Between Nature and Nurture: A Discussion on the Sculptors of Our Personalities

For countless years humanity has asked itself what made us who we are. Why are some of us thieves and murderers, whilst among them also exist those who would lay down their lives for a reward they would never see? This question, and many more like it, has prompted numerous, often contrasting answers concerning the processes which shape our unique personalities—some proposing that it there might not be processes at all.

Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, and various other religions purport that we become whoever any one of their gods want us to be. How we think, feel, act, are all already decided before we were even born. The only element that could possibly change the nature of a man, are the interventions of the divines. Or at least, that’s what their scriptures say.

While the pseudoscience of eugenics similarly suggests that our personalities are completely sculpted in the womb. Our genetic heritage dictate the kinds of persons we will turn out to be, and there is absolute nothing we can do to change the outcome. Racists and bigots—to take an extreme example, people akin to Adolf Hitler—adhere to this view, deluding themselves into thinking that certain races are born in higher stations, and the rest in lesser places.

Yet there exists what is called the Blank Slate theory, often known by the more decorated name of Tabula Rasa. Within its perspective, each human being is born without any psychological trait, and that these characteristics are instilled only via the process of growing up. The environment plays the role of gods in this view, as the theory posits that we are all infinitely malleable to the peoples, happenstances, and whatever other affecting factors floating in the atmosphere around us.

Then there is the Noble Savage literary concept turned into something of a theory; an idealistic claim that states humans are inherently good and kind, it is just society ruined the inherent goodness in our hearts. Many would like to believe in this ideal—myself included—unfortunately it has next to no supporting evidence. Contemporary nomadic tribes living outside of modern civilization, the supposedly corrupting force, regularly commit genocide, and the intact remains of our long-gone ancestors showcase plethoras of battle wounds—discrediting the hypothesis in its entirety (Pinker, 2002).

But which of the above supposition are true? Are we destined to be as nature designed us, be it good or evil? Or are we like the moulds of sculptures, able to be shaped in whatever fashion the environment desires? The answer, rather unsurprisingly, lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.

In 1998, the psychology researcher Judith Rich Harris developed what she calls the Group Socialization theory; outlined in her book The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do. According to her idea, we neither have genetic or supernatural destinies, nor are we so easily influenced by the things around us. Both nature and nurture—i.e. the environment—play crucial roles in shaping our personalities. Furthermore, the two may have equally powerful impacts on our psyches (Harris, 1999).

Harris arrived at the conclusion of nature and nurture sharing the same power in the development of our minds via identical-twin studies. Or more precisely, the pairs who where separated shortly after birth, by adoption or other causes. These researches provide crucial information for allowing scientists to designate which parts of our personality are genetically transmitted.

At this point of the discussion, we should dismiss the idea that people are completely blank slates. Analyses conducted on families, siblings, cousins, and so on have revealed that some traits—such as temperament, sociability, and such likes—are passed down via genetic means (Pinker, 2002). Though this transmission is by no means absolute, as the process of reproduction is complicated by factors the likes of mutations and the presence of alleles; to an extent randomizing the genetic make-up of an offspring. However, twin-studies have the potential to indicate exactly how much the randomization affects a child, but they once had a debilitating limitation: they cannot pinpoint precisely which items are genetically heritable, or are the results of being raised in similar environments.

Hence, Harris wisely examined the twins who were separated at birth. By examining sets of twins who grew up in separate, and potentially very distinct environments, she could more accurately identify the traits that are genetic, and the ones carved by the chisels of the environment. Her findings are nothing short of surprising.

From a list concocted from psychological tests (whose names I’ve stupidly forgotten, but can be found in Harris’ book) designed to find similarities between persons, separated twins have been found to be more attuned to one another than any other pair of humans. Ranging from political views, levels of attachment to romantic partners, tastes in music, and so on, the twins harbor a fifty-percent rate of correlation. That is, half of their respective traits can be found in their counterparts—something that cannot be said even for fraternal twins raised in the same household.

What makes Harris’ discoveries worthy of utmost attention though, are the implications they generate. From her observations, Harris concluded that nature and nurture have a fifty-fifty divide over how much influence they hold over us. I.e. we are the results of the collaboration between our parents’ genetic legacy, and the people and objects the environment has placed around us. And quite surprisingly, parents have little to no influence on us. Each of these statements of course require some degree of explanation, lest they be considered overtly ambitious fabrications.

Firstly, let us consider the children of an immigrant family. Do they use the language, accent, and fashion-styles of their parents, or do they instead adopt the norms of the native children surrounding them? We’ve all been children, and some of us probably have only just reached adulthood, we know what it’s like to so desperately want to “fit in.” But to do so, these immigrants would have to instill the culture foreign to their parents. Humans are social creatures, after all, and we grow distressed each time we’re treated as outcasts. In the eyes of our anatomy, we begin to produce stress hormone the likes of cortisol (Gruenewald, Kemeny, Aziz, 2006).

From an evolutionary standpoint, humans lack the strength, razor-sharp fangs, and stocky hides of our competitors. For our long-gone ancestors to have survived—all the while successfully reproducing—the harsh tests concocted by Mother Nature, they had to band together. The production of stress hormones when failing to find cooperative partners is the evolutionary incentive we have to urge us into bonding with fellow humans, and punish those who might have preferred isolation. Such is the cold logic of evolution.

Adaptability, in terms of sociability, has been crucial for the success of our species. We humans have always had to use our genetic gifts, and the things we have, especially people, around us to thrive. Hence, the fifty-fifty division. If we had been “designed” by evolution to use only one of the tools available to us, and how they influence the kind of person we’d eventually become, we would not have reached the heights we’re in today. Why the environments has so much power over our members is a consequence of our now extremely refined survival strategy. Thus, an exactly equal percentage of shares might not be the most precise measurement, but it does reflect the reality of it all.

Further arguments can be made by observing the development of individual humans. As we grow older, we rake in more and more of the harbored by the people around us; teenagers who smoke and drink because their friends do, tastes in clothing as dictated by what is popular among our peers, et cetera.

As for our genes, they’ll stay the way they’ve been from the wound until the end of our lives. We carry the same propensities throughout the years, for intelligence, competitiveness, and other genetically-heritable traits. Yet for the sake of social acceptance, we control how conspicuous our genetic perks are; much like the people who pretend to be as clueless as those around him, even though he’s actually far brighter, or the guy who nods along in the conversation without understanding a single point said in the discussion. To put it simply, we control out starting personalities to make them more acceptable to the people we meet.

Now for the case of parental influence, there are good reasons to consider it negligible. Since, as we continue to mature, we begin to stray away from the need to constantly be protected by our parents. Independence is  an essential element of adulthood, and as a consequence, one ceases to be in the same environment as that of his or her parents; letting the nurture part of development be under the control of wherever we end up in. But this is not to say that parenting is an ignoble task.

