It’s Not a Disability, It’s a Genetic Variance

Over the last few years, I started realizing how much trouble we were having communicating with one another.  Less so for close friends and family.  Much more so when it comes to discussing ideologies with strangers.  Having failed at so many of these conversations, I may have learned something.  If we want to have more meaningful conversations, we need to do a better job of being honest with one another.  And that includes using the most accurate language available to us.

I hear the word disability tossed around a fair bit.  There now seems to be a disability for everything.  It’s like if you’re anything other than the ‘perfect’ human blueprint, you are somehow lesser.  And this is your disability.

Fuck that.

I read something interesting a few months ago about the victim mentality.  Someone was asked why it had gained in popularity and what made it attractive.  The answer was rather simple:  it was an easy way to be powerful.  The traditional route to power was through hard work and success, and it usually took  years.  In a society that celebrates and protects victims, why invest the time and effort into building yourself up through accountability and responsibility when you could get the same result through claiming your victimhood?  Why put in the long hours and make the hard decisions when you could look for ways in which you’ve been marginalized and call foul?

Disabled?  Why even try?  Why would you want to overcome your challenges?  Why would you want to try and find your gift?  Why not tell the world that you got a raw deal and that it’s their responsibility to make it up to you?

Because of Stephen Hawking and everyone like him.

Put him in a pro football game and I’ll show you someone who is appears severely disabled.  Place him within an academic environment where he can research, study, and share his knowledge… I’ll show you one of the most gifted individuals of the last century.  It’s only a disability when you apply yourself to the wrong task.  That means it’s not a disability, it’s a misalignment.  Your genetic variance needs to be aligned with the right task for you to do what you do best.  I would imagine Gronk would be about as successful at teaching theoretical physics to a group of PhDs as Hawking would be at catching an end-zone pass.

I think it’s about time we start making an effort to understand the situation for what it is.  There are plenty of illnesses which are real.  There are all kinds of foreign substances which can be introduced to your body which will mess your shit up.  That’s where it’s important to understand how to heal the body and bring it back to a sustainable equilibrium.  But I can’t help but think that this is very different from most if not all physical or cognitive ‘disabilities’.  Those aren’t disabilities, those are genetic variances.

When I try to think about myself from the perspective of disability, I can see plenty that’s wrong with me.  I get pretty bad pollen allergies every year.  My vision isn’t perfect.  I qualify as dyslexic.  I have a series of lingering sports injuries including chronic lower back pain and metal in my arm.  I have a heavily deviated septum.  My sense of smell sucks.  I binge eat.  And etc. And etc. And etc.  And it’s not like I’m unaware of them.  I’m working on improving the ones I can, and not stressed about the rest.

It’s funny, I’m thinking back to when I grew up and it the was kind of neighborhood where nobody was short on disadvantages.  Everyone was aware of what was making their lives hard.  We didn’t complain or expect someone else to change it though, we just assumed the deck was stacked against us.  What we would do was use that a measure of whose success was worth celebrating.  It wasn’t about who had the greatest accomplishment, it was about who did the most with the least.  I can’t help but be grateful that I was raised with that perspective.

When I think about who I am and what I’ve been given, with the perspective I have today… I see something pretty cool.  All things considered, I think I got a pretty good roll of the genetic dice.  But like anyone else, it’s a mixed bag.  The way my brain is wired allows me to do certain thing exceptionally well while it struggles with others.  Dyslexic?  Why?  Because my brain is wired to do things differently than someone else’s?  And what if I can do these things better than the average person?  Is it a disability?  Who’s to say that my unique genetic variance doesn’t simultaneously display symptoms of dyslexia while allowing my mind to do all kinds of other cool things that others struggle with

We are all our own deviation from the human blueprint.  Each variation of that blueprint comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.  And those advantages and disadvantages wills shift depending on circumstance.  The best thing we can do for ourselves is understand where we have the potential to be exceptional at and apply ourselves to the best of our abilities.   The best thing we can do as a society is to support the discovery of what makes us different, and then to support the pursuit of being our absolute best at it.  Through this, I can see a happier, more productive world.

Whatever it is that you are, there is something you do better than anyone else. If you spend your time doing that, you are not disabled, you are gifted.

