Dream or Dare

There is a game teenagers play called truth or dare. If you don’t know it, it requires you to publicly tell the truth about some usually private or intimate detail of your life, or else hold your secrets, but perform some reckless forfeit instead. It can be a very cruel game, but there’s an insidious in-built bias within it that I think requires deeper examination. Truth or dare suggests that daring is a method of evading the truth. In fact, daring instead of just dreaming is a confrontation with the truth.

I think it was J.K. Rowling who suggested that dreaming (of becoming a successful author, in her case) is all very well and good, but the real test of your mettle is whether or not you dare to try to realise your dreams. Action counts. In the life game of dream or dare, only daring can actually make your dreams come true. Endless dreaming doesn’t really change your situation at all, no matter how beguiling and comforting those dreams might be. Ultimately, you have to take some chances and do the work.

And you might fail repeatedly. Application improves your chances of success and recognition, but offers no guarantees. That’s the bitch of it all.

It can be extraordinarily hard to dare, when you’re already not coping and feeling overwhelmed. When you’re overwhelmed, you need help, but so often there isn’t any. Just existing can fully deplete your limited motivation resources. Finding the courage and energy to try to realise your dreams can seem utterly impossible.

I struggle with this constantly. I, like many dreamers, have big dreams I want to bring to fruition, but just holding station, without my life dissolving into uncontainable chaos, takes almost everything I’ve got. Progress is hard won. The prevention of regress seems like a full time occupation.

Sometimes the dream you have is too indistinct, or the end you dream about doesn’t convince you and this causes inertia. When your dream lacks detail, it’s hard to know which small initial steps will carry you in the right direction. It’s also impossible to tell how many steps might be necessary. That’s enough to stop you in your tracks.

If you can’t clearly visualise yourself after you succeed, in your imagination, feeling like it could never really happen for you, then your dreams lose credibility and daring to realise them feels futile. You first have to convince yourself you’re worthy of success and that yes, you can be the one that makes it. Wanting your dream to come true involves imagining it already has, in a peculiar way.

The problem with dreams is that they can be seductive. Daring feels like hard work and risk. Dreaming, on the other hand, requires much less stress, sweat, failure, disappointment and time. It’s difficult to go wrong, in a dream. Things are under your complete control and they turn out the way you decree. There are no compromises, no need to adapt to circumstances, no unanticipated disasters and little to confound your intention. Daring involves all of those inconveniences and many more.

If you’re in any way aware of your mortality, you’ll probably feel some aversion to spending your energies and limited lifespan on something that feels like a sure-fire failure. Yes, it might be a grand dream, but if it’s daunting, unlikely and unrealistic to your rational mind, you might feel crushing guilt and foolishness for spending any time at all daring to make the dream come true. Yet, dare you must. Dying with unfulfilled dreams, or worse, losing the capacities required to fulfill them as you age, is no picnic either. Many people end their days riddled with such regrets.

You might have the feeling that you don’t have the skills to turn dreaming into daring. You’re not alone. Nobody starts with every skill they’re going to need. Rather, you make the best of what you have and try to learn the additional skills you need, as you go. There’s no other way to do it. This is why it requires daring. You can never be sufficiently prepared to guarantee success. There’s no such thing. All you can hope is that you’ll get the skills you need by the time they become necessary and decisive. In that sense, it’s like walking a tightrope blindfolded.

You need persistent courage. Desperation can be a great motivator. Having no choice but to dare can be the factor that propels you forward. When you have alternative choices, it’s easier to convince yourself that some other path is easier and less risky. That, indeed, may be so, but it won’t get you any closer to realising your dream. Often, all you’ll do is fulfill somebody else’s dream, while neglecting or even abandoning your own. There is nothing sadder.

Sometimes, it’s better to have to realise your dream, come hell or high water, because you have no viable plan B. Even then, you can still fail and in all probability will. Resilience will be needed to pick yourself up and carry on toward your goal somehow. This cycle may repeat. It may repeat multiple times. Daring is a very hard road.

People who consistently dream great, big, brilliant dreams often get intimidated and gaslighted into believing their dreams and ideas are ordinary, by people that only have ordinary dreams. This is because that makes them feel better about their own ordinary dreams. It’s an easy trap to fall into. The grandiosity of the dream doesn’t always make it any less likely than a small dream. Small dreams are not necessarily easier to accomplish because they’re small. Many other factors come into play. Audacious, moon-shot dreams are not as common as ordinary dreams. If you have one, you should probably honour it. If you don’t dare to make this outrageously unlikely dream come true, there probably isn’t anybody else even trying.

Great things never come from comfort zones.

I found this useful graph of the emotional journey associated with daring to create anything great that you have dreamed, somewhere on the Internet:

The dark swamp of despair is inevitable and might even be necessary. While dreaming might be soothing and entertaining, daring is going to suck. Until it doesn’t. At the end, the joy you get from accomplishing your dream far outweighs the pleasure you get from merely dreaming about it.

Like many people, I’ve spent time reading about how dreamers turned their dreams into reality. We intuitively believe that if we focus on the successful and emulate what they did, we’ll be successful too. Unfortunately, this turns out to be incorrect. There’s something called “survivorship bias” and there is an excellent, lucid explanation of what that is here: https://youarenotsosmart.com/2013/05/23/survivorship-bias/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

The problem is that the advice business is a monopoly run by survivors. A stupid decision that works out well becomes a brilliant decision in hindsight. The struggle to dare greatly is real and focussing on the winners means you ignore the lessons of all the failures. Most survivors, it turns out, were lucky. They like to tell you it was all part of their carefully executed master plan, but it’s a lie. Things simply went their way.

If we want to turn dreams into realities, we should also study the failures, to avoid the pitfalls that derailed their projects, but of course the literature is very sparse. Nobody wants to read about how people tried and failed. There’s no happy ending. Consequently, we remain blind to experience that might actually help us succeed. We dismiss the failures as if they had no merit. In fact, there may be patterns contributing to these failures, from which we never learn.

Interestingly, believing yourself to be lucky means you notice lucky breaks to take, and serendipitous opportunities that arise, better than people who believe they’re unlucky. If you think you’re going to be one of the lucky few who succeed, you’ll be more attuned to daring, as opportunities you didn’t anticipate, and weren’t part of your premeditated plan, present themselves. Being open to serendipitous circumstances increases your chances of actually being lucky.

Unlucky people, in contrast, are said to be more narrowly focused. They crave security, tend to be more anxious, try harder to stick to their plan and instead of wading into the miasma of random chance, open to what may come, they remain fixated on controlling the situation. They’re so hell-bent on seeking a specific goal, they completely miss other equally fruitful outcomes. As a result, they miss out on the thousands of opportunities that may float by, untaken.

Lucky people tend to constantly change routines and seek out new experiences, yet routine habits build skills and are how you become persistent, in order to accomplish big things. These approaches are in tension. You need good work habits, to get things done and hone your expertise, but enough variety of experience to encounter and follow paths that might lead to better luck than the ones you habitually pursue. Do you see now why advice from those that succeed is too often riddled with self-justifications and faux wisdom, when the truth of the matter is that they made a happy, propitious choice, somewhere along the line?

