MA Dissertation Abstract

I thought now would be a good time to post the abstract of my MA dissertation. In the end, I didn't get as high of a score as I wanted, but I'm still very happy with what I wrote.
Many of those who are convinced of the capability approach naturally incorporate counterfactual assumptions into assessments of well-being. Specifically, we assume that under conditions of freedom, there should be a roughly proportional distribution of life pursuits, meaning the demographic makeup of most professions should roughly reflect the demographic makeup of the greater population. Accordingly, we take a diverging distribution to be a possible sign of a lack of capability. But why do we have this intuition? The capability approach cannot account for it since it only tells us what to look at when assessing the quality of life. The goal of this paper is to account for this intuition. I argue that our expectation of a proportional distribution is based on an element of universality, which, in turn, consists of the natural diversity of talent and the natural diversity of experience. The interaction of those two factors create a chaotic situation from which a proportional distribution is simply the most probable result. Furthermore, the interaction of the two also dictate that under conditions of freedom, we should see a distribution of life pursuits characterized by diversity and evenness. Since the current CA literature seems to lack this element, my paper suggests that perhaps a new discussion needs to take place and that perhaps a new well-being index needs to be created.

Black Friday

To be willing to place oneself unnecessarily in a chaotic situation in which one may have no choice but to trample over someone else is a symptom of one of the moral plagues of our time – that is materialism. Black Friday reminds us of the effort that people are willing to exert just to buy luxuries at a discounted price. In those 24 hours or so, the spirit of competition heightens while the spirit of compassion weakens. This de facto holiday, which comes right after the day when we give thanks for all those who have contributed to our lives, is not about God or about honoring a great person or even about love, it is a holiday for the worship of unnecessary material objects.

It is not difficult to find news headlines describing violent and degenerate behavior among shoppers during Black Friday. Many seem to be prepared for a coming apocalyptic scenario in which they must defend their property with pepper spray, knives and guns. Although I find arming oneself for a shopping spree to be outrageous and unacceptable, those who do actually have a somewhat realistic picture of what happens during the chaos. In a sense, Black Friday is a free-for-all filled with confusion, quarrel and desperation. It is not absurd to say that this holiday provides us with a glimpse of what a true apocalypse would look like and how human beings would act if their lives were truly threatened.

The tragedy of Black Friday is that it is entirely mainstream and that there is nothing like it for the forces of good. It is impossible to imagine millions of people throughout the country waiting in line for 48 hours to help dig wells in sub-Saharan Africa. It is even impossible to imagine such behavior for our own fellow citizens. After hurricane Sandy did we see as many people willing to put so much energy into helping the victims? Absolutely not. True, millions of people did donate money and there were courageous people in the Northeast who helped with the aftermath, but the amount of voluntary effort exerted for the victims of hurricane Sandy is nothing compared to the amount that is exerted by the lust for unnecessary objects. Selfishness and materialism prevail. And what is more is that we have given them a holiday.

Trying to Make New Friends

Recently, I've been trying to meet new people by joining different groups on meetup.com. I've been to some events so far (a couple of which were quite interesting), but I still haven't made any new friends. The main thing that I've realized the past month and a half since I've been back is that not very many young people attend the same events as I do, which makes me think that other people my age are just interested in different topics. Most of the groups that I've joined on meetup have to do with either science, atheism or philosophy. I know that these subjects are more academic in nature, but I still would have expected more young people. I have to say it's quite disappointing and discouraging to be welcomed by a sea of gray and white hair; it makes me not want to come back.

I've been trying to figure out why only old people attend the same events as I do and I've come up with three possible explanations: (1) young people are not interested in the things I'm interested in because they're young; (2) young people are not interested in the same things due to a general shift in people's interests; and (3) young people in Los Angeles are not interested in academia because of the local culture. Of all three explanations, I sincerely hope that it's not (2) because that would imply it won't change with age. Unfortunately, seeing the kind of filth that is now on TV and on the internet, which I think encourages materialism and superficiality, I believe it is equally plausible with (1). Explanation (3) I find to be the least plausible since there are so many inhabitants of Los Angeles. I'm not denying that certain cities have their own cultures that will attract certain kinds of people, but I don't think it's significant enough.

Now that I've gone over the analysis of my recent experiences, I would like to describe a few of the events that I've attended. The first event that I went to was actually a lecture given by an evolutionary anthropologist. He recently published a book about how he thinks certain morals are the products of evolution. On the whole, it was an interesting lecture. He wasn't the best speaker, but he made his point. He argued that morality was the result of evolution because those people who didn't possess those traits, such as bullies, would have been “weeded out” of the group eventually and therefore, would not have been able to pass down their genes. I asked him why he thought it was necessarily an evolutionary phenomenon since it seemed that everything he was saying could be explained through social conditioning. In response, he pointed to the fact that babies have a sense of morality, which points to genetics and hence, evolution.

