Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Year of Development

To most of my relatives and acquaintances, I have been focused for the last three months and much of my spare time over the past year on trying to get my writing business up and running. The others, and readers of my blogs, know different: the writing business is, as it always has been, a potentially sustainable means for sharing my personal perspective, knowledge, and skills; but developing those things has been my true focus. Much of that development is currently embodied in my research into a simple, unified way to understand history so that I and others can intelligently contribute to a better future as defined by select values.

I don't mean to imply that the time wasn't productive from a business perspective. A year ago I was completing my book Death Stoppers Anthology; and this year I conceived and published in parts the beginning of a new novel, BIOME, which is a prequel to my first novel (Lights Out). I also worked on instrumental music, a purely artistic form I enjoy on a visceral level, releasing a soundtrack album for Death Stoppers Anthology and starting one for BIOME. As I did with Lights Out, I've incorporated life lessons and results from my research into its prequel, in some ways running the research in parallel with the fiction as my creative energy spilled into both.

The many months I spent hunting for a job that could meet my family's financial expectations were just as depressing as the news and outcomes of research that reinforced my expectation of a catastrophic future unfolding soon. Always trying to define and understand the problems I seem to have a penchant for sensing, I developed a framework for assessing the financial, practical, and ethical aspects of potential work, which benefited from understanding and improving on one of the most interesting predictions of my main research. As a result, I achieved a level of confidence I have been seeking for most of my life, which sadly has risen inversely with confidence in the judgment of others in business and government who I had respected as a default condition.

I learned how to get rich, and why I probably won't. Getting rich involves enabling the customization of environments (the essence of what my research defines as happiness), with minimal effort by the customer, and with mostly invisible costs at the point of sale. Implicit in that process is hope: the promise of more, for as long as anyone wants it, which is the essence of perpetual growth. Success depends on deceit, because each aspect of its realization is based on a lie, or at best a special case that is treated as a generalization. Customization requires increasing amounts of resources, which has costs that may be hidden but are not inconsequential. Limits to resources are real and we are attempting to exceed them, turning the appearance of perpetual growth into a reality of rapid decline. Knowing what I know, I can't lie – to myself or others – and I can't live with myself and encourage unhealthy and ultimately lethal behavior.

Since my preferred contribution to making the world better is the sharing of insights about how it works, and doesn't, along with ideas about what might be changed based on values and experience, this personal account is presented as both background and overview so that you, the reader, can derive some context for what I've shared and intend to share. It also serves as a reference point in the body of work I'm most proud of – my writing, which is available on my blogs and Web sites.

Finally in this last blog post of 2015, I would like to acknowledge the love and support of my wife Debbie. Over the dozen years we've been together we have helped each other through many challenges and grown closer through those and the good times; finding home always where we were, rather than where our stuff was. Our relationship has been a daily reminder of how much good remains in the world: what – and who – must be cherished, not as an abstraction but as the essence of life worth lasting for as long as possible.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Discretionary Time

I have accumulated and discarded a lot of stuff during my nearly fifty-six years. It is a pattern that I attribute to shifting goals, needs, and dreams about what I might do with the rest of my life. While some of it has had sentimental and entertainment value, the vast majority – including a large library of books – have been viewed as tools: tools for meeting basic needs such as shelter; tools for learning and exploration; tools for creating things; and tools for communicating with others.

With likely no more than thirty years of life left, I feel the need to seriously evaluate what I can and should accomplish during that time, and to manage my stuff accordingly, especially since I don't expect to ever retire. This means, for one thing, strongly resisting the urge to buy impulsively, and to avoid influences that make it feel like a duty – such as the armada of advertisements and pervasive social cues that accompany the annual Season of Gluttony that (at least here in the U.S.) is more aligned with its historical origin in Saturnalia than the celebration of the birth of hope for salvation and universal love (Christmas) that has formally defined it.

Thirty years seems like a lot of time, but only about five of them (one-sixth, or four hours per day) are discretionary – that is, not used for sleep, eating, working, and related activities. Discretionary time, and the stuff used during it, can be split up among many activities, such as maintaining relationships with family and friends, housework, entertainment, and personal development such as education and hobbies. If we're lucky enough to be able to do what we want for work, up to ten years can be added to this category.

Much of the "stuff" I've acquired for personal development is more suited to what is normally considered "work" than what many would consider "discretionary." Creating has always been more fun than consuming, and I enjoy looking for what I think of as the hidden picture in the "jigsaw puzzle of life," a collaborative understanding of the past and future of humanity along with its environment and values. I don't pretend to have any more special insights than anyone else, but I feel an obligation to do my part, which includes communicating the parts that I see uniquely, helping others share the unique parts that they see, and making a case for my preferences in deciding the future. My stuff of choice, not surprisingly, includes aids to learning and communicating.

