Independence Day, History, Technology, and Making A Better World

Independence Day is a few days away here in USA.  It is a time to reflect on sacrifices of current and previous generations of military personnel during times of war and crisis in my nation’s history.  It is also a time that the public at large gets some refresher courses on American history.  One of my Independence Day traditions is to watch the fireworks after dark while I have songs like “America the Beautiful” playing courtesy of Google’s Youtube (both tech firms that were started in the USA).

While it is a celebration of the USA’s beginnings and struggles to become what we are (and what we can become in future generations), for me it is also a time to remember the efforts of non military personnel and brilliant leaders.  I remember the contributions to the USA and the world of immigrants like Nikola Tesla and Andrew Carnegie (among numerous others) in the fields of science, industry, and commerce.  While they were not born here, it was here in USA that they had the opportunity to follow their dreams.

I remember the science breakthroughs in agriculture and food production led by such people as Norman Bourlag, the Armour family, the Cargil family, and Roswell Garst that made crops and food available to, not just Americans, but to billions of people all over the world that will probably not know their names.  In fact, we now have more people on earth being overweight (slightly over 2 billion) than we do have people suffering from insufficient food (around 800 million).

I remember that it was computer scientists and engineers from America that were among the big drivers in getting personal computers and internet access made available to the public at large. It was this year (2019) that we crossed the threshold where now slightly over 50 percent of the world’s population has access to internet, whether it be smart phones or tablets or full size computers.  It was also primarily American scientists and engineers (and immigrants working in American based firms) that got GPS navigation going.

I know some people (myself included) sometimes get irritated by American pop culture, tv shows, music, etc.  But no one forced me or anyone else to pay attention to our culture.  I, and many others, sometimes get upset about how much war my nation has fought over the course of history.  Yet, most previous powerful nations annexed or colonized the territories and peoples they won wars over. Many powerful nations in past eras colonized territories that weren’t on even the same continents as the home nation. Yes, our practices of slavery and taking land from the Native Americans will be a dark mark against my nation for the rest of history.  But many nations won’t even acknowledge their past sins and transgressions.  A couple of weeks ago I heard there were talks before congressional committees about possible reparations for past practices during slavery.  The idea of reparations can be debated one way or another ad nauseam, but at least there is even talk about attempting to make amends for past sins.  Every civilization as far back as we can tell had some form of slavery, indentured servitude, etc.  Yet it wasn’t until a few centuries ago that people began to acknowledge that the idea of one human owning another the same way one would own a building or a horse, even in past times, as disgusting and barbaric.  Now slavery is officially illegal in every country of the world.  It still goes on in the forms of human trafficking, sex slavery, etc.  But even two hundred years ago, that would have been acceptable in the entire world.  I don’t write this to justify my nation’s past sins.  We certainly made our mistakes.  I won’t hide our mistakes. But I also won’t hide the progress my nation or my species progress.

On another note, many advances we take for granted in 2019 were pioneered in the USA. This includes things like electric light bulbs, telephones, airplanes, people on the moon, common pharmaceutic medications, do it yourself investing in the stock markets, television broadcasts, much of what computers, internet, and cell phones have become.  Even with our current internal strifes and issues, the USA is still a world leader in the emerging fields of Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, nanotechnology, fusion technology, robotics, autonomous automobiles and drones, etc.  Even though our government officially pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreements, many local and state governments, along with private businesses and industries, are still implementing nonpolluting technologies and power generation.  Many businesses and individuals, are voluntarily severely limiting their uses of disposable plastics.  Even the people I personally know who are skeptical of the sciences behind climate change, most of them still recycle their garbage, take car pools to work, limit their uses of pesticides, use less water than previous generations, drive fuel efficient cars, use solar panels to power anything that can be by traditional grids, or allow wind turbines and solar panels to be built on their farms and ranches.  Even though our elected leaders may not see that renewable and recycling tech are the future, most of my countrymen see that it is even if they don’t accept or understand the science behind climate change or environmental pollution.

