Why are you asking kiddo?
I heard that a rocket fell near your sister’s house in Israel. That’s scary.
Yes kid, it is very troubling.
Who would do such a thing? Why do they want to hurt people?
People who think it is the right thing to do.
How trying to kill people be the right thing to do?
That’s a hard question to answer, but I’ll try.
You see, we humans have this machine in our heads called the human brain. It has what is called consciousness, awareness and free will.
We get to know the world and choose our actions consciously every second of our lives. And that is not easy.
Right. Sometimes I think of how simple our dog’s life is. No homework – just eat, drink and play.
Right. Simple, yet limited. We get to experience so much more. But, as I said, it is hard.
In order to make decisions every minute of our lives, small to big, we need this machine to have some kind of an operating system.
Like a computer? Something like Windows?
Yes, something that will interpret reality for us and guide us on which alternatives to choose. Something to tell us what’s right and what’s wrong.
That is what we call philosophy. People call it in many different names – values, religion, way of life, beliefs, morality. etc.
We are born without any philosophy. Tabula Rasa, which means a clean slate.
We only have survival instincts guiding us to stay alive. Telling us that living is our highest value.
But then the mind takes over.
Influenced by our environment, our parents, our teachers, and everyone around us, we define for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. We learn to like or despise things. In a normal society, you learn that respecting other people’s rights for life and freedom is good and that killing and stealing are bad.
But the truth is that the human mind is so flexible and programmable, we can burn any type of philosophy into it. As awful as it may sound, a person can be taught that killing is good.
You can teach a person any idea, no matter how detached it is from reality. Look, most of the world still believes in supernatural forces that they never saw any proof of. Gods, prophets, food falling from the sky, men walking on water, reincarnations – you name it.
Our mind can invent anything and truly believe it is reality.
You’re right dad. People believe in weird stuff. You won’t believe things kids make up in school.
Wait till they grow up…
But anyhow, with this capacity to run on any kind of philosophy or morality, many people go in wrong directions. Radical Islamists, for instance, believe that it is good to eliminate non-Islamists because god said so. So for them, killing Jews in Israel is a positive thing. So positive, that god will actually reward them when they die. That’s a pretty strong thing to believe in if you believe in eternal afterlife.
That is so twisted.
It is. It is a twisted view from what truly is good for man and for his life here on earth.
But my point is, that once a person has this philosophy ingrained into his head – there is no effective way to change it but to continuously have him face the consequences of his twisted view of reality.
The German Nazis, Religious Extremists and other mystics who’ve developed philosophies detached from reality, are very dangerous and have to be stopped or else they will continuously drive to fulfill what they think is right and moral. Some claim that god told them what is right, some believe that it is the right thing for society or their race – it doesn’t matter – they will act like programmed machines, because this is how the human mind operates. We all act on what we believe is right.
So you are saying that Israel can’t make peace with the Islamic countries around it?
Not right now. Not until those societies will grow out of the primitive philosophies of Islam or other religious and collectivist views. Some people in Israel are sabotaging peace as well because they too hold extreme religious views that are just as bad.
So what should Israel do till then?
Fight hard. Fight with sheer determination and with no empathy for people holding deadly philosophies in their heads. If we do anything else – they will hurt us. The human history is filled with sad, deadly examples.
What about their children? Should we fight them as well?
No, we try as hard as we can not to hurt innocent people, but we should always have a clear set of priorities – our safety comes first. We shouldn’t fight anyone who sincerely wants to live in peace and with respect to individual and property rights. Those should be allowed to live freely in our free society – maybe by giving those who chose this path the reward of freedom, will show the others that there is a better alternative.
But as long as someone is out to destroy you and your way of life – you fight them as hard as possible because they are the most dangerous animal on this planet.
Not an easy option, ha dad?
No. It is not, but there is no other option. Some people on the left fantasize about fake alternatives which some time turn out to be costly.
But the values of most people in Israel is the core of its strength – reason, freedom and human rights. As long as we keep those – Israel and every other peace-seeking society, will be safe.
