15 October, 2019

Divisions of My Lines

I've spoken before about the dividing lines that make up my lives. Much of that introspective essay was about how the divisions mean something to me (and honestly it's a much more interesting read than this blog entry). But today I want to make a much smaller point, perhaps too small to matter, but hopefully of some interest:

My life seems to be divvied up into different video games that I've played.

I expect that something similar applies to other people. Surely this is not so strange. There's the Blockbuster era, where every weekend was a different game. I played at my grandmother's house, oblivious to everyone else around me. There's Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, played at my own home, too small to really play well, inviting my father to help me beat an especially difficult battle against Shadow Link. There's Final Fantasy VI, when I finally felt grown up, reading Relativity: the Special and General Theory and pop-science books on physics of all kinds, including flatland and the meditation on the tater tot. There's Chrono Trigger, when I started going more into mathematics, getting stuck on the very first book of the Feynman Lectures on Physics. There's Final Fantasy VII, when I started talking about planets of various sizes, and Final Fantasy VIII when tried to reinvent myself in a new school. There's Command & Conquer: Tiberium Sun, where I acted so hatefully and regretfully. There's FF IX, played in solitude, and Chrono Cross, played in the mountains while I ate hot pockets for two weeks straight. There's a period of no gaming at all where everything blurs together in a haze of unremembered nonsense. There's the purchase of a 3DS, sad and defeated. The purchase of a Wii, trying desperately to regain my sanity. The Wii U, covered in friendship and glad caress. And the Switch, lazy and eager.

I remember buying the PS2 with my own money and thinking it a big deal. Playing it in a home without heating, way too interested in rekindling lost worthlessnesses.

I remember the GameCube, almost always on, ever excited and constantly fulfilled, but only in the worst of ways.

I remember Suikoden, on the large television in the game room, played late at night when no one is looking.

I remember Majora's Mask, with a cloth to catch spare drops from my pen.

I remember Culdcept, played achingly, but with thoughtfulness.

I remember Picross, lovingly enjoyed.

Listening to music from any of the games I've played, so long as they were long enough to represent a period of time in my life, will instantly take me back to those times. Strangely, the reverse tends not to be true. If you ask me about some past event, I often have trouble remembering the details. What state was I in during 9/11? Did I take the PSAT? LSAT? Was I in the hospital that time? Or was that just another dream? But if I was playing a game during that time, then merely play the music and I am instantly transported back.

I wonder how other experience this sort of thing. Or if they experience it via media in the way that I tend to. But in the meantime, I'm going to youtube to play a few songs from interesting times in my past.

10 October, 2019

Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom

Yesterday, a friend came to me with a financial request. This isn't unusual for me. I've publicly posted about my 25% giving pledge in the past, and my donations are on record with various EA sites, so it's not unusual at all for me to receive emails and facebook requests from people asking for money. I never give to these strangers, of course. My pledge is to give to effective organizations. But friends are a different matter. When friends are in trouble, you should help them.

The problem is that this particular friend has repeatedly needed help. They have repeatedly asked for loans, which I've given them. But they have not been nearly as good at repaying those loans.

In the grand scheme of things, it's not that much money that they've "borrowed" from me. Under $20k, over a period of a decade or so that hasn't been repaid. But, all the same, it is too much for me to go on supporting them like this.

They did not take the news well. I tried to explain my reasoning; I tried to not just say no, but to also explain about how the lack of trust on repayments is the reason for my not loaning them money, and not because I thought ill of them in other respects. In return, I was called vile names. They reminded me of past wrongs I did, saying that I had not changed from those days. They told me how horrible they thought I was, how terrible I was being right now, and how downright mean it was for me to leave them in the lurch like this.

The entire experience has left me feeling rather unwell. I am ashamed to admit that I sent a very small token amount to them. It only incensed them further.

Would the same thing have happened in branches where I had acted differently?

11 August, 2019

Fungibility

Money is a good thing. We all are individually better off when trade is eased, even if it also causes inequality. I approve of money as a concept, despite its long-term drawbacks upon society. Somehow I have a modicum of faith that those issues will eventually be addressed. We're going to figure out how to make the extreme inequalities go away, sooner or later.

