The Dead End of Justified Means

In a recent conversation about AI, a business acquaintance told me why, in his opinion, Elon Musk will not succeed. “It’s because Musk allows his beliefs and ethics to enter into his business,” he said. “Musk doesn’t like AI and so he is not pursuing its implementation to the extent he should.” My reply was that as I understood it, it isn’t that Musk doesn’t like AI but rather doesn’t trust it given the insufficient moral parameters being established around its development and implementation. His response? “Well, when consumers see the benefits and ease of products and services that utilize AI they won’t ask or care about the morality or ethics.”

That’s when I decided to end the discussion.

Convincing a 39 year old businessman otherwise, who actually thinks that ethics and morals are irrelevant to AI or should be, is more energy that I wanted to expend. After all, he’s pretty cooked at his age. It doesn’t mean I was not surprised and slightly appalled by his perspective. It just means that if you don’t understand the connection between a culture lacking  ethics in business that has also run amok with sexual harassment in the workplace… you’re probably way down the road of no return on the relationship between ethics and AI. In fact, his final words to me on the subject were “AI will be our slaves.” To which I replied, “Or we will be theirs.”

Perhaps I come from an old school. I am willing to own that accusation. I remember a world where everything wasn’t instant, people didn’t have tech sex with virtual strangers and where they actually cared what others thought about how they behaved and the consequences of their actions. Maybe I am a cultural dinosaur. But I am not alone. I talk to plenty of other creatures from that “cultural  Jurrasic period” where values and principles mattered and people sought out and knew how to have personal relationships.

What is so disturbing is that people like the entrepreneur I spoke with about Elon Musk are in the majority not the minority. Ethics be damned. They slow things down. They get in the way of progress. Think of how high that tower could be…why it could go all the way to the sky…if we didn’t have to consider the consequences of building it in the first place. Oops. We did that one, didn’t we?

I like that Elon Musk is bothered by the potential of an AI world absent ethical and moral considerations. I am bothered by the fact that Google isn’t.  Large tech giants like Facebook and Google have already proven themselves not to be beyond crossing all sorts of ethical lines…or at least not past using mind control and preference mapping…to reach their profit driven ends. At least Musk has a conscience and isn’t afraid to make that known or stand by what he believes in.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s what is all comes down to. Belief.

We seem to have stopped believing in anything beyond self-satisfaction. Don’t misunderstand me. I think we humans are in charge of our own destiny and can choose to find joy even in the hard times. We deserve to be happy. But in satisfying one self, a total disregard for our connection to all living things and especially to a higher power that is essentially good, self-satisfaction soon morphs into self-absorption which, in an AI-virtual world, ends in addiction and enslavement: if not to a government then to a machine that anticipates our every need and fulfills our every desire.

Live long enough and you learn, hopefully, that joy and satisfaction come as much from living within certain ethical and moral parameters as from hard work, patience and forgiveness. Absent those parameters anything goes. Given our human propensity to abuse power and self-destruct in the doing, we are more likely to devolve then evolve. If memory serves me, we’ve done that before as well. I wonder why we can’t seem to get this one right?

Carole (contact@carolegold.com)

Perspective Is Everything

The Second Coming, alien invasion or the end of the world? No matter which you believe (or perhaps you have some alternative theory) everyone knows something is happening. Why? Because everywhere you look things are falling apart.

Or are they?

I read an essay by the former Chief Rabbi of England, Jonathan Sacks, in which he tells the story of diarist Samuel Pepys who, in 1663 paid a visit to a Spanish synagogue in London. Worship there had been banned since 1290 but Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, lifted the ban. The synagogue was actually a private house accommodated to function as such. Pepys had been in the house one time previously for a memorial service for its deceased owner. Upon entering the then newly sanctioned synagogue, Pepys was shocked and repulsed by what he saw which he described, in part, as follows:

“Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out the press (Torah scroll) and are carried by several men. …Whether it is that everyone desires to have the carrying of it I cannot tell. Thus they carried it around the room while such a service is singing…But, Lord! To see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing true God would make a man forswear ever seeing them more….” [Emphasis added].

