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Hey guys, been a while since I’ve posted and a lot has changed. Specifically, I ended a long term relationship with my beautiful ex and have been riding the back of an amazing transformation. I honestly hope that my ex is growing as a person because I am and that’s what I wanted for her.

Now down to the nitty gritty. It came to my attention recently that there’s a lot of social stigma surrounding the concept of “Game”. For those that don’t know, that refers specifically to the art of picking up girls. While I can understand the social construct that would lead one to such a conclusion, I would also like to remind people that they are not in a position to judge anything that they have zero experience or knowledge of. While there are parts of “Game” that I disagree with, I have to say there is a concept that I learned from it that has helped me grow as a person. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it Game, although people refer to it as “inner-game”.

Now I’m a competitive person by nature and I strive for perfection because that is my code. As a result, I’m a bit hesitant revealing things that could comparatively make me lose my edge. However, I am not apathetic to the plights of the common man and am willing to give you this much. Inner-game is basically improving yourself. By becoming an awesome version of yourself, you will naturally attract more people (girls included). This is not menacing, degrading or negative in any way. It should be celebrated. But unfortunately, society has this stupid concept that you should always “be yourself”, and by that logic self-improvement is fake and frowned upon. I think this is the most self-destructive, redundant and idiotic thing I’ve heard in a while.

Be yourself.

A redundant, meaningless tautology. You can only ever be yourself. There is no possible way to be somebody else. Think about it, if you are the kind of person to try and strengthen your weaknesses, you are not “being somebody else” by trying to change, you are displaying a characteristic of your existing personality. A damned fine characteristic I might add.

The human condition is not so simple that you can only ever be one thing. You have your good days and bad days, you have multiple emotional states, you have interests, joys, fears, and different levels of energy. Self-improvement/inner-game is bringing out the best version of you. You are always yourself. You should just try to be the best that you can be.

I’ve even heard people giving “advice” say that “You’re not that kind of person so don’t try”. How defeatist is that? What they’re saying is “I don’t believe you can achieve any kind of progress to your life condition so just give up”. There could even be some tall-poppy syndrome where people are jealous of your potential to surpass them and try to hold you back. I won’t get into that – let’s just assume everyone has each other’s best interests in mind.

Specifically to the topic of attracting girls – are you willing to accept the fact that there are only a certain, predetermined few girls in the world that will ever like you, and that it’s futile to try and get a girl who is not on that list? If you’re willing to give up and accept this bleak philosophy on life, I have news for you. Your inner-game is weak and you are an unattractive person. Can you honestly say you believe somebody who has that low self-esteem will ever be attractive to a woman? There’s a reason why everyone will tell you to be confident.

Be confident.

This advice clashes with the philosophy of “be yourself” and that’s why most people fail at being confident. It’s “fake” because they’re just going through the actions because they heard they should. No, true confidence is the unshakable certainty in yourself that you can only achieve after dedicating your life to self-improvement. Until you understand yourself, accept yourself and try to better yourself, you are not confident. You are just acting. Women are emotionally sensitive creatures – they will feel the insincerity of your acting. “Fake it ‘till you make it” but if you ever get into a room with a truly confident man, you will realise that it’s a completely different level.

She only likes X-type guys, give up.

A girl does not like a guy because he is a gym junkie, or because he is a workaholic or because he is a gangster. Those are so superficial that they have nothing to do with the person themself. What women are attractive to is the characteristics that are associated with that kind of person. A gym junkie typically has a good looking body, puts hard work into looking good and is passionate about health and life. That is attractive. A workaholic has career potential, a sense of responsibility and the ability to shoulder burdens. That is attractive. A gangster is confident, takes control of the situation and is wild and unpredictable. That is attractive.

Get the gist? Anybody who tells you to give up has no idea what they are talking about. Is there any emotion that literally does not exist in you? I doubt it. We are all capable of feeling confident, responsible, energetic and humorous. We just display these emotions in different levels depending on our surroundings. Again, self-improvement is about having control over these emotions so you can display them in the best way that you can, given your situation.

This stuff doesn’t work on girls.

A friend once told me “if you want to catch a fish, you ask the fisherman not the fish”. I agree to some extent. I think a girl’s opinion can be useful for trying to understand the emotions behind a response but her idea of what you should do is coloured greatly by social paradigm, personal expectations and conflicting emotions.

But let’s simplify this. It doesn’t work on girls? Being the most awesome version of yourself doesn’t work? Then what – you be the lamest version of yourself?

Nope. Doesn’t work that way. You will never get 100% of what you want but how can you possibly think being the best you can possibly be will have a negative impact on your attractiveness?

What happens when you get the girl? Do you just go back to being normal?

That’s the whole point of self-improvement. Your “normal” is not the same normal as it was before you improved yourself. You are literally a more attractive person now because you have worked on yourself to be that person.

