Real Diversity

Google is a pretty big deal.  They hire cool people, they make cool stuff, and they’re arguably the world’s most valuable company.  I’ve been studying Google closely for over a decade and one of their most impressive assets has always been their organizational culture.

Recently, a Google engineer wrote a 10 page memo outlining his thoughts on diversity in tech.  Coverage of this memo made it to the front page of just about every major news feed and the  loudest commentary has been pretty one-sided… something to the effect of ‘how dare he?’

After I read the first article referencing the memo, I got the gist of what was going on.  A male employee said some things which suggested that men are better suited to work in tech than women.  Then I read a few of the comments after the article and got the gist of what was going on there too… men and women are equal in every way and to suggest otherwise is offensive, immoral, and shows a lack of empathy and understanding for the systematic oppression that white men have put on all other minorities since forever.

Oy.

Recently, a well-known tennis legend suggested that Serena Williams was the greatest female player of all time.  Then he was asked why not the greatest of all time instead of the greatest female player of all time?  To which he responded by saying that she wouldn’t do nearly as well on the men’s circuit.  I thought that was a fair and accurate understanding of the situation and by no means diminished Serena’s legacy.  I think it’s also fair and reasonable that in order to claim the title of greatest tennis player ever, you’d have to be willing to compete against the best tennis players – regardless of their gender.

This all seemed pretty straight forward to me.  Men and women have evolved differently over the millennia and while women became better equipped to care for the family, men became better equipped for the role of hunting and gathering.  The evolutionary advantages which men have acquired tend to make us better athletes thus providing an inherent advantage when competing in sports.  If that’s true, is possible that other evolutionary differences exist between men and women?

One of my biggest struggles with romantic relationships when I was younger was that I expected the other person in the relationships to see and understand the world like I did.  Eventually I was given that book about women being from Venus and men being from Mars.  While I didn’t read it, hearing a few passages was enough to help me understand that men and women are wired differently and that it was important to keep those differences in mind.  While I think the most significant differences come down to the people themselves, the most consistent pattern I’ve seen in the difference between men and women is that men tend to lean towards logic while women tend to lean towards emotion.  If that’s true, wouldn’t men – on average – be better suited towards jobs that relied heavily on logic skills?

In the pursuit of understanding, I asked two of the most intelligent feminists I know about evolutionary adaptation giving men the abilities to do certain tasks better than women.  One said that she didn’t want to get into it because it was too much emotional labor.  The other was offended by the idea and then said that she was too reactive to have the conversation. Ironically, in the second instance a nearby cardiologist chimed in saying that she agreed with the evolutionary perspective but pointed out that there were always exceptions (like women being better open-water long-distance swimmers because of their fat distribution).

Back to the Google memo.   If you were just going to read headlines and comments, you’d think that this kid was a contributor at Breitbart and that his ‘anti-diversity manifesto’ was right-wing propaganda that was designed to prop up white privilege and repress visible minorities in tech.  None of material referenced in this articles actually showed that perspective and knowing that Google typically doesn’t hire right-wing nut jobs, I sensed a disconnect.  So I tracked down the original memo and read the whole thing.

It’s not that bad.  In fact, it’s kinda good.  The opening line is, “I value diversity and inclusion, I am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes.”  There are several more points throughout the memo that provide the necessary context to understand that James Damore values diversity, and wants to see diversity in the workplace, but thinks that a diversity of the mind is more important than a diversity of the body.

In the pursuit of that point, he suggests that there are several reasons why we’re likely to see lower numbers of women in tech.  He acknowledges that there is a systematic oppression of women in tech, but says that this might only be part of the issue and that part of it might be evolutionary.  He goes on to reference several studies which compare personality traits between men and women, suggesting  – on average – women have higher levels of anxiety and don’t cope with stress as well as their male counterparts.  Ironically, I had actually reviewed many of these studies a couple weeks prior as I was exploring evolutionary differences as a result of the Serena Williams conversation.

Science itself is an evolutionary process and from what I’ve read so far, the scientific community has a consensus that men and women are wired differently.  Where it becomes more grey is in how that develops into aptitude.  I suspect that with the ground that women have covered in the last 100 years and recognizing that the female population in post secondary education now eclipses men, the next 50 years will look much different than the last 50 years.  If we do it right, both men and women will have the opportunity to choose the profession that they’re best equipped for – but I don’t think that means that every job will have a equal representation of men and women.

I think that equality is a core concept to any prosperous society but I do think that the populist understanding of equality needs to evolve.  Equality is about equal opportunity, not equal outcome.  In the world of equal outcome, everyone receives a PB&J sandwich for lunch.  In the world of equal opportunity, everyone is given an opportunity to make the sandwich they want to eat.

Everyone is born a little different and it is a life built on that deviation which truly makes us unique to the world.  Because we are unique, each of us has the ability to provide something to the world that no one else can and it is the delivery of this gift to the world which I think makes us truly happy.  I know that’s a bit abstract and maybe even a bit fluffy so on a more grounded level, we’re all a little different, we all have a unique aptitude, and deploying that aptitude in a manner that helps us get closer to our maximum utility is likely what will make us happy and fulfilled.  If that’s true, isn’t true equality giving everyone the opportunity to reach their own, unique maximum utility?  If tech is biologically better suited for men, reaching a 50/50 quota of men/women will mean women who would otherwise be better suited and happier doing other activities will work in tech and men who would be best suited for tech will have to work in another field because those spots have been taken.

As hard as it can be to make this connection for some, it always comes down to an equation of efficiency.  The most efficient course of action is to encourage people to pursue careers in fields which will help them reach their maximum utility.  That’s a career which would see them happiest, most fulfilled, and creating their greatest contributions to society.  A perfect society is one in which everyone operates at their maximum utility and I think that’s the ideal of equality that people are pursuing – many just haven’t figured out how to get there yet.

