No Regrets?

The_Big_Red_Button_(3085157011)I have been reflecting on regrets for some time now and on the reasons for someone to regret something. Imagine the following scenario: Wife has a very stable job. She and the husband decide he should quit his job and dedicate three years exclusively to taking care of their newborn child. Husband quits his job. A week later against all odds wife loses her job. Now both are unemployed.

Should they regret their decision about the husband’s job? It certainly put them in a situation they would rather not be and having decided differently would have granted them a better condition now. Nonetheless, I argue that it is not rational to regret their decision.

The loss of the wife’s job was an unforeseeable event, it makes no sense for them to resent their failure to anticipate it. We must asses decisions based on the knowledge we had at the time of making the decision, not based on information we acquired afterwards. Obviously that if you know you know you may have insufficient information and have the resources to become more knowledgeable before making your decision, and still decides not to do that, you do have grounds to regret your failure to study your options better.

But in the case of the couple above, they did take into account the possibility of the wife losing her job, but considered it to be statistically insignificant. They weighed the facts and made their decision. There is no reason for them to second-guess their decision making ability. We constantly make statistical decisions and have to choose a compromise. I am less likely to die travelling by public transport than driving. However, the likelihood of me dying whilst driving responsibly is sufficiently small for my comfort requirements to outweigh my fear of death in this case. Therefore it is reasonable to choose the comfort of driving even though it is statistically more dangerous than the alternative.

In the end, my criterion for regrets is the following:

Did I make the best decision I could with the information I had available at the time?

If I did, there is no reason for regretting it, even if the outcome was unfortunate. There are more things outside of our control than we could ever know.

Obviously, don’t use this to justify lousy decision making! It is our duty to assess everything that is at stake, come up with possible alternatives, and have contingency plans for worse case scenarios. The more important the decision, the more elaborate and rigorous your reasoning must be. If you did all of that, treat new circumstances for what they are: new circumstances. Feeling guilty when you made a fine choice will only undermine your future decision making.

This more elaborate view of regrets allows me to better assessment my past choices, which leads to a more judicious improvement of my decision making process and greater confidence in my verdict (even when the outcome is unexpected). It also frees me from the undue emotional burden of irrational regrets, relieving my cognitive load and allowing for better future decisions.

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No Regrets?

Conquering Willpower Forever

Tastey-Marshmallow-840x560

Like millions before me, I am terrible at waking up early. I’m also really bad at sticking to a habit or a set routine. I still often come up with a life-changing decision, something like cycling at least 30 minutes every day, and then start slacking until I quit after a week or so.

Sucking at these things is not an exclusive privilege of mine. From what I’ve read, apparently you may do that too. Actually, if you are anything like me, you are reading this very text knowing you should be doing something else but you have no willpower whatsoever. Never fear, there is a way out.

Even though I’m bad at it, I’ve had daily habits and routines for the last 8 years or so. Lately I started sucking at it even less by understanding a bit of the science behind it. Basically, the greatest enemy of habit is Willpower Depletion.

To make certain decisions we need willpower, but willpower is not an infinite resource. To exert self-control we use a lot of glucose, and if we run out of glucose our willpower gets depleted (Roy F. Baumeister et al., 2007). This means that if we need a lot of willpower to do something, we will easily end up running out of it and giving in.

There is a cute experiment where researchers placed a few kids in a room with a marshmallow, told them “If you wait until I come back, you will have two marshmallows”, and then left. It’s a simple concept of life, if you can defer your gratification, you will have a greater reward later. In this case the kids were alone in an empty room with a marshmallow, not eating it required heroic efforts.

So, which kids won? Were they the most genetically optimised for this situation? Nope. Many kids lost in the very first seconds. The most successful kids were the ones who tried to distract themselves by doing something else. This meant that they didn’t need to exert a lot of willpower because their mind was focused on something else.

The solution for waking up early, sticking to a diet or committing to a habit is setting things up so that you need to exert the least amount of willpower possible. Change your environment to induce you to keep to your habit.

The classic example is that if you are on a diet, instead of resisting the ice-cream in the freezer, simply don’t buy ice-cream or quickly throw away the one that is there. This way there is no willpower required to resist the temptation. When waking up early, get out of bed as quickly as possible so that you don’t have to be deciding not to go back to sleep for 20 minutes. I like putting my alarm away from the bed so I have to get up to stop it.

And that’s how you stick to your habits, by changing the environment so you don’t have to be deciding on doing them every time. Religiously dedicating some time to reading every day is quite easy when you have 40 minutes train commute to and from work.

 

If you are into habits you may also like The Single Sentence That Changed My Life

Conquering Willpower Forever

On the Reception of a New Era

 The early 19th century was greatly populated by definitive answers; a result of the Enlightenment’s relentless focus on reason. On the other hand, it was also populated by the thought that answers are never definitive; a result of Romanticism and its focus on subjectivity. Amid this clash of opposites, there was Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, who chose not to choose any side in this contradictory framework and, although in favour of the Law of excluded middle, did not go to any of the extremes of his times. Having to choose to be either a Romantic or a rationalist, Kierkegaard chose to be none –nothing would be more suitable than a paradoxical position for an author whose life was dedicated to contradiction. Taking Socrates as his model, Kierkegaard seized the Greek philosopher’s task and made it his own life mission to use contradiction as a tool for the critique of actuality, a tool that is not to be resolved but to be appropriated. Kierkegaard’s stirring of a rethinking of his contemporary religious paradigm provides us with a model for the application –and a demonstration of the prevailing validity– of Socratic irony as a tool for the critique of our age’s objectively established conceptions and represents a plea to the acceptance that contradiction is a constituent part of life.

Søren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard’s life can be compared to the throwing of a bowling ball. There is thorough preparation and careful consideration before the ball is thrown; before any movement is made, there is a significant dedication of time and effort to mentally prepare its trajectory and once the ball is thrown, it follows its pre-established path to the end –even if the end happens to be farther than expected. Similarly, Kierkegaard’s life work was largely defined during his early years. In his master’s thesis, The Concept of Irony, Kierkegaard developed the mind-set he would hold to throughout the entirety of his career. The thesis explored Socrates’ character and life in perspective of numerous philosophical trends of the early 19th century. This study had a constitutive role in Kierkegaard’s life, which is evidenced when, in his last years, he writes: “The only analogy I have before me is Socrates; my task is a Socratic task…” (M, 341). The Concept of Irony was, thus, Kierkegaard’s establishment of Socrates –and the negativity he represented– as a model for his philosophy.