Over the past thirty years I came to understand that the current configuration of the puzzle has some serious flaws that need to be corrected soon in order to decrease the chance of horrific global casualties over the next thirty years and beyond. This has made my feeling of obligation even more urgent than what was already triggered by advancing age. In my blogs and books, I've shared my curiosity, my insights, and ideas that might inspire creative thought and exploration by others that can hasten assembly of the puzzle. Concurrently, I have sought to entertain, and to fictionally represent my research along with some suggestions and warnings based on imaginative extrapolation of behavior, knowledge, and technology.

A civilization like ours that is designed to maximize happiness without regard for longevity (except through continuous acquisition and processing of ecological resources) can be expected to resist any attempts to challenge that design goal and the cultural infrastructure that supports it, even as evidence mounts that the resources it depends upon are dangerously scarce and degraded. Only that which directly and efficiently serves the customization of personal environments will be rewarded. I know this, and yet I cannot, in good conscience (service to the value of life) or by nature, keep from challenging it, even when doing so severely limits options for customizing and maintaining my own environment through work and discretionary activities.

Like many people, the probability of maintaining or increasing my current lifestyle over the next thirty years is low, even if I vigorously support our happiness-based economic paradigm and global conditions don't change the way I think they will. Attempting to do so through art (as I recently rediscovered) has a much, much lower chance of success over that period, especially if it doesn't play to people's hopes and desires for experiences better suited to their wants than their current existence.

Unless we make major changes to our society, living will rapidly get more difficult over the next decades, and I expect discretionary time to practically disappear for all but the ultra-wealthy, even if the demand for it increases exponentially in response. Such a development would make much of the present discussion moot, because my thirty-year planning horizon would likely drop to something closer to ten years, yielding maybe one year of useful discretionary time left. One year interestingly coincides with the amount of time I've calculated we have left before reaching a critical ecological threshold that will make large global casualties practically inevitable, which is less than I (and everyone else) would have available if both work and discretionary time was used to try stopping it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Evil and Understanding

In my Idea Explorer post "Group Interaction" I discussed in abstract terms my analysis of what could happen when two isolated groups first interact, and vaguely referenced current events it might apply to, along with my assessment of how it relates to the world' reaching critical environmental limits. Here, I will be more explicit and personal.

The current context is, of course, the occasion of savage terrorist attacks in Paris late last week. I consider them acts of evil that cannot, and should not, be excused, despite my attempts to understand them. Based upon my valuing all human lives equally, the only acceptable reason for intentionally killing people or increasing their chance of dying is to keep them from killing someone else, and only when the threat is direct, imminent, unambiguous, and all non-lethal options have been exhausted. Clearly, the attacks do not meet that test (nor, incidentally, do most acts of war).

Curiously, I had a much more visceral reaction to a news story I saw while on vacation a few days before. The pastor of a church, attended by presidential candidates, was ranting about the evil of homosexuality and advocating that gays and lesbians be killed if they didn't repent. It was the most vile speech I have ever heard, and reminded me of my most lasting reaction to the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001: that there are people among us who are willing to kill others so they can have a better chance of going to heaven. If heaven is their reward, then it must surely be indistinguishable from hell.

These were the events I recalled as I was using my model of group interaction to examine the "threat" to cultural purity that a small group could expect from a large group it came in contact with, a threat that included the possibility of physical and cultural extermination. For a group unwilling to surrender its uniqueness (cultural or in terms of personal characteristics), the most practical option is to reestablish isolation, which is realistically not practical at all. To someone who accepts the existence of a supernatural world that can be accessed after death, practicality is irrelevant, and the irrational options of dying or trying to kill large numbers of the larger group will come under serious consideration.

I understand that my perception of their actions (attacks) and preferred actions (assassinating homosexuals) as evil stems from my thinking of all of humanity as just one group, with differences that do not rise to the level of deserving death, except where they lead to death (based on the high value I place on people). I can therefore accept cultural diversity as long as it does not increase the rate of death, now or in the future, especially through the consumption patterns and values that I modeled as "culture."

Through this lens, my native culture is extremely unacceptable, with its emphasis on excessive consumption, competition that devalues the lives of those we compete with, hubris that dismisses the wisdom of other people and cultures that may contribute to common survival and happiness, and willingness to kill people without proof of a direct and existential threat. I choose to try influencing it to change within the limits of my values, through discourse like this, and altering my own lifestyle (which includes avoiding support of actions I find offensive). While I respect the humanity of everyone, I reserve the right to be angry about gross violation of my values by others, and to make their lives uncomfortable enough to question their own values and perceptions as I have continued to question mine.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


After considerable thought, I decided that the best use of my time would be to build on the theme I started with my novel Lights Out, and tell stories that relate in personal terms some of the observations and ideas I've been developing over the last few years. The result is a novel called BIOME that is set in the same world as Lights Out, and will consist of a series of mini-books that are the TV equivalent of episodes in a series (at present, the first part has been released).

