I cannot speak to the issue of Caribbean Hispanics versus central and South Americans and the root cause(s) of the differences we see, not like you can. But i can definitely see how the culture as you suggest is or can affect the societies and how they show up. I believe it’s like that for every demographic, tribe or genotype. The cultural trends are both influenced by the present society and how it’s manifest AND circle back to create an influence on that society.
I do think that’s what has continued to crush the black community since the mid-90s. In the 60s and 70s they used music to UPLIFT the whole black community. And the whites frankly. So many good powerful uplifting black power / black pride songs and inspiring artists from this 20 – 25 year era. And along with it a ton of progress for that community at large. The 80s became even more empowering for a while with the sudden success of rap as a viably popular mainstream form of entertainment with cultural leaders and heroes who transcended race and appealed to broad swaths of the American public.
Then in the 90s the entire narrative seemed to change overnight. Black people at least as reflected through the music and culture decided that being gangsters drug dealers killers misogynists pimps hos bitches and showboating excessive label-consumers was cooler than becoming more stable healthy respected or successful. They voluntarily wore and still today wear these labels proudly. Not even letting on if they realize themselves that these are all very bad stereotypes to lay claim to.
If there is one glaring thing about the black community that confuses well-meaning whites who sincerely want to help the cause the most, it’s this strange anomaly of trying to figure out just who black people are in modern society. Are they the murderers and thieves they claim to be in the last 30 years of Top 40 popular music? Or are they the nice working class folks who dress up on Sundays to attend service at that big Baptist church on the corner welcoming you in with open arms because you love good gospel music even though you’re white…?
Is the rampant vulgarity in Beyoncé or Missy Elliot lyrics an authentic expression of how she and others like her see themselves or who they are? Or is it a mere put on? Satire or self mockery even? It sounds sincere, sung and spoken resolutely with power and pride. Or is it a flat up strategic exploitation of what’s perceived as controversy to get more eyes and ears and thus make more money, ala the way Madonna exploited her sexuality, and nothing more? That’s something we all do. In every arena of commerce. Though in art it is still frowned upon as the easy way out, a cheap tactic hiding a lack of true artistic brilliance when one feels obliged to go that route.
Nobody wants to be nailed down by a stereotype to begin with. But inevitably we all are from time to time. Knowing that, one would do everything in their power when given the opportunity to typecast themselves to do so in the most respectable manner possible and not the other way around. That again is a very confusing aspect of the modern black community.
A community or group of people cannot rise up in society to aspire and then achieve to being better educated, have better higher paying jobs, be more actively involved in community, have a lower rate of arrests and convictions than other groups, be on more corporate boards, have more well known and influential local and national leaders, be healthier, have more stable families, have lower death rates and crime in their communities, increase life extension and life expectancy, decrease infant mortality and inherent diseases within that group, and all the other things we associate with a group of people rising up out of poverty and anonymity to achieve equality or even surpass other groups in measures of health and success IF at the same time they’re laying claim to being pimps whores drug dealers criminals killers gangsters bitches et al.
There’s a stark and overt contradiction there. In how the culture publicly defines itself through its self expression and what others in the same community claim they want, i.e. Black Lives Matter.
Speaking of BLM, it would also help in our understanding of the bigger issues at large, if when we are in a Black Lives Matter March — can only speak of Brooklyn, Washington DC and Manhattan — that 80-90% of the participants weren’t white with a handful of blacks marching with us. One would automatically assume it would be the other way around. And maybe it is in other cities that are primarily black. I would have to look up actual statistics from 2020 to now… Or even 2018… if there are any, about the demographic makeup of the various demonstrations that transpired around the country in support of this cause.
There’s obviously a lot more to it to explore and contemplate. And my guess is that the black community itself has probably written excessively about this issue. So step one on the quest to understanding these seemingly contradictory dynamics would be to simply ask some black friends to recommend a few books or papers on the matter. Which I’ll do. And then come back and list those resources here.
In the meantime at least we’ve had the insight and the courage to talk about it, though in private admittedly, acknowledge it, give voice to it and try to understand it… I have a feeling it is going to be a multifaceted cornucopia of different social dynamics that affect each of the various subgroups within the community just as it is with whites, Asians, Indians, Latinos or anybody else. There won’t be one answer. But a variety of theories about potential answers based on who’s speaking and who they’re specifically speaking about. But is there anything deeper there that can offer us solutions to the multitude of problems the black community still faces? That’s the question.
This is an article I came upon recently that I found absolutely fascinating. One, because it’s about a subject I write a lot about in the Transcendence Diaries, knowing full well that it may be the most unpopular and non-topical subject in the society we currently live in — [I am working on a piece presently related to just this, called The Death Of the Intellectual In the Modern Age], and two, because the author, Hoffman, attempts to explore consciousness from a scientific approach, resisting the popular trend of relegating the study of consciousness to the fields of philosophy or metaphysics. There’s hardcore science here. It may not be an easy read in some places; but it’s thoroughly refreshing to follow along the thoughts and thinking process of someone so ravenously intellectually curious and well thought out. A rare occurrence in our time. The piece was originally published in Edge on January 27, 2020. I am re-posting it here in the Diaries for informational purposes and as reference material. I believe it’s a must read for anyone interested in Ontology or Consciousness Studies. – Ed Hale
A Conversation with Donald D. Hoffman [1.27.20]
. . . I want to propose that realism is false, and what we’re seeing is more like a user interface or a virtual reality headset. Think about a virtual reality game of tennis. You’re playing VR tennis with a friend, you both have your headset and body suits on, you see your friend’s avatar on a tennis court and you start playing. Your friend hits the tennis ball to you, and you hit the same tennis ball back to your friend, but is your friend seeing exactly the same tennis ball that you’re seeing? Well, of course not. There’s no public tennis ball. You have some photons being sprayed to your eye by your headset, and those photons are causing your visual system to create your own perception of what you would call a green tennis ball. Your friend has a headset on, which is spraying photons to his eye, and his visual system is creating his own green tennis ball perception.
It turns out that both of those perceptions are coordinated by something else, namely a supercomputer that’s sending the photons to both headsets, causing both headsets to work in coordination. . . .
All the things that we would do to say that objects really exist even when they’re not perceived hold here in virtual reality. . . . That doesn’t mean that the tennis ball exists and has any physical properties when it’s not perceived; it just means that there is some objective reality.
DONALD D. HOFFMAN is a full professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author, most recently, of The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes. Donald D. Hoffman’s Edge Bio Page
REALISM IS FALSE
Some of the questions I’m asking myself are about the relationship between consciousness and the physical world. I’m trying to understand the classic mind-body problem—how consciousness is related to the physical brain or to physical systems more generally, perhaps computing systems. That’s been a conundrum for centuries. Gottfried Leibniz understood it, Thomas Huxley understood it, Francis Crick understood it and said we should really study it. So, I’ve been studying it.
What’s bothering me and many people in our field is that we have so far failed to get a scientific physicalist theory of consciousness that starts with neural activity, or starts with computer programs or some kind of abstract functional architecture and, without any further magic, gives us specific conscious experiences, like the taste of chocolate or the smell of garlic, arising in very specific mathematically precise ways from those physical or functional systems.
Right now, I’m trying to start with a theory of consciousness in which consciousness itself is fundamental. So again, it’s a mathematically precise theory. When we try to come up with a mathematically precise new theory, one of the things we have to do is think about the basic assumptions that we’re going to build into the theory. Every scientific theory starts with certain assumptions, certain axioms if you will, and then tries to build up an explanation of the other things. No theory in science can explain everything. We always have a few things that we assume, and then we try to explain everything else in terms of those few things.
In physical theory, for example, we’ve assumed space, time, matter, or quantum fields are fundamental, and then we can explain chemistry and biology. We’ve tried to use that kind of framework so that with those assumptions, we can try to boot up a theory of consciousness that explains exactly what physical systems or computational systems must be the taste of chocolate and could not be the taste of vanilla. There’s not a single theory that’s been proposed that can explain even one specific conscious experience.
So, what are the basic assumptions that we would need to build into a theory of consciousness? We don’t want to put too many assumptions on the table. We want the minimal number of assumptions that will give the maximum explanation. I’ve been playing with the idea of what I call a conscious agent, which has a set of conscious experiences and can act on those experiences. I have a mathematical formalism for it. Briefly, it’s measurable spaces of conscious experiences and Markovian kernels for decisions and actions based on those experiences.
One thing that comes out of this formalism is that it’s computationally universal. Anything about learning, memory, problem solving, intelligence, self, any of those things that we would think should ultimately be part of a theory of consciousness are not part of my assumptions; those are things that I will try to build out of networks of these conscious agents. The idea is that we’ll have these interacting social networks of conscious agents and, by the dynamics of the networks of conscious agents, we’ll build up theories of learning, memory, problem solving, intelligence, and the notion of a self.
I have a wonderful team of collaborators including Chetan Prakash, Manish Singh, Chris Fields, Robert Prentner, Federico Faggin, and Mauro D’Ariano working with me on the mathematics and the network dynamics and so forth. Ultimately, to solve the mind-body problem—how consciousness is related to the physical world—we’re going to have to start with this theory of consciousness and show how the physical world arises. We’re assuming consciousness is fundamental, not space, time, and matter. We’re going to have to get space, time, matter, and all of modern physics coming out from this network of conscious agents. The question is how to do that. Is that something that is at all compatible with some of the best views in modern physics?
Our team has been looking at some of the recent developments in physics, in particular the work of Nima Arkani-Hamed and his collaborators, in which they’re saying that spacetime has been the foundational idea in physics. In some sense, physics has been about what happens inside space and time for centuries. Spacetime has had a good run; it’s been a foundational assumption in physics. But there are lots of indications, especially from quantum theory and general relativity, that spacetime cannot be fundamental. As some of the physicists are putting it: spacetime is doomed. That’s not my quote, it’s theirs. There’s got to be something deeper that’s fundamental, outside of space and time, that gives rise to space and time. We’re not saying quantum mechanics is wrong or general relativity is wrong. They’re beautiful and powerful theories, but at some point, there are questions they can’t answer and problems that cannot be explained.
For example, spacetime itself. If you try to observe it at finer and finer scales with a bigger and bigger microscope, one problem is eventually the energies that are required to look at finer and finer resolution of spacetime, when you get down to the Planck scale, the energies create a black hole and you destroy the very thing that you’re trying to look at. And if you add more energy, the black hole just gets bigger. Physicists will say that if spacetime is not something we can measure with absolute precision, then it’s not a fundamental concept. We need something more fundamental.
Another idea they have is that in quantum theory you have an observer and a system, and the observer itself needs to be infinite to have infinite resolution in the measurements that it makes of a system. If you have a room in which you’re trying to do a measurement, to get more precise measurements, the observer has to be bigger with more mass. At some point, the observer itself collapses the room into a black hole. As they say, there are no local observables in quantum theory.
The question that I’m dealing with now is, how can I connect this idea of conscious agents and some of the new theories that physicists are coming up with that try to go beyond space and time?
There’s something called scattering amplitudes, the scattering behavior of particles in the Large Hadron Collider. So you smash protons together at near the speed of light. In many cases, you’ll have quarks and gluons hit each other and spray out, so you might have two gluons coming in and four gluons spraying out. You see these things in the detectors, and you can talk about the probabilities or what they call the amplitudes for these various scattering events. They’ve discovered that if you do the computations of the scattering amplitudes in space and time using Feynman diagrams, you get hundreds of pages of math. It’s ugly and you can’t do it in real time because you’re doing a billion of these collisions per second, roughly. They found that they could collapse these expressions to simple expressions, from hundreds of pages down to two or three terms, if they don’t do the computation in space and time.
One of the things they deal with is something called the amplituhedron. It’s a geometric object outside of space and time, and the volumes of various parts of the amplituhedron correspond to the probabilities of these scattering events. This amplituhedron has symmetries that cannot be expressed in space and time. The physicists are discovering that there’s this new realm behind space and time. They don’t know what it’s about. Right now, they’re following the math, which is telling us that there is this structure outside of space and time and it makes the computation simpler, gives us insight into symmetries that you can’t see in space and time.
Maybe this dynamic of conscious agents that we’re thinking about could be the realm behind space and time. My big project over the next couple of years, with the physicists on my team, is to try to understand how the dynamics of conscious agents might give rise to this amplituhedron.
