Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nothing in the Modern World Benefits the Average Person

I kept going back and forth about how to title this. I also thought of  "Modern Life is Too Complicated."

This might just end up being a brain dump because I have too many disparate thoughts running through my head. My thoughts are U.S.-based since that is where I live.

One example that stays on my mind is the concept of the credit score (also known as FICO score). Having a negative credit score can greatly affect a person's life. This is because credit scores are used in ways that go far beyond applying for credit. Credit scores can be used as a qualifying factor when a person applies for a job. They are often used by landlords to decide whether or not to take on a renter. They are used by utilities of all kinds (phone, water, electricity, etc.) to determine the amount a person should have to put down as a deposit. Notice that I have not mentioned credit of any kind so far; no loans or credit cards, just the basic necessities of modern life. The same applies to someone with no or low credit. AKA a person who either has not ever used credit, has very little credit (for example, only one credit card) or used to have credit but has stayed out of debt for a long time. Say 7+ years. People with no or little credit are seen almost as bad as people with bad credit. So you can't opt out without it negatively affecting you. Also, paying (non-credit) bills late negatively affects your credit score but paying those same bills on time does not have a positive effect. 

Now you may assume that you would be able to freely access something that can have such huge effects on your life. But no. In the U.S., each individual is only entitled to one free credit report from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) each year. And this only includes your credit information, not the almighty credit score which is what most utilities/loan agencies use as the deciding factor. You have to pay extra to get access to your actual credit score. 

Also, no one knows exactly how the score is calculated. The algorithm(s) used are closely guarded secrets. You can get a rough idea of the calculation here.

So I put on my thinking cap and started to ponder why such a complex system would be put in place. I mean I can understand why past credit performances could be used to predict future creditworthiness but why does this credit score have to seep into every part of a person's financial life?

I came to the conclusion that the system is set up to extract the most money out of the greatest amount of people possible. Institutions make money at every step of the process.  Here are a few examples:

1. The credit bureaus make money by supplying the information on your "creditworthiness" to all the groups that ask for it: potential jobs, landlords, banks, utilities, etc.

2. Several companies make money by supplying you information about your credit report/score for a monthly payment. The information that these companies provide vary in their reliability.

3. The utilities/landlords use the credit score to justify keeping a deposit of your money until you stop doing business with them.

4. The various lenders who use a person's bad credit score to charge them exorbitant interest fees instead of just denying them credit (which would make more sense if they really didn't see that individual as "credit-worthy").

5. The credit card companies who make money on both sides of almost every financial transaction. They get a percentage of the sale from the vendor and get interest from the cardholder.

Now is there a way to use credit without being burned? Of course, and you will find lots of stories online of people who have done it. Those who never carry a balance on their credit card, are always on time with their mortgage, etc. Those who reap all the benefits without being burned. But then there are many other people, about half, who don't pay their balances in full every month. Which leads to lots and lots of money being made by the credit card companies in interest.

This doesn't even include all of the mental resources a person has to use to keep up with all of this information. Or the frustration of having to correct something that is wrong on your credit report.

Anyway, I'm starting to ramble now and should probably wrap this up. I am thinking about making this a series.

What are some issues that you have with how the world treats the average person? Keep in mind that most of the stuff I mentioned above is stuff "privileged" people have to deal with.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Follow Your Dreams

I realized recently why I often find it so hard to motivate myself: I don't have any real dreams.

That's not completely true. The real issue is that my biggest dream is an impossibility: to not exist. I'm not suicidal (I wouldn't have the balls to kill myself even if I was) I just don't want to be in this world. In my heart of hearts, I find this world absolutely abhorrent.

If I had to rate my dreams on a scale of 100 to 0 (100 being associated with my biggest dream), I would put not existing at 100 and the next biggest dream couldn't rate any higher than 50.

Hmm. Let me start over. I think I have one real dream (not existing) and a bunch of compromises. My compromises include making a decent income, (possibly) raising a decent family*, avoiding as much pain as I can, and not living for a long time.

My biggest compromise is setting up a good passive income. I need to start that this summer.

What about you, fellow pessimists? Do you have any dreams? Do you follow them or does the meaninglessness of it all get to you?

*I know, I know. I shouldn't. I just can't imagine what else I will do with the next 60+ years. We'll see; I haven't made any final decisions. Maybe I can just keep postponing it until the decision is made for me.

Friday, May 8, 2015

If I Ever Had a Child

If I ever had a child I would have raise them to love work. Because that is literally all we are here in this world to do: work. Or I would have to raise them to be really skilled at avoiding work.

It would be more practical to raise them to love work since there's always work (made up or not) to be done and people loovvee hard workers.

God have mercy on anyone on this world who doesn't love to work.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Heaven Is For Real?

Imagine. #atheist #atheism
I came across this picture on Pinterest months ago and for some reason it has just stuck with me. The third photo from the top particularly had an effect on me.

