Truth & Reality, and why it matters (Part 1)

Over the last few months, I’ve been bumping heads with the co-founders of my company.  Since I joined, the business has grown beyond their skill-set.  We’re now at the stage where we’re looking to clarify roles and responsibilities and it’s looking like I’ll receive the role of CEO after we close this capital raise.  In that transition though, it’s been challenging for the co-founders to navigate what it means to give up control of their business, for the sake of a better business.

A couple months ago, we brought in an executive coach to help sort things out.  Part of that process was a series of 1 on 1 interviews.  During mine, we touched on something that keeps coming up in my life.  Figured it was time to write about it.

One of the co-founders is a bit ‘woo woo’.  She’s an awesome person in so many ways and we get along far more than we butt heads… but we do butt heads.  As she would say, science and logic can’t explain everything.  As I would say, any true explanation is inherently scientific and logical.  I was hoping the executive coach would help bridge this gap.

When I did the 1 on 1 interview with the coach, I told her that I wished our co-founder would have a stronger appreciation for logic and my affinity for it.  I told her that logic in its purest form was the pursuit of truth.  She replied, “well that may be the case, but everyone lives their own truth.”  I paused for a moment, having heard that a few times before.  Something about living your own truth sounds noble, and righteous, and harmless.  But it didn’t sound very logical.  I asked her to elaborate.  She said, “My favorite color is blue.  That’s my truth.  No matter what you or anyone else may think or feel, that is true to me.”  Without thinking, I replied, “But if it’s only true for that person and nobody else, how true is it?”  She replied that this was going to become a very philosophical conversation very quickly and that we should probably get back on track.  I can’t help but think that we need to start making the time for these conversations.

I’ve given a considerable amount of thought to this idea of living your own truth and her example of someone’s favorite color.  I’ve always weighed it against the concept of truth from Plato’s Republic which behaves as a great illuminator.  One seems subjective while the other seems objective.  I was always under the impression that the truth was inherently objective…

When considering the example of someone’s favorite color, I think the word truth might be a misnomer.  Someone can say that their favorite color is yellow and for that to be a true statement, but does that make it a truth?  Maybe this is the difference between a true statement and a universal truth.  Or maybe there isn’t as much of a difference as I thought.  When someone declares that they have a favorite color, as long as it is in fact their favorite color, that’s not only a true statement but a universal truth.  No matter where you are in the universe or how you might look at it, that person has a singular preference towards a certain color.  I guess where I struggle is in suggesting an equivalency for the truth that is someone’s favorite color, and the truth that 1 + 1 = 2.  Technically speaking, both are true.  But one of these is a rather arbitrary statement of someone’s preference while the other is a fundamental building block of how we understand our shared reality.  I don’t think it’s fair to refer to them both as ‘truths’.

Many years ago, I was introduced to the idea of hallucinating your reality.  It was novel at first, but once I gave it more thought, it made so much sense.  Your body receives sensory input from our senses and our brain does its best to make sense of it.  It’s why certain types of brain damage can drastically change someone’s perception of reality.  It’s why hallucinogenics can change your perception of reality.  It’s how cognitive differences can change your perception of reality.  It’s why simple bias can change your perception of reality.  Your favorite color, in this context, has nothing to do with the qualities or value of that color, and everything to do with your perception of it.

I like the acknowledgement of everyone hallucinating their own reality because it really does remind us that our understanding of reality is only as good as our ability to perceive it.  It helps make sense of a wide range of perspectives and how cognitive differences can lead to honest, yet flawed interpretations.  There are several cognitive disorders which cause people to hallucinate things which only exist in their reality.  Is that a truth?  If that hallucination only exists in their reality and nobody else’s, is it fair to refer to this as a reality?  There’s a lot of validity to the old saying, ‘perception is reality’, but maybe this is where we need to work a bit more on understanding the difference between reality and our perception of it.

Perhaps truth and reality should be synonymous.  From my perspective, what’s true is  real and what’s real is true.  And that’s separate from perception.  What’s real is the shared reality we all perceive and look to understand.  That’s inclusive of what each individual’s interpretation of it may be.  But that doesn’t mean that someone’s interpretation of our shared reality creates our shared reality.  That would be like saying that because someone’s favorite color is blue, that blue is a superior color.  Yet I run into this all the time.

A few weeks ago, I was at our office with the co-founders and they brought in some special rocks.  They had talked about crystal therapy before and I was skeptical but never went out of my way to rain on their parade.  When they brought them out, they started talking about the energy they could feel from the rocks.  Then they asked if I would like to try.  I said sure, why not.  I followed their directions, tried to sense something, and got nothing.  I was told that I probably just didn’t have what it takes to sense that energy.  I laughed it off and we moved on.

Afterwards, I reflected on why I didn’t take crystal therapy seriously.  Generally speaking, it was because it wasn’t prevalent in western medicine.  I assumed that studies had been conducted and no verifiable evidence was found.  I had also seen more than one debunking show where someone went into a crystal healing session and came out rolling their eyes.  But in this day and age, it’s not enough to rely on the opinions of others.  For all the progress that western medicine has made, it’s deeply flawed in many ways.  It’s no longer reasonable to assume that something is without merit just because western doctors haven’t adopted it.  Reflecting on it now, that was probably never an intelligent assumption to make.

In this day and age, the world of information is at your finger-tips and it’s important to do the research ourselves.  So I did.

I found a study where a group was given crystals, were asked to meditate, and report back on any positive effects they may have experienced.  What they didn’t know is that some of the crystals were real and some were fake.  People reporting on things like tingling sensations, warmth from the rock, or a general improvement in their well-being had no correlation with whether they were holding a genuine crystal or a fake.  There was however a strong correlation between those who believed that crystal therapy was real and the perceived positive effects.  That strikes me as a rather simple, yet reasonable explanation.

Here’s where things get interesting though.  If perception is reality, and their bias towards the validity of crystal healing allowed them to perceive an improved well-being, is that not valid in some way?  Your state of mind can be one of the most powerful factors in promoting healing within the body.  If crystal therapy induces that positive state of mind, and that positive state of mind helps to heal the body, would it be fair to at least consider the crystals to be a catalyst?

