The Fecundity of Feelings

October 18, 2012 at 10:17 pm (Emotion)


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The Frailty of Feelings

August 16, 2012 at 10:06 pm (Emotion, Social)

The strength of a person’s character could be said to be largely derived from the handling of his/her emotions. Indeed, for more “explicit” or “objective” personal idiosyncrasies such as general hobbies, socioeconomic status, or gait, the trajectory of trait development is roughly linear and similar for like-minded people. However, given all else equal, for the more “implicit” or “subjective” perspective of the dealings with feelings, the differing internal mechanisms of personality and mindset from person to person would cause all sorts of divergences of personal idiosyncrasies in the way to which such feelings are responded, felt, and/or executed. Therefore, whereas it would be difficult to reject the notion of the crux of “being human” being to feel, the corollary reputation one has within the relatively arbitrary social hierarchy of interpersonal relations could be more easily argued to be derivative of one’s personal response to the fundamental human experience of feeling(s). Phrased more simply, a person’s respectability (by others) is based on maturity level, which is in turn based largely on how he/she deals with feelings. Thus, feelings paradoxically simultaneously provide both a possible source of strength of character and the potential downfall of social self-respect.

The rationale for this seeming paradox may be initially neither apparent nor lucid. I would ascribe this elusiveness of the fathoming of emotions to the enigmatic facet of the aforementioned feelings. That is, feelings are vague. They typically don’t make logical sense. They’re all over the place. One could even conceivably argue that feelings constantly have trouble registering on the corporeal field. A half-analogy with words might be useful here: Feelings are akin to words in that they’re abstract. They both don’t actually tangibly exist. For example, I could show you a pen, point to it, and say “pen!”; and you could nod along. I could then do the same thing to a chair and still say “pen!”, yet you would have to shake your head. Sure, the pen or the chair itself is tangible, but the word we assign to it is not. Similarly, we have the messier situation with the words for feelings. How do we know we’re both feeling the same thing when we refer to “anger”? To “happiness”? To “loneliness”? Are you feeling what I’m feeling? Couldn’t only I feel what I’m feeling? True, we can know what the outward appearance of the feelings look like for others and we can even borrow from the same collective pool of descriptive vocabulary to engage in a fleeting moment of shared consciousness, but we couldn’t know what’s happening internally for/to others. Sure, some people have a much better intuitive sense of empathy, but unless someone’s mind is completely shared by/with others, it’s just impossible to know unquestionably what exact feelings are being felt by another person.

Moreover, everyone has his/her own individual set of life experiences that further color and add to the conceptualization, comprehension, and carrying out of feelings. In other words, nothing happens out of context; there always exists something else concurring that inevitably informs the feeling of feelings. That these concurrences are currently and conjointly cohabiting naturally creates a complex whirlwind of competing priorities that consequently causes chaos when combined with the feelings from interpersonal interactions.

Hence, given the inherent vagueness of feelings and the contextual convolution of the circumstances or derivations of people’s feelings, the complicated and varied manner in which feelings could be felt and dealt with makes sense. Accordingly, it also follows that the dealing with of feelings would be a true and difficult test of character where the way in which a person responds to his/her feelings surreptitiously discloses much more about the person than any other type of action or words ever could. Ergo, if feelings are discounted post-actions/-responses, the residual reactions reveal a person who is either self-aware, confident, stable, and/or mature (i.e., feelings provided strength) or doubtful, wary, uncertain, and/or immature (i.e., feelings caused frailties).

Tangential commentary: I’ve been dwelling on this for about two months (from the initial publication of August 16 to the wee morning hours of October 19)…. Also, I forgot how flowery and convoluted I get late at night … and how I apparently seem to favor rhymes, slant rhymes, and alliteration. I really shouldn’t be left alone with my thoughts.

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How to solve poverty

February 18, 2010 at 9:15 am (World problems) (, , )

Poverty is a prevalent and systematic issue. Few, if any, societies exist without some proportion of its population living under a livable threshold. Accordingly, it’s become almost kind of a “stock answer” of being a good person to “solve poverty” or, at the very least, to address it. But before we can even begin to tackle the monstrosity that is poverty, I think we first need to understand part of the reason why poverty embeds itself so well in the “natural” order of civilization/society/humankind.

