Archive for February, 2012

Innocence redefined.


This picture is dedicated to my sister, who will love it.


Innocence is a term used to indicate a lack of guilt, with respect to any kind of crime, sin, or wrongdoing.” – Wikipedia

As a general rule, I like to refer to Wikipedia as my ultimate source for information. This glorious website has settled many a dispute over the course of its existence. I go to it now because I’ve encountered sort of an internal conflict with regard to how I define innocence.


This post is inspired by none other than our own Rick Santorum (whose misadventures I find absolutely hilarious), and to a lesser extent, many of the most recent GOP presidential candidates. The idea of innocence is intuitive to a lot of people, and is intrinsic to a good deal of religious ideology  – hence the Santorum inspiration. I have, however, recently come to find the concept of innocence extremely contradictory and unintuitive.


There are two completely opposite sides of a continuum that innocence seems to occupy at once. There is, on the one hand, Lord-of-the-Flies-esque innocence, which implies that when separated from society, mankind will tend to lose innocence as it becomes more wild, and commit increasingly heinous acts as rules and reason collapse. This is the same type of innocence that corresponds to sex representing a loss of innocence. The idea is that one is inevitably overcome by emotion / instinct to mate, and through sexual interaction loses innocence. This could tie in to all sorts of religious undertones as well, especially when referring to the Wikipedia definition, wherein innocence is seen as a lack of sin.


This all seems like a pretty standard definition of innocence. You grow up with some set of morals and ideals defined by your environment, but if left to your own devices you abandon them in some way and thereby lose innocence. You make the transition from ideal to real, and thereby also transition from pure to impure. You lie, or you hit someone, or you have sex, or you do drugs, or you skip class, or something along those lines. Unfortunately the other definition of innocence is exactly the opposite.


The other definition of innocence involves a complete lack of constraint, morally or societally. This is the type of innocence that usually gets associated with animals or babies. They don’t really understand what’s going on in the world, and therefore they are innocent – no matter what they do, or what harm they cause, they couldn’t have intended it because they don’t understand its significance, and they can therefore never harbor guilt. This innocence is related to ignorance or lack of awareness, and is also tied to nature. That which is more natural is more innocent – that which is more socially constructed is guilty. Here, you lose innocence through gaining awareness; in the above alternate definition, you have some level of awareness and lose innocence through disregarding it.


To give an extreme example, I would say the two sides are like organized religion and hippies. Organized religion seeks to preserve innocence by imposing rules and morals, the breaking of which would result in a loss of innocence, whereas hippies feel that removing society and remaining true to nature will preserve innocence. I personally know many people who strongly represent this dichotomy.


So, why does this matter to us, that we should be so torn regarding what defines innocence? Well, it matters a whole lot in my opinion, and an especially relevant concrete example of this involves the expression of sexuality. Youth sexuality is extremely repressed in America, and you can see this based on our age of consent, our prototypical moral values, our public education system and the way it handles sex education, our general opinions regarding nudity, etc. Of course this results in pretty significant sexualization in other areas, especially in media such as music, film, the internet, clothing/fashion, etc. 


If you know me, you could probably guess that I favor the more hippy-aligned camp, that is to say that I would be in favor of a lower age of consent, more thorough sex education (I would prefer if it were mandatory, too), and less restrictive legal and societal opinions on nudity, while I generally oppose demonization and associated stigmatization of sex and sexual imagery. I believe that you are born innocent and that losing innocence is a 2-step process: the first step is being aware of a difference between right and wrong, and the second step is choosing a course of action that you have determined from step 1 to be wrong. If sex is not seen as wrong, and I don’t think it should be, then having sex should not necessarily represent a loss of innocence. There are several things that go along with that which might represent such a thing, for instance breaking someone’s heart or being disrespectful or ruining a friendship. Those might correlate virginity with innocence, but I don’t believe that the two are intrinsically linked, and in fact I believe quite the opposite.


As with most topics, I could go on like this for a while, but you understand what I am trying to say. This whole subject is a bit tough to wrap your mind around, or at least it is for me.