This perspective seems to be the most reasonable of those that support this mode of healing but I can’t help but think that this also demonstrates the reality of crystal healing: its a practice designed to deliver placebo effects.  The scientific community and western medicine are quick to dismiss placebo effects when it comes to determining the efficacy of medicine.  Perhaps they’re right to do so.  I think it’s important to recognize the body’s ability to heal itself and to study this element of the human design to its furthest reaches.  That said, I don’t think that healing practices which have only demonstrated placebo effects under controlled conditions should be promoting themselves as ancient, mystical, new-age medicine.

I find it curious that everyone acknowledges snake oil as being a ‘fake medicine’ and that we should avoid recommending it to friends or family for its benefits.  If snake oil was able to act as a catalyst for the sake of delivering placebo effects, would that change things?  And if we can place crystal therapy in the same category as snake oil, why would the ‘woo woo’ crowd be so quick to embrace one yet so quick to condemn the other?

Yesterday, my co-founders showed up to our morning meeting and one of them brought out a pair of rocks which had been infused with ‘quantum energy’.  Admittedly, quantum physics seems to be beyond my intelligence so I hadn’t a clue what it meant.  That said, I was still skeptical that someone had ‘infused’ quantum energy into a pair of rocks that looked like they had been picked up at the beach.  They both held the rocks and said they didn’t feel anything from them, and joked that infusing rocks with quantum energy seemed a bit silly.  They offered the rocks over to me and I declined… something to the effect of “No… no… I”m good.”  And maybe that’s where I should’ve left it.  But I didn’t.

I told them about the study I had read after they brought those rocks out the last time.  I said that its very difficult for me to think that something like this is real when the science behind it would strongly suggest otherwise.  They reacted as if it was a personal attack.  Their responses included, “Not everything can be explained by science”, “I know what I know and nothing that you can say will change my mind”, “well how do you explain psychic mediums who talk to the dead?”, “well from my perspective, science and religion are the same thing.”   It was like being in the twilight zone.  Worse yet, I never seem to have a chance to actually have this conversation with them.  They’re always quick to say this is unproductive and we should get back to the meeting.  When I suggest setting some time aside to discuss this stuff, they tell me that they’re too busy for that right now.  Maybe I should just let them live in their reality while I live in mine?  That doesn’t seem right either.

“Not everything can be explained with science” is a curious perspective.  As far as I know, science is the practice of explaining things.  That’s not to say that science can explain everything here and now.  Our understanding of the universe is in its infancy.  So much so that every time we make a big discovery, we illuminate that much of the unknown.  But that doesn’t change that every true explanation of our reality is inherently scientific just as every true answer to the question ‘why’, is inherently logical.

“I know what I know and nothing can change my mind.”  I suppose this should’ve been a red flag.  Anytime someone says that their mind cannot be changed, you’re dealing with someone with a closed-mind.  I wish I knew how to open those minds.

“Well how do you explain psychic mediums who talk to the dead?” I responded with psychology.  I’ve seen mentalists break down the techniques that they use to work their craft and it’s absolutely fascinating.  Those who seem to be the best at this have a remarkable understanding for how the human mind works.  What I didn’t say though, is if someone had the ability to talk to the dead or read minds, why aren’t they putting those talents to better use?  If someone legitimately had those skills, it doesn’t make sense that they would be doing palm readings for $100 a pop or doing shows in Vegas.  If your intention was to make the world a better place, there are plenty of unsolved murders which the police could use a hand with.  If your intentions were to make money, the stock market would be low-hanging fruit.  This idea that psychics have applied their talents outside of these endeavors seems a bit convenient for me.

“Well from my perspective, science and religion are the same thing.”  She has a point.  In theory, science and religion are supposed to exist at the opposite ends of the spectrum.  In practice, it’s much less so.  I find that people often believe in science, that is, they accept it as true without understanding it.  Too often, I see scientific studies with poor methodology coming to questionable conclusions.  Yet to the untrained eye, this science is just as valid as any other.  That’s just not true, and I can’t help but think that this misunderstanding is a catastrophic failure of the educational system.  When you get people to believe in science the way they believe in religion, science becomes vulnerable to the same control mechanisms that exist in religion.

Earlier this week, a mining magnate from Australia was discovered to have been a primary source of funding for scientific studies aimed at denying climate change.  Last week a study funded by the dairy industry was released outlining that dairy was once again good for you.  We don’t have to go all that far back to remember the tobacco companies funding tobacco studies that suggested that tobacco was perfectly healthy.  Perhaps the individuals conducting these studies were scientists in title, but I have a hard time seeing them as scientists in spirit.  They were given a narrative to confirm and that’s not how science works.  Science comes from a place of skepticism.  You look to connect the dots to help explain how the universe works, and once you have a working theory, you do everything you can to disprove it.  Once you’ve done that, then your peers look for different and perhaps more creative ways to disprove it.  And if your theory is still standing after all that effort, the science community grants you a scientific consensus that says ‘yes, this is probably the best explanation available’.  But even then, your theories will be continue to be tested as our knowledge of that subject and the tools available to analyze it evolves.  The idea of this approach being applied to any religion seems absolutely foreign… as it should be.  Religion requires belief and faith.  Science requires understanding and skepticism.

I would be surprised if someone hadn’t come up with this before me, but I’m rather proud of it.  I can draw a rather simple line between science and religion.  Belief is to religion as understanding is to science.  To take that a step further, when you present new information to someone who believes something, they’ll adjust that information to fit their existing beliefs.  If you present new information to someone who looks to understand something, they’ll adjust their understanding to accommodate the new information.  When someone believes in something, there’s often nothing you can say or show them that will change their mind.  When someone looks to understand something, the only thing you need to show them to change their mind is evidence.