I hope so dad.
I know so kid.
Good night dad.
Good night my dearest.
Wow, that’s a big question.
But it’s a wrong question to ask.
Hmm…, why? That’s what we talked about in school today
I wish they taught you more concrete and effective things about the world in school. But anyway, let me explain. Question – what is “the world”?
This planet, and all the people on it.
Okay. Are all people the same?
No, each person is different.
Right, each one of us is totally unique, with different desires, needs and thoughts. So, what do you mean by “making the world a better place”? better for whom? better in what way?
I don’t know – safer, richer, more advanced?
Okay, how do you know that all people want to be safer or richer or more advanced?
I assume that being safer and richer is better for everyone.
Why do you assume that? I know a lot of people that are perfectly fine risking their lives every day in car racing and enjoy it, I know people that won’t like to be richer and are perfectly fine where they are. So who are you to decide for them that the world needs to be safer or that everyone needs to be richer?
I was just assuming it’s good for everyone.
You can’t assume those kind of things. Forget about the world, I don’t even know what is good for you and you don’t know what is good for me. Each of us is so different, that assuming anything about what will make them happier, is false by definition.
So how does one know what is good for him?
Now that is a very valid question and a hard one to answer.
If you want to know how to become happier, you’ll have to know yourself really well and discover what are those things that make you happy. The best way to know, is think about how you react to things – what pleases you, what makes you uncomfortable, what bores and what excites you. Those are important signals to who you are and what makes you tick. Those things are hints to the life you should aspire to live.
You mean, like the way I get excited about a new Manga book?
Exactly, that fact that you like Manga drawings says something about you. I don’t understand what you find in those cartoons, but that doesn’t matter and you shouldn’t care about what I think about Manga – this is your thing and you should explore it all the way.
So you think I should be a Manga artist?
First, it doesn’t matter what I think. You should be the one deciding about that. Secondly, you need some time alone to think about what it is that you specifically find exciting, are those the drawings, or characters or the storylines, or maybe it is something else?
Understanding exactly what you like and how to go about getting more of it, is one of the toughest things for a person to figure out. For some people it is very obvious, people usually say “they were born to do that” about them. You should discover what you were born to do and what will bring you the most happiness.
But what if what I like is not productive or regarded as important? what if I just like to play games?
My suggestion is not to accept other people’s standards to what is considered “productive” or “important”. Someone is making a very good living from drawing those Manga books, and creating the games you’re playing with, right? Is that “important”?
It’s important for me.
Right, and I guess it is important for him or her as well. So disregard what other people say and just do your thing. Many people “decide” on what they are going to be without thinking about who they really are, what they are good or bad at. You shouldn’t be a businessman if business doesn’t interest you, and you shouldn’t be a doctor if curing people is boring to you. You should take the time to understand yourself and then do what you can to build yourself the right life that will make you the happiest you can be.
If everyone followed that advice – the world will be a better place – one person at a time. No one could or should “make this world a better place” for anyone other than him or herself – if they tell you otherwise, they want something from you.
So I need to think about what I truly like?
Yes. Understanding that is a key to happiness.
Okay Dad. I’ll think about it.
You do that. The time just before you fall asleep is a great time to think about it.
That means I need to go to sleep now?
I guess so.
Good night Dad.
Good night my dearest.
Why are you asking?
I saw a billboard saying “Abortion is murder” and I couldn’t decide what to think about it.
You chose a complex one, but I think it is great that you think about those things. So let’s see if we can break it down together.
There is a presumable conflict between the right of a mother to her own body and the right of the fetus to live. On one hand, the mother can decide to abort the pregnancy because it is her body and the fetus is part of it.
But isn’t that murder Dad? It is killing a human being…
You’re running too fast. Murder of what? What is a human being? It is important to define those first because wrong definitions of terms and concepts are the root to the errors most people make. Back to the conflict – is it correct to assume the mother has a right to her own body?
Yes, but she has another life inside her body, it is not just about her any more.
Right. So we have to consider if the embryo or fetus has a right to its own life.
