Lessons From: Neon Genesis Evangelion

How to deal with the Hedgehog's Dilemma

Neon Genesis Evangelion came out back when I was born in '95 and is still one of the best anime ever made to this day. I know that a lot of people are pretty much against watching anime in all forms, but if you do decide to watch it one day, give this series a try, as it's an interesting character study, and we're going to view one aspect of it. I won't get too deep into Evangelion because you honestly could write a text the size of Finnegan's Wake and not cover every detail that you have to know about concerning symbolism and philosophical messages in the story.

The Hedgehog's Dilemma is a psychological phenomenon in which the problems of human intimacy arrive. Say you have a group of hedgehogs which want to get closer to each other, but in doing so, hurt themselves and therefore must remain apart. They want a reciprocal relation but they cannot achieve one because of their spines, which in the psychological case would be reasons they can't really avoid. Schopenhauer and Freud believed this to be the state of an individual to others in society and that intimacy can't occur without mutual harm, so one must be moderate in his affairs with others in order to protect oneself and others.

In Evangelion you see this with the main character, Shinji, who never really knew his father, and as he got to know him tended to regret it. His caretaker, Misato, was in love with a man named Kaji and though she got a pretty strong emotional high from the relationship, she was also hurt by his aloofness. His father had a lover, who fell harder and harder for him to the point where she eventually did something morally unforgivable and killed herself. The only sane relationship, in fact, seems to be between Misato and Ritsuko, both of which had been friends for a great deal of their lives but never seemed to be too intimate. It was, in fact, Ritsuko who mentioned the Hedgehog's Dilemma to her friend and they both seemed to understand it pretty well.

You realize as the series goes on that pretty much everyone is deeply flawed in some manner, and the way they deal with each other changes a lot as they get to know each other, and they do hurt themselves in different ways as they do. Again, a few characters actually know how to deal with it pretty well, probably because they've had to do it before.

What can we learn from this?

The answer to this problem is not really that complicated. The more obvious way is to actually deal with people more to the point where you realize that, indeed, everybody's flawed and they'll find a way to hurt you eventually, as will you them, even if you both have the best of intentions and even genuinely love one another. This can go to the point where you even feel that some stranger could treat you better than your partner and is where the Dilemma treads on dangerous territory, for it can lead to rash actions by either party.

Like many answers in psychological matters, the way to deal with the Hedgehog's Dilemma is to simply put yourself out there, and to manage your expectations. You have to listen to others, see who they really are, and allow them to be like that and not expect them to be any different, and you must let them do the same with you. 

Pretty much, don't be a dick. 


Lessons From: Star Wars Prequels

The tragic irony of a strict dogma

The Star Wars prequels are widely seen as one of the worst mistakes to come to the silver screen, and even then, a few aspects of it are brutally torn apart by the fans of the original saga. I know, I know, Count Dooku should've genuinely been an independent separatist neither Jedi nor Sith, Darth Maul should've lived through the trilogy, or at least been shown to do so in the movies because he actually did, and Jar Jar Binks was a mistake.

The interesting thing about the whole Jedi vs. Sith debate is that it tends to be pretty easy to seduce someone on the light side to come over to the dark side, because it all has to do with emotions. Although the Sith encourage not only freedom but the constant use of anger and hatred in order to increase one's power in the force, the Jedi are, in fact, pretty repressive.

Of course, you can see them express a range of emotions including joy, sadness, anguish, and they're pretty stoic with preventing their actions from being guided by their feelings. In fact, they tend to be excellent negotiators which requires a thorough understanding of the other party's emotions. Why is it, then, that many Jedi wind up leaving the order?

Although there is some freedom, they don't exactly lead healthy emotional lives. The most famous example is Anakin and it's the one we'll use as well. He had a rough childhood, having been born a slave, and though eventually won through a bet by his first master Qui-Gon Jinn, his constant fear for his mother and infatuation with Padme Amidala were encouraged to be repressed by his second master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and he was generally berated, even in front of others, in order to be humiliated so he wouldn't get too big for his own shoes.

