Why I started supporting Sam Harris

I am not an adherent of anyone, so I’m loathed to even admit this, but I started supporting Sam Harris with a monthly contribution of $10 today. So… basically three tall Lattes. Which feels somewhat cheap of me, now that I type it out. Hopefully he’ll put them to good use. Nothing like a quick caffeinated beverage before putting evil to the sword… or sending out a sardonic tweet.

I like Sam. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything he says… and I am obviously discounting the (large) percentage of things that he does say that I don’t necessarily understand. (I am quite stupid).

I do think Sam is a good person and I think he approaches everything he does with the best of intentions. Although I often feel like I’m watching a masochist go about his day. I think you have to be slightly that way inclined to be willing to wade through all that vitriol and malice day after day. Perusing the comments on an innocuous SamHarrisOrg tweet (about the weather) is more akin to staring into the abyss.

‘He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.’ – Friedrich Nietzsche

I am constantly amazed that Sam hasn’t become this weird, reclusive misanthrope living in a cabin somewhere in Montana. This is likely because I think Sam Harris is in actual fact a Samurai. Albeit a cerebral Samurai who lays the smack down with his words. But a samurai nonetheless.

91611-004-C997AF25I do wish I could tell Sam to stop climbing down under bridges and battling the residents who dwell there though.

In Jujitsu (practiced originally by Samurai) of which Sam is an enthusiast (as am I) there is generally a clear cut winner and a loser in a bout between combatants. Someone taps out. You shake hands and either go again or call it a day.

Combat on twitter doesn’t work that way. And I don’t think Sam, with his bushido ethic and profound sense of honor can thrive in a place like this.

Your life just becomes an endless loop of having to step out onto main street with a six shooter (or daitō) to battle it out with some inane bumbler (reclined on his sofa with his macbook perched on his y-fronts) who was nothing better to do with his time than think of way to slander and misrepresent you. What a fucked up way to spend the time that has been alloted to you.

Maybe that’s easy for me to say, in any event I wish you more Zen Sam, I really do.

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. – Sun Tzu.

I think primarily Sam makes me want to be a better person. That’s not something I say lightly. Listening to Sam has made me think about things I would never have considered before. He has introduced me to a plethora of new ideas and he has challenged me to consider why I believe the things that I do.

You have had a profound effect on my life, and for that Sam I am very grateful. (I think the above is true even if you don’t like Sam. Be grateful that you have found a worthy adversary, a Moriarty to your Holmes, but still conduct yourself in an upright manner)

Mostly I have decided to support Sam Harris because I want my ideology to survive and hopefully thrive. And for that to happen there needs to be soldiers fighting in the trenches on the front line. Hopefully my $10 can help (just a little) to make that happen. I need Sam to continue to fight the good fight, to be Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘man the arena’, to keep swinging for the fences.

I think (basically) I just want to say ‘good luck’ Sam. I hope you make it. And thanks again.

Winnie

Despite what you may have heard Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and I have never played bridge together. That is to say, I didn’t know her at all. Not even a little bit. Given this fact, I have, over the years, had to rely on the media to inform me about what sort of person she was, which is all sound bites and clips (taken out of context) and articles laced heavily with opinion and moralizing. I am obviously quite reticent to form an opinion about someone I have never met…

The first tweet I read about the demise of Winnie (having only recently returned to twitter) was ‘Ding dong the witch is dead’. Which I think is somewhat disingenuous of the author. I can’t remember off hand if the song refers to the Wicked Witch of the East or West…. BUT as far as I know Winnie Madikizela-Mandela never practiced magic. Nor was she killed by a falling house (was she?). I also think its safe to say she never kept any Munchkins in bondage or associated with any flying monkeys. So really, to quote the Wizard of Oz is to misrepresent the person.

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But maybe they are instead referencing the children’s book that I occasionally read to my daughter before bedtime.

Again I think this seems like a pretty tenuous connection. (in my opinion) But you know, people attempting wit occasionally do strange things. (I know I have)

On the flip side of the coin, there is the kooky almost fanatical hero worship that’s arisen that dips its toe into the same murky pond as people who love Che Guevara (Oh… you did NOT just go there*).

*yeah, unfortunately I did.

It might also just be me or is Winnie WAAAAAAAAAY more popular in death than she was in life? I really had no idea she has such a massive fan base. But then again I live on quite an isolated little planet (with a pinkish hue, where the circus music is stuck on repeat) I hope I’m popular when I die. Although maybe less divisive.

I do think you have to be a little more circumspect when we elevate any human being to the pedestal of paragon of the people. I mean that’s quite a lofty space to occupy, not just anyone should get that honor. After all if we just open the gates it cheapens the accolade.

I’m not suggesting where Winnie should fall on the ladder of human achievement. I am hardly qualified. Perhaps this is something that should be decided by, in the very least, a committee (where tea time includes those little tuna mayonnaise sandwiches with the crusts cut off). I jest, obviously. I do think that anyone that celebrates someone else’s demise needs to spelunk the inside of their brain for a bit and commit themselves to (at least) an hour of  introspection (assuming they find anything in there).

In the same way I feel people who can just varnish over any inconvenient truth and are hash-tagging as a form of identity politics need to have very careful look at the narrative that they are committing themselves to?

If you decide that putting a rubber tire over someones head and setting it alight is fair play and that collateral damage and necessary evils are justified in the pursuit of a greater good, that’s fine with me. But realize that there are people who are going to disagree with you. This does not make them any less worthy of respect, dignity or common courtesy.

In all honesty I don’t really know where I stand on breaking eggs to bake a cake. I hope I don’t ever have be put in a position where I have to decide on whether someone lives or dies. If I were disenfranchised and angry it is very likely I would have conceived of something very similar. Or worse even. (I found Ordinary Men by Christopher R. Browning absolutely terrifying)

I do however believe people change, and that the Winnie that was, is not the Winnie that… eh… was. Double past tense. What version of Winnie do you heap praise on and what version of Winnie gets the scorn. Or is it a law of averages? Positives and negatives added together equals… something… with pie.