What Pepys did not know was that he had entered the synagogue on the biblical holiday of Simchat Torah, the service that celebrates the end of the annual cycle of reading the Torah. It is a celebration that can last for hours, marked by joyous dancing and singing as the Torah scroll is carried about the congregation.

Pepys expected the solemnity of traditional worship. What he encountered was unbridled joy. Lacking context, he formed a misguided opinion of an entire religion and its people.

Perspective is everything.

It is likely that many, if not all, of the people you meet these days think we are in dire straits.  After all, in every direction you turn there is chaos, deception, division and corruption. Regardless of in which “camp” you define yourself as standing, most would agree upon this fact. Most. Not all.

I have a different perspective.

Calm and order are not the historical norm of humankind. In fact, periods of relative calm are the exception rather than the rule. Human history is a timeline of long periods of upheaval followed by relatively brief periods of stability. Because we just transited one of those relatively stable periods (1950 – 2000) makes the present upheaval particularly difficult to adapt to…especially for those old enough to have lived through, at least part of, the preceding period of stability. It is why it’s so easy to think we are going to hell; but, what if we are actually moving closer to “heaven?”

I look at the unmasking or exposure of the deception, division, corruption and simultaneous chaos as a really good sign. It means there are no longer sufficient ways in which to conceal destructive behavior.

The saying “there are no accidents” is predicated upon a belief that everything happens for a reason. It is frequently cited when an event (or series of events) seem(s) to provide necessary meaning to an otherwise meaningless set of occurrences. For example, take the news.

The investigation into possible U.S. election tampering by a foreign entity is turning out to expose a deeper level of corruption and deceit than thought to exist; an entire entertainment industry (and perhaps others as well) is being exposed for its repetitive use of sexual abuse; individuals profiting from the manufacture and excessive distribution of addictive opioid medications are being exposed for their complicity; corrupt politicians are either being exposed for their deceit or leaving politics altogether rather than face such exposure; the former Prime Minister of Qatar has gone public to expose the U.S.-Saudi-Qatar connection and cooperation in arming ISIS and al-Qaeda in attempting to effect regime change in Syria; courts and municipalities allegedly with the “best interest of children” as their mantra are being exposed for giving full, joint parenting rights to rapists and, in Nevada and other states, we’re exposing fraudulent guardianship programs allowing corrupt individuals to kidnap legally competent senior citizens in order to steal their assets and real property.

This is all good news. Why? Because it’s exposing the ways in which we have lost our way and you cannot find your way home unless and until you realize you are lost and decide to do something about it.

Personally, I prefer the explanation for all this exposure to be simply about energy. The right use of energy. Here’s the analogy: if you use energy wrongly it’s destructive. Plug a 110v appliance into a 220V receptacle and you will short the circuit and likely blow your appliance. That’s why when traveling to Europe with an appliance made for U.S. use, for example, you need to take a converter to plug into the outlet in Europe.

We are energy. That’s what we humans are. Giant packets of energy. Use it correctly and all is well. Use it wrongly and…well…if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor, likely blow the society.

For quite some time, we have been in denial about our misuse of energy. We have simply reached the point where failure or refusal to recognize the misuse is resulting in destruction. It need not be total destruction. However, in order to avoid it we are in desperate need of a “converter.”

I find words enlightening and believe their true meaning has often been hijacked by some to control others. For example, take the words “righteousness” and “converter.”

It you remove the letter “o” from the word righteousness you’re left with right-eus-ness…as in the “right-use-ness” of energy. What you need to affect the right-use-ness of energy in an environment different from one in which you have been used to applying it is a “converter.”

At critical times in our conscious evolution, we giant energy packets have been gifted converters. Abraham, Moses, Hillel the Elder and Jesus to name some of the more effective ones. They have always shown up shining light upon darkness born of the misuse of energy. It’s the resulting light that exposes and reveals the effects of that misuse.

So, here we are. I am confident that there is a converter in our midst supporting us in the right-use-ness of energy. This is reason to feel joyful. Like I said, perspective is everything.

Carole (contact@carolegold.com)

The Answer

Want to know why you’re fed up and feeling lost?