Why “consider”? It is a living thing, it has a right to live.
This is the root of the issue. The presumable conflict between the right of the mother and the right of the embryo.
Let’s discuss the embryo or fetus. Does an unborn fetus have rights? If you remember, we’ve discussed where rights come from.
I remember. It is what we need to protect in order for people to live a human life in a society. Life, freedom and property.
And those are reserved to humans only. So the question we need to answer is – “Is an unborn baby a human being in a social context?”. Rights did not come from a god or a government, it came from the nature and requirements of human beings living rationally and peacefully together. A fetus does not live together with anyone yet, it is part of the mother’s body.
It will become a human being if we let it develop.
True, but that is not the test it has to pass in order to have rights. The fetus is not a human being yet, it is still a potential and we can’t hold potential as a standard. It will create a contradiction and…
…contradictions don’t exist in reality. I know and I agree. But why can’t we regard the potential as a standard?
Because in reality only actions count, not potential. If we held potential as a standard, we’d have to give straight A’s to the most intelligent kid in the class without testing him or her, or let the best football team win the championship before the season starts – all because of their potential. The actual reality is what counts and this is why the embryo is not considered a human being yet, and therefore it doesn’t have the rights of a human being.
So when does it become a human being?
Nature has given us a very well defined standard. It happens when the fetus becomes a separate organism – when it comes out of the mother and is separated from her while taking its first breath. At that exact moment its human rights kick in and nobody should be allowed to harm him or her in any way.
This is why abortion is not immoral if the mother decides on it rationally and murder has nothing to do with it because the fetus doesn’t have rights.
But with technology you can take a fetus out of the mother much earlier and keep it alive as a separate organism.
Technology has nothing to do with the moral principle involved. The mother has the right to her own body and the fetus is her property until it it is separated from her. No one has the right to do anything against the mother’s decision and it is perfectly legitimate for her to decide to have an abortion at any given point before the actual birth.
So the fetus doesn’t count at all? It is terrible to think about ending the life of a fetus.
It is a tormenting thing to decide on because the fetus has a huge value, especially to the mother and father who might see in it a potential to become one of a human life’s greatest values – a child. But in some cases having an abortion is the logical, rational thing to do because there are other values to consider.
What could be more important that a life of a baby?
Remember, I said the life of an unborn baby. It’s important to make that distinction.
Let me give you an example which is less trivial than the case of a deformed or sick fetus. Let’s say that a young couple that did not marry yet has an unexpected pregnancy. Both the mother and father are unprepared to be parents, they are in school preparing for their careers and they’re not even sure that they are going to stay together.
Now, it is hard to estimate or quantify the price this couple is going to pay if society forces them to have the baby. A life with an unwanted child is not the same life anymore. Even if they give it up for adoption there is an enormous psychological price to pay for the rest of their lives. The course of their entire lives will change including the option to become more independent and to have a child when they are ready for it. There are millions of lives destroyed because of unwanted pregnancies not being aborted due to the current morality in our society.
Society should have no say in this case. This is an individual decision by the mother as it is her property. This is why the sign you saw is wrong and dangerous. If we accept the right of society to force the mother not to have an abortion, we will find it impossible to morally defend many other basic individual rights and freedom.
I guess it is the mother’s decision after all. But it still very sad.
It is sad and this is why we should carefully plan our actions to prevent those cases. The irony is that the some of the same people preaching against abortion also preach against birth control. But that is another topic.
I have something to tell you. I think you just proved that you’re ready for it.
What is it Dad?
Your mother and I decided to have an abortion 5 years before we had you.
Yes, and it is the smartest decision we ever made. We were not ready for a child back then.
And you got to have me…
And I got to have you.
I love you kid.
I love you Dad.
Just kidding. Just make sure to read Douglas Adams one day.
That is the question of all questions, kid. I hope you’re not too tired – this requires a lot of thinking. And because it is such an important question, we’ll have to go about this slowly and thoroughly. Don’t fall asleep, you promise?
I’m fine Dad. So what is it?
Let’s start from the beginning. What is life?