Of course being carefully neutral is boring. If I were pressed to write an epitaph for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela what would it be?

Here lies Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Homo Sapiens. (so far I think we can agree) After that I’m not so sure. (Maybe I’ll think of something clever later)

When in doubt I like to fall back on Jordan B. Petersons 6th rule for life.

Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. My house is definitely not in order. So really who am I to criticize? I do think that maybe as a rule we shouldn’t elevate anyone to sainthood. Or hold anyone up as an exemplar.

Maybe we should just concentrate on the living.

The alternative to retirement

The problem with life is that it’s unsatisfactorily vague in terms of duration. You could die in utero (not the Nirvana album) or you could hang on by your grimy fingernails, clawing at the linoleum until the ripe old age of a hundred and eleventy. That’s quite a range. Sure, we could bell curve it…. but really statistics are for other people, we’re all planning on being the exception.

(Annoyingly) none of us know how long we’ve got left… exactly. It would make planning this whole ‘life experience’ thing such a more manageable process. I would like to posit a solution. Instead of retiring at sixty five, I think we should instead all just… kill ourselves.

comicwannaseesomething1.pngI know, this idea may seem a little fringe, at first, but allow me a brief moment to convince you of its merit.

Sixty five is a pretty good innings. And things from that point onwards are just hankering to go downhill anyway…. By this stage you’ve racked up a metric fuck tonne of carcinogens, all of whom are getting rowdy in your soft tissue and are just itching for the opportunity to go all Fukushima. You’ve got dementia waiting in the wings. It was supposed to be waiting for you in the passage… but you know. And that grinding noise in your knee…. that’s the anatomical equivalent of waking up at 3am because you thought you heard breaking glass. (unlikely to be a good thing)

How would your life change if you knew that on your sixty fifth birthday you had to take a self inflicted dirt nap? Chances are you wouldn’t be wasting your life in some job that you hate. You sure as hell wouldn’t be saving for retirement…

As soon as we put a deadline (pun only loosely intended) into play we suddenly become A LOT more motivated to get busy living. We appreciate that we don’t have much time left and get busy doing all those things we’ve always wanted to do. (theoretically)

Let’s take things a bit further though. By killing yourself at sixty five you’re actually being incredibly altruistic. Some might even argue this is the ultimate form of altruism. (and lets be honest, likely to be the only truly charitable thing you will ever do for humanity) After all, old people are pretty insufferable. Driving slowly, and wobbling unsteadily from left to right through the supermarket aisle. Always telling you about how things were better, back in the day.

Think about it! We could single handedly end Bingo nights, lawn bowls and retirement villages. Health insurance would become affordable and universal. Its those old fucks with their blackened lungs and cirrhotic livers that are the ones making it expensive for the rest of us.

If you’ve only got until sixty five are you really going to work up until your last day? Hell no. Youth unemployment solved, thank you very much. Also the world is going to become a lot more egalitarian. With that sixty fifth birthday as your cut off date, you’re going to make damn sure you spend every last penny. No more inter-generational wealth. Plus with all those old people kicking off we can finally churn some of those properties closer to work. I think we can all appreciate less time spent commuting. (assuming anyone will actually want to bother with a mortgage anymore)

Obviously all those people hovering around or nearing D-Day will be somewhat reticent to get on the cart… so to speak. I think we need to engage with our elderly and convince them that this is, in fact, the right thing to do.

Sure we’ll miss your musty smell and your long winded stories. But (always) look on the bright side (of death), you died with your boots on. As opposed to alone in some sterile palliative care facility. That’s gotta count for something right? And think of all the good your cold dead corpse will do.

Seriously. Move along. You’re holding back the species.

Ignominious rescue

So… my grocery shop trip by bicycle (see previous post) was largely a disaster and I had to be rescued by my wife. But I did learn a couple of things. Mostly I now know why why people don’t transport goods in this manner.

Turns out the heavy crate changes your center of gravity completely. Now that I think about it, of course it would.

I had to cross a busy main road on my way back. Its has two lanes in each direction, seperated in the middle by a raised center island. While I bunny-hopped the island easily on my way there. Trying to do it with a crate filled with groceries on the way back, turned out to be my undoing.

I remember thinking that the one point of failure on my contraption might be the cable tie I had used to secure the crate to my seat and that maybe I should take a spare cable tie along… you know, just in case. I immediately forgot about my concern. (as one does) That cable tie turned out to be kinda vital. With the weight of my groceries combined with my attempt to mount the curb, the load on the cable tie was too much and it snapped. This lowered the already heavy crate onto my back tire.

Mid bunny-hop, suddenly my back tire seized, causing me to… well… I think I did quite well under the circumstances. If I had been cleated in I think I would face planted into the tar. I managed, somehow to recover, jump off and grab the bike before it completely tipped over. Amazingly I only spilled a couple of lemons and one of my plantains into the road and not a single egg broke despite my reactionary acrobatics and scrapping a fair amount of skin off my knee and shin.

My bike was now however, completely immobile. Flip… Was not not the word I used.

About a hundred meters down the road is a gas station with a coffee shop. I dragged my bike there and ordered a coffee. Then sat down and phoned my wife.

‘Please come and rescue me’.

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When she eventually stopped chortling, she came and rescued me.

IMG_8723.jpgWaiting for the recovery vehicle… at least I had coffee.

Once we’d transferred the crate into the car, to the sound of my daughter chiming in from the carseat ‘Rescuing daddy, rescuing daddy’, I was able to ride the bike home.