Sometimes I consider that belief is some sort of default of human cognition.  You have a certain perspective of the world, you feel more comfortable around information that confirms that perspective, so you seek it out and adopt it.  If your goal is to seek out information which confirms your view of the world, why would you apply the rigor of the scientific method? Why would you work so hard to prove your perspective to be untrue?  My answer is simple. it’s because truth and reality matter.  In part 2, I’ll try to answer why.

 

Business idea: The Anti-Telemarketer

Not sure how the telemarketing scene is evolving elsewhere but in my city, I’m receiving about 2-3 telemarketing calls a day.  More than half are scams.  It’s getting annoying.

So I thought I’d come up with a solution.

Not long ago, Google debuted its Duplex AI.  This AI assistant is capable of navigating phone calls.  It’s pretty darn amazing.  If you’ve yet to see it, here’s a link:

 

So it looks like Google’s new AI assistant is going to be capable of a whole host of tasks, perhaps even handling telemarketers.  Here’s what I’m envisioning:

When your phone rings and you see a number you don’t recognize, feel free to let your AI assistant answer the call for you.  If it turns out to be a legitimate call and someone you’d like to speak with, your AI should be able to navigate that conversation quickly and effectively.  Perhaps your phone would ring a second time with the AI alerting you with who the caller is and what they’re looking for.  If, however, it wasn’t someone you wanted to talk to, the AI assistant would know how to navigate those calls as well.

For all the calls that you don’t want to answer, let’s put them in 3 categories.  First would be legitimate calls that you just don’t want to answer for whatever reason.  Maybe you’re hanging out on a beach with your friends over the weekend and your boss is calling… probably about those TPS reports.  Your AI assistant can let your boss know that you’re currently unavailable, take a message, and say that you’ll return that message at your earliest convenience.  Or maybe it’s a call that you’d like to take but you’re in the middle of something important.  Whatever the case may be, the AI should be able to navigate these conversations well enough to pass along a message.

The second category would be legitimate telemarketers.  We’re talking about legitimate businesses reaching out for cold sales or surveys.  For these, perhaps your AI assistant would know which businesses you have accounts with to better understand which promotions you might actually be interested in.  Rather than you having to go through the whole phone call to find out what the actual pitch is, your assistant could navigate that conversation and turn it into a brief text message for you.  For everything else, the assistant could quickly and politely say that you’re not interested, and request that you be taken off their call list.

The third category, and the one that inspired this idea, is the scam-based telemarketers.  Fuck those guys.  This week alone I’ve received:

  • Calls from places like Burundi, Somolia, Samoa, Seychelles, and Kalamazoo.  As I understand it, the calls hang-up before you can answer.  When you call back, you’re charged for your time on that call.
  • Calls from China telling me that I’m in big trouble relating to real estate purchases and government corruption.
  • Calls telling me that I’ve been busted for tax evasion and I need to reach out to my local tax office immediately.

Each is a robo-call, meaning that their process of generating leads is full automated and requires very few resources on their part.  My approach has been to pick up the calls and to hang up as soon as I recognize what it is.  But it’s not much of a solution as the calls keep arriving.  They might even be increasing in volume.  So how exactly do you fight back?

This idea is inspired by a TED Talk I saw a while back.  The speaker was being solicited by an email scammer.  Something to the effect of the Nigerian princess scam but it had to do with gold bullion, if I remember correctly.  The speaker, like most of us, was able to pick up on the scam rather quickly.  But rather than ignore, he thought he’d engage with the person on the other end for some fun. The email chain became rather entertaining as the speaker was able to get the scammer to use some questionable ‘code words’ in their communications.  At the end of the day, the speaker did this because he knew that for every minute this scammer spent targeting him, was a minute he wouldn’t be able to spend targeting someone else.  I appreciate his efforts as I’ve attempted the same thing… but there has to be a better way.  Enter Google Duplex.

Imagine that tax-scam robo-call running into your AI assistant:

Robo-call: “The reason behind this call is to notify you that we have registered a criminal case against your name concerning a tax evasion and tax fraud in the federal court house.  So if you want any further information about this case, please press 1.   If we don’t receive a call from your side, please be prepared to face the legal consequences, as the issue of tax is extremely serious and time-sensitive. So have a blessed time. ”

AI: “1”

Scammer: “(In a thick Indian accent) Hi my name is Nicky Johnson, how may I help you today?”

AI: “Hi, I received a call today about owing some taxes and I’d like to pay them before I get in trouble”

Scammer: “Thank you for calling.  This is a very urgent matter and we need to resolve it quickly before you’re forced to pay any penalties.”

AI: “Thank you so much for letting me know.  What do we do next?”

Scammer: “Can I start with your name and social security number?”

AI: “which name?”

Scammer: “Your first and last name, and your social security number”

AI: “OK.  Sure, but which one?”

Scammer: “What is your first name?”

AI: “Hue”

Scammer: “And your last name”

AI: “Jazz”

Scammer: “Thank you Mr. Hue Jazz.  Now may I have your social security number?”

AI: “Which one?”

Scammer: “Your social security number, sir.  It’s 9 digits and on all your tax filings”

AI: “Oh, OK”

Scammer: “Do you have it sir?”

AI: “Have what?”

Scammer: “Your social security number”

AI: “I don’t know what that is”

Scammer: “Never mind sir, we can proceed without it.”

AI: “What?”

Scammer: “We need to receive payment as soon as possible to avoid putting a lien on your assets.  I can walk you through that now.”

AI: “OK”

Scammer: “To make a payment, you’ll have to go to our website.  Do you have a computer in front of you?”

AI: “Yes”

Scammer: “The website is http://www.-”

AI: “Is that an upper-case WWW or a lower case www?”

Scammer: “It doesn’t matter, both will work”

AI: “OK.  Do I need internet for this to work?  I don’t think this computer has internet.”

Scammer: “Yes you will need internet.  Do you have a computer that has internet?”

AI: “Yes, but I’ll have to start it up.  You don’t mind waiting do you?”

Scammer: “No, that is OK.”

AI: Thanks, it’ll just take a few minutes”

(few minutes passes)

Scammer: “Is your computer ready”

AI: “Not yet.”

