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The world's longest suicide note.

I write about life with bipolar disorder (a.k.a. manic depression).

All opinions are my own.

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How to be a Philosopher

8 min read

This is a story about thinking...

Thought bubble

There's a bit of a monopoly on thinking. I mean, you're allowed to think and stuff, but you're not allowed to share those thoughts. Well, you can share your thoughts but nobody's going to care, because you're a nobody. People want to know the opinions of a rich spoiled heiress who's famous for having her sex tape plastered all over the internet, but not your opinions. People want to know the opinions of those whose opinions are already well publicised, and those who already have a platform and a group of devout followers. Nobody wants to hear any new thoughts, ideas or have their cherished philosophies challenged.

Thus, we arrive in the quagmire of modern day living. We are heavily weighed down by our attachment to notions of what we consider to be virtuous, conferring greater social status and conforming to acceptable social behaviour - norms, if you like.

If you wish to conduct a real-world philosophical experiment, try asking a person on a crowded bus or a train if you can sit where they're sitting. There's nothing written into law to say that you're not allowed to ask if you can sit down without a socially accepted reason, such as being old or pregnant, and I very much doubt you were taught by your parents or in school that you shouldn't ask for somebody to give up their seat for you, so where did the protocol come from? How did it become enshrined that we accept "they had it first" as validity for possession of something we desire?

One might argue that thieves are an example of an antisocial behavioural pattern that, nevertheless, allows a person to get the things that they need in life, just as any one of us might steal the milk from a cow, or the seeds from a plant - we see numerous examples of behaviour that is criminalised and stigmatised in some forms, but accepted and even revered in others. Why is it that we call welfare claimants "scroungers" and "parasites" but we don't we criticise bosses, managers, slave-owners and similarly idle people who profit from the labour of others?

I feel compelled to caveat what I'm writing, and say that there's a kind of absolute morality which decrees that any action which has a victim - rape and murder, for example - is always wrong, while theft and fraud could arguably be said to be victimless, because wealth always needs to be redistributed. In actual fact, in a godless world with no afterlife, there is no place for morality - when you're dead you're dead, so you might as well do whatever the hell you want, provided the profit to you is greater than the potential societally-imposed consequences.

If you were asked to say what the prevailing philosophy of the present day is, what would you reply? Would you say that we are still religious and subscribe to the ancient belief systems of the major religions? Would you say that we have adopted the philosophy of the Ancient Greeks? Would you say that we have adopted modern politico-economic philosophies, which could broadly be described as socialist or conservative? How would you react if I suggested that we are like a rudderless ship at the moment - we have no guiding philosophy and we are led by vapid celebrities who are incapable of imagining a culture beyond wealth worship and superficial bullshit.

The terrifying truth is that atheism and capitalism have won, ushering in an era of scientific progress, technological advancement and incredibly efficient industry, but without a guiding philosophy. Nobody seems to care that we've forgotten to ask a fundamental question: Why?

Why are we here? Why are we doing what we're doing? Why are we even alive?

Ultimately, we may come to realise that we might as well live completely hedonistic reckless irresponsible lives, because it's immediately rewarding and death is inevitable. In a godless world with no afterlife, what possible reason is there to consider anything other than maximising our pleasure, right now? There is nothing after this - we just die.

Because it's deeply disturbing to see your family and friends dying, and to know that we are mortal too, we arrive back at the need for religion: Comforting bullshit to allow us to cope with the fact that we're soon going to die. Religion offers an answer where there is none to be found. Science needs no opinion on what existed before time itself, because the question is nonsensical. Science needs no opinion on where our consciousness goes when we die, because it seems self-evident that it doesn't go anywhere at all - you just cease to exist.

Taking the thought experiment - life without any guiding philosophy - to its ultimate conclusion, we can see that we might as well perpetrate rapes and murders and leave the surface of the planet scorched and barren, as we wring every ounce of pleasure out of the present instant. Who cares about tomorrow when we're all going to die? This seems to have a ring of truth about it, when we consider the direction the human race is travelling in. Our laws are nothing versus the power of global capitalism, celebrity, wealth worship, drugs, slavery and the general abandonment of philosophies that sought to make the world a fairer place, where human excesses were curtailed and greed was considered sinful.

