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The world's longest suicide note: ONE MILLION words.

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

All opinions are my own.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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Our Morals: The Ethics of Revolution

6 min read

This is a story about sedition and treason...

Security vetting form

Questions A, B and C seem pretty reasonable to ask. It seems like a good idea to ask people if they're spies, terrorists or saboteurs, if they're going to tell you the truth. It seems logical to assume that spies, terrorists and saboteurs are enemies of civilised society. It seems sensible to exclude spies, terrorists and saboteurs from positions where they could be a threat to public safety.

Upon closer examination, spies and saboteurs could sometimes arguably be said to conduct their actions in a responsible way, in the course of the furtherment of their laudable objectives, in the absence of other available options. Spies exist when diplomacy and co-operation have broken down. Saboteurs exist when tyranny, oppression and exploitation are so great that a worker must throw their clogs into the loom, to save themselves and their kin. Without wanting to fall foul of the nebulous terminology, it would be remiss of me to acknowledge that a person could certainly understand the reasons for spying and sabotage - in a theoretical and academic sense - and perhaps even excuse those acts, where the outcome clearly results in a positive outcome for the greater good, according to utilitarian philosophy.

Of course, I must tread very carefully.

I have to watch my words.

What on earth is question D getting at? I once destroyed my ballot paper as a political protest at the lack of a candidate and a party for whom I wanted to vote. Does that count as "[undermining] Parliamentary democracy by politcal … means"? Should I tick "YES" to this question? Is my spoiled ballot paper recorded in "national security records" which I'm reminded my answers will be checked against? Why even ask me if you already know the answer?

Of course, the idea of asking people "are you a terrorist?" is pretty ridiculous, so why shouldn't this same 66-page form ask vague questions which are almost impossible to answer, unless you think of yourself as such a perfect citizen and well-behaved patriotic loyal subject of Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Ireland, its dependencies and its overseas territories.

Do I believe in the Westminster system of Parliamentary democracy? Do I believe in democracy at all? For the purposes of my rational economic self-interest in the immediate short-term, within the context of filling in this 66-page form, which is of vital importance for the future of my career, the answer is "yes" for sure.

Why am I using such cautious and measured words? Why am I couching what I say in caveats and disclaimers?

The question arises: Is it irresponsible, socially destabilising or otherwise contrary to the interests of national security, to discuss the merits of 'political change' in a purely academic and theoretical context?

Do scholars who study, think about, write about and discuss alternative political systems, imply some "intent" to overthrow or undermine Parliamentary democracy. For example, in the instance that a learned professor were to stumble upon compelling evidence that there is a better system for the decision making which is supposed to improve the human condition and the lives of the masses, then is that professor allowed to discuss it; perhaps even to promote the idea? What if other academics take an interest in that professor's ideas, and they become supporters of the theory? What if this group of academics could be said to be a group of likeminded individuals, similarly swayed by the evidence and the ideas?

Have I made myself into an enemy of the state by taking an interest in philosophy, politics and economics, which has forced me to consider the question: Is our Parliamentary democracy the best available option, or should we change to a different system? Does posing this innocent question constitute an act of undermining Parliamentary democracy?

By the time we get to question F, I must surely answer in all truthfulness that I almost certainly would have - at some point in my life - had a close association with somebody who's been a member of a group or supported a group whose intent could easily be interpreted as 'offering an alternative' to Parliamentary democracy. This is about as close as I'm prepared to go, to admitting something which is against my rational economic self-interest in the short-term, for the furtherment of my career objectives.

Most of my friends are technologists. Many of my friends have created pieces of technology which must surely have undermined Parliamentary democracy. Many of my friends are the original engineers and architects - the visionaries - who are responsible for the birth of social media. What greater threat to the ruling elites has been born, since the invention of the printing press?

Terrorism and violence are hard to defend; seemingly always unethical. It's beyond the scope of this essay to discuss the ethics of violent rebellion by the victims of tyranny and oppression. I'm in too much of a vulnerable situation to say something like: "I can understand the reasons why desperate people might resort to violence, in the absence of all other options, like any cornered animal".

I may hold unspeakable views, which have no place in a civil position of public servitude. My upbringing in the company of academics, in and around the buildings of Oxford University, may well have scuppered any ambitions I might have of playing a role in the running of the country, and hopefully making a positive difference to as many lives as possible.

Even within the walls of a British university, an academic may find themselves falling afoul of laws - new and old - which are designed to punish any agitators who might threaten societal stability and the established order. The power of the internet allows compelling academic arguments to be disseminated to vast numbers of people at incredible speed, and for the public's imagination to be captured. Academic papers are no longer written in Latin and kept safely out of the hands of the hoi polloi, lest any revolutionary ideas they might be harbouring be provoked.

Do I hold my tongue for the greater good - in support of a paternalistic and elitist establishment - because it will perpetuate the state of unhappy stability, which is at least preferable to civil war? Do I speak my mind, because to do so is a privilege afforded by the unpalatable actions done in the interests of national security? If I don't take advantage of freedom of speech, am I really a patriotic citizen, loyal subject of Her Majesty and supporter of Parliament, given that wars are waged on my behalf so that I might enjoy the luxury of being able to write essays like this?

