The Problem of Time

I've spent much of the last two weeks thinking about the idea of time and the difficulties that emerge when we as humans must try to live our lives inside of it.

I'm not ashamed to admit that this was sparked by my recent viewing (for probaby the fifteenth time) of Harold Ramis's romantic comedy Groundhog Day. If you haven't seen it, Groundhog Day tells the story of Phil Conners, who gets caught in a time loop, repeating the same day over and over again with no hope of escape, even through death. This produces much humor and melancholy for the viewer, and almost nothing but complete despair for our main character. There's also some goofs and some romance. It's a weird movie.

The story's primary lesson is illuminated through its exaggeration of normal life. Phil Conners, by repeating the same day for eternity, reflects our own daily life where every new day is so nearly identical to the previous that it might as well be literally identical. When confronted with this narrative of modern daily life, we must contend against the seemingly inherent nihilism to produce worth and value in our actions and time spent. This is what Phil eventually learns to do through good deeds towards others and finding true love (it's a romantic comedy, remember?). And this newfound outlook is what allows him to escape his time loop and live out the remainder of his natural life in bliss in Punxsutawney, PA. It's a masterpiece; please trust me.

In Groundhog Day, time is Phil's curse. When provided with more than enough time to the point of effectively becoming eternal, Phil discovers that life loses all meaning and value. Immortality is the truest death.

Shortly after watching Groundhog Day, I watched another movie that strongly emphasizes characters' relationship with time. In Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk we are put inside the experience of British soldiers in World War II, desperately trying to get off a French beach to escape the inevitable death that is quickly advancing in the form of the unstoppable German army. In this film, the viewer is bombarded with the sensation that time simply will not stop or slow down, the advancing of time can only ever bring death and eradication. All human attempts to mitigate or avoid this reality will backfire at worst, or be merely futile at best. The only true realities of Dunkirk are that time never stops and neither does the German army. Every hope and savior of the British soldiers is either flimsy and inadequate, or succeeds via dumb luck. Ships can get torpedoed and sunk, planes run out of fuel, the goddamn tide just won't come in fast enough.

But despite all of this despair and death, the story tells us that hope is still worth it. Even if your situation is so dire that your hope has to rely on pure chance, it still works some of the time. And the holding on to and expression of hope is inherently good and valuable. Far removed from the horrors of war, we too are faced with the inescapable crush of time in every day life. Time creates an impossible to solve problem for normal life. One where are resources are never enough, any respite or sanctuary can't last, and we are forced just do our best anyway. But that's the point, isn't it? Just like the British soldiers, simply doing our best, even if that's just plodding along from day to day or riding our luck out of a series of disasters, is enough.

In Dunkirk, time is once again our great curse. But here it's because there is not, and can not ever be, enough of it. We must make it through life anyway. And even if all we do is merely survive our crushing reality, that is enough.

So, for the past two weeks I've been thinking about these films, their treatments of time swirling around in my head while I try to figure out what it all means. Groundhog Day tells us that a meaningful and valuable life relies on the the inherent limitations of time, but Dunkirk shows us that these same limitations are a foundational cause of our toil and strife. How do we reconcile these? Is there a balance to be found inside the confines of time?

Well, what are the confines of time, really? I'll describe four that I've identified. Time is limited in its linearity, direction, speed, and quantity.

First is linearity. This is so fundamental to nature as to be quite unintuitive and not obvious at all. But think about it for a moment. How is time represented graphically? By a timeline. Time is experienced as a series of moments, all lined up in a row next to eachother. Moments are happening one at a time, none are stacked on top of eachother. You must travel through each moments in order, no skipping any. (Wormholes. I know! Don't email me.)

The linearity of time is why life is full of mundanity and frustration. You must get through all the boredom and the toil in order to get to the moments you desire. This can be as trivial as a morning routine. To get ready for my day, I have to get dressed, shower, eat breakfast, feed my cat, etc. The desired result is a state of readiness for the day. But to achieve this state, I must move through a series of moments in a specific order. It's the same for less trivial matters as well. A major goal of mine is to become a good cyclist. But unfortunately I can not just manifest that state out of nowhere. It will require hours and hours of training and racing. I must travel through each moment of time, performing all the necessary actions in each moment that will, through the chain of cause and effect, produce this outcome. There are no shortcuts, no getting around causality. Time simply doesn't allow it.