Here’s a song that I like a lot that happens to have the word naked in the title.


Questions and answers.

This is how I felt when I was inspired to make this post.


I’m making an unexpected post today in the wake of having read this comic which I found on my friend’s facebook wall. Not only is the comic impeccably illustrated / executed, it reminded me of a thought I had long ago, during a time when posting notes on facebook was my equivalent of blogging. Since this is one of few subjects about which I feel exactly the same now as I did a few years ago, and which I still find interesting and intellectually engaging, I will share it here.


This is a transcription of my facebook note from two years ago:


My philosophy of strategy

by Alex Golden Cuevas on Tuesday, 18 May 2010 at 23:41

I have been meaning to write a note such as this for a long time because I thought it might be interesting to share some of my thoughts on philosophy and life and see if what I’m thinking makes sense or is off base for some reason.

Quick disclaimer – I do not really know that much about the field of philosophy or game theory or anything like that, and as such I may not be aware if some of these ideas are already well known, or if my reasoning is fallacious / I make some wrong assumptions, or things like that. Feel free to criticize, that is why I am putting this here.

I am a nihilist, in the sense that I believe there is no objective moral truth in the world. For the sake of simplicity I will assume that the world is as humans percieve it to be, so that there IS objective physical truth, like “the sky is blue.” I have been thinking about this for a while, mostly in random intervals / whenever I get into an intellectual discussion with someone. How do we decide what is right and wrong in a world with no moral objectivity? There are governmental laws and social laws which punish us for making decisions which are considered “bad,” but it’s clear to most of us that laws, especially government laws, are not objectively right just because we have incentive to follow them.

A common thing that people feel about nihilism is that it supposes that, since there is no moral truth, people can just go around killing and torturing etc. and it doesn’t matter, because hell, who knows if they are right or wrong? There is no truth. To that end I would like to add some clarity here. It is true that there is not a general, objective, right or wrong that can be applied in any situation. However, given any goal, there is an optimal strategy to achieve that goal. I assert that this optimal strategy, which is different for every different goal there is to accomplish, is the benchmark for what is “right,” and that as the effectiveness of a given strategy to fulfill a goal decreases, so it becomes more “wrong.”

Of course, then there is the problem of, how do you decide what is the most optimal strategy to fulfill a goal? There are many strategies to go about reaching any goal and it is nearly impossible to choose the most optimal one. If everything could be optimized in this way then all problems could pretty much be solved. However, what is important to me is not how to develop the most optimal strategy, but rather that an optimal strategy exists. If an optimal strategy exists for any goal, then there is an objective right and an objective wrong for any situation, and a vague measure of how right or wrong any strategy in between is.

I’ll give an easy example. Let’s say there is an apple on the table, and your goal is “pick up the apple.” There are an infinite number of strategies to fulfill this goal. However some are more optimal than others. For instance, if you wish to pick up the apple while expending a minimum amount of energy, then your arm would take the shortest possible path to the apple and pick it up. This is the “right” thing to do, given the aforementioned goal. Now, given the goal “prevent the apple from being touched,” the previous strategy would be “wrong”, because it is optimally inoptimal (that is to say, it fulfills the antithesis of the goal optimally). So we can see here that, given the exact same action with two differing goals, the definition of “right” and “wrong” readily changes. There is no objective right and wrong action to fulfill all goals, but for each individual goal, there does exist a right and a wrong.

So, how do we apply this basic concept to the real world? The way that most people use the words “right” and “wrong” is to mean, in a very general sense, that which results in the most happiness in the world, and that which takes away the most happiness. There are many other possible interpretations of these words, but this is a convenient definition. Murder is wrong because it takes away a person’s ability to feel happy in the future. Charity is right because it makes other people who were previously unhappy, happy. Being nice to people is right because it makes them (and you, usually) happy. So, we could say here, that the goal is “to make people happy,” and whatever strategy a person uses is judged based on how much happiness it will ultimately result in. The reason that this is not objective truth is that there is no ultimate law that says that this goal is the best goal to have. Unlike strategies, there can be no optimal goal. A goal must first be chosen, completely arbitrarily, and only then can an objectively optimal strategy be chosen. Hence, right and wrong are completely relative terms and only apply to specific goals / situations and not in a general sense.