There is a vacuum at the moment, left behind when we rejected religion as superstitious bullshit, which of course it is, but religion is also the glue between the pooh - religion at least gave us a kind of consensus of opinion about right and wrong, and why it's better to live life with some view to improving the world for future generations. Governments, politicians and civil servants are not the right people to become a new church. We cannot rely on power-hungry busybodies to provide us with any kind of societal structure, because rules and regulations are nothing if there's no guiding philosophy that people subscribe to. It's a bit like speeding: we all know what the speed limit is, but very rarely do we feel like it applies to us, because rules are there to be broken.

We have created a generation who believe in nothing and want to commit suicide. We have created a generation who are smarter than ever before, but who have nothing to look forward to, and we don't have an answer for them when they ask: Why was I even born?

If you're looking to me for an answer to the big question - why are we here? - then I can give it to you but you're not going to like it. In fact, it rather deserves a blog post of its own, although I've hinted at my answer when I mentioned the scorched earth, created by raping and pillaging all the planet's resources, and the death of consciousness. I've written before about quantum immortality. You really don't want to hear all that stuff again - it's not very nice, even if there's a pretty decent chance it could be correct and it'd be really easy to prove.

Are you still looking for an answer to the big question? If you are then I have good news [sic]. The argument for not being hedonistic and short-termist is that one person can make a difference. Of course, one person on their own is just a blithering idiot who can rant and rave in isolation. We might see that those who live their lives as an example to others are often taken advantage of and lose out because they don't cheat, steal and otherwise conduct themselves without a shred of moral decency. What's the point in voicing an opinion in a world that doesn't care who you are or and whether you live or die? Well, there's a slim chance that your tiny contribution might become part of a bigger movement - a billion whispers become a deafening roar. In a world where no almighty church is going to impose itself on you and declare any wayward views heretical, we have both collective and individual responsibility to formulate our own life philosophies, that are hopefully capable of improving the world, rather than continuing to perpetuate patterns of behaviour that will destroy everything.

Our current thought leaders have provided nothing except the perpetuation of the status quo, the nihilistic vacuum left behind by the decline of religion, and the boom of free-market capitalism. The free market believes in nothing. Politicians believe in nothing. We can no longer survive in a world where we are led by leaders who simply tell us what we want to hear. We can no longer survive as a species when we worship those who exhibit the least capability for free-thinking, the highest preference for elitism and the concentration of the monopoly on thinking in a few powerful hands.

To call myself a writer, a thinker, an intellectual - these things are laughable, of course. However, why do you think that?

 

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Superstars and Comfortable Men

11 min read

This is a story about a life philosophy...

Maunu Kea

Here I am stood taking photographs at the summit of the highest mountain in the Hawaiian Islands - an altitude of 13,796 feet above sea level. Sea level is where I started that morning. Any mountain above 12,000 feet will affect susceptible people with dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness and could even present a life-threatening situation for somebody with pre-existing heart or breathing problems. So, dangerous, but not that dangerous. Nobody gets a pulmonary oedema up here, in this cold thin air, but very few can thrive in this oxygen-depleted environment.

There are ostensibly two ways to get up a mountain: you can walk, or you can use some kind of mechanised assistance (e.g. helicopter, cable car or even drive if somebody has made a road to the summit). I used to scoff at the idea of taking 'the easy way out'. I used to think that using cable cars and funicular railways in the Alps was cheating... you hadn't really conquered the mountain at all. However, after my first summer season in Chamonix valley, I realised there's no point nitpicking over a pile of rocks: most climbers who attempt the North face of The Eiger will use the railway to the summit, which stops halfway to let anybody out who wants to tackle its vertical wall of death. Tourists watch as men and women laden with ropes and other equipment, venture out of a hole that was made to clear the railway tunnel of snow. Are they less brave? Many have lost their lives attempting this 'easy' route up the mountain.