But it is another deceptively application of money that gives me pause. It is something so fundamental to the idea of money that I'm not sure how it could be solved without also taking away trade altogether. This idea, considered an unrelenting positive by most, is fungibility.

When I give money to someone else, they can use that money for whatever they want. Money reserved for one purpose can easily be spent on another purpose, simply by virtue of every base unit of currency being the same as any other. If I give you $10 to purchase chips for the party, you can instead spend those individual bills on something else entirely, and then purchase chips using a completely different set of bills. When you donate to a charity, requesting that they money be spent on X, they can just take the money previously allocated to X and reduce it by whatever amount you donated, effectively making your donation pay for something other than X.

Several state in the United States of America have infamously done this with programs like lotteries or gambling establishments. Before a vote to legalize gambling, the promise is made that tax money from gambling will go toward funding schools. But schools are already funded before this vote; once money from gambling comes in, the legislature will reduce the amount that gets allocated to schools from other sources. This results in some states where the amount of money that schools get will actually decrease once they start getting funded by gambling taxes.

This isn't the fault of gambling, or of charities having restricted funding, even though both ideas are poor ones (I think). The fault is that money can be moved from area to area too easily. Sure, this is good for trade, and it makes it easier to plan ahead, and it has all kinds of benefits. But it also causes ethical issues. Often, I've stopped to give cash to someone on the street, and a traveling companion will say something against it, maintaining that the money would be spent on drugs. Don't get me wrong; there are good reasons to instead spend that money on truly poor people in developing countries, and there are solutions available, like giving away gift cards to local eating establishments. And there are good reasons for valuing individual choice, resulting in the idea that if they decide to spend the money on things that are 'bad' for them, it should be their choice to do so -- giving a gift card to a fast food restaurant instead would be like gifting calves in developing countries rather than the cash that is needed for them to replace their thatched roofs.

But it makes things feel weird to me. Boycotts, for example, occupy a strange place in my mind. On the one hand, if a soft drink company does something absolutely terrible, like fund death squads in Columbia, or if a pineapple company violently overthrows the government of Hawaii, we might want to stop (and get others to stop) buying from them, with the end goal being to get these (and other) companies to not do these sorts of things in the future. However, it becomes less clear to me when the problem is with the owner of a company, rather than the company itself. Is there a justification for a boycott there? Or is this unfairly punishing the company for something that the owner is doing that we do not like?

And here it becomes complicated. Because if I pay you to run an errand, and then you use those funds to pay a company which I was boycotting, does that mean I broke from boycotting?

I've been chided before for giving cash as a gift. "It's not memorable", they've said, and they're correct about that. But I always thought that the goal was to maximize the chances of getting something that the recipient would appreciate, and that seems to be maximally possible with cash (and/or btc). "At least buy a gift card", they would say, but that defeats the purpose. Yet, over time I have been worn down, and now I tend to purchase things that say something about the relationship between myself and that person, only supplementing these thoughtful gifts with cash on the side.

Recently I received cash for my birthday. I was told to spend it on something special. Instead, I spent it on repaying a debt. But I still purchased something special, with later funds that otherwise would have been spent on repaying that debt. So did I buy something special with my birthday money?

In The Good Place, characters are in the afterlife, discussing what kinds of purchases are good or bad. They point out that there are so many externalities with even the smallest purchases that any exchange of goods might indirectly be causing extreme suffering. They say "indirectly" here, and I think that's the word most people would use, but if we take fungibility seriously, then isn't it really just directly causing suffering rather than indirectly? An indirect chain implies that the decision on what the last link funds isn't the same as the decision on what the first link funds. Yet if money is truly fungible, then the last link is equivalent to the first link, and any decision made on the first directly carries over to what the last does. You might be ignorant of what your money is funding, but you are directly responsible for it, not indirectly responsible for it.

