Category Archives: Thoughts

Struggle

Everyone has some problems, some struggle. But my problems aren’t even that important or bothersome in the grand scheme of things. Except for one problem. The one, all-encompassing problem that has affected me my entire life: my thinking. My thinking, mainly about my situation and about myself makes every day a struggle. I don’t know how to turn off the negative critic. I’ve tried meditation, positive affirmations, therapy, group therapy, work in recovery, support groups, writing. Is it hatred of myself? Probably. Has it always been this way? Yes, to some degree, but as I’ve gotten older it’s actually gotten quite a lot worse, as I continually realize I’ve never accomplished anything significant with my life. As I’ve been in recovery and been sober for the last five plus years, in some ways it’s actually gotten much worse.

I have 5 years of trying to get my life together under my belt and don’t feel I really have anything to show for it. I have no drugs or alcohol to numb the pain or quiet the negative critic. I’m stuck with my self-destructive thoughts, and sometimes I just relentlessly attack myself. I realize some things have changed and that my perspective is twisted around, but I don’t know how to get out of this spot I’m in. I just want some days where it’s not a complete struggle. Is that too much to ask?

Dream Journal – Crystal Pepsi

“As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”
-Proverbs 25:25

Occasionally, I have an extremely vivid and partly lucid dream. Usually when this happens I lucid dream on some level, where I’m aware that I’m dreaming and can exert some control over the events of the dream. The rare thing about this dream is the level of detail I am able to recall. When a dream is extended in length, is at least partly lucid, and is easily remembered, I have learned to pay attention. I have many vivid dreams but typically when I wake up I can’t recall what happened. There have been a few prior, very memorable dreams that had significance in my life that I only understood much later. This one was… interesting, to say the least. It follows. The text is taken directly from an instant message conversation.

I dreamt that I was at Wright State with one of my friends someone I know in real life I believe but I can’t recall who now
I dreamed that I found the only 2 remaining cans of clear Pepsi existing on Earth
And my friend told me in the dream that each can was worth 3 million dollars
And then three old school Nazis from the forties who I recognized but couldn’t place tried to take the cans from me and I had to get rid of them somehow I don’t know what I did to escape them
But I realize that to defeat them I would need special powers
So I got on like a train that was like the kids toy train you see in the mall but it was full size and I ride this train I somehow found to the bottom of the ocean to this house
And I fucking rang the doorbell and went into this house but somehow no water got into the house at the bottom of the ocean and I remember looking up through a big glass window and seen the train near the house on the ridge
And the dude inside I’m not sure who he was he was an old dude with a beard he was either Santa Claus or Jesus as an old guy or Prospero from Shakespeare’s The Tempest
And then I remember being extremely thirsty and he was trying to talk to me and I wanted to speak to him but I couldn’t because I was so thirsty
And so he gave me a glass of water and I drank it and then I woke up
And when I woke up and realized I wasn’t thirsty and I didn’t need to pee

My New Website Experiment: greenedata.com

So I have become increasingly dissatisfied with a host of news aggregators, from Huffington Post to Google News to reddit to the Drudge Report. This is for a variety of reasons. The agendas of places like HuffPost or Drudge I find highly disagreeable. I disagree with HuffPost for their brazen support of Hillary Clinton and Drudge for his non-stop agitating for Donald Trump.  This type of agenda-driven news reporting is problematic because it means the reader must filter through the bias of both the aggregator and the story that it links to. I have problems with social news sites like reddit because the inherent bias and popularity towards certain kinds of stories, as well as a highly flawed upvote/downvote system, mean some important news items get ignored. The problem with sites like Google News is that it is highly reliant on algorithms instead of human editors, so very important stories can be left behind and not featured on their main pages. It should also be noted that most aggregators generate exactly none of their own content. I figured if I am going to have to filter through a thousand different news sites to get to the stories I want to see, maybe someone else would be interested in what I find. So that’s when I decided to create my own website, greenedata.com, where I also don’t generate any of my own content (ha ha), but I provide a limited number of links each day. I link to the stories I view as either the most important and relevant, or the most interesting.