The second limitation is direction. Closely tied to time's linearity is its uni-directionality. The movement along the universe's timeline can only happen in the forward direction. Once a moment has passed, you can not reverse direction to revisit it. The past is lost to us forever, and the future is inevitable.

Time's directionality is the reason for regret, but also for hope. Our decisions and actions carry weight because they are final. Once they've happened they can't be revisited and their consequences will always be in the future waiting for you. You must travel through the story of your life, no matter what it brings. But the knowing that there is always a future provides the foundation for hope. We can't know what the future has in store, but we do know that it holds something. And that something could always be good.

Third we have speed. The limitation of the speed of time is the least physically rigid, the most subjective to human experience, but still beyond our direct control. General relativity describes how the speed of time is not quite fixed by the physical universe. And it's not quite fixed in our experience either. Our emotional state can have great effect on speed of time, at least the perception of its speed. We feel impatience and nostalgia when time seems slow, and exhileration and turmoil when it rushes past.

The speed of time fluctuates constantly. The limitation that humans face here is our lack of control over it. You must suffer through the slog of an endless lecture, and there's no way to slow down a fantastic day spent with someone you love. And there's certainly no pausing it altogether in those times when we just need to catch a break from the onslaught of life.

The final limitation is quantity. This limitation is the most obvious to the human condition. It's pretty apparent that we all die eventually. This reality is the single greatest driving force behind all human motivation. The awareness (and attempted avoidance) of our inescapable death pulses underneath all art, productivity, reproduction, and connection. This limitation, despite being closest to the surface of human reality, is probably the least inherent to physical reality. The universe itself probably won't eventually die. The physical nature of the universe may very well allow for an infinite amount of time. But for each human at least, our inevitable death puts a limit on the quantity of it that is given to us.

Death seems like our great curse. It's not inherent to our universe's physical nature the way the other three limitations are. This makes it seem cruel and unfair. If the universe seems to go on forever, why can't we? Like the stars, we flicker out and are extinguished eventually. But the stars aren't conscious; they have no idea of their fate. Yet we must live with the ever present knowledge of our future annihilation.

Could there be anything worse than death? Yes, in fact. I think immortality would be far worse. I can imagine no worse torture and despair than for our experience of time to be limited by it's linearity, direction, and speed, but not it's quantity. To be bounded to the one-dimensional and unidirectional line of time with no control over the speed at which we feel it is bad enough. But for that to never end would truly be a hell. This is the ultimate nihilism.

Adding time's fourth limitation of quantity to our lives is what provides meaning and value to our choices and actions. When we make choices now, we are creating exactly one reality. There is exactly one life you will live, exactly one world that people are collectively creating. But if humans had immortality inside of the physical universe, if every person lives for an infinite amount of time, then all realities would inevitably happen. This is the exact same type of meanginless nihilism at the heart of the many-world interpretation.

From the collection of finite human lives inside of a temporaly infinite universe emerges exactly one possible universe that will ever exist. So it's up to us to make sure that it's the best one we can make. But even the best possible created world is full of toil and grief as a result of our reality's limitations of time. Is there a larger hope? If escaping death is a greater curse than death itself, what other hope could there be?

I can still find that hope in the possibility that our quantitative limitation of time is not true death. The death we meet in this physical world is not a complete annihilation of self, but simply our removal from the physical world. When we die, we enter into a reality that is no longer bounded by our universe's manifestation of time. We leave the confines of time's one-dimensional and unidirectional hell to an existence outside of, around, and encompassing the line of time. Attempting to describe the nature of this greater reality quickly becomes nonsensical.

Being able to inhabit any point in or around the line of time, instead of only within it, is not comprehensible to the physical human imagination. But I do believe that ability is waiting for us. And I believe that this is the great hope of humanity. And the final freedom from the curse of time.

Friendship is Hard Work

I've been struggling with friendship lately. There's a growing and unsatisfied desire for deep strong friendships. As the sense of lack has grown, I've wrestled with how to remedy the problem.

When the new year came, I made a serious effort to identify the areas of my life that needed real growth and development. This weakness in friendships was one that stood out significantly. It's a problem that's been growing on me recently, but has been under the surface for a long time. The desire for friendship is basic and common for humans. You can satisfy this desire with true deep friendships, but it's also easy to satisfy it with a high quantity of shallower social interaction.

I've spent my life so far allowing this desire to be satisfied mostly with broad social interactions via day to day life. Don't get me wrong, I've had plenty of friendships, many of them strong, but apparently not the kinds that could have trained me to maintain and nurture deep adult friendships that I should be having right now.