One of the ideas I’m looking at has to do with the dynamics of conscious agents, the so-called Markovian dynamics. That just means that what you’re going to do at this moment depends pretty much on your current state. So, whatever your current state is, it governs all the probabilities of what you’re going to do at the next decision point. You have only a finite memory of what you’ve done in the past, and it’s only a finite memory of what you’ve done in the past that influences your future behavior.
When you look at these kinds of Markovian dynamics, you can look at their long-term behavior. We have a step-by-step behavior of what conscious agents are doing at each step of their interaction. Think of their interactions like a vast social network, like the Twitterverse. There’s a bunch of conscious agents, like a bunch of Twitter users, and they’re all interacting with each other. But what they’re doing is passing experiences back and forth between each other.
We can look at the dynamics of what’s happening at each step of this social network in this interaction, or we can look asymptotically. As the number of interactions goes to infinity, what kinds of patterns do you see there? That’s where I’m thinking we might get the connection to physics and the amplituhedron, not at the step-by-step dynamics of conscious agents. That’s too fine a grain. If we look at the infinite long-term asymptotic behavior of these social networks of conscious agents, that asymptotic behavior erases a lot of the detailed information about the social network and how it works. On the other hand, it’s capturing the long-term patterns. That’s going to be one of those central proposals. What physics has been doing is capturing just the long-term asymptotic behavior of these networks of conscious agents. That’s why it hasn’t looked conscious at all.
For example, if you’re looking at the freeways in Southern California from an airplane, you just see a bunch of little dots moving around. There’s not much evidence of any consciousness or intelligence. You’re looking at it from a high level and you’re erasing a lot of information. You don’t see all the conscious individuals inside the cars. You just see this pattern of flow, of little dots on streets. That’s what physics has been seeing. It’s not seeing the step-by-step dynamics of the conscious agents. It’s only seeing a top-level asymptotic description of the long-term behavior of these social networks of conscious agents. That’s why we haven’t seen things that look like they’re conscious, because we’re only seeing the long-term behavior.
Of course, there’s a lot of specific mathematical steps that we’ll have to take to prove that the asymptotic dynamics of these social networks precisely fits into the structure of the amplituhedron, which they have shown can give rise to the interesting features of quantum theory and relativity theory combined.
That’s one thing I’m trying to work on—flesh out this model of conscious agent networks, look at the asymptotic behavior of these dynamics, and then plug that into the amplituhedron. That whole process will help me with another big problem we’ve got, which is if consciousness is fundamental, there’s this social network of conscious agents out there and they’re interacting—why? The right answer is, I don’t know. I’m trying to first come up with some principled ideas that are at least plausible for what the dynamics of consciousness is fundamentally about.
One idea my team and I are playing with is Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Gödel showed that if you have any sufficiently complex mathematical system, and that system has a set of axioms, there will be truths that are consistent with those axioms, but they cannot be proved from that set of axioms. There are unprovable truths. And if you add those new truths (that you couldn’t prove before) as axioms to a bigger system, then Gödel’s theorem says there will be yet new truths that can’t be proven within your bigger system of axioms.
Effectively, this means that the exploration of mathematical structure is, in principle, endless. There will be no end to the exploration of what we can do in mathematics. Why is that interesting in the context of a theory of consciousness and conscious agents? Well, it turns out that consciousness and mathematics are intimately linked.
There’s a field called psychophysics that has studied conscious experiences since 1860. One thing that we’ve discovered in our psychophysical studies in the lab and with the mathematical models is that conscious experiences are highly structured. We can write down mathematical models that predict not only judgments of similarity between various like colors, but also predict precisely what three-dimensional structures you will see and when you will see them. It’s mathematics through and through. I’m not saying that consciousness just is mathematics; it’s more like consciousness and mathematics are like a living organism and the bones. The bones are the mathematics and consciousness is the living organism. That’s one reason why we can hope to build a mathematical model of consciousness and conscious agents. The mathematics is a genuine insight into the structural aspects of consciousness, but of course there’s more to consciousness than just the mathematics.
This is where Gödel’s theorem comes in. It says the structures that consciousness can take and that these conscious agents can explore are endless. One idea is that the goal of consciousness and of these conscious agents is endless exploration of all the possible varieties of conscious experiences and their structures. It may or may not be true, but at least it seems deep enough that it’s a plausible candidate to answer the question of what the dynamics of consciousness is all about.
Suppose we hit a dead end there and that idea turns out to be wrong, that Gödel’s theorem, as interesting as it is, turns out not to be an adequate foundation for our dynamics of conscious agents. If we can take our theory of conscious agents, show how it plugs into, say, the amplituhedron, and then eventually into quantum field theory and general relativity, then what we may be able to do is reverse engineer things. Once we know how to map from conscious agent dynamics into modern physics, can we reverse that map? Can we take what we know about modern physics and its dynamics, pull it back into the realm of conscious agents, and say what kinds of dynamics would get pulled back? That may then focus our attention on certain kinds of conscious agent dynamics that may then help us to grope toward the answer to the question of what consciousness is all about.
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I got my BA in quantitative psychology from UCLA. While I was there, I took some classes on artificial intelligence and neuroscience of vision that caught my interest. One class pulled those together, a graduate class that I took in which we looked at the work of David Marr. He was bringing artificial intelligence ideas together with neuroscience ideas to study human vision. His idea was to be mathematically precise, to come up with mathematical theories that you could implement in a computer for things like seeing in 3D, object perception, and object recognition. As an undergraduate, I thought this was wonderful. This was someone who was using mathematics, computers, and artificial intelligence to solve problems in human vision, and eventually to build robotic vision systems.
I was very interested in the relationship of computing to humans. I was interested in questions like, are humans just computers or are we more than computers? And, what’s the relationship between human cognition and computation? David Marr was at MIT in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and what’s now the Brain and Cognitive Science Department, so I went there, and he and Whitman Richards became my co-advisors.
I worked with Marr for only about fourteen months because he died young, at age thirty-five of leukemia, unfortunately. It was a great loss personally and to the field. But I did have that chance to work with him and the wonderful team that he’d assembled around him. I got to jump in and see what artificial intelligence can do, how far it can go in understanding human vision.
I completed my PhD there, working on human vision. Then I went to UC Irvine as a professor of cognitive sciences in 1983, and I’ve been there ever since. Now my own research is focused on specific problems in human vision, because it’s good to take on specific problems if you’re trying to understand how human nature is related to computation. It’s good to jump in and try to build computational devices that model human nature and see how far you can go. It turns out you can go quite far. In fact, there’s almost no area of cognitive science—learning, memory, problem solving, sensory perception, language development—that isn’t beautifully treated by these functionalist computer kinds of models. There’s only one area that has been a problem, and that is conscious experience.
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There’s an attitude toward things that accepts the possibility that everything I believe is false. But if I’m right about anything, I’m right that I have experiences—that I’m having a headache right now, or that I’m experiencing a chair in front of me, or a table. As philosophers say, I’m having an experience “as of” a table, or an experience as of a chair, or as of a spoon. So, if I look ahead of myself and I see a table, I’m having an experience as of a table. If I close my eyes, then my experience changes and I no longer have an experience as of a table. Then when I open my eyes, I have once again an experience as of a table.
My physicalist colleagues will say that the table is what’s real; it’s there all the time. Even when my eyes are closed, there is a table that exists even if no perceiver were to look at it. The table not only exists, but it has roughly the shape, texture, color, and other properties that I see. That’s a pretty strong claim.
The physicalist is making the stronger and more tendentious claim, that physical objects have definite values of physical properties, like position, momentum, spin, even if no creature observes it. That’s a strong claim, and it might even sound like a non-scientific claim. That’s more than I’m claiming if I just take conscious experiences as fundamental. All I’m claiming is that when I open my eyes, I have an experience as of a table, and when I close my eyes, who knows what’s happening in objective reality. Of course, you could turn it around and say I’m claiming that if consciousness is fundamental and the physical world isn’t fundamental, there is no table when I don’t observe, no object with a definite position, momentum, and spin. That also seems to be a non-scientific claim. How can you claim something about a physical object and its properties when nothing is observing it? How can you possibly have an experiment to test that?
This kind of debate about whether physical objects exist and have definite properties when they’re not observed is one that Einstein was pushing back in the 1920s and 1930s. It seemed to Einstein that quantum mechanics was saying the moon doesn’t exist when no one observes it, at least in the interpretation of quantum mechanics that Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, the Copenhagen interpretation, had.
Wolfgang Pauli was quite impatient with Einstein. He said the kinds of questions that Einstein was asking were like asking how many angels dance on the head of a pin. Who cares? This was a metaphysical thing that couldn’t be answered with experiment anyway, so why bother with it? That was Pauli’s attitude. Pauli was a towering genius, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century. It turns out though that he was wrong—this is a question that we can ask and answer experimentally.
A physicist named John Bell, in 1963, found a series of experiments that could test whether something like an atom has a definite value of position, or momentum, or spin even when it’s not observed. It sounds impossible. How could you have a series of experiments that definitely tell you an answer to the question of whether something exists with definite values of properties even when you don’t look at it? Bell discovered that you could test something called local realism, to which there’s two parts.
Realism is the claim that physical objects have definite values of position, momentum, and spin when they’re not observed—that’s realism. Locality is the additional assumption that those definite values of the physical properties have influences that propagate no faster than the speed of light through space. Bell proposed this set of experiments, something called Bell’s inequalities—a beautiful theorem that he came up with. It took a couple of decades, but we got the technology roughly in the 1980s and then started doing the experiments. The experiment has been done many times.
People were blown away by the answer, which is that local realism is false. That has been established by experiment repeatedly. Local realism is absolutely false, but there’s two aspects to it. It could be that either realism is false—particles or objects don’t have definite values of their properties when they’re not observed—or it could be that locality is false—influences can propagate faster than the speed of light. Or it could be that both locality and realism are false.
Then there was another theorem in 1963 and 1964 that Bell and two physicists named Simon Kochen and Ernst Specker proved. It’s about realism and what they called “non-contextuality.” It’s not about local realism, it’s about non-contextual realism. The question here is, is non-contextual realism true? Non-contextual realism is the claim that physical objects, like an atom, have a definite position, or spin, or momentum when they’re not observed. Second, these definite values, their prior nature does not depend on how you choose to measure. The kind of measurement you make does not in any way alter these preexisting values. That’s non-contextual realism.
It turns out that our best theory, quantum theory, predicts quite clearly that non-contextual realism is false. Local realism is false, non-contextual realism is false, and that leaves it quite open that realism itself is false. If realism is false, that raises a couple of questions. Is that true only for microscopic objects—electrons, protons, neutrons, and photons—and not more macroscopic objects?
It’s turning out that this border between the microscopic and the macroscopic, first, is very suspicious. No one has ever been able to make a principled size or scale distinction. What size is microscopic and what scale is macroscopic? Recent experiments have been showing that we can put bigger and bigger systems of atoms—some getting pretty big now, thousands of atoms—and put them in quantum superpositions so that the quantum effects that the Kochen-Specker-Bell inequalities are true of these systems that involve thousands of atoms. These are huge molecules with thousands of atoms—getting close to the size of a virus. We suspect that as we continue to develop technology, we’ll find that this boundary between the microscopic and the macroscopic is not nearly so firm as you might think.
The bottom line is local realism is false and non-contextual realism is false. So, what does that mean about the notion of public physical objects? What do we mean in science by third-person science and public physical objects? Intuitively, what we talk about is the way science works and the way it’s in some sense objective. I can watch a ball rolling down an inclined plane, I can measure its acceleration, and I can compute the effects of gravity on it. Then you can look at that very same ball and make your own independent measurements of that public physical ball. If your measurements and my measurements agree, then we can start to have objective science.
There’s this notion of public physical objects and third-person science in the sense that independent observers can do scientific experiments on the same object and come to some kind of agreement. Sometimes the agreement isn’t absolute, like if we’re measuring the length of a meter stick. It turns out if you’re moving fast relative to me, you will get a different length for the meter stick than I will. There’s something called the Lorentz contraction that happens. We can take those kinds of things into account and have a dictionary between the distance you measure and the distance I measure. If they’re the same up to the Lorentz contraction, then we would still say that we agree. And even in special relativity, the spacetime interval is something that we would all agree with on the exact number. That’s the general notion that we have of public physical objects and third-person science.
