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 … Continue reading “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.

My First Day Driving for Lyft

Day before yesterday was my last day working as an underpaid contract archaeologist. The good news is that I’m still an archaeologist – but not employed as one. Maybe there are archaeology jobs out there that wouldn’t make me scramble to pay my bills or question my self worth with fry-cook pay on job sites where the guys who spray the ground with hoses to keep the dust down earn two to three times what I was getting paid… I thought about it, realized that if they wouldn’t pay me what I felt I was worth then I would go out and earn what I’m worth elsewhere. As a tour guide, I earn the same monthly pay I was getting as an archaeologist – but in just four days. So, I’ve given myself almost an entire month of free time if I choose to take it and during that time I’m setting up a new tour business, buying and selling online, at the swap meet, and on amazon and ebay – and I set myself up to drive for Lyft.

I don’t have any friends I’ve talked with who drive for Lyft or Uber, so I went into this blind. My application took a bit over two months. When I signed up, I thought I would do archaeology during the day and Lyft at night – but I’ve read that Lyft stretches applications to prevent drivers from completeing $350 sign on bonuses – so by a strange quirk of luck, on my last day as an archaeologist – Lyft approved me to drive.

I’d read a little bit online and decided that I was not going to be a driver offering free water or snacks etc to my riders. The margins are not super to begin with, so I’m not going to throw 50 cents hoping to get a $1-$2 tip that probably will come anyway if I drive safely and am friendly. People either tip or they don’t – there isn’t really an in between – at least in my experience as a waiter, bartender, driver, and guide. If they tip, they will tip even if the tip is included. If they don’t tip – they simply don’t tip. So there is no need to invest in it. Just smile, keep the car clean, and drive safely.

I went out in the middle of the day because I wanted to start slow. My expectation was that, this being Hawaii, I would be driving a lot of tourists around. I was completely wrong. I thought I would be doing a fair number of airport runs and drives to Kailua. I was completely wrong. I gave seven rides and every one of them was less than five miles and to people that live and work here. The rides were short and the interactions were fun. My first ride was a large man – a gay hairdresser on his way to work. 2.4 miles and he tipped me a buck. Nice guy. That was at 10:30. I drove around for an hour and twenty minutes and missed a ride because I didn’t reply in the 15 seconds. Then I missed another. My second ride was a bartender on his way to work 2.3 miles. Funny guy. The next ride called, I accepted and started driving to him then he cancelled. After about an hour and ten minutes, my third ride hailed me. I thought he was a crazy person because he was dancing with his phone in front of safeway – I called to make sure it was him, it was, he was. Nice guy doing some grocery shopping. A little off, but pleasant. 15 minutes later I picked up a mom and her son from school – they were nice. Just three minutes later I picked up a girl heading to Safeway. She was a tipper! 10 minutes after that was a girl heading to work in Waikiki…friendly and nice. Finally a woman who had relocated from Palau hailed me twelve minutes later from Walmart and I drove her home with her groceries. My longest ride was 2.4 miles and 16 minutes. In all, I had passengers in my car for 61 minutes and earned just shy of $40. The other three hours were time I spent wandering into different neighborhoods to see if rides would pop up. Mostly they didn’t. Lyft shows where peak ride areas are and it seems to me that there is a good argument to be made to find a place to park in those neighborhoods and wait for the rides while working on my laptop.

So, depending on how you look at it – I either made $39/hour or about $10/hour on my first day during non-peak time. The people were nice and the interactions were between 4 and 16 minutes which is just about the right amount of time for short character sketches. I think I can do much better than that as I learn more. In any event, I like it. I recommend it. If you want to give it a shot, I encourage you to give it a try. Here is my signup email…if you signup with my code, we both get paid extra – providing Lyft doesn’t take 60 days to approve you like they did with me…

Hey!

I think you’d make a great Lyft driver. Lyft matches drivers with passengers who request rides (and pay for the trip) through a smart phone app. As a driver, you’ll earn money by driving your own car, on your own schedule.

If you apply using my referral link, you’ll also pocket an extra bonus. (For example, Honolulu referrals get $750 after giving 150 rides in their first 50 days.) See the terms at https://lft.to/terms.

Here’s where to apply: https://www.lyft.com/drivers/CHRISTOPHER85479

This Heartbreaking World

I want to start by saying that I don’t usually give homeless people or people that are begging anything except my compassion. We all know that story about the rich beggar with the garage full of undriven cars and the big house filled with unworn clothes – the beggar who sits on the corner asking for money. Or the drug addict or alcoholic who takes handouts to fuel their addiction. Or the professional beggars who find it more profitable than having a job. All those stories and well intentioned advice have led me through the years to refrain from giving to individuals. I sometimes donate to charities or drop a dollar here or there but generally, like almost everyone, I keep my distance from the homeless, the needy, the sick, the impovershed, and the dying. Aside from all of that, I struggle to pay all of our bills, I struggle to meet our obligations, and each dollar is too hard won to give it away. So you should know that before I write any more.

It’s impossible to ignore the suffering here on Oahu. Just like it’s impossible to ignore in Oakland and other places where the class divisions have grown so pronounced that there is nearly speciation between those who have and those who do not. We are forced to look at them as a different species – because the moment we stop doing so- the moment we let the wall down between us – it’s such a heartbreaking and awful feeling that it would be nearly impossible to let the world continue on as it is. They are ‘the homeless’ which carries a laundry basket of associated terms like drug addicts, mentally ill, alcoholics, criminal, unfit, and more. We put those terms on them – and we say sometimes ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ but we have to delineate the line – there is us and there is them. Us and them. They are not like us, we are not like them. There is no we, only us and them.

So, that’s what I’m writing about. Today, I went and got my car washed. I stopped and bought some spices at a health food store. I was sitting at a stoplight at a corner and there was one of them. Sun-baked skin like the back of a sailor’s neck, unbrushed grey hair frizzled like a sheeps coat in winter, dirt sticking to her clothing and sticking to the dirt on her clothing, second hand pants too big, rolled up and cinched with a rope. There she was sitting and staring at the ground, talking to herself, picking up small stones and throwing them at her feet, holding a sign “Please help. Homeless and Hungry” She was just like so many of them. Another of the homeless begging on a corner. She wasn’t any different than the last one you saw outside Walmart or next to McDonalds or sitting at the divider. And there I was, sitting in my car listening to the news on the radio and trying to ignore her, trying not to make eye contact, trying not to acknowledge her in any way. I caught myself devising a strategy if she caught my eye. I would smile, nod, and look away. I caught myself and I felt disgusted by me. I wanted to throw up all over myself. I knew what I was doing. I’ve done it so many millions of times. As she talked to herself and threw those pebbles at her feet, I told myself she was obviously crazy. I told myself that she might be one of the rich scammers or the lazy do-nothings. I told myself every lie that we all tell ourselves. None of them worked. I’d caught myself. I told myself that I didn’t have money to give away, that my money wouldn’t make a difference, and frankly, I don’t and it wouldn’t – not really.

But I couldn’t do it – I thought to myself “I’m going to give her $5” and I reached for my wallet, I opened it and I only found a $1 and a $10. The voice in my head said “Never mind, just move along” and then “Just give her the buck, you can’t give her the ten” but my better self, the financially stupid self, the compassionate human self was in the driver seat of my car. I took the ten, I rolled down the window and I said “Hey”

She looked up in surprise. She never would have caught my eye. Her eyes had never looked up. She looked at me and slowly began to push herself up off the ground to move towards the money I was holding out to her. She reached it and before she could say thank you or anything else it was me that spoke “I’m sorry for this world”. Our eyes were locked on each others – hers as blue as mine, as clear as mine, her mind as clear as mine, her humanness as clear as mine. “It’s a pretty messed up world,” she said in return.

The light was green. I rolled up my window and drove on. I wept all the way home.

It’s a pretty messed up world.

It’s Difficult to Not Be Angry With the Wizard

I find it a constant challenge to not be angry at the complete bullshit that we are all wrapped up in. Here we are, all wrapped up in our world-views, struggling, fighting, suffering, striving, dying, and all to achieve what we view as ‘the way it is’ – and yet, it’s not really the way it is at all. Not even close. Consumer culture, politics, capitalism, success, failure, (the list goes on) these are all human constructs which in point of fact, have no actual basis in reality. Yes, they are real, yes we are trapped in them for the time being, and yes they affect us – but these things are not actually real.

In the book, The Wizard of Oz (not the movie, the book), Dorothy and her friends and all of the inhabitants of Oz are forced to put on green glasses before entering Oz. The Wizard is not simply hiding beind the curtain and manipulating light and sound – he is fucking with the reality-perception of an entire society! He is using every trick he can to maintain control and keep the society under his control – and he sends Dorothy and her friends on multiple death errands because he feels threatened by their awareness and power. He sends them with the thought that if they succeed, it’s good for his people and if they die, well, it’s good for him.

Our human society and governments are the wizard. In reality, we are not missing the things we seek. We have brains, courage, heart, and even the ability to get ‘home’ – meaning in this context home to our true nature, to what we truly are. We are not made to be politicians or business people or financiers or developers or any of ten thousand other things – we are made to be friends, family, nurturers, builders, craftsmen, explorers, and more – but the wizard has blinded us so that we only see green, so that we only see financial security, monetary success, and so that we become consumed by riches.

