Altruism in an Uncaring Universe, and The Good Place

Posted on 02/09/2018 in Uncategorized

The last episode of Season 2 of The Good Place had a fantastic message buried inside of it.

Nobody is truly altruistic in the dictionary definition of the word. (But that’s okay – we’re only human, so we make human decisions).

Altruism does not exist in a vacuum. A good person doing kind acts will only perform those acts for so long before they stop doing them, if you kick them in the face every time they do them. Because they’re good, not stupid.

More subtly, a good person in a truly brutal and uncaring universe will only keep doing selfless acts for so long, before they lose the ability to keep doing them. Because we get a fuzzy feeling of awesome from doing good things for other people – which is a reward. It’s an old reward, one baked into our genetic code (and into the code of most mammals to a degree, but turned up in primates). It’s the concept of /fairness/.

A highly altruistic person operates on this principle: I’ll do good things for you out of the goodness of my heart, because it’s the right thing to do. In return, my brain rewards me with a sense of being a good person, who helps others.

In an uncaring universe, that contract – a social contract between people with similar firmware – is broken. (This also happens in large cities, where people are stressed). The rewards are spotty if they come at all.

Without the reward, people get tired of it, and eventually stop – or turn against the behavior. The strategy isn’t working, and has been proven not to work, and most people won’t keep doing the same thing over and over again if there’s pain involved – or if actions aren’t reciprocated.

What does this tell us?

Thank people when they help you, or they won’t help you.
Don’t lash out at people for sincerely trying to help you – or they won’t help you.

Our world is a pretty bleak place right now. Don’t squash the helpful butterflies. They’re part of the grease that keeps the machinery going forwards without grinding. Be polite. Treat each other well.

A lot of our world works because people are altruistic. If our world becomes entirely transactional – I’ll do something if you do something tangible for me – it’ll turn into a remarkably hollow, sad, and lonely place, partly because transactional relationships lead to attempts to game the system, or tilt the playing field in your favor. Right now we’ve got an altruism deficit, and that deficit is growing. So don’t be that person.

(And I’ll try not to be that person too, and we’ll get along swimmingly).

Why People Share Articles on Social Media

Posted on 02/04/2018 in Psychology

People rarely share articles to spread knowledge. More often they don’t care about the details. They just care if the way the article made them feel matches the way they feel about the general topic.

This is why it’s hard for people to keep a grip on facts, reason, or even basic journalism principles in an age when outrage, emotional responses, and clickbait are more important than fact, fairness, and judgement. More…

Long time no post… I wonder why? (Music, Politics and More)

Posted on 01/21/2018 in Business, Entertainment, Me, Music

Hello everybody,

It’s been quite a while since I last posted on the blog. Why? Well, it’s a number of things:

Everyone’s going nuts over politics, and has polarized. I’d post about political stuff, but I just don’t have the heart for it. Partly this is because I’ve recently found that I lose friends when I talk politics (I don’t automatically slew in the direction of my friends on every issue even though I’m a bleeding-hearty lefty – I prefer nuance, and right now there’s none). I’m not willing to compromise my principles or ignore facts or skip analysis, so away from politics I go.

Work has been busy. I’ve been doing new and interesting things, some of which may or may not pan out… But as a result, I’ve been trying not to blog. I discovered many years ago that writing kind of shifts a gear in my head – and I don’t want to get stuck in that gear. It can take weeks for me to shift back, so I’ve been avoiding it. Instead, I’ve been working on music.

I wouldn’t have considered myself a musician until recently. I can barely consider myself one now – impostor syndrome being what it is. Especially if I compare myself to my favorite musicians. I’m just not on the same page. But there’s one thing I do really well, and that’s learn new things rapidly. So let’s say I’ve reached the level where I can say that I’m relatively competent, if not an actual expert.

So far I’ve released 4 singles. There’s more coming… I’m trying to build towards an album. Everything’s being released under the name Fleeting Shadow, and you can find me on ReverbNation here: , Bandcamp here: , and on the music label Foxxy Music here:

Or you can just listen here:

Writing music is pretty much the best stress-reliever I’ve found. It’s more immediate than writing screenplays (a screenplay is not a finished product – it’s a halfway point… so it’s less gratifying). Even better, I’m enjoying the music I’ve written, which is great.

(I will get back to screenplays at some point, but right now? There’s no point).

As part of this wonderful change in scenery, I’ve also started a music label with my wife Darci Morales – Foxxy Music, LLC. The first album we’re putting out comes out in 5 days (1/21/2018) and isn’t my music. No, this is from Alternative/Alt.Rock/Indie/Grunge(?) band The Happy Pill Academy. They’ve trusted me with their baby, so I’m doing my best to make sure it’s well fed and looked after.

Their first album is Kerosene, Matches and Time, and will be available on streaming music and digital download sites. It might even show up on CD / Vinyl at some point, but that’s further in the future.

There’s a lot involved in running a music label – way more than I thought. It ends up there’s a lot of moving parts behind the scenes before music makes its way into your grubby little mitts. Never mind the logistics of P.R. and press coverage, getting radioplay, getting songs into the charts.

(We can even create our own ISRC codes now… we’re holding off on UPC codes for now, because they’re a lot pricier).

Either way, this is an interesting new side venture. We’ll see where it takes me. Maybe nowhere. Maybe somewhere… but at the very least, it gives me something better to do with my time than argue politics.

Creation and action beats directionless agitprop, every time.

Be the change you want to see in the world. I’m going to do that right now.

Lessons Learned from Camping

Posted on 08/23/2017 in Uncategorized

Pooping is easier without pants, especially when you had to dig a hole first.

Try to poop before sunset. It’s way scarier in the dark.

Bring a real shovel. Emergency snow shovels don’t do a great job of digging poop holes. (I had a hunch…. so I brought a real shovel).

Ants will mostly leave you alone, even if they have a massive 15-foot across anthill, if you dump a small amount of food on the hill as a ritual offering.


Leaving Quora

Posted on 08/14/2017 in Meta, Science, Software Development, Technology, Writing

Quora recently changed the site in some heinous ways. They removed the details from all questions, because they’re trying to make sure that there’s only one “canonical question” you can search for an answer to.

Quora Logo

Unfortunately this destroys nuance – after all, there’s only so much detail you can put into 250 characters.

So in response, I’m going to start migrating all of my question answers on Quora to my blog. It’s going to take a while, but hey, more content for the blog.

The Paradox of Empathy

Posted on 08/11/2017 in Psychology

The problem with empathy is that too much of it is bad, and too little of it is bad.

Too little empathy, and you’re an uncaring sociopath who doesn’t care about others’ wellbeing.

Empathy is great when it comes to doing nice things for nice people when everything’s going well. That’s the easy scenario.

Too much empathy when you’re dealing with people acting poorly, however, and you care so much about others’ wellbeing that you only examine the problem in a shallow fashion, and will avoid doing what appear at first to be “mean” things that are better for the other person in the long-term, to avoid causing short-term pain.

In many ways, too much empathy is selfish.

Because you’re not really being nice. You’re avoiding causing yourself pain just as much as you’re avoiding causing the other person pain. There’s very little altruism involved here.

In addiction counseling, for example, you’re not in the role of helper if you’re doing this – you’re in the role of enabler.

That’s a hard lesson to learn. Especially if you consider yourself to be a good, noble and empathic person. You need to examine the long-term consequences, not just the short-term ones.