I could go on and on...
... about what's broken in our world right now
Actually, come to think of it, I will...
The food we eat is not healthy or nourishing or often times even tasty. Most people have very little idea what's good for them and what's not. Everything gets reduced ad absurdum. Bananas are good for you because they contain this. Wait, no, they're bad because they contain that! Children are not given the nutrition they need to have the energy and mental acuity to learn. What waste! If we're to turn around the current direction of this country, we need everybody on board, with all of their resources. 15% of citizens in New York State are on food stamps. Hard to buy good healthy food on food stamps, I imagine. And how did we create a society where so many are struggling?
In general, we've lost touch with nature. With our own nature, our bodies, and capital-n Nature. We don't understand how our body works, what makes it sick, and how it stays healthy. We don't understand the interaction of mind and body interacts, even though it's right in front of us every single day: Think a scary thought, you get stressed. Think a grateful thought, you get happy and relaxed. We don't get that when the body is suffering, everything suffers, and the brain can't operate properly, either.
We leave it to doctors to fix the body, but it doesn't work that way. A healthy body starts with healthy thoughts, and involves healthy movement, a healthy diet, a healthy environment, and healthy relationships. You cannot just treat the body like it's a car that you hire a mechanic can fix. If you keep jamming the clutch, running the car through mud, and kicking it for being so stupid every day, there's not much the mechanic can do for you. And yet most doctors continue to treat humans like they were a car, not understanding the whole picture. It's blatantly obvious (and proven in every single double blind test) that the mind has tremendous influence on the body and its health. Why isn't 90% of medicine about exploiting this?
Answer: Because the health care system isn't about health, it's about sickness. Doctors and hospitals and pharmaceutical companies only make money when people are sick, they have no interest in a healthy population, when they profit immensely from treating a never-ending series of symptoms. The best diseases of all are the chronic ones that require expensive on-going medication, like diabetes. It's like sticking a needle in people's arm and sucking out money. No wonder Novo Nordisk is worth $118 billion.
Most people go to work they don't enjoy, making things they don't care about, which is reflected in the lack of quality of the products and services they provide. Only so they can leave work and have money to buy low-quality products and services made by other people who don't have any care for what they do. What's the point of making money if all you can spend it on is cheap crap?
Here in America, we have a war on drugs that has lasted longer than I've been alive. Did we learn nothing from prohibition? How's this war going? Over a trillion dollars spent, and what's the outcome? It just doesn't work. We make criminals out of ordinary citizens, and end up funding rampant organized crime. As much as someone might wish that you could just make drugs go away, the evidence is simply irrefutable: It's not going away, because people want it. As long as the market's there, there's going to be supply.
And stop to think about it: Why have we as citizens organized ourselves so that we have police arresting us for doing something that at least 10% of the population does regularly. What's the point? Why do we do that? We are the government, or at least that's how it was supposed to be.
We have a so-called "war on terror" that hasn't been terribly effective, either. The "war" is completely lopsided. Someone comes up with a plot involving liquids, and now millions and millions of dollars and man-hours are wasted screening for and throwing out all liquids. Coming up with a new IED is cheap and easy, equipping thousands of military vehicles to be protected against them is very expensive. We cannot solve the challenge that terrorism poses this way, we will bankrupt ourselves long before we succeed, which will only mean the terrorists succeeded. So what to do about terrorism? We need a much better understanding of the problem. Deep anthropological work. More intelligence and investigative work. Look to the Israelis, they seem to understand a thing or two about this. More of the things that work, and less of the things that say boom and look very serious and impressive. More security, less theater.
Speaking of the war on terror, how would you feel if a foreign power was flying drones over America and killing people at their whimsy? Would it perhaps make you inclined to hate that foreign power, and vow to sacrifice everything, possibly even including your life, to fighting that power? Personally, I would definitely feel the anger and rage. I probably wouldn't turn into a violent fighter, because it's usually not very effective, and it's not my strength. But I can totally understand why some people would. The fact that we don't grasp the long-term consequences of our actions just sets us up for even worse problems down the line. The drone program may, for all I know, be doing a lot of good, but let's make sure we understand the long-term consequences.