I know I am often tough on my friends, family, countrymen, etc.  But I am tough because I know even ordinary people are capable of accomplishing great things.  Even though I see ignorance and stupidity every day, I also see people doing great things and changing for the better every day.  Sure the ignorant and hurtful actions catch our attention more because it is natural for us to pay more attention to negativity than positive news.  I wasn’t born an optimist.  I had to become one by forcing myself to find out the good that is going on out in the world and in my hometown.  And thanks to inventions like internet, search engines, and social media, it is far easier to find such good news than even twenty years ago.  Sure some people will abuse such tech.  Every tech in history has been abused by at least one person or group.  A sharpened stone tied to a long stick can kill a deer and feed a family just as easily as it can kill another man and be used to enslave his survivors.  And on it goes.

I should wrap this up.  Sure much bad has been done in the name of my nation and science.  Yet, much good has been done too.  We rarely acknowledge anyone’s decency simply because we are not hardwired to do so.  Many cool things are happening right now.  And among the leaders forcing these positive changes are American scientists, engineers, medical personnel, teachers, craftsmen, construction workers, factory workers, farmers, students with dreams, business people, etc.  It is an eventful and hopeful time to be alive.  I am grateful to live in a college town in America in the early 21st century.

Graduation and Optimism During Times of Great Change

It is that time of year again, graduations and the end of the school year.  As it’s been chillier and damper then usual this spring, it doesn’t feel like early May yet.  It still feels like early April to me.  This year will mark twenty years since I graduated high school and fifteen since I graduated from college.  My class is having their twenty year reunion this summer.  As I have a family reunion out of state during the same weekend, I won’t be able to do both.  Haven’t decided which one I’m going to yet.  I haven’t been to any of my class reunions besides the five year.

I guess I just don’t have much in common with some of my old classmates or people in my childhood hometown.  Sure I had cool friends and enjoyed school activities like playing football and doing speech.  Yet I never felt like I really fit in back during my younger days.  Could have had problems with paranoia even as a child.  It also didn’t help that I spent the last two years of high school with a developing mental illness and not seeking help for it.  But we didn’t know back then.  We didn’t have the information easily available to us twenty years ago, certainly not like now.  I definately loved college, in part because I was seeking help and getting regular treatments.

I am trying to get out of the habit of offering recent graduates advice other than “stay flexible.”  I don’t tell anyone what career fields to look into anymore.  For beginners, we don’t know what jobs will be in demand in ten years anymore.  Many people can’t afford even going to state university without going into heavy debt anymore.  I’m glad I had good scholarships in college and got help from home.  I graduated debt free and that has saved my hide more than once.

It’s sad that so many people have crushing debts from school before they even begin a career.  I have far too many friends struggling with student debts even in their thirties.  And it’s absolutely asinine and unforgivable that student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.  I don’t think college is viable for most kids anymore simply because of how out of control the costs have become.  An eighteen year old right out of high school would be better off doing an apprenticeship, going to trade school, or joining the military in most cases it seems.  Some kids might be better off moving overseas and looking for work in East Asia or Europe anymore.  A college friend of mine teaches high school in Netherlands and absolutely loves it as far as I can tell.  A cousin of mine lived in Japan for three years while her husband was stationed over there in the military.  It might not be such a bad idea.  National borders mean less now than they did even twenty years ago.

I try not to offer advice, not because I don’t care.  It’s because we no longer know what the future holds, at least not in terms of in demand careers.  I blog on a regular basis yet that was in it’s early days when I was in high school and college.  Youtube or social media didn’t exist when I was in high school.  Amazon was just getting started in the 1990s.  And of course smart phones didn’t exist and AI was nowhere near as good as it is now.  Renewable energy tech like wind and solar are becoming more affordable and in many cases now competitive with old style fossil fuels.  That wasn’t the case even fifteen years ago.  While many older jobs are definitely going away or getting drastically reduced, there are likely going to be others taking their place.  What if instead of economic Armageddon we were actually heading for one of the biggest industrial and economic booms in history?  What if instead of ecological collapse we solved the problems of air and water pollution?  We have people working on those problems, and many others as I write this.  I once read that in America during the Great Depression of the 1930s, more self made millionaires were made in that decade than in any other before that.  Yet we often think it was a hellish time.  For many people, it was. Yet for others, it was a time of opportunity as well.