Mortifying. Turns out I’m really bad at this downsizing, eco-friendly thing…

 

After that we visited my parents. My dad has spent the last couple of days constructing a cart. I think he felt sorry for us because he saw us pulling my daughter around the garden in a cardboard box.

We decided (because we are responsible parents and because of my earlier shenanigans) that we should test it out on the Basset Hound first. To make it sure it was… eh… safe.

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And although he didn’t… exactly volunteer… I think he quite enjoyed himself.

The girl child however, even after seeing the proof of concept and noting that the basset hound had survived unscathed, was not particularly interested in being pulled around by a noisy lawn-mower. Can’t say I blame her.

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Much more content to swing.

The Frankenstein Faith.

I think, like most people, I have this ideal sense of self that I would one day like to achieve. That way I can use some high end nouns to bulk out my twitter bio and not feel like an imposter. I like to espouse the ideology that should get me to this exemplar state of being, but really, my life is largely mired in hypocrisy and procrastination.

I am not very original, so I like to borrow and steal from the -isms of others. I don’t ever adopt any of these wholesale, they are not me and I am not them. I don’t think you should ever brand yourself as someones disciple, if you can, you should always be your own brand, even if it’s just a patchwork coat of mismatched dogma.

For example while not a Mustachian, I really like Mr. Money Mustache or Peter Adeney if you prefer. I also really like Bea Johnson. Who is to zero wasters what MMM is to Financial independence and early retirement aficionados. I also love Chris Kresser whose books have inspired me to really consider my food and what it is that I’m eating before I stuff it into my mouth.

Through the larceny of other peoples tenets I have created this Frankenstein faith for myself. But, like with any religion, talking the talk is easy. Walking it, is much harder. Unless your belief system is pizza, Red-bull and Playstation. (which seems to be my default setting)

One my new found core-tenets is this idea of paleo-esque eating (Chris Kresser) and for a while now our family has (mostly) given up on the large retail supermarket chains. We now buy seasonal fruit and vegetables and buy everything wholesale. We buy our milk from a dairy outlet that lets you fill up your own bottles and our meat comes from an old school butcher who stands behind the counter and knows exactly the provenance of the meat he’s selling.

Tacked onto this is trying to minimize our waste (Bea Johnson). We compost almost everything. We try to buy stuff without packaging and take our own bags when we go shopping. I even use a bamboo toothbrush now.

I know, it has this whole greenie beanie neo-hipster vibe. And I hate the way it sounds when I type it all out. But let’s be honest, all belief systems are stupid. In the end it’s about living in away that makes you less anxious and more in sync with your operating system.

I drive pretty much everywhere. I’ll occasionally walk to our local to get coffee which is about three hundred meters from our house. But otherwise its motor vehicular transport for Joey. Compare this to when I was a kid and rode absolutely everywhere on my bicycle. Those were good times. (Enter Peter Adeney)

In any event I’ve decided, if I can, I’m going to try and cycle more. So earlier today I went to the bike shop to see what they could offer me in terms of a rig that I could carry my groceries in. I couldn’t really find anything that was suitable for my needs. And what was available, was really expensive.

So when I got home I disappeared into the workshop with my bike for about an hour and jury-rigged a type of load carrying system out of a length of twelve diameter 304 stainless steel round bar and a plastic crate. A couple of 3/4” hose clamps secured the structure to the back of my bike. I’ve made it so I can easily mount and dismount the crate with minimum effort.

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Tada!

My wife arched her eyebrow skeptically when I proudly rolled out my new creation. ‘You’re going to transport our milk and eggs in that?’ ‘Sure, why not’, I replied. ‘Why don’t you rather get a little wicker basket on the front like Jessica Fletcher’. I glowered at her. Although that did take the wind out of my sails a bit.

Being good Friday the Fruit and vegetable wholesaler is closed today. But tomorrow morning I am going to try and make my first bicycle shopping run. It’s about a 6km round trip along the stream near my house. Hopefully my contraption will be able to take the weight…. it should.

(famous last words)

 

Things girls can’t do…

Perhaps, he thought, I should qualify this whole diatribe with some sort of statement of personal bias, lest I inadvertently offended people. Offense is inevitable, I understand that. Especially since I’m the male of the species and therefore the dominant and authoritative voice on the subject matter of gender. God blessed me with some mighty fine (and lets be honest about this, totally above average) junk. And since God is a dude (fist bump) and created me first (in his image) I feel this gives me some sort of divine expertise on the subject matter at hand.

I’m weary of opening with satire. Satire means you might not get dinner. Or risk having a spanner* tossed in your general (girls can’t throw) direction.

*if you’re dating a girl from the southern suburbs. Initially I was going to write ‘broken bottle’, but I’m trying to give them the benefit of the doubt.

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Despite what I might claim, I am actually still quite prejudiced. I find it disturbingly instinctual and somehow, deeply embedded in the gray squishy stuff inside my cranium. I find myself constantly having to auto-correct my more basic and primordial instincts (that are underlined in red). Outwardly of course I’d like to believe I can function as a seemingly egalitarian paragon, which is how I’d like to behave and be perceived. But it worries me that I constantly need to be battling the sociopath within my own mind.

Let me illustrate my bias with an example.

I was sitting on a plane recently waiting for the boarding procedure to wrap up when the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. You know the usual blurb welcoming you on board, expected flight time etc. Only the pilot was a female. While this shouldn’t have mattered, my reptilian brain immediately took note of this development. ‘Jesus we are so fucked’. The hamster in my mind likes his pilots to be male. And preferably white. Any deviation from this perceived skill set causes him to fall off his wheel and briefly run around his enclosure, wringing his hands and upending his water bowl.

A nano-second later the auto-correct feature kicked in with its soothing logic. After all there is nothing that would suggest one gender (or race) is somehow superior to another at operating an aircraft. I truly believe this.