Greene Data Screen Capture

I don’t really have any rules for how I do this, but I am developing a method to find things. I do have preferences for what I post. I will never link to a website like Forbes, which has a hard paywall and harasses you for using an ad-blocker. I prefer to always link to stories that are on sites with no kind of paywall if I can help it. I also try to link to local news stories when possible. If I see something on Yahoo! News that is just a republication of an interesting AP or Reuters story, I will attempt to find the original story on either AP or Reuter’s website as well.  My standards are simple: is it important, relevant, or interesting? In terms of bias, I am basically critical of everyone. I don’t have a rooting interest for any major political party, corporation, or institution. I don’t receive payment from anyone. I don’t show ads. I have no one giving me money to put forth a point of view. I have no one giving me money for this, period. The purpose of the website at this stage is how to best execute my idea and to test the market to see if there is a demand for this kind of thing. For example, I imagine many Bernie Sanders supporters are very unhappy with CNN and Huffington Post for their poor treatment of Sanders and their highly favorable coverage of Hillary Clinton. In the same way, many conservatives and libertarians who do not like or support Donald Trump are currently disgusted with people like Matt Drudge. If I can demonstrate there is a demand for this website from people like this, as well as others, maybe I have something here.

For now I just want to present a daily set of links to stories. I want the website to load quickly and be as simple and easy to use as possible. Hopefully so far I have achieved those goals. Give it a look, won’t you?

How to end global poverty with radical change

It’s hard to find sources on this, but many of my ideas have been suggested by economists and think tanks before, I just combined the ideas that I think would work best. I think there are benefits to both capitalism and socialism, but the excesses on both sides can be harmful. Too much capitalism or too much socialism can lead to different bad forms of totalitarianism in my view. I think proponents of both tend to idealize their systems and ignore some of the inherent flaws.

I believe there needs to be a balance between the two, combining their strengths. Capitalism mixed with government investment in key areas is a great way to advance technology, for example. Capitalism is very effective at generating wealth, but without a social safety net enforced by the government, wealth inequality becomes such that the very wealthiest consolidate so much power that they are essentially able to write the rules for everyone else, in the form of local laws as well as international regulations (think trade deals). I basically think a stronger form of global governance is needed. Here’s a brief list of some of the things I think should be implemented on an international level to deal with poverty:

1) Eliminate all government subsidies for all corporations. This would have to be enforced internationally, but would allow small business owners and producers in all countries a more level playing field, because as of today they aren’t able to purchase the political influence major corporations can.
2) institute a global currency. I think there would be many benefits to doing this, namely wealthy countries wouldn’t be able to use their currency and foreign exchange rates to dominate weaker countries. Here’s an article on the subject that deals with what I’m thinking of.
3) eliminate all trade laws, tariffs and excise taxes. These laws mainly serve to protect corporate interests and the interests of the wealthiest countries and companies that write the trade laws. Eliminate them, create true global competition.
4) create a flat, unavoidable corporate profits tax, as well as personal income tax, worldwide, eliminating corporate inversions and tax shelters and havens of any kinds. Make sure all global money is taxed in one form or another.  60 minutes just did a big investigation into how the rich are able to shelter their money from taxes due to weak laws.
5) provide a basic social safety net that includes food, shelter, clean water, health care, and education to everyone on the planet. Pay for it with the money raised from eliminating tax shelters and corporate inversions.
6) Find a way to reform patent law so price gouging doesn’t happen – either buy out the patent of successful medicines or pay companies a bounty for succesfully coming up with a cure, like an X-prize. This model can be applied to government funded research in all areas, especially green energy technology and medical technology.
7) provide a minimum income (cash payment) for everyone on the planet. This website provides a good explanation of the benefits of a basic income.
8) any money you make on top of that and the taxes you pay, you get to keep
9) set a limit on the ratio of how much more an executive can make than the lowest paid worker.
10)  require corporations to give a share of the ownership to the workers, so that the workers have voting power in the companies. This is basically a lighter version of what is known as anarcho-syndicalism.
11) Create a global set of environmental regulations and labor laws that include jail time for executives that violate them.
12) Some form of debt forbearance or forgiveness for countries at the bottom of the economic system.

Obviously, these ideas would require some radical changes to be made. I think it’s time to make globalization work for the people instead of the elites. Due to the rates of technological change and interconnectedness of markets, it is in my view impossible to stop globalization or capitalism, I think it needs to be directed to more positive, just ends.

