Fuck the Rules.

Think about the last time you were driving.  How fast were you going?  Was it at or below the posted speed limit?  If you were like me, you were going with the flow of traffic which is usually about 20% over.  Despite a blatant disregard for the law, millions of commuters get to and from work every day without any intervention from law enforcement.  Why?

Natural order supersedes civil law.  People are driven to pursue efficiency and it’s usually achieved through a group effort.  Collectively, we decided that the speed limit was too low and that we could safely operate our vehicles beyond that range.  Since we’ve done it collectively, and have demonstrated its success, law enforcement has conceded this victory and have effectively decided to focus their efforts elsewhere.  I find it curious that the laws have not changed to reflect this, especially considering that cars have become far more agile and much safer since current speed limits were introduced.  Perhaps they’ve assumed that if they increased the limit to what we actually drove, people would simply drive 20% above that and it would be chaos.  Maybe.  Maybe we find that natural balance between speed and risk on our own.

Another perspective, well known by the tinfoil hats, suggests that this is done on purpose as it gives a government direct control over its population anytime it’s deemed to be necessary.  If a cop wanted to pull you over, he could start with the fact that you were probably speeding.  If you were driving the limit while everyone else was speeding, well now he’ll pull you over for acting suspicious.  A well-known lawyer wrote a book about the idea that the average American professional broke several federal laws each day.  This wasn’t because of a lack of morals, ethics, or competency, but because the rules, laws, and regulations were so numerous, broad or vague, that it was nearly impossible to do your job without breaking some set of rules.

While I think government and law enforcement largely recognize the system and understand how to exploit it, I don’t think it was purpose-built nor do I think most governments work with the goal of exploiting their people. If you think about why rules are put in place, it’s usually to retain power or to promote efficiency.  When a king decided that only his bloodline would rule, this helped to protect his power.  When slave owners decided that slaves didn’t have rights, this was to protect their power.  When men decided that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, it was to protect their power.  While it still does happen, I suspect that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to introduce laws for the purpose of retaining power.  If I’m not mistaken, those types of laws rely on a lack of access to information and the internet seems to have undermined that quite nicely.

What about speeding though?  That law doesn’t do much in the way of consolidating power in any direction does it?  Of course not… I don’t think.  That’s a law designed to promote efficiency.  The idea is that we want to maintain a healthy flow of traffic, with as few accidents and injuries as possible.  Not difficult to understand and most would agree that it’ a sensible solution – so why does almost everyone break that limit?  Well as it happens, we’re capable of finding that equilibrium on our own.  Once upon a time, when cars were heavier and couldn’t stop as fast, back when they weren’t loaded up with airbags, back when there weren’t seatbelts, those speed limits may have represented that equilibrium – but we’ve since evolved.

We actually have our own criteria for setting a speed limit.  We want to get from point A to point B in the least amount of time possible, without causing an accident, and without being pulled over by law enforcement.  As it turns out, we’ve identified that this new equilibrium is usually about 20% over the posted limit, and it’s why so many of us get frustrated when we’re being obstructed with someone who is only going the limit or just below.

So rules are good as long as they’re promoting efficiency then right?  No murdering is a good rule because it decreases our population’s mortality rate, time spent thinking about being murdered, and resources spent not getting murdered.  Net result is more people with more time to think about things besides being murdered – makes sense.  Consider this though, if murder wasn’t against the law, would you?  For those that have, was the law an effective deterrent?  For those who it did deter, would they have done it had they known they wouldn’t get caught?  What I’m getting at is that the law isn’t driving our sense of right and wrong, that’s something you find on the inside.

So we have these internal drivers that help us pursue efficiency and internal drivers that help us understand right from wrong.  I think they overlap and when I’ve refined this idea, it’ll certainly be its own blog post.  Until then, follow me on the assumption that our concept of right and wrong is based on our understanding of efficiency.  It’s why speeding doesn’t feel unethical unless you’re creating a dangerous situation for others.

