Lonely is the Man Apart

Knowledge, when actively and correctly applied, is power. In an earlier piece I spoke on this at some length. There is though one caveat I failed to mention…being right can be a very lonely place. Fields Medal recipients, Nobel Prize winners, celebrated individual geniuses such as Elon Musk and others; they are so far beyond most people in terms of intellect who can they relate to and how do they make sense of a non-sensical world? I’m reminded of the character Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt) from ‘The Watchmen’ and a line from the film in which he states “the only person with whom [he] felt any kinship with died three hundred years before the birth of Christ…Alexander of Macedonia or Alexander the great as [we] know him”. Though fictional a person can’t help but wonder if this burden is something truly felt by the special few upon which the transformative ideas of the world are built?

As someone filling the rank and file I find myself quick to complain about the alienation of being part of the proletariat struggle (though this is self-induced) never thinking that there is an equally difficult struggle existing on the other side of the Bell Curve. For the sake of illustration, it’s worth noting this doesn’t just plague those of great mental ability. Take the superior athlete for example. As a native Clevelander I’ll use an easily relatable example, LeBron James. Regardless of how a person feels about him personally or as a teammate there’s no denying his skill level is far beyond the majority of his peers. It’s in that separation a great sense of personal isolation has to exist. For someone operating within a team sport, or a corporation for that matter, having a vision and aptitude beyond the next closest subset of colleagues can be crippling. As the saying goes, heavy is the head that wears the crown.

This is the part of my rant where I try to tie it all together. If as you go along in life you should happen to discover that you are one of these rare birds take heart. The road to achieving your goals will be an uphill battle, not merely because of what you’re attempting to accomplish but because in your way will find a slew of folks whose only existence appears to make your job harder. Prepare yourself for the burden of being different, of being special…of being great. I can’t profess to be one of these people, weird yes, gifted no, but what I do see and recognize all around me is that this world is overrun with DNA (do-nothing assholes). They control and dictate the situation of far too much economically, politically and socially. Know that the uniqueness you possess will be a one-way ticket to a deserted island, learn to swim with the sharks and everything will be okay.

One person’s garbage…another person’s treasure

Chances are if you were born before the 1990’s you’ve heard the above expression. While part of me wants to chalk it up along with many of the others I’ve mentioned on this site as having little to no value the older version of myself sees some unspoken wisdom in this notion. Having spent a part of my youth living with my post-depression era grandparents it’s easy to identify the obvious financial undertones of the statement but it’s in the extension of this ideology to the other areas of life that a reward just as great can be reaped. Allow me to share a pair of examples.

The first example that comes to mind is oddly enough intimate relationship(s). Take the man or woman that has [recently] been dumped by an otherwise uncaring, asshole partner. Whether or not they’re a physical or emotional gem is a matter of debate but odds are 50/50 that the person is. Now throw the fact they are leaving an otherwise unhealthy experience – which likely has lead them to engage in things such as questioning their self-worth – there is a strong chance they will be putting their best foot forward with their next ‘at bat’ while simultaneously making some beneficial personal changes…making them an ideal mate. Just as one places an empty candy wrapper in a waste receptacle people are equally disposable. One person’s relational garbage is potentially another person’s treasure.

A second example, and for the sake of being brief the last in this article (though there are several more), is a person’s career choice. Though this could be considered an extension of an individual’s financial actions I’d like to draw attention to the non-monetary side of this life consideration. The inspiration for this example came from a chance encounter with a passenger I had on a flight recently. Though I hardly consider anything chance; more like the law of averages in operation. The gentleman, a D.C. attorney, had recently graduated from Georgetown and was working in his first year as patent lawyer for the US Patent Office; a fact I cued in on from of all things a pen he was taking notes with. In the majority of cases I don’t care for engaging on a personal level with customers as I find most, particularly in first class, to be uninteresting middle management clogs but I have a penchant for law so I took up the chance to speak further with him.