I don’t care about video games (anymore)

I’ve played video games of one sort or another from a very young age. I remember when my grandparents bought my family an IBM PS/1, and I played some really basic games on that computer when I was around the age of 7 or 8. Even before that, at Christmas time I would go over to the grandparents and me and the other kids would play Track and Field and Duck Hunt on the NES that they had purchased, which I was only allowed to use on special occasions. My gaming life really took off when I finally convinced my parents to buy me a console, a Sega Genesis, a 16-bit system that included the greatest video game ever made in my opinion, NHL 94. Around that same time, as the PS/1 was outliving its usefulness, again my grandparents bought my family a Gateway 2000, with a beastly 75 mhz Pentium processor. I was able to play games like Mad Dog McCree and get on Prodigy or AOL and even play the occasional game online. Not long after, one of my best friends, who was also a neighbor, somehow managed to convince his mom to get him Warcraft II, and I also managed to get the game (I don’t remember if I just borrowed it from him or what), and we would tie up both our home’s phone lines as I would dial his modem and we would play head to head Warcraft battles lasting hours. These matches would of course get interrupted any time one of our family would pick up the phone to make a call. I really loved PC gaming as a kid, and it continued as I got older. I also kept up on console gaming as well… even while I was playing sports practically full time, I was staying up til 1 or 2 am on school nights playing video games. Outside of playing youth sports as a teenager, video games were my number 1 hobby.

I would call my relationship with video games obsessive or even addictive. This relationship continued all throughout my 20s and early 30s. As I got older, this relationship got more and more unhealthy. PC, hand-held, and console games were the primary way I filled my time, along with plenty of alcohol and drugs. I watched fewer and fewer movies and spent most of my time couch-bound. I’ve never exercised consistently since I got out of school and stopped playing sports. I would also smoke cigarettes fairly obsessively as I took part in this past-time. When I was unemployed for long stretches I would just play games most of the day and get wasted. Not exactly a productive use of my time, I know. Eventually, Hearthstone came around, and I started to play it obsessively. I was never that good at it due to the negative headspace I was in, but I played it for basically a year straight, non-stop, at the expense of nearly any other gaming experience. The only time I would pick up another game is if a friend was in the room with me and wanted to play a fighting game head to head, or something like that. Eventually, my relationship with Hearthstone soured, I had used it to fill a void in my life, and after spending far too much time and money with it, my play eventually tapered off. This happened because I got clean, and I got a good job that kept me busy 30 hours a week. Eventually, after losing a match in Hearthstone made me too angry one day, I dropped it completely.  I’ve now gone 6 months without picking it back up, despite the sunk costs I have in that game with hundreds of hours played unlocking a multitude of useless digital bullshit in that game. I’ve thought of selling my Blizzard account but truthfully I have no desire to use my Blizzard account ever again or even come close to playing Hearthstone ever again. It completely crowded out my enjoyment of video games and became a sick compulsion for me.

Since I stopped playing Hearthstone, I’ve only picked up one other game, Magic 2015, which I only play occasionally. I get more enjoyment watching others play it and comment about it on YouTube, personally. Since I stopped playing Hearthstone every day my use of other video games has still not returned to normal levels. I attribute this to getting clean, getting a good job, and attempting to be more social with people in person, rather than living 90% of my life in front of a TV or computer screen. Whenever I think of playing a game or picking something up I start to get nervous because I feel incredibly burnt-out. I certainly enjoyed playing games in the past and feel I generally got my money’s worth in terms of entertainment value, but on the other hand I’m starting to look at it as a massive waste of time. The joy I used to get from gaming is mostly gone. I look at the use of time spent gaming as a chore or a burden now, especially since I have found more interesting things to do with my life. I don’t know, it’s weird and somewhat hard to explain, but I’m trying to change my patterns of activity and thinking into a more positive direction, and one of the ways I’m doing that is basically by only playing games a few hours a week, if that. I just don’t care about video games any more.

Free Will or Determinism?

All too often I feel that formal philosophy presents arguments based on the assumption that two different viewpoints are necessarily opposed to each other. The idea whether human action is based on free will or determinism is presented as a binary set, with the thinking being that it must be one or the other. I know I’m not alone in saying this, but I believe the answer lies somewhere in between. Life isn’t black or white, or a set of absolutes dictating what we know to be true. There are shades of grey. The right answer is not always apparent. As we learn more about science we peel back another layer to get a closer look at reality. As we delve deeper we uncover even more mysteries and more unanswered questions. I think that’s exciting, the proposition that there is still so much to learn about the natural world. Back to the question: are we free to control our actions as we wish, or are our actions a product of deterministic forces in a universe completely beyond our control? I believe it’s too simplistic to say either or, I believe both arguments are partially correct.