Starting as a very young child, going to public school provided more than enough opportunity for friendship. Just the exposure to that many other kids of the same age made it easy to find a few to like or with similar enough interests to make friends. And even when they weren't strong or really good friends, just being at school for most of the day provided enough social interaction to keep the basic need satisfied.

The important part of this was that it required very little effort. I had to go to school. I didn't have a choice but to be around all of those other kids all day. It was nearly inevitable that I would develop at least casual friendships with a few others. It's an automatic and built in part of life at that age.

Even before I was old enough to be going to school, I was going to church with my family. Just like school, I had to go to church. So similarly, this was an automatic fulfillment of the need for social interaction. And even more than school, you have something very powerful in common with everyone else there. It's very easy to develop strong friendships with the few other kids of your age when you already share one of the most important parts of your life (your faith) and you see eachother at least once a week, often more. This realm of church relationships continued from childhood churchgoing, through teenage youth group, all the way through my college bible study groups. These are usually where my deepest friendships came from. Regular church attendance waned since college, and hasn't been providing this social fulfillment for a while.

When I got a bit older, I started having jobs. In college, I didn't invest myself in class or extra-curricular activities as much as I did in high school, but I threw myself into my job. Again, I became friends with many of my coworkers; we spent countless hours together every single day. But I spent the majority of my time with them during work hours. This is a kind of friendship, but in that environment, the relationship can never really develop and mature.

The automatic socializing that school, church, and work provide are a cheaper substitute to the true reality of actual friendship. They are important, necessary, and good in their own right. But, they can trick you into thinking your needs are satisfied; they don't actually give you the real thing. These shallow and automatic social interactions that day to day life provides are the frozen yogurt to the full fat dairy ice cream that is a deep and mature friendship.

A few months ago, I made one small change and one large change to my life that brought this unsatisfied desire for friendship to the surface.

The small change was canceling my podcasts. I had two podcasts, each with a dear friend of mine. In both cases we first met through work, but these were the rare case where I transferred these friendships outside the exclusive environment of our workplace and started spending routine scheduled time with them recording shows. This was an incredible way to develop our friendships. The microphones and recording software between us didn't really matter, but they gave us plenty of time set aside to sit across a table from each other and talk and learn and nurture our relationship. I canceled the shows because podcasting was no longer interesting to me as a creative outlet. I don't think that was a bad idea. The bad idea was failing to fill in the giant gap I created in our dedicated time together. I never replaced that with any other kind of quality time, meaning these relationships have faded in strength. I was no longer putting in the work required of a mature adult friendship. I wasn't putting in the work because the work felt like it was for the podcast, not for the friendship. And without the show, I failed to realize new work needed to be commited to the friendship.

The second larger change was getting a new job. My old job was mentally and emotionally taxing in general, but especially in the amount of social interaction that was required. I worked in a very small space and was required to directly interact with dozens of people every day. Just like my old college job, I made plenty of friends there. But my friendships stayed inside the context of the workplace. The amount of social energy required just to survive the workweek left me with very little desire to seek further socialization otherwise. Even if the friendships I was inside of at work were shallow, they felt like they were satisfying my larger human desire for interaction and connection.

My new job could not be more different in terms of social interaction. My new team has eight people, a fraction the size of my former team. And it actually provides very little opportunity for socializing with them, suddenly removing forty hours per week of intense socializing and friendship interaction.

Combine that with a sudden drop in time spent with my two closest friendships because of my podcast cancelations and I've found myself struggling with friendship lately. And because so much of what was satisfying my need for friendship all my life was actually just shallow, day-to-day life interpersonal connection, I'm not actually faced with a sudden lack of friendship, but a sudden realization that I've always lacked it. The lack of friendship has always been there, I've just been noticing it lately.

Friendship, like any intentional relationship, requires effort. This sounds so obvious and dumb when stated explicitly, but I've just spent the last four months actually really learning that. I was putting in some of the work without realizing it with my podcast friendships. But all of the rest of my friendships were just meandering along as the conditions of my life allowed them to without the input of any real effort on my part. Then I removed the two biggest sources of friendship fulfillment from my life. I wasn't doing any of the work that was now required to at least maintain and hopefully nurture and develop the friendships I did have. I found myself with a deep sense of lack and atrophy.