In what will surely be known as the Age of Data Collection, we know virtually nothing about the Las Vegas shooter.  The Clinton’s got away with their “Foundation” profiting to the tune of $145,000,000 in donations from Russian sources while Secretary Clinton approved the sale of 1/4 of the U.S. uranium supply to Russia. Sex trafficking in children is at an all-time high and some of the worst perpetrators are here in the U.S.  Pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies are the monthly purveyors of millions of illegal opioids while Americans grow more and more addicted. Then there is Harvey Weinstein and all of those complicit and silent, for decades, in Hollywood’s sordid saga.

We are not a dying a culture. We are a dead one.

This isn’t about politics. Politics is the distraction. It’s the “look over here so I can keep you from looking over there.” No thinking person can conclude that any politician, regardless of party, can or will save us. Politicians have been corrupt as far back as recorded history. This includes the politicians who disguise themselves as religious leaders and attempt to control and enslave millions in the name of God.

For as long as I can remember, I have instinctively known that you cannot legislate morality. Morals and ethics are internal commitments by individuals who have a conscience and a sense of higher purpose. Such knowing cannot be externally imposed and it certainly cannot be forced upon others through legal enactments. Morals and ethics may be discussed intellectually, laws can be passed in an attempt to express a society’s opposition to certain behavior, but in the end it is individuals acting voluntarily in accordance with a personal commitment to higher principles that define a culture.

Our culture, in the second decade of the twenty first century, is experiencing the ugly truth that it is devoid of such principles.

A society’s culture is a complex adaptive system that needs tending to. Because each of us is a contributor and functional part of that system, our individual actions matter and affect the whole.  Each of us needs to be aware when we are out of balance and take the necessary steps in returning toward equilibrium. Make no mistake. For too long, we have turned a collective blind eye to deceit, corruption, abuse, and limitless greed. Like an untreated bacteria or virus, we allowed these pathogens to infect us and go untreated. They have made our culture toxic. They have eaten away at our foundation and left us wandering and lost in the void.

What matters now is what we do about it. There is little time to waste and less time than that to beat our chests wailing “woe is me.” Energy abhors a vacuum. Something is going to fill the void. Blame is not helpful. We are all at fault, each in our own way. If we cannot face how we’ve abdicated free will and personal responsibility then we are surely doomed. We must reclaim both and use them wisely. If not, the fear mongers who live off of the pathogens, will prevail.

Each of us has the power of creation at our fingertips. All that is needed is to reach out and claim it. This is accomplished by the realization that, like morals and ethics, all wisdom resides within. No one and nothing external to you is the source. Your power is the wisdom within you combined with trust that you are directly connected to the highest Source there Is in order to be the best you can be. It is really the essential message of all true religions…once you strip them of their politics and politicians.

No one wants to hear that “it all rest on you.” But the truth is there is only one of us and so it does. We are united in our hearts if temporarily at war within our minds. What can provide comfort as we seek to find our way out of the void is the oldest message in the universe: the heart prevails.

Be the light, shine your light and watch what happens to the darkness. Something is going to fill the void. What will your contribution be?

Carole contact@carolegold.com

 

 

 

Taking The Knee

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” [Emphasis added].  This includes football players “taking the knee” to the national anthem and the President of the United States calling people, who do, “sons of bitches.

The First Amendment addresses freedom of speech. It says nothing about stupidity, arrogance or a total lack of dignity. The last three describe both the players and the President.

Political protest is as old as politics itself. Nothing new here. How such protest manifests itself is as varied, and effective, as human imagination and determination. Lately, in a nation as deliberately divided as ours, professional politicians and moneyed individuals, with their own agendas, have been stoking the fires of political dissent. While their endgames may differ, they have one thing in common: methodology. Theirs is to incite the average citizen who gets his or her news in “10 second or less” snippets and thereby jack them up into rage. When that approach is less than successful….well, then they just pay protestors to show up and rail against what may or may not be fact… and against what the protestors themselves may or may not understand.

What matters is the rebellion and resulting chaos, not the truth of things.