Parents are charged with the caring of hapless, helpless children. Their duty is to ensure that these vulnerable humans one day turn out to be a contributing member of society—perhaps more. Moreover, they are also responsible for the happiness, health, general welfare of their offspring. But how to do so, given that evidence suggests their influence wanes away rather quickly? As a starting point, parents can select what kind of environments their children would be in. If they can manage a strong relationship with the child, then they could potentially be one of the peers considered influential to the development of the child. These are the options parents have, though I admit they might be incomplete since I do not yet have a child, but they are valuable and powerful ones.

With that note of gratitude for parents–including mine–concluded, we can continue discussing the subject at hand.

Who we are, and what we’ll become, is next to unpredictable. The factors of genetics alone complicates matters to the point of being nearly incomprehensible, add to it the ever-changing elements of culture, and we might as well declare that we can never be sure as to who will be what. An excess of components to consider virtually makes it indeterminable to foresee an individual’s future.

But I consider Harris’ research to be a bright light in a world desperate for one. Her work means that there are always possibilities for us to rise above our stations, to be more than what our strands of DNA, where and when we were born, commanded us to be.

Humans have for millennia held one particular advantage over the other creatures of the animal kingdom, one that has allowed us to prosper over all these years: we can adapt to almost any possible situation presented to us. Uncertainty lets in the possibility for success against all odds. And justifies the most naive ambitions we hold in our hearts. Harris’ research elegantly reaffirms this hopefulness, and it is one that I am very appreciative of.

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Reference:

Gruenewald, Kemeny, Aziz. 2006. Subjective social status moderates cortisol responses to social
threat. PubMed. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16412608

Harris, Judith R. 1999. The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do. New York: Free Press.

Pinker, Steven. 2002. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. London: Penguin Books.

The Erotica Shield: How Access to Pornographic Media Prevents Sexual Crimes

When we think of pornography, what images pop up in our heads? Are they merely the rubbing of genitals, foreplay, sexual intercourse, the most absurd and grotesque fantasies made true? Of course, these all entail what one might see in a porn video posted online. Then the more philosophical concern that humanity has found a new low in its moral standing, appears in the minds of the morally conservative. However, these two concepts hold a surprise for us all, both for the consumers of porn, and the ones who are enraged over its existence and prevalence. That surprise comes in the form that pornography, with all the negative elements associated with it, could possibly be a protective shield for the vulnerable peoples the likes of women and children.

We rarely, if ever, associate positive attributes with pornography. When uncensored breasts, vaginas, and penises appear on the big or silver screens, we shield the eyes of our children and act as embarrassed or neutral as possible. Many societies—especially those of the first world—to hold the idea that nudity and sex should not be made public and confined only to the most intimate of interactions. Hence, governments such as that of Indonesia’s, establish censorship laws. Something as unprovocative as a woman’s cleavage are blurred, or at times cut out entirely from the television, editing the stream so that the camera focuses on some other usually irrelevant object. For theatrical releases, sex-scenes are completely cut out. Meanwhile, the internet has recently become one of the primary objects of concern; a topic we will return to later on in this post.

There are consequences to hindering access to erotic images, be they gratuitous or artistic. The most obvious being fewer and fewer members of the populace would be able to consume them. Whilst I support the movevent somewhat, as it restricts pornography to children—though the missing aspect being that they are still not allowed to enjoy such sights at the ages of eighteen or twenty—the unexpected consequence of implementing a restriction to pornography might just be intolerable.

According to a study by the Professor Emeritus Milton Diamond, who specializes in the field of human sexuality, a controversial correlation has been discovered between pornography and sexual crimes. By analyzing how accessible pornographic media are in certain countries, and comparing them to the rates of rapes, gropings, etc., the professor came to a surprising conclusion: the more accessible pornography is to a population, the less likely are their members of to be sex-offenders (Diamond, 2009).

Now, it is important to remember the number one rule in research, “correlation does not mean causation; there have to be some supporting arguments for Diamond’s study to be awarded credibility. And—though I’m not exactly an expert on the subject, merely somewhat knowledgable about psychology and its sub-field of evolutionary psychology—I will try my very best to offer some useful support.

Humans, especially those who have experienced it, have an unquenchable desire for sex. It is part of the evolutionary strategy that we have adopted, one which propels us to continue to place reproduction above all else—hence affairs, one-night-stands, and so on. Yet the means by which evolution drives us to procreate is trough pleasure, something found only amongst humans, bonobos, dolphins, and a few other species a currently can’t recall. For the other members of the animal kingdom, sex isn’t thought to be a sought-after prize, rather an activity as dull and mundane as excreting waste products, eating, and other similarly unexciting tasks. As a consequence of how pleasurable sex is to us compared to our fellow animals, humans mate with its own species not merely to procreate, but to derive as much enjoyment as possible from sex.

Sadly, as many of us unfortunately know, sex isn’t particularly easy to come by. Unless we continuously hire prostitutes, we don’t come home every single night with a partner eager to get in bet with us. We’ve termed this rather unpleasant condition, and its implied grievances as “sexual frustration,” where there is nothing more desirable to us than holding a meeting between our genitalia with that of another’s. It is admittedly quite humiliating to find ourselves in such a seat, but the frustration is not uncommon, considering that’s all I hear whenever I talk with my classmates.

Now since we are all adult enough here, or I’m hoping close to the appropriate age, the act of masturbation done by the sexually frustrated—or those of who are just plain bored—should draw no surprised gasps. How else would one fulfill the need for sexual intercourse when there are not that many people willing to help? Besides, masturbation causes harm to no one (and actually reduces the risk of prostate cancer), and should not induce overblown reactions as if it’s something we haven’t done as a species throughout our hundreds of thousands of years on this planet.

However, masturbation isn’t accomplished so easily, despite the popularized image of teenaged kids requiring next to no aid for it. Masturbation requires a bit of visual stimuli. The more elaborate methods even require specific sets of tools such as vibrators, dildos, and so on. Yet masturbation is a last resort for the fulfillment of sexual needs. It is the only way for the sexually frustrated to satiate their appetites, like a homeless man eating stale and possibly moldy pieces of bread from the alleys, masturbators seek out pornographic media out of desperation.

Imagine the outcome of taking one of the most crucial objects required to masturbate: pornography, the one of the very few elements which can provide the much needed visual stimuli. It would be akin to taking away the aforementioned bread from the homeless man; an act that would incite some form of rebuttal from the victim.