Life is something that living things have.
True. But what exactly is it? What defines a living thing?
Hmm… They can move.
Right, living things can move, but what defines living things is that they move by themselves. What happens when a living thing dies?
It stops moving.
And it becomes inanimate like any other indestructible materials.
Like a rock?
Yes. And note that the ability of a living thing to move is conditional and temporary as they can die and become inanimate. An inanimate thing’s existence is unconditional and eternal. So what do living organisms have to do to stay alive?
Yes, they need outside fuel to get energy. But also look at the way they are structured. They have organs that are designed to sustain their lives like a heart, kidneys, blood and so on. Living things act to achieve something very specific – to achieve a goal.
You mean a goal to stay alive?
Exactly. Only living things have a goal they are trying to keep themselves alive. Life is the value they are trying to achieve and sustain. Now, is a life of an ameba looks like the one of a tiger?
No, they are very different.
Every organism has a proper way of action. That is its nature. A human being has a specific nature and a proper way of action to keep and enhance his or her life. Now here comes an important concept:
Life is the standard of value.
Not sure I got it Dad. What do you mean by standard of value?
Life is the ultimate goal and it defines the standard by which we judge any action. If you do something that supports your life, it is a proper action, like breathing, eating and thinking. Those are necessary to you as a human being. A bird needs to eat worms and learn how to fly, that is what is proper for it. Now nature made it a little easier for us to judge what is proper or improper for us. Every organism has a mechanism to tell it if it is doing well or not. It is the pleasure and pain mechanism. Pain tells you that something is wrong and you are failing in sustaining your life, pleasure tells you are succeeding.
So when I fall and hurt myself, that means nature is telling me that I just did something wrong?
Basically, yes. Hurting yourself is not good for you.
But what about putting that medicine that burns on a scratch? It hurts, but it is actually good for you.
You mean an antiseptic. Yes, this is the unique thing about humans, we have something even more sophisticated that pleasure and pain – we have a reason. We know that putting that antiseptic will hurt, but also that it is good for us in the long run.
That is pretty simple so far, but when you asked the question “what’s the meaning of life?” you meant to ask what is the meaning of a human life, your life. Right?
So what do you think is so different about humans?
We think. We talk.
Right. We can think and so our action is not automatic. Nature didn’t program us to instinctively know how to lead our lives like a bug or an elephant. We have awareness, choice and free will. So because man is a creature of free will, it has another mechanism other than pleasure and pain.
It has the happiness or suffering mechanism. That is the pleasure and pain mechanism of your mind. It is the mechanism telling you if your decisions are going in the right or wrong direction.
So if I do the right things to make life better, I will be happy?
Yes. And here’s your answer – Pursuing happiness is the meaning of life. Happiness is a long lasting state where your mind and body are doing well, are flourishing, and are healthy. Now, understanding what are the “right things” that will make you happy – that’s the more complicated question, but as long as you remember that life is the standard, it will be much easier.
So how can I know what are the “right things” that will make me happy?
You’ll have to evaluate every action according to the standard – is it enhancing your life? is it good for you in the long term? does it contradict any other action?
And here is the hard part – Our mind is a very sophisticated organ but it has a specific nature. The way it perceives, analyzes and understands reality is through concepts and if you understand how concepts are formed, you’ll understand what is the right way to form those concepts. This will allow you to understand, cope with and master reality that is all around you.
Our mind’s nature defines what makes us happy. It will take too long to explain why, but for now, I can just tell you that if follow the following principles, you’re more likely to be happy. Ready?
You should think rationally about everything. Experience and enjoy your emotions, but don’t make decisions using them.
Be productive and creative. Express yourself and allow yourself to experience success in mastering something.
Be independent. Learn how to take care of yourself. Learn from and enjoy other people, but don’t become dependent on anyone.
Be principled and have the integrity to always act according to your principles.
be honest and never fake reality. Evading reality will always hurt you eventually.
Treat your fellow men with justice. Judge them according to their value to you and always respect their rights.
Be proud and respect yourself.
