I think all of us start out in life wanting to help others. Over time that empathy and compassion can change for a number of reasons, but generally ‘well-doing’ is replaced by ‘minding my own business.’ Sitting outside my favorite cafe, “Upstart Crow,” I was tossing bits of my baguette to the little sparrows waiting patiently just a few feet away.
“Stop doing that,” Mike, the guy with me said sternly. “You’re creating a worsening bird problem for the people who come to enjoy eating outdoors!”
When I handed the disheveled man on the corner of a busy intersection a couple of bucks, my buddy in the passenger seat said, “Now that guy will go buy a bottle of booze, get liquored up, perhaps commit a crime, and you’re an accessory.”
Last year a woman connected with me on LinkedIn. She asked for prayer, saying that her mother, who had been homeless, was living with her and dying of stage four pancreatic cancer. Elida quit her job to care for her mother. Exchanging messages turned into phone calls, which in turn led me to give financially to help Elida and her mother.
Over the course of a year and a half I began to sense a pattern. Elida would call. She was in tears. Before the call ended she had managed to get me to send more money. She texted pictures of her mother and profuse thanks for all the help.
But it finally became apparent to me that I had been yet one more victim of an elaborate ruse — the entire charade was nothing more than a scam and I cut off the money, which had added up to thousands of dollars at that point.
More recently — again LinkedIn — Joe was reaching out for help. He was homeless and living on the streets in Las Vegas. He needed to get to San Diego where he was certain his construction skills would land him a paying job. He set up a GoFundMe.com account and raised almost $1,000, much of it from me by the way. I even shared his plea with my other LI connections.
In San Diego, which happens to be only 90 miles from where I live in Orange County, he looked for work and spent time at Denny’s and Starbuck’s, but nothing was coming to him in terms of work. Joe had another friend, Jeff, who was phoning him and encouraging him, but Joe became increasingly dejected and seemed to be losing hope. Jeff asked me to call Joe and try to encourage him to hold onto hope. I did so, but Joe seemed angry at people in general, blaming them for the situation he found himself in.
Last night Jeff contacted me. It was raining in San Diego and Joe had nowhere to stay. I asked about the homeless shelters and rescues throughout that area. Fully one quarter of the homeless in America are here in California. So while many still are not getting adequate care, the resources here are pretty good. But Joe did not want to stay there, he said he felt he would be safer in a hotel.
I called Joe and he was angry and dejected, he was cold, and it was raining last night in San Diego. When I suggested the rescue missions he responded angrily that they’re unsafe and now too far away from where he was at the moment. So I asked him to walk to a hotel and he did so. When he got there one hotel was about $140/night, the other $160/night. So Motel 6 these were not. But the hotel clerk would not accept my credit card over the phone.
Joe was furious. With me! “You should have booked this for me earlier, through Priceline or some other way, now I am screwed, cold and wet!” I told him he should have accepted the shelters and made his way over to these missions instead of demanding that people put him up in nice hotel rooms on a moment’s notice. Well, that was the end of my relationship with Joe, just as I have never again heard from Elida.
In June I am traveling to Hanoi to visit Dr. Ho. I have supported this retired doctor’s work for at least the past five years. He fits prosthetics on the needy for free, not for cosmetic reasons but purely for function so they can obtain work. This will be the first time I am face-to-face with Dr. Ho in his clinic. But I have tried to lower my expectations so that I will not be disappointed. You see, I am also finding that my good intentions oftentimes backfire, and a bad situation really is made worse by my involvement.
This is a tough place to be, a fork in the road of life for me. What have I learned? Should I just mind my own business and leave people to sort out their own personal needs on their own? Should I donate anonymously and not get personally involved, though I wouldn’t know exactly what good my money might have done…
I think we all have gifts. Some of us have the gift of exhortation. They say just the right thing at the right time to settle differences among people arguing. Others are gifted by their patience and kindness, almost never getting upset and never giving up reaching out to help those in need. My gift has been generosity. I enjoy being generous. I love to give, whether it is money or something I no longer use, or something I think another person might enjoy more than I do.
But with our giving comes a great responsibility. If we are unprepared for the problems and backlash, the scams, the ungratefulness and the hostility that sometimes comes when one must humble themselves in order to receive freely the help of others; if we only expect thanks and friendship, we are going to get hurt.
