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Distance, Friends, and Late Nights
|Long before (well, a year before) I began studying social cognitive neuroscience, I felt several uncomfortable and disjointed thoughts nagging at the back of my mind. The first was -- if the personalities that we possess are created through environment and genetics and thus largely out of our conscious control, then how is discriminating the people we come into contact with based on their personalities any different from discriminating based on attributes such as gender, race, or sexual orientation (I'll address this in a future blog post)? The second -- if upbringing and genetics play a significant role in our proneness to violence, impulsivity, and crime, then how does one measure true culpability? After all, if a certain individual did not adequately develop his capacity to empathize due to childhood maltreatment, or grew up with neglectful parents with a neighborhood with rampant drug-related crime, it seems that this individual is far more likely to commit a crime than your average person through no fault of his own. In fact, it wouldn't be a far stretch to say that the average person would most likely commit a crime if they had lived through the childhood of this individual instead of their own.|
So where do we draw the line? The principles of socially-agreed upon morality (what I like to call the lowest common denominator of morality) are far more difficult to understand, accept, and live by for some people than for others. What is common sense for you, and what seems bafflingly callous to violate in your eyes, might be a principle simply incomprehensible to some unfortunate others.
While removing all personal culpability from the picture and placing full attribution on immutable circumstances might seem careless, the very existence of morality in itself is flimsy. Morality (the differentiation of "right" and "wrong") has a self contained definition, meaning that it cannot be defined using terms that are not directly the product of its existence. It cannot be defined in external terms as something like empathy, the capacity to recognize and value another's emotions, can be defined. There is no scientific evidence for its existence, other than its use as an independent variable in various psychological studies, and just like intelligence, you would be unable to demonstrate its existence to someone who didn't already believe in it (thank you, TheAlecDelgado, for enlightening me about this). All of its generally agreed-upon components (empathy, impulse control, proneness to pro-social behavior, etc.) can be separately defined in neural terms and can be predicted by brain imaging. This isn't to say that it's useless --- it's a very useful construct that helps us make sense of the world and make better, pro-social decisions. However, something with such flimsy scientific backing should not reliably justify punishment, or dictate responsibility.
Conscious deliberation, following social norms, and controlling our impulses all have neural bases. They are not philosophical phenomena, and are 100% determined by what our brains look like. No piece of the criminality puzzle is independent of neural circumstances., and thus, responsibility for one's criminal actions should be a purely social, and not a moral, phenomenon. Punishment should have nothing to do with moral culpability, and should have everything to do with the simple fact that, by committing an action that has detrimental effects on the society that benefits you, you are jeopardizing your place in it.
|RIP Aaron Swartz
|I'm normally an "observe at a distance" person when it comes to politicizing something. After all, what's the point in reiterating arguments that have been made countless times? But something about this is different. I've posted about it all day on my blog, and I wanted to get all of that down in a cohesive and singular entry.|
Someone dies unjustly. A part of the population tries to do something about the reason why that person died unjustly.
It seems pretty fair to me, but those would like to retain the status quo while keeping their conscience clean scream out ďstop politicizing!!!!Ē and ďlet his family mourn in peace!!!!!Ē It's a tiring rerun of what happened in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, when some claimed that the tragedy should not be used to advance gun control. But telling the world NOT to do anything is still politicizing, itís just politicizing in favor of the status quo.
I'm sure news stations and websites will make a spectacle out of this story and start on that soap opera path ofÖ.ĒOh, were drugs responsible? What about mental illness? We heard he was very introverted!!!!!Ē. In fact, it's already begun. And that makes my blood boil. People don't seem to grasp what has happened here. We lost a genius. We lost someone who could have turned Internet politics around, among many, many other things. We lost a rarity, and a much needed one. And we lost him to a judicial system that bullied and harassed him TO HIS DEATH for a case that the so-called victims didn't want to prosecute him for. And to all the people who are condemning him for taking the "easy way out": what would you do if you were facing 35 years in prison as a convicted felon for a crime that was the cyberspace equivalent of trespassing?
I was pretty surprised that very few people were talking about this, then I realized that very few people on the internet give a shit unless a story is packaged nicely into a neat, easy-to-read post, complete with emotional pandering and loose ties to social justice. Gun control, health care, let's go nuts! The second something becomes slightly more difficult to decode and loses its emotional appeal, everyone falls silent. But how? How can you not give a shit? Is it because none of you would ever be brave enough to do what he did, therefore this doesn't affect you? Can you possibly be that naive?
What happened today cuts me to the fucking core. We, as humans, love to bask in the glory of our species. In fact, that is one of the most common and least intelligent arguments against things like veganism, or staunch animal rights activism. ďHumans are superior because, well, look.Ē Humans have, to our knowledge, gone further than any other species before us. We are dominating the world and have filled it to the brim with our technology. We have harnessed electricity, and are on our way to becoming a Type 1 Civilization. We transport ourselves at speeds that are a thousand times larger than those of our body parts. In short, we are, it would seem, incredible creatures.
Except weíre not. The use of the collective pronoun is wrong. The vast majority of the population, and that obviously includes me, is no more intelligent, and no further progressed, than the ancestors that came before us tens of thousands of years ago. We are basking in reflected glory. The advances of humanity --- these incredible, incredible inventions and discoveries and trains of thought verbalized into books --- are the work of a few extraordinary people scattered throughout human history. That makes it all the more incredible. Humans have progressed solely due to the genius of a tiny fraction amongst us. Isnít that unbelievable? The rest of us? Weíre exploiting that genius, and claiming credit for it.