It appears that we make choices. Decisions and choices are pretty much what life revolves around. As I experience my own conscious mind on a daily basis I feel I am presented with a set of choices in each encounter with the world that I’m involved in. The notion that I have free will is a very strong one, personally, because I feel it gives me agency. Yet as more scientific discoveries about the body and brain are made, the argument for determinism grows stronger, casting doubt on the concept of free will. The idea that we are largely influenced in our lives by our genetics has only really come about in the last 70 years. The concept that in many scenarios the brain triggers a reaction before we can even consciously process it is an even newer discovery. Is it arrogant to think we have free will? I don’t think so. I still believe we have free will, even if we somehow know physically before we consciously make a choice. That physical knowing that takes place in the brain is a product of our upbringing, our life experience, our personality makeup and our genes. Even though we still have a choice, we are largely unaware of all the forces that drive us into a circumstance where we are forced to make that choice.

Determinism also raises a host of legal issues as well. If it can be proven we really aren’t in control of our choices, how can we legally convict someone for murder if we can scientifically prove they are technically not responsible for their actions? It’s clear that the notion of free will is actually rather integral to most of modern society. The entire market economy relies on individuals making choices about how they are going to spend their resources. The entirety of criminal law rests on the principle that individuals must be held responsible for the choices they make. Interestingly, some nations make an exception in the case of insanity, and refer people to treatment rather than prison as a result. If it could be proven that no one is truly responsible for their actions in the free will sense, what happens to criminal law? I think as a practical matter, we must look at human action through the lens of free will.

Comfortable is bad

For too long I’ve been comfortable with failure. Comfortable with mediocrity. Comfortable with boredom. Comfortable with not taking risks. Comfortable with stagnation. An outside observer might call it laziness, but it’s more than that. It’s a fear based decision-making process. By putting off any and all decisions, I effectively decide by wasting time until the decision is made for me by self-created circumstances. I’ve avoided growth because I was afraid of change. I don’t want to live like that anymore.

In the last 9 months I’ve become much more focused on achieving goals and making progress in my life. I’ve changed a lot of things as a result, but confronting my own negative patterns of thinking and acting is the hardest part of this process.  These patterns have been ingrained in me over most of my life, so escaping them is harder than I thought it would be. I now appreciate how difficult it is to change my outlook and perspective, along with these patterns. My main mode for doing this has been by taking positive actions in my life to get me feeling better about myself. One goal has been to repair and renew existing relationships with people I care about, as well as foster more relationships with new people, to make myself more open and vulnerable. Getting to know someone isn’t hard, but letting someone else get to know me has always been a struggle. I used to be better at it when I was younger, but as fear invaded my thinking over the years it became more and more difficult. The barriers I’ve created for myself are pretty neurotic, it’s like an unfunny Woody Allen movie in my head all the time.

Another part of this process is catching the lies I tell myself as they happen and challenging them on the spot. This forces me to confront my own bullshit. One of the things I avoided doing for years was writing. I used to love to write. I would blog every day 10 or 12 years ago, and it came effortlessly. As I got further and further away from that, one of the lies I told myself was that I couldn’t write, that I had nothing to offer, that my creative spark was gone, so what was the point? I have made it a goal this year to write with something approaching regularity. I can’t challenge these lies I tell myself simply by out-thinking my own brain, I have to take action to produce the evidence that stands in sharp contrast to those lies. That evidence is now here on this blog, and by doing this I really have improved my own outlook and my sense of self-worth. Which might sound crazy to you if you are well-adjusted and already like yourself, but for me it has been a struggle and being able to write again is a big deal.

The goal with this blog is to just write about whatever interests me, or whatever’s on my mind. The goal is not to cater to an audience or even for other people to read this stuff. I’m working on improving and refreshing my writing skills and rebuilding my self-confidence in my ability. To be completely honest, I don’t care if anyone reads this stuff. If someone does and likes it, that’s just an added bonus. So far so good.

There Is No Why

There are questions religion, and theology in particular can’t answer. At least in my opinion, they can’t answer them. They attempt to answer these questions, and I believe that they fail to. The classic question “why do bad things happen to good people” comes to mind. One could also ask “why do good things happen to bad people.” It seems just as relevant in light of how the world actually works. The ancient Greek thinker Epicurus worded the dilemma of evil this way:

“The gods can either take away evil from the world and will not, or, being willing to do so cannot; or they neither can nor will, or lastly, they are able and willing.