So back to murder.  It’s a concept which is almost universally understood to be unethical or immoral. Why is that?  Well there’s an emotional perspective, an intellectual perspective, and a societal perspective that most of you will already be familiar with, but here’s my perspective from the side of efficiency.  I don’t think murder is inherently right or wrong.  If you were given a chance to assassinate Hitler prior to the holocaust, would you?  Someone who did would likely be considered a hero.  Someone who refused may even be considered to be immoral by the masses.  But what if you were only given an opportunity to kill him prior to him doing any harm?  What if you were given an opportunity to murder Hitler as an infant? Quite the ethical conundrum.

From the perspective of efficiency though, I don’t think it’s that simple.  The most efficient approach would likely be some level of early stage intervention.  I know I’m probably one of the few to suggest this, but imagine if Hitler’s passion, intelligence, and charisma were better channeled?  Not only would we have avoided a second world war, Hitler was probably capable of making a very positive contribution given the right circumstances.  All that said, in a universe of infinite possibilities, there are bound to be scenarios where murder is the most efficient option.  Where I’m sitting on this currently, is that while murder can be ethical or the most efficient course of action, it rarely ever is.  How many of us have the wisdom necessary to know which lives are worth keeping and which aren’t. How many of us would you think are entirely incapable of making a positive impact on the world when surrounded by the right people?  I think the answer is barely any and I think those are probably the biggest reasons why this exists as a social rule, regardless of law.

Finally, the fun part.  I was trying to come up with a law that was already in place, which embodied efficiency.  I couldn’t.  Then the lightbulb went off.  I suspect efficiency is like an exponential curve, meaning that you can always become more efficient, but in most cases you can never become completely efficient.  Effectively, there’s *always* room for improvement.  The purpose of a rule, is to dictate behaviour.  That rule may dictate how to behave in a highly efficient manner today, but what happens when our behaviour evolves beyond that construct?

The more rules we take away, the more we’re allowed to be ourselves.  The more we’re allowed to be ourselves, the better we can understand our maximum utility and the value of others.  The better we understand each other and ourselves, the better we are at working together towards a common goal.  The better we work together towards a common goal, the more efficient we all become.

Best laws ever ‘put’ in place? Allowing people to govern themselves.  Allowing slaves to be people.  Allowing women to be equal.  When you remove laws and regulations, allowing us to be what we should be, amazing things happen.

A Brief Thought on Modern Feminism

So a good friend recently posted a comment to his Facebook account along the lines of, “Plenty of women only businesses, so why do men catch such flak when we try it?”  Now it’s important to know that he’s a good guy, happily married with daughters so what I suspect he was really doing was stirring up some interesting conversation.  This was my contribution to the conversation:

Consider this… men are the more physically dominant sex, which meant that until we got smart enough to realize that gender equality would double the workforce and lead to greater comparative advantage, we were calling most of the shots. As with many things in life, there’s a pendulum effect. Right now the middle is where most of us would like things to be, but when we’re way over on one side, the momentum of that change will often take us right through the middle and over to the other side. That’s what we’re seeing now.  For men as a sex -this is all long overdue. The problem with that is the vast majority of men I know who are dealing with this short end of the stick today are actually bonafide feminists.

Where things get interesting is that the further the pendulum swings to the benefit of women, the more that momentum gets stored up and the more likely it is to swing back to the side of men.  Even as I write this, men’s rights movements are gathering steam.  While I’m sure they have some valid points, I also have very little interest in seeing the pendulum swing back to where it’s been for the last 10,000 years.  Here’s to hoping we find that common ground but the balls are in your court ladies.

The Economic Case for Universal Health Care

So with health care being top of mind for a lot of people right now, I’ve been giving the system some thought as well.  In the states, generally speaking, conservatives think healthcare should be left to the private sector and that people should should be able to source their own coverage.  Liberals, generally speaking, think health care is a basic right and the government should assist in making sure everyone is covered.

