Markets look like they’re being propped up.

The only thing that moves the market up is more buyers than sellers.  The only thing that moves the market down is more sellers than buyers.  But we’re talking about dollars, not people.

I pulled my money out of the market ahead of James Comey’s hearing last summer.  I was concerned Comey would say something that would lead to a Trump version of the Saturday Night Massacre.  I was wrong.  Although not by much, apparently.  As it turned out, Trump did try to fire Mueller but was stopped by his White House counsel who had to threaten resignation to stop the order.

Fortunately for me, I knew a market pullback was inevitable against Trump.  As of last week, I’m back to beating the market.  While that serves as a bit of an ego boost, that’s not what I’ve been paying attention to.  I’ve been watching the market lose ground for months now, but something looked different over the last couple weeks.  The market looked like it was being propped up.

There might be those who suggest that such speculation is irresponsible.  That so much volume moves through the market that it would be impossible for anyone to make a significant or reliable impact.  Or that high frequency trading machines occupy most of the volume so it wouldn’t be that simple.  Or, isn’t market manipulation illegal?

The Chinese government intervenes with the Chinese stock market on a regular basis, guiding things towards and outcome which they’d prefer.  It’s being reported that the Saudis are doing the same thing every time bad news hits.  But not America right?  Prior to the great recession, JP Morgan rallied his fellow millionaires and bankers to buoy the market.  The purpose was to lift the public’s confidence in the markets.  It’s genuinely the core purpose of market manipulation, to give the general public a false sense of security.  The wealthy can’t control the markets, but they can certainly influence how the public sees it.  Fortunately for everyone, markets move in cycles.

Over the last couple weeks, I saw the potential for a huge market sell-off.  The kind that might’ve put us past any meaningful tipping point.  Almost every trading day started with significant downward momentum.  Yet on a regular basis, the market would have a sharp rebound mid-day.  In many cases, the inflection point looked deliberate and calculated.  Almost every day that included a mid-day rebound closed in positive territory.

For example, the SP500 closed at 2485 yesterday, and opened at 2482 today, starting with that same downward trend.  Then the market almost immediately shot up to 2507, suggesting an influx of buys.  Then the downward momentum took back over and dragged the market back down to where it started the day at 2482.  Then immediately, the market shot back up again, back to 2506 which is where it’s at currently.

There could be a variety of explanations for such market behavior, including pure chance.  But it looks rather systemic to me.  It looks like someone said don’t let the market have a bad day.  And it’s not just today.  I’ve seen this behavior on almost every day that’s closed up in the last 2 weeks.  If I were to guess, I’d say that there are some very wealthy and very powerful individuals who are spending a great deal of money to maintain public confidence in the markets.  I would guess that they see the writing on the wall just as the rest of us do, but are victims of their hubris and think they can stop what’s coming.  JP Morgan and his banker friends couldn’t stop the great depression.  I don’t think the wealthy elite and bankers of today can stop this either.

Where I Draw the Line with the Left

I spent a great deal of time and effort staying off the political spectrum.  I strongly suspect that the political divide of left and right, or red and blue is a product of the governing class.  Government reform would require a united voter base.  So they divide and conquer.

Something I’ve observed is that those on the far ends of the political spectrum tend to have a great deal in common.  They’re loud.  They’re aggressive.  They assume the moral high ground.  They have questionable beliefs.  And they aren’t very reasonable when those beliefs are challenged.  I’m not the first to have noticed this either.  I think it’s referred to as the horseshoe diagram, and it suggests that the silent majority tend to agree on most reasonable issues.

On this political spectrum, it’s been well documented when the right can go too far.  Nazis.  When a right-wing ideology starts talking about racial supremacy, that’s a red flag.  When they start targeting those of a particular race or religion, blaming them for the country’s problems,  that’s a red flag.  When they start to deny science to advance their own political agenda, that’s a red flag.  An entire generation of Germans learned that in the most painful of ways.  So… if that’s where the right can go too far, do we not have similar standards for the left?  Equality is not equality unless we are all held to account.

Jordan Peterson has made this question a cornerstone of his debates.  He’s often confronted by media personalities who assume that he represents the ‘alt-right’.  In most cases, he addresses that claim and acknowledges that while conservatism and tradition can have value, there is absolutely a point at which it goes too far.  He often suggests Nazis are a clear example of when the right can go too far.  He’ll then ask the interviewer if they could give an example of where the left has gone too far.  In most cases, they can’t answer the question.  I’ve tried it myself and had a similar experience.  On the extreme ends of the political spectrum, it would seem as though you can do no wrong.  As long as you’re fighting for a righteous cause, your actions are justified.  But when both sides take this approach, and both sides believe in their righteousness, there is no middle ground.