The last thing I’ll touch on here which may be the most important part of this conversation is the lack of conversation.  I think that what I’ve written here would suggest that I agree with James Damore’s assessment of women in tech.  I don’t.  I think that he references some valid information, I think that he makes some coherent points, and I think that he’s legitimately looking to advocate for an ideological diversity over a visible diversity because at the end of the day, it’s what’s on the inside that matters.  I also think that there are too many unknown variables to draw direct conclusions between evolutionary biology and aptitude for jobs that didn’t exist 25 years ago.  The social, cultural, academic, and systemic variables are key in understanding this dynamic and they’re changing faster than we’re currently able to understand them.

If understanding them is a priority for us, we need to invest in the discussions that will flush out the real questions and invest in the sciences that will give us that data to answer those real questions.  I don’t agree with James Damore, but I absolutely agree with how he presented his thoughts and it is a remarkable failure when our ability to challenge these ideas devolves into comments like ‘this doesn’t even warrant a response’, or ‘how dare he?’.  It shows a lack of understanding of the topic at hand, a fear of opposing ideologies, and reluctance to engage with someone who doesn’t agree with your perspective.  James Damore was fired from one of the most important companies in the world because he intelligently argued a perspective not shared by the majority of his peers.  In the pursuit of diversity, Google just took a major step towards preventing the diversity of ideas.

 

Thought Vs. Emotion

I think that by most people’s standards, I’ve had a challenging life.  I also think that by most people’s standards, I brought most of it on myself – and I would agree.  I have a long history of taking things that should be easy, and finding ways of making them hard.  I’m not actually sure why I have this quality, but I am starting to understand the impact it has on my life.

Each time I put myself in a challenging situation, I had to figure it out.  It wasn’t that I lacked a support system, it’s just that my support system would usually suggest that if I got myself into it, I can get myself out of it.  Over the years, I developed a system that was effectively: Understand where you’re at, understand where you want to be, and find a way to close the gap.  I think the key word there is understand.  It was an exercise in problem solving in the arena of thought.

My father passed away in my mid-20s.  He and I were close – he meant a lot to me.  It was cancer and he lasted about 2 years between diagnosis and death.  Towards the end, I remember having a conversation with a friend about how it would impact me.  I had noticed a pattern over the years which suggested that each time I went through something like this, I became a less emotional person.  Despite all the other challenges I had overcome, I knew that losing my dad would impact me more than anything I had ever been through and I was concerned about how it would impact my emotional disposition – would I have any left?

In the month that my dad died, the first girl I thought I’d marry left me for her ex-boyfriend, I tore my shoulder, and the promotion which I had just moved cities for was rescinded.  After I wrapped up the responsibilities around my father’s estate, I decided it was important to give myself time to grieve to prevent any future imbalance.  The following week was a combination of work, family sized lasagnas, weed, and a few movies that legitimately made me bawl my eyes out (the dad scene in Warrior got me good).  By the end of that week, I figured that the best thing I could do for my father, for myself, and for those who counted on me was to rise above and move forward.  I accepted that my father may have died earlier than I would’ve liked, but I also recognized that he led the kind of life that most people would aspire to.  He had a family who loved him, he was a master of his craft, he built and sold a business, he was respected within his community, and he was the giant upon whose shoulders I would stand on.  I had to wrap my head around that death was part of the natural order in which we all existed, and that I should be proud of the life that my father lived.  I don’t know if it was easy or hard, but I did.

I spent the next 6 months identifying where I was in my life, where I wanted to be, and worked on closing the gap.  By the end of that year, I was headed back home for a new career in wealth management for one of the world’s top global banks.  The loss of my father was never a source of depression for me, instead, I chose to use his memory as a source of inspiration and drive.  Even to this day, everything that I do is in some way for him.

I was often complimented on how well I handled the passing of my father.  I was called very well adjusted.  However, my concerns about becoming a less emotional person seemed to be valid.  The girls I dated since likely saw the same thing.  One said that I was driven, but not passionate.  Another said that I was empty inside.  My favorite though, and perhaps the girl who understood me best, called me her benevolent robot king.  I was a high functioning human being in most respects, but I did it without what most people would call emotion.  I don’t have the wisdom necessary to make any conclusions, but I’m starting to think that there some validity to operating without emotion.

This is where I think it’s important to define the term emotion.  Google’s definition suggests that emotion is a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood and relationships with others.  For me, the key word is instinctive and I think there’s a key difference between instinct and thought.  I’m sitting here trying to think of exactly what that is and I don’t think I can define it just yet.  When I try, I think of instinct like firmware and thought like software.  The firmware came with the hardware and can be tough to update.  Software however can be updated often depending on the applications you want to run and the tasks you’re looking to accomplish.

Before modern cognition, instincts were paramount to survival.  In modern society, our instinctual drives often seem counter-productive.  Easy examples include men cheating on their spouses because of their instinctual drive to procreate with multiple partners or women searching for men with the physique and resources to protect and provide for them.  If we were to understand these types of behaviors as instinctual and left over evolutionary characteristics from a past era, I think we’d understand each other a little better.  Unfortunately, this is where ’emotions and feelings’ come into play.

In many of my relationships, I was told that I had to respect their emotions or respect their feelings.  I understood that I should respect the person and that their emotional state is part of who they are, but I didn’t understand why I should inherently respect their emotions.  Perhaps my favorite example is when a girlfriend spent the day angry at me because I had cheated on her in a dream – for the record, I’ve never cheated.  I understood and appreciated that she had sensory input that triggered instinctual fears of losing a mate but what I didn’t understand is why it was acceptable for her to ‘feel’ upset with me let alone why that state of mind should be respected.