Your interactions can be different but you are and always have been yourself. The best version of yourself. The “strongest version of yourself” as Elliott Hulse would say.

There are two types of people when it comes to self-improvement. Those that wish and those that chase. Not everyone who chases their goal will reach it. In fact, when you set a goal like mine (perfection – literally) you set it knowing full well that you cannot achieve it. I have smaller, more realistic goals for sure but my code is perfection because I can imagine nothing better that I can be and I do not want to live life under a ceiling that I could potentially reach and stop growing.

Those that wish but do not chase get nowhere.

So what kind of person are you going to be? The one who doesn’t improve and tries to teach people they shouldn’t try to improve either? Or the one who adds meaning, vibrancy and energy to their life by trying to improve?

The end result is always a better version of yourself, but the very act of chasing it will earn my respect, and the respect of those who are insightful enough to see what you are doing. Some people will only see the end result. They will be haters until you achieve your goals. Then they will be suck ups. Don’t falter in the face of adversity. Focus on speeding past it.

It’s not about anyone except you. Be the best version of yourself.

Contrary to what many of you may be thinking, this is neither a movie review nor an analysis of the text. No, I’ve analysed The Great Gatsby enough for a life time during my years as an English tutor as the text was quite a popular choice for school curricula.

No, this is not an analysis. It is a confession. A reflection. A soliloquy. As I have no idea how long my pensive mood will last, I will pick my brain in as orderly a fashion as I can muster and let this post flow where it will.

Confession. I cried twice in this movie. There is still social stigma against a man displaying tears but I am confident enough in my masculinity to admit it proudly. It has been said that just because a man does not show emotion does not mean he does not feel. I will go one further to say that men of a certain calibre feel more – so strongly that their emotion enters the realm of the profound.

Something that few people can appreciate is that when I say I cried, it was not a ‘boohoo, waaah’ kind of sobbing cry. It was a deep ache of sadness that constricted my throat and pierced down into my heart. It was the kind of pain that made my eyes water until I blinked, and a single tear rolled down my left cheek. Profound and meaningful. What meaning you say?

Reflection. Why did I cry? There must be meaning for a man to shed profound tears. It was not the movie. Baz Luhrmann’s adaption of the classic text was one that approached from an easy angle. He played the text as a love story – which it was – but neglected many of the other morals and themes of the original text. However, I do not fault him in his choice and I applaud him for his interpretation. The movie was a writhing current of human emotion, and I think this is important in a way you will soon understand. Overall, I recommend the movie, but do not expect too much from it. Perhaps it was because I already knew what was going to happen, but honestly, the movie had only two moments in it that really struck a chord with me.

So what was it? Why did I feel so stricken by these two moments in the movie? The line (loosely quoted) that started this was first spoken by Jordan Baker.

Coincidence? No, don’t you get it? Gatsby bought this house on purpose so that he could be close to her. He threw these parties hoping that one day she would wander in. Everything he’s done is for her.

I cried because I remembered a time where I too loved so strongly and so innocently. It also reminded me that I can no longer love like that anymore. Finally, it personified a struggle that I feel that only men can understand (I’m generalising here but it’s mostly true).

Soliloquy. Now, because of the kind of person I am, I must apply my knowledge to this perplexing rush of feeling I have experienced. There is so much to say and I don’t really know where to begin. I suppose I shall start by qualifying my last statement.

The struggle that only men can understand is a pursuit of perfection. Again, I do not wish to sound misogynistic – I am generalising – but this is an emotion more strongly felt by men than women. Why? Some might attribute it to pride. I think pride plays a large role, and we all know that men are prideful creatures. But there’s more, and this is something I feel as though I always knew but only now bothered to think on.

Carraway describes Gatsby as:

The single most hopeful person I have ever met, and will likely ever meet.

Why? An odd compliment to give to someone. Unless you thought (mistakenly) that he was an optimist. No, it has nothing to do with that. Carraway is describing the struggle I have mentioned – the pursuit of perfection. Gatsby’s hopes were to accomplish a dream, and his dream was so grand, precise and perfect that to chase it could only be described as exceedingly hopeful. In essence, Gatsby was chasing perfection. He built himself from the ground up, from absolutely nothing to an icon of the city. He did it for a woman, yes. Daisy was a large part of his motivation, but there was more.

The movie diverges a bit from the book at this point by adding  some embellishments to Gatsby’s mysterious past, but the essence of it is that Gatsby met Daisy and they fell in love. Real, innocent and pure love. But she could not be with him because he was penniless, something that he knew at the time but she did not.

So Gatsby forged a perfect dream  and obsessed over it. He overcame incredible things to  make himself “good enough” to be with her.  That’s important, remember that.