Of more relevance to me today, however, is my pledge to give between 25% and 33% of my income to effective causes for the rest of my life. I've kept to this pledge even when working directly at an effective charity. But when I work at a charity, I take an extreme pay cut. Should this count as part of my pledge? My last full-time non-charity job paid $105/hour. If I take a job with an effective altruism charity that only pays $52/hour, then am I effectively donating half of my income without even giving away any of my money directly?

I'm not sure how seriously I should take fungibility and fungibility-adjacent ideas when it comes to ethical decisions. I feel like this is something I just need to think about more. Michael Sandel had some interesting thoughts along these lines, though not specifically about what I've written here. And there are some classic texts from Mill and others who explore related ideas. Maybe I need to review the literature a little more to see what others have to say on these topics.

05 August, 2019

A Yearning

I wish I could have back the mother who read to me when I was young. I want the comfort of feeling loved, without the baggage of feeling attacked or judged. I would like to be cared for solely due to who I am, separate from the consideration of my choices in life.

I am lucky to have a number of people who care about me. I have friends who, upon hearing I am feeling down, will contact me to see what they can do to cheer me up. I have loved ones who care for my well-being, and always have nice things to say to me. I have my paternal family, who invites me over often, and who will just spend time with me with no expectation beyond that. I have Jasper, who will curl up beside me, snuggling in his fur coat, always ready to comfort me in grey times. I have Katherine, who loves and takes care of me during good times or bad. I have my fiction, which takes me away from the world and allows me to self-modify my feelings for hours at a time upon demand.

But I don't have my grandmother, who died too quickly, and perhaps without knowing how much I appreciated her. And I don't have my mother, who cared once about me for no reason other than that I was her son, but who now cannot speak to me without bringing up horrors of the past. Thirteen years ago, when I last saw her, it was for just a few days. I was planning to move across the country on a Sunday, but on Saturday morning she changed her mind and kicked me out a day early. She called the police, who showed up not knowing the situation, which meant that when I stupidly bent down to put on my shoes when they asked me to go outside, the result was a gun pointed directly at my body, with the safety turned off. I talked my way out of it, as I always have been able to do, but how easily might I have been killed in that moment? Or arrested, with my unique name placed online, so that any who googled me would see it? How differently would my life have turned out had that occurred?

I don't trust my mother to just be loving with me. The last time I gave her my phone number in the hopes of reconciliation was eleven years ago; by the next day that mobile phone had dozens of incoming spam calls each day. I had to turn it off within a week. I don't know why or how she would do such a brazenly strange thing to me, but I learned to never give her my phone number again.

Ten years ago, I received a message from my uncle, who told me that no one in my maternal family cared for me any longer, and that I should never contact them again. I don't know if he said this on his own, or if it came from my mother. I have no reason to doubt either possibility. But it convinced me to leave well enough alone, and I have ever since.

My only contact since then has been my sister, who lives in Alabama still, and sees my mother regularly. I tried desperately to cultivate a relationship with her in good faith, but outside of occasional visits, she does not spend time with me. She does not take calls, or play games, or interact with me at all. I don't know why this is so. She acts as though she cares when I see her in person, for a few days each year. But that is all I get -- and perhaps that is all I deserve from that part of my family.

I am lucky to have so many friends and family here. It is perhaps too much to also ask that I have a relationship with my mother. I am too scared to even try, because it would not be worth it if all my mother had to say to me was harsh words. I don't know how to love as others say they do. I don't grok the idea of 'unconditional love', as though that were a good thing. I'm also unable to identify with the pst the way that others do; to me, my life is the life that here and now, not the life I held when I was young and stupid. Today, I do what I can to be a source for good in the world, and I do not identify as the person who cared not for the world back then. We share memories, but we are not one. So it is not worth it if I gain some small amount of displayed affection when I also have to accept condemnation for a past I no longer even agree with.