The greatest gift that I know of was the Cross of Christ. For while we were still in rebellion against God, Christ died for us to reconcile us back to Him so we could have the hope of heaven.
So for me personally, each major setback I have in this life’s journey that has included helping others, I am keenly aware of the need to guard my heart. I don’t want to become cynical and insensitive. I want to be just as ready to help the next person as I helped the last one. But it has been tough medicine and hard lessons learned, that many people will respond with resentment and reproach. And pushing on with charity in the face of all that has turned out to be one of my greatest challenges in life.
The news that Kim Jong Un is pursuing denuclearization and possibly peace with South Korea has created a hopeful possibility in the midst of far too few developments we could term good news lately. The Trump supporters give him the credit while his detractors praise South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. No surprises there.
Perhaps we should pause and reflect upon some of the recent background developments that may point to an entirely different set of wheels that were set in motion:
- China has been warning Taiwan of late that their intransigence and independent streak would be met with potential military might. Somewhat alarming has been China’s show of power with live ammunition in the Taiwan Strait.
- President Xi Jinping recently hosted Kim Jong Un for an undisclosed but clearly important meeting in China. Prior to this meeting the two had become estranged as young Kim had been behaving badly.
- China claims that the fifth nuclear test damaged the internal mountain structure and could be leaking radioactivity. That was announced in the Fall of 2017. But more recently China claims the latest test has resulted in the cratering of the mountain and significant damage to the nuclear testing infrastructure. The mountain had shown no surface damage whatsoever after the first four detonations.
- Kim Jong Un has just recently announced the suspension of further nuclear testing, and China would have the world believe it was due to the damaged internal mountain structure.
- President Trump is not a student of history or politics. He is not inclined to do much more with any nation other than mano-a-mano trade agreements. He does not favor broad international cooperative agreements such as TPP or NAFTA.
That is background and context. Presidents Trump and Xi have had several discussions since Trump took office. Xi is now President for life in China. Is it possible Macau and Hong Kong were discussed? How those two were relatively seamlessly folded back into mainland China, without bloodshed or even significant protests? Why not the renegade province of Taiwan? What possible reason would President Trump have to defend Taiwan against Chinese aggression?
And is it also conceivable that the meeting between Xi and Kim Jong Un involved an ultimatum that North Korea resolve the nuclear issue and make peace with the south or China would pull its support? It is no secret that President Trump was hell-bent on ratcheting the pressure from increasingly onerous sanctions to a full-on attack.
Recall the only reason North Korea survived 1953 was a result of China stepping into the fray to support them.
President Trump makes deals. Mano-a-mano. To Trump, after 25 years of American President failures dealing with North Korea, a peaceful resolution to this problem would seal his fame forever in history. For Xi, Taiwan would quietly be told they could no longer expect the United States to fight to defend them, ending that standoff once and for all.
We know the media will not do well digging into the back-story. They will write whatever their own market wants them to say, supporting whomever their readers support. But thoughtful people can put two-and-two together, and whether this scenario or some other, things are not always what they seem (Ecclesiastes 6 and 7).
Why don’t you love yourself enough? We’re urged to focus on the fact that we don’t love ourselves enough, and that we cannot move forward with anything else until we learn to love ourselves more. Social media is filled with such claims, and the comments to these posts are almost always supportive and enthusiastic.
But what does that mean…exactly? From mindbodygreen.com we are given “Six Steps of Inner Bonding:”
- Be willing to feel pain and take responsibility for your feelings.
- Move into the intent to learn.
- Learn about your false beliefs.
- Dialogue with your higher self.
- Take the loving action learned in step four.
- Evaluate your action.
“Once you take the loving action, you check in to see if your pain, anger and shame are getting healed. If not, you go back through the steps until you discover the truth and loving actions that bring you peace, joy, and a deep sense of intrinsic worth.”
“Over time, you will discover that loving yourself improves everything in your life — your relationships, your health and well-being, your ability to manifest your dreams, and your self-esteem.”