The next event that I attended was also a lecture and it was about the separation of church and state. The speaker in the second event was a constitutional lawyer who made the point that if Obama lost the next election, it would give Romney the chance to appoint a conservative Supreme Court Justice and thereby overturn the majority that the Court currently holds that supports a separation of church and state. This, he argued, should not happen. Contrary to what I previously thought, I didn't think this was such an important issue; I assumed that this part of the neutral state was already engrained in the basic law of the land, but this is not the case. It's true that the state cannot adopt an official religion, but the question is not one religion vs. another religion, rather the question is whether or not the state can favor religion over non-religion.

After the above mentioned lecture, I went to another one hosted by the same organization the next week. The speaker in the third lecture argued that religion is generally opposed to gender equality because it sets the stage for hierarchy. Although some religious people argue that all human beings are created equal, the fact that there is a God and that certain people are closer to him, such as priests, creates the conditions from which inequality can easily arise. In the end, I wasn't too convinced of the speaker's argument because the problem really is human (mis)interpretation of religion.

On a completely different note, I've also joined an improv class. I've been to 3 classes so far and they've all been extremely fun. Acting has always been one of my interests, but I've never really pursued it because I always had other things to do. (The last time I acted was over 10 years ago in high school.) Now that I have a bit more free time, I think improv provides a nice balance in my life. It's too bad that I'm not very good at it though; to be funny so quickly is extremely hard, much harder than it looks like on TV. For example, one game that we play is called the Gauntlet, which is an exercise to train your ability to take bad lines and turn them into something funny. The way this game works is that 4 people stand around you and give you horrible opening lines, usually about an external object. Then, you have to change the conversation so that you create some sort of relationship between the two people and the object (if there is one). So for example, the other day, one guy gave me the line: “Eating hair gives me really bad heart burn.” I responded by saying: “You're taking this role in Cats way too seriously.” Not the best example, I know, but I think you get the point. The last thing I want to mention is that almost everyone else taking the improv class is around my age. We only meet once a week so I haven't established a relationship with any one of them yet, but I think I'm going to make new friends soon.

The Moral Reasons to Have Children

Ever since my grandma started to live in a nursing home, my family has been visiting her on a daily basis. My dad visits in the mornings, I visit in the afternoons and my mom visits her after she gets off of work. My two sisters do not visit so often since they live farther away, but they do try to come at least a couple of times a week.

It has never really occurred to me (until now) how lucky my grandma is to have a family that visits her regularly; I can only imagine that many other people living in the nursing home are not in such a fortunate position. My experience spending two weeks in the hospital tells me that it really does improve the quality of one's life when loved ones come and visit. Following from this, it seems that my intention to not have any children in the future would put me in a very vulnerable and lonely situation. Who would take care of me when I grow old and weak? Do I really want to live in a senior citizen home and have no one visit me? On the one hand, I would say “of course not.” It's quite obvious that I would rather live at home and have family take care of me or have them come visit me frequently at the nursing home. But on the other hand, is that the right reason to have children? It would seem that I'd be treating them only as a means and philosophy tells me that's immoral.

To clarify, I can't really explain why I don't want any children in the future; all I know is that one should at least have a moral reason for having them. And, as stated above, I don't think wanting children so that they can take care of me in the future is a moral one. Others who I have asked have said that they want children because it would give them more to love. But again, this does not seem to be a moral reason since one is treating children only as a means.

So what are the moral reasons to have children then? I'm not really sure what the right answer to this question is, but it would have to entail treating them as an end.

My 27th Birthday

It is that time once again to reflect on my life and the recent events that have constituted the previous 12 months.

In no other period of my life have I learned and progressed so much in the field of academia. I understand now what it takes to write a paper and what it means to be an academic. Unfortunately, not everything I've learned about the practice has been positive. The fact that there is a lack of passion in the field is a serious shortcoming. That said, this has not discouraged me from pursuing a profession in it and certainly has not made me reconsider getting my PhD. Regarding the MA program itself, I have to say that I was generally satisfied with it; the content of the material was excellent and the teachers were very smart. The only thing I didn't like was the fact that we only met up once a week. I would have preferred to have dove deeper into each topic and to have had more time to speak with the course convenors.

My favorite part of the entire program was, of course, writing my dissertation. I couldn't write about natural diversity before because we weren't allowed to write about the same topic twice so I had to write about other less interesting things for my other essays. But for the dissertation, I was finally writing about my theory, which is what I was looking forward to doing the entire year. I loved waking up every morning and going straight to work. I loved seeing the fruit of my labor materialize in front of my eyes. It was truly a fulfilling process. In the end, I think I did my theory justice. I said everything I wanted to say and I made the best argument that I could for it. It is surely my best piece of work to date.