I think I'm just going to tick "no" to all the boxes, because I can't be bothered to have this conversation a second time, when I'm being interviewed by the thought police.

 

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I Work Hard: The Proof

7 min read

This is a story about brainwork...

Graphite piano

In 2008 I became suicidally depressed. I'd been part of the project which had been at the centre of the global financial crisis: namely the trading of quadrillions of dollars worth of credit default swaps (CDS) which had grown in notional book value to be manyfold greater than the aggregate value of all the tangible things, such as precious metals, rare gemstones, property, factories, oil, gas, coffee, coins, banknotes and anything else which you could point at and say "that's worth something".

The world had lost its mind.

I knew it was coming of course. I had bought gold in 2005. I had negotiated a great mortgage in 2007 knowing there was a credit crunch on the horizon. In some ways I had tangible proof that I had been doing something valuable because I owned property, cars, boats and other things, as well as considerable amounts of liquid assets. In short: I was rich.

I got rich from data and software. I got rich off the back of investment banking and derivatives contracts. I got rich off a whole lot of nothing.

In 2008 it really felt like I'd presided over the most awful crime ever perpetrated against humanity.

I'd worked hard and I'd done my job very effectively. I thought about the bigger picture and I knew - deep down - that what we were doing at JPMorgan was wrong, but I'm an engineer and I like delivering engineering solutions. If somebody asks me "can you do this?" then I want to be the problem-solving can-do guy who comes up with the solution and delivers a working system. Often times I stop and take a step back, and think about the context of what I'm doing - I consider the ethics - but that's not really my job. I just design and build software systems.

The whole "I just work here" or "I was just following orders" thing is how the Nazis managed to kill 6 million jews, so I'm not going to hide behind that flimsy defence.

I know what I did was wrong.

So, I decided to completely ditch investment banking. I decided to do something that was the polar opposite of investment banking. I retrained in the building trade.

Instead of working in an office, I worked in customers' houses. Instead of working to devise arcane and impenetrably complicated ways of moving imaginary wealth around the globe, I helped build houses for people to live in. Instead of working for a massive faceless global corporation, intent on destroying the worldwide economy and plunging us all into the deepest and longest recession in history, I worked for myself - I was a sole trader; a man with a van.

I discovered that what I'd always suspected was true: I work hard.

It's hard to prove that you work hard, when all your hard work is hidden away behind the scenes. You have no idea how hard it was to build all the websites and apps that you use every day. You completely take for granted all the facets of the modern world, where you can speak to your phone and express your unique special snowflake personality on social media. The geeks and the nerds are derided as autistic-spectrum weirdo scum, who are all potential paedophile predator perverts who deserved to have a miserable childhood getting bullied at school.

While we celebrate the doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen and suchlike, because their contribution to society is conspicuously obvious and easy to understand - like a game of cops & robbers - questions such as "what is the internet?" belie the hideous complexity of that innocuous 4-word question. If you're looking for a convenient Google-provided soundbite synopsis that you can parrot to other people, in the vague hope of sounding intelligent, you're doing a disservice to those geeks and nerds who you persecuted at school, who are the architects of the fourth industrial revolution.

It's very hard for me to prove to you that I've been working very hard during my 21-year full-time career. You're quite likely to accuse me of not working very hard at all, because there are people out there who do a lot more physical labour, and what they produce is a lot more tangible and more easily understood in a childlike brain.

It was immensely frustrating to me that I had no easily understood empirical evidence to prove how hard I work; to prove that I'm a busy bee.

I started to write.

I've written the equivalent of 22 novels over the course of 3 years.

Of course a lot of what I've written is manic rantings, but one should be mindful that during the course of the 3 years I've also written a lot of software, and software doesn't work if it's wrong. One missing semicolon in millions of lines of code and the whole thing will be kaput. You should consider the fact that it's a facet of my profession to write with coherence and attention to detail, because my editor has zero tolerance for mistakes: the computer can't handle errors.

It pleases me that I've produced 1.1 million words in my spare time as proof that I'm not an idle drug addict loser. It pleases me that I have a tangible asset, which vastly exceeds the length of the King James Bible.

Would you accuse an author of a bestselling series of novels, as being unproductive and not working for their living?

I say again: I've been writing in addition to my full-time day job.

It's true that sometimes I find my day job very easy and unchallenging, but there are other days when there are gremlins in the incomprehensibly huge and complex computer software systems, and those problems are very hard to diagnose and fix. Manual labour is governed by a simple and well understood set of physical laws: the energy requirements to lift and move heavy objects is quite easy to calculate. The amount of brainwork required to fix a problem with one of your beloved apps or websites - to give a facile example - which might affect millions of people, is not an easy calculation at all. If you think what I do is unimportant, you should see the public response every time Instagram stops working or Snapchat introduces a major change.