So in a nation now convinced that we are racist, homophobic, misogynistic, Islamophobic, gender-phobic and heaven knows what other-phobic, many have reached the point where complaining about a lack of “safe spaces” and taking a knee is the new heroism.

Never mind that the concerned students lacking safe spaces are attending costly universities where they are taught revisionist history, study majors that have no realistic possibility of ever getting them a job sufficient to pay off their student debt and are coddled by parents and faculty alike to stay children for four more, irresponsible years.

As for sports figures earning millions (and often tens of millions) of dollars for throwing and catching a ball (yes, I know they get tackled and suffer concussions but our young men and women serving in the military suffer far worse consequences for a pittance) think the playing field (not the pen and paper or keyboard) is the place for them to make their displeasure known while disrespecting the very country that is making it possible to for them to earn tens of millions of dollars throwing and catching a ball. Such hypocrisy.

At the same time, we have a President of the United States calling those players “sons of bitches.” It’s hard to call such behavior anything but classless and immature. In fact, his choice of words and delivery style inadvertently gave class to the equally classless taking of knees by the very people he was railing against.

What have we come to? Chaos, confusion, division and hatred. We have chosen up sides without stopping to realize that the very act of choosing sides is precisely what we have been manipulated into doing. 

People who know me often hear me say, “There is only one of us.” What I mean by that is we are all connected. Whether it’s a biblical perspective or a genetic one, we all started out from the same place, even if we differ regarding where that “place” was. And like the single-celled amoeba on the ocean floor, it was not likely a safe space. It was likely fraught with dangers and conditions hostile to our survival. None-the-less, in our limited consciousness we moved on and, by joining forces when necessary, figured out how to survive.

Our success at survival has always had two key components: determination and an inherent knowing that we cannot do it alone. Yes, we each bring something unique to the table; but it is in our fundamental connection to others that the many manifests outcomes that transcend the limitation of the individual.

I am a Jew, but there was something really profound in Jesus saying…”Whenever two or more of you are gathered in my name.” I can’t speak to the “in my name” portion. But what he certainly knew is that what can be done in unity and harmony far exceeds what one can do alone. And there is no stopping the power of love.

This is precisely why so few have now set out to divide and cause dissonance among so many. They know the power of unity and harmony and are, if you’ll forgive the pun, “Hell bent” on keeping us at each other’s throats.

So whether it’s a classless and inarticulate President, sports figures taking a knee, or just angry citizens paid to get out and create chaos for the sheer thrill of it …let’s wake up and wise up.

We have real issues to face: the long-term effects of Artificial Intelligence, an escalating Middle East crisis, social media execs spoon feeding us selective information tailored to manipulate and control us, a bogus economy like a ticking time bomb, an opioid epidemic… and that list is not exhaustive. Let’s stop dancing to someone elses tune.

Ask yourself, “When was the last time I personally witnessed racism, homophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia (is there such a thing anyway?), gender-phobia or any other blatantly uncivil behavior. And because I suspect you answer is either 1) never; 2) not for some time; or 3) I can’t recall, then put away the righteous indignation, stop humoring others who feel the need to express theirs in ways that are divisive and get on to living a life based upon what really matters: Love, Unity, & Harmony. Sound a bit too corny? What’s the alternative? Fear, Separation and Discord? How’s that been working out for us?

One Simple Act of Love

Yesterday was a bad day. One of my worst.

I heard news that devastated me. It was, quite literally, as if I had been punched in the stomach and couldn’t recover. But, as a parent, I had to carry on. It was teacher conference day at the kid’s school.  As soon as I arrived I knew something was wrong. It turns out I was a day early.

Since I didn’t have my car, I had to wait for my wife to pick me up. I waited and waited but she didn’t come. My phone battery died so I couldn’t call Uber or a taxi.  After waiting as long as I could, I decided to walk home. What I didn’t know was that my younger children were at home and they were getting worried. I had been away for too long and they left their rooms to wait for me by the door.

When I finally arrived home some four hours later tired, depressed and frustrated, I walked in the house to see my four- year-old sound asleep on top of a chair with his head pressed against the window. He had been looking out and waiting for me when, exhausted, he just fell asleep.