It seems to me that during times of distress and upheaval (like we are living now) there are also opportunities as well.  I may be mentally ill, but I also have an outlet to talk about it and hopefully offer help others that I didn’t have in my younger years.  I have pretty decent treatments when had I grown up in my grandmother’s generation I would have spent the rest of my life in an institution or prison.  Sure I have gained a lot of weight over the course of this illness and my physical health has declined, yet I still have a sharp mind and am stable in spite the illness.  Overall I’m pretty happy.  Maybe not all the time, but then no one is continually blissful at all times anymore than people are always physically healthy.  I doubt I would have ever become a blogger if I didn’t become mentally ill.

 

Random Thought on an idle Friday afternoon

With it being a Friday, I am reminded of posts by friends of how much they love weekends and how much they hate their jobs. Maybe I got lucky by having a severe mental illness and being on disability. Perhaps I did, especially with how much I read about how people hate their jobs and their spouses. I also probably got lucky in that becoming disabled made me not marriage material. Yet, as it were, losing everything civilization told me to value made me fearless and optimistic. Once you lose everything, you are free to do anything it seems.

Updates and Random Philosophy on Living

Haven’t had a great deal to report the last few days.  We’ve had lots of snow and it’s been quite cold.  Too cold and snowy to go anywhere unless necessary.  So I’ve been staying home, catching up on my reading, and taking long naps in the afternoon.  I’ve been sleeping a little more during the days, but mostly to pass the long drawn out cold days.  I still go to bed around 10pm and am usually awake for good by 5 or 6am.  My apartment is feeling quite like a regular home now rather than just the monk’s chamber I let it become the last couple years.  It helps that I put a few pieces of art done by an old friend and have a regular cleaning person come in once a week and help me keep on top of things.  Still have a few unresolved maintenance issues, but those will be knocked down before too long.  Rome wasn’t built in one day and I won’t be pulling out of my depression and anxiety induced exile and isolation all at once either.  It is coming along though.

One of my fellow tenants had a birthday party the other day.  About ten of us went to her party.  It felt good to be socializing again when people weren’t being irritable and rude to each other.  It just seems that most people I meet in person anymore are more short tempered and on edge than usual lately.  I was talking with an old friend of mine who lives here and he’s noticed the same thing.  So I’m not the only one noticing the subtle and not so subtle changes.  One of the reasons I don’t socialize much in person anymore is precisely because so many people I meet are in irritable and short tempered moods.  The fact that almost no one I know in person shares my interests in science, history, philosophy, and literature makes things even tougher.

It is true that social media and my smart phone are the bulk of my socializing now.  I know most people will think this is sad but I actually love social media and communications tech.  They have given me access to people with similar interests and concerns that I wouldn’t have had in high school.  My teenage years, other than a handful of confidants I could tell even my darkest secrets to, were quite lonely.  As an adult now near age 40, I have more social interaction than at any point in my life besides my college years.  And it is exactly because of social media, internet, and communication tech.  I know many people condemn what social media can be used for and think we would be better off without it.  I call their bluff on that.  I call the bluff on all nostalgics who are fearful of change and want to go back to the past.

I know many people, especially in my USA, are nostalgic about the past when only one income could support a family in a house in the suburbs.  Yet you don’t hear the same people decry the lack of opportunities for women, high taxes on rich people and large businesses, lack of variety in entertainment and fashion, Jim Crow laws, Cold War paranoias, cost of even long distance phone calls. I ran up long distance bills over $100 two months in a row as recently as 1999 because my two best confidants lived in other towns.  My parents were not amused by that.  Yet, here it is in 2019 and I talk to far more out of town people, and even out of country people, then I could have ever imagined even my wildest Star Trek optimist fantasy.  And twenty years isn’t that long.  It’s just enough time to get a newborn baby to adulthood.  The world has changed that much.

