Habit

What is a habit?

A habit is an achievement of efficiency.  It uses the invisible learning process to solidify neuron connections in the brain along required pathways and to prevent complication or interference from other pathways.  In the mind as representation of behavior of the brain, this translates to a reduction in the amount of thought and focus necessary to complete a task.

Done being scientific.  What does this mean in human terms?  Habit and thought are antithetical.

The more you think about a thing, the less it can become habit.  The deeper a habit is ingrained, the less you think about it.  The way to make a habit is to engage in the act of doing a thing repetitively and to avoid thinking about it beyond what is necessary.  The way to unlearn a habit therefore, is to focus on it with all the awareness you can muster.  Find the reason for the habit, and stare at it mercilessly.  Keep your mental eyes on it and convince your mind that this is not an activity you will engage in without consideration and focus.  Eventually your mind will capitulate and will begin to disable the mechanism that keeps the process in question moving outside of your conscious control.

Consider as an example: the first time you learned to walk up stairs.  You were probably very young and probably needed a few tries to do it successfully, even if your legs were long enough to take it in strides and your muscles strong enough to propel you upward.  Eventually your body and mind habituated to it and you found yourself flying up and down stairs with ease.  But since then, have you ever tried focusing on climbing stairs?  Concentrating on what each muscle group in your legs were engaging in, where your eyes were looking, where your hands and arms were, your sense of balance, breathing, etc. all at one time?  What do you think would happen?  Undoubtedly you would flounder just as you did as the small child first confronted with a new method of crossing terrain.  The mind simply cannot handle so much focus and concentrated effort while also being efficient, which makes complete sense from a logical point of view, but the ramifications of which are too often lost.

Habits are very powerful, and like any power can be abused.  The habits we form at any time only become more difficult to observe as the years go on.  Eventually we forget the reasons why we set the habits in motion, and may find ourselves needing to revisit them.  But old habits die hard, as they say in common language, and knowing you have a bad habit many years old is sometimes not enough to unmake it.  There are times when very old memories need to be dredged up, painful as they are, and brought to the surface so we can see clearly where the habit started.  Habits like this cannot be fought directly; you cannot hope for victory by fighting a war inside your mind.  You must find a way to use your hidden ability to reverse a habit by focusing at its source, and staring long and hard enough at it to convince your mind this is not something it can hide anymore.  Keep it in the open sunlight and it will shrivel and die.  Then, you’ll have a clean slate upon which to rewrite the way you behave as a person in life.

Promises

Some people are very afraid to make promises.  Rationale usually involves pointing out that nothing can be guaranteed.  But what is a promise?

A promise is just a statement from a person.  When you make a promise you are saying “I feel strongly about this right now, and as far as I can see into the future, this is how I want it to be.”  Are you saying “I can guarantee a positive outcome in the future”?  Of course not.  A promise and a precognition of future events are two completely separate things.  Nothing in the future ever happens precisely the way it is predicted in totality; that’s the nature of the chaos system we live in.  Should we let knowledge of that reality prevent us from making the strongest statements of feelings we can toward each other?  If we’ll do that, might we not as well refuse to tell someone we love them, since we can’t know 100% of everything about them and it therefore it is somehow “false”?  This is clearly a bad line of reasoning.  There is validity and value in things that are not guaranteed!

Have courage to make your feelings clear.  Make promises you would intend to keep as you make them.  And for those of you who have received promises and later felt the hand of fate take something away from you, keep your chin up and never let fear stop you from asking for more.

War

Men and women are beautifully different.  Each gender has, in general, certain benefits, pressures and expectations in life and society.  I’d like to explain a bit more of what drives the average man in daily life from my own perspective.

I enjoy being a man.  I like the fact that I make more money than the average woman, because I spend more money on women than I do on myself anyway.  This seems to fit in well with everything else I know about the relationship between genders, with man as protector, hunter, provider, etc. and the woman as nurturer and caretaker.  I appreciate feminism but I have never been with a woman who didn’t appreciate her own position in a relationship with me as well.  I respect and admire women in general and would do almost anything for a woman I love, as long as I am not taken for granted.  I think that’s all most men really want, to give all they have and for it to be considered enough to make someone else happy.  All I can ask any woman is to be the lover and respite I desire when needed, and never to forget me.

There is so much more to this quality of sacrifice that I want to talk about.  Women are expected to be variously beautiful and good mothers, to fit in with cliques of other women and to be faithful, as well as myriad other complicated social ways and mores based on particular culture or religion.  As a man I, on the other hand, am constantly assessing myself against other men in terms of financial, physical, and sexual prowess.  I live in constant concern over these things as if I could lose everything when a more successful man interferes, or even just by losing my own position.  And this is the crux of the issue:  as a man, I know without a doubt that I am not as valuable as a woman.  These things I consider worthwhile pursuits are merely the least worthless achievements possible for me.  I cannot taste the slice of immortality that comes from having a child and providing for it as only a mother can.  My sole purpose in life is a figurehead, a giant statue set at the door to keep others away, which could be replaced as needed by another serving a very similar function.  And when war is called, I will go and she will stay.  My only goal is to live in her memory as a hero.  In this way we men will come and go, living lives violent and short, hoping to make a mark.  Those not capable of violence will endeavor to be capable and aggressive in any other form available.