Since I've been very passionate about my theory and completely convinced of its importance ever since its conception, I was very happy to hear that my proposal to present my work at the conference in Indonesia was accepted. At first, I wasn't too sure whether or not I should go because it was so expensive, but now having attended it, I am very happy that I did. I made very good contacts there (including Martha Nussbaum), but more importantly, it reaffirmed my belief that no one else is writing about natural diversity.

While I'm on this topic, I should say a few words about the trip. First of all, I have to say that it was way too hot and humid. It's very hard for me to understand why anyone would choose to live in such a climate. Fortunately for me, I spent most of the time inside at the conference. Another thing I should mention is that almost every Indonesian person I met there was extremely nice. They were certainly nicer than the Chinese people I met while I was in China. Regarding the participants of the conference, they were also very nice, and international, which was good. The downside was that most of them were economists and were not too interested in the philosophy side of the capability approach. In fact, only 10 people showed up to my presentation. I was a bit disappointed in the low turnout.

Another recent event that I should mention is that UNICEF accepted my paper proposal for an upcoming global thematic consultation on addressing inequalities in the post-2015 development agenda. I didn't expect my proposal to be accepted so I was overjoyed to see that it was. It seems that my academic career is taking an early start. Hopefully, I can even publish something before I start my PhD program.

Overall, I'm very happy with my previous year and I can't wait to see what next year has to offer.

Dissertation, Conference, and Scotland

I have been working on my dissertation for months now and it has come to the point where I can't objectively critique it anymore. I guess I'm quite satisfied with it, but of course that's because all of it makes sense in my head; whether or not the people grading my paper will think it's interesting and rigorous is another question. Speaking of grades, I calculated that I have to get at least a 75 on my dissertation to graduate with a distinction, which is possible but unlikely. This saddens me a bit since it will hurt my chances of getting into a good PhD program, but once I remind myself of the bigger picture, I realize it really isn't that important. What's more important is that I convince people of my theory of natural diversity, which doesn't necessarily require me to graduate from the best university.

In related news, I am happy to say that I will be presenting my dissertation in Indonesia in two weeks at a conference organized by the Human Development and Capability Association (HDCA). The HDCA was founded by Amartya Sen and is the main organization for my field – the capability approach. Unfortunately, Sen will not be attending the conference this year, but the other big names will be, including Martha Nussbaum. Hopefully, I will get the chance to meet her and give her a quick explanation of my theory.

The fact that the HDCA accepted my proposal reaffirms my belief that the theory of natural diversity has great potential. I suspect that I will slowly convince more and more people once I have the opportunity to speak to willing listeners. And hopefully this process will begin at the conference which starts in two weeks.

Although the past few months have been quite tough, I did manage to fit in a one week trip to Scotland. Four of my friends and I rented a tiny car and toured roughly 5 cities including Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Inverness. Most of the places we visited were beautiful, especially the Scottish highlands, but Glasgow was quite run-down and so it was a bit disappointing. To make the experience more fun, my friends and I made a short list of all the stereotypical Scottish things that we had to see or do. The list included seeing kilts, bagpipes, highland cows, eating haggis and fried Mars bars. Needless to say, we checked off everything on the list (my personal favorite was eating haggis). On the whole, I'm glad that I took the time to go see Scotland; it was a very relaxing experience, but more importantly, it was a well needed break from my dissertation.

Seeing Mill's Statue

John Stuart Mill, bronze statue by Thomas Woolner, raised on the Thames Embankment in 1879.

Three days ago, I had the privilege to finally visit John Stuart Mill's statue in London, which is located in a small park on the embankment of the river Thames. I must say it was a very touching and spiritual experience for me. I stood there for minutes just staring at it, almost as if I were waiting for him to talk to me. I'm not exactly sure what was going on in my mind, but I was probably reflecting the impact he had on my life. And indeed, what an impact it was!

I have no doubt that I would not be where I am today if it weren't for him. I would certainly not be in England studying political philosophy, but more importantly, I would not have such a strong grasp on my identity. Before reading On Liberty, I was an incomplete human being, simply floating around in life with no specific purpose. I neither cared about developing myself nor about helping others. In fact, I didn't care much about anything at all. I even remember telling my tutor once that I believed the purpose of college was to make more money and sound smart. I was so naïve.

