Archive for the ‘BestOf’ Category

resource allocation as a group

Friday, October 21st, 2016

TL;DR=Humans work as a group – entitlement programs are a reflection of that reality and most are in the best interests of all of us

So, on facebook, someone had stated “the only reason anyone would vote democrat is the expectation of a welfare check”. I had pointed out that there are many reasons, and it’s more complicated than that, and one of their responses was “if you want to help other people be my guest but keep your stealing fingers out of our wallets”. I indicated a interest in further discourse on the subject if they were open to it, and said I’d write a blog article with my opening thoughts on the matter.

(This makes it sound worse than it is – I truly believe, at least at this point, that this person is open to trading ideas on the subject. I am of the opinion that we’ll all get further if we at least consider the ideas of people who are politically opposed to us before rejecting them. I am sure he has valid reasons for believing what he does.)

So, first of all, I will be the first to admit that “entitlement programs” are a band-aid. The right solution would be to have a better way of doing resource allocation to begin with. But, here’s my big picture overview.

We as a species are in the business of creating resources and resource pools as a group. A single individual could almost certainly not build a working power generator, for example. (You think you can? I want to see you try. No buying premade *anything* – every raw material must come out of the ground. And if you’re even doing research to discover *how* to find copper, make it into wire, etc, you’re using the work of the group to help you. If you are using knowledge of what copper looks like, or that it conducts electricity, or that you can dope silicon with phosphorus and boron and get a semiconductor that will generate electricity when light shines on it, you’re likely using knowledge you aquired from the group)

Even acquiring and cooking food would be challenging without contributions from the group. (How’d you learn to make that bow and arrow? How did you know how to create fire, or that fire would make the food more palatable and also let you get more calories from it?). We work as a team, and communicate concepts through symbolic language. It’s part of why our species is so able to thrive in what is a somewhat difficult environment.

So, hopefully by seeing that you can accept that we work as a group. My guess is your objection to entitlement programs is that they appear to compensate nonproductive members. I have a number of responses to that.

First of all, it’s difficult to know how productive a member really is. As I’ve discussed elsewhere in this blog, money has a number of flaws as a vehicle for abstracting value, so if you’re just measuring by the money that they make, you’re likely missing a lot of their contributions. We never know where lightning, in terms of a brilliant idea, will strike – and sometimes, you do literally need the idiot asking stupid questions to help the genius have the next great idea. Not all contributions to a society are obvious.

Also, because our society has a number of, hem, weaknesses, some individuals get misprogrammed in ways that make it very difficult for them to succeed via conventional measurements, through no fault of their own. However, they may still make important contributions to the system as a whole – they are somebody’s friend, somebody’s family. Very few of us are completely disconnected from the social mesh that is all of us.

Second of all, you really don’t want to lose a member (or throw them under the bus) that’s just going through a rough patch. Imagine if you will someone like Tesla, who’s very bad at making personal relationships and business decisions, but very good at creating mind-bending technologies like the induction motor. Now, imagine tesla gets sick – and dies – because of a shortage of funding and a health care system that doesn’t want to help him. Humanity as a whole has now lost the value he contributes, because we were more concerned with the valueless money in our wallet than we were in sharing out resources in order to benefit the species as a whole. Because we all basically have the same 10^11 neurons, the only way to be really mindbendingly good at one thing – like Tesla was at invention – is to be weaker in something else. The human history is full of stories of geniuses that had trouble tying their shoes. Ultimately, the money those people “stole out of your wallet” made us all richer, including you, in real value, in knowledge.

I think it’s important to look at the really big picture when considering resource allocation. First of all, it’s important to recognize that fiat money has no real value other than the value we imagine it to have. (Apologies to those of you who have been reading this blog the whole time and have to listen to me reiterate things you’ve already read). Real value is things like food and shelter and clothing – nobody really wants money itself (unless they’re using it to keep score), they want the things it can buy. It may help you accept the loss of some of that worthless paper in your wallet if you recognize that it really is worthless.. it’s just a pointer to value, it’s not the value itself.

As far as value itself, we have as much as we have. The entitlement program dollars for things like welfare are mostly going to things like food and shelter, which we in fact *have a surplus of!*. In the case of food, it’s *extra* stupid to not give it away, because *it has a short shelf-life*. If we were short on food, I could see making a case for not giving it to the “less productive” members of the tribe, but we’re *not*. Food rots. We might as well give it to everyone, because we’ve got more than enough, and more food than you can eat potentially has a *negative* value because of the need to deal with getting rid of it.

Now, you made the point that there are other types of welfare that go to people who will not spend it on things we have a surplus of like food and shelter, and I think you may have a case there, but overall, the important thing to remember is that in fact, dollars don’t matter. What matters is concrete and steel, because what we can ‘afford’ is entirely driven by concrete and steel. It’s also important to remember that not all contributions are easy to measure. One analogy to consider is if you removed all the neurons from your mind which don’t fire regularly (by denying them blood sugar since they were “dead weight”), the results would be *very bad*. Another point to consider is that the “nonproductive” members do in fact contribute by being the friends of the “productive” members and adding to their quality of life.