It’s difficult to not be angry with the wizard. I’ll admit, I’ve been incredibly incensed for most of my life. I’ve made myself sick with anger at the false nature of our existance for most of my adult life. I was young when I tore the glasses from my head and have spent the better part of my life trying to convince others that what they thought they were seeing was only an illusion – most people seem to already understand that on some level – but most of them prefer to live in the illusion – they understand how to navigate in the wizard’s world and intuitively understand that navigating outside of it is far more dangerous than mastering life within the illusion. The problem of course is like that of a video gamer who is very good at a video game but terrible at life – you may be President in the game but in reality you are suffering from malnutrition and alone in a filthy pile of refuse.

So, those of us who know the truth about the glasses – we are left with a dissatisfying choice of either wearing the glasses and immersing ourselves in the illusion or removing the glasses and suffering the reality that all around us are living the lie. The Buddha offered a third alternative which is – from my experience – the most difficult. The middle path allows us to live in the world of illusion while seeing it for what it is. Finding the true middle path is incredibly hard – I have spent my life bouncing from one side to the other – and when I get close – I am distracted by this anger, the anger at the illusionist, the anger at the illusion itself, the anger at being put in the position where I must don these green glasses and walk amongst the delusional – my anger is self-righteous (as all anger is) – and it is dangerous. I must strive to put my anger away- as far as I know, there are only two ways to do that – acceptance of what is and releasing the anger as love through compassion and empathy.

Homeownerlessness

Thus far, in my life, I have never owned my own home except when I’ve lived in VW vans. It’s my own fault – mortgages were easy to come by several times in my life and I chose not to invest. This will sound funny, but the prices always seemed too high. In the early-1990s – a Staff Seargent in my Marine Corps unit suggested that a bunch of enlisted guys pool our money and start buying real estate. It was a good suggestion and none of us took it. In the mid to late 1990s, I was struggling to find my calling – if, while I had worked in radio, I had applied for a mortgage using my VA Loan – I could have bought a modest house in what is now the booming real estate market of Bellingham, Washington. In the early 2000s – I had the opportunity to purchase a small studio apartment in Honolulu for $100,000 – the price seemed pretty extreme to me and I passed. And then, the housing boom came and I was sure that the economy was heading over a cliff but mortgages were incredibly easy to come by – I chose not to seek a home loan. That was it for me – those were my opportunities. We all know what happened in 2007 with the economy and housing – as a result of that – the requirements for getting a home loan became much more stringent – in fact – in 2016 when I talked to several banks about getting a loan – they told me that my VA Guarantee was no longer worth much and that as a self-employed business owner that my reported income was too low to qualify for a home loan – both bankers suggested that I ‘find a way’ to report a higher income. Yes, I could have lied on my taxes this year. I could have taken less deductions. I could have paid more tax…but the truth is that this year with the long grey winter and the bizarre politics of 2016 – my business wasn’t sufficient to do that. We needed those deductions.

Now, the housing market is again red hot. Things like AirBnB have made housing prices soar in desirable locations. I am in the midst of closing or with any luck selling my business (I do not own the building that houses it). For the present time, my VA Home Loan Guarantee sits in a folder – worthless and unusable. I console myself by imagining that the housing market will again have a massive crash and perhaps I will be able to buy something afterwards – but I don’t really believe it. I tell myself that the banks own most of the houses that people live in – and the mortgages are simply another form of rent and home ownership is by and large an illusion anyway. We have been served an eviction notice in the house we’ve rented for the past four years because the owner wants to sell it. I am thankful that we had already been making plans to move before we got the notice, but can’t help asking myself “What if we had not?”

We currently exist in a 60 day limbo in which lies a form of homelessness that terrifies me. The landlord was apologetic and felt bad about serving the eviction because we have been great tenants – but right now is the time to sell. I don’t blame her a bit. I would have done the same thing in her position. We are 60 days away from involuntary family homelessness.

Yes, we have been making plans. Yes, I am sure we will find something. I’d be foolish, however, not to be concerned. AirBnB and the red hot housing market have driven rents sky high.

I am a person – actually, we are a family, that if you want to send a birthday card to my 5-year-old daughter, a letter to my wife, or even a bill to me – more than 60 days from now to us – we have no forwarding address.

So, once again, here I am. This time, I was ready to seize opportunity – and this time it was denied me. I am rooting for the collapse of the economy. I am rooting for the collapse of the housing bubble. I am rooting for the collapse of AirBnB and more. I would rather be cheering for the economy and housing – but this Gen-x USMC veteran has been left behind by it. I have been left out of it. I accept my responsibility in this process – but no matter how hard I try – it just doesn’t make sense that this is all my fault. And so – here we are. Here I am. Here we go.