It is unsurprising to find that the sexually frustrated, without their much-loved porn, would be forced to resort to other measures. These would be of the harmful, amoral, and illegal kinds. Rapes, gropings, solicitation of prostitutes, and an endless list of despicable deeds would be committed by those depraved and starved enough from a good they consider essential to their well-being.

Masturbation, as I have said, is a last resort for the sexually frustrated. Though it cannot be denied that the positive aspect of it, is that one’s frustration would be slightly curbed for a while, at the very least take the person’s mind away from sex—although this is quite embarrassing, I can personally vouch for the existence of this effect.

Restricting access to porn means taking away the fuel for that last resort. The side-effects of which, as previously suggested, would be incredibly unpleasant for the victimized parties. The incredibly desperate would vent their frustrations via other means; ones that hurt and in some cases have already lead to the deaths of the victims. Rapes and homicides being the extremes of the spectrum.

Access to pornography is beneficial for the vulnerable: both women, children, and at times men, alike. It shields them away from would-be predators via means of distraction. Porn preoccupies the more perverted of our societies, and it prevents them from committing the atrocities we rage and weep over when broadcast on the evening news.

I cannot say that increasing access to porn would completely eliminate sexual crimes. There are those plagued with a hunger for committing hurtful, dangerous sexual actions and deriving pleasure out of them. But even with this shortcoming, it is a moral imperative to reduce the chances of someone being traumatized, raped, and murdered as they walk home from their workplaces or schools. No matter what our views are on pornography, if its correlation with sexual crimes is indeed spot on, there is nothing to justify restricting access to a relatively harmless form of entertainment; one that has created jobs, industries, and now, shields those in need from potential sexual predators.

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Reference:

Diamond, Milton. 2006. Pornography, public acceptance and sex related crime: A review. Amsterdam:  International Journal of Law and Psychiatry Vol. 32 Issue 5, Elsevier Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160252709000715

Good or Evil: The Role of Environmental Factors on Human Morality

We humans are peculiar creatures. Each of us harbor contrasting views about the world we found ourselves in, some perceiving it to be one of hope whilst another sees is as a place of endless disappointments. With hypotheses such as these, at times well-informed or born out of random guessing, we act under their guises; to be champions of the people as one who believes the earth is a kind and just place, or a man notorious for his cruelty as he has seen only the darkest parts life has to offer, on simply someone who stands somewhere in between the two extremes.

The results of our thoughts, deeds, and decisions generated by our views create a plethora of doubts concerning the nature of human morality. Manifesting in the oft heard question of “are we good or evil?” we ourselves do not know where our species stands on the moral spectrum. Hence this post shall discuss and provide a hypothesis of the puzzle plaguing human nature. Via reviewing the actions of ancestors and ourselves, the various environments we found ourselves in throughout history; all with the employment of the harsh evolutionary logic that underlies the things we do, and the persons we become. Perhaps, by conducting this little hypothetical experiment, we could slightly add to the pool of knowledge regarding the reasons for why we are ourselves—animals capable of utmost brutality the likes of genocide, yet also of throwing ourselves to the fire for the sake of total strangers.

As a starting point, let us begin by discussing the Noble Savage hypothesis. A conception which purports that before civilization came to be—the processes of industrialization, urbanization, and so on—the men, women, and children of our species lived in almost complete harmony. A society in which all individuals are treated as equals, where all of us are eager to do utmost good, and would only commit acts of violence if our lives and those of the ones dear to us are threatened. I find it quite difficult to support this view.

The Noble Savage, frankly put, never existed throughout human history. Selfish and powerful individuals has always been and will always be part of our species’ tale. From the early days of our dawn in the continent of Africa, those with the power to rule over their fellow men did so, beginning the eras of classism and individualism. A time of climbing atop each other’s lifeless bodies to succeed was ushered in. Nightmarish stuff for supporters of the Noble Savage idea, exact opposites of what they had claimed to be the history of homo sapiens. This criticism does not come without evidence, and though I wish the imaginary wonder of an egalitarian society existed sometime in our past, the claim can be quite easily refuted.

In the evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker’s book,  The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, he discussed the Noble Savage ideal in great detail. Via analyzing the fossilized remains of our long-deceased ancestors, and observing contemporary nomadic tribes—which many scientists utilize as a model for the ways of life of our progenitors—acts of violence can be found in surprising abundance. Several of the more intact corpses analyzed showed cler sings of having been punctured, gashed, bludgeoned, et cetera by man-made objects. The tribesmen observed regularly committed murders, rapes, and genocides. Following tribal feuds, the total annihilation of rival clans’ males as well as their children are accompanied by the abduction and raping of the women. Moreover, these clan wars can be instigated by simple insults, or crimes as petty as theft; the things we from the more modern world would not consider worthy of killing over. Those left out of the civilized process are nowhere near noble, they are brutal, sadistic, and utterly remorseful when it comes to taking the lives of their enemies (Pinker, 2002).

To elaborate further on tribal conflicts, when seen from a numerical standpoint, they can be perceived as nearly negligible. A few dozen deaths can’t possibly compare to the number of coffins needed to house the bodies of soldiers who died in the World Wars, or even the corpses generated by international warfare. However, when we look at the data from a proportional point of view, that is by focusing on the death-rates, the percentage of fatalities found from inter-clan warfare is staggering. At times an entire population is effectively wiped off the map, nor spared such as what is expected in the resolution of modern conflicts. Such as when the Allies aided in the reconstruction of Japan and Germany after World War Two.

The unwritten wars of prehistory may been similar in terms of completely annihilating the defeated, and/or the part of integrating females into the victorious side. Sparing the women works for the benefit of the victors as they can be—forgive my usage of this overtly coarse analogy—repurposed as reproduction machines (of course, the males only saw the appeal of sex, not necessarily the expansion of their genetic legacy). Hence, a the winning tribe continued to grow by these means of fighting and plundering. Yet at some point we stopped the endless roaming, raping, killing, and infanticides. We suddenly preferred settling down in less temporary encampments. The question is why, and much to the dismay of Noble Savage supporters, the answer may lie in the birth of civilization.

When tribes grow large enough, gallivanting around the wilderness is no longer effective nor safe—too many people to keep tabs on at once (Marr, 2012). Ten or twenty is doable, but a hundred? A rather challenging ordeal considering the threat Mother Nature poses. Hence, attempts at settling down on relatively permanent lands began, enabled by innovations the likes of agriculture and construction methods able to withstand the weather. With this developmental step in humankind, a system needed to be made, one that could ensure that the tribe is performing at optimal levels and not squandering around precious resources like food and energy.

The division of labor is the answer. If all the men of a tribe went out to hunt wild beasts, positing that the population of the animals is always limited, their harvest would likely only be slightly more rewarding than that produced by a smaller group of select individuals. Furthermore, other duties required for survival would be abandoned had all the men gone—guarding their land, women and children, tool-construction and so on. Efficiency is essential for any clan hoping to thrive. Job-division is one of the many aspects of civilization, and it undoubtedly makes the wonders we see today possible.