Speaking of, the US national debt and the budget deficit. Currently the debt is over $20 TRILLION dollars. Trillion. The budget deficit is at almost $700 billion. That's not the budget, that's the deficit! The fact that we've allowed it to come this far is mind boggling. The war on terror is a huge factor here. By August 2001, right before 9/11, the US national debt stood at $5.8 trillion. At this rate, the terrorists are winning. What if their aim is not to kill us, but to bankrupt us and curtail our freedoms? If that's the case, they're (a) smart, and (b) winning bigly. They've made us scared, and when you're scared, you get stupid (literally, you have less mental capacity), and then you make stupid decisions. We've successfully almost bankrupted ourselves, and we've successfully curtailed our own freedoms. America 0. Terrorists 2. On self goals. Sigh.
And taxes. We need taxes to pay for government services, but the tax code is ridiculously complex, and too big a portion of the economy goes to pay advisers to figure out how to file taxes and do accounting correctly. It's a mess. Especially between states. All that money spent on CPAs and tax advisors and filing companies are wasted. They could've become taxes, or they could've become earnings, but now they're spent non-productively. Let's make the tax code simple and fair. What does that look like? Universal income? Flat tax? I don't know. Let's find out.
The Three Pillars
America is built on three critical pillars:
- freedom of speech
All three are challenged today.
American democracy is so corrupt, it's can no longer really claim to be a democracy. Legally corrupt, of course. Yes, we elect politicians. But once elected, their actions are determined primarily by their donors.
Politicians spend upwards of half their time fundraising for their campaigns, and of course the donors want something for their effort. And politicians actually come really cheap. The amount of money it costs to buy a favor is usually peanuts compared to the gain to the donor. As long is this is allowed to continue to go on, we don't have a democracy, and we can't get anything done. And of course, the donors have an interest in keeping the system the way it is.
That's why we need to find a way to appeal to people's moral sense of right and wrong, their common sense, and their interest in the common good, rather than their self-interest, if we are to accomplish anything.
American capitalism has gone astray. Banks are supposed to safeguard your money and invest them wisely, so they make a profit, which they then split with you in the form of interest on your deposit. That's not how it works anymore. These days, the interest is almost non-existent, and in return, they hit you with fee after fee, while gambling your money away on the latest investment fad. Most banks are wildly insolvent, and the FDIC insurance is no consolation when we know that the US government is even less solvent. And of course, when their gambles fail, the tax payers foot the bill, and they pay themselves big bonuses. The finance industry exists to facilitate the financial needs of the other actors in the economy, but today the finance industry gobbles up about 20% of all corporate profits.
On the stock exchange and in the startup world, people have lost focus on good old fashioned products and services and fallen for the idea of shareholder value, which essentially amounts to "the greater fool". If you can get someone else to buy the shares at a higher price than you paid for them, irrespective of what the business actually does or how it's actually doing, you're golden. How is that good for society? We need companies to make products and services that the people and the companies in the economy and in the world benefit from. Isn't that the point of having businesses in the first place?
Freedom of speech
And freedom of speech is under attack. While it sounds good to want to protect minorities from harm by outlawing "hate speech", the consequences are devastating. The problem is, you cannot legislate what people think and believe. People are going to think and believe what they want. Some people are going to believe gay people are sick. Some believe white people are the superior race. Some people are going to believe that 9/11 was in inside job. You cannot stop them. What we can do is collectively decide how we define what's true and what's not true. People can say and believe what they want, and when they say something crazy, we will collectively just shrug our shoulders and move on.
It would be great if we could stop people like neo-nazis or white supremacists from existing. Or if we could cure them from their erroneous beliefs. Problem is, there are other people that would like to cure gays of their erroneous beliefs. And while your team may be in power today, tomorrow the tables may have been turned. Once you start to try and legislate what is acceptable to say or think or believe, that can only lead to authoritarianism. All authoritarians think they're the good guys, that they're just trying to make the world a better place. They just disagree on what that looks like.