Fortunately, my life eventually changed during my senior year when I had to read Mill for my modern political theory course. I don't know what about On Liberty was so influential, but it touched my soul. I suspect it gave me vindication of being a critical thinker, which was something I always believed in, but could never express. Furthermore, On Liberty was so beautifully written. The way Mill was able to portray his ideas in such an academic yet eloquent manner is beyond my understanding. I will forever attempt to write as well as him even though I know I will never succeed.

Because Mill had such a large impact in my life and because seeing his statue will probably be the closest I will ever get to his existence, I was extremely unhappy with the condition of the statue itself. For one, it is not as prominent as it should be; there are trees and bushes growing around it that make the statue more difficult to notice. And two, although his name is engraved in the stone, it is almost invisible due to dirt and mold. The result of this is that thousands of people walk by his statute every week and don't even see him, and those who do see him don't know who he is. This is grave dishonor to the father of feminism and England's greatest public intellectual. I intend to write an email to the proper authorities to get this resolved.

As you can see, the engraving is almost invisible.

The Lack of Passion in Political Philosophy

A couple of my professors recently told me that most political philosophers don't really care about what they write. Most of them find a niche and become really good at writing about it, but they're not actually passionate. Needless to say, hearing about this was extremely disheartening. How could it be that the people who study justice do not really care about rectifying injustice? Why would anyone enter the field of political philosophy and not have the fire burning inside? I can only think of a couple of explanations. One is that they actually started off passionate, but due to the nature of academia and the requirement to publish, they slowly lost it. Another explanation, one that is more grim, is that they never had the passion to begin with. Perhaps political philosophy was just an interest that they had and they couldn't think of anything else they wanted to do more. In any case, it is a shame.

I don't have much to say about this except for the fact that I'm highly disappointed and that I've lost a little bit of faith in the potential of my colleagues (and future colleagues). Accordingly, I feel quite alone sometimes in my subject, especially when I read very dull and uninteresting papers. The fact that no modern piece of political philosophy has made me cry is a great tragedy. When I turn the pages of Mill or Rousseau, it doesn't take long before a passage touches my soul, but when I read anything written after 1950, not one tear is shed. I have been wondering why modern political philosophy just isn't as beautiful as the classics and I suspect it is because the literature has become more technical (as opposed to the possibility that we just don't write as well now). To be clear, I'm not saying we shouldn't be technical, but rather that we need to strike a better balance. We need to keep in mind the bigger picture; we need to remind ourselves that when we write, we're not doing it to get paid, but to change the world. In order for that to happen, the public must be able to not only understand, but feel the theory. They have to feel that the current society is suffering from great injustices and that immediate action is required. To bring about such a change requires literature that convinces more than just the mind, but also the spirit.

The problem of the lack of passion is related, I believe, to the problem of over-technicality. It is because of the lack of passion that the problem of technicality continues, or better put, to strike a better balance between technicality and beauty requires passion. Indeed, we can only succesfully fight back against the trend in academia if we truly believe what we're writing. Righteous indignation is the answer! With that, we can perhaps convince more people more quickly and utlimately reaffirm political philosophy's true place in human history.

Raise the Minimum Wage

Dear Linda Sanchez,

In this letter I urge you to support H.R. 5901, a bill that would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 per hour.

Justice demands that governments provide their people with a life worthy of human dignity. A person who is struggling just to survive in the supposedly “most powerful” nation in the world cannot be said to be living such a life.

The Census estimates that, on average, groceries make up 13% of living expenses. This means that a person earning a minimum wage has a budget of about $157 per month for food. However, according to the USDA, the cost of food per month for a male between the ages of 19-50 is about $181, and for a female of the same age range, $161.

This one fact alone is a sign that millions are struggling.

But perhaps it's not as bad as the numbers make it seem. Perhaps some are able to cut back on transportation to make up for the loss in food or perhaps some are able to cut back on heating. Maybe some even cut back on their children's education. Yes, it is true that we do not hear of many people in America dying of starvation so in a sense, it can't be that bad. But is that the standard? How hard do people have to struggle before we increase the minimum wage?

The demands of justice are indeed difficult to meet and if America were a developing country, it may be said that we could not do much about it. However, that is not the case. America, with all its wealth, can address this problem and therefore has a stronger duty to provide its people with a dignified life.

Sincerely,
Jason Chen

The Ethics of Driving

There are very few things that people do on a regular basis that can easily end the life of another. Because of this, driving places a heavy responsibility on us that is almost incomparable to anything else. If we forget to make lunch one day for our children, they might have to buy food at school. If we forget to complete our project at work, we might lose our jobs. But just by looking down while we are driving can very well lead to someone's death. I am of the opinion that the vast majority of drivers do not truly understand the responsibility they have to drive well.

