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.

 

 

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.

An Alternative to Prison

It occurred to me that there are multiple cases where someone couldn’t be tried for a crime they couldn’t remember having committed.  I think it usually had to do with severe brain damage.  Effectively, as a society, we found it to be unethical to punish someone for a crime which they genuinely had no recollection of having committed.  I think that in many cases, the brain damage was severe enough to warrant keeping them in psychiatric care.. but it gave me an idea.

People joke about going back in time to kill baby Hitler.  The joke isn’t so much about stopping the Nazi movement but rather about the ethical dilemma of killing a baby who for all intents and purposes was an innocent person at that moment in time.  People playfully debate over whether or not they would do it and it becomes a discussion about whether or not you would trade one innocent live to save many innocent lives.  The compassionate crowd doesn’t want to sacrifice any lives.  The intelligent crowd think it’s easy math.  I would encourage using both parts of the brain in pursuit of a better option… reform.  Find baby hitler and guide him towards a better life.  For all intents and purposes, he was an gifted individual pointed in a terrible direction.  Why not show him a better way and see all that energy spent on the collective good.

So if we are born innocent, and destined for prison, there’s an inflection point at which society has deemed us no longer fit for the general population.  For those of us who are to be locked up forever… what if they could go back?  Like a back-up?  Like with a computer?  Go back to before the files were corrupted?

Clearly, this is some sci-fi shit and while fun to think about, it’s not a realistic solution for the near future.  What is likely to be a far better option and is readily available is a complete overhaul of our prison system.  At this point in time, the system is designed to punish those who have committed a crime.  The idea is that prison is such an unenjoyable place to be, that once released, they’ll do whatever it takes to not return.  It’s unfortunate that we still think we can control people with fear, because the numbers would suggest otherwise.  The culture within the prisons just like the culture within a company is enough to change who you are by the time you leave.  If that culture was one of intense negativity, who are we releasing back into the wild?  In what ways have they ‘paid their debt to society?’  There’s gotta be a better way.

As with all my ideas, they’re built on the ideas of others.  Prison shouldn’t be about punishment, prison should be about rehab.  It’s not that complicated.  I think that in many ways, it comes down to having compassion for people who are not your own.  Think of a wealthy family who has a kid that gets addicted to drugs.  And let’s say that kid gets up to no good while supporting that drug habit.  Does the world look at that person in the same manner as the crackhead trying to steal a TV.  One is likely to end up in the Mayo clinic as an act of compassion and rehabilitation while the other is likely to end up in prison as an act of punishment.  I would argue that this situations are much more similar than they are different and the rehab would be the best approach for each.  I would maintain that stance even if drugs weren’t the issue.

If I’m not mistaken, Sweden is one of the countries leading the way in this approach.  Prison isn’t about punishment, it’s about reform.  Through whatever path these individuals have had through life, it’s led them to a point where they’re extremely disruptive to society, or even dangerous.  The solution isn’t to lock them all away together in an environment which encourages their worst behaviors.  Especially when the plan is to release them back into the environments that they found to be so challenging in the first place.  The solution is to help them learn and grow into a productive member of society.

How many of these individuals lack truly employable skills?  How many people are in jail for crimes relating to poverty?  How many of these people have struggled to find an honest way to make a living?  How often does someone serve their sentence, only to find it harder to get a job than before?  I’m willing to bet good money that someone with a stable career and healthy income is much less interested in stealing.  I’m also willing to bet good money that a person who came from having to steal to put food on the table, to being able to do it with honest work will make one hell of a role-model for others.  But not everyone would agree.  Something to the effect of these are bad people, they committed crimes and should be punished and not rewarded.  And what about the costs of these rehab programs, tax payers shouldn’t be responsible for footing these bills.  These individuals would be shortsighted.

The brilliance of rehab over punishment is the increase in value of human capital.  In the current system, an average inmate will chew up government resources while incarcerated and come out in worse condition than when they went in.  As a result, they’re more likely to go back.  In more extreme cases, people learn to prefer the inside to the outside.  There’s a reason we don’t take this approach with our own children.  When we truly care about the well-being of others, it becomes paramount that we help build them back up.  The current system takes problematic individuals of society and puts them through a process that on average, greatly reduces their ability to be a  healthy, contributing member to society.  As a result, in one way or another, they’re likely going to cost tax-payers more money.

At one point, we even thought that the issue was threatening more jail time.  What if we tell them that if they go back for the third time, we won’t ever let them out?  And all of the sudden, the tax-payer is on the hook for a life-time of food, board, and supervision.  Why does it sound like such an extreme idea to invest the resources necessary so that this person can go out there and be a happy, healthy, productive member of society?  I can all but guarantee that over the long-term, costs would go down, and quality of life for everyone would go way up.