The more rational I became, the more challenging I was for someone who was emotional.  I was still nice, I still wanted to be a good person and I was still working hard to make a positive impact in the world, but thought and emotion were often two different perspectives in the world and one often struggled to understand the other.  What I’m going to say next might ruffle some feathers, and I could be wrong, but it’s my current evolution of thought on the matter.  I think that thought is a higher form of cognition than emotion.  I’m not prepared to say that one is better than the other, or that one leads to a happier life, but I am prepared to say that on average, thinking things through is a more successful approach than feeling things out.

When I think of humanity’s greatest thinkers and what they’ve accomplished, I’m inspired.  When I think of humanity’s greatest feelers and what they’ve accomplished, I draw a blank.  When I think of humanity’s worst, I think of people who let hate and prejudice get the better of them.  Hate is an emotional state while prejudice is a lack of thought.  However, I cannot accurate say that all good things come from thought while all bad things come from emotion because without emotion, where’s the love?

This would surprise many, but as rational and robotic as I am, I still cry on a regular basis.  I’d say about once a month, I see something beautiful or something sad that touches me and gets me misty eyed at the very least.  It was the kind of thing that I would fight when I was younger but I embrace now.  Fear doesn’t really register with me the way that it does with other people, but I do have a very real concern about losing that connection because there is something that feels very human about it.  Something that I respect and appreciate about emotion is that the best moments in my life were emotional.  Happiness is an emotional state of mind.

Where I’ll leave this for today is a theory that I’m working on.  We only have one body, we only have one central nervous system, and we only have one brain.  On that basis, emotion and thought have to be connected.  Emotion seems to have a stronger connection to the body and the subconscious while thought seems to have a stronger connection to the outside world.  I think that in earlier stages of evolution, instinctual drives and internal monitors were more closely associated with survival but as we’ve created the world we live in today, it’s become increasingly important to understand the outside world.  Trying to understand the outside world with an instinctual or emotional perspective can be limiting so thought has become more important.  As the outside world progresses, we continue to develop physical and intellectual tools to help understand what’s happening internally.  Currently, I’m trying to understand what will happen to emotion if we continue along this path.  I don’t think that the emotional state will disappear completely, but I do think that it’s importance will diminish as our understanding of how it fits into general cognition evolves.  How Vulcan…

 

Redemption of a Marijuana Addict

Not long ago, I wrote a piece on my addiction to marijuana.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t stop when I wanted to – because I had several times before – it was that I didn’t want to.

I spent the last 4 years of my life managing portfolios for high net-worth individuals at one of the world’s most recognized banks.  I’m no stranger to long hours and high pressure environments – that’s my comfort zone.  This was different though and it took me a while to figure out why.  In a nutshell, the industry is marketed as advice but it’s structured entirely as sales.  Your only performance criteria is bringing in new money, but if you were honest about that with your clients, you wouldn’t have any clients.  Trying to do right by my clients while appeasing management was a daily battle and one which I was losing because I wouldn’t compromise my commitment to my clients.  This was my own personal hell – being completely invested in something that required me to compromise my integrity and my character to achieve success.

By most people’s standards, I don’t really stress out about things.  I’m usually Mr. Cool Calm and Collected but I think part of that is how I manage myself.  The gym is a great outlet – so was smoking a ton of weed.  I never smoked before or at work because of my professional standards, but I smoked just about every night before bed.  I did take a few breaks, including a 6 month break to prove to myself that I could stop when I wanted to – but had decided that I’d rather smoke weed.  It made life more enjoyable.. or maybe more tolerable.

In the last stage of my career at the bank, I moved to join a senior team to insulate me from management and remove my sales targets.  To ensure that I could respond with my best effort, I took another hiatus from weed.  Management wasn’t having any of it and fired me in the first week of January.  The first thing I did after leaving the office was sign up at the local dispensary and  I spent most of the next month stoned.  The following month, I broke my arm.  Rather than take the opiates they prescribed to me, I spent the next couple months stoned *all* of the time.  At my peak, I was smoking an ounce per week.

I smoked so much that it seemed like I had disassociated from everyone else’s reality and only existed within my own.  With a logical mind, a knack for research, and a priority of having the most accurate view of my world – I was able to understand why I had failed so spectacularly.  Global banks are massive corporate entities which operate in heavily regulated environments.  They’re structured for the purpose of stability – maintaining the status quo.  At the very core of my being, it’s in my nature to challenge the status quo.  That was a very important insight that helped me understand that if I was going to achieve the levels of success that I wanted for myself – my maximum utility – I needed to seek out a different environment.

I moved back home and started looking into tech, venture capital, and cannabis.  Tech looked like it would take some time to find the right opportunity but there were opportunities.  Venture capital gave me some very interesting advice.  They said that all the qualities that made me a pain in the ass for the big banks were the same qualities that made me a great leader and an effective CEO for a much smaller company – then they said go be a CEO.  When I looked into cannabis, I went to my favourite dispensary and spoke with the owners about making some introductions.  They said they’d be happy to but then we started getting into their expansion plans.

Last year, they were awarded top dispensary in the city and top dispensary in the country.  It wasn’t hard to understand why, they had the finest herb, a brilliantly designed shop, and a caliber of staff which made the experience far more like a casual wine tasting than buying a drink at a bar.  Their reputation had plenty of people approaching them offering to invest to help them expand and this was all foreign territory for them.  I offered to help in any way I could and they appreciated it.  A couple weeks later, I built a business plan for their expansion.  A week after that, they asked me to lead their capital raise.  A week after that, I introduced them to the top cannabis VC in town and a week after that, we were competing for a slot at the Arcview Investor Forum (think sharktank for week).

When we first discussed the game plan, we were going to start the raise towards the end of the summer.  It was going to give us time to clean up the books, do a legal restructure, roll out some strategic marketing, and refine our vision for what came next.  Unfortunately for us, our deadline for qualifying for the Arcview forum was 45 days.  I told them no problem – long hours and high pressure was my jam and I’d be happy to lead the charge.  They accepted and we were off to the races.

