Saturday, April 25, 2015

When we start to call anything a religion

I read a handful of blogs everyday, one of them being Feld Thoughts.
A few days ago, Brad wrote a post titled, “The Religion of Silicon Valley”, and yet another one shortly thereafter on the same topic.
It set off a little alarm bell in my mind, as I have come to learn that confused nomenclature is a telltale sign that something is getting lost in a culture.
So you know, I usually don’t discuss religion, politics or even sports with friends and acquaintances, as a rule.
Brad got the idea from Ben Casnocha.
Even though Brad references a July 2014 blog post titled, Losing my Religion, the source of this idea possibly taking stronger roots appears to be an historian by the name of Yuval Noah Harari who gave a talk at Google on January 29th, 2015.
Harari is essentially saying that there is no material difference between ideology and religion.
First of all, let me say that I understand the appeal of calling Sillicon Valley a religion.
Even though I no longer subscribe to any of the traditional religions, I was raised Catholic, and my parents would send me at times to a religious retreat for the weekend. We would be bundled in small groups of 8 to 10 and get to open up to each other in a non-judgemental way and give a lot of love to each other while praying together. It was artificial, but it felt really good while it lasted.
When I visited Zinga and was introduced to the culture there, in hindsight, it reminded me of the feel-good experience I had had at the religious retreats. There is something special about the Silicon Valley culture, for sure.
But I believe we have to remain vigilant about trying to avoid spreading false assumptions around.
So when Harari is identifying the words "ideology" and "religion" with one another — in other words when he’s claiming they are basically the same — the door becomes open to have a substantial chunk of our intellectual heritage becoming lost.
He explains that traditional religions are perceived to have failed to innovate in the face of scientific breakthroughs and can now only react; and the last ideologies which have had the impact that religion should have had were Socialism and Communism. He uses this argument as a bridging thought to say that since the Life Sciences assert that there is no human soul and that all thought manifestations are bio-chemical algorithms and are not of spiritual origin, then, when electronic algorithms supersede biological ones, the computer shall essentially become God.
Now that he has said this, there’s the danger that this information will be taken at face value and his listeners will walk away with a shaky thesis, at best.
But what he’s really doing is provoking us into thinking; and so it is important to point out that he is also stressing, and which is likely to go unnoticed, that there is a giant hole in the Life Sciences' theories which has been "addressed" by their assumption (he calls it dogma) that they will eventually be proven right. In other words the Life Sciences are saying "There is this huge gap in our theory; however we think we are right and it is just a matter of time before we can prove it."
We live in a materialistic age, in which most people believe that the brain is the source of thinking, and that is why it is easy to erase “religion” from our vernacular.
I don’t mean to dive into unpopular territory or go off on a weird tangent, but I feel the need to point out that this is an assumption, not a proven fact, and we need to be careful with our assumptions.
What if thoughts don’t originate in the brain? I don't want to convince you of something, I'm simply offering an alternate theory.
Perhaps they can be registered and even chemically influenced there and yet not be of physical origin.
For example, I have met someone who had been clinically dead while being operated, during which time, she was very clearly outside her body and floating above the operating room and “hearing” and “seeing” what was happening below her before re-entering the body and coming back to life.
How can that be explained by taking only a materialistic view of life?
What is likely to occur, IMOHO is the following scenario: we’ll keep falling down the materialistic rabbit hole as a society for decades — or centuries even — only to eventually realize that the true answers were of a spiritual nature all along.
That’s a possibility that shouldn’t be ruled out by assumptions and arrogance.
Arrogance is what did Detroit in, let us all remember.
The purpose of religion for eons has been to seek answers to questions of a spiritual nature. Whether it has succeeded or not does not change its purpose. The Life Sciences should perhaps help Religion figure itself out, as opposed to look at the intersection of the two as a zero-sum game.
As a final thought then, I believe it behooves us to not confuse “Ideology” with “Religion”, even while we are at, or are approaching, the apex of the Materialism Age.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The people who discount you

A poem I wrote and am dedicating to the uber-creative individuals out there who are sometimes frustrated about continually being ignored.
If you like flavoring, either in your food or in your reading materials, this one is a tad bitter…
The People Who Discount You
You try to engage brilliantly
You write well-crafted essays
You offer thoughtful comments appropriately
You bring forth a product brimming with creativity
You even compose, produce and share your music eagerly
But as you don’t cater to people’s primal interests of sex or money
They will gladly remind you that you are just a nobody.
When one day you nonetheless manage to pull it off successfully
And people gather to kiss your ass, keep a cool head and don’t get infatuated
As these are the same people who have discounted you initially
Value dearly those who have engaged with you early
And don’t yourself discount anybody

Is retirement the right construct?

The spark for this blog post came when Fred Wilson replied to a comment by Anne Libby on Fred’s blog on Good Friday / Eve of Passover.
I find the history of the concept of retirement as reported in this New York Times article dating back to 1999 very interesting. If you’ve never read it, maybe you want to take a look.
The construct of making an entire class of citizens “retire” is relatively new in society and I can’t help but wonder what would be an even better construct, particularly in the face of the changes that are occurring as a result of the globalization trend; as well as the deflationary economics caused by the technological disruption movement.
Another way I would frame Fred’s comment is “When you are still fully functional, why would you want to retire?”
When your work consumes you rather than completes you, or when it has come to be exhausting, I think it becomes easy at that point to shift into “wanting to retire”.
But I would assert that would not be retiring for “the right reasons”, (assuming there’s such a thing).
It becomes simply wanting to remove the exhaustion from one’s existence.
Or distancing oneself, once and for all, from doing what one hates so much to do, week in and week out.
On the other hand, if  you do physical labor for decades, chances are your body will wear out and you will need to retire from that activity, as Fred’s comment suggests.
But then why not transition into something fulfilling, but on a more cerebral plane?
In other words, is retirement the most optimal solution a society can find for the ageing segment of its population?
If you’d owned a casino, I bet you’d say yes.
As it is the case with many things in life and in many industries, I suspect that it is not the best solution that has won the popularity contest.
This issue is extremely complex as there are other factors involved such as physical and mental health, an individual’s background, cultural beliefs, economic circumstances, education and even morals and ethics-related issues.
For example, some people will not have the economics in place to retire comfortably, if at all; some will be too sick not to retire; while there are others who prefer to lead unproductive lives, etc.
To me personally however, by and large, it comes back to finding your passion.
Confucius has famously said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.
So why retire then, right?
To those who would argue that work is called work because it’s not play and that once you depend on something to put food on the table, it becomes different, I would counter-argue that perhaps the answer lies in aiming at financial independence specifically — and as soon as possible — rather than “planning for retirement” per se.
Looking at the etymology for “retire”, I’m tempted to ask, “Why would you want to draw back?”