Should you give your friend things that are bad for him?

If my dad likes cigars, but I know they’re not good for him, should I give him cigars as presents anyway? I mean, on one hand, I want him to be healthy. On the other hand, I want him to be happy, and who am I to say “I know what’s good for you better than you do?” Then again, what if you are REALLY sure that it’s bad for him, say for instance he was smoking crack? Where do you draw the line between big-brother paternalism and necessary action to protect your friend’s health?

When we’re talking about government, I usually consider myself to be a libertarian. I think that if I don’t want to wear a seatbelt, and the only person that is hurt by that decision is myself, the government shouldn’t force me to wear it. However, there is a difference between the government and your friends and family. Can I condone action among my friends and family that I would not want the government to take?

Usually when I think of something that I believe to be bad but I can’t conclusively prove its evilness, I am in favor of educating people about the issues that make me think it’s bad, but not forcing them into my worldview. In general, I would rather have an education campaign than outlaw any particular behavior, if it does not infringe on the rights of others.

Actually, the cigar case is a little bit weird. My dad is a doctor, he knows as well as I do that cigars are bad for him. I guess he’s decided that they can’t do enough damage to him at this time in his life to make it worth abstaining. Actually, I don’t even know if that’s a reasonable decision, I’m not a doctor… but I suspect not. Cigars are even less healthy than cigarettes if I understand correctly, they don’t have filters on them or anything.

So should I give him the cigars if he wants him, and trust that he knows himself best? Is it meddling in his life if I don’t give him the cigars and try to stop him from smoking? Should I protect his health if he doesn’t want to protect it? Or if I think he’s acting stupid, is it necessary to at least not do anything to support that, if not to actually try to stop him in his course of action?

Dammit, I need to get comments installed somehow… e-mail if you feel like it 🙂

Meaning in life

I had a really fascinating IM conversation with Sasha a few days ago, which has been resurfacing everywhere I go, so I figured I’d paste it in here:

(14:46:33) Nelson: we get wrapped up in stupid petty stuff and we miss the big picture
(14:46:42) Sasha: right
(14:46:52) Nelson: people always have tunnel vision and they don’t see what’s going on around them
(14:46:56) Nelson: things like this are a distraction
(14:47:05) Sasha: that’s true
(14:47:22) Nelson: if we want our lives to have a purpose, we have to make everything we do purposeful
(14:47:43) Nelson: just as if we want a peaceful society, we have to make every action peaceable
(14:48:15) Nelson: that’s kind of the Quaker ethos I suppose, that spirituality is 24/7, not just in church on Sunday
(14:48:31) Nelson: that the mundane stuff is holy if you make it so
(14:48:43) Nelson: and anyplace is a place of worship
(14:49:03) Sasha: but if everything is holy, then doesn’t holiness lose its meaning?
(14:49:11) Sasha: (devil’s advocate here)
(14:49:25) Nelson: perhaps… but it makes everything else meaningful
(14:49:32) Sasha: by contrast
(14:49:43) Nelson: as in, yeah, I don’t really feel very excited upon walking into a church
(14:50:05) Nelson: that is, more than I do when sitting under a tree
(14:50:10) Nelson: or looking at the stars
(14:50:24) Sasha: sorry, which is more what?
(14:50:51) Nelson: I don’t find a church more exciting than the God in the grass or the “inner light” in the people around me
(14:51:17) Sasha: I feel the same way, except that I have all sorts of problems with spirituality nowadays
(14:51:29) Sasha: I also totally agree with you about purpose
(14:51:32) Nelson: “holiness” does kind of lose a certain kind of meaning, but that’s a good thing. We can’t have an aritificial separation between spirituality and the rest of life

To crystallize that, I think that humans are here to create meaning in the world, and that if we want to have meaningful lives, everything we do must have meaning, every action must be meaningful. We can’t waste time doing things that don’t have meaning, or alternately if we are to do them we must find a way to give them meaning. Hm… but do I really know what I mean by that?


A failure of your will is a failure of rationality. If you can will that you accomplish something (such as cleaning your room), that means that you have done the necessary calculations and decided that this course of action will be best for you in the long run. If, despite this knowledge, you persist in a different course of action (i.e. you lack the willpower to do what you have decided upon), this means that you have failed to keep your eye on your rational, long term self-interest. Instead you have conceded the field to short-sightedness, you have given into the pleasures of the moment. A person who cannot act in their own self-interest is by definition incompetent and weak. Also, failing to stand by your rational self reeks of hypocrisy, of lying to oneself. The more frequently you are able to adhere to your own decisions, the more effective and admirable you will be.