That scene of him asleep on top of the chair broke my heart but in so doing it made it bigger.  I have a friend who likes to say “there’s more room in a broken heart” and now I know what she means.

All day I had been wallowing in my problems feeling super depressed about my current predicament and the bad news I had received. Then, I was confronted with that expression of my son’s love for me. My absence had troubled him so much that he feel asleep looking out a window.

When I asked my nine year old daughter why they were waiting downstairs for me she said, “We could tell you were really upset and were very worried about you.” I was blown away. I had tried to mask my situation from my kids but they had sensed something was wrong and showed their concern in the only way they could… by waiting at the front door for me. So with iPhones, iPads and computers at their disposal to pass the time or distract them from their anxiety, they had abandoned all of it to sit and wait for their Dad.

Children are amazing. I have been blessed with six. We even wanted more but my wife had a few miscarriages along the way.  So even though raising them is time consuming and makes no economic sense, I wanted more. Children have the ability to reach us and connect us in ways adults simply cannot. There is something magical about a child’s love and innocence. About their awe for things we adults tend to miss or dismiss. They have the ability to inspire.

So, even after a day when I felt like a total failure, my children reminded me of my value and importance. They let me know that no matter what, I am worthy of love and consideration and they showed it by waiting for me at the front door…and falling asleep with a head pressed up against a window.

Thank you, Lee and Amelia, for thinking of me. Right back at you.

Dad

sleeclark@gmail.com

The Power Of Change

David had blood on his hands and he knew it.

He had gotten his friend, Betty Van Patter, a job as a bookkeeper with the Black Panthers. Betty needed work. Although David had heard rumors that the Panthers were rough and violent, that did not dissuade him. He thought the rumors were just meant to discredit the organization; but he was wrong. The Black Panthers murdered Betty Van Patter over discoveries she made regarding the pilfering of funds by certain members of the Black Panther organization.

That murder took place in 1974. It turned David’s world upside down, causing him to rethink everything he had learned and in which he thought he believed. In the end, he discovered that had been driven by a flawed ideology and that ideology that got his friend killed. As a result, David went through a massive personal crisis and completely changed his life.

David Horowitz tells the complete story of his journey in the book “Radical Son.”

Horowitz re-examined all areas of his life. Raised and ideologically infused by his parents, two card carrying Communists, he had to undo his belief system and his sense of self that was tied to that ideology.  He forged a new identity in the Conservative Movement and became known as someone who had “been there” and truly saw the dark side of the Left’s ideology.  The changes he made cost him everything…his job, friends, reputation and all of his contacts. Even after he forged his new identity, his old enemies from the Conservative side looked at him with disdain. They did not believe that such a person could ever change their stripes.

Change is hard.

Not everyone goes through such cataclysmic change in their lives as did David Horowitz. However, each of us in our lives is confronted by change and, if up to the task, embraces it. In my own life, I have had to reinvent myself time and time again. When I was in college I ran a t-shirt company and produced a calendar for my university to help finance my studies.  After college, I spent  four years on active duty as a Marine Officer. I changed tracks again leaving the service and started trading commodities. That led me to brokering bonds followed by trading bonds. Now, full circle, I am again an entrepreneur

Each change required massive effort to learn new skills. Many times I was on my own in a new city or country with no contacts or resources. I had to figure it out all on my own.  In each of those endeavors I was, at first, a failure.

Along the way I learned Aikdio. It taught me the most valuable lesson of all. To get good at anything you first have to be really bad at it.  The only way to get good at Aikido, or anything new for that matter,  is to be able to endure how bad you are going to be in the beginning. I take that lesson everywhere in my life because I know it is part of a process. Most people are not open to being so vulnerable because there is no denying it can be embarrassing.

