The people that look through the open window

Tonight as I sat with my dear friend Thomas and ate a burger and drank a few beers, I had one of the excellent conversations with him that really hallmark our friendship.  And in the midst of it, I mentioned to him an experience I had this afternoon.  Between the second floor of the Terascale Simulation Facility and the first, at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, as you go downward, if you look up, there is a small window looking at the second floor.

It’s the kind of window that, innocuously placed though it is, or maybe because of its apparent pointlessness, I feel always compelled to peer into.  I looked up, as I have many dozens of times during the fifteen years I spent there, expecting to see the familiar sight of the floor above, empty or with a busy person walking by.  But this time, I saw a woman passing by and instead of the blank stare of professional thought common on the second floor, she was looking down through the window at the stairs.

I was on the stairs she was looking down upon, but she was not looking at me, just kind of curious as to what is below.  And I suddenly realized how limited our view of life generally is.  This window is passed by many times per day, and on either side lies a world of divergent experience, but usually we stare straight ahead, intent upon our next task.  The divergent experience has no utility to us that we can see.  But you know,  occasionally we are prompted by curiosity to look through the window, and maybe we see a stranger, and our imagination is ignited. What is the value of the previously unimagined when compared to the known security of the already understood?  Each person perhaps announces a fundamental mindset when they choose to look or not look at the window.

Each person that passes by the window sees it.  It’s quite large.  I wonder if it is a choice whether to look through it.  It reminds me of a YouTube video I saw one, where a man in a gorilla costume dances across a basketball court, and nobody notices, because at the start they are told, “count the bounces” and not “count the gorillas.”   Do we choose to look because we are told that looking at some things should be avoided?  What if, in looking through the window, something was seen that was not supposed to be?

If you count the information value of every pixel that passes into our eyes, and compare it to the probable information that is extracted from it into the representations we recognize as “thought,” this fraction is conservatively greater than 1.0, by which I mean that much more happens than we notice.   What is it we are choosing to notice, and why?

 

There is no such thing as Liberal vs. Conservative!

I was listening to a podcast today about how Mormons are becoming more and more conservative, and it occurred to me that people are completely misled about what the terms “liberal” and “conservative” really mean.  People nowadays think of a political spectrum with Liberal on one side, represented by the Democratic Party, and Conservative on the other, represented by the Republican Party.  In fact neither party is Liberal and both are Conservative.

To understand what I mean, you have to realize that the opposite of a “liberal” is actually an “authoritarian.”  Liberalism is a philosophy that asserts that individuals should have liberty from government interference in their personal lives and business.  The opposite of that philosophy is one that believes that the government should use its authority to tell the individual what is best for them.  The name of that philosophy is “authoritarianism.”

The second thing to know is that the opposite of “conservative” is actually “progressive.”  Conservatism believes that we should conserve tradition and policy in the current state, not changing much, but respecting the path that has led us to the current state.  The opposite of this mindset says, no, we need to make social and political progress by agitating for change and be willing to toss aside cherished traditions in the process.  This is called “progressivism.”  By the way, there is an extreme form of Conservatism called “reactionary” which believes that changes are not progress, and thus we should react to so-called progress by reverting back to older, better ways.

In this sense, it’s clear that both modern parties are conservative, in that they seek to maintain and enhance the status quo for their own benefit, and are threatened by change.  Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are truly progressive in that they are pushing for new change.  They are “progressing” with different goals.  I suppose you might call Donald Trump reactionary due to his apparent xenophobic tendencies, but the same could be said of Bernie Sanders with his offering up of tax hikes that harken back the 1950’s (and which tax hikes on the wealthy I favor by the way).  I think my definitions might be nonstandard, even unique, but I think they make a lot of sense.  If you think of politics this way, you will see that what we have are six groups:

  1.  liberal progressives:  believe individuals should agitate for change to give people more freedom
  2. authoritarian progressives:  believe we should use government power to effect change for a better future
  3. liberal reactionaries:  believe there was more freedom for individuals in the past, and we need to fight the government to return to this earlier bliss
  4. authoritarian reactionaries:  wish the government would bring back older laws to encourage people to go back to better, older ways
  5. liberal conservatives:  believe that we should not change things, that we are good the way we are, and people should be left alone
  6. authoritarian conservatives:  believe that we should use the government to block damage which would be caused by progressive or perhaps reactionary changes

Anyhow, that’s the way I see it.   Go ahead, poli sci majors, please step in and correct me.  By the way, I see myself as a liberal progressive for the most part, but I have tendencies to each of these on different topics, like I suspect most people do if they are honest about it!