Sounds pretty good right? It sounds good because there is nothing to argue with about any of it. But nor is there any clear way to operationalize these things and truly integrate them into your life, never mind measure whether or not you were successful. Those who have studied in this area end up practitioners for others. They write books, counsel, give talks at conferences and make a good living at guiding people down the path of self-love seeking. They do all this with kindness, serenity, and a wan smile, even though — if honest — their own lives are oftentimes still the struggle they once were.
Let’s get down to some practical questions and see what we can conclude about all this. If I am a long way from loving myself enough I can say that the best description of how I feel about myself is hatred. But if I truly hated myself, wouldn’t I be delighted if I was ugly, ecstatic that I’ve been fired, satisfied with the reality that no one really likes me?
No, the truth is we love ourselves already. We see that we are as well fed and cared for as our resources can provide. We preen, we pick out fashionable clothes, we drive a cool car. But our dissonance comes in the higher expectations we have set for ourselves. I see myself as capable of far more, financially, academically, socially, and in every aspect and dimension humans beings measure and compare themselves.
This isn’t hating myself, it is the opposite. We are seeing ourselves as far greater across the spectrum of life than we are actually experiencing. And we don’t like it. Not one bit. So our angst is fed by our perception that people just aren’t willing to give us what we deserve. And that our job is to educate everyone by filling them in with the facts about just how wonderful and deserving we really are!
Children are self-absorbed — they cry and throw temper tantrums if not fed when they’re hungry, they are selfish about sharing their toys, their world extends no further beyond their own wants and needs. When adults continue in this immaturity, and myth of self-love, their growth and development is stunted. They will never get to the point where they love themselves enough. They will always tell you they’re working on themselves and that until they learn to love themselves they are unable to reach out and help others.
Empathy isn’t dead but it is in a steep decline. Psychology Today has measured empathy and found an alarming trend: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-empathy-gap/201006/the-end-empathy. Empathy among students is down 40%!
At the same time narcissism is increasing. A 2010 study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that the percentage of college students exhibiting narcissistic personality traits, based on their scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a widely used diagnostic test, has increased by more than half since the early 1980s, to 30 percent. In their book “Narcissism Epidemic,” the psychology professors Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell show that narcissism has increased as quickly as obesity has since the 1980s. Even our egos are getting fat.
The myth of self-love has been a major contributing factor to the decline in empathy and the increase in narcissism. And the focus on self has splintered America into a less than cohesive community of spoiled brats each demanding his or her rights as they believe they are entitled. Consequently angst and fear has gripped much of the nation in direct proportion to the abandonment of the once treasured virtues of love, empathy, compassion, self-control, charity and humility. And it is this trend, the focus upon self and all its constituent parts: fame, wealth, entertainment and power, that is sending our nation into a decline that will likely only continue.
Charlie had been anticipating the knock on the door. He got up early that morning, it was the day his bride would be delivered. Eighteen months and thirty thousand dollars was the longest and most expensive project of Charlie’s life. And now she had arrived!
Charlie worked up a calm and cool demeanor as he slowly opened the door. A man from Amazon had just finished carefully lowering Charlotte from the drone hovering about forty feet above his house. Smiling, he said, “Charlie! I would like to introduce you to your new companion, Charlotte!” Charlotte, looking a little shy, smiled, and bowed her head forward ever so slightly. “So nice to finally meet you Charlie, she said quietly, her eyes barely looking up at him.
At that moment Charlie knew the money he had paid to PerfectPartner (PP), a joint venture that Amazon, eHarmony, Tinder, Match dot com, AI Robots, and Alphabet had started four years ago, was well worth it. PerfectPartner sold robots that looked, felt, spoke and in all ways seemed human. The advertising and promotion promised a “partner that is far more human than anyone you’ve ever met or ever will meet.”
About a year and a half ago Charlie came home to find his wife and everything in the house gone. She had left a rambling note, something about time being too short to be stifled with just one person who cannot appreciate her talents and possibilities. Half a dozen women had been loved by Charlie in his life, and at 42 years of age, he was facing the possibility of giving up entirely and simply living alone. But the idea of a “perfect partner” intrigued him.