The idea that local realism and non-contextual realism are false leads me to argue that in fact realism is false. I want to propose that realism is false, and what we’re seeing is more like a user interface or a virtual reality headset. Think about a virtual reality game of tennis. You’re playing VR tennis with a friend, you both have your headset and body suits on, you see your friend’s avatar on a tennis court and you start playing. Your friend hits the tennis ball to you, and you hit the same tennis ball back to your friend, but is your friend seeing exactly the same tennis ball that you’re seeing? Well, of course not. There’s no public tennis ball. You have some photons being sprayed to your eye by your headset, and those photons are causing your visual system to create your own perception of what you would call a green tennis ball. Your friend has a headset on, which is spraying photons to his eye, and his visual system is creating his own green tennis ball perception.
It turns out that both of those perceptions are coordinated by something else, namely a supercomputer that’s sending the photons to both headsets, causing both headsets to work in coordination. Notice in this example that it looks like there’s a public object, namely a green tennis ball, but there isn’t. There is your tennis ball that you perceive and that disappears when you close your eyes, and your friend’s tennis ball that he perceives and disappears when he closes his eyes. There’s no public tennis ball in this example.
All the things that we would do to say that objects really exist even when they’re not perceived hold here in virtual reality. We might say, I know that this table exists because I closed my eyes and my friend Joe can see the table even when I don’t look. Or I can close my eyes and touch the table and can feel it even when I’m not seeing it. Or I can take this spoon and close my eyes, drop it, and know exactly where to look when I open my eyes. You can do all those things in virtual reality. I can take my green tennis ball in virtual reality, close my eyes, drop the tennis ball and know where I’m going to see it. That doesn’t mean that the tennis ball exists and has any physical properties when it’s not perceived; it just means that there is some objective reality.
I’m not denying that there is an objective reality. There is some objective reality that exists independent of whether or not I perceive it, but that objective reality is not space and time or anything inside space and time. Those are just human forms of perception. That’s what quantum theory is telling us. It’s telling us local realism is false, non-contextual realism is false, and realism is false, at least what we call realism of objects in space and time. They don’t exist, except when they’re perceived. They don’t have their properties, except when they’re perceived because spacetime is not fundamental. That’s what the physicists are now telling us, like Nima Arkani-Hamed. Spacetime is doomed. There is an objective reality, but it’s not space and time. It’s a deeper reality outside of space and time. Spacetime is emergent and is not fundamental.
Here’s a cognitive neuroscientist talking about consciousness being fundamental reality, not space and time, and that’s surely treading on the turf of physics. So, what do physicists think about this? Do they just dismiss this out of hand? There’s an interesting history of physicists and their ideas about consciousness. Some of the early quantum physicists were very interested in consciousness. Erwin Schrödinger was interested in it, so were Eugene Wigner and John von Neumann. Wigner thought that consciousness was fundamental, and von Neumann said that as well. There are various interpretations as to whether he was serious about it or not, but he did talk about consciousness being fundamental.
There were a number of physicists who have said that, but among modern physicists, I would say that most simply do not take the idea that consciousness could be fundamental seriously. They would be dismissed pretty much out of hand. The idea that spacetime is doomed, that there’s something beyond space and time, doesn’t entail that that something is consciousness.
Some physicists are proposing that consciousness might be a state of matter. Max Tegmark, for example, has the notion of perceptronium, where certain states of matter could give rise to conscious experience. That idea is very different from the kind of idea that I’m proposing. I’m not proposing that consciousness is a special state of matter. I’m saying that consciousness is fundamental outside of space and time. Space and time itself, and what we call physical objects and their matter inside space and time, are interface descriptions of what’s going on in the dynamics of conscious agents.
Other physicists are proposing other models of what’s behind space and time; again, not consciousness, maybe quantum information—quantum bits and quantum gates. I certainly understand why a physicist would not feel inclined to jump all the way in and say consciousness is fundamental. The proof will be in what we can do. If we can get a mathematically precise theory of conscious agents and the network dynamics of those conscious agents, and we can show that it plugs in, say, to the amplituhedron that Nima Arkani-Hamed has been looking at, and it gives us new predictions, then and only then would I expect that physicists take this stuff seriously. I certainly understand them not taking it seriously until I make some new concrete prediction that affects physics.
I heard a talk recently by Nima Arkani-Hamed in which he said something he advised was just speculative on his part. He said that maybe one of the problems that they’re having in trying to get a deeper understanding of physics that resolves some of the paradoxes between quantum theory and gravity is the division between the subject and the object, between the observer and the observed. Somehow that division, which is required by quantum mechanics, is a real source of problems because the observer has to effectively be infinite if you’re going to have any precise measurements in quantum theory. That has to do with the idea that there are all these quantum fluctuations, and if you’re trying to measure something to infinite precision and you have a finite measuring device, then the quantum fluctuations will perturb the measuring device and give you the wrong answers by the time you get to the fiftieth decimal point, or the hundredth decimal point, or ten to the hundredth decimal point. He was saying maybe we’re going to have to figure out a way to either get rid of that division or multiple ways of doing that division. There’s something about the division between the observer and the observed that will have to be changed.
What’s interesting to me is that in this theory of conscious agents, that’s precisely what I do. The observer and the observed distinction goes away. All are the same mathematical structure, and all are conscious agents. In this dynamical theory, when agents interact, they form new agents. You can have simple agents with few conscious experiences, maybe only two. We might call that a one-bit agent; it only has two experiences, but they can interact to create two-bit agents and four-bit agents, all the way up to however big you want. What agents are really observing are other agents. So, the division between subject and object is not this fundamental distinction. The observer-observed are all the same kind of thing. The boundary between them is completely fluid.
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I’m collaborating with several mathematical physicists right now, working to get some predictions that will grab the interest of this community. One of the biggest influences on me, the person who got me into cognitive neuroscience was David Marr. His writing was powerful, his ideas were brilliant, and he grabbed my attention when I was in my early twenties. It was a great privilege to work with David Marr and then with Whitman Richards, who was my co-advisor while Marr was alive. After Marr died, Whitman Richards was my sole advisor. He was just a wonderful adviser. He gave me the freedom to pursue what I wanted to. He gave me feedback, treated me as an equal, and treated my ideas with respect. We were friends for decades afterwards until his death just a couple of years ago. Whitman had a long-term impact.
Another impact on me was a mathematician named Bruce Bennett, who was a professor of algebra and geometry here at UC Irvine. He took me under his wing when I first came here to UCI, and he and I collaborated for fifteen or twenty years. I’m not a mathematician, so he was very patient and taught me a lot of mathematics. Chetan Prakash, who is a mathematical physicist, also has had a big influence on me and has continued to collaborate with me.
More recently, Federico Faggin has been a big influence. Faggin is probably a name that most people haven’t heard but should know. He was the young genius at Intel who invented the microprocessor. He helped perfect the silicon gate technology. He went on to invent the Z80 and the 8080. He was the CEO of Zilog, also the CEO of Synaptics, where they developed the touch pad. Federico is a genius. He’s also very interested in consciousness.
He heard me give a talk six or seven years ago on my mathematical model of consciousness, struck up a conversation with me, and we’ve been friends ever since. We collaborate closely. His ideas are similar to mine. We’re on the same page, but different enough that it’s interesting. We have strong debates on the details, which is very good. Federico has helped to assemble a team that he’s funding. It would be difficult to get the National Science Foundation or the NIH to fund my research because it’s so far out there, but Federico Faggin is funding it from his own foundation, the Faggin Foundation, for which I’m exceedingly grateful. It’s not the funding that’s the primary thing, although it’s very helpful, but Federico’s ideas are extremely influential and helpful to me.
In terms of some other peers in philosophy of mind, I’m quite impressed with the work of Dave Chalmers. I like his thorough analysis, his mathematical sophistication, his philosophical sophistication, and his non-doctrinaire approach. I like how he surveys the various possibilities and looks at the pros and cons of the various possibilities. I never see him getting dragged into ad hominem debates. He always keeps it where it should be, which is not in personal attacks, but just focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of various ideas. I’ve been heavily influenced by Dave Chalmers and his writing.
There are definitely people who would disagree with me, as I believe Dan Dennett does. He is into conscious illusionism. I talk about conscious realism. I think conscious experiences are real and maybe the foundational reality. Dan Dennett says that space, time, and matter are fundamental. What we call consciousness, in particular, phenomenal conscious experiences—the “what is it like” aspect of consciousness—is merely an illusion that comes about when certain processes in our brain are monitoring the activity of other processes in our brain. The way they monitor and the language in which they couch what they’re monitoring is what leads to the illusion of consciousness. Keith Frankish, Dan Dennett, and others are spearheading this illusionism approach.
It’s not my approach and I disagree with it, but I’m glad they’re mapping out that part of the conceptual space. It’s important to have different points of views. Thinking about their ideas forces me to rethink certain aspects of my own approach. Yeah, we disagree, but it’s a profitable and useful kind of disagreement.
One other person that I should mention that was a big influence was Francis Crick. He was the one who gave permission for scientists to jump in and study consciousness. When I was a graduate student at MIT, I was interested in consciousness, but it wasn’t considered a proper subject of science. It was a little bit too woo woo. I studied it, but I didn’t call it that. I published a book with my collaborators, Bruce Bennett and Chetan Prakash called Observer Mechanics (1989). It’s effectively a mathematical model of dynamics of consciousness, but we just called it observer mechanics and left the consciousness out. Within a few years it was perfectly fine to talk about consciousness and that was largely due to the influence of Francis Crick.
Francis also was the intellectual leader of a group in Southern California that I was lucky to participate in called the Helmholtz club. The Helmholtz club brought together thinkers and professors from various universities in Southern California. We all met at the university club at UC Irvine for nearly twenty years on a roughly monthly basis, with some breaks. A group of a dozen or fifteen of us were the core group, and we would bring in guests and outside speakers. We were after understanding this hard problem of consciousness. Francis was looking at it from a hard-nosed neurobiological point of view—the neurocircuits and the activities that cause conscious experiences. He was hoping to demystify consciousness just like he’d demystified life when he and Watson discovered the structure of DNA. He was looking for the double helix of neuroscience that would demystify consciousness. It was a great pleasure to watch him at work, to see him grappling with the neuroscience data, questioning researchers about their latest findings, and then trying to come up with a model of how neuroactivity could create conscious experience.
I’m not going to be here forever. I need to help the next generation understand the ideas and carry on when I’m no longer able to do it. There is a balance that we all have to strike up between how much time we spend communicating the ideas and how much time we spend having fun exploring the ideas. That’s what it’s like climbing a mountain. You climb it because it’s there. We’re exploring these ideas because it’s incredibly fun to explore them, but then it’s time to stop having that fun. I do enjoy the communication process, but it’s different than the exploration of the ideas.
I try in my public communication, in podcasts and so forth, to communicate to a broad, intelligent but non-specialist audience. I would hope that intelligent, lower division undergraduates could understand what I’m saying. That’s my goal, because that’s often my audience. On the other hand, I’m hoping to catch the brilliant minds who know high-level physics or mathematics and could push this thing to heights that I can’t push it. I try to make it interesting to a broad audience, but also have enough beef that it is not dismissed by people who are talented and could find a real project in this.
I’m planning to officially retire from the UC Irvine this July. I’ll still be on the faculty, but I’ll be emeritus. I still plan to bring in grant money and do the research. As anybody who is a professor knows, you spend a lot of time teaching, and doing committee work, writing grants and reviewing grants, so all of the extraneous duties disappear. That’s one reason why I’m retiring. I’ll have more extended time to sink deeply into the ideas, especially when I’m trying to make this connection, which is my goal between the long-term behavior of conscious agent networks and perhaps the amplituhedron, or these interesting structures that physicists are finding that seem to be prior to spacetime and may give rise to spacetime.
My goal is to work with my team to get a mathematically rigorous theory over the next four or five years, and to get this far enough along that even if we don’t have the whole thing worked out, the ideas are promising enough that it’s worth writing a book that focuses on the idea that consciousness is fundamental. Even if I can’t bring that all the way home, I would like to bring it part of the way and then entice a new generation that’s mathematically sophisticated and sophisticated in physics to then bring it all the way home, and do it quickly enough that I can read it. I want to know the answer. That’s my real motivation. I want to know the answer to the hard problem of consciousness. Does the idea that consciousness is fundamental and could give rise to physics pan out? I am exceedingly interested in that. If I don’t get it, I need to get a book out there to have brighter people work on it so I can read their papers. That’s my goal
Most of us can quickly and easily reflect on and recall the various different physical or mental traits (good or bad) or anomalies that we’ve genetically inherited. Primarily because 1, they stick out, i.e. they aren’t “the norm” for our background, race, age, species, and yet there they are… flat feet, asthma, back problems or weak discs, being great at sports or music, poor eyesight, high blood pressure, etc etc.