Because I relied for so long on life's tendency to provide me with the conditions for plenty of automatic social interaction (school, church, work, etc.) I assumed that good friendship was easy and effortless. I'm thankful for this period of realization that has taught me that this is untrue. The requirement of work is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of maturity. I somehow managed to grow into an almost thirty year old man before I really learned that friendships require care and nurturing just as much as any other significant relationship in your life. Time to apply this lesson and actually start putting in the work.

On Doubt and Faith

What is a proper relationship between doubt and faith?

I am a Christian. I believe in God. I also doubt God. Does that doubt have a place in proper relationship with my faith? Or is it sinful towards God, revealing a weakness in what should be a perfect and complete trust and faith?

Doubt is a lot of things. This one word encompasses a broad range of feelings I've held about my faith through the course of my life. Doubt can be as extreme as wondering if God exists at all. Or it can be as small as questioning the logic of some specific theological claim.

Doubt is always questioning. But what doubt never is is certainty. Lots of Christians condemn doubt on the basis that doubt is a full, completely assured conversion to atheism. But this is not doubt at all. This is still certainty, just directed towards a different object, a belief in no god instead of a belief in God.

(To be clear, Christians should still not be condemning those who go all the way to explicit atheism. There should still be acceptance and love. Shunning and condemning these people doesn't help them or honor God.)

Doubt is a simply uncertainty: a state of questioning, curiousity, and wonder. When defined this way, doubt has an essential role in a relationship with faith.

God is mysterious and unknowable. God is so beyond the scope of understanding for humans, that perfect certainty in a specific belief claim about the divine is misguided at best and blasphemous at worst. The inherent and fundamental nature of the divine resists our attempts to pin it down.

Any attempt to make a perfectly true and specific claim about the nature of God is like trying to clench a fist around wet sand under the waves. You might grasp some of it, but most will escape between your fingers. Accepting the mystical nature of God would be to hold your open hands under the water, because God is actually the whole ocean. With open hands, you will hold more of the truth of God in your understanding, not rigidly but loosely. And at least you won't be making a foolish attempt to contain the divine within your own limited capacity.

Doubt then, is an awareness and acceptance of our own cognitive and spiritual limitations. This is the only proper posture towards something is grand and mystical as the divine.

Realizing this hugeness of God also teaches us another helpful lesson about doubt. God is neither harmed nor changed when we doubt.

We can question the specifics about God's nature. We can debate the finer points of theological logic. We can write all the mystical music and poetry we want, wondering over the fundamental unknowability of God. We can doubt God exists at all. And none of these have any effect on the actual real truth of God existence. Our doubt and questions could even lead us to beliefs and faith that are incorrect and competely untrue. But that doesn't harm the realities of God. The divine is far bigger, perfectly immutable to the ever changing tides of our beliefs.

This is why the only way to have beliefs that can be true is to have beliefs that incorporate oppeness and uncertainty. To hold your beliefs in open hands creates the possibility for them to be true and allows them to remain that way. As soon as your try to pin down specific truth claims about God, you'll miss, because our brain, our spirit, and our language are fundamentally incapable of completely grasping a divine reality.

Faith is honest and true when it is in harmony with feelings of doubt.

Faith is also alive and growing when married with doubt.

I've been a Christian in some form or another my entire life. I grew up in the church, proclaimed faith in God when I was a young child, chose to be baptized as a boy, etc. I've believed many things about God. Just about the only belief that has survived the last twenty years unchanged is the simple belief that God exists. Nothing else has persisted.

I obviously hope that my current set of beliefs are more true than they've ever been. But I don't think they are perfectly true. They'll continue to change as I learn and grow in my faith. Hopefully, they'll continue to approach truthfullness, but sometimes they won't and that's ok. I still have most of a lifetime of a living and changing faith to keep getting closer.

Changing and growing faith is a good thing. I long to always be learning more about God to develop my knowledge and understanding. The only way for this to happen is to have doubts. Doubt is the change agent for an evolving faith.

When I was five years old, and first starting to believe in and understand God, I held a certain set of beliefs. If I dogmatically claimed those beliefs were perfect and complete, then I would still have the faith of a five year old! This applies to every stage of life. If I dogmatically cling to the perfect completeness of my current faith, I will maintain the faith of a twenty-eight year old my entire life. I don't want to be an old man who is that spiritually stunted.

Doubt and uncertainty allow me to encounter new and more mature ideas about the divine and genuinely consider them. When I can examine and ponder new ideas about God, without them being threatening to some perfect and complete set pre-existing beliefs, then I can mature and grow in my faith.

