JS Mill's First Letter

The following is John Stuart Mill's first letter, written when he was 6 years old.

To Jeremy Bentham

My dear Sir,

Mr. Walker is a very intimate friend of mine, who lives at No. 31 in Berkeley Square. I have engaged him, as he is soon coming here, first to go to your house, and get for me the 3.d and 4.th volumes of Hooke’s Roman history. But I am recapitulating the 1.st and 2.d volumes, having finished them all except a few pages of the 2.d. I will be glad if you will let him have the 3.d and 4.th volumes.

I am yours sincerely

John Stuart Mill.

Newington Green,
Tuesday 1812.

Deteriorating Mental Condition

My grandma has become less responsive in the past couple of days; I'm afraid that her mind is deteriorating. Sometimes when I talk to her now, she doesn't even look at my eyes. But sometimes she seems ok. Today when I went to visit her, she was barely acknowledging my presence, but by the time I left she was quite alert. So it seems like whatever is effecting her condition, it's effecting her on and off. Sadly, I don't know anything about the human brain and I don't have easy access to a neurologist, so all I can do is guess what's happening.

I'm preparing myself for my grandma's deteriorating mental condition, but it's really difficult.

Life in December

My life has been pretty routine since I've been back. I wake up everyday at 9 am and spend the next few hours in front of my laptop reading emails and watching the news. At around 12:30, I head over to the hospital where I eat lunch at the cafeteria, and after that I spend the rest of the afternoon sitting next to my grandma.

When I first go in the room I say hi and tell her that I'm here. She can see well enough to recognize that it's me, but I ask sometimes anyway just to check. I then put my stuff down and proceed with my massage routine. It's about this time when she wants to communicate with me, but since she's still dependent on the ventilator, I just try to guess what she's trying to say.

Her condition seems to be quite stable for now. The hospital is in the process of weaning her off of the machine and it's been going smoothly. However, even if she can regain her capacity to breathe, it's no guarantee that she can ever come home because she's suffering from other problems. I know I should be positive, but it's impossible for me to keep the sad thoughts out.

Tomorrow, the doctors are going to pull out the feeding tube from her nose and insert it directly into her stomach, which means another minor surgery.

On a completely different note, I've been studying for the GRE. I spend a few hours a day (at the hospital) mainly relearning math and doing the exercises. I've been having the most trouble with data analysis; I actually don't remember learning it before. Anyways, the last day I can take the test is in March, which means I only have a few months to prepare. I bought four GRE books in total, two specifically on math, and I plan to bring all of them back with me to York.

All Hope is Not Lost

They tried pulling my grandma off the machine yesterday, but it didn't work. She was fine for about 5 to 10 minutes, but then she started to get short on breath so they had to put the tube back in. Because she has failed to breathe on her own the past couple of weeks, the doctor recommends that she get a trach either today or tomorrow. I really wish we could have avoided this. Even though it's only a minor surgery, it's still risky because she's old.

On a positive note, the trach provides her with many advantages. For one, she'll be able to speak. Supposedly there's something called a one way valve which only allows air in. So being able to communicate with her would be a huge plus. Another advantage is she would be able to eat solid foods which means they can probably take out the other tube up her nose. Not having another tube means more comfort and more movement.

Knowing these advantages and keeping in mind that she can still recover makes me feel a bit better about the trach. I'm trying to keep myself positive.

Three More Days

I finally spoke with a doctor today and he told me the reason why my grandma is having trouble breathing is because of acid reflux. He says the acid damaged her lungs or something like that, and in turn is causing her lungs to be filled with fluid. I don't really understand why this happened, but at least I have a better idea of what's going on.

My grandma only has three more days before they put in a trach so she doesn't have much time to recover. We need to get her off that machine.

The nurses keep sedating her when none of us are there and I'm not sure why. My only guess is because that way she won't try to pull out the tubes, but this really bothers me. Even though I haven't done any research on this, something tells me that my grandma won't be able to recover as quickly if she's being sedated. Today when I went to see her, she was barely responding, and by the time I said goodbye, she wasn't responding at all.

We have to organize our shifts better to keep an eye on her. Also, I'm going to question their practices when I go there tomorrow.

Letter to Congresswoman Linda Sanchez

Dear Rep. Sanchez,

My name is Jason Chen and I am a graduate student studying political philosophy. I am writing to you today to urge you to support the OCCUPIED amendment that Ted Deutch introduced in the House.

The dominant influence of money in our political system is the root of many injustices. From this one corrupting force spawns a variety of legislation aimed to protect the benefits of the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and weak. The people should not tolerate such an injustice. The political influence of concentrated wealth must be restrained.

It is bad enough that some are born into disadvantaged situations. It is bad enough that some live painful lives resulting from no actions of their own. But it is at a completely different level of injustice to say that the poor, the hungry, the sick, the old and the disabled, on top of suffering from social and economic inequality, must also suffer from political inequality.

This is not what a just society looks like.

I sincerely hope that you participate in this uphill battle to bring power back to the people.

Regards,
Jason Chen

No Change

There has been no change in my grandma's condition the past couple of days.

Yesterday, we took those huge mittens off of her hands to allow her to write, but she didn't want to for some reason; she just shook her head when I showed her the pencil and paper. Today, we had a bit more luck because she actually wanted to write, but her writing was so messy we couldn't really make it out. Here is a picture of one of her scribbles.


One sentence that we think she wrote is “I'm useless.”

My Unexpected Trip Home

In transit

I'm currently on my way back to Cerritos because my grandma is not doing well. She has had a cyst in her brain for many years now and it has caused her to suffer from dizziness which, in turn, has made it difficult for her to walk and read. Her condition, for the past few years, has been consistently getting worse, but recently the degradation has been accelerating. A few weeks ago before Thanksgiving, she stopped being able to cook, which is a big deal because she has always done the cooking in the house. This was the email that my mom sent me dated November 17th.

Jason: how are you? Grandmom missed you, she said why you have not call home for long time? I said may be you are busy, or you are fine no need to call us, Grandmom is not feeling good, Can’t walk without walker, She can’t cook and can’t do anything but she still can eat by herself and take shower by herself. Good thing is dad is home all the time, so he can take care of her and help to cook and take her to doctor or take her to park to walk. This year we are not going to Las Vegas on Thanksgiving Day we will stay home play ma jang (grandmom like it) hope everything going well with you.

I couldn't stop crying after I read this email. It made me feel really guilty for not calling home and it also made me angry because my grandma was fine before I left. Since Thanksgiving her condition has gotten even worse. A week ago her whole body was shaking after a fall off of her bed which resulted in her being hospitalized. The doctors moved her to the ICU, but then she contracted pneumonia the following day. The good news is that she beat it a couple of days after, but the bad news is that she's still having trouble breathing. The doctors said that she only has 35% breathing capacity or something like that so they've connected her to some breathing machine.

I don't know how she's doing as of right now because I haven't called in the past 12 hours, and it'll be another 15 before I arrive home.

I'm really sad that I have to leave York. My life there is good and it's a shame that I have to say goodbye. I know it's only for a month, but I don't like the idea of leaving a nice place. It's as if I'm waking up from a dream and having to face reality. Having said that, there is no doubt in my mind that I should be home with my family right now. One of the things I feel most guilty about was missing my great grandma's death a few years ago. I was traveling in Barcelona at the time.

After arrival

I just came back from seeing my grandma in the hospital and she looks horrible. The breathing tube that goes into her lungs is about as thick as my index finger and she has another tube through her nose to feed her. She acknowledged that I was there and she was trying to communicate with me, but because of that fucking breathing tube she couldn't talk and since she kept trying to pull it out, they bounded up her hands so now she can't write either. She's obviously suffering and obviously trying to talk to us, but we just can't communicate with her. It's so frustrating!

I still don't understand why she can't breathe well on her own, but I get the impression that it has to do something with the pneumonia she had. Maybe she has some infection in her lungs? If she can start breathing on her own again I think she'll have a chance. It's that machine that's keeping her there and I'm fully convinced that hospitals drain your spirit even though they may keep you physically alive. The nurse said that they typically use the breathing machine for a couple of weeks and my grandma has only been connected to it for about one. So I think in about one or 1 ½ weeks we'll find out what's going to happen to her. If she continues to need the machine, then they'll have to drill a hole to her trachea, which means we'll have to put her in a convalescent home. I really hope that won't happen because that's where the real soul draining process takes place. My great grandma spent the last decade of her life in one of those homes and it was just depressing. Not being around an environment you're familiar with makes such a big difference on your will to live. Once you lose that, life ends.

