Saturday, September 5, 2015

What passes for “normal”…

A little while ago, I saw a scene that unfolds daily in every city around the around the world: two police officers patrolling down the street.
I don’t know if it was something about their demeanor, or the particular prominence of their guns on that day that struck me, but I had a little aha moment and I thought, “Gee, it should not be a normal state of affairs that we need armed individuals to keep watching over the population”.
The fact, that as you read this, you are likely to think I’m off my rocker is perhaps even more disturbing, I find, ha ha!
There are so many things in the world that we take as being “normal”, which are in fact passed the point of crisis, war being just one example.
But they usually belong to the field of the Humanities, and so we assume that we can’t solve them (another thing that shouldn’t be normal to have to postulate.)
Today’s startup founders’ focus is on technological innovations; however we are currently at an inflection point where technology impacts the Humanities: by unleashing the internet, we’ve shaken the fabric of society at its core.
The fact is that advancements in all branches of knowledge, including the Humanities, constitute innovation.
Presupposing a catastrophic situation to be normal precludes solving it. And this can be used against us by those “in the know” who want to manipulate us through our ignorance, for example.
Take the banking sector, for instance. All perfectly normal, isn’t it? Well, perhaps not.
Below is an excerpt taken from the Epicenter Bitcoin Podcast, Episode #93, posted on August 24, in which Simon Dixon talks about current banking practices.
See whether you still think all is normal after reading it:
“The reason that we’re in the financial problems we are is because we’re trapped in a multi-decade Ponzi scheme as it were, where in order to have an economy, you have to have more debt. And the reason for that is simply because money is debt. And so in order to have a growing a stimulating economy, you have to have governments take on more debts, you have individuals take on more debt, you have to have corporations take on more debt. And then you get growth. And that’s simply because Economics has made an incorrect assumption; and that assumption is that banks are intermediaries between borrowers and lenders, which is just not true.
…When you deposit money with a bank, they become the legal owner of your money.
…The second property that needs to be solved is that when banks become the legal owner of your money, they can spend it as they wish. And so what tends to happen is they spend it on things which help their shareholders and their bottom line, which aren’t good for the economy. Banks were originally around to make loans for businesses, businesses can then produce something, they create some jobs and they can repay the loan and it produces some value in society. What’s evolved is that the loans have always moved to the least risky and the most profitable thing to do. The most profitable thing to do is financial speculation which adds no value.
…A bank is actually the creator of money supply. Whenever you have a positive balance, in your online banking, that’s simply somebody else’s debt; and they created that money into existence at [the] point of issuing a loan. And so 97% of every penny in the economy is created that way, which means that the only way to drive sustainability, if you want an economy to grow, is you have to have more debt. If you want less debt, then you have to have a depression. And that’s why we have boom-bust, boom-bust, boom-bust.
…I believe the financial crisis was a banking problem, it wasn’t a capitalism problem. Capitalism is my opinion is not the crisis, yes there are problems with it — I believe it is one is the best way of organizing structures.
The problem right now is that capitalism is built upon a banking system where the petrol, the fuel of capitalism is money, and money is built upon a process whereby in order to be created it has to be created as debt; and therefore, that completely skews where money is allocated, who can access capital, and the size of certain organizations that have access to capital. So I believe that we have a banking problem, and that then leads to a corporation problem, because corporations have access to finances that small to medium size enterprises don’t have access to, and therefore you get skewing of the economy. And we’ve never had capitalism to actually test.
Now, if you look at countries like Iceland right now, they are testing capitalism in its true extent. They’ve sent the bankers to prison, they’ve sued them for counter-fitting their money supply when they issue loans, and they’re looking at crypto-currencies as a foundation for their economy.
… The only way you’ll get the government to change is a complete meltdown. They have no appetite to change prior to any kind of meltdown. Unfortunately, necessity is the mother of all invention. Banking and government are completely entrenched. We’ve already seen an example of meltdown post the sub-prime crisis. And we saw exactly what they would do. They’ll create another central bank which puts together more control, they’ll lock up more control currencies, and they’ll always be issued as debt. And then all they do is kick the can down the road a little bit further.
… They chose the exact cause of the problem as the solution to the problem, and I believe they will do that forever because the brave person that goes into government and tries to exercise some of the powers which they totally have to create money without issuing debt would be met with such massive, ginormous resistance.
… If you model out the economics of our existing system, you are going to get a few results. The results that you have is a larger divide between rich and poor. You have larger consolidation of assets between ultra-wealthy, connected people and ultra-wealthy, connected institutions. And with each bailout you move the bar in terms of the debts to the most indebted people. You re-distribute the debts to the taxpayer and that increases the rich-poor divide in its infancy, but eventually, there comes a point where people will no longer lend to government — they just won’t do it because of the interest rates that come in the bond markets of that country.
…What happens is that individuals need bailing out, and so the government comes out with a scheme to allow you to buy your house, get your further into debt; but eventually they can’t repay their interests because their mortgage becomes greater than their income. And so when wages are going down and their mortgages are going up, that is just skewing money toward the banking system. Eventually the people can’t afford it, so the banking system has some kind of collapse and correction; and because all money is created by a bank, and the bank is the economy, the government then [will] bail it out, and the government then goes to a central bank, and the central bank [will] bail out the government through quantitative easing or whatever it is; but eventually, financial engineering ends.
And when that is — I’ve got no idea how much more financial engineering they have, but eventually it does end.
… The money, the assets underneath this, have to come from somewhere at some point, and there’s only so poor you can make people. There’s only so much debt you can get people in. There comes a point when people just default on their debt. And once everyone defaults on their debt, the entire system collapses.”
And then take the Ashley Madison hack.
Fred Wilson wrote a blog post about it, endorsing the following:
…society needs to be accepting of and forgiving of transgressions like using a website to arrange extramarital affairs.
He added:
…all of us are in for having our deepest darkest secrets outed at some point. So let’s hope society becomes more forgiving over time. It’s going to have to.”
That’s saying it’s “normal” for people to be unethical, perverted, etc., and so as the internet tends to leak out many a secret, then we’ll just have to lower the bar of our morality.
The end result of that would ultimately be a degenerate society (as if it wasn’t that way enough as it is!)
A lot of what we consider “normal” is in fact a severe failure of the human condition.
It behooves us to pause long enough at times to at least recognize when a situation is in fact abnormal.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Forced vs spontaneous creativity