As a man, I have always dreamed of success and wealth. But why? Again, generalising, but men are often more ambitious, more academic and more driven to wealth and success. This stems, in part, from patriarchal values (which is why in our liberated world, women are increasingly becoming successful) but I think it goes further back than that. In short, it is evolutionary. Why do men strive for perfection? For success? To breed.

Love is a social construct. We will not get far in discussion unless we accept this. There is no room for Disney romance in here – in a purely animalistic sense, love does not exist. However, that does not mean it is not real. But why do we do what we do? Because  only the best of men could mate in the wild and this was our first order imperative – and still is. Men mate so that the species thrives, and to be able to mate requires success. We now live in a time where it is no longer just physical success that determines which men get to mate, but nevertheless success in something is required.

I have heard it said “Don’t chase women, chase the money and the women will come.” I would correct that to “Chase success” because success is not limited to just money, but if you become the best at anything worth being the best at, you will attract attention and women.

So this explains the impulse in men that makes them more likely to be ambitious and pursue perfection, but what about the lazy ones that don’t? Men need a catalyst. We’re designed to react, like a chemical compound, but we need a catalyst to cause that reaction. For many men, if not all, the strongest catalyst is love.

Love can be for many things. Love of country. Love of family. Love of life. But for those of us that are lucky (or perhaps cursed), it is love of a woman that really sets off the explosions. Gatsby had always dreamed of success but it took Daisy to make him achieve it. And personally, I know that I was a lazy, unmotivated slob back in my younger days. It took the unbearable thought of someone more successful than me stealing away my love to really make me work for success. What drove me to almost obsess about my “plan” for the future was her. I wanted to be able to support her, keep her happy, keep her attracted and just … keep her. But this is not as naive as it sounds. I do not believe in “the one” but I do believe in reactions. People cause reactions in each other all the time, some for better and some for worse. She has caused the best reaction in me out of all the girls I have been with. Everything I do, I do for her.

Now, why is this a struggle? Why did I cry over this? Because I feel a great deal of inequality in the plight of men compared to that of women. And now feminists are going to be crying for my blood, but that’s not the point. I am not talking about social disparity of genders. I am talking about love. I believe love should be equal, but I also know now that such an idea is just fantasy. Very few organic things in the universe are capable of being equal – if any. I know for a fact that I put more into our relationship than my partner does, and that is no fault of hers. It is no fault of anyone’s. It just the struggle of a man, and it is why I felt so connected to Gatsby’s struggle. Everything he did was for her, and all she did was:

smash up things and creatures and then retreated back into her money, or her vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept her together, and let other people clean up the mess.

Biological evolution will explain why we men struggle like this. As we are shaped by social constructs, love represents the epitome of our evolutionary goal. It is why we struggle. And as Daisy says:

The best thing a girl can be in this world is a beautiful fool.

Because once you are no longer a fool, you would understand the suffering we go through and would be dragged into it too.

One last thing to qualify – I said I also cried because I know I can never love like that again. There is a saying amongst men that the first girl to break your heart is the one that changes you and turns you into a man. If there isn’t such a saying, there is now because I say it a lot. And it’s true.

Women are wretched things that love carelessly and dangerously. You are all free to dispute me on this but there will never be a scientific or statistical representation confirming either claim. However, I say from my own opinion, vast wealth of knowledge and empirical data (I’m trying to be humble here) that men are the ones that truly fall in love. 

Ask a woman what the top 10 traits of an ideal guy are. I guarantee the majority of women will mention something external to the man – money, belongings or status. Women are not satisfied with just the person, they want more. They always want more. Now ask the same thing of a guy. What are the top 10 traits of your ideal woman? I guarantee the majority of guys will only say things internal to the woman. They love the person. Men do not care about what is around her, what she belongs to or what she owns. Men love the person herself. 

Again, I am not being misogynistic. I am being honest. I hold none of this against either men or women – this is simply reality. But the fact is, almost all guys will love as purely as Gatsby until they’ve had their hearts broken.

When you have your heart broken by a girl it’s not something you ever forget. It changes you profoundly. To be more of a “jerk”. More selfish. More cynical. More jaded. Or as I like to see it, more lucid. You see reality more clearly. It is not worth loving that purely because humans are not made to handle something that pure. To protect yourself, it is more wise to keep yourself at an arms-length to every girl and question whether “the one” is even real.

I cannot ever love like Gatsby again, because I know better. But at times I wish I still could. 

Nevertheless, that does not diminish “real” love. Real love is not pure because we taint it just by being human. But it is no less valid and no less strong than pure love. It is merely different.