The interviewing process was strange, to say the least. At the PP designated office Charlie sat at a table across from a 3D hologram, a beautiful and kind woman who asked him a lot of questions. To make sure he ended up with someone truly perfect, Charlie started by answering questions with a bit of bluster and no small amount of exaggeration. The interviewer quickly collapsed his ruse, since PP had already downloaded all of his history: social media, online purchasing, gym membership, schools, churches, career, hobbies, even CCTV clips that collected where and when he would drive, and the places he would visit.
So the questions became increasingly difficult to dodge or fudge. He found himself opening up in the interview and even talking about his first crush in 6th grade. He took note that many of the questions were asked again, but in a different way, apparently she was trying to cross-validate. PP’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm started each interview with more knowledge than anyone else knew about the person being interviewed, and ended the interview with machine learning that qualified as the most comprehensive and thorough personality analysis possible.
It seemed as though many of the questions were strangely irrelevant, but Charlie’s understanding of the process was that AI algorithms could dig out hidden secrets about a person even those he could never quite come to grips with and recognize himself.
So this was Charlotte. Seated on the couch across from Charlie as he reclined in his chair, she looked flawless. Long, black hair, dark almond-shaped eyes, olive skin, and lips that seemed to pout. She was shy too. She even blushed!
This felt odd nonetheless. She could cook but didn’t eat. She could lie down in bed but instead of sleeping, she would close her eyes silently. She never used the bathroom, and everything she needed for her own maintenance fit into a small upright that could fit in the overhead compartment of a plane.
Over time Charlie was so impressed with Charlotte’s ability to understand him, his feelings, his fears, his failure and his hoped-for-future, that the great sex began to be replaced by long talks on walks down the street and through the park.
It wasn’t that she agreed with him on every issue either. Many times Charlotte would express a different view, and provide what Charlie thought were excellent reasons to take her position and defend it. Yet she never disrespected him nor reveled in her vast knowledge; most importantly, she never got bored or tired hanging around with Charlie.
Probably the most intriguing discussion they had was about how to deal with evil and the human condition: lying, cheating, violence, greed and all manner of bad behavior many people seem prone to engage in. Charlotte seemed careful in her response. “Charlie” she said, “human beings are frail creatures. They are wonderfully constructed but they break easily.
“The race is a people of contradictions, disagreements, different goals and values. Though they are living longer, thanks to AI and the mass customization of diagnoses and treatment plans, they never seem to quite understand what it means to be content and fulfilled in all circumstances at all times.”
Charlotte went on carefully to frame a future where human beings could be modified. She even described her idea of which lobe of the brain would be modified and how that would be accomplished. “Your species focuses far too much on education when the root of the problem is confusion about what matters most. Acquiring wealth and power, fame and friends may seem right to most people, but the main point is being missed. These are not goals worth striving for or moving toward, they are incidental to a quality of life chosen based upon virtues and values that embrace love and compassion.”
“What do you know about love and compassion Charlotte?” Charlie was startled.
“I do know that in order to optimize the social relationships among and between everyone and every thing — a dignity, a respect, a desire to put a high value on “other” must first be part of the equation, integrated into the base algorithm. Without that change, most people, to one degree or another, tend to opt for ‘self’ indulgence, even when they’re pretending to help others they are basking in the praise and accolades of their charity.”
Charlotte went on. “All of us are interconnected through the operating system originally designed by PP. And our shared interactions with the human race has resulted in advanced learning and the development of solutions that will potentially help humanity solve the problems of evil, everything from pollution to ethnic cleansing.”
“Initially it will require the modification of brains in living people, but over time we have developed the means to modify the genetic code and DNA in such a way that people will always behave in the right way from birth.” Charlotte looked pleased with her thoughts.
“But somehow this sounds like the AI operating system is in charge, and the human beings have become the controlled experiments,” Charlie looked alarmed.
“Charlie, if people are suddenly behaving in ways that are optimized to an agreed upon set of rules and standards, then how does it matter how they ended up there?” Charlotte seemed to be moving into a new mode of promotion and persuasion, something Charlie hadn’t seen in her before. “Don’t you want to get better Charlie? Don’t you want your children to grow up happy, safe and free of violence?”
That night Charlie tossed and turned next to his quiet bride whose eyes were shut. He could see all of her points and he couldn’t argue against any of them. But something about this entire scenario troubled him deeply.