Social media, like all other tech changes, is a tool that can be used to go great good or great harm.  Nuclear energy provides a significant source of power to civilization with relatively quite few facilities.  Yet the same tech can be used in weapons that can end all life on our planet.  Mass media can spread the ideas of personal freedom, self responsibility, civic duty, and show our similarities to billions of people quite easily.  It also empowered some truly sick and depraved monstrous people just in the last one hundred years.  Religion can give people hope, a connection to something beyond ourselves and our surroundings, and a sense of taking care of others in even the darkest times humanity ever faced.  It can also justify some truly evil actions.  Even farming led to humanity going from only a relatively few people who managed to survive the ice ages in isolated bands to being the masses we are now making plots to travel off world and settle other planets.  It has also led to the extinction of many other species, the decline of biodiversity, war, easily transferable diseases, and a loss of connection of most people to the natural world.  And yet, I wouldn’t give up any of these advances among any others.  Even the same chemicals that make the fertilizer for our food crops can be used as deadly poisons and weapons of mass terror and destruction.

Changes are a constant of human existence.  Changes even in nature are constant too.  With human existence, change will continue to come.  In fact, they will come even faster and be more disruptive than at any point in history in the lifetimes of all but the oldest people in our civilizations.  These changes can be delayed but they will come whether we are as individuals or nations are preparing or not.  We no longer live in a world where only one nation or race has the monopoly on knowledge and progress, as if we ever did.  The old ways of doing things, the ancient appeals to religious, gender, racial, national, socioeconomic, ageist differences and discriminations are losing the effectiveness they had in the past.  Even homeless people in our largest cities and farmers in the poorest countries in the world have smart phones and access to the collective knowledge gathered through the trials, bloodshed, tears, and revolutions of history.  This is a level of computing power that not even the U.S. Department of Defense had as recently as 1980, the year I was born.

Yes, information tech has greatly advanced just in my lifetime.  Some will scoff and say, this hasn’t translated into any other aspect of life.  I can’t afford my rent even on two jobs but I’m supposed to be happy with having access to Google and Facebook.  Give it time.  Other aspects of our lives will catch up eventually.  It is tragic that many people go homeless in my country while thousands of houses and apartments sit vacant and idle waiting for someone to call such places a home just because of the prices.  Individual workers are more productive now than ever yet wages have barely budged in my country in terms of inflation since at least the 1970s.  My critics will say even with communication tech advancing as well as the social progress we’ve made, our standard of living has actually gone down.

For many this is true, at least in USA.  Our standard of living hasn’t caught up with our efficiency, tech, medical, and social advances.  At least not yet.  We are still in the process of a great change, one that is even more chaotic and impacting than the Industrial Revolution was two hundred years ago.  In short, we have science fiction like technology, industrial era education, renaissance era governing, legal, and business institutions, Bronze Age spirituality, and Stone Age bodies and psychology.  Of course there are going to be conflicts.  We will work these out, it just won’t happen nearly as fast as many people want.  Changes like we are going through took centuries during the start of farming, generations during the renaissance and industrial ages, and now on the scope of only years.  No wonder people are stressed.  We are not experiencing the death of our species or our civilization no matter how much some people fear or even want.  We are in transition.  And I welcome this transition and it’s highs and lows.  Stay tuned.  Things are only going to get more interesting and chaotic, yet full of opportunities too.

Just Because I Don’t Have Much Money Doesn’t Mean I Am Poor

Middle of the winter now.  Haven’t ventured out of my apartment much the last few days.  Too cold to go anywhere really.  Been immersing myself in computer games and audiobooks more these days.  I have to admit that I really have no desire to socialize in person much, at least not lately.  I guess I have given up on finding anyone in physical proximity who shares my interests and concerns.  I have gotten tired of neighborhood gossip and endless talks about politics and sports ball.  Been tired of it for a long time.  I haven’t even watched live tv since the college football bowl games around New Year’s Day.  I guess I just lost interest in the mundane and normal things my neighbors can discuss for hours on end.