Even with my children, I notice at an early age that they are scared to try new things because they don’t want to be embarrassed. My youngest daughter plays on a club team and is considered to be quite talented for her age. The coach always likes to play her in only one position as it gives the team the best chance to win. I always battle with him and ask him to play her in a variety of positions because she still needs to learn much more about the game. The coach is always reluctant to play her in other spots because as he puts it “She just is not as good in other positions.” I agree with him. She isn’t as good in other positions. There’s the conundrum: in order to be good at another position you have to first let her be bad for a while. Many coaches nowadays specialize too much and focus too much on winning such that they lose sight of the bigger picture that all things in life take time to flourish.

If we only gravitate to what we are good at then we will never really know what we are capable of. In my own life, in my own small way, I challenge myself with the material I read. I usually have one book that I am reading that is easy and one that is hard so that the material requires real effort on my part. One of the books I finished in the last few years was called The Prize, which is a masterpiece that chronicles the history of oil. It was grueling to read! I was lucky to read ten pages a day. Yet, the book left me with a much deeper appreciation for the history of economics that I never would have had if I had not challenged myself. The result was that this incremental improvement in my understanding of the oil markets has opened up a new business opportunity for me.

So even within the confines of what we do know, there are deeper levels of understanding that one gets only by change and challenge. Frank Shamrock, the legendary fighter, say that his recipe for success is to train with someone better than you so that they can teach you, someone who is at your same skill level so that they can challenge you, and someone beneath you so that you can teach them. This recipe will always be challenging your abilities and changing the way that you fight.

William Pollard, Quaker writer and minister, said “Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” Most of the change that I’ve encountered in my life was thrust upon me. However, as I get older, I actively seek out and explore new experiences that will challenge and cause me to grow.  The only real certainty in life is change so its best to embrace it rather than resist it.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Houston: Tragedy and Opportunity

I believe in God. If that offends you, or makes you question my sanity, read no further. But if you’re open to the possibility, or you already get it, then it’s worth hearing me out.

People who know me will tell you that for at least six months I have been saying “We are about to experience a natural disaster.” Why? Because I find the Bible instructive, if not literally then figuratively, as a means for understanding how the world works. This includes people as well as nature.  So, as I observed the disintegration of our values and confusion amid our priorities it seemed to me that God, in the form of nature, was about to intervene.

When we humans so lose our way that a return to our highest selves appears to be almost an impossibility, nature has a way of grabbing us by the throat and screaming, “Yo!”

Enter Hurricane Harvey.

Believe me, this is not to make light of the tragedy that continues to occur in Houston. I live in Austin, just outside the range of devastation and havoc wreaked by this storm. My heart is pained by the suffering and loss of both human and animal life. I cannot imagine the horror of trying to, literally, stay afloat as water rises waist high and beyond or the terror felt by those who are incapacitated or elderly and reliant upon rescue.

Now think about Confederate flags and statues.

How much time, energy and resources have been spent on issues that divide us? How long have the Democrats and Republicans been battling it out? How long has the news media been manipulating you and reporting lies as truth? How angry and violent have a sufficient amount of extremists become, on both ends of the spectrum, to have actually engendered talk of a civil war? How many hours do you spend on your iPhone, iPad or computer? How much of your life is lived on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? How hard are you working to make ends meet at the expense of time spent with your family or cultivating human relationships?

Disintegrating values and confused priorities.

Pharaoh had a similar problem as did the Israelites. So did Noah’s neighbors, residents of Lot and the builders of Babel. The lesson we are to learn from those “stories” is that when we humans get so far off track that we are no longer willing to find our way home, God steps in and uses one of the many tools at His disposal. Plagues, locusts, darkness, pestilence, blood, hail, fire. These and others are the means by which we become focused and redirected back to the path we are intended to travel. It’s the path of compassion, sacrifice, service, and love.

Such is the opportunity presented us in Houston. It is the moment when we are turned back to our highest selves. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t painless. It’s just necessary.

Look at and read about the individual acts of heroism. The selfless acts of giving. The outpouring of love and compassion that we are hardwired to perform. They all reminds us, albeit by way of suffering, that we are in this together and without one another we do not survive.

This week, the petty political agendas and false idols (media) have been exposed to reveal themselves for their malice and the divisions that they foster. Houston can and may be a turning point if, and only if, we realize that hurricanes are but one example of what God is capable of when we devolve into our lower selves and abdicate living lives that exemplify our oneness.