Real love is a mix of emotions. I told you this was important. It is not ideal like Gatsby’s. Real love is pain and happiness. Greed and selflessness. Because humans have too many emotions for pure love to ever exist. But how do you know it’s love then? I mentioned earlier that Gatsby was qualifying himself to Daisy. He did not return to her right after the war because he was penniless, and he put so much emphasis on his successes when meeting both Nick and Daisy that it was blaringly obvious that he needed them to understand that he was now qualified enough to be with her. War hero. Oxford man. Wealthy. Famous. He needed these things for Daisy. Partly because she would not have accepted him as just a penniless suitor, but partly because he needed himself to be good enough before he would be happy chasing her. I think part of love is when you change for a woman.

Don’t get me wrong. Women always try to change their men. That’s wrong and a fruitless endeavour. No, when the man wants to change. When he willingly and obsessively chases perfection to qualify himself, that’s love.

There’s more though. This pursuit of perfection becomes inseparable to us men. We can lose the woman but still chase the dream because that dream has already become a symbol of our love. Women, you are not that special – to put it harshly. Don’t make us do all the work. A driven, obsessed man will leave you in the dust and still chase his dream because his dream will have a woman in it but it doesn’t have to be you. If this sounds harsh or unfair to you, then you are most likely the kind of woman that does not pull her weight in a relationship. Relationships are hard work, so when you make the man do all the work and he realises that he can do all the work, you better be careful because he might realise that he can leave you behind.

Unfortunately, this works both ways. Gatsby had a chance to be with Daisy. He could have avoided everything but his obsession and hopefulness ruined him. Daisy gave him a chance to run away together. But he could not accept. He had worked too hard for everything. His dream was bigger than just her, though she was the centrepiece. He needed his success, his wealth and his status with Daisy, and could not bear the thought of separating them. Because they were all his dream.

You can never be anything but yourself, but there are many aspects to the human psyche. You can be vastly different but still be you. But which you do you want to be?

If Gatsby’s missed opportunity says anything, it is that he lost sight of his original goal. He changed to much and forgot what was really important.

In his younger days, he hesitated when he approached Daisy because he knew that if he fell in love with her, he would feel wed to her. He could not do that because that would forever change his destiny – and he was destined for greater things. Later, he returns with only one piece missing from his dream but in the end, she smashes it all.

There is a message here that could be slightly misogynistic. I consider it mostly true. Women are a huge distraction that can limit your potential. But at the same time, they can cause you to reach your potential. That is for you to decide.

But for me, I feel pensive and melancholy because Gatsby was a part of me – and I suspect a part of all men. He was a naïve younger self that loved too purely. A dreamer with too much ambition. And an obsessive pursuer of perfection. These are all parts of me that I can relate to and Gatsby embodies a failure of these endeavours. To me, there is nothing more painful than seeing the purest and strongest of a man’s dreams broken by a woman he loved too much.

I have never seen a cinema as quiet and depressed as when I left after this movie.

But for me, that blinking green light has slipped too far that I cannot reach it. It is but a memory of a time when I dreamed too carelessly and loved too strongly.

 

 

So I was asked by my university to do a survey about my experience at UNSW and I decided to give them a little bitch slap. Any student should relate to this somewhat, though it was not put as eloquently as possible due to the word limit. I’ve long wanted to do a post on the failings of education and this in no way comes close to what I want to say, but as I’ve been increasingly lazy lately, this will have to do.

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As a student I shared a relationship with many of the young minds that this university’s goal should be to nurture. Unfortunately, I feel as though that particular endeavour was a failure. This may not be a problem unique to UNSW but there was an overwhelming sense that the only indication of success was whether your answer was correct. There was limited discussion and what discussion that did occur was limited and slanted in approach. As opposed to a forum of intellectual thought, rote learning appears to be parading around in the guise of education. It got to the point where I literally did not know any student who had not cheated in exams at least once. In the words of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson “When Students cheat on exams it’s because our School System values grades more than Students value learning.” This was largely the opinion of my university experience and it is a view shared by many.

I am not naive or unreasonable enough to neglect the fact that the university is a business and thus has restrictions, but it is quite sobering to witness. I do not feel as though marks reflected intellect, nor do I believe any student approaches university as an opportunity to learn.

I have read that new approaches to higher education around the world is taking on a new form – one that is increasingly discussion based where classes are a forum of intellectual exchange. I hope the university embraces this approach. There is no merit, for example, to memorising dozens of equations for one exam because that completely misses the purpose of the course. Some of the general education courses I took that were newer were more focused on discussion and I believe they imparted information far more effectively. I believe this reflects the way tradition obstructs progress, and realistically, I think the best I can hope for is that some of the older courses get a revamp to a more modern and effective teaching method, and that education once again becomes about learning not marks.

While I’m at it, let me introduce Tall Poppy Syndrome. I was reminded of this one by something I read in the paper about how Anne Hathaway has supposedly gathered quite a few haters that were dubbed by the media as “Hatha-haters”. The part that got me was that (direct quote):

“The intrigue is that people can’t put their finger on what it is about Anne Hathaway that has sparked this hatred. Somehow this woman that puts herself out there as sweet, good, humble and grateful is coming across as exactly the opposite, and Hathaway hatred has gone viral”.