This means that Anakin never really learns to deal with his emotions and is therefore pretty easily influenced when it comes to them, especially by Chancellor Palpatine, who through his deep knowledge of politics and the force eventually becomes emperor. His leverage points are pretty predictable as well, being his love for Padme, for he would do anything to prevent her death, his deep-seated anger, which in itself was an impressive force, and his ambition, which you can see time and time again even in the Original Trilogy.

You could probably argue that the Jedi were pretty much using a strictly textual interpretation of the code instead of looking at the actual intention or the means of the code, and that they should have been more liberal, but the fact of the matter is that they weren't and that other were so cool and collected while Anakin had a storm inside his head wasn't probably much of a help for him either, after all, how did they do it?

What can we learn from this?

It's like starting a diet or pretty much doing anything cold turkey. It may work, and for most people it probably does, but if you fail you tend to rebound pretty hard, and sometimes even end up worse than how you began, instead of taking incremental changes in the way you think, act, do, essentially your habits.

Thus, try to avoid having a strict dogma, and if it is what you're aiming for, then don't do it from the beginning because most of the time you're setting yourself up for failure. Had Anakin learned to control his emotions and deal with them one at a time, instead of just putting them away, he would've been an excellent Jedi.


Lessons From: The Godfather

How Corleone earned respect and loyalty

The Godfather is thought by many to be the best movie, and if you haven't read the books, do yourself a favor. It's a pretty good story all in all about a family that came from Sicily to the United States, especially about Vito and Michael, the two main patriarchs or Dons, and the situations that they had to deal with concerning other families.

What interests me most about the story, though, is how Vito Andolini, born in Corleone, rose from being a simple as a clerk, having been sent to New York because his family had been killed by the local chieftain, Don Ciccio. Had he stayed, he would've been murdered as well, because he would've eventually sworn revenge.

His life of crime began when his foster father hired him. The neighborhood's padrone demanded that Mr. Abbandando hire his nephew, so he had to comply, so Vito became friends with Peter Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio, who taught him the basics of being a criminal and exchanged favors for loyalty. When Fanuccio, the padrone, asked for a cut of their profits, Corleone hatched a plan to kill him. He took advantage of the distraction a street festival had to offer and sneaked into Fanuccio's house by the rooftop, and murdered him. Then, he took over the district, treating it with respect.

He then started an olive importing operation with his foster brother Genco, and they named it Genco Pura. Between that business and his illicit activities, he became a rich man, and returned to Sicily. There he met his partner Don Tomassino, and together, they systematically took out Don Ciccio's men involved in the murder, and arranged a meeting with the man himself, in which Vito carved open his stomach and let his partner take over Corleone.

Eventually, through various exploits, gang wars, and takeovers, the Corleone crime family is the most powerful one in the United States. His oldest son then becomes a capo and even fights a war with an Irish family, but his youngest son, Michael, wants nothing to do with the business. Then, his home and base of operations is moved to Staten Island.

Friendship was very important to Corleone, to the point that people would make lines to ask for favors and he would give them, with only the condition of eventually asking for another favor back. He also made sure that his friends felt valued, and always showed gratitude, with this he would build respect and appreciation.

Of course, he always knew how to profit, and was generally a master at having leverage in almost any situation. He always made sure he was informed, and in part was thanks to his clear head. He would never get angry and would try to reason with people to get the best results.

How can we apply this?

They always say that you should despise the free lunch. This is because there never really is a free lunch, and you can take advantage of that yourself. It's the reason they tell you to make friends and network when you're in college, after all, that leverage you have with other people can be of great help, either in your personal or professional life. The ability to actually profit and have an entrepreneurial mindset can be a subject for a few other posts, but it's always important to see what you can get from a situation in your mind.

The most important thing is probably to be as best informed as possible; you can't just waltz into anything head-on and think that you'll come out a winner. Always assume that there's somebody who's better prepared than you, in any situation, and act accordingly.