There you go. I told you what the meaning of life. Now you can go to sleep.
That’s not enough, Dad. How do I do all of that?
That is another big question. How about we talk about it tomorrow?
Okay. Are you happy Dad?
Yes I am kid. My life is on the right track. Are you?
Yes Dad. I am.
Happy dreams kid.
Why do you ask, kiddo?
Well, I was arguing with some friends in school and they said I am an extremist and that my ideas are too radical and one-sided.
You know, whenever you’re confused about a term, the best thing to do is look at the dictionary. After all, every word in our language is a concept trying to describe a specific characteristic of something and to distinguish it from all other concepts.
The word “extreme” stands for a high degree of something in relation to an average or the ordinary. It is easy to understand the meaning of extreme temperature, size, power, etc. The problem that it doesn’t tell us anything about how good or bad that degree is.
Why not? Isn’t extreme always a bad thing?
Is extreme health bad? is moderate sickness good?
Is extreme intellect bad? and what about extreme stupidity?
In some areas in life like nutrition, exposure to the sun and physical exercise, moderation is good. But in others, the more extreme, the better. The word extreme or extremist by itself says nothing about the value of the thing measured although this term is abused today to describe something negative.
Hmm… so what about holding extreme views or opinions?
The problem with what your friends told you is that extreme ideas are somehow negative. Let’s think about it for a second. If an idea is correct and positive, what can be bad about holding that extreme view? What can be wrong about extremely advocating human freedom? Is it bad to have extreme integrity? To be extremely honest or productive? No.
The worst thing about society today, and especially politicians who represent the common view, is that they praise the ordinary, the moderate and the compromise. If someone holds a non compromising or radical view, there must be something wrong about it.
Reality is extreme. It has unequivocal laws that are consistant and eternal. So if we hold ideas that represent reality, we should be as extreme as possible and as principled as possible. We should be extremely consistant – same as reality.
So are you an extremist?
I am an extremist in my principles. I am an extreme advocate of rationality, of justice, of independence, of integrity and honesty.
I am against people that are moderates in their ideas, those who compromise irrationally, who think that the middle of the road, the center and the ordinary have any virtue.
Radical, principled people are the ones driving our society forward. They do not compromise and they are extremists if you compare them to the ordinary men today. They live their lives to the maximum and I hope you will live an extreme life.
Good point. So I’m not giving up. I’ll continue to argue with them till they realize they’re wrong.
Don’t waste too much time on it. Some people will never get it.
Good night dear. Have extremely sweet dreams.
Oh, I guess we got to that point, ha?
Dad, I am a teenager, what did you expect?
Nothing less, kiddo. I am proud you even asked me for my opinion, most kids don’t consult with their parents about this issue.
Well, I can’t seem to think about anything else lately…<smile>
Okay. Let’s start with what you think sex is.
You know, a man and a woman doing… the thing.
The thing. What is “the thing”? the act itself, you mean?
True, that is part of what sex is, but the physical aspect is only one part of what is going on during an act of love making.
There is a profound mental aspect going on as well that even precedes the physical act. First, the couple need to be attracted to each other and only then decide to stand naked in body and soul in front of each other and celebrate their values.
Yes. I think that sex is a profound act of pleasure that is about celebrating life, values and the fact that you desire someone and are worthy to be desired by them. It is a deep, intimate, physical manifestation of spiritual love, where mind and body are one in enjoying your partner through your own body.
I thought you’re going to give me an explanation of how sex “works”, Dad. You know, how the bodies are getting together and that I should be careful not to get someone pregnant. I didn’t expect it to be about celebration of values.
You’ll figure out how “it works”, that is the easy part.
What some people do not get about sex their entire lives, is that it is everything that you are bundled into one experience – your body, your values, your passions, desires and sense of life. Whoever views sex as a physical only exercise, meaning an act with no idea or value, misses out on the true enjoyment of sex. They see sex as “meat-rubbing” and treat it as a primitive or barbaric ritual.