I just don't see how heaven can exist. And I'm not even talking from the perspective of whether or not we have souls, how a being could live forever, etc. I'm talking about the idea of a place where humans are eternally happy. I just don't see it. Such a place could only have been designed with assumption that the world is the problem, not humans. I think a lot of the evidence points in the opposite direction: humans are the problem. Of course phenomena like illness and natural disasters contribute to human suffering but a large part of our suffering comes from issues within ourselves and the innumerable ways that people hurt each other. Basically, for heaven to be heaven, you couldn't be human as we understand the concept. 

To be utterly happy in heaven, you couldn't be you. But I don't think that that's how people think about heaven. I think they see themselves as they are (maybe a bit more attractive, smarter, etc) but without anything that makes them sad: "every tear shall be wiped from their eyes," etc.

Even some of the concepts mentioned in heaven (I'm talking strictly from a Christian perspective here) showcase many of the flaws of humanity. For example, people often mention living in mansions (John 14:2) and walking on streets of gold in heaven (Revelation 21:21). Wouldn't these be as vain in heaven as they are on Earth? If we lose our flesh (physical body), why do we even care what we live in or walk on? The fact that people get excited about this stuff shows me that if heaven exists, it won't be too different from what we have here.

And this is leaving out out several other critiques of heaven: the monotony of doing anything forever, the fact that many wonderful people who happened to be born in the wrong religion won't be there while many horrible people who were born into the right one will be, etc.

Confession: I have started attending church again. However, philosophical issues like the one I've discussed above just won't leave me alone.

I hope there isn't an afterlife and, if there is one, people like me can select the 'other' option and can choose to have eternal rest.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Don't Have Kids If You Can't Afford Them!"

It's an oft-quoted statement. And on the surface it appears simple and self-evident.

But I don't think it's that simple. And more importantly, it ignores what human beings are: biological organisms whose main purpose is to reproduce. I know we don't want to hear that but it's true. We may tell ourselves that we're actually here to worship God, become better people, make lots of money, have fun, etc but the sheer (near) universality of procreation says differently. A few people throughout the ages have chosen not to procreate (Catholic priests and nuns being just a few constant examples) but they are the tiniest of exceptions. (I read a statistic once that stated that throughout history, there has been a near constant 10% of women who have not procreated. I don't know how true this is but even if it is completely accurate I wouldn't include all of those women since they many of them probably were infertile and actually wanted kids).

It's just not realistic to expect people to stop procreating for any reason, especially not something as common as poverty. 

The other side of the issue is that I don't believe that most of the people who say "Don't have kids if you can't afford them!" actually care about the children involved. If they did, they would take concrete steps to help the child instead of pointing out the parents' failings. I believe the real reason most people bring up this topic because it gives them a (false) feeling of superiority. They like looking down on the choices of those poorer than them and (falsely) feeling like they wouldn't make the same decisions if they were in the same position.

All of the above is why the cycle of childhood poverty will never end. Poor people are going to continue procreating regardless of their financial situation and those relatively well off don't actually care about other people's kids enough to help them and they like feeling superior in comparison to poor kids and their parents.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Montaigne on Death

"It seemed to me that my life was hanging only by the tip of my lips; I closed my eyes in order, it seemed to me, to help push it out, and took pleasure in growing languid and letting myself go. It was an idea that was only floating on the surface of my soul, as delicate and feeble as all the rest, but in truth not only free from distress but mingled with that sweet feeling that people have who let themselves slide into sleep."

- Montainge

"Where death waits for us is uncertain; let us look for him everywhere. The premeditation of death is the premeditation of liberty; he who has learned to die has unlearned to serve. There is nothing evil in life for him who rightly comprehends that the privation of life is no evil: to know, how to die delivers us from all subjection and constraint. Paulus Emilius answered him whom the miserable king of Macedon, his prisoner sent to entreat him that he would not lead him to his triumph, 'Let him make that request to himself.'
- [Plutarch, Life of Paulus Aemilius, c. 17; Cicero, Tusc., v. 40.]

 "[L]et us learn bravely to stand our ground, and fight him. And to begin to deprive him of the greatest advantage he has over us, let us take a way quite contrary to the common course. Let us disarm him of his novelty and strangeness, let us converse and be familiar with him, and have nothing so frequent in our thoughts as death. Upon all occasions represent him to our imagination in his every shape; at the stumbling of a horse, at the falling of a tile, at the least prick with a pin, let us presently consider, and say to ourselves, ‘Well, and what if it had been death itself?’ and, thereupon, let us encourage and fortify ourselves. Let us evermore, amidst our jollity and feasting, set the remembrance of our frail condition before our eyes, never suffering ourselves to be so far transported with our delights, but that we have some intervals of reflecting upon, and considering how many several ways this jollity of ours tends to death, and with how many dangers it threatens it. The Egyptians were wont to do after this manner, who in the height of their feasting and mirth, caused a dried skeleton of a man to be brought into the room to serve for a memento to their guests"
- Montaigne

"In truth, in all things, if nature do not help a little, it is very hard for art and industry to perform anything to purpose. I am in my own nature not melancholic, but meditative; and there is nothing I have more continually entertained myself withal than imaginations of death, even in the most wanton time of my age."