Another problem is you never really know what skills, worthless now, will be very valuable in the future, and some skills take a lot of work to hone, which appears “nonproductive” insofar as money is concerned. For example, when the first pioneers began playing with computers, it was not at all obvious how much more value we would be able to generate for humanity with these machines. Many of them went broke trying to build computers before the transistor was invented – but they generated *huge* value in terms of figuring out what sorts of things you needed to think about and do in order to build a programmable computer. It’s potentially possible that my “nonproductive” studying of writing music may turn out to have huge value someday – maybe first contact will happen and my music, not commercially viable for Earthlings, will be *very* in desire as a trading material by ET. You really never know. But – assuming we *do* have enough food, water, and shelter – you want people to explore the unknown fringes and the potentially dry holes, because some of them will turn out ultimately to have water. If there is no social ‘safety net’ there is a lot of incentive *not* to take risks – and the risks are where the rewards are. And in any case, you really don’t want the people who have skills that are not valuable now but will be valuable in the future to starve to death, losing us access to those skills.

As a digression, the transistor itself is a good argument for my case. It was invented by a *government monopoly*, by some engineers who were also amatuar scientists playing around trying to build a better signal amplifier. Without the transistor, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion, and it’s unlikely the “free market” ever would have found it. The Internet is another great case of this.. ARPA designed a flexible network protocol to allow computers to talk to each other. Without the “entitlement” money going to the ARPA engineers, we wouldn’t have a Internet at all. (For better or for worse) – and when the Internet went up against the networks and protocols designed by the “free market” it *stomped all over them*. It was, quite simply, better and more flexible.

It’s also worth noting that that money “being stolen out of your wallet” in fact came from the group. You didn’t print it yourself, and you didn’t create the value yourself that it can be used to buy. (otherwise, you wouldn’t need to buy it, because you already would have it). Instead, the group gave it to you in exchange for the value you created for the group. It’s a pointer to the idea of group resources, and as such, it is reasonable for the group to decide what to do with it. I agree that the current system of give it to you, take it back, give it to you again or give it to someone else is very clumsy and at odds with the way humans emotionally react to things. Hopefully we’ll implement something better – although it is worth noting that what we’re currently doing has gotten us a long long way.

I apologize if I have misidentified your argument against things like welfare – if I have, please speak up so I can respond to what your real issue with it is.

Now that you’ve read this, perhaps you might be interested in some cautionary notes on Resource Allocation System Implementation

Christians in the process of making Hell

Monday, August 29th, 2016

So, one of the things that I think I’ve gone on about a few times before is how Christians, who ostensibly want Heaven, are busy making the world Hell.

I thought I’d list a few things that Christians – not all Christians, mind you, but enough of them – do which make the world less like heaven and more like hell. Whenever someone engages in one of these behaviors, I feel they are doing the work of the devil

1) Encouraging people to believe that if they are members of any other religion, they are wrong and are going to hell

2) Encouraging people to believe that $SUPERUSER is in the business of torturing people *e doesn’t agree with – or in general, that you should fear God. We’ve got enough to fear in the world we’re actually in.

3) Slut-shaming. Sex is one of the most positive experiences on earth, but Christians have this disturbing idea that you should only have it under certain circumstances, and if you do otherwise, you’re a bad person.

4) Encouraging people with alternate sexualities to think that they are less-than, sinners, incomplete

5) Encouraging everyone to believe that they are so flawed that someone “had to die for their sins”

6) Starting or promoting wars which are primarily over resource allocation (i.e. not sharing) or religion

7) In general encouraging people to think that they are less than, often for things which have no direct bearing on the Christian doing the less-than-ing at all. “If you’re not a member of my religion, you’re not as worthy of a person” “If you don’t do well on standardized tests you’re not as worthy of a person” “If you’re not interested in learning what *I* think are the important things to learn, you’re not as worthy of a person” “If you enjoy playing with your body chemistry, you’re not as worthy of a person”.

8) Promoting monogamy as the only true way, even though we seem to be neurologically and biologically wired to fall in love more than once. The bible even alludes to the fact that in heaven things would work differently (Luke 20:34-36). Why exactly are we not doing the optimal path now?

9) Making and promoting laws against freedom, even when the freedom doesn’t harm another person. Blue laws, laws against nudity, laws against flag-burning, things of that nature. Even worse, laws against people who like to have sex with members of the same gender, even though if we were really engineered, clearly said being had to put in a fair amount of neurological work in order to make things like being on the receiving end of anal sex feel good.

10) Encouraging people to believe that they should be required to have children if they conceive, even though it’s inconceivable that a omnipotent being would connect a soul to a body that wasn’t going to be extant and, if one is of a more scientific bent, highly unlikely that bodies that don’t have a large, functional neural network are self-aware.

11) Encouraging people to embrace a system of beliefs that contains unresolvable logic failures, which damage their ability to think rationally

12) Encouraging parents to try and encourage their children not to be sexually active, promoting a inevitable neurological war

13) This may be kind of a repeat, but thinking that they are “God’s Chosen People”, and by extension, everyone else isn’t. This is again the kind of ‘I’m better than you’ thinking that I feel like is at the root of a lot of the evils of the world. In the old testament, this “I’m better than you” goes as far as “It’s okay for me to slaughter you like cattle even though a you’re thinking, feeling, self aware creature just like me because God Said So”

14) Encouraging children to imagine a being of pure evil – children have a lot of unassigned neurons, and imagining the devil literally brings him to life in their mind. (Of course, as my friend Jeremy points out, it is far from clear that the devil is evil – if he was against the being described in the old testament, he was at least sometimes for humanity, although clearly from the story of Job he wasn’t all good either)

15) Encouraging people to wait for heaven, instead of building it here now.

16) Encouraging people to believe in a $DIETY that builds traps into the world – Just one of many examples is that the bible says “Suffer not a witch to live” (Ex 22:18) but if witchcraft works, it’s clearly because the universe has a built in API for modifying reality which $DIETY would have had to have created – and if it doesn’t, then it’s pretty harmless.