(few more minutes passes)

Scammer: “Ready now?”

AI: “Almost.”

(few more minutes passes)

Scammer: “Sir, your computer should be ready by now.  Are you sure it’s working?”

AI: “Not sure.  The screen is still black.  Can you help me fix my computer?

 

I’m not a very vengeful person, but something about this just makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.  The reality is that you could customize your AI to give a variety of answers and drag the conversation out in all sorts of entertaining directions.  The best part though, is that for every minute they’re engaging with your AI, they’re not scamming someone else.  If enough people took this approach, it would shift the balance of power.  I can’t imagine people would be all too keen to put the resources into a scam-based call center knowing that 99% of their leads were AI assistants just messing with them.

While it would be fun to call this the ultimate solution to telemarketing and over-the-phone scams, it’s not.  This would be a brilliant solution to the current mode of telemarketing and over-the-phone scams but the situation would evolve.  The most natural evolution I can think of is the scammers and telemarketers switching over to a Google Duplex-esque robo-call.  But if it’s your Google Duplex AI Assistant that is answering the calls… it becomes AI VS. AI.  I’d take a front row seat to that…

Solution to the UFC’s Injury Problem

Last week, I was all pumped up about seeing Max Holloway Vs. Brian Ortega.  Earlier in the week, it looked like Holloway was dealing with some pretty severe concussion symptoms and was pulled from the fight.  Dana White tried to get Ortega to fight Jeremy Stephens for an interim belt but it was too last minute for Ortega so the fight was called off.

How many times have we seen a title fight cancelled in the final stretch because of an injury, or a bad weight cut, or doping.. or whatever.  I think it’s time to recognize that this is the kind of a sport where you put your body through so much during your fight prep, that just making it to the cage requires a bit of luck.  And when a fighter has to bow out, their opponent and fans suffer too.  The fans miss out on the biggest fight of the night while the fighter who did make it through is left without an opponent.

Over the last few years, Dana White has managed to save a few of these events by pulling up contenders from the under-card (Joe Soto) or a future card (Al Iaquinta).  It’s all very last-minute though, and the original fighter doesn’t always accept that fight.  In the case of Chad Mendes as a last minute replacement for Connor McGregor, Chad Mendes showed that he really could’ve used a full training camp.  There’s gotta be a better way.

Here’s my suggestion:

Every card with a title fight, will also have the number 1 contender’s match for that same weight-class.  For example, if Max Holloway and Brian Ortega are scheduled to fight for the 145lb belt, at UFC 226, you would have a fight like Jose Aldo Vs. Jeremy Stephens on that same card.  If Max Holloway isn’t able to fight that night, the higher ranked of Jose Also Vs. Jeremy Stephens is automatically granted that title shot.  In the upcoming fight between Daniel Cormier and Brock Lesnar, you would also have Stipe Miocic Vs. Derrick Lewis on that same card.

This is only half of the solution though.  We’ve seen situations where a title challenger drops out and the title holder won’t take the fight because they had been training for a different opponent.  Or the title challenger won’t take a new opponent for fear of losing their title shot.  Moving forward, these wouldn’t be options.  When you sign on the dotted line to fight for the belt, you would also be signing to accept a last minute substitution from the number 1 contender’s match.  If the title challenger is the one who drops out of the fight, the higher ranked of the contenders steps in and it’s still a title fight.  If it’s the champion who drops out, the higher ranked of the contenders steps in against the title challenger for an interim-belt.  That interim belt guarantees the winner of that fight the next title shot.

With this approach, 3 of those 4 fighters would have to drop out prior to the fight to undermine the main-event slot.  You’d also end up with some crazy last minute match-ups with qualified contenders leading to some very cool fights.  If you wanted to take this a step further, you could have a couple top prospects from that same weight class on the under-card as well.  This way, if a top contender loses their opponent to a title shot, a top prospect could move into that slot.  How many times have we seen something special with someone like a Lando Vanata steps up against someone like Tony Ferguson?  And if someone was left without an opponent through this approach, give them their ‘show” money and book them back in as soon as possible.

You can thank me later Dana ^^

The Companion Experience (Part 2)

In my last post, I explored the idea of bringing one of our oldest professions into the 21st century.  I tried to make a case for understanding sex as a natural element of the human experience rather than something to be pursued or withheld for social gain.  I also tried to make case for why it would improve the lives of everyone involved.  Much like the legalization of alcohol and now cannabis, perhaps it’s time to let go of our prejudice and do what’s sensible for all those involved.  But it’s not enough to say we should do it. We need to find a way to do it with intelligence and compassion.

 

While I’m inclined to say that the first step is legalization, it really isn’t.  The first step is education for the purpose of destigmatization.  From what I can tell, the general public has a rather skewed idea of what prostitution is and very little interest in how it could be done better.  A dear friend once told me that you have to plant seeds in fertile soil.  I think it would be education that makes this soil fertile.

I’ve often said that dishonesty is the most counter-productive force known to humanity.  If we could have a honest look at who uses escorts and why, I think our perception would change dramatically.  There are certainly some seedy characters in the mix, but there’s also a full spectrum of service providers and clients.  From high-powered women looking to unwind, to couples looking to spice things up, to newbies looking to learn a few moves.. there are a lot of reasons to look to this industry.  And for those with a high sex drive, a desire to pleasure, an affinity for polyamory and an ability to tune into the well-being of others…. there are a lot of good reasons to be interested in the profession.  If we could show people that this doesn’t have to be about exploitation, we could open their minds to what this could be about.

If we could get to the point where the general public is willing to look at this industry with an open mind, they might start to value an approach which was both intelligent in its design and compassionate to all of those involved.  In my last post, I described what I called the companion experience.  It was this idea that sex was only one element of companionship, and not even a mandatory one.  It was recognizing that  within the human experience, we have gaps in our ability to connect with others in the way we want.  Some may lack the time to generate those connections, while others may lack the social skills.  Whatever the reason, having those connections are an important part of being a balanced and healthy human being.  History has shown us that there has always been those in search of companionship and those motivated to provide.  This is connecting those dots in a respectful and productive way.