For the few weeks leading up to this, I had a few moments where I told myself that it was time to take another break but smoking weed was way too effective at alleviating my boredom and far too useful in helping me sleep.  When I took this project on however, it was no longer about me.  I had committed myself to something that deserved my best effort, to people who deserved my best effort, and to something which I was legitimately passionate about doing.  I told the founders that they were going to get the best out of me if I was sober and so I was making a commitment that I wouldn’t blaze until we raise.  The founders were a mix of amused, confused, and happy that I was so committed.

Just about every day started at 6am and ended at midnight.  Weekends were irrelevant.  Any time I spent not working on this project was time I spent maintaining the level of balance necessary to get the most out of the hours I was putting in.  My commutes were filled with calls.  My meals out were with key contacts.  My meals in were spent watching material relevant to this project.  I was consumed – and couldn’t be happier.

I’ve never been this engaged.  I’ve never been this excited to be a part of something either.  This is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to apply my mind like this and I feel like I’m in my element.  This is my jam.  The harder I work, the more I want to work at it.  The more we push forward, the more obstacles and barriers seem to dissolve in front of us.  The best part?  The core values behind the business have very little to do with cannabis – it has everything to do with social freedoms.  To borrow a line from Starbucks, ‘we’re in the business of social freedom, we just happen to sell cannabis’.  That’s something I can get behind all day long and I seem to have a bottomless pit of energy and passion for it.

The craziest part? I kinda forgot about weed and I think there’s a super important lesson there.  If I look throughout my life at the times when I was smoking most, there’s a pattern.  They were also the times where I was the least satisfied with my life.  It’s easy to say that I was using it to unwind, or de-stress, but I can’t help but think that those are euphemisms for an escape.  When I was stoned, I was no longer concerned with my daily struggles.  It put my mind elsewhere – sometimes nowhere.  Now that I get to spend my waking hours pouring everything I have and everything I know into a totally worthy cause, being stoned isn’t nearly as appealing.

Before we made our submission, I had some of the city’s top VCs and CEOs review the pitch materials before our submission.  The response was unanimous and tremendously positive.  One of the top investors at Arcview was local and was beyond impressed.  The ‘chief mentor’ at Arcview said that this was so well done that he expected Arcview investors to reach out to us directly in such a high volume that we’d complete the raise before we even reached the forum.  We were pumped.

Last week, we submitted our pitch package to the Arcview Group and while we scored the highest score of any submission that round – we scored just below their cut-off for the investor forum next month.  This was a remarkably frustrating experience.  Those who were supposed to qualify us were supposed to read through our executive summary and team bio, go through our pitch deck, and then watch the pitch video for which we were available for a live Q&A after.  The video was played through GoToMeeting – meaning that it was too choppy to watch.  The questions being asked in the live Q&A made it evident that they hadn’t even looked at the rest of our materials.  It was remarkably frustrating.

That night, I had a friend and his wife over for dinner.  He brought a joint.  I said no at first, but then I rationalized it.  I poured myself into this process and put forward something that I was incredibly proud of.  While it didn’t receive the result I wanted, I still qualified it as a success.  The joint was part stress-relief and part reward for an effort I was genuinely proud of – and I’m happy that I did.

I went from a state of frustration to a state of relaxation.  Without the preoccupation of the day’s failure, I was able to be more present and enjoy the company of my friends.  Colours were brighter, the food was better, and the music was especially good – I felt elevated.

I had been such a heavy user of cannabis for so long that I had burnt out my cannabinoid receptors to the point where no matter how much weed I smoked, it simply brought be back to a baseline of haziness.  I had abused the drug rather than used it.  I can’t stress enough, how important of a lesson that was for me.  For me, this wasn’t a lesson in yes you should or no you shouldn’t, it was a lesson in balance.  I doubt this journey is over, but these last few months have been a remarkable learning experience… and I’m just getting started.

 

The Wonderful Flaw in Capitalism

So sleep hasn’t come easily to me since I was young, but perhaps it’s both a blessing and a curse.  As I lay awake at night wishing I could fall asleep, my mind continues to problem solve.  A few months ago, I was doing my best to understand the difference between the idea of democracy, and the application of it in American politics – and effectively understand where things went sideways when 20% of the American public was able to elect someone which most of the world despised.  More recently, I’ve been focused on capitalism and more importantly, how it’s led to an unsustainable concentration of wealth.  At about 2am a couple nights ago, I woke up Siri to take a note.  That note reads:

“The fly in capitalism is the assumption that resources are scarce” 

I had said flaw, but close enough, Siri.  What I first tried to do was understand what capitalism is at its core.  My best definition was the exchange of resources for the creation of value.  Whether you’re producing a good, a service, or something in between, capitalism was there to reward you with resources to help you sustain yourself and with the goal of motivating you to create more value in the future.  Theoretically, in capitalism, those who create the most value should be rewarded with the most resources.  I don’t think that’s the case today.

As  the application of capitalism evolved, it became a heavily complex system and as with all systems, they can be taken advantage of.  For example, some businesses specifically target customers who don’t fully understand the transaction and end up paying for services they don’t need or products they can’t use – selling ice to an Eskimo.  While some examples are blatant, I suspect most are shades of grey.  Those shades of grey allow those with a greater understanding of the system to manipulate that transaction of value for resources – ultimately leaving them paying less or receiving more.  In this environment, the most significant factor in deciding who receives the most resources isn’t the ability to create value, but rather the ability to understand and play the game.

When I look across the board of the wealthiest people in the world, I don’t see a direct correlation between the wealth they’ve accumulated and the value they’ve created.  There are some, like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or Larry Paige who I think should be among the wealthiest individuals in the world, but for each of them, there are dozens of wealthy individuals who have made their fortunes by extracting resources rather than creating value – casino’s come to mind.