Truth & Reality, and why it matters (Part 3)

This marks my third attempt at trying to tackle a subject that I started over a month ago.  Part of me feels like it was a failure that I couldn’t do this in one try.  Another part of me feels a bit foolish for thinking I could create any semblance of a summary on the topic (regardless of attempts).  And yet another part of me appreciates that I took a crack at it and for having learned a few things along the way.

For over a month now, I’ve been asking myself why truth and reality matter.  I’ve been reading other peoples’ interpretations of the matter.  I’ve watched TED talks on it.  I’ve talked to friends about it.  And I’ve even revisited uncomfortable conversations where this was the theme.  I keep coming back to the same thing:

If truth and reality don’t matter, what does?

That’s the answer that popped immediately into my head the first time I asked it.  I thought it was a novel response, but also a bit of a cop out.  Answering a question with a question is always a bit cheeky and I was looking for something a bit more concrete anyways.  But I kept coming back to that.  Finally, I thought to explore that direction a bit further.  And as is usually the case, while in the shower, I made progress.

It comes down to this frustration of mine.  When people feel that we’re all entitled to our own truth and our own reality… that we don’t all share a truth and a reality… I lose the ability to connect with them.  The example that comes to mind first is talking to religious fundamentalists about the age of the earth.  The scientific consensus is 4.5 billion years old while various religious texts suggest only a few thousand years old.  If you were to approach one of these individuals and suggest that the earth might be much older than they believe, they might tell you that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs.  If you were to provide them with evidence which challenged their belief, they might respond by saying that god put that there to test their faith.  If you were to provide them with logic which challenged their belief, they might respond by saying god put you there to challenge their faith.  No matter what you might do or say, it only confirms their narrative.  Rather than continuing to try and understand the reality which we all live in, that person has committed to their tribe’s interpretation… one in which I struggle to find common ground.

I suspect this theme is well understood by those who work at mental health institutions with more extreme disorders.  When someone shares a reality with you, there’s an alignment.  With an alignment, things like communication, empathy, intuition, and chemistry are possible;  and can even become effortless.  When that alignment is absent.. I’m picturing a therapist trying to communicate with someone who has severe dementia.  They exist in two different worlds.  Both have a genuine belief that their world is real, but the two exist in vastly different interpretations of the same reality.

Without a shared reality, we lose the ability to connect with one another.  If we were chess pieces, reality would be our chess board.  If you’ve decided that you’re a checker, we’ve likely lost the ability to interact in a meaningful way.  And if too many people start to think they’re playing checkers, we lose the ability to play chess.  Chaos.

But how do we know we’re chess pieces and not checkers?  Isn’t it important to explore alternative explanations?  Is that not a primary purpose of freedom?

The hard truth is that we’ll probably never know for certain whether we’re playing chess or checkers.  The way in which our minds sense, interpret, and then hallucinate our realities, there always exists the potential that this is all a grand dream (or a simulation being run by advanced aliens).  And the hard truth we must accept is that this possibility will always exist and we must understand it to move forward.  Yes it’s a possibility, but one which has only ever existed in theory.  Everything we’ve ever observed would suggest that our reality is real.  Technically it is still an assumption, but it’s the assumption that all other assumptions are built on.  If we can’t agree on this, nothing else that we might agree on would have any basis in reality (because we couldn’t first agree on reality).

I often look at the universe through the lens of building blocks.  Matter has building blocks.  Math and physics have building blocks.  Even logic has building blocks.  When I’m thinking about connecting with old friends, things are seamless.  The building blocks of trust and familiarity are already there.  If I presented a new idea, it would be received fairly.  If the information was good and the logic was sound, my friends would look at that as an opportunity to learn and expand their understanding of the universe.  If it was bad information and faulty logic, they would make fun of me relentlessly.  Either way, this requires us to understand that we all live in our own interpretation of a shared reality.  What truly exists in my reality also exists in theirs and vice versa.  None of our interpretations are entirely accurate or complete, but some interpretations are more accurate and more complete than others.

