The Problem with Everything

The problem with everything is that human beings have a tendency to take the short term self-interest choice over the long terms self interest choice. We are, for some reason, wired for it. I understand this, but I’m having a hard time explaining it in words.

Let’s say there is an apple tree next to a town. The tree provides enough apples for everyone. Perfect, right? Wrong. Every person in the town will feel a little bit of an urge to hoard or to take more than their fair share. Will they all do it? Probably not. I believe there is an intrinsic altruism built into some people – maybe altruism is the wrong word – maybe golden rule practicality is the phrase I need to use here. So, the golden rule crowd will realize that they don’t want anyone to take their allocated share, so they won’t take more than their share – it’s a sort of long term self-interest but it comes out as looking like altruism in the short term. If there are people who are genuinely altruistic – they are exceedingly rare – I would suggest that there are only long term self interested and short term self interested people. There are also those who are playing a different game – they give up their share for some percieved benefit. There are many such – pity, honor, respect, or something else. The bottom line is that everyone looks at the apple tree and sees a benefit for themselves – and if the consequences outweigh the rewards for keeping everything even – everyone will have their share of apples.

But we all know that the world does not work like that. Those who seize the advantage early, generally have less consequences than those who do not. Some people realize that and are watching for that opportunity. In any event – the apples become a problem because some people are taking more than their fair share so others are getting less than their fair share. Cause and effect.

The headman of the town – whether appointed by strength, ability, or election – it doesn’t matter. A person steps to the fore and says the apples are a problem now – so we need to make some rules about them…and not everyone agrees. The person taking too many says something like “I work harder to take the apples so I deserve more” and the person getting too little says “Just because I am shorter, doesn’t mean I don’t deserve the apples growing higher” and the person who is canning the apples say “I am taking apples that would otherwise rot and making them into something that will keep” and everyone has a reason why their self-interest is more important than the other people’s self interest.

So, assuming a Kansas cattle grazing war doesn’t break out over the apples, rules are made and people are given the job of making everyone keep to the rules – which of course fails because the people keeping the rules suddenly have an advantage that will be expolited by themselves or by those smart enough to seek to exploit the advantage. So, ultimately, some people are left hungry, some people get fat, some people get rich, and others become poverty stricken. The poverty stricken and the hungry say “Hey, what about our interest?” And the rich and fat say “Why should we have to take care of those who don’t or can’t work as hard as we do?” And everyone is ultimately fucked because eventually, a cold, poor, hungry person cuts the apple tree down to use as firewoodpor simply to even the playing field so that no one has any apples.

The End.

What if, however, there was a way to change the way people think? What if, instead of focusing on the short term self interest, there was a way to get them to focus on the long term self interest? In that case, the apples would be harvested by all, the excess would be canned, and the needs of all would be met by the work of all. Wouldn’t that be awesome if something like that could happen?

The problem is that it can’t. Humans are short sighted, selfish, and ultimately unable to work together for a long term collective good.

And that’s the problem with everything.

Homeless People Living Like Pigs in Hawai’i

I have as much compassion and understanding for homeless people as anyone, but one thing bothers me. Why do they have to live like fucking pigs? Why is it that they have to have shit scattered all over an acre of park or abandoned land? I respect the ones who build tidy little shelters, clean up after themselves, take care of basic hygiene (because, come on, we have free showers and public restrooms in Hawaii and if you simply keep yourself clean looking, maybe wash your clothes once in a while, you can be a fucking tourist and people won’t bother you), and don’t destroy or possibly (big fucking gasp) actually improve the land they are living on. But no, they won’t find a dumpster, they drag shittons of rubbish to wherever they stay and strew it around like they are four year olds and not responsible for cleaning up their own messes. If they are crazy, they should be institutionalized. If they are sick or drug addicted, they should be put in a place where they can get medical help. If they are simply poor and not cleaning up after themselves, actually, fuck them. Just because you are poor doesn’t mean you get to be a fucking pig on public lands. I’m not allowed to litter and no one else should be allowed to either. They should get tickets, and then if they don’t take care of the tickets they should get warrants, and if they need to be arrested and given a psych evaluation they should get that and then they should either be institutionalized, forced into community service, or at the bare minimum put through a ‘clean up after your self bootcamp’ where they get taught how to wash, clean up their messes, and practice basic sanitation.

Hawai’i Problems and My Not So Simple Solutions

There are some big issues in Hawai’i. They were issues when I left in 2008 and they have gotten worse. In some cases much worse. Don’t get me wrong – I am plenty happy to have the bathwater with the baby – but as a logical person, I can’t help looking beyond band-aids and seeing some not very simple solutions.

1) Hawai’i has a car problem. There are so many cars on Oahu that the other day when I had my trailer in my assigned parking space it took me an hour and a half to find a parking space within a half mile of my apartment. This problem comes from many different sectors – and nearly every problem I will mention below has contributed and is connected to it. Housing is not affordable so you have three and four generations stacked in a single family home plus an ohana shack in the back yard – every adult has a car and the garage has been converted into an apartment so you have 3-10 cars on a property that was designed for one in the garage and one in the driveway. Add to that problem #2 – Hawai’i has a homeless problem – the worst in the nation and many of the homeless live in their cars – or try to. Then you have apartment buildings like ours – a l4 story builing where each apartment has 1-2 spaces and many of those have been sold or rented to earn the money necessary to live on. Then you have the military – problem #3. Every soldier, sailor, Marine, or airman has a car that they’ve had shipped over by the military – and their spouses have cars. Then you have tourism – car rental is a big business and tourists like to drive – huge lots of cars sitting and waiting to be rented and then looking for parking. As I remember, public transportation was pretty good in Hawai’i – but I can’t say for sure now because my job REQUIRED me to have a car – it was a condition of employment. The city and county are building a light rail system – which actually should help when it is someday completed- but they are going to have to take more drastic measures because car addiction is not easily solved. I don’t like these solutions any better than anyone would – but they have worked in other places. Creating car-free areas in urban congested zones to encourage commuting and using public transportation. Waikiki – car free. Downtown Honolulu – car free. University of Hawai’i – car free. Next are the less popular ideas – somehow banning the military import of personal vehicles and raising the price of car rentals – even less popular is the idea of raising the registration fee and taxes on vehicles – and offering buybacks on older and larger models. Nobody wants to have these things done – but the problem is far worse than it was and from what I can tell – this is the only way to make it better.

2) Hawai’i has a homeless problem. On this one, there is really only one solution – the humanistic solution. Every person should have the right to a safe, secure place to call home. Our greedy capitalist focused society has somehow made it ‘okay’ for there to be huge camps of people who have been left behind socially and economically. We pay huge amounts of money to house prisoners, we allow the ultra rich to buy huge properties and leave them vacant (in some cases entire apartment buildings). All of that needs to be said but ultimately – the homeless problem here and elsewhere is systemic and needs to be addressed at the root – housing is unaffordable here. Desirable real estate has gone so high that undesirable real estate has gone sky high and the rates that hotels and vacation rentals can bring have driven rents even higher. We have allowed the formation of a complex caste system to take place in our society where the higher castes can own unlimited amounts while the lower castes starve – this is considered ‘okay’. It’s not. Land that could be used for housing is gated and closed by the military, by golf courses, by country clubs, and by the ultra-wealthy.

3) Hawai’i has a military problem. There are nearly 100K military personnel here – and their dependents – wives, children, dogs, vehicles. The military long ago took all of the best lands on Oahu for itself. Pearl Harbor, Hickam Air Force Base, Bellows Field, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, and more. These lands and beaches should be given back. Pearl Harbor and Hickam are a city that could house a huge population. I am not saying that the military should leave Hawai’i completely – but the amount of land and number of troops should be reduced greatly. This would reduce traffic, homelessness, rent and property values, and other problems.

4) Hawai’i has a golfing problem. I’m not a golfer. I admit it. Golf courses shut down huge areas of land to any other use thus cutting the non-wealthy off from using that land, the amount of water they use is obscene, and, frankly, they are elitist symbols of our caste system. Seriously, there are dozens of courses on Oahu. A large number of them are on military bases. Ban golf on Oahu or limit the number of courses to five and make them all public – or, if you are crying in your elitist cup of cat poop coffee right now – allow one private course but make them pay full retail for the water.

5) Hawai’i has a tourism problem. Tourism here is a mess. It’s expensive to come here and the lines are out of control. I know a lot of mainland people have never come here because (and I’m quoting) when they price compare, they get a better deal, less crowds, and cheaper flights when they go to Mexico. Air BnB and uber and Lyft are giving people a chance to earn with their cars and properties but driving the cost of housing up and the profits of tourism down. None of that is what I am referring to though. The tourism problem is that huge amounts of money get spent here and are promptly deposited in mainland and international banks by companies and corporations that are not based here. That is the tourism problem I am referring to.

So, in a nutshell – here is what I propose (if anyone that could make it happen is reading this):
1) Reduce non-essential troop levels and base sizes, require the military to provide transportation for troops stationed here, no personally owned vehicles (POVs)
2) Eliminate most golf courses and require full payment for water and land from those that stay, no sweet elitist deals
3) Ban POVs from congested urban areas and raise taxes and registration fees on urban POVs
4) Create a vacancy tax to drive hotel/housing rates lower – owners must pay a tax on unoccupied property or rooms – if they are using AirBnB or similar or are a hotel resort, the tax is nightly – for residential it would be monthly
5) House the homeless in vacant military housing, provide low skill employment to those capable of working
6) Require resorts and tourist business to be based in Hawai’i and to bank in Hawai’i.

Would these solve the problems? Of course not. Would new challenges arise? Of course. Would these be a good start? Absolutely.

Schools are not safe in the USA – Nowhere in the USA is, actually

Another child murdered in a school today in the USA. 8 years old – doing nothing but going to school. I keep thinking of someone telling me it is irresponsible to travel overseas with my child – too dangerous – yes, but not as dangerous as staying home and sending my child to school. I blame this on capitalism – pure and simple. Guns are a business, government is a business, education is a business, crime is a business – people are the raw materials. Capitalism has turned us into resources- anyone ever asked you what you are worth? How do you answer? In cash. We sell our time, we sell our energy, we sell our health, we sell our safety – and the buyers are the masters of capital. We could have a society where people are safe, taken care of, fulfilled – but instead we have a society where some people own other people and we are measured (like it or not) by how much credit we have. Shylock’s Good Man wasn’t good in deed, but good for a debt – and that is how we are judged. It’s no wonder that people lose track of their intrinsic self worth and the intrinsic self worth of others. It’s no wonder that madmen are stealing guns from stores called Armageddon and sending manifestos of revolution to billionaire presidents. How long before someone lights themselves on fire in a way that starts the fire that burns this society down? Not sustainable. Capitalism is not sustainable.

The Greatest Dilemma aka The Parent’s Dilemma

Maybe you have to be me to understand this one, but I’m guessing that you only have to be a sort of half way self aware parent of a child that you truly love to understand it – this – my greatest dilemma.

I want my child to grow up and be happy and find success and joy and love and be able to deal with the world.

And the world is completely fucked up.

Am I supposed to turn my child into yet another completely fucked up, money obsessed, neurotic asshole? Should I teach her how to be a really good person despite the fact that our world chews up, spits out, and completely fucks over really good people?

Or should I teach her to be a sort of economic terminator that buys low, sells high, always makes the career expanding move, exploits the stupid career limiting moves of others, and who always takes the move that advances her interests (or the interests of those she is interested in)?

It’s a sort of expanded level of prisoner’s dilemma. Which, if you aren’t familiar with game theory, goes like this: (thanks Wikipedia)

The prisoner’s dilemma is a standard example of a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two completely “rational” individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. It was originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher working at RAND in 1950. Albert W. Tucker formalized the game with prison sentence rewards and named it, “prisoner’s dilemma” (Poundstone, 1992), presenting it as follows:

Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of communicating with the other. The prosecutors lack sufficient evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They hope to get both sentenced to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the prosecutors offer each prisoner a bargain. Each prisoner is given the opportunity either to: betray the other by testifying that the other committed the crime, or to cooperate with the other by remaining silent. The offer is:
If A and B each betray the other, each of them serves 2 years in prison
If A betrays B but B remains silent, A will be set free and B will serve 3 years in prison (and vice versa)
If A and B both remain silent, both of them will only serve 1 year in prison (on the lesser charge)
It is implied that the prisoners will have no opportunity to reward or punish their partner other than the prison sentences they get, and that their decision will not affect their reputation in the future. Because betraying a partner offers a greater reward than cooperating with them, all purely rational self-interested prisoners would betray the other, and so the only possible outcome for two purely rational prisoners is for them to betray each other. The interesting part of this result is that pursuing individual reward logically leads both of the prisoners to betray, when they would get a better reward if they both kept silent. In reality, humans display a systemic bias towards cooperative behavior in this and similar games, much more so than predicted by simple models of “rational” self-interested action. A model based on a different kind of rationality, where people forecast how the game would be played if they formed coalitions and then maximized their forecasts, has been shown to make better predictions of the rate of cooperation in this and similar games, given only the payoffs of the game.

An extended “iterated” version of the game also exists, where the classic game is played repeatedly between the same prisoners, and consequently, both prisoners continuously have an opportunity to penalize the other for previous decisions. If the number of times the game will be played is known to the players, then (by backward induction) two classically rational players will betray each other repeatedly, for the same reasons as the single-shot variant. In an infinite or unknown length game there is no fixed optimum strategy, and Prisoner’s Dilemma tournaments have been held to compete and test algorithms.

The prisoner’s dilemma game can be used as a model for many real world situations involving cooperative behaviour. In casual usage, the label “prisoner’s dilemma” may be applied to situations not strictly matching the formal criteria of the classic or iterative games: for instance, those in which two entities could gain important benefits from cooperating or suffer from the failure to do so, but find it merely difficult or expensive, not necessarily impossible, to coordinate their activities to achieve cooperation.

So, should I teach my child to be a drone, a thinking, good person, or a mercenary ? Which option maximizes her happiness in the future? Is she going to be happier if she is successful or if she is good or if she is a part of the system? This is what I call the parent’s dilemma.

So, here is the dilemma in pretty simple terms. I can teach my child to be successful in this world, which makes her a part of what I see to be the problem or I can teach her to not be part of the problem, which from what I have experienced and continue to see will make her unsuccessful. There does not seem to be a middle way in this particular dilemma – at least no middle way that exists in the United States of America.

People’s Voices in Our Heads

We all have them. Not the crazy type of voices, but the voices of people we know and the things they say that just stay in our heads bouncing around. Sometimes the voices of people we met in passing or heard on the TV or radio. Those voices – they have a lot of power – and most of that power comes from the fact that we don’t stop and consider just who that voice came from, what they might possibly know, and in what context it was said.

Here’s one that has been with me since kindergarten – a little girl’s voice that said to me “You’re a storyteller!” in an admiring tone. This one little 5-year-old girl’s voice saying something on the playground as we played on the jungle gym might be exactly what propelled me to write, to tell stories, to aspire to greatness in the field of telling stories. Imagine if she had said to me “You’re a preacher!” or “You’re a doctor!” or a thousand other things…did her utterance lead to my current reality – I’m pretty sure it did and the fact that her voice is still clear in my head makes me fairly certain of that. I’m grateful she didn’t say “You’re a loser” or “You’re a retard” – which was the word kids used back in those days for kids who had to wear football helmets in school. I’m lucky. I’m lucky that I didn’t die when I fell and broke my skull shortly before starting school and I’m lucky the kids in my kindergarten class weren’t cruel to me for having to wear that helmet all the time.

There are lots of voices in our heads – all of them real people who said real things – or in some cases fictional characters who said real things. I was a stock broker at one point in my life and on a bad day a client said “You should quit and go buy a guesthouse on the Bosphorus” – his voice bounced around in there and a few years later guess where I was? I was managing a guesthouse on the Bosphorus in Turkey. In the late 1990s when I was living in my car, my brother said “You should go to China if you think you got it bad” – much to his surprise and mine – not a year later, I was backpacking through China – almost certainly because his voice was bouncing around in my head.
Does it mean I’m susceptible to suggestion? I’m sure it does – but here is the thing – we all are.

It wasn’t until these past several years that I’ve become self-aware enough (and still a long way to go) to recognize that many of the thoughts I think are my own – were actually voiced by someone else – and then bounced around in my head until they came out and I thought they were mine. I witness this on a regular basis in other people too – I’ll be present during a conversation where one party says something. A good deal of time will go by, maybe months, maybe years, and then I’ll hear a different party who was taking part in that conversation say the same thing but as if it is an original thought or idea which they have come up with. I’m convinced that they have no conception that they are plagiarizing – and we all doing it. And, get this, if we are not aware of where these thoughts or ideas come from we are in danger of thinking they are our own – and when we think they are ours, we tend to associate ourselves with them.

This is how misogyny, racism, and bigotry of all kinds is built. These voices don’t just turn you into a writer, send you on a trip, or make you think you are more clever than you are (or that someone else is worthier than they are) – these voices are dangerous. And in our world, this brave new world of mass media in every pocket and on every screen and in our ears and brains at all times – dangerous ideas are more dangerous than ever. It’s more than just a meme or an ear-worm – it’s potentially a weapon of mass destruction. Be on your guard – when you hear a thought – try to look at it, try to discover the source, and be as critical as you would be if it were coming from someone else – because most likely it is.