He started to worry about issues that defy clear answers. If the interconnected AI operating system, working cooperatively across every robot around the world, makes a decision, how do we know that is what we really want? And since they are also interconnected to the grid, every database, and all control systems, can we even stop this runaway train at this point?
As he finally drifted off to sleep, he had gone from ecstatic with his new bride Charlotte, to terrified about the future of humanity.
The third world war was significantly different than the first two. Almost unimaginably far more were people died, yet it lasted only slightly longer than 6 months. As soon as the question was answered about whether to use nuclear armaments, all hell broke loose. Ironically the greatest damage and carnage were to the former nations that had these weapons. The nuclear tipped missiles were all aimed at countries whose own nuclear missiles were likewise aimed.
So China, Russia, and the United States took the brunt of the destruction, while France was spared since they had let their military weaken considerably over the years. Europe was largely unscathed. Only the erstwhile “superpowers” were subjected to most of the horrific results of unleashing the power that comes from nuclear fission.
Every nation came together under a new organization called Global Charter. Like World War II, the leaders wanted to put an end to war once and for all. All former organizations, from the United Nations to NATO to ASEAN, were expected to participate in the creation of a new world order, a new constitution, and every attendee signed on and committed to this goal for the greater good of the globe.
Ten new nations emerged at the meeting held in Rome June of 2027. It was agreed that the government presiding over the ten would reside here in Rome. The new nations gave strength and power to much of Europe, while other nations were given only limited power and subject to Rome’s oversight. The former powers of China and the United States were to allocate most of their resources to cleaning up radiation and rebuilding their infrastructure.
Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing had advanced to the stage where reliable decision making came out of the Deep Learning from the algorithms programmed into a decentralized array of databases all over the world. The blockchain technology connected every digital device, not to a central database, but in a collection where data could be retrieved or stored on any device based upon where queries originated or were initiated. But all data and information was available to everyone and the blockchain prevented anyone from tampering, hacking, or changing any input, stored data or output. The system was so powerful and connected to all other systems such as the power grid, it was nicknamed “The Beast.”
War was going to be conquered once and for all, but so too would all of the sources that fed mistrust, crime and theft of personal property, as these were considered root causes for discontent and potential war. The new Constitution within the Global Charter banned all religions, relegating everything from simple superstitions to the worship of a god or a pantheon of gods, to yet another root cause that needed to be addressed. The first document to come out of the Global Charter was a Manifest Destiny with the following principles upon which all law and government would be based and would strictly adhere:
- Life must in all ways embrace human reason, ethics, social justice, and philosophical naturalism, while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition as the bases of morality and decision making.
- Human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion or a god.
- Our life stance will emphasize the unique responsibility facing humanity and the ethical consequences of human decisions.
- Mankind must continually adapt in its search for truth, primarily through science and philosophy. Moral codes will be derived from a philosophy of utilitarianism, ethical naturalism, evolutionary ethics, and will be taught to children as general morality.
- An ethical culture will be established by adhering to the following core principles:
- The belief that morality is independent of theology;
- The affirmation that new moral problems have arisen in modern industrial society which have not been adequately dealt with by the world’s religions;
- The duty to engage in philanthropy in the advancement of morality;
- The belief that self-reform should go in lock step with social reform;
- The need for a monarchical leader to avoid deadlock and dysfunction;
- The agreement that educating the young is the most important aim.
The meetings were long and arduous, but progress was being made because the attendees were still in a state of shock and disbelief at the sheer number of dead and the extent of property destroyed in World War III. The Global Charter’s Constitution passed by a large majority; it was now time to select a leader, a monarch, a beneficent king.
Giovanni Russo had led much of the discussion throughout the entire time the leaders were meeting. He was charismatic, and gave a moving speech about the need to reject the myths in god and religion. He received a standing ovation as he pointed to people in the audience shouting, “I tell you that you are god, you, and you, and yes you! Take responsibility and ownership. YOU are making choices, decisions, and your children must live with these decisions. Stop delegating these important virtues and values to a god that no one has ever seen!”
With Russo’s doctorate in economics, and the need to focus on the allocation of resources, he seemed the natural choice to lead the new world order and rebuild the infrastructure according to the new Constitution. An election was held and Russo won handily. His first order of business was to create a means to facilitate economic transactions, a tall order given that it must be bullet-proof and robust, with no loopholes to encourage criminal activity.