Summit marker

There you are, see. 13,796 feet. You can see this elevation post in the bottom left hand corner of the previous photo. But how did I get up there, more importantly?

In 2008 through to 2011, I was bootstrapping. That is to say, I was building profitable business(es) using my own money and with very little outside help. Then, I got out of my depth and I phoned a friend. I begged him to come on board with my latest venture, which promised to have the most growth potential of anything I'd done before, plus it had an overlap - in the education space - with some of my friend's expertise.

My friend told me he was a mentor on a technology accelerator program, affiliated to TechStars, which was based in Cambridge and was taking place that coming summer. I have to admit, I'd never heard of Y-Combinator, SeedCamp, 500-Startups, TechStars or any of the other myriad accelerators that were springing up. The idea was simple though: take a bunch of promising teams, incubate them and connect them with the best minds in the world of tech, have a demo day and help them to raise angel investment or venture capital (VC).

I was enthused and given a new direction. There was hope and relief that I might no longer suffer the isolation and loneliness of being 'the boss'. I really wanted to be part of this ecosystem.

I applied for TechStars Boulder, in Colorado, USA, as well as the TechStars affiliate program that my friend was going to be a mentor on, in Cambridge, UK. My company was shortlisted for Boulder, so I flew out to Denver, drove to Boulder and met with David Cohen - one of the co-founders of TechStars. My company just missed the cut for Boulder, but was offered a place on the Cambridge program, which I accepted. On demo day, Brad Feld - the other founder of TechStars - watched my pitch and I got to meet him. I was rubbing shoulders with people who had achieved, or were about to achieve, greatness.

For example: you know that robot that's in the new Star Wars movies? The one that's a ball that rolls around and makes bleeping noises a bit like R2-D2? BB-8, it's called. Anyway, the toy version of that is based on the Sphero, and Sphero were one of the teams to go through the TechStars program. I got to meet those guys in Boulder. Now they have one of the best selling children's toys, thanks to a Star Wars brand licensing deal, which was undoubtably in part due to the TechStars program... that's how it works.

BB-8

Once the TechStars program was done, I had two role models to choose between. Both had pregnant girlfriends, but they had very different aspirations and priorities.

David, co-founder of my business, was intent on making life comfortable for him and his family. He'd made a big sacrifice, living away from home while we were doing the accelerator program. He'd made a risky commitment, ploughing money into a company that - at that time - didn't really have any protectable intellectual property or reliable and significant income stream. Although I talked him into the idea of taking our company BIG and getting half a million pounds worth of investment to allow us to grow, I think he really wanted to take things a lot slower and more carefully, and more importantly, get back home to his pregnant girlfriend.

Jakub, who I had been sharing a house with for months along with his co-founder Jan, seemed to be fixated on Silicon Valley and being a BIG success. I hope he wouldn't be angry with me for spilling the beans that he really regretted coming to Cambridge, UK, when their company could easily have gotten onto one of the Silicon Valley based accelerators, which is where, ultimately, he wanted to end up. Jakub had been obsessed by the trials and tribulations of Apple Corporation, and was 100% a Mac man, not a PC. Whether or not he wanted/wants to follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs... one only need to look at his professionally taken photograph for his online profile: holding his chin in just the same way as the man who resurrected the struggling Apple Corp, and built it to be the world's biggest company, by market capitalisation.

Schopenhauer thought that the best thing in life would be to not be born at all, and the second best thing was simply to keep suffering to a minimum. Nietzsche realised that without suffering, how can we really experience elation? If you take the helicopter to the top of the mountain, you don't get the same feeling of achievement and success as you do if you walk up there. Nietzsche said that the world needs people like Steve Jobs, who was a millionaire by the age of 23, in 1978, and was worth $19 billion at the time of his death. Nietsche talks about supermen (übermensch) and the last men. Nietsche reviled these "last men" as he called them: men who were comfortable and content with mediocrity; men who would look at the stars and blink, in his words, rather than strive to achieve the very maximum they could in life - becoming superstars themselves.