Sometimes the creative process comes out naturally and in volume but not at the right time; and if you’re like me and try to pick it up again later, it may have gone "cold" and not much is coming out.
I’m referring to any creativity: writing a blog post, a piece of music or anything else.
I’ve learned a little trick related to this.
When the creativity juices are flowing spontaneously, I stop what I’m doing long enough to write/dictate little summaries of them on my smartphone that I can go back to later and re-ignite; otherwise I more than likely run the risk of losing those little gems of creativity.
There are other times when my schedule forces me to create something whether I’m in the mood for it or not.
And I’ve got a trick for that too.
In those instances, I’ve learned to let any ideas flow out of my imagination as it will and simply note down or in some way record what the output is; and I make sure to not let my consciousness interfere with what is happening. In other words I stay “out if the way” and let the process take place.
What that does is it turns on the “creative factory” and puts me “in the zone” so that something good will emerge.
I wrote a song titled “It’s in Your Heart”, which is a good example of both processes.
The music came out as a burst of creativity and essentially wrote itself. It was quite surreal actually and it felt as though I was only the medium through which someone else or some other entity was composing the song.
But then I wanted to get on with it and get the lyrics done. The only thing  is I had a major case of writer’s block. Nothing was coming out and waiting forever for spontaneous creativity wasn’t an option. I took a pad and a pen and let any thought occur that wanted to flow out of my stream of consciousness. Before long the lyrics started to come out and it felt quite magical.

In the end, it is as if the song wrote itself, just as this blog post is right now.
At other times, I do a combination of the two techniques. For example I have no idea what the next blog post will be about and then one day I hear or I read something which sparks a thought, of which I record a summary in bullet points in under five minutes. I then let this “brew” in my head for a while, and when I have time and feel ready to create the blog post, I sit down and commit to write it on the spot. If I experience the infamous writer’s block, I just “get out of the way” and let any idea flow and see what emerges. Once the spark ignites, then it virtually writes itself.
Creativity can be harnessed much like the raw forces of nature, in my opinion.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Cultivating Karma

In February 2014, I asked Brad Feld to help me with a project by accepting to be interviewed by me via email so I could write a story titled, “What it’s like to live in Boulder, Colorado.”
I thought, “Nice guy, but I’ll never hear back from him -- he's just too busy, and he won't give me the time of day.”
A few days later, I went for a walk and listened to a few chapters of one of Brad’s books on Audible.
At the point when I was most deeply considering what he was saying in the book, I got an email from him that said, “There it is”. He had answered the questionaire.
It felt a little surreal actually, and I told him so. He replied with one word:
“Karma”.
I even looked up the word in the dictionary to see if I was missing something.
In a separate incident, a few months ago, upon returning home from an organic / holistic grocery store I frequent, I noticed that the cashier forgot to charge me for a $13 piece of steak (which is already a great price for a grass fed striploin beef, if you ask me).
So the next week I went back and paid for it. The manager commented that it was an unusual behavior for me to have done so, but then she paused and said:
“Ah, Karma”.
And that’s what it is.
I’ve been like this since I was a teenager, but I didn’t have a word for it before.
I couldn’t explain to someone why it was important to me to fulfill a certain agreement, or pay back what I knew I owed that the other party forgot to bill me for, or leaving a note if I scratched someone’s car when they weren’t around.
I often got laughed at by friends, family and others.
Now I can say, “It’s good Karma”.
It’s something most people can relate to and appreciate.
And I can think of at least two occasions when I didn’t do what I knew was the right thing, and it felt wrong.
If you want a concrete framework for applying this principle, read Brad’s post, titled “Give Before You Get”.
In it, there are some gems, such as:
“In order to give before you get, adopt a philosophy of helping others without an expectation of what you are going to get back. It’s not altruistic — you do expect to get things in return — but you don’t set up the relationship to be a transactional one.”
And
“My goal is to live as happy an existence on this planet as I can and, by giving before I get, I maximize my chance of this.”
Today, I have received a phone call from another mason who lives in Tennessee and who felt stuck on a project and didn’t know who to turn to for advice. After doing a Google search, he came across some of my writings on the subject and managed to find my phone number and left me a message asking for my time so I could advise him.
Years ago, I would not have answered it — too busy, nothing in it for me, waste of time, etc. — in other words, a typical busy person’s way of dealing with a big enough ask when there’s too much on one's plate already.
I thought I would help him even if there clearly was nothing in it for me, and so I called him back.
Factually, I was following the give-before-you-get approach.
It meant a lot to him.
And that means a lot to me.
And he's going to pay it forward to someone else.
And so I feel the happiest when I work on cultivating my Karma, and very often, things just go smoothly when I do.