I could say more about the subject but I think I have said what I wanted to say. Thoughts?

[post over]

This, again, is the awesome comic I read today:


And this is the original facebook note if you want to read the comments underneath – we had a pretty lengthy discussion:



Since this is all bringing me back to my freshman year of college, here’s one of my favorite songs from that time.

To quote, or not to quote?

My first Sunday night post! In case you hadn’t read my previous post, I will be updating my blog once every Sunday night. I said I would post at midnight, but considering that I always have CS homework / projects due at midnight I suspect that I will always be writing slightly after. Either way, I will be aiming to post Sunday night consistently.

I like quotes. I admire elegance and succinct conveyance of information. The style of my own posts is likely a poor indicator of this admiration, but alas. I think I admire what I don’t have or can’t do. But, I digress. Recently I began to think a bit deeper about the properties of quotes.

To begin, there are a couple things you must know about me in order to understand my opinions herein. The first is that I do not like arguments that appeal to emotion – I prefer to convince people using logic and reasoning rather than emotional appeal. The second is that I believe that every action can be optimized to a particular goal. That is to say, an action is not necessarily good or bad if no context is given. Depending on what your goal is, the same action might be a good decision or a terrible one.

This means that I believe that quotes can sometimes be good and sometimes be bad, depending on the goal they are trying to accomplish. When do we use quotes, and for what purpose? When can quotes be bad? I think people do not often think about a quote being “bad” – either they agree with it or disagree. However, I can imagine situations where I might agree with a quote but oppose its purpose, and similarly I might disagree with a quote but support the goal it is trying to fulfill.

Quotes have a very high potential to be harmful, because they are almost entirely predicated on emotional rhetoric. You would not quote a proof. You would not quote a detailed explanation. Quotes tend to be short, powerful statements, where the power is inherent in the emotional sway it has on the reader. “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” I oppose this rhetoric style due to my value system – I don’t like to persuade people without sound reasoning, and quotes can very rarely provide that.

The above quote by JFK is a good example of a quote that I disagree with but that I can see the value in. I think that what a governing body can do for its people is more important than what what the people do to support the body, but with that being said, I observe that people are generally selfish and I support this quote if it persuades a large number of people to be more teamwork-oriented and less self-centered.

For examples of quotes that I agree with but dislike the existence of, please go visit r/atheism. Quotes that only serve to support your own psychological framework will hinder you from seeing and understanding the frameworks of others. Quotes that support what you already think or feel are not interesting – they should make you think something new and fresh, or remind you of something important that you are likely to forget.

Myself, I like to use quotes primarily in my facebook info (or occasionally on Twitter). I didn’t realize this about myself until writing this post, but I’m able to rationalize it pretty easily – I don’t like to persuade people with quote-based rhetoric, and I also don’t like to cling to quotes to reinforce my own value system. Therefore, I use quotes in order to convey my value system to others. I don’t mean to persuade, only to display part of who I am in a succinct way.

Another example of quotes that I like are song lyrics. Lyrics in a song that stand out to me, or that everyone knows, are kind of like quotes. I like them because they allow me to indulge in my own emotions, and thus provide a good way either to relax, or to vent, or to feel exhilarated, without necessarily affecting my values or the values of others.

The question that you might be waiting to ask after all this time – what is the significance of the pictured quote up-top? It was one of my inspirations for writing this post. I saw it on r/QuotesPorn (and yes, I go on reddit too much), and I found myself agreeing with it instantly without even really thinking about it. At a second glance, I realized that I actually don’t agree with it at all. I resent the notion that one should not fear death, or stave it off. I want to live a long time, goddammit. Now, that being said, the bit about deciding how to live your life is probably good advice, but that has more to do with shedding fear of other things, not only fear of death.