I have no issues holding someone to account for a flawed ideology, regardless of it’s right, left, up, down or sideways.  Today, I saw a tweet that was posted to social media that has motivated me to say something.  This was a tweet by @legal_feminista.  It said:

Let’s enter 2019 with the right energy:

Trans women are women.  Sex work is work.  Black lives matter.  Rape culture is real.  Yes all men.  Fuck white supremacy.  Abolish borders.  Free Palestine.  Protect indigenous rights.  Support mental health.  Believe women.

Normally, I wouldn’t pay much attention to something like this as I’ve seen or heard most of it before.  But this tweet received about 60,000 likes and 17,000 retweets in about 48 hours.  This perspective isn’t an outlier, it’s mainstream.  So… let’s dig in and see what we find.

Trans women are women.  That depends on how you define women.  If gender is a social construct and not determined by biology, then sure, trans women are women.  But what about biology? If gender is a social construct, surely, sex must be biological.  Otherwise, we’re ignoring the significance of things like the female and male reproductive systems, or the Y chromosome.  And what happens when trans women start using the natural advantages afforded to a biological male to put women at a disadvantage? There are now various stories about trans women dominating against female athletes.  I’m not sure these competitors would agree that all trans women are women.  At some point, I think we’ll have to acknowledge that there is a very real biological component to being a male or a female.  But in addition to that, we have masculinity and femininity.  Part biology, part psychology, part sociology.. this is what gives us masculine women and feminine men, and really masculine men and really feminine women.  Traditionally, we thought that we should all be masculine men or feminine women and it forced many of us to pretend to be people we weren’t.  Now we’re a little more open minded.  Sex comes primarily in 2 flavors.. with a swirl here and there.  But who we become as individuals, well that’s a flavor that’s unique to each individual.  It includes how masculine or feminine you are, who you’re attracted to, how you choose to dress.. and as long as it’s consensual, it’s all good.  I genuinely think that if we had a little more love for all the unusual ways we turn out, people would be more secure and confident in who they are and less consumed with trying to become someone else.

Sex work is work.  Damn right.  Got your back on this one sister.  Making prostitution illegal is about as sensible as making alcohol and cannabis illegal.  By pushing it into the shadows, you put good people at risk.  By bringing it into the light, we give ourselves a chance of doing it right.

Black lives matter.  Yes, because all lives matter.  My issue with the black lives matters movement was that they weren’t on board with all lives matter.  I agree that racism against black people exists.  I agree that it shows up in matters of police brutality.  But I disagree that police brutality is a race issue.  Black lives matter had an opportunity to open their doors and champion an All Lives Matters movement that would’ve forced police everywhere to reevaluate how they interact with the public.  It could’ve been the solution to police brutality for people of every color.  It could’ve been an opportunity for the black community to be leaders for all of America.  Instead, ‘all lives matters’ was understood to be an attempt at dismissing their cause or taking the spotlight off the black community.  What a missed opportunity.  And meanwhile, you have prominent leaders within the BLM community speaking about black racial supremacy to crowds of cheering fans.

Rape culture is real.  Maybe.  It depends on how you define it.  Growing up, my understanding of rape was someone being held down against their will, being fully aware of the experience as it’s happening, kicking and screaming for help, and dealing with the emotional trauma afterwards.  It was easy to understand that as one of the most terrible crimes a person could commit.  I’m now told that if two people get drunk and have sex, they’ve effectively raped each other because you can’t consent if you’re drunk.  I was also told that if a woman gives consent, but changes her mind during sex without telling her partner, if the partner continues, he’s a rapist.  I think we’re losing sight of the difference between a violent rape and a regrettable sexual encounter.  By no means am I condoning any behavior that remotely resembles rape, but I do think that it’s important to recognize degrees of severity.  I think it would be more accurate to say that we have a culture of sexual harassment.  But if you stop here without asking why, you’re missing half the equation.  I don’t think men want the responsibility of pursuing women for sex.  Most are terrible at knowing whether or not a woman is interested in them.  Most are clueless at figuring out how to flirt.  And most take rejection pretty hard.  And to make it worse, in the same way that men have been socialized to pursue sex, women have been socialized to withhold it.  If we’re going to find our way out of this mess, I think it starts with honesty and respect.  Personally, I vote for women to take over the role of asking guys out for a bit.

Yes all men.   No.  This is literally sexism 101.  It’s like saying that all women are neurotic.  Or all black people are prone to crime.  Or all Muslims are terrorists.  Just because you’ve had bad experiences with some men doesn’t justify you treating all men with the same contempt.

Fuck white supremacy.  Fuck all racial supremacy.

Abolish borders.  Sure.  but how?  Who would you pay your taxes to?  What area would your democratically elected official preside over?  What would be the jurisdiction for the laws you voted for?  Or was this just about firing back at Trump for garbage immigration policies?