 

After several minutes in dialogue I discovered a very interesting facet to his line of work. The first was an existing shortage of patent law lawyers. Having a sister who is an attorney and formerly having considered law school myself I knew there wasn’t a shortage of trial attorneys, corporate lawyers or even family attorneys but never gave much thought to intellectual property. During the middle part of our conversation he said something that struck me and ties directly back into the topic of this piece. Somewhere around his last year of law school he began collecting feedback from his classmates, gauging where their focus and interests within the field lied. What he discovered was that the overwhelming majority were hellbent on corporate, securities or criminal law and just like that he knew what he wanted to do. He went on to explain further the logic behind this – you see patent law was boring, required as much if not more case reading and interpretation than other types of law, paid well but not house in the Hamptons well and possibly most important lacked any prestige.

 

It was the last part of what he said that got the small motor between my ears I’ve mistaken for a brain spinning. Patent law felt as though it was a career middle child of sorts…easily overlooked and in some circles considered a garbage part of the profession. Once again, one person’s trash another person’s treasure. No struggling to find work, working 100+ hour weeks to make partner and even the healthy possibility for starting a family if that was a person’s desire. These types of nuances, personal and/or professional, exist more often than people think. Whether discovering the rebounding and wounded partner or the what’s behind the curtain of a professional subset, life can be like a giant estate sale with hidden prizes to be found underneath the surface. In order to access an awareness to these things all a person merely has to do is listen and be diligent. Time and a level of patience affords every one of us the opportunity to discover some type of trash we will soon discover is a Rembrandt.

Managing Expectations

To loosely paraphrase the writer Charles Dickens, from his novel Great Expectations, ‘suffering is stronger than all other teaching…it will bend and break us with the hope of it being into a better shape’. A truly ingenious observation. Much of society operates on the premise of hope. It liters religion as well as a large portion of contemporary society. The problem is that hope is a sit-down process in a world built only on action. Fortune may or may not favor the bold, it definitely favors the financially and genetically well-off, but all things equal it more often than not rewards the doers over the wishful thinkers. This I know to be true, as I have wasted most of my life being the later.

The question then begs where does wishful thinking come from and if it’s such an unhealthy practice what is the more appropriate life course to take? Let’s start with the first. Wishful thinking is a failure to recognize things in their truest nature. It is the suspension of data-based fact in favor of a sentimental and false reality. Wishing in fact has little to do with thinking and a lot more to do with hoping…and hoping has more to do with idealizing rather than realizing. In order for things to be or remain cohesive they have to be connected correct? If you and I are talking on the phone and our call drops we have become disconnected and on a microcosmic level we have become separated from one another because our signal was ‘lost’.

It’s in this state of being ‘lost’ we become (at least at times) extremely desperate to be found, to be saved, to be reconnected. We are vulnerable and in becoming so find ourselves operating on an increasingly emotional level. Constantly submitting a person’s thought process to this state is tantamount to giving your teenage driver a 12 pack of beer, a bottle of Xanax and the keys to a Formula 1 vehicle…essentially a terrible idea. Here we arrive at the second part of the aforementioned, ‘the more appropriate life course to take’. This one is tricky and likely why it is not done with greater frequency. The solution is in the above title – managing expectations. This goes back to the core of what I’m sure I’ve repeated numerous times; see, recognize, understand and plan accordingly.

See where you are. The ability to do this even a younger child can conceptualize. They can also mentally bridge the next part, recognize. Comparing oneself to others generally happens pretty early in life so constructively take advantage of it. Understanding who we are, how we relate to others and the required facets for living is a giant leap that once made, while not insuring success, is 3/4th the process. The final part is to plan accordingly. Take what you enjoy along with what you’re good at, in addition to what you’re not so good at, and begin to carefully craft the possibilities. When a person does this life becomes less of a guess and more of formulated calculation. Managing your expectations in the end is just as much an act of dealing with the distortions promulgated by those overly fixated on the ‘hereafter’ as it is about becoming self-aware. Shakespeare was correct when he stated that above all things be true to yourself…because, as you’ll discover, much of the rest of the world is hellbent on selling you its crap.

Look at Me

Welcome to the new world. In this world, things such as humility, candor, and sense of a unified purpose have been replaced by self-aggrandizement, back handedness, and the will of the individual. We have moved from a society of forward progress and achievement based on production to one of mindless consumption. Despite the tone of my words I don’t want it to be thought I find this backward slide a critique on society; particularly in America. This is a natural part of empire, we are western Rome leading up to the crises of the 3rd Century, only instead of Christianity to calm the fervent masses we have social media. The super natural has been supplanted by the ordinary and talent-less.