Though with the division of labor comes intensified classism. In tribal societies, it is usualy the hunters who are treated as the elites of the society. They are handed larger shares of foods and more women to copulate with, than their stay-at-home brethren. This unfairness is caused partly due to the relative rarity of meat when compared to crops, as well as the physical fitness—where sexual selection plays a part—necessary to be an effective hunter. Simply put, they are often placed atop of the social ladder because of the nature of their work.

Classism is by no means a good, but it has its uses. Regardless, no man should be treated as lesser just because of the station he found himself in. Yet this type of segmentation allows for a somewhat unenjoyable harmony. Fights, occurrences which are more common among those considering themselves as equally footed, rarely breaks out when either one of the party “knows his place.” It’s an unappealing method of reducing conflicts, but it is certainly a good thing that today’s employers almost never have to fear being murdered by his employees—which is what would probably happen when someone throws out orders without having a recognized authority to do so.

Here is where we must return to the original question about the morality of man. There are few, if any, evidence supporting the Noble Savage’s idealistic vision of humankind. Man is brutal when left in a world where murder is of little consequence. But if we introduce this imaginary individual into what we know of as civilization, he would have to think twice before striking, or suffer the morbid consequences. Supposing he understands the situation he’s in, questions the likes of “What kind of punishment would happen if I did this?” and “Am I allowed to kill so and so?” alongside many more, would be subconsciously and consciously processed by his mind. Civilization provides additional factors into the calculating part of our brains. Some of which, like classism, enforced punishments for crimes, even job we have add to the pacifist hand of the scale.

Humans are adaptable, contextual creatures. When the climate is ‘kill or be killed’, we will follow it throughout its course for the sake of living. However, place a large enough population of peoples, give them some form of hierarchies and laws, and we would lay witness to the diminishing rate of of the deaths by human hands. This, I would argue, is because we are neither good nor bad.

The logic of evolution favors the species that can find the ways to survive long enough to reproduce. In the time of our predecessors, killing rivals and mating with their women were effective strategies. Yet civilization, with all its rules and social norms, accompanied by the means to administer them effectively, devalued the kill-plunder tactic. Instead of having to be battle-hardened, bloodthirsty warriors, the civilized need to rather obey the invisible laws surrounding him and fulfill the duties demanded of him to be evolutionarily successful. For being an outcast, imprisoned, or executed by one’s own peoples obviously give no boost to the reproductive chances of a person.

Whilst those who do not follow the path of civilization—which overwhelmed the more divisive members of our species due to the civilizing process resulting in larger population sizes, pools of resources, and other benefits enjoyed exclusively by the civilized—would be excluded from all the plusses made by progress: stability, security, chances to procreate without having to fight for a female, etc. Nearly all of the sought-after gains favored by evolution, are readily available without much risk to one’s health. If civilization does indeed allow for an individual’s genetic line to continue on, without having to resort to potentially fatal situation, it only makes sense that our species’ members who chose it would be more prosperous. Their rivals would be constantly plagued by the wilderness, uncertainties which could result in a sudden death—ones that may happen before the reproductive phase.

Goodness, morality, altruism all came from the civilizing process. In the sense that the environment provided by a civilized lifestyle is rarely shadowed by death—a logarithmic reduction of the possibility to perish while living in tribes. With the relief of having far less worries, one can concentrate on the things not necessarily related to survival.

Altruism and our sense of cooperation is inherent in our genes—otherwise no such thing as ancient tribes could have existed. It is fruitful to share our piece of beef with a starving neighbor, as such an act increases probability of a future return. A kind of informal investment, if you will. However, helping those in need, although at times indirectly beneficial to ourselves, isn’t free and unfortunately may come with too high of a cost. When we consider that tribal societies live on the most meager and basic of resources, it is no to see that sharing is rarer than amongst those living in more prosperous cities; giving away that slice of chicken might mean starvation in the days to come. Theft, squabbles over the tiniest scraps of foodstuff can result in bloodshed without the safeguards of civilization. People living in cities, except for the impoverished and homeless, would in all likelihood never encounter such unpleasantness.

When we have dinner with our friends or acquaintances, we openly share our meals. We ask, “Would you like another slice of pizza?” or “Want some more?” and likewise inquiries. This sharing be attributed to the safety-nets granted by civilization. In contemporary first-world countries, there are various security guarantees strewn about for their citizens: free healthcare and education, subsidies, grants, the list goes on. Compared to our ancient progenitors, we are living a life of luxuries unimaginable to them.

The level of fortunes enjoyed by people living in safe, stable, modern environments encourages kindness. When our food stocks are so plentiful, it sounds wrong not to share it, laying out the path for charities and such. The comfort we have allows us to be kinder, gentler, as we no longer have to worry about survival with the same tenacity as our now dust predecessors. Safety begets altruism.

To answer the question of good and evil, I propose that humans can—and have proven—adorn either one of the masks. The genetic components are there for us to be kind or cruel (unless we suffer from some strange abnormalities). But how we as individuals and groups turn out to be, relies heavily on the atmosphere of the locales we find ourselves in. Context, the environment, is key in shaping who we’ll eventually become; just as much as our genes dictate our paths in life.

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Reference:

Marr, Andrew. (2012). A History of the World. London: Pan Macmillan.

 Pinker, Steven. (2002). The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. London: Penguin Books.

Entertained by Waiting

I’m sure we’re all quite familiar with freemium genes the likes of FarmVille, Hay Day, and Clash of Clans. Games where one only needs to click the in-game objects and wait to succeed. For years I’ve ignored these digital constructs as—from my perspective—nothing more than cash-grabbing time sinks, ones that are not even worthy of the term “video games.” When my friends and acquaintances sent me invites and such likes on Facebook, I brushed them off; considering them as no more than spam messages broadcast by my social circle. They’re mere occasional annoyances that just had to be tolerated, I suppose.

Now I’ve been an avid video-gamer since I was perhaps three. My father bought me the now archaic games of Windows 98, and my siblings had a Sega Genesis which we all shared. With these pathways left wide open for me to enter, I experimented a lot with gaming. At first, they were simple distractions, ones unable to replace the model cars I raced around the house. Yet later on, I suddenly found my eyes glued to either the computer or television screens. Games gave me challenges, required me to think both in battle and puzzle-solving, all of which in diverse and unfamiliar ways. In short, those cartridges and floppy disks sucked away my free time like no other form of entertainment could. More so than football, biking, and anything else common for a four year-old of the 90s.

