I received a phone call the other day from a gentleman whom it quickly became apparent that I had much in common. Both raised in the Midwest, staring out in the U.S. Navy in a very technical field, and we had both done rather well in life. He had amassed a fortune in real estate but at the age of 52, was not very happy – with a gorgeous wife, a huge modern home, any car he liked, and a $40 million commercial real estate empire. He was left unsatisfied and empty with no joy in his life.
And his central question was about whether or not I was “happy”.
Now in my family, guys didn’t talk much about “happy”. I don’t recall ever once hearing my father inquire as to whether or not I was “happy” and I have to confess, in all our put togethers I never once asked him if he was “happy”. Girls talked about happy all the time. In my world, guys just didn’t. First, it didn’t matter. You did what you needed to do happy or not. And second, nobody else really cared. You were supposed to make THEM happy or at least fed and secure. You were a guy.
My son actually told me at one point that he wasn’t happy. He’d been living with three sisters and a mother so I guess that is where he had gotten that talk. But I perhaps not very sensitively told him that it didn’t matter if he was happy or not. He was a guy and nobody gave a shit if he was happy. But if anything was amiss, it would be up to him to fix it for his own future family and including any screwups by his sisters and mother as well. Fair or unfair son, it’s on your watch. You’re a guy and that’s what the gig is. And nobody cares if you are happy.
Apparently it was the wrong response as he later decided to become a girl.
But my response to the caller was that I was quite beyond “happy” and found joy and meaning in each and every day and could hardly wait to get up each morning and do it all over again. I only sleep when my knees buckle and I actually go down hard, and that has admittedly become earlier and more frequent as the orbits around the sun accrue, the weight increases, and the energy wanes. But I can scarce imagine being happier or what I would do if I were. I live on the most gorgeous planet in the universe, overrun with life so abundant you can’t keep the chiggers off of you, in a universe mostly known for being cold, sterile, and lifeless by all observation to date. It is high privilege to be here at all.
As we had each rather succeeded beyond expectations with regards to careers and fortune, and as we had each married well and often, and had gorgeous fabulous wives, why was I “happy” and he wasn’t?
And so I’ve given that some thought and I believe I know the answer. But it goes quite beyond he and I. Between 1999 and 2016, suicide rates in the United States have increased an astounding 25%. That is the known and reported rates of suicide. Some 25,000 people per year. But there is another statistic even more troubling. We now lose 60,000 people per year to opiate overdose. Yeah, it’s unfortunate that people are so disenchanted they turn to drugs to find joy. But that’s not the part that strikes me.
People addicted to opiates take opiates EVERY DAY. They know EXACTLY what they are doing and EXACTLY how much to take. So why so many “accidental” overdoses. In a recent NPR interview a woman who had been there and done that put it rather succinctly. She acknowledged that she routinely traded sex with anyone anywhere to get her drugs and was NOT enured to it but constantly tortured by the humilation and debasement of it all. She admitted she had lied to and defrauded her own mother for money to get drugs and in the end simply stole from her outright at the end whenever she could. Her own mother.
And she reached the point where there was simply NO HOPE of escaping the addiction, and her descent into a living breathing hell on earth had no escape hatch. She was in a downward spiral and had no way out.
Fortunately, someone intervened and she was indeed struggling to recover but she openly derided the idea that drug overdose was “accidental”. She would estimate that 90% or MORE of these “accidental” overdoses were not accidental at all. They were quite deliberate. The final solution – a way out.
So it is very likely that the increased suicide rates and the increased opiate addiction are not only related, but work together to understate enormously the number of people SO unhappy that they would end their lives prematurely and by their own hand.
And the perception is that we live in terrible times, on a planet and society devolving to chaos, and the good old days are forever gone. School shootings are becoming NORMAL. Madmen mow down people in a Las Vegas parking lot. ISIS launches mass murder and terror attacks around the world. And poverty and unemployment and war and nuclear armegeddon are inevitable and increasing. If robots don’t take our jobs then AI will exterminate us. Life is truly dire and we are nothing short of the apocalypse – zombies or no.