We recognized for thousand of years there was some kind of mysterious magical system at play beneath the surface that predisposed people to these things if someone in their family was also predisposed to it or possessed it, long before we even knew about genes… So, we knew there’s “something” going on.. long before we discovered the genetic code.
We also made inbreeding within the same family against the law pretty early on in our evolution simply because we noticed the results of it often had a “bad” outcome, physical deformities or mental disabilities, etc. Again recognizing that there was something going on beneath the surface that we just hadn’t yet discovered.
We’ve been breeding dogs to our preference for a hundred years, knowing that if we did X to Y we’d end up with an XY eventually, again knowing there was something powerful and mysterious going on that we could harness beneath the surface… and again we didn’t know what it was, had no physical proof we could point to.
But alas now we do. I remember when we / they first cracked the human genome… how historic it seemed. Not that long ago. And now we’ve got tens of thousand of companies both private and public working 24/7 on very specific tasks and ventures, dreams and goals, in order to invent and create and discreate a literally infinite variety of different genetic potentialities in humans, animals, insects, fruits and vegetables.
It’s become as common as any other scientific field, maybe the most expansive scientific field of them all. Because the proof is right there, both on the screen (under the microscope projected onto the computer imaging monitor) AND in the physical manifestation of whatever actions we take in the microscopic genetic world, i.e. the result of our tinkering.
I personally started becoming interested in and then an obsessed student and knowledge hoarder in genetics because it very quickly overtook several other sciences I was already well versed in like civilization history, anthropology, archeology, etc. Before the discovery of genetics, they all suffered from the lack of proof problem, always theoretical. Post genetics, we can easily proof them out. No more need of the theoretical.
One of the most profound aspects of our discovering genetics is it’s reliability factor. Anyone who’s taken a genetic test and seen the results of it is aware of this. And of just how transformative the whole field has become in how we view the world and our species. Now we refer to ourselves in terms of which “generic tribe(s)” someone is of/from — because we knew everybody, every human on earth, at some point stated off being part of some “tribe”, and we’ve used that term for thousands of years.
But as we migrated around the earth for longer and longer periods of time, inter-breeding with people from other tribes, it became more challenging to determine just who someone was or where they fit in. We started using terms like nationality or race or country of birth or religion to categorize ourselves.
But none of those labels made any sense, because they were too surface and didn’t capture who a person really was. Now of course we can just take a test and see exactly which genetic tribe or genotype someone is originally of/from. And it’s usually a healthy dose of several. Those terms now supersede the old terms we used to use like nationality or even race. Being able to pinpoint exactly where and when on the planet a person’s lineage began…. It’s a mind blowing transformation of how we view and understand ourselves and the world.
Of course what fascinates us is the fact that despite how concrete genetics seem to be, there are often certain anomalies where a person doesn’t manifest or exhibit the exact result we predict based on their genetics, certain traits or diseases or skills or tendencies that “should” show up or be there but aren’t. And it boggles the mind still of our best and brightest. The old question returned “how is this possible?” How can X and X not predictably result in XX if everything we know about the genetic code is concrete and true? and once again we are thrown back into the world of having to use language like “prone to” “potential for” “tendency to” instead of “most definitely will”.
Is there just more to the science that we haven’t yet discovered? Or is there something more transpiring that transcends the science? Something like Consciousness…? The smart money would say it’s a little bit of both. Just how much can consciousness affect genetics and genetic outcomes…? That’s the question. Can consciousness completely supersede and unravel reliable predictable genetic outcomes? Can consciousness completely transcend something so seemingly concrete and solid like genetics?
Let me just pull out the rabbit and show it to you without all the drama and theatrics. We currently label the study of consciousness Ontology. It’s a field of study one can major in and become an “expert” in if they want to, though at present it’s as mysterious and theoretical as philosophy or psychology, filled with “maybes” and “what ifs” and “potential to”…. It’s fuzzy math at best. Without the reliability or predictability of math. It’s almost as damn near theoretical as the field we loosely label “Metaphysics”, which at best could be described as “the study of ideas and theories with no scientific foundation”. Harsh, but at present a realistic summation.
In a very short period of time though, in our lifetime, the study of consciousness will be moved to the field of particle physics. Because that’s where it actually belongs. Once we begin to see and study and explore consciousness through the lens of particle physics, we will break open the mysteries of it and the theoretical nature of it will start to fall away and lead us into more predictable and reliable outcomes that can be tested and proved.
When combined with various tests and studies in other areas of particle physics and in genetics…. Well, that’s going to be the golden ticket. That new field that gets created will be as powerful and profound as the discovery of genetics itself has been
Dearest Avatar friends, This morning, while participating in this “morning prayer group” thing on Zoom that started about 2 years ago with the onset of Covid and just kept growing and growing, I kept having this recurring thought: “what if we as Avatars approached our day to day lives with the same amount of commitment to participating as this morning prayer group does…? Imagine the possibilities…!”
I started to feel excitement inside.
Let me say for the record, since we all know each other from various Avatar Courses and that’s our particular connection point, that I’m not what one would call religious in any way, which admittedly does create a rather peculiar and surreal, if not downright controversial experience for everyone in this prayer group at times whenever we end up in more social conversations.
Everyone else who participates IS religious, grew up religious, believes or at least “has faith” in all the various tenets of some “religion”, and they take it very seriously. It’s serious reality to them. Whereas with me, I sincerely don’t get how anyone could say they think any of the ideas propagated by the thousands of manmade religions throughout human history hold any truth at all with a straight face. It all seems downright farcical to me, as I’m sure it does to anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of history and how these different religions originated.
But that comes with two caveats: one, I do and frankly always have had an intuitive feel and sense of something larger than us that seems to exist in our universe… a larger more all encompassing presence or consciousness that everyone can tap into, feel and connect with. The Tao if you will. A divine presence. Source. The Force. The Divine. Some kind of permanent pervasive energy that exists both outside of us and yet within us all at the same time. So I’m always interested in exploring that. Going deeper into it. To see what transpires….
Two, prayer in and of itself most likely didn’t start off as a religious practice in our slow and steady evolution as a species… even though it’s been co-opted by the major religions now, and commingled with ideologies like “worship” etc., In reality prayer is just another word for and form of focused attention on one particular thing, idea, thought or no-thought, with a variety of different goals… freeing or clearing the mind in order to transcend consciousness and experience pure awareness for a moment or two; or to connect with some kind of higher power within consciousness or pure awareness; or to seek comfort and serenity in times of trauma worry or stress; or to harness enough free attention particles in order to deliberately create something preferred for ourselves or someone else or the world or the environment around us….
As Avatars we understand perhaps better than anyone else the power of deliberately focused attention to create shift and transform reality. So the idea of prayer as a practice fascinates me. Regardless of religion, I dont see or feel any harm in prayer. Opposite. I see it as a noble goal, an intriguing ontological experiment from a scientific perspective… rather than a religious practice. The idea of committing to this experiment on a daily basis, again similar to meditation or even using the Avatar tools, is intriguing. A fascinating way to explore its possibilities and see what might transpire.
So…. This morning prayer group I speak of literally started out as a kind of survival or connection practice due to those sudden Covid lockdowns and the fear and unknowns associated with all of us suddenly faced with a mysterious global pandemic we knew nothing about. The future became very realistically uncertain for all of us in every corner of the world. A 5-10 minute gathering to “pray” with others, whether we even knew them or not, seemed an appropriate and beneficial idea.
The entire experience, done online over some kind of multi-person video service like Zoom or Skype etc. only lasts about ten minutes. That’s it. But every day Monday to Friday like clockwork. And not only has it not stopped after almost two years now, the attendance keeps growing. People from all over the US, many in different time zones. Everyone finds a way to show up for it. No matter where they are in the world or what “time” it is.
Consistency is the key to it I’ve noticed. No matter what happens to be “happening” in everybody’s day to day lives, or in the world at that particular moment, everyone finds a way to log into this thing. They might be out jogging, or at a parent’s house who just passed away, or in the car or on the subway, or just getting out of the shower (seriously), or still locked down in their home, by themselves or with a few family members….
But there they are, logged into Zoom, prepared to pray or meditate or at least listen for ten minutes; and then on with their day.
It’s been very educational for me, from a consciousness and cultural exploration perspective. It’s a fascinating little societal anomaly, this odd comittment people have to attend. But why?
As a longtime Avatar, we’ve tried a variety of different things through the years to try to encourage or grow “community” among all the Avatars all over the world, to increase connection, add consistency and (most excitingly perhaps) explore the possibilities of gathering the consciousness of many Avatars together at the exact same time to focus their attention on any one thing in order to create something(s).
Though at the same time, the tools themselves encourage a life deliberately lived, dependent on no one but one’s self. And that’s one of the most important and powerful aspects of awakening to the knowledge in the Avatar materials — suddenly not needing something or someone outside of one’s self in order to feel better or self improve or become more successful or happier or become enlightened or transcend….
For me there was enormous power in discovering this inherent ability we all possessed as a species but just never knew about because at some point we stopped passing it on to ourselves and generations that came afterwards. It was very freeing, liberating, empowering. Awakening to the reality that it was we who possessed all the answers and power to change shift transform create and discreate our individual and shared realities. Mind blowing really. As each of you already know.
But what about the power of community, connection with others, the potential for bigger reality shifts through working together, through harnessing the power of many working together toward one reality…?
In NYC we had a long-running Avatar Wizards group that met once a month. Going back about 15 years now. It went on for years. Because of its consistency and reliability, it really did foster a sense of community and for a few years got 25-40 people together from a rather large geographical area every month without fail. I can now say, looking back having had the experience, that it was an empowering experience, as well as a heart warming and comforting human connection and community experience as well.
My interest in sharing this with you all is in what could be achieved, in consciousness, and in each person’s day to day lives, and in the broader world that we live in and share with billions of others, if we as Avatars made that same kind of commitment to “regular practice”, just as this strange little morning prayer group i referenced earlier does..? Not a daily thing. But perhaps weekly, or monthly…
Consistency and reliability seem to be key. Those factors, consistency and reliability, come from commitment and dedication. Commitment and dedication come from a shared belief in the overarching mission or goal or perceived value or benefit, by at least one or two or more people.
I definitely feel a deep sense of perceived value and benefit from the regular practice of using the avatar tools; even just from regular reminders of the knowledge base that comes from re-reading and studying the materials.
So next up would be some kind of commitment to do or practice “something”. The kind of commitment that leads to the creation of something consistent and reliable for self and others. For whatever reason, it almost doesn’t seem to matter WHAT “it” is, if it is reliably consistent, people will tune in or participate in it. THAT is a mind blowing realization.
If a small group started that practice, freely permitted other like-minded folks to participate whenever they wanted to and invited others to do the same, the materials being studied more, the knowledge and insights being explored and digested more, the practice and using of the tools happening more, and more consistently…. imagine the possibilities.
Now that’s a noble goal. A potentiality that absolutely intrigues and fascinates me. Just we in this tiny little group live in 6 different countries. That is so random and yet cool. Based on the time zones, we as a group basically encircle the entire globe.
I propose that when each of us get a chance to contemplate it, let’s share what day(s) and time(s) we think might work best for us to do something…. Weekends keep popping up for me, that might “work best”…. But then I keep remembering that those morning prayer group Zooms take place at 8am on weekdays, which seems crazy considering most people have 9-5 jobs on weekdays. It goes to show that when the perceived benefit is strong enough, no normally idealized limitation of the “real world” will hold people back from committing to and doing something.
We already know that attention out, on making the world a better place, is a little known secret path to self improvement and making our own lives a better place. We also know the opposite is true: attention on self, a deliberate unselfish commitment to being the best we can be as individuals is a little known secret path to making the outside world a better place.
What if we did both? Simultaneously. Not limited to one in any moment in the typical binary fashion of going from one extreme to the other the way we as people tend to usually do — in one period working wholeheartedly on self and our own personal lives, then in a sudden “revelation” of guilt over how selfish we’ve been we jump to the other side and sacrifice everything in our personal lives for some bigger world transforming volunteer activity or cause… we all know the drill and how it plays out….
What if instead we do it more elegantly..? Every moment of every day is dedicated to taking care of self, as good stewards taking full responsibility for self and family and friends and community, knowing this is how healthy societies and civilizations thrive, but at the same time we commit to regular shared group gatherings and activities toward bigger goals with the intention to focus our collective attention on making the outside world we live in a better place? And we do it with dedication and commitment, creating a reliable stable reference point that in time is so dependable that it’s downright predictable.