How often it is to see reckless driving! Of course most often than not, speeding and swerving between lanes is not the result of some mental illness or intellectual incapacity, and yet, it is difficult not to think that reckless drivers are crazy and stupid. What is going on in their minds? What if they hit someone? It is my belief that reckless drivers are simply not thinking about the possible consequences of their actions. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the people who drive recklessly do it because they are late for something important; I think it is simply the way that they drive. Therefore, it is not only that they drive recklessly and by doing so endanger other people's lives, but also that they do it for no good reason.

An almost equally irresponsible act in regards to driving is to distract oneself away from the road. It is true that we live in the age of smart phones, but that does not make texting while driving any less irresponsible or immoral. Anything that requires us to not look at the road should be reduced to a minimum if not completely eliminated. This means no texting, no putting on makeup and no turning around to talk to your passengers. These are common sense rules that everyone should understand and follow.

What is most disturbing about reckless driving is that the drivers themselves understand that their behavior is immoral. It is very unlikely that they have no conception of what good driving entails. Thus, it must be that they just choose to drive that way. But perhaps I am jumping to conclusions. Perhaps there are those who truly do not understand that texting while driving and swerving between lanes is irresponsible. To those people I have no idea what to say other than they should think about the ethics of driving.

A civilized society requires that people treat each other with dignity and respect. Driving well is simply one aspect of that.

GRE and Essays


The last few months have been quite stressful for me. In December I started to study for the GRE, which was not a pleasant experience. For those of you who don't know, the exam is split into three different sections: math, verbal reasoning and essay writing. The worst part of this process was relearning all the math that I learned in high school. Keep in mind I hadn't even touched a calculator for 10 years before last December. Having said that, studying for the verbal section wasn't that much better. I had to memorize hundreds and hundreds of words that I knew I would never use in my life, and the worst part is, none of the words showed up on the test. The essay writing, on the other hand, was a little bit easier, but still was frustrating. Even though I write all the time, I only write what I'm interested in, but for the GRE, they'll give you some random topic that you've never thought about before so the process still wasn't pleasant.

Fortunately, it turns out that my hard work paid off. On the whole, I scored in the 88 percentile which is quite good. I'm glad I don't have to take it again because the GRE was really affecting my sleep.

Another huge burden that I had recently was writing my essays for this semester. I unfortunately didn't do very well last semester so I really wanted to make up for it this time, but I don't think I was successful. I just turned in my papers a couple of days ago and I was only satisfied with one of them. The other one I actually rewrote just a few days prior because the first draft was that bad. The class in general was difficult so it took awhile for me to wrap my head around the material. In the end, I don't really know what grade I'm going to get, but the fact that I'm not happy with it makes me sad anyways. I truly dislike writing about things I don't care for. I know that may sound obvious, but I feel like I dislike it more than other people do. And although I understand that writing about other topics will give me a wider understanding of the field, I still don't want to do it.

Ultimately, I'm relieved to have the GRE and my essays over with. I can now focus on my theory of natural diversity, which is what I've been looking forward to this entire year.

A Theory of Justice

The opening sentences of Rawls' A Theory of Justice.

Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust.

Quote from Rawls

A nice follow up from my previous post.

In a democratic society, as ours is - although it distressingly falls short of what it should be - I see political philosophy as addressing the citizenry - not government, that's not who you are addressing - [but] other people like you who comprise the electorate. It's important to carry on political discussion at the deepest level, and to do it as clearly as possible so that it is accessible to people generally. In that indirect way, if they find your ideas convincing, you might change society for the better, or more realistically perhaps, you might prevent it from getting worse. In a democratic society, political philosophy doesn't, of course, have any authority; but it can try to win the authority of human reason. There is no institutional judge of whether you succeed in that, any more than there is in science, or in any other rational inquiry. Yet that it is the only authority political philosophy can recognize.

Link to interview.

There is no Neil deGrasse Tyson of Political Philosophy

Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the world's leading astrophysicists, has taken it upon himself to raise the scientific literacy of the general public. His entertaining persona and excellent oratory skills makes him the perfect person for the job. In fact, he is so good at being a communicator that he has become somewhat of a celebrity. On top of hosting his own TV program NOVA scienceNOW, Tyson has been a frequent guest on multiple talk shows. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that most people who know who he is are not scientists. I am, of course, a perfect example.

My serendipitous discovery of Tyson was quickly followed by the sad realization that there is no equivalent of him in my field. There is no Neil deGrasse Tyson of political philosophy. This tragic fact has been disturbing me for some time now. However important we think it is to raise the scientific literacy of the general public, I would say it is equally, if not more important, to raise the public's political literacy. We need to improve the quality of our discussions about the fundamentals of politics. From the debate about gay marriage to the fight for economic equality, questions of justice permeate through our society. That there is no Neil deGrasse Tyson of political philosophy to help direct our political discussions is a grave tragedy, the consequences of which will be felt on a societal level.