The same goes for idea with no action, like the people who think that romantic love can be detached from sex – as if our mind is a separate entity from our body. Those people end up perverting sex into horrific acts that I really don’t want to talk about. I will just say that some religion beliefs has a lot to do with that.
And what about people who enjoy watching porn for instance? Where is the value there?
Sex IS physical, there is no question about it.
But it is only a part of the picture. You have to use caution when associating sex with only the physical aspect. You have to put it in perspective and think rationally about what is healthy and what is not. Porn can be erotic and arousing, but it can also include abuse and degradation – so you have to be very careful about those representations of sex.
On the other hand, you should think about sex, explore and experience all that the human body and mind have to offer.
You should also respect sex. It is a reflection of you and who you are. You can know a lot about a person by knowing who they sleep with and who they are attracted to. Choose the right partner, don’t ever fake it. Regard sex as a sacred experience reserved for those worthy of your romantic love.
What about being attracted to a girl I hardly know? How do you explain that?
That is a result of the potential values you see in her.
You see the way she looks, the way she moves, talks and behaves. All that information enables you to evaluate, even superficially, her character, personality and of course – how sexually attractive she is. Body and mind are one – it is a package and this is why you react emotionally and physically at the same time.
And when you get to know that girl a little more, then something extraordinary happens. You either realize she is a fake, and then your physical and emotional attraction to her diminishes, or hopefully, she turns out to be everything you dreamed of and more, in which case you mind and body react simultaneously.
This is the nature of human love and sexual attraction.
I knew I was going get a complex answer. I almost regret asking…
Man is a complex organism kid. It would be boring otherwise.
And by the way, sex would be the same as eating if it was only about the “thing”.
That’s true. Well, I guess I’ll have to ask that girl out and get to know her a little better…
Good night Dad.
Good night Kiddo.
Is it that bad, kid?
Yes Dad, it’s awful. I can’t wait for schooldays to be over.
Why is that, kiddo?
The subjects are just not interesting. I sit in class trying to keep myself awake most of the time.
That’s not good. I don’t envy you. But I don’t think that the real reason is the choice of subjects.
I think it is the METHOD that is wrong.
Let me explain. You are learning about World War II history these days – right?
And they ask you to remember so many details about it.
Yes, it takes forever to memorize all of it.
And I bet you’ll forget almost everything the day after the test.
So, I think that the real reason you are not interested in this fascinating period in history is because of the WAY it is presented to you. If your teacher presented you the sequence of events as a story with one event leading to another and with logical explanations of the reasons and causes that led them to happen – memorizing it will be a much easier task.
For example, if you really understood WHY and HOW Hitler got to power in Germany and what kind of ideas transformed a whole nation to a group of mass murderers, you would never forget it and potentially draw important conclusions about man’s nature.
I think you’re right. It is easier for me to remember stuff I understand.
I also think that if the teacher would ask you to guess what happened next and then analyze what really happened and why, you could develop a deeper understanding of what shapes history and maybe what will shape the future.
So you see kid, it is a matter of METHOD. Unfortunately, the method they use in your school doesn’t make you truly understand and doesn’t keep you motivated.
Why is that, Dad?
It is how our minds work. Your mind is striving to think, to understand and to integrate many events into underlying concepts or principles. This is called INDUCTION or INTEGRATION.
You cannot hold hundreds of disjoint events in your mind without reducing them into an integrated sequence that makes sense.
This is true for other subjects like math – it would be more effective focusing on understanding the PRINCIPLES better rather than giving you 100 exercises of the same subject, thinking you’ll learn by repetition.
I agree. It is just a waste of time, yet I get those kind of exercises for homework almost every day.
Did I tell you that I don’t envy you?
Yes you did… So why don’t they improve it and make it more interesting?
Sadly, most of the school system today is run by the government. It is a monopoly that stifles competition and thus innovation.
Maybe Mom and I should start saving and move you to a private school next year.
Maybe you should.
Maybe. I just need to decide if your education is more important than this new car I want to buy.
Just kidding, kid. You gave me something to think about.
You did too Dad.
Good night little thinker.
Good night big thinker.