Over the course of history, different economic/governmental systems have arisen to attempt to circumvent the issue of poverty. Equalistic communism tries to equal the playing field, so that the poorest people are taken care of by the richer. Darwinistic capitalism tries to create a competitive “you can do it too” atmosphere to motivate the lower-skilled and lower-class people to strive for independence and to be more like the upper classes; if not, they’ll just “die out” and problem solved, right?  Justice-striving socialism attempts to provide public goods (education, health care, policing, parks, etc.) through the government or governmental or government-like agencies for all citizens. The list can go on and on, and this list undeniably unfairly simplifies everything. But one of the biggest differences among these and other systems of rule and order is how to deal with the dregs of society, so to speak.

One of the topics that gets regularly and exhaustingly addressed in the social sciences and other fields is that of social stratification. That is, most people tend to be stuck in the socio-economic classes they are born into; there is little intra- and inter-generational movement between classes. Therefore, people from rich families tend to be born into and live in the upper-classes their entire lives. Likewise, the poor tend to not only stay poor but also have children and grandchildren that stay in the lower-classes as well.

To deal with the issue of social stratification, several programs have been created to provide the lower classes the same opportunities that the upper classes have that usually keep them in the upper classes. For example, education has long been seen as the societal lubricant that allows an intelligent low-class person to move up the socio-economic ranks. But the reality tends to be that only the upper-classes can afford such education, and thus, in a way, the poor are institutionally prevented from rising. Perhaps in response to this, financial aid (e.g., FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid]) programs have helped people of lower financial statuses gain access to higher education that has historically been accessible to those who did have the financial means to do so. We can even look at the public education system in general to see how creating free basic education to everyone has improved society as a whole.

But all this is still only a reaction to the symptoms of the issue. How can we effectively address a disease without looking at both the symptoms/outcomes and the causes? We can compare the upper-class population and the lower-class population and see that the difference is money. If we give monetary help to the lower-class, then our problem should be solved, right? On some level, sure, but we will completely side-step what I think is a large part of why stratification and poverty continue.

I go to the University of Texas at Austin (UT), a public university. Until recently, Texas had a law that stated that any public Texas university would grant automatic admission for in-residence Texas students graduating in the top 10% of their class. (Now, the law has been amended to cap off the percentage of admitted freshmen because it was shown that UT [the only top-tier public university in Texas] was on a trend to eventually admit virtually all students under this policy. There are lots more details if you want to read up on your own.) This policy would seem to allow admission of high-achieving students from all facets of society regardless of race or gender and–more pertinently–class. But a case study of UT’s incoming freshman class of Fall 2008 shows otherwise.

  • The U.S. Census reports that the median household income for Texas in 2008 is $57,495. 62% of incoming UT freshmen for Fall 2008 had self-reported parental incomes of $60,001 or higher. So the median household/parental income of UT students is skewed toward the richer.
  • The U.S. Census reports that for Texas families, 12.8% live below the poverty level. For simplicity purposes, let’s assume that the average family size is 4, so the poverty threshold is $22,025. Only 7% of incoming UT freshmen for Fall 2008 had self-reported parental incomes of less than $20,000. Sure, the percentage point difference is only a few points (and it’s difficult to match up numbers exactly perfectly), but at these small percentages, the difference is very much so heightened. So the lower-classes are (not surprisingly) underrepresented.

Of course, these are the symptoms of stratification. Texas’ top 10% rule, financial aid assistance, and other programs have probably alleviated the skewings, but we still observe them at statistically-significant levels. The more daunting and tell-tale statistic in that freshmen profile cited above, though, are the percentages of highest parental education of that incoming Fall 2008 class:

  • 84% of the incoming Fall 2008 freshmen had at least one parent who had at least some college.
  • 70% of them had at least one parent with a 4-year degree or higher.
  • Only 8% of the incoming Fall 2008 freshmen had parents whose highest educational attainment was high school (or the equivalent).
  • 6% had parents who had less than high school.

These numbers show us that parents who went to college overwhelmingly have children who follow in their footsteps. In 2004, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 27.2% of Americans have a 4-year degree or higher. Compare that with the 70% above. 52.5% of Americans have had at least some college. Again, compare that with the 84% above. These percentages are vastly different. But what type of implication is exhibited by this?

The reason why I went on this wild higher-education tangent from poverty was to show that people with certain means to resources continue not only to have access to these means across generations but also to use the resources. The people who have historically not had access to things like education continue to ignore the vast potential gains they could have because, frankly, they probably don’t even know what types of benefits they could gain. I could go on another tangent about how people in your social network remarkably resemble you and how your social network affects an incredible amount of what you know and do, but I’m going to refrain for now (although there are plenty of articles that show the effects of one’s social network on things like mood, emotion, etc.).