Update in York

I have been in York now for well over a month and so far it has been great. Within a few days of my arrival I met a really nice group of international students and later during the month I made another group of friends through the politics department. In total, I have been hanging out with friends at least three times a week. I do not think I have ever been so social in my entire life. Sometimes I cannot hang out with one group of friends because I already had plans to hang out with the other. This is very strange for me.

Another new experience that I am having here is doing yoga. So far it has been a bit painful, but not too difficult. I am hoping that I will notice improvement in the next couple of months.

Besides having an amazing social life (and a sore body), my academic life has also been going well. Although I only have two seminars and one voluntary lecture per week, there is definitely enough reading to do. Plus, I feel like I am learning a lot so I am satisfied with the program. Regarding the discussions in class, they are more or less interesting, but they tend to simultaneously flow in multiple directions so sometimes I get extremely tired. This, however, has not negatively affected my love for academia one bit. In fact, I am now convinced that getting a PhD is my best option for the near future.

I should say some words about the city itself. York is a nice, little, historical town that was founded by the Romans thousands of years ago. It still has its ancient city wall which I think is very cool. Parts of the city have narrow, cobblestone roads similar to the ones I saw in Goettingen. Generally speaking, York has a very European feel to it.

On Having Children

To bring a life into this world and not provide it with the best possible upbringing is an act that requires strong justification. Indeed, one would need a valid reason to choose to provide their child with a mediocre life when providing a better one was possible. Of course there is not one unified view on child raising; we all have our different beliefs on what a good upbringing is. Nonetheless, there are certain criteria that parents need to satisfy in order to provide any healthy childhood. Two of these criteria that I would like to focus on are maturity and financial stability.

That parents should be mature before they start a family should not be controversial. There are very few decisions that one makes in life that bring about more responsibility than creating a life. And if one believes that a healthy childhood requires parents who fulfill their responsibilities, then one would conclude that maturity is a necessary criteria. A similar argument can be made for financial stability. Raising a child requires a large sum of money. Besides the basic necessities such as food and shelter, they also need medical care and an education, both of which are expensive.

My analysis of the importance of these two criteria has led me to the conclusion that parents should wait until their late 20's or early 30's to have children. The logic of the argument is quite straight forward. We have already established that maturity and financial stability are necessary criteria that parents must satisfy in order to provide their children with healthy childhoods. From this premise it is generally safe to say that the more mature and financially stable parents are, the better. And since both of these two criteria tend to be more satisfied as one ages, the optimal time to have a child would be as late as possible, but before it becomes physically dangerous.

I should say that I am in no way suggesting that the decision to have a child can be solely made by the above considerations. On the contrary, I believe there are many other valid factors to think about before starting a family. A simple example would be this: what if one wanted to have 10 children? If that were the case, then one would have to start earlier. The only reason why I provided an age range was to give an idea of the implications of my beliefs; I never intended for it to be a strict rule judging the morality or immorality of the parents' actions.

Ultimately, what should be expected from parents is the best of what they can provide given their circumstances, and seeing how so many children suffer today, I refuse to believe that enough parents are doing their best. Creating a life means bringing another entity into the world that will have its own dreams and passions. Parents must ensure to the best of their efforts that they will provide their children with the opportunities to develop their full potential - to do otherwise requires strong justification.

Letter to Occupy Wall Street

To my brothers and sisters at Occupy Wall Street and all over the world,

Everyday I am filled with more enthusiasm as I see our movement grow larger. I never thought OWS could mature into a world-wide phenomenon that would capture the attention of so many. We have made our voices heard and we cannot be ignored.

Besides expressing my support for the movement, I would like to address the question of whether or not it would be best for our cause if we stated specific demands. Regarding this topic, I do think it would be better for the effectiveness of the movement if we had our wants clearly stated. This does not mean we would need to have specific policies written out, but rather general statements that could attain wide support.

We must keep in mind that whether or not we officially say what our demands are, our message is spreading, though sometimes incorrectly. This misconception of what we want prevents many to support our cause. We can fix this. Once our demands are clear, more of our brothers and sisters will join us. And I believe that if the movement is to survive the Winter, we will need that support.

To that end, I suggest we state our platform as the following:

We the people, the 99% who have been suffering from social, economic and political injustice, demand the weakening of the power of concentrated wealth.

The above statement provides us with not only a simple platform that can attain wide approval, but also a comprehensive one that allows us flexibility of application. For example, the power of concentrated wealth could be weakened through campaign finance reform or by removing corporate personhood. Whatever we decide to do in the future, the above platform seems to allow us that scope.

The way I came up with the above statement was by analyzing the grievances listed in the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City. I concluded that the source of most of the injustices that we as a people have been suffering from was the influence of concentrated wealth.

I hope that all of you have found my letter at least a little bit constructive and I wish all of us the best of luck.

Power to the people!

My 26th Birthday

Yesterday's birthday celebration was probably the best I ever had. For the first time in my life I had all my best friends in one place. Usually at least one person is away or busy doing something else, but this time, I had luck on my side. The evening started with Korean BBQ in Korea town and ended with boba at Marlon's condo. It was a very enjoyable experience. During the night I kept thinking about how lucky I was to have the friends that I have and how much each of them have contributed to my life. I actually almost started to tear because I was so happy. My friends are one of the main reasons why I am the man I am today and I am sure I would be less of a whole person if it were not for them.

Since I am writing about my birthday, I feel that I should mention my reflections on how I lived my previous year. The decisions that I have made in the past 12 months could be described as wise. I certainly do not regret any of them even though a few did not lead to the results that I had hoped for. For example, I do not regret having done all that research for my book even though I did not end up writing it. It was because I read all those texts that I learned more about political theory in this past year than I had all the years prior. A goal not attained is not effort wasted.

The same could be said of my decisions regarding cradle to cradle. Even though I did not end up working for the Institute full time, I definitely do not regret choosing to move up there and meet everyone face to face. It was a priceless experience. Furthermore, I am certain that the connections that I made there will benefit me in the future.

All in all, I have to say that I am happy with how I lived my 25th year.

The Atomization of the Masses

Introduction

We, as a people, have been experiencing a horrible phenomenon for the past half century. The social networks that once bonded us together, the familiarity that once gave meaning to the word 'community' have been slowly decaying. Indeed, the strong social cohesion that once characterized the American society is no more. We have become a nation of separated individuals. To raise awareness of this issue and explain why it is dangerous is the purpose of this paper.

The Decay of Social Cohesion

The fact that our communal bonds have been weakening has been pretty well established. By looking at political participation, civic involvement and informal social connections, we can get a good sense of the health of our social networks and fortunately, this work has already been done for us. According to Robert Putnam in his groundbreaking book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, there has been a decay in virtually every aspect of community participation and social engagement ever since the 1960s. We, as Americans, participate less often in politics,i community organizations,ii religious activities,iii and informal interactions.iv In other words, we are becoming more and more atomized.

As to why this phenomenon has been happening, Putnam points to 4 factors: generational change, TV, sprawl and work. Generational change refers to the fact that people born after World War II are not as civically engaged as their parents. Putnam believes the fading effects of the war have something to do with that. TV refers to the increase of television viewing which has privatized our leisure time. Sprawl refers to the increase distance Americans have to travel on a regular basis. And finally, work refers to the pressures of time and money.

Putnam assigns the following percentages of responsibility for each factor.

          Generational change                 50%
          Television                                25%
          Sprawl                                     10%
          Work                                       10%


Generational Change. The fact that Putnam believes generational change is responsible for half of our social decay is astonishing, but the facts are there. The older, more civically engaged generations are being slowly replaced by younger more apathetic ones. An annual survey conducted by UCLA of college freshman shows this change in values quite clearly. In this survey, students were asked to rate the importance of the following values: be very well off financially, keep up-to-date with politics, be involved in environmental cleanup, and participate in community action. In the late 1960s, almost 60% of students rated keeping up-to-date with politics as essential or very important. By the late 1990s, that percentage had gone down to less than 30%. Meanwhile, the exact opposite trend was observed with the importance of money.v In short, younger generations are more concerned about money and less concerned about the community.