While all of the stories tie together in a cohesive whole, each can stand alone on its own, just as any short story would. The first part, for instance, reads like a mystery, but also serves as an introduction to people, organizations, and technologies that occupy the fictional world I'm using as a setting for further exploring the things I care about and believe others will too.

For readers of Lights Out, some of this will feel familiar, especially since some of the characters in BIOME have ties to the main characters in that novel. Also, I am simultaneously following through on the sequel I promised at the end of the book, and I expect that all of these efforts will eventually and interestingly tie together (I already have a pretty good idea how). Because of my emphasis on telling compelling stories that can appeal to a wide audience, even these larger pieces will stand on their own; though, of course, another dimension of experience is gained by reading all of them.

It would be disingenuous not to admit that I hope for some financial gain in this process. Indeed, I would love to at least be able to pay my bills while devoting most of my time to making the contributions I know I can make. It would also be nice to maintain my current degree of freedom to say what I feel needs to be said, without any fear of censorship that I must waste effort creatively evading.

As I refine my creative process, I hope to make space for working on more projects, including developing my research further and reporting on it. Currently, though, I feel what's most important is explaining, clarifying, and accessibly sharing the results of what I've already done, and, in so doing, providing context for the critical message that my research identified and which I remain committed to getting out. I'm still open to opportunities to better do this; and if one comes along, I will take it without reservation. Meanwhile, I would appreciate any support, including constructive comments, suggestions, sharing with others, and purchases of what people consider valuable.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Martian Dreams

Watching the movie The Martian recently reminded me of the boundless hope that for most of my life motivated me to look to the stars for meaning, knowledge, and salvation from the doom that seemed to be an inevitable consequence of confining humanity – and life – to just one planet. It also inspired me to use the tools from my current research to revisit the possibility of reviving that hope.

As related in the memoir chapter of my book "Death Stoppers Anthology," that hope was a consequence of influences and events since childhood that were strongly linked to the U.S. manned space program and its showcasing of how human ingenuity could triumph over adversity and despair. During the late 1990s, I became convinced that settlement of Mars was the best next step for ensuring the long-term survival of our species and others that we could take with us. Along with other members of the Mars Society, I worked at convincing as many people as possible that manned exploration missions as a precursor for settlement could and should be launched soon. Discoveries since then, culminating in the discovery of liquid water, a necessary resource for life, have made the argument for sending people to Mars even more compelling. Clearly the author of The Martian was up to speed on the motivation and the technologies that could enable the first missions, and has provided a relatable vision that can help do the sales equivalent of "closing the deal."

Even back in my Mars Society days, I feared that escalating problems on Earth with a strong environmental dimension might soon close the door on getting people into space and supporting them long enough to create at least one self-sustaining community. The Martian does an excellent job of portraying the hazards involved in trying to sustain life for even a modest amount of time without such support in a hostile environment similar to, if not much better, than the places space travelers are likely to find themselves. The movie also demonstrates in one scene my greatest fear for our immediate future: the loss of "provider" species that enable "supporter" species to survive and generate the basic resources that people need to live. Wherever we go, beyond our planet as well as here, we will face the same limits; and early explorers and settlers in space will be precariously living very near those limits all the time.

My current research is the latest phase of work I began while in the Mars Society in order to estimate how much and how fast our population could grow if we settled space.
Preliminary simulations using the new model are consistent with my earlier conclusions, which support the observation that motivated that first project: exponential growth is fundamentally unsustainable. Like other species, but unhindered by predation that keeps their numbers in check, humanity grows as fast as it can with the objective of dominating its environment. If by settling space we expand the amount of resources that we can either reach or grow, then we will concurrently increase our consumption of them – very likely exponentially – until we either can't or decide not to.

Hope in my case stems from what I believe will occur in that last stage, and whether or not it is possible to keep our resources from decreasing on their own due to our actions. Will we as a species make the same choices as the hero in The Martian, who to me epitomizes the best of humanity in his values and unwillingness to give up in the service of something bigger than himself, or will we – as my study and extrapolation of history suggests – push the limits in pursuit of personal pleasure at the expense of other lives and ultimately our own longevity?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Action Time

I have learned a lot since I finished writing Death Stoppers Anthology last year, much of which has added justification and detail to the conclusions I reached then. In many ways, I experienced a microcosm of my life before, attempting to reconcile the need to conform to the expectations of the majority around me, for both survival and sanity, with an accelerating lack of trust in both the logic and morality of those expectations. This time, though, I had the perspective of decades of living and thinking to help make sense of it, and the experience in turn tested and refined that perspective. The net result is that I finally know enough to take specific action, and I have the conviction to go ahead with it.