It’s late. These are my two cents for my first Sunday night post. Hopefully I’ll produce more coherent thoughts when I have a bit more time to mull them over before posting.

Here’s a completely unrelated old favorite that I rediscovered yesterday.


My current wallpaper. Heed its words.


As many of you probably noticed, I have not updated my blog in quite some time. You may further be in a subset of the aforementioned group, being also in the group who has realized that in failing to update my blog I have failed to uphold one of my new years resolutions,  which was to update my blog every week. I had previously scheduled this blog post to be covering a very deep and important topic, but I have decided instead to let you know that I have adjusted my resolutions.

A resolution adjustment is natural, and largely expected. There is no way, given my indecisive and perfectionist tendencies, that I could take a set of rules and adhere to them indefinitely. My Ten Commandments established at the beginning of the year (representing 10 new years resolutions) have been torn down and built up anew. As I remove Commandments, I will keep adding more for the sake of consistency, such that I always have 10. This is purely symbolic.


     These were my original Ten Commandments:

1) Maximum 1 hour of reddit each day.

2) Minimum 1 hour physical activity each day.

3) Minimum 1 blog post each week.

4) Maximum 10 minute showers.

5) In person > call > email. Text only when necessary.

6) Eat at Hoyt 5 days a week, home 2 days.

7) Fulfill all obligations.

8) No more porn.

9) Collect mementos.

10) Never lose perspective.


     These are my revised Ten Commandments, 2/14/2012:

1) Make 1 blog post weekly, on Sunday night at midnight, even if there is nothing to say.

2) Exercise at least once each day.

3) Spend less time online.

4) Always call when it is most efficient to do so.

5) Never spend money unless socially motivated.

6) Find a source of income.

7) Read before lecture.

8) Fulfill obligations.

9) Don’t forget friends.

10) Never lose perspective.


     Why the changes?

I have learned a lot and changed a lot this semester, in just a few weeks. My resolutions need to change accordingly. They will be ever-changing as I grow. Every couple months or so I’ll probably update them.

  • The 10 minute maximum shower rule had to go, because I have already completed it. I no longer ever take showers longer than 10 minutes, and can sometimes do them in 5. My goal is to be able to wake up, take a shower, and get dressed in 10 minutes every day by the end of the semester. By far my most successful resolution.
  • I already eat at Hoyt all the time, I need no reminder for it, so that’s gone too. The same can be said for collecting mementos. Things that I already do naturally should not be on this list anymore. By the way, I’m getting to know Hoyt better than ever, and that’s very exciting for me. I even have keys and do workshift and everything.
  • Many of my other rules were poorly defined. In order for a Commandment to be useful, it has to be enforceable, that is to say that I can reasonably measure what I’m doing and feel remorse if I don’t do it. This was not the case with a lot of my old rules. For instance, if I say “1 hour of physical activity each day,” then on the days where I don’t have an hour to spare, I might just not exercise at all. And does the hour count set up and cool down time? This makes for a poor Commandment overall. I’m attempting to solve this problem by making my commandments more flexible but also more powerful. “Exercise once each day” means that I have to do at least something before I go to bed.
  • Some of these have to do with money. I want to start looking for work for the summer and/or during the school year. I want to start saving up – right now I’m only spending. I would also like to ease the financial strain I put on my parents.
  • “Don’t forget friends.” I have a lot of friends in Berkeley that I don’t see often. I should at least eat with them some time and catch up. There’s Dominion playing that needs to get done as well. There are also some burned bridges that I would like to try and repair. As a civil engineer, I feel I am suited for the job.

That’s all for now. I have plenty ideas for things to talk about, I just need the time to sort out my thoughts and get those ideas down. That’s what this blog is all about, after all. Until then, I’ll be working on my resolutions. I’m on my way to stop needing to do things, and to start getting things done.


Speaking of which, what do you get when you put a great band, and great song, and a ton of money together?