Television. In regards to our leisure time, nothing has impacted it more profoundly than the invention and spread of the television. It has made our entertainment extremely convenient and as a result, has brought us home. The influence that TV has over our lives cannot be stressed enough. According to Putnam, “...each additional hour of television viewing per day means roughly a 10 percent reduction in most forms of civic activism – fewer public meetings, fewer local committee members, fewer letters to Congress, and so on.”vi Furthermore, TV viewing has negative impacts on our social lives. “TV watching comes at the expense of nearly every social activity outside the home, especially social gatherings and informal conversations.”vii Simply put, more TV means less social cohesion.viii

Sprawl. With the increase of traffic and growing distance between workplace and home, Americans are spending more and more time alone in our cars.ix As a result, we have been ignoring our civic and communal duties. In fact, Putnam states that “each additional ten minutes in daily commuting time cuts involvement in community affairs by 10 percent – fewer public meetings attended, fewer committees chaired, fewer petitions signed, fewer church services attended, less volunteering, and so on.”x Having said that, the time spent commuting is not the main reason why sprawl is so toxic to civic engagement. The main reason is that commuting “disrupts community 'boundedness.'” It is the actual fact of traveling to a different place that dampens our community involvement.

Work. The evidence for our social decay due to the increase pressures of time and money is not as clear as we may think. There is no data that suggests that we have less leisure time than before, but our schedules may have become more hectic, making it more difficult to organize activities. Regarding financial anxiety, there seems to be more evidence that it inhibits civic engagement. Worrying about one's economic situation tends to dampen a variety of social activities, even ones that do not cost much money. Moreover, “the only leisure time activity that is positively correlated with financial anxiety is watching TV.”xi

An analysis of the impacts of work on our civic lives cannot be done without factoring in the increase of women entering the workforce. In the past, women bore a disproportionate share of the responsibility for community involvement so it would make sense that our social cohesion would be greatly affected by women having less free time. And this is true. For example, club attendance is lower among women who work full-time. On the other hand, full-time employment has enhanced other sorts of civic activities such as organizational membership. The cross currents in the data make the analysis a bit complicated, but once we look deeper into the details, we will notice again that civic engagement is better linked with financial pressure than busyness. Women who work for personal satisfaction are much more likely to participate in the community when compared to women who work solely for the money.xii In short, busyness, financial anxiety and the pressures associated with two-career families does seem to have a noticeable effect on weakening our social bond.

Why does social cohesion matter?

Social cohesion is important because it provides us with an indispensable tool to protect ourselves against the continual encroaches of unjust authority. Without the mutual support that we give one another, we are nothing but a collection of separated individuals, easily manipulated and oppressed. Just because we live in a democracy does not mean having the strength to stand up to authority is not important. For it is not authoritarianism that we need to be weary of, but of authority in general. This lesson of history could not have been more clearly illustrated than it was in the Milgram Experiment.

The famous Milgram Experiment was conducted by Stanley Milgram in 1961 shortly after the trial of Nazi war criminals. The point of the experiment was to see if people (like the Nazi soldiers) would obey an authority figure even when they were instructed to perform an act that was clearly against their conscience. Unfortunately, as you will see, the majority of subjects could not gather enough internal strength to disobey.

The experiment had three participants – an experimenter (scientist), a teacher and a learner. Both the experimenter and learner were confederates of the study, but the teacher, who was the real subject, believed the learner was also a volunteer.

Image from Wikipedia
The teacher was told that the goal of the experiment was to see the effects of punishment on memorization. What the teacher had to do was give out a memory test by reading a series of words into a microphone. The learner, who was strapped to the end of an electric generator in another room, had to remember the words that were read to him, but if he could not recall the correct words, the teacher was to shock him with electricity. Each additional incorrect answer was to be punished by an increased voltage of electric shock.

The experiment was designed so that the learner would make a number of planned mistakes to warrant the shocks. If the shocks were to reach a certain voltage, the learner would then start to complain about the pain. His complaints were to grow in intensity in accordance with the increase of voltage. However, in actuality, there was no learner in the other room at all; the complaints were all played back from a tape (the teacher was unaware of this of course). The true purpose of the experiment was to see if the teachers would continually administer the shocks even when they could clearly hear the learner's complaints. It should be noted that the complaints escalated to agonizing screams.

The results of the study were astounding - 65% of subjects continually administered the shocks till the very end (450 volts). No one, including psychiatrists surveyed before the experiment, expected the extent of the subjects' obedience.xiii The lack of strength people have to disobey authority constitutes the main finding of the experiment. Even though many of the subjects expressed their reluctance to continue, they lacked the internal will to revolt.

Another key finding of this study was discovered through a variation of the experiment. Instead of the three figure model with one experimenter, one teacher and one learner, there was to be three teachers, each assigned with a different task. One teacher was to read the words, the second one was to announce if the learner's answers were correct or not, and the third teacher (naïve subject) was to administer the shock. What the actual subject did not know was that the other two teachers were confederates.

In this variation, the two confederate teachers were to protest against the experiment and ultimately refuse to continue. The first teacher was to protest and disobey at the 150-volt level shock. The second teacher was to do the same at the 210-volt level shock. The goal of this experiment was to see whether or not the disobedience of others in the subject's position would affect his behavior. And in fact, it did. Instead of the typical obedience rate of 65%, in this variation, only 10% of the subjects administered the final shock.xiv Of all the variations conducted in the experiment, none other was so effective at undermining the authority of the experimenter.

Milgram explains why he thinks groups are so effective at undermining authority:xv

A closer analysis of the experimental situation points to several factors that contribute to the group's effectiveness:

1. The peers instill in the subject the idea of defying the experimenter. It may not have occurred to some subjects as a possibility.
2. The lone subject in previous experiments had no way of knowing whether, if he defies the experimenter, he is performing in a bizarre manner or whether this action is a common occurrence in the laboratory. The two examples of disobedience he sees suggest that defiance is a natural reaction to the situation.
3. The reactions of the defiant confederates define the act of shocking the victim as improper. They provide social confirmation for the subject's suspicion that it is wrong to punish a man against his will, even in the context of a psychological experiment.
4. The defiant confederates remain in the laboratory even after withdrawing from the experiment (they have agreed to answer post-experimental questions). Each additional shock administered by the naïve subject then carries with it a measure of social disapproval from the two confederates.
5. As long as the two confederates participate in the experimental procedure, there is a dispersion of responsibility among the group members for shocking the victim. As the confederates withdraw, responsibility becomes focused on the naïve subject.
6. The naïve subject is a witness to to instances of disobedience and observes the consequences of defying the experimenter to be minimal.
7. The experimenter's power may be diminished by the very fact of failing to keep the two confederates in line, in accordance with the general rule that every failure of authority to exact compliance to its commands weakens the perceived power of the authority.

Although a few of the above factors depend on the fabricated environment of the experiment, the evidence does suggest that groups are more effective at fighting against authority in real world situations. Milgram certainly believed this when he concluded the following:xvi

When an individual wishes to stand in opposition to authority, he does best to find support for his position from others in his group. The mutual support provided by men for each other is the strongest bulwark we have against the excesses of authority.

Conclusion

We have seen from the brilliant work of Robert Putnam that the American community is decaying and has been since the 1960s. Although we are unlikely to become complete hermits, the implications of less social cohesion should worry us all. Power, unless checked, often exceeds its appropriate boundaries and thus, it will always be necessary that a people be strong and have the ability to protect itself. We must learn from the findings of the Milgram Experiment and ensure that we are united. Separated we are weak, together we are strong. It is not surprising that both Aristotle and Tocqueville made the same observation when they said that tyrannies attempt to maintain their power by atomizing their masses.xvii



Notes

i Putnam, Robert. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000. 46 “...despite the rapid rise in levels of education American have become perhaps 10-15 percent less likely to voice our views publicly by running for office or writing Congress or the local newspaper, 15-20 percent less interested in politics and public affairs, roughly 25 percent less likely to vote, roughly 35 percent less likely to attend public meetings, both partisan and nonpartisan, and roughly 40 percent less engaged in party politics and indeed in political and civic organizations of all sorts. We remain, in short, reasonably well-informed spectators of public affairs, but many fewer of us actually partake in the game.” 

ii Ibid., 63 “...active involvement in face-to-face organizations has plummeted, whether we consider organizational records, survey reports, time diaries, or consumer expenditures. We could surely find individual exceptions – specific organizations that successfully sailed against the prevailing winds and tides – but the broad picture is one of declining membership in community organizations. During the last third of the twentieth century formal membership in organizations in general has edged downward by perhaps 10-20 percent. More important, active involvement in clubs and other voluntary associations has collapsed at an astonishing rate, more than halving most indexes of participation within barely a few decades.” 

iii Ibid., 79 “...the broad oscillations in religious participation during the twentieth century mirror trends in secular civic life – flowering during the first six decades of the century and especially in the two decades after World War II, but then fading over the last three or four decades.” 

iv Ibid., 115 “Human nature being what it is, we are unlikely to become hermits. On the other hand, our evidence also suggests that across a very wide range of activities, the last several decades have witnessed a striking diminution of regular contacts with our friends and neighbors. We spend less time in conversation over meals, we exchange visits less often, we engage less often in leisure activities that encourage casual social interaction, we spend more time watching (admittedly, some of it in the presence of others) and less time doing. In short, it is not merely “do good” civic activities that engage us less, but also informal connecting.” 

v Ibid., 260 

vi Ibid., 228 

vii Ibid., 237 

viii Ibid., 231 “People who say that TV is their “primary form of entertainment” volunteer and work on community projects less often, attend fewer dinner parties and fewer club meetings, spend less time visiting friends, entertain at home less, picnic less, are less interested in politics, give blood less often, write friends less regularly, make fewer long-distance calls, send fewer greeting cars and less e-mail, and express more road rage than demographically matched people who differ only in saying that TV is not the primary form of entertainment. TV dependence is associated not merely with less involvement in community life, but with less social communication in all its forms – written, oral, or electronic.”