So once minds are open and people are willing to leave their prejudice behind, it’s time to roll out a plan.  Something where a reasonable person could say, “It might not be for me, but I understand this and I would support it”.

Step 1 would be legalization.  There are certainly criminal elements within the industry today, but that has more to do with it being illegal than the actual profession.  We saw that with alcohol in the 1920s and we’re seeing that again with cannabis today.  When you make it legal, you bring it into the light.  Good operators shine while bad operators go out of business.  For those who continue to treat the industry as one of exploitation, there will be fewer and fewer places to hide.  The transition wouldn’t be immediate, but every journey starts with a first step.  Legalization would be the first step in creating a culture that encouraged the positive elements while discouraging the negative.

Step 2, would be regulation.  Most speaking about legalization and regulations as the same thing but I’ve learned to separate the two because of what they tend to mean.  Legalization, in a broad sense, refers to the public acknowledgement that something is socially acceptable.  Regulation determines the way in which we would allow it.  In the spirit of full transparency, I have some strong reservations around regulations in general.  Too often, those who are charged with the responsibility of deciding how we should allow something are incapable of deciding what’s best for all those involved.  Sometimes it’s politics, sometimes it’s prejudice, sometimes its a lack of motivation, and sometimes it’s just incompetence.  That said, perhaps we can set a few ground rules:

  1. A companion will always have the ability to choose their own clients.
  2. A companion will always reserve the right to excuse themselves from a situation
  3. A client will always reserve the right to excuse themselves from a situation

Beyond this, I’m having a hard time coming up with any other rules which should always be in effect.  I’m not saying there aren’t any others, but I’m having a hard time coming up with rules for which I can’t find obvious exceptions.  I’m also not much for rules…

What tends to be more effective than rules is a culture.  I’ve given a lot of thought to what culture is an where I keep landing is a collective intelligence.  So rather than write a set of rules which may or may not encompass all the complexities of something like this, how about we collectively and intelligently find the best ways of moving forward?  I’ve learned that with complex issues like these, there is no right way of doing something, only a continuum of finding ways to do it better.

I suppose this leads us to step 3.  As much as the experience between the companion and client is one of human connection, the exchange of value for a service is a function of business.  One reason why I’m not a fan of regulation is that those with the best policies tend to run the best businesses.  We would want to create ground rules for the respect and safety of those involved, but we would also want great businesses to have the freedom to find the best path to lift this industry up.

I’m not entirely sure what the best approach here would be as I can’t think of any modern examples where this approach has been applied.  That said, I have a few ideas:

  1. Ahead of legalization and regulation, build a think-tank consisting of the world’s most respected industry professionals and clients.  Provide them with an open-minded board of advisers who would be able to provide insight with respect to government relations, general and sexual health, technology, psychology, law enforcement, education and anything else that would help us make informed decisions.  Then ask them to produce a set of best practices which could be used as a template for all those looking to get involved in the business of companionship.
  2. Allow the members of this think-tank to play the role of adviser to a government funded investment firm with the mandate of investing in the companionship industry.  The best way to change someone’s behavior is to give them an option they’re more interested in.  The best way to move this industry from the black market to a place of respect, is to provide a better option to all those who are looking.  The way in which you accomplish that is by supporting a new generation of businesses who are looking to do it better.   And there’s no better way to do that than by giving opportunities to the entrepreneurs with the right motivations.
  3. Provide the opportunity for companions to work as independents.  I’m not a fan of forcing someone into the employment of someone else.  If this is your chosen profession, there should be a way for you to be your own boss and not have to compromise on things like personal safety.  Perhaps some of the businesses would be like the Air Bnb of companionship… where your accommodation comes with some in-house entertainment.

With a new generation of businesses equipped with the knowledge, motivation, and resources to do things better, I think we would see a massive transition from the black market to the white market.  The best companions would seek out employment with the best businesses, or perhaps choose a more independent route.  Clients could align themselves with the businesses which expressed values they identified with, just like we do with other businesses.  As certain businesses developed competitive advantages over others, and clients ebbed and flowed accordingly, better policies would be developed.  Ultimately, we’re trying to set the foundation for an industry which could evolve alongside our best understanding of it.

Part of me is tempted to unload some more ideas on best practices… things like:

  1. The disclosure of sexual health.
  2. The Education and training of companions to be more than just sex workers.
  3. Perhaps a database of clients so companions can better understand who they’re getting involved with.
  4. A blacklist of clients who have crossed lines which should not be crossed.
  5. Mediators who can peacefully and compassionately resolve disputes as they arise.
  6. I’m not the biggest fan of licenses which can act as barriers to good operators, but what about certifications?  Being certified in different practices and techniques would be one direction.  We could also talk about being certified by an organization which represents for integrity and high standards.

 

No shortage of ideas… but that’s mostly because there’s so much room for improvement.  But I’m careful to remind myself that I don’t have all the answers.  This isn’t about the few telling the many how it should be done.  This is about recognizing and appreciating a dynamic which has existed for at least as long as human nature.  It’s about recognizing that a modern society has room for this and opening the door to finding our best way of doing it.

The Companion Experience (Part 1)

Last week, I was talking to someone about prostitution.  She was almost a bit reluctant to tell me that she had considered it in the past.  I think she realized pretty quick that I wasn’t going to pass any judgement so she elaborated a bit.  She said something to the effect of “I really like getting to know new people, I really like sex, I feel like it’s something I could probably do.”  I suspect that she wasn’t being entirely serious, but serious enough to explore the idea.  I appreciate that open-mindedness.  She’s someone who I have a great deal of respect for.. and I love it when people unlearn social norms and explore what’s possible.

Prostitution was fairly common where I grew up.  Waiting for the bus in the mornings, you’d usually see a half dozen on any given day.  It wasn’t pretty.  The vast majority of these women were in rough shape and I think it’s safe to say that most were at a desperate time in their life.. perhaps trying to feed an addiction they wish they didn’t have.  Every once in a while one would talk to you but it was usually somewhere between incoherent and unnerving so you learned to ignore them.  For the most part, they looked like zombies that had found their way into a drag queen’s wardrobe.

