Khanism

COVID-19 is Two Diseases

Full Disk Earth - Apollo 17, 1972
Full Disk Earth - Apollo 17, 1972

The majority of people who are infected with the virus SARS-CoV-2 do not develop severe cases of COVID-19. However, some people develop a cytokine storm, and their own immune system may start to work against them. The response of many world governments to COVID-19 has been to restrict travel, close non-essential businesses, restrict gatherings, close parks and inform their citizens to distance themselves from one another when possible. Leaders want to slow down the spread of the virus, in order to not overload hospital systems. Yet, these policies are also slowing this massive machine; this infrastructure that has evolved to support several billion human beings. Our society, though composed of people and not cells, also has an immune response. Our societal immune system can bring us together to survive the darkest of times against untenable odds, but it also has the power to overreact, give itself to mass hysteria, and ultimately rip our people apart in an attempt to save it.

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Comedians are not Philosophers

Microphone on Stand

Comedians have taken on a very interesting role in the past couple of years. Many of us have grown up with comedians that write a lot of jokes about politics, such as Bill Hicks or George Carlin. Yet today, we have comedians that are dedicated almost entirely to politics, such as Lewis Black, or political satire such as John Oliver and Samantha Bee. Somehow, even comedians who don’t constrain themselves to such narrow topics are now looked to, and looked down upon, for their opinions about the broader political and social climates of our society. Although I do agree that comedy and art can be a helpful mirror, as a tool for introspection on our current culture, I think we do a disservice to entertainers when we look to them to replace the roles previously given to intellectuals, academics and philosophers.

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Mindful Meditation is not for Everyone

Rock Totem

Recently, I was listening to a Sam Harris podcast episode where he interviewed Richard Dawkins. At one point in the podcast, he attempted to lead Dawkins through a mindful meditation session, to which Dawkins responded, “I couldn’t stand it … I was listening to your words and I was keeping my eyes shut and doing everything you said. I couldn’t see the point of it … Five minutes would be about my limit I think.” I do enjoy Harris’s interviews, but his avocation for meditation borders on evangelism. Although I do meditate myself, I also have several friends who say they do not benefit from meditation, or it leads them to anxiety. Although mindfulness and meditation can be powerful tools, it’s important to remember that humans are complex, and what works for one person, may not work for everyone.

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Nihilism Gets a Bad Rap

abandoned eroded plane fuselage

Nihilism often gets a bad rap. Unlike other philosophical doctrines, nihilism is usually not a fully encompassing belief system. Although we tend to group people like Nietzsche and Camus into the nihilist camp, few philosophers or authors actively identify as purely nihilistic. Philosophers who tend to use bleak views of the world might do so in order to emphasize the reasons for holding a more positive outlook. As Camus says in The Myth of Sisyphus, “Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable.” The absurdity of the universe, rather than being disparaging, can instead be an acknowledgment that we are responsible for our own purpose. It is that self determination that, while acknowledging we may live in a world void of meaning, allows us the freedom to form our own happiness.

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Preferred Gender Pronouns

Photography of a Dictionary

In 2013, I met with a group of LGBT activists in Wellington, New Zealand. During introductions, everyone gave their name and their preferred gendered pronouns. I believe this was the first time I was introduced to the concept of defining ones own pronouns, which has become more common all around the world. I find this growing trend problematic for a number of non-political reasons. Not only does it create an ability to offend directly within the language, but it defeats an important trait in the evolution of language, and thereby increases cognitive load in basic conversation. Language is representative of both things in our physical world and abstract concepts. However when you really break down natural language, it’s all metaphor. Defining pronouns for oneself breaks those metaphors and hinders our ability to relate to each other in our basic conversations.

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This is Just a Simulation

Screenshot from The Sims

Are we in a simulation? What some may perceive as a trope used in science fiction is a serious topic for some researchers. Bostrom’s 2003 paper on simulation theory postulates that if humanity continues on our currently trend of increasing technological development, we will reach a state where we could eventually be able to, at least partially, simulate the reality we currently live in. We could also invent said technology, but choose not to pursue simulating a world like ours, or we could simply go extinct. If the technology is feasible and extinction is avoidable, how would we know if we are already in a simulation that others have built?

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Does Love Really Conquer All, or is Love a Finite Resource?

Photo by Tyler Nix
Photo by Tyler Nix

Love conquers all. It’s a cliché and trope that’s been used in stories for as long as humans have been telling stories, but is it true? If love could truly move us past any boundary, then why can’t it overcome spousal abuse, infidelity, suicide or poverty. Are these things a result of a lack of love, by either individuals, families or society, or is our capacity to love a finite resource?

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Exclusive Inclusivity

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen
Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen

A friend of mine recently invited me to an Asian & Pacific Islanders Open Mic, hosted by Luya Poetry in Chicago. The event billed itself as “…a welcoming space for poets of color, with an emphasis on Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Pacific Islanders to express themselves, [and] share their stories…“. The open mic was part of a larger series of events in the National Poetry Slam. Both my friend and I were expecting a variety of poems about life and love, that happened to be told by Asian/Pacific people. Instead, the majority of the works focused around simply being Asian, racism, cultural assimilation, and personal stories of trauma.

I knew this type of show was likely, but I was still hoping for something more diverse. I don’t want to diminish the personal stories and experiences of all the poets who went up on the open mic. As writers and poets, telling our stories can be a way to bring others into our world and perspective. I just wish that every story didn’t have to start and end with a theme surrounding race; something that not all minorities hold as an integral part of our identities.

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Exploration

Waterfall

I went to University in a small town whose population reduced by a third when school was out of session. Past the edge of town was a state park filled with amazing waterfalls, but if you turned off a few roads early, you’d come to a dead end. Beside the road was a trail that led back between houses and down to a secluded creek, a series of cliffs and a maze of paths used by dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles. We spent weekends exploring this crazy area which so few people knew about.

Today it’s now officially part of the larger state park network. The old entrance has been closed off and an official parking lot has been built three kilometers away. Many of the most amazing trails have been closed off to the world, either sighting safety concerns or with no trespassing signs indicating the borders of private property. What was once a place of imagination and exploration became tamed. Other hikers I met from that era are glad the area is preserved, but I could hear the sense of loss and nostalgia in their voices; that feeling of saudade from that time when we felt like we were on the frontier, trekking through an undiscovered country in our own backyards. On those weekends, between the deadlines of projects, assignments, fraternity parties and final exams, we spent time exploring, both our world and ourselves.

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A Tale of Two Journeys

Seattle to Cincinnati (map)

In 2015, due to a series of events, I began a journey across the globe where I lived out of two bags for eleven months. In May of 2017, I left my full time job and started another journey, this time driving across the US. It’s been several months since I started this new minimalist adventure, and it’s not been entirely what I expected. I’ve seen a lot of amazing friends and family. I’ve had a couple of setbacks. I’ve struggled with people, relationships and burnout. My journey is not quite over, but I’ve already learned a considerable amount about myself, people and America.

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