17) Promoting the idea that the bible is a book we should be using as a yardstick to measure our lives. It was written by people thousands of years ago wandering around in a desert, people who knew far less than we know now, people who mistook their prejudices for natural laws. It contains numerous irresolvable logic failures, one of which I discuss above. Yes, it’s got some beautiful ideas and some beautiful poetry in it, but it’s far from a perfect book that you should make the center of your universe, in my opinion. I’m not the only person to have doubts on this subject, see this and this.

18) Attempting to slow down medical technology – in particular I’m thinking of things like Stem Cell research but I suspect this is going to come up with cloning, artificial neural networks, and all sorts of other things of that nature. Look, there’s supposed to be a all powerful diety, why exactly do you need to be the moral guardian of things which don’t hurt self-aware beings in any way and could alleviate suffering

19) Encouraging people to spend time in prayer that they could otherwise spend actually figuring out how to fix the problems that they’re praying about

20) Encouraging people to ‘trust the $SUPERUSER’ for things that in fact there might not be a superuser watching – I’d use global warming as a example of this, but I’m sure there are numerous examples

21) Encouraging the idea that if $DIETY does it, it must be moral – the “Where does a 900 pound gorilla sit? Anywhere he wants to..” theory of reality.

22) Promoting the idea that women are “less than” men and should be silent (1 Corinth 14:34) or submissive. This is abusive to both women and men.

23) Giving a group of people temporal power who probably should not have it – I’m thinking of the catholic church here, and the pope in particular – although I like the current pope, I’ll like him a lot more when and if he comes out and says that birth control is not immoral.

24) Encouraging parents to brainwash / indoctrinate their children while they are still too young to understand the isuses and questions involved, which seems to have a very bad effect on neuroplasticity.

Christians, it’s not that I hate you – I hate the software you’re running. I love you and want you to stop making the world a worse place, because among other things you have to live here too, so you’re not just hurting me, you’re also hurting yourself.

I also recognise that it’s possible that the religion is perfect and it’s being degraded inside my neural network or that the problem has more to do with the fact that different people want different things. However, what do you do when the things you want are getting in the way of the things I want?

(See also a list of good things about Christianity)

It’s my intention that this be somewhat a dynamic and collaborative document, so feel free to comment with your own list entries.

Children of a imperfect God

Friday, July 1st, 2016

So, one of my long-standing criticisms of Christianity is that it repeatedly makes the claim that God is perfect and we humans are inherently flawed, so much so that someone had to die for our sins.

Well, now, hold on a minute. Anyone who can argue there aren’t bugs in the human genome with a straight face is so delusional that I don’t think having a conversation with them would be useful. And we *know* the bible received a patch at one point – that’s why we’ve got the old and new testaments. One of my biggest criticisms of the bible is that revelations contains a place (Rev 22:18) where it says, in essence, “Do not patch this again” even though it’s still obviously a very flawed text.

Is it so hard to consider the possibility that there might be a God, but said God might be imperfect? Anyone who’s ever written software knows that only the very simple things work on the first pass. The human genome is *gigabytes* in size – is it at all surprising that it contains bugs? The bible is 4.13 megabytes – again, is it surprising that it contains bugs?

I think one of the big issues here is that humans are easily brainwashed / convinced of things that aren’t necessarily true. And once convinced, we tend to be very tenacious about holding onto our beliefs. I think it would be a very good thing, however, if we could acknowledge the clear, reality-testable concept that if there is a God, said entity is not a perfect being.

For that matter, the bible contains some very interesting contradictions. 1 Corinth 13:5 makes the assertion that ‘Love holds no record of wrongdoings’, which does in fact sound like a definition of perfect unconditional love. The Bible asserts God is love (1 John 4:8). Yet the bible is full of places where it claims God is going to send you to hell for actions you’ve taken in the past – this in fact is exactly what Rev 22:18 is saying – if you add to this book, we’ll send you to hell. This is a obvious and major contradiction.

I can’t speak with the same level of authority for Islam, because I haven’t read the whole book, nor have I been immersed in the culture which would help me understand it, but from a surface level view it appears to contain the same sorts of contradictions and improvements. The impression one is under is that our religions are being evolved – by human programmers in my view. I think these books are inspired by our imagination of what is divine, but I can say with great confidence that there is little chance they are inspired by a monolithic, unchanging being.

And, really, there’s nothing wrong with the idea that God might be imperfect. Certainly it takes human developers many thousands of tries to build complex software (and really, both religions and our genome have a lot to do with software insofar as they’re both strings of data that are interpreted and lead to results)

In fact, it’s a lot easier for me to live peacefully with the idea of a imperfect God than a perfect, never makes a mistake one given the reality I experience. The idea of God I was sold as a child is incompatible with the reality I experience, which as a result puts a noticeable size strain on my neural network any time I attempt to reconcile the two.

If the world could recognize the idea of religion as a memetically evolving thing – recognize that we’ve been wrong in the past and we’re slowly converging on right – it would undoubtedly make the world a better place. I see a lot of signs of this in the current catholic pope, which is encouraging, although he still hasn’t come out and said birth control is a good idea. (I do think it’s possible that he will at some point)

In fact most of my hatred of organized religion comes from the assertions it makes and the people who think that they should be controlling other people’s behavior based on what their religion says. In the worst form, you have shooting, raping, mutilating, and torturing others based on your religion, and then you have threatening, shaming, guilting, and inducing fear in others based on your religion. I’ve certainly read about the first, and experienced the second firsthand. None of these strike me as good things and it would be a good idea if all of them stopped.

Inevitable neurological war

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

This article is almost entirely conjecture. We sadly are not yet at a point where we can actually say exactly what is going on inside the human mind. Hopefully soon.

That said..

The way that we’re raised, and the society that we’re in, leads to a inevitable neurological war.

It’s built into us for physical touch to feel good. Depending on whether you’re wearing your evolution hat or your ID hat, this can either be the inevitable result of us needing to get very close to each other to reproduce or a design goal. (I have to say, building in things that feel good would certainly be a design goal if *I* was the designer)

On the other hand, it’s memetically built up – as far as I can tell, for very stupid and destructive reasons – for us to think that it’s wrong to be in love with more than one person, that it’s wrong to want to be involved in sexual contact below a certain age – in fact, I see some of my facebook friends encouraging the idea that trying to frighten the lovers of your female child is “protecting” her and a desirable thing to do. (In fact, teaching her about consent would seem to be a much healthier type of protection, but I digress).

Our mainstream religion – despite it not ever being clearly spelled out in the bible in the negative (the bible says that sexual love within a marriage is good, but does not actually state that sexual love outside a marriage is bad – that’s something we decided to tack on later) – teaches that if you ‘go too far’ before marriage, you’re a bad person – that sexual contact, despite feeling good, is a sin. It also teaches the idea that your lover is your property, that if someone else wants to experience sexual contact with them, they are breaking one of the “ten commandments” – even *thinking* about it is a crime against God.

Now, we all know what I think of Christianity. But another question is what do I think about what all this does to our minds? Well, by definition, it creates two sets of subnets that are always going to be in opposition. It’s wired in – on a deeper level than even any religion will ever be able to reach – that touch feels good, that petting and loving is *right*. It’s something that I personally find myself drawn to as a experience I want to have again and again. It’s what I want to dream about.

In the meantime, our parents try very hard to keep us from sexual contact – or even, in my case, nonsexual/cuddling contact that’s too prolonged. They program into us a subnet that says “this is sin, this is bad, this is wrong”. The idea that your virginity is something precious that you should give to your first and only lover also underlines this. This creates a subnet that says sex is bad, dirty, should be looked at with shame and guilt, isn’t something you should want, except in the situation of marriage – and probably not even then, if one reads the writings of the Victorians.

What happens when you have two subnets at war with each other? Well, first of all, you end up feeling the tension between them. Second of all, they eat capacity. Each one tries to claim a certain percentage of the neural Go board, and each tries to defeat the other.

So, I think some of this is jealousy.. our parents get attached to us, and don’t want to lose us to our lovers. Some of this is a amplifying effect of stupidity across the generations – one generation made something up, and then lied about it being the word of God. (If it was really the word of God, God would still be around and saying it. Probably in person. Certainly in some way that left no doubt to the fact that we were hearing from a deity). Some percentage of each successive generation after that was duped into believing they were hearing holy wisdom when in fact they were hearing damaging bull.

I don’t think that it’s immoral to love and be loved. Nor to express that love sexually if you’ve a mind to. I think that thinking of sex as shameful and wrong is a sign of a deeply broken set of memes. I think that people who think we should slut-shame are deeply confused about a whole lot of things, and are far more immoral than the sluts they would shame. I think it is a sign of how broken our culture is that we think that people who participate in a act that generally feels good and improves the attitude and mental health of both participants are immoral, while the people who seek to hurt those people for choosing to participate in something that feels good are given radio shows.

I also think that in general wars between subnets – beliefs that are diametrically opposed to observable reality tend to build these – are something we should try to remove from the meme pool, especially when it comes to things we pass on to our children. We are trimming their wings because our grandparents were afraid to fly.

Abortion, summarized

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

So, I wanted to get this down in summary form so I can post links to it on facebook rather than writing it out over and over.

One of the things that makes the least sense to me is that Christians, who claim to believe that God is all-knowing and all-powerful, are anti-abortion. Surely a all-powerful and all-knowing entity can arrange to only have souls connected to the bodies that are actually going to be extant? Being anti-abortion is the same as professing a profound lack of faith in God’s abilities.

Now, I have a different perspective. My first observation is that you aren’t dealing with a self-aware life form until certain things happen in the mind of the fetus. These can’t possibly happen until at a minimum the neural network develops whatever the minimum number of connections for self-awareness is. We don’t know what that is, but we can safely say based on the fact that we have no problem killing cows that if the fetus has less neurons than a cow, it’s not a person by our definitions.

It also seems likely that self-awareness and free will are something you ‘catch’ from other people. In the 1950s, a attempt to make a more efficient orphanage resulted in a number of children not getting held, talked to, cuddled, etc. The result was that most of them died. Neural networks are event-driven, and it seems likely that it takes a certain number of incoming events to make a person a person, because absent events, there is nothing to drive the connecting-the-neural-dots process that turns us from a collection of cells into a individual.

In any case, the same people who are pro-life are often the people pushing for laws and rules and social norms that will make that life as miserable as possible. They certainly aren’t volunteering to take care of the children in question. I don’t think it’s actually a defensible position from a religious standpoint, unless your religion is built on the idea of a incompetent God.

How to write really good code

Friday, January 1st, 2016

1) Test *every single line*. I generally execute whatever I’m writing about once every 2-3 lines of code, once I’ve got the skeleton up. If you can’t do this quickly, change your workflow so you can.

2) Use human-language function names, variable names, method names, and class names. If a loop won’t fit on a standard IDE screen, use a human language iterator name instead of i.

3) If you find yourself cutting and pasting code more than once, use a method or a function.

