The Workforce of The Future Could Be Tiny

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This was once the face of the Robot Apocalypse.

A terrifying unified metal organism crushing humanity under its robotic heel, exterminating the humans who once gave it life and whose robotic perfection could no longer tolerate our imperfect nature. We as humans have grown to fear this meme more than nearly any other; the machine finding humanity’s flaws a reason to remove us from the Earth. Okay, perhaps that was a fictional account of the robot apocalypse designed to play on our fears of the unknown, robots, and the ever-encroaching wave of technology swallowing up our lives.

But the robot apocalypse may look more like this: Robots coming to work, first in our factories and then later in our offices, programmed with capabilities which allow them to displace the less qualified workers engaged in tasks that can be replicated with algorithmic procedures and programming. (That may be more jobs than we are willing to admit.)

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Illustration by Roberto Parada

I predicted the future of work and the economically debilitating effects of robots, automation, and the replacement of the workforce with machines on the populace in previous articles. In Death to the Labor Class, I postulate the consideration that the culture of America and the world at large may need to re-evaluate how we deal with compensation and the nature of work in the future, as machines put laborers out of the workforce in greater and greater numbers.

I tried to remind people that automation has been taking your jobs for years, you simply still had other choices of work to get and still bring home the bacon. Now I am postulating not only will the potential for automation take your job, it will take it higher and higher along the social-economic food chain. Once only blue-color workers were affected, now the potential for algorithms can take any job which can be proceduralized and structured based on databases of stored information.

For example, there are already computerized journalists in use today. See: NYTimes: In case you’re wondering a human wrote this article. A market for such technology will continue to grow as the databases they draw from become more intelligent and sophisticated. Will they replace real journalists? For some types of articles the answer is assuredly, yes.

 See: Death to the Labor Class: http://storify.com/ebonstorm/may-13-2013-monday-s-musing-death-to-the-labor-cla.

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How the Tesla Model S is Made — Behind The Scenes

A sample of how robotics are slowly changing manufacturing from Wired Magazine and the Tesla Automotive company

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The opinion of the masses: So what?

The comments I received primarily indicated those jobs needed to be replaced since robots COULD do them, they should. Mostly this would affect people with less education, blue-color workers and the disdain of the white-color workers was palpable because they thought their jobs would be unaffected by technical automation of any kind.

I mentioned the idea of algorithms or procedural decision-making based on experience. This is how experienced doctors, lawyers and other professionals decide on courses of action. What if you could write a program or algorithm to do the same thing? The program would learn from decisions made in the past and predict what possible outcomes and their potential chances for success. This could mean an entirely new class of workers, including middle managers could find themselves unemployed as intelligent agents make the same decisions they did without preferential treatment, emotional attachments, or favoritism to muddy the economic water.

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Christoper Steiner
Steiner is an engineer, a skier, an author and one of the founders at Aisle50. Before starting Aisle50, he was a senior staff writer at Forbes magazine for seven years. His book “Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World”, chronicles the march of algorithms from the very first hack of Wall Street to their current role as disruptors of the creative class in fields as varied as music, writing, law and medicine.

© Chris Steiner

Engineer Christopher Steiner has an interview in the European Magazine discussing the idea that white-color jobs that are low in innovation are indeed next on the list of people made unemployed by technology. And there are a lot more jobs at stake than in the manufacturing industry.

Here is a telling quotation from the article. It is definitely worth your time to read. The effects are worldwide and potentially socially catastrophic:

The European: We tend to think about unskilled labor as the most precarious form of labor – machines could easily do it. Yet one of the arguments you make is that algorithms threaten many mid-level, white collar jobs…

Steiner: Being an expert in a field, having worked for fifteen years in that field, usually means that you have accumulated enough expertise, seen enough cases, read enough studies, dealt with enough clients, that you develop your own pattern recognition system within your brain. In medicine, experienced doctors are valuable because they have seen and treated many patients and diseases. Experienced lawyers know very well what information they need to pursue litigation, where to find that information, and so forth. But algorithms are very well suited for pattern recognition, much more than humans. If you can feed algorithms with data about a patient’s symptoms or about a legal case, I can’t see how that would not take away many of our jobs.”

http://www.theeuropean-magazine.com/christoper-steiner/7226-algorithms-and-the-future-of-work

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Dystopia or Utopia – What’s your poison?

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I wrote an article a few months ago talking about using science fiction for social change and activism, Science Fiction and Social Awareness

Since then I have been reading a number of discussions talking about writers preferring to write dystopias rather than utopias.

David Brin would like to see more positive representations of the future and thinks Utopias need to make a comeback. He is not alone. A number of other famous scientists and science fiction writers are also in agreement about the idea of writing new books where utopias, positive futures where mankind is not only still around but thriving in positive ways as a necessary force to change the future. See: Project Hieroglyph

I know they are necessary but they are difficult to write and I suspect only the most gifted and optimistic writers should try. Here’s my reasoning:

Dystopia and Utopia have the same problem. They are talking about a period where what we know has evolved into what is now the order of things. Why is one more difficult to write than the other?

Utopia: a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions

The term Utopia was invented by Thomas More as the title of his Latin book De Optimo Reipublicae Statu deque Nova Insula Utopia (circa 1516), known more commonly as Utopia. He created the word “utopia” to suggest two Greek neologisms simultaneously: outopia (no place) and eutopia (good place). More depicts a rationally organised society, through the narration of an explorer who discovers it — Raphael Hythlodaeus. Utopia is a republic where all property is held in common. In addition, it has few laws, no lawyers and rarely sends its citizens to war, but hires mercenaries from among its war-prone neighbours.

Generally speaking, utopias are generally societies whose author believes either perfect, or as perfect as can be attainable. Ernest Callenbach‘s Ecotopia is a contemporary example. This can cause some confusion, in that some works generally recognized as “utopian”, such as Plato’s Republic, can come across as much less than ideal to a modern reader. They are one of the smaller subsets of political science fiction, possibly because it is difficult to create dramatic tension in a world the author believes is perfect. –Wikipedia, Political ideas in science fiction

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My favorite eco-dystopia: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Dystopia: an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives

Dystopias are societies where the author illustrates the worst that can happen. Usually this encompasses extrapolating trends the author sees as dangerous. During the 20th century many examples were written in reaction to the rise of NazismCommunism and Religious Fundamentalism:

  • Double Helix Fall (1990) by Neil Ferguson portrays an America where a person’s social status is determined by their movements in the womb, an extension of the concept of original sin.

It is important to keep in mind that scenarios which some would describe as dystopic, others would describe as utopian. Norman Spinrad’s novel The Iron Dream was generally recognised to be a dystopian novel, but lauded by neo-Nazis as a utopia. –Wikipedia, Political ideas in science fiction

Janus-dimon21Janus-topia: A utopian society which is actually engaged in abusing and dehumanizing its citizens using social manipulations of one sort or another. (No, its not real, I just made it up to prove a point.) Janus was a two faced deity, looking forward and backward at the same time. I liken a Janus-topia to the idea that a society might be forward-thinking but using repressive, deviant or oppressive means to accomplish its goals rather than the forward sound ideals it may espouse in its public face.

Given these two simplified definitions, it is easy to see why Dystopias outnumber Utopias 10-to-1. Most readers (editors and agents) want stories where the conflict is easy to recognize, can be filled with intrepid adventurers who die at just the appropriate moment to tug at our heartstrings and make us believe we are experiencing a transformative event.

The problem of addressing a Utopia is by definition, it is already a perfect place, where we have to be willing to be patient, walk with the protagonists while they show you the dirty, hidden underbelly of the Utopia, where all is not what it seems. This is by far the harder row-to-hoe because writers are under fire to “show, don’t tell” or my other favorite “exposition is dead/death” so you must find a way to expose people to your Utopia without actually describing it in any detail that might bore our attention-addled readership.

Given these two conditions, there is not a question in my mind why we see Dystopias outnumbering Utopias. The curve to creation isn’t that difficult. Look at modern society, allow it to continue unabated and poof, Dystopia.

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Try that with creating a Utopia, and you have to, by most reader’s perspectives alter the fabric of space-time to reach a place where Humanity, especially as we see it now, doing anything such as curing disease (do we do that anymore? Polio was the last one I can think of) getting rid of hunger worldwide, reversing our position on global climate change, reducing corporate power (is that even possible?) enhancing educational opportunities for everyone, ensuring any form of social parity, correcting enough social ills you would deign to call your world a Utopia.

As far as I can tell, no Utopia has ever survived for the same reason most Dystopias eventually get replaced by something else. Human nature is fickle. If society is actually working, we distrust it, and assume something must be rotten somewhere. If society is failing, human nature dictates at some point we fight back or get ground into the dust.

So the real question is, why aren’t we writing more books about correcting the reason we can’t have Utopias in the first place; the moral, social, mental, cultural, religious, failings of the Human race? If we could fix that, maybe people might believe Utopias, corrupted or otherwise, might be possible enough to write about and worthy enough to read through to see the underlying messages for what they are.

Messages about us and our relationships to each other and the Universe at large. This is where Janus-topias come in. So many of our works that describe utopian societies are actually Janus-topias, two faced worlds where we believe we are living well to find out we are not. Most of our works which postulate a possible Utopia are really Janus-topias.

Utopia is not a place where stories are easily written, by definition, if you made a real Utopia, where would the conflict arise? What we are really hoping for are clever Janus-topias which hide their flaws well, are interesting enough to pay attention to, and when their flaws are revealed, we learn something about ourselves in the process.

Death to Utopia! Not enough happens there.

But the route to Utopia is rife with storytelling possibilities…

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Callsign: Hatred

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White on Black hatred (for the nuance-impaired)

Found a wonderful collection of hate-filled racist tweets from Saturday ranging from cheering Zimmerman and the awesomeness of the American Justice system to being glad someone was standing up for White people and putting niggers back in their place. (Bear with me. If you know my work, I never use that word lightly.) Part of this is the internet promoting anonymous ass-hattery, most of these were fake accounts created for inciting and promoting anger and frustration. I know this because I have used Twitter long enough to know how to recognize fake accounts when I see them.

But the sentiments they voice are still quite real. The hands on those keys in anonymous places are connected to real honest-to-God (I know) racists, bigots and culturally-deprived idiots. More than half, probably have never left their state, and a good percentage of them, the county in which they were born. Most have never broken bread with the object of their hatred, let alone known one unless they were beating him over the head with a tire iron or raping her before dumping her body in a bijou.

Now why did I go there? Because ultimately this is the end result of such hate-filled rhetoric promoted by the powers that be. Hatred is an infection, it is a disease and like any good disease it needs multiple vectors, multiple ways of being transmitted. When hatred reaches the perfect point of transmission, it can be transferred anonymously through the internet itself, no longer a need for human contact. Its virulence refined, it can take shape in the very words used to spew it across the screen.

You might think you are immune. Many of you may believe you are free of hatred, but you are probably still a carrier even if you don’t actively display any of the hate-filled symptoms.

White privilege, the ability to participate in society without fear of being stopped by the police, without fear of having a legally mandated officer of the law, kick down your door, and arrest everyone in your home, find out they are incorrect and release you 48 hours later without an apology and without fixing your door. White privilege means you won’t find yourself shot to death (with 40 rounds no less) while reaching for your wallet, while across town a White vigilante marksman who is shooting up a city council meeting manages to be taken alive without firing a shot.

Is there an incongruency? Discontinuity? I can name dozens of these events almost without effort; a veritable litany of undermining, disenfranchisement, devastation and death. Watch this all of your life, embed this into the fiber of your being, find a way to cope around the cancer that is your nothingness in a land of plenty.

Don’t tell me you feel my pain. No, you do not know how the other half lives. Not even close.

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Now for you people of color, your lesson is this: Hopefully, none of you are under the illusion that this is just a phase. This is a sampling of a greater problem in these United States. If you are a Black person who believes you are free, equal, or operate at the same level as the poorest white person in the land, YOU ARE MISTAKEN.

I know this is not what people want to hear. What they want is to experience is a cultural solidarity promised by the Statue of Liberty. We want to believe we are the poor and huddled masses yearning to be free. Well, we are partially right.

They keep us poor, deny us access to good and useful education, make us pay more for less education and use the education system to funnel us into the prison pipeline recreating the only legal form of slavery left. We are huddling, in our shacks, on the streets, in our cars, bereft of our homes, blackballed from work that is meaningful, that supports families, that builds legacies. So we have the poor and huddled parts just right.

Are you still yearning to be free? Damn right you are. Freedom from being shot in the street at will by any person who has a gun and the balls to use it. (Which today is just about everyone. There are states wanting to teach 5 year old children how to shoot a gun. WHY? have the playgrounds become a battlefield? Not yet.)

If you are black and male, chances are you are more likely to be killed by a registered member of a police department than by any other means in the United States. So the most dangerous thing to a young black man is… the police? What happened to protect and serve? Oh yes. That is a part of White privilege and we don’t have that.

Still yearning to be free? Yes, you are. Free to be able to name your children whatever you want and have them be able to get a job that does not screen them on the basis of whether they have good Christian names. How about getting a job based on their skills, not on whether they are potentially frightening because they happen to be a shade of brown darker than a paper bag? Can’t happen you say? There are states where the level of unemployment for Blacks is higher than 50%. This seems counter to the value placed on the unemployment level for white men at 6%.

Seems balanced, eh? Spare me the rhetoric of there being white unemployment at levels of 8-15% in various parts of the nation, because I know this already. In those same parts of the nation, Black unemployment is at 28-40% so I don’t feel your pain in the same way.

How many more young black men will the nation kill before you begin to realize this particular truth? The irony is I can say this and be considered angry and dangerous because I am Black but those racists, those self-styled defenders of American virtue right there will end up in positions of power through no particular merit other than their White skin and have the power to affect the lives of people of color, every day of their lives.

They won’t be as rude when they are older or in public, but it will not matter. They will still have the power to choose where people of color live, how they vote, the effectiveness of the employment, the quality of their juries, the state of schools in economically depressed areas, the quality of healthcare, the existence of government support programs.

And though the people they will harm when they manipulate those programs will mostly be poor whites, they are aiming their blow at Blacks. Their intent will be to harm Black and Brown people they have been conditioned to fear (and by proxy hate) their entire lives.

Is there an answer to counter this? Is there a solution? Honestly, I don’t know. I have spent fifty years trying to figure out why it is even this way in the first place, but I am done pretending THAT THERE IS NOTHING WRONG IN AMERICA, BECAUSE IT IS APPARENT TO ANYONE WITH EYES, THERE IS.

And contrary to popular belief it has less to do with me as a person of color than with the institutions which have made the marginalization of People of Color a national pastime with roots as old as the nation itself. You want to complain Black people are what wrong with this nation? I disagree. What’s wrong with this nation is the pathological hatred of everyone not white and its pernicious effects on laws, policies and behaviors that steal from EVERYONE in this nation by keeping other HUMAN BEINGS from having the same rights, education, opportunities as the most elite and powerful whites in this nation.

Yes, I said it. Deal with it.

Every individual who is starving on a street corner somewhere due to a policy that says we should have more guns and less healthcare is a blow against human dignity. It is a form of racism and classism and good old-fashion fear based hatred. Every time you vote for a politician who says we should put people back to work while he gets paid for shipping a job to another country is another form of hatred of individuals he does not respect. Because if he did, he would be trying to find ways to improve the nation and the opportunities of everyone, not just his pocketbook.

We can find money for war without batting an eye. We can find money to create destruction, we can find money to attack and kill brown people all over the planet. No industry moves with the speed and alacrity of the US military machine. No decisions get made in Congress with the clarity of going to war (except maybe during the sequester and they wanted to ensure they could get flight home).

Should we: Feed people? No. Build a bridge. No. Put a banker behind bars for engaging in what is clearly a fraudulent act. No. Investigate a series of banks accused of defrauding entire economies and bankrupting tens of millions. Okay. (And the punishment is to fine them the equivalent of an hour’s pay. They’re banks! THEY’RE MADE OF MONEY!)

Meanwhile people, not statistics wander without work, without homes, without food, without money, without hope. When unemployment was at 25% during the Depression it was a national tragedy and they moved heaven and Earth to fix the problem. When unemployment for Blacks was at 35%, did anyone even notice? (Answer is no…in case you were wondering.)

This is not about me as a person of color. Every person who IS a person, who believes we all have the right to be happy, working, comfortable, engaged in our society and free from huddling and being hungry should be standing up and marching in the streets today. This is not just about Trayvon Martin (though partially, it is) it is about all of us.

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A tent city in Sacramento, California

The hatred that killed Trayvon Martin is killing you too. You are just too numbed by Snookie, American Idol, Pacific Rim, ESPN, whiskey, sex, or just too fucking stupid to realize it yet. There shouldn’t be a street in this nation that isn’t overflowing with people protesting ALEC, the NRA and the state of Florida and it’s criminal police department for allowing this travesty to take place under the guise of law.

There shouldn’t ever be a point in history where an armed man follows another unarmed man, confronts and harasses that unarmed man, suddenly finds himself in duress and being prepared to claim self defense, gets to kill the man being followed. Without consequence. Without conscience. Except there was. Again. Once upon a time they had dogs and followed Black men to return them to plantations, or to kill them for ogling a white women, or because they were bored and didn’t have anything to do that afternoon. In other words business as usual in America.

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Except when it is…

Adding insult to injury Zimmerman and clan are found saying some of the most hateful and terrible things I can imagine, with a straight face, without apology, with his family co-signing his spite. A vitriol so bitter it’s like rubbing salt into a flesh-eating bacteria wound. Which part of a fallen empire are you people not seeing? Is it the bread or the circuses part? Not so much bread anymore but thanks to Faux News, circuses, aplenty.

I am a Black man. I am used to walking out of my house with the idea I may not make it home tonight, though I have done everything right, been a legal citizen, paid my taxes, loved my family, respected my fellow man, even if he didn’t deserve it. I bite my tongue and mince my words to keep my job even when someone disrespects me and calls me nigger to my face in a private office when its just he and I and no one will believe he could say such a thing because he is an upstanding citizen of his community.

I am reconciled to the fact my family may have no recourse if a policeman decides he doesn’t like the cut of my jib, or if a random white man decides for whatever reason he is willing to risk the justice system (such as it is) and kills me. THIS HAS BEEN MY REALITY ALL OF MY LIFE.

I have no such illusions about fairness or parity of American Life. I have no illusions that I am equal when I apply for work, because I see it in their eyes when I show up at the door for the interview. (Oh, shit. He’s Black.) I can feel it in the limp handshake (disrespectful). I can see it in the glazed look and the lackluster interest.

I can see it in the eyeballing of watches or clocks in the room, eager for the event to be over so they can get on with the next better, whiter candidate who is going to be better qualified because he is white and will fit in better with the social and cultural schema established by her office manager who has been told by her director, indirectly that we are seeking a better fit of our employees with the corporate culture who has been told by his VP that we are not looking for people who haven’t been to an ivy league school who has been told by the CEO we only want the “best people”.

Euphemisms, every one of them. I understand that I can never be the best people in your eyes.

But, I am still better than THAT.

I guess there aren’t enough White people having been made hungry by bad policy yet. Not enough on them on the street, not enough children being shot, not enough food stamps being cut, not enough children being imprisoned, or dying, or committing suicide. I guess when you’re feeling more like second-class citizens, you may decide to stand up for what’s right and not just for what’s white.

I’ll be over here huddling, yearning to be free while you make up your minds…

© Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved

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Don’t take my word for a damn thing, read it for yourself.

Man arrested for having a stroke while Black, left to die on jail floor, Daily Kos

Man convicted of shooting teenager, New York Times

Florida man shoots and kills 17-year-old teen after argument over loud music at gas station, Daily News

With Racial Roles Reversed, Three Self-Defense Cases That Went The Other Way, Think Progress

White people who kill black people in ‘Stand Your Ground’ states are 354% more likely to be cleared of murder, Daily Mail

Howard Morgan, Black Off-Duty Cop Shot 28 Times By White Chicago Officers – Black Cop, charged and sentenced to 40 years, Huffington Post 

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Watch Martin Bashir Sum Up The Trayvon Martin Travesty In Under 4 Minutes

Can we stop worrying about Millennials yet?

I know it has been fashionable and even acceptable since Time magazine (pay-walled article) made it okay, but it is time to stop hating on the Millennials.

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As a social group, they have enough issues without the socially acceptable, yet completely reprehensible treatment they receive in the media, particularly from the conservative side. But no one treats them particularly well, no matter which side of the fence you find yourself perched.

As an employer I have never had any issues working with them, understanding their expectations from work, or dealing with their often peculiar work ethic. I tried to treat them the way I would like to be treated with the understanding, their job was not the center of the Universe. And given how the workplace environment often treated them, I could completely relate to their viewpoint.

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The Trickle Down Theory: The principle that the poor, who must subsist on the table scraps dropped by the rich, can best be served by giving the rich, bigger meals. –William Blum

Seeing how I don’t happen to agree with that happily Reaganesque mindset either, enjoy playing a wide array of video games, like leaving work on time (screw unpaid overtime), focusing my time for things and people I enjoy like skateboarding, hang-gliding, pub-crawling, playing with my son and utilizing social media technology, in some ways, even though there are a few decades between our ages, I am completely in sync with their viewpoint.

The Boomer generation which currently rules the economic world and is giving themselves the best of executive pay, exotic homes and off-shore bank accounts seems completely dickish by complaining about a social group that starts with so little all things considered and expected to handle the worst of the Boomer excesses while starting off in debt, with poor credit, with criminalized poverty, no homes, no cars and little in the way of effective training in “How to Screw Over Your Fellow Workers While You Dine, Shark-like, on Their Inner Organs.”

Lately, I have been questioning the wisdom of indenturing out children with the idea they should have to pay for an education. I recognize we are a profit-driven society, but I believe paying for education should be something society does for our children, not the other way around. We invest in them so they can, return that investment in the development, improvement and effective management of the Commons. In countries like Sweden, Finland and places where reason is still a facet of their social consciousness, they recognize investment in youth, improving their lifestyles in the future. They look at us with nothing but contempt. I secretly sneer with them…

This should be a no-brainer. Instead, someone decided they should not only pay for education, but it should cost them as much as a home in the Midwestern United States. Anywhere from $30,000 to $250,ooo ended up seeming like a reasonable amount of money to pay for an education.

But wait, there’s more. We have also told them they should leave college in great debt, bearing great responsibility (paraphrasing Spider-Man) and do it with minimum wage pay. When you do the math, using the debt they leave college with and assuming minimum wage pay, it will take nearly as long as a 30 year mortgage to pay off and cost double the amount of the starting debt.

We have told our children that they have to save the world while being handicapped with major debt while starting off poorly socialized. Consumer technologically literate and hyper-connected but only interested in things which promote their internet meme of choice and assorted cat videos. Cursed with short attention-spans and the entire bulk of the world’s knowledge at their fingertips, they flit from info-bit to info-bit, full of memes and fury, signifying nothing.

So, how about we get off their backs, give them some tools, get away from our partisan political bickering, stop putting wealth and profit before streets, sewers, bridges and opportunity to participate in what was once one of the greatest economies in the world and find a way to help them with the long, damned list of things that have been screwed up under our watch during the era of Saint Reagan and the Greed Over People party. And no, I won’t give the Democrats a pass because they did their share of dirt too. They just appeared to care a bit more (and seemed more emotionally disturbed when they were caught doing dirt) while they were doing it.

The Millennials with our help will have to tackle a long list of issues. What issues? Here is a quick and dirty list:

  • reasonable and affordable health care,
  • a collapsing economic structure that needs a complete retooling,
  • reducing military interactions in foreign countries,
  • feeding and caring for the disenfranchised members of our societies,
  • our failing education system and improving its quality,
  • economic disparity between the rich and poor,
  • the digital divide all over the world and in all layers of economic strata,
  • effective socio-economic relationships with other sovereign nations,
  • global climate control and management,
  • toxic waste and overall waste management,
  • desertification of our food producing areas on our planet,
  • destruction of our planet’s rain forests at 20 square miles a day,
  • eradication of cancer,
  • HIV, AIDS, and management of growing list of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, 
  • renewable energy development,
  • loss of fossil fuels and what that means to our lifestyles,
  • failing infrastructures of power and roads and
  • corporate malfeasance just to name the few I could think of in about 30 seconds. 

Can we stop worrying about Millennials yet? We have so many other, more important things to deal with…

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Don’t get me started on Instagram…

Introspection: It should be what’s for dinner

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“We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy’s fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, under him the whole time. Your treasure–your perfection–is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

Change: The only universal constant

We want everyone else to change but we refuse. We think we are perfect just the way we are. But that is not always as true as we might believe.

We are the sum of our experiences, good and bad. Often our bad experiences define us far more than our good ones. We enjoy the good ones but rarely learn from them. We hate the bad ones, but their effect on how we think cannot be overlooked. So often much of what we are is the result of our reaction to life, not always life itself.

I challenge you to consider your imperfect life.

Of course it is imperfect, you are living in it. But I challenge you to spend an hour a day deconstructing your perceptions of reality. Who gave them to you? Who taught you to think the way you do?

Was it your mother, father, schoolteachers, your first bully or your hundredth? Was your worldview shaped by a pastor, a priest, or a religious tome you never told anyone you read and believed deep in your heart but never spoke its name aloud?

Truth be told, and this is a hard one. It is rare to find a thinking person who engages in original thought.

Why? Because we have been programmed from birth with the perceptions of all the people who teach us and expand our consciousness. To be mindful of your own thinking is one of the first things modern culture removes from us. Introspection becomes a Dark Art, a form of magic, performed and practiced by academics, mystics, sages, and motivational speakers.

We are taught to not listen to intuition, not to trust our gut, taught to listen to authority because it knows what’s best for you. We are taught to fear risk and hate change. This makes us obedient, pliant and non-complaining. We accept whatever is presented to us, no matter how abhorrent it might really be if you gave it a thought.

Declare Independence

That’s the rub. If you gave it a thought. If you did you might notice:

– A hour television show is only 40 minutes long with the rest of the time spent in commercials, meaning you could have up to 40 commercials inflicted on your subconscious during this time.

– If you were to watch the 11 hours most Americans are reputed to, you could end up having 440 commercials using up your mental real estate. Couldn’t you be thinking of something else?

– Your entire life consists of authority figures polarizing your worldview for or against a particular perspective.

This is an invisible thing. You have to look for it to realize how often its done. You have come to accept this perspective and built your mental filters around it. It comes in many names: patriotism, racism, sexism, homophobia, Republican, Democrat, geek, jock, Liberal, Conservative, atheist, believer and so on. Now that I mention it you can probably find your words you use to filter and alter your perspective to suit it.

Let me challenge you to find the only duality that matters.

Life and Death.

You are born and will live until you die. Everything else is both optional and largely irrelevant.

It will not make you or break you to accept any of the labels or dualities thrust upon you by your parents, your schools, your religions, your friends, or your political parties.

So why do we do it?

  • Because we don’t know any better.
  • Because our parents can’t see the future so they give you what they were given.
  • Because society wants us to have a certain perspective to better utilize our services.
  • Because the economic model wants us to purchase enough goods to sustain it.
  • Because our government wants us to believe whatever it is doing, it is right.
  • Because our species wants to survive, by any means necessary.

Because for the most part we spend the bulk of our lives asleep. Not literally, but figuratively. It is easier to go along to get along. It is easier to comply than to resist.

The system knows this. It counts on this. I challenge you to consider the next time you are about to do anything. I challenge you to decide you are going along because you want to, or because you have been conditioned to.

Why even consider this? You are happy the way you are. You think to yourself: “Introspection is only likely to cause me pain if I discover after looking at my life deeply and fully that I’m an asshole. How can that be a good thing to learn? I like my Confederate flag. I love my gas-guzzling SUV. I really do hate those Mexicans. I am certain of it. No one makes me do it. I have always done it.”

But that is exactly why you need to consider it. Are you doing these things because you want to or because that was what you were taught?

  • Were you told your Confederate flag was a sign of Southern Pride and has no other meaning than that? Are you aware some people might take offense? Are you aware why?
  • Do you know any Mexicans? Have you broken bread with them, talked with them, walked with them, seen any aspect of their lives, know anything about Mexico or its history? Considered any aspect of their lives beside what you learned from the worst pundits on television?
  • You don’t believe in climate change. But you do believe in the cost of your food going up. Why is that happening? Because food is not growing like it used to. Farms are not producing due to longer and hotter summers, longer droughts, random flash-flooding, longer storm seasons. You don’t have to believe in climate change. Be aware it may be happening anyway regardless of your belief.

The whole point of this exercise is to challenge what you believe to be true. Perhaps to make you aware your perspective is not the only one. To help you come to understand what we know about the universe is far less than what we don’t.

If you have a problem with that idea, go to your library. Look around at all of the books you haven’t read. Then ask yourself, if each of those books holds a single perspective about the universe from the person who wrote it, how much of the world is it possible for me to know anything about?

If you come to the conclusion, you probably don’t know anything at all, then you have arrived at the right place.

What now?

An acceptance of not knowing enough is only the beginning to introspection. It can help you learn new things about the world you took for granted. It can also free you from addictions, bad habits, health challenges brought on by living poorly. Phrases like “food deserts”, “obese yet malnourished”, “digital divide” “economic disparity” can come to have new meaning because you are open to learning about people other than yourself.

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On the other hand, you can stay closed to the world, keep your limited perspective and change nothing. If you’re rich, you really don’t have to worry about it. You can pay your way through life, sparing not a thought for anyone who has less than you; less money, less opportunity, less education, an overall lessened quality of life is something they have to deal with, not you.

And you are right. But you are also only half a human being, living half of an unexamined life. Blindingly wandering through life wondering why you have fewer friends, less meaningful relationships, derive less overall happiness from life. This too is the price of an unexamined life.

Why tell you any of this at all? You’ve been getting by all this time without knowing any of it.

Because people will always have expectations of you. And those expectations are built around their preconceived notions, family-derived algorithms of right and wrong, socially-derived algorithms about how to treat you, how to pay you, whether to expose you to toxic materials in their quest for wealth and power. And make no mistake, someone is/has/will be doing this to you in the future.

The only duality you have to contend with is Life and Death. Everything else is a choice. Recognize other people want to make choices for you. Only when you know yourself using introspection, meditation, self-examination, whatever you want to call it, will you be able to recognize the correct response to deal with the situation.

Every event, every day, every moment can be a moment that promotes change in your life. Being aware makes you conscious of those choices and those moments and gives you a chance to consider something you do, before you do it, instead of simply reacting to life using the programming, the conditioning, you haven’t even looked at over the course of your life.

Until now.

Be aware or not. It’s still your choice. The choice can be yours, or decided for you by someone else.

Be radical. Think about your life before you do something. Being aware of the choice may be more uplifting than you have ever considered.

Four Seasons