The fun of gaming, for my childhood-self, lies mostly on how much I was needed to complete tasks framed as crucial by the narrative: kill the bad guys, protect the innocent villagers, save the world, so on and so forth. As a child who has not yet reached a productive age, the sense of importance video-games granted me was enrapturing. Active participation, alongside the surrounding context of how in-demand you are within the game, are the crucial elements of what makes video-games fun.

Yet now, the video-game industry is experimenting with something entirely now. Attempts at creating what is in direct contrast with the nature of older games: passiveness. The mobile-gaming sector is chockfull of freemium titles where users only need to click, wait, and sometimes and sometimes spend actual money to be competitive in this category—including the aforementioned Hay Day and Clash of Clans.

The structure and “gameplay” of passive games are the polar opposites of their predecessors’ eras—the times of the Nintendo Entertainment System, Playstations, Xboxes. Gamers are not, in these freemiums, tested on skill, reflex, planning and all those other elements that make video-games a favorite pastime for many. In their place stand patience, sociability—as your social media’s accounts usually give bonuses based on your game-related interactions with your friends—as well as expendable income for those who just can’t wait for their corns to ripen. But this change of style, one which would have caused roaring laughters and odd looks when consoles and PCs were the juggernauts of gaming, has proven surprisingly fruitful.

Open up any app-store from your smartphone OS of choice and you’re guaranteed to see some freemiums on the tops of ‘most downloaded charts’. Financially, and at least popularity-wise, these digital items are rarely challenged in their market. Yet why are so many people playing games where they’re forced to wait and do nothing? This statement may sound odd, but perhaps the ‘doing nothing’ part is what makes these apps so successful.

As we gamers grow older, our list of responsibilities continue to pile on. Students are forced to juggle with their schoolworks and pervasive social lives, employees are left exhausted after a hard day’s work, and each and everyone of us are handed somewhat more than what our own plates can handle. We run out of the time and energy to repeat those six-hour long gaming sessions and all-nighters. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day, and strength in our physiques, to do those activities whilst still fulfilling our duties. But abandoning a hobby we’ve cultivated since childhood does not come easily; we needed a solution. For myself, and perhaps many more, the answer popped up in the form of freemiums.

I spend a lot of my time—maybe even all of it—studying, playing futsal, reading and writing day after day. By the time my day’s list of objectives have been checked away, either the sun has already set or I’d be feeling my muscles tearing themselves away from my bones. I.e. I’m too often too tired to play with my Xbox 360. But I do have to hold on to my cellphone a lot, for texts and calls, news articles, e-books, etc. So why not put some games in there, I asked. I could theoretically entertain myself four hours or mere minutes as I drift to sleep—often the few moments I have entirely to myself.

Currently, I’m occupied with a game called Clash of Kings. In it, you build up your army, city-slash-castle, try to protect them as best as you can, and send your forces to crush and plunder other players’ holds. The mechanics would be very familiar to anyone who’s played with freemiums: click, build/train/improve, and wait. I chose the game simply because of its relatively realistic art-style alone, since the gameplay would pretty much be identical to its competitors.

Yet Clash of Kings only serves as a kind-of gateway drug for my now ever-present freemium addiction. It led me to install other titles; Vega Conflict—which is basically Clash of Kings set in space with spaceships instead of Medieval Europe—the Hay Day cousin Jurassic Village and many more.

I enjoy each of these little games equally. I click, wait, and reap the rewards I gained from doing virtually nothing; for none of the actions I did in-game actually demanded me to think or even focus. And due to the hectic atmosphere of my recent days, the change of pace provide by these freemiums is most welcome. They allow for what can be perceived as a break from the business and chaos of my waking hours anywhere and anytime—letting me worry about nothing other than inconsequential numbers and pictures on a screen in peace. Wasting away on what I think are well-deserved breaks from reality, for the sake of unreal and insignificant characters existing as representatives of the ones and zeros behind them.

Thus, perhaps the rise of the freemiusms should be attributed to the “breaks for air” they give. Glancing at their target market of both children not yet capable of playing more sophisticated games, and working adults who are kept busy throughout the day, the assumption rings with some truth—at least for myself. Besides, who among us doesn’t need rest? A time of no worry and spent efforts? Many of us, especially those with full-time jobs crave for the tiniest of breaks; freemiums simulate those fleeting periods of having no responsibility and reward you for it.

The Big City

There are many Indonesians, born in the rural countrysides, who chose to depart from their homes to live in the great big cities. Their reasons are various, from thrill-seeking, to simply look for a better-paying job, and a few wish to realize better futures for themselves. Whatever their original motivations an overarching theme remains hovering over them: that of needing and wanting to find more money than what is available back home. Oddly enough, these peoples do not need to have reached adulthood to make a decision as heavy as leaving one’s home, merely willing enough—the youngest I’ve met was a thirteen year-old girl who worked as a stay-at-home housekeeper. But are their visions of wealth and prosperity possible? Is stepping away from one’s doorstep enough to propels one’s self to a better life and future? The answer to this question is a mixed and gloomy bag.

I’ve met and am friends with a lot of the migrant workers. I’ve heard plenty of their tales, both those that bring laughter and cheers all across the rickety dinner table, to the ones that would silence the murmurs of the crowd. I am not an expert on this specific category of individuals, by any means, but having spent time simply talking, eating, breathing side-by-side with them gave me a perspective I could not find in the books I scoured. To put it simply, for one to truly understand what living on the road, surrounded by poverty is like, one has to a certain degree involve himself into the lives of these unfortunate individuals.

The most accessible pathway for me to gain access to the lives of the workers is through my own employees. Very few of them hold a high-school diploma, all of them have left their villages looking for a better life—often at a time nearing adolescence—and each with strikingly different moral compasses. I’ll try to summarize their stories, the most important words they have told me, in this document. I am sure that I’ll miss out on a lot of crucial details, but for the sake of a clear narrative, some things have to be sacrificed. Not unlike leaving everything you’ve ever known all your life for a place you’ve only heard of in stories and seen in televisions: a sacrifice for an unknown outcome.

There’s a teenaged boy who works at my boarding house. He took a bus at the age of fifteen and has for a year never laid foot on his old front porch. First, when he had just reached the outskirts of Jakarta, he immediately found work, as a janitor slash cashier for a small bakery. The pay was well under the minimum wage designated by the Indonesian government, but the boy did not protest. He was nervous, afraid that nobody else would take on a frail, short person such as himself as an employee. With the added worry of not knowing anyone in the city, he immediately said yes to his future employer and began six months of twelve-hour long shifts.

The boy’s time at the bakery was, in his works, “unenjoyable.” His manager was strict, there were no bonuses for over-time, and though his tasks might seem untaxing to most, their sheer repetition made them “unbearable.” Then a friend came by, asking him if he was interested in another line of work, and the boy replied in the affirmative. That’s how he found himself working in my boarding house: cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing the residents’ laundry, acting as the occasional night-watch, and whatever other job is demanded of him. These jobs include and are not limited to limited construction work—fixing doors and faulty wiring—plumbing, and tending to the house owner’s chickens.

The boy claims that he enjoys performing his current duties. The benefits, he said, include having no formal work hours, having plenty of friends and acquaintances at all times, as well as free board and meals. “Not a lot of my friends have the freedoms I do. I mean, I still get to play soccer and stuff,” said the sixteen year-old. He hopes to one day save enough to open up a small business. “A street vendor, maybe selling food, or shirts, I still don’t know.”

But what of those who have went through the phases the boy is currently experiencing? The older men and women who own their very own shops, selling whatever it is they think the market demands? Are they as successful as the boy sees them to be? Sadly, the answer is a nearly absolute no. Reality often plays a cruel trick to trample the hopes of the young, and in this case it does the same thing as well.

Right outside of my boarding house’s parking lot is a small, dusty, roach-infested dive. The eatery serves nothing but instant noodles, porridge, and toast. Their drink selection is plentiful, yet each concoction is composed by instantly-prepared powders in individual sachets. The place is no five-star restaurant by any means, but I frequent it quite regularly for late-night dinners, thanks to my freshman budget.

Each night I went there, I would meet either one of the two owners: the quiet middle-aged wife, and the somewhat older and chattier husband. When I first took residence at the house right across from their hideaway, they barely said a thing; simply asking “what will you have?” preparing and serving my order, wait for the payment, then their eyes away to someplace I cannot see as they sat in the corner. If they were younger, I would’ve assumed that some illegal substances had been running through their systems. Yet this stasis between the three of us fortunately did not last for long.

As the eatery stays open for twenty-four hours, I would come and visit anytime I could not sleep or simply needed to write. The husband would be up at night-time until dawn, and he noticed the patronages I made in ungodly hours. To give a better picture, usually the people who would hang out until the sun rose in his place are wild, drunk teenagers. Not some nerdy-looking fellow with a laptop he could not take his eyes off of. If memory serves me well, I think the first non-transactional question he asked me was, “Alone again, Neth?” to which I said yes. Then we began to chat bit by bit. As I typed away, a quip or two would escape from either one of our mouths, bridging the gap between us.

With the days passing by, he and I grew to be friends of sorts. We do not hang out on our off times, but we would regularly talk whenever we meet up. Just the occasional “How is so and so?” and “The rain’s been really pouring down lately.” The smallest of stuffs, really. But from there we began divulging our life stories with one another, sparked by our mutual occupation of nearly-broke business owners.

The man, nearing the fifty-year mark, has never had any child. He feels that he and his wife are not “ready.” When I poked around and asked for an explanation, he said something in the tone of a truth, “We don’t have enough money.” I can’t say for certain whether or not economics is the only barrier between him and his wife having sons or daughters, though the sight of him often playing enthusiastically with the local children—those from the boarding house or the nearby school—suggests otherwise.

Does the man hope for something different in the future? A change in the financial sector perhaps? One which would lead him and his wife to a better life? When I inquired all these and more he somberly said “No. I’d like to hope. But this is all we’ve ever had. I’ll probably be running places like this one until I can’t walk.” Then why did he not look for better prospects elsewhere, maybe even somewhere closer to home. “Honestly, it’s all really the same. I don’t have the money to start up new, bigger shops—not even another eatery like this one. And back home there wouldn’t be any pay anyway.” At that I clammed my mouth shut. There is no point to rub salt on another’s wounds.

We have seen so far the story of young and hopeful boy, of a man and his who is content with poverty, but what those who have a family? Can a man and woman subject their own blood to the same discomforts and pains they’ve felt throughout their lives? To anyone with even the slightest bit of conscience, the answer would be plainly negatory. Yet is it possible to push upwards our sons and daughters? Letting them free from the hole the poor have found themselves in? To this, I can only offer a maybe.

There’s another pair of husband and wife who lives near me. These two live right next door to my flat. The wife is the housekeeper of our building, whilst the husband carries a trolley of Siomay (a type of dim sum) throughout the nearby grounds in search of hungry university students. The wife and I do not talk much, perhaps because she has seen the most vile abominations birthed by my dirty clothes, but the husband and I get along rather well. He and I share a cigarette or two every once in a while, have a little chat when he’s finished with his rounds, and has even played futsal (a smaller version of football) with me. He acts quite spry for his age of more than forty, and has a pleasant, cheerful disposition all day long.

With this man, I traded life-tidbits far faster than with the one from the eatery. He’s told me various stories, from where he grew up, what his hobbies are, and—most relevant to this article—how he came to find himself in Jakarta.

“I’ve been to Aceh, Medan, Padang,” he began, “actually, I can’t remember where I haven’t been. All I remember was that I was always looking for some type of work.” Few jobs paid in cash back at his village, as wages were paid in the form of crops and other goods. “I was bored at home, so I’ve been out and about since I was fifteen or sixteen.” Yet each trip came with their own costs. This man was not born into a family of wealth, that much is certain, and thus he brought along friends who could accompany him and tend to his needs, alongside working with him when the opportunity arises.

“I didn’t know what I was doing, really. Just wanted to see the world, I guess. I was not a very good person back then. I got into fights a lot, drank the nights away, you know the things kids do.” Unfortunately I do. “But then I met my wife. And I had to settle down, live steadily. I stopped fighting and drinking. One day we found out we were going to have our own baby. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know if I was supposed to jump up and down in joy, or piss myself with fear. Finally, I calmed down and tried to think things through. So many questions. How can I send him to school? What if he gets sick? What if he’s one of those ‘challenged’ [this part may have been slightly edited] kids you see so much on TV?” As he said these words, his face grew visibly worried, as if the mere memory of the announcement sent him back to that exact moment.

And the thought of having a child should worry any sane person: an extra mouth to feed, complete with extra social responsibility of having to always tend to the needs of your offspring. I personally can’t fathom such a responsibility. Yet this man, with his very limited pool of resources—financially and otherwise—has to bear such a weight. I had to ask him, “What did you do?” He pondered the question for a minute, processing it. “I just went on with my life. I have a son now, he’s three. We haven’t gotten him to school yet but we’re saving little by little. I’m hoping he’ll be in first grade by the time he’s seven.” Thankfully, his son had never been plagued by any ailments expensive to cure, and is currently being taken care of by the man’s grandmother in a remote village far from Jakarta.

“We’ll see what the future brings. I’ve been doing everything by the book, so everything should be all right.” Yet even at this he seemed uncertain, and I could only reassure him with a weak, “Yes. Everything should be.”

Those are the stories of the few peoples I’ve met, who went to the big cities expecting a much better, more luxurious life. What they received, instead, were ones that can only be deemed as run-of-the-mill. Their savings are little or nonexistent, their careers unsteady, or if they can hold on to it, unsatisfying. They themselves along with their children, did not find what they were looking for when they first embarked to the outskirts of their towns. I hope to see that one day things would be better for them. Well-paying jobs, less nomadic lifestyles, and so on. But for now, the sights I see before me are as bleak as they come.

Those unfortunate enough to be born in the rural municipalities of Indonesia are almost certainly destined to a life of poverty. Even when they escape the grasps of their home’s borders, their families’ legacies of having next to nothing clings to their shoulders. There aren’t enough decent jobs in Indonesia, be it in the fields or between the towering skyscrapers. Amongst a populace of Bachelor’s and Master’s degree holders, what hope do those with no education have? Few, if any.

Rags to riches stories are a dime a dozen. They are repeated constantly on television, newspapers, radios, et cetera. All to remind us of the naive notion that as long as we keep on trying, we will succeed. Yet for each of those uplifting tales, there exist hundreds perhaps even thousands of humans cast aside in the shadows, wallowing in the misery of having to live with the tiniest scraps of food; people continuously hoping that they could be in one of those broadcasts or articles, as those who found hidden ways for success against all odds.

The purpose of this writing is to give us all a glimpse and a reminder of how reality is, how grim and hidden the ugly truths are, and how it really is like to keep waiting for a train that will never come.

The author of this article would like to apologize for the rather excessive use of pseudonyms and other ambiguities. They are done for the sake of the privacy of the subjects, as all of them wish to remain unnamed.

Why Sometimes Less is More

There’s an ongoing phenomenon in Indonesia’s academic world: that of teachers from all subjects assigning group-works to their classes. Be it mathematics or sociology, physics or anthropology, it is nearly inescapable for a pupil to be trapped with a select few other peoples for one or more assignments. Most of my college-aged peers find no problems with this arrangement, however a few—including myself—are looking forward to a change in the system. With good enough reasons, of course.

Let us firstly admit that not all types of works are collaborative in nature. Sure, a short film would require multiple individuals operating specific pieces of equipment all at the same time. But an essay? A parchment that is written or typed down, a tasked able to be handled by just one individual with a clever enough mind? Such a task does not demand cooperation, rather  the rigor and aptitude of the essayist.

Essay writers do not always necessarily need a helping hand. The gathering of data can be done by oneself should its source not be too hazardous—i.e. a specific group of peoples, not the unpolluted air on top of Everest. Mapping out the structure of the composition similarly needs only one mind, as too many inputs would likely result in a Frankenstein-ish pattern of thought. Just imagine listening to the same argument delivered by multiple peoples with different approaches all trying to send an identical message at the exact same time; that is what it’s like to create an outline with a group. Finally, the part of writing should be left to one author, and one alone.

Each individual has a style of writing unique to themselves. Some prefer to use humor, others utter seriousness and some choose to paint by numbers. There are no rights and wrongs when it comes to the styles we adopt, as long as they remain readable to the audience. But consistency is of utmost importance. Reading a paragraph describing the deathly, personal situations faced by plague-stricken Africans, followed by a set of tables and graphs would destroy the element of immersion. Yet this is what could happen when more than one person is put in charge of composing a written work. Unless these men and/or women are completely in sync, failure is bound to rear itself in the shape of inconsistency and abrupt changes in the narrative. At worst the collaborating writers would end up with different conclusions due to contrasting understandings of the subject matter: a death sentence for whatever was worked on.

What I’ve described above are anecdotes out of my own life. They are the things that occur on multiple levels of academia—instances where two minds are not necessarily better than one. Unfortunately, they are mere tip of the icebergs ahead.

Those of us who have had the luck to go through formal education have known “that guy.” That one person who never contributes anything to the group-project he’s assigned to, nor does he support any of the other contributing members. His inactivity may stem from an inability to process the required information, to keep up with the progress of the group, or just outright laziness. Whatever the reasons, there he is, most of the time receiving a grade he is fully aware he does not deserve. I would love to say that this type of person only exists in classrooms, but as many of us are aware of, he pops up time and time again throughout our lives, each time donning different masks and new excuses. This individual(s) cannot be eliminated if we continue to permit their leeching of organizational works.

Then comes another breed of not-necessarily-leeches, but peoples who disrupt the harmony of a group as badly as the aforementioned does. I like to call them the “know-it-alls,” people who think and act as if their way of doing things is the only effective option. They tend to take charge not by virtue of intellect or creativity—essential elements for the production of a quality good—but by employing social dominance, and shrouding those who might have better ideas with their booming voices. Their charisma is key to them attaining a position of leadership, unchallenged by his quiet yet perhaps brighter peers. I cannot say that this category of peoples are inherently bad for the performance of a group, though the risk of employing them means limiting the ideas offered on the table; as they would be piles of his own.

I am not someone who seeks to be on top of everything. I prefer to work alone, with my own schedule, timetables, et cetera. Freedom is essential for me to perform well. And working in groups does not give me that sense of being able to do whatever I want, whenever I want that is—for myself—undeniably crucial. In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, the writer and former lawyer Susan Cain ellegantly discusses all the issues I’ve presented in greater detail. One of the central themes of her work is: Introverts—people who do not socialize well with others, especially strangers—need conditions tailored for their needs to function well. Unsurprisingly, when these introverted individuals were given cubicles and office spaces designed for privacy, their work rate, efficiency, and mood all rose to considerable levels (for more details, I sincerely recommend reading this book).

I can confidently say that I’m an introvert with how much time I prefer spending alone typing away on this old laptop. Thus Cain’s work resonates quite well with me. It is true that not all types of tasks are suited for sharing, many need to be handled by just one specific individual (essay writing, to go back to a previous example). Otherwise, we hazard the risks of leeches, know-it-alls, and a general sense of not knowing what’s going on with each group member having their own ideas for the project.

To be perfectly blunt, group-work is overrated. It saps the creative and intellectual forces of the quiet kids in the room, whilst glorifying those who might not be bright but just charismatic enough to take center stage. I am by no means jealous of the latter category, though I sincerely sympathize with those belonging to the former. Imagine knowing the solution to the problems at hand only to be blocked away by social pressures, and even if you work up the courage to prop up yours, it would be slapped away by the know-it-all. Meanwhile, the leech dozes off in the corner just waiting for the meeting to end. All of these things need to be stopped.

There are no apparent benefits in forcing students to work with another at all possible times. Certain projects demand a singular mind and no more than two hands. Writing, public speaking, designing, composing all fall into this category. There is no need at all for extra hands, for the writers, speakers, designers, and composers are all quite-used to working long into the night by themselves—a testament I can personally vouch for.

However, there is no denying that certain tasks would benefit from have more than just one pair of hands. It would be impossible to construct the gargantuan constructs we see in our cities had they not demanded thousands of workers working side-by-side. Opera, football, wide-scoped researches, are all in need of whatever human resources are available. Yet again, these types of projects are vastly different in nature from those requiring one mere specialized mind. These require teamwork, camaraderie, and other such wonderful things.

In writing this parchment, I am by no means dismissing the benefits of directing a set of peoples towards accomplishing a certain goal. What I am doing, is asking for the euphoria generated by the completion of wonders done by mutual cooperation to not breach into the confines of solitary works. In essence, there are two categories of projects: the ones needed to be done by one lone person, and those that demand the absolute harmony of multiple individuals. Both are good, having unique advantages of their own. But these benefits do not necessarily apply to the opposing category and, as we’ve seen, may at times prove to be more as hindrances than useful perks.

Hence I humbly ask teachers, educators, even business-leaders, to realize that not everything can be done by the power of teamwork. Yes there are many that would flourish from such a force. Yet there are also the opposites who would suffer from being coerced from being worked on by a group—both for the sakes of the project and the individuals involved.

Consequences of the Nobly Ignorant

In my previous post, The Indonesian Prohibition: Why It Might Not Be A Good Idea, I discussed the topic of the banning of alcoholic beverages in mini-markets. I speculated that such a ruling would result in the lower-class of Indonesia, primarily the blue-collar workers, seeking alcoholic thrills through other, less legal means. Unfortunately, my guess was spot on, although its proof remains anecdotal as of now. But before I can discuss the central issue, and push for its credibility, a limited amount of background information is necessary.

My family and I run a small laundry, with less than twenty employees. Their pays are not extraordinary, in fact quite inadequate for the quality of their work. This is not a matter of thrift, rather a result of the limited financial resources my company has, and the lack of better-paying jobs on the market. Thus they have settled in the company, some for more than five years. I know these peoples quite well. I am not well-suited for, and cannot find the coldheartedness necessary to view employees as mere cogs in a machine. Some I consider friends, and the newer ones acquaintances.

Each Saturday my employees and I play an hourly game of futsal—a kind of football played by teams of fives—as a routine. Practice games are held regularly, with all of us being split into two opposing groups. On rarer occasions we would have the opportunity to spar against other teams, most of them coming from blue-collar jobs as well; security guards, construction workers, janitors, et cetera. The sense of camaraderie common to cooperating members of a sports team is quite prevalent amongst my people.

My workers went from calling me “boss,” to a first name basis, then moved on to various nicknames. Some of which are insulting yet humorous. On the pitch, they no longer hold their strengths back, and would laugh maniacally whenever I bleed and bruise—of course, I inflict the same pains on them, all in good humor. And in return, I treat them in the same manner. Eating the same meals they do, learning their native languages little by little, and of course, drink the nights away whenever we have the chance to.

Alcohol in whatever forms is an integral part of my employees’ culture. From the youngest to the most senior, all of them have a taste for beers, whiskies, and the bizarre concoctions of local distributors. Their first two choices of drinks do not worry me in the slightest, as I drink them quite often myself. However, the last of the three is often times hazardous and strictly illegal. One of the latest trending alcohols on the local market is a mixture called benzene, which as the name indicates is basically a mixture of ethyl alcohol, any flavoring of choice, and a few drops of petroleum. Its effect, needless to say, is enough to knock out stallions. I am all for experimentation in cocktails, but only the dimmest of fools would think that petroleum is in any way safe to ingest.

Before the sale of light alcohols was prohibited in mini-markets, my employees drank regular old beers. They can’t afford a Guinness or a Heineken, but what they bought were perfectly safe Indonesian beers—especially considering that they actively condemn drunk driving. Now that choice is taken away from them, and to keep themselves entertained in a condition of poverty and menial labor, one of the few affordable choices they have is booze. Currently, ones that are capable of destroying the human body from the inside, much faster than absinthe and its kind.

On a night of celebrations, after beating our opponents with a difference of six goals, one my workers bought a bottle of benzene out of his pockets. I immediately asked him how often he consumed the drink. “Pretty much every day,” he said. I prodded him some more, asking whether or not he knows of the risks inherent to the concoction. “What risks?” he asked, puzzled. After half an hour of lecturing, I managed to convince him that his lungs, liver, intestines, and whatever other organ the petroleum would pass through could potentially be corroded. Resulting in internal hemorrhaging and unimaginable pains. Then he said something which terrified me. “I’ve been coughing a lot. Sometimes blood comes out. Is this [the benzene] causing it?” Immediately I replied in the affirmative, and gave him the money to buy some other drinks, ones that I know are safe to consume. If I cannot stop his habit, at the very least I can limit its damages.

The problem with the prohibition act is a lack of necessary information for those affected, and reactionary measures for the individuals who have been blocked from one of their most beloved and cheapest source of entertainment—whatever else can an employee with a monthly wage of less than three-hundred Dollars buy? My employees are not the most educated of the populace. Not a single one of them have attended a day of university, and only about five have high-school diplomas. They do not know the dangers that exist around them, the ones that are known mostly be the ones fortunate enough to receive formal education. Thus, their drinking went from an innocent pastime, to an activity that I must oversee, lest one of them fails to realize that he is accidentally annihilating his own internal systems. As their employer and friend, I am honestly scared of what might happen in the future should I fail to notice any changes in their drinking habits.

Instead of merely taking away beers and other such “immoral” goods from affordable stores, backers of the prohibition must implement certain programs to aid those who have been tied to the clutches of alcohol. Taking away the only accessible, legal path is not the way to stop people from drinking. Rather, it is an encouragement for the hobbyists to look for backdoors. Quitting alcohol, as with any other addictive substances, is not an easy task. Without the appropriate help and allocation of resources, what will happen is not an end to intoxication, but a beginning of deaths from alcohol poisonings, the thickening of bootleggers’ pockets, and other undesirable side effects.

I do not deny the noble reasoning behind the prohibition. What I am criticizing is its implementation. How it is currently being carried out is ineffective, and would likely create more suffering than relief. If there is anyone who can affect the nature of Indonesia’s prohibition act, I beg of you to do alter it immediately. For now, the consequence is coughing up blood to a person under my protection. And as I’ve said my proof is anecdotal, though I cannot help but wonder how many more of the poor are suffering through the same sicknesses as this employee of mine? After all, why would they admit to consuming illegal beverages? A stay at the hospital followed by a trip to the penitentiary is not an appealing rehabilitation program.