Working together… taking risks together.

Landing (Photo credit: Rhubarble)

44 years and one week ago, we worked together and landed on the moon. We invested massively as a society and we all took the risk that the mission may fail. Yet, we came out of it benefiting not only from the pride of such an amazing achievement, but also by the myriad technologies developed by the process to achieve said achievement. No money was made, no one became dirty rich over it, if it failed it would have ruined no one’s lives except the individual astronauts who were willing to take the risk for all of us and yet, we all gained in the long term.

We gave up short term gain by investing money, sweat, blood and tears on such a grand venture for all mankind.

We would have all gained from the investment in engineering and research regardless of the success of the mission, and a few heroes who went on that flying firework were the ones that took all the risk.

Business firms like Xerox invented  the PC as we know it (ethernet, GUI, etc.) They worked to create long-term value for their business, not simply to get short-term gain at all costs.

Wouldn’t that be nice if we could get over our religion of individualism and do the same today?

The ultra-individualism developing over the past decades has lead to short-term thinking, massive risk-taking and wholesale destruction of the social contract that kept all of us united and building a better world together. We excuse it because of the myth that anyone, without regards to luck, familial connections or access to capital can somehow become an individualistic God (read: billionaire) by simply working hard on that idea that changes everything.

Yes, some people have done that and helped the world – Steve JobsBill Gates, etc. However many, many more have not and what’s worse is many have discovered the best way to become a God in an individualistic secularist world is to cheat the system, find the loopholes where you can make money without adding value, where you can perform rent-seeking.

Firms like FedEx and UPS cut costs by providing terrible customer service because it saves them money in the short term, even though it could cost them customers in the long term. They rely on the barrier to entry of cost to get away with it, just as the wireless carriers in Canada regularly work to ensure that no real competitor exists against them so they can provide the worst quality server and most expensive data plans without fear of repercussions.

Many businesses have stopped trying to create value for society, instead trying to make competition difficult, if not impossible.

Our government systems have evolved from systems which work to improve the well being of all, into systems designed to maintain the status quo and only help those who are already successful – social darwinism by any other name.

We had a grand financial and economic experiment for the past 20 years. An experiment designed to take the wealth of the richest people and increase it without adding any significant value to the economy, all without risk – rent-seeking on a grand scale. These investments were nothing like the risky investments by the rich English bankers in the days of exploration – investments to build boats to bring the riches of the orient back to Europe or investments into building railways to connect millions and allow factories to be built. These investments were designed to be risk-free money producing money without any consideration for the production of value for society as a whole.

This whole house of cards collapsed in 2008.

Trillions of dollars were wiped from the account books in an instant and most Americans, heck most people worldwide had no say in this risk-taking, so their hands should have been clean when it failed. Those who taken the risk should bear the brunt of that gamble failing.

Yet, they haven’t.

In fact, those who did the risk-taking, those who gambled and lost have come out better than before from this. The economy has already recovere for them. Yet the contractors who build their houses, the factory labourers who build their goods, their software programmers who program their software, the doctors and nurses who take care of them, the teachers who taught them, the workers who pave their roads, even the barristas who makes their coffee are all still paying for their failure, and worse the government – our government – has made it clear that they aren’t going to even try to get any of the money back from them. The true failures of the experiment suffered nothing (or barely) while we, the labourers and the creators, suffer the most to save them from becoming failures.

We suffer in order to save these people from becoming fallen Gods, even though that’s what they already are. We are all sacrifices at the alter of individualism.

We went over 40 years from a world where the heroes brought back pieces of the stars to us, to a world where we all have to sacrifice to the fallen Gods of our individualistic religion, even if it costs us our soul as a united society.

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If you play with fire, don’t be surprised if you get burned

Match (Photo credit: Samuel M. Livingston)

Here is where I get controversial, but I feel it’s about time someone just said this.

The world is not a safe place nor is it a perfect place. Perhaps we in the western world forget that while we live in our relatively safe communities, but we aren’t free to do anything we want without consequences. Simply put, not every person we meet is sunshine and rainbows.

We all want it to be perfectly safe, and we all have our own ideas of what, specifically, is going wrong and what could be done to fix it. However, it’s not. This isn’t a bad thing – fighting through the bad and difficult things are what defines us as a species. It’s how we get to the bottom of the ocean, or to the outer reaches of space in manned vehicles.

It’s also how, in our youthful search for hedonistic pleasures, we get ourselves into a whole lot of trouble.

Statement 1: “If only people wouldn’t hurt other people”

To enact positive change you cannot pretend the world is not the way that it is. The claim that if only all people with guns in a warzone stopped fighting eachother we’d have peace, or the classic 60s pacifist line of “if only the soldiers would stop fighting, there’d be no war” is patently silly.

For better or worse, you are correct if this perfect world was achieved, the world would be perfect. However, that isn’t how things work. If you are in a warzone, and you are running through a field with no armour, you are probably going to get shot.


Bullet wound vs shrapnel wound
Ow! – Bullet wound vs shrapnel wound (Photo credit: theMatthewBlack)

Were you asking to get shot? No. Did you deserve to get shot? No. Were you shot? Yes. If you had entered the war zone prepared differently would have have been shot? Possibly no, but If anything, there would be a lower chance of long term injury. If you didn’t enter the known war zone in the first place would any of this had happened? No.

However, these facts seem to be non-permitted in today’s modern politically correct dialogue. You end up being told it’s area verboten. Yes, it’s more important that the injured party get treated and ensured they are psychologically and physically in good condition. After someone is injured there isn’t much you can say to them because they played with fire and got hurt.