The lucky try more things and fail more often, but when they fail, they shrug it off and try something else. Occasionally, things work out. If you’re going to stop dreaming and start daring, you’re going to have to make peace with that reality. You might do everything right and still miss turning your dream into reality. If you’re lucky, by acting in a way that improves your luck, the roll of the dice may possibly favour you some day. If you keep dreaming, though, you’ll never be lucky.

Your best option, to avoid disappointment at your unfulfilled potential, is to dare, expecting to be lucky, but being resilient about it, when you aren’t. That’s the best you can do.

Some dreams aren’t big. Rather, some are small and exquisite in detail. Their size doesn’t make them any less worthy of admiration, but it also doesn’t make them any easier to realise. The corresponding dare needs to be equally intricate and detailed. And you still might fail. There are no guarantees, even with small dreams. Ask anybody that has repeatedly failed to realise one.

So, there you have it. Dreaming is fun; even recreational. It sows the seeds of better future possibilities. However, without daring to turn those dreams into reality, they’ll never be more than some happy ideas. Daring is painful, uncertain, risky, distressing and totally sucks, but not as much as never realising your dreams. That’s the human condition. Struggle is part of the deal. Reward for struggle isn’t always forthcoming.

Welcome to humanity.

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Expense or Investment?

It all depends on how you look at things. Two people can observe the same event, but because of their default mental models about that happenstance, conclude that two entirely different and irreconcilable consequences have resulted. What you think happened depends on what you believe about what you observed. In other words, it’s a narrative you create inside your own head. It doesn’t have an objective reality. It is no more than a story you tell yourself about it.

That story isn’t of your own invention, either. It’s derived from the stories you were told, by people you trusted, about events like the one you have just observed, throughout your entire life. Your internal monologue about the event is highly derivative. You don’t work it out from first principles; you adapt a previously heard narrative, which you believed, to fit the current circumstance. The stories you believe, to explain what you see, are not your own. IF the people you trusted kept you ignorant, your conclusion is equally ignorant. Most people rarely authentically think for themselves.

As an example, let’s talk about the sorts of things we classify as expenses, or costs. The same monetary transaction can be seen two different ways. On the one hand, if you pay for somebody’s time, you can view this as an expense. What you have forgone is the opportunity to spend your money in some other way. Instead, you spent it hiring a person. The money is gone. You feel poorer. Paying for their time, skill or expertise is viewed as a sunk cost. You can’t get a refund easily and you won’t see that money again.

Another way to see this same transaction is that your money, instead of being wasted frivolously on self-gratification of some other item of ephemeral consumption, has enabled a talented and brilliant person to keep honing their skills. That feels like a worthwhile investment. You have contributed to the betterment of this individual and the consequences of doing so has raised the quality of their thought. The returns that might one day accrue from this small act of paying money to somebody might be vast. They could be the next Einstein or Mozart, still in development. Even if they aren’t, they’re certainly a better version of themselves than they were before your money enabled them to learn and become better. The more you do this, the better the overall quality of thought in the society you share. This time, your financial transaction is seen as an investment not an expense.

Same transaction; different interpretations.

We customarily refuse to see the investment aspect, but that’s an arbitrary choice. There’s nothing inherently legitimate, valid or more worthy in counting costs and expenses, or reducing unique individuals to fungible Human Resources. We’ve been conditioned to count costs, but never to appreciate the benefits, as they geometrically accumulate. We are blind to the fact that paying people is an investment in them, our community, our society and our civilisation. Hoping that somebody else will view what we regard as an expense as their investment is magical thinking. Why should anybody view it differently to how we insist on viewing it?

You get this with training expenses. Every company wishes to hire highly trained and qualified individuals, but nobody wants to be the organisation that funds the training. The argument goes that if you invest in people, other firms will simply poach them, so better to keep everybody ignorant. That’s like saying we don’t stock that item anymore, because we kept selling out of it. While they express clear preferences for trained personnel, because they can see the value in that, they don’t see the value in creating such people. It’s illogical in the extreme.

We’re only fixated on costs and expenses because we’re stuck in a Dickensian mind set. This is the normalised narrative of our times and those that control the narrative have spent literally billions of dollars to control it. We only default to regarding investments as expenses because that’s what we’ve been taught since childhood. It’s a bizarre distortion overlaid on human nature.

Ask yourself some of these questions: What would be the value to you, personally, of becoming a great artist, writer or musician? What’s the value to you of living in a supportive community that cares, a clean environment, having the freedom and time to become your best self, while everybody else you live among is doing the same? Speaking entirely selfishly, what would be the benefit to you of eliminating corruption and tyrants (even the local, petty variety)? Would you experience less stress and greater well-being? Would you be less anxious and happier? What value do you place on improved mental health?

How life-enhancing would you find living without predatory, surveillance capitalism? Is it worth paying to contain and constrain the excesses of celebrity idols and oligarchs? Why do you hanker for a life lived vicariously through the gossip pages, about the rich and famous, when your own life could be so much better than it is, under austerity and extreme inequality? How do you even put a value on not living among stupid, ignorant, bigoted people? How would you value not living under the constant threat of random, indiscriminate gun violence?

These are all things you can invest in. You can organise so that the population, as a whole, invests in them. Today, our collective wealth is squandered on opulence, warfare, corporate subsidisation and tax breaks for the wealthiest. You can choose to spend that money more wisely, investing in people, rather than wasting it on death and destruction.

If the alternative view were to prevail, then commercial arts, like the music industry, would be investing in the sorts of things humans ought to be able to say and feel (through music), without fear or restriction. That would make a big change from the industry’s current behaviour, which is all about cost containment, one-sided deals and profit extraction. Artists wouldn’t be disposable and exploitable. Instead, they’d be assets to nurture.

I’ve never seen a job ad looking for somebody with unique talents, skills, curiosities and abilities. They all want you to be like somebody else, so that they can control the creative agenda. So much so, that recruiters routinely screen résumés with text matching software, which inflexibly matches on expected keywords. You have to fit into a predefined pigeon hole, or you aren’t even interviewed, let alone considered for the role. This effectively screens out the unique and non-obvious candidates. How is that investing in people?

Well, it isn’t, is it? No wonder human beings are treated as an expense, rather than an unlimited wellspring of unknown creative potential. If you try to dictate what gets innovated, you miss the much more valuable innovations that would inevitably arise, if you genuinely invested in people. Mission statements limit pure possibilities. The founder’s vision tramples all over everybody else’s. Why should this be, if the only purpose of the business is to flourish? Limiting the firm to the founder’s vision alone stifles spontaneous value creation. Yet, dissent is nowhere welcomed. This is another of those irrational, illogical behaviours, despite what they claim to be doing.

