Category Archives: Philosophy

Success teaches nothing

Success teaches nothing. Only failure provides for learnable lessons.

You are a stock market neophyte. You pick five stocks from the NASDAQ. Each one doubles in a month. You sell them, doubling your money.

Did you learn anything?

You’ve never skied. You ride to the top of the lift, get off, strap on your skies and push off making it to the bottom in a single go.

Did you learn anything?

Your father is a Mob boss. He has lieutenants over for dinner. You bake a cake. You’ve never baked a cake before. You forget the flavoring. Nobody complains.

Did you learn anything?

You’re hired to sell steel for an iron mfg company. A hurricane takes out the only competition. You sell more steel than the company has ever sold.

Did you learn anything?

Enough already! Sheesh, we get the point. Success through luck teaches nothing. Only failure, adjustment, and retry serves to teach. The 1001 ways how NOT to make a lightbulb. The School of HarkKnocks. The quitters never win and winners never quit.

Of course, eventually, when you are successful, and you succeed, the fact that you failed often and spectacularly may have been forgotten or ignored or even suppressed. And that’s sad. Perhaps we should cheer the losers, the failures, those resolute folk who fail, learn from their failure, and still strive to succeed. Can you imagine booing the easy winners?

Would you rather be lucky or tenacious?



You’re writing for me

As a fiction writer, you are not writing for yourself. You can write for yourself, but don’t expect anyone else to read it. Just twiddle away, write your hundreds of words a day, living in that artificial world you’ve constructed and enjoy it. But don’t expect ME to enjoy it.

You see, if you’re writing for an audience, then you have to realize you’re writing for an audience — right-up-front.

Sure you’ll go on your own private journey while you pen your story. The climbing of the icy mountain, the scuba diving off the coast of Ecuador, the rickshaw trip through the back roads of Cambodia, or Fantastica or wherever.

But while you journey and write, remember that it’s me you’re trying to engage. By “me” I mean us, we, your potential readers. Every word you write, phrase you turn, paragraph you ponder, must be done so imagining someone else reading it.

Not you reading it.

Someone, anyone, everyone else reading it. That has to be your constant, back of your mind Buddha, the little fellow who sits there and reminds you, “Hey, I don’t know what that ‘eponymous’ word means! Maybe there’s a simpler, clearer word…”

And it’s not just phasing or your lexicon that matters. It’s the big stuff. Like how fast is your story going? Do you really need all that extra description? Don’t you think that having him fail four times in a row is a bit much? Wouldn’t just twice be enough, with a clever word slipped into infer additional efforts?

Writing’s hard. Writing well is nearly impossible. But if you try it, remember, it’s not you you’re writing for. You’re expressing these wonderful visions so that WE can experience them.


Self-regulating Systems

Nature knows how to self-regulate. The cycles of feast or famine are simple examples of such systems. Too much browse for caribou produces too many caribou calves, which then feeds too many wolves which then produce too many pups which then grow up and eat too many caribou… Leading to too few caribou, starving too many wolves, which end up producing too few new pups, which then let too many new caribou to prosper. Yeah, The Lion King was right, it’s a circle, sometimes it’s a big circle and sometimes it’s a little one. But around and around it goes.

Other self regulating system examples are the human body: when we get hot, we sweat, which cools us down. If we get too cool then we shiver which produces excess heat which warms us up.

The climate is generally a homeostatic system – a system that reaches an equilibrium (or oscillates between extremes, the average of which is steady over time). Ignoring humans impact for now, too much CO2, produces too much plant growth, which then extracts much more CO2 (a greenhouse gas) which then allows the planet to cool, which kills or retards plant growth allowing the decay of plant material to return the CO2 to the atmosphere which then heats up and allows plants to thrive again.

Over the years I’ve tried to figure out how to apply such self-regulating behaviors to social systems. For instance, I dreamed up a number of Constitutional Amendments, one of which addressed campaign contribution limits. I figured that if we used median wage as the basis for contributions — this would self regulate: every citizen could contribute one days gross wage, per candidate, per year. If politicians wanted greater contributions — they should work to elevate wages.

Another one is: what should be the minimum wage for any one location? I figured that the cost of living should determine the minimum wage; it would cost more to live in New York, NY than in Lincoln, NB. To create an algorithm for this: if we use the median monthly cost of an apartment as the basis for minimum wage: $1000 / mo. rent multiplied by 2 and divided by 100 would give us $20/hr. At 20 dollars an hour, a $1000 a month rent seems reasonable. If you want to raise rent, you have to raise wages too. If you want to lower wages, you have to lower the cost of rent.