If I were to try and have a conversation with strangers in which I was challenging their beliefs, one would hope that we would still agree on the basics.  Basics like the laws of physics, the value of logic, and that we all exist within a shared reality.  I would go so far as to say that if we all had a deep understanding of each, we’d be far more constructive in resolving conflicts and learning about the world around us.  Unfortunately, that’s not often the case.  Instead, I’ve found that people prefer to maintain their beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence or reason.  And that’s where you start migrating away from the reality which we all exist in and start to build walls around the interpretation of reality you’ve created for yourself.  While potentially harmless at times, I can’t help but think that this, as a way of life, is deeply counter-productive to humanity’s goals.

 

I think I’ve made a case for why reality matters, but truth isn’t necessarily the same thing.  I’ve been grappling with the difference between a true statement and a universal truth.  Coming up with definitions we can all agree on is important to conversations like these.. otherwise we’re using the same words but talking about different things.  It’s important to have that common ground.  While there are nuanced differences between a universal truth and a true statement, I think that from the right perspective, they’re both the same.

A true statement would be something to the effect of looking down at your shoes, seeing red shoes, and then saying that you are wearing red shoes.  But what if your shoes weren’t red?  What if you had a genetic variance that caused you to see your green shoes as red?  You would see red, meaning that it was a true statement.  But if everyone else saw green, are the shoes not green?  I think this is the nuance between a true statement and a universal truth.  A true statement is an honest recollection of your interpretation of our shared reality while a universal truth is something which is true for everyone, whether or not they realize it.  And I can’t help but think that they are still the same thing.  Something to the effect of when someone makes an inaccurate ‘true statement’, it’s an act which occurs in reality.  If something occurs in reality, that action is true to everyone; ergo, the statement is false but the action is true.

And perhaps therein lies the monumentally confusing feat we’ve been struggling with.  With all of our genetic and cognitive differences, we’re bound to interpret our shared reality differently from one another.  It’s like we’re photographers, all taking pictures of the same scene.  While only one scene exists, we’ll produce a variety of pictures.  Some will be a difference of perspective, some will be a difference of equipment, some will be a difference of technique, and some will come up with their own wacky shit.  That’s not just OK, that should be encouraged.  But we must remind ourselves that our pictures are not the scene.  Our pictures are glimpses of the scene, just as the worlds which our minds project are only glimpses of the world we all live in.

Logic is how we find truth.  Truth is how we find reality.  And perhaps finding reality is a good start to understanding our place within it.

Truth & Reality, and why it matters (Part 2)

I take small breaks from writing here and there, but this one was different.  I had written the first half of this entry with the intention of writing the second half shortly after.  I struggled though.  The rest of my life continued to bombard me with questions about what I thought truth and reality were.  I wanted to be sure before I wrote anything else.  I’m still not.  But fuck writers block…

 

Last night, I was hanging out with one of my favorite people who happens to be going through some of the same challenges I’m going through.  She came from a more conservative background, earned a business degree, worked in insurance for a while and eventually came to realize that there was a more liberal side to life that she had been missing out on.  She’s now a yoga teacher who recently competed her schooling on holistic nutrition.  She made the transition from the corporate crowd to what she calls the ‘woo woo’ crowd.  It seemed like she was pretty happy about how it was all going.. peace and love to everyone.  What could be wrong with that?

She dove in head first.  She was greeted by sisterly love, magic, wonder, positivity, gratitude and all kinds of good vibes.  From what I understand, it can be a very nice place.  But she started to struggle a bit during some of the teachings when things got a bit religious.  Ironically, much of this ‘new-age’ crowd borrows from ancient practices.  From crystal healing, to chakras, to rituals that largely sound like witchcraft.  At one point, she was at a yoga course which taught her to save the blood from her menstruation and pour it by a tree in a counter-clockwise fashion under a full moon.  I might have gotten some of that wrong, but the point stands.

She told me that some of this was starting to feel a bit ‘witchy’.  Something wasn’t sitting right.. and like that itch that you just can’t seem to scratch, she started asking questions.  Some of those questions were directed at her peers.  Some were directed towards me.  As the weeks have gone by, we’ve both been trying to reconcile the spiritual with the scientific realm.

We know that science exists because science is simply the practice of accurately explaining our reality.  If spirituality also exists, and exists within our reality, it can also be explained through science.  Again, just because it’s possible to explain something through science doesn’t necessarily mean that we have those answers today.  I think there’s something powerful to the idea that spirituality can be explained through science.  Perhaps this separates those of us who are looking for the truth from those who aren’t.