It's essential to use doubt this way. There are Christians who condemn the ideas of doubt and uncertainty as sinful and a sign of a weak and failing faith, but ironically even they use doubt this way. (All but the most dogmatic of fundamentalists, that is.) Their understanding of God grows and develops over the course of their life. Doubt keeps faith in a state of examination and evaluation, allowing maturity, improvement, and growth.

Doubt is a stance of openness, uncertainty, and questioning towards our beliefs ideas in a massivel, confusing, and mysterious God. The divine is so inherently uknowable, that our beliefs can never claim specific truths about its nature. Combining doubt with faith is the only way for it to find truth and growth. Doubt is a companion to a living and fruitful relationship with the divine.

On Willpower

Ever since I was a kid, I've always found it to be a fun test of will to hold my breath for as long as possible. I would dive to the bottom of a pool and time how long I could stay under. Or I'd simply sit down, take a few deep breaths, and hold it until I couldn't take the pain anymore. It's one of those weird ways that kids like to compete with eachother and themselves by coming as close to dying as possible.

I've found myself taking up this challenge again recently. It's still just as enticing. As an adult, the appeal is less in the flirtation with death, and more in the exploration of the mind exerting control over the body. Not breathing hurts. After a couple minutes your body starts fighting very hard open your lungs again and it takes a considerable and focused effort to resist. Eventually, my body wins. It always does. My mind can fight, but not forever.

This kind of mind versus body struggle epitomizes the exercise of willpower. In this way, willpower is the strength of your mind to exert or resist the impulses of your body. The idea of willpower is often also appied to the struggle of mind versus mind, the fight between your higher and lower brains, consciousness and subconsciousness. The same word is used for both, but the function is very different.

It's a new year and that means it's time to change everything about myself! Setting resolutions for a new year is a fraught activity. But I do it anyway. In intent, it's such a good and hopeful practice: to define the kind of person I want to be and identify ways to become closer to that ideal in the next twelve months.

And one of these ways is to stop snoozing my alarm so goddamn much.

I want to be the kind of person that wakes up with a few hours of relaxed morning time before work. I could make breakfast, move slowly, have the space to journal, hang with my cat, maybe read a book. But I go through phases where I am terrible at waking up in the morning. During these phases, I snooze and snooze. I hate this behavior.

I know I'm sacrificing something really wonderful. And the whole entire time, I'm so aware that I'm making the wrong decision. I'm doing the bad thing. I'm losing. My weakness and badness is stronger than my goodness. But still, I snooze. Somehow it wins. I don't have the willpower.

It's easy for me to perceive trying to adopt new habits, drop bad ones, and change your behaviors as a problem of willpower. My mind needs to be strong enough to make the right choices by resisting or overcoming the urges and resistance that the other half of my mind throws out. This is willpower as mind versus mind. This is willpower as a fight between your good self, the self you want and hope to be, and your bad self, your weakness, your indulgences and vices.

I don't think this is a particularly helpful way of understanding this problem. This isn't a simple matter of strength of will the way it is with holding your breath. Forgetting this fact allows me to punish myself. I snooze away my morning and spend the rest of the day feeling like garbage because I wasn't good enough. This self punishment does me no good whatsoever.

It definitely doesnt' make me more likely to do better the next morning. It actually makes it harder because I'm slowly convincing myself that this is who I am. I'm the weak person who can't get out of bed. I must be incapable of it. I'm telling myself, and convincing myself of, a story that I am bad.

This harmful story is a result of conflating the two different willpowers into the same thing. It does my psyche no harm to say that my weakness is the reason why I could only hold my breath for one minute instead of two. But applying this same black/white and strength/weakness template to the inner battles of my mind doesn't work and hurts.

This harmful template is only believable when I'm failing anyway. I've actually been very good at waking up well this past weak. But not for a second has this felt like a result of the strength of my willpower. There's been no struggle between a good half and a bad half of my brain. No higher goodness in myself being strong enough to overcome my weakness and failings.

I'm not all that sure how this works. I'm not sure of exactly what's going on in my brain that has made it easy this week. Part of it is the excitement of the new year and a fresh start. A personal challenge to change behavior is always fun and easier at first. But I'll have bad days, bad weeks soon I'm sure. And the familiar and damaging template of strength/weakness willpower will seep back in.

I think the most important part of continuing to succeed at building desired habits and patterns of behavior is to consciously reject the act of self punishment.

Silicon Valley Needs to be More Careful

Silicon Valley is in what seems to be a never ending cycle of commiting some shortsighted blunder and making lame apologies. Two notable and recent examples are Twitter verifying Nazis and Google Maps converting walking calories into cupcakes earned.