Where I would diverge from many of the critics of popular culture today is that I first don’t fret this transformation. History, as its been continuously stated, repeats itself and I am merely an observer. Secondly, the turning from the outward to the inner is the direct result of an overly subservient personal nature. The scales of balance between ‘me’ and ‘we’ have long been broken and the default of the human system is always back to the self. For of all the negative characteristics that can, and do, exist in the id the inability of the collective to carefully manage and respect the necessary autonomy of the singular person make it an even more unlikely candidate than pure, classical liberal thought to reign supreme.

As the world has grown to unsustainable proportion the competition has only gotten fiercer. Try as we may to wear a smile during our interactions people have become more of a concern than ever to other people. Our dispensing of kindness, particularly in business or potentially competitive settings, drives a greater number of people to judgement rather than analysis. We haven’t quite reached the point where we view each other as enemies by choice and colleagues by default but that is certainly a possibility. The concept of blending in is perceived as disastrous, yet becomes a necessity at some juncture particularly as group size increases. A bizarre duality that makes managing life feel like the equivalent of traveling backward on a one-way road, blindfolded.

Is there an end game to all this? What is a person to do that doesn’t know where they stand in all this mess? The only advice I can offer is for those at the fringes; for those people caught between generational commitments, those who are torn between the concepts of loyalty to others or loyalty to self. Simply remove yourself from the spectacle, at least for a period of time. When you can see how things unfold from the sideline you get a better sense of how the rules of life dictate the sport of existence. After this grace period you can then decide what works for you, an existence spent glorifying the self, honoring the group or if your especially clever navigating back and forth between the two. Personally, I haven’t mastered any of these skills but with an early enough start future generations possibly can.

Judge not yet ye…never mind go ahead and judge

The opening part of the above title is likely as well known in the United States (and perhaps most of western or Christian-leaning culture) as any other maxim. Taken from the new testament text of Matthew the passage loosely states to ‘judge not, that you not be judged…for with what judgement you use, you shall be judged and with what measure you use it shall be measured to you again’. How lovely and idealistic a recommendation…actually more like how misguided and baseless a concept. Judgment is the very foundation on which the decision-making process was built. It involves on some level the use of our otherwise expansive brains to see the necessary potential for action and to move accordingly based on various information (or even the lack there of).

Judgement exists in two forms: judgement before an action and judgement based on the interpretation of (ideally) relevant facts. The first part of this involves the use of prejudice. Prejudice as it’s viewed in today’s world is a very loaded and dangerous word. In the modern liberal wing of political thought, it is an enemy of the people that needs to be snuffed out from existence in order to bring balance to the world. But, let’s think about it for a second, what is prejudice at its core other than a preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience; essentially it is a thought lacking perspective. Developing perspective on a matter is an act that requires involving oneself in something an individual may otherwise, and most likely doesn’t, have experience in. The problem is that we are hard wired to judge, especially in situations of duress…which are from an evolutionary standpoint brought on by uncertainty…things we don’t have experience with (particularly as it relates to our well-being – this is called the ‘fight or flight’ response).

Unwarranted prejudice, something very much alive and well, makes no sense and can even be categorized as reprehensible if for no other reason than the individual has made zero attempt at trying to understand that with which they are casting judgement. This doesn’t mean that the act in and of itself should be abandoned. It’s because of the blanket manner in which judging is itself judged that we as a species (which is far, far more important than the characteristics of race and certainly ethnicity) find ourselves still in a rut. It goes back in large part to the earlier piece in which I spoke about the dangers of being nice – by forgoing this natural, built-in mechanism, we find a large number of us taken advantage of by life’s inequalities (the majority of which are unfortunately predicated on race, gender and socio-economic status).

What we need, perhaps now more than ever, is to judge; judge whether or not a particular company is a good fit for us before we pack up our bags to discover it otherwise isn’t (my case), judge whether college is a good fit as the debt we are likely to be straddled with will take decades to pay off, judge to what degree an elected official is full of shit (as they all are to varying degrees)…the list goes on and on for the unforeseeable future. When we judge it has to be understood that the system of weights and measures is so out of whack it’s like comparing the American standard of measurements to the Metric System. There’s ‘rich justice’ and ‘poor justice’. There’s the judgement of the rights of victims versus the rights of the accused. There’s even the judgement of majority versus minority opinion. No where does it state that life is fair, at best it’s a sliding scale and to see and act as though everything is peaches when most things are broccoli is like cutting a brake line before driving downhill – not a good idea.