Of course, Corleone also believed that every man had a destiny, but I'm no fatalist. Forge it yourself.


Lessons From: Oedipus Rex

How to avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy

If you've a love for the Greek tragedies or a basic knowledge of psychology or the history of literature, then you probably know about the story of Oedipus. For those of you that don't, I'll be happy to tell you the story and I swear to god you can't get mad about spoilers this time because the story's been out there for more than two thousand years.

It's a pretty simple story all in all. Basically, before the story begins, Laius is a guest of King Pelops of Elis, and becomes the tutor of his son Chrysippus, who he promptly proceeds to abduct and rape, then kills himself in shame. This casts doom over Laius, and his son Oedipus and all those who come after.

Eventually a boy is born to Laius and his wife Jocasta, and when an oracle tells Laius that he is to perish by the hand of his own son, so his father naturally ties his feet together and orders his wife to murder him with a pin. Again, naturally, she declines, , and orders a servant to do it, but killing babies is generally not a pleasurable business, so she took him to a mountaintop to die from exposure. A shepherd rescued him and named him Oedipus which means "swollen feet", probably because they'd been tied since the moment he was born, and takes him to Corinth, where he is raised by King Polybus as his own, for he had no son.

As a young man, Oedipus hears that he's not biologically the son of Polybus and asks the Pythia, Oracle of Delphi, who his parents were. She ignores the question and said that he is doomed to shed the blood of his sire and mate with his mother, so the man, horrified, flees Corinth to avoid this horrible fate, and goes to Thebes to avoid the horrible fate that the oracle foretold.

On the road to Thebes, he runs into Laius, and they argue about whose chariot has right-of-way. The King strikes Oedipus with his scepter, and he responded by throwing him off the chariot, thus killing him. He then runs into the sphynx who asks him a riddle, and answers it, so the creature throws herself off the cliff and as a reward for ridding the city of its curse he gets the kingship and the hand of the widow Jocasta. The prophecy is thus fulfilled.

This is, as those of you who read it probably know, not the story itself but the background. In itself, the story begins as a plague on the city of Thebes, which is said to be caused because the man who murdered Laius had not been caught. This leads Oedipus to ask Tiresias, the blind prophet, for help, and he claims to know the answer but tells his king to cease his search. Of course, the refusal drove Oedipus angry and he accused the prophet to be implicitly responsible, so in his outrage, Tiresias responded that he himself is the criminal he seeks, and as the king mocked his lack of sight, the prophet said the same of his king, and when the murderer is caught, it will be seen that he is a native citizen of Thebes, brother and father to his children, son and husband to his mother.

Then Creon, his brother-in-law, is brought forth to be sentenced to death, but the chorus persuades Oedipus to let him live and Jocasta comforts him, mentioning a prophecy that never came true for her, because it was not their son but some stranger who killed Laius in a crossroads. This, of course, lights up the proverbial lightbulb over the king's head and he calls for the only surviving witness of the attack, and then he tells his wife the story. They still have hope because it was said that his father had been killed by several bandits.

A messenger then arrives from Corinth saying that his father had died. This delights him because it means that he could never accomplish the first half of the prophecy, but the messenger tells him to rest easy because Merope is not his biological mother. This messenger used to be a shepherd, in fact, and had received a baby who Polybus adopted, and the chorus says that he is the same shepherd who witnessed the murder of King Laius. Jocasta begs her son to stop asking questions and runs into the palace. Thus, Oedipus asks the messenger to tell him the story, and so he does. A servant comes to say that Jocasta hung herself, and her son proceeds to remove the long pins that held her dress together and plunge them into his eyes in despair. Now blind, he begs for exile and asks Creonte to watch over his daughters, Antigone and Ismene. Then the chorus says what was known in Ancient Greece, that no man is to be considered fortunate until he is dead.

What can we learn from this?