My motivation for writing this is, of course, insecurity. I struggle with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Imposter syndrome asserts itself and I wonder what the hell I've been doing with two decades of my life, with nothing to show for it except a lot of crummy software which almost nobody is aware even exists. I would struggle to explain to either of my grandmothers what I do for a living, especially now they're dead.

I exist in a strange part of the world. I'm a 'tame' geek who can speak plain English. I don't surround myself with other technologists and I'm cursed with a bleeding-heart liberal streak and an inquiring mind, which causes me to question whether I'm part of the problem or part of the solution.

Because of my guilt, work ethic and insecurity, I feel like I have to create a very conspicuous and public display of my productivity, which can be easily understood. Here's the headline: 1.1 million words in 3 years.

I write because I'm afraid that you'll write me off as a lazy junkie waste-of-space loser who doesn't do anything productive or useful. I write because I don't see much other evidence that I ever existed or did anything notable; that I ever contributed to society.

"Use your talent and energy for good" I hear you say. Yup. That's working out really great for the oppressed workers, isn't it? I'm so glad that charity has been so successful that it's made itself completely redundant as a concept.

I write because I haven't decided what else to do, but I'm still thinking, of course. You might think that thinking is useless, but what is writing except for thinking on a page?

 

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Godless

10 min read

This is a story about faith...

Church

I have far too much of a skeptical inquiring mind to foolishly believe that religions are anything other than a terrestrial invention, born in the minds of mortal men who were afraid of death, during unenlightened pre-scientific times. I've had access to far too much knowledge and information to ever believe in fairy tales about omnipotent sky monsters. However, it does mean that my existence is pretty absurd and meaningless. Religion gives a sense of community and belonging - those who have chosen to follow a particular faith are able to identify others who believe the same weird things, because of their weird customs, their weird traditions, their weird buildings and the weird books they read. It must be nice to have that sense of belonging, and to strongly believe that there is order, purpose, meaning and easy-to-grasp comforting explanations for everything that happens in our otherwise hostile and chaotic universe... it's all part of God's plan.

I used to pity those who have religious faith as deluded simpletons. I used to want them to wake up and consider the evidence - or lack thereof - and to have a scientific awakening; to become atheists. However, I think it's those who don't subscribe to any kind of philosophical or theological framework, who should be pitied. What do you believe in if you know - from the overwhelming weight of empirical evidence - that the universe is nothing more that a cosmic accident; the byproduct of the universal laws of physics and nothing more. Why are we here? What meaning and purpose is there? Humanity will be wiped off the face of the Earth and everything that we ever thought was important will be erased; as if it never existed. We're not even a microscopic speck in the unimaginably huge - and ever-expanding - universe.

The author Douglas Adams wrote in one work of fiction, about the worst torture being to be shown the entire universe all at once such that you fully perceive your own insignificance, which would blow your mind and destroy you. So many good novelists are more imaginative than our best scientists, and they foresee the cultural and social problems which the inventors of new technology don't, because the inventors are too in love with their creations. Our thirst for knowledge, and the invention of the biggest and most complicated machine ever built, which connects most of humanity in a world wide web - the internet - has not brought with it any comfort, unlike religion. Having this incredible information vault accessible anytime, anywhere, along with the ability to communicate and connect with anybody, is something which no engineer who built the internet thought might lead to incredibly awful social and cultural problems. Engineers are utopians, but they invent things not ideas, philosophies and belief systems. Engineers created the internet and they left it up to others to decide what to do with it; they've left it to us to make sense of things.

Google and Wikipedia appear to be unopinionated. In theory, you can use Google and Wikipedia to simply discover the information which you're looking for, and consume it. In theory, Google and Wikipedia will not tell you that certain ideas are heretical, or ascribe a sinfulness to the pursuit of certain knowledge. You're free to search "anal fissures" out of pure morbid fascination with the disgusting and depraved, and you won't be judged - it's all just between you and the computer. You can ask Google the questions that you would have asked your priest 100 years ago, and Google will give you the information so that you can make up your own mind. In fact Google is giving you the information that the most people clicked on, and some information which has been growth hacked by people with a commercial objective. Wikipedia presents the prevailing consensus of opinion in academia, with some degree of peer-review process, however it's just the opinion of the handful of people who wrote the particular page you're reading.

None of the stuff you read online is informed by an over-arching unified goal of shepherding the flock towards a state of existence deemed better than pure anarchy. Perhaps certain online news sources have editorial leanings which border on the paternalistic, but the vast majority of what's published online is done so to satisfy the particular individual's personal goals, and not as part of any master plan.

You might think it's the role of the government to think about the future of society and civilisation, and the government will be strongly opinionated about the purpose and meaning of our lives, but in fact governments are simply the victors in a commercial popularity contest, driven by individual egos and the survival needs of the massive party-political organisations. As such, governments simply parrot back whatever the people are demanding.