A major influence in Kierkegaard’s thinking were the ideas of the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, which he studied meticulously. Hegel’s exposition of Socrates identified in him the conception of a hitherto unimagined philosophical concept that provoked an irreversible change of paradigm in the Greek worldview. In Sophocles’ play Antigone, Hegel saw a portrait of pre-Socratic understanding of ethics and morals in the main character’s disregard for a newly established edict on the grounds of its incongruence to a higher, objective principle.  Socrates’ mesmerising insight was, thus, the shift from this predominant culture of objective truths (given by deities or established in tradition) to the introspective world of subjective freedom, where the subject “must attain to truth through himself” (Lectures on the History of philosophy, vol. 1 p. 399). However, this advance was not consummated in Socrates –who attributed the responsibility over the judgement of important matters to a personal Daimon– but had to be further developed throughout the following ages. Socrates did not achieve this change by establishing novel dogmas; Hegel saw him as a purely negative figure, being the outcome of his work not the institution of positive doctrines but the sole negation of the existing ones. Drawing from this point, Kierkegaard constructs his idea of “pure irony” (CI, 253) as infinitely negative, that which is uniquely destructive and refuses to propose anything positive. By not actually suggesting any positive assertion, irony frees the ironist from any restraint to his position; hence …the salient feature of irony is the subjective freedom” (CI, 253), the freedom the subject possesses to take any position he sees fit to fulfil irony’s purpose.

Johan Ludvig Heiberg, one of Hegel’s followers, based on Hegel’s Theory of History and having Socrates’ case as his matrix, identified a pattern connecting ironists and paradigmatic shifts in humanity. Heiberg sustains that when scientific or philosophical advances undermine a society’s understanding of the world, a period of anxiety and uncertainty is established until the old “actuality is displaced by another actuality” (CI, 260). This period is brought about by the ironist, to whom “actuality has lost its validity” (CI, 259). Not being bound to custom and tradition, the ironist enjoys complete subjective freedom and assumes the spreading of awareness of the present crisis as his role; Kierkegaard names these as Prophetic individuals. These individuals do not create the new actuality —for they do not posit anything– but only precipitate the crisis. Being ahead of their time, they are commonly misjudged and end up becoming a “sacrifice that the world process demands” (CI, 261).

Still following Hegel, Kierkegaard adopts the German philosopher’s view on Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s theory of subjectivity. Fichte, drawing on Kant’s concept of man as the measure of all things, placed a strong emphasis on the subject and his sensorial and emotional perceptions, alleging these to be the key attributes to affirm one’s individuality. Fichte’s theory was the basis for German Romanticism and its focus on subjectivity, which placed individual interpretation higher than collective judgement in all instances. Hegel was swift to point out the flaw in Fichte’s theory, noting its failure to perceive rationality as the uniting feature of human race. Bearing that in mind, Hegel opposed Romantics’ attempts to establish arbitrary rules based on their individual understanding; he believed the subject should arrive at the truth by himself, but this truth is not contingent on the subject but universal –men’s shared rationality would warrant the arrival at a common truth. Following from that, Hegel saw philosophy’s goal as the revelation of that truth and censured Socrates for stopping at the aporetic stage. At this point Kierkegaard’s and Hegel’s views begin to diverge; Kierkegaard saw Socrates’ function as that of the pure ironist, the prophetic individual, not positing anything but uniquely negating. For this reason, Kierkegaard was highly critical of Hans Lassen Martensen, a Hegelian professor of his who encouraged his students to doubt everything and afterwards go a step further than Socrates, stating a positive concept. Kierkegaard considered it to be preposterous, for he was establishing ideas as empty as those he had just disestablished, and also dangerous, for Martensen’s indiscriminate doubting led to a deconstruction of sound concepts whose absence would lead to despair. Kierkegaard’s critique took the form of a satirical novel, De omnibus dubitandum est, and he also identified the same pattern in Goethe’s Faust and in the Greek Sophists.

These are the leading ideas of Kierkegaard’s life work, guiding it from start to finish. During his first authorial period, he wrote a series of signed and pseudonymous books, both groups dealing with similar themes, the former being simpler and aiming at the common citizen, and the latter having a scholarly tone and focusing on highly educated individuals. His first publication under a pseudonym was Either/Or, which was a critique of Romanticism’s eminent irony, the indiscriminate critique of all society which “necessarily ends in an absence of all content, in a moral nihilism.”(Poul Martil Moller, “Om Begrebet Ironie”). By putting two drastically different characters in juxtaposition and not offering any conclusion to what should be understood of it, Kierkegaard made a clear allusion to Socrates’ aporia. Afterwards, in Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard discusses faith and states the profoundly paradoxical character of Christian belief. It was the first step towards his goal of establishing contradiction as a necessary attribute of Christianity and to use it as a tool for the critique of religious institutions. Fear and Trembling was followed by The Concept of Anxiety, where the idea of appropriation was introduced, which is “to translate the achievement of scientific scholarship into personal life, to appropriate it personally.”(CA, 328). Then came Prefaces, where just like Socrates, the author claims to know nothing and uses this to criticise the current philosophical views. It was followed by Stages on Life’s way, a problematization of the forgiveness of sin, which again wound up simply posing a contradiction but not proposing any solution to it. During this time, a series of signed works were published alongside the pseudonymous ones and it all culminated in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript. The Postscript revealed Kierkegaard’s intention with all his works, explaining that it was not his will to construct dogmas but only to point out the contradictory character immanent to Christianity and foster the individual quest for what is true for oneself. It marked the end of Kierkegaard’s first authorial period. Kierkegaard’s second authorial period was dedicated to a severe attack on the Danish church and, just as before, he uses the Socratic concepts of irony, ignorance, negation, aporia, maieutics and Socrates’ role as the gadfly to effect this critique.

Kierkegaard saw in Socrates an example of prophetic individual and saw contradiction and paradox as the result of his ironic action. He identifies himself with Socrates and labours to bring to light the inherent contradictions of life. However, it must be noted that Kierkegaard’s paradoxes are different from the contradictions Socrates faced. Socrates saw that proposed definitions did not represent a concept accurately –excluding instances of it or including unrelated cases– and that established the contradiction; Socrates’ contradictions were discrepancies between a concept and its translation into language in a fixed definition. Thus, contradiction only appeared with the positing of a definition. The aporetic result of dialogues was an attempt to avoid being contradictory by conforming to not finding this perfect definition. In Kierkegaard’s themes, contradiction does not only appear between the concept and its worded representation but also within the concept itself. Socrates was concerned with ideas like beauty, piety, justice and virtue, which although difficult to explain are notions of which one have a reasonably plain perception. Conversely, Christianity is contradictory in Sich (in itself). The infinite in the finite, the eternal in the temporal, sin as a disregard for the universal and pious faith as a teleological suspension of it, all this evidences the inherently paradoxical character of Christianity, which establishes a contradiction even before the consideration of any positive description of it. Kierkegaard’s greatest appeal is for his readers not to try to solve the contradiction but to embrace it and keep it in mind as a never-ending critique of actuality.

More than a hundred and fifty years have passed since Kierkegaard’s attack to the church and his insight holds its validity now more than ever before. In an age where change occurs at an unprecedented speed, Heiberg’s pattern of substitution of actuality can be felt by individuals in their own lives. As actualities rapidly pass away and new ones come in their stead, to hold onto a firm set of convictions becomes ever harder, and, without these, individuals are placed in imminent danger of falling prey to a state of everlasting alienation, being constantly stripped of fundamental principles. To avoid this despairing condition, one must take a stand and adopt a philosophy that holds true for oneself. However, this same condition creates a wariness of new ideals –that they will reveal themselves to be as empty as the former ones– and that is exactly where the keeping in perspective of the contradictions intrinsic to concepts performs its critical role. The paradox will serve to judge actuality, through it ideas will be accepted or disregarded and in this process the individual will construct his own understanding of the beliefs shared in the community of our rationality. It is with this paradoxical criticism that we –like Kierkegaard in his time— face the uncertain future with boldness and the assurance that if our thinking is right, like a bowling ball thrown we will stay on track even if the end happens to be farther than we expect.

Abbreviations:

Concept of Irony – CI
Either/Or – EO
Fear & Trembling – FT
Concept of Anxiety – CA
Philosophical Fragments – PF
Concluding Unscientific Postscript – CUP
Stages in Life’s Way – SLW
The Corsair Affair – TCA
Prefaces – P
Journals – JJ
Sickness unto Death – SUD
Practice in Christianity – PC
The Moment – M
History of Philosophy, Vol. 1-3 – HP(v)

On the Reception of a New Era

A Story of Reconciliation

After reading a biography, I usually end up with words in my mind that express the heart of what that person’s life was all about. Warren Buffet is about integrity and diligence. Jack Welch is definitely about hard work. I though Nelson Mandela’s life would be summarised in words like ‘nonconformity’, ‘fight for freedom’, ‘endurance’ and ‘perseverance’. It was unquestionably about all these things but even though Mandela calls himself a freedom fighter, what most strikingly stands out, the idea that is woven through every line, that leads the plot and guides his actions, Nelson Mandela’s entire life shouts out ‘Reconciliation’.

Nelson Mandela

I won’t go deep into South African history but you probably know it was a racist country with racist policies that culminated in the institution of apartheid in 1948, depriving all non-whites of democratic rights – like voting and the right to come and go – and the chance to go up the economic ladder. It created severe segregation of races and institutionalised the view that white people were superior to all other races, blacks in particular. Growing up in this environment, Nelson Mandela’s inconformity with the racist system grew together with his ever-increasing political engagement.

Mandela Fought the government with all possible weapons; legal actions, mass manifestations in non-violent protests and even violent enterprises. He became a prominent leader in the African National Congress, the black party, and endured nearly three decades of imprisonment for the sake of the cause he believed in.

In a racist environment, being constantly harassed by a specific ethnic group, it is very easy for racism to get you. Nonetheless, Mandela never forgot his fight was against prejudice and oppression, not whites. In passage after passage through the book, you see Nelson Mandela trying to ‘evangelise’ his oppressors teaching them about his struggle — and being successful in a number of his attempts. He didn’t only reconcile white with black, Mandela uses his incisiveness to bring together enemy parties, enemy politicians, to overcome his own pride and take the step to reconcile his organisation with the government, in the end he reconciles his country with itself.

Nelson Mandela’s biography has a moving end with the sight of so much hatred and oppression being overcome by justice; a culmination to a happy ending in a real world tale. I cannot finish this text with my own words and who better than a freedom fighter to comment on what freedom really is. Note that even in this simple paragraph or two his words transpire reconciliation.

I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor and limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.

It was during those long and lonely years [in prison] that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity

Nelson Mandela

A Story of Reconciliation

The One Simple Imperfect Thing That Changes Everything

Whatever you are planning to do, just do it. Sometimes you just plan too much. It would be great to have all of the best always. To study in the best university, do the best port graduation, write the best essays, create the best product, write the best book, kiss the prettiest girl and so on. However, I realised that you can make an impression with much less than that. To be the author of a bad book is better than authoring no book at all.

The Colorado River, that over around four million years slowly but repeatedly carved the rocks, being one of the main factors for the creation of the Grand Canyon.
The Colorado River, that over around four million years slowly but repeatedly carved the rocks, being one of the main factors for the creation of the Grand Canyon.

The more you read,
The more you know.

The more you know,
The smarter you grow.

The smarter you grow,
The stronger your voice,

When speaking your mind
or making your choice.

A poem for kids I read in the wall of a friend’s house. Nothing special in it. No hard words or novelty of any kind, just a simple incentive to reading with rhymes in it. Nonetheless, I can’t take it out of my head. I find myself reciting it over and over again during the day. I am convinced it is a good and effective tool to encourage children to read. The only thing you have to do is to keep repeating it to the kid.

Simple but effective. The secret is in the repetition, not necessarily in perfection. Repeat enough something ordinary and BOOM, it magically becomes extraordinary. There was a series of advertisements of a bank in Brazil that always stated at the end, “I am Brazilian and I never give up”. People saw the ads so many times a day that they began to say it as a joke. “That girl said no to me, but I’m Brazilian and I never give up”, “I’m really full but there is still food in my plate, I am Brazilian and I never give up.” After some time that became one of the attributes of Brazilian people’s character in the mind of the nation. It became an encouragement in times of adversity. When natural disasters plagued the country, the people worked together through the situation with the mindset that we are Brazilians and that’s what we do.

The key for your extraordinary future is in an ordinary daily habit. What is the one thing that if you do every day will yield you a game changing future?

I write on this blog. I haven’t written here for three months now. I was planning to do a mind-blowing, brain-exploding, paradigm-changing post, which never came out. I wanted to write but I kept thinking, ‘oh that’s not good enough’. Then I realised I don’t have to change the world all at once. The magic is in keeping writing. The magic is in keeping doing, keeping marching, keeping rowing. So, whatever you are planning to do, just do it. You can improve it later.

It is the one simple thing, that doesn’t need to be perfect, that you do over and over, that will give you extraordinary results at the end of the journey.

The One Simple Imperfect Thing That Changes Everything

Now You Are Going To Die

My friend fell to the ground and the thug was going to shoot; he was unstoppable. That was it. With the gun in his hand, he had no option. The shots were heard from afar. Now there is a body lying on the floor. Two years after that, my friend is leaving prison. “A police officer should be prepared to deal properly with this kind of situation”, they said. I bet they were never about to die.

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Death sentence was quite common almost everywhere in human history. It was well accepted and taken as a fair way of punishing those who were unworthy of life. The definition of what, if anything, could make someone unworthy of life and who, if anyone, could decide someone’s worth have come to discussion mainly since the last century. That discussion inevitably led the parties to argue if capital punishment was ethically acceptable at all, under any circumstances. With people’s heads rolling down public squares’ stairs, both parties did their best to make their arguments highly convincing.  Attempting to win the debate, strong and weak arguments were brought up but, with the exception of a handful of insightful ones, most of them fall on one of the three shady categories: Religious, Emotional or Misleading/Based on deceitful information. Regardless of my religious convictions, my emotional attachment to random criminals or wronged families, and my disavowal (or convenience, depending on the situation) of  biased information, I will try to be as impartial as possible and analyse the best arguments in favour and against such a practice. But first, let’s see how bad the bad ones are, and then we move towards more reasonable ones.

“Have you ever thought about how many criminals escape punishment, and yet, the victims never have a chance to do that? Are crime victims in the United States today the forgotten people of our time?  Do they receive full measure of justice?” (cited in Isenberg, 1977, p. 129)

The idea here is that if you kill the guy, justice is being done. Can anyone see the error on that? Justice is just too broad of a concept. Plato wrote Republic, a book composed of other ten books, and couldn’t explain properly and without ambiguity what justice was. Justice is too subjective, something may seem fair for me and at the same time be an outrageous, inhuman barbarity for you. It is as if a threw a party at my house and put a sign on the door saying “Only good-looking people allowed”.

Maintain a prisoner for the rest of his life is way more costly than killing him.

Specifically in the United States, this information is false. But it really doesn’t matter; you could kill people spending just one bullet. This argument is misleading not because of its veracity, but because of its focus. It emphasises an irrelevant area in an ethical debate, finances. That makes people waste a lot of time discussing things that take them nowhere.

We don’t rape rapists or assault assailants, why would we murder murderers.

The uniqueness of capital punishment is always cited in debates, and is weak because if different crimes are suddenly regarded as worthy of death it doesn’t make sense any more. In addition, it does not contribute in anything to the discussion of whether or not is ethically acceptable, being unique or not.

Death penalty provides a sense of closure for victims’ families.

Every family reacts differently. Some families do not think that another death would make things better. It is a weak argument if you think that there is no standard reaction from the families, and that those who were wronged shouldn’t decide the punishment of their wrongdoers because of the strong emotional connection involved. But on the other hand, there is no completely logical explanation for everything in our system and most of things we do are done this way because that’s the way we collectively agree that is more pleasant to us. Why should a robber get three or five or eight years of imprisonment? Because for us that’s what seems more or less ok depending on what else he did. It is no more than a guess. We guess, and if we feel good about it we make it a law.

“Therefore if any man is dangerous to the community and is subverting it by some sin, the treatment to be commended is his execution in order to preserve the common good… Therefore to kill a man who retains his natural worthiness is intrinsically evil, although it may be justifiable to kill a sinner just as it is to kill a beast, for, as Aristotle points out, an evil man is worse than a beast and more harmful.” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae)

Saint Thomas Aquinas, and apparently Aristotle too, approved death sentence as a punishment to those deserving it. Here you see the authority fallacy. We believe a view just because it is expressed by someone regarded as an authority in a certain field. “President Richard Nixon should be re-elected because he has a secret plan to give an end to the war on the South East of Asia”; given that the plan was secret, people couldn’t assess its feasibility and thus the argument was reduced to “We should trust Nixon because he is the president”. I used it up there when I said “justice is super hard to define because Plato couldn’t do it”; just because he couldn’t it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to. These “authorities” committed errors in the past, and they will as surely commit more in the future. Because someone said so is not a good argument.  

If we have death sentences people will think twice before killing someone.

hummmmm…. I don’t think so, but that’s tricky to prove. You could argue that in the USA states adept to death penalty do not show lower homicide rates than states averse to it. But that’s a fallacy; you are taking a casualty for a causality. This rate is not influenced only by one variable, but by thousands. Things like culture, climate, city policing, the set of laws for the specific state and many other things deeply influence on the homicide rate. Saying that the sole adoption of death penalty keeps murders’ index high or low is to be too pretentious. On the other hand, I would say that what makes people think twice before performing a barbarian act is more the probability of being caught than the terrible punishment that would be waiting for them.

You are punishing the person twice

This argument is specifically aimed at the USA. There prisoners usually wait for more than a decade for their execution, meanwhile they are kept isolated from other prisoners and are sharply restricted in terms of visitation and exercise.

pic
Prisoners on death row spend as much as 23 hours alone in their cells.

The psychological terror and the years of loneliness are more than enough to destroy anyone’s mental health. That raises the question of whether the prisoner is not being punished twice, and also what is the real purpose of death sentence. The purpose cannot be deterrence, for its unproven effectiveness, it can’t be to free society of the evil by eliminating its propagator, because if society can take 10 years with him caged it can take any amount of time whatsoever, and it can’t be to give families a sense of completion, for it would make a family suffer for 10 years before releasing it of its unfinished matter. Is the purpose of the sentence to give a fair punishment to the convicted criminal or to give him the worst punishment possible, thus combining utter isolation with death sentence?

We don’t have the  right to take lives.

Again, that’s too subjective. We take lives every day; we kill flies and ants and most of us are ok with killing cows, chickens and fishes so we could have a nice meal. But ok, let’s stick to taking human lives. Know that friend I spoke about in the beginning of the text? Had he hesitated he wouldn’t have lived to tell me that story. Do you think he didn’t have the right? But if he acted rightly we have to change the initial statement, add an “if”. Let us make a concession: “a person loses their right to life if they start a murderous attack and the only way the victim can save their own life is by killing the attacker”. What if someone started a murderous attack and the only way the victim could save their own life was by killing the attacker, but the victim couldn’t kill the attacker and died. The attacker lost his right to life, does he gain it again when he finishes? Still, it is a super subjective statement. People killed people before, why can’t we do it now? What changed? Or it may be that nothing changed and people never had the right to take other people’s lives but they did it anyway. I didn’t find any completely logical argument for that; it is more an agreement than a rational conclusion.

You could kill a decent person

Although it doesn’t help with the discussion of if it is ethical to kill someone under any circumstances, it is an important point against capital punishment. Death penalty is irreversible and could be applied to an innocent party. People against death penalty like to highlight that many people on death row had their sentences overturned or sent back for review. That sentence gives the idea that someone innocent was about to die. In fact, what generally occurs is that reviews are brought up due to procedural errors instead of uncertainty regarding the accuracy of the conviction. But supporters of death penalty also highlight that no innocent was ever executed. That’s partly because of the long process of appeals and reviews, specifically designed to prevent mistakes, and partly because once you killed the guy no one keeps investigating.

freed

The big problem is that judgements and sentence decisions are made based on evidences and testimonials, and testimonials are rather tricky. Our mind is beautifully designed to fill every void space it finds. And if there is nothing to put there, it makes something up. We have a blind spot in our eyes, one in each; our brain uses the combination of both to make it look like there is no blind spot (here, do the test). The same happens with our mind, if we don’t remember something very well it will make something up to fill the void. I don’t even need to tell you how dangerous it can be when someone’s life is at stake. When your mind is in a greatly stressful situation it can behave quite oddly. You can mistake a black guy for a white guy just because while he was pointing the gun at you, you  couldn’t look at anywhere else than the gun. Your brain was was shouting “GUN! DANGER DANGER, GUN, DANGER DANGER, GUN!!”. It is serious business and not all the juries have guys as sensible as this one.

Our minds really play tricks on us. If you don’t believe me, why don’t you do this awareness test and show the world how well your mind works?

The religion paradox

The idea was to think of the subject as a solely rational matter, using only logic arguments. Religious views are not considered valid in this kind of argument because many people have many different religious views, and the basis for a religious argument is only faith; and you could have faith on anything. But here comes the curious thing, without religious connotations death penalty makes no sense at all. Capital punishment is intrinsically based on the assumption that by dying,criminals will have a worse punishment than living in prison. I don’t know if you noticed but there is no logical basement for that. We don’t know how it is like on the other side, except for the information that comes from the three categories we regarded as shady in the beginning of our analysis. Religion, that almost all agree bad people will be punished in the afterlife; Emotions, people generally feel better when something bad happens to a bad person; and Dubious information we get from people who have near death experiences (no resentments, I just don’t believe you guys).

As Master Miyagi said n Karate Kid II: “Daniel-san, for person with no forgiveness in heart, living is worse punishment than death”

Is it necessary?

Just because people did it in the past, it doesn’t mean we can do it now. Life imprisonment is an alternative if you really think this person could never ever go back to society again. And with life imprisonment you could at least make that person contribute to society in some way (through supervised work). As you may notice, arguments opposing death penalty are much more solid and thoughtful that those in favour of it. That’s something to take into consideration.

Know that friend of mine? I spoke to him about jail and what he went through. He told me how prison is not the best place to learn how to love society. He told me how rehabilitation and the importance of a human life are not really the main topics they learn on their day to day in jail. Maybe if we were better at rehabilitating, we wouldn’t need to get rid of people.

Now You Are Going To Die

Adding a Little Something to Time Management

It took me one week to scan a document and send it by email. As any teenager, I was the worst time manager ever! In my list of things to do, the minimum time of each task was one hour. How long does it take to get ready to leave? One hour. How long does it take to have lunch? One hour. How long does it take to write an email? One hour. It is no surprise that I hardly got anything done.

Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, said something like “Ten minutes are not just a sixth of your hourly pay. Ten minutes are a piece of yourself. Divide your life into 10-minute units and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity.” He probably got much more done in a week than I did in all my teenage years.

Time management is the flavour of the era. Are you taking the most of your time? Are you reaching your full potential by making time your ally and not your enemy? Or are you one of those who foolishly wish the day had more hours? Well, you probably are one of those, and you probably think you suck at time management as well. Shame on you, you should feel bad about that. In fact, you may be a disaster managing your time, or you may manage it quite decently. Either way you will always think there is a lot of room for improvement. Thus, at the end of every day there is this voice in your head saying “look at aaaall the time you had… and you only did that! You waste so much time.” This voice exists because you want to have maximum efficiency. If being just efficient were enough, you would certainly feel better at the end of the day. But this post is not about making you feel good for what you have (this one does that), it is about teaching you to have more of whatever you get when you do more stuff.

Here is the first big problem with time management: fungibility. Money is a fungible good. That means, the twenty pounds note in my wallet is exactly equal to any other 20 pounds note. On the other hand, although you could argue that every hour has 60 minutes, not every hour is equal. Our bodies have energy cycles, our energy cycles up and down during the day. So, not every hour is the best hour to do some stuff. In the end, time is not what needs to be managed; time will pass anyway.

We may feel super motivated to do something, and then some hours later we just don’t feel like doing it anymore; it is the energy cycle working. People often try to hack their bodies. They want to work more, party more and do more stuff, so they look for all the dirty tips for being alert during more time through the day. But here is the thing: rest is the real deal. Depriving yourself of enough rest will only do harm for you. If you don’t rest appropriately your down cycle will be longer, resulting in more time that you can’t do stuff well.

Have you found yourself in a situation where you need to do something and at the same time, you need some rest. Then, what do you do? You procrastinate! We choose exactly the worse alternative. When you procrastinate, you are neither doing what you have to do nor resting. It’s the worst of both worlds. Having enough sleep and relaxing time allows you to be more effective, more alert and do a better job.

Not even the clocks can take it anymore.
Salvador Dali – The Persistence of Memory (Not even the clocks can take it anymore).

So, let me suggest you an alternative time management system. In this system, you allow lots of time for resting and relaxing, and a restricted time for doing important stuff. I know it doesn’t look right, but let me explain. When you have only so many hours to do stuff, and you are rested and alert, you will be much more able to focus entirely on this activity because you know it will be just for a couple hours. If you know it is for a short period of time and that is the only time you will have to do it, you will not procrastinate. You will not lose your focus, get distracted or bored by the task; exactly because it is just a couple of hours.

When you are rested, the world around you changes. You are a thousand times more alert, intelligent, creative and, inevitably, more productive as well. Let me tell you my experience with that:

While studying Information Systems Engineering in Argentina, I had 5 hours classes every day. Sometimes twice a day, and sometimes on Saturdays. It was 5 hours of a single subject. Many times we spent classes doing boring exercises with a class that asks the stupidest questions EVER. Things like “can I call this X variable Y?”; yeah at that level. It was profoundly tiresome; I had one and a half hours commute and I couldn’t read because I was just too tired. And, when I got home I still had to study, because it is only doing things yourself that you make knowledge stick in your brain. It was indeed full time education; I had time for university and nothing more.

That's looks a lot like me doing productive work in Argentinta.
Looks just like me doing productive work in Argentinta.

Now I study in England. I’m in a full-time course of Computer Science. I have classes only three days a week, I have up to three classes in a day (normally two). It is always a one-hour class on a subject and a two hours class on another subject. You could say “ah but they are not transmitting the same amount of content in these few hours”. The thing is that they really are. Classes are summaries and commentaries on subjects that students have already read about before going to class (they give plenty of time so that that is possible). With lots of free time studying, revising, and advancing fast on subjects is very easy and feasible. No class time is ever wasted; because we have just that couple of hours. And in the end, I am reading a lot more, because now I am rested enough to stay awake during my commute.

Time management is critical to your life and determines how fast you are going to get to your goal, or if you will ever get there. I sucked at it on my teenage years, hated it whilst studying Engineering (too much effort involved in doing stuff while tired), and I am slowly making peace with it now that I have lots of resting time available. Some time management techniques may work for you, many will not work, but one thing is certain: rest always works for everyone.

Adding a Little Something to Time Management

How To Be Happier, Work Less and Have More Extra Money At The Same Time in One Easy Step

And then he said, “If you work too much you won’t have time to make money”. My dad laughed but I kept thinking about that. A month later I doubled the number of people willing to read my book in one hour and my website hit a new record of views in a single day. But nothing of that matters because today I saw an adviser to help me with my curriculum and she said it was “too broad”. My life is written in there. Maybe my whole life is too broad. Am I doomed for that? Maybe I am, but it doesn’t matter either, because one year ago I was sitting at the edge of a fountain in front of the Buckingham Palace in a beautiful sunny day with my girlfriend, we were talking about our expectations for the future, and then I told her, “I feel that it doesn’t matter where I will go to. It doesn’t matter if I will be in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, or here in the UK, I feel that I will be successful wherever I go”. Then she kissed me and nothing else mattered any more.

In the film In Time people had watches in their arms. When they worked they gained time and things were priced in minutes, hours, days, etc. If they ran out of time they died. Awesome idea.

I don’t have a written book but I doubled the number of people willing to buy the book I’m thinking of writing. James Altucher said something pretty interesting. He said you should never work full-time, always part-time. Then you would have time to do other activities, and side activities always bring benefits to us. Actually, if these activities provide enough value to enough people you can make money with them. And this money has a potential to be much more than what you would get selling your work time to someone else. Because money comes in when you solve a problem, when you deliver value.

My book will be written in my free time (time I am not working or at University. There is no such thing as free time. Time is valuable), and I believe it will open a bunch of new doors for me. You see a lot of people who make their living with something that began as a hobby. Many of today’s huge companies started that way. Have you heard of Facebook, Digg, Youtube, Google, threadless, LinkedIn or eBay? Well, they all started as a hobby and then became a money machine. That happened because all of these hobbies created value to other people in some way.

We have this pre-conceived idea that we should get a job and work as much as we can so we can make more money and then we can buy more things. It looks like it’s all about buying more things, or better things. But it isn’t really about that, is it? If we stop for a minute and reflect on that, we will notice that the whole idea of it all is that, supposedly, if we have more, or better, things we will have more comfort, and then we will be happier. But look around you. Do you really need more? Aren’t you comfortable at your house? I have a proposal to you. Actually, it is a dare! Why don’t you try to live with less instead of with more?

Why don’t you throw away all these credit cards that only give you headaches? You always feel bad when you use them anyway. Why don’t you try spending less than what you make. Try spending only half what you get in a month. It won’t hurt if you try, you won’t lose any money if it doesn’t work. And if it works you will be saving a lot of money, and I bet that in the end you will, in fact, feel very good.

“Happiness is not having all you want. It is wanting what you have”. If you are trying to spend less, you will start to appreciate more the things you already have and stop thinking about the things stores have to sell you. In the end, you know you don’t really need most of them anyway. Liking the things you have is a big step towards a happier life. Not only material stuff, it is the same with friends, partners, etc.

When you spend less than you get, you start saving, and saving is never bad. Tell me, how often do you hear someone coming to you and saying “I shouldn’t have saved all this money, I really regret that” or “Saving money was the worst decision I ever made”? I bet you never, ever, heard anything close to that. But on the other hand it is quite common to hear people saying “Oh I spent too much”, “Ah I shouldn’t have bought it”. No one ever regrets having saved money, people regret spending it. Moreover, when you save money, you feel more secure, because you know that in an emergency you have money to back you up at the bank.

In the beginning it can be tough, but after some time you begin to notice that, as a matter of fact, you need much less than you thought you needed to live. In a post some months ago, when I was moving from Argentina to Brazil, I wrote “my books, my guitar, my Buzz Lightyear toy, the photos and songs in my hard drive and the picture frame my girlfriend gave me. If I can take that with me I will be satisfied”. These are the things I picked as must haves from everything I have ever had in all my life. In the end, I gave my Buzz Lightyear to my brother and left the picture frame with my dad in Brazil, so he doesn’t forget me. The reality is that I needed even less than I thought. And you too.

When you become unattached to things you become grateful and enjoy much more what you have. That makes you happier and attracts all kinds of good things. For instance, look at Bruce Willis and Nicolas Cage. Bruce Willis is an unattached guy, he is confident and grateful for what he’s got. When he noticed he was going bald, he didn’t go crazy for that. He understood it was time and let his hair go. Now, Nicolas Cage is totally different. He is attached to his hair, he don’t want to lose it, he can’t accept the situation. As a result, Bruce Willis still looks pretty badass and Nicolas Cage looks, at the very least, weird with this chunk of hair coming out of the back of his head.

Bruce Nicolas
Nicolas Cage looks like the Red Queen of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

Once you get used to using less money you may be able to reduce the amount of hours you work every day. “But then I will get less money, and then I’ll be saving less money than before”. Yeah, that’s true. But although you will not be making as much money, you will have more time in exchange, and during this extra time you can do whatever you want. You can do things like: living. I believe people work for two reasons: 1) to make money 2) to accomplish something , to be useful to society. If you spend your whole day home you will soon be into some kind of depression. We like to conquer, to accomplish, to build, to feel needed and useful. Grandma wasn’t wrong when she said “Work ennobles the soul”. Three things give pleasure to people: birth, progress and accomplishment. When you work you have these things going on, each to a certain degree.

Now, back to working less hours, when you have more free time you can dedicate yourself to personal projects. These can be nice things that add value to people’s life in some way, or just something that makes you give birth, make progress or accomplish things. Writing a book, taking on a hobby, spending more time with your family, these are all things that can be done in your newly free time — which is not free, you are paying to have it, but just because isn’t free it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. Making these things, you are improving your life. You are more relaxed, which makes you more creative, which makes you more productive, which makes you give birth, make progress or accomplish things, which makes you happier.

But what if it doesn’t work with me? What if it goes wrong? Well, if it goes wrong you get the money you didn’t spend and do whatever you were used to doing when you used your whole salary. No side effects.

Know the book audience I doubled? It went from one person to two. Know the website visiting record I talked about? It was 20 people. It’s kind of pathetic. But these things didn’t look so bad when you didn’t know the numbers. Maybe I will never be widely known. But what is wrong with being anonymous?  A thousand visitors would be awesome, but the lack of them don’t make it bad. Writing relaxes me, makes me more creative, more productive, happier. And that’s the whole point of everything.

How To Be Happier, Work Less and Have More Extra Money At The Same Time in One Easy Step

Enough

“At your age they are graduated”. That gave me the chills at the moment. After finishing High School I spent a year doing absolutely nothing and then I left Brazil and studied Engineering for three years in Argentina, then I quit and started again from zero the following year, which is this one, here in England. I learnt a bit about music and learnt to play some three or four classical songs in the piano, just enough to impress an amateur. I learnt a bit of acoustic guitar and studied theology for two years before quitting. I learnt something of public speaking and some people even think I can sing. I read a bunch of books on many different subjects, from economics and philosophy to raising children and building self-confidence, but acquired deep knowledge on almost nothing. In the end, I am not graduated, I have no experience whatsoever in any job and I am not even specially great at anything. Until leaving Argentina, I was at least the son of someone in evidence, now I am just another immigrant trying not to run out of money.

Road to nowhere
Must that be the path of the losers?

But again, I am not even graduated yet. They have it all planned, and have also loads of discipline. Studying to be the best, always playing to win. They are the heads of society, leaders of the world, commanders of this era. They are the top 1%. Prepared from the crib, always eager for more. The new breakthrough is just some effort away. Everyone admires them and everyone wants to read their books. They are true leaders, opinion formers. And I am not even graduated yet. What have I got on them?

Well, I will tell you what makes me special too. My difference from other folks is that I have something very few people have in this world. Something that is getting harder and harder to find. Something so rare that, even at the top 1%, only a few can afford. I have enough. I’m happy with what I have got. Enough doesn’t mean I don’t want anything else, it means that the things I want in the future, I want them in the future. It makes no sense being sad in the present because I don’t have something I expect to have in the future.

If you go to the “About” page of this blog you will see the following quote from James Altucher:

“There are a lot of time travellers. People who live in the past, people who live in the future. But if you can live right now, then you can do anything.”

He is completely right. If you only think about the future, you are not living your life. Because you are never here, you spend every moment in somewhere else, and when you get to the place you are dreaming of right now you will already be dreaming of some other place. Then you never live, you are always trying to skip to the next scene.

I spent almost a year doing everything on my reach to see my girlfriend (who lived in a different country) again, then last week I got here. Saturday we went to the cinema. We were there, watching a movie, I was holding her hand. At that moment I was thinking “What comes next? what are we going to do next week? How to have a great valentines day next Thursday?”. Then I stopped. I stopped and realized that all I have waited and fought for for the last year was right there at my side. It was happening, was happening at that moment, that was the second I had waited for. But we are so used to focusing on what comes next that we miss what is happening right now.

Happiness is not having all you want, it is wanting what you have.

Those people at the top 1% of society at my age were certainly much better prepared than I am. I am not even graduated yet. But they were better prepared for what? Is the preparation I need for my life the same as they needed for theirs? And if it is, should I be sad because of that?  Let me give you shocking statistics: 99% of society are not at the top 1%. 99% are not super special. you don’t have to stand out to be happy. You should try to be the best , but if you can’t what’s the use of being miserable because of that?

Look at all these losers. Only one guy will be the winner, the other thousands are all losers.
Look at all these losers. Only one guy will be the winner, the other thousands are all losers.

I am not half as qualified as many people around the world, and maybe I will never be, I don’t have millions at the bank, I don’t date a super model, I’m not famous and my hobbies aren’t extreme or super interesting.  But I am amazed by the things I learn in my books, I am grateful for the money I get, enchanted by the songs I can play on the piano and completely convinced that the hottest super model out there ain’t got nothing on my girlfriend.

That’s the secret. Love people around you, be grateful for what you have, stop comparing to other people and have a terrible memory. Stop trying to have it all and start trying to make all you have enough.

Enough

The New Currency

He would go to a little store somewhere in India and for a rupee the owner would randomly get one of the copied DVDs in a pile hidden behind the balcony and rent it to him. It could be anything, from the top american production that was still in cinema, to trashiest low-budget Vietnamese rereading of the Trojan war, and he couldn’t choose. That’s how Akshat Verma, the Indian screenwriter who wrote the great Indian comedy Delhi Belly, got a taste for cinema. At least that’s what Daniel Scheffler, a writer for The San Francisco Chronicle  told me the other day. Well, it sounded very true to me —mainly because before I entered that room, to apply for my visa to the UK, I had never heard of Daniel or The San Francisco Chronicle or Akshat or the film Delhi Belly itself.

As Mahatma Gandhi used to say: "You idiots, cant you see that people are more important than money"  —that may not be an accurate quote,
As Mahatma Gandhi used to say: “You idiots, can’t you see that people are more important than money” —that may not be an accurate quote.

You just have no idea of how many good stuff you can learn when you interact with people.

When  was the last time you did something for the first time? Well, today I watched an Indian movie for the first time. Actually, not. I watched Slumdog Milionaire some years ago. But it felt like the first time. Mainly because this movie showed a side of India that I didn’t pay much attention in Slumdog. One thing I was told, and that is very true, is that every Indian movie has dancing and a wedding. But what really caught my attention was the economic aspects of India that the movie unveiled. Old cars and old motorcycles, old houses and precarious water pipes. In the movie three guys lived together and divided the rent. All of them had normal middle class jobs. One was a cartoonist, one was a journalist, and the last one was a photographer. And nonetheless they had problems to pay the rent of an old and terrible apartment without proper water supply.

Brazil will eradicate poverty there in three years. The Indian President Abdul Kalam said at the first press conference after his election that India would do this in twenty years. I’m an optimist, today we are far better than fifty years ago, and I believe that in twenty years we will get a lot smarter. I believe in a better future. But I will leave that for another post, now let’s go back to meeting people.

Today was my first day at University here in London, and as opposed to many other environments, although I wasn’t speaking my native language and I was a foreigner I didn’t feel like an outsider at all. I met a lot of people with a bunch of different backgrounds, people from all over the world, and my first Indian friends. I was looking forward to making some Indian friends, I have a lot to ask. I’m thinking about starting to study the Indian economy. Sounds like a very interesting subject and has a lot to do with Brazilian economy. But as I was saying, I also met a couple of professors and some people from the student union. They were all very nice and thanks to this interaction I already have a couple of meetings to go to, and I was invited to show my piano abilities at a musical branch of the University. All that sounds like a lot of wasted time, but in fact it isn’t. You never know who knows who, so, by getting to know everyone you may be opening an unexpected door. For example, I am planning on taking on a job, being acquainted to professors and people with knowledge can be excellent to gain some indications. If they look at me and see some qualities in me, and if they like me they may help me finding a better than average job.

It is said that we are six people away from anyone in the world, and that is completely true —actually I guess we may be even closer to everyone. This connection, although seemingly lousy, can be quite beneficial for you if you know how to use it. I will give you a quick example:

Summer holiday, my girlfriend and her family were going to Recife – Brazil. They made a connection in Rio, got there at night and would leave the following night. The question was where to spend the night for cheap? Well the cheapest they could get on a hotel room for two was about 150 pounds, that would be 300 pounds the night for the four of them. But luckily she is my girlfriend, and thus she can partake of my contact list. Having lived 17 years of my life in Rio I still had a bunch of contacts. The outcome: thanks to my “influence” they spent the night for free in a nice house, had free meals and a free tour around the city. All of that just because she knew me and I was willing to help her and her family.

Best book about networking I've read so far.
Best book about networking I’ve read so far.

So the idea is: get to know as many people as you possibly can, make them like you, do something for them —don’t be a vampire, if you just take you aren’t adding any value to the cycle, and besides, no one wants to help a vampire— and then you will have your way to the top. But also, don’t get to know people only wanting to get something from them, otherwise you will tend to pay attention only to people who can benefit you in some way. And then you turn into an ass-kisser—not good for your image. You don’t get ahead by kissing asses (well sometimes people do, but don’t be this kind of person), you get ahead by adding value.

Oh, and additionally, I firmly believe that your attitude towards a situation highly influences the outcome. So, every time you say something will go wrong, you are actually contributing to its failure. Just as every time you have a positive attitude your winning chances go up.

Keep that in mind, people are the new currency. People are the real deal.

The New Currency