The frustrating thing about politics for me is that these aren’t conversations about the most efficient way forward, these debates simply an arena where governing parties fight for power and control.  I say this with confidence because if you think about it carefully, both sides are right but they can’t see it.  Rather than working together and coming up with a solution that accommodates the priorities of both sides, those involved seem more interested in obstructing their opposition.

Healthcare should be privatized because privatization isn’t an evil word.  In fact, all it really means is opening that business opportunity up to the public.  As it turns out, the general population is filled with awesome ideas and great entrepreneurs who can bring them to market.  Add in some competition with one another and we’ll find some pretty fantastic ways to deliver healthcare to those who need it.

People should be able to source their own coverage.  Why?  For the same reason we should be able to choose our own internet provider, streaming subscription, or gym membership.  Where we choose to spend money reflects our preferences and our preferences let our providers know where they should be competing hardest.

All that said, health care should absolutely be a basic human right and the government should absolutely have a hand in providing health care to those without the means to provide it to themselves.  I’ll even explain why with basic economic theory.

So I have this theory that right and wrong are human constructs which are actually based in efficiency (I’ll explore that more in another post once I’ve refined the theory a bit more). Effectively, the most efficient manner of accomplishing long-term progress is perceived to be both the most moral and ethical way forward. This is because for it to be the most efficient path forward, it must take all variables into consideration and deliver us to our end goal with the least amount of effort and time.

The next concept that needs to be touched on is comparative advantage. It’s a basic economic theory which essentially says that we’re all built a little differently, and that if we’re able to figure out what we do really well, we should do the hell out of it. Everyone produces what they’re absolutely best at, and trade helps goods and services end up where they should.

Most republicans and economists recognize comparative advantage to be fundamental to the free market – and for good reason. But for people to reach the peak of their comparative advantage, they require favourable circumstances. People on welfare, working minimum wage jobs, etc. are unlikely to be producing at their highest levels (AKA maximum utility) and without more favourable circumstances, never will. I get the classic conservative approach of taking it upon yourself to create your own favourable circumstances – I often tell people to be the change that they seek, but it’s not always in the cards.  For you hold’em players out there, let’s use a poker analogy. Would you rather have pocket aces and hit nothing on the board or a 7/2 off-suit and hit nothing on the board? Most people will choose the aces, but statistically, both are losing hands. I think the best thing the government can do for itself and for its people is help the person holding aces to a hand where they flop the other two aces and the 7/2 to a flop with the other three 7s.

If we can do that, the entire country transforms and becomes an unparalleled powerhouse of production, delivering levels of value that we didn’t even realize were possible. Cost of universal health care in that scenario? Negligible.

I know, I know, what does comparative advantage and maximum utility have to do with healthcare? Stephen Hawking. He’s said on multiple occasions that he would likely be dead without access to the NHS, Britain’s public healthcare system. If that’s true, what if he had been born in the US? He’s one of my favourite examples of someone who was dealt a 7/2 offset, but because he existed in a system which wanted to give him every opportunity to reach his maximum utility, he was given the chance to make his contribution.

Would you agree that the value Hawking has provided to the world has exceeded the health care services he has provided? Perhaps my biggest point here is that everyone *should have* the opportunity to make their greatest contribution to society. Some of us are able to earn it, but as circumstance would have it, for those like Hawking it must be given.  Healthcare included.

Using Google’s Algorithm to Solve Democracy

So I don’t sleep much.  My issue is that when the lights go off and I climb in bed, instead of my brain thinking that it’s time to sleep, it think’s that it’s now time for an un-interrupted thought session.

Last night, at about 2AM I turned to the other person in my bed and announced that I might have solved democracy with an application of Google’s search algorithm.  Fortunately for me, I wasn’t greeted with a pillow to the face and I was given an opportunity to explain what I meant.

When defining democracy, it’s essentially a system of government by the people, for the people.  I don’t see a fundamental flaw in that regard, but I do see a fundamental flaw in our application of democracy to the election process. Even with variations like the electoral college system, democratic elections are still determined primarily by the popular vote – and that’s the problem.