When I think about the idea of science explaining spirituality, I think of Neil Degrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.  Reading that book is the closest thing to a religious experience I’ve ever had.  It laid out the facts of the universe in such an eloquent way that you couldn’t help but feel a connection to everything else that has ever existed – A ‘oneness’ with the universe.  Simple facts like there being more bacteria cells in your body than human cells can make you question who you really are.  Suggesting that the same breath of air you’re taking now contains molecules of air which were breathed by the likes of Napoleon, Beethoven, and Lincoln reminds us of how interconnected our planet is.  And knowing that we are stardust brought to life… provides all the beauty, wonder, and magic that I need to feel good about my place in the universe.

What were to happen if I were to bring these ideas to someone who was fundamentally religious?  Would they keep an open mind?  Would they engage in a genuine conversation in pursuit of the truth?  If what was discussed made sense to them, would they consider changing their beliefs?

Probably not.

The scientific community has become fairly accustomed to writing off the religious crowd as unreasonable when it comes to challenging their beliefs.  They might be reasonable in other areas of their lives, but their beliefs are their beliefs.

Never in my life did I consider myself to be religious.  I spent most of my high school and university years considering myself an atheist.  Eventually, I realized that despite all the knowledge and understanding that humans have acquired over the years, we were still in no position to determine whether or not ‘god’ is or was real.  As far as I’m concerned, we’ve still yet to come up with a definition of god that we would all agree on.  I liked this perspective though.  It left the unknown within the realm of the unknown.  No undue assumptions.. no beliefs.. just an appreciation of what we know and a sense of curiosity and excitement for what we may learn next.  Add in a learned appreciation for a metaphorical understanding of the universe, and I started calling myself spiritual.

What I knew of the spirit was that while it may have no weight, emit no energy, or cease to exist when our physical bodies die, it was an intangible representation of what made us unique within the universe.  Perhaps there was a connection to the realm of philosophy.  That was an element of myself which I was glad to explore.

As the idea of spirituality started to grow outside of the religious crowd, I was happy.  Being able to understand what’s beyond what we can see and touch is important.  I was very much looking forward to connecting with these individuals and having these conversations.  While I’m glad to have this perspective and share it with those who would listen, I seem to be the odd one out in the world of spirituality.  As I’m starting to learn, spirituality has evolved into its own brand of religion.

When I think of the ‘spiritual crowd’, I’m starting to see them as a counter-balance of the religious right.  Both can be a rather delightful crowd of people, especially if they consider you to be part of their tribe.  But the further you go into the fringes of these demographics, the more radical their viewpoints become.  Hmm… maybe that’s what I’m up against.

One of the more extreme views of the left seems to be postmodernism.  As much as I’ve read, I’m still having a hard time defining it.  Perhaps that’s the point.  In the world of postmodernism, nothing is real.  And if nothing is real, logic and reason can’t really exist.  And if logic and reason don’t exist, truth becomes subjective.

…. And everyone lives their own truth.

There it is.

 

Originally part 2 was going to be my explanation of why truth and reality matters but it looks like I’m going to make this a trilogy.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Why Suicide is More Appealing Today than Yesterday

Before anyone worries too much, I’m not considering suicide.  Not today anyways.

This morning was Anthony Bourdain.  Not long before that was Kate Spade.  And between the two, how many others?  I can’t help but think that this is getting worse and not better.  There’s a negative energy that’s growing in our world and it’s impacting us in some profound ways.  I think these are conversations we need to have.

I can’t remember the first time I thought about suicide.  I was probably quite young.  It wasn’t a function of depression as much as it was an exercise in exploring the extremes.  It was probably a fight with my parents, or getting picked on at school.  A moment of woe is me, I bet I would matter more if they thought I had committed suicide.  In grade 12, I fell for a girl and was infatuated to the nth degree.  When she left me, I was convinced that I would never be happy again.  There was probably some consideration of suicide, but where I landed was that I wanted to be a fire fighter or something to that effect.  I figured that if I wasn’t capable of being happy, I could at least dedicate my life towards helping others.  It blew over and I moved on, but the conversation of suicide remained.

