16.6.18

The Monkeysphere, or Why Society Doesn't Seem to Care (Finished)



Sometimes it can feel like the universe is against you when the truth is that the universe can be pretty much indifferent. This applies to nature itself, which will function as it has for millions of years without us, and humanity, which hasn't evolved in preparation for high-speed, high-pressure lifestyles and coexisting with many other people, be it millions or even just thousands.

Before we were domesticated by the Agricultural Revolution, we had to function as nomads, hunting, and harvesting until whichever spot we inhabited ran out of resources, and so we'd wander around an area in a cycle. This meant that there couldn't be too many people in the same place at the same time unless you wanted to risk running out of resources too quickly.




So, imagine one person. Say it's a man, thirty years old, tanned skin, dark hair, average build. You don't need to wonder much about what he does, as he's just a hypothetical man, but what if I asked you to imagine one hundred different people at the same time? Though each person in that crowd would be just as human as the first one, they become a mass. Indistinguishable from one another. Nay, indifferent. Would you care if one of them left? How many would there have to be for you to stop caring? 

Fret not, that number has been determined. 

Monkeys, curiously, can manage to survive in groups of about 50. They have small brains, so they can't really handle any tribe bigger than that, otherwise, you'll see power conflicts and tribes splitting. A British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar took their brains and compared them to those of humans, which are bigger, of course, and our greater capacity for memory meant that we could survive in tribes around 150 people, and this was the size of roaming groups way back in the day. 




Would you go out of your way to make some stranger's life easier? Say you're eating at a restaurant. You pick some stuff off the table and onto your plate so the waiter doesn't have to linger more than he has to, but you're dealing with a single waiter.

Now imagine you're at a wedding or any other gala. You generally won't care, you'll leave your glasses and food on the table, sometimes you won't even mind the spills, and why? The staff that's attending you is an amalgamation of penguins and you won't find much of a difference between one or the other, so why would you care if they have to make a bit more of an effort? 

Maybe you're more empathetic than the rest, and instead of seeing the security guard as that thing that stands there in the front of the building, or the cashier as that thing which takes your money and gives you an item, you do take the time to treat them well. That doesn't mean you don't have a limit. Usually, you'll be more preoccupied about your family, friends, and some group of people, be it coworkers, classmates, students, and anybody outside of that clique you've formed becomes an outsider to you, sort of like a two-dimensional character.




It sounds like a small issue, but the ways it affects society cut deep. One death is a tragedy, one million deaths are a statistic, which means that you might feel just a little bit down with a mass shooting in the United States, you'll be almost indifferent to a chemical attack in Damascus unless you're very interested in geopolitics, but the death of a family member will hit you hard, and this goes for everyone, not just you. Imagine if you truly cared about everyone. You'd go insane. 

The Monkeysphere affects your actions as well. You're not going to screw your neighbors over because you know that you'll have to deal with them eventually, but you'll gladly ignore that the waiter forgot to charge you that second soda because why should that be an issue? This is also why religion can function so well, whichever god you worship is personal.




Think about something you really hate. Corporate. The government. Nazis. We tend to make them entities in our minds, some sort of faceless monster when really they're just organizations made of people. A hunter and a farmer are good because they bring food to a community. Monsanto and Chinese fishing companies are evil because they take it to the extreme, and though they perform the same function on a national or global scale, we can't help but see them as things. 

Stories are also affected by this. Let's take Star Wars as an example, specifically, the Empire. Stormtroopers are the faceless henchmen, a dime a dozen, bad aim, and they all look exactly the same, so when one dies, who cares? Then are the officers, who also look samey, except for Tarkin, who takes his place as the more badass of them all, and why? because he destroyed a planet just to prove a point and he can tell Darth Vader what to do.




So, who cares about Darth Vader? Everyone. Since the first moment he stepped into the screen, he was kicking ass and taking names; anybody who ran into him died. Every time we learned something new about him, he came closer to our Monkeysphere. He ceased to be a mask and became a person. He became human. And the more human we saw him as, the more compelling a character he was. 

Does all of this mean that you simply won't have sympathy for most people? Yeah, pretty much. You're a valet parker, you scratch a car, the first course of action will probably be hiding it as best as you can and using any plausible deniability if you're asked, and that's more often than not a big if. You're a mayor, and you can get 200 thousand dollars if you make a certain deal with a businessman who wants to build some infrastructure. The city might be the worse off for it, but not by much, and though 200,000 is a lot for one person, it's nothing if you split it between a million people. Take that sort of sentiment, imagine it happening all the time, everywhere, and you'll more or less understand why society is the way it is. 