Progressive policies which have advanced our society have not come about because people demanded that we drag ourselves out of the dark ages, but in fact as a result of opinionated elites pushing through changes in the law which were not at all popular with the public. The death sentence is not something the public wanted to see repealed. The public are barbaric baboons and the idea that true democracy would lead us towards a progressive liberal utopia is completely wrong - instead we'd legalise xenophobia, racism and the persecution of minorities, if we left it up to the masses; mob rule.

It's wrong to assume that we have within us a moral compass; a strong sense of right and wrong and social justice. It's wrong to assume that people are basically good; they're not. People are selfish assholes. People are only interested in them and theirs, at the expense of anybody who's not like them. People are just dirty beasts with fancy clothes.

Yes, I'm pro paternalistic elitism. I'm pro social engineering. I'm pro giving people what's good for them, even though they don't like it and it's not what they want. Any move towards greater democracy is a move towards barbarism and the collapse of civilised society.

In my experience, people want simple fables; they want to believe in goodies and baddies; they want to believe in a black and white world, where everything can be simplified into easy to digest nonsense, which strips away all the complexity of reality and replaces it with comforting falsehoods. In my experience, people want to believe in lies, because lies are easier than hard truths. In short, people want religion.

Nobody much cares about the universal laws of physics and the optical illusion which makes solid objects appear to be solid, when in actual fact they're made of mostly nothing; a scattering of particles with indeterminate positions. People don't want to know about the deeply unsettling subatomic world, where things behave in non-intuitive ways. People want to believe that the world is a magical, mysterious and unknowable place, invented by a sky monster, because it's easier than grasping quantum mechanics.

Nobody much cares about the complex history of humanity and all the inter-breeding that's gone on, such that there are no 'pure blood' races. People just want to separate into "us" and "them". People want to belong to clubs, clans, tribes, nations, parties, teams, dynasties and every other conceivable way of slicing and dicing ourselves, such that we feel part of something. People want to hate. People want war and they want to dominate.

Nobody much cares that there are perfectly viable ways to divide our wealth and peacefully co-exist. Nobody much cares that billions of people could have their standard of living dramatically improved, at the expense of greed and selfishness. People want to live under hierarchies; they want to worship prophets and elevate ordinary mortal men to positions and status which are obscene and unjustifiable. Do you really think that a TV pastor deserves to live in a huge mansion while there are people starving on the streets? That's what people want - they want the haves and the have-nots.

Our terrestrial mortal destiny is in our own hands, and we know - in our heart of hearts - that when we die it's all over. There is no afterlife. There is no promised land. It's all bullshit that was invented to lessen the fear of death and make our lives of suffering appear to have some meaning in an otherwise ludicrously absurd existence. In the end you. just. die.

If our destiny is in our own hands, why aren't we making our existence on Earth into a more pleasant experience? Why aren't we bothered about making the most of the short time we're alive? Why are we content to have so much struggle, pain and suffering? We're quite capable of alleviating that suffering, but there's no will to change. We busy ourselves with absurdities, like getting jobs as bakers so that we can earn money to afford to be able to buy a slice of bread, from one of the loaves which we baked. We've constructed ludicrous inefficient systems which only serve to enslave us and make us desperately unhappy.

Of course none of this is God's plan. If there is a God - which there isn't - then why would He have us punching made-up numbers into a spreadsheet, at a desk, in an office, in the middle of a concrete jungle? Why would He have us exchanging pieces of paper with each other until the day we die? Why would He have made the money lenders into the richest and most powerful people on the planet, when His son was evidently not a big fan of usury when he drove those money lenders out of Herod's Temple?

Those who are afflicted with the madness that is religious faith might in fact be onto something, because at least their lives have meaning and they're looking forward to something, as opposed to enduring awful suffering until the day they die. We end our lives afraid and in pain and we know we're not going to see our children and grandchildren again. It might be insane to believe in an immortal and everlasting afterlife, but it's a damnsight better than anything on offer in a world run for the sole benefit of the mega-rich, which we have willingly allowed to come into existence.

In a godless universe with no afterlife, what's the meaning and purpose of anything? Nothing has any meaning. You might as well go and commit whatever crimes you want, because we all die anyway. You might as well indulge hedonistic pursuits to the maximum, because none of us are getting out of this alive.

In a world without religion, what fills that void? It can't be the pursuit of wealth, because that's even more insane.

 

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Forced to be Free

10 min read

This is a story about normality...

Psych ward garden

Most people want a secure job, secure housing and to feel prosperous. Most people don't care about freedom of speech and a free press. Given the choice between security and freedom, most people would choose security every time. It's only a handful of paternalistic elites who dictate that we the people care a very great deal about freedom, when in actual fact this is not true at all.

Freedom has a very narrow definition. When we talk about freedom of speech and a free press, we do not also acknowledge the freedom to be hungry, the freedom to be homeless, the freedom to be marginalised, excluded and abandoned by our "fit in or f**k off" culture. While we might enjoy freedom of speech and a free press, those luxuries are only useful to a privileged few; the wealthy elites; the rich and powerful. While you are theoretically free to run for political office or broadcast your opinions, you are not at all free in practice.