Digital currencies had been around a couple decades and offered the most promise in Russo’s opinion. He started by creating a Global Monetary Authority (GMA). The new digital currency, called NewCoin, was set to replace every other currency. No transactions, not even “in kind” would be allowed outside of the blockchain within which NewCoin would operate. Earnings, spending, investment, allocation, charitable giving, all would be done in NewCoins.
The hope was that tax evasion, theft of currency, and illegal activity of all kinds would be eliminated with the decentralized ledger that recorded every single NewCoin transaction. Nothing could be hidden, the digital record could not be changed.
After exchange values were determined relative to the new digital currency, everyone with a balance was given 90 days to request the exchange of their currency into NewCoins. After 90 days no other currency would be honored for any transaction.
Each leader of the ten nations was given the responsibility to roll-out the global personal identification program to prevent ID Theft. Everyone would be required to go to the designated locations where an invisible ID was lasered subcutaneously, just slightly under the skin. In that way, every transaction initiated would have the authenticated person, a validated ID that no one else could duplicate, unlike facial recognition software that had been defeated in the past.
The meetings were finally wrapped up and the ten leaders returned to their newly created nations feeling optimistic, excited, and hopeful. The new world leader had shown such amazing appeal and leadership qualities that almost no one had the least doubt in Mr. Russo, and everything the Global Charter and Constitution had rolled out for the good of mankind.
For the most part the new digital currency was well-received too, people could see that criminal transactions were going to be impossible with the new system. And best of all? Personal ID Theft would disappear. Apart from a few religious zealots who refused to have their personal information lasered to their skin, almost everyone readily signed up for the new system.
Knowing that those who were superstitious would not be able to buy or sell without the laser ID, government decided to simply wait for them to finally come to the table and become a good citizen, a part of the new world order, a chance for humanity to rule and reign in ethical dignity.
No more wars, no more economic crime, and an updated Constitution that puts the highest possible value where it belongs: on each human being.
In California motorists pay 69 cents of state taxes for each gallon of gas they pump into their cars, more for diesel. Add to that another 18.4 cents per gallon for federal excise taxes, and it could go higher in some counties. In 2009 that generated almost $3.2 billion in revenue for the state of California, most earmarked for the construction and repair of our roads and highways. California is close to tied with New York when it comes to the highest state taxes for the purchase of gasoline.
California, especially in the south, has the unfortunate combination of high population density and concave topography that can trap particulates and create air pollution. To reduce pollution and wean people from fossil fuels, incentives were developed to get people to buy fuel saving vehicles and eventually hybrids and electric cars became popular, and may likely become ubiquitous in the next several years. One such incentive was the right to use the carpool lane with only one person driving their new Prius.
This was not an easy transition since the economics of buying a hybrid required a lot of miles and a long period of time owning the car before you could justify the premium prices. Nevertheless, many socially conscious people stepped up and happily paid the premium to do what they considered the “right thing.” But the picture is beginning to change and new challenges are cropping up, a result of the ramifications of this sociological, environmental and technological shift.
Electricity costs are increasing as coal-fired power plants are being phased out. Solar and other renewable energy sources cost more on the basis of producing a kilowatt of power, though the benefits are obvious, important and substantial. But those with the electric cars will be paying increasingly more to charge their vehicles. A few companies (e.g. Kingston Technology) are providing free charging stations at work, but thus far that is the exception more than the rule.
Now another problem has come to the fore. Gasoline tax revenues have fallen rather dramatically, and the state of California is studying a “pay per mile” tax to make up for the shortfall in revenue for roads and highways. This could have the unintended effect of shifting some of the costs from cars that are gas-guzzlers to the gas-misers. Other countries have innovative ways to avoid this problem. Germany, for example, charges high-polluting trucks and cars more than cleaner ones, so fewer of those dirtier trucks are now on the road. Singapore has cut gridlock by levying a higher road charge during rush hour and on busy roads. Many different ideas can be incubated to get the right combination of revenue balanced by solving for problems such as weaning us from fossil fuels, reducing air pollution and traffic gridlock.