So when I understood that, I thought that we just needed to find a way to get back to the fundamentals of capitalism.  We just needed to find a better way to ensure that there was a fair and equitable approach to the exchange of value for resources.  But wait… if resources weren’t scarce, would capitalism still motivate us to create value?

I know this is all super high level so let’s make this more tangible.  The sun currently projects more energy onto our planet than we’re capable of using – and we’re getting increasingly better at harnessing it.  99.9% of the resources ever used on this planet are still on this planet because as it turns out, matter can’t be destroyed.  That means that resources aren’t scarce, we’re just temporarily inefficient at turning used resources into usable resources.  That’s a technological issue that we’re getting increasingly better at solving – one which I expect to be largely solved within our lifetime.

So let’s be optimistic and think 100 years out.  There are solar panels everywhere.  Roads, roofs, cars, skyscrapers, and huge chunks of desserts are covered in enough solar panels to passive provide our planet with sufficient energy to both sustain and grow.  Waste conversion technologies have advanced to the point where a landfill can be broken down into synthesized raw materials.  Additive manufacturing is able to take synthesized raw materials and efficiently build just about anything that our minds can imagine.  If that ecosystem sounds familiar, it’s because that’s pretty much how our planet worked before humans came along and started trying to reinvent the wheel.  Mind you the earth did it at a much slower pace, but the fundamentals are the same.

Waste is a concept only known to humans.  In every other aspect of the known universe, it’s simply another state in which energy or matter can exist.  Once we can wrap our heads around that, it’s easier to understand that there is no scarcity in resources, simply an temporary inefficiency in turning used resources into usable resources.  That is something that I’m confident technology can solve, and it has me looking rather optimistically towards the future.

In a future where resources aren’t scarce, what would motivate someone to create value for others?  This is where the crusty capitalists might say that people are inherently lazy and it’s only through the motivation of scarcity that they’re willing to provide any level of value to others.  It’s too easy to find counter-examples for that to be entirely true, but I don’t deny that the fear of not being able to sustain yourself can motivate people to do all kinds of things.  What I also think though, is that love is a far more powerful motivator.  In this case, it would be love for what one does.  More often than not, the best computer programmers, the best musicians, the best entrepreneurs, and the best parents are those who absolutely love what they do.  Between their hardware, firmware and software, they’re totally in line with their life’s work.  They’re in their element.  They love what they do, and as a result, their drive, passion, and work ethic to create value for others far surpasses what they might have done out of fear.

That is the future I see and the future that I’m confident we’re headed towards.  We’re a few years out, and there will be plenty of stumbling blocks between now and then, but this is a logical eventuality which is simultaneously an enlightened perspective on how technology drives progress, and how progress drives ideology.  The future is bright and oh so cool.

Before Comey Takes the Stand..

I’ve been relatively quiet on the Trump matter since I started this blog.  It’s not because I haven’t been paying attention.  On the contrary, I’ve been studying Trump’s rise and time in the office more intensely than I’ve studied anything in my adult life.  The rise of Trump to power will likely go down as one of the most fascinating moments in our young human history.

I’ve done my best to track articles, ‘news’, and commentary from both sides, as well as engaging with some of the most intelligent people I could find representing the full spectrum.  I’ve already put my money where my mouth is by pushing my portfolio to cash, but I also wanted to document my position here before it looks like I did it through hindsight.

I’m not a fan of facts.  Not because they can’t be true by definition, but because they’re only brief glimpses into a greater truth which, without context, can obscure perception.  It’s much like watching brief clips of a movie without being able to see the movie.  It’s true that each clip was part of the movie, but seeing them out of context doesn’t lend to understanding the true nature of the film.  For me, I search for patterns.  Patterns tend to repeat themselves and are therefore much more enduring when it comes to understanding the greater truth.

Trump’s not a good person.  He’s not a very smart person either.  He’s likely guilty, but he wasn’t smart enough to put this together.  In all likelihood, he’s being used – the extent of which he probably doesn’t realize.  I doubt that it’s a single entity or a grand collusion behind Trump, I think it’s more likely that it’s been a patch-worked collaborative effort by several groups who realized they could push their agenda through Trump.

This is a game in which Trump is a pawn who doesn’t realize he’s a pawn.  Ironically, several other players on the board, like the Russians and The Koch brothers think they’re pulling the strings, but even they’re pawns in a much larger game.  This is a game of love versus fear.

 

The Real Cannabis Conversation

As is often the case, I think the the most interesting conversation on the topic is the one we’re not having right now.   I find that as people argue, they become more interested in defending their perspective than understanding another’s and I think that’s a key issue here.  While there are plenty of conversations around how to legalize or how to criminalize, I think the real question is why we should legalize or why we should criminalize.  When we take a proper look at the why behind whether or not we as a people should have legal access to this drug, we have a great opportunity for self-reflection.

I think the first thing we should do define is the term ‘drug’.  When heroin is found in the streets, it’s discussed as a highly illegal and highly dangerous drug.  When morphine is found in a hospital, its discussed as a pain killer and part of the medical process.  Both are obtained from the Opium poppy.  When you remove all the bias, drugs are simply something you put in your body for a desired effect.  That means they’re a tool and tools are remarkably indifferent to how we use them.

So why do we takes drugs then? I think we do it to adjust our state of mind.  Even drugs with no psychotropic effects are still targeting state of mind in a less direct manner.  Consider using an over-the-counter pain killer for a sprained ankle.  The ankle is an injury of the body, but the pain that’s being addressed is a state of mind.  If the mind was unaware of the body’s pain, the painkillers would be unnecessary.  Even if you’re taking drugs to address an illness with no obvious symptoms, you’re taking the drugs to address the concern of a future illness – still looking to resolve a state of mind.  So what if the issue isn’t a physical illness?  What if it’s mental?  What if it’s social?