4) If you’re not sure exactly how something is going to play out (like a regular expression, library system call, etc) create a very small program that only tests the way you are using it. This will encourage you to test out the possibilities involved more thoroughly, and once you get used to doing it it can be a very fast thing to do.

5) In #4, deliberately create bad data. Pass in empty strings, negative numbers, nulls, strings with SQL injection in them, strings that are too long, email addresses with no @ sign, and the like.

6) If you have a try {} catch {} – make sure you do something useful in the catch. If you need to break this rule (and occasionally you will) write a very descriptive comment as to why.

7) Know when you’re not in the headspace to code. Don’t try to program when you’re not capable of simultaneously seeing things as black and white and as shades of grey. Only you will know which emotions and thoughts make you write bad code – but in general, if you’re not in the place to program, don’t try. The rest of the team thanks you. Coding is the very essence of explaining rational thought about a subject in very very small steps, so if you’re not thinking rationally, you’re not going to write good code.

8) If you’re working on a very big project (20k+ lines), try to do all your developing in little testbed programs (as in #4) until you’ve got it working completely correctly. It is much faster to build and run small programs, and you also stand a much better chance of not stepping on someone else’s work

9) Use source code control. Check in early and often.

10) If you have a group of related data (for example, information about a customer), use a class. Even if it’s just carrying data – later you may find reasons to add methods to it. There’s a fine line to be walked here, however. You don’t want to use a class for the customer’s phone number’s format string. Usually.

11) Once you know and understand how to write code, you will see that a lot of the things your teachers tell you are basic rules are meant to be broken, occasionally. When you do break them, however, comment on which one you broke and why.

12) Build quality stuff. You never know when you will have to maintain it.

13) Refactor and rewrite. You will often get much better results the second and third time you write the same function. I actually prefer to write most things in a prototyping language (php, perl) before writing them in a compiled binary language, and I think switching languages also helps me write better code.

14) I generally write out psuedocode in human-readable language (english, in my case) before I start programming. This encourages me as a developer to think through what I’m trying to do before I start thinking about breaking it down into if/then/else

15) Every function should have a sane default path through it. switch() is a very powerful and useful tool because it encourages this. Sometimes the sane default thing to do is throw a exception.

16) For every variable that comes from ‘the outside world’ (a human out there on the net, a A/D converter, etc) make sure your code can cleanly handle completely unexpected values. What would happen if there were special characters? If it’s a signed type, did you handle negative? If it’s a nullable type, do you handle null?

17) While you’re doing #1, notice where the ‘pain points’ are. Use a profiler, or just capture high resolution timestamps. Figure out what ran slow and how you can make it run faster. This can be a fine art – for example, knowing which types of data sort will run better on the database engine and which will run better natively in your code takes quite some time to master.

18) When refactoring – if the source code is getting shorter, you’re doing it right.

19) Beware of excess convolution. Occasionally you will find you have done something silly like failed to initialize a useful variable set early in the process and instead calculated the value for that variable all over a set of nested function calls. If it feels confusing reading it, you probably need to rethink your approach.

20) Above all, have fun. Building really high quality things can be a great joy, if you let it. Remember to keep a positive attitude, and always work on having more patience. If you find yourself getting angry, you are probably not thinking rationally, see #7.

21) Remember, *nothing is set in stone*. One of the joys of programming in this era is you can go back and change your mistakes.

From a emailed conversation..

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

TL;DR=We should use prisons as a experimental ground to find out what media help broken people heal

I emailed this, and then – while I think it needs rework and expanding on, which I will probably do later – I thought I should paste it into my blog now just to get it out there. It’s a idea that I’ve discussed with various people over the years, that’s slowly grown..

From email:

This actually reminds me of a experiment I want to do. I will never,ever,ever be allowed to do it, but I think it would be truly awesome.

I want to retrofit a bunch of the country’s jails. I want to equip every cell with a very hardened computer console [as in virtually indestructable and also virtually impossible to break into from a hacking point of view]. Then, I want to try a number of different permutations of libraries of videos and books in each jail, and try different amounts of freedom to roam the net / free phone calls / things of that nature. I’d even want to try in some of the jails letting the employees work doing data entry or other remote-control things and potentailly also try having their income partially go to pay back their victims. I’d try anything in the initial seed set – porn, religious texts, movies from the 20s, childrens movies..

The purpose is to see what set of media, what set of communications options, and what set of employment options

a) Reduce recividism the most
b) Result in the happiest population

If we really think about it, what we really want our jails to do is help the people inside become better citizens. Since we don’t execute very many criminals and we don’t keep very many inside forever, we really want to figure out what to do for them that will turn them into people who don’t commit crimes. Ultimately it’s in the best interest of everyone who has to live here for our jails, rather than “punishing” people – often for crimes they committed because of mental illnesses they have – to heal them. And if a particular set of books or movies or whatever encourages that process, let’s give it to ’em free of charge, maybe even find ways beyond that to encourage them to watch & read! I know from my parking meter days that I could make a terminal that would survive anything a inmate could do to it. It wouldn’t be pretty, and it wouldn’t be possible to touch type on it that easily, but it probably wouldn’t cost *that* much either – and utlimately, if one is measuring using value rather than money, it would potentially pay for itself many, many times over. Plus, the value of knowing which, out of the milions of books and movies we have really heal people is almost beyond putting a dollar amount on.

I also talk about commercial prisons and the profit motive encouraging recidivism here and suggest a fix

I also make another suggestion here – that if we must have commercial prisons we only pay them for the prisoners that do not re-offend.

On money, debt, politiks, etc

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

TL:DR=People are making decisions based on dollars when they should be considering the real value – concrete and steel and the like – involved.