Still, somewhere in the dark, cavernous interior of my brain, some stray neuron fired that shouldn’t’ have. I suppose one could argue that its some sort of perceived loyalty to my ‘tribe’. And that its that loyalty ascribing some spurious sense of superiority to my own kind.

I suppose that is possible…. I still don’t like it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about equality lately since I have now procreated and produced a girl-child. Before this, in all honesty, I only ever really thought of equality in very broad and dismissive terms.

This is likely because ignorance is bliss. When you are a white heterosexual male (generally speaking) you don’t care. You really don’t. I mean how can you… and why would you? You have no concept of being discriminated against, it’s something that’s NEVER EVER happened to you. It has certainly has never happened to me. Well not that I’ve noticed. And if someone has tried, my brain and ego would immediately override it as ‘Clearly this person is some kind of idiot’ and I would never think about it again. How can I can empathize with something that I have no experience with? I mean I can make some assumptions and maybe hypothesize what it must be like… at best all I’m really doing is upsetting people with my cutesy academic approach and at worst I am just being dishonest. Humans are selfish creatures and when you perceive yourself to be the apex predator what reason do you have to change your behavior?

I generally consider myself a moderate (although really isn’t that just another tribe or label) and I imagine Feminism occupies some point left of me. For a long time I thought Feminism was just a form of extremism. And therefore worthy of derision that comes with fringe politics. It seemed to me they had drifted so far off towards the horizon you could hardly even see them anymore. There they seemed to have pilot fished themselves onto whatever (vegan) creature existed there and now seemed content to fight battles other than the bout they were created for. But then I started wondering what I would do, under the circumstances…. and how angry I would get if this was me.

The answer is probably very angry. And angry people gravitate toward other angry people.

But how does one rage against something that the other side doesn’t think is really ‘a thing’? And if I do acknowledge that it is a thing, it doesn’t really affect me anyway, so support from me is clearly going to be limited, the status quo totally benefits me. It requires some serious altruism to get my ass off the sofa and try help find a solution to… well… if you guys want to call it a problem then okay…

I don’t have any really good ideas about this. For the most part I’m just talking out loud. I do feel that didactic conversation is better that aggressive debate where one side intractably screams down the other and everyone eventually just resorts to playground bullying and name calling.

To be fair, it’s not really something I have thought about much (until recently). I mean I’ve always agreed with the concept that men and woman should be treated equally. As an aside, I don’t think men and women are equal. (We have different qualities and I think those qualities are impossible to weight and rank)  But treated equally, sure I could get behind that.

I was with my daughter on the playground other day. I was sitting there watching her crawl around and explore one of these big installation pieces. This other slightly older girl had climbed up onto the second tier of the jungle gym. Sitting there, I surmised she wasn’t in any real danger and she seemed quite capable. Only her father swooped in from the other side of the playground and scooped her off the jungle gym. As he took her down he chided her, ‘You need to be careful honey, that’s dangerous’.

Would he have done the same to his boy child? I don’t know. We allow boys to engage in slightly riskier activities while girls are restricted because they might get hurt. Boys falling and scraping all the skin off their knees is a right of passage. For girls it’s an undesirable trait that needs to be discouraged.

For all tense and purposes that dad had good intentions. He didn’t want his daughter getting hurt. But this episode opened a whole can of murk inside my mind.

We treat boys and girls different right from the get go. How do we expect to create this Utopian society when our social norms are so deeply ingrained in us? Is an egalitarian society just a pipe dream?

I heard this great analogy recently about hypocrisy and speeding. Broadly speaking we appreciate that a speed limit in a suburban environment is a good idea and that setting a speed limit is a societal preference that makes things safer for all of us. Yet at some point, we all break the speed limit and we believe that this hard rule should sometimes be bent just for us. It should definitely NOT be bent for that other person though… they are clearly a selfish maniac. ‘Fuck you, buddy, fuck you!!’.

When it comes to equality are not just all hypocrites? We talk a good talk. But when it comes down to living these concepts as hard unyielding rules, we struggle. Maybe I should just speak for myself. It seems a bit unfair to paint everyone with this brush. After all I might just be the exception and everyone else is more like the twelve peers of Charlemagne.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I just wanted to ramble. I do think that maybe small incremental steps in the right direction is perhaps a better form of attack. You know, slowly boiling the frog as opposed to forcing him into the hot water. With our immediate gratification mindset maybe we’ve forgotten that these things take time. Potentially longer than our meager lifespans will allow. Is the best we can do to build a solid foundation for the next generation to improve on?  Is that potentially our lot in life?

Maybe we should start with all just being a tad more honest with ourselves. I think that could help.

 

Kill the programmers. Save the world.

The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment – Warren Bennis

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In anticipation of this event I already have the dog. My wife came with a Basset hound (not a real dog) and while Warren Bennis wasn’t breed specific, I can only deduce from his lack of a caveat, that he never owned a basset hound. Responsibility is not really their forté. In fact I often find myself both befuddled and amused that such a creature exists. Afterall canis familiaris comes from genetically engineering a sub-species of wolf. It casts serious doubt on… well… the French for starters.

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Our world is in a constant state of flux. Which I’m largely appreciative of, since for the most part, I am quite partial to a bit of impermanence. It keeps things interesting. And for as long as anyone can remember, futurists, carnival psychics, weathermen and more recently economists have tried to forecast tomorrow.

When I was a toddler I fell out of the wash basket I was using as coracle and smashed my head into the galvanized post of the clothes line. The result was a nifty scar (not unlike Harry Potter). The blunt force trauma however to my third eye (and surrounds) was less endearing and unfortunately debilitating. It meant I was never able access my chakra’s and my ability to predict the future has, as a result, been severely impaired. (Basically zero) Although you could argue that this makes me just like everyone else. Apparently its this amazing commonality that we all share. Regardless of race, gender, political ideology or fiber intake, one of those great egalitarian forces at play.