There’s  a fantastic Sherlock quote… something along the lines of “I’m not an addict, I’m a user.  I look to alleviate boredom and occasionally stimulate my thought process.”  It’s interesting because if you say that it’s something you use to limit boredom, it’s relatable but if someone says they’re using it as a coping mechanism, it’s a bigger issue.  What if it’s a mechanism used to cope with boredom?  What I’m trying to demonstrate is that we’re really just scratching the surface of what drugs are and why we use them.  All we know is that we put them in our bodies to get us closer to the state of mind that we want to be in.  There’s a tremendous amount of research to do there, and I think the answers we arrive at will speak volumes on the human condition.

So let’s bring this back to cannabis.  Why do I take it?  Primarily for sleep, to escape my thoughts, and to alleviate boredom.  I recognize that the closer my life gets to where I want it to be, the less I want to escape from my reality and the less weed I look to consume.  That’s my personal experiment at the moment, if I’m where I want to be mentally, then will I still look to change my state of mind?

A great question to ask when discussing marijuana is addiction.  Most people would suggest that marijuana isn’t addictive because it lacks certain chemical properties that create a physiological dependency like some other drugs.  While that may be true to an extent, I’d suggest that marijuana can be addictive simply because of it’s effects.  I’ve had weeks where sobriety was the enemy and it was hard not to think I was staring addiction in the face.  That said, if you dropped me off in a location with no access to marijuana, I’d have a few sleepless nights and then carry on.  It’s easy to think of hard drugs when you think addiction but in reality, many addictions exist purely in the mind.  I think that with sufficient research, one may find that a chemical dependency and addiction are two different things, one is one of the body while the other is of the mind.  If that’s the case, marijuana addiction is possible and likely very real.  We owe it to ourselves to be honest about this and bring this element into the conversation

It’s not often that a drug makes the journey from being an illegal psychotropic to a widely prescribed medicine.  If I were to take this all at face value, cannabis is a miracle plant capable of treating all kinds of illnesses.  While I think that’s a possibility, I’m more interested in seeing the research than jumping on the hype train.  I also think that the medical properties of the plant would be discussed less if legalized recreational access was available.  In the current market, most users have acquired a medical license from a lax medical professional to achieve access for recreational use.  I can’t help but think that if wine were illegal, people would also seek medical licenses with claims that wine extends your lifespan, protects against cancers, improves mental health, and benefits the heart.  They may even be right, but it doesn’t change the fact that they were just looking to unwind with some friends at the end of the week.

So what are the actual medical properties of marijuana?  The real answer is we don’t know.  There’s anecdotal evidence of it successfully treating just about everything from cancer to seizures but the reality is we’ve just started the research.  From what I’ve seen, I suspect there are very real medical properties in the plant but I that we need to understand what they are to a much deeper level before we embrace them to this degree.  For example, I can confirm that it’s the most successful sleep aid I’ve ever used but I must also concede that I never wake up refreshed the way I feel when I sleep without it.  From an introspective standpoint, I think what it does very well is it helps you shift into a more copacetic mindset and it’s that mindset which helps you better deal with things like pain, stress, and anxiety.  Beyond that, I’m looking to learn and making no assumptions.

So what about recreational use?  We’re most of the way there and the momentum doesn’t seem to be letting up.  Every once in a while, some old white guy will say something like ‘I don’t see how making these substances legal will improve anyone’s quality of life.’  I understand that mindset, but I also understand why it’s flawed.  The error is in the assumption that marijuana affects all people equally.  Some of us are easier to get along with when we’re stoned while others are simply far more productive individuals.  There are some people who shouldn’t be using cannabis and that’s OK too.  The solution isn’t restricting access to everyone, the solution is to provide access to everyone and letting us collectively explore the pros and cons.  We’ll make some mistakes and lose some good people along the way, but such is the nature of progress.

Someone might say that it poses too much of a risk but to them I would say that fear makes for poor decision making.  Too often the government treats the general population like a parent treats their children but in reality, the general population is representative of a collective intelligence which is often under utilized.  Look at what happened when we legalized alcohol.  Alcohol abuse has ruined lives while alcohol poisoning has take them.  That doesn’t make alcohol bad, it makes alcohol important.  It makes it important to understand why we drink, and what the real impact is.  Marijuana will be no different.  It’s just another substance, which if anything, is a reflection of ourselves.

I can’t help but think that the majority of those who are opposed to the legalization of marijuana either have a political angle, don’t understand the matter, or are simply afraid.  The solution to each is education.  We all need to know more about what this plant is and what it does, but we’re not going to learn what we want to know by leaving it in the labs because there’s more to it than that.  Marijuana should be legal for the reason that every other drug should be legal.  We shouldn’t be cautious around drugs because they’re bad or illegal, we should indifferent around drugs because we understand that the ethical and practical impact has everything to do with that specific drug and that specific person.  The level of research necessary to truly understand those dynamics requires a decentralized approach to research and fortunately for us, there are plenty of volunteers.

So at the end of the day, who do I think should be smoking cannabis?  Anyone who wants to, on the condition that they understand what they’re doing and why.  We know it’s a plant that gets you stoned and we know it has medical properties.  We need to know a lot more than that.  Part of that process is giving us the chance to explore – and that means legalization.  When it’s all said and done, we’ve tried it their way.. with the whole war on drugs thing… now it’s time to embrace freedom.  The freedom for people to choose how to live their lives.  The freedom for people to choose what medicine they use.  The freedom to choose how to deal with boredom and the freedom to experience the negative realities of poor decision making.  It’s all part of the same evolutionary process… this is how we grow.