The Cost of Commitment

According to a 2014 report by Bloomberg since 1978 the cost of college tuition and fees have increased by roughly 1,120%. This period increase is more than food and medicine combined. A bit concerning when one takes into account the fact that according to a publication released around the same time as the aforementioned Bloomberg report (2014) by the National Student Clearinghouse that the combined percent average of students completing a so-called four-year degree within six years or less was approximately 46.5%. Is there any wonder that as of this writing there is over 1 trillion dollars’ worth of student loan debt (I personally have over 36k of it)? While this topic could be expanded into multiple articles touching on an enormous number of sub-topics I’ve only referenced it for illustrative purposes. What I prefer to highlight is the underlying concept behind this phenomenon – commitment.

What is commitment and why does it mean so much to humankind? Regardless the source one uses in searching for the definition (almost) anyone with the ability to read this will define it as essentially the dedication to a cause. For the second part of the question I believe the answer could be simply stated as it is an act that helps foster trust. If you’ve read any of my other posts, read a copy of my manifesto, or like me tend to see things not as they appear but search for a deeper interpretation, I offer to you the following. Commitment, as it’s most commonly practiced in todays world, is the engagement in cyclical obligation. It’s the nature of this last defined part that deprives humans of true freedom – removing any inkling of choice.

While it may read as though I’m not a fan of the concept of commitment (which is not true) I see and understand its overall value and contribution to the upward movement of society. What makes me quasi-skeptical of the practice as a whole is the blind adherence we have as people to the principle. It’s this almost drug-like dependence to the construct that prevents us from an equally as valuable idea – reconsideration. I’m not sure exactly what drives this (if I did I wouldn’t likely be in the position I’m in both personally & financially today) but for the sake of speculating I would say fear in the form of perception. Western society places a high premium on confidence, so much so that people that exude it despite their other personal shortfalls are often held in high regard.

The question then begs, ‘how can one escape the grips of toxic commitments’? For someone like myself that has a tremendously difficult time of navigating through the big-ticket items of life the only success I have had (which isn’t much) is in re-framing the action. I don’t make commitments any more, rather I make a collection of decisions. By reverse engineering the process I’m able to catch more of the mistakes I make before they cumulate into the ‘c’ word. Simply by turning the auto-pilot off and taking control of the wheel we become more engaged. It is during this period of engagement, which exists consciously or unconsciously before every action, that we are afforded an opportunity to see what direction our decisions are trending in.

Some everyday examples of this include items both big and small. From whether or not a person asks someone out, to buying a home, to having kids, hell even the shoes they buy these are all really just decisions at one point in time or another. After beginning to make the transition away from commitment and toward decision (it’s not necessary to master this skill but rather only start implementing it) the next step is critical; I would even argue this is more important than the transformation itself. This next step is to realize that decisions (or commitments) don’t EVER have to be made. While it can be detrimental to put things off perpetually it’s worth stating that many, if not most, of the fatal errors in judgement we make DON’T have to be made at all. Having second thoughts on marrying that other person, then don’t. Not sure you can afford that 4-bedroom home…okay then don’t buy it. Can’t figure out if college is the right fit…yep, you guessed it, don’t enroll.

Very little of what we think we have to do, do we really have to do. This is the point many people that fail, fail to realize. I’ve performed a personal jihad during most of the decision-making process. Where this differs from actual self-destruction is that in a greater percentage of the incidences the individual will go on to repeat the same course of action numerous times. The cycle will not be broken until we can free ourselves of the burden of fear; fear of not meeting one of the many idiotic pressures of society. In the end I’m not saying don’t get married, or don’t go to college…I’m not even saying don’t get those pair of insanely priced sneakers. You’re free to do whatever you like, it’s your decision and the best part of it being yours is you can say ‘yes’…you can say ‘no’ or you can say nothing at all.

