Measuring a life

August 25, 2009

Note: What follows is a column I wrote for my university student paper.

The Princeton Review recently ranked Washington University as fourth in quality of life. Rice took first, followed by Bowdoin, and then Claremont McKenna. This ranking is based on students’ responses to questions about food, the campus, the local area, student interaction, friendliness, and happiness. So basically, they aggregated all of their other statistics together to estimate the quality of life.

While it is impossible to rank someone’s quality of life, it is possible to approximate. We know that someone who does not need to worry about where his next meal is coming from has a better life than someone who does need to worry. Once people have shelter, food, water, and safety, you must look at harder to quantify areas. This is where the approximating comes in.

With the physical needs met, relationships, esteem, love, and self-actualization must be considered. If this all sounds familiar to you, it is because Abraham Maslow thought up this system back in the 1950s. He outlined a hierarchy of needs with the physical—food, drink, sleep—at the bottom and at the peak self-actualization. Self-actualization is doing what you were born to do. For example, writers write, teachers teach, and directors direct. When all of these needs have been met, your quality of life is the best it can be.

How do you measure someone’s progress to self-actualization? That would mean knowing what the person was born to do and how close they are to achieving it. You cannot measure this for yourself, let alone another person. However, you can estimate the quality of someone’s friendships, love life, and esteem through questionnaires. Using these you can extrapolate how near someone is to self-actualization, but extrapolation is inherently inaccurate. So, take that quality of life ranking with a large grain of salt.

Self-actualization is the something missing when nothing else is missing. The need for self-actualization makes otherwise comfortable people restless. College is the time for this restlessness, as all of our other needs are best served by the academic environment. All of our physical needs are provided for, and the needs of belonging, love, affection, and esteem can be easily satiated. You can knock out at least two of the four by simply joining a fraternity or sorority. Freshmen RAs jobs include making sure these needs are being met.

At no other time in your life will you live surrounded by people your own age all working towards the same goal. Now is the time when all of your friends are no farther than a walk. Taking advantage of all of this privilege to work on your last need makes sense.

Finding out what you were born to do and doing it is a tall order, but it only gets harder when you have other commitments—a job or a family. When you finish college, your good friends may be too far away or to busy for you to have that conversation that makes you reevaluate how you see the world. College is the time for restlessness, as evinced by most people changing their major at least once (especially if they come in as a BME at Wash. U.).

In changing your major, you gain the experience of having tried something. It seems the best way to find out what you were born to do is to do it. Go for it. Try new things, but more importantly meet new people. Wash. U. prides itself on its diversity of race, but diversity of thought is what is most needed.

We are truly privileged to be at Wash. U. Resources to improve our quality of life surround us. St. Louis is a Metro ride away. The Loop a short walk or shorter bike ride. Olin library is in the center of campus. Your new friends are down the hall. Be restless and go for a trip.

Hate Crime

August 18, 2009

I ran across this article a while back. It talks about adding homeless people to the list of those protected by hate crime laws.

This struck me as odd. What separates a hate crime from a non-hate crime? It seems that a hate crime is motivated by a hatred for some aspect of the victim that is shared by a group. Creating a new class of crime with heightened punishments is justified because this attack is an attack not just on the individual but on the community that shares the hated aspect. Thus, it is particularly harmful.

Obviously, this is a gray area. It seems to me, that this would be best left up to judges, who can consider the individual factors of each case. A hate motivated killing will ripple through the targeted community, causing distress. However, a non-hate motivated murder will too.

Let’s say a mugging goes bad. A person is killed. That person’s family and friends are affected. If that person belongs to a worship group, they are affected. Coworkers, neighbors, and more are affected.

The difference between the two is that in hate case, the targeted group feels threatened more than the non-targeted groups and the groups in the non-hate case. This feeling of fear is stressful and detrimental to the targeted group. Thus, the hate crime does do more damage by assaulting not just an individual but a group. Therefore, it should be punished accordingly.

That said, the question of motive is a thorny one. Few of us know what our motives are day to day. Who is to say that he can accurately judge the motives of someone else?

Hate crimes should be on the books, but they should be thoughtfully applied. There must be a community that feels threatened by the crime, and the crime must have been hate-motivated. For the case of crimes against the homeless, I don’t know if there is a genuine community of homeless. Expansion of hate law in this case seems to be blurring the line further.

Love and Escapism

August 16, 2009

I like to at least skim the New York Times each day to keep up on what is going on in the world. Also, as Seth Godin noted everyone else reads it, so it makes it a really easy jumping off point for good conversations.

That said, I don’t usually read all the way through an article. I did read all the way through this one. The short version is that there is a 2D love movement in Japan. Some men’s fandom of a 2D character has grown into romantic feelings for the character. These men treat the character like a girlfriend, going out together, spending time together, having sex, and so forth.

“Pure love is completely gone in the real world,” Honda wrote. “As long as you train your imagination, a 2-D relationship is much more passionate than a 3-D one.” This statement embodies what is wrong with this movement. These men—it appears to be nearly exclusively if not totally exclusively men—have given up on the real world. I understand this impulse.

In high school, I had a rough junior year. Due to family issues, I also threw my hands up and said “Fuck this.” (I was an angsty and angry junior.) I escaped into video games.

I eventually realized what all I missed out on. Sure, playing games was tons of fun, and I didn’t have to deal with any of the problems going on in my life. By not dealing with them, I didn’t fix any of them. I just put them off.

These men, by choosing to give up on real love with a real person, are avoiding the problem. There fantasy land of love with a 2D character is very comforting and safe. They can be perfectly happy loving a 2D character; indeed, they can be happier than trying to find love with a 3D person.

However, they are denying themselves a chance for greater happiness. The 2D character is limited in so many ways compared to a real person. It won’t ever surprise them. It won’t ever have an original thought or an interesting story to tell. It also won’t ever betray them. It won’t ever cheat on them or make a mistake.

Some of them realize that they are limiting themselves. I wish more of them did. I frankly find this escapist culture downright creepy.

An introduction of sorts

August 16, 2009

Hello there and welcome. I don’t quite know what I want to say here, but if it’s like my last blog it will be a mix of musings and discussions of movies. It will be much better than my last one as my musings have improved.

I invite you to stay for a while and enjoy yourself. Feel free to comment.