Human nature

I recently read an interesting post entitled ‘Intelligent Design’ at http://bubbler.wordpress.com/. I enjoy reading bubblers blog when I get a chance. It is both thought-provoking and creatively (even beautifully) written. My take on a recent post is that he believes most of society’s problems can be solved by improving our society’s infrastructure rather than by blaming individuals. He says “In other words, ‘problems’ such as homelessness, poverty, and crime are systemic problems of design. Problems such as destruction of the environment, high percentages of needless waste in every sector of industry, and general unhappiness in career choices, are problems that can be solved through better design.” Maybe this is taken out of context and I may be misunderstanding his premise, but I would like to express the opposite opinion. I have gradually come to the conclusion that most individuals end up in bad situations through a series of bad choices. I believe the same is true for our society as a whole. When we try to intervene by improving the immediate situation without giving a person a reason to make better choices in the future, the self-destructive behavior continues.

 

I once knew a woman who insisted that she really would like to find a husband but that there are no good men out there. And yet, when friends tried to improve her situation by introducing her to good people she found a multitude of excuses for not getting to know them. Instead, she continued to date men that were not interested in a relationship. Parents may complain that their teenage son drinks heavily and fails classes no matter what they (and his teachers) do to help him out. Yet they won’t take away his car because then they would have to drive him to school. I once devoted an entire Saturday (7am to 8pm) to repairing and painting a house for a charity event. The owner was a lovely person, but her middle aged son refused to move from in front of the TV so we had to literally work around him. In order to paint the walls of his bedroom, we had to move his dirty laundry, dirty dishes and drug paraphernalia to the center of the room. I’m sure she appreciated our efforts for a short period of time, but I suspect the house is already in need of further repair. A previously irresponsible child-actor, professional athlete, criminal or lottery winner will spend his windfall irresponsibly and end up broke. A violent anti-social person who becomes a professional athlete will remain violent and anti-social even though his socioeconomic situation has improved significantly.

 

When I was in high school my psychology teacher had us play a board game. She said that although the game could be ‘won’, it was extremely rare because the players had to work as a team and not as competitors to win. She said that any team that won would get automatic A’s and not have to take the final exam. The game was designed so that you might have to go hungry or leave your young children at home alone in order to have money to contribute to the community. The idea was that if everyone chose to contribute to the community regularly, then crime/poverty would gradually decrease and we would win the game. I was amazed that one by one every single one of my classmates turned to crime in order to improve their personal situation even though it was clear that this would not win the game. And this was only a game! I learned a lot about human nature that day. Most of us are selfish and not too terribly insightful about how our current choices influence our own long term happiness, let alone the ‘greater good’.

 

I believe that for every person that is helped by “the system” aka our government/my taxes, there will be dozens who abuse it. Maybe I’m a cynic, but I don’t think a person will change his character and start making better choices just because we (society) find a way to improve his current circumstances. We can make it easy for a person to make good decisions, but if (by improving his situation) we remove the consequences of bad decisions, he is not going to change. It may be easy to ride a bike to work or buy a fuel efficient car. But we, as a society, are not going to give up our addiction to oil until the price of gas is so high that we have to be more conservative.

 

I realize that many of my arguments are tangential to the bubblers main point, but my point is this…human nature is such that the Utopia that bubbler describes is virtually unattainable. How’s that for a downer?

A cereal review

cereal-bar-copy.jpg

Since I haven’t posted in a while, I thought my next post should be something earth-shattering, important and personal. But instead…

I bought a box of Special K with chocolate chips yesterday. For some reason it made me think of the chocolate cereals (that made the milk into chocolate milk) that I loved as a kid. Aldo sometimes uses the phrase “kind-of gimicky, kind-of good” for items that catch your attention for a gimicky reason, but that are just good enough that you’d buy it again. Special K cereal on the other hand, is kind-of gimicky, not-so-good. First of all, the gimmick is a little misleading. When I think of Special K, I think to myself….’it’s not supposed to taste good, it’s good for me and it will make me skinny.’ This is what the marketing folks have brainwashed me to think. So when I see Special K with chocolate chips, I think to myself ‘ok, I can eat chocolate for breakfast and lose weight’. Of course my logical brain knows that this is not realistic, but I bought it anyway. The biggest problem is that Special K gets soggy too fast. Secondly, the chocolate chips have a weird tendency to leave an oily coating in your mouth. Of course this is expected with a chocolate chip which contains fat. But when it’s in a cold cereal, the texture is disturbing. Sort of like eating cold french fries. If you want chocolate with your cereal, I would recommend instead, a homemade cereal bar.

 

 

Too much happiness

I suggested that we walk down to our local pub for hamburgers and beer a while back and Don Aldo replied, “but we just went out to dinner last weekend”. I didn’t understand his response since we weren’t really on a strict budget at the time and two hamburgers and a pitcher of beer cost less than $20 at Adrians anyway. I asked him “so what? Would that be too much happiness?” Now I use the phrase whenever he tries to prevent me from doing something fun. I wonder how people develop this tendency to think that we have to refrain from taking time to enjoy ourselves.

We recently decided to build a patio (I like to call it a courtyard since it’s between the house and the garage). We ordered patio furniture 2 weeks ago and Don Aldo dug out the dirt and put down the first layer of gravel early this week. We wanted to make sure everything would be done by Aug 1st when Toby and Tiger (aka mom and dad) come out for a visit. Yesterday, I called about the patio furniture and the vendor told me that it will arrive Aug 20th (sorry mom and dad, I guess it’s plastic furniture and folding chairs). Then, it rained heavily for the first time in ages last night, so Aldo can’t compact the gravel until the ground dries a bit (sorry mom and dad, we may be sitting on plastic furniture in a dirt lot instead of on a patio). Finally, we got a bill from the IRS stating that we owe $2500 in taxes for an error that our accountant made in 2005!

I’m beginning to think that God has the same philosophy as Aldo about too much happiness!