The Truth about Lying

How many times you were told as a child to be honest? Whether it was by your parents, family, friends, a teacher or a mentor, for most people this was a top three personal commandment. Regardless of your background – racial, religious or ethnic – the concept of telling the truth is a hallmark of human civilization. The funny thing about embracing this behavioral novelty is that after the age of innocence (childhood & adolescents) comes the age of bullshit (adulthood). Why is this such a shocking thing to most people? We see it everywhere around us; priests diddling little kids, politicians saying anything to get elected, CEO’s telling employees one thing and stockholders something altogether different. Lying on a grand scale has become an art form. We have moved from despising dishonesty to the literal celebration of it.

The only problem I see in the whole equation revolves around two things: preparation and participation. As it relates to the former I’m speaking in regards to childhood. During this time, we are like wet clay being molded into the form of our future selves. The lack of disclosure through mindlessly brain washing kids into the belief that the world is this wonderful, Disneyland like place, where people are always kind and honest to one another is a tremendous disservice. The greatest gift a parent can give a child, beyond bringing them into this world of course, is a true understanding of the playing field of life. Kids are brought up around games many of which help to foster a sense of identity along with teaching them to socialize with others.

The problem is that somewhere along the line children become adults and during that time they’re invited to a new game, with a new set of rules but unlike football, track or tennis this one isn’t optional. Participation is mandatory and where you’re picked or traded to means everything. Coaching is important but at this level what you’re born with (physically and/or financially) means just as much as, or maybe more than, what you learned. Fairness, or even the idea as an abstract construct, no longer exists (not that it ever did). Win’s and losses are no longer merely a blemish to one’s record, at this juncture of life they are the difference between the promotion, the million-dollar grant, affording the mortgage or even putting food on the table for the next generation.

Now to tie all this in. The truth…the truth about lying is that it’s everywhere. It’s as pervasive to the experience of life as sunshine. Little or big it’s a nearly daily endeavor. The key to it, similar to a day spent at the beach, is to apply “sunscreen” as often and liberally as possible. We owe it to ourselves, to our children (if you should happen to have any), to understand that as often as we’re sold an honest bill-of-goods there’s an equally likely chance that what we’re hearing, what we’re seeing, is a total load of shit. At the end of the day the best that can be hoped for is a home environment built on the principles of trust and honesty while simultaneously trying to foster that in the world outside the one we spend with those around us. Keep in mind that not everyone is hip to or a fan of this idea and as the saying goes, learn to take things “with a grain of salt.”

Thinking = a truly double edged sword

In a spin-off from my post yesterday in which I profiled the genius of Gustave Le Bon and his book ‘The crowd’ I wanted to follow up with a discussion point inspired in part by the girl I’m dating. I’d also like to thank her publicly for tolerating my strange and never ceasing babel. The topic was thinking and the action as a generality. Le Bon was obviously a keen observer as well as excellent thinker. His insights into humanity are as brilliant as they are underappreciated. That last part is what has drawn me specifically to this concept.

You see I believe that to a certain degree thinking as a requisite to life can be broken down into two types, active and passive (this is probably someone else’s idea but I have zero interest in additional research on this point). The parallel to this in science could be stated as voluntary versus autonomic…programmed versus non-programmed. In passive, autonomic or programmed you have a type that doesn’t sit around waiting for other parts or deeper parts of the same region of the brain to get involved, it simply goes like a five-year old after an ice cream and a can of Red Bull©. Active, voluntary or non-programmed on the other hand involves the coordination of at the very least various types of input and processing before a certain output is arrived at.

This in lies part of the problem…a reality I feel Gustave may have missed. One of the critical components as he pointed out of the crowd (let us presume society as a whole) is the turning off of the mind to allow oneself to more aptly be seduced to the will of the crowd or majority. Where Le Bon believes this is something humans do almost with little effort it’s the why I would say I differ in opinion with. Critical thought may or may not be the default mechanism for human beings. I would like to think it is to some extent, argument could be made to what level that is exactly but I have no interest in that debate. The point I would like to address is as follows.

I believe, particularly in an advanced society, one that even the basic existence thereof requires far more of our brain bulk than ever to just operate through the basics of, there is a two-fold issue with thinking. The first is that it is energy intensive and while our evolution has allowed an ‘upgrade’ to our mental software our hardware is incredibly outdated. The second and perhaps less obvious is the double-edge nature of thinking. What I mean by that is this, say a person is in need of a new vehicle (it doesn’t matter whether it is ‘new’ or ‘used’ per se, they just need something to replace a non-working one) and they spend countless hours researching only to end up buying a total piece of shit (something this author has done on more than one occasion). Time, energy and effort completely down the tube for nothing.

What a person learns from this, which happens in so many day-to-day situations for most folks it’s impossible to count, is that even spending the time and being engaged they gain nothing. The value of thinking has diminishing returns and the cycle of this goes on and on until they (at varying speeds) begin to subconsciously turn off this labor-intensive process because it’s results are financially or even physically painful. This phenomenon occurs most often in economically developed countries where these types of choices have over-run the human experience. It leads some in the population to then ultimately question the value of active thinking at all. Once this epoch is reached it’s all but a foregone conclusion. The greater part of the brain has been put on a permanent vacation and life becomes more manageable (though certainly not less stressful). It is as they say “ignorance is bliss” and a state of nirvana has been reached because they are no longer teetering back and forth on this double-edged sword.

A Profile of Genius: Gustave Le Bon

While I’m certain there are many definitions for what the word ‘genius’ means based upon the defining source both academically as well as personally I’d like to go ahead and give you mine. To me a genius is someone whose idea (or ideas) stand the test of time in that they theory or theories prove as close to accurate today as they did when they were postulated. For this first ‘profile of genius’ I’ve selected an individual I’m quite certain many have not before heard of – the French polymath Charles-Marie Gustave Le Bon…or simply known as Gustave Le Bon.

Born the 7th of May 1841 in Nogent-le-Rotrou France, a tiny commune in Northern France – population roughly 11,000, Le Bon would go on to receive his qualification as Doctor of Medicine from the University of Paris in 1861. While his career in the practice never materialized he would later take the knowledge he acquired from his education and apply it to the field of anthropology after time serving in the Franco-Prussian war. Influenced by experiences in the Paris Commune of 1871 and time spent traveling throughout the world he would ultimately hone his focus on the field of sociology.

It was during this time period, the 1890’s, he would begin to release a series of well received works. Of them was my personal favorite and title from which I will share excerpts to unequivocally demonstrate his foresight and genius – ‘Psychologie des Foules’ or as it translated into English ‘The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind’ published in 1895. So groundbreaking was this work at the time it was printed into 19 languages within the first year of its appearance. While acknowledging and highlighting the true inner workings of society his text dispelled many of the hard-held beliefs of the idealist socialist class throughout Europe.

Turning the fanciful doctrine of what is now modern liberal thought on it’s head he recognized that throughout the world cultural formation is built upon many similarities and that it is the assembly of individuals into not merely collectives but groups of immense proportion that self-sabotage the ability of people to make advancement whether it be personally, financially or through any other mechanism. As I’m sure you will read upon further research the cast of unsightly characters influenced by this and many other titles I’d ask that you reflect on the following passages I’ve pulled from the publication:

“It is only by obtaining some sort of insight into the psychology of crowds that it can be understood how slight is the action upon them…that it is not with rules based on theories of pure equity that they are to be led, but by seeking what produces an impression on them and what seduces them.”

“The heterogenous [those who are different] is swamped by the homogenous [those who are the same] and the unconscious qualities obtain the upper hand. This very fact that crowds possess in common ordinary qualities explains why they can never accomplish acts demanding a high degree of intelligence.”

“From the moment that they form a crowd the learned man and the ignoramus are equally incapable of observation.”

“When a civilization is analyzed it is seen that, in reality, it is the marvelous and the legendary that are its true supports. Appearances have always played a much more important part than reality in history.”

These four powerful statements, written over a hundred and twenty years ago and contained within just the first half of the book, are as true today as they were in 1895. Fight as we continue to do against the reality of things in an attempt to create an idealized world it is in the very process of coming together on a grand scale that we ultimately fall apart. With the exception of certain times of war, which can be argued are often spurred on by the sentiments of crowds themselves, our ability to come together to rectify problems or issues has rarely worked or been severely slowed by the enormity of the systems themselves. This insight, still likely to be repudiated by a healthy part of the population today, is as true in modern times as it was when Le Bon wrote this master piece. It is this observation along with the courage to catalogue and write about it that makes this renaissance man a true genius in the field of social science and someone whose works continue to be in desperate need of our attention.