God began with turning the Nile into blood but it was only the beginning. It took nine more acts of nature to get everyone’s focused attention. Let’s not go there.

Less Is More

The place has not changed since 1950. It was clean and had a spartan feel to it. It was old and dated and yet we were proud of it.  It was to be home for the next six months. It was the training  dorm of The Basic School, the Marine Corps campus for training officers.

We learned quickly that every service of the military had nice facilities. Except the Marine Corps. Money that is allocated in the Marines is meant to supply fighting Marines; everything else is secondary. The Marine Corps is the only government department that returns money every year to the U.S. Treasury and tries to make due with 90% of its allocated budget. The main reason for this approach is to instill the ethos that “less is more.”

From the very moment you become a Marine the attitude is always to look for ways to make due with less. For example, even as a second Lieutenant making less than $20k a year, I had to buy my own uniforms. This cost me close to three thousand dollars. The Marine Corps did not care about the uniforms. It cared about the point: make due with less.

This philosophy has served me well throughout my career. When I worked in sales for a bank I was given a territory that had been abandoned by everyone who worked it before me. The consensus feeling was there was no money to be made with that particular region. As salesman retired, my peers inherited the best accounts while I was given the dregs. So, every two weeks I traveled to far out places all over the world  in search of bank deals. On one particular flight I was stopped by the flight attendant and warned about flying into  my destination city given the dangers. But, as I traveled I made good connections and, within a few short years, I was one of the top performing sales people on the desk. I had succeeded from  an area that “had no money.”

The “less is more” philosophy has also been the creative spark for some of the best businesses in the world.

In the book Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, the author goes to great lengths to explain how Jobs first started building Apple computers. Jobs had no money to pay anyone. So, he would enlist family and friends to help build the computers by hand.  It wasn’t just the assembling of computers. This philosophy of less pervaded everything Jobs and Apple did. One of the reasons Apple computers have no fans is because there was no place into which to put them. Jobs also hated the noise fans made so he contacted an engineer who figured out a way to keep the circuit boards cooler. They discovered that by having the circuits work quicker they could could shut down quicker, thus reducing heat buildup. This philosophy of less enabled Apple to become one of the leading computer companies of all time.

But the “less is more” philosophy is also prevalent in the arts.

The acclaimed film director Robert Rodriguez made his directorial debut with the movie El Mariachi. He filmed it with family and friends on a shoestring budget. Upon completion, Rodriguez made a trailer and pitched it himself to movie studios. The executives were impressed that he was able to make such a good trailer with only $7,000 dollars! Since he was so new to the business, he was afraid to tell them that the whole movie had cost him that amount. Because he had made such a good movie for so little, offers poured in to make more movies and his career was launched.

Marie Kondo, author of The Japanese Art of Decluttering, writes of the benefits of having less. She is paid to go into houses and, literally, throw way stuff.  As she states, “People accumulate so much stuff during their lives that they have little time for anything else.” Her clients are not hoarders but rather have become dysfunctional in their lives due to clutter.

There is an old saying, “Be careful of what you own because in the end it might own you.” I witnessed this first hand when my parents got older and owned a large house in the country. They became like slaves to the place. They had to constantly work to maintain it leaving little time for anything else. Similarly, when I traveled to Europe, I witnessed the same thing. It is not at all uncommon to travel throughout European countries and see large castles and chateaus in states of ruin, all because they were too big. Too big to own and too big to maintain.

Yes, one of life’s paradoxes is that having less can lead to a richer life.

Although millennials have gotten a bad reputation, they appear to have forgone the “bigger is better mantra” preferring rather renting smaller homes as opposed to owning larger ones. In addition, the tiny house movement can also be traced to their wishes to own more affordable and potentially mobile housing. The millennials seems to understand that experiences, friendships, and memories are the basis for a truly blessed life…things our ancestors knew but we have forgotten.

Religions teach the same message. The New Testament warns, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”  Why? Because the material world is very seductive and the more you possess the more you are enslaved to your possessions.  Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism teaches that when you see something you want to purchase, never do it until you have walked away, thought about it, and returned later to make the purchase…if you still feel you need or want it. Otherwise it owns you.