The only freedoms that ordinary people have are the choice between virtually identical minimum wage zero-hours contract McJobs; the choice between conformity or social exclusion. You can be a free tramp, if you choose: you can be homeless, penniless, destitute and free, or you can be enslaved to the capitalists... it's up to you; you're free to choose.

Further, for those who are not neurotypical you have to choose between social exclusion, stigma and poverty or the chemical straightjacket of powerful psychotropic medications. You're free to accept the diagnoses and swallow the pills, and allow yourself to be 'normalised' so that you fit the rigid static definition of how a 'normal' person should think and act, or you can choose to be excluded from most economic and social activity because you don't fit in.

Many of us willingly and indeed eagerly beat a path to the door of our doctors, demanding medications that will return us to 'normality' when we find that we are deviating from what we perceive to be the norm. We see millions of others around us getting up at dawn, commuting to bullshit office jobs and being uncomplaining, so when we're troubled by depression, anxiety and other disruptive changes which force us to confront the purposelessness of our absurd existence, we 'choose' to be made normal again by psychiatry.

Society should be constantly adapting to the changing needs of the people, such that the stress and exhaustion in our lives is reduced or at least kept constant, but instead we see that the people themselves believe that they are the ones at fault. Students take amphetamines, modafinil and methylphenidate in order to artificially increase their concentration spans and stay awake during marathon exam-cramming sessions. Workers drink tea, coffee and energy drinks in a desperate attempt to stimulate their brains and fend off tiredness. We take antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications so that we can withstand the horrors of a society which places greater and greater demands upon us, while also giving us less and less security: our jobs are under threat, our homes are under threat, we and our children are under threat. Where has the feeling of prosperity and the sense of optimism gone? We presume that it must be us who have faulty brains, as opposed to seeing that it's society itself which is failing to deliver the things we need.

As is oft-quoted: "it is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society"

When more than 50% of the population are categorised as suffering from some sort of mental disorder, we must surely accept that it's the minority group who are the sick ones. Why should society continue only to serve the ones who are not suffering? Why should our idea of what is 'normal' be based on something which is abnormal because it is less common? Why are we trying to conform to such unrealistic and impossible ideals, which do not serve the majority of people?

"I'm miserable, so you have to be miserable too"

I think the above quote accurately sums up the attitude of powerfully influential figures in our society, who are blocking any progress towards a better way of life for all our citizens. I had the misfortune of making the acquaintance of a doctor who hated their job, their commute, the daily grind and - seemingly - their patients. This doctor made it their mission in life to deny time off work to anybody they could. Their reasoning was simple: because they were miserable and hated their job, they were going to make everybody within their power suffer too. A doctor has the power to dispense medications which might temporarily mask the symptoms of a sick and broken society, or to sign a piece of paper which excuses a person from the charade of having to go to their bullshit McJob every day. A doctor has the power to inflict misery on potentially thousands of people every year, and we must presume that as many doctors are as miserable as the general population as a whole, which means that more than 50% of doctors are perpetrating this kind of awfulness on the people they have power over.

We worship medicine and medics as a force for good, but in the increasing absence of organised religion in wealthy western democratic countries, we are seeing doctors elevated to a social status beyond what is reasonable, creating demi-gods who abuse their power. Just as with organised religion, we have suspended rational thought, cynicism, curious inquiry and skepticism, and have placed blind faith in the medical establishment to cure the ills of society. We reject politics and politicians as corrupt self-serving liars and we have lost faith in the ability of our vote and other democratic instruments to be able to influence our lives for the better.

The only thing we believe we're able to change is ourselves, with the assistance of doctors who can give us "magic bullet" pills to alter our mood and perceptions, as well as keeping us youthful and protecting us from death. We have fake tits, white teeth, hair implants, botox and numerous other procedures to alter our appearance, because we're powerless over anything except our looks. We can be reasonably sure that our lives are protected by hospitals and medicines, but our power to influence anything else in life, such as our socioeconomic prospects, is precisely zero.

While a sharp-elbowed tranche of middle-class society obsesses about their children's exam grades, places at the most desirable schools and universities, internships, graduate training programmes and otherwise attempting to give their precious little darlings a head start in life, this blinkered myopia ignores the fact that the baby boomers are getting older and older but living longer and longer, while also amassing asset portfolios well beyond their means, and preventing those precious little darlings from having any hope of having secure jobs and secure housing. In order to pay grotesquely unjustified and disgustingly greedy defined-benefit pensions to the generation who've contributed the least - except to national debts, global warming and a decline in living standards - the pension funds demand that workers are paid pitiful wages for longer hours in terrible working conditions, so that profits, capital gains and dividends can keep sustaining the unsustainable, unrealistic and ridiculously greedy selfish demands of those who are taking out far more than they paid in.

A small segment of society is free to write, paint, photograph, travel and generally enjoy the freedoms that we would all love to have, but the very vast majority of us are too busy trying to survive in an ecomony which is built to benefit the few, not the many. Only the old and wealthy are free, and they did not work hard to earn their freedom: they have stolen that freedom from the young and from the future generations who will inherit all the problems of today and tomorrow.