Charlie Warzel discussed this phenomena for Buzzfeed News:

Since summer’s end, Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies have been embroiled in an endless series of missteps and mini scandals.

. . .

Viewed separately, each of these missteps could be seen as reasonably small but unfortunate errors. All were remedied and apologized for fairly quickly. Each one has its own explanation that, in the right context, feels at least somewhat understandable.

. . .

Baked into the frustration surrounding these gaffes is a sense that Silicon Valley’s biggest companies are incapable of the necessary introspection to see themselves the way their critics might.

“The issue here is that the platform creators are hobbled in their ability to see beyond their own best intentions,” former White House chief digital officer and Silicon Valley veteran Jason Goldman told BuzzFeed News after the Facebook VR debacle. “There's a preexisting bias toward ‘we're doing good.’ . . . "

Best intentions. That's how this is always framed. It's always about their intentions more than the outcome. They claim they won't allow the harmful outcome to happen again. They assert their good intentions. They call the problem solved. And then there's inevitably another blunder. Twitter, Google, Facebook, Uber, Apple. All of these companies do this to varying degrees. They're apologies aren't working.

Let's look at Google and their cupcakes as an example. Google's intention was to make a fun and cute new feature that contextualizes how much walking a user will do on their route; it shows you how many cupcakes it would have burned. It's a silly way to delight and reward the user. What they didn't realize what that this will trigger and shame people who struggle with eating, dieting, body image, etc. Their users and the public shone a light on this through some public outcry. Google plays the supplicant apologist: they had no idea this would be harmful; they obviously didn't intend to cause this harm; thanks to the outcry they have now learned that this can be harmful; they won't do it again. What won't they do again? How will they not do it again? That's where there's not a very good answer. Their answer is to continue to only have good intentions. But that didn't work the first time. Intend all the good you want, you're going to continue to accidentally screw up in serious ways.

Good intentions aren't enough. You must examine the set of conditions that allowed your best intentions to be circumvented. Silicon Valley needs to be more careful.

This pattern of behavior and the accompanying lack of appropriate change from Silicon Valley is forming frustration and bitterness amongst users. We feel this cycle of unfulfilled promises and it is slowly compounding into a real problem. I have overall fairly negative opinions of Silicon Valley companies beause of this. When will these companies learn? How long will we be stuck in this cycle? It's the users who end up shouldering the burden of identifying and reporting these problems. We're performig labor for these companies. That's not how the company-product-customer relationship is supposed to work.

The ideal relationship with a company-product-customer relationship is this: The customer provides revenue (preferably directly and not through advertising), they are allowed to use and benefit from the utility and enjoyment of the product, the company uses the revenue to iteravely change their product over time to make it better and better.

No part of that relationship should involve me doing labor for the company. I am a customer, not an employee. If the users of your product continue to shoulder this burden, eventually their experience using your product will feel like work. It's the company's responsibility to make sure that the changes they make to their products are good, that they are free of unintended consequences, that they aren't manipulatable, exploitable, or harmful. The company needs to evaluate their decisions beyond what their intentions are.

This is hard. It takes tons of work. It takes incredible amounts of time and money. It takes diversity of all kinds to provide all possible perspectives on a problem. It takes lots of effort and lots of care.

When users complain about the latest instance Twitter's harassment problems or Facebook's privacy blindness, we're not just asking the company to avoid making that exact singular mistake again. The deeper need we're expressing is for these companies to be more careful. Put in the hard and compliated work of understanding and evaluating your product and users enough to not create these negative unintended consequences in the first place.

"Move fast and break things" was once the motto for Facebook and it described the general ethos of Silicon Valley as a whole. This mode of operating doesn't serve anyone well. It says that if you can come up with any possible business justification for your idea, then just go for it and see what happens. Figure it out on the fly, and if it makes money or (more importantly) gains users, even better. This is the very idea I'm advocating against. This mentality is reckless and destructive.

Be more careful. That doesn't mean you need to be overly cautious or timid or tip toe your way around being seen as offensive. It means be careful. Take care in your product. Focused, intentional, active care for your creations. Your products should be precious to you and should deserve to be looked after with love, stewardship, and care.

Trump's Nuclear Threat

John Hyten, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command responsible for the use of the U.S.'s nuclear weapons, recently tried to calm anxieties that Trump is a nuclear liability. Kathryn Watson reporting for CBS News:

The top U.S. nuclear commander said Saturday he would push back against President Trump if he ordered a nuclear launch the general believed to be "illegal," saying he would look to find another solution.

