Uncomfortable Truths

I watched the first video (documentary on Amar), and immediately wrote my post because I wanted to make sure that I had it in by 11 pm.  Then I started watching the rest of them.  I just finished watching Odysseus’ Gambit (the one with the homeless chess player).  I liked it a lot.

Disclaimer: the real writing I do, I always do for myself.  Writing is a nice way to clarify your thoughts.  When my thoughts are running, I like to write to clarify them.  I don’t know why it’s uncomfortable when thoughts run and they’re unclear, but it is.  When they are, I write.

There are a lot of uncomfortable truths about life and about the world.  I’m aware of some of them.  Most of them people ignore.

I don’t have time to organize this well, so I’ll just say the uncomfortable truths that come to mind.  I’ll also say some of my thoughts about them.

1) People seem to have very strong “psychological immune systems”.  I’m not sure if that’s the right term.  I remember reading in one of my neuroscience books that traumatic enough circumstances trigger you to protect yourself, and adapt, and not be too traumatized and unhappy.  People adapt, and they’re state of mind seems to hover around “average”.

This guy has no home.  No money.  No family.  No job.  No life purpose he’s working towards.  No hope for a better life.  He seems slightly distraught, but not nearly as much as you’d expect.  Imagine if God snapped his fingers and took away all your money, family, career prospects, etc.  It would be traumatizing, and very distressful.  Yet this happens to people, and day-to-day life for them seems to be normal, rather than horrible.  This is interesting and amazing to me.

In a way, it’s an uncomfortable truth: they’re lives honestly aren’t that bad.

2) I’m from an upper-middle class, white, suburban town with a good school system and lots of cookie-cutter houses, with lots of cookie-cutter families, with lots of cookie-cutter lives.  It’s incredible that there exist tons of people in this world who are born into shit.  The guy in the film had his family killed when he was a baby.  He was born into a time of war.  He was removed from his country against his will, and plopped down into the middle of NYC with basically nothing (I don’t know if this is all true, but some close version of it is).  How’s a little kid supposed to overcome this?

People who refuse to pity those who are put into these circumstances are lying to themselves: there’s no way you can expect a little kid to thrive in these sorts of circumstances.  There are some basic things people need (http://www.collegeanswerz.com/big-push is relevant).  People need food and water and health and shelter.  They need time.  They need a somewhat clear mind.  I’m not sure how to describe it, but it’s nearly impossible to thrive under certain circumstances.  You can’t focus on education or work when your whole family was murdered and you have been relocated against your will and you’re depressed and confused and scared.  You can’t expect someone to focus on their schoolwork when they’re being monitored for “acting white” and they’ll get beat up if they’re seen with books.  Imagine how you can’t focus on your schoolwork after you broke up with your girlfriend, and multiply that by 1,000.

Again, I don’t know how to word it, but people need certain things to give them the opportunity to thrive.  It’s an uncomfortable truth that a large percentage of the worlds population aren’t given the opportunity to thrive.  Only a select group of people are given that opportunity.  We happen to be a part of that group.

3) How much would you pay to save 1 persons life?  10 peoples lives?  100 peoples lives.  1,000?  10,000?… 1,000,000,000?  By the way people answer this, the implicitly value a single life less and less and less and less.  It’s called scope insensitivity (http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Scope_insensitivity).  We have trouble comprehending large numbers.  The fact that billions of people are suffering, doesn’t mean nearly as much to us as it should (presumably because of scope insensitivity).  This is an uncomfortable truth.

4) It’s also an uncomfortable truth that people just don’t really care about other people.  Well… that’s not true.  People respond greatly to situation.  You might feel really bad for a little kid who dropped his ice cream cone, but you could also walk by a bum who is depressed and suicidal, and not think twice about it.  It’s an uncomfortable truth that there are many situations where we simply couldn’t care less about other people’s immense suffering.

I can’t think of any more uncomfortable truths.  I think there were more before, but I forgot them.  Some other notes:

– The ending was very powerful.  I got the sense that he’s afraid to love.  He started having feelings for the girl, and then his past experiences of war and murder of his family crept up.  That sucks.  I don’t know enough about film to say, but I think there were a lot of successful techniques that were used to make this a powerful scene.

– The fact that he smokes removed a lot of empathy I felt towards him.  How could you buy cigarettes when you don’t have food?  Then again, I don’t know what it’s like to be addicted to something.  But still.

– Adam Zerner


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