If you're an artist and/or an academic and you enjoy your life and your job, you need to remember that the position of privilege you're in is very rare and a very high price is paid by a huge number of people, so that you can swan around having a lovely time. Your freedom ends where mine begins, so if your freedom is disproportionately large compared to the rest of society's then you're being greedy and antisocial; you're an enemy of society. While it's very trendy to talk about freedom being important, we must be mindful that most people want security, not freedom. Think about the price that's paid by the whole of society for your luxury privileges.

To be truly free and happy, we might have to re-evaluate our priorities. We can't demand cheap food and cheap goods if we want to be free, for example, because those things are only made possible by the exploitation of workers. We can't demand passive labour-free unearned income, for example, because that's only made possible by tyranny, economic slavery and exploitation of the vulnerable. Most importantly, we can't expect to feel contentment and security, when we need unhappy, insecure people in order to sell consumer products and to keep our entire workforce on the treadmill, by heavily indebting them and denying them social housing or the ability to buy/build their own home.

You might teach your children that a strong work ethic and academic excellence are the route to getting ahead in life, but it's not true. Being a compliant hard worker means you will be exploited, and obtaining academic qualifications incurs a substantial amount of debt. Servicing debts and paying rent is a form of tyranny which has encroached on personal freedom to the point where only a tiny fraction of society enjoys any kind of meaningful freedom at all. Your children will not be able to escape the trap; there's no hope. The depression and lack of optimism for the future is driven by a rational, reasonable and sound assessment of our younger generations' prospects.

Our heavily indebted and heavily medicated society is also controlled by draconian laws which were ostensibly introduced to counteract terrorism and industrial unrest, but have been abused to undermine the strength of trade unions and prevent the establishment of any counter-cultural movements which might challenge the status quo. While we should be living in an age of alternative lifestyles and people dropping out of a society which clearly no longer serves the majority of people's needs, we are instead witnessing a miserable dystopia, where we're all trapped on the treadmill because the only alternative is hunger, homelessness, persecution and social exclusion.

Yes, I'm free to write whatever I want, provided I do not defame the powerful figures who are responsible for maintaining this miserable state of existence for so many millions, but those in power are quite comfortable in the knowledge that my ranting is safely confined to an echo-chamber filled with so much noise that, as Aldous Huxley predicted, the truth is drowned in a sea of irrelevance - information overload.

We are somewhat hoisted by our own petard. Almost none of us of us demanded freedom, but we have collectively made freedom of speech into something useless; toothless. We are not free at all and we have no mechanism by which to affect any meaningful change. What is supposedly our most powerful tool to speak truth to power - the freedom to express ourselves - has in fact become the reason why our voices are not heard and our suffering goes ignored.

All that's left is the freedom to be hungry, homeless, persecuted and excluded.

 

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How to Become Irreverent

14 min read

This is a story about the values you raise your children with...

Church window

It seems like I have had the sentimental attachment most of us feel towards everything we revere in society systematically thrashed out of me. If you pick one thing that summons feelings of safety, security, comfort, respect for authority and faith in the divine/spiritual, then I will tell you how exactly how I came to question everything: every institution, everything sacred, every tradition, every profession, people who are normally considered beyond reproach and ultimately even existence and its purpose.

Starting with my birth, I'm literally a bastard. I was born outside of wedlock. My parents never married and always planned to remain unmarried, such that I took my mother's surname instead of my father's. Ironically, my mother had once been married, and I have the surname of her ex-husband instead of her maiden name. Confused? Imagine trying to explain that to your fellow pre-schoolers when you're 3 years old. I didn't really understand it at the time, but I understood that I was different; unusual.

My schools would often address letters intended for my parents to Mr & Mrs Grant, and my father would always tell me that I was the only Mr Grant in the house and therefore the letter was addressed to me. My mother would tell me that she was no longer Mrs Grant and she was Ms Grant. "Why not Miss?" I would ask, and she would explain that she had been married, and Miss was only used by women who hadn't been married. If anybody telephoned the house and asked to speak to Mr Grant, my father would hand the receiver to me and say "it's for you", which it never was, of course.

I understood that there was divorce and some of my school-friends were raised by a single parent, or a step-parent. My peers would often ask if my father was my step-father, to which I would reply "no". Nobody could understand how I came to have a different surname from my biological father, or entertain the notion that I could have been given my mother's surname, not my father's.

At some point, a fairly clear question formed in my mind: "why aren't my parents married?". 

The reasons why people get married had become quite clear in my mind, for the very simple reason that I had endured years and years of people's reactions that suggested that not getting married was very atypical behaviour. Nobody wants to feel unusual; freakish. Nobody likes to feel odd.

When I posed my question - "why aren't you married?" - to my parents, they replied with their own question: "why should we get married?". I had a pretty easy answer for them, as I've explained: because that's what everybody else does. "Do you want to be like everybody else?" my parents asked. "Yes" I replied.