Let the fear make you stronger

There is no doubt that this is not an easy journey at the moment.  However, I realize that I have two choices in the face of my fear.  First, I can strengthen myself and learn to overcome my challenges.  Or, I can turn around and run to safety.  There is nothing wrong with either strategy.  Both can make me stronger.  It almost seems like a stylistic preference from an intellectual viewpoint.  But I have to think there is an intangible and as-yet unknown to me benefit from the “strengthen and overcome” approach.

I realize that much of my life has been avoiding really living.  Drugs in my early years, religion, even college to some extent were all ways of hiding in the ways of others to discover the “real truth” about life.  I never had the confidence to truly strike out on my own path, and so I figured out a very safe and good route.  Good old engineering to the rescue!  I highly recommend it!  Profitable and secure.  It has been very useful to me.

But now there is a glimmer of a possibility I can see winking at me in an unfamiliar distance.  It’s not easy to see through the fog of war as I slog it out with my demons.  Maybe it’s just swamp gas churned up by a fertile imagination, but there is something in me that sees a beautiful treasure in this journey and I intend to play out my hand.  I’m determined not to turn and run.  Instead, I’m going to explore and I’ll report back what I find, I promise.  🙂

Luckily, I’m well equipped for the journey and once I find my stride, this might even get really easy and fun.  I sure hope so!

bludicka12
Swamp gas in the night. Source: http://www.zahadyzivota.cz/

Uncertainty and regret have already begun

It is 5AM and I cannot sleep.  An hour earlier, I had lain in bed dreaming of being trapped in a dark building, with Soviet-style oppressive guards planning to kill me. I  barely escaped by taking an elevator down and walked quickly down the street.  It was a sunny day and I was right by the park which I had crossed when entering the building.  I tried not to garner unwanted attention but was suddenly aware that I was wearing slacks, shiny shoes and a white shirt, very much like a missionary, which made me stand out as an escapee from The Building.  A policeman spotted me, so I turned down an alley, thinking I had to avoid notice.  Suddenly it was nighttime and a third world hell greeted me.  I sloshed through mud and drying concrete and got more and more lost.  Lights from the work crews shone on the unfinished work, piles of rebar and brick blocked my way in every direction.  I had to turn around and get out of this alley….  then I woke up.  It was 4:30AM

Picture of a dark grim alley in Hong Kong
Source: “Inside the Kowloon Walled City where 50,000 residents eked out a grimy living in the most densely populated place on earth.” By PAMELA OWEN Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2139914/A-rare-insight-Kowloon-Walled-City.html

Being awake was not much more pleasant.  I lay there in my bed in Livermore, CA, sun not yet up, trying to go back to sleep.  I thought, my God, what am I doing, I just left my job of 15 years to go on a so-called adventure, but so far all it is is uncertainty and fear.  I’m not up to the task, this is going to take an enormous amount of energy and time, and who am I kidding?  I can’t even muster the discipline to sell my motorcycle.  My house is not ready to sell, and the market might tumble any month now.  Every minute of inaction weighs against me.  I only have so much time before everything goes to hell.

I have been telling people that I want to live forever, that I love life.  Medical science is advancing, maybe I’ll be one of the lucky ones to live to 200 years old if I work it right.  I wonder, is that because I finally found comfort and stability here at my job, and now I’m throwing it all away?  Am I giving up a chance for a longer life, based on what?  A vague sense of being unfulfilled?  A desire for new experiences?  Is that really worth it?  Am I the biggest jackass that ever lived?

Well, welcome to my Monday.  I have one month left before my last day at work, on June 1.  It’s official and there is no turning back.  This grand experiment in freedom and travel is about to begin, and if I’ve ever been this worried and uncertain before, it was during a dark time of my life I don’t care to go back to, which was my teenage years.  It all seems very inauspicious.  Very ordinary.

What do I have to contribute to the world, other than what I’ve been doing?  Am I totally being overconfident?  My deepest fear is to fail, lose all my money, and be left out of the good life, all the while realizing that I had it and tossed it away.  And in the process, struggling to no avail, wasting my life in a struggle for mere survival that doesn’t even interest myself other than it contains the constant urgency of not dying, not failing.  Stress and mortality are correlated, this “retirement” or whatever is very stressful so far!

Haha, I hope your week is going better than mine so far.  🙂   You can see how dark my thoughts can go in the morning.  I call this worried part of myself “morning Rich,” and I’ve decided he’s not going to get to steer the boat.  But something deep inside me is saying, hey at least Morning Rich is not the kind of guy to take us over some giant waterfall and end up drowned.

I can’t stand to let Morning Rich have the last word.  But it’s morning, and this is Rich, so I guess it is what it is.