I wish at least that I could have memories of the reading my mother did with me. Reading that she must have done. There's no way that I could have learned to read so quickly had she not read to me. But when I look back in my own memories, the memories I share with past selves who did not respect memory, those happy moments which I know must be there are instead obscured. All I can catch in the cloudy mist are snippets of a sharp tongue: beratings for choices that past self made, yelling at me for a lack of subservience, turning her back to show her displeasure. My search for happy memories is successful only in the meta; knowledge that certain things had to have occurred, memories of watching VHS tapes long since lost which showed what was supposedly me, smiling. But actual memories? Direct, non-meta, honest-to-goodness images in my own head are all unreliable at best. I remember events that did not happen. Impossible occurrences that must have only existed in my imagination. I remember childhood friends who may or may not have been imaginary friends. I recall wishing wells that always worked; trips to an aunt's house that never happened. The first real memories I can truly count on are from a time when that relationship with my mother was already broken. Light bulbs removed, so I could not read; breaking confidences that harmed me socially. At best, I find faint praise in small snippets, always of the thing I am sick of: my brain. Or flashes of neutral experiences: sitting, bored, while she did something on a computer in a car lot.

What I want, maybe, is selfish. New memories, where it can just be a mother and a son, with what I imagine is a pulsing emotive feeling shared. No information need even be exchanged; just a hug would be sufficient.  But (1) that can't happen, not without also bringing discord into my life that I've long since pushed past, and (2) it is extraordinarily selfish of me. No thought here is given to what she may want. I honestly have no idea what that might even be. It has been too long since I've communicated with her at all, let alone communicated in a way that wasn't her being accusatory to me. A mere thirteen years since we spoke last, compared to maybe 19 or 20 years since I last remember her saying something actually positive to me, without an undertone of accusation. And (3): just because a relationship could be repaired does not mean that it should be repaired. It would be wrong for me to attempt reconciliation with many of my past relationships that did not end well. Perhaps it is the same with my mother. I may yearn for that comfort of feeling loved, without the baggage of feeling attacked or judged, but if it causes stress or discomfort to her, then it is not worth it. I no longer wish for anyone to feel pain at my expense. Not to the extent that I believe it would cause her.

If I were to die soon, at least let it be known that I cared enough to not cause even more undue suffering. I am not that person who once was; I am me, and I do my best to atone for those ancestors.

23 July, 2019

Grief Methods

What really sucks about my experience of my grandmother's passing is that I have no one I can talk to about her. All I can do is think in my own head, or write on this blog, or speak with people who never knew her.

A starcraft celebrity I watched once each week for the past 10+ years passed this weekend. Unlike my grandmother, he had a lot of friends who then spoke about and grieved for him over Twitch, YouTube, Reddit, TeamLiquid etc. Listening to others talk about his passing just reinforces how alone I feel about grieving for my grandmother. No one has posted anything online. No one has shared any news.

It would be inappropriate for me to reach out. The people closest to a person hurt the most; for me to go to them would be a burden. Instead, I should go to someone less close. Except there is no one in my community that knew her and simultaneously someone that I could talk to about it.

The maternal side of my family wants nothing to do with me. I received a facebook message 13 years ago from a family member there telling me that they all hated me, and that I should never contact them again. The last time I spoke with my mother, she decided to kick me out 24 hours earlier than the day we had planned for me to leave; she notified me of this by sending police into the house. I don't know what she told the police, but the first thing they did after announcing their presence was to pull a gun on me. I no longer feel comfortable around my mother. I'm afraid of her. I don't want to risk ruining my life by interacting with her. None of my other family there would be appropriate to speak to either, for various reasons.

I want to hear stories of my grandmother. But the only person I could talk to is my sister, and she doesn't like to play games with me online anymore. I'm not entirely sure why. I enjoy spending time with her, speaking with her, and playing games with her. But friendship is a series of mutual decisions to spend time with each other, and apparently it is not mutual for us any longer.

I don't mean to complain here. Especially not having to do with my sister. Whereas I was close to my grandmother decades ago, she was close to our grandmother for the past few decades. It certainly has hit her harder than it has hit me. And so it is inappropriate for me to reach out. Instead, I continue to watch people grieve about Geoff Robinson, and I continue to wonder what it would be like if I had the ability to consume content like that about my grandmother.

)c: