Without Shame

Shame is a useless emotion.

In fact, I’m going to go one higher – shame is a harmful emotion.

Let’s take the following situation: I’m on the bus, and I see someone of darker complexion than myself sit down next to me.  I get a little nervous because, maybe this person is a bit thuggish?  Then I feel ashamed, because I’m not that sort of person to think those thoughts.

So what happens?  I think of myself as non-racist.  I feel bad … and then I promptly find ways to excuse my thinking and go on with my life.  Because I’m really a “good person,” and that was either a momentary slip-up or excused by the bandana I saw hanging on his head (because I don’t wear bandanas, so they must be dangerous.  You could put an eye out with one of those!).

What’s the grand sum of this situation?  I felt bad, I didn’t change my actions, and yet I somehow remain fundamentally “good” – whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.

How about we reverse this.  I’m no longer a non-racist.  I’m racist – not in the sense that I condone it, but in the sense that it happens to be true in this actual world rather than the ideal fantasy world I want to live in.  When I get on the bus and have racist thoughts, I now see an opportunity to improve.  I’m not a good person with a lapse, I’m a flawed person who’s been confronted with those flaws, and as such can seize the opportunity to correct them.  A woodcut is crafted by chipping away one bit at a time.

So I can feel good about improving (I’m a step better – however small – than I had been before), and actually change my actions accordingly (since I don’t have to defend my ideal self any longer) – I’ll make eye contact and say hi perhaps.  So better feelings and better actions, because I let go of already being a better person.

We all mess up, and all are messed up.  We aren’t “good.”  But that’s ok, because we can work each day at what’s given to us.

Of course, the flip side is that every day, we *will* have work to do.  There’s no arriving at some point where we are without lack.  There’s no time we’ve “done enough.” But really, that attitude – that we’re really already good – is self-serving.  It’s to make ourselves feel good, precisely by disengaging from the world.  Which doesn’t strike me as actually being very good people.

So let’s be free of our fantasy selves, and relish the opportunities today to grow and improve, precisely by casting off who we were yesterday.  It’s of no matter – today’s self will be thrown into the garbage bin too.  But not until tomorrow.


Life Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions bore me. Lose weight, eat healthier, blah blah blah. Really cool things to do take more than a year anyhow. And at the other end of the spectrum, I find myself a bit annoyed at questions like “What do you want to do?”, as if the point of my life were to be summed up in one career.

I’ve got a lot of things I want to do, a lot of long-term projects. They don’t fit nicely into either a one-year span, nor into a single conception of how I pay rent in the meantime.

But the thing about the long-term is that it’s made up of the short-term. What am I doing now to start reaching those goals, even if the goals are stuff I want to have done in the next three or four decades?

So here’s my list of things that I want to start accomplishing with my life, with the intent to take concrete action starting now. Not on everything, but at least on a couple things. I put this out there not to brag about my life, but because I want to see what stuff other people have on their lists – so please write your own and share!


  • Live in East Asia for at least one month
  • See India and Brasil


  • Comfortably play improv jazz and bluegrass on mandolin
  • Pick up at least one other instrument (either return to flute, or guitar or violin)


  • Learn quantum mechanics, at least to the point of understanding field theories and string theory in detail
  • Pick up at least the basic notions (at a graduate course level) of macroeconomics


  • Learn Category theory
  • Be able to understand the math of the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem
  • Write material on making the above more accessible; in general, provide more intuitive examples of higher-level math to motivate people to go into it


  • Get at least 2nd degree black belt in Ninpo
  • Learn at least one weapon to black-belt level


  • Get fluent in one Indo-Euporean language (probably French)
  • Be comfortably conversational in one non-Indo-European language (probably either Arabic or Mandarin)


  • Write a novel