From here the real question, the exciting next question , is what do we want to create? What changes and improvements do we want to see in the world? To start lead captain or lend ourselves to? I can think of many. And I dare say that inherent in the question is an understanding that the answer is not limited to just one.
Professor Scott Galloway recently published an essay about how difficult it is for men in today’s world to make friends, with some accompanying tips. We’ve been hearing about this issue for several years now, in bits and pieces… it has remained just beneath the surface of society’s more popular and topical current affairs speak since the anomaly was first observed. We can note that the topic and all of its ramifications have been largely ignored to date in societal public discourse to make room for other topics perceived more popular valuable or important.
There are obvious reasons for this of course. With the recent advent of movements such as MeToo, Black Lives Matters, LGBTQ equality, LatinX, and even the longstanding Women’s Reproductive Rights movement, men, especially white straight men, have not only been made to seem a secondary consideration in modern society compared to these more pressing issues, they’ve also taken on the role of being the original and primary problem and cause that created the need for these movements in the first place.
And indeed from a historical perspective this glaringly appears to be the case. We all know the history — although to be fair and historically accurate it has never truly been a purely “white men” problem. That’s a deeply short sighted viewpoint considering that human civilization, and it’s history, as we currently define it, started in the region of earth known as Mesopotamia — modern day Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey — approximately six to eight thousand years ago. And the various different tribal groups that occupied this area and fought each other for dominance over it were not what we call “white” or “Caucasian”. “White” came thousands of years later.
But yes, from the very beginning, MEN of various colors and races have ruled governed conquered and over-lorded since the advent of recorded history, always at the expense of women and any “minorities” in whatever geographical region or timeline we can look back on. It just wasn’t always “white” men. That’s a more recent trend in the larger scope of human history.
Now with that said, over the last 2300 years of that history, white men have been the primary victimizer of seemingly everybody else in the human population, a fact that has rendered men in today’s world toxic; any kind of concern or empathy toward men is now a thorny subject, problematic at best, or more accurately a stigma to be avoided at all costs in the grand scheme of righting the wrongs of the last 8,000 years.
Men, especially white straight men, in todays western societies are in a funky place. On the one hand they still run and control almost everything, from governments to big business, from the worlds largest churches and religions to banking and finance, art and entertainment, from the commodities that fuel the world to the secret societies that power the world.
Yet at the same time, they have become a hated and despised breed of human, the scapegoat for everything that is wrong with humanity and planet earth. And because of this fact the average white straight male walks around feeling horrible about himself. Just automatically. Not because they’ve done or not done anything. But just because. Most of the time it isn’t even conscious. Especially for those who’ve grown up in this environment over the last ten to fifteen years.
Even for those who are older and grew up in a different world entirely where white straight men could do no wrong. That narrative has changed so much, been flipped upside down and smashed on its head, that it would be impossible for any white straight male not to be aware of the heavy burden of animosity and discrimination that is being dumped on them on a constant basis. And accompanying it, as Galloway alludes to in his latest article, is a deep sense of shame, guilt, fear, isolation, loneliness, self loathing, drunkenness, drug abuse and higher suicide rates.
The tweet of the article did get a few of us talking about the subject. Albeit through more tweets and comments. Not an ideal place to converse or debate, but workable.
I replied, “Oddly this is not something we experience in the music industry; even from way back in the local days to now, it’s never been a thing. We do not find that we feel isolated or find it hard to make friends or difficult to reach out to each other. But I do notice it with guys outside of the various art and entertainment circles. Not sure what or why it is exactly…”
Dan Munro of Forbes magazine commented, “Ed FWIW: Music is often targeting a performance – and it’s often rehearsed and then performed w/ others (either in attendance or a live audience).By definition a “connected” activity.That connection is hard to establish/maintain – especially as we age. “Social” media isn’t it.”
“I was thinking a similar thing the last hour or so,” i said a bit later. “The way we artists and musicians started out in our early teens playing & hanging every day with ANY other guy or gal who cud play an instrument or sing or make a flyer or book shows or do promo, fix guitars, run audio or lighting or anything else that contributed to brining music to the masses….
It didn’t matter who what where or when we were coming from… we just became friends from wanting to play music together. From there we got to know each other. And no matter how different we may have been from one another on the surface, or socioeconomically, there was always this strong nearly sacred bond of music and music making that kept us friends… Never really thought about this before….” I said.
Dan: “Music is a very connected activity. Sports has some of that – and there are other hobbies/social activities that can create equally strong bonds …… BUT … “social” media has worked to divide and isolate us all. COVID didn’t help. So for “adult” men, friendship is harder.”
Now what Dan was saying made more sense to me. I’ve been hearing it more and more from guy friends I have who aren’t immersed in the arts or entertainment or activism worlds. And I said as much to Scott and Dan.
“I must admit I have heard this from a LOT of guy friends over the last 7 years or so… Definitely a trend. Various men complaining about loneliness isolation depression, almost always accompanied by “things not being what they used to be” where u cud just give a guy a call & go get a drink. There’s now a strange new trend hiding in men that compels them to feel more reluctant or resistant or afraid to open up and talk honestly with one another. But also with women… On the one hand, we live sleep and breathe to gain the attention and admiration of the femme; everything we do is in some small part at least based on our desire to attract women — and based on everything we know, they feel the same way. And yet we’re keenly aware of the pariah we’ve become in society at large just for being men in the first place.
And with gay men…, forget about it, most white straight men have no idea how to relate to or communicate with gay men. They/we can feel the judgement and criticism aimed our way from a hundred yards away. When encountering gay men, we as straight men, just by the fact itself, are made aware that there exists a general idea that we are rude crude sloppy ill mannered clumsy poorly dressed have no taste or fashion sense, and there’s a secret inside joke we’re just not getting. So we tend to shy away from interacting with gay men. No one wants to be reminded of how lame they are. And for whatever reason, amongst gay men, straight men are lame. And there’s no attempt on their part to cover up that stereotype when in their company.
To get back on point, regarding the crisis white straight men are facing now, I also believe this strange new phenomenon of men feeling more isolated and depressed partially stems from the advent of email & texting taking over picking up a phone and calling. It’s so easy to feign “oh yeah man I didn’t see your text/email till later”. That’s common now, to not be able to pick up a phone and reach someone in the moment. The voicemail is what you get. And let’s face it, even the voicemail, both having a greeting or leaving a voicemail message for another person seem to be disappearing, along with hundreds of other things as we transition into this new world of high tech, virtual connection and physical IRL isolation.
On Twitter i told the other guys involved in the conversation that was brewing that “One thing i don’t mind admitting is that the last 5 years have been BRUTAL for us men. Whether we’re personally guilty of anything or not. We walk around 24/7 in a cloud of shame & guilt knowing & observing how society feels about us. The MeToo, Woke and Cancel Culture movements seemed to kick that feeling into overdrive in society at large. No matter how we look at it, men are the problem. Men… are the enemy.”
Regardless of whether we were and are supporters of the MeToo cause or 100% against it — i was heavy into it ideologically and physically, felt it had been a long time coming and in terms of activism was as involved as i could be, attending marches and demonstrations, protesting in the streets, signing petitions, etc. — it was clear that it was happening and the way western society viewed and treated “men” was forever to change. And not in a good way. At least not at first.
Historically justified…? Definitely. We men of today are now paying the price for thousands of years of brutality and abuse of just about everyone in human history by men who came before us. And we get that. But it still doesn’t make it easy on us here now in modern times.
And that’s “men” in general. Made much worse if you possess none of the … hhhmm… let’s say “protective softeners” society has deemed appropriate to dole out to men to judge criticize or treat them less harshly, like being black brown red yellow or LGBTQ etc. Men of this kind may tend to find it a little easier to navigate through society without as much animosity and vitriol aimed at them constantly. White men, especially white straight men, do not. (Consider the entire premise for the existence of AppleTV’s stellar Morning Show.)
I dont feel “bad” about being a straight white man myself… but I do feel a strong apologetic sense of guilt by association for being born that way, especially over the last few years with everything the cartoonish Donald Trump brought to the forefront of collective consciousness here in the United States.
The sudden appearance of this strange deranged white straight man and everything that was revealed about his personal beliefs and habits, so arrogant, ignorant, self centered, deluded, prejudiced, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist, white-centrist, religiously extreme, egomaniacal and just plain dumb…he really shone a light on a serious problem we had and still have here in the U.S. with white straight men. Especially coming out of the more refined intelligent respectful civil and gentile 8 years of the Obama administration.
The Obama years lulled us to sleep to a certain degree, because he epitomized the transcendent man in so many ways, as close as we’d ever gotten in politics and governance at least; and for one brief 8 year period we were all encouraged to believe that Obama was going to be the norm from now on when it came to “men” in western society, he permitted us to forget just how monstrous men in general can be and often are in nearly all human societies.
Donald Trump on the other hand, and this shockingly large parade of millions of other American men just like him who were suddenly unleashed upon society with all their arrogant ignorance, mean spiritedness and phobic tendencies, awakened a reminder in society that these types of people, these white straight men of the past with all their prejudices and ignoble tendencies hadn’t transcended or become enlightened. They had just been in hiding for the better part of 8 years; they did in fact still exist; they were even more angry and filled with even more hatred for anyone who was different than them. And they were everywhere.
The problem we as a society had and still have with white straight men (although here i will admit i am not sold on the idea that being white or straight inherently have much to do with the problems men inflict on societies) was made much clearer to us all in light of the surprisingly large following Donald Trump turned out to have.
It was indeed, as anyone will admit, a shocking revelation. He was by all accounts a loud boisterous duplicitous corrupt morally bankrupt insecure destructive and sad clown of a man, uneducated and ignorant, selfishly unconcerned with anything but himself, and at worst, just another horrible human being in the shape of a white straight male in desperate need of serious mental and emotional help. Imagine a woman running for president casually saying in a campaign interview “men love it when you grab their dicks”. The guy was a disturbing sociopathic hot mess.
But none of that seemed to matter to tens of millions of “regular Americans”, men and women, the large majority being white, straight and christian. Mass guilt by association suddenly crash landed down on all of us who were white straight men. Not to mention all the other creeps who were quickly ushered through our collective hall of current events and then expediently “cancelled” over the next 5 years for various sexual crimes, harassment or misconduct. The closet door flung open and out stumbled the likes of Jeffery Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brian Warner AKA Marilyn Manson, Armie Hammer, Alec Baldwin, Charlie Rose, Danny Masterson, Louise C.K., the list at this point is too large to keep track of…. No matter where we turned, men were being revealed to be not just the villains of human history, but also real world entitled assholes in the here now.
It’s disarming waking up one day to recognize that you yourself demographically fit smack dab in the middle of that illustrious group of douchebags. At least on the surface. You may not even get it at first — it took me a few years to have the revelation personally that I was in any way similar to or associated with by extension any of these creepy men. But what happens is you start to notice that words of hatred and disgust are being used all around you in the press and in the streets about “white straight men”, and you simply can’t help it… one day it suddenly dawns on you that you are actually one of them.
Many of us, most of us, are not in fact anything like Donald Trump, Bernie Maddoff or Harvey Weinstein or any of the men listed above. But i will say that simply because we are and were raised to be “men” we do tend to come with our own set of serious issues and tendencies to be selfish, self centered, arrogant, close minded, competitive, abusive, entitled, prideful, etc. etc. Even though, yes, many of us eagerly and passionately have been actively supporting “woke” causes since that trend started.
From economic equality to women’s health rights, MeToo & BLM, immigration and prison reform, LGBTQ issues, reparations, many of us straight white men heavily support these issues, speaking for myself and my band and friends group, we’re in the streets for those… … and plenty of other white straight males are too. Actively fighting from boardroom to recording studio to farm and ranch to the dinner table to right in the streets for a whole host of causes whose time is right now as the world is waking up. But the stigma of the damage done by our group collectively is hard to shake off. It’s just there. In the air. On us. On top of us. And we really can’t deny it. All we can do is just promise to do better than those that came before us.
(As a side note, though i agree with some/most of the tenets of the “woke” ideology and movement, I personally don’t like the term “Woke” itself, for the most obvious and surface reason, in that it obviously originated from and perpetuates having a lack of education and the use of bad grammar because of that, when it’s clear that what is meant by it is “to be awake”, “to be awakened” or “to be enlightened” (Think The Matrix movies, or Buddhism or the New Age movement or Activism in general…).