I can however still make some assumptions about the future and then hypothesize. Which is not unlike mental masturbation. You can practice it on your own and it’s relatively fun.. but really the payoff is short lived and its mortifying if you’re ever caught with your pants down. We still do it though. Some of us daily and routinely. Hypothesize I mean. We suppose things. And then take steps to combat something that hasn’t happened yet. And potentially may never happen.

The opposite of this is mindfulness (I think). Or at least living in the moment. It’s something I’ve been trying to cultivate recently. But it’s really hard. Especially since the future seems quite exciting and potentially somewhat comforting to us. Somewhere out there in the future there is a version of us that is, hopefully, better than what we are now. Although why this should be of solace to us is a little worrisome. Doesn’t that mean that the current version of us is less than optimal? Or even defective somehow? Why do I plan on being better at some future yet undetermined date? What’s wrong with me right now? (besides the obvious I mean)

In any event, while you’re sitting in your little corporate cubicle farm, ready to minimize your Facebook window at a moments notice, you are failing to grasp the grim reality of your situation.

Right now, somewhere, some vitamin D deprived, bespectacled programming fuck is writing code meant to replace you in your job. He doesn’t hate you. (well… he might) This is just the way of things…. and the sooner you realize you are basically an inefficient, time-wasting meat sack with a heartbeat the better off you’ll be.

This machine is guaranteed to be waaaaaay better at your job than you. No more coming in late,  no more smoke breaks. No more sniffing glue or blow off the toilet seat during lunch. No more browsing Pornhub or tweaking your manufactured Instagram life during office hours. In fact, lets be honest, if you weren’t around the company would probably save A LOT of money. And the work would actually get done! Why wouldn’t they want to replace you with a machine? I suppose if you were really good looking they might keep you around. But ugly people are fucked. Efficiency all the way.

Lately I’ve been endearing myself to the other parents in the toddler birthday scene. ‘Hopefully you’re not planning on steering your son or daughter to take up medicine?’ I mention offhandedly. This makes the other adults clustered in the defensive bulwark shift uncomfortably and avoid eye contact. They sense Jo is about to launch into a soliloquy but none of them want to be the one to set him off on his tirade.

‘It’s like wanting your child to become an alchemist. You’re being an irresponsible parent’, I continue, ‘in the future all surgery will be done by robots. Insanely more accurate than your inefficient son or daughter with their shaky hands and opioid addiction problems’. ‘Medicine as we know it will no longer exist. We will still need plumbers though. And probably electricians. Infinitely better career choices in my opinion’.

Going forward I think we have two survival choices. (There may be more, but at the moment my binary brain can only think of two) You can turn yourself into a highly specialized freelancer or you can become an entrepreneur. Neither of these can (as far as I can tell) be easily or cheaply replicated by a machine. And there should (theoretically) always be a demand for both.

Or you can make so much money now that you won’t have to worry about the future. That is the third option.

I’m making the assumption that the machines don’t rise up and kill us all first. After all how many programmers do you think there are right now, sitting in their y-fronts drinking Red bull and mucking about with AI. One of them is sure to get it right one these days. Fuck the terrorists. We should be rounding up the programmers!

If we act now we can…

  1. Stop the technological advance and save millions of jobs.
  2. Stop the unemployed starving masses rising up and murdering the all the 2%ers.
  3. Preserve the status quo. (it seems pretty okay at the moment imo)
  4. and… Potentially save humanity

Now we just have to debate whether humanity is worth saving…

 

Actually… now that I think about it, forget I said anything.

Perpetuating an imperfect system

My heading for this blog post was going to be, ‘Saving for retirement’, but considering how I feel about the topic, that seems disingenuous at best. Also a reader may mistakenly surmise that this is a post about personal finance (It mostly isn’t).

I should probably mention that I have nothing against the word ‘for’. As a preposition it is totally functional and relatively useful. ‘Saving’ is also fine, as a stand-alone concept. I think everyone should try it at least once. But ‘retirement’ is an awful, malignant word. Grouped together these words form (more or less) the basis for everything that is wrong with the world…. ok, I will grant you some notable exceptions. Like… warm beer and short people. Debating however, why such things should be allowed to exist is to question the divine. (which is another blog post)

Saving for retirement on the surface seems like a very reasonably exercise. But maybe it’s just an elaborate form of masochism. Emphasis on the word ‘Saving’. I have far less issue with building a flexible income generating asset base that can last into perpetuity (through something like entrepreneurship).

Having a lot of money when you choose to retire is obviously really nice. And having more cash when you retire is obviously better than having less cash. But have you really ever considered what retirement actually entails? Besides sitting around and counting down the hours before your inevitable foamy, (gurgling) demise in some palliative care facility.

Why do you want to retire anyway? Doesn’t this mean you’ve bought the programme? They sold you the kool-aid. And you drank deep. You’re on step eight of your ten-step life! Next stop… smelling like an old person and death. Some people like to imagine step nine is travel and boat cruises… but its not. It’s a weird musty smell… and having suspicious looking growths zapped off your wrinkled, sun damaged skin by a dermatologist and pencilling funerals into your diary every weekend as your friends and family kick off. Sounds awesome, I can’t wait. Basically I have to save and invest for my whole entire life in anticipation of this event? Seems like a great way to spend the time allocated to me.

How many happy retirees do you know personally that are getting after it? You know… living the dream. Count them on your fingers. I’ll wait… I’m willing to wager less than a handful and that’s only if you move in impressive circles. Would you swap your life currently for their life? They have money after all.

Let’s segue into something else and ramble on about science for a bit, because science is awesome. And finance is just okay. When it comes to retirement we are using outdated models and concepts that were struck in the fifties. Expected life span. You see we all have just one lap. Lets say its four hundred meters… only half way through the race someone in a white lab-coat has changed it to 800 meters.