I'm now in an uncomfortable in-between place. I neither achieved the übermensch nor the life of comfortable mediocrity.

Did I give up, because I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that lay ahead? Did I simply make mistakes, in choosing business partners who weren't as ambitious as me; as gung-ho, committed and fearless? Was the lack of support I received from my now ex-wife, my undoing?

Or, am I - as Nietzsche feared - one of the last men. The ones who are prepared to slave along in miserable existence because I'm not brave enough; bold enough to reach for the stars; to follow in the footsteps of those who've reached the top.

I'm torn, because I believe in socialist & humanist values: I believe in wealth redistribution, state monopolies, free education, free healthcare, free housing and a whole host of other things that would see me labelled as "Marxist", "Stalinist", "Leninist", "Maoist" or some other -ist, meant in the pejorative. Sometimes, I do wonder if people would work as hard, if they didn't want big mansions, swimming pools, helicopters, private jets, superyachts and all the other trimmings of exorbitant wealth. However, I know enough successful people to know that they just wanted to see a dream realised; a goal achieved: they didn't know how to stop working so hard, and they couldn't if they tried.

Strangely, although I've been shown the way and my eyes have been opened to the possibility of achieving great wealth in my lifetime, I've been left with nothing but depression. I'm depressed because I can see that hard work is required in life, whichever path you choose, but I'm also depressed because I opened the Pandora's Box of yachts and supercars and other prized possessions of those who followed their difficult task to completion: they reached the summit of the mountain.

I used to play a psychological trick when climbing mountains, which is to imagine every summit that you see is a false one, and that behind it will be an even higher summit, so your anticipation of your reward never turns into disappointment, which could lead you to giving up and turning back.

Another psychological trick I played in life, was never to dream and aspire to own things that were well out of reach. I bought a house, a yacht, a speedboat and a fast car... but these were all modest items that I was able to save up my wages and purchase. I never dreamt of owning a mansion or a brand-new Ferrari, for example, although the latter was achievable if that was my one dream in life, which it wasn't. I played a psychological trick, of forcing myself to be modest with my aspirations and rein in my ambitions, and to make incremental improvements rather than shoot for the top prize.

Mountain track

Now, I take short-cuts. I cheat. I know how high I can get, but I don't want to make the effort again. It hurt too much to be on the express elevator to the top, and to start to dream about all the wonderful things I could do with that wealth, only to crash to earth and be devastated. I'd like to be comfortable, but even that hurts, because it still requires effort as well as denying that I'd really like to own a nice big yacht, a supercar and a big house.

Do I begrudge my friends their success? Of course not, but it doesn't inspire me. Maybe it does inspire others, but when I look around, most people are fighting to just hang onto what little they've got. Would I tax my friend heavily because I'm a failure and I want to grab a piece of the wealth he created? Would I expect him to be humble and give credit to the society that helped him get to the top, even though we shouldn't try to drag everybody down to an equal level - equally mediocre and comfortable, according to Nietzsche? Yes, in a way I do still stand by my politics: I prefer flat structures to pyramids. I like it when everyone gets rich because of co-operation in society, rather than just a tiny handful who get rich at the expense of everybody else. We must remember that we're playing a zero-sum game - for every billionaire, there are millions of starving mouths and people without clean drinking water.

My friend was 9 years old when communism ended in his home country. He has been deeply affected. I'm not sure what makes me so certain that wealth should be redistributed, and the vulnerable protected, but I'm certainly going to tip-toe around the subject when I see my friend Jakub tomorrow, which will be the first time I will have had to offer face-to-face congratulations on him reaching the summit: he's rich now, by most ordinary people's standards, but I will attest that he build that wealth, with his team: it wasn't gifted to him by inheritance; it wasn't stolen or conned; it wasn't embezzled. He earned it and he deserves congratulating.

I'm still torn up about that question though: is it better to have 7 billion contented, comfortable people, or 100 or so obscenely wealthy ones, and half the world in desperate poverty.

In fact, no, scratch that. I go for comfortable. I go for "the last men" even if Nietzsche so hated them. Fuck him, that pompous German twat.

 

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