Here’s a case in point: A random sampling of Product Management roles advertised recently reveals that they are predominantly extractive in nature, not edifying. The prevailing ethos is one of farming – milking and corralling compliant developers and customers, like so many head of cattle, so that the maximum value is extracted from them in the most efficient way possible. These jobs and products are not about empowering people, investing them with agency, giving them meaningful choice and ensuring they thrive. None of that is on the agenda, except as a thinly veneered mask to sanitise and conceal the organisation’s true motives. Even Google has finally jettisoned their “don’t be evil” directive from their code of conduct. The fiction couldn’t be maintained any longer. Think, however, what additional value could be created if organisations invested in empowerment, agency, real choice and the well being of their people and customers. It’s not an expense; it generates an abundant return.

Investments in people, community, infrastructure, environment, libraries, health, education and other public goods are not altruistic. Not in the least. Ayn Rand would have never understood this, being the high priestess of parasitically accumulating personal wealth at everybody else’s expense. In fact, these investments are examples of enlightened self-interest. You’re paying for guarantees of future civilised, comfortable, amenable living. Seeing these expenditures as costs to be reduced, rather than investments in a better future, is simply perverse, yet the UK government’s ongoing and elongated austerity programme is precisely this wrong-headed.

If you’re an artist, you probably feel a certain amount of guilt (or guilty pleasure) when you buy art materials. After all, that money could be feeding a family, paying bills or reducing your debt. Art materials, though, are really an investment in yourself, as an artist; not an expense. They can help you become a better artist, provided you also make the time investment to actually use them. Even investing your time in pursuing your art can induce feelings of guilt. Most of us feel we have other obligations, particularly to employers, partners and family, that take precedence. Without spending the time on your art, though, you’ll never become the person you know, deep inside, you must become. If you don’t become that person, which so urgently asserts itself in your personality, you’ll wind up frustrated, unfulfilled, angry and resentful. That’s no use to any employer, partner or family member.

If you want to live in a world filled with beauty and tranquillity, with songs, art and something interesting to read, investing in artists and makers makes a lot of sense. Similarly, if you wish the community you live in to invest in you, then you should vote against austerity and social spending cuts. Tax evasion and avoidance is a deeply hostile act, not the act of a lone genius hero. Taxation has many egregious faults, as a system of accumulating and spending common wealth, but investing in a better future isn’t one of them. That’s arguably one of the few things that is right about taxation. There are other forms of investment organisation that would perform the function better than compulsory taxation, of course, but a profit-seeking motive (i.e. leaving it to privatisation) simply reduces the amount of investment available, without creating new value.

Some people object to taxation on the grounds of inefficiency. A hierarchical system takes the money and spends it in ways that most people don’t like. People who believe in public investment are horrified when they witness the waste and inefficiency that the hierarchy imposes, squandering a lot of the wealth in unconscionable ways. In fact, we don’t need traditional hierarchies to organise and administer the proceeds of taxation. We certainly don’t need the majority (if not all) of the tax collected to go straight into the pockets of landlords, via housing benefit and to further enrich bankers/investors, to cover the interest owed on government borrowing, as is the case today. There are many other network topologies of governance that do a far better job. The Internet is a working example of one such topology, but there are many others.

Historically, common land wasn’t left the ravages of a selfish free-for-all. Local people organised themselves, voluntarily, without hierarchy, to ensure that illicit enclosures were forcibly removed and abusers of the common resource brought into line. It wasn’t a committee, but more an example of comity. Comity is all about mutual benefit, through courtesy and considerate behaviour towards others. Committee is usually pointlessly bureaucratic, serving as an impediment to husbanding common wealth, rather than enhancing community property. Committees get bogged down in budgets and penny pinching cuts. They see everything as expenses. Comity seeks to enhance what is ours. It’s all about investment. We could actually fix the roads this way, filling the pot-holes and doing the necessary maintenance according to a system of comity. We don’t and that’s because people worry about the cost of their local government services, not about how to invest in their communities.

Maintenance is a bargain, compared to replacement or rebuilding. Some public investments are much better value than others. Maintenance is never an expense. It preserves and retains value that has already been realised. It’s an investment in retaining the value of some public good over the long term. Today, our governments scrimp on maintenance, cutting budgets annually, squeezing the ability for things to be kept in good order out of the system entirely. Consequently, our public infrastructure continues to degrade, due to the ravages of time and continuous wear, losing utility and value in the process. At some point, the infrastructure will become unfit for purpose and will either need to be replaced and rebuilt, or else taken away from the community forever. No sane accounting would fail to invest in maintenance, yet everybody thinks it’s an expense.

In the final analysis, debt financing encumbers every productive investment with a parasitic, value-destroying component, which compounds (exponentially), until the value destroyed overwhelms the value created by the creative investment. Other ways of financing are possible. Debt is not a law of nature – it’s a convention. We can change it. There are ways of issuing new money (e.g. sovereign money) and funding communities (e.g. universal basic incomes) that could transform how we invested in ourselves, each other and the places we live. No God decreed that for every issue of currency, you need to repay a banker some percentage of its face value. In fact, most Gods are strictly against usury. We’ve had our prevailing narrative controlled by usurers for hundreds of years and this is why we cannot imagine any alternative. Historically, there were numerous alternatives.

Regrettably, the majority of people think of artists as a burden on the economy – a pure expense. They’re thought of as scroungers and wasters, contributing nothing. The barriers to entry to being a full time artist are very high, especially in academic incarnations of the arts. Artists are paid very little, because they love making art, so ought to be prepared to bear the costs of being artists on their own, without adequate reward, or so the twisted, petty, jealous “logic” goes. Society doesn’t value artists as an investment in cumulative beauty and aesthetic pleasure for all. We’d rather live in dull, unstimulating, austere surroundings, thinking equally barren ideas, it seems. If we were to recognise how much better our lives would be, if we had an abundance of justly rewarded artists working tirelessly to surround us with interesting, attractive things and pleasant surroundings; filling our heads with new, exciting and engaging ideas or perspectives, then we might see paying for art and artists as more of a sensible investment than we do today.

The failure to invest in people reveals itself in bullshit jobs. According to the controlled narrative, which we all buy into, everybody has to work full time to earn the right to continue existing, even if the only jobs available for them are pointless and soul-destroying. Author and anthropologist David Graeber says: “If we just gave people the money to do what they like, even if a million came up with crazy theories, all you need is one to invent the teleportation device and it makes up for that million… Same with anything else.”

Here is a link to David’s article. It’s a jolly refreshing read: https://www.thedailybeast.com/nearly-half-of-you-reading-this-have-bullshit-jobs

In this article, he concludes that as many as one in two of us fall into pointless, useless jobs, such as being flunkies, goons, duct-tapers, box-tickers or taskmasters providing unnecessary supervision. That’s a tremendous waste of human potential and we’re all the poorer for it. Our insistence on treating these people as an expense, instead of investing in their precious, rare and individual curiosities and interests, means we never reap the unexpected windfall of genius. No wonder Millennials are so hard to please in the workplace, with their fancy notions of wanting to do something meaningful and purposeful with their short, precious lives. They happen to be right. Here are Richard Buckminster Fuller’s thoughts on the subject:

It’s time to stop worrying about expenses and to start thinking about investing. Under-investment has gone on for too long.