Ideally, we could find a way to pocket ourselves into groups of 150 people and roam the world again, while retaining most of our commodities. This is impossible, though, and this is why there always seems to be a war or some other sort of conflict going on in the world, and so it shall be until we either evolve some more of just die off. 

The sad part is that modernity does seem to affect us adversely. According to the World Health Organization, around 300 million people suffer from depression, somewhere around 200 million more suffer from others, and around 75-85% of them don't receive any sort of assistance for their conditions. It's harder to find meaning when you're one in a sort of strange mass as society is.




Social media has caught wind of this, more or less. You'll notice that you're always going to be talking to the same people, and though you can see who else is online, you won't really check it out unless you have way too much time on your hands. Some even say that having more than 150 friends on Facebook is superfluous, but we can't resist the dopamine rush of getting likes. 

Remember, the issue is not about the physical space that we occupy, but the cranial space, which means that, no matter how many people you can remember if you put your mind to the task, you'll only be able to maintain a certain number of relationships, and amongst those relationships, some will be much more important to you than the rest

So when you go out there to the world, I won't ask you to just try and see every single person outside of your Monkeysphere as more than a mere thing, because after a certain point it either becomes impossible or you go insane. Rather, whenever you get screwed over, I want you to realize that it's a result of the same mentality that you have and, should the places be flipped, you'd probably do the same. Try and be a better person, definitely. Now that you understand a little more of how the world works, you can go ahead and thrive in the indifference of it all. 

Further reading: 



13.6.18

Should you lose weight for vanity?



When you ask people why they want to lose weight, they'll usually tell you that it's for some health reason, or they're just looking to spend less on food. True as that might be, it's usually a secondary objective. Most people who want to lose weight want to look good.

Is that a bad thing though?



The fact of the matter is that anybody can empathize with you. Everybody's been picked on for their looks, skinny, tall, short, whatever, but if you're fat, at least you have the means to fix that. Perhaps your former significant other broke up with you and that was the straw that broke the camel's back, so hard that you had no choice but to go on a diet. Maybe you want to fit into your nice clothes again. God knows that leather jacket looked pretty good on you five years ago, so why not make the effort to fit in it again?

It may sound like a case of vanity, and perhaps that goes against your personal values. For some people, this sort of mission represents some false virtue that should be avoided. Does intention affect the results?

No. Maybe it affects how you measure progress, but the results will be the same. It's like making fun of Dungeons and Dragons and finding out that you sarcastically learned how to roleplay as a charismatic bard or whatever. The intention wasn't the ideal one, but the results were the same.

The thing is, whatever motivates you won't matter much at the end of the day. If you're losing weight, you're doing yourself some good, and unless you've depleted the vast majority of your fat reserves, to the point where organs like your liver or brain can't function well, then you could probably stand to burn a little bit of fat. This can be because of the endless health benefits, with less pressure on your back, a better heart, and better skin being just the tip of the iceberg or the other pros that can be brought into your life, like the Halo Effect. It's no secret that being attractive can open doors for you, and that's just part of human nature.



When you think that your six-pack would look better on your abs than in them, be it just to look better, spite someone, or win a challenge, any of that literally doesn't matter because at the end of the day you're doing yourself a great service by being healthier. So what if there's mischief in your mind? The end result is being a better version of yourself, and perhaps with the discipline you have to apply, you'll improve on the inside as much as on the outside.

That's the key to making it. You'll be motivated for selfish reasons, but the only way you can remotely hope to reach your objectives is by building discipline each and every day. You can have cheat meals, and they're very helpful for your motivation, but they must be the exception rather than the rule.

So go ahead. You want your muscles to get out of their protective adipose armor? Want to look like a man instead of a fertility goddess when they see you from the side? Want to spite your ex? Maybe there's a coworker you just don't like, and you want to look better than the douchebag, go ahead, I don't care, you'll be all the better off for it. Just be healthy while you're doing it. Don't know how? You can start here. 

11.6.18

5 Japanese Folk Horror Stories



Looking from the outside, one could imagine Japan as a foreign world. Their culture is vastly different than anything conceived in the West, likely due to the long distance and their isolated nature, which gave them time to develop something different. They're still human, though, and like humans, have the same root fears which birth their stories. Here are a few of them.