All sort of systems can be redesigned with self-regulation in mind. Taxes for instance. Or how to handle income inequality. I’ve posted on these topics here if you’re curious. But what about other applications? Healthcare? Are there self-regulatory aspects we could apply there? I’ve posted my thoughts on the “win/win” vs the “win/lose” aspect of capitalism. That seems like a candidate for determine when free-markets should be used. In fact when the “win/win” impact of capitalism is applied, supply and demand also finds its own equilibrium.

Tragedy of the commons algorithms? Water rights algorithms? Gun laws? Energy production and consumption? Land use? The elimination of biases in the hiring process for employers? I’m sure there are many facets of life that would benefit from an intelligent analysis and design of algorithms which would produce a self-regulating system.

Learning to drive

There are three parts to learning to drive:

  1. The Law!
  2. Situational awareness.
  3. Physical interaction and muscle memory.

As I considered these (more on them later), in my endeavor to teach my children how to drive, I thought about that number — three.

And how curious it is and how it might represent a balance between so many aspects of life.

Jessie posted an article on argumentative discourse where there were three factor that comprise a good discussion 1) episteme, 2) eunoia, 3) parrhesia.

There’s the three branches of government: executive, legislative, judicial.

Three parts to the Holy Trinity.

A three legged stool is the most stable of simple structures.

We’ve got, beginning-middle-end, birth-life-death, three-wishes, the troika, and the three languages on the Rosetta Stone. Just dozens and dozens of references to the balance of ideals, concepts, strengths, forces all done so through the juxtaposition and interaction of three.

What three lobed thing, in your life, your universe, means something to you?

But back to driving…

First, we must learn the law. Knowledge of what is legal, or not; how to treat the road signs, the road-lines, the signals and public alerts and indications — the rules of the road — all of this must be learned and memorized so that you can know how the other two factors should be situated.

Second we have situational awareness. Within the framework of the law, we have what is going on around you *right now*. Are there cars, people, animals around you. Are you driving on a curvy, straight, slick, gravelly road? Are you going too fast? Too slow? How’s the light? Are you getting tired? Everything that makes up the environment of your driving experience.

Thirdly there is the actual interaction with the vehicle. Some people rarely think this is a thing to learn — or at least to spend much time on. But in my mind this must be the very first thing you should learn. The car becomes an extension of your body. When it accelerates or screeches to a halt, you feel it in your body. When you go too fast around a curve, the centripetal force alerts you to the danger. When your wheels start to slide on ice or snow or hydro-plane, you feel that instant queasy, fair-ride feeling of lost control. How hard can you slam on the breaks? How does it feel to power-slide? What does it feel like to hit a deep pothole or get lifted off your seat during a gravity escaping leap over a country hill? Such things must be learned by your mind-body. These are not conscious parts of driving. These must be subconscious reactions that your body takes over when your mind is freewheeling in chaos.

Three parts to driving. Three parts to conversation. Three parts to government, and a good milking stool. “Three shall be the number. And the number shall be three…”

Influence, impact, effect

A time ago, don’t ask me when, we, Martina, Jessie and I, were talking about UBI – Universal Basic Income (okay, we weren’t specifically discussing UBI, but near enough), and Jessie mentioned that she thought the struggle of the classes was power based. I, offhandedly, read through her comment not really having any reply at the moment (not that I didn’t reply, mind you).

However, on retrospect, I circled back to that theory: empowering all of us, giving each of us agency to affect our own lives, enough such that we can witness and claim responsibility for the changes, this would be a good thing. And that’s noble and admirable and, if it could be done (like in the Scandinavian countries) then maybe that’s the answer.

What prompted this latest doffing of words was thinking about myself as the curmudgeon that I’ve become. Yes, I’m a self-professed stick-in-the-mud, the proverbial “get off my lawn” old man with suspenders and a cane (well, maybe not the cane, um, or the suspenders). But I’ve grown less and less tolerant of fools over the years. And here’s the thing; Martina talks about criticism (here) and I wonder:  perhaps there’s simply some aspect of influence here. A “hey, he looked!” type behavior humans crave. More generally, we humans want to know we’ve impacted our world, left a mark, had an affect, effected others — in some way.

With criticism, that affect is negative (generally). With a curmudgeon like me, just seeing the teenagers flinch, that’s a kick in the pants, now isn’t it? (I don’t really do this, but I know you know someone who does.) The thing is, we crave influence. We yearn for self induced change in the world. Poke this thing and it cringes. “Hmm, I feel a little better (although it may not).”