My expected death is age 78. Statistically speaking. I’ve just turned 39. Which feels ancient. Some days I wonder how people who are 49 get out of bed in the morning without painkillers.

Only my life expectancy is probably not 78. It’s probably closer to 100. Mind you for the proletariat its still 78. In fact probably less. I’ll probably be in a position to afford the miracles of science that are coming. The nano-machines. The new organs (with modifications). The rejuvenation clinics. The implants that tell me three days in advance that I’m going to have a heart attack (just enough time to pop down to the clinic and have flawless robotic surgery and a flat white). My two year old daughter will likely live to be 120… maybe longer. And for her children death maybe something that only happens to poor or unlucky people. Death is unlikely to be egalitarian forever.

Imagine at age 60 you’re going to have live another… 40 years off your retirement funds. That’s a really long time to be running down your assets. Sure, you might have a metric-fuck-tonne of money, or be an adherent of Mustachianism (the 4% rule) or even on the flipside just conjuring up a dystopian future where we trade cigarettes and blowjobs for dirty brown water and blighted potatoes, so really, what’s the point?

Round about now you might imagine this rant is against investing and pro-Epicurism. Let’s work forever and blow our money on whiskey, cigars and the experience economy. Let’s consume to the point where we need a self-storage unit to contain our ever burgeoning collection of stuff.

Its not.

My issue is more about how we look at our lives. We get these social norms and this corporate nonsense pumped down our throats as soon as we’re born. This is your life!

  1. Get born. 2. Go to school. 3. Get a degree (get into debt). 4. Get a job. 5. Work nine am to five pm 6. Buy a house (you can’t afford) 7. Buy a car (you don’t need) 8. Breed. 9. Retire. 10. Die.

Instead of retirement shouldn’t we be punting a concept of designing our lives better? At the moment the way we use our money doesn’t make any sense. We kill ourselves to hoard our money away for a period in our lives where we can’t really make full use of it anymore. Or we blow it all and use whatever we earn to finance our debt. Perhaps I am decrying the lack of some middle ground alternative.

Is this just some terrible burden we’ve all taken on where we actively try (and very often succeed) to defer our lives. Money (and by association our investments) should be the scaffolding we use to build our lives around, not some weird end game strategy.

I used to believe in the whole retirement fairy tale. I mean it’s worked for my old man. (hasn’t it?) He sits around, reading, pottering around in his workshop, annoying his offspring, bickering with my mother and watching hours of network news. Slowly he is trickling down his funds to zero or close to that…  a fuse burning down towards the great white light and the acrid burning smell of litigation (when his children will murder each other for the scraps of his estate)

We imagine free-form days as the ultimate reward after a long hard trek through life. But in reality nothing is more frightening (and potentially dull). When did being old and rich somehow morph into something to aspire to?

Young and rich would obviously be better. And middle aged and rich would be the compromise position between the two extremes. In reality none of those outcomes are very likely, although we are constantly told that outliers in this field can be studied and emulated (just buy our book). In our post-industrial revolution lives we are more like cogs in a very big machine, all grinding on in the same direction on some predetermined path unable to alter our destiny.

This is not a blog post about solutions. Besides, who am I to make any form of judgement call about anyone else’s life and how they plan on spending it? For the most part I’m just wondering out loud about my own unique circumstances and a system that I’ve decided is stupid. Or maybe this is just long form justification for a (mostly theoretical) lifestyle decision that I a trying embrace.

In any event I do think it’s something worth thinking about. Broadly this post is about future proofing yourself. (you know for when the robots come). And not being complacent in our assumption that the status quo will simply continue ad infinitum.

What is your reducency plan?

Joeys thoughts on gun control

I had these arbitrary rules that I’d set for myself about blogging. Try and be nice (especially when reviewing someones book or game) And generally avoid highly polarizing topics of opinion.

I’m getting better at the first one. I don’t write the scathing fuck you reviews I used to. If I really hate something I try not to write about it. You know the whole, ‘if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it’ chestnut. I don’t necessarily agree with that reasoning.. BUT… no one writes a book or a blog to be critiqued or run down by somebody they’ve never met before. I’m not entirely sure why we feel the need to review books anyway… but we do. I certainly do. But I’d like my reviews and comments (these days) to be more of a homage than a long list of perceived deficiencies in someones work.

So… Joeys thoughts on gun control (or how to piss off everyone) I’m clearly bored today.

It should probably start with some caveats. I am not a gun-nut. Guns for the most part don’t really interest me other than I accept that they are a tool that serves a function. (its not an accessory that I’ve pimped out, it doesn’t define me and I don’t argue the minutiae of velocity and hydrostatic shock). However, I am almost permanently armed. I carry a Glock 22 (.40 S&W) and at least two knives, a Zero Tolerance 0301 and an Emerson Super Karambit. (Sometimes further supplemented with a .38 special)

I should also mention that I believe firmly in the most extreme interpretation of gun control. Ie. That nobody should have a gun. Not individuals. Not the police. Not the government. No one. Since that is never going to happen. I have to be a slightly more realistic in what I believe. (Spoiler alert, I have NO real solutions, I’m just rambling)

Let me also start with a story of why I am the way I am…

When I was eighteen I was living in single room studio at the back of my parents property. They also have a cottage, which at the time was being rented out to a (somewhat eccentric) hairdresser. He occasionally worked on clients at home. One day two elderly wealthy patrons came to have their hair cut and styled. Decked out in their finery and driving a new BMW they attracted the attention of some less than desirable individuals who followed them.

These two ladies oblivious that they were being followed rang the bell and then drove into the property, followed, before the gate closed, by the robbers. It was still early. I was awake watching CNN and eating Fruit Loops, when I heard what I thought was a  scream. I paused, muted the television and then picked up my venerable Walther PPK (which I inherited from my grandfather). Still in my Pajamas I wandered off to go see what all the fuss was about. I was not prepared.