Therefore the only sane solution is to let people say and think and believe what they will, while we as a society agree on what constitutes our collective truth. And the collective truth is a social phenomenon that requires experiments, falsifiability, and replicable proof. That's how science works. If you claim something, you must be ready to back it up with evidence, and a way to falsify it, and then others can try the same, and if no-one can prove you wrong, then we must take it as fact, for the time being. We just cannot put limits on what are acceptable claims.
A Conscious Nation
It may sound like I'm a liberal, a progressive, but I'm really not.
I don't align with any particular political party, any traditional left/right split, or any of the progressive/conservative/libertarian grouping that we see in America. I've never agreed with the left's need to cast everyone as victims. I don't see that as a productive approach to life. I've never agreed with the right's zeal to protect big incumbent companies from healthy competition. I do see some good ideas in libertarianism, but it goes too far for me. I'm a believer in personal responsibility, combined with a good support network, good education, basic health care, and efficient operations that bring out creativity and resourcefulness in human beings.
What I want is to take everything apart, start from a clean slate, and see what we can come up with if we put the best minds in the world on it, and pretend we can make it any way we want to.
From my experience as an entrepreneur and a software developer, I've found that the clean slate approach can be incredibly useful. If you start with all the legacy crud that's been built up over years and years, and you limit yourself to only ideas that you feel reasonably certain you can get implemented, you're going to miss out on lots of creative, lateral ideas.
We want to revisit everything, asking the question "what are we really looking to achieve by this, and is this the best way to achieve that?" Everything needs to be based on clear hypotheses, and real-world evidence supporting it.
The plan is to assemble a team of experts in various fields to share their expertise and together we’ll come up with a coherent design. We’ll incorporate the best learnings from around the world. We need policies around money, democracy, governance, oversight and transparency, taxation, market regulation, traffic, immigration, environment, drugs, education, health, policing, military and national security, and on and on. What are the best ideas out there, what assumptions do they build on, and what’s the best answer we can come up with? Let's find out! The future's already here, it's just not evenly distributed yet.
Underlying everything is the desire to make things simple, clear, logical, and evidence-based. For every policy decision, there must be a clear thesis that can be falsified or validated through experiments. If we cannot formulate the thesis, we’re not there. If we cannot come up with an experiment that would prove that thesis false, we’re not done.
A big question is how to reconcile values. That’s a tough one. People are going to have different values, and we’re never going to agree on a universal set of values. And yet we have to agree on some fundamental values. As much as possible, we’re going to try to derive our key values logically.
I’m treating the whole thing as an open source project. Everyone can contribute ideas and even patches. Like any good open source project, we need a strong, visionary leader. That’d be me. I’m going to try to lead everyone in the same direction, so e can get to something amazing together.
This process of coming up with the best policies we can think of is going to be run like an open source project. I want to involve the smartest people I know, and work with them to flesh things out. I'm personally great at vision, and okay at details, and we need other people on the team who are amazing at details. Details are critically important.
Ideally I want to write into the constitution that any political proposal must be accompanied by a clear hypothesis saying we believe that doing this will have this effect, which is desirable because of this value and goal. If you cannot state this clearly enough for most people to understand and agree with it, then your work is not done. Then comes the process of devising a way to test whether that policy will actually have the desired effect. Here we need an impartial scientific community to help out, because most people are not trained scientists. And then we'll run an experiment on a smaller sample first, and based on that, either implement, revise, or completely discard the originally proposed legislation.
This type of process would do away with fake voter fraud legislation, aka voter suppression. If you're introducing legislation ostensibly to limit voter fraud, then you must provide evidence supporting the existence of voter fraud, that your countermeasures would combat that voter fraud, that it doesn't have other negative effects, and that the form of voter fraud addressed here is sufficient in size and proportion of all voter fraud to warrant the response. I doubt most measures currently on the books would pass muster.