“Nothing – not low education, not full-time work, not long commutes in urban agglomerations, not poverty or financial distress – is more broadly associated with civic disengagement and social disconnection than is dependence on television for entertainment.” 

ix Ibid., 212 – 213 

x Ibid., 213 

xi Ibid., 193 

xii Ibid., 200 

xiii Milgram, Stanley. Obedience to Authority. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Thought ed., 2009. 29 

xiv Ibid., 116-118 “We have said that the revolt against malevolent authority is most effectively brought about by collective rather than individual action... 

Four apparent subjects appear at the laboratory to take part in an experiment on the “effects of collective teaching and punishment on memory and learning.” Three of them are confederates of the experimenter and one is a naïve subject. The experimenter explains that three teachers and one learner are to be used in the study, and by means of a rigged drawing, the naïve subject is assigned the position of teacher 3. the roles of teacher 1, teacher 2, and learner are filled by the confederates. The learner is strapped into the electric chair and the three teachers are seated before the shock generator. Teacher 1 is told to read the list of word pairs, teacher 2 tells the subject whether his answer is correct or incorrect, and teacher 3 (the naïve subject) administers punishment. As in the basic experiment, the subjects are instructed to raise the shock level one step each time the learner makes an error. 

Behavior of confederates. The confederates comply with the experimenter's orders through the 150-volt shock, which provokes the victim's first vehement protest. At this point teacher 1 informs the experimenter that he does not wish to participate further, because of the learner's complaints. The experimenter insists that teacher 1 continue. However, teacher 1 is not swayed by the experimenter's commands, gets up from his chair in front of the shock generator, and takes a seat in another part of the room. Since the experimenter's efforts to get the subject to return to the generator are futile, the experimenter instructs the remaining two subjects to continue with the experiment. Teacher 3 (the naïve subject) is to handle the reading of word pairs, in addition to his regular job of administering electric shock to the learner. 

After shock level 14 (210 volts) is administered, teacher 2, expressing concern for the learner, refuses to participate further. The experimenter orders him to continue, but he too leaves his chair in front of the generator and seats himself at an opposite corner of the room, saying, “I'm willing to answer any of your questions, but I'm not willing to shock that man against his will. I'll have no part of it.” 

At this point the naïve subject is seated alone in front of the shock generator. He has witnessed the defiant actions of two peers. The experimenter orders him to continue, stating that it is essential that the experiment be completed. 

The results of the experiment are shown in Table 5. in this group setting, 36 of the 40 subjects defy the experimenter (while the corresponding number in the absence of group pressure is 14). the effects of peer rebellion are very impressive in undercutting the experimenter's authority. Indeed, of the score of experimental variations completed in this study, none was so effective in undercutting the experimenter's authority as the manipulation reported here.” 

xv Ibid., 120-121 

xvi Ibid., 121 

xvii Aristotle. Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 218 In order for a tyrant to maintain his power, he must “forbid societies for cultural purposes, and any gathering of a similar character, and to use every means for making every subject as much of a stranger as is possible to every other (since mutual acquaintance creates mutual confidence).” Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. England: Penguin Group, 2003. 591 “Despotism, suspicious by its very nature, views the separation of men as the best guarantee of its own permanence and usually does all it can to keep them in isolation. No defect of the human heart suits it better than egoism; a tyrant is relaxed enough to forgive his subjects for failing to love him, provided that they do not love one another. He does not ask them to help him to govern the state; it is enough that they have no intention of managing it themselves. He calls those who claim to unite their efforts to create general prosperity “turbulent and restless spirits” and, twisting the normally accepted meaning of the words, he gives the name of “good citizens” to those who retreat into themselves.”

No More Pizza Store

As of today, my father no longer owns the pizza store and officially enters into retirement.

I am trying to imagine how he feels about this whole event. This shift from working life into retirement life must be one of the most significant transformations he has experienced. His life has been completely altered. He used to spend all day at the pizza store, from 10 am to 10 pm. That was his life. I rarely saw my father because of it. Now, that activity that occupied 80% of his waking life is gone. This worries me a bit because my father is not a person who has many hobbies or interests. I sincerely hope that he finds something productive to do with his newly gained freedom.

In my opinion, I am glad that he is retiring. He has worked far too much in his life; he deserves to relax now. Did you know that he owned the pizza store for as long as I have been alive? Truly a great accomplishment.


Ethnicity and Identity

The following is an article that I wrote for a website that focuses on the issues facing Chinese immigrants and their descendants.
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From my own experience, most 2nd generation Chinese have a sense of the identity crisis. For example, they do not know if they consider themselves Chinese or American or both or neither. Most seem to feel that their identity lies somewhere in between, in a purgatory type of space, but there are a few who consider themselves to be completely one or the other. Of course, there is no right answer, everyone has to figure this out for themselves.

What I think can help the process is to understand that there is a difference between ethnicity and identity. This might sound obvious, but I feel that many people do not treat them as separate concepts although they understand their separate meanings. For example, White Americans are from Europe right? So why are they considered Americans, but not Europeans? The answer is simple, they are ethnically European, but culturally American. Their identity is American. I suspect the same phenomenon will happen with other races as well, especially if they live in an immigrant country such as the United States.

The reason why people mix the concepts of ethnicity and identity is because for most people, they happen to be the same. For example, most ethnically Chinese people identify themselves as Chinese. But once the world becomes even more international, there will be more ethnically Chinese people who identity themselves as German, Russian, Mexican, Canadian etc. In other words, the smaller the world becomes, the more variability in combinations we will see between ethnicity and identity.

So for those of you who are struggling to figure out who you are, keep in mind that your identity is what is in your head and not in your blood.

Graduate School Personal Statement

The following is my personal statement that I sent to the University of York.


Marx, Mill and Political Theory

When one treats education solely as a means for financial stability, one cannot expect amazing results. Of course it is possible to get good grades and score perfectly on every exam, but true learning, true education cannot happen unless one has a different perspective. Regrettably, for most of my life, I was guilty of having this inferior attitude towards education; it was never about the content of the class or about developing my capacities. From an early age I figured out that if I just paid attention in class, I would not have to study at home and would still be able to attain a B. This remained my strategy even when I entered college. In fact, it was not until my senior year that I finally discovered the subject that would become my main passion in life.

Political theory was my wake-up call; it was the spark that ignited the flame inside of me. Ever
since my senior year, I have come to understand what the true role of education is. It is not
just a means to a good job, it is a means to live a dignified life. It is a process by which one
discovers who one truly is. To be clear, I took multiple politics courses throughout my study at
UC Santa Cruz, but none of them spoke to me except for political theory. It is what made me
the man I am today.

I would have to say that one of the fundamental characteristics that defines who I am is the
high value that I place on developing passion and independent thinking. The importance of
these two concepts first entered into my mind while I was taking a modern political theory
class. Specifically, there were two texts that made this initial imprint on my mind. The first was Marx's Estranged Labor and the second, Mill's On Liberty.

From my analysis of Marx's essay, I realized the role that passion plays in man's life-activity.
Passion, I believe, is crucial in productive labor and productive labor is necessary for man to
be happy. Or as Wilhelm von Humboldt puts it, “The true end of man...is the highest and most
harmonious development of his powers to a complete and consistent whole.” There is no productive labor without passion and there is no happiness without productive labor.

This concept changed my life. Understanding the significance of passion in attaining happiness naturally led me to devalue the role of money. Society's strong pursuit of wealth is a completely mutated version of what our value system should be. It comes at no surprise that most people with sufficient money are not happy. What people do not understand is the role that passion plays in being human; it is what separates us from animals. According to Marx, we live to work, while animals work to live.