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Not That Kind of Hippy

I was a late onset hippy. Whereas the summer of love was in the late sixties, in the rest of the world, our far-flung town on the other side of the world really only embraced the values and ideals of hippydom some time in the early seventies, when I was entering my teen years. The Vietnam war was a recent scar, if not an open, festering wound, on youth culture, with boys only slightly older than me already broken, maimed, traumatised and suffering with undiagnosed and untreated stress disorders, assuming they were not already dead. Observing those destroyed, shocked, young men with our own eyes, my age group was acutely aware that if hostilities had continued, as they may well have, we’d have been the next crop of pointless canon fodder.

Those older youths that had escaped the compulsory draft considered themselves mighty lucky, but their rage and sense of betrayal was fierce. We knew then that the only people enthusiastic about war were those that could conduct it safely at a distance, playing with other people’s lives, while they accumulated prestige, power and war profits as great, patriotic statesmen. They took no personal risks. The blood spilled was not their own. They didn’t care about the shattered lives and limbs their words caused, or that their hawkish rhetoric was the volatile accelerant, which fanned the flames of destruction and death. We reviled those old men.

I lived in a very regulated, rigid, authoritarian, conservative society, so our forms of civil disobedience were mild. For all the talk of egalitarianism and giving a battler a fair go, it was a society organised around an inflexible, British-derived class system, with the working classes at the bottom, just above the European Second World War refugees/immigrants and the indigenous people they had displaced and treated abysmally, ever since they first colonised the continent. Obedience and conformity were assumed, enforced and insisted upon, as if they were the very foundations of a decent, patriotic society. Being different was forbidden. In fact, it seemed as if everything that wasn’t forbidden was compulsory.

Those with uniforms, charged with maintaining public order and the existing imperial power structures, thought nothing of cracking a few protester heads, leaving those that dared to disobey or refuse to conform with permanent, life-changing injuries. They were convinced they were doing good, in their closed-minded, chauvinistic bigotry. Their thought-programming had been so comprehensive and complete that the idea there were people who couldn’t see the point of war, let alone dying somewhere in Asia for a theoretical cause, was, to them, a totally unthinkable idea. They couldn’t have comprehended it, even if they had attempted to. Why would any young man refuse to serve his Queen and country, unless he was a low-life scum? That was the prevailing orthodoxy.

And scum we were. In the eyes of the conventional and older citizens of my home town, pacifists wearing outlandish flares, platform shoes and tie-dyed shirts, with long, effeminate hair, playing loud guitar music, were little more than common criminals in the making. In adopting the manners of what were then condescendingly called “gypsies”, the prejudiced assumed we were no good, thieving, promiscuous troublemakers. They felt it their solemn duty to correct us, or if that failed, to punish us for thinking differently to them and for holding values that opposed their casual resort to violence, their conflation of warfare with loyal, patriotic, national identity, their refusal to think for themselves and their willing abandonment of morals, when it suited them. Rules and adherence to them was what mattered most. They were hell bent on upholding authority at a time when submitting to the will of the authorities would get you killed, one way or another.

The prime minister, Gough Whitlam, was the hippy’s saviour. The message that brought him to power was that it was time for change (sloganised to the memorable “Its Time”). This resonated strongly with those of us that had seen for ourselves the unmitigated disaster conservative thinkers were prepared to blithely preside over. Ultimately, though, the establishment would have its revenge, ousting him and his progressive policies from power, in what can only be accurately described as a UK/US-sponsored political coup.

The democratic will of the people had been subverted and overturned by dark, unseen forces. From that moment onward, my generation, if they were awake and aware at all, realised that our democracy was a sham, that moneyed interests held all the power and called the shots, that our nation was little more than a client state of the US empire and that there were millions of ordinary willing accomplices living among us, propping up the whole stinking, festering shit heap.

What Kind of Hippy?

Bands like The Beatles deeply influenced us, with their overt preaching of peace and love. While their songs were presented as anodyne, disposable pop songs, safely ignored by the powers in charge, to us the messages in those song lyrics were a creed – something resembling a philosophy and a code to live by. We took peace and love seriously – at least as seriously as the war mongers took their military manoeuvres and shuttle diplomacy. I believed then and still believe today that peace is both desirable and possible and that the route toward it is to learn to love humanity, with all it’s flaws, learn to love the living world, rather than raping and abusing it and learn to love learning, to improve the general quality of how and what we think. Much of our current human insanity is born of hatred, dominance, violence and pig-headed adherence to terrible ideas. It was abundantly true then and it remains true still.

The thing about the hippy counter culture was that, even without psychedelic, mind-altering drugs, it raised your consciousness and encouraged you to think differently and imaginatively, for the better. You could absorb that mind set from the art that was made alone. Chemicals weren’t necessary to young, plastic brains, which are still open to surprising, novel and unexpected ideas. Maybe older hippies needed the drugs because their imaginations had already been disciplined out of them at school and had atrophied, but my age group was just coming out of childhood – a time in your life where your thinking habits are still being formed and are open to being shaped by whatever stimuli you encounter. You’re less prejudicial, when you’re a child and still eager to learn everything there is, as if it always was. You didn’t know some ideas were new, because they had always been there, during your short life. There was no hard boundary separating traditional and innovative ideas. The hippy ambience made an indelible impression on our developing brains.

The images and sounds, the fashions and the writings of the so-called counter-culture all encouraged you to take a look at things from an alternative point of view, to exercise your empathy and to speculatively conjure better options in your head. We dressed comparatively flamboyantly, relative to our childhood fashions and experimented with ideas, philosophies, spirituality, music and art. From a musical point of view, Pink Floyd and various progressive rock artists had a big influence on me. I especially liked their random, improvised jams, where new sounds were explored and the musicians were free to create experimentally without constraints, as it happened, without a plan. It was a very pure way of playing music. So many musicians lose the ability to play playfully, but this music was all about experimentation, exploration, experiencing music holistically and delightful joy. Playing, in the truest sense of the word. The hippy mind set definitely fostered a willingness to be open to new ways of thinking – something that the society I grew up in was pointedly lacking, with its obsession for traditional, conservative ideas.

The Vietnam war was relentlessly televised, with daily body count updates every evening at six o’clock. It was presented by solemn, conservative news readers, as a great national endeavour, but it came across as plain old butchery and factory-farmed murder at scale, to young pre-teenagers watching. It was obvious that violence was no solution, because the application of violence seemed to drag on for months, with no resolution to the situation. It didn’t seem to matter how much violence was applied, which we saw for ourselves on the nightly news, for what seemed like an eternity. No amount of violence ever seemed to be enough to make a decisive difference. You could cover terrified, naked children in flaming napalm, until their skin sloughed off their frames, as they ran away screaming in agony and still the other side kept on fighting back. It gave you the impression that violence was highly ineffectual. Given its lack of efficacy, then it becomes an exercise in wanton, sick cruelty and sheer futility. It wasn’t hard to conclude that eschewing violence was a very simple and obvious choice to make. It didn’t work. Violence just didn’t accomplish anything worthwhile. It still doesn’t. For all my life, wars have been waged somewhere and I never see a conclusion. If violence worked, it would end the moment it had accomplished what it set out to do. It never does.