I’m not really sure how to write this, so I’m just going to do a stream of conciousness writing and hopefully it will capture some of the ideas I have.

First of all, I have concluded that some of what the department of defense does is in essence a entitlement for people who like to hurt people. So, if you are one of those madly anti-entitlement people, you really should be upset about the DoD. There’s no way that we need the level of military technology we have. It’s a gift for the DoD contractors, pure and simple. Nor do we pay the actual people who put their lives on the line very well – so it’s not even a entitlement for the group of people who one could argue deserve it for putting themselves in harm’s way in the interest of implementing the decisions of our government. It’s pork for the people who want to make a bigger bomb, a better rifle, a larger aircraft carrier, even though we already have a vastly larger army than anyone who would conceivably want to pick a fight with us.

Now I must mention in all fairness that the DoD is not all bad. My father worked there for a while, and every project he ever chose to share with me that he had chosen to support was one that generated value for the human race, that made us all richer. But people who make bombs, and guns, are making tools for destroying value.

Beyond that, however, I think that our culture has a very sick idea about money. We think it’s worth something – that it’s more important than people. Money is our tool, but instead of us using it it has come to use us.

Money is not value. Value is what money buys – and what we want. No sane person really wants money – they want value. You can’t eat dollars, and they’d make a lousy house – but dollars buy food and shelter, which you can eat and live in. However, money can’t *accurately* abstract value, for a whole host of reasons:

1) Some types of value are forever and infinite. Once a great book is penned, or a song or movie is laid down on tape, that content is now ours, now and forever. With our current level of technology, distributing and copying it cost fractions of a penny. Using money to try and pay for that content is having a finite resource (dollars) try to chase a infinite one (content). In terms of real value – things like great movies and works of art and automation that works and whatnot – the human race is far, far, far wealthier than it ever has been. In terms of minds and hands to create amazing things, the human race is wealthy indeed. But the amount of money in the world has not kept pace with our wealth, and things in the economic world are coming unglued because of it.

2) Some types of value can be destroyed, but we do not attempt to match that with money. When a war happens, we should really take a bunch of money, and burn it, because we’re destroying the value that it represents. (Although, for some wars – WWII, for example – we also need to mint a bunch more for the scientific discoveries that were made by necessity to cope with the war). In a recent war, we burned one of the oldest libraries on the planet.. that ought to be a huge pile of bills thrown on a bonfire somewhere.

3) Some types of value are multiplicative – that is, they create other value. Automation is a great example. Once discovered, automation is in category #1, but it also enables us to get more resources for less man-hours. This makes us all wealthier, but it can also make that wealth inaccessible to the people who just lost their job to a perl script

We need to make sure we – and especially our children – see money not as value, but as a symbol that represents value – and understand that it can only work properly if it accurately maps to the amount of value our race has. (And probably not even then! ;-)). Deciding not to give health care to people – live minds and hands that create the value money is based on – because of our debt – is in essence increasing our debt. We’re destroying real value by letting those people suffer and die, and we ought to be destroying money to match the loss of value that results.

Whenever a hardworking immigrant walks “illegally” over our borders, our nation becomes wealthier by the value that person can create, be it fixin’ cars or pickin’ strawberries.. and we ought to be printing money to match. Whenever someone leaves, we ought to be burning money to match the loss of their creative power and energy.

What’s most important is that the people making decisions.. the presidents, and kings, and governers, and senators.. understand that money isn’t value, but a symbol that abstracts it. Whenever we make a decision that reduces the amount of value in the world in order to increase the amount of money in it, we are demonstrating stupidity on a colossal scale, and the tool is using us instead of us using the tool.

What scares me is that NO WHERE in the recent government budget discussions did I hear anyone talk about this! And I see many people – mostly conservatives – who seem to be under the delusion that the money *is* the value, and use this argument to justify treating their neighbors and friends horribly for the sake of dollars. This to me is the ultimate in fiscal irresponsibility – letting the tool use you, instead of you using the tool.

Similarly, I see liberals who think that enough money can somehow will a resource that’s scarce into existence, without having to come up with some way to get it. While I talk about giving everyone everything, I do in fact have concrete plans (more on this later) on how we would do that. But I have heard liberals talk about shutting down all oil pipelines – right now – without considering how we would then get food given that our transit network runs on oil.

For some of my evolving thoughts beyond this, read http://www.sheer.us/weblogs/?cat=13

For more about this, read http://www.sheer.us/weblogs/?p=2346

NOTE: If you got here via http://valuenotmoney.sheer.us, please note that is a series of essays – please follow the link at http://www.sheer.us/weblogs/?p=2346 for the next one.

1 year clean..

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

So, for those of you who have followed my ongoing adventures, you know that today marks a year away from any sort of recreational drugs or alcohol use.

I had some thoughts I wanted to post as a result of my adventures thus far. They’re not very well organized, but after all, it is my blog. 😉

First off, I don’t think drugs are bad. I’m glad that I had the adventures I had with them, and I think I learned a lot and had a lot of good times as a result. I think that specific people have specific weaknesses to certain drugs, probably as a result of psychological or emotional issues or their physical biochemical makeup. If you keep trying different drugs, sooner or later you will probably find one you can’t handle. That’s pretty much what happened to me.

I also don’t think drugs are the end all be all to our evolution. I think that you can have all sorts of spiritual and personal growth without ever using any recreational drug, and I think that – like driving a ATV, flying a plane, or any number of other high-risk activities, drugs are potentially dangerous. I’m not going to be standing up and saying that you should use drug X because it will result in a evolution of your thinking. They’re a tool, and they can be a powerful one – but like any other powerful tool, they are potentially dangerous. Choose wisely.