Within this idea, there’s plenty of room to explore as well.  Perhaps those receiving an education in prison would be able to commute their sentence by working it off through an apprenticeship.  A different approach to paying off your debt to society.  Prison labor is one of the biggest rackets in the country and has more in common with slave labor that paid labor but it doesn’t have to stay that way.  If these individuals are capable of doing quality work and earning a proper rate, why would we withhold that from them?  Why would it be paramount that we keep them from contributing to society?  If you consider how large the prison system is, there seems to be plenty of work to be done internally as well.  Imagine, a prison system powered by the minds, skills and labor of inmates who are committed to bettering themselves, supporting each other, and making this a generally positive experience.  Imagine the cultural shift.  Imagine someone going through a rough patch, and looking forward to prison, knowing that by the end of it, they’ll be on a better path.  At a certain point, perhaps prison is much more reminiscent of rehab, where you have the option to check yourself in if you think you really need it.

And yes, the whole thing is still funded by tax payers because as a society we realize that over time, this is a more cost-effective option than what we’re currently doing.  Not just because people will be less likely to return to prison.  Or because law enforcement will have an easier time with a rehabilitated population than a criminalized one.  Or because someone with a career pays more taxes than someone without.  Or because someone who’s been through that journey will be able to inspire others to avoid similar mistakes.  No matter how you break this down, it’s not that hard to see why this works.

Prison reform could be an entire series of books to itself so there’s a temptation for me to write everything else that I’ve considered on the topic but for today, I’d like to focus on just one more.  As long as time served in prison is viewed as punishment, the measuring stick for paying off your debt to society is the amount of months or years spent in prison.  As far as I can tell, there’s no data suggesting that the length of your sentence is designed to maximizes the chances of you being a law-biding citizen once back in society.  If true, time served is a terrible indicator of when someone is ready.  We certainly don’t provide a degree to someone based on the number of years spent in school.   If we’re going to be objective and accurate, we need a new set of criteria.  Maybe one based on the crime?  And the person?  And the dynamics that led them to be a criminal? What if you genuinely treated it like rehab and released them when they were ready, not before and not after?   Those who invested the effort and made real progress would return to their friends and family sooner.  Those who struggled wouldn’t be released prematurely.  And my favorite part?  If you were wrongly convicted, for whatever reason, you’d be out in a hurry because you wouldn’t require the rehab.  Genius 🙂

 

Power Vs. Efficiency

I’ve been trying to understand power.  What is it?  Why do people want it?  What does it help you accomplish?  Is it something I should pursue?

A younger me sought power for the sake of doing good.  Average me could do some good, powerful me could do lots of good.  Seemed like power was only a bad thing when in the hands of bad people.  I suspect that’s the understanding most people are under.  I’m not so sure.

Consider this…  If we accept this idea that only good people should be powerful, then we’ll actively look to empower those who we think are good while tearing down those who we think are bad.  Sounds like most of history right?  But who gets to decide who is good and who is bad?  It’s not always so obvious.  And what happens when the powerless become powerful?  Do we achieve balance? Or do we create another dominance hierarchy?

The first quote that ever stuck with me was, “Power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  So by empowering someone, what are we really doing?  If we look throughout history, the powerful have never been without corruption.  It didn’t matter at which point in history, or which culture, or which political ideology you followed, power corrupted all.  Yet when we see corruption among the powerful and call foul, our first instinct is to take the power from them.

That’s probably the beauty of democracy, the power of the people is distributed among the people.  At least that’s how it’s supposed to go.

So is everything just about power?  Being the oppressor or being the oppressed?  I doubt it.  There has to be another level to this.

What about me?  What would I do if I had power?  As someone who prioritizes integrity and the good of others, how would I be corrupted.  What if my intentions were to do the best I could for everyone I was responsible for.  What if my inner circle included everyone?  Why doesn’t that sound like power?

I have an idea.

What if power was the anti-thesis of efficiency?  Here’s a simple example:  You have someone within a company who gets to hire any person of their choosing for a position.  When that person hires their friend instead of the best candidate, it’s a demonstration of power.  When that person hires the best candidate, it’s a demonstration of efficiency.  It doesn’t matter how powerful a person is, as long as they’re making the best decision for everyone involved, it’s an exercise in efficiency.  It only becomes an exercise in power when those involved disagree with the decision being made.  Why would you need to impose your will when your decisions are best for everyone and are being welcomed by others?

This idea of only the good should be powerful… there’s another level to it.  The reason why we have such a hard time agreeing on who should be powerful is because we have such a hard time agreeing on who (or what) is good.  If we could come up with a decision which we universally recognized as good… it would be because it was what was most beneficial to those involved.  If that decision was to the immense benefit of everyone involved, I have a hard time perceiving that as power.  Taking everyone’s needs into consideration and deciding what was best for everyone involved seems like a remarkable if not impossible exercise in efficiency.

