Posted in Miscellany

Playing goddess fortuna

Aristotle averred that man is a political animal by nature. Anyone uninterested in politics is either a divine being or a beast considering his contemporary volatile political situations in city-states due to the Peloponnesian War. He must have noticed that an unstable government naturally spawned the populace’s grunts, usually in matters of economic hardship and arbitrary measures of civil conduct. That was millenniums ago; you might say, at least not in the United States, some might say. Then why are the scenes of the disaffected ancient Athenians overlapping with those of the disappointed Americans now at the end of this Pandemic Year like an army of living ghosts in my mind’s eye?

It all began with Covid-19 that showed politicians’ true colors, which are neither bright nor dark but only gray, grayer, and grayest. To add clarity to the grayness, the current tug-of-war in Capitol Hill regarding the Economic Impact Payment (“stimulus check”). The sudden news of the second stimulus check was a dim light of high hope for low heaven for most people whose livelihood depended on paychecks from work, social services, or other possible aid agencies. Then another beam of hope shone from the Congress that they would push for a higher amount of the stimulus check to be passed in the Senate. Woe betides anyone who believed in human kindness! The big wigs in the Senate thought that the increased amount of the check would be spent inordinately by people who would not need the monetary aid, such as the employed and others unqualified for whatever deemed unfit in the eyes of the moralists confusing coldness with principles.

As the Pythagorean theorem does not formulate life, no one can expect the exact sum of need, subject to individual circumstances. As in other countries, our political leaders do not have the right to measure their political rhetorics with personal egos in the guise of moral rectitude. They should not dictate what people do with the government-issued pittance because that the first and foremost a sign of totalitarianism over individual freedom. Once the money is given, then it’s up to the donee how it is spent, come what may. Besides, the amount of stimulus check is not as generous as the senate majority thinks. It barely covers a month worth of food, transportation, and some utility bills in most households. But then, beggars can’t be choosers. People want it, and they want it now to get by. Does the Senate know about it? I doubt it.

Those who regard folks in need of financial aid as the annoying mendicants mooching off others’ packets should know that the swift is not to victory, the strong not to wealth, but time and chance befall to all. The government should not play the role of the goddess of fortune blindfolded spinning the wheel of fortune, missing the wheel’s lucky compass to those in need of it.

Posted in book review, Miscellany

Philosophical investigation of education

“I’ll teach you differences,” said King Lear as his motto of philosophical investigations in Shakespeare’s eponymous play. I imagine the ghost of King Lear would utter it again when he deigned to come to our realities of universities in this time. The importance of responsible education to remove the social ills and carbuncles resulting from dissentious political domination has never been more conspicuously called for in our high learning institutions as a recent consequence of the George Floyd incident, and the following the Black Lives Matter movement. However, this doesn’t mean that universities should be a breeding ground for training gladiators equipped with political syllabuses and dogmatic agendas to fight against the public foes. Instead, education should disabuse the ignorance of the unenlightened for our society’s universal betterment.

Professor Benjamin Y. Fong, in his NY Times article “Teaching Racial Justice isn’t Racial Justice,” addressed the issue of education as the fighting tool. It has become fashionable that most American universities have competingly added courses on social injustice to the Black Lives Matter movement. However, the idea of education is to provide students opportunities to learn and actively engage with conflicting thoughts and various real-life issues in a place enriched with knowledge linked with the fellow members of the human race from antiquity. In this environment, a university is a place for education that can improve social conditions in the fight against social, political carbuncles, not for the battle itself, training students for social gladiators.

Many universities are focused on the quantitative quota of educational syllabuses aimed for the universities’ reputations as the most liberal and forward-thinking higher-learning institutions for the socially recognized prestige, not the qualitative aspect of the education of the minds. It is not the textual syllabuses filled with political ideologies and social campaigns. Still, the practical teaching of various conservative and progressive considerations enables students to incorporate the learning to their perspectives. Education serves to articulate ideas based on the standard of reason and taste universal in all human creatures regarding the principles of judgment and sentiment common to all humankind.