A white BMW stood there, all the doors were open, two women stood off to one side having their rings and ear rings stripped off them. In total there were five robbers, and just from my quick glance (before I ducked back behind the wall and into hard cover) at least three of them were armed with handguns (likely Torakevs and Norincos) and the other two… I wasn’t sure.

I stood there, frozen, Walther PPK in hand. ‘Fuck…’. ‘What was I going to do?’ I probably had the WORST gun for this type of situation. I had seven (low powered) rounds in my Walther and no spare mag. My opponents were about ten meters away, some behind soft-cover, with two civilians in the background.

I couldn’t do anything I realized. (mostly because I am not Bruce Willis or Steven Seagal) I’ve obsessed about my inaction for years and played this scenario over and over in my head. In the end I made the right decision (I think). After they’d stripped the two woman they hijacked their car and tried to make their getaway. They however didn’t realize that this wasn’t their house, and that these two women didn’t have a remote for the gate. They were trapped. (its not a gate you could just ram open) They had another get away vehicle outside, and between them they managed to force the gate open just enough that they could all squeeze through and escape in the other vehicle, abandoning their newly acquired BMW (but not their loot)

Theoretically I suppose they could have put two rounds in the head of each of the women before they drove off and I would have been guilt ridden for the rest of my life. Or our weird tenant could have come stumbling out and got blown away (he’d locked himself in the bathroom). How would this have changed my actions or inaction? I don’t know. I’ve managed to stop theorizing about this day and hardly ever think about it anymore.

But for a long time this day was burned into my brain. I never wanted to feel like that again. Helpless and useless. Never. That’s not to say if I’d had a better gun I would have used it and the outcome would have been different. All I wanted was better options. Having a gun shouldn’t make you less reasonable.

This day, combined with the work I did with the police and in the Commando has cemented in my mind that the world has some real motherfuckers in it. (I don’t really believe in the concepts of good and evil, but certainly some people are largely useless to society and seem intent on imposing themselves on my liberty)

Let me underscore, that if everyone magically gave up their guns. And therefore no guns existed, I would be the first to sign up. Unfortunately that is not and will never be the case.

So as I understand it, their are two basic premises. Someone can use a gun to curtail someone else’s liberty (death being the most extreme). This can be as simple as a robber using a gun to steal something that belongs to you. Or the police coming to arrest you because you haven’t paid your taxes. Both use the threat of violence to insure your cooperation. If you resist, I will kill or injure you with this gun.

We get obsessed with the gun part. We could just as easily insert machete, claw-hammer or HB pencil.

The flip side is, that if we ban guns, my liberty is curtailed insofar as you take away the options I have to defend myself. Sure, with two gun armed combatants with equal skill (Ceteris paribus) it could go either way. Take away my gun, and the odds massively favor the other combatant. Who are you to curtail my liberty in such a way? So unless you can make ALL guns go away (and maybe ban machetes, claw-hammers, HB pencils and automobiles while you’re at it) I can’t get behind a ban. Sorry.

I can however get behind control. (although the comic book nugget, who watches the watchmen, I think applies)

Guns and cars. One requires a licence and training. The other, not so much.

So who decides who should be allowed to have a gun and who shouldn’t. What criteria or metric do we use? Mental health? How about only white men should have guns? Or only Mormons (they’re responsible aren’t they?).  This gets so murky so quickly. Someone has to decide these things. The government maybe?

The NRA love to point out that Hilter banned personal ownership of firearms. And look what happened there. The NRA is my opinion are (for the most part) a bunch of motherfuckers. This story is not entirely factual. The Wiemar Republic was largely responsible for German citizens not being allowed to own firearms. The Nazis further disarmed ‘unreliable’ persons (mostly Jews) but relaxed restrictions on ‘for-realsies’ Germans to own guns.

The government tells me I can’t dry out and smoke a naturally occurring plant. If I do, people with guns will come, lock me up and put me in a building with murders and rapists. That seems like a very reasonable organization, pretty sure I trust them to decide whether my schizophrenic neighbor who twists the heads off stray cats should own an an AR-15.

This is where things start to get even less clear cut for me. Assault rifles.

I have during the course of my life owned several of these (an FN-FAL and AKSU-74) and I’ve used R4’s and 5’s in the commando (essential Israeli made Galils). But really, now that I’m older I often wonder what the point of these weapons, in a first world middle class suburb environment, are? If you want a weapon for self defense get a pistol and and a 12 gauge. That will cover you for about 99.9% of scenarios in the 0.0001% chance you actually need a weapon to resolve the situation.

Its difficult to justify an assault weapon for self defense. Baring a full scale breakdown of society. (then you totally want an assault weapon). Is that likely to happen? No, probably not. Yet a lot of people obsess about this eventuality and act accordingly.

I suppose its become the case of bringing a knife to a gun fight. Clearly you want to be the guy with the gun. In the same way, in a gun fight you want to be the guy with the gun with the highest cyclic rate to improve your odds at survival. Ergo if the other guy has a hand gun you want the assault rifle. The arms race is as old as humanity.

Unfortunately this also speaks to my libertarian tendencies… the army can have assault weapons, then why can’t I? Because the army needs these weapons to fight wars and foreign armies… History is littered with the corpses of the citizens who trusted that the government (and army) had their best interests at heart.

In an ideal world, I would like to decide who has access to firearms. (hint, it would only be me) the rest of you can fend for yourself with pointy sticks and rocks. I think this has something to do with the way we are hardwired.

The United states presents its own set of issues. I’m inclined to believe that the problem is less about gun control. And more something on a cultural level. I don’t know what that is. and I have no idea how you would fix it. I don’t think you can fix it with legislation though. Even worse its morphed into this awful partisan issue, with peoples identity warping into this weird for-or-against mindset. I don’t know how you fix anything without some level of cooperation from everyone.

I love Thomas Jefferson. Probably in my top five favorite people of all time. Along with Theodore Roosevelt (definitely a gun-nut). And I totally get his reasoning with the second amendment. I wish he was still around, I wonder if he’d be horrified to see where we’ve ended up?

On death

Memento, homo … quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris’ (remember human, that you are dust and to dust you will return)

Interacting with a skeletal chassis wrapped in a black cowl and wielding a farming implement of questionable hygiene seems a little dated. (and let’s be honest, somewhat Pratchetty*)

death.jpg

* look at me, creating an adjective.

Having never experienced death, I’m loathed to hypothesize on how our interaction will play out. I imagine some surprise (on my part) possibly followed by some light Q&A, maybe a pamphlet or laminated brochure being thrust at me, ‘Welcome to the afterlife’. Hopefully I will think of something witty to say, I’d like to make a good first impression. I think that might be situation dependent though, difficult to say something clever if you’ve just died in a suicide bombing and you’re preoccupied with picking drywall screws and bits of pressure cooker out of your skull (well.. what’s left of it)

Then again population dynamics being what they are, perhaps I’m being optimistic for a personalized experience. It seems more likely that we all get corralled into some sort of foyer or boardroom (along with the proletariat of the world) for the Death powerpoint FAQ. Which will likely fail to live up to the expectations, given the agitated excitement of the recently deceased.

After snacks and a bit of light banter we get separated into groups, based on religious preference, and led down markedly different aesthetic corridors. Atheists, agnostics and mixed faith couples unwilling to be separated are left to mill around aimlessly in the foyer. ‘Your representative is running a little late’, says Death. Which is somewhat of a relief. That we even have a representative I mean.

‘Something about the Hell-mouth over flowing’, Death mumbles. The audience shares looks of concern. Death laughs, ‘I apologize, a little joke I make, gets you guys every time, ha ha.’

It amuses me to consider some form of post death experience. For the most part it keeps me entertained about the inevitable. As Monty Python famously said, ‘Always look on the bright side… of death’.

For the most part however we as Homo sapiens aren’t amused by anything involving death. (From now on I shall refer only to the process and not the individual) We take it all very seriously, so seriously in fact that we attempt to prolong the inevitable. Not content with just kicking the bucket down the road (so to speak), we also spend an inordinate of time and effort creating narratives ranging from reanimation to resurrection to reincarnation to deal with post event uncertainty and potential consequences thereof.

What happens when we die? I have no idea. I mean I understand that we bloat, rot and get served up as a delicious all-day buffet for a menagerie of microorganisms (More than usual I mean). But that my consciousness is somehow backed up into an ethereal soul that streaks skyward on my demise, unfortunately, feels unlikely. If pushed for an answer I assume my consciousness just ceases to exist and that I disappear. Although to be fair, it’s difficult for me to conceptualize nothingness.

The good news is my thoughts and belief system(s) are completely irrelevant. As are yours. Untested and unprovable they remain purely theoretical until some future yet undetermined date. But feel free to continue any formalized rituals or mental models that you suppose might prepare you for the end, I certainly will.

Homo sapiens as far as I can tell have two purposes, to breed and then to die.

As to the former, breeding, we spend a disproportionate amount of time preparing ourselves, practicing our technique, validating mates and then post procreation, mopping up vomit and making aeroplane noises. In contrast we spend almost no time all considering our second prerogative, death, which is far more guaranteed and much less optional.

Death is an uncomfortable conversation. Only psychopaths, depressed people and philosophers think about death and dying. Death in my culture at least has become almost a taboo topic. I have (almost) never engaged with a co-worker at the water cooler about the manner in which they would like to die. Which is strange considering it’s a commonality we all share.

My genealogy is that of the Teutonic and Scandinavian tribes, who thought about death quite a lot. For the male of the species their entire life was dedicated towards a glorious end. Death in battle guaranteed a spot in the feast hall of Valhalla, whereas slipping in your own piss, falling down a gravelly incline and breaking your neck merely meant an entry on the waiting list (probably near the bottom). Better to die with an axe embedded firmly in your face and skip the queue.

But then out with the old gods and in with the new. Glorious self-serving death becomes a frowned upon exercise. (Along with masturbation and bacon*) However death is still very much in vogue. But more of the martyrdom variety and then once a critical mass of adherents is achieved, inflicting death on other faiths.

*both of which I love.

Since then dying seems to have picked up a lot of negativity. Possibly because it is so often prefixed with pain. The death part, as far as I can tell is completely painless. It’s the preamble that frightens us and then potentially what happens afterwards.

41 million minutes. That’s roughly the time allocated to me. Statistically speaking. Of that, at the venerable age of 38 I’ve used up 21 million of my minutes already. Leaving me with roughly 20 million minutes. (back of a napkin mathematics) Of that, I’ll be sleeping for at least 6 million minutes of that. Leaving me…. 14 million minutes. This is assuming I survive long enough to achieve my statistical allotment.

On some level we all know that life is short. We bandy about idioms like ‘Carpe diem’ and the more churlish ‘Grab life by the balls’. All of which are supposed to impress upon us the shortness of life and, that we really should get off the couch and ‘get after it’.

Is waking up every day and pretending that this is your last day a viable strategy? On the face of it I’m inclined to disagree, but only because I can imagine days like this to be frenetic, hedonic and ultimately exhausting. But that is more based on my personality. I often marvel at other people’s endurance to cultivate such a lifestyle and more perhaps more importantly to thrive in it. I have none of that zeal,. (I am completely dysfunctional until infused with at least one caffeinated beverage)

I have however, (recently) decided that since I am here and conscious, I should at least give try impress upon the world that I existed and leave some sort of mark to prove that ‘Jo was (in fact) here’.