I'm not exactly a fatalist, in fact, I believe that absolutely nothing is written in stone and you can only trust in what you're living in this moment, for nothing is certain. That being said, there are many problems which you can try to avoid with all the effort you can muster, and they'll happen anyways. These are called self-fulfilling prophecies and Oedipus Rex is one of the most ancient examples you could probably think of. 

You wake up, feeling like crap and knowing it's going to be a bad day. Everyone's in a bad mood and nothing good happens. 

You run a basketball team and you expect freshmen to be worse at playing, so you put them in less. When they do get to play, they suck, and your expectation is fulfilled. 

You see a girl you like, and your friend convinces you that he knows her and you're totally her type. You expect a good result, and when you go and talk to her, it turns out that she's being friendly and probably attracted to you. 

You're a professor and expect a student to do well, so you help him prepare better. It goes well for him.

This is also known as the Pygmalion effect, and the way to avoid it is pretty simple. Reconsider your expectations. The problem with the protagonists in Greek tragedies was the fact that they pretty much listened to their oracles without question; had Oedipus not tried to flee his destiny, he would've never fulfilled it in the first place, and had his father never sent him away, he probably could've cultivated and nurtured a loving boy. Of course, it's a story meant to be tragic, so there's going to be a bit of fluff in there with coincidences that would never (or hopefully extremely rarely) happen in real life, but if you see things turning out just as you expected them to, maybe it's time to reconsider what you think and what you do. 

Read Oedipus Rex here:


Lessons From: Alexander the Great

How Alexander led by example

Whenever you ask someone to list his favorite generals, it's usually either Napoleon Bonaparte or Alexander the Great at the top. Otherwise they're usually top 5 easy. Alexander was prince of Macedonia, and a student of Aristotle, who conquered most of the known world in his early 20's. In eleven years of conquest he rode through 100,000 miles, and fought 70 battles without losing a single one, from Egypt to India. 

Having been a student of one of the most intelligent men in history, he was prone to using logic in the battlefield more often than not, and always planned meticulously, contemplating every alternative he could bring himself to think of, and was thus not only a great warrior but a brilliant strategist. In fact, he was so good at it that he conquered so much with an army of merely 40,000 men, often using mobility and good weaponry, as well as considering the terrain, culture, politics and economics of those places he invaded. In fact, he would often adapt himself to the customs of wherever he found himself and employ indigenous professionals, which would often extend his soft power in many territories.

He believed that he had been awarded immortality, and for this reason, tended to fight on the front lines. In the Mallian Campaign, in which Alexander fought King Porus, the Macedonian army marched to Atari, shortly after having conquered Agalassa. The city was well-protected by walls, but there was a breach through which the Macedonians ran. These were quickly killed by the Indians. When a tower next to it collapsed, Alexander ordered the march, and seeing his men hesitating, climbed the rubble himself to fight the Indians. For a few minutes, Alexander fought the Mallians alone, until his men came to join him in battle. 

The next day, the Mallians had retreated to another wall, but as the city seemed empty Peucestas, the shield-bearer who carried the sacred shield of Troy, did not bring many ladders as he thought the city had been conquered. This meant that there were only two ready to be used, and the other side of the wall was guarded with many archers whose arrows were already flying over the wall to their shields. Thus, Alexander did what was only logical to him seeing his men hesitate anew, and climbed up the ladder, holding his shield before him, and with his sword he cleared the paraphet of any defenders. Once he did, he noticed that nobody had followed him and he alone was receiving a barrage of arrows. His shield-bearer and bodyguard hurried up the ladder, while Abreas, a well-paid guardsman, was the only one who actually decided to use the second ladder, and the guards yelled at their king to land safely on their arms. He decided that staying in the middle would be dangerous, and jumping back would accomplish nothing, so the only logical conclusion would be jumping forward, for the ground was higher, and attacking. After all, he would either intimidate the Mallians or die a legendary death. His guard rushed to the ladders to the point that so many of them tried to use them that they broke under the weight.

Thus, Alexander landed on his two feet and immediately put his back to the wall and assumed his stance. A group of Indians went forth to attack and all, including the commander, died. He then proceeded to kill a second commander by shattering his skull from afar with a stone, and whichever Mallian got close to him perished, and they were intimidated as if they were seeing a hero from the mythical Vedas. His three guards who made it first had made it too late, for Abreas was hit with an arrow to the face, and Alexander himself with an arrow to the leg before Peucestas and Leonnatus could make it, and then the king received an arrow to the chest.. Finally, after his men managed to improvise human ladders or otherwise climb the wall, they dropped in front of their leader and blocked him with their bodies. Of course, he would then recover and live for two more years of war. That being said, his men never hesitated again. 

What can we learn from this?

Some of the best leaders have to be so by the example they give. Had he not done so, his army wouldn't have learned that their king would've jumped into battle against the world by himself were they behind him or not, so they might as well go with him. His delusion of immortality might have helped fuel the initiative he carried with his advances, but it worked.

Whenever you're in a position to lead, go first when necessary, even if it's a risky move, because that's how you earn not only the respect and loyalty but the end of your followers' hesitation. Besides, if you can't do it yourself, you're probably not in a position to lead in the first place. 

Read more about Alexander here:


Lessons From: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World

How Huxley showed that excess can cripple society

Aldous Huxley is one of the most intelligent authors the world has ever seen, and his ability to predict the way society and government would function in the future was pretty impressive. In Brave New World, society is completely post-scarcity and is controlled not by authoritarian repression, but by their own hedonistic desires which can be so easily manipulated.

"Every one belongs to every one else" was the society's motto, in which individuals were nothing more than a cog in the machine, genetically engineered to fit a specific function. Bokanovsky's process was used in order to ensure that embryos would eventually grow to be Gammas, Deltas, or Epsilons, by carefully administering alcohol and produce, which gave humans capable of work but not of independent thought, while Alphas and Betas are left to develop and socially interact with each other, but never the Gammas, Deltas or Epsilons for doing so would be social suicide.

Freedom to question the government or society itself is drowned through one of various methods. The first is consumption and commodification. When people love the material, they'll work to maintain it and have more, so they live their lives working without really giving much thought to what they're doing. Otherwise, they can blur the line between love and recreational sex with "Orgy-Porgy", for acknowledging an individual identity as one you cherish can put the stability in uniformity disbalanced. In this society you have the moral imperative to have sex with anyone who asks it of you. If that doesn't work, you can always take soma, a drug that works for practically anything, be it grief, pain, stress, boredom, disappointment, and you can even take a soma-holiday. With this drug, you aren't aware of your degradation, nor are you of individuality itself.

Nowadays, it's clear that his prediction is closer to the truth than what Orwell, his student, believed would happen. Of course, we're not at the stage where people are being genetically engineered for specific roles, nor the whole sexual freedom/responsibility deal, but there are worrying aspects like the extreme consumerism, inversion of public and private lives, for example with Facebook and Instagram, things that were only your business are suddenly known by everybody, and in the book, whatever happens in private might as well not have happened, in real life we seem to get closer to this every day (pic or it didn't happen), and with Facebook being able to read your private messages, as well as Twitter showing your thoughts to the world, which aren't kept private by people most of the time anyways, you have to wonder when it is that a social network's benefits will be outweight by the disadvantages that having your life broadcast will bring. At least in Mexico, people feared that they'd be kidnapped because of would-be criminals targeting through social media, and that's just one of probably many examples.

What frightens me most is the lack of critical thinking in the book, which I'm starting to see in real life, and it goes beyond "X politician is good and Y politician is bad". Tell someone to explain why they believe what they believe, and most of the times they won't be able to tell you why without falling into various fallacies or going on irrelevant tangents that have nothing to do with the idea that they should explain. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is an example of people telling you what you should think instead of you deciding for yourself.  That's pretty creepy, if you ask me, people can't even keep up with the narrative the media's pushing and you can even tell that Colbert's pretty damn nervous about it.