If they have the will to remove evil and cannot, then they are not omnipotent. If they can but will not, then they are not benevolent. If they are neither able nor willing, they are neither omnipotent nor benevolent.

Lastly, if they are both able and willing to annihilate evil, why does it exist?”

Of course, as humans we have to agree that evil is even a real thing. We have to accept that evil exists and is a force in humanity. We have to agree on an acceptable definition of what activity or behavior is evil. Humanity does not have this agreement, different cultures have different values, but most cultures at least have a conception of evil, even if they disagree on the definition. Some extreme religious cultures view blaspheming God as evil and deserving of death, while other cultures (I would argue more civilized ones) would view the killing of a “blasphemer” as evil or immoral. Anyone that accepts the concept of evil and also believes in God is confronted with the Epicurean dilemma, even if they might not directly acknowledge it. In philosophy this is known as The Problem of Evil. Attempts to answer this problem have been made over the many thousands of years, usually by people trying to justify a belief in God.

I believe this happens because as humans we have a strong desire to answer the question “why?” Why is the world this way? Why would God allow this? Why do bad things happen to good people? In a way I am asking why. Why do we need to know why? The stand-up gag about a 3 year old constantly asking his dad why is a classic bit in comedy. I would say our desire to know why is not merely strong, it is pathological. This desire has driven most of Western thought and science. We want to understand our world. Not every philosophy or culture assigns as much importance to the question why, however. Buddhism sees no need to explain the nature of God or the origins of the universe. To know why in these cases is simply misguided desire and a waste of time. In a way Buddhism is disputing the notion that there is always some answer to the question why.

Sometimes, I believe, there is no why. Because we can view cause and effect in nature, allowing us to make scientific discoveries about how things work, we wrongly assume that cause and effect is a principle that applies everywhere. We may learn one day how the universe came into existence, and in a way that answers why, but in a way it does not. If we never make contact with a God or gods, we can still ask, what is the purpose of this universe, why are we here? I doubt there is any answer to this question. There is no why. There is no greater purpose or answer to discover here. We exist, we came into being, and it is up to us to assign our own meaning to this existence. On a personal level, I don’t find any need to have some made up story about God’s plan for the world or the afterlife to find meaning in this world. There is meaning in struggling to survive in this harsh universe, to make our mark that we existed and flourished in spite of the odds.  The very concept of existing and discovering more about our world and the universe is exhilarating to me, and I don’t need any greater meaning or purpose than that.

leaving Christianity

I don’t believe in determinism, the idea that we are not in control of our actions or events because everything that happens is a result of forces beyond our control. Laws of physics, genetic imperatives, chemical reactions. I will admit, however, that determinism has merit. It explains much of what happens in the world. In many ways, we are slaves to our programming. We are influenced by the way we are raised, as well as by our DNA. In some ways we are no different from robots. We have hardware and software that are responsible for much of how we act. So on the other hand, I don’t necessarily believe in free will either. I think reality is somewhere in between.

I’m reminded of the neuroscience discovery whereby it has been shown that the brain will start acting and moving a person before they have a conscious thought about taking an action. So in a sense we are always on autopilot. It’s akin to the story of the monkey riding the elephant. The elephant goes where it goes, when it wants to, but the monkey tells a story about why the elephant is moving, pretending as if it’s in control of the elephant. In much the same way our emotions, our actions, our thoughts are like the elephant, lumbering along beyond our control, while our conscious minds are like the monkey, telling a story about why things happen, because we need certainty, reassurance. We want to know how and why things are the way they are. The desire for certainty is very powerful.

Continue reading leaving Christianity

A Universe of One

When I was a child, my mother would frequently scold me with the cliched parental phrase, “the world doesn’t revolve around you!” whenever I happened to be acting in a way she didn’t like.

My response, even from a fairly young age, while I was still in early elementary school, was to argue that the world did in fact revolve around me. From my perspective, everything did. I argued that because I see the world through my own eyes, that I can only understand things as revolving around my own perspective. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was actually making a fairly advanced argument for solipsism as a clever way to justify whatever behavior my parents didn’t like. Usually something involving not doing chores, I think.

Continue reading A Universe of One