5: The Ghost of Oyuki




This is a famous painting of a female yurei, which is what they call their ghosts. This one was painted by Maruyama Ōkyo, founder of the Maruyama-Shijō school of painting. According to the inscription, the artist had a mistress at the Tominaga geisha house, who died young, and he, naturally, mourned her death. One night, the woman appeared at the foot of his bed, and he couldn't get the image out of his head, so he painted her as he saw her, pale with black eyes and long, disheveled hair. 

4: The Speaking Skull


Back in 1300, from a temple in the Nara prefecture called Kanko-ji, lived a monk named Doutou. He did well for his community, even paying out of his own pocket to have a bridge constructed, so he was loved by the people. 

One day, Doutou walked across the valley with his disciple, Manryo. On the path, he notices a skull that had been covered in mud, bitten, scratched, and nearly broken, with only bits of flesh left hanging on. Saddened by the abuse the skull came by, Doutou commanded his disciple to take it high up the path and prop it up next to a tree. Manryo did as he was asked and hid the skull with branches. 

Later that year, a man requested entrance, having come down from the mountains to see with his own eyes that who they called Manryo. Once they met, the man told him that he was greatly indebted and that, having brought nothing, if Manryo would follow him home, he would be repaid. The disciple didn't understand, but given the enthusiasm, went anyways. 

Before him was a great feast, and the man told him to eat up and began to devour the food himself. Manryo wondered what he'd done, but the man wouldn't answer and would shove food down his mouth if he tried to ask. Once he was full, the man's face changed and he beckoned the disciple to flee with him, for the brother who had murdered him had arrived home, and Manryo managed to put the pieces together.

He was unable to run, though, and when the door opened, he saw not the brother but his son and mother, who was surprised herself and asked what a monk was doing in her house. He told her the story, and when he looked over his shoulder, found nobody there. The mother listened with shock, though, and was angered at having had one son kill the other, and so she took her grandson to be forgiven for his father's sins. 

3: The Hunger Gods




The Hidarugami are said to be the spirits of those that have starved to death in the mountains. Due to the lonely and suffering nature of their deaths, they turn to vengeful spirits and wander looking to make others suffer.

If you run into a Hidarugami, you'll suffer strong hunger, fatigue, and numb limbs, you won't be able to move and you'll collapse. If you're killed, you join their ranks and wander the mountains looking for hikers to murder by starvation, but you can prevent this by eating a mouthful of rice or grains. 

There are variations of this ghost through Japan, with the ones in the Shiga prefecture forcing you to rip people's stomachs open to search for undigested food, in the Mie prefecture, they'll also attack livestock, and in Kochi, Nagasaki, and Kagoshima there are small shrines that are said to ward them off from attacking. 

2: The Inviting Ghost Hand


You wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, for a glass of water, anything really, and out of the wall, a ghostly hand sticks out, beckoning you to come. When you walk into the room, though, it's empty, and you most likely encountered somebody who died in that very room but had little strength to manifest itself. Usually reading a prayer at the closest temple in their name will fix the issue. 

1: The Blind Female Musician




Although ghosts by themselves can make a story dreadful, this one's true horror. This was in the Kyoho era. A samurai named Kanji was making his trip to the capital at Edo when he stopped at an inn along the way, and from his room, heard the most beautiful voice in his life. It came from the next room and belonged to a goze, a blind woman who made her living from wandering the country and playing her music. 

He imagined she must be as lovely as her voice, so he hid and ravaged her. She wasn't easy on the eyes, though she was pretty happy thinking she finally found love, and so the man traveled with her briefly, before pushing her into a ravine, thus murdering her. He went on and never looked back. 

The next year, he made his trip to Edo, and when he stopped at a temple in the mountains, she appeared to him. "I have no eyes, but I see you now," she told him. 

He was dragged from his bed to the graveyard. She stopped, embraced him and pulled him into the earth. The monks heard noises and followed the trail, and after getting their shovels, dug into the grave, where they saw Kanji's body wrapped by a woman's corpse. 

Japanese horror is different from Western horror in the sense that it's more subtle. There are fewer monsters, per se, and more spirits of people who died in gruesome manners, so their apparitions are their final emotions repeating themselves through history. We'll go through folk horror from other regions, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, be nice to people and pick up the skulls you find in the middle of the road (or don't if you don't want your fingerprints at a crime scene); you never know when you'll need to get along with a ghost.

Further reading:

On horror and how it came to be

More stories

This blog's owner is pretty knowledgeable on Japanese Folk Horror
https://hyakumonogatari.com/2013/10/18/10-famous-japanese-ghost-stories/