This is only mildly comforting.

In conversations with friends as far back as April 2016, I was predicting, with a reluctant and fearful certainty, that Trump was going to win the presidency. This was a very vocal and, right up until election night, a very ridiculed prediction. Ever since Trump's actual election victory one year ago, I've held a similarly fearful prediction: Trump is going to use nuclear force.

I've kept this prediction much quieter. I expose it only in a hushed panic. It's too big, too incomprehensible, and it seems too ridiculous. But in my mind, it feels just as true as my prediction of election victory. Both are things I seem to know with an unaccountable certainty. It should be obvious that I didn't want Trump to win the presidency. But this new prediction, that we will see the U.S. once again unleash nuclear force on the world in our near future, engulfs my mind in an encompassing panic. It simply can not be allowed to happen.

The fact that Hyten is using even such mild language to express any level of resistance to the president is both comforting (there's important and powerful people who genuinely hold similar fears and are willing to act: good) and terrifying (top military commanders have such distrust of our president that they have to publicly state their position as nuclear babysitters: nightmare). These comments aren't entirely reassuring. Hyten states that he would resist an "illegal" order. Frankly the idea that there exists such a thing as a legal use of nuclear weapons is bad enough.

I hold a firm belief that nuclear weapons should never have been used in the past, should never be used in the future, and should never have existed in the first place. This makes all of Trump's tweets regarding North Korea so terrifying to me. He doesn't state an explicit desire or intention to use them, but he belies an assumption that there's obviously a right place and time to use them, and maybe just maybe North Korea will create those circumstances for him.

Humans have done many terrible things. There have been countless atrocities and genocides. But what the U.S. did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki ranks very close to the top of the greatest acts of evil ever committed by humans upon other humans. What befell Japan was a level of destruction of land and life that I don't think we've ever really reckoned with, or have found ways to comprehend. What our current nuclear arsenal is capable of exceeds that by far. America has spent the time since World War II, especially in competition with Russia, frantically trying to increase the destructive power of our weapons. I grew up after the Cold War ended, so I never knew a world with justifiable fears of nuclear war until now. And the prospect terrifies me in my marrow.

I have to intentionally and actively not think about this too much. What can I do? When faced with the looming specter of unlimited death, what possible action can I take? That helplessness, combined with the sheer magnitude of the consequences, can create a feeling of deep despair. So part of me would rather just pretend it's not a problem. Whether it happens or not, there's nothing I can do about it.

But sometimes I do think about how it'll feel. How will I find out? Will it be breaking news on a nearby television? Maybe a call from a family member who saw it first. Or will it be like most news about tragedies, an unexpected flood of tweets. Will I wake up one morning to discover that while I slept, the single greatest atrocity in history was inflicted upon the people of North Korea? Will I continue to lay in bed, scrolling through Twitter, my brain trying to wrap it's head around the fact that the president just decided to become one of humankind's greatest enemies?

All of this scares me to death. I can preemptively feel a weight of history on my shoulders. Of all the humans that have ever lived, only a small portion are alive right now. What will it mean to be one of the people alive when it happens, when real nuclear war is unleashed for the first time. I think we all, the collective generation alive for this event, will bear a permanent stain, a stain that above all other things, will be how history remembers us. We will be the generation who allowed this. My self pity asks why I have to be part of this stained generation. Why does my short life have to overlap with this likely event.

There are so many problems in the world. Most of them are problems that I can do something about, problems closer, more tangible, more immediate. But I don't think there are any problems in the world currently bigger than Trump as a nuclear threat. There's nothing with greater consequences. If anything can be done to prevent that, it must be. I've never before wanted so badly to be wrong.

The Satisfaction of Raising Your Food

Kate Bernot wrote a funny and earnest story about the trials and joys of raising backyard chickens for the A.V. Club's new food site The Takeout. This passage in particular struck me:

Raising your own food, be it for eggs or vegetables or bacon, has never been an easy task. Weather happens, predators kill, diseases wipe out your crop. It’s why we shop at grocery stores. It’s easy. Raising food—at least raising food the right way—is hard.

I have a meager history of raising my own food. It's a romantic notion, fresh eggs every morning for breakfast, picking fresh tomatoes ripe of the vine in the summer, a pantry and stomach stocked and nourished with the work of your own hands. But it's true that the reality of it is always more difficult, frustrating, and grosser than you imagine it to be.