However, while it would be nicer if we could just make people nice and good, there is nothing wrong with using this to teach others that bad things can happen if you are not careful. It is possible to make it clear that entering the warzone isn’t safe, that running around as an unarmed target is going to get you injured. It may be fun and exciting and play to a self-destructive hedonistic desire, but it is dangerous and the possibility of things going horribly wrong is quite high. I’ve heard this called “victim-blaming”, but it is not. This is common sense education: If you walk around a dangerous neighbourhood with thousand dollar bills hanging from your pants and clear sign that you couldn’t fight off an intruder even if you wanted to; you will likely get mugged. It isn’t right, and definitely is symptomatic of a deeper problem.  The people who commit these crimes are terrible people and should be dealt with properly. However, there is also a onus of being aware of the dangers of any situation you get yourself into, and maturely accepting the consequences should the situations go bad.

Maturity and Growth

A mature adult takes ownership of the decisions they made, regardless if someone else caused the problem. If I walk into a situation that is known to be hazardous and I get hurt, I should take ownership of my original decision. I should acknowledge that I knew the situation could have been difficult, and if I didn’t realize that, I should be willing to teach others so they are better prepared than me.

The world is not perfect, humanity is imperfect, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. There are sociopaths and psychopaths that would use every opportunity they get to take advantage of these situations. You can pretend they don’t exist, but that is only because you haven’t been immersed in them or had to deal with them daily. Ask any police officer and they’ll tell you. The world isn’t fair, and it isn’t safe. To pretend otherwise and then act surprised when all hell breaks loose is to play with a tinder box and be surprised when it blows up.

This doesn’t mean that I think all men are evil, or that all of one class, racial, etc, group are evil. This means that if you want to play with fire, don’t be surprised if you get burned.

Apollo 1 Crew in Training
Apollo 1 Crew in Training (Photo credit: NASA APPEL)

This isn’t a bad thing, the Apollo 1 astronauts went into their capsule knowing full well what could have happened, and did happen when they all died. Yes, I do blame them for that, but I blame them for having the bravery and dedication to do it. It was an incredibly stupid act from the perspective of self-preservation, but it was an incredibly honourable act from the perspective of driving us forward as a society. They made a decision, they followed through on it, and they got the consequences.

If we didn’t “victim-blame” them, we wouldn’t be able to honour them, since it wouldn’t be their decision any longer, it wouldn’t be their fault.

This, sadly, goes for any situation where an individual decides to go in knowing the possible consequences if things do not go fully the way they planned.

Statement 2: “If we made it illegal (made a rule), then the problem will go away.”

My father made a statement to me when I was little and I got into the “Why don’t they just make it illegal?” mentality. He told me

If it was made illegal, then only criminals will do it.

I was too young (7 years old) to really understand what he meant. However, after myriad experiences over the past 15 years, it’s starting to become clearer. Rule, laws, specific structures aren’t a panacea. In fact, they can have the opposite effect desired in many cases. Ie. the more they are enforced, the more criminals will charge to provide access to this limited supply of goods, and the more criminals will want to provide it since the profit margins are massive.

An arrangement of psychoactive drugs
An arrangement of psychoactive drugs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Drug War has had one very positive effect on the US economy. Drugs are more expensive than they need to be and have funded the black market incredibly effectively without having to pay taxes on any of them since technically they are illegal anyways. It’s the ultimate tax-free business, assuming you don’t get caught. It has likely boosted the economy dramatically in the US.

Yet, drugs are illegal to sell, so only criminals sell drugs. The people we least want to be involved. People who don’t follow any of the other rules and are more than willing to break some of the most central ones to maintaining a stable society.

In the same vein, it has been shown that written rules encourage rule breaking. Before a rule is written down, the spirit of what needs to be followed is “the rule.” Once it is in a written form though, most people almost immediately work to find loopholes in them. Many social psych studies have shown that people will actually be more anti-social when rules are explicitly laid out for social interaction. Many people become almost like lawyers, trying to find the loophole where they get gain even though they are “technically” following the rules.

Bad people will always break the rules and, in turn, generally will hurt people. Yet, even good people try to find ways around the rules and, in turn, can hurt people but feel justified since it still matched the rules. This is why some laws in the US go for thousands of pages.

Regardless, referring to Statement 1, we like to play with fire.

Is this a bad thing?

No! We are human. When rules exist, we try to break them. This is how we do awesome stuff like fly, go to the moon or build smaller and smaller computers. We hate being restricted, and that urge drives us to invent new and better ways to “break these rules.” People like to play with fire, and if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have come up with some of the most amazing (if incredibly dangerous) prototypes to break them.

Yet, we need to accept responsibility for when our decisions go wrong and not get upset when someone points out to us that if you decide to stick your finger into an outlet, you will get zapped. We made the decisions, knowing full well the world isn’t perfect. We can make the rules, knowing full well that they won’t be followed (and that is not a bad thing.)

We cannot make a decision that goes wrong, then protest and claim that we cannot take responsibility for our own decisions, regardless of the intentions behind it. As mature people, we cannot argue that while the possibly foreseen negative consequences weren’t planned, we are not responsible for initially playing with fire. Yes, we can punish bad people, but we cannot forget that bad people will always exist. We can’t hide from the fact that no matter what happens, we are not and will never be free to do anything we want with no consequences.

Going to the moon can have consequences, exposing yourself to physical harm for hedonistic gain has possible consequences, and making decisions to play with fire can have consequences. You can put the fire out afterwards, but you can’t claim the only reason you got burned was due to the fire.

Fire is hot, it’s fun to play with because it’s dangerous, but don’t be surprised if you get burned.

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