Free Palestine.  We should all look for opportunities to put the guns down and hash things out like like reasonable adults.  Unfortunately, religion prevents that.

Protect indigenous rights. Or maybe recognize that indigenous rights, voluntary segregation, and systematic exploitation have destroyed America’s indigenous cultures.  I think it’s time to try integration.  There’s a great deal we can learn from Native American culture, including finding a more balanced relationship with nature.  I think it’s about time we took a real look at their history, and show respect where respect is due.  And once we’ve rewritten history to accurately reflect the role of Native American’s in the development of modern western culture, we can begin to heal.  And part of that will be learning to heal as one family.  If done right, indigenous rights should be no different than any other human rights.

Support mental health.  Absolutely.  Mental health isn’t as obvious as physical health… but can be that much more impactful.  We’re waking up to this reality now.. and there’s a lot of work to be done.

Believe women.  No.  It would be just as foolish to say, ‘Believe men’.  It’s interesting because the last time I saw this, it was ‘believe the victim’.  But what happens when the victim is a man?  Is it still so believable?  The problem isn’t in who we believe, but rather the fact that we should to believe anyone in the first place.  Believing someone is assuming they’re telling the truth without knowing if they are.  Once you have evidence, you can understand whether or not someone is telling the truth.  Without that evidence, you’re left with assumptions.  While some women might think so what, it’ll do more good than harm, consider this:  What would stop someone from paying a woman to make false claims against a man?  Do you believe the woman?  Or do you presume innocent until proven guilty?  On multiple occasions, people have paid women to make false claims against men.  If we believe all women, this will keep happening.  No victim is worth abandoning the right to innocence until proven guilty.  We should trust those who tell the truth.  We should support those who have experienced hardship.  We should hold accountable, those who caused harm to others.  Regardless of what’s between your legs.

 

 

Determinism: Am I Going Crazy?

Back in university, I had this idea that the universe was unfolding like an elaborate chain reaction. I asked a friend who was taking physics and he shot down the idea, talking about chaos theory. I didn’t quite understand what he was saying but he knew physics better than I did so I left it. About 15 years later, the idea is still stuck in my head.

I’ve since learned that the idea is not an original thought and that it’s largely referred to as determinism. The reading that I’ve done on it fascinates me, particularly because it’s an area which draws the attention of mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers. For many years I’ve understood these individuals to be among the most genuine seekers of truth.  By no means am I an expert in any of these fields, but I’ve made some observations I can’t seem to disprove.

It rests on a 4 physical laws:

  1. The Law of Conservation of Energy states that the total energy of an isolated system is constant; energy can be transformed from one form to another, but can be neither created nor destroyed.

  2. The Law of Conservation of Mass states that for any system closed to all transfers of matter and energy, the mass of the system must remain constant over time, as the system’s mass cannot change, no quantity can be added nor removed. Hence, the quantity of mass is conserved over time
  3. Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity expresses the fact that mass and energy are the same physical entity and can be changed from one to another.
  4. Newton’s third law states to every action there is always an opposing and equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.

 

Whatever the entirety of existence is, a universe, a multi-verse or something else we have still yet to comprehend, in it’s totality, it’s still a closed system.  And within this closed system, we have a set amount of matter and energy, which in effect, are the same physical entity.  In this closed system, nothing can be created nor destroyed.  If every action can only produce an equal and opposite reaction, every action operates with a fixed outcome. It’s why 2+2 always equals 4. When you ask why something has happened, you’re identifying cause and effect.  But every reaction is also an action in itself, like ripples from dropping a rock in a pond.  If you go to that last ripple that hit the shore and ask how it got there, you’d follow a chain of causation back to the rock that was dropped in.  Then you could ask why the rock was dropped.  Or how the rock got there.  The reality is that this chain of causation goes back further than even the existence of the rock or the lake.  It likely goes all the way back to the big bang.  In all likelihood, it goes back further than that.  Perhaps when the universe is done expanding, it will reverse course, eventually collapsing in on itself at the exact point and moment that another universe begins.

Anyway…

The problem with this theory seems to be the inability to prove or disprove it. If someone believes in free will, this is a direct challenge to their beliefs and they’ll want to see proof. I was big on free will when I was younger, if someone was talking to me about destiny, I’d say something like, ‘show me what I’m destined to do and I’ll just do otherwise’. Within the theory of determinism though, that entire conversation and outcome are just part of how the universe is unfolding.  As is everything that I’m discussing now.