In my third year of university, I dated a girl who opened up to me about having tried to commit suicide.  According to her, she wasn’t dealing with a breakup very well and ended up going into the shed at the back of the house and slitting her wrists.  As she tells the story, her brother stumbled in on her and took her to the hospital, saving her life.  I asked to see her wrists, and saw no scars.  I was asked to keep this to myself as nobody else knew besides her brother.  I did my best to be supportive.  When we broke up, she told me that she didn’t think she could handle another breakup like this.  That she might go and do something extreme.  I reached out to her brother and asked him to keep an eye on her.   From what I can tell, she’s doing just fine these days.

It wasn’t something I could relate to.  Even in my darker, more melodramatic moments, I wasn’t interested in taking my own life.  It seemed like giving up.  For better or worse, this mindset of never giving up is hardwired into me.  I’d much rather go out on my shield.  Maybe that’s why I’ve often thought of ways in which I would be willing to sacrifice myself.. the hero’s death.  The idea was that if I was going to die, I wanted there to be as much value in my death as possible.  I either wanted to die of old age among a lifetime of accomplishments, or to die in a proper blaze of glory.  There was almost a mathematical element to it, if my life was worth ‘x’ and an honorable death would yield ‘x’ + 1, I’d take it.

When I started getting in over my head at the banks, I started looking for outs.  I wasn’t willing to throw any more money at the problem.  I wasn’t willing to quit or give up.  I wasn’t willing to compromise my integrity.  And I was running out of time.  Part of my role at the bank included being licensed for life insurance.  I remember reading that a life insurance policy would still pay out if you committed suicide, as long as more than 2 years had passed since you took out the policy and when you took your life.  Hmm…

Last year, I was in a relationship with a girl who had been through a fair bit.  In grade 11, she was in a head on collision with a motorcyclist and the motorcyclist didn’t make it.  She went through some rough patches around that.  Her family was not as supportive as they could’ve been.  I knew this, but I also knew that she had been keeping something from me.  I knew it was something dark, so I told her that I would be ready if she got to a point where she wanted to share.  One night, we were hanging out in my car and the conversation went in that direction.  Feeling like I had an opening, I asked if she spent much time thinking about death.

I told her that I think about it often.  In the last 7 years, I’ve lost parents, friends, and family members… how could I not?  I told her that every once in a while, when life gets to be a bit much, I think about suicide.  What would it be like?  How would I do it?  Would I have the courage or the conviction?  Would I regret it?  She was surprised that I was talking about these things so calmly and openly.  She opened up to me about her experiences and we had a remarkable conversation.

At first, I think she almost expected me to freak out or want to report her to a hotline.  I didn’t, I just listened.  And when she talked about life getting to be too much, I told her I could relate.  I told her that’s when I think about it too.  I told her about the conversations that take place in my head when I reach those dark corners, and then I told her about all the things that bring me back to the light.  I could tell that she had never connected with someone else on this.  It’s easier when you don’t have to face things alone.

After that conversation, I can’t help but think that the contemplation of suicide is a sign of a healthy, curious mind that’s going through some things.  I spent most of my life thinking that people who are ‘suicidal’ are mentally weak, or damaged, or so distraught with life that I could never relate.  I suspect that most people have had a similar perspective.  Perhaps this is why we feel alone rather than connected when we have these kinds of thoughts.  If thoughts of suicide only happened in extreme and rare cases, then perhaps it would be indicative of faulty hardware and perhaps those people should feel scared and alone.  But if thoughts of suicide were had by most individuals in times of extreme duress, isn’t that something we should be aware of?  Something that we should collectively acknowledge?

I’ve seen different ways of communicating what it’s like to have suicidal thoughts, none better than this by the late David Wallace,

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

And yet the final thoughts of almost every person who has survived a jump off the Golden Gate bridge, are thoughts of regret..

 

‘What have I just done?  I don’t want to die.  God please save me.  Boom.’

 

There’s something happening here.  We need to talk about this.  Posting the suicide prevention hotline to your social media account isn’t enough.  Thoughts and prayers are not enough.  We need to have real conversations.  We need to acknowledge that suicidal thoughts have a place within a modern society like ours, and we need to do a better job of understanding why.