So what I’m trying to say is this: poverty-stricken people will probably no doubt continue to be poverty-stricken because this is what just naturally happens. They don’t know any other way of life. We can offer great resources like food banks, education, or economic incubators (i.e., establishments that provide basic business training for unskilled or low-skilled people), but if lower-class people simply don’t know how much it could help them, they won’t make use of these resources.

A great example here is the offering of free immunizations in India. Economist Esther Duflo observed that in a rural community in northern India with extremely high child mortality rates, free immunizations (to deadly diseases like measles and tuberculosis) were offered to parents, but by the age of 2, only 2% of children had been fully immunized. Why? The resource was there. The benefit is obvious. It was even free. Then Duflo tried an experiment in which free lentils were offered to parents who would take their child in for shots. The percentage of children immunized sky-rocketed to 37%! Again, why? The lentils didn’t do anything. The immunizations were still free. The difference now was that these poor families were being offered things they could actually relate to. Being poor, they probably knew little about health and medical care, but they definitely knew about food and hunger.

Thus, on this same note, how can we expect poverty-stricken people to take advantage of any type of help or resources better-off people offer them if they just don’t know how much it will help them? (Tangentially, it’s like how parents always stereotypically tell their kids, “You’ll understand when you’re older,” in the same way that the poverty-stricken will understand the help being offered to them if they ever become well-off.) How can we make real and relate-able the vast benefits and advantages certain resources (like education) have for them? These are the things that need to be accounted for in order to help the low(er)-classes realize not only that they need help but also that the help being offered will help.

Ergo, I don’t actually have the solution to solve poverty. Instead, I’m propositioning a different perspective that may actually work: couple the help/programs/assistance offered to the poverty-stricken with things that they can relate to and understand in order for both things to be taken advantage of. The latter will bring long-term beneficial change, while the former will allow short-term utilization by the population served.

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Ebbs and tides of friendships

January 15, 2010 at 3:17 am (Social) (, , )

I’ve long wondered about how socializing works. Is there a (mostly)-set pattern? Can we somehow understand how we make friendships or relationships? Should we feel badly when a social connection goes sour?

A computer science friend of mine once described to me a simple computer program “game” he created to mimic life and evolution. He programmed all the organisms (there was only one species for simplicity’s sake) to have the same life span and for food to be distributed randomly spatially but regularly-timed. The organisms who were further away from the food would die out sooner, while those who were closer would get a short “boost” in life, reproducing if their life meter reached a certain point. He ran this simulation for many, many generations and then graphed the population over time. The resulting chart surprised him so much that this particular story was not only remembered by him years later, but I too have remembered it over a year after his telling it to me. There was a perfect sine graph. Of course, his reasoning of the parallel of this simple model to the complexities of real-world evolution left something to be desired, but the underlying message to me was clear: after accounting or controlling for several variables, things become amazingly predictable.

I brought up this story because it sets up a good (but not directly applicable) foundation for the explanation of my philosophy on the connections people make throughout life. I’m not saying there’s a predictable pattern (or, rather, not predictable yet anyway) for the quantity or quality of friendships/relationships people forge over time. Instead, the interpersonal connections we make throughout life are in essence cycles of associations or links we make that constantly begin, end, and resurrect–much like the predictable population size cycles in my friend’s computer simulation. To clarify, the intensity or magnitude of the interpersonal connections (whether friendships, relationships, acquaintanceships, etc.) we create and maintain with others fluctuates based on both parties’ own needs or interests over time. We begin such a link when there is some common ground, we develop these links as both parties grow and evolve together, and then we allow these connections to fizzle out when there is no longer a mutual need or interest for things to continue. Later on, some sort of new (or old) commonality may (re)arise to re-awaken the social ties, or such connections will forever remain inactive thereafter. Of course, this probably all sounds rather organic, raw, and very go-with-one’s-whims. However, these cycles of social connections described above represent only a basic model of social ties. We must add in social obligations, moral tendencies, emotional attachments, and all the other complexities of the human experience, to  truly replicate real-world socializations.

Indeed, this is all a pretty basic observation. And if we look at how people respond to the fluctuations in the social linkages created, we start to see some irrational behaviors that are generally based in emotion or illogic of some sort that result when there is a change of any kind to the extent of the interpersonal connection (as we could have expected from the addition of the aforementioned complexities to the basic model of social ties I described). People over-react, over-dramatize, or over-feel due to such changes. This is where I like to think that I differ. If any relationship or friendship I’m currently in is no longer symbiotic enough for the other party (or for me), then I really have no choice but to accept the death sentence given to the relationship. Otherwise, it’s really just simply selfish. However, there are indeed circumstances in which miscommunication leads to the false impression that the mutual benefits gained by both parties in a relationship or friendship have reached the lower threshold where the continuation of interaction is no longer worth it. In these such instances, I find that full disclosure alleviates the unease of a relationship’s devolution (or it could even shed new light on something and cause things to either maintain or move forward). A tangential note: I think that communicative transparency helps ease essentially all types of socializing because everyone thinks and sees things so differently that it’s unrealistic and unreasonable to assume that others can infer your own thoughts or motives based simply and solely on your actions or words.

That said, I can’t actually know where I stand with people who have appeared to drift away from me. Obviously, such a friendship is and will be a bit strained for a myriad of reasons. However, I must concede that such a person and I don’t even have to remain friends. Perhaps we got to know each other during a time in which we both needed a little hope or uplifting from someone who could have been a friend or even more than a friend, and that window has now closed. Perhaps the window is actually still open, but other circumstances in life have given the semblance of a closed window. Perhaps there’s nothing to salvage because whatever connection we formed was based on shaky grounds (e.g., we both needed something particular from the other and we achieved it, insecurity on a number of possibilities, trouble with dating or at-the-time or current relationships, a way to release tension or stress to someone [and it could have easily been anyone] who would listen, or so forth) in the first place.

So the next time you make a new friend or are thinking about your current friendships/relationships (in any sense: social, professional, academic, love, etc.), maybe you could think about how such a process occurs/will occur/occurred. You might see previously-unforeseen patterns that reveal a lot about yourself. Who knows?

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Me and you

January 7, 2010 at 1:08 am (Language) ()

It’s a familiar grammatical error. Using the grammatically-incorrect object phrase “me and you” as the subject or object of a sentence.

I’m not linguistically adept, so I’ll leave such structural musings to more capable people. Instead, I wanted to ponder on why such a mistake even exists in the first place. I posit a self-indulgent origin.

Let’s try to break things down. There is the conjunction “and” separating the first part and the second part. It implies equality between the two pronouns. However, it is quite easy to reason that the first one mentioned will be slightly elevated over the second pronoun—in connotation if not in denotation.

Conversationally, “me and you” reigns supremely (over “you and me” or “you and I”) among the general population. We can turn to dialogue in various scripted television series or “reality” shows for evidence. Definitionally grammatically, the “and” implies whatever is on each side of the “and” is equal to the other. In practice, however, we must concede to some extent that the first word mentioned gives the strong implication that that word not only popped up in the speaker’s mind first but also has slightly higher importance to the speaker than whatever followed the “and.” Everyone who goes through the education system learns that the correct order always places the “I” or “me” last. And if since this is the case, how can such a mistake not only still occur but occur on a pervasive scale?

Returning to the notion that the order suggests subjective meaning to the speaker (and, consequently, the audience too), we can reasonably conclude that the pervasiveness of the error of the inversion of the correct order of pronouns has some sort of … psychological or possibly even maudlin basis. Since a logical rationale for this grammatical error is difficult to grasp, we must resort to this not-as-“logical” explanation (i.e., the “psychological or maudlin basis”).

Elaborating on this illogical basis, the positioning of the first-person pronoun first implies that the speaker thinks of him- or herself before the “you,” “him,” “her,” or “them” that follows the “and.” So the fact that the phrase “me and you” still exists in American vernacular only serves to push forth the underlying American cultural mainstay of egoism/militant-individualism/self-indulgence that has formed and developed the country. Yes, I understand that the latter part of that statement is unfounded in this blog entry, but I’m not trying to prove that America is individualistic in nature relative to its developed nation peers. I’m just saying that the prevalence of “me and you” is due to such a nature.

Even if the correct order of person pronouns is used in the subject, the incorrect subject/object pronoun could be used. That is, the subject of a sentence may be correct in that the first-person pronoun comes after the “and,” but the first-person object pronoun of “me” is used instead of the subject pronoun “I.” This could imply that people enjoy being the passive receptor of action (read: laziness) rather than the instigator or director of action.

There are so many possibilities for why these first-person pronoun errors prevail in our colloquy. But for American society, I think egocentrism and slothfulness provide an excellent rationale.

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