Suppose we want our higher learning institutions to remedy the existing ills of our social and political realities by implementing more social justice courses. In that case, we must first understand the fact that education itself is not the fight itself. Neither Plato’s academy nor Aristotle’s lyceum was a place for the battle against the absurdities of Man. Or even the beloved, peripatetic Socrates did not use his open universities in Athens as a place for campaigning against the government hostile to his philosophy. Remember that there is no new thing under the sun as long as we as the collective enterprise called Humanity continue to voyage in the Universe.

Posted in book review

‘The Power Of Habit’, by Charles Duhigg – review

The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And BusinessThe Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business by Charles Duhigg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

William Shakespeare’s convivial axiom of “A merry heart goes all the day” contains a profound secret of the power of the mind. It tallies with the tenets of quantum physics that consciousness is the foundation of the universe. Accordingly, the significance of willpower has always been the subject of philosophy, literature, and science because that is a prerogative of our humanness, our sovereign power and right of exercising the great faculty of mind to the extent possible, just as John Milton in Paradise Lost advised us: “Mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” Further back in the antiquity, Aristotle corroborated that habits reigned supreme in connection with our construction of reality: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” In the tradition of Milton’s existential observation of the mind and Aristotle’s epistemological truth about the power of the mind, Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit propounds an auspicious argument that explains how habits are formed and how to discontinue bad habits based upon the scientific findings of the brain and factual evidence in lay terms.

In order to give the reader the importance of habit formations and its relation to the neurological functions of the brain and the physiological effects on the bodily functions, Duhigg first avers that subconscious mechanisms that impact the numerous choice that seem as if they were the products of sound logics are actually influenced by habits of thinking. This habit formation results from the evolutionary progress of the brain’s mechanism for saving efforts, so that we can stop thinking constantly and redundantly about basic behaviors to devote mental energy to inventing irrigation systems, letters, waterwheels, printing machines, and other technological artifacts.

Then how are these habit formations programmed in our brain? Duhigg provides the reader with the simple but potent secret of 3-step loop as follows: (1) Cue: a mental trigger that commands the brain to go into automatic response and which habit to use; (2) the routine: physical and mental response to outward stimuli; and (3) a reward: feedback from the brain to parse if this particular loop is worth the remembering for the future. It is also quite reassuring to learn that even the smallest shift in the routine stage can upend the pattern and that every habit is malleable and fixable, however complex it may seem. Once the entire loop is established through a steady period of time, the brain stops fully participating in decision-making, letting an action put in auto-pilot mode. Hence, a habit is born. This also means that we can take control of the loop if we learn to create new neurological routines to overpower our less desirable or undesirable habits as long as cues are present.

To illustrate, the case of Travis Leach is the most compelling and realistically substantive in proving the power of habit formations fueled by willpower. Leach dropped out of a high school aged 16, wasn’t mentally strong enough to withstand criticisms and indignities, resulting in his frequent changing of odds-and-ends jobs. Then goddess fortuna must have winked at Leach when he got a job as a barrister at a newly established Starbucks store that made him turn over a new leaf in life. At the age of 26, Leach became the manager of 2 Stabucks stores overseeing 40 employees. He never got upset by irate customers or felt utterly powerless in a drip of criticism due to the company’s education of empowering willpower to their new employees based upon the science of habit formations. To dismiss it as a tactful advertisement for Starbucks’s business umpire is to discredit Leach’s hard-won triumph of will over his sociological disadvantages and psychological scars as a result of his unhappy childhood.

Duhigg’s vastly informative and highly entertaining guide to the habit of success does not bestride a vox populi bestseller list of common self-help books. With his thorough research of evidentiary neurological impacts on habit formations and use of everyday examples thereof, Duhigg marshals his knowledge of the subject and willingness to help people in plain language that is accessible to the initiated and the uninitiated. He then delivers a burst of scintillating pep to the reader with steadfast belief that the right kind of habit formations supported by willpower will transform the raw material of the mind into its Excellency through a process as mysterious as a “caterpillar transforming mulberry leaves into silk,” as his like-minded intellectual Ralph Waldo Emerson agreed two centuries ago. This is not a self-help book per se, but a modern day version of Aristotelian principles of ethics examining the nature of and relations between virtue, the mean, pleasure, and happiness that can make your life different.