Unfortunately, timing is critical, which I discussed in the latest Idea Explorer blog post, "Impacts." By any measure of practicality, my prescription for significantly extending humanity's longevity and avoiding major casualties is impossible; yet, as the self-evaluation using a set of proposed universal goals revealed, I am compelled to do whatever I can. With my particular set of skills, that means effectively writing to convince a lot of people to keep from having more than the replacement number of children and capping or reducing their consumption of ecological resources to a healthy level ("the message"). It also means more actively developing the tools I've long known are the key to short-circuiting the corrupting influences that threaten people's survival and core happiness.

So far, my creative effort has been focused on material that I personally like, and it naturally includes many themes related to the issues I care about. For example, the novel Lights Out is based on early research into limits to global population and consumption, and is in the genre of science fiction, which has been my favorite from the time I learned to read. Death Stoppers Anthology is a collection of my best writing, and includes both the most artistic and most meaningful aspects of my experience (some of which have been extracted from blogs).

Judging from sales and blog hits, I have a small but significant audience for my work, which I greatly appreciate, but it needs to grow a lot if I'm going to have an impact anywhere near what I'd like. This means that I will be vigorously marketing all of my work, and becoming more public with my views, all with the ultimate focus of promoting the message and its rationale as much and as long as is necessary.

Other people and other groups are sharing their own variants of the message for their own (and often similar) reasons, many over several decades as our world's natural limits became clearer. I am merely adding my own voice after becoming convinced on my own terms; and I urge you, my readers, to find your own terms based on your own priorities, and to do as much as you can as a result of your conclusions.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Self Evaluation

In the Idea Explorer post "Groups, Goals, and Actions" I discussed a framework for making decisions based their impacts on affected groups. Here I'll share a little about how I've begun to use this framework in an attempt to better orient my decisions toward creating a healthier, more ethical world.

I recently used the analytic hierarchy process (AHP), which compares the various elements of the framework and prioritizes them relative to each other. I chose a simple set of actions (what AHP calls "alternatives") that could be ranked to determine which was the best to pursue: serving self, serving family, serving others, and serving other species. Each action was evaluated according to a set of criteria, which were all of what I called "goals" in my framework (maximizing happiness, population, and longevity for each group – self, family, others, and other species).

For groups, I gave family the highest priority, followed by others, self, and other species. For actions, serving family ranked first, then serving others, serving other species, and serving self.

I then tried using my own method to rank each of the goals relative to each other without any concern for actions. This resulted in the longevity of others being ranked first, followed by a tie between family longevity and family happiness for second-place. Third-place was tied between population of others, population of other species, and longevity of other species. Fourth place was tied between family population and the happiness of others. Fifth place was a tie between self happiness and self longevity (lifespan). The happiness of other species was in sixth place, and self population (desire to have more people like me) was in seventh and last place. Comparing goal types, longevity was in first place, and both happiness and population tied for second. Comparing groups, others were first (mainly due to longevity and population), family was second, other species were third, and self was last.

The latter results felt more accurate and meaningful to me than the AHP results, given my obsession with the longevity of the human species (how long until we're extinct) as the ultimate endpoint for the lives of everyone who's part of it. My feelings of very low importance relative to everyone and everything else were better reflected in this evaluation, which were likely more a consequence of forced objectivity than subjective depression. At any rate, I'm willing to consider this a baseline for future comparisons.

Friday, July 24, 2015

People Like Us

*A real-world counterpoint to the fictional "People Like Me."

Many years ago, I felt that the fabric of society was under attack, by people who were ignorant of human nature and the need for moral authority to govern their actions, and by a conspiracy of "do-gooders" who actively conspired to impose their vision of a perfect world on the rest of us.

Over time, I came to question that feeling and the assumptions behind it, in part because I got to know the people I feared, and in part because experience showed that those most sure of their positions were likely to miss important flaws in those positions.

I studied, and became disgusted by, the dominant culture that considered people like me to be automatically moral just because we believed in God, were born in this country, and shared a common appearance and ethnic heritage. By asking and seeking satisfactory answers to the most basic of questions, especially those that no one seemed interested in asking, it became clear that the moral distinctions of "good" and "bad" were arbitrary, and that the stories that justified them were artifices for teaching and enforcing their adoption by using common knowledge and history to create internalized group identity.

Apparently history had overwhelmed the usefulness of the common knowledge, resulting in the need for addenda in the form of laws. They took advantage of a loophole built into the common knowledge, that the members of the group might still deviate from the group morality, and just needed some corrective mechanisms to help keep them within the group. Group integrity was also maintained by insisting that people who weren't part of the group would always be inclined to do more damage, and therefore the laws were needed even more (along with more rigorous enforcement) to keep them in check.