All of social media is focused on this. You post a woodgiewoodgie (whatever to wherever) and what do you expect? A response of course. Trolls post the most foul and incendiary tripe. Why? For impact, for a response: “They — anybody — replied, responded, grimaced, smiled, screamed, cursed, cried, cheered!”

Do we crave power? Or influence?

And, to bring this back full circle, (circles in circles), is there a means to alter the economics of countries such that we provide for expanded influence, agency in how we govern and direct our own lives? Maybe, however a UBI’esque effort comes to be, if we provide every human the ability to change their lives –however they care to — maybe that will be enough.

ADD and the argument

I’ve run in to a few people lately who are, I believe ADD (attention deficit disorder), who have a hard time maintaining a level head during a discussion (argument).

These people, during a discussion, tend to interrupt and inject their immediate interpretation of my exposition without hearing the entire theory (or at least most of it). They tend to take bits of the explanation, in isolation, and react to them as if they were stand alone parts rather than to wait for the full explanation to resolve itself into a cogent presentation.

And because they interject with their half interpretations, they are incapable of understanding the bigger picture that is in the throes of being laid out. They often take offense at the segments of the theory, create ill-conceived rejoinders to them and fail, in the end, to come to view the theory in its entirety.

And so I wonder: are people these days, who more and more are afflicted with varying levels of ADD more and more incapable of participating in arguments coherently?

If one cannot hold in one’s mind the parts of an argument, setting aside one’s biases and prejudices — for a time — and put one’s opponent’s “hat” on, as it were, can such a person ever be made aware, fully, of another’s perspective?

I find discussions with such people to be vexing to the max.

So much so, that I’m unsure as to how to make them see my side of the story.

Do I sit calmly and listen to their argument and the evidence set forth? Yes. I can do this, trying on the hat of their position. I settle it here, then there and before I can set it aside and then begin to explain how their hat may or may not fit — we immediately enter into this argument-interuptus. And, of course, because they can never fully understand my side of the story, they either win by default, or storm off in contempt at my trying to expose my opinion in the most plain and simple manner — to no avail.



Are you overwhelmed?

I’m overwhelmed.

Are you?

I’ll bet you six copper pennies in a can of Coke that you thought to yourself:
“You’re damned right I’m overwhelmed.”

But who wouldn’t be overwhelmed by today’s onslaught of pointless, blathering, necessary, important, useless, whimsical, inane, senseless, critical STUFF?



Alright, here we are, dealing with so much information, this constant inundation of news and memes and tropes and updates and “hey, look at my cute dog wearing Lady Gaga outfits” and the ice is melting faster than we thought and you need to try this new tech gizmo and, well, you get the picture. It’s too much. In fact…

It’s overwhelming. And not only that — hey, look at you reading this! Just one more thing you chose to do out of the tens of thousands of things you could be doing — yet you chose, for probably some faulty reason, to read this. Thanks. No really, I realize this is trite and utterly anonymous, but just know, I feel your pain. And you reading this, well, it’s a solid. Really.

And to pay you back here’s a picture of a porpoise doing a head stand on a trampoline floating in the Gulf of Mexico… Naw, I’m just joshin’ with you.

Now tell me this, wouldn’t you really (*really*) just like to have, perhaps 100-200 people you paid attention to. JUST THEM. ONLY THEM. Like they were your village, and you could do your thing, and they’d do theirs, and once or twice during the day you’d hook up with a few of them and say hi and how-ya-doin’ and later, in the evening, you and a bunch of them would walk down to the river, or the town square, or the communal pasture and just rest there, leaning on a fence post, sipping a beer, just chatting about the day and the people around you and the small corner of the world you live in? And that would be your day…

Wouldn’t that be nice? And by nice I mean better? Like WAY better than this pressure you feel every time you find yourself online, checking email(s), facebook, twitter, instagram, the news (ugh! the news), and all the tiny micro-shit that just keeps pounding on your consciousness?

The world invades our lives. It feels like ALL OF THE WORLD is now invading our lives. And I’m tired of it. I’m half disgusted, half encouraged, half enraged, half sympathetic — I’m pulled in dozens of ways. And I know you are too. And I wish I had an answer to assuage all of this anguish and stress and anxiety. But I’m sorry. I don’t. Here’s a video of a bunny sleeping with a fox in a kennel and aren’t they both darling?

Oh shit, I’m sorry. You see what I mean? This crap never ends. Well, here’s hoping I didn’t extend or heighten your level of angst. Because, you know, that would just add to my own exhaustion, and I’m already…