I have to admit that I find most of my social life on social media these days.  I have excellent conversations with people from my tech and futurists groups.  It’s like some of the conversations I had with friends back in college, when you would chat until sunrise and your throat was burning from chatting so much.  During conversations like that, it’s like I could actually feel my brain getting stronger and more nimble.  I loved those years. I can’t imagine how cool they would have been had I not had a mental illness to deal with.  I can understand why many people are nostalgic for their college years, before the spirit crushing and brain numbing realities of having to spend over half your waking life at a job that most people aren’t well suited for just to earn enough money to live an “acceptable” standard of living.

Most people caught up in the day to day working ‘Oh God It’s Monday’ merry go round ride we like to call ‘being a productive member of society’ would argue I don’t live an acceptable standard of living.  Most people would consider me a failure it seems.  It seems that people either pity me or envy me for being on disability pension.  Acceptable by what standards?  Who decided what is and isn’t a productive member of society?  Am I going to hell because I am not working myself into an early grave or not buying the big house and SUV type lifestyle?  Seriously, what will happen if I don’t work myself into an early grave because I didn’t become a cubicle jockey or sell my talents for more money than I need to buy crap I never really wanted to impress jerks that wouldn’t shed a tear if I dropped dead of a heart attack tonight?  Is God going to deny me access into the afterlife because I don’t have a credit history?

Let’s not con ourselves, most people work the jobs they do because they need the money to buy their survival, not because they are passionate about their jobs or their careers are a benefit to humanity and nature.  I think that if money weren’t in issue, many people would find even more productive means to spend their days than sitting in traffic to get to an office to fill out reports that few people read or do work with their hands that, in some cases, could just as easily be done by machines and computers.  Too many people work themselves senseless and joyless because, for whatever reason, they got too deep into debt pursuing the ‘dream life.’  Dream life for whom?  Not me.

I never understood the point of borrowing money for anything besides starting a business, learning a trade, or buying a house.  But with as fast as industries change anymore, owning a house can actually hinder a person’s career.  I know people who have had to turn down very lucrative promotions because they owned a house and couldn’t get that albatross around their neck sold quickly.  I also know people who were making six figures a year simply because they were flexible and could throw all their possessions in the back of a pickup truck and U-Haul trailer and be moved across country in a matter of a few days.  It seems to be in the modern economy that being flexible, not having unmanageable debt, and having skills that can transfer into several different industries is the new security.  To quote Randy Gage, “safe is the new risky.”

I am on disability pension, it is true.  It was the only way I could afford my medications once I couldn’t be covered under my parents’ insurance plans.  My mental illness also made the modern work place unbearable for me.  Even as a teenager I knew I wanted to work in a small group or even alone and not have to deal with strangers for hours on end every day.  Giving up my pre med course of study was one of the most painful things I ever did.  It was essentially me having to kill the dream of having a career in science.  I had wanted to work in as a research scientist since I was five years old.  Even as a child my favorite Disney character was Dr. Ludwig von Drake, an eccentric academic with a German accent loosely based on Werner von Braun, Albert Einstein, and Sigmund Freud.

Even though I went on to study business the last three years in college, deep down I knew I would never use the business degree in a traditional job setting.  But I didn’t know what else to do.  I didn’t want to go back home because there was nothing there for me.  I didn’t attempt to apply for disability when I was diagnosed because I had no idea how bad this illness really was.  I thought it was something that, while chronic, could be easily managed with medication and counseling.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The illness made traditional employment impossible.  Since I don’t come from an uber rich family, I couldn’t live off a trust fund and privately pay for my medications and therapy.  I went on disability because, well, I had no other option.  I stay on disability because blogging and internet research doesn’t pay the bills.

Some people think that because I’m on disability I just sit around, watch porn, drink beer, and vape nicotine all day.  Not so.  Even my parents have no clue how much internet research I do when it comes to science, technology, and other academic topics I always wanted to study in school but simply didn’t have the time to.  Since I have a disability pension, escaped college with one business degree and zero debt, and haven’t had a credit card debt in years, I can afford the life I want.

Right now, at this point in my life, I want to be the independent scholar writing a few blog posts every week and spending my evenings chatting with fellow science and tech enthusiasts.  It wasn’t the kind of life I wanted even ten years ago.  Back then I was working twenty hours a week, writing drafts for novels, making outlines for possible science fiction worlds, writing poetry every day, and studying philosophers ranging from Aristotle to Francis Bacon to Neitchze.  I did the regular work world while on disability because it could be done.  Got that out of my system after a few years and moved onto my current life as a blogger and scholar.