John Rawls was the most influential political philosopher of the latter half of the twentieth century. His magnum opus, A Theory of Justice, is considered one of the most important texts in the field. Shorty before his great work was published, some actually deemed the field of political philosophy to be dead. John Rawls brought it back to life. And yet, even though Rawls was such a prominent figure, no one outside of academia knew who he was. He should have been a common household name. He should have been on billboards.

Society at large desperately needs a political philosopher to take the next step and go beyond the boundaries of academia. We need a political philosopher celebrity.

So, who wants to be our Neil deGrasse Tyson?

Presenting My Theory

Yesterday I went to a conference in London about education and human development. Four people presented and about 45 people attended. The presentations were all very good and there was a good balance between theory and practice so it was quite interdisciplinary. Most of the audience members were students from the university that was hosting the event and most of them were getting their Master's degrees in education or some branch of it - I think I was the only political philosopher there.

After each presentation there was about a 10 minute tea break during which people chatted with each other. I had the pleasure of starting a conversation with the first speaker who was a professor at Lewis University in Illinois. I first told her that I really enjoyed her presentation and then started to tell her about my theory of natural diversity. She seemed very interested in hearing more but before we knew it, the break was over. We continued the conversation during lunch and it was then that I seemed to convince her of my theory. Towards the end of the conference she told me that I should present my idea even though it's still early in development. I thought about it for a bit and decided that I would do it. What's interesting is that when I first heard about the conference I was thinking about presenting, but I eventually decided against it because I didn't want to be over ambitious.

Anyways, after the last presenter gave her talk the professor made a comment on how I should give a quick introduction to my theory. I then promptly added that it would be an honor for me to share my ideas. To my surprise everyone was quite willing to hear my theory, so I got up and told them about natural diversity. I was extremely nervous and excited at the same time. I couldn't believe that I was actually going to share my ideas at a conference. On the whole, the talk went well. I spoke for about 10 minutes and then answered a few questions.

After the conference ended a few people came up to me and told me how inspiring I was because I spoke with so much passion. They then told me that they agreed with what I said and that they couldn't wait to read my dissertation. I was overwhelmed with joy. To have my work appreciated is truly an honor and it only fuels my determination to publish. Yesterday's event reaffirms my conviction that something must be done to fight against the restriction of the development of the natural diversity of life pursuits.

Skyping with Grandma

I skyped with my grandma for the first time today.

Great Things and Great Suffering

In the last 30 minutes, I watched two videos. One video was about the invention of these small, autonomous, agile, flying robots. These robots are not only quick enough to fly through a hula hoop being tossed into the air, but also smart enough to build things with other flying robots. Our technology has advanced so far that these machines can figure out where they are and how to maneuver entirely on their own. And since they're so small, they can be used as first responders after natural disasters. For example, when it's unsafe to enter a building after an earthquake, these robots can go in instead. And perhaps the next time there is an emergency at a nuclear reactor, these little guys can fly in and scan the area for radiation. The applications for such a technology are endless.

The second video I watched was about this 700 pound 23 year old man pleading for help. He said that he had tried to lose weight before but was never successful and so he was now asking for anyone and everyone to help him. When I watched this video, I could tell right away that this man was suffering a great deal and that he truly wanted to change his life. He said he wanted to be able to see his niece and nephew grow up and perhaps even have his own family one day. I couldn't help but cry after watching his desperate plea, and at the same time I couldn't help but feel entirely useless because I knew I couldn't and can't do anything to help him. But this is not to say that he can't be helped. On the contrary, his suffering can be relieved, he just needs to meet the right people.

And so now we come to the point that I'm trying to make. Too often I find myself not the right person to relieve anyone's suffering. Unlike the engineers in the first video, I won't be able to save people from a collapsed building or scan an area for radiation. I won't be able to invent any cures for cancer or any other type of disease...

I can't even help this 23 year old man lose weight.

In about one hour, I will walk to the library and take a practice GRE exam in preparation for the real thing in two weeks. If I score high on the test and do well throughout this year, I might be able to get into a PhD program. If that happens, I will spend the next 6 years of my life developing my theory on what a just society looks like. If I am successful in attaining my PhD, I will spend the rest of life being an academic and hopefully inspiring young people to fight for justice. If I am able to do all that, I will die happy knowing that I tried to make this world a better place. However, I know that in the end there will be a part of me that wished that I could have done more.