It occurred to me that if determinism is true, it would be theoretically possible to predict the future to 100% certainty. The problem with testing that theory is that just like a math equation, to calculate an outcome to any level of certainty, you need to know the variables and how they’re interacting. Considering how interconnected everything is, and how little of the universe we’ve yet to grasp, it would be all but impossible to know every variable necessary to predict the next link in the chain. But if you could, theoretically, you could make that prediction with 100% certainty.

So if we accept that we may never be able to test this at a universal scale, can it be proven on a smaller scale? I asked myself, in what situations do we know 100% of the variables and look to predict an outcome? Nothing in the physical realm.. our efforts in predicting weather are a classic example of not being able to see the entire equation.  Then it hit me: Math! As simple as it may be, “2+2=” is a closed system in which 100% of the variables are known and we understand how they’re interacting.  As a result, we can predict the outcome to 100% accuracy. And it doesn’t matter how elaborate the equation becomes or how many variables you include. As long as you know the variables and how they interact with one another, the next step in the chain can be predicted to absolute certainty.

Once this sunk in, a lot of other things started to make sense to me. One was particularly significant though, the question ‘Why?’. When you ask why something has happened, you’re looking at the chain. You’re looking for the action that caused the reaction. Or maybe you’re looking for the action before that, or the action before that. It’s easy to do through the distilled lens of math where you tend to deal with isolated instances of cause and effect. Physics seems to be where we observe how these variables interact over longer periods of time like seconds or years. I suppose then, it’s the philosopher’s role to ask why again and again, until we realize that it is the longest of all roads and one which will always and ultimately take us back to the beginning.

Am I crazy?

I’m envisioning a flip book, the kind that you would doodle an animation with.  Each page is a universe wide, but only moment deep.  Each page looks nearly identical to the last and nearly identical to the next, but as you start to flip them you see the universe unfold.  Each page is a link in the chain of causality.  Each page leads only to the next page.  The story has already been drawn.

I would suggest that free will – the ability to make the universe as we see fit – is not our gift.  Instead, it was the universe that made us as it saw fit.  We were gifted with consciousness, the awareness of one’s self and their place within the universe.  I’ve found this awareness to be deeply humbling while providing a great sense of appreciation.  Consider that the matter and energy that makes up every bit of who I am has existed in this universe since long before I came along.  Well before our species came along.  Well before our planet was even formed.  And through some crazy chain of causation, I exist today, with an ability to recognize all this, and write about it.  And that even this moment here, is just part of the story.

President Pelosi

In my excess of free time, I’ve paid a great deal of attention to the world stage as things are unfolding around Trump.  It would seem as though we’re approaching the season finale of Mueller’s investigation and I can’t help but give some thought to what 2019 has in store.

Trump is now known as Individual-1, and in all likelihood is the central target in the redacted “President Donald J. Trump Criminal Investigation”.  He’s now been identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in a case by the SDNY in which Coen has admitted to committing campaign finance violations at the direction of  Trump for the purpose of influencing a federal election.  I doubt they would’ve brought this case against the President if all they had was Coen’s testimony.

Impeachment exists for high crimes and misdemeanors, and it is Congress’s responsibility to provide oversight for the executive branch.  They will be bound by duty and law to draft and pass articles of impeachment.  I think it’ll get past the house, but I think the senate is a wildcard.  If it’s only campaign finance violations, even if it was for paying off porn stars to keep quiet about affairs to boost your chances of winning an election, I’m not confident the republican senate will care.  At least some will argue that it wasn’t to influence the election or that Obama had a campaign finance violation and he wasn’t impeached for it.  Others will realize that the Republican landscape for the 2020 senate rate is a steep uphill battle and that choosing party over country during historic impeachment proceedings might be political suicide.  Knowing Trump, he might just be able to create enough noise and disinformation to keep people within their party lines.

Enter season 2.  I’m not sure what happens first: Mueller releases his report or the Democrats take the house.  Whichever happens first, it’s likely going to kick off a rather dramatic series of events.  If Mueller releases his report, it’s likely to show conclusive evidence that Trump was a criminal prior to his presidential bid, won the election through criminal means, and has been operating a criminal presidency.  If the democrats take the house first, they’ll use their subpoena powers to obtain records like Trump’s tax returns, and probably leak them to the public shortly after.  I would be surprised if it didn’t show direct or indirect ties to Russian money laundering.   However this plays out, the first few months of 2019 will be a reckoning for Trump and Republicans by extension.

A lot of Trump supporters say that if Mueller had anything on Trump, they would’ve released it already.  They suggest that an absence of evidence available to the public, is the same as an absence of evidence within the investigation.  I would disagree.  If Trump is the criminal that he appears to be, Mueller needs to deliver the most conclusive report possible.  There’s a saying, something along the lines of, ‘if you’re going to shoot the king, aim for the head.’  It suggests that if you’re going to deliver evidence against the most powerful person in the world, suggesting that they should be removed from power and placed in jail, you’ll only have the one shot.  The report needs to be so complete, and so conclusive, that it leaves no doubt in any rational person’s mind.  And creates doubt in the minds of those who aren’t rational.