Recognizing and then stepping outside of my group identity, the world looked a lot different. Instead of seeing pain and suffering in other nations as a consequence of being outside of the right group (people like me), or as punishment by an omnipotent parent-figure/scapegoat, I saw it as a natural consequence of competition with fellow biological creatures subject to the physics of life and perceptions shaped by personal history that considered "others" as objects rather than people who are part of a universal "us."

Cooperation with people who are fundamentally valued equally looks like a logical way to approach alleviating much of that pain and suffering, and indeed the United States was founded on an approximation to that approach. So it seems particularly hypocritical for people claiming moral high-ground based on their citizenship to advocate dismantling the parts of the government dedicated to cooperation and enabling all people to survive and thrive, regardless of affiliation with any particular group or groups. Obviously, their own group affiliation is most important, motivated by the stories they refused to question that posit their special role as instruments of the creator of the Universe.

I have struggled to keep some optimism about the future of humanity, especially in light of the destruction of life precipitated by our lack of respect for the other species who maintain the habitability of the planet we share (the ultimate "others"). For more than thirty years I held out hope that education and enlightened self-interest could make the world a better place, even though my definition of "better" has evolved since then. That isn't enough, though, especially for people who believe they can escape the consequences of their actions with the aid of an omnipotent brother. For people to accept a new understanding of natural order, it must be supported by common values, common knowledge, and social identity, along with a psychologically healthy way to live with a radical switch in the "rightness" of past actions.

Obviously, I'm still in the process of figuring out what to do next. Given the nature of the disaster facing our world, I don't expect to ever have the kind of life that looked good from the perspective of my early years and still looks good to many of my former group-mates: acquiring enough wealth to be very comfortable and hang out with people like me for many years to come. If I'm lucky, I'll have some positive impact on the lives of people like us, all of us, now and in the future.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

People Like Me

And now, a word from the anti-Brad (in another universe):

I'm feeling persecuted along with people like me. It's either one big misunderstanding, part of a big conspiracy by others to take away what's rightly ours, or a combination of both.

Some say that we're lucky, but we're not. We were chosen by God, born white and Christian in the greatest country on Earth so we can get whatever we want if we just work hard enough. Those who say otherwise are either stupid, delusional, or just jealous because they weren't chosen. If they get in our way, they are against God, and they need to be stopped in any way possible so that He will continue taking care of us until Jesus decides to take us into Heaven with Him.

That's not to say that we're all perfect. Far from it! There are jerks, crooks, and murderers among us, but that's a consequence of being given free will to either choose the right path or the wrong path. They're part of why we have laws: to keep them from hurting people until they are convinced to make the right choice. The other part is to keep people who aren't like us from causing a lot more damage.

Look at the messes the others have made in their countries. Clearly those cultures are deficient because they don't do things like us. A lot of them tolerate abominations that God would never sanction, and the horrible things that happen there are no doubt partly due to His wrath. Misguided people in our country, along with the others who are among us, are trying to make America just as bad, and are encouraging His wrath in the process.

Using the bogus technicality that the government belongs to everyone, not just the chosen ones, the others are constantly trying to impose their evil on the rest of us. People like me have tried unsuccessfully to fix that design flaw, as well as trying to bypass it by privatizing as much of the government's functions as possible. Anticipating the worst outcome, we've also kept other options open, like keeping our arms and offshoring our wealth. The latest tactic, buying politicians, is buying some time so we can work out the next steps in the strategy – which, if the past is any guide, will probably include some kind of war (also, that's how Jesus is ultimately supposed to win in the end times, which we may already be in).

As a perpetual optimist, I'm holding out hope that education can be used to solve most of our problems. If the others, along with the misguided among us, can be convinced that their opposition to our dominance is based on a misunderstanding of the natural order of things, then they might give in to us. We might even be merciful (depending on what our leaders hear from the Almighty, who may wait to deal with them until after we're taken home to Him).

Whatever happens, I plan to figure out how to get rich so that I'll be ready to take the next steps and can spend as much time as possible with people like me.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


Several months of active job-seeking has made me an involuntary expert on the kinds of employees that companies are currently looking for. As I do with nearly everything, I've tried to learn some larger lessons in the process that can better serve my values, as well as my survival.

Many job posts appear to be recruiting the business equivalent of a soldier who will be involved in a project that is like a battle with high stakes that is part of a war with a cunning and powerful enemy. Their terminology often suggests a competition in overdrive following a strategy with no margin for error, learning, or realistic luck. Several decades of experience have taught me that these impressions generally match reality; and my investigation of its dynamics and their larger implications has convinced me that the existential threats now faced by humanity are direct consequences of blind obedience to that reality.

As I discussed in my blog post "Evaluating Competition," a sustainable and healthy competition must have goals and rules that support values that everyone – participants and those impacted by the competition – knows about and agrees to. Our current economic competitions arguably do not meet this test, especially since a few participants with an excess of power have corrupted them in order to acquire more power with the goal of dominating everyone and everything. To just keep what we have, the rest of us must follow their lead, with predictably disastrous results since we are already critically degrading and depleting the ecological resources needed for the survival of our species and many others on the verge of extinction at our hand.