War does not make a nation great. It makes it impoverished, shabby, tawdry, tainted and ashamed; turning bright, hopeful, obedient young men into savage murderers, for profit and conquest.

My countryman, a girl only my mothers age (or thereabouts), got people to start thinking about feminism and equality of the sexes. She pointed out something obvious, but never acknowledged. In the context of the times, it was courageous and refreshing. Bra-burning must have felt like genuine progress, but sadly women are still not liberated and there is an awfully long way still to go. At least the ideas moved society along a little. Every beachhead is important. Now that I am the father of a teenage daughter, the injustices and inequalities that remain, based on nothing more substantial than her sex, are something I think about even more than when the girls concerned were my peers. Is that reprehensible? I hope not. I had a view that the women who were my peers ought to experience equality in their lives and I believe it even more, now that I see the societal boundaries that attempt to constrain my daughter. Inequality of the sexes is unconscionable and always was. People simply refused to believe it.

When it comes down to it, equality is simply justice and fairness by another name. You don’t get to claim privilege because you belong to an in-group. In-groups are fluid and form only when similar people throw their weight around and treat others beyond their group as lesser humans. There is no meritocracy, in reality, and if you were born lucky, then your privilege is illegitimate and indefensible. The privileged try to defend it to the death, though. Violently. This is another of those mind set influences that hippies brought into my life. Tolerance and respect for diversity are values we adopted and held. The idea that you should help those that need help is axiomatic. Strangely, these things are not valued or evident in modern capitalistic societies. The mythical fiction they adhere to states that if you’re not winning, it’s because you’re a loser by nature and helping you is both wrong and won’t work anyway. It’s a pity they don’t try. The evidence would demolish their bad idea. They don’t try because they don’t want to risk having to rethink ideas they hold to be self-evident. They’d rather believe in being predatory.

The Unkindest Kind

For all their supposed enlightenment, there were things about the hippy counterculture that definitely grated on me. While I self-identify as a species of old hippy, I didn’t buy into the whole ethos and still don’t. I’m not that kind of hippy. Some of what the hippies held as values to live by are, to my way of thinking, very unkind. Some of their principles were mired in wilful ignorance and belief in preposterous propositions. Critical thinking seemed to be jettisoned along with conformity and obedience. Consequently, a toxic variety of group-think emerged, much of which was, to me, repellent.

Hippies, as a group, believed themselves to be very spiritual, even though they had long since ceased believing in organised religion. I shared their scepticism about large organisations, divorced from the experience of living ordinary lives, telling the populace what they ought to do morally and ethically, while themselves behaving in reprehensible ways, as the revelations about predatory child paedophilia and abuse have subsequently shown. Many of the clergy preached charity and mercy, while never offering practical help to those in most need and acting in thoroughly merciless ways. My grandfather was a valued member of his congregation while he was able to donate to their charitable causes, but rapidly ghosted when he lost his leg to diabetes and was struggling to survive. Organised religion left a lot to be desired.

However, the spirituality that many hippies filled their religious voids with was riddled with utter nonsense. It was no more authentic or reality-based than what they had rejected. In many cases, it relied on even more preposterous stories than those they had been indoctrinated with since their childhoods. To me, replacing one set of mystical superstitions with another doesn’t advance the human condition very far. Sure, there might be some just and beneficent ideas in all of these new spiritual belief systems, but a hell of a lot of woo as well.

I came from a more rationalist tradition. In my mental model, there are causes and effects that can be repeated. I like things like evidence and demonstrable proof. I dislike dogma – especially dogma that is selective about which evidence and demonstrable proof it will accept and which it will reject. It’s OK to entertain plausible possibilities, until you have good data, but not so after the evidence is in. Even then, I feel you should make sure you have all the evidence and are interpreting it the right way. We often make the mistake of considering causes and effects in isolation, ignoring the interconnectedness of most things. In the end, when you consider the interactions, the mystery is explicable.

Every hippy musician I knew, almost to a man (and it was more often than not, men), thought the holy grail of their music career was to land a record contract with a major record label. By the seventies, it was patently obvious that the record companies had been writing onerous contracts of enslavement, to the considerable disadvantage of the musicians that signed them, for several decades, yet everybody still wanted one (and arguably, still do). The one thing that was conveniently glossed over about the music business was the extraordinary death toll. Consider the body count of young (usually) men that met early, glibly dismissed demises. Basically, people were getting killed in the music business, one way or another. Why would you want to join an industry that was so uncaring about the welfare of its participants?

The answer to why the industry is so cavalier about its golden geese turned out to be simple. Researching the origins of the management of most major record companies reveals nefarious links to the CIA and/or the military industrial complex and a premeditated programme of cultural control of youth, to ensure that their rising insolence was snuffed out at the wick. The music industry was purpose-built to denigrate youth culture, to degrade and to humiliate, while appearing as a wholesome promoter and supporter of hippy values. In truth, it existed mainly to denigrate the peaceful ideals of young people, not to edify them. Acts were selected on the basis of their perceived and potential debauchery, destruction and nihilism, rather than for their positive influence on the culture. Musicians with integrity overcame this institutional bias anyway, but many paid a high price for going against the intelligence-led narrative. The whole industry was really a huge propaganda and thought control exercise, with catchy tunes used as the vehicle for delivering a consistent message. I guess this is one of the reasons that independent music production became a goal.

Another article of faith purposefully injected into the hippy counterculture, by people allied to command and control ideals, was that psychedelic drugs were necessary to create imaginative art. To believe in this nonsense, you have to be intellectually lazy in the first place. How can a magic pill change your thoughts to the degree that there are no ill effects, only a fruitful bounty of artistic originality and without limiting your agency, to act on those new creative insights? What could possibly make a chemical that smart and that precisely discriminating? As many outlandish ideas as the drugs might have induced, they also removed the physical desire and ability for those that had the ideas to actually bring them to fruition, unless they had an army of unintoxicated technicians to try to interpret their mad ravings and do the hard, boring work of manifesting the visions. Even then, there was an inevitable loss of fidelity, as the drug-induced idea was interpreted by those unimpaired, who were still able to create, make and do with real world tools and materials. Much of what a drug induced fugue informs you to do isn’t physically possible. It cannot be brought into real existence.

Once again, a little research after the fact reveals that psychedelic drugs were largely an offensive CIA psychological-operation, with the aim of suppressing, emasculating, eviscerating, disabling, impairing and incapacitating political and cultural dissent. It was meant to shut the protests and revolutions down before they started. If everybody was sufficiently stoned, to the point of irrationality, collective unity would be disrupted and nothing effective could be organised to oppose the powers that be from doing whatever the hell they wanted. And so it proved.

A related unfortunate consequence of this engineered mind-altering drugs epidemic, promoted by its infamous high priests, is that we, even today, underestimate the power and value of being able to think straight and use those thoughts with our physical agency to get things done. When you lose both, you’re eminently more easily farmed and corralled.