Unemployment rates are at all-time lows while income inequality is at an all-time high.  There’s no lack of work, just a lack of income for it.  With a lack of income comes a lack of opportunity.. The lack of opportunity to own your own home, or to further your education, or even to start your own family.  How many of us were raised with the idea that the only thing between us and a good life was hard work?  How many of us are at a point now where no matter how hard we work, we can’t seem to make any progress?  And how many of us are getting a sense that these factors are largely out of our control?

That’s hopelessness.

I can’t help but think that this structural shift in equality of wealth is the underlying reason for all this pain and suffering.. it’s the root of what we’re ultimately desperate to escape.  Like J. Cole said, ‘you can’t take it when you die but you can’t live without it.’  When wealth has been shifted from the many to the few, this is how it plays out.  When there isn’t enough to go around, people fall back into their tribes, looking to protect their own.  Rather than looking for a solution to the problem, we’re looking for someone to blame.  People become quick to draw lines in the sand between us and them.  Social discourse becomes hostile.  Where we were connected, we are now divided.  And it all starts to break down.

If we’re looking for an analogy for how this plays out, we don’t have to look far.  It sounds remarkably like climate change to me.  The planet is a large and complex ecosystem which tends to exist within an equilibrium.  Adjusting the average temperature of the planet by a few degrees over a long period of time isn’t something that most people would notice, but that’s not all that’s changing.  With a shift in temperature comes a shift in equilibrium and the path from here to there is filled with chaos.  Heat waves are now keeping planes from taking off.  Blizzards are lasting well into the spring.  Every hurricane that comes along seems to be worse than the one before.

By shifting the distribution of wealth by a few degrees over a long period of time, a lot of people didn’t notice.  But they see the mass shootings.  They see the school shootings.  They see the police brutality.  They see the Charlottesville protests.  They see the government corruption.  They see how little they’re making.  They see how much they owe.  They see what level of health care is available to them.  They see the opiates in the community.  And they see that we’ve lost the ability to talk these things through.  Things are heating up.

When I think about the world we live in right now, it’s not easy.  Then I remind myself that for some, this path is harder than others.  Then I remind myself that not everyone is equipped with the tools to deal with these things.  And that’s when I think no-shit people are struggling, these are hard times.  These are the times where those with nothing to lose and those with everything to lose are choosing to escape rather than endure.  And I can’t help but think that this is a function of hope.

 

 

 

I don’t think Compelled Speech works

I’ve been observing the conversation around compelled speech for the last few years.  I had probably been aware of it to some regard, but it really wasn’t a focal point for me until Jordan Peterson started making a fuss over in Toronto.  He had this idea that language should be allowed to evolve naturally.  That the freedom of speech was fundamental and essential to the free exchange of thoughts and ideas, and that legally requiring people to use certain words or not using others was a line that we should not cross.

The counter argument was that certain words were capable of causing very real harm.  When those words are being used against people who are already generally understood to be from an underprivileged group, it seems to be human nature to want to support them.  For those who believe in compelled speech, changing the language we use is a simple solution to a complex problem.  I appreciate wanting to stand up for those who you don’t think can stand up for themselves, but I don’t think they’ve thought this through.

I grew up using the word fag about as often as anyone else my age.  I’d probably be lying if I said I never used it to describe someone who was acting ‘gay’ or being flamboyant, but I can say I’ve never used used it maliciously.  More often than not, I used the word fag with no homosexual connotations at all.  Mostly, it was a substitute for ‘asshole’ or ‘jerk’.  When I was in my mid-20s a close friend of mine came out as gay.  We loved him all the same.  A little while after he came out, I used the word fag around him.  At this point, it was still part of my vernacular… and I’m pretty sure that it was still part of his not that long ago.  He leaned into me, telling me about how I shouldn’t use the word.  I told him that if I was using it as a homophobic slur, I would agree.  But I wasn’t, so what exactly was the issue?  He told me about how words can hurt people, even without bad intentions.  I pointed out that he still used the word retarded fairly often when describing something that was dumb.  I asked if it was fair to ask him to stop using the word, even if he had never used it as a slur towards a disabled person.  He wasn’t happy that I was changing the direction of the conversation but conceded that he would probably stop using that word for the sake of backing up his argument.  So I challenged him.  I told him that if he wanted to change the language he was using, that was up to him.   But I didn’t think it was productive for him to change the language he was using for the sake of protecting the feelings of those who were more focused on being offended by the language than understanding the message.