I believe we should have the freedom to experiment. I don’t believe in the drug war. I do believe the world should have lots of resources to help people who are struggling with emotional and physical issues (one reason people take drugs).. and I think that it in fact does. If you are a addict who sincerely wishes to stop, there is a lot of help out there for you. Your biggest enemy is your own worst thinking.

I do think that children should stay away from drugs – I applaud the age limit on purchase of alcohol, and think that in a world where legalization of other drugs occurs, they should have similar age limits.

I also think that some drugs cause dangerous behaviors, and it should not be legal to use them unless you are in a controlled environment – basically locked up where you can’t hurt other people. I think a look at violent crime statistics and drug use would quickly identify which drugs come under that category. But I’m not writing this post to reform drug laws, or even to propose reform. I’m writing about my own experience.

The reason I put those first few lines in is to say – if you’re a drug user, and you’re happy with your choice, I applaud you. I’m not writing this to give a extended mental finger to all people who play with their blood chemistry. But I needed to stop, because the drug I was using and the way I was using it were getting in the way of personal growth, and getting in the way of me moving away from situations which were not healthy for me.

When I decided to start using drugs, I was curious about the experience of being someone else, of seeing the world through different eyes. I wanted to know what the experience of being altered would be like, and I found it to be very interesting. I don’t think that I would have been that curious about having my emotional and mental state altered if I hadn’t been at least somewhat unsatisfied with the default states.

I will be the first to admit that I may have badly misprogrammed my mind. I probably made some very poor choices about who to trust and how much when I was very young. It’s also possible that some of my problems were the result of my physical state although a lot of them have been increasingly addressable through software (my thoughts and beliefs) – I’m learning how to not be unhappy, and how to have the experiences I want to have and get the things I need. I’m learning how to not hurt myself and not believe that I should be hurt.

When I found my “drug of choice”, at first I was just hooked on spending time not experiencing fear. Then I discovered that I could communicate – with my mind – with someone who wasn’t me. I still don’t know who it was – but the experience was fascinating. I was hooked on the mystery. I wasn’t thinking ahead to the crushing hangovers, the moments of utter irrationality that would follow as my body chemistry came unwound, the empty bank accounts and mounting debts, the frightening friends and loved ones, or any of the other downsides that accompany drug abuse. I had not yet learned to – as the 12 step people say – “play the tape all the way through”.

The ability to experience a communication with someone who isn’t me has not left me. These days I talk to a lot of people ‘out there’ – and it’s possible, as I’m sure many of my friends would point out – that these people are just my imagination. If so, I’m still glad that they’re there, because they have helped me understand the faults in my own thinking in ways that I’m not sure anything else would have. They have exhibited knowledge and abilities that make me *very* skeptical that they are just me. 😉 I think this is a experience that I have always wanted to have, and I’m glad that I’m having it – it’s one of the things that has me hooked on what tomorrow’s going to bring in my current life. I think that the people I have been talking to via whatever this method is have been much more able to communicate with me since I stopped using. I note that contact with a higher power is a suggested part of one of the more popular addiction support groups, which suggests that I am not alone in this experience.

When I decided to stop using drugs, I found a number of good, valid resources available to help me. As with so many of my problems (and my biggest problem was and continues to be paranoia) the real struggle was within me. It’s not that the world didn’t provide resources to help with addiction, because the world does. It’s that the filters that my mind provides, and my defense mechanisms, made using those resources challenging at first. Obviously, I’m glad I persisted. I have found many of the things I was searching for with drug use in other things – often better than any drug I ever tried ever was. If you are a addict reading this and wondering if getting clean is worth it – it is. You will learn a lot about yourself and about the world you live in, and you will discover a lot of new adventures and new experiences. And, if you’re like me, you will be a lot less unhappy after having gone through some of the process.

One of the things that I had a big problem with at first was thinking that if I didn’t agree with any part of a recovery program, they couldn’t help me. I have since learned to take the good and ignore the bad – in some cases, the bad will become good later as I understand more, and in some cases, the bad is just *shrug* wrong. For me anyway.

I won’t claim that it isn’t a lot of work. Learning to accept and love yourself is challenging if you’ve strongly programmed yourself to be critical of yourself. I don’t know what challenges other addicts face and I can only speak for myself – but Whitney Houston’s ‘The greatest love of all.. is easy to achieve’ is utter BS for me. It is NOT easy to love yourself, or accept yourself, starting from the position I started from. It is very challenging. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing – a lot of things that are worth doing are very challenging. I am also not claiming to be a paragon of self-acceptance now. I am just no longer interested in hurting myself with constant harsh criticism of my thoughts and actions. I am no longer telling myself that my dreams and desires are small, or stupid, or wrong – even if they don’t align at all with the desires of the rest of the world, or they don’t make sense in the context of what I “should” want, or they’re not what other people would choose. I’m no longer interested in even talking or thinking about suicide. I want to find ways to make my life as awesome a ride as possible, and I believe that it can be as good as I am willing to let it be.

I think in my case that addiction really translated to a malfunction of my free will, and that this was present all over my life. I was wanting things and not taking actions to get them. I was taking actions that previous experience suggested would continue to lead to unpleasant results. I had set up rules for myself that made no rational sense, based on cognitive distortions or on complete fallacy. I believed a whole large number of things which were inconsistent or impossible. In general, I was stymed by cognitive distortions – bad thinking. I was also seriously negatively impacted – and continue to be negatively impacted – by paranoia. Unreasonable fears. I once emailed a list of fears I had to a friend and I think I sent about 70 before I stopped – and I hadn’t listed them all or been completely honest about them. I still think the process of doing that was a huge step forward for me.

Overcoming my fears – especially the ones that I understand in my conscious mind to be irrational – is a journey that I have not yet completed. In some ways I feel like I have just begun upon it. However, I can already see the fruits of my labors. I am *much* happier now than I was as a drug addict. I am much more aware of how much of the fear and discord and negative emotions I experience are the results of my own subconscious thinking and problems with my mind that are within my power – eventually, with time and work – to fix.

A lot of things about my view of the world have changed in the last few years. I also don’t think I’m done changing – I’m still trying on beliefs to see how they fit, trying on thought patterns to see which ones work, and trying on possible futures to see which ones feel like they are me.

I would like to thank all the friends who have helped me along.. sometimes with kindness, sometimes with a thought-provoking comment, and sometimes just by being there.

I wanted to say a few more things, and these are messages directly to fellow addiction sufferers, because I think it’s possible that some of you will land here because of google keywords. (Certainly my blog seems to get tens of thousands of hits a month already for *some* reason)

First of all, own your power. The first step of the twelve steps is extremely misleading when you’re thinking like a addict. It is not saying you will *always* be powerless over whatever your addiction is. It’s saying that *right now*, because of the fact that you have in essence a mental illness, you are powerless and need help. It’s also saying that that help is available – and it is! But I think if you just wait for some external higher power to fix you, you’re going to have a long wait. That’s not saying you won’t receive help from other people – sometimes visible, sometimes not, sometimes supernatural, sometimes not. But you can have a lot less suffering, and much more growth, if you also work yourself towards reaching a day when you are not powerless. Try to have power. You may not always succeed, but you will sometimes and each success will make you stronger.

Second of all, don’t beat yourself up over failures. DO learn from them. Shame and guilt and fear are your enemies – they are the emotions that keep you in bondage, that keep you from being mentally free. I think a lot of the reasons for working the steps (if you’re a 12-stepper) is to remove your shame and guilt over your past mistakes, and to encourage you to develop a way of living which leads away from making more of the types of actions you have to feel bad about when you look back over them. You can’t make good decisions if you’re being whipsawed by your own shame and guilt every time you think anything.

In general, don’t kick yourself. Learn to recognize when you are hurting yourself, and learn to stop. The more often you stop, the better you will get at stopping. You don’t do anyone on earth any favors by making yourself unhappy. It’s not going to help any of the people you have hurt. It’s not going to help you.

Third of all, learn about stinkin’ thinkin’ (12 step) or cognitive distortions (smartrecovery) and learn how to spot them in all your thinking, not just your thinking about drugs. I did.. and do.. a lot of very questionable thinking. Bad thinking is your enemy. It’s what makes you the destroyer of your own free will, it’s what sets you up for bad decisions and bad results, and it’s something that you can learn to recognize.

Fourth of all, believe that it’s possible. Believe you can be clean, or free of overeating, or gambling, or whatever your problem is. I know that believing is much more difficult than just saying you believe, and that belief comes about somewhat because you put a tiny little feeler of faith in the water and get back experiences which validate that faith – belief is at least somewhat controlled by experience – but to whatever extent you can, make sure you’re open to believing you can succeed.

Fifth of all: Also consider the possibility that your problem is just a symptom of a larger problem. Work to fix the symptoms, but also work the larger problem. In my case, my constant and blinding paranoia was a much larger problem than my drug use ever was. While I’m no longer using drugs, I’m still working to address my fear issues. My belief that I deserved to suffer, and my willingness to hurt myself internally by negative self talk, was and is a much larger problem than my drug use. Also still something I’m addressing. I hope at some point I can come back and write one of these posts about overcoming irrational fear, and overcoming negative self talk. It’s possible that no one else will ever read it, or even want to read it, but I think it will be good for me to write it.

Sixth of all, figure out what you really want. Make a list. On paper. Be honest. Even if they seem impossible, be honest. It’s very hard to get what you want if you don’t know what you want.

Seventh of all, find positive activities to keep you busy. Work. Write music. Dance. Skate. Bowl. Go for long walks in the woods. Kayak. Waterski. Learn to fly a plane. One could list hundreds of different possible activities here – my point is that in my experience, you’re not going to be experiencing stinking thinking or a craving for drugs when you’re doing something else that keeps you aware and engaged and interested.

Eighth of all.. one of the people I talk to over my internal link has a saying. The people in heaven and the people in hell inhabit the same physical space. The people in heaven try very hard to reach the people in hell. Make sure you’re open to accepting the gifts the universe and all it’s inhabitants offer. Make sure you’re open to being helped. Be ready to leave hell. Make sure you don’t need the pain, the suffering, the drama. If you find that you do need them, figure out why and figure out if you really want to live that way. All of this is your choice, but choosing is a complex and layered thing. Expect to have to put some effort into choosing a good life experience, especially if you’ve put some effort into choosing a bad one.

One of my favorite sayings, from Fred Brown Recovery Services – a place where I learned a LOT – is a simple mantra. ‘We don’t have to live that way today.’. It’s what I have told myself, this past year, whenever I was tempted to buy and use. I’m also learning to tell myself the same thing whenever I start to think things which are hurtful, or which imply I don’t deserve to have a wonderful life, or to be loved.

Whoever you are, I wish you the best of luck. There are many people out there who love you – probably more than you will ever know. There are many resources to help you. And, obviously, I’m not altogether “better”. This isn’t a post to say I’m cured. It’s a post to say I’m progressing. I just wanted to share some of the important lessons I learned along the way, in case they can help you too.