Hippies were into what they called “free love”. The problem is that free love never is. You cannot use other human beings for your own sexual gratification without considering their rights and needs. You can’t discard people like a used condom. They have feelings and dignity, which you shouldn’t harm. Hearts get badly broken. Children are often unintentionally created and bear the cost of having an errant, absent parent for their whole lives. The way hippy men tended to treat their women was, in my view, reprehensible. It bordered on being abusive. Actually, it often was abusive. For their part, hippy girls had been conditioned to accept male domination. The way they behaved around men was often equally appalling. They were still surprised to encounter sweet, gentle, considerate, peaceful guys and often didn’t know how to react to that. There was still a marked preference for bad boys, macho men and bullies. Many gravitated toward men that threw their weight around, as their fathers had to their mothers, or who used the threat of casual violence to maintain their dominant position in their personal relationships. It was very messed up. Feminism wasn’t embraced nearly as quickly as free love was.

The hippy musicians that I knew of, back in the seventies, were invariably subscribers to the maxims: “love ’em and leave ’em” and “treat ’em mean; keep ’em keen”. I thought then and still think today that this is an abusive attitude, lacking in commitment to another human being. Some of these musicians, it was widely understood, had a proclivity for underage girls. They were certainly unconcerned about accidental progeny or disease. Had any of these girls produced an offspring, the musicians would have treated those children abominably. That, too, was evidence of an abusive mindset. Yet, many of the girls that were attracted to these unreconstructed cavemen were so jaded and expecting to be treated badly, it confused and disturbed them if a man wasn’t like this toward them, such was their upbringing. Whenever they encountered a man who wasn’t quite as abusive, they tended to distrust and suspect them, rather than feel attracted to them. It was like a version of Stockholm Syndrome, except they were being held captive only by their own assumptions.

The saddest thing about hippy culture, to me, is that many of these hippies became complacent, wasteful, self-indulgent, narcissistic baby boomers of the worst kind, that took everything for themselves and left nothing for anybody younger. They’re currently consuming the earth with their gargantuan, insatiable appetites. As much as they declared war on the older generation, they have done the same to the generations that followed them. Today, they exist as a fat, dumb, contented population that rejects book learning in favour of gut opinion. They’re as conservative in their thoughts and habits as their parents and grandparents were, but they express their conservatism in different ways. This is the generation who, when all is said and done, embraced the Thatcher/Reagan neoliberal economic theory, with its bogus trickle down wealth lies, it’s manufactured austerity, extreme inequality and its predatory, self-serving, surveillance capitalism. They stopped giving a toss about anybody else. This is one of the effects of being indulged in their rebellion, without assuming the mantle of responsibility for improving things. They knew what they were against, but not what they were for.

Tragically, I and my hippy peers never found a way to be a genuine threat to power. We didn’t figure out how to seize power non-violently. Inequality is out of control and our opposition has been largely ineffectual. In truth, we didn’t want to let go of our own privilege, as a group, I suspect. Authoritarianism is again on the rise, as is intolerance, racism and sexism. We wound up with a deep democratic deficit, as a consequence of our refusal to engage and no viable, working anarchy.

This is not the kind of hippy I wanted to be and I hope I’m not one of them.

So much for sticking it to the man, man.

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Boring and Ordinary

There are people whose greatest fear is being boring and ordinary. They have an existential need to be special and outstanding. Obscurity terrifies them. Their whole identity is built on this foundation. Sadly, it’s not a very stable footing.

I’ve known people that have rejected a lifetime in partnership with lovely potential partners, because they feared an existence of routine domesticity. Usually, the rejected potential partner goes on to have a thoroughly exceptional, interesting and outstanding life, thereby demonstrating that the story of mundane suburban purgatory was largely a fiction that existed only in the mind of the rejecter, irrespective of reality. It’s tragic, but it happens.

Some would-be artists adopt the airs, manners and behaviours of genuine, unique, individual artists, because they need to inhabit that persona and be seen to be anything but boring and ordinary. Unfortunately, their artistic output is often unremarkable and inauthentic, because they’re only play acting. It’s a protective cloak to protect them from being perceived as average. Unfortunately, this cloak is rather insubstantial.

Most creative work, after the initial brilliant and inspiring idea flashes into your consciousness, is in fact dull, repetitive, boring, frustrating, uninspiring, routine and insanely risky. Anybody pretending to be an artist just wont put in the hard work to become genuinely outstanding. There will be no joy, flow or immersive fulfilment in trying to bridge the efforts, skills and quality gaps that separate what they imagine they want to create and what they actually can create.

Controversially, some people go to the lengths of self-identifying as something less conventional, sexually – not because they’re made that way, but rather as a contrived statement of how different and complex they are (or wish they truly were). These people invariably go on to have exceptionally conventional relationships. The pretence, again, was all a game, but one that is demeaning and insulting to those who are genuinely LBGTQ.

I don’t fully comprehend the mindset. If you don’t want to be seen as boring and ordinary, the only route out is to do the hard, persistent work to create interesting and extraordinary works. You become an interesting and extraordinary person by what you make. If all you make is a thin persona pretending to be interesting and extraordinary, you’ll get found out. This is one case where Imposter Syndrome has being an actual imposter as its root cause.

Why do people even worry about being seen as not boring and not ordinary? Where does the sense of entitlement come from? If you have curiosity and the courage to explore and take risks, then that’s a way of being that’s independent of the judgement of others. You don’t need anybody’s approval, permission or admiration. The joy and fulfilment is in honouring and investing in your interests, passions and inclinations.

I’ve met people that wanted to be famous rock stars, but who were unwilling to learn how to play or sing, compose music or discover how to use music production technology. They wanted to take a short cut. In truth, it wasn’t the artistry they were interested in; it was the unalloyed adulation. It never occurred to them that there had to be something outstanding about them and their music worthy of that acclaim.

As a music producer, there is an endless line of wannabe rock stars that pass through your recording studio; all wanting you to push the magic buttons that instantly convert their amateurish performances into chart-topping gold. There are no magic buttons. You have to learn how to craft a song, give a great performance and deliver authentic emotions. No plugin can do that for you.

There are large groups of people that have all the gear, but no idea. They think they can spend their way to greatness. If they buy the same gear as their artistic heroes, the theory goes, then they will be endowed with the talent, skills and insights of those they wish to emulate. It’s a trap, though. The closer to emulating your heroes you get, the less individual you appear. Ultimately, exact copies of other artists are textbook boring and uninteresting.

This is why nobody knows the names of the individual members of tribute bands. Everybody can name each of The Beatles, but nobody knows the names of the members of The Bootleg Beatles. It doesn’t even matter if the musicians concerned are technically better players. They’re anonymous.

For all their railing and posturing against being seen as boring and ordinary, most of these pretenders are, at the core of their being, fearful, hollow and disappointed people, both unable to come to terms with their essential boringness and ordinariness, yet unable or unwilling to do what it takes to be interesting, engaging, attractive and accomplished.