Some of us have been working on this (r)evolutionary cause for decades in our own lives, influenced by others who came along decades before us; all of us promoting and working hard to foster equality and enlightenment and WAKING up in order to make the world a better place. So suddenly co-opting this already very large, long standing cultural movement and attaching a label to it that, deliberately or not, denotes a lack of education and poor grammar leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.
But hey that’s just me. I believe the various aspects of the movement itself would be more embraced, more supported, less maligned, and further served if we were not all being forced to deliberately use bad grammar when referring to “waking up” or “being awake”.
Admittedly by this point in the day, still ostensibly engaged in conversation with Scott and Dan about the curse and crisis of the modern white straight male, I was also deep down the rabbit hole of the issues involved… lost in my own rambling thoughts about a variety of side and sub-topics…
Dan Munro commented… “… major cultural/economic shifts have contributed to this stigma you reference Ed.”
Women as primary breadwinner on the rise
Economic collapses of 2008 – and then COVID
Here in US – aging population where family (and activities) are more consuming
Erosion of “middle-class” lifestyle, etc…
Even though there’s a current backlash against how overboard the man bashing has been and the constant virtue signaling by the media through a very loud culture of “cancelling” anything that is remotely male white or straight, there is clearly cause for it. And yet now it’s hard not to notice how far the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, at least when perusing modern entertainment to digest, with such a high degree of black brown native Asian female gay or trans content being injected into tv or film….
For the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, because it’s no different than what we just experienced for the last 100 years with almost everything being casted as and aimed at a white straight christian centered audience. This is just the extreme we seem to always swing to as the pendulum of change slowly winds down and rebalances after major cultural shifts.
(The only real issue one can take with this trend, and it’s definitely a viable stand to take, is toward this new tendency of deliberately altering the world’s most famous and beloved historical events or period piece stories and creating falsehoods about human history by changing historically white or male figures into black or female. For the record, and I believe this to be important, these opportunistic Hollywood “woke promoters” altering everything in the name of being more inclusive but in reality doing so just to enlarge their audience and make more money are creating an entire generation ignorant of actual history.)
(This is tragically — and one might say hilariously — ironic since it’s history itself which we say we have a problem with and use as the primary motivator behind the whole movement. But by inserting a black, latino, Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian, gay or transgender person into new remakes of classic Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or Shakespearean period pieces, we completely defeat and deflate the purpose of having a solid understanding and knowledge of the actual human history we’re trying to understand in order to motivate and instigate changes for the better in the modern age. Again it’s just that pendulum of change swinging too far to the extreme, in this case wildly so and to the detriment of the cause itself.)
So with all of this male bashing and the inherent guilt and shame that comes with it if you fit that mold, one must admit that we still have it made. White straight men are still primarily the super heroes and the action adventure stars of Hollywood blockbusters, global politics, corporate boardrooms, and nation governance all over the earth.
We can’t take the burden of self effacing shame and guilt that’s been foisted upon us by woke society and start complaining that suddenly our lives are over and all opportunity is lost forever. It’s simply not true. We white straight males of the modern world still quite possibly have more opportunity in more categories and areas of life to this day than any other group in the world.
Experts in a variety of different academic and social science arenas, especially in the fields of healthcare, mental health and medicine have been reporting for years now that a tragic crisis of loneliness depression isolation despair alcoholism drug abuse and suicide is brewing and growing ever larger amongst this particular group: men, especially of the white and straight variety. The modern man has absolutely no idea what to do with himself, barely understands what just transpired over the last seven years, doesn’t understand why they themselves are being personally pointed out, blamed, judged, and criticized so harshly, and shunned so vehemently by society at large and in their own communities.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that because white straight men have been in control for so long in human history, and literally monopolized nearly every archetype, icon and reference point of global human society for millennia, when the woke backlash arrived, it was traveling at such an incredible speed, was filled with so much anger, hatred and resentment that it didn’t care who got in the way or got trampled by it. We never even bothered to check who may or may not have been a viable target versus just collateral damage.
See below for some examples of the phenomenon though…
Women cook. But men are called Chef. Women are great musicians and fill a variety of first chairs in orchestras all over the world. But men comprise the majority of the world’s most famous composers and conductors. Women sew. But it’s men’s names that adorn the labels of the world’s most sought after luxury fashion brands and designers. And when a gentleman needs the best tailor, he goes to a man. Women teach. And some of them do write. But it’s men who are the great literary giants they write and teach about. A higher percentage of women on earth in modern times get educated and earn their Ph.Ds, to study the greatest minds of philosophy, history, psychology, ontology, cosmology and physics, the vast majority of which are…. men.
What film aficionado doesn’t enjoy a good debate about who the greatest filmmakers of all time are? All of them men (Katherine Bigelow comes to mind, sure, but she’s not being mentioned in the same breath as Scorsese Spielberg Baumbach The Andersons or Coppola et al.) The same goes for “the greatest bands or musical artists of all time” lists that people love to create and then argue about. They usually start with The Beatles or Dylan or Elvis or Led Zeppelin or the Stones. All men of course. (One has to consistently remind people of Joni Mitchell or Kate Bush in order that they might find room in their list to insert them; where they clearly belong. Presidents, Prime Ministers, Popes, Emperors, Supreme Leaders, all men. (Except the few exceptions, which is why there’s always such a big brouhaha made over these occasional exceptions.) The greatest mind of science? Einstein. The greatest inventor of all time? Edison; or maybe Steve Jobs now. The greatest industrialists and financiers? Henry Ford. Rockefeller. JP Morgan. Et al. And we’re just touching the tip of the iceberg here.
On a grander scale, all the various “messiahs” humanity has invented and worshipped over the last 6,000 years, whose “returns” are eagerly anticipated to bring about centuries of peace on earth or redeem our sin-damaged souls in one way or another… all men. So too all the various prophets of old and new who advise and warn us of these coming messiahs. Even His Manliness The Damai Llama, a living here-now messiah of the Tibetan Buddhist faith, is of course… a man.
The great kings, emperors, rulers, leaders, conquerors, explorers and adventurers throughout (human) time… all men. (Sure, feel free to throw one of the few queen’s names in the list if you’d like, if for no other reason than to further cement the point being made due to how few there are.)
Then there’s the more mundane, long-lasting cultural and commercial icons who are so deeply embedded in our psyche, our holidays, our traditions, our cultures, their names uttered so frequently and nonchalantly that we don’t even consider gender when mentioning them… And yet what do we find..? Santa Clause, and yes even his reign deer, the Grinch, snowmen, the abominable snowman, Bigfoot, Peter Pan, Paul Bunyan, Daniel Boone, the Founding Fathers, Davy Crockett, the Easter Bunny, Captain Crunch, Captain Morgan, Captain Kangeroo, Captain Ahab, Captain America, Captain Kirk, Julius Caesar, Achilles, Apollo, Hercules, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, Ghengis Khan, Alexander the Great, Xerxes, King Cyrus, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, Jacob, Voltaire, Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky, Chairman Mao, Prince Valiant, Prince Charming, Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur, Van Gogh, Picasso, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Beethoven and Mozart, Wagner, Liszt, Chopin, Jack the Ripper, Jack Nicholson, Jack Nicholas, Jackie Robinson, Jack Frost, Jack of all trades, Jack and the Beanstalk, the giant he encounters, the Jolly Green Giant, the Boy Who Cried Wolf, the Man from UNCLE, Mr. Clean, pirates, cowboys, rockstars, DJs, MCs, boy bands, boy toys, boy wonder, Man Child, Manwich…
This list literally can go on for hours if one took the time… I’m just doing it off the top of my head for fun. Imagine taking a few minutes to google it. (!!!) What we’d discover is an entire species’ culture historically dominated by male archetypes from the very beginning of their ascent out of the mud till this very day.
It’s no wonder there’s been a collective backlash against men in modern times. The inequality and disparity between men and women has been with us since the very beginning. And people in general, of all ages races and genders have suddenly decided that it’s not okay. Which admittedly, it’s not. Because of this fact, and the blame and finger pointing aimed at men now, they are turning, deliberately or not, to despair confusion drink drugs self isolation poor work performance unhealthy eating and living habits suicide or angrily lashing out with senseless mass killings.
As I stated earlier, I’ve not found it happening to me personally. Nor to many of my friends in the arts entertainment or activism fields, but I do hear about it on a daily basis from male friends in every other field of life. There’s the general confusion about why THEY are being blamed personally, the anger and bitterness, the rage, the loneliness, the depression. It’s all very real.
I do not believe this was or is our end-goal when we started these various movements to make the world a better place. No one stood up and declared “let’s decimate devastate and destroy all white straight men everywhere!” But that’s precisely what we’re doing, deliberately or not.
I do believe we need to stop, take stock of the damage we are doing to this particular group and begin to assess how we can assist white straight men through this challenging time of major cultural transition.
Besides it just being the right thing to do from a compassionate point of view — and if we are not coming to these movements and promoting these causes and great cultural transformations from a place of compassion, then what ARE we doing? — we already know what happens to any group in a society who reaches their boiling point when feeling too harshly criticized or ostracized or left out from society.
January 6th was just one example. And if that event didn’t scare the living hell out of you, then you’re one of those so deeply entrenched in the white straight christian male group that you’re just not seeing that particular historical moment for the terrifying event it was.
But again, that’s just one example of what can happen in a country or community or society when one specific group of people begin to feel that kind of desperation. The weak will fall to the wayside quickly through various forms of self destruction; the stronger ones will unite in their pain and begin to angrily lash out as we witnessed on January 6th or on any number of occasions throughout human history (think French Revolution, etc.) As a society built upon both compassion for all human beings and self preservation as a species we must do our best to avoid these outcomes.
Side note: was speaking to a younger female about this, a Gen Z, for the last few weeks about this subject. Our main topics have been about how incredibly challenging it’s going to be for humanity as a whole to change all of the nomenclature we take for granted as a society that uses gender related terminology to express a variety of different points…
“Get some balls”. “Now that guy’s got some big balls!” “Talk about cojones!” “Man up.”. “Every man for himself”. “Man of the hour”. “Man of the people”. “Man on the street”. “Man of few words”. “Are we not men?” “Get out there and be a man”. “Who’s the man?”. “A yes man”. “Con man”. “He man”. “Hitman”. “Gentleman”. “Ladies man”. “Leading man”. “Main man”. “Medicine man”. “Craftsman”. “Cleaning lady”. “Milkman”. “Law man”. “Lawn man”. “Sheriff”. “Pool man”. “No man is an island”. “Manmade”. “One man band”. “Man-of-war”. “Come on in guys”. “Men are from mars.” “One small step for man…”. “Take it like a man”. “Damn that’s gay”. “Dude you’re so gay.” “Don’t be such a homo”. “Don’t be such a pussy”. “Don’t be such a girl”. “Come on guys, let’s do it!” “The boys are back!” “When mankind first emerged…” “The first man to walk on the moon”. “Are you a lady now? You want me to get you a tampon?” “Dude”. “Bro”. “Man…”. “Guy”. “Chief”. The list goes on and on….
Interestingly she shared with me that she doesn’t mind being called “dude”. But she corrects people if they call her “man” or “guy/guys”, even if it’s one of her friends. Frankly I found that to be odd. Personally I see “man”, “dude” and “guys” to be genetically neutral gender-free terms that can apply safely and equally to men or women or anyone in between. But that could just be my generation, or gender, speaking.
Hence the need and importance of multi-generational dialogue about these issues.
Had texted her earlier in the week to say,
“Of course NOW because we’ve had the discussion. I’m seeing real life examples of how this male gender thing and the inherent challenges we still face in our societal nomenclature plays out on a daily hourly basis all over the place….”
— “I hired you because you had the most balls / bollocks of all the recruits”…. is nonchalantly said to a girl.
— Then there’s the classic double standard: “the more girls a guy gets with, the more of a stud he is, the cooler, more handsome, more attractive, more desirable he is; the more guys a girl sleeps with, the more of an immoral slut of questionable values she is and the less appealing and desirable she is as a potential wife/life partner”.
— the World Cup is possibly the biggest event in the world. But what it really is is the Men’s World Cup. We just take that fact for granted. Just like the short-sightedly named World Series, or the Super Bowl. Huge events. All men. Now the “women’s World Cup” is called the “women’s World Cup” and it’s in the sport “Women’s Soccer”, not football, immediately denigrating the event, or at least relegating it to a much lower status on the importance scale of global sporting events. And it’s pretty much ignored except by females or those who are super into “women’s soccer”. Men play football. Women play soccer. Weird. And women “soccer players”, as opposed to “footballers” i.e. men, don’t even get paid enough to play the sport, let alone make a good living from it, so they are forced to have to get “donations”…. often from male Footballers, who bring in tens of millions of dollars per year in salaries and bonuses. It’s an astounding example of just one of the many disparities that exist between men and women.