 

Confessions of a Marijuana Addict

So I’ve had an interesting relationship with weed over the years.  Growing up, I had no shortage of friends getting stoned and going to class or basketball practice, but none of them had any plans beyond high school so I made up my mind that I wouldn’t touch the stuff until I graduated.  By the end of that summer, I was a proper pothead.  Since then, my relationship with wacky tobaccy has gone through several stages, up to and including what most people would consider to be addiction.  In an age where legal recreational use is imminent under the guise of a medical application, I figured this post was long overdue.

So when I first started smoking, it was purely social and recreational.  It was usually in place of, or a complement to a few beers – and always with friends.  If I wanted to toke but nobody was around, I just wouldn’t.

It was in my first year of university that I started developing sleep issues.  Effectively, my brain wouldn’t turn off for sleep.  I’d go to bed, but my mind would continue to cycle from thought to thought for hours.  First, I tried basic sleep aids which didn’t help me sleep, but left me groggy the next day.  Then I tried some prescription stuff which worked about the same, but left me even groggier.  Eventually, my sleep schedule had me sleeping at about 9am and waking up at 5pm.  Lectures were mostly optional and it was easy to study at night so school was a non-issue, but many years later, sleep is still a struggle.

In university, I’d probably be a frequent user by most standards, but it wasn’t daily.  In many cases, I’d go weeks or months without, simply from a lack of access or a shift in priorities.  At this point, I think I had still yet to blaze by myself.  It wasn’t until I finished university and moved back home that those dynamics started to shift a bit.

I grew up in a pro-cannabis community, in a pro-cannabis city, with a very pro-cannabis social and professional circle.  Now as a recent university graduate, back home, with a full-time income and his own place, I’m pretty sure my version of christening the place involved a philly, friends, food, and family guy.  While my intake likely increased, it was still very much a social activity until I started using it as a coping mechanism.

I was an assistant manager at the time for a large rental car company.  My manager who happened to be a close friend of mine was fired in a cost-cutting maneuver.  His replacement sucked and my job went from fun to shit within a few months, including a switch to late-shifts.  The shifts had me arriving home close to 11pm and rather wound up – so I began my ritual of winding down.  I’d come home, ditch the suit, roll some reefer, and relax.  Eventually, this became every work-night.  Even when I moved for work to a new town where I didn’t know anyone – and the ritual persisted.

Following that role, I transitioned into finance and into a career path that was the epitome of high pressure.  I began that path thinking that I wanted to maximize my brainpower so it was time to take a break from the Buddha.  I did, but now I was back to not being able to sleep.  Eventually, I justified it to myself that sleep was more important – and the ritual persisted.

While still in that role, I began dating a girl who wasn’t the biggest fan.  She grew up in a household which embraced the war on drugs and just about considered it a deal breaker.  I cared a great deal about the girl and figured I could probably benefit from a break.  I did, but somewhere along the line, the bigger issue for me was taking direction from someone who doesn’t understand the issue.  So it became a weekend activity and not around her.

Not long after that, dispensaries started opening up in the city and the quality, section, and access all leaped forward.  Now there was a far better excuse to eliminate the weekend rule, but no excuse was better than getting a call from the girlfriend saying that her headache was so bad that she was looking to explore some alternative medicine.  She shared a spliff for the first time as an adult and never looked back.  Shortly after that, I had a bad ankle injury which took me off my feet for a couple weeks.  So I bought the new Xbox, and oz, and set up shop on the couch.  We broke up a few months later.  That’s mostly on me.

The following year, the only way I could fall asleep is if I greened out.  I was still mostly functional at work but was struggling with some short-term memory issues and occasionally spacing out in the middle of sentences.  The effective impact was marginal, but certainly noticeable.  It was like a cycle of going in and out of a fog.  I’d wake up in a haze that I’d spend the first couple hours of the morning trying to shake, then I’d hit my stride and cruise through the day, usually arriving home late in time to visit the vape.  I’d spend an hour or two watching tv, surfing on my phone, and doing bag-rips until I fell asleep on the couch.  I’d wake up at about 4 or 5am and move to the bed – and repeat.

It wasn’t preventing me from doing my job or playing sports, it was still a social activity, and it was the only thing that would consistently get me to sleep.  On the rare nights where I was without, I probably averaged 2-4 hours of sleep.  It was so easy to justify and so quickly approved by my peers that it was hard to pursue a routine without.

Prior to passing away, my dad shared an interesting thought on pot, “it never made anyone any smarter.”  When I reflect on that statement, what I hear is that we have a drug which interacts with our bodies in a variety of ways, most of which we don’t yet understand.  For all the good and bad it does, it’s probably not going to make you any smarter.  I owed it to him, my clients, my peers, and especially myself to at least explore that opportunity.  So I did.

Few people are more familiar with the games that you play with your own mind so I went to a good friend of mine and told him I was quitting.  He understood the situation well enough to know how to help.  We had a sesh and he left my house with my kit and all my supplies.  The agreement was a 6 month reset but a few months in, the family dog died and my sister took it rather hard.  It was still her coping mechanism at the time so I broke my commitment.  On the way home, I had the munchies and picked up a giant poutine.  When I got to my couch and started pigging out, I had this moment of thinking this isn’t what I want at all.  I was back to sobriety the following morning and made it until Christmas of that year.

While sober, my sleep schedule completely reset itself and everything was back to normal.  Most of the haziness subsided in the first couple weeks, with just about all of it gone within a few months.  That said, there’s something different about my brain now.  I can’t tell if it’s the hemp, bumps to the head, or just getting older but I don’t feel as sharp as I did when I was young.  While things like memory recall aren’t what they once were, things like perspective and open-mindedness have increased dramatically.  I don’t have the information necessary to know which factors contributed to which results, but I would be surprised if the herb had nothing to do with it.

I’ve now accepted that it’s my vice of choice.  For most the time I was sober, I wasn’t thinking about it.  The times where I was around friends who were getting green, or at home looking to wind down, all I could think was how much I preferred a moderate approach of once in a while.  Unfortunately for me, as soon as I had proven to myself that I could still stop if I wanted to, I was intent on making up for lost time.  I was back to smoking a joint before bed every night with the new girlfriend, and when things didn’t work out with her, I was back to greening out before bed every night on my own.