Another example is trickle-down economics. You'd have to prove that this is actually the way it works. It might be, but I haven't seen the evidence yet. Or the war on drugs. And so many other things.
My vision is to create a society where we make it easy for people to do what makes them feel most alive. I believe (and this needs to be tested through carefully constructed experiments) that each person has a sweet spot where they're most productive and most happy at the same time. People mock the "do what you love and the money will follow" saying "who's gonna pay me to lie in a hammock watching TV and eating tacos?". But that's not how we actually work. Healthy humans derive most pleasure from being of service to other people. We like feeling valuable and valued. Sure, watching TV and eating tacos can be nice, for a while, but then we just end up feeling sluggish and tired. We want to be used. We want to be useful.
So how do we help people find that place where they're super productive, yet don't feel like they're working? Where they're amazed that they get to do this thing that is so easy and fun for them, yet is super valuable to others? I have some ideas, and I know some people with ideas, and this is something we want to figure out.
I don't think we can afford to keep propping up old dinosaur industries like coal, or wildly inefficient organizations like we have in the health care industry, or the MTA here in New York. We've got to figure out how to make them run efficiently. That's going to mean a lot of people out of a job, not just now, but continuously, because we're not going to have the tolerance going forward, either. So we need some serious reschooling of people. I see is as a huge opportunity to actually help people find their sweet spot late in life. Better to do it while they're young, but better later than never. It's never too late to find what you love, and learn how to make a living of it. We'll have retreats centers and great coaches and teachers, both paid and volunteers, who've been through this transition themselves, and we'll take good care of people. It's a great investment.
We're using github for writing the actual content of the blueprint. We might stick with this, or we might change it down the line. Github is what most open source projects use to manage their code base, and it has the advantage of being very transparent, and built for collaboration with a detailed revision history, so nothing's ever lost, and you can always see why a particular line was written, and by whom, when, along with what other contributions. That brings tremendous value over time.
Once we have a clear plan and a fleshed out vision, we'll start looking at how to implement it in the world we live in. We have to know what are the key critical things that absolutely need to be implemented, without which everything falls flat. We need to be strategic about in which order, and how we communicate about it. We need to work within the existing political environment.
Prohibition actually provides a lot of inspiration for this. Basically the women rose up saying "enough is enough" to the men's drunket behavior. I'm not a fan of outlawing liquor or other drugs, but I am in fact of grassroots movements, especially those involving women. I think this could be one.
I also want to get musicians involved. We need both hearts and minds, and while words can speak to both, they tend to reach the mind better than the heart. Music, on the other hand, reaches the heart more powerfully than the mind.
Many of musicians are all love and connection, but don't get down to the nitty-gritty practical details of how we can implement things. Lots of political thinkers are great at the nitty-gritty, but forget the heart and the love and the bigger purpose behind it all. We need both.
There's a story about Freud, who lived in Vienna, Austria. He would regularly be exposed to various concerts, perhaps a violin quartet, and it was reported that he would always withdraw when these took place, because listening to the music give him this "transcendent" feeling in his body, which he was afraid of and wholly against. Sounds to me like Freud was afraid of feeling the love and connection with mankind, and we're still suffering from Freud's angst a century later. It's time to break free of this.
That said, I can totally relate to the people who can get insecure and scared and feel isolated when there's too much kumbaya and love in the room. I'm one of them. I grew up being socially awkward and scared of most other people, due to being different and being bullied for being different. I found a lot of comfort and safety in the predictable nature of computers. We need to make sure that everyone's welcome.
At the end of a day, a nation is like a family. You have to make it work with the people who are actually there. You don't get to choose your family, and you don't get to choose your fellow citizens. We have to find a way to make it work so everyone is welcome, so everyone is accepted, even while we need to set up rules and limits for behavior. We must always keep in mind the distinction between people and behavior. I believe in my heart that there are no bad people. We're all looking for love, approval, and appreciation. We just get terribly terribly confused about how we go about finding them, because they're actually already inside