[It may be helpful to explore the inherently historical contexts and reasons for these gender-based stereotypes, if even just to touch on them briefly; there are obviously deep seated Darwinian or evolutionary reasons why this particular double standard has had such a stronghold on human society. A human male who is strong and tough, and handsome and attractive, to both men and women, and desired by many females portends a certain unspeakable but solidly entrenched strength, charm, physical and mental health, affability, ease and ability to get along and move around in a societal group and thus tends to equate to more security for the family, i.e. more guaranteed survival for himself and “his group”. A woman who is chaste and “virtuous”and committed to one man and her family and doesn’t spend time focusing on her looks or being attractive or taking action to be attractive to or be with a lot of male humans is reliable and trustworthy, and more importantly has allegedly spent that time building up the necessary skill sets to better take care of the home, the children, the community, the family…. i.e. she’s more reliable to guarantee the survival of the family either alone or partnered with a man. (Again, historically speaking… anthropologically speaking…) At the same time the male human is out hunting gathering bringing home food or (some form of) “money”, or some other “important commodity”. This renders the female a more reliable and desirable life mate for the guaranteed survival of the standard prototypical human family. These ideas, these deeply rooted subconscious concepts didn’t come out of nowhere, nor did they originate from some form of unfair gender bias; they naturally evolved from early humans observing what worked and didn’t work for the earliest human civilizations or tribal groups as they made their way through thousands of years of fighting for our very survival as a species.]
“The point is,” i commented to the guys in our ongoing discussion on Twitter, “we have a lot of work to do. 1. Just to reach gender equality. And 2, we have a lot of sorting out still to do of how to change all the verbiage that are norms in all the earth societies. And 3, we have to course-correct back to the middle from the extreme male hatred that has destroyed three generations of men in western society so they stop walking around feeling like villains just due to their association with history and older men in general.
Obviously I digressed a bit here toward the end. But we’ll keep exploring. More later. Lots more. We’re still in the beginning of trying to integrate these various issues as a society. Regarding gender, I must admit I am exhausted by being a white straight male and the constant barrage of negativity that is thrown our way. Don’t get me wrong. I get that we still have it made compared to our female and black and brown and LGBTQ brothers and sisters…. It’s true.
But that heavy burly bear of shame and burden that now sits on our backs 24/7 placed there a few years ago by society and seems to apply to all of us no matter how young or old we are, no matter what generation we’re from, and no matter what we’ve ever done or not done acts as a constant reminder that there is something inherently wrong with us just because we were born white straight and male. It’s bothersome. It’s constant. It’s mentally and emotionally disturbing. It hurts.
Comment: “Very admirable, but who exactly would be “fronting the bill” for all of that??”
Ed Hale: Now don’t shoot me, but after studying other democracies around the world, that lean more socialist and less cut throat capitalist, we do find 1, (hold, don’t respond yet) whole populations of countries whose basic needs are met, based on a top down distribution system and they can still manage to not tax anyone more than 39%. One aspect of these systems is the recognition by everyone in the country, not just the governments — remember, they’re elected by the people, that once someone has collected a few million, they don’t need nor even benefit from millions or billions more. The caveat: they are of course smaller countries with far fewer people. Which several of you have already reminded me of. I get that. The irony, as I type this out, is that I am “the person in our friends group” who gets attacked the most for my extreme pro-capitalist views and defenses. I really really believe it’s what made America the best country in human history. (Not Democracy, because that’s common all over planet earth, and there are other countries that have much better more functional democracies.). It’s our capitalist spirit and the freedoms we have to do whatever we want to create and succeed. The lack of laws and limitations on our population in regards to business (comparatively) are singular and very beneficial. So I dont just support it; I love it. Plenty of my more blue blooded friends think I’m a fascist for loving capitalism so much. Fine.
BUT I do think we’ve created an extreme economic imbalance in the country. And I mean Czarist Russia or monarchical Great Britain level economic imbalance. It’s only a matter of time before America goes full on french or Bolshevik Revolution due to these imbalances. Just a thought, based on human history. Where America is now, with a relative few so wealthy they’re able to burn 100 dollar bills for fun and the majority not able to even pay for their health insurance, eventually they’re going to see the con and resist and revolt. (IMO that’s what the Trump vote was. Revolt against wealthy elitists. Ironically. If the nomination went to Bernie, the candidate who actually won the nomination, it would have been an election between two outsiders both offering an “f this system” platform.) Frankly, I’m at a point now where I’m more compassionately concerned about millions of people unable to make ends meet than I am about paying a high tax rate as I was 20 years ago. I’ve travelled to and lived in too many other democracies where everyone is cared for to believe the myths about “we can’t do that here”. I’d really like to wake up one day and know that everyone’s basic needs are being met by a functioning compassionate system. That might be socialist capitalism. I’m alright with that now. PS – this idea that we throw around that “people won’t be motivated to work” is still true now. In the present system. And it’s a small percentage. Most people would be more inclined to work hard and create something if they weren’t so angry depressed and desperate about paying their bills. PPS – the other argument billionaires love to promote, they won’t be encouraged to philanthropy anymore. (!!!!!! Have to get that anger off my chest) Do I really have to even say it??? How about a system like so many other countries have where we don’t NEED billionaires to hold philanthropy over our heads. It’s a scapegoat to justify all the loopholes we allow. “Hey I’ll build a hospital wing if you let me pay only 3% in taxes this year through loopholes.” No thanks. We’ll build our own hospital wings.
Comment: “Admirable ideas. But source beings don’t ask for free gifts. Giving things away to people just creates more dependence.”
Ed Hale: Aaahhh…. See, I dont see the above as “free gifts” at all. BUT I’m viewing it from way above with the perspective of the last 7,000 years of recorded human history and heck, even adding the prior 3,000 — so from the moment of the melting of the last ice age when Homo sapiens first started forming modern civilizations (which admittedly is from where I always view nearly everything when we’re speaking of humanity). From there one doesn’t see the “free gifts” idea. What one sees is a cooperative human society focused on survival and long rooted in 10,000 years of deliberate maneuvering and intelligent strategic decisions where each member does what they are naturally best at to serve the whole. Strong ass men are going to hunt, or work security and defense, or chop wood and build fortresses; smart folks are going to design better and better weapons or fortresses or tools; younger fertile women are going to carry children to term, have the babies, feed the babies i.e. one part of a much larger whole that perpetuates the species; older women are going to teach them how to do that, help and nurture them while they do that; etc etc. That’s just a tiny sample of a much larger picture of 10,000 years of human history as we know it. Humans have survived by working as a collective. (If a man sits down at a fire to eat and play with this babies and kids in his tribe after a long day hunting, he’s not thinking that that fire that someone else built is a “free gift”, nor is that meal someone else cooked all day that he’s eating a free gift, nor are those babies he’s playing with a free gift. He understands how successful human societies work.
Comment: Ed Hale Wow You should be a poet, or writer, even a song-writer!😘 You speak with truth and wisdom. We see the natural way of things. One day…
Comment: his intelligence is refreshing and I love it! We could use a daily dose of Ed Hale and his wise words❤️👍💯
Comment: Ed Hale Yes everyone needs to contribute. I agree with that. Handouts are not providing anything of value in return. #Disservice
Starting to catch up on texts now. Feeling better after Wednesday’s peocedure 👍. Last night i read one where someone, younger, had texted me asking me “how do you know if you want to be an artist? How do you know if you’re good?” I must have replied right before falling asleep, because I didn’t remember any of this until I saw it this morning. But I did indeed reply.
“Well to begin with, those are two totally different things. Im not even sure they’re related. And secondly, an artist never questions those things. An artist knows they’re an artist from early on. You know this, right? (Not to say it’s not a valid or interesting question… as a contemplation maybe…) but it’s not something an artist thinks about or asks… because it implies art as some sort of vocation one chooses. Like choosing a college to choose a major to choose a career….
“But art doesn’t work that way. There’s no choosing going on. Artists already know they’re an artist. Because every waking moment of their entire life since they can remember has been spent thinking about, planning and creating art. See? You either know because you KNOW, because you’ve always known, as any artist does, or you don’t know.
“Pretty much the same thing with being “good” as you called it. (Assume and see quotes around the word “good” from now on; because we can’t use that term without having it in quotes. It’s just too subjective and insignificant to the subject to not have in quotes.) Not sure being good is related to art to be honest.
“Craftsman are good. People can have good skillsets. But that doesn’t make them artists. And vice versa. We all know people who are really skilled at something, heck even like playing the piano or something “in the arts” but they’re not artists. And vice versa. Some of the greatest artists of all time were never very skilled at anything. You know? Because art transcends all that.
“That’s an important point. The other, perhaps more important here, is that being good is such a subjective idea, it’s so momentary and fleeting, completely dependent on the viewer the audience the culture and geography and time they’re from, their mood… artists know this… and trust me, artists are never wondering if they’re good. Number one, they’re way beyond that. They KNOW they’re good. Always have. What they’re focused on is getting better and being fucking great. On transcending the art form itself.
“You mentioned earlier that you’re “still working on your technique”. But remember, technique has very little to do with being an artist. It can’t hurt. Unless it does. Then you need to be prepared to scrap it entirely. If it ever threatens your art.”
“If I’m not focusing on technique what am i focusing on?”
“On creating incredible art! Silly. Look, technique is just one of those things along for the ride for a while. Until it’s no longer useful. Then you ditch it to create better art. Because you’re an artist. Not a technician. You wanna become a radiologist? Master a technique. You’ll do a lot of good in the world and you’ll make a lot of money. Both of which are awesome.
“So you didn’t practice a lot when you were a kid?”
“Hell yeah I practiced. Obsessively. From the moment I got my first guitar I did nothing but play guitar. And years before that it was the piano. Every day all day long. But once I got that guitar man all i did was practice guitar. First thing I did when I woke up, before getting dressed for school. First thing I did when I got home from school till dinner. And then all night till I fell asleep. Obsessively.
“And very soon after it turned into being more about songwriting. The guitar itself became secondary to the real art-form, writing songs. Creating. I realized pretty early on that there were a lot of people out there who were very “skilled” at playing the guitar, or any instrument, and they could practice twenty hours a day and may become great at it or not, but they weren’t creating anything new. They weren’t pulling new creations of artistic divinity out of thin air. They were just getting really good on the guitar. Or piano. Or violin. More power to them.
“But I recognized early on that wasn’t art. That was technical skill. I was about ten when that hit me. And if there’s one thing an artist doesn’t have its patience to develop technical skill. Too busy trying to create something out of thin air. That’s what artists do.
“Think of Einstein and his theory of relativity. Pulled that thing out of thin air. Or that John Lennon quote where he said “give me a tuba and I’ll create art with it… because that’s what we do.” See? His playing the guitar was totally secondary to his art form. Really just a tool. But he could have had any tool. It wouldn’t have mattered.
“How do you ever reach the point where you think you’re as good as the artists you really love and admire? Who inspired you?”
“Well again, with that “good” idea again. Look, an artist knows they’re the shit from the day they’re born. It’s a knowing. You’re not comparing yourself to anyone. You KNOW you’re incredible. You know you’re the future. You know you’re creating magic. And it’s got nothing to do with other people. You just know that what you’re doing, who you are, is important. Really important.
“And trust me, you need to KNOW this. Because artists sacrifice their entire lives for their art. They sacrifice fitting in, friendships, being a part of the gang, relationships, feeling a part of society, marriages and kids, feeling “normal”, having money…. on and on. Because you’re so completely obsessed with and committed to creating art, creating the next big thing, besting yourself, transcending art and life itself, you end up sacrificing almost everything else in life because of this obsession and commitment to being a great artist. So you HAVE to KNOW.
“And it’s not arrogance. It’s a confident knowing. People who accuse you of arrogance don’t feel that way about themselves. So they don’t know. To them it may actually seem like arrogance, because they’ve never felt that way about themselves. They don’t wake up living 24 hours a day thinking they’re one of the greatest artists in human history. Great artists do. It’s just part of their nature. No one is going to talk them out of it.