Can’t put their finger on it? Let me give them a hand.

Introducing Tall Poppy Syndrome. This isn’t so much a field of study on its own as something that is genuinely integrated into human behaviour. The term describes the phenomenon where somebody who is successful in what they do is attacked and put down for no justifiable reason. Those of you who have not heard of this time might be thinking up myriad examples of where you’ve seen this happen.

I’m not exactly a Hathaway fan or anything but I don’t see the merit in anybody putting down another person when there is no specific, justifiable reason to do so. Even less so when you have absolutely no relation to the “Tall Poppy”. I mean, what’s the use in a bunch of obese keyboard warriors talking shit about an athlete. Are they going to get up and back up what they’re saying? No. They can’t. The fact is that most people aren’t qualified to judge Tall Poppies.

This doesn’t preclude objective analysis, of course. One can always objectively compare two Tall Poppies and conclude that one has better attributes than the other, but – well, you’ve all probably seen how serious it gets. Death threats, physical violence, outright abuse and filthy language are often thrown at people who are put in the spotlight.

Why does this happen? Like I mentioned earlier, I think it’s a part of human nature. If nothing else, it’s a personification of envy – and damn, humans are envious creatures. Sociologists like Max Weber have suggested it is due to a zero-sum game scenario, which is a game theory (economics) concept that basically means the sum of a certain thing in a system equals zero. In this case, that thing would be success. If some people are successful, that means there are people who are not successful. People who are not successful feel the need to “cut down” Tall Poppies, so to speak. By attacking the successful, subconsciously people think the effect will lower that person’s success and thereby increase their own chances of success.

A more psychological approach to it would be to consider that by focusing on the bad things about a successful person, and even propagating the spread of such, one can elevate their own sense of self-worth by comparison. “Hey, XYZ failed high school so at least I’m smarter than him”. Those with low self-esteem (most notable in those who are not successful) will thus feel even greater need to put down others – lowering successful people to their own level so that they can feel less disappointed in themselves. A relatively more successful person, however, will be confident in him/herself and feel far less need to engage in such activity.

Humankind has the need to assert its own superiority over everything. That includes all life on our planet, even ourselves. Tall Poppy Syndrome is pretty much just the ugly green face of human kind showing itself. For those of you who have noticed this phenomenon but didn’t have a term to describe it, here you go.

Apollo Syndrome was coined by Dr Meredith Belbin and describes the phenomenon in which teams of highly capable individuals perform poorly as a collective. Whilst counter-intuitive, I’m sure many of you can think of examples where you’ve seen this happen (the first that comes to my mind is NBA All-Star teams). I should clarify, by badly I mean with a lack of synergy (they perform worse than they should given their individual talents).

There are many reasons for this phenomenon and I’m sure the brighter of you all can come up with a few yourself just by thinking about it. Belbin specifically noted the following flaws in Apollo teams:

  • Excessive time spent in abortive or destructive debate in which members try to persuade others to adopt their own point of view, and demonstrating a flair for spotting weaknesses in others’ arguments (the latter part is such a good description of me).
  • Difficulties faced in decision making and decisions that were reached displayed incoherence and were somewhat inconsistent.
  • Members tended to act individually without taking into account what other members were doing, making the team difficult to manage.
  • Members recognised what was happening but overcompensated by avoiding confrontation, which equally added to problems.

These are somewhat axiomatic – now that I’ve listed them to you, you’re probably thinking it makes a lot of sense. Apollo teams do work though, and in understanding their failings you can help maximise their benefits.

In general, successful Apollo teams lacked highly dominant individuals and had a particular style of leadership. As with all relationships, some sort of compromise must be available so that everyone is kept in line.

The overarching theme of Belbin’s work relates to the concept of synergy. You’re all probably aware of what synergy is but in practice, most people will choose raw “stats” (of an individual) over how well they fit into the team. I guess the lesson to take from here is to consider each person’s ability to contribute, not how qualified each person is by themselves.

What’s interesting is this also displays the tendency for “Alpha males” to butt heads. This is an evolutionary remnant of our primal selves, so I find it quaint that it still exists in so many forms in contemporary society. However, I do have a conflicting theory that I may mention in a later post.

Apparently, Apollo Syndrome has evolved to be used as a term to describe the condition of a person having an overly important view of their own role within a team.

The negative synergy that is a result of Apollo teams is often characterised as a “Deadly Embrace”, a computing term in which two programs will prevent each other from making progress. The most common example is when two programs take exclusive control of a particular file, and then try to gain access to the other file. Each program will refuse to relinquish their own file and wait for the other to release their’s – therefore nothing ever happens. Applying this to human teams can be quite an apt analogy.

As interesting as this is as a little tip and a bit of extra knowledge, you might not see much relevance of this to your daily lives. In that case, I would encourage you to read between the lines and apply the core principle to appropriate scenarios. Apollo Syndrome is often taught in management courses (that’s where I learned it from – a management course at my university) and does in fact have relevance and impact. It’s not just another funny little theory that nobody pays attention to – it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

 

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Always raining on every holiday that comes by (like how Christmas has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus). If it makes you feel any better, I think it’s reductionist to say Valentine’s Day is meaningless because of its history. I simply think it’s important to know more rather than less.

So, we come to Valentine’s Day – a day of roses, chocolates, flings and confessions. Was this always the tradition? Certainly not. Like many holidays, this one has its roots in Christianity.  It was originally a Christian feast to celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Valentine. Unfortunately, the true story behind this holiday is a bit uncertain because there a few Saint Valentines recorded by the Church, all of whom could have been the subject of the original celebration.

As things go, this is the most popular and widely accepted story:

Roman emperor Claudius II had imposed a ban on marriage due to the concept that unmarried men made better soldiers. During this edict, a Christian priest named Valentine married couples in secret within the Christian church, thereby converting them to Christianity. He was sentenced to death upon being caught and was executed on the 14th of February.

A bit darker than the bubbles, rainbows and unicorns you’d expect of such a holiday, right? Most people recount this version of the Valentine’s story but there are two more.

A Christian priest, also by the name of Valentine but a different person to the first story, was jailed for helping Christians (which was a crime in his time and place). He fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and miraculously cured her eyesight. During his imprisonment, he sent her love letters signed “From your Valentine”. Eventually, he converted her father to Christianity (it helps that he magically cured her eyesight), and was later beheaded.

By now you’re probably noticing a huge religious influence behind these stories. The main theme is pretty much the conversion of faith, which is understandable. Many holidays were about that (again, refer to Christmas) and it makes sense for any organisation to require a method by which to spread its influence and popularity. On to the last story.

This one is a bit lacklustre compared to the others. The third Valentinus was a Gnostic teacher in Rome. He rejected the idea of celibacy and argued that marital love was central to Christianity. Gnosticism was later declared a heresy.

I can’t help but think maybe the last Valentine was just horny. I wouldn’t put it past a horny guy to go through a very indirect route to get what he wants. Forgive me for tarnishing his name but it makes me chuckle.

So those are the original stories of Valentine’s Day. Keep in mind, if they appear to be completely unrelated to the modern day equivalent, it’s probably because they are. The holiday itself was not established until almost 200 years after his death (270 CE) when Pope Gelasius the first wanted a holiday to replace the Pagan festivals to the god Lupercus. By establishing a feast for Saint Valentine in 469 CE, Pope Gelasius succeeded in converting many Pagans to Christianity by replacing their old celebrations of love and fertility. Again, the parallels to Christmas are remarkably strong.

In terms of symbols, hearts and chocolate fall very short. Traditionally, Valentine is represented by birds, bearing a sword, restoring sight to a blind girl and being beheaded.

So here we are at the contemporary Valentine’s Day, fussing over all manner of commercial goods. The profit margin for roses triples for a single day and the world’s insulin levels spike dangerously high as we indulge in chocolate. Many frown on this holiday because of that very same commercial aspect to it. Others say it is no special day because they love their partner every day of the year. I agree with both.

However, that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be defiant of the holiday. You are “free” every day of the year but you can still celebrate an Independence Day. The holiday itself is only symbolic – it doesn’t mean “I only love you today because today is about love”. In the same way that Dawkins celebrates Christmas, there is nothing wrong with knowing the roots of this holiday being founded in Christian conversion and still celebrating it for what it is today. Symbols only have whatever meaning we give to them. 

To the lonely, I say enjoy tomorrow’s cheap candy prices. Remember, you can only know love if you’ve known what it is like to be alone. When you find somebody, your love will be all the sweeter.

To those who are spending their day with their partners, yes, it is ridiculously commercialised, labelled and expensive, but there’s nothing wrong with joining in the spirit.

To those who have someone but are unable to see them today, just remember, you have another 364 days to try. Valentine’s Day is only a symbol, and a symbol only has whatever meaning you give to it. Make another day special and give it the same meaning. It can be your own, private Valentine’s.

One of the things you’ll often hear when asking people why they are religious is that it is comforting. The idea of life after death, an eternity with your loved ones and belonging to something greater than yourself can be immensely reassuring to many people. By comparison, the scientific view may seem cruel; the universe doesn’t care about your existence and once you die, you simply cease to exist.

It’s been said many times that what’s comforting is completely irrelevant to the pursuit of truth. I completely agree. I posit that anyone who needs such comfort so desperately as to turn a blind eye to the truth is a sad and sorry person indeed. Anybody who uses this reason as a justification for their religious beliefs is, perhaps, so damaged or so afraid of responsibility that it may not be healthy to wean them off religion by encouraging the pursuit of truth.

So I offer an alternative view. I have never questioned the value of my existence because of this simple fact.

Something is only precious because it is rare.

Think about that for a moment. The rarer something is, the more precious it becomes. What’s the rarest thing of all? Life. You will only ever have one life and it is an opportunity for you. If you were born to die, the only thing that defines you is what you do while you are alive.

What theists consider to be comforting – the promise of eternal life – I think is just cheapening the value of life. It is no longer rare because it is no longer fleeting. It is not precious.

If you have an infinite amount of time to do something, there is no urgency to make every moment count. There’s no strong need to love, learn, spend time with your family or even live.

As for belonging to something greater than yourself, what bigger thing is there than the universe? The atoms in your left hand could have come from a different star than the atoms of your right hand, billions of years ago somewhere in the universe. Some people feel insignificant when they think about how vast the universe is, but just imagine – your entire existence was created by things infinitesimally greater than yourself.

So what’s more comforting? That’s up to you to decide. But for me, life has never been more fleeting, and thus precious, more tiny, and thus grand, than when I discovered science and truth.

With the Mayan doomsday myth over, I’m sure there are at least a few people around the world blankly wondering what happened. The fact that anyone believed in this at all points to a deeper problem, so let’s take a quick look into the sociological reason that this became a thing at all.

After trawling the internet (unfortunately none of my peers were believers so I had to pull examples from online), I consider there to be two categories.

Category 1: People who genuinely believed it was going to happen.

This ranges from those who were so sure they blew their family funds and strained their relationships to “prepare” to those who were outwardly sceptical but inwardly nervous when the day came. Let me assure you, I literally felt nothing at all. I almost forgot it was the 21st/22nd because it was so obvious that nothing was going to happen. This particular category points to a lack of education and information transmission.

Depending on the severity of this “condition”, people in this category were either absolutely scientifically illiterate or never even bothered to double check. Although I campaign for the elimination of the former (scientific illiteracy), I would say the latter is the worse option. It just means you’re flat out dumb. If you’re scientifically illiterate, you could have done badly in science and never developed an interest in it. If you start making life decisions based on rumours without even double checking the validity of these rumours you’re just dumb.

The other factor influencing people of this category relates to information transmission. It’s not just a problem of correct information not reaching peoples’ ears, it’s a problem of incorrect information being transmitted more frequently than correct information. People might wonder why I prattle on about things like this in a “preachy” manner, but think about it. If the majority of society talks about incorrect things, then being wrong becomes a standard. People like Dawkins, Tyson and Sagan spend (and spent) their lives talking about truth. Without them, there would be at least millions less people interested in science and truth. I’m just here adding to the noise, contributing however limitedly I can. Take Christmas for example. People are so used to thinking Jesus was born on Christmas that it has become a standard. I see it even in media that specialises in mocking beliefs (South Park, Family Guy, etc.), but it’s wrong. Jesus has nothing to do with Christmas. So what’s the problem here? At some point, even the more rational (those that outwardly didn’t believe in the apocalypse but inwardly felt nervous) can question their thought processes and logic when enough people start transmitting incorrect information.

To fix scientific illiteracy and education is a big problem that includes an increase in funding. It’s not something that can be quickly done, nor something that many people will willingly embrace. I consider these people too far to reach, at least for the moment. But those of you on the border, who were pretty sure it wouldn’t happen but couldn’t help questioning your reasons when the day approached, I think I can reach you. I encourage you to keep reading academic analyses of everything. It can be my blog or anything else – though if you read a news article make sure you find the original source and read that instead; the news tends to sensationalise stuff, which can lead to wrong impressions. The deeper you get into science and logic, the more certain of yourself you’ll become. You’ll discover the universe around you is both more mystifying and less confusing at the same time. You will have become an intellectual.

Category 2: People who believed in it because they wanted it to be true.

This is the sadder category, though not something I usually talk about. Unfortunately, it’s undeniable that a noticeable portion of the internet falls into this category. There’s not much to say – if you want an apocalyptic event to happen it means your life is very unfulfilling. However, you are also vain enough not to want to die alone, so the best solution is if everyone is destroyed together. To these people I can only say: get your shit together. Find a hobby, get a job, do something that will make you see life as an opportunity not a burden. If we are all born to die then what is life? It is a period of time given to you where you can do things to make yourself happy. Some people choose to capitalise on their happiness early on, and live harder lives in the future. Others invest their early years well and reap the benefits later on. Gamers should understand this concept easily – you macro first, get your economy going, and then you do the fun stuff. Regardless, the fact that people like this exist means that you really need to find something that interests you – and you’re not going to do that by sitting in front of an internet hoping for an apocalypse. Try getting into science. I kid you not, it’s interesting stuff. Learning about science on your own is much different from learning it in class. Otherwise, find something else.

Yes, the whole political thing is over. Maybe I’m too late to bag on Romney but I read an interesting article in Scientific American talking about the emergence of “antiscience”. In the interest of being objective, the article criticises both sides of scientific illiteracy and publicly spreading stupidity through their misinformed opinions on scientific discourse. There’s an interesting treat for you all at the end of this article. SA posed science related questions to both Obama and Romney, then graded their answers based on how well they answered.

The Democrats were guilty of the false belief that vaccines cause autism and mental retardation. The Republicans, as usual, tried to attack the validity of science itself, preaching creationism and falsely denying climate change. I love how they still say “it’s unclear” or “there is no consensus” or “the evidence is still divided”. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to use this picture:

GWLiteratureReview1_full

If the Republicans had any scientific credibility in the first place, I hope that picture buries it. I did an article on climate change but it was a little bit of an appeal to emotion on my part because I feel bad for polar bears (and other animals). The thing to take away here is: First, there is no “debate” over climate change. Refer to the picture above. It’s pretty damn conclusive. Second, it does not matter if climate change is man-made or not. It seems politicians have some sort of screw loose in their head where they think that as long as they can shirk responsibility and say that humans didn’t cause climate change that we’ll somehow be safe from it. Sea level rising? Fish population dwindling? Starvation of the human race imminent? Oh, don’t worry, we didn’t cause it so we’ll be safe. Nope, we don’t have to do anything about it because it wasn’t us. Yeah … you know what? I’m pretty sure Earth doesn’t give a damn if we caused it or not, if we don’t do anything we’ll suffer anyway. Here’s Romney’s take on it (one of his takes, he actually switched back and forth between believing and not believing it).

My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet, and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.

Whoa, hold on there! Trillions and trillions? Besides making bombs and guns I don’t remember the Republicans being willing to spend trillions and trillions on anything. The entire NASA budget is only what the US military spends on airconditioning in temporary bases in Iraq, if you guys remember my article about NASA’s contributions.

The article goes on to identify a trend of “antiscience” whereby politicians outright attacked science and gained popularity from it. Huntsman, the only candidate to actively embrace science, finished last in the polls. I don’t know if I should blame politicians or people for this one. Maybe they realise they’re just spouting lies to gain popularity. Surely they can’t be dumb enough to believe what they’re saying (unless you’re Todd Akin). But in the end, they do it because the public responds. So damn, what does that say about the public? Get your shit together. I don’t think anyone who reads my blog is antiscience (or they’d be completely in the wrong place) but seriously, how do you end up with the mentality that science is bad and evil? Here’s a quick summary of what the article says about science’s contribution to America:

For some two centuries science was a preeminent force in American politics, and scientific innovation has been the leading driver of US economic growth since World War II. Kids in the 1960s gathered in school cafeterias to watch moon launches and landings on televisions wheeled in on carts. Breakthroughs in the 1970s and 1980s sparked the computer revolution and new information economy. Advances in biology, based on evolutionary theory, created the biotech industry. New research in genetics is poised to transform the understanding of disease and the practice of medicine, agriculture and other fields.

Add this to what I’ve already said in my article about NASA’s contributions and it makes you wonder why you would stop pursuing science at all, let alone become antiscience. The articles continues to point out that America is no longer the scientific leader of the world, and how sad this is when science has been part of America’s success and history. The antiscience epidemic is so bad that it’s gotten to the point where people are being ostracised from the Republican party and communities for having different beliefs. People always ask what’s so bad about religion, or having beliefs. Well, I’m not attacking religion specifically here but any academic can see that the militant spread of false ideology sets back the human race as a whole. Idiots should not be in a position where they can influence the minds of the future.

Anyway, let me just leave you with a tidbit. This one is very interesting; Scientific American proposed a science debate between Obama and Romney which was rejected (despite having the support of tens of thousands of intellectual minds). However, they prepared written responses to the top 14 questions and their answers were graded by SA’s editors. Yes, graded. Like they were high school kids answering a test. Very interesting read: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=obama-romney-grades-science-in-an-election-year

http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/02/i-love-my-wife-my-wife-is-dead.html

I love the end of this paragraph:

I know you will assure me that I am foolish and that you want me to have full happiness and don’t want to be in my way. I’ll bet you are surprised that I don’t even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can’t help it, darling, nor can I — I don’t understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.

It must be hard to be a realist but love her so much. His logical mind would refuse to believe in an afterlife or any way to connect with her but his emotional mind would have been weeping.

Do I have anything to say about this? Well, you can take from it what you will. I’ll let the letter speak for itself.

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