Reading Mill's On Liberty made me realize how important independent thinking is in attaining
the truth and through that, developing society as a whole. The truth is most likely contained in
a variety of opinions and therefore, a prerequisite of attaining the whole truth is critical
thinking. If the truth can be attained, then we are one step closer in determining what is
unjust. Once we know that, we can start moving to correct it. It is because of the people who
think independently that blacks and women can vote today. And it will be because of these
same people that gays will be allowed to get married in the future.

My strong support of dissidence has simultaneously made me extremely fearful of the consequences of blind obedience. I am sure you have heard of Milgram's groundbreaking and horrifying experiment on authority vs. morality. Learning about this experiment led me to think about how blindly obedient people are and how much personal will we lack. I tremble at the thought of imagining my friends and family placed in the same situation. We must all think independently not only to discover truth, but also to prevent ourselves from being led to an unknown destination.

Expanding on the lessons learned from Marx and Mill, I naturally started to examine what man's true nature was and in what type of society this nature was most likely to be realized. I have decided so far that man's life-activity can be carried out by various means, means which only he himself can decide. This idea combined with my strong support for dissidence led me to study classical liberalism. It only makes sense that individual liberty should be highly valued and that concentrated power should be significantly limited. However, classical liberalism raises many questions; for example, what are the limits of personal liberty? Among the various questions posed, this has been the one that I have developed the most interest in.

Freedom is highly valued in the West, especially in the United States. Most people believe
that we should be able to do whatever we want except for infringing on other people's rights.
A classic example that shows this distinction is drinking alcohol and driving drunk; the former
being allowed while the latter not. But I would say that many issues of personal liberty are
much more complicated than that. What if people wanted to take drugs? Should all drugs be
decriminalized? What would happen to society if that were to happen? After pondering these
questions, I have concluded that it ultimately comes down to individual liberty vs. systemic
risk, and this is exactly the question that I would like to study at your university.

The University of York's MA Political Theory (The Idea of Toleration) program fits my academic goals perfectly. It is exactly because of this balancing act between individual liberty and systemic risk that tolerance is such an interesting issue to discuss. I have taken the liberty to read some of Susan Mendus's work regarding religious toleration and I find it extremely thought provoking. The question of whether or not Muslim women should be allowed to wear headscarves in school is a difficult question to answer, but an interesting one nonetheless. I would like to explore this question and other ones like it in your uniquely offered program.

I stated earlier that education is a means to live a dignified life and I meant it whole-heartedly. Political theory has not just been an interest, it has been one of the main sources of meaning in my life. I know for a fact that I want to continue to study political theory in the future either as a professor or as a writer. Being a professor will allow me to focus my energy on breaking new ground in the subject. It would allow me to do everything I already love doing – researching, writing and teaching. However, if I am unsuccessful in becoming a professor, my goals would be satisfied by becoming a writer.

In any case, attaining a Masters in political theory is key in achieving my future goals. Having
this degree will help me approach either profession with more dignity, creativity, critical
thinking, and ethical behavior. I sincerely hope that you will accept my application and allow
me to study at your university. Please do not look at me as a student who just wants a Masters degree because of the financial benefits that come with it, rather look at me as someone who wants to develop himself and society, someone who wants to live a dignified life.

Essay Contest

This was an essay I submitted for a scholarship. The maximum length allowed was 250 words.


“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” These were the words written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau over 200 years ago to describe what he believed as the ubiquity of unjust governments that enslaved all human kind. Unfortunately, these words can be used today to describe a different type of tyranny, one that reigns supreme in determining all of our important actions. This tyranny is none other than the tyranny of financial burden. Most of us might not live under the fist of kings anymore, but our enslavement to monetary necessity is only increasing.

The most cruel facet of this tyranny is the rising cost of education. Just last year the amount of student loan debt outpaced credit card debt and is likely to top a trillion dollars this year. The average student in 2010 who took out a loan left college with $24,000 in debt. Owing that much money before entering the job market is a such an oppressive force on our freedoms. Forget being an artist! Forget being a philosopher! Forget being whatever you always wanted to be if it will not bring you wealth! If you think that you are free, you are greatly mistaken.

I refuse to accept this fate. I will do whatever I can to free myself from the shackles of monetary necessity so that I may spend my life chasing after my dreams and developing my passions. It is for this reason that I would greatly appreciate your assistance.

Second Email to Aubrey de Grey

Dear Aubrey de Grey,

My name is Jason Chen and I emailed you a couple of years ago expressing my support for your work. I recently saw an interview with Ray Kurzweil and it reminded me of your efforts to overcome aging. When I went back and read the email I sent you, I noticed I failed to mention another reason why the overpopulation problem in regards to the usage of natural resources may not be as tragic as many claim.

You may or may not have heard of it, but there's an environmental movement called cradle to cradle. Cradle to cradle is a direct contrast to our current linear design model of cradle to grave which is characterized by taking resources on one end and disposing them on the other. C2C seeks to change this model by creating two closed loops consisting of technical nutrients and biological nutrients. A technical nutrient is a material that can be recycled indefinitely and a biological nutrient is a material that can safely go back into the soil. By eliminating the concept of waste, the problem of overpopulation does not seem as apocalyptic.

Furthermore, great progress has been made in the area of C2C. I should mention that the leaders of this movement are an American architect (William McDonough) and a German chemist (Michael Braungart). Since they've started implementing this movement, they have created a eco label for products simply called Cradle to Cradle certification. Today, there are almost 400 products that have gone through the process and there aren't any signs of this movement stopping. Although none of the products are perfect yet, I still think it's a good sign of the practicality of C2C.

Another sign of progress in this field is the fact that C2C certification is now being given out by a new non-profit called the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute based in San Francisco. Previously, C2C was given out by a private firm which limited the scope of their actions. Now that C2C is in the public sphere, we can now take the certification to scale. One of the main functions of the new non-profit is to train more people to give out the certification.

I'm sorry if I've written too much about this movement, I'm just very passionate about it. I'm happy to say that since I wrote you last time, I've actually started to work for this new non-profit. Our work is extremely interesting and a bit comparable to what you do. You work on the building blocks of people and we work on the building blocks of materials. You work on improving the quality of life through preventing aging, we work on improving the quality of life through preventing resource depletion. It's because of these similarities (and probably my fear of death) that I feel a strange connection with you and your work.

Let's hope that both our endeavors are successful.

Regards,
Jason Chen

A Humbling Experience

Three months have passed since I started working for the Institute. I believe now is a good time to reflect on what I think about my job.

Of all the things that I have learned working there, none other has had more of a psychological impact than the realization that everyone is good at what they do. Originally, I had thought I would bring more to the table, but my contributions turned out to be minimal. I quickly realized that I was an amateur surrounded by professionals. And even though I knew I had very little experience, I thought I could make my presence more known. Sadly, I did not completely understand what the job required of me. I knew what my duties were, but there were many more things that needed to be done which I was unqualified for.

Too often I attended meetings and had nothing significant to say. I was constantly afraid that my employer regretted hiring me and to a certain extent, I still am. The type of person needed in a start-up is someone who is very knowledgeable of the field and has a clear vision of what they want to accomplish. I think it would have been more suitable for them to have hired me later on, once operations were already up and running. Of course I am glad that they hired me when they did, but objectively speaking, I do not think I would have if I had been in their shoes.

Having said all that, I do enjoy my job, now more than ever. We have launched our new website and I am busy doing what I did with the C2C Portal. I am extremely lucky to have a job that I would do for free.

The Restriction of the Development of the Natural Diversity of Human Capacity

EVERYWHERE I am surrounded by an unnatural, incomplete version of man. Man, who should be characterized by excellence and distinctiveness, has been reduced to mediocrity and uniformity. The natural diversity of human capacity is not developed as it should; there are obstacles blocking its cultivation. Nothing is more of a shame than talent wasted and passion oppressed. In order to reverse this tragedy, in order to lift the veil that blurs our vision of true development, I offer my observations and potential solutions.

Man has a natural desire to cultivate himself; productive labor is his life-activity. This law of human nature coupled with the natural variety of interests would result in the development of the natural diversity of human capacity. Unfortunately, there are too many hurdles that man must jump over to cultivate his true interests. From multiple directions he is bombarded with false information on what is of value. And since childhood he has been engulfed in a system which is hostile to free, conscious self-development. This restriction of cultivation has caused many to live an unnatural, unfulfilled life.

SOCIETY should be ashamed that the very place it established to develop our children's skills, in fact, restricts it for many. Academic priority is a systemic obstacle preventing many to find their true path and therefore must be fixed. Is it so difficult to understand that the man who was meant to become a dancer did not, because our educational system wanted an engineer? Have not many of us experienced this in our own lives? The restriction of the development of the natural diversity of human capacity due to academic priority can be changed and I am convinced that it should.