There’s just one little problem. NONE of it is REAL. IT is a horror FANTASY so laughably inaccurate that any outside observer would find this just HILARIOUS how totally off kilter we as a species are psychologically. And this has an absolutely known cause. The cause is a conspiracy launched by Mike Lindell, of MyPillow, and Flo, from Progressive Insurance, and they are both partying like Rock Stars at our discomfort.
We are hardwired mentally to filter our environment and pay close attention to anything that might pose a threat to our existence. You might be enjoying a sunny day walking through a field of beautiful flowers, but if ONE little tiger appears, the flowers and the day are entirely forgotten and you focus like a laser on that tiger. Butterflies are beautiful but entirely forgotten if one big red barn wasp shows up to spoil the fun.
That’s because the tiger might eat you. The flowers probably won’t. It is natural. It is necessary. And it is an effective mode in favor of long and healthy and happy lives. Avoid tigers. Don’t worry about the flowers.
And so it is quite rational to be nipple deep in rose petals and hundred dollar bills, chomping on a bucket of original recipe, but still worrying fretfully about where your next meal is to come from. Our attention goes to the negative.
Over the course of a hundred years or so, our news media has become an enormous trillion dollar finely-honed business. And it is a competitive business. And the mission strategy is really really simple – capture the attention of large numbers of humanoids and sell that attention to Flo and Mike for cash. They in turn, let you know of their less dangerous offerings and you buy the pillows and insurance in grateful relief.
And so the game becomes find the most horrifyingly negative story you can out of the lives of the seven billion people available, and package it for maximum sensational impact, and get it on the air before the competition does. Don’t worry about the facts. Kind of squishy things anyway. You’re after IMPACT. It’s really pretty simple. If it bleeds it leads. And good news is no news at all.
Charles Kuralt was the only journalist I’ve ever followed with enough intellect to see through the glare. He was rewarded by being shitcanned to a Sunday Morning death slot on CBS – replacing a test pattern originally as I recall. He travelled around the country in an RV finding and telling heart warming stories about real Americans in every day life who did something interesting or heroic in ways large or small. It just didn’t make the cut. No viewers. No advertisers. But slightly better than the test pattern. He closed the show each week with a minute of “dead air” silence and a beautiful nature scene. That gig still marks CBS Sunday Morning Show to this day, largely in memoriam to Charles.
Clickbait on the Internet works in precisely the same way and for precisely the same reasons. And so we are inundated all day every day with horrible scenes of death and mayhem, disaster and evil. And unfortunately, only a very small percentage of the population are REALITY AWARE and able to resist the constant blare of negativity.
For the rest, a certain fatalism sets in. Things are SO bad that there is little or nothing that can be done, and if it were done it would have to be done by something HUGE. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Warren Buffet, or the United States Government. We are essentially assured that all we can do as individuals is sit on the couch and watch the television or Internet and suffer hoping someone somewhere will do something. And buy beer of course. Or pillows. Or even insurance.
I think it is a deliberately Satanic message designed to destroy the world. But the world is just a little hardier and more resilient than expected. Reality DOES happen anyway.
Dr. Steven Pinker is a Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, linguist, and popular science author a year older than myself and seems pretty happy as well. He is Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. His eighth book, Enlightenment Now (2018), uses social science data from various sources to argue for a general improvement of the human condition over recent history. And he’s taken a look at the human condition over recent history to find out whether things are truly going to hell in a handbasket or not. His findings will delight you. Please DO watch this fasincating TEDtalk. He’s about as entertaining as I am but the information is CRUCIALLY important for you to fully understand.
By EVERY metric, poverty, war, homicide, life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy, employment, death on the job, death by terrorist attack, death by automobile, standard of living, death in combat, disease – literally anything you look at remotely related to human happiness, we are not a LITTLE bit better but PROFOUNDLY better off now compared to just 30 years ago and ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE better off by every metric over the past 200 years.
I knew this viscerally and anecdotally but had no idea the MAGNITUDE Of it until this video. We are ABSURDLY better off in every conceivable way. COMICALLY better off. Indeed we live in an age of miracles.
Almost any of half the humanoids on the planet, if they know the magic NUMBER of any other humanoid, can talk to them in real time in less than a minute and at trivial cost. That includes over half of all people on planet everywhere now. The starving babies of Africa haunting my youth now sport American T-shirts and most of them have cell phones.
The Internet allows us to access almost ALL known information with a few keystrokes in a few seconds WORLDWIDE.
Air conditioning in the U.S. is now ubiquitous. We can control our personal temperature in our home, office or car on the hottest July day or in sub zero January nights. Electrical appliances have reduced the work effort just to feed and cloth ourselves and keep our houses up from over 60 hours per week to less than 15 hours per week in the last hundred years. Yes, common electric appliances have granted us an astounding 45 hours of free leisure time PER WEEK by themselves.
And we are orders of magnitude safer from murder, terrorist attack, and war than we have EVER been. That is the REALITY of life on planet earth at the moment.
And none of it is by accident. Individuals have had many many ideas for improvements and enlisted dozens, then hundreds, then thousands then millions in the cause of deploying those ideas. Rome wasn’t invented in a day nor was the washing machine. Our ability to grow food per man hour and per acre has increased several orders of magnitude, not by the wave of a magic wand, but by steady incremental improvements in equipment and process. By EFFORT focused on IMPROVEMENT of key aspects of our daily lives.
And none of that was driven by people sitting on the couch, gobbling oxycontin and watching CNN in despair.
And so a couple of key items for my friend on the phone.
1. I believe we are born on this earth as the enormously powerful spirits, each with a unique set of gifts or “powers” unlike those of anyone who has ever lived here on earth before. We also come equipped with a unique set of challenges, handicaps or limitations and a life before us which will present other challenges at every step along the way.
2. I believe that I was a deliberate act of a creator who loves me completely and is totally absorbed watching to see what I might do with this life on earth, this very unusual opportunity he has given me.
3. I believe that this is NOT an idle training exercise. Life on earth is hazardous duty and the REAL deal and we are acting as cocreators with God in an act of marvelous creation that is very much in process toward the most beautiful and complex piece of artwork in the Universe ever conceived. Every move we make and every breath we take counts either toward perfecting that or destroying it. It is IMPORTANT work.
4. I believe I was personally gifted with an unusual intellect and other gifts at birth that imply and require unusual results. Where much is given, much is asked. I’m not to spend time taking in each others wash and polishing the silver however laudable and worthwhile those tasks are. I should tackle the big problems and work diligently and manfully toward their solution. It doesn’t matter whether I win, lose, or draw, gain recognition, fame, or fortune. I should expend supreme EFFORT at them each and every day over a long period of time until they are completed and that is ALL that matters.
My first rodeo had to do with personal computers and I mostly learned and gained tools from that experience though I did contribute where and as able. Wrote some tutorials and software for the Sinclair, the Commodore 64, and IBM PC.
Rodeo two had to do with a segue into PC’s as communications devices and the formation of a global and free Internet interconnecting everyone everywhere. It was a fully formed vision by 1985 and I and hundreds of others dedicated every waking moment of our lives to it. The hundreds became thousands and the thousands became tens of thousands and the tens of thousands become hundreds of thousands. I more or less had completed my work by 1998 and got out of active work on it though I continue to use and observe it to this day of course. Fifteen years starting at six in the morning and going to midnight seven days a week. I recall one day working 44 hours straight without a break and that rather overran the day.
Rodeo three had to do with converting personal transportation from gasoline based devices to battery powered magnetic drive. Ten years of up at five and working to 6:00 PM seven days per week. Not quite the level of effort I was able to muster in the eighties and nineties but the best I can do. It was and is my belief that this conversion will solve half a dozen problems simultaneously including making our economy much more stable, preventing loss of life and limb by our children in “petrowars”, improving the noise level and level of pollutants in our land and cities, particulate emissions and nitrous oxides most particularly and improve the general health and vitality of our population by not breathing those things in day-in and day-out. And that we can achieve the same or better mobility on 1/5 of the energy used with the earlier technology.
And I am now taking an interest in solar energy storage with the belief that point-of-use generation of electrical power can change the entire world for the better in all ways. It’s 10:00 AM Sunday morning and I’m at it now since 6:00AM. I’ll take the late afternoon and Sunday evening for a family Sunday dinner as I do most Sundays.
I’m thoroughly entranced by the dual magic rocks of lithium battery energy storage and silicon crystal photovoltaics to produce that energy. With no moving parts, no noise, and no emissions of any kind, these magic rocks can convert sunlight into electrical energy and store it for later use. It just doesn’t get any cooler than that. And we can use the power to drive our cars of course. Driving on sunlight.
And so I think the key to having happiness and joy in this life revolves around appreciation and gratitude for the beautiful planet and what we have, while devoting every waking moment to a higher purpose and ideal – a holy mission to improve the entire world. Not a modest mission. Not a doable mission. I launch only at things I know I will probably fail at. Impossible missions. Implausible missions. Suicidal missions.
As I once mentioned to my associate at the time Brian Noto, “I didn’t come all the way to Pebble Beach Golf Club to lay-up”. Then I stuck a 230 yard fairway wood over the cliff, across the bay, and onto the green.
As to money, yes I probably have a lot of it. But I know little about it. I’m not very good at managing it. I’m not very interested in it beyond its ability to buy the next tool or toy directed at the mission. And I don’t even know where it comes from – somehow people have always sent me money in the mail. I think its so I’ll keep working on the mission. And a very fortunate thing, as I three-putted the hole of course, and simply have no future in golf. Or time for it.
And so my advice to my children and to young people everywhere is find something you really like to do, do a hell of a lot of it until you get REALLY good at it, and then devote yourself to an impossible mission much larger than yourself and your own miserable life paying utility bills and cell phone bills and wondering what you look like to others. And by daily devotion to your craft and that mission, you can move the world millimeter-by-millimeter and inch-by-inch. If others want to join you, allow it and show them how it works.
As Steven Pinker suggests, progress is quite possible but it is never inevitable. It requires the long term often unsung and unrewarded efforts of many constructive creative people over long periods of time. Persistent effort over many years usually is more important than sudden breakthroughs or inventions or luck.
And in this way, you assume to yourself and your life, meaning and purpose and joy. You matter. Your LIFE matters. Indeed you are responsible for an entire planet and will be called to task for what you did with it.
And so while my countenance tends toward saturnine, I really am a happy guy. I believe everything I do matters.
Contrast that with a life spent seeking personal comfort and banked wealth far beyond your personal needs. For what? If you don’t know where you are REALLY, why you’re there, and what you are supposed to be doing, how would you ever be happy or have meaning in your life?
As importantly, we are each interconnected in ways the human psyche remains forever oblivious to – by design. Those connections are reality. And every move we make and every breath we take alters the future for all we come in contact with. The example you set, the encouragement you offer, and the correction you offer where needed, has a rippling effect not only on those you are in contact with, but on many of those who they are in turn in contact with as well. You are not made privvy to the lasting effects. But you ARE responsible for the results.
And so you see, George, you really did have a wonderful life.
While loathe to speak for others, I’m told and feel I should point out that this is precisely the process Elon Musk used as well. While in college at Stanford, he reportedly pondered what “missions” would have the greatest impact on life on the planet. He came up with establishing man as a multiplanetary species, electric vehicles, and solar power as the three things most likely to have the greatest beneficial effect on the state of human existence. Subsequently, he has spent every waking moment and every dollar he could beg borrow or steal toward those missions. And all kind of simultaneously. He calls this “finding ways to think about the future that don’t make me sad.”
I do em one at a time, but am perhaps not as gifted as he. But I think you’ll find his life has meaning and purpose, and that his golf game probably sucks as badly as mine.