Mini-crisis

I recently received the scores of both of my essays from last semester and unfortunately, they weren't as high as I would have liked. I'm not sure what went wrong since I haven't received the feedback yet, but nevertheless, it has been causing me much distress. I decided to reread both essays a couple of days ago just to see if they were really that bad, but they weren't, at least in my opinion. Of course they could have been better, but I still expected higher grades. In the end, I may just have to accept the fact that I don't write very good essays.

Adding to my mini-crisis right now is the pressure that I have to come up with topics for my upcoming essays. Unlike last semester, I'm much less certain on what I want to argue and so I'm probably going to be struggling to finish writing before the deadline. In general, this semester is just not going as well.

Regarding my GRE studies, I have returned to practicing math again and I seem to have forgotten a lot of what I learned a month ago. I really hope I'm not forgetting as much as I'm learning because I don't have that much time left; my test is on March 15th. Although I can always retake it, I've been feeling a lot of pressure to do well and this is simply because I want to get it over with. I want to be able to focus on my dissertation, which I hope will be the highlight of my academic experience here.

On a more positive note, I spoke with my grandma for the first time yesterday. It was so amazing to hear her voice. Ever since she fell ill our communication pretty much came to a halt. Right before I left for York again, she was able to say maybe two words, but now she can have full conversations. What's also amazing is that she's now able to eat solid food and read the newspaper.

When I called yesterday I cried right when I heard her voice. I told her that I knew she was going to get better and that she's really strong. I then asked her if she remembered my visiting her for three weeks and she said “no.” This was of course unfortunate, but keeping in mind everything that has happened, the fact that she's able to speak and eat is a miracle, and I should be extremely happy about that.

Asking a Girl Out

Recent events have made me start thinking about relationships again. Although the idea was always in the back of my head, it hadn't occupied much of my thoughts until now. Long story short, I asked someone out and she declined. This was the first time that I properly asked a girl out and unfortunately, it didn't turn out well. What's even worse is that she first said yes, but then said no after she realized that it was a date. For two days I had the false belief that I was successful.

Being rejected is definitely a horrible feeling. The worst part about it is the fact I felt very vulnerable; I felt like I had no control over the situation. Of course I knew I was taking a chance when I asked her and of course I understand that making the first move is always a gamble, but I truly believed that I read her body language correctly. I have no idea what went wrong. It is a sad day when I want to give up on dating as a whole and just accept the fact that I will probably be alone. The disappointment and frustration I feel discourages me from ever asking a girl out again and I know I shouldn't think this, but I can't help it.

The question “Why should I make the first move?” is constantly running through my mind. It's 2012 for God's sake! The woman should make the first move! I refuse to accept the fact that men are expected to play their gender roles.

My Theory of Natural Diversity Expanded

Recently I have taken my theory of natural diversity to the next level by hypothesizing a “more even than not” distribution of life pursuits. And by using the word “distribution” I do not imply the existence of some higher authority that allocates resources, rather I mean that life pursuits chosen by individuals themselves will, on the whole, result in a more even than not dispersion. In other words, if every individual were able to develop the natural capacity of his choice, then what we would see, if we were able to observe all of the vocations of everyone in an entire nation, is a more even than not distribution of life pursuits. Thus, for example, the amount of people who decide to go into science should be more equal than not to the amount of people who go into the humanities. Of course, the more specific of a vocation that is examined, the less my theory applies because I do not believe there will be a completely even distribution.

What I have stated so far does make strong claims on human nature that people may have reluctance accepting. However, even though I do not have empirical evidence to prove my hypothesis, I suspect many people actually do agree with my theory and that this agreement lies just beneath the surface of their thoughts. For example, let us take a look at the following excerpt of a recent Guardian article:

Black people are 12 percent of the U.S. population and 11 percent of all students beyond high school. In 2009, they received just 7 percent of all STEM bachelor's degrees, 4 percent of master's degrees, and 2 percent of PhDs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The numbers are striking in certain fields. In 2009, African-Americans received 1 percent of degrees in science technologies, and 4 percent of degrees in math and statistics. Out of 5,048 PhDs awarded in the physical sciences, such as chemistry and physics, 89 went to African-Americans — less than 2 percent.

It is clear that the author of this article believes that these statistics are alarming and that they deserved closer examination. I suspect many would not disagree. It seems that our intuitions tell us that the fact that very few African Americans go into science, technology, engineering and math, is not normal. I claim it is this belief in a more even than not distribution of life pursuits that produces such an intuition. Without a theory of distribution one cannot say that anything is wrong or deserves attention just by looking at the above statistics.