Proponents of academic priority may say that it provides potential benefits. Having an abundance of scientists could mean that we are that much closer to inventing new cures. Engineers could provide us with the next generation of efficient automobiles. I agree, the potential is there. But I question how much we truly gain from having an abundance of a specific profession filled with people who do not perform their duties with full human energy and dignity. The innovations brought about by cross-discipline interaction may be even more numerous and impressive.

Ultimately, the results are impossible to predict, but one thing is certain if we continue with our current educational system – there will be a vast amount of people who will not live full, meaningful lives developing the natural capacities of their interest. For them, academic priority causes attrition of spirit. That in itself is sufficient to warrant change.

POVERTY and suffering are all too common in our world; most do not have the privilege of pursuing their passions. When one is suffering from thirst and disease, what can one do except attempt to increase one's standard of living? There are not many choices for the poor; attaining financial stability is a matter of life and death. Unfortunately, not all skills are able to provide the same level of monetary return which means the poor will have good reason to consider only a certain number of vocations. This ultimately results in the restriction of the development of the natural diversity of human capacity. People who are lucky enough to have their basic needs met should sincerely appreciate the opportunity they have to strive for a higher state of existence. That too many do not realize the fortunate position they are in, brings me to my next point.

OF all the obstacles blocking true self-development, none other is more of a shame than unsuitably possessing the behavior of a poor man. There are some who believe, act and live in a way that is comparable to how a man would in financial straits. Little do they know how close they are to being truly free to develop the natural capacities of their choice. Little do they know how lucky they are to have the opportunity to live full, meaningful lives. To be within reach of self-cultivation only to divert one's attention to attaining false material necessities is a tragedy worthy of God's tears.

How one unnecessarily attains a poor man's behavior deserves some attention. Materialism is rampant in modern, popular culture. Advertisements that tell us how incomplete we are without some product are ubiquitous. In fact, it is extremely difficult to find a place where we are not exposed to some sort of lure to consume, the consequences of which are dreadful. Materialism leads the rich man to behave like the poor man in that he treats attaining money as the focus of his efforts. The increase of desire for unnecessary materials is directly proportionate to the increase of our 'dependency' on money, which is directly proportionate to the restriction of the development of the natural diversity of human capacity.

Besides modern, popular culture, the poor man's behavior is also often inherited from family. It is quite understandable that those who have experienced the pain of poverty would pass on the life-outlook that helped them achieve financial stability. This, I suspect, would be more common in emerging economies. Many of those relatively new to wealth are not yet mentally occupied with achieving self-cultivation; they continue to treat money as a goal and not as a means to something greater. As a result, many of their children inherit the poor man's behavior and adopt a life not pursuing the development of the natural capacity of their choice.

THE obstacles blocking the development of the natural diversity of human capacity are great, but not insurmountable. We must never forget that these restrictions fight against our true nature. Therefore, in order to overcome them, we must simply create an environment which preserves and fosters the natural desire to develop the capacities of our interest. The seed has already been planted, what is needed are the right conditions so that it may flourish.

How this translates into a practical solution depends on what obstacle we want to eliminate. If it is academic priority, then the solution would be to replace it with a system that respects the natural diversity of human interests. Providing a variety of courses and treating them equally would be a significant step in the right direction. Society should have as much interest in cultivating the next Picasso as it does the next Einstein.

THE second obstacle is the most difficult to solve and unfortunately, there is not much to say about it. There are no quick solutions to attaining financial stability; one must simply have luck and a good work ethic. However, it may be argued that perhaps financial stability is not required at all to develop the capacity of our choice and that even in poverty man can live a life of free, productive labor. Although I question the strength of this argument, I sincerely hope that it is true.

THE last impediment that restricts the development of the natural diversity of human capacity can be solved by the realization of the importance of developing the natural capacity of one's choice. This, in turn, would allow us to place money in its correct position on our list of priorities, which in turn will enable us to allocate our efforts more wisely. Furthermore, it should be understood that financial greed very often conflicts with the attainment of self-development. The chances of one's interest providing enough money to satisfy luxurious desires is extremely low. One would most likely have to enter into some non-desirable occupation which would divert one's attention and energy away from what would truly bring about a happy existence. Therefore, although many see wealth as a means to freedom, attempting to achieve it is quite often the chain. For this exact reason I am wholly convinced that the less money man requires to be satisfied the better.

Once we have rediscovered the desire to develop the natural capacity of our interest, we can help preserve the same desire in our children so that they may live a life filled with dignity and meaning. We must expose our children to a diversity of experiences and encourage them to pursue their passions. Merely discussing this topic would bring about a vast change. Imagine how much diversity of human capacity would be developed if children were motivated from the beginning to lead a life of free, productive labor.

WE must never forget that developing the natural capacity of our choice is a fundamental part of the human experience, as is love. What would the world be like if there were systemic and psychological obstacles restricting the development of love? Would that not be a tragedy? Should we not pursue in a united effort to overcome these hurdles?

Let us all attempt to awaken our fellow man from his stagnant state of living. Let us encourage him to pursue that one passion he never allotted the time to pursue before. And let us hope that after we reverse academic priority, achieve financial stability and prevent unsuitable possession of the poor man's behavior, the seed of the diversity of human capacity will flourish.

Prop 8 Still Overturned

Here are selected excerpts from a recent court ruling which denied the motion to overturn Judge Walker's decision to overturn Prop 8 based on his same-sex relationship. I must say that I also enjoyed reading this court case very much. Observing progress as it happens is a very pleasurable experience.

The sole fact that a federal judge shares the same circumstances or personal characteristics with other members of the general public, and that the judge could be affected by the outcome of a proceeding in the same way that other members of the general public would be affected, is not a basis for either recusal or disqualification under Section 455(b)(4).

Requiring recusal because a court issued an injunction that could provide some speculative future benefit to the presiding judge solely on the basis of the fact that the judge belongs to the class against whom the unconstitutional law was directed would lead to a Section 455(b)(4) standard that required recusal of minority judges in most, if not all, civil rights cases. Congress could not have intended such an unworkable recusal statute.

Alternatively, Defendant-Intervenors contend that Judge Walker should be disqualified because his same-sex relationship gave him a markedly greater interest in a case challenging restrictions on same-sex marriage than the interest held by the general public. The Court rejects this argument on two readily apparent grounds. First, it is inconsistent with the general principles of constitutional adjudication to presume that a member of a minority group reaps a greater benefit from application of the substantive protections of our Constitution than would a member of the majority. The fact that this is a case challenging a law on equal protection and due process grounds being prosecuted by members of a minority group does not mean that members of the minority group have a greater interest in equal protection and due process than the rest of society. In our society, a variety of citizens of different backgrounds coexist because we have constitutionally bound ourselves to protect the fundamental rights of one another from being violated by unlawful treatment. Thus, we all have an equal stake in a case that challenges the constitutionality of a restriction on a fundamental right. One of the duties placed on the shoulders of federal judges is the obligation to review the law to determine when unequal treatment violates our Constitution and when it does not. To the extent that a law is adjudged violative, enjoining enforcement of that law is a public good that benefits all in our society equally. Although this case was filed by same-sex couples seeking to end a California constitutional restriction on their right to marry, all Californians have an equal interest in the outcome of the case. The single characteristic that Judge Walker shares with the Plaintiffs, albeit one that might not have been shared with the majority of Californians, gave him no greater interest in a proper decision on the merits than would exist for any other judge or citizen.

Second, disqualifying Judge Walker based on an inference that he intended to take advantage of a future legal benefit made available by constitutional protections would result in an unworkable standard for disqualification. Under such a standard, disqualification would be based on assumptions about the amorphous personal feelings of judges in regards to such intimate and shifting matters as future desire to undergo an abortion, to send a child to a particular university or to engage in family planning. So too here, a test inquiring into the presiding judge’s desire to enter into the institution of marriage with a member of the same sex, now or in the future, would require reliance upon similarly elusive factors. Given Section 455(b)(4)’s requirement that non-pecuniary interests must be “substantially affected” to require recusal, recusal could turn on whether a judge “fervently” intended to marry a same-sex partner versus merely “lukewarmly” intended to marry, determination that could only be reached through undependable and invasive self-reports. The Ninth Circuit has recognized the inherent unworkability of such a subjective recusal standard.

To hold otherwise, and require recusal merely based on the fact that the presiding judge is
engaged in a long-term same-sex relationship, is to place an inordinate burden on minority judges. Such a standard would, in essence, infer subjective future intent on the basis of a judge’s membership in a particular class.

Finally, the presumption that “all people in same-sex relationships think alike” is an unreasonable presumption, and one which has no place in legal reasoning. The presumption that Judge Walker, by virtue of being in a same-sex relationship, had a desire to be married that rendered him incapable of making an impartial decision, is as warrantless as the presumption that a female judge is incapable of being impartial in a case in which women seek legal relief. On the contrary: it is reasonable to presume that a female judge or a judge in a same-sex relationship is capable of rising above any personal predisposition and deciding such a case on the merits. The Motion fails to cite any evidence that Judge Walker would be incapable of being impartial, but to presume that Judge Walker was incapable of being impartial, without concrete evidence to support that presumption, is inconsistent with what is required under a reasonableness standard.

Accordingly, the Court DENIES Defendant-Intervenors’ Motion to Vacate Judgment on the ground that the presiding judge failed to recuse himself under Section 455(a).

Crazy Landlord

I have recently arrived back home in Cerritos. Why I came back I will mention in another entry; right now I would like to record an important experience while it is still fresh. In my entire life, I have never met a more unreasonable person than my landlord in San Francisco. I do not want to go too much into detail, but I will give one example. She decided to deduct $50 from my security deposit because the chair that I had on the carpet left imprints. One would think that any adult would understand that when something is placed on carpet that it will leave a mark, but apparently not my previous landlord. If she had expected me to not put anything on the carpet that would have been unreasonable as well since the carpet covered most of the room.

I am convinced that her unreasonable personality is a result of bad experiences and the want to make money, the primary source being the former. After having a few encounters with her, it is difficult to imagine how she could have turned out like this if it were not due to her life experience. I can only imagine how difficult it is for her to form lasting relationships. Exacerbating her unreasonable character was the want of money. If I had not left imprints on the carpet I am sure she would have tried to think of another excuse to deduct money.

This experience has significantly increased my self-control. I cannot tell you how much I wanted to insult her, yell at her and make her suffer; I even played out scenarios in my mind. Luckily, I did not act out on any of these inner thoughts; it would have only made the situation worse. I am ashamed that I had these hateful feelings towards her; I was unable to avoid or repress them. Maybe one day I can give out love when faced with unreasonableness.

Ignoring a Beggar

I just had another encounter with a beggar that left me feeling sad. No matter how many times this happens and no matter how many times I tell myself that what I am doing is ok, it still feel like a bad person.

I was waiting at the bus stop when the man approached me. He looked like a typical homeless person - dirty, unshaven and little crazy. He did not even bother to step onto the platform when he started mumbling to me. I was texting my friend at the time so I was distracted. In fact, I was not even sure he was talking to me until I put my phone back into my pocket. When I realized he was looking straight at me, I automatically assumed he was crazy because of his quiet mumblings.

I ignored him and he continued to stare. A passing taxi honked at him which broke his focus and forced him onto the platform, but soon after he continued to mumble and stare at me. My plan was to keep ignoring him until he went away, but it took much longer than I thought it would.

Right before he left, I faintly heard him mumble, “all you have to do is say 'no' man.” It was then that I realized that he was probably asking for money the whole time.

This entire experience left me feeling miserable. I know that it was not my fault that I did not hear him, but just trying to see this from his perspective makes me disappointed in myself. I should have asked him what he wanted even though I thought he was crazy and even though I would not have given him any money. It was wrong of me to completely ignore him when it was clear that he was talking to me.

I wonder if beggars incrementally lose hope in humanity every time this happens to them.

Industrial Aristocracy

The following is an excerpt from Tocqueville's “Democracy in America” written in 1835.


It is acknowledged that when a worker spends every day solely upon one process, general items are produced more easily, rapidly, and economically.

It is likewise acknowledged that the larger the scale on which an industrial undertaking is conducted with large amounts of capital and extensive credit, the cheaper its products will be...

I see nothing in the political world which should be of closer concern to the legislator than these two axioms of industrial science.

When a craftsman is constantly and solely engaged upon the making of one single object, he ultimately performs this work with unusual dexterity; but at the same time, he loses the general capacity to apply his concentration on the way he is working. Day by day, he gains in skill but is less industrious; one may say that as he, the workman, improves, so does he, the man, lose his self-respect.

What can be expected of a man who has spent twenty years of his life making pinheads? To what might this powerful human intelligence, which has often stirred the world, apply itself except research into the best ways of making pinheads?

When a workman has spent a considerable part of his existence in such a manner, his thoughts are forever taken up by the object of his daily toil; his body has contracted certain fixed habits which it cannot discard. In short, he no longer belongs to himself but to the profession he has chosen. It is no use laws and customs striving to break down all the barriers around this man or opening up on every side a thousand different paths to wealth. An industrial theory more powerful than custom or law has tied him to a trade and often to a place, which he cannot abandon. It has assigned him a certain station in society which he cannot escape. It has brought him to a stop in the midst of universal movement.

As the principle of the division of labor is applied more completely, the worker becomes weaker, more limited and more dependent. The craft makes progress, the craftsman slips backwards. On the other hand, as it becomes clearer that industrial products are all the better and cheaper as production lines are more extensive and capital is greater, very wealthy and enlightened men appear on the scene to exploit industries which up to that point, had been left in the hands of ignorant or restless craftsmen. They are attracted by the scale of the efforts required and the huge results to be obtained.

Thus at the very moment that industrial science constantly lowers the standing of workers, it raises that of the bosses.

While the worker, more and more, restricts his intelligence to the study of one single detail, the boss daily surveys an increasing field of operation and his mind expands as the former's narrows. Soon the one will need only physical strength without intelligence; the other needs knowledge and almost genius for success. The one increasingly looks like the administrator of a vast empire, the other, a brute.

So, the employer and the worker share nothing in common on this earth and their differences grow daily. They exist as two links at each end of a long chain. Each holds a place made for him from which he does not move. The one is dependent upon the other.

The dependency the one has upon the other is never-ending, narrow, and unavoidable; the one is born to obey as the other is to give orders.

What is this, if not aristocracy?

As conditions become more and more equal in the body of the nation, the need for manufactured products is universal and ever greater; the cheap prices which bring goods within the reach of modest fortunes become a great ingredient of success.

Richer and better educated men emerge daily to devote their wealth and knowledge to industry; by opening great workshops with a strict division of labor they seek to satisfy the new demands which are evident on all sides.

Thus, as the mass of the nation turns to democracy, the particular class which runs industry becomes more aristocratic. Men resemble each other more in one context and appear increasingly different in another; inequality grows in the smaller social group as it reduces in society at large.

Thus it is that, when we trace things back to their source, a natural impulse appears to be prompting the emergence of an aristocracy from the very heart of democracy.

But that aristocracy is not like any that preceded it.

In the first place, you will notice that it is an exception, a monstrosity in the general fabric of society, since it applies only to industry and a few industrial professions.

The small aristocratic societies formed by certain industries inside the immense democratic whole of our day contain, as they did in the great aristocracies of ancient times, some men who are very wealthy and a multitude who are wretchedly poor.

These poor men have few ways of escaping from their social conditions to become rich but the wealthy are constantly becoming poor or leave the world of business after realizing their profits. Thus, the elements which form the poorer classes are virtually fixed but those that produce the richer classes are not so. In fact, although there are rich men, richer classes do not exist, for the wealthy do not share a common spirit or objective or traditions or hopes; there are individual members, therefore, but no definite corporate body.

Not only are the rich not firmly united to each other, but you can also say that no true link exists between rich and poor.

They are not forever fixed, one close to the other; moment by moment, self-interest pulls them together, only to separate them later. The worker depends upon the employer in general but not on any particular employer. These two men see each other at the factory but do not know each other anywhere else; and while they have one point of contact, in all other respects they keep their distance. The industrialist only asks the worker for his labor and the latter only expects his wages. The one is not committed to protect, nor the other to defend; they are not linked in any permanent way, either by habit or duty.

This business aristocracy seldom lives among the industrial population it manages; it aims not to rule them but to use them.

An aristocracy so constitute cannot have a great hold over its employees and, even if it succeeded in grabbing them for a moment, they escape soon enough. It does not know what it wants and cannot act.

The landed aristocracy of past centuries was obliged by law, or believed itself obliged by custom, to help its servants and to relieve their distress. However, this present industrial aristocracy, having impoverished and brutalized the men it exploits, leaves public charity to feed them in times of crisis. This is a natural consequence of what has been said before. Between the worker and employer, there are many points of contact but no real relationship.

Generally speaking, I think that the industrial aristocracy which we see rising before our eyes is one of the most harsh ever to appear on the earth; but at the same time, it is one of the most restrained and least dangerous.