Thereís not exactly anything wrong with that. You can patent an invention, but you canít patent being extraordinary. You canít patent progress, or the glory and the self esteem and the feeling of superiority that comes with it. I mean, can you honestly wrap your head around the fact that the only thing that separates you and someone from 2000 BC is progress that you had no part in? Maybe you can, but I canít. Itís terrifying to think about. And I know what youíre thinking, but I didnít start this post just to point that out, even though itís been on my mind for as long as I can remember.
Aaron Swartz was one of those people. He belonged, at least in my opinion, to the extreme end of the bell curve. We desperately need more of those people, and we always have. These are the people who go south on a northbound highway, and win out the majority, because it turns out, that northbound highway was actually southbound. But a bell curve remains a bell curve, and thatís the curse of statistics.
It makes me want to go out and do something. To be a better person and contribute ANYTHING to making this hellhole of a world a slightly better place. It makes me want to stop living a shallow life and start speaking up instead of biting my tongue at the best moments. It makes me want to try and crawl my way to the other end of the bell curve.
In memory of Aaron Swartz, please go sign this petition and download these files from BitTorrent. Those files are what he died for, whether or not he intended to make them public. They contain tens of thousands of scientific publications that are normally available at up to 19$ PER PUBLICATION. Thatís extortion, and someone else has continued Aaron's legacy by putting them on TPB for free, and with his name attached (let's hope we don't have a repeat on our hands). Scientific knowledge should be public knowledge, and available for free to the human race, but thatís only a tiny fraction of whatís going on here. As for the petition, it speaks for itself.
tl;dr RIP Aaron Swartz. You made the world a better place, and I have no doubt that if you had lived on, you would have continued to do so.
Links that do a better job of saying what I just said:
|Write-ups here: http://heartshapedguitar.tumblr.com/...2012-write-ups|
1. The Menzingers - On The Impossible Past
2. Teenage Bottlerocket - Freak Out!
3. All Time Low - Don't Panic
4. Forever Came Calling - Contender
5. Daytrader - Twelve Years
6. I Call Fives - I Call Fives
7. Masked Intruder - Masked Intruder
8. The Sidekicks - Awkward Breeds
9. The Snips - Highs of Lows
10. No Trigger - Tycoon
11. Silverstein - Short Songs
12. Mixtapes - Even On The Worst Nights
1. Sundials - When I Couldnít Breathe
2. Luther - Letís Get You Somewhere Else
3. Handguns - Angst
4. The Holy Mess - Cande Ru Las Degas
5. The Dopamines - Vices
6. Misser - Every Day I Tell Myself Iím Going To Be A Better Person
7. Yellowcard - Southern Air
8. Cheap Girls - Giant Orange
9. Downtown Struts - Victoria!
10. Last Call - Dog Years
11. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
12. The American Scene - Safe For Now
13. The Bouncing Souls - Comet
1. Desaparecidos - MariKKKopa/Backsell
2. The Swellers - Vehicle City Blues
3. Broadway Calls/Mixtapes - Vision Quest
4. The Swellers - Running Out Of Places To Go
5. Elway - Hence My Optimism
6. Spraynard - Exton Square (RIP YOU FUCKING ASSHOLES)
Most Anticipated 2013:
1. Broadway Calls - Comfort/Distraction
2. Dead To Me - TBA
3. The Swellers - TBA
4. The Wonder Years - TBA
5. The Hotel Year - TBA
6. Junior Battles - TBA
7. Silverstein - This Is How The Wind Shifts
8. Elway - TBA
9. The Dangerous Summer - TBA
10. Fireworks - TBA
1. YMAS/The Swellers/Twin Atlantic/WATO - Troubadour
2. Bomb the Music Industry! - Aladdin Jrís
3. The Menzingers - Aladdin Jrís
4. Dead To Me/Broadway Calls/The Arteries - Blue Star
5. Desaparecidos - Bottom of the Hill
6. Teenage Bottlerocket/The Dopamines/Elway - Troubadour
1. The Menzingers - Casey
2. Desaparecidos - MariKKKopa
3. The Swellers - Vehicle City Blues
4. Sundials - New York Crunch
5. Two Hours Traffic - Feel Alright
6. Broadway Calls - Lucky Lighter (yep, it counts)
7. Matt Skiba and the Secrets - Voices
8. Masked Intruder - Heart Shaped Guitar
9. All Time Low - Outlines
10. Spraynard - Can I Borrow a Feeling? (RIP YOU FUCKING NERDS)
11. The Sidekicks - DMT
12. The American Scene - Hungry Hands
13. Japandroids - Fireís Highway
14. The Snips - Lines
15. The Gaslight Anthem - Howl
1. The Hobbit
2. 21 Jump Street
3. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
4. The Avengers
5. The Dark Knight Rises
6. The Hunger Games
9. The Amazing Spiderman
10. Les Miserables
1. Going to San Francisco with two people I met the day before and getting a hotel with them
2. Seeing Desaparecidos' reunion show with said people/hearing my favorite song ever live
3. Being able to live out the song 'The Monarch Hotel"
4. Drug-fueled summer = best summer ever
5. Getting the only 97 in my entire section on a paper that I wrote
6. One of my closest friends making the cheesiest montage ever for me
7. Coming out to myself
8. Setting up a turntable system from parts
9. Finding some direction in life/pursuing a double major
10. Warped Tour/all the other awesome shows
and many, many more.