 - Montaigne

"All the whole time you live, you purloin from life and live at the expense of life itself. The perpetual work of your life is but to lay the foundation of death. You are in death, whilst you are in life, because you still are after death, when you are no more alive; or, if you had rather have it so, you are dead after life, but dying all the while you live; and death handles the dying much more rudely than the dead, and more sensibly and essentially. If you have made your profit of life, you have had enough of it; go your way satisfied."

- Montaigne

 "I believe, in truth, that it is those terrible ceremonies and preparations wherewith we set it out, that more terrify us than the thing itself; a new, quite contrary way of living; the cries of mothers, wives, and children; the visits of astounded and afflicted friends; the attendance of pale and blubbering servants; a dark room, set round with burning tapers; our beds environed with physicians and divines; in sum, nothing but ghostliness and horror round about us; we seem dead and buried already. … Happy is the death that deprives us of leisure for preparing such ceremonials."
 - Montaigne 

all via:

Sunday, March 23, 2014


I've been inspired by a group called the 5 percenters to create my own percentage breakdown of human beings. The 5 percenters, also known as the Nation of Gods and Earths, is an offshoot of the Nation of Islam which started in the 1960s in U.S. They have many teachings but the one that stuck out the most to me was the one behind the 5 percenter title. The teaching is that mankind is divided into 3 groups: the 85%, 10%, and the 5%. The 85% are the masses of people who are blind to the knowledge of self and God and hence are easily led astray and taken advantage of by the 10% who know the truth but use it to their advantage to control the 85%. Much of the 10% are in roles of power in areas like government, traditional religious organizations, etc. The remaining 5% of humanity are the ones who know the truth and want to help liberate the 85%.

Here's my breakdown:

  • There are 2-5% of humans who are good. That is their nature. They truly care about people, want to help them, and spend a large chunk of their lives doing so. Nothing is going to permanently discourage them from helping people. I've known a few people like this in  real life. Mother Theresa is often used as the archetype of this personality type but I hesitate to put her here after what has been considerable criticism of her philosophy and approach. A better example is Stan Brock, the founder of Remote Area Medical, an organization that provides free medical care to people in the U.S. and abroad. The organization is completely volunteer based so any money donated goes directly towards supplies and other vital needs of the organization. Mr. Brock takes no income for his work, sleeps at the RAM headquarters, and does not have a car. It's not very often that I'm impressed by people any more but Stan is on that short list. You can read more about him here and here. This is the website for his organization.Someone's even making a documentary about him. There are plenty of other people in this category who I cannot name because they do their good works without media attention or societal praise.
  • The next group is the 10-20% of people who are not absolutely good but they lean toward goodness and caring about other people. Given slight incentives, they could form the basis of a decent human community. However, given the current negative incentives, they are more likely to donate to a charity or volunteer at a soup kitchen and deal with other symptoms of the current system than  working to put an end to that system. One example of a person like this is a conversation I overheard in college between two students. They were discussing post-graduation employment options. Student A brought up working for pharmaceutical companies as an option. Student B expressed her reluctance to work for them due to ethical concerns regarding the medication trial process and how the companies generally target vulnerable populations in the U.S. and abroad for these trials. Student A semi-agreed but I could tell that it wasn't really an issue for him. Student B is firmly in this category because not only did she bring up ethical issues in discussion around employment, those issues were the first thing she mentioned. This the type of person who takes ethical issues seriously and would avoid what she considered unethical employment (even if it paid well) unless she saw no other way to make a reasonable living. 
  • I'm going to skip the other middle group and go straight to the end group. I will refer to them as the predators. They are comparable to the 10% group in the 5 percenter scheme. They are the rulers of this world and are willing to do anything to get what they want. Their powers are relative. They could be a Bill Gates or the leader of a small tribe. They are not above any type of action or manipulation even though they may tell themselves they are. I would posit them at about 10-15% of the population. 
  • Finally there is the rest. The majority of humanity between 60 and 78 % of the general population. Technically they should be neutral but I actually see them as somewhat evil. They are self-focused and have base desires that are easily manipulated by the predators mentioned in the last category. They are often ignorant and delusional. In the U.S. they will often support 'rugged individualism' type laws even though they live paycheck to paycheck and have skills that are dispensable to the market. If/when they end up up on government assistance, they are perpetually surprised even though they fit the profile perfectly. They tend to believe in the just wold fallacy OR believe that life isn't fair but that unfairness won't affect them even though they are painfully average. 

So there's my list. What do you think? Any critiques?

Which group (if any) are you a member of?