Perhaps we’ve established two ends of a spectrum.

Our Most Sensible Division

I do a lot of thinking in the car.  It’s almost like a shower for me.. very meditative.  Yesterday, I literally pulled over to make a note of this thought.

The western world is clearly divided right now.  Democrats vs. Republicans.  Liberals vs. Conservatives.  Blue vs. Red.  Left vs. Right.  Sometimes it seems downright silly… like division for the sake of division.  I can confidently say that I don’t identify with either side.  One champions a compassionate approach but fails to act intelligently.  One champions an intelligent approach but fails to act compassionately.  Neither seems very interested in accountability or honest conversation.  And neither seems to realize that for one side to win, both must win.

With tribalism continuing to be one of my biggest personal frustrations, I’m motivated to understand it.  When I think about why people choose to be divided, the reasons usually aren’t that hard to find.  More often than not, it seems to be driven by fear.  And that fear tends to be driven by scarcity in some way.  Perhaps a scarcity of resources, opportunity, or safety.  In a position of abundance and security, we are much more likely to extend a helping hand to a stranger.  In a position of scarcity and fear, we only take care of those close to us.  As scarcity and fear increase, that circle gets smaller.

This would suggest that in times of peace and abundance, things like Left vs. Right don’t exist.  Yet the liberal and conservative mindset have existed since well before modern politics.  While the politicians certainly have a hand in playing up that narrative, today, perhaps there’s something else worth exploring here.

Humanity seems to be defined by some mode of evolutionary progress.  If you look at what separates our species from other intelligent animals, it’s the rate at which we’ve progressed.  Genetically, we’re almost identical to chimpanzees but in a more practical sense, we couldn’t be more different.  Comparing humans to all other known life, we seem to have stumbled onto the secret sauce of forward progress.  Yet we have such a hard time agreeing on which direction is forward and what should be considered progress.  Maybe, whatever this secret sauce is, it exists primarily is the collective subconscious.

If I were to guess at what that secret sauce might be, I would say it’s how we’ve evolved to instinctually understand the status quo.  Quite simply, there are those who would prefer to maintain it and those who would prefer to challenge it.  Generally speaking, you’re more interested in maintaining the status quo when you’re happy with your situation and challenging the status quo when you’re unhappy with your situation.  Sounds rather sensible doesn’t it?

I had a Eureka moment yesterday: You can’t challenge a status quo which doesn’t exist.  I’m big on challenging the status quo and I’m no stranger to the frustrations of those who look to maintain it in the face of progress.  Yet I was never dismissive of their value to the bigger picture and I think I now understand why.  The status quo seems to provide the foundation on which forward progress is most likely.  If everyone looked to challenge the status quo, what would they challenge?  Sounds like chaos.  Ironically, maintaining the status quo seems like an exercise in order.  Perhaps forward progress is a fine balance between chaos and order.

When I step back and think about how this perspective applies to modern society, a lot starts to make sense.  The right tends to be defined by their conservative approach – aka maintaining the status quo.  The left tends to be defined by their liberal approach – aka challenging the status quo.  Many of history’s great cultural and political clashes can be distilled down to those who wanted change and those who wanted to keep things the same.  And yet both were and probably are necessary.

One dynamic which ties in here is the dichotomy of intelligence vs. compassion.  I’ve found that the left behaves significantly more compassionately than the right while the right behaves significantly more intelligent than the left.  It has crossed my mind that those who lean more towards intelligence are more likely to find success in their lives, especially in their careers.  This would lead towards greater financial prosperity and a higher quality of life.  If you’re aware that you’re enjoying a higher quality of life than the average, would you not be motivated to maintain the status quo?  Would you not be more motivated to support those around you who have used intelligence as a path to success?  Would you not begin to assume that a path of intelligence is more rewarding than a path of compassion?  But what if you leaned more towards compassion?  What if you were sensitive to the injustices in the world and were motivated to pursue equality and social justice more than income?  And what if you were willing to accept financial disparity for the sake of helping others?  And what if you’re aware that you’re enjoying a lower quality of life than average because of that sacrifice, would you not be motivated to challenge the status quo?

The political division of our species sucks.  It often leads me to think that the best solution is no division at all and that we’re destined to arrive at some variation of a cybernetic hive mind.  Perhaps that’s still the case, but maybe not.  There seem to be some evolutionary divisions which have proven rather practical.  Males and females might be the most classic example.. having evolved a remarkably well balanced partnership over the course of evolution (albeit a little bumpy at the moment).  When it comes to the progress we’ve made over the last 10,000 years though, I might just attribute that to the balanced partnership between those who look to challenge the status quo and those who look to maintain it.

If we could learn to see one another as partners in forward progress instead of obstacles between us and power.. I can’t help but think everything would run a little more smoothly.

 

The Companion Experience (Part 2)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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