I have personally struggled to act according to my values, whose definition has also been a struggle in the wake of proving to myself that there is a horrific lack of dependable guidance in my culture. In my writing, I have been building a case for those values and a body of guidance that can be used to serve them. In the rest of my life, I've experimented with what guidance I have, learning from both my successes and my failures along the way. Hovering over the whole process has been the need to keep what I have until I can find and enable a better way to live, which has meant flirting with the path to disaster and thus becoming more familiar with its many potential incarnations.

The simplest guidance comes from what might once have been common sense. People should work together to meet everyone's basic needs over the longest possible time, and use only what's left to increase personal happiness. Knowledge should be accumulated and used to predict the influence of their environment on them, and predict the consequences of their actions on each other and their environment. To enable all of this, everyone must understand and share common values, the pre-eminent being the lives of all people and respect for the creatures on which they depend. If what people do can affects others, they should make them aware of it; and if it potentially affects the survival of others, the others must agree to it. Clearly, our present way of life, embodied in economic competition, does not meet any of this guidance.

Other guidance involves details, and the latest installment applies to the use of knowledge. It comes out of research I started a decade ago while trying to predict the time it would take to complete various projects. While it remains little more than a partially-tested hypothesis, its predictions are consistent enough with my experience to present it as a means of evaluating more than what I originally intended (which is also a way to test it). One important prediction is that it is unlikely that any project or task attempted for the first time will take less than twice the minimum possible amount of time, and it will most likely take at least four times that long. If an organization claims to be able to achieve the minimum time, they are equivalently claiming that they have access to the less than 50 people in the whole world capable of doing so, which is extremely unlikely. As a corollary, if an organization does take the minimum time, then the quality of the result is likely much less than advertised. These first-time projects are the ones that make businesses competitive because of their uniqueness (based on the economics of low supply and high demand), while projects that have transitioned into full-scale production with several thousand times the minimum time invested in the process will have maximum quality and lower cost, but lose their uniqueness quickly, especially if the minimum time shrinks so much that other organizations – competitors – can duplicate it.

One of the business buzz words I've seen pop up recently is "disruption," which I read as the intentional and continuous conversion of an organization's activities into a set of unique projects so that competition can be accelerated. If coupled with super-optimistic time projections, this virtually guarantees the end of high quality, as well as lack of employment for the vast majority of the population (since only a very few people can come close to achieving the desired results) unless there are roughly as many businesses as there are people. Thus, the term matches all of its meanings: fracturing society through income inequality; requiring dishonesty to confuse the meaning of quality; sabotaging the health of business participants and their families by locking in a perpetual level of stress; and further destroying the Earth's habitability by multiplying resource-intensive and waste-producing activity.

To me as a world citizen, our greatest imperative as a species is to get back to basics, which starts with meeting everyone's basic needs, which includes leaving resources for other species so they can maintain our planet's habitability. The remainder, if there is any (and I doubt there is), can be used for the purpose most of our current economy is geared toward: increasing personal happiness beyond the basic level. Doing so requires examining our lives as objectively as possible in terms of basic values, which includes first identifying and agreeing to those values. Living any longer in our present state of apparent limbo (or increasing anarchy of meaning) is not optional if most of us wish to survive much longer; we may in the interim be able to justify to ourselves continued service to the system we know, but it ultimately won't be worth the cost.

To me as an individual, my present course is becoming rapidly indefensible, much as I felt as I was wrapping up my book Death Stoppers Anthology. An acceptable alternative is not yet in sight, but I'm learning quickly and am confident that I'm on the verge of discovering it.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Last Years

My latest estimates show that humanity is less than two years from being forced to reduce our population's ecological footprint, and the only control we might have is in how it happens. Our options are very limited: we can reduce the total ecological impact of what all of us use, reduce our population size, or both. We may be forced to continue this reduction as natural consequences of our pollution, especially atmospheric greenhouse gases, include taking away more of our remaining resources.

I would argue, based on my values, that the only morally acceptable choice is to cooperate in reducing what we use until we either can't or (ideally) don't have to, and making that reduction with the least amount of pain possible. The alternatives all include people dying, likely on a large scale, with the worst cases including extinction of our species within a decade.

I'm sure this is all very familiar to readers of my blogs, as it is just the most recent of several passes I've taken at this extremely important subject, and is further confirmation of the conclusions I've been trying to find a convincing argument against. Even the timing is similar; I've just got a better handle on the trajectory that's gotten us here, and a more compelling explanation for the relationship I discovered between happiness and ecological footprint (as we begin to consume the resources needed by the natural providers of our own most basic biological needs, we reduce their ability to support us and thus endanger ourselves).