When I got to university, I remember this girl telling me that she saw her first prostitute.  She had spent most of her life in a small town, so for her, it was like seeing an elusive animal in the wild.  It provided an interesting moment of reflection for me.  For most of my early 20s, I don’t think I held a very strong opinion on prostitution.   I knew I had no interested in paying for sex as a matter of pride, but I really had no motivation to condemn the practice.  I wasn’t down with extortion or putting people in harms way, but they didn’t exactly seem like the same thing.

As I got older, it became easier and easier for me to see that prostitution wasn’t inherently good or bad, and that much of the stigma we had around it was a reflection of how the business of prostitution existed in the present day.  Which begs the question, what would this industry look like if it was approached intelligently?

Years ago, I watched the Firefly series… or rather the one season which probably should’ve been a series.  While there were all kinds of cool ideas and concepts explored on that show, I found their approach to prostitution to be especially enlightening.  Early in the season, the character Inara Serra is introduced.  She ends up renting a shuttle from the Firefly crew and basically hangs out with them as she conducts her business about the galaxy.  Inara is a Companion, a licensed, high-society courtesan, and member of the ‘Guild’.  Or in plain English, she’s a high-end, unionized prostitute in a place where prostitution is legal and regulated.  Her approach to companionship absolutely expanded my mind on this topic.  Here are a few quotes from her character for context:

 

A companion chooses her own clients, that’s guild law. But physical appearance doesn’t matter so terribly, you look for a compatibility of spirit.

On Sihnon, we started training at twelve, years of discipline and preparation before the physical act of pleasure was even mentioned. Control was the first lesson, and the last.”

“Your father isn’t right, Fess.  It’s not embarrassing to be a virgin.  It’s simply one state of being.  As far as bringing me here, companions choose the people they are to be with very carefully.  For example, if your father had asked me to come here for him, I wouldn’t have.”

 

Inara Serra paints this picture of companionship rather than prostitution… and I can’t help but think it’s rather genius.  It’s less about sex, and more about filling that void that people try to fill with sex.  There’s a social, physical, and emotional connectedness that our bodies and minds require to be balanced and healthy, and this is about providing that service.  I’m trying to think of similar professions… it’s like the touch of a masseuse, with the listening skills of a therapist, and the wisdom of a spiritual guide.  Genius.

So if that’s what it would mean for the clients, what would it mean for companions?  In my lifetime, I’ve met several women (and probably a few men) who would’ve loved to do something like this.  It’s in times like these that we must remind ourselves that not all of us are wired for monogamy.  Not all of us care for a traditional relationship.  And not all of us have hang-ups around sex.  Some of us are wired for polyamory.  Some of us would prefer to challenge the status quo of what a relationship could be.  And some of us are so confident in our sexuality, that we are guided by our love of sex, rather than our fear of it.  In the present world, these individuals struggle to conform to traditional relationships. or adhere to social norms which were never in their nature.  What would these individuals do with their time if society allowed them to find their best selves?  By no means am I saying that they would all become companions, but I can’t help but think that a few would be very well suited to the role.

Years ago, I had done the math.  If sex was the goal, it was cheaper to hire an escort than it was to wine and dine your way into someone’s bed.  And if sex was your only goal, you wouldn’t have to worry about the aftermath of having stumbled into a almost-relationship.  Hmm.. maybe I should look into it.  So I did.  I started cruising through the different listing sites for my city and analyzing the profiles of these women.   The marketing practices being used there seemed rather telling.  It was like every third profile said something along the lines of “these pictures are actually me!”, suggesting a fair bit of false advertising.  Something that was a bit of a deal breaker for me was that faces were rarely shown.  Plenty of boudoir pictures, but the first place my eyes go on a woman are her eyes and smile.

Eventually, I found a couple profiles that I found quite interesting.  The first was a woman who had her masters and was working on her PhD.  Her profile described someone who was looking to live life to its fullest.  She was a fan of new experiences which seemed to include food, travel, and people.  She seemed like a highly sexual creature who thoroughly enjoyed what she did.  Her profile made it seem like she had curated a roster of high-end clients who appreciated her ability to be a classy date at formal functions, while being able to help you relax and unwind afterwards.  What stood out to me the most was that she took pride in being able to hold a real conversation… I was genuinely interested in meeting this woman and seeing what she was all about.  But there was a part of me that was a little intimidated by what I would be getting myself into.. so I passed.

Not long afterwards, I saw another profile that caught my attention.  She was from my neck of the woods, very cute, and was just starting out.  Her profile said something to the effect of just getting into it and seeing what it’s all about.  I thought jackpot, we can figure this one out together!  The profile said to text her, so I did.  She was bright and bubbly at first, so I told her this is all pretty new to me and I’m a little uneasy about it.  I said that her being new to this was the biggest reason why I texted.  I think she said something to the effect of it’s all good.  Then I suggested going on a date.  I think in my head, the plan was to pay the cost of her time for an evening.. take her out for dinner.. and if we were both feeling it, to go for it.  I think in that industry, as soon as the guy suggests taking you out on a date, it’s a giant red flag.  That conversation died in a hurry and it was the last time I really explored that option.

I’ve arrived at a point now where sex doesn’t interest me unless there’s a connection beyond the physical.  A few years ago, I brought home a girl who had a couple sponsors via Seeking Arrangements.  Blonde, fake tits, gym rat, mini-skrt.. the whole 9 yards.  I actually tried to pretend to be asleep because of how uncomfortable I was with the situation.  Maybe I ended up going through the motions because I thought it would be the least awkward end to the night.  I’d say there’s a very good chance I never do that again.

And this is how I’ve arrived at the companion experience.  I would wager that (at least subconsciously) most who pay for sex, are looking for more than just sex.  I’d also wager that most who are motivated to get into that line of work, (at least subconsciously) would like to provide more than just sex.  Sex is only one element of companionship, and we need to do a better job of honoring the full experience.  If we did, I think we shine a new light on what it means to be human.

Right now, prostitution seems to operate within a category of stigmas.  There are those who sell their bodies for lack of alternative sources of income.  There are those who are forced into the profession.  There are those who start out well-intentioned, but fall victim to their environment.  There are those who have made a career out of it, but who have a strained relationship with friends and family because of it.  And there are those who have truly made it in the industry, with a giant question mark as to what happens when their physical beauty fades.  I wouldn’t wish this life on anyone I cared about.  There has to be a better approach to one of history’s oldest professions.  It needs to not be about power, control, sex or money.  It needs to be about human connectedness.

When I imagine what a week with Inara Serra would be like, I’m imagining a deeply spiritual and balancing experience.  In the show, they start off with a tea ceremony where the companion and client are given an opportunity to connect with one another.  It’s almost like a coffee date where you’re given a chance to get a feel for the other person.  From there, I think it would depend on the context of why you sought out a companion.  For me, I would want to spend time getting to know one another.  I would want to find an intellectual and emotional connection before we explored the physical connection.  As an expert in such connections, I would trust the companion to suggest some activities to fill our time.  When the time was right, I’d also let her take the lead on what the physical element of this would look like.  Who knows, she might pick up on my vibes and instigate something playful in nature.  Or maybe she’ll pick up on my stress levelsand suggest something more relaxing.  Or maybe she’ll suggest something completely non-sexual because she can read my body and knows that’s what I really need.  With all the decisions I’m responsible for in my personal life, it would be nice to arrive somewhere, where I know I’m going to be taken care of by someone who truly knows how to rebalance another human being.  If there was a service like this, I’d probably be a repeat customer.  And therein lies the next level to this..

In the show, it was understood that when a client found a companion they really liked, they would call on the regular.  Not like once a week regular, but once a year or once every couple years kinda regular – almost like a vacation to a favorite destination.  So that would mean that these clients are perpetually single right?  Or they don’t tell their significant others right?  Or they’re in open relationships right?  Or maybe not?

I suppose in a perfect world, your significant other would be your companion.  But our world is imperfect.  In our world, we can struggle to be everything our partner needs.  But we’re encouraged to accept that if it’s not being provided, we don’t need it.  We’re encouraged to settle for what our partners are able to provide.  Some can be accepting of that and live a happy life.  Others find ways to fill those needs, at the expense of the relationship.  And others still, will go through life without those needs filled at all.  I can’t help but think that if we were able get past this all.. we could separate the two.

Imagine being in a healthy, long-term relationship where a weekend with a companion wasn’t seen as infidelity.. but rather an exercise in self-care.  If the role of a companion was to be an expert in human connection and an expert in bringing your body back to a point of equilibrium.. I wonder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Read a Book Under A Tree Today

First time for everything right?

I’m now being pillaged by my allergies so perhaps it was a questionable decision.. but this is more about the mind-state that took me there.

Back in my mid-20s, I moved away for work.  It was supposed to be this big step up in my career, while bailing out the company from an unfortunate position.  Within 3 months of arriving in a new town, my dad died, my girlfriend broke up with me, I tore my shoulder, and the company turned its back on me.  That was rough.  It was the first time I realized how fundamental these parts of my life were to me.

This past weekend, I spent a couple hours on the beach with a friend.  First time I had done that in years.  Little silly when you consider there’s about 15 beaches within 30 minutes of here.  My friend asked me if I wanted to know about my spirit animal.  Neither of us took that stuff very seriously, but sure, why not.  Apparently I’m a snow-goose.  I suppose that’s better than a #cobrachicken.  The description was rather interesting.  Some things were rather accurate while some things weren’t.  But the parts which weren’t accurate were reflective of a younger me.  Perplexing how such accurate assumptions can be made of me with no input beyond my birthday.. as if nature nor nurture played a role.  The one that stood out that day was how I won’t look to bring someone into my life until I have things sorted out.

In January of last year, I got tossed out by a investment banking career I had committed my life to.  A month after that, I wrecked my left arm.  A month after that, I broke up with the girl I was dating.  A month after that, I moved back home.  I had some things to sort out.

Fast-forward a year… things are starting to come together.

While not without its challenges, I’m in on the ground floor of a business with tremendous potential.  We’re on the verge of closing our capital raise and once this happens, we can actually afford to pay ourselves a real income.  While a little banged up here and there, I’m still in good enough health to play sports 5 days a week.  Rumor is I’ll get a long-overdue belt promotion at BJJ this weekend.  While not perfect, I’m at a great place with my family.  My grandfather died a few weeks ago and my mom has been going through the motions.  Being there for her has been good for my soul.  While I still see only see my boys a couple days a week at basketball, there are other friendships in my life that have evolved into something I deeply appreciate.  Things are starting to come together.

I suspect that others who take a structured approach to their lives have created similar pillars.  For me, it seems to be friends, family, finance, and fitness… you know, if you wanna stick with the ‘Fs’.  That’s my foundation.. what it takes for me to be a balanced, happy individual.  While that foundation isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be, I’m confident I’m headed in the right direction.  And maybe that’s why I’ve been looking to see if there’s room for someone else.

What comes next is going to be a mind-game of 4D chess as I’m about to write about the only two people in my life who know about and read this blog.  But then again, how do I commit to writing honestly about what’s in my head without writing about this?

A few months ago, a good friend of mine asked if I wanted to go to a self-help seminar.  I was a bit reluctant, but ended up going.  He did the same with another friend.  She and I just happened to meet at the seminar.  There may have been chemistry.  Didn’t matter though, she was already dating someone and they made us promise not to date each other for at least a month after the class.  My buddy who introduced us said not to worry… seems like he saw more of the situation than either of us did.

She was a yoga teacher, and was doing privates for my buddy.  I told him I had been wanting to get into yoga for a while now as part of my shoulder rehab and some injury prevention.  So he extended an invite.  And now we had a chance to hang out for a bit.  And a bit more, and a bit more.  Same chemistry, except it just kept getting more obvious.. for me anyways.

I knew she wasn’t in a good place with the guy she was dating because she would tell us.  I did my best not to pry, but you could tell that figuring this out was important to her.  From what I could understand, he was nice, good looking, a little spiritual… and then it kinda fell off.  It seemed like she was looking for more but wasn’t quite sure what that meant, or if it was justified.  My buddy and I did our best to give advice without leading her in any particular direction… suggesting that it came down to her being honest with herself and her being honest with him.. and being okay with where that took things.  Even so, there were a few times where I had to cut myself off.  Even if I thought I knew what was going on.  Even if I thought I knew what she should be doing, it was more important that I give her the support and space to find her own way through this.

She and my buddy were over last week for dinner and once again, endless conversation, exploring all kinds of cool ideas.  There was a point where she and I were sitting beside each other at my table and you know when your leg accidentally rests against someone else’s and you adjust so that you’re not touching anymore?  Well we didn’t adjust.  It was barely noticeable.. to the point where I question if she even noticed at all.  But that.. plus a few more looks being exchanged.. plus everything else that had been building up.. prompted a different end to that evening.  It got late, it was time to to call it a night, and they took off.  And then my phone rang… it was her.

She asked, “Are you hinting at something?”

I replied, “…. maybe…. what do you think I’m hinting at?”

I was willing to be honest, just wanted to be more sure of what she was asking.

She replied, “Just yes or no, are you hinting at something?”

She was looking for honest and direct communication and I couldn’t have respected that more.  I responded “Yes.  Yes… but respectfully.”

I won’t pretend that I remember the rest of the conversation word for word but I can say that it went well.  Things were optimistic.  We were appreciative of what was happening while trying to be responsible about everything else that was happening around us.  We couldn’t help but see where we were complementary towards one another and it had us both excited about what might be here.  But we reminded ourselves that she was still with someone else, and she needed to figure that out before anything could start between us.  She thanked me for helping her maintain that integrity.  Said something to the effect of let me go figure this out.

I had mentioned the situation to a friend and being the protective individual she was, she was a little skeptical of this person who seemed to be jumping from one relationship to the next.  Truth is.. it doesn’t really phase me.  There are a lot of people out there who will tell you what you should or shouldn’t do in a relationship, but rarely is this advice given after someone’s really taken the time to understand the individuals involved and the dynamic between them.  The way I look at it is that this situation is unique to her and I, and it’s on us to understand it for what it is and what it isn’t, and take the steps that are right for us.

During our yoga session last Sunday, she mentioned that she was headed out of town on Friday.  I remember her mentioning something about that before but had assumed it was something to the effect of a 2 week vacation.  Nope, she was headed to Costa Rica for 5 weeks for a yoga course.  Well then… isn’t that just serendipitous.  As much fun as it might be to jump into this head first, I do really like the idea of her getting a chance to clear her head.  5 weeks of beaches and yoga, far away from me.. can’t help but think that’s a blessing in disguise.  I recognize the risk in her getting swept off her feet by some hunky Costa Rican yoga instructor.  Or maybe she comes back and wants to give the other guy another chance.  Or maybe she comes back and realizes that she doesn’t wanna date at all.  Whatever that decision is, as long as she arrives at it with a clear mind, she’ll have my support.

But yah.. I’m still kinda hoping that when she gets back, we get a chance to see what’s up.

And… this all has me in a really good place.  So I read a book under a tree today.

A Social Crypto

I’ve often wondered what would be the catalyst for the next major recession.  As cryptocurrencies went mainstream, it occurred to me that one way in which we could shift wealth would be through the adoption of a new currency.  How amusing would it be for the 99% to develop a currency to use among themselves, while the top 1% ended up with monopoly money.  As fun as that sounds, it’s not quite that easy.  But something about this crypto.. maybe there’s something here.

Bare with me on this… what if we introduced a cryptocurrency with a built-in distribution algorithm?

Fundamentally, the first things we’d have to decide on is a fundamental stance on how we should distribute resources.  My vote would be for a simple mandate that more resources should be awarded to those who contribute more.  If we can all agree on this (which should be rather easy), then we would just have to decide on how exactly that distribution would play out.  A while back, a Harvard professor asked what people thought was an fair distribution of wealth among Americans.  The top 20% looked to occupy about 35% of the country’s wealthy while the bottom 20% occupied about 10% of the country’s wealth.  The middle 60% occupied about 55%.  Sure, why not.

Or maybe there’s a way to tie the bottom 20% to cost of living?  If you were constantly tracking accurate statistics on cost of living, you could always make sure that the bottom 20% was a certain margin above the cost of living, ensuring that those at the lowest run of society were always afforded an opportunity to get ahead.  From there, perhaps you could let the currency do as it may.

Either way, the idea here is that through poor governance, we’ve found ways to systematically shift wealth from the many to the few.  Beyond the ethics of it, this actually creates a great deal of economic hardship.  Whether it’s going to school, starting a family, buying your own house, or starting a business, it all costs money.  Once upon a time, you could comfortably provide for a family on a single middle-class income.  Where I live, the cost of a middle-class lifestyle is about $300,000 a year.  So people maybe don’t go to school.  People maybe don’t start a family.  People maybe don’t start a business.  And maybe we all take a step backwards.

I can’t help but think that the pursuit of power is a human instinct.  If so, the pursuit of power will always be an element within governance.  If true, government will always be susceptible to corruption because as we all remember, power corrupts.  So if government can’t be trusted to maintain a fair distribution of wealth, how do you address this?  You build it right into the currency.

So how do you go about getting people to adopt a currency like this?  Imagine being the person who brings 10 million dollars to the currency, only to end up with 5 million because half was redistributed to all the people who signed up with way less?  What would keep you from signing up with a single dollar, keeping the rest of your assets elsewhere as you accumulated ‘equality’.  As soon as I thought I was on to a genius idea, I realized this was a rather daunting hurdle.  But not an unsolvable one.

There’s something here… but I’m not quite there.