As was hinted to in the previous example, my theory of a more even than not distribution is applicable to large enough subgroups of a society, for example, women or specific races. Let us take a look at the following chart depicting the percentage of bachelor's degrees awarded to females by degree-granting institutions in selected fields of study for the academic year 2008-09:


The fact that there are very few women who receive degrees in engineering should incite suspicion that something is wrong and I believe many people who see this chart would agree with me. But how could we explain this intuition? Without the fundamental assumption of a more even than not distribution of life pursuits we cannot. Therefore, with this example, we see once more that my theory is just beneath the surface of people's thoughts. To be clear, just because there is an extreme uneven distribution of life pursuits does not necessarily mean something is wrong, rather it warrants suspicion that there is a restriction of the development of the natural diversity of human capacity.

I shall finalize my argument by presenting the following hypothetical scenario. Suppose we were able to see all the vocations that the citizens of a specific country pursued and suppose that when we looked at this information we noticed that there were no artists. This would be suspicious would it not? How is it possible that there are no artists in an entire nation? Furthermore, this suspicion would increase proportionally with the population of that specific country. If Estonia, a country with a population of 1.3 million, had no artists, that would be one thing. But if China, a country with a population of 1.3 billion, had no artists, then our suspicion should increase significantly. And this is simply due to probability. With an increase of a population, one would think the probability that at least one person deciding to be an artist would also increase. I believe this is a fair intuition to have. Therefore, if there were such a nation in which there were no artists, I would be highly suspicious and would think that there is a good chance that something is wrong.

My theory of the development of the natural diversity of human capacity has progressed onto the next stage by encompassing a theory of a more even than not distribution of life pursuits. By presenting the above examples and showing that the intuitions others have coincide with mine, and by arguing that the reason for this is a fundamental assumption of a more even than not distribution of life pursuits, I hope to have been at least a bit convincing.

On Religion

Dear Marlon,

I just finished the book you gave me recently and to be honest, I did not think it was very interesting. This does not mean that the book was not well written or that the characters were not well developed, rather it means that I am still lacking the appreciation for fiction. But, having said that, I can only assume that this is not what you want to hear about and that what you truly wish to know is my current opinion on religion. So here it is.

I consider myself agnostic. I do not believe there is a God nor that there is not; I simply leave him a question. This seems to be the safest and most reasonable position that one could possibly hold. However, this does not mean that I am neutral toward his existence. In fact, I hope God exists. Death scares me so I like to believe that there is such thing as an afterlife.

If I see God after I die, I will immediately accept him. And if he says to me that that is not good enough, I can only defend myself by saying that I have attempted to live a life helping others. Some may ask “Why take that chance?” “If acceptance means heaven and agnosticism means hell, then what if you are wrong?” These are very good questions. I admit that I am taking a chance, but so are Christians. It is possible that Christianity is not the one true religion and that some other is. And it is also possible that none of the religions on earth are true. However, even if that were the case, I would still believe that God may exist. Thus, in a sense, I give him the benefit of the doubt.

Your best friend,
Jason

I Look Forward to 2012

I am quite satisfied with the events of this past year. Besides the hospitalization of my grandma, everything has been positive. Getting into the University of York has brought me the greatest joy of all not only because I am back in academia, but because it has introduced to me a group of great friends who contribute significantly to my life. I now better understand why some people choose not to live far away from home. One's quality of life really does improve when one has a good support network.

Regarding my plans for this year, they are simply to do well in my program and to score high on the GRE. About a month into my studies I decided that I wanted to pursue a PhD. I am not sure if I mentioned this before, but the main reason why I came to England in the first place was because I was not sure if I wanted one. Many people were warning me that I truly had to be certain before making the decision so I decided on a Masters instead. Having said that, even though now I am positive that I want a PhD, I do not regret coming to York.

I should also mention that although I occasionally express disappointment of how little I have achieved in my life so far, I do not regret taking those few years off after getting my Bachelors. I know for a fact that it was because of those years spent in China that I came up with my theory of natural diversity. If I had gone straight into my Masters program, I would have had no idea what to write about. Similarly now, even though I sometimes cringe at the idea that I will be at least 33 when I get my PhD, I know deep down inside that the decisions I made in the past were the right ones.

Speaking of my theory, I have recently developed it a step further. I now argue that natural diversity would result in a somewhat even distribution of pursuits. I do not want to elaborate it fully in this entry, but suffice it to say that I am very excited about this new development.

I fly back to York tomorrow evening and I am greatly looking forward to it. I know I will be leaving my grandma, which makes me sad, but the good news is that her physical condition has been improving. I actually heard her voice today for the first time since I came back. They have taken her completely off of the ventilator and are now just supplying her with oxygen, and because of this they can now occasionally plug the hole in her neck, allowing her to talk. Unfortunately, being dependent on the machine for that long has made her vocal muscles very weak so she needs to regain her strength before she can speak fluently. I look forward to having a conversation with her over the phone.