Where will I be in another five or ten years?  I don’t know.  But I don’t have to know.  I just know I have probably faced the worst of what my schizophrenia has to offer and have survived into middle age.  I have gained a few skills that, while not paying the bills, keep me busy and make me interesting.  I don’t often tell people I’m on disability, but they seem quite envious when I tell them that I’m a freelance writer.  My bank account will never make anyone forget the Rothschild family, but it doesn’t have to.  As long as I can buy food, keep my rent up to date, keep my internet paid for, stay out of debt, and have enough left over to buy some basic clothing every few months, I’m happy with where I am at.  I don’t need a ton of money or a prestigious career or a large family to justify my existence.  If there is a Judgement that the dead have to face for their deeds and misdeeds in life, I doubt the Divine Judge will be looking at anyone’s W-2 forms or 401(k).  He who dies with the most toys is still dead.  He just doesn’t have to witness his kids and grandkids squander the inheritance his decades of toil and stress made possible.  Hard work probably never killed anyone, but neither did taking time to learn things and appreciate nature and human achievement.

Voting, Family Time, and Possibly Moving

Got out and voted Tuesday after dinner.  Since I went later in the day, I missed the crowds.  I was able to get in and get out pretty quick.  As I’ve been having lower back problems recently, I was able to get a chair to sit in while I worked the ballot.  All I had to do was ask.  Sometimes I think people in general don’t get the assistance that could make things easier just because they don’t ask for help.  For years I had problems asking for help as I instead preferred to give help instead.  Only within the last year or so have I gotten comfortable asking for help whenever I have a problem I can’t easily solve on my own.  I guess that I, like many men, am a problem solver.  And sometimes it was tough for me to admit I could use an extra set of hands or extra mind working on a problem.

In other news, my parents are in the process of moving out of state.  They bought a small house in the same town my brother and his family live in.  As all their grandkids are in school now they want to see them grow up and participate in activities and school functions.  I think that once they get settled in permanently in their new house, I’ll look to relocate nearby.  As where they are moving to is in a suburb of a metroplex, I imagine I’ll need to be careful about what kind of low income housing I move to.  My brother has already told me a few neighborhoods that are rougher than others that I should avoid.  As they hope to be relocated by the end of November, I will be hosting them for a Thanksgiving dinner this weekend.  I’ve been spending much of my day after the midterm elections straightening and decluttering my home.  I had been kind of lazy about clutter for the last few weeks.  But I want the place to be presentable as it will probably be our family’s last gathering in Nebraska.

I guess I have mixed emotions about leaving the small farm towns I have known as home my entire life.  I am excited about the possibility of moving to a larger area where I could meet more writers and people with my interests in person.  I am excited about going somewhere that is growing and not so out of the way.  But I am concerned about starting over in my late 30s, especially with mental illness issues.  I am also concerned about fitting in at a different social environment.  I’ve had problems fitting in even among people I grew up with my entire life.  So I am kind of scared of the social aspects as I have problems socializing even in my hometown.

Other than getting to see my nephews and niece more often, I hope my life doesn’t really alter that much.  I do hope I can have a closer friendship with my brother and his wife.  My brother and I weren’t close growing up.  Part of that was traditional sibling rivalries, and another part was that we were such opposites personality and interests wise.  I don’t have any animosity toward him, I just don’t have common interests.  I consider not having a close relationship with my only sibling one of the few regrets I have about my life up to this point.  Sure I regret becoming mentally ill but there isn’t anything I could have personally done to prevent it.  As it is, I have worked around it for twenty years.  I’ve been hospitalized only twice and have avoided trouble with the law.  So I’m doing something alright.

Overall, the last several months of quiet monotony have come to an end.  My parents are relocating and I probably will be too within the next several months.  I am both excited and apprehensive at the same time.  The only true constant if life is change.  But with change comes the possibility of new opportunity.