A woman’s goal in life is to make life.  A man’s goal in life is to give his life.  Those of us who accept this fate are the men who understand the nature of war and care more for others than possessions or themselves.  Volumes of books can be filled on the various ways many men attempt to deny the truth of their lives’ worth.  But if I need someone in the trenches next to me, I will choose the man with the sorrow of real knowledge of his position in life any day.  And in the mean time, I will gather around me those men I see as most fit for this very purpose, and look for that one woman who will remember me most clearly.

Xtranormal

Just found a piece of pure brilliance, possibly the best idea to hit the web in a long time.  I’ve begun turning old email conversations between my brother and I (nothing more than typical hyper-intellectual self-important college students bantering like oblivious idiots over metaphysics and other vapid topics) into this format.

Living in Chaos? Nerp.

Just in case you ever hear this word, you’ll know that I coined it. It’s my empirical recomposition of the twitting/texting acronym for “no problem” and means the same thing. It’s no less ridiculous, but language, like all things, changes and grows.  Let the words change themselves.

Attempting to maintain a perfect form is stagnating and protectionist.  Life is liquid and things can only be maintained in a liquid state.  Government can operate by the same standards, but its structure is different from one day to the next.  A language is constantly evolving to suit the need of speakers (assuming of course, it is still spoken).

We live in a chaos system, full of infinitely many possibilities of infinitesimal probability.  That’s a fun sentence, isn’t it…  Better to say such a system contains an infinite number of things that could change, and each one of them is changing from moment to moment, but only so slightly as to be unnoticeable.  Change becomes evident only over time and over large spaces; you can see a car moving down a street, but you cannot see the interactions of the trillions of molecules it comprises, or how fast it can move in 0.000000003384 milliseconds.  The smaller the scale of change whether in time or space, the more impossible control becomes.  The smaller the time used to measure, the less evident motion exists; the smaller the physical scale used to measure, the harder an object is to locate.  This is basically the Uncertainty Principle in layman’s terms.

So, of all the interactions in the world that allow me to say the word “nerp”, most of them work at a given time, but not all.  I can’t expect every molecule in my brain and throat and in the air to be cooperative at any given time.  I can however, expect that most of them will cooperate, and that is enough to get the job done.  Once in a while enough will fail that I will be unable to perform the task with minimal effectiveness to really be considered “talking”.  Once in an aeon perhaps, all those molecules will align perfectly and I will say the word perfectly (curiously I wonder if anyone would even notice).

What I mean to convey here, is that control can be exerted only on a general level, and should perform mainly as a loose guideline.  It is a prospect of diminishing returns, where less is gained proportionally as more effort is exerted, like a long-distance runner training to break a world record by a fraction of a second.  I could train for a year solid and possibly run a mile 50% faster than I currently do, but then my gains will decrease and I will need to train harder to make progress.

To paraphrase the author Steinbeck, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  Von Moltke’s famous statement comes to mind also: “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”.  This is wisdom we should all retain in our daily lives.  No attempt to control a situation will have 100% of the desired consequences 100% of the time.  It is up to us to evaluate the extent of the influence we are trying to have and assess its probability of majority success.

Failure on some level is a guarantee in every endeavor, so learn to live with it.  Give up the ghost and never let fear be your master.

On File and Music “Sharing”

(Note: if at any point in this article I allude to having engaged in illegal activity, it is both purely hypothetical and a dirty lie)

I have to admit that at one time, I hid behind the rationalization that sharing files and songs didn’t hurt anyone, as long as I wouldn’t have paid money for them in the first place.  I thought myself very smart in this observation.  But, there are many fine lines here.

Let me announce that I am fully aware of the disparity between a typical supply-demand marketplace and the way digital media works.  It is true that the physical act of making a copy of software costs only a negligible amount of money.  However, it is simply false and shortsighted to extrapolate from this that no damage is done in the process.

I knew what I was doing when I “copied” software.  I was having financial problems, wouldn’t be in a position to make a purchase for quite some time, and I wanted some things to make my life a bit better.  So, I let my selfishness get the better of me and I “found” some software that did indeed improve the quality of my idle time incrementally.  I allowed myself to be convinced that this situation in total could cause no harm to the companies responsible for producing the works. I could forgive myself for these acts now, especially as I have gone back and purchased (or made plans to purchase) most of the software I “evaluated”.  But that’s really a further rationalization, just another trick to avoid thinking deeper.  So here are some deeper thoughts on the issue.

First of all, I may be paying for software now, but I didn’t pay for it when it was first released.  That meant companies who devoted thousands of hours of productive time and paying salaries and licenses and all those costs of doing business didn’t get what they expected when they expected it.  This is a subtle point:  it’s the expectations that I am most concerned with here, because without being able to expect people to legally pay for what you produce, you will most likely not be fully motivated to produce the finest product available and release it to the market.

Now, there may be those of you who are altruistic or otherwise a member of the “free culture movement” and are willing to spend five years of your own time to produce something worth selling and then give it away for nothing.  If that is your wish, feel free to do so, as long as you do not infringe on the right of others to make a profit.  But, I will maintain the argument that a group of similar people can be motivated to do the same thing more efficiently, productively and effectively by giving them deadlines and promise of living a better life.

Such groups will form larger groups to manage themselves and the work they do better, and before anyone knows it, they will be a “big corporation”.  Any one of us could be part or owner of such a corporation; all you need is the opportunity and you will soon find that you need the same basic things as every other company in the world, and will be not only compelled but hoping to grow as large as next larger corporation in your industry.

That is the nature of the effects of competition in the marketplace; products get better over time and companies get bigger as projects get more ambitious.  That is why free markets improve quality of offerings at a fantastic pace.  Our own system here in the US is arguably the most successful example of this fact in the world.

So, when I think of a corporation, I don’t think of a machine.  I think of a group of people, which does tend to act in ways distinctly different than a single person.  Nevertheless though, a group of people is still just people, and their actions are based on the sum total of all the desires each person has been able or willing to express inside that group, with a more limited sense of liability.  They are people at the heart and it’s only logical to accept that any of us would act similarly in their respective shoes.

But I digress.  So how much did I actually “hurt” the makers of certain software?  First, I paid them late if I paid them at all.  Second, I most likely did not pay what was considered full price due to the length of time since release.  Third, I may have proliferated the idea that my actions were appropriate, which though harmless they might have been, could still be interpreted differently or abused in concept.  Ultimately then, I did them harm by affecting the original investment they made under a reasonable expectation of profit based on the total number of possible buyers.  It does not matter whether I am in bad times or not; the harm is still done to them.  If a recession hits (again) and half of their expected buyers become thieves after the product was completed, the company stands to be in dire straights.

The simple fact is, we live in a world of “haves” and “have-nots”.  Some can afford to buy food and some cannot; which class one falls in is determined only slightly less by luck than by effort.  If someone says an item is a product and it has a cost of money, then that is that item’s value to that person.  Likewise with an entire market: if virtually the entire world says an item costs $10, then that item is worth $10 universally as far as you are concerned.  If you cannot afford it, you will need to look to charity.  Even basic needs like food and medicine require a trade in value of some sort.  It doesn’t matter what you want or how badly you need something; if you cannot make the trade in value, you go without, and if you take the item regardless, you are stealing.  It would be wonderful if software companies could offer charitable copies of their software to the needy, but management of such a process is not feasible except on a large scale (as with Microsoft offering less expensive versions of software to developing countries).

So I stole.  The honorably way to have stolen, if it can be said to exist, would have been to admit I was stealing, and make every effort to repay the lost value as soon as possible, while trying to limit anyone else’s knowledge of the act in order to minimize the damage.  Not ideal for anyone, but that would have been most appropriate, if I was determined to go forward with it.  I regret not having been diligent enough to do this at least.

It can be said I have new perspective now after having created several pieces of software on my own, both for personal and professional reasons.  I suppose it would be difficult for anyone who has not created in an art medium to understand what it is like, but everyone should be able to relate to the idea that no one wants to be forgotten; we all want some form of credit, and it so happens that most people in the world happily translate “credit” to mean “money”.

I realize there are many cases where free software has been produced and has been quite good.  In fact I can immediately think of two types of software that have largely been superceded by superior open-source or free alternatives: CD/DVD authoring software and compression software (Zip files).  However, in each case, these alternatives were developed after years of refinement and development in the original product, compounded by the reality that each year makes software development more accessible and efficient.  No matter how you look at it, profiteering organizations paved the way in sweat and blood by using aggressive business and meritocracy.  They have a shared goal that motivates them very strongly, and it is these goals that create the magnetism that forms companies.  Without the attraction of group benefit, any alliance deteriorates.

What would happen to the economy if everyone spent a great deal of time producing something for free and gave it away freely?  I can tell you easily that it would be a disaster.  Potential working hours would decrease, fewer taxes would be collected, and quality of product would universally suffer due to lack of strong competition.  Finding a job or work that pays you enough to stay alive would eventually become impossible, because more companies would lose all potential for profit and would disintegrate.  The poor would become more destitute as their skills would be relegated from minimum-wage to wage-less.  Ironically enough, this would hamper free trade with other countries and would thus have negative effects on the sharing of culture.  This is just a demonstration of a larger rule in economics: if no money changes hands, everyone loses.  GDP goes down and everything snowballs from there.  This is why we stimulate our economy in times of recession.

So friend, I leave you with some final considerations that should keep you thinking for a while.  How exactly is making a pirated copy harmless?  How can any group, clan, corporation, sect, government, or any form of organization survive without a shared goal of reward?  Why would you ever think it was a good thing not to charge money for your efforts?

Greed, like many other attractive and simplistic urges, can be abused and can wreck families.  But, this is not sufficient to make it a source of evil.  The truth is, you are doing all of us a favor when you ask for money for your work.  Get out there and make something great to sell us, and we’ll be happy to buy it.