[I just burst into uncontrollable sobbing. If it wasn't what you experienced, I don't think you can begin to understand what it's like to spend your entire childhood as the freakish weirdo; the odd one out... the one who's different from everybody else]

Having covered marriage there is a natural segue into the topic of religion, and the origins of my atheism.

For a number of formative and important childhood years I lived in an attractive terraced house in an area called Jericho, on one of the most desirable roads in central Oxford. These houses are the most expensive in the world, far exceeding real estate prices in London, San Francisco and Hong Kong, in terms of their affordability. However, these £1.5 million houses were bought by the first wave of gentrifiers, when academics and young professionals with families started to move into slummy areas because they couldn't afford family homes in the more desirable parts of the city.

When your immediate neighbours include an MP, a barrister, a heart surgeon, a City banker and a number of promenant Oxford dons and professors, their children were raised in an environment which was knowledge-rich and encouraged the exploration afforded by a curious rational mind; critical thinking. Nobody went to church. My friends, whose father was a consultant at Oxford John Radcliffe Hospital, went to Quaker "friends meetings" occasionally, but my peer group - the sons and daughters of the intellectual elite - had little place for God and church in their lives.

We should rewind a little bit, back to the village our family lived in before we moved to central Oxford. If one were to imagine the most quintessentially English picturesque Cotswolds village, with the manor house, the village green, the workers' cottages, the post office and village shop, the village pub, the village school, one should not forget the church and its graveyard. The church's presence and influence is not to be underestimated. My religious indoctrination began as soon as I started school, with the vicar regularly present. Village social events are very often church-linked, like harvest festival, and of course everybody who grew up in such an idyllic village wants to get married in that particular church, have their children baptised there and be buried in that graveyard.

Essentially, the church's opportunity to exploit a child's vulnerable immature mind were scuppered by my father. For everything that the church had a comforting but incorrect explanation for, my dad cited a lack of evidence and instilled in me the skepticism which gradually became integral to my developing personality: "show me the evidence".

When we moved to the centre of a city whose university is globally recognised for its academic excellence, I never encountered another simple-minded fool who had been persuaded to believe in Gods and other aspects of religion, which are so obviously irreconcilable with the pursuit of knowledge. Religion encourages ignorance but I had been raised to question everything and remain skeptical until I had seen convincing proof. "What are atoms made of?" I remember asking one of my friends who lived on my street. "Quarks" he replied. We were perhaps only 5 or 6 years old - the product of a childhood immersed in academic culture, as opposed to the sentimental and traditional.

The disturbing and unpleasant consequences of an irreverent life can impose themselves on a child at a worryingly young age. I've already been uncontrollably sobbing about just one thing - the tradition and sanctity of the institution of marriage - and I haven't even mentioned how a child deals with the concept of mortality and threat of death without the comfort of religion.

A US Air Force pilot who drank at the village pub which my parents later bought and now live in, drunkenly boasted about the ability of the United States to wipe humanity off the face of the earth. I was definitely no older than 4 years old. With my friend with whom I had discussed subatomic particles, we talked about the temperatures which could be reached near ground zero of a fission or fusion nuclear bomb, and how the radiated 'heat' (electromagnetic radiation) had instantly vaporised human beings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with only their shadows left behind, permanently etched into the walls of buildings.

If you believe you live in a Godless world with no afterlife you naturally want to know what everything's made of if God didn't make it; you want to know why it's here. How did it get here? Why is it here? You start to pick everything to pieces by iteratively asking what each thing is made of: humans are made of cells, and cells are made of molecules, and molecules are made of atoms, and atoms are made of quarks and leptons... and you can in fact keep asking the question. There's good proof that the electron is not a fundamental particle, as had originally been thought.

When your schoolmates are smart-arse little shits, because their parents are brilliant academics, teachers and school loses its awe and authority. If you're being taught science that's almost 100 years old, and sometimes even 200+ years old, the whole exercise is nothing more than a box-ticking exercise to be endured.

The other thing to consider is that my parents used illegal drugs on a daily basis, and had strong views about the legitimacy and usefulness of the law, certainly in the instances that suited their own addictions. As with many drug users, they were very paranoid. They viewed the police as corrupt and not to be trusted - the enemy. My father's criminal conviction for drugs not only poisoned his views on the police, but also made him very anti-American, as he believed he would never be allowed to enter the country due to his criminal record.

[I'm crying again]

It was only because of first-hand dealings with the police that my viewpoint changed from skepticism due to lack of evidence: the police had never caused me any harm, and in fact I had never had any dealings with the police at all for most of my adult life. You might be surprised to learn I adore and respect the police. My accumulated experience of police encounters has consistently shown that they are some of the most kind, patient, empathetic, forgiving, reasonable people, who have always gone out of their way to bend the rules and simply help as opposed to ever enforcing the letter of the law.

One shouldn't mistake my respect for the men and women of the police force for reverence. I would never for a minute expect that a 999 call is somehow going to be the answer to my prayers. I don't feel safer or more secure, knowing that I can call for police assistance. I wouldn't feel any more comfortable in a stressful situation if there was a police officer present. Of the very many police men and women who I have had first-hand dealings with, they have always treated me very fairly and kindly, and it's quite clear that they deal on a daily basis with a huge number of very vulnerable and damaged people, which they do so with incredible compassion - they are the living embodiment of humanity not deities who should be worshipped and revered.

[More crying]

So if I don't revere priests, vicars, teachers, headmistresses, marriage, religion, military superpowers, soldiers, the police, the law and my own parents, what else is there left for me to lack reverence for?

Cumulatively, I've spent almost 6 months having my life saved in hospital - often in high dependency and intensive treatment unit (ITU) wards. Shouldn't I revere doctors; surgeons?

I think that if there was one thing that would make almost anybody feel more secure and happy in a stressful situation, it would be knowing that there's a doctor present. It's such a clichéd question: "is there a doctor here?".

To explain my irreverence for doctors, we merely need to explore the reasons why I have ever had to deal with one, and the outcomes of those interactions.

Having been lucky enough to escape congenital abnormality, it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out what I want from a doctor and why. You don't need to spend 5 or 6 years at medical school to know that the human body has been dealing with pathogens since the species first came into existence. You hardly have to be brain of Britain to figure out whether you're dealing with a viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infection, and furthermore, which is likely to be treatable. In actual fact, I've never been to my doctor for antibiotics: every infection has always cleared up on its own. Fungal and parasitic infections can be dealt with without a doctor obviously: head lice shampoo is available in every pharmacy, without a prescription, for example.

At the age of 28 I went to my doctor wanting treatment for depression, but I knew which specific medications I was prepared to try and which medications I didn't want because the side effects were not acceptable. Having my choices limited only to SSRIs provided firm evidence that doctors were an obstacle to be overcome, not a panacea.

When we think about the first time I was hospitalised, do you think I didn't know that I was going to end up there and what the problems were going to be? Do you think it was an accident that I ended up in hospital?

Again, you don't need to spend 5 or 6 years at medical school to know that the human body needs water, salt, glucose, proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and myriad trace elements, or else the bodily functions haven't got the fuel, carrier fluid and raw materiels they need. You don't need to be a doctor to know that human body temperature needs to be homeostatic as much as possible - much like every other measurable thing in the human body - and any extreme variation too high or too low is going to have dire consequences.

When you are making choices in full knowledge of the likely consequences, medicine ceases to be lifesaving magic, and instead it becomes another simple case of what do you want and why?

One must consider the very last time I was hospitalised to truly understand my irreverence.

Not only had I quite carefully pre-planned my suicide attempt, when I arrived at hospital against my will, I gave very clear instructions: do not put activated charcoal into my stomach, do not perform gastric lavage, do not intubate, do not provide life support and most importantly of all, do not resuscitate. "Do you know what's going to happen?" the A&E doctor asked. "Yes. I'm going to die of a combination of organ failure and serotonin syndrome, with a lot of seizures" I replied. "Do you think you'll be unconscious? Do you think it'll be painless?" the doctor asked. "No. I expect that it will take a long time to die and I'll be conscious and in a lot of pain for most of it" I replied. Then I started having seizures.

Doctors see a lot of people who are scared and they don't understand what's happening to them. They're desperate for somebody who seems to know what they're doing and what they're talking about; doctors are an authority figure. I have no doubt that for feckless simpletons and those who lack access to medicine, the arrival of a doctor or a priest/shamen/witch-doctor is incredibly soothing and comforting. If you don't know what you want and why, your reverence is misplaced, but it may still ease your passage from life to death.

When shit goes bad, who are you going to turn to? If you have to pick your team of people to survive on a remote island, who are you going to pick and why?

Why revere anyone? Why kiss anyone's arse and tell them they're great because they did the study and training that you could've done if you wanted to. You could have passed those exams. You could have gained those qualifications. You could have followed that path if you wanted to. If you wanted it bad enough, you could put on that uniform; you could get that job title; you could prefix or suffix your name with the bit that tells the world just exactly why everyone should drop to their knees and worship you.

Nothing's sacred to me. I could do your job if I wanted to.

I'm not smarter than anybody. I'm not better than anybody. That's the whole point: I'm lucky enough to not have anything that's holding me back; limiting my potential.

I really don't recommend telling your kids they can follow their dreams and be anything they want to be. I really don't recommend telling your kids to question everything, and understand everything about how the universe works, to the point where they reach the very bleeding edge of scientific research. I really don't recommend raising your kids to challenge the status quo and resist the urge to fit in with wider society and their peers.

Take it from me: there's a mind-destroying kind of cold uncaring "nothing matters" bad feeling that comes from being too rational; too much of a free-thinker. Take my word for it: understanding the absurdity of existence will destroy your mental health.

You should probably experiment with hard drugs. That's probably way less likely to fuck up your life than going down the rabbit-hole of picking everything to pieces and trying to reason from first principles and pure logic.

 

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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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