So, what can we do over the next two years to implement the "morally acceptable choice"?

Here in the United States, we're facing a presidential election before the two years is over. Election season, which has already begun, is an excellent time to address the issues government can – and can't – have the greatest influence over. The current field of candidates includes only two people who recognize the seriousness of climate change, which is clearly a critical requirement for anyone who holds significant political power, so something we here can do is to support one of these candidates. Another requirement is a firm commitment to reducing pain among the larger population, which is more aligned with the views of a core populist than someone in alignment with the sociopathic leanings of large corporations and their leaders who value focused power over distributed power. One obvious risk of favoring populists, though, is the potential amplification of consumption as more people gain power, so such candidates will need to be open to focusing on efficiency and other offsets, such as caps on overall consumption that are applied to everyone.

In our own lives, we can work to reduce our own ecological footprints, including actions we take at work. We can also avoid having more than two children to keep from further amplifying the global footprint. Applying social and economic pressure on others, accompanied by reasoned dialog and education, is something else we can do about the problem, and is particularly important since there is almost overwhelming pressure already to have at least as much as the people we identify with (or would like to).

If, as currently seems likely, we get through these last years of voluntary action without change in attitudes and actions that sufficiently promotes the moral choice, the world will – to say the least – become even more bizarre to those of us who remember what even a marginally healthy Earth was like (I was a preteen in the 1960s). I will personally feel very lucky to live to retirement age, if such a term even makes sense, and the feeling I have now that we are about to witness the equivalent of a massive asteroid impact will have translated into a full-sensory experience of that disaster.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Enabling Life

My latest book, Death Stoppers Anthology, takes its name from a poem I wrote a few years ago called Death Stoppers that is included in the book. After writing the poem, I wrote a blog post that delved into some of its meaning; and in the new book's memoir section, I concluded that it embodies perhaps the best strategy for dealing with the global threat of ecological catastrophe that years of research has forced me to accept. Perhaps even more important for me personally, and others who may also be drawn toward depression after coming to terms with our situation, it presents a vision of what success might look like – something that can motivate us and serve as a source of hope while we do the hard work ahead.

Yesterday I had some time to appreciate some of the natural beauty around me, which here on the Front Range of Colorado is as easy as focusing on the Rockies that frame half our view. After recent snowfall, the mountains are particularly stunning, a stark overlay of both the immediate past and the distant past that both relaxes and challenges the mind. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that I have spent an unhealthy fraction of my life obsessed with finding and characterizing problems, and not enough time finding and characterizing – and more importantly, experiencing – the good, in people as well as the rest of Nature. Preserving, enhancing, and proliferating that good, and providing opportunities for good that we have yet to know, is, when we value life above and beyond (while including) our own, what "death stopping" enables.

When we see ourselves as "life enablers," then both our guiding value, and what we must do to honor that value, are crystallized around a vision of the kind of world we want to be part of. Death Stoppers ends with my take on that vision:

Disaster was averted
Death slowed to a crawl
Love and health became the rule
The team became us all.

The "team," of course, is the group of people who facilitate the changes that make that vision a reality, and ultimately we all must maintain it.

The rest of the poem deals with how that can be achieved, beginning with shaming those people who "didn't share... Who raped the land for fun and gain... And cared not what was fair." Sadly such people exist; but in a social environment such as our present one, where the values that cast their behavior as bad are eroded or absent, and where, increasingly, the amoral, homicidal, and ultimately suicidal philosophy that "might makes right" dominates, resistance cannot be unified and have a decent chance of prevailing. In the poem, the team understands this, and chooses to set an example at great personal risk: "To stop the death that threatened all... Without a shred of fear." Shaming is one way to have a discussion about values, by introducing them explicitly as a reason for observable action (which is focused on stopping behavior), but such a discussion can also be facilitated by celebrating existing examples of how the alternative, preferred values translate into experience we might (and I believe most of us would) want more.

In my recent post "Evaluating Competition," I laid out a case for assessing the values that are embodied in a competition's goals, rules, and full set of consequences in order to decide whether the competition is worth our participation and our society's support. Death Stoppers displays an application of this, where the team rejects those aspects of economic competition that value the happiness of a minority over long-term fairness and survival for the majority. The team is initially assisted by many others because their individual happiness has suffered, and it must demonstrate healthy replacements for the needs that the current competition serves before its values can be fully accepted and incorporated into a longer-lasting way of living (the economic aspects of which were described in my post "Spaceship Finance").

I hold on to some hope that this process can be hastened by the shortcut of engaging people's imaginations and reasoning through words and images that simulate what living might be like in alternative futures that are based on the exercise of different values. Making them believable depends upon another major requirement for a healthy world, common (and accurate) understanding that enables both quality communication and credibility. Working on such a shortcut is one of my main motivations for pursuing a writing business, which along with my research has only now set the stage for it. Since I have limited personal resources, and because I'm frankly worn out by dwelling on the problem of apocalyptic futures, I intend to focus on describing the consequences of success in enabling life, as well as the good in the here-and-now that I was luckily reminded of yesterday.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Selling The Unseen

I have been thinking a lot about selling lately: selling my skills to those who can use them to do good things, selling products I've created that represent what I consider valuable, and selling ideas and knowledge that have come from a lifetime of experience. This does not come from any desire to become rich, or to dominate others, or to have a lot of stuff. I'm not currently good at the selling that could help me do so, and it's taken a lot of years to figure out why.

The reason is because my passion is not finding and giving people what they want, but finding new ways to see the world, asking questions others don't think of asking, and in the process, as my father used to say because we were so much alike, "exploring the obvious" to unveil a universe of wonder in everyone's midst. Being able to see that universe takes work, the result is intangible, and it risks exposing flaws in what you previously believed; but it is so worth it after you've done it, and it's addictive. You can't look at anything anymore without wondering about what you're not seeing. After you've found those hidden views a few times, you start the process automatically, even when you're consciously seeking a different goal that doesn't factor in the risks or recognize the potential gains.

How can you sell something like that? My father and I, and many colleagues we taught, searched for years to find the answer, and never found a good answer. We packaged some of our insights, and some of the more easily recognized processes, in ways that the educational market might appreciate, but the really interesting parts were unavoidably lost in the translation – to the point that what we could sell was barely competitive with what others had to sell, and we didn't have the resources to go any further anyway, right before my father died of a heart attack.

I've packaged some of my own insights in the years since then, building on a mental rebuilding process that was initiated by his death and has made the process of asking and seeing virtually ongoing. The packaging was in lines of enquiry during my forays in test engineering, where potential dead-ends were merely unexplored opportunities, which I tried to turn into tangible results to justify their pursuit, not always successfully. The packaging also was in writing, which I continue to this day in blog posts and books with the similar hope that others will find enough value in them to help me continue. I discovered that I could create music as another tangible result of my explorations, an emotional presentation of stories I imagined as my mind spun through permutations of barely-hidden variables, some for fun, some for something deeper. As I wrote for others, capturing their processes, procedures, and knowledge, my insights intruded into my work unbidden, and increasingly unwelcome, as the forms and the mechanics became more automated and stripped the interesting parts as a consequence.

Like many people with my background, I initially scoffed at prognostications of ecological doom which my own investigations have now justified as worthy of serious concern and emergency action. After hard self-examination, I came to terms with the fact that I would rather be a poor person in a healthy world than a rich person in a dying one, and the near-certainty that a healthy world is inconsistent with levels of profit that will allow anyone to be very rich, to the extent that being rich translates into extreme power and physical consumption.

To switch our dying world into a healthy one, two ideas must be sold to most of us: the reality of our situation, which as a bad thing can't be sold in a market that does not distinguish the truth from lies that are easily shielded with false uncertainty; and major changes must be made to address the malady uncovered by that reality, which involve a lot of work where we're used to buying convenience. The parallel with my personal experience is too obvious to ignore, which is one big reason why I feel I have something valuable to contribute to this monumental problem, and also why I am filled with trepidation about its chances of solution.

Why would you buy a different way of looking at the world, when it requires a lot of work to learn, and has the potential for making your life harder as a result? This begs another question: How can you justify believing in a lie, and avoiding the initial work to solve the problem that the truth would reveal, so that the problem can become overwhelming later? Changing and testing your way of looking at the world enables you to detect threats and opportunities, and to take appropriate action to survive and thrive. There is also an ecstasy that comes with seeing things differently, which is comparable to the mind's experience of procreation, a natural reward for helping to ensure the survival of life that also requires work and risk, and just as worth it. We are all born with the curiosity and a basic logic that enables learning of this kind, just as we have instincts that enable procreation, but somehow many of us are trained to forget that, or to mistrust it, perhaps because it may pose a greater threat to those who profit the most from the illusions it might shatter, the people we trust to make our lives more "secure."

As a species in a sick world we have created, we can't afford to hoard any knowledge or capabilities that might help cure it, because it will take our combined effort if there is to be any reasonable chance of success. We can't rely on a "market" to identify "winners" and "losers," because lives are at stake, and too many of them, unless you're a sociopath who is okay with trading lives for an all-too-brief spike of power. To the dismay of some close to me, I've given away what I felt could contribute most to a healthier world, as a duty and an example, this post included – all to improve my chances of living in that better world – while packaging some of it, along with the rest, as both incentive for people who value money more, and as a possible means of helping me continue the work with minimal diversion.

I've been thinking a lot about selling lately, because we are relying on a market mentality for our survival, and I'm as dependent on it as anyone else. I'm trying to get better at it while hoping it will one day become more optional than necessary, one day that isn't too late.