Regardless of whether or not I was right, supporting my friend in a transitional time was more important to me.  So I stopped using the word.  There were plenty of words to choose from, and I just couldn’t think of a scenario where that word was necessary.  Since then, I’ve adopted a philosophy around language which challenges me to use the truest and most accurate language available.  As expected, I’ve yet to encounter a situation where the word fag was the truest and most accurate word available.  As language has become a political battlefield, there are a lot of reasons why someone might want you to use one word and not another.  What I’m personally up against right now is someone who believes that changing the language being used is a primary tool in how you remove the stigma around something.  I don’t think she’s thought this one through.

When trying to understand language, the history of words can teach us a great deal.  In this particular context, let’s revisit the word retarded.  The word retarded has been around for hundreds of years, and essentially means to make slow.  It wasn’t until the 1960s that advocates for mental disabilities pushed to adopt the label “retarded”.  From their perspective, terms like imbecile or moron had developed negative connotations.  And there’s where things get interesting, because both moron and imbecile were existing scientific definitions for someone with an intellectual disability.   So ‘advocates’ pushed to change the label to mentally retarded, you know, to remove the stigma.  But the stigma didn’t go away, it simply shifted to the new word.  People started using the word retarded in the same way they would use moron or imbecile.  So the advocates tried again with ‘special’, ‘handicapped’, and ‘disabled’.

The pattern seems pretty obvious…  Scientists discover something and come up with a word for discussing it.  When the word is used to describe a disability, it inherently comes with negative interpretations.  When the word finds its way into mainstream language, it evolves to have multiple definitions.  While it retains the scientific definition, those negative interpretations becomes slang.  When that slang is used often enough, certain individuals or groups become especially sensitive to that word.  Rather than deal with their sensitivities around that word, they push to introduce a new word which doesn’t carry the same stigma.  And repeat.

This isn’t an isolated example either.  The word cripple used to be a medical term before it became more commonly used as slang.  The word neurotic seems close to being overhauled for negatively characterizing neurotic people.  Whatever happened to sticks and stones?

At which point do we accept that we can’t protect people from language by controlling the language that’s being used?  You can try to remove the word that the stigma is attached to, but that doesn’t remove the stigma.  Compelling people to use the word retard instead of moron didn’t change the stigma, it just got people to associate the stigma with the word retard instead of moron.  I can’t help but think that the best thing we can do to protect people from language is to help them understand it.

There’s a good chance I have dyslexia.  I say good chance because after I self-diagnosed during a abnormal psychology class, I never bothered to acknowledge it as a weakness.  To me, it was a difference in how my brain worked.  While it made certain tasks more challenging, there were certain things I was exceptionally good at.  Some of the best computer programmers out there are off the charts autistic.  I’ve seen very cool (and very detailed) art done by someone with OCD.  I’ve yet to meet a group of people as positive and loving as those with down syndrome.  The changing of the stigma doesn’t happen with the changing of the word, it happens when we learn to appreciate the value in one another and recognize that we can all contribute.

If I was a parent to someone who was disabled, I’d care a lot less about the language being used around them and care a lot more about how they were able to navigate that language.  If I had a kid with a disability, I would do everything that I could to help my kid understand that they’re different.  I would want them to know what makes them different and why they are the way that they are.  I would teach them that being different didn’t make them better or worse than anyone else.  I would want them to know that who they became would be a matter of how they applied that difference.  I would want them to know that no matter how much or how little someone has been given, they will always be in a position to bring positivity to the world.

…But I would also want them to know that not everybody understands this.  Some people have grown up in a difficult world where they’ve yet to learn your value.  Some people will think that they can lift themselves up by putting you down.  Some people will tell you about all that you’re unable to do without appreciating all that you can do.  And that’s okay.  Sometimes, these people will call you names.  That’s okay too.  It’s okay because none of what they say will change who you are and how much you matter.  The only person who gets to change that is you.  If anything, they’ve given you an opportunity to show the world just how capable you are.  If you can use that moment to inspire others, you can change how people think.  It’ll be you who removes that stigma.