There is frequently an internal, unresolvable tension between wanting safety, predictability, certainty, security and a life free from stressful challenges, versus wanting to benefit from taking risks they don’t want to take, improvising and reacting to situations as they unfold that don’t conform to their imaginary life-script and the anxiety that accompanies not knowing how things will turn out, when they want guarantees of happy endings. This is how opportunities are missed.

I suppose at some level we all want our existence and contribution recognised. Nobody wants to live a meaningless life that leaves an obscure, insignificant legacy. We want our struggles to have been worthwhile. If that’s the case, your best and only hope is to find your own unique voice as soon as you can, through sheer hard graft.

The path is boring and ordinary and there is no short cut.

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The Ideas That Excite You

There are some ideas that fully capture your imagination and enrapture you. They pique your interest and stimulate your curiosity. In short, they excite you. Not everybody responds to the ideas that grab you the same way you do, so the ideas that captivate you are worth noting. They reveal important things about your essence, as a human being.

The ideas that excite you tell you about your true, authentic self. You can put your trust in them. They expose your most fervent interests and desires. These ideas are like a mirror, reflecting your private, inner life. When you feel lost, or don’t know what you want to do with your life, the ideas that excite you can act like a guiding beacon. Your reaction to them shows you what you passionately care about. Putting more of that into your life is invariably a good thing to do. Follow the ideas that affect you most positively.

The ideas that excite you are the ones worth pursuing. “Good” is a remarkably subjective concept, so these ideas at least meet your personal idea of what good means, even if you aren’t aware enough of how you, uniquely, define it, to articulate it. You can be sure that if the idea excites you, then at a very deep and unconscious level, you feel it’s a good idea, almost by definition. In a world full of choices and uncertainty, this is an anchor you can hold onto.

The ideas that excite you are the easiest to persist with and work on. They remain exciting and motivating even when the going gets tough. Sometimes, they’re so exciting, working on them doesn’t feel like work at all. Sticking with a direction and pursuing it, without deviation or discouragement, takes tremendous resilience, but you can ease the load by only pursuing a direction that makes your eyes twinkle. Life is hard enough, so dedicating yourself to ideas that enliven and enrich you lessens the burden. This is simple conservation of mental energy.

The ideas that excite you allow you to revisit your childhood passions, without embarrassment or self-consciousness. They allow you to recreate those carefree, lost moments from your youth, perhaps now only dimly recalled, so they have the power to rejuvenate you. There’s an nnocence and joy in that. Renewed enthusiasms feel like beginning again from where you left off, rather than starting from square one. It takes away some of the fear of failure. You know a little about this already and can proceed like you know what you’re doing, rather than feeling completely clueless.

The ideas that excite you tend to be infectious and, so, enable you to enlist help more easily. People trust in people enthused by their own exciting projects. It’s much easier to convince others to join you, when you obviously look like you’re having fun. These ideas that excite you might not excite anybody else, directly, but everybody is excited by an excited, exciting person. That’s just how excitement works. It’s multiplicative.

The ideas that excite you are generative. No idea that is exciting to you is a failure, if you remember to keep asking, “what else is this idea good for?” Add to the exciting idea by appending it with an improvisational, “Yes, and…” Every idea can spark another. You can even remix, repurpose, reimagine or strip it for parts and use the components of the idea in something else. Some other exciting idea may come of it. It’s bound to.

The ideas that excite you aren’t crazy, really; no matter what anybody else thinks.

Which ideas excite you most?

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How Different You Could Have Been

You might think that, born somewhere else, under different circumstances, you’d turn out pretty much the same as you are today, no matter what. The things you accomplished would have been accomplished, no matter where you started. You’d think the same thoughts, uphold the same values, pursue the same interests and develop the same skills and talents. We tend to believe our true, authentic selves would have found a way of being expressed, no matter what influences, hindrances and discouragements we were subjected to.

What we don’t like to acknowledge is the possibility that, given better encouragement, resources, luck, breaks, opportunities and happenstances, we could have become a much better, more successful, more fully-developed version of ourselves, instead of the frustrated, constrained, self-censoring human being we have been conditioned to become. We could have become more compassionate, forgiving, non-judgemental, less petty, with greater emotional depth and intelligence, free from bigotry, nastiness, greed and selfish tendencies to intimidate, if only our life-learnings and opportunities had been different.

We believe our thoughts are our own, yet strangely we share them with people of equivalent privilege and life luck, but oddly not with other groups of humans. If we’re such self-made individuals, what can explain the marked homogeneity of attitudes, thoughts, beliefs, values and morals? Are we as unaffected and unshaped by our environment, parents and peers as we like to imagine? Under similar pressures and stresses, would we opt to be Oskar Schindler, or Josef Mengele? Nobody can say for sure, until they’re put to the test. We are, until that moment, like Schodinger’s cat, both potential hero and villain at the same time – unresolved until observed.

Here’s the truth. We aren’t predestined to become the people we become. We’re shaped by the prevailing ideas and orthodoxies and these, more often than not, limit us, because we are governed by the lucky. The lucky construct a self-serving narrative that asserts if only you were more like them, you’d be lucky too. They make cases for narcissism, sociopathy, violence, venality, prejudice, base behaviour, low cunning, cheating, lying and all manner of corruption as the secret recipe for their good luck. Follow these instructions, they claim, act as we do and then you might be deemed worthy enough to be included amongst the very luckiest in society.

There’s good reason to believe that if you change the shaping forces, which mould each and every one of us, you change almost everything about who we would have become. The change could be drastic and radical, if the shaping forces are significantly and diametrically opposite to those that made you. We’d be very different people, if what we’re told and trustingly believe from birth was drawn from an alternative set of ideas and narratives, or another intellectual tradition entirely.

We become what we’re told to become. If we deviate far from this, the deviation is relatively small. We might be different in detail, but not in substance. As much as our youthful rebellion rejects the culture and orthodoxies of the older generation, we eventually gravitate toward sets of ideas that share a great deal in common with those of our elders. This is why monarchies persist for generations and why revolutionary changes to systems of governance settle to become almost indistinguishable from the systems they replaced. What, for example, is the material difference between being ruled by an autocratic, absolutist czar and a plutocratic, authoritarian, totalitarian oligarch? It’s a very fine distinction. The obedience, collusion and deferrence are pretty much the same. Never underestimate the ferocious, terrifying power of conformity.

The fact that our very essences, as people, are so evidently fungible leads to some interesting morphological possibilities. With different ideas in all our heads, our creative potentials could be unlocked and we could live very different lives, governing ourselves in a very different way. Certain of our capacities and potentials can be activated, and others not, so that we turn out another, ideally better way.

The author and playwright, Wallace Shawn, noted, “There’s no reason to doubt that every healthy human infant is born with the potential to play music beautifully, to read with sensitivity, to do scientific research, to put on plays, to draw and paint, and certainly to think. To think, to understand, to reason, to analyze arguments. And naturally also, to develop, to grow. But almost all of those who are born unlucky have been brutally prevented from developing more than a fraction of their own abilities, and this is perhaps the most shocking fact about our human world.”