What can we learn from this?

As an individual it's pretty complicated to change a society's course, but people must resist power grabs whenever they can, otherwise, you'll get to the point where it's pretty much impossible to do anything without suffering consequences, or worse, not realize you're suffering them. In the book, when one character asked another to speak in private, she laughed at the idea because she didn't even have a conception of privacy. It's our responsibility to avoid reaching this point.

This also goes to show that hedonism isn't necessary the best course for an individual. If you're always keeping your mind busy with things that don't necessarily require your attention, you eventually reach a point of contentment and then lose any reason to actually improve yourself or your life. Always strive to be better, and always question yourself and everyone around you, otherwise, you might as well take the reigns of your life and hand them over to the government or a corporation.

Read more on Brave New World here:


Lessons From: John F. Kennedy

How absensce can make you beloved

We've already covered how you can sometimes end with all of the credit for an idea with Charles Darwin, but what about making the world's perspective on you better than it should? John F. Kennedy is known as one of the most beloved presidents the United States has ever had, but was he really that good, compared to somebody like Richard Nixon, for example? Hell, they had one of the most interesting electoral campaigns in history, very intellectually charged, and both of these presidents were pretty defining for a new generation post WWII. 

JFK had a couple of rough bumps in the road. The most famous are, of course, the Bay of Pigs invasion, in which an army of Cuban refugees worked with the C.I.A. to attempt a coup in Cuba, which miserably failed, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the world was brought to believe in mutually assured destruction as an imminent threat for the first time. This, fortunately, was a success in the sense that nuclear bombs weren't detonated on either side, but seen as a defeat for the loss of strategic warhead placement in Turkey, right in the Soviet Union's front yard. 

People tend to forget smaller failures like his meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin's successor, which has been called by some the worst day of his life (sans getting his head blown off taken into consideration I assume), in which he was seen as weak by the soviet dictator and in fact probably led to the eventual threat of nuclear war. It was after their meeting in Vienna, in fact, when the Berlin Wall's construction began. 

He did have a few successes, of course. Keeping a cool head and preventing total annihilation is an achievement, but the threat itself was partially caused by him. He also created the Peace Corps and paved the way for the Civil Rights movement, which was finally brought to fruition by his successor Lyndon B. Johnson. 

Compare that to Nixon, then, who is one of the most disliked presidents in history, next to Buchanan, most of all because of the Watergate scandal in which it was found that Nixon's administration had been abusing power and had been recording many conversations which were promptly given to investigators and lead to the impeachment process and his resignation. 

Thus, it's no surprise that people overlook his reforms in welfare, civil rights, energy, and environmental policy, established the EPA, fought against sexual discrimination, lowered the voting age to 18, lowered the amount of troops in Vietnam and used the dividends to finance social welfare, made sure that Southern schools had thorough desegregation, and when it came to foreign policy, he was deemed to be a master of it, having even engaged the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, the latter which opened its markets to the rest of the world as a result. You wouldn't drink a glass of clean water with one drop of shit, after all. 

What can we learn from this?

In a way, this speaks about the effectiveness of martyrism as a way to erase your past mistakes and redeem yourself. It's very clear that his charisma helped people remember him in a better light, as well, after all, the American public could even forgive his affairs and everything because he was a charmer and it was expected. 

Of the 48 Laws of Power he inadvertently used 16: Use absence to increase respect and honor. Had he died early, he probably would've been forgotten or at least not so revered by everyone, and had he died after his presidency, the impact would've been much smaller, after all, there is a whole world of speculation and conspiracy theories you can create when a president dies. Learn when the right time to disappear is, and you can wash your hands clean of your own mistakes as well.

Learn more about JFK here:

Lessons From: Neon Genesis Evangelion

How to deal with the Hedgehog's Dilemma Neon Genesis Evangelion came out back when I was born in '95 and is still one of th...