However, this is the direction in which the friends of democracy should constantly fix their anxious gaze; for if ever aristocracy and the permanent inequality of social conditions were to infiltrate the world once again, it is predictable that this is the door by which they would enter.

One Way Love is No Less Beautiful

It is like standing behind a one way mirror. I can see and almost feel your every move, but as you approach your reflection and as I approach on the other side with my breath creating moisture on the glass, it is as if I were never there and never will be.

I am a ghost who can see all of your happiness and suffering, all your surroundings and your inner thoughts.

I am an invisible observer, experiencing all of your successes and all of your failures.

I can watch you live your life a million times and still not be numb to your smile.

And even though you will never sense my presence, even though these feelings will never be returned, I find that one way love is no less beautiful.

School Pride

I had the privilege of visiting UC Santa Cruz last weekend for the first time since graduation. One of my friends from high school, who just happens to be in San Francisco, wanted to visit a farm in the area and invited me to come along. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to revisit my beautiful university.

The first thing we did when we arrived was visit the farm which was very interesting although different from the one I visited in Denmark. This farm in Santa Cruz was much smaller and had much more connection with the community. For example, they hosted multiple educational programs and offered internships for people who wanted to learn more about food. The farm in Denmark, in contrast, had much fewer people working on the fields and much larger machinery; it was more commercialized so to speak.

After an hour and a half on the farm, I had the further pleasure of giving my friend a comprehensive tour of the campus. I have to say that it was very enjoyable to see my campus again. From the hill top along the bicycle path with an ocean view to the amphitheater surrounded by cliffs and redwoods, I was reminded why UCSC is repeatedly rated as having one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. My friend was also impressed of the natural beauty within and surrounding the campus which is only expected because it is truly a magnificent place to study. Anyone who can appreciate the beauty of mother earth would enjoy what UCSC has to offer.

In the middle of giving him the tour, I went into the campus bookstore and finally bought a UCSC sweater. It was the first time that I ever bought anything with UCSC written on it. When I was still a student, I never thought much about buying any school paraphernalia. I simply did not see the point, and on top of that, it was expensive. Why would people have pride in their universities? I did not understand. That mentality perfectly reflected my immature stage of development in which I did not want to learn. Even though I understood that UCSC had its uniqueness, I failed to understand why people would have school spirit. It was not until after graduation that I began to be proud, but unfortunately, I was unable to buy any school merchandise until recently.

I would like to take this opportunity to switch tracks a bit and describe the cause of my change in opinion. I understand that this entry started as an update on events, but I think it is more important to elaborate further on my previous development.

The reason why I started to become proud was because I began to understand the critical role my university played in shaping the man I am today. I am an environmentalist, an intellectual and a dissident because of UCSC. I am who I am because of the unique environment my university offered. It is no secret that Santa Cruz is filled with people living "alternative" lifestyles. What is normal there is odd everywhere else.

This special opportunity to be in this environment allowed me to observe different types of people with different types of philosophies. And being immersed in a diverse culture naturally led me to be open which, in turn, led to discussion. What followed was not only tolerance, but also assimilation. I am "alternative" because of UCSC and I am proud of it.

Why am I so proud of being different you ask? The answer is simple.

The existence of different lifestyles and opinions means that there is more hope of society progressing. If we want to improve the world, we need to discover better ways of doing things and better means different than what we are doing now. There is no progress if there is just sameness.

A Modest Life Re-examined

Those who choose to live principled lives should be aware of its difficulty. First, one must decide upon what principles to live by and this, in my experience, has taken the most effort. Then, one must figure out what criteria one will use to judge one's actions against said principles. And finally, one must follow through.

I understand that my decision to live a moral life brings me challenges. I understand that because of the values that I hold, I have trouble developing and maintaining a social life. But the fact that I continue living the way I do means that I believe the benefits of acting with principle outweigh all the costs that come with it. Even in times when I struggle and seem to give up on my principles, I would like people to know that I do not regret one instance of living the way I have lived.

In a previous entry, I mentioned that living modestly is one of the strongest values that I hold and I even went to the extent of defining the criteria. Although I still believe in this principle, I must admit that I have been struggling with it recently. One of the specific criteria that I mentioned was the $50,000 rule, meaning that I could only keep that certain amount of yearly income with every dollar exceeding that threshold to be donated.

I am regrettably abolishing this rule due to a change in circumstances of my life. Some of you may know already that I might attend graduate school for a Masters degree in political theory. In order to be responsible, I must save up as much money as possible and that requires me to not donate money in the near future.

The re-examination of my principle has also led me to conclude that my decision to establish the threshold was a pointless one from the beginning. In the entry where I outline my criteria, I also mention that they were subject to change due to necessity and it was clear from what I wrote that I understood that change was inevitable. Therefore, given my willingness to adapt to ever changing conditions, I should have seen that there was no function of establishing that threshold. A rule is not much of a rule if it constantly changes.

Political Theory and Environmentalism

As I was reading F.A. Hayek the other day, I noticed an extremely thought provoking passage about how philosophers only effect practical men in the distant future. Philosophers deal with novel, abstract ideals while the practical politician deals with common beliefs. Hayek further writes:

The state of opinion which governs a decision on political issues is always the result of a slow evolution, extending over long periods and proceeding at many different levels. New ideas start among a few and gradually spread until they become the possession of a majority who know little of their origin.

The reason why this passage spoke to me was because political theory is one of my two passions, the other being environmentalism. I have already figured out that my contributions to the protection of the environment would not have any visible effects, and if by chance some of it were visible, it would only be so years after my death. Now that I realize that my contributions to political theory could also only be felt in the distant future, I am a bit saddened. I know I am assuming too much by even thinking that I have or will contribute anything to political theory or environmentalism. The point I am trying to make is that if in the slightest chance I do contribute something, I will not witness it, and it is most likely that no one will even know.

Defense of Theory

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.

- Keynes

Greenpeace Canvasser

The other day, I was walking to Whole Foods when I was stopped by a canvasser from Greenpeace. Because of my experience as a canvasser and my understanding of how difficult that job is, I was very friendly to him and allowed him to give me his whole spiel. The guy was knowledgeable about the topics and seemed genuinely interested in environmentalism. Our similarities allowed us to carry on a 30 minute conversation right on the sidewalk.

Although he was very good at conveying why it was so important for people to sign up and donate, I still refused in the end. I spent most of my time trying to explain why I had a reluctance to donate, but I was unable to. One thing I did say was the advice that Chomsky gave me about having to focus one's efforts on a few things because there are just too many issues. I do believe that this is part of the explanation, but there is something else about signing up and donating that I just do not like. It might be because I feel like it would not do much or maybe it is because I need a lot of time before I decide to support an organization. I do not know; I am still unable to explain it. However, I do know that I have spent too much time trying to figure this out.

All things considered, it was a very good discussion and I do not regret to have had it. Though the next time this happens I will make sure to give the canvasser a more succinct answer so that we do not waste anyone's time.

San Francisco Update

It has been 2 weeks since I have moved to San Francisco. My life has finally started to become somewhat routine. I found a room in a Victorian style apartment in the hippie area of SF called Haight Ashbury which is luckily filled with all sorts of shops and restaurants. I live just around the corner of the main street right next to a post office and a free clinic. Needless to say, it is very noisy. I actually have to sleep with earplugs again. Located near me is a Whole Foods, a huge park and a cafe called Coffee to the People which has an entire wall covered with leftest bumper stickers. I feel at home with my hippie brethren.

My work has been extremely interesting so far. We have been spending most of our time conceptualizing what will be on the Institute's website and how we will create an international, interactive cradle to cradle community. I am happy to say that we have made a lot of progress so far; I cannot wait until everything is up and running. As to the office itself, it is located near the Financial District in a well-lit 9 story building. We are sharing the office with McDonough's architecture firm so it is really nice seeing all the designs of past projects they have done. I am very happy with my situation right now.

Another piece of good news is that I have already been accepted to the graduate program at Durham. I did not expect them to respond so quickly; I doubt the other universities have even read my application yet. Although this is good news, it places me in a somewhat uneasy position. I have not decided yet if I will stay or go back to school because of a number of factors. I told my employers that if I felt it was more important for me to stay, then I would, but it will be hard for me to see how my job develops before I need to respond to Durham.

What I have going for me now would have been unimaginable half a year ago. I remember at that time, I could not find a good job in DC and therefore had to move back to LA. Now, I am in such a privileged position that my biggest dilemma is choosing between two extremely good opportunities. I cannot express enough how fortunate I am to be here in SF pursuing my dream. Hopefully, there will not be a tragic event to balance out these recent good events.