In November of last year, I moved for work.  It was a huge opportunity for me which would allow me to fast forward from a junior role to a senior role within a short period of time in a very well paid career.  I decided to use that as a reset point, thinking that this was the best time for me to apply my maximum brain power.  So I stopped using again with the exception of when I was visiting back home, and the little bit that I bought back with me each time telling myself that I was using it to reset my sleep schedule.  It took several weeks but my schedule was normalizing, I was getting healthier, and I was feeling better.  In January I was fired for unethical conduct.  A long story for another time, but it was unexpected, and very quickly turned my world upside down.  I had invested more of myself into this career than anything before.  It was the kind of career where the first 5 years were brutal but the next 30 made it well worth it.  I was fired almost exactly 4 years in.  Taking away something that I was so invested in and focused on, that meant so much to me and my future, was a very meaningful experience.

I walked out of that termination determined to be as productive and positive as I could with the experience.  Then I signed up at the local dispensary and proceeded to smoke ALL the cheeba.  I was focused on moving forward, but as a new resident in a small town that was then buried in snow, left me with limited activities.  Fortunately for me, I love to snowboard so I hit the slopes with some good friends for the first time in February.  Unfortunately for me, I took an uneventful spill off a jump and broke my arm pretty bad.  I had to have surgery, including plates and screws which meant that I was prescribed some pretty heavy duty painkillers.  Knowing what’s in them and their addictive properties, I decided to stick with my vice.

I’m pretty happy I was able to get through without getting into the opiates, but it did leave me in this perpetual state of being high all the time which I didn’t enjoy.  That was this February and I moved home about a week ago.  This transitional period that I’ve been going through over the last few months has resulted in a lot of personal growth and was ultimately the reason for this blog, but that personal growth has also left me with an unresolved perspective around this astro turf.

As I approach the second half of this year, my life is becoming far better aligned with who I am and what I’m capable of.  As much as I enjoy the endo, I don’t think it’s making me any smarter.  I think I’m a more capable individual when I’m sober.  I also think that the closer I am to reaching my potential, the happier I am.  I even had a moment a few days ago, smoking a joint from the comfort of my own bed, where I said this is enough, this isn’t what I want and it’s time to make a change.  I had to build some IKEA furniture that day so I obviously kept blazing, but it was a valid thought.  Even as I write this, part of my mind seems dedicated to finding the right excuse to justify rolling one up.

This last bit I write stoned.  Somewhere in my logical and analytical mind, I can’t help but think that this experience of addiction is highly educational in a self-growth kinda way.

The drugs I’ve done are weed, mushrooms (once), MDMA, and DMT (twice).  As a result of where I grew up and a brief career detour, I’ve spend my fair share of time around much harder drugs.  I resisted all of them on the same premise that the reward wasn’t worth the risk.  Those were life-destroying drugs and no high was worth that risk.  Weed wasn’t life destroying, so I seem to have fearlessly chased this vice down to its depths, knowing that I’m exploring something real without risks that I can’t handle.  I took a class in university call drugs and behaviour so I understand the changes in my brain chemistry when I’m stoned, but from an introspective standpoint, – hold on.. lost my train of thought – there’s something else here.  First, I think it’s important to understand drugs.  Not just how they affect someone’s brain chemistry but how they truly interact with peoples minds.  I think there’s a lot to be learned there.  Second, is to understand what it means to be addicted to drugs.  It can be a surreal experience, not just the mechanics of something that exists somewhere between a craving and a dependence, but also how it changes you.  I’ve become more introverted over the years. I much prefer a night in with a joint than night out drinking with the boys.  My memory is less effective than it once was.  It’s highly noticeable with names but less so with other things.  I’ve been able to adapt so it doesn’t affect me much but it’s annoying.  My sex drive fell way off when I was smoking the most.  By way off, I mean almost zero.  There are other things that likely contributed to each, but I’m confident my blazing did too.  Part of me tells me that I still have more to learn here but another part of me remembers what it’s like to be truly sober.  It’s like one of those limitless pills compared to where I am now.

Something occurred to me not long ago, maybe I smoke to make myself dumb.  My natural state of mind is very ‘go go go’, which is great when I get to apply it to something.  But when I don’t, I sense this gap between what I’m doing and what I’m capable of doing and it eats at me – until I’m stoned.  When I’m stoned, I don’t care.  I’m content in that moment and satisfied with life in general.  It’s as if I’m happier when I’ve lowered my potential to be more in line with my output.

So I suppose the moral of the story is fix your life and you won’t need to get stoned.  Here’s the interesting thing though, I don’t need to get stoned, I prefer to get stoned.  I stopped when I wanted to and chose to go back because my life was more enjoyable stoned than sober.  Maybe because I was a broken person, but probably because I was completely focused on a future which wasn’t my own.  I wasn’t in my element and I was nowhere near my potential.  I was tuning out assuming things would get better.  I was right – they fired me.

As I’m approaching this new phase of my life where I better understand myself and better understand where I should be applying my talents, I’m recognizing that I should probably end up smoking a lot less.  That doesn’t change the fact that I currently rely on it to sleep and have completely formed a habit out of it.  This won’t be easy, but it’s perhaps the most important area of growth when exploring the nature of addiction.  I know that I can quit outright, but that would be too easy and not what I want.  This is my vice of choice, but not the way I use it now – there must be moderation.  As always though, I’m optimistic.  As I begin to accelerate towards projects of high interest, I’m excited to start using my brain again and I’m reminded of a quote from my dear Sherlock Holmes, “I’m not an addict, I’m a user.  I alleviate boredom and occasionally heighten my thought process.”