I don’t think the Republican party will survive that report.  It’s going to be a very interesting demonstration of self-preservation.  I suspect that multiple members of the Republican party were compromised via the Russian’s hack on the RNC email server.  Those individuals will support Trump well beyond what most would consider to be reasonable.  Then you’ll have those who are looking to tow the party line but are unsure about whether it’s the party of Trump or the party of Republican values.  Then you’ll have conservatives who realize that their best chance of staying alive is to stand up for traditional American values again.  I think it’s that latter group that can give the Senate enough votes to remove Trump from office.

Should Trump be removed from office for crimes relating to a fraudulent election, it wouldn’t make sense that his administration would be allowed to continue under Mike Pence.  If I’m not mistaken, the chain of command actually falls to Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.  In a very roundabout way, 2016 may have actually given us our first female President.

I know a bit about her but not nearly enough to have an educated opinion.  From what I’ve seen, it suggests that she’s a capable individual who could probably mind an interim-presidency.  Should it pan out this way, I would encourage her to recognize her role, not one as leader of the American people, but rather as a custodian of the Presidency until the next election.  And during that time, I would encourage her to focus on damage control.  There are alliances around the world which need to be repaired, policy decisions which need to be undone, trade agreements that need to be redone.. all of it.  I also think this would be a remarkable opportunity to truly drain the swamp.  Republicans, democrats, lobbyists, dark money, foreign influencers… all of it.

It’s about time we cleaned things up a bit.

A New Economy

I find it interesting that so much of what we consume, we consume for free.  At least when it comes to the internet.  Looking for a recipe?  Good chance it’ll come from a blog or site that you don’t have to pay for.  Wanna watch something on YouTube?  Also free.  Wanna cruise through a slideshow of cool pictures?  Instagram.  Wanna listen to music? Spotify.  Have a weird question that you hope someone has an answer for?  Quora.

How is it that so much of the value we consume on a daily basis, we consume for free?  These companies aren’t exactly operating at a loss either.  I wonder if these platforms have anything else in common?  Like sourcing most of their content from their audience.. or monetizing via ad revenue.. or monetizing data collected from their users.

Well, are the content producers at least earning a living wage?  Some are but the vast majority aren’t.  Maybe these platforms just need to charge more for their services so they can pass some of that income along to the content creators.  I don’t think the audience has the disposable income for that model.  Why?  Because the blogs people are writing, the pictures people are taking, the videos people are making, and questions people are answering are being paid for in views and likes instead of dollars.  Ironically, those who are the exception to the rule tend to be paid in ad revenue.

Our economy seems to be based on the consumption of goods or services.  Yet so much of what we’re producing now is based in knowledge or art.  It also seems like the only way we’re interested in compensating the production of knowledge or art is through a cut of consumerism.  There’s something very backwards about that.

It’s occurred to me that our economy is evolving.  The introduction of the internet ushered in the information age and it’s an era where knowledge is the most important asset we can generate.  Yet we have an economy which doesn’t know how to value this asset or appropriately compensate those who have produced it without a direct application to a good or a service.  The traditional capitalist might suggest that without a direct application to a good or service, something is worthless.  To that individual, I would remind them of our efforts in space exploration.  These aren’t goods or services for the sake of consumption.  At it’s core, it’s exploration for the sake of exploration, something that’s been a very real part of the human spirit for all of recorded history.  And throughout history, our sense of exploration has always led to new found prosperity.  Not least because we have to invent a whole bunch of cool new stuff to get us to where we want to go.

Whatever this next economy looks like, it needs to find a way to better allocate resources and value.  No longer should a home take 20 years to pay for.  No longer should a luxury brand command a high price on a poorly manufactured item.  No longer should the internet need to rely on ad revenue to provide their services.  No longer should research facilities rely on government funding.  No longer should content producers require millions of fans to make a living wage.  It’s time to spread the wealth.  Not for the sake of spreading it or creating ‘equality’, but because we need to find a way to deliver the wealth back into the hands of those who are creating value we consume.  The world we currently live in is one where you could inherit a house from your parents and never have to work again.  Meanwhile, rent is so expensive that saving up for a home is unrealistic for most.  In that world, financial prosperity is largely determined by how wealthy your family was.  That’s taking us back to the feudal times where a divide existed between land owners and peasants.  Fuck that.  That’s not good for anyone.

Centuries ago, we used to have an economy based in farming, back when 90% of the population had to farm in order for us to get enough food.  Now, less than 5% of the world’s population produces all the food that we eat.  It led the way for a the industrial revolution where production shifted to factories.  And it was through that manufacturing boom that we developed an economy based in goods.  Once we started automating more and more of the manufacturing process, the economy shifted again to the consumption of goods and services.  Well with automation making another push, what happens to our economy when 10% of the world’s population can produce 100% of the goods and services we require?  I would predict another industrial revolution.  One where goods are manufactured at home by your 3D printer.  One where services are more likely to be provided by an AI than by a person.  In this economy, do we continue to insist that knowledge and art have no value on their own?  That unless you are the producer of a good or service, you are not valuable to our economy?

If we stay on this path, we would require a basic income to afford our basic needs.  Those who own the companies which provide these services would be the only ones generating an income.  I’m not sure how they would charge the rest of us for their services so they’d probably be free.  But they’d have to pay their own bills, so ad revenue?  But who’s buying their stuff when everyone’s broke?  And you know how the government will fund everyone’s basic income?  By taxing the few companies and individuals who are making money.  Meanwhile, everyone else is doing one of two things.  Wasting away in depression with a lack of purpose in life…. or producing something of value for the rest of us to consume.. for free.

It would be downright remarkable for someone to introduce a currency, unique to the free-economy.  Upvotes, blog views, likes, listens… when someone consumes the value you’ve produced, you receive those points and those points can be spent on the goods and services produced by others in this economy.  Imagine if food was available via that currency.  Imagine rent.

Now that’s disruptive.

Politics/Finance Need New Metrics

I just got a notification from Yahoo finance (a surprisingly good app), “Nobody has a clue what’s happening: Bumper jobs growth after Poloz calls economy disappointing.”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard a stat suggesting that job growth and unemployment are at their best numbers ever.  Not the first time I’ve heard someone refer to the economy as disappointing either.  What I personally find disappointing is the comment that nobody has a clue as to what’s going on.

Let’s start by pointing out a few key facts.  Wealth has systematically shifted from the many to the few.  Cost of living has grown several times faster than wages.  Full-time work no longer guarantees a living wage.  The majority of North America is now living paycheck to paycheck.  Automation has replaced most unskilled labor.  Millennials are the most educated generation yet.  Student loan debt is at an all time high.  Depression is at an all-time high.  Drug use is at an all-time high.  Suicide rates are at all-time highs.

Damn right we need new metrics.

Every time someone says unemployment rates are at all-time lows, I get rather frustrated.  It’s only part of the picture.  The idea of a job for everyone who wants a job is a great idea.  But you know what else has a 100% employment rate? Slavery.  The difference between the two is that with employment, you’re paid for your services and can choose to work elsewhere.  And that you’re responsible for your own cost of living. And if nobody is willing to pay you a livable wage, that’s your problem.

Where I live, someone came up with the stat that it cost a little over $300,000 in annual income to support a middle class lifestyle.  This was defined as owning a modest home, 2 cars, 2 kids, university educations, and annual vacations.  The average household income here is about $75,000.  The unemployment rate takes none of that into consideration.  We could have a 0% unemployment rate and the city would still be filled with people who couldn’t afford to buy a home, raise a family, or any of what we have come to understand as basic entitlements.  Perhaps home ownership isn’t something we should feel entitled towards.. perhaps the same with having a family.  But then I ask why we’ve had to give these up, and it just doesn’t add up. Then I ask what happens if we just accept it.. and it’s not good for anyone.

First things first, we have to agree on what we’re all aiming for.  I think the most universal answer to that is happiness.  Everyone just wants to be happy, and for those who prefer things like power.. well.. they have the current system.  If happiness is the goal, we need to start focusing on the metrics that are most closely correlated.  Two things that we know of that are strongly and negatively correlated with happiness are cost of living and debt.  While breaking unemployment records, North America is also setting new records in debt and cost of living.  That seems to tell a story:  The average American is educated, overworked, underpaid, in debt, and losing hope.

Tell me again about how great our unemployment rates are.

Or maybe recognize that an unemployment rate is only part of the equation and that equal attention much be paid to the rest.  First would be the alignment between the skills of your workforce and the jobs they’re in.  If you have a nation of computer programmers, scientists, and writers but your job market is filled with part-time customer service jobs, you did it wrong.  Second would be whether or not your workforce was being fairly compensated.  If you have a low unemployment rate and most of most of your workforce can’t afford a basic cost of living, you did it wrong.  Third would be how well prepared your workforce is for the future.  Jobs are being lost to automation at an increasing rate and we’re likely approaching an economy where AI and robotics will be able to handle 80% of the existing jobs within the next 20 years.  If you’re bragging about anything that’s happening this year without preparing for that future, you’re doing it wrong.

You see a lot of stats when you read articles or watch the news.  We use them to try and understand what’s important.. but in the process of doing so, we seem to have lost sight of what’s important.  It really is about being happy.  Imagine a national happiness index being reporting on quarterly.  Imagine politicians seeing that number as their most important metric.  If you knew that increasing the cost of living would lead to stress and unhappiness, why would you celebrate a real estate boom?  If you knew that the bottom 80% of Americans only own about 7% of the stock market’s value, would you really be celebrating a booming stock market?

How about this stat, a ratio of healthcare spending against military spending.  Let’s be honest about it and see how much we’re willing to spend on healing people versus harming people. Or let’s push that a step further and compare military spending to humanitarian spending.  How much money are you willing to spend on helping versus hurting.  I can just about guarantee that would be a far better foreign policy than what we’ve seen play out of the last 20 years.

What about a stat that shows up how much tax large multi-national corporations are paying?  Something that takes all sources of government funding into consideration so we know just how much of their operations are subsidized by tax-payers.  Military defense contracts anyone?  What about major tax breaks for fossil fuel companies..

We gotta have something that covers national debt too.  A big deal was made of this years ago but the story got stale.  Now we have a president who was notorious for running up debt and bankrupting businesses.  As a result, in a matter of a few years, the country’s single largest expense will be it’s debt payment.    Maybe we need a catastrophe more than we need a metric on this one.

The whole point of statistics is to reduce a great deal of information down into key points.  When done well, those key points illuminate the important parts of what should be an ongoing conversation.  Unfortunately, we now have stats for the sake of stats.  And it’s no longer a conversation but an argument.  It’s not a pursuit of the truth or a more accurate understanding of the situation, it’s a tribal battle for power in which stats are only used to support your argument or undermine theirs.  I wish we could get back to the same side of the table.

Unsolicited Advice (Part 3)

Reflecting on it now, I don’t think I give all that much unsolicited advice these days. I doubt that was the case when I was younger… but I’ve learned that energy is better spent in some directions than others.  I think that most of this friction happens when someone shares their perspective, and I share one which is in conflict with theirs.  Personally, I enjoy this exercise as it’s an opportunity for us both to learn and for our perspectives to evolve.  If it’s something I don’t know much about, I’m much more of a listener than a talker but if it’s something I’ve researched or studied, I’m eager to present what I know in the hopes of the other person learning something.  When the other person is open-minded and also looking to learn, it usually leads to a great conversation.  Think Joe Rogan with Neil Degrasse Tyson.  The problem seems to arise when the other person is closed-minded and not looking to learn.

When I’m talking to someone who’s well researched and knowledgeable, they’re more likely to teach me something than I am to teach them.  When talking to someone who’s rooted in their beliefs, it’s like there’s no progress to be made.  My logic and evidence only serve to frustrate them.  That’s usually where I get called a know-it-all. They get further frustrated by the idea that they can’t change my mind without logic or evidence.   That’s usually when I get called argumentative or combative.  Then I’ll say something along the lines of, “without any evidence, is it possible that it’s not true?”  And that’s where I get labeled an asshole for challenging their beliefs.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to understand those criticisms.  The first several times I heard them, I took them to heart and assumed that the other person was right.  Like I said, I want my friends to challenge my beliefs and call me out on my nonsense.  When they do, I almost always give them the benefit of the doubt and do all that I can to understand things from their perspective.  But then I learned that people carry a great deal of bias in their own advice and that you can’t take everything at face value, especially with an open mind.  If you do, you can be convinced of anything.  And Along the way, I was convinced of many things.  And learning that they weren’t true the hard way, I’ve adopted a new strategy.  If someone can’t explain something to me in a way that I understand, then they have no right to ask me to adopt that perspective.  And rightfully so, if I can’t explain something to someone in a way that they understand, I have no right to expect them to agree with me.  I quite like this approach as it prevents the bad information and the only limit to the good information that gets in is your ability to understand it.  It’s important to be both open, *and* critical.

Even with this approach, people will label me as argumentative, or combative, or stubborn, or someone who thinks they’re always right.  It’s exhausting at times.  Especially when they’re trying to explain something like creationism or flat earth and they’re frustrated with me because it’s not working.  The truth is I don’t care if *I’m* right, I care what’s right.  As someone who embraces the unknown, if I don’t think I know what I’m talking about, I’ll simply say I don’t know or here’s my best guess.  If I think I know something and I’m wrong, the best thing that can happen to me is someone pointing out why I’m wrong.  Why?  Because that’s my opportunity to learn, improve, and arrive at a better understanding.  But what happens when I think I’m right, and someone else thinks they’re right?

This is what I’m trying to navigate right now because everyone seems to have a strong opinion about everything these days.  Someone will volunteer a perspective, and I’ll challenge it.  They’ll provide their reasons, and I’ll provide my criticisms.  I’ll provide my reasons and they’ll provide their criticisms.  In a real conversation, this is where the fun part begins and through facts, reason, and good faith, you hopefully arrive at a common understanding.  When that dynamic plays out through enough people, collectively, humanity gets way smarter.  Unfortunately, that dynamic isn’t nearly as common as “well you have your beliefs and I have mine, so we can just agree to disagree.”  Imagine someone telling you that about the earth being flat.  Seems silly right?  What about someone telling you that about evolution?  Less silly considering that most of the world is deeply religious.  What about politics?  Well considering how divided we are right now, how are we supposed to make up any ground while we’re all agreeing to disagree?

While I’m not committed to this perspective, something has occurred to me.  When people call me stubborn, or argumentative, or someone who always has to be right… it’s usually when I’m standing my ground on something.  If I only stand my ground on things that I  know well and am rather confident in, is that a fair reaction? If I’m always open to seeing new evidence or logic that would challenge my understanding of something, why the animosity?  So I’ve reflected back on some of these claims over the last year:

  1. Racism is not the solution to racism.
  2. Big corporations aren’t inherently evil.
  3. Crystal healing is most likely placebo.
  4. Truth and reality matter.
  5. It’s important to be punctual.
  6. Science and religion are not the same.
  7. We shouldn’t assume something to be true without sufficient evidence.
  8. The end doesn’t justify the means.
  9. Compassion and intelligence are important to problem solving.
  10. Weed isn’t all bad.
  11. Trump is a corrupt individual and most likely will not finish his term.
  12. Technology isn’t evil.
  13. The earth is not flat.

And yet when I stand my ground on my understanding of something, it’s said that I’m being difficult.  If I provide evidence and sources, I’m exhausting to deal with.  I look forward for opportunities to agree with people, but I won’t agree for the sake of getting along.  I can disagree with someone and get along just fine… but in an age where your collective identity matters more than your individual identity, and your identity is established along ideological lines… it seems like agreeing with your tribe is more advantageous than ever.  In the short-term anyways.  I suspect we’re witnessing what happens when it plays out in the long-term term.  Rather than using the tools that allow us to learn and find a common ground with one another, we’re opting to avoid people we disagree with and surrounding ourselves with those who are ‘like-minded’.  But what happens when you have a disagreement with those people? Feminism seems to be approaching some sort of civil war as they fight over things like whether women in porn objectification or liberation.  As this plays out, we get more and more fragmented.. always chasing a safe space that we feel good in.  And eventually, we’re alone.  As the individuals we were meant to be, with our own views and perspectives, based off our own unique experiences.  If only we could appreciate that individuality today, we might be more motivated to find the common ground with one another.  If we had that motivation, perhaps we would refine the tools needed to challenge our own beliefs and understand the perspectives of others.  Perhaps with those tools and confidence, we’d be able to appreciate how disagreements and good conversation are an easy opportunity for everyone involved to learn and be better off.  And maybe with that optimism, we would be much more open to hearing the advice of others.

It’s funny, I often say that people are easier to understand when you think about them like squishy robots.  I may have had a breakthrough.  It occurred to me that when changing the mind of someone else, what you’re effectively doing is changing the programming.  What happens if you introduce a new line of code to an existing program that is in direct conflict with the previous programming?  You get an error.  And if you’re the computer program who has been mostly functional in its tasks, you have to decide whether to reject that new line of code or rewrite the program to accommodate for that new line of code.  I think that’s a lot of what we’re seeing right now.  These facts or ‘updates’ are coming out, and not everyone wants to update to the most recent version.  Some people don’t understand the updates or why they’re necessary while others don’t want to deal with having to rewrite so much of their existing programming to accommodate for the update.  The end result is that the majority of us aren’t working on the most up-to-date software and it’s creating some very serious issues.  When people are working on different versions of software, it makes communication much more difficult.  If the updates are far enough apart, it’s like they’re not even speaking the same language anymore.  And there’s no shortage of people who think that they’ll be just fine without the update.  But we all know how that turns out… you get left behind.

I think the solution to unsolicited advice isn’t hacking the primal or emotional parts of the brain.  It’s the logical brain that understands things and it’s there’s a permanence to understanding things which doesn’t exist in feelings or urges.  I think the key to unsolicited advice is in understanding how to change someone’s mind and that the key to changing someone’s mind is reprogramming them from the ground up.  Before you can introduce that line of code, you have to address the underlying lines of code which are in direct conflict.  Before you can drop some truth on someone,  you have to address the underlying beliefs that it challenges.  Otherwise, it just doesn’t add up and it’ll be easier for them to reject the new information for the sake of comfort in their old beliefs.