Back in grade 9, I ran for student council.  I was the representative for the grade 8 class, so why not.  I was one of two people who were voted in.  The second was a classmate named Collin who was egged on by the popular crowd to run.  The problem is that Collin had very few intentions of actually participating on the council.  He was elected, partly as a practical joke and partly as an act of defiance.  This was the first time I had experienced a failure of a democratic election and certainly wasn’t the last.

If we agree that the purpose of a democratic election is to collectively select the leader most capable of leading, then we have a fantastic starting point.  Where that falls out of line with the democratic process though, is that all votes are counted equally.  That makes the assumption that everyone is equally capable of selecting the most capable leader.  Effectively, someone who has put no effort into understanding who’s most fit to lead has an equal vote to someone who’s put in a tremendous amount of effort.  That’s strikes me as an efficient process.

Imagine if a company’s CEO was determined by the popular vote of its employees and customers.  Sounds fun, but how qualified are those individuals to make that decision?  A search for a major CEO is a highly strategic endeavor in which significant resources are dedicated to finding the absolute best candidates, and vetting them to the nth degree.  Would it not make sense to apply a similar strategy to electing a president or prime minister?  For most companies, the CEO is elected by a board of directors and the board of directors are elected by the company’s shareholders.  Effectively, you have people who are highly educated on the operations of that business, have had a chance to review all the candidates personally, and have selected the person who’s best capable of leading that company – in theory.

I certainly wouldn’t be the first person to suggest applying business principles to government, but I think this approach falls short of the end goal as well.  Let’s use the states as an example with a 320 million person voting base and let’s say that this hypothetical board of directors that would be responsible for selecting a president was 20 members deep.  So the 320 million Americans would elect those 20 board members and those board members would elect the president, but this doesn’t solve the issue of people choosing someone they don’t know, whose policies they don’t understand, for a role they don’t entirely comprehend.  That board of directors becomes another exercise in the popular vote, but now they’ve also been given the autonomy to select someone who may not be in the public’s best interest.  Somehow, the elected leader needs to be reflective of the general population’s best interests, but be selected by those who are capable of making such decisions.  Enter Google.

I suspect that the majority of people who use Google know that it’ll do a fantastic job of helping you find something, but they might not understand what’s happening behind the scenes.  The way it was explained to me was with a soccer team.  How do you determine the best player on the team?  Is it the player who scores the most goals?  Is it who the crowd cheers loudest for?  Probably not as defense wins championships and fans are fickle.  Based on the Google Algorithm, a player’s value is determined by the passes they receive.  Effectively, if they receive more passes than the average player, they’re simply identified as a more important player.  The best player is simply determined by which player receives the most passes from the most important players.

Makes sense right?  Well let’s take that one step further and recognize that what Google has really done is created an algorithm that identifies and then prioritizes trust.  The best player on the team receives the ball more more often from other top players because they trust that player to be more capable.  This trust factor is important when discussing the relationship that most voters have with their candidates.  Most career politicians seem to have issues with integrity and keeping promises, yet every cycle, millions of voters talk about how they trust their preferred candidate.  Personally, I think it’s unreasonable to trust someone you’ve never met, let alone seen how they behave when their morals and integrity are challenged.  The reality is that it’s unfair to expect these individuals to choose a leader simply because they’re not equipped to do so.  Another unfortunate reality is that the political system and media are fully aware of this and it’s why every few years, the circus comes to town and the status quo is maintained.

In order to make an educated decision for the leader of a country, you need to have a deep understanding of how government works and you need to have a deep understanding of who that candidate is.  I think I’d be safe in assuming that 99% of Americans who participated in the last election were unqualified to vote by those standards – but they absolutely still deserve a voice.  Time to deploy Google’s algorithm.