My family grew up on an old farmhouse in the Massachusetts countryside. We were surrounded by people using their land to provide for themselves in small ways. When I, the youngest child, reached adulthood, my family dispersed in a way that left me living in the old family home with my sister and her husband for a time. I didn't have much of a say in the decision, but we ended up with chickens. Baby chicks start as one of the top five cutest animals of all time, and with alarming quickness, turn into creatures that are basically loud, feathered, insects. They're horrid.

Chickens are profoundly stupid. They're brains are capable of barely two things, walk and peck. They have no higher cognitive function, no awareness, they just blindly wander whatever space their in, and then peck wildly at the ground, hoping that food will end up in their mouth. They also produce an incredible amount of poop. About a dozen chickens living outside pooped enough to keep our driveway and moderately sized yard coated constantly. Eventually the chickens all succumbed to the hunger of the local foxes and coyotes. But while they lasted, they might've been worth it because of the eggs.

Ah! The eggs! Even the meager grocery store egg is a thing of uncommon beauty. The egg is a perfect food. It can be prepared in a near infinite variety of ways. It plays necessary supporting roles in so many foods, and even a humble fried egg can be a magical experience. The fact that these nightmare feather monsters daily produce one of God's greatest culinary gifts to mankind is a paradox of the highest order. And the eggs produced by a chicken doing nothing more than roaming a yard on a diet of grass and insects are so beyond the grocery store egg. They almost make owning chickens worth it.

Before the terror chickens and their holy eggs, my only other experience with raising food was my dad's garden. For a stretch of my childhood my dad turned a large section of our yard into a small farm. He spent countless hours out there, the sun cooking his bare back, tilling, planting, weeding, and tending to the harvest of his handiwork. There were always tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, zucchini, squash, and green beans. Some years there were potatoes, corn, watermelons, or strawberries.

A decent sized vegetable garden can produce an unexpected amount of produce. I remember countertops piled with zucchini and summer squash. I remember the overflow stuffed into plastic grocery bags piled into the car on the way to church in hopes to find anyone else who would eat our surplus of vegetables. I remember the sheer delight of feeling hungry and not walking to the fridge or the pantry for some boxed snack, but instead walking outside and just plucking a bell pepper and some green beans. There's a visceral connection to the earth when you can enjoy its fruits so directly grown through your own labor.

My responsibilities in the garden were few. My father was always the planner, the one with the knowledge of when and how to plant. But I followed instructions and could take pleasure in laying out the rows, planting the seeds in their small hills, weeding the soil, trimming, and picking. It wasn't always a pleasure though. Managing a garden can be hard work. You get tired, and so so dirty. I was a teenager for the garden years, and would often rather be playing video games or reading than sweating to death in the humidity when, wait, why don't we just buy these at the grocery store?

I don't know if it's the separation of time, or if it's an actual truer appreciation of what is good in this world, but the idea of raising and cultivating my own food is much more appealing to me now than it was in the times when it was actually a part of my life. Part of it must be the fact that I don't live in the countryside anymore. I live in a fourth floor apartment in a gross shopping district in Austin. I couldn't have chickens or plant a garden if I wanted to. Something off limits to you will always be more attractive. The closest I get to food that comes from the labor of my own hands is the (not quite so) weekly loaf of bread I make from scratch.

Bernot is right. Grocery stores are so easy. I wish they weren't so. I do about half my shopping at a Whole Foods within walking distance. Whole Foods over curates their selection to the point of feeling coddled, or funneled into a narrow subset of choice. You can't just use Whole Foods to buy groceries like a normal person. You have to use Whole Foods to buy groceries in the Whole Foods™️ way. They preach a natural and direct relationship with your food, but I've never felt so separate from it.

An important part of the satisfaction of the raising your own food is the work. Hard work. Sometimes work that sucks and you don't want to do it. But the fruit is all the sweeter for the sweat that went into it. One of my dissatisfactions with the Whole Foods-style grocery stores is the ease of it, the way they tell you, "Don't worry. We got this." I don't want them to got this. I want to got this.

I hope to find ways that I can create more relationships with my food that resemble my sister's chickens or my dad's garden. I don't mean this in the popular, capitalist-driven obsession with "natural" and "organic" foods. But in the way where I am more responsible for the creation of the food I put into my body. There's a satisfaction in knowing your hands did more than pick something off a shelf, but helped bring it to life in the first place.