Coefficient of Goodness

There probably couldn’t be any more different people than me and May from May’s Machete : she is a girl, I am a guy; she is skinny, I am fat; she is an idealist, I am a cynic; she is an activist, I am lazy and indifferent. That doesn’t prevent me from following her blog just as an example of everything I am not and rarely commenting on it just for fun. Few days ago she wrote about climate change wiping out certain cultures when natural resources they depend on (land, food, food for their food) disappear. I personally view it as a fact of life on Earth so I commented:

Humans (and animals) were killed or inconvenienced by global events since day one:from Pompeii to dust bowl to tsunami to upcoming eruption in Yellowstone, just a fact of life on Earth. Nobody complained when these islands appeared as a result of some other geo-calamity, or when Kansas stopped being beach-front property. Stuff happens.

Which is exactly how I view it. Things happen on Earth every day and kill a bunch of people. I am not sure if on some other continent people spend any time concerning themselves with what to do to prevent tornadoes in Kansas. Long time ago things like this happened without a worldwide press coverage, nowadays modern technology provides early warnings and the rest of the world usually assists with recovery.

But that’s not what this is about. May replied to my comment:

m.v. – Just because stuff happens doesn’t mean I’m okay with destruction on a mass scale enough to sit around and do nothing when I can make a difference.

This sentence is the main difference between May and me (right, Brian?): I sit around and do nothing and she makes a difference. Except I am pretty sure that the end result is the same.

There has to be a way to measure what happens when someone takes up a cause, goes to a rally, votes, stops eating meat, etc.  Something like a Coefficient of Performance in physics which is “What you GOT/What you BOUGHT”. In this case I will call it a Coefficient of Goodness (make up your own name) and will express it as “What you (or someone) GOT/what you DID”. In my case it’s always an invalid number because I do exactly 0 and you can’t divide by zero. However, in case of an activist there should be some non-zero number i.e.:

  • number of millimeters of the sea level drop per blog post
  • number of surviving reindeer per household with reduced carbon footprint
  • amount of  improvement in economy per one vote for Obama
  • number of propositions in California repealed per one protest on the Plaza
  • number of days of peace in Gaza per one pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli rally in Kansas City
  • number of Scientologists recovered per one Anonymous.

As far as I know these are all zeroes. You are probably saying that one person can’t make a difference but if you add a lot of these you can produce some real change, but my (computer science) degree from UMKC says it will still be a zero.

There are other types of actions where the coefficient is non-zero, i.e a walking to collect money for cancer research, or purchasing and donating a cow but in these cases  actual money exchanges hands and produces measurable results.

So if the action is worthless and misguided why do people still do it? I imagine it makes them feel good about themselves, gives a certain sense that they did something to help. Was that “something” effective or even necessary? Probably not. Who knows. I certainly don’t. I just sit around and do nothing.