True wealth, and success that matters, can’t be purchased. The Marine Corps has it down. The best of religion has it down, too. Try and take an honest look at your life and its “things” in order to reevaluate whether you are free or enslaved. It the latter, all you have to do is let them go. Now that’s freedom.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

 

Tapping The Source

I have read the novel “Tapping the Source” numerous times. The novel is a fascinating read into the dark side of man’s misuse of Free Will. Its never received the acclaim it deserves. Perhaps it strikes too close to home for comfort.

The setting is Southern California in the 1980’s and revolves around the youths living within a certain beach community.  The place is beautiful with warm weather, sandy beaches and some of the best surfing in the world. Tucker , a young teen has come there to find his sister who has disappeared.

At the outset,  Tucker falls in love with the beaches, the women and the parties; but, after a few months, he becomes disillusioned with the whole scene.  This seems odd to him because he cannot seem to understand how someone could tire of such a place. Yet he does.  As he begins to peel off the veneer of the whole scene, he notices that the overall environment is run by a group of men who are living exactly as he has been living:  working menial jobs, getting drunk, chasing girls and spending the rest of the time surfing.

These men prey on youngsters who are new to the scene. They bully the young boys, seduce the young women and control the activities of the community. He observes that,  like him, they are disillusioned by it all yet cannot seem to leave.  They are, quite literally, forever stuck here, ensnared by its seductive beauty yet unable able to get the original “high” they once had from the place and the lifestyle.

Life moves on while they remain trying to “Tap The Source” of the pure pleasure the place once gave them. As the book unfolds, Tucker begins to notice the darkness that engulfs everyone and everything. In trying to tap this vein of pleasure, the older surfers have become corrupted, twisted and evil.

The notion of capturing beauty, forever locking it in place, has always fascinated me. Perhaps because it is impossible to do. Life always moves and changes. Nothing stays the same. Its akin to the drug addict who chases one more hit to recapture the high that never comes.

In economics there is a term for this. Its “The Marginal Declining Utility” which states that there is a decline in the marginal utility that a person derives from consuming each additional unit of that product. Think of it this way: for coffee drinkers, there is nothing like that first cup of coffee. Yet, each additional cup lacks a little more and tastes a little worse to the point you can’t drink it any more.

Personally, I have experienced this idea of trying to capture or recreate the past. When I first finished my training as an Infantry Officer, the Major who commanded the unit suggested that none of us go back home or see our old friends. He cautioned that what we had become was no longer compatible with our former settings. Only years later did I fully understand what he had meant, Today, the friendships from my youth are no longer the same. Most of them stayed where they were, figuratively and/or literally. They never assumed a new identity. In fact, the city I grew up in and loved now feels strangely foreign to me…just as he said it would.

But “Tapping the Source” takes this element of recapturing beauty and pleasure into a new realm.  Pleasure, in and of itself, is not a drug. However, the author proposes the notion that when pleasure is experienced exces­sively, for its own sake, it takes on some of the characteris­tics of an addictive drug. The characters in the story are pleasure-seekers and, as they sacrifice more and more for the sake of pleasure, they find themselves completely spent. In the end, they are drained of both health and happiness while left morally corrupted. The only thing that sustains them now is a weird, evil perversion of pleasure that has, quite literally, destroyed them.

As the story goes on, the older surfers delve into darker and darker material…pornography, sex trafficking and, finally, snuff films. Once Tucker realizes what happened to his sister, he exacts his revenge then leaves the beach community before it  happens to him.

I lived in a beach community for years. It seems that there is always a seedy underbelly that infests these towns. As in the novel, that infestation is populated by its older members who have stayed in the community too long. The contribute nothing but remain in search of the promise of the pleasures that beach life can offer.

Perhaps its human nature to seek pleasure and, as with everything else, it can do no harm in moderation. But when we forego the responsibilities of adulthood, resisting change in order to be no more than partakers in self-gratifying behavior, then we sow the seeds of our own destruction. As it was in art…so it is in life.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com