Imagine we believed fervently in non-violent eudaimonia, where thriving and growing, as flourishing people, is held up as the highest, most desirable good, instead of the things we seem to value and reward most today: conquest, power and predatory domination. What if generosity was our aspirational social goal, instead of selfish greed? How different would you be if every social institution that existed supported, rather than prevented, your every nobler instinct as a human being? What different choices would you/could you make? Could it really be so difficult to create organisations designed along these lines?

The usual objection is that the utopian project would fail because it goes against human nature, but are we in danger of putting the cart before the horse? Isn’t our so-called human nature largely an imprint of the way we chose to design our organisations and establishment edifices? If we designed our institutions differently, with different principles, missions and visions, couldn’t we change human nature in its image? What if we guaranteed an end to traumatic childhood abuse and alienation, strove for greater equality and chose to place thriving above profitability, efficiency and productivity? What would be expressed as human qualities, if these explicit goals were ambient?

The writers of the Redacted Tonight television show recently tweeted:

“Should it bother us that our foreign policy consists mostly of bomb first, ask questions later? That our international relations debates are largely discussions on when + how to internevene in other nations? That profit motives of war are rarely reported by the so-called press?”

The answer to this rhetorical question is, of course, obvious. Yes, it should bother us. If our institutions of governance, corporations, finance and media were constituted differently, we would be bothered. The fact that we aren’t tells us that our institutions are pathological and hence dysfunctional. They believe in and uphold things that are inimical to human life, preferring death, waste, despoliation and destruction to peaceful co-existence. This is the road to extinction.

How different would we be, as people, if our foreign policy were different? We’re not the audience; we’re part of the drama and we’re as mutable as the thoughts we think. Do you really think a different foreign policy is impossible?

We’re told there is no alternative to how things currently are, but if true, we’re rapidly headed toward total oblivion. Our best and only hope is that something better must be possible. To access those alternative ways of thinking and being, however, we have to be willing to re-examine every article of faith to which we doggedly adhere. There is, ironically, no alternative.

We’ve let important aspects of human life become the playthings of speculators and the super rich. Does it have to be this way? Of course not! Their rule has no inherent legitimacy. If we were aware and awake, we’d challenge them to demonstrate their legitimacy to have everything their own way. They, for a fact, know that they couldn’t. Their much vaunted meritocracy is a sham.

If being an artist meant you’d live a comfortable, secure, thriving existence, instead of starving, for example, wouldn’t more people become artists, rather than stock brokers and hedge fund managers? What would that do for humanity’s ability to experience a deeper range of emotions? How much more innovative originality would decorate and enhance our daily existences and lives? In short, doesn’t our current collective mindset severely limit the range and breadth of human possibility?

It’s not utopian, therefore dismissible, if all that prevents it from becoming a lived reality are the thoughts we think. We could choose to simply change one imagined, hallucinated reality we collectively brought into existence (our current “real world”) for an equally plausible alternative one, in which we’re all wiser, more compassionate, emotionally deeper, freer and far more creative, happy and fulfilled.

Why don’t we? Imagine the people we could become.

Now there’s a thought.

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Steep Relearning Curves

Creative software tools are great. You can do amazing things with those apps and desktop programmes. What was once impossible or prohibitively expensive is now available on your device. If you’re like me, you’ve collected dozens of these useful tools, because they all cover their own creative niche in depth. Whether you’re writing, making music, doing some graphic design, making photographs, drawing, or designing, you probably have several apps that do similar things, but each has one or two special things it does uniquely well. That’s a blessing and a curse.

I find I encounter two recurrent problems, which severely limit my creativity with these apps. The first is that unless I use the app regularly and often, I forget how to do things with them. They all have deep powers, so extensive learning curves, but there is very little standardisation in user experience design. Consequently, I find myself returning to tools I have used many times, but stumbling around to remember how to do things I want to do. Vendors don’t agree on how to do notionally similar things, like saving files, importing them, cutting and pasting. The location of these controls on-screen varies even more widely than how they work.

Maybe I never knew how to operate the tool correctly, to do what I want to do, and fool myself that I’d done this operation before, but I don’t think so. I think we have to reclimb learning curves again and again, almost as if we’re trying things out for the very first time. This destroys creative flow. As far as I can tell, the only cure for the problem is to focus on using fewer tools and use them a lot. Practice makes perfect.

The problem is that even with a favourite toolset, you’re going to need to use a specialised tool, every now and then. At that point, you’ll be a novice again. The issue is exacerbated by the proliferation of third party plug ins. Each vendor has their own slant on creative philosophy and how they think you ought to use their software, rather than conforming to your first instincts about how to do things with it. I’m sure there are options in all my creative software tools that I’ve never discovered, because of this clash of approaches. Therefore, those features don’t exist (or might as well not).

The second problem is keeping a mental note of which app does the thing you are trying to do best, if at all. I find myself opening apps that might do what I need, but then discovering it doesn’t, or that it does, but I don’t know (or can’t recall) how to make it do it, or else I’m not sure whether it does or doesn’t do what I need to do, but I can’t get to a definitive answer. All of this is a massive time vampire, which also leaves your creative flow in tatters.

To add to the challenge, user interfaces evolve. A tool you knew autonomically, in a previous version, is often improved and updated by the vendor in their latest release, to the extent that all of that intuitive familiarity you painstakingly accumulated by using the tool, over the years, is no longer of any use and may actually be a hindrance. The app doesn’t work that way any more. The option was removed for lack of popularity, or reengineered to supposedly make it easier or better. There are new keystroke sequences to learn.

You have to forget what you learnt and learn some other new way of doing the same thing, all the while being vigilant that you aren’t inadvertently trying to apply your obsolete knowledge to the new software release, if you do happen to enter your create flow. Important controls and options have been moved around, or relabelled. I’m newly disorientated, but this is for my own good and benefit, I am assured by the vendor.

This might actually be a third distinct recurrent problem I encounter with creative software tools, now that I pause to think about it. Redesigned user experiences causing loss of creative flow are not the fault of my memory retention deficits, but they are a symptom of infrequent use of the tool, to a degree.

It’s all fun to play around with, if you have the time, but when time is tight (and whose precious creative time, carved out of day-to-day responsibilities, isn’t tight?), then the inability to make your tools do what you want to do becomes frustrating rapidly. That’s a buzz kill that can put you off even trying to create for a long time.

I don’t know what the answer is, other than to factor in time to relearn those steep learning curves at frequent intervals. Taking creative risks means doing new things, so you’re always going to be trying to coax your tools into doing what you need, no matter what. There’s no escaping it. If you want to make artistic progress, you’re doomed to battle with your collection of creative tools interminably. Google and YouTube can be your friends in figuring this out, but they’re time vampires too.

I guess it’s like learning musical scales. Eventually, you internalise them and never have to consciously think about how to play them ever again. But there’s always a new, unfamiliar scale left to learn, isn’t there?

How do you solve this problem?

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