“Do art from that space. From that place of being. Like Mozart. Or Van Gogh. Or Eddie Van Halen. But as YOU. One of the greatest most important artists of all time. You know already if you’re that or not. You always have. Now just go be it and do it.”
So if you haven’t noticed, it’s been a while. You know a lot of times if someone is absent for a while it’s simply due to the fact that they’re really busy and having a blast living life. Other times it might be something more challenging. Truth is, we don’t know unless they tell us. For the last few months Princess little tree and I have been unfortunately going through something more on the challenging side, while strangely also being really busy and (attempting to at least) having a blast enjoying living life. It honestly didn’t even occur to me until the last day or two to even share this with anyone. Not kidding. Even my closest friends who I communicate with on a daily basis via text will find this news entirely new. I’ve thought about this strange fact a little today. Part of it is just black and white practical: I’ve been in so much pain for the last few months that I haven’t thought about or done anything except just trying to get thru the next minute. (Pain is an incredible phenomenon. One of the reasons I finally decided to let this loose is because I’ve discovered some fascinating things about consciousness from being in excruciating pain, and over the next few weeks and months will most likely make note of them as they occur to me. So step one would be to let everyone know what’s going on so we have some context.) I can hear you now… “Ambassador get to the freaking point man, Jesus!” Yeah I know. That’s the thing about not telling anyone something for a long time… You’re way ahead of them in your thoughts about it. Meantime, they don’t even know what you’re talking about. Long story short, we’re facing a challenge with my spine. Yep. I know. Sounds crazy. Waited too long to tell anyone. It’s been a few months now. We’re already through the chiro, X-rays, cat-scans, orthopedic doctors, MRIs, radiologists, physical therapy, second and third opinions etc. We’re also already well into the denial shock trauma anger sadness and fear phases as a family. I wish I could tell you “it’s this one thing and this is the game-plan”. Truth is, it’s a multiple of different issues. We’re as shocked as anyone else would be. The doctors have prioritized which are the most pressing in importance and we’ll be dealing with them in that order. If you’re into that kind of thing or interested, we can break down the details in a separate message. It’s three pages of insanely technical medical-speak that features the word “severe” a lot. We are still in a state of mild shock about it, just typing it here, contemplating it, and we’ve been dealing with this for a few months now. Still doesn’t sound real to me, even though I’m experiencing it on a daily minute to minute basis. Just seems like we’re talking about someone else’s life. (I really believe now that the human mind does tend to warden off certain things when they seem “too big or horrible” to us. It puts up a metaphorical hand and says “Nah, not me.” It’s fascinating.) Unfortunately pain is a major factor in this particular issue. So it’s hard to stay in denial. When you picture that “pain-chart” at the doctors office, the one with the faces on it from level 0 pain to level 10, I always figured level 10 pain would be akin to getting shot or stabbed or tortured or having a limb cut off… level 10 is the highest number on the chart. Again, for context, so as a human community we can effectively communicate with one another. Charts are a great thing. So you have to go to the worst possible things you can imagine to get your head around level 10 pain. For about two months now I’ve been in level 7-9 pain. Excruciating is the most appropriate word I have found for it. Yes, to answer your next logical question, i am on a lot of medications for it. 4-7 different ones, depending on the hour, all day long. My mind is a dark murky slow-churning swamp most of the time. But better than being in excruciating pain. Re the denial, part of the reason I’m in this situation is because I just “ignored it” for so long. We’ve been told by the doctors that men have this unfortunate supernatural predilection for doing this compared to women, thinking if they ignore it it’ll go away or that they can “tough it out” or “power through it”. Because they’re “a man”. They’re strong. Tough. That’s what I did. I know a lot of guys that tend to do that. With a lot of different things. I actually worked out more over the last year thinking “I just need to get stronger and I’ll beat this pain whatever it is”. It’s funny looking back now. But in a really sad way, because I ended up doing a lot more damage. Yes my wife is really really mad. But her fear presently outweighs her anger thank God. Or not. Depends on how you look at it. The hardest part of this I’ll tell you flat out is #1, dealing with the pain. Because it’s a constant. It’s chronic. Your mind plays tricks on you. It fantasizes about “ending things so you can just get out of pain”. You have to be hyper-vigilant to defeat those thoughts. That’s the second hardest thing: trying to keep your sanity, remember who you are and remind yourself that you freaking love being alive. The third hardest thing, for me, hands down, is watching what it’s doing to my wife and not being able to help her as i normally do with everything. Seeing her sadness, watching her break down and cry out of fear or feeling sorry for us. It’s heart breaking. It crushes my soul. For obvious reasons. Bottomline, and here’s where it gets juicy from a widened-back philosophical human perspective, we’re at that point in the journey where we’re done examining researching exploring and talking to different experts in their field etc. The bottomline according to the doctors is I “need at least two separate surgeries or there’s a good chance I will be non-ambulatory in less than a year.” Yes we also had to ask what does “non-ambulatory” mean? We had no idea. Who does? So yeah. We are as can be expected still in complete shock. But we’re also positive and ploughing ahead. It seems like it happened overnight. But they say it’s been progressing for a good ten years and that I “evidently just have a high tolerance for pain”. This Wednesday I’m going in for spinal injections to reduce the inflammation, which should help reduce the pain and help us get to the next phase where we can schedule the first surgery. They will either do one long surgery to address three different issues or two separate smaller ones. I know a lot of us in the world of art entertainment and intellect are not religious by nature, which i think is totally logical and understandable; and yet ironically most are “spiritual” in one sense or another. Especially if you’re friends with me or PLT. As I told a mentor of mine, who happens to be a pastor, a few weeks back, I “would never ask anyone to pray for me for healing or to miraculously take this away, because there’s just way too much suffering in the world. Why on earth would I ever presume to request that I get a miracle when other people are suffering so much worse than I am?” Thats kind of where I land when it comes to this. My wife and my mom are not happy that I feel that way. But man I just don’t feel like I need it compared to other folks who have it much worse. What I will ask and am asking for is that whatever cool magical beautiful spiritual thing you do in your day to day practice, put in a good word for me that I am able to deal with and integrate the mental and emotional challenges of this kind of thing. I’m having a tough time with anger, becoming easily annoyed and impatient. If you know me personally, you know that’s not like me. I’m a little perplexed by it. If anything, the Ambassador is a happy go lucky guy. But not lately. I will say though that this experience has radically transformed my relationship with music, playing the guitar — honestly it’s more like bonding and becoming one with the guitar, and with songwriting and composition. I cannot adequately express with words how much joy playing the guitar and exploring different guitars has provided me with in the last few months since we got this news. It’s been a life saver. More than anything, I’d like to ask you to send positive vibes to and for my wife. You know princess little tree is the sweetest person in the world. She’s like an angel on earth in human form. This has been hard for her. More than hard. And she’s had to pick up a lot of slack for both of us. Besides dealing with all the emotional challenges of this kind of event, which she doesn’t have much time to do because of the practical logistics of doing everything we need to to get through the process to fix this. I honestly cannot imagine it — I freak OUT if she even gets a migraine! I go into a freaking panic inside. But she’s been dealing with this now for a few months. And so far she’s really hanging in there. Trying to integrate it emotionally in the mornings with friends and family before I wake up so she has a brave face during the day. But it’s going to get more real starting this week. So I’d like to ask us all to lift her up and send her positive vibes and strength and courage, remembering the Divine’s infinite love and power. Keep her in your thoughts and prayers if that’s your thing. As for me, to be perfectly honest I am not afraid. I am not worried. I’m strangely calm and confident about the path forward. The pain is unbearable and I’d like it to stop. We’re working on that. We have a good team. And a good plan. I get that life is an awesome adventure of ups AND downs. And that’s what makes it super fun and exciting. Way better than not being alive. Obviously I’m very hopeful and determined for the best possible outcome. We will keep you posted.
Before we dive in to the specific platforms and policies that we heard proposed in the first Democratic Debates over the last two nights, let us address a few things that may have been left out or only alluded to in the last piece I wrote about the candidates yesterday [Read that here if you missed it].
I’ve given this some thought over the years…. So from the start I’d like to attempt to share it with you. It’s no secret that I have often been accused of being “wishy washy”, i.e. refusing to take a position on a variety of subjects, not decidedly having an opinion, as most people seem to. On a whole host of matters. This is something I share with a very good friend you’ve heard me reference here in the Diaries many times, Matthew Sabatella (occasionally referred to as Toad in earlier years when these Diaries were more a workshop for the novel The Adventures of Fishy. And with Madeline O’Ryan. We spent our youth teens and twenties often ruminating and philosophizing on a whole host of subjects, finding it very difficult to understand the consciousness of those who could readily just make up their mind on something and give it no more thought. We found, and still do I believe, that important matters often have multiple facets that affect many people.
Despite what you may think you believe, research it a bit more or give it some more thought and you’ll find that it’s deeper and trickier than you first were led to believe. As a Philosophy major and a recording artist this way of being served me well, certainly didn’t hurt me, and in fact led to the whole “Ambassador” ideology that helped shape who I am today. I truly subscribe to the Will Rogers “I never met a person I didn’t like” mentality. Of course this infuriates both my liberal and my conservative friends. But it’s just how I was genetically spun. It’s how I came out. It serves The Ambassador very well. Ed Hale, maybe not so much sometimes. But I just happen to love people, and can usually find it pretty easy to see their side of things… and I just happen to be able to see all sides to almost any issue. They’re all just beliefs after all. Beliefs that we make up in each present moment. Whether we know it or not. (That’s really the secret. But that’s not what this post is about.)
Some people decide to be leaders. They want to be leaders. Some of them choose politics as their way of leading. In the old days, throughout our short history here on earth, these political leaders usually started out as corrupt thieves, conquerors, murderers and warriors. That’s human history in a nutshell. Study it. Royalty is a fancy way of attempting to legitimize being a heartless and corrupt thief and murderer. So too are most major religions. And most of human history’s most famous political leaders. Whether you start at the very very beginning with humanity’s first known “king” Sargon the Great, or the Egyptian Pharoes, through to the Akkadian, Babylonian and Persian kings or Alexander the not so Great, Attilla the Hun, Gengis Khan, Julius Caesar, all the Popes, the Sultans, the Ottomons, the English kings and Queens, etc etc on down the line what you find is a very bloody list of horrible human beings. more “Making Sense of the First Democratic Debates – Proposals and Policies – Part 1”
Just finished watching one of those Hallmark Channel-type Christmas movies, called Paper Angels, and I must sheepishly confess that I am all warm and fuzzy smiles here pondering various aspects of what we’ve come to call the Christmas Spirit.
Perhaps we take a pause and consider making Christmas less about Santa, elves and reindeer, and more about matters of the heart that seem to be universally agreed upon ideals, regardless of age, race, nationality or religion… Some ideas that come to mind…
* No matter what the excuse, nobody deserves to be a victim of domestic abuse. And no matter how challenging or scary it may be, you’ve gotta get yourself out of there. You’re worth it.
* Life doesn’t always work out the way we planned. That was never guaranteed. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
* We can live truly joyful, fulfilling lives whether rich, poor or somewhere in between. Though we certainly obsess over it more than just about anything else, it’s not about the money.
* Giving, helping & serving others is a magical phenomenon in how great it makes us feel.
* That idea that we must “give in secret”… forget you ever heard it. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating how much joy you feel because you made someone’s day or year even. And that joy… is contagious.
* No matter how busy we are, time always finds a way to magically allow more of itself for noble acts like helping another.
* Sometimes helping someone can be as simple as a smile, a prayer or a few kind words.
* Other times serving others may require a major investment of time, attention & energy. Either way it’s a gift we should never deprive ourselves of.
* That little voice in the back of your head, listen to it. That feeling in your heart that you just can’t shake… Our Intuition. Honor it.
* Family & friendship just might be the most valuable gifts we’re blessed with. And for whatever reason, we’re blessed with many.
* We haven’t quite figured out the mechanics of it, but there is a power in prayer that is undeniable. And despite their claims, no religion has a monopoly on it. It’s an activity that is freely available to anyone anywhere anytime, religious or not.
* When we’re in flow and feeling good from doing the right thing, we tend to often end up at the right place at the right time, for ourselves AND others.
* Not everyone is as nice or kind as you are. No one ever said they would be. But those are things that no one can ever take away from you. You’ll just have to be extra nice & kind for those who are still struggling to get there.
* We all “need” sometimes. That’s life. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help when we need it. (No one ever died from not having enough pride.)
* A lot more people love and care about you than you probably realize. And you deserve every bit of it.
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU