the rude things that people have said recently, at the ARC as well as at Open Gym, keep replaying in my head.

When I was in elementary school, my teachers rewarded us for “good sportsmanship”, or being polite to opponents and not making it personal. I would argue that good sportsmanship is being respectful not just of your rivals but also of beginners AND of players of other sports.

True, not all sports have the same physical demands, but that NEVER gives ANYONE the right to be disrespectful. Some sports may expect a certain amount of trash-talking. Fine. If there’s a mutual understanding, then it’s not disrespect, it’s part of the culture. But anybody saying things like “They’re taking up the court but their playing is such trash” about beginners, or “Why do _ players need the courts when _ is such a trash sport” about players of a different sport, THAT ‘anyone’ is the real trash.

  1. Insulting somebody in their own language so that they’re not understood by others doesn’t make it OK. It just adds cowardice to the trashiness. It makes them lower than trash.
  2. An athlete doesn’t have to wow audiences to prove that a sport deserves a little basic respect. If they think only a “good athlete” deserves respect, then do they also think that the disabled deserve the least amount of respect? No!

I wish people used their heads before mouthing off for selfish reasons.

(subj: pharmaceuticals)

The prices for generic for one seizure medication are like this:
Membership warehouse (cough, Costco) – $90/month
Walmart – $100
CVS and everywhere else without magic Internet coupon cards – $800, give or take a couple hundred (went down to $350 at CVS with the coupon)

This is why pharmaceutical/health care legislation is so frustrating, because the Yes people say that voting No is gonna let companies charge whatever they want like that Shkreli piece of work, while No people say that voting Yes is gonna make companies just withhold important medical therapies from everyone. I personally think that both sides could plausibly be correct. So you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

And this is “just” a dog we’re talking about. If owners really can’t afford it then there’s no ethical obligation against putting pets “out of their misery”. Which sounds AWFUL and is not an option that I’m willing to consider for my dog but not everyone has Costco membership and not everyone can spare an annual cost of $2K ($10K if you’re going to CVS or Rite Aid without the magic card) on an animal.

But PEOPLE are using the SAME medicines, you know? What happens when somebody has to say, “This medicine works better than the other ones but because it’s not locally available, or because of the prohibitive price, I’m gonna soldier on with a different medicine that doesn’t help as much or gives me more side effects or both”?

As a public sector employee, I have pretty darn good health insurance coverage and basically don’t have to worry about myself but I’m sure many people don’t have that. They’re no less at risk of having to live with lifelong conditions than I am. Some of them are covered through private employers (but the success of private companies, a.k.a. their ability to provide those benefits, can be mercurial even without the risk of sudden termination when like Microsoft decides to prune some branches) but some (like small business owners, the self-employed) have to wrangle it out with insurance companies on their own, like the little old lady in The Incredibles trying to understand how her policy doesn’t cover what she needs. They’re not that much better than a pet with no pet insurance (or a pet with pet insurance, honestly, as many pet insurances only cover accidents).

What do you say to them? Good luck?

I’m trying to understand something.

Some people might call it social anxiety. What I’m trying to plot out is how it’s self-defeating.

So far, I’ve got it compartmentalized to two major modes: reactive and proactive. And the more I think about it, the more I think that it’s one big self-defeating sine curve that cycles through the reactive and proactive modes.

Reactive runs kind of like this:

  1. I can’t tell if people enjoy my company or not, so I will let them decide when to invite me to things.
  2. People who actually like me will continue to spend time with me, indicating that they genuinely enjoy my company. I can avoid forcing people who dislike me to spend time with me out of politeness.
  3. But, they will stop liking me because I’m too passive, or they will come to think that I dislike them.
  4. So, waiting for other people to do all of the reaching out is socially an unsustainable practice.

And so the switch flips to proactive:

  1. People who would enjoy my company may not know that I would also like to hang out and talk to them if I don’t show that I also enjoy their company. I will take some initiative to talk to people.
  2. So, people won’t think that I’m too passive or that I dislike them.
  3. But, because I have trouble reading social cues, I may bother people who dislike me, or people who didn’t mind me at first will start to find me annoying and intrusive on time that they’d rather spend with other people or in solitude.
  4. So, I’d better not be pushy and let others take the lead.

Around and around it goes.

Naturally, normal people will probably find this totally bizarre because obviously, everyone needs to find a balance doing a little of both, read the situation, etc. The problem is that socially anxious people either don’t have confidence in their ability to interpret how other people feel about them accurately (i.e. paranoid that people are just being polite but really trying to get rid of them), or they actually don’t know how to read the situation and are painfully aware of the effect that they have when they make a faux pas but they really struggle with the learning curve. (People who don’t know how to read the situation and are unaware of the effects would be weird but not socially anxious, and people who do know how to read the situation and intentionally cause those effects would be creeps.)

For the first group, they’re the people that a lot of general advice that people hear about social anxiety is geared towards. “You’re OK, it’s the irrational anxiety and the anxiety alone that needs to be fixed.”

For the second group, my guess is that the problem could be that they have trouble thinking outside of black and white. For these guys, it’s super easy when 1 + 1 = 2, but when you’re dealing with “A increases the probability of B, C decreases the probability of B, and A and C are both present in different unquantifiable degrees, now figure out whether we’re leaning towards yes or no on B,” they either get stuck trying to convert it into quantifiable terms that they understand (where normal people kinda just eyeball the situation), or they just get thoroughly confused because it doesn’t even make sense to them because that’s just not the way that their minds think. I don’t know if all that made sense at all, but it’s OK if it doesn’t because it’s just an idea. I mean, any other ideas are welcome, too.

I wasn’t planning to go anywhere with this. I just thought that it’d be worth writing out, because it was kind of swirling around in some squint-inducing mess in my head and I couldn’t think straight. I wonder if that happens to everyone else, where you start thinking about something with no actual goal. Like you have a need to have it all articulated out but you’re not ready to rush to any kind of persuasive conclusion. For whatever reason, K – 12 left me with the strong impression that all serious-er attempts at writing have to turn themselves into a persuasive essay with an intro, body, and conclusion. But I’m just writing to detangle my own head and I don’t think that it makes sense to force myself to yank the detangling threads to the end as long as they’re mostly straightened out for now, and yanking often breaks the string, creating a sloppy or totally wrong conclusion anyway…

But yeah, social anxiety! I couldn’t tell you why I was thinking about it, though.

Student wages don’t cover student fees

  • There are 168 hours in a week.
    • A typical adult needs 56 hours of sleep. We can allot 21 hours for meals, 14 hours for maintenance (washing dishes, taking care of pets and their needs, showering, going to the bank, et cetera), and, oh, I don’t know, 2 hours for a regular trip to Costco. People totally take more than two hours between the commute, getting gas, eating samples, and browsing movies or whatever on top of actually getting what they’re there for, but probably don’t go every week, so I figure that that will average out.
    • UC Davis students are generally expected to average 15 units per quarter, which means 60 hours per week including lecture and lab. I’m going to be generous and include commute in those sixty hours. I almost forgot: let’s throw in an 4-hour unpaid internship for good measure, maybe in a professor’s lab.
    • For 33 weeks of the year, university students theoretically have around 11 hours to work a part-time job, relax, or do those miscellaneous little things that pile up. For 19 weeks of the year, 40 if they worked full time, Monday to Friday, every week.
  • Let’s say that we have a university student who’s just really, really efficient with time and works exactly 1,123 hours in the 52-week year.
  • How much money does this student need to be self-sufficient?
    • I’m assuming no financial aid because I personally believe that in a fair scenario, people can afford their education without relying on loans or scholarships.
      • It shouldn’t make sense that students from a middle-class, educated family need to take out large loans such that it will take 10 years or longer to pay off a 4-year activity that is basically expected of everyone. Maybe it sounds reasonable to some people but I’m guessing… hoping… that those aren’t the same people that complain about adult children moving back home after graduation to save money.
      • Scholarships and grants require time and effort from all of their applicants, and not everyone who applies gets the award. If you don’t get the award, which often doesn’t even cover a quarter’s tuition, then you’ve spent your time and energy for nothing. That is not exactly what I would call a stable source of financial support. I’m not talking about special underprivileged students or special merit students. Those are the people that scholarships are for. I’m talking about everybody else who aren’t winning the scholarships because relative to them, somebody else needs or deserves the award just a bit more.
    • Three quarters of full-time tuition for California residents is $13,896, plus $1,854 for SHIP.
    • Let’s estimate rent to $7,200, food $3,000 and transportation $300. The student is just super, super efficient.
    • A year costs $26,250.
  • If the student is a magical robot who needs zero down time except for like a day here and there (read: no school) and is not spiritual at all (e.g. no church meetings), then to break even, the student needs to average $23.37 per hour after filing their taxes. That’s with no wiggle room and it’s a weird number so let’s say $24.

The most hardworking student in Davis would need to make at least $24 per hour to afford school. That’s before considering that stuff happens. You get a weird schedule and the overlap with business hours means that you couldn’t work 11 hours even if you wanted to. You get in an accident and even with insurance, you need to shell out a couple grand. You get diagnosed with lupus (happens to more students than you might think).

The wage for student assistant positions on campus is $9.50 per hour. Some of these jobs are physically tiring, and the students who work those jobs are too tired to study well.

The problem is not the wage.

The problem is the tuition and “fees”…