The idea is that you may only vote for someone you know and it would be encouraged that you simply prioritize character, integrity, and vision. Neighbourhoods all over the country would then put their trust behind a few key individuals who would then put their trust behind other key individuals.  Through 6 degrees of separation, this algorithm would include just about everyone.  Eventually, the algorithm would produce a group of peers who are effectively the most trusted and capable individuals in the country, and through their votes, they would elect the individual who they deem to be the most capable and trust worthy.

Earlier we agreed that the purpose of a democratic election was to collectively determine the individual most capable of leading.  Democracy solved.

 

 

There is No Normal

We seem to care a great deal about what is normal and what is not, but I have good reason to think that there is no normal and that our preoccupation with it becomes a counter-productive perspective.  Imagine if you will, a normal person.  How tall are they?  How heavy?  How smart?  What do they look like?  What are their talents?  Now consider what normal might look like for someone from another culture.  The same?  Whose version of normal is more accurate (hint: probably Chinese or Indian).

I suspect that most of us would consider ourselves to be mostly normal.  So is normal an arithmetic mean of the human population, or is normal people who are more like us? And why do we want people to be normal?

When I visualize normal, I’m visualizing a blossom of deviations from that median where everyone is just a little different than what the human genetic blueprint might suggest.  Now this is where things start to get interesting because different isn’t necessarily good or bad – The universe never claimed to be a fair place.  Some of us are ‘gifted’ with a high IQ, athleticism, or good looks, while others are ‘gifted’ with a lack of emotional intelligence, binge eating tendencies, and a big nose.  Or maybe those are all qualities of the same person.

The unfortunate reality is that some of these deviations are so extreme that they’re not given a chance to play out.  Infants die from differences in how their brains or hearts developed and while we might be quick to call them defects, they weren’t broken and they didn’t come out wrong, this was part of the process and they got the short end of the stick.  What’s important to keep in mind though is that we’re dealt a hand and the hand is rarely determined by one card.  If you look back, this defines some of history’s most fascinating and accomplished people:

  • Beethoven: Legendary composer who began to lose his hearing in his 20s went on to compose some of his best work almost completely deaf.
  • Turing: Socially awkward, gay, eccentric math genius who founded modern computer science as an out of the box solution to cracking the German Enigma in WWII.
  • Hawking: World renowned astrophysicist who developed ALS in his early 20s who went on to become one of the most valuable minds in modern history – and he’s going to space!

Each individual is incredible person in their own right, but they also illustrate what I think is a very important pattern.  Given the right motivations and circumstances, being dealt a bad card doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve been dealt a bad hand.

I think that the motivation necessary to accomplish what these individuals did is not to be undervalued, but for the purpose of this conversation, it’s about circumstance.  Consider if Beethoven was born today.  He likely would’ve received the right treatment for his illnesses and would’ve never gone deaf.  Had Turing been born today, he probably would’ve been celebrated like a gay Steve Jobs (a far more suitable ending to his story).  But what if Hawking had been born 100 years ago?  What this all amounts to, is the idea that we are each dealt a hand, and that your cards are largely irrelevant without knowing the circumstances in which we have to play them – but things are improving.

Had Hawking been born 100 years ago, he would’ve likely died before 25.  Medical science isn’t yet capable of giving everyone a fair shot yet, but we’ve made tremendous progress and Hawking is a fantastic example.  As medical science continues to improve, more people will be given the opportunity to reach their full potential.

While medical science might allow someone born with a heart defect to go on to play professional sports, social circumstances exist as well.  Alan Turing is my favourite historical figure and perhaps one of history’s best examples of someone who was born before his time.  Turing was gay in England at a time when being gay was illegal.  Despite a tremendous education, being highly regarded in his field, cracking the Enigma, being awarded the Order of the British Empire, and founding modern computer science, the British government prosecuted Turing for being gay.  He was left with the options of prison or chemical castration – to which he elected a third option and took his own life.  Imagine where computer science would be today had he fulfilled his potential.

Society evolves along with the rest of us and so do our understandings of what people should and shouldn’t be doing.  Consider this: The word kind is derived from the word kin, meaning children (or family more broadly).  Knowing that, perhaps as evolved as we might be, we might still have the pack instincts of being kind to our family, and being cautious of those who are not.  Where we’ve evolved though, is who we consider to be family.  Perhaps it began as a family, then a tribe, then a village, then a kingdom, and eventually an empire.  As we’ve progressed through those stages though, we’ve understood that kin isn’t necessarily determined by bloodlines, or location, it’s based on how we choose to identify ourselves.  As we learn that identity comes from within and isn’t a selection on a multiple choice test, the closer we come to understanding just what normal is.

The more honest we are with ourselves and the better we understand ourselves, the more we recognize that we’re all just a little different.  With that understanding, it’s much easier to expand the idea of family, to include our entire species.  If we’re looking at the entire species, there’s a lot of deviation from that human blueprint.  If deviation from the median is the norm, then different is normal.

Now for my favourite part.  Embracing different isn’t about gay pride parades or shaking up the dress code at work, it’s about doing what we’re best at.  Everyone’s wired in their own unique way and we’re just now entering into an era where exploring that identity isn’t just tolerated, it’s encouraged.  The more we explore our own identities, the better we’ll understand ourselves and the better we understand ourselves, the better we are at recognizing what our gift to the world is.  Everyone has their own unique potential and we must understand it before we can reach it.  The first step is understanding that there is no normal.

Challenge Everything: Why?

My mental model is developed as a reflection of my current understanding of how our known universe operates – but how do I know if any of what I think I know is true?  I  start by challenging it.  Usually by asking why.

Most people are familiar with the idea that there are the things you know, the things you know you don’t know, and the things you don’t know you don’t know.  I suspect that more than 99.9% of the universe currently falls into the category of unknown unknowns, with aliens being my favourite example:

Consider the sheer size of the universe and the wide definition of what we consider to be life.  Still think it’s just us?  Now consider how long the universe has been around and how much ground humans have covered in the last 2000 years.  The idea of advanced aliens zipping around the universe and messing with us from time to time becomes much less far fetched.  This part is key though – we don’t know, and that’s OK.

Perhaps what we really just did was acknowledge all the unknown unknowns, effectively making them known unknowns?  My apologies if that made your head spin, but the purpose of this exercise was to help everyone understand that while I’m not literally challenging everything, I’m challenging the things I think I know and certainly challenging the things that people tell me.

In an age where you can find anything on the internet to back up any point, I think it’s fairly evident to challenge the things you’re told by others.  A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to pick up some diet ginger ale for her cold.  I brought her orange juice.  She and her husband said that ginger ale was actually good for a cold because of the ginger.  I knew ginger had medicinal properties but thought that everything else in the soda would outweigh those effects – so I looked it up.  I actually found a couple articles saying that it was a valid remedy and almost conceded that I was wrong until I found a proper medical journal that debunked that quite easily.  Adjustments to the mental model were made, time to move on.

So it makes sense to challenge what I’m told by others, but why challenge the things I think I know?  If you noticed that I said ‘things I think I know’ instead of things I know, you just answered the question.  How many religious extremists ‘know’ that they’ll be vindicated in the afterlife?  How many Trump supports ‘know’ he’s an honest guy?  Too often we mistake a belief or assumption with an understanding, and challenging my own thoughts when I’m presented with new information is part of how I keep myself honest and accurate.

Imagine if people like Hitler, Pol Pot, or Andrew Jackson had kept themselves honest.

Now imagine if people like Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, and Alan Turing didn’t challenge that all important status quo.

It’s easy to be inspired when you understand how that dynamic has repeated itself throughout history but here’s the kicker: Whether you’re Abe Lincoln or Andrew Jackson, leaders need followers.  What would WWII have looked like had the vast majority of Germans dismissed Hitler as unfit to lead?

Truth is, not only do I maintain this disposition in hopes of one day making an Alan Turing-like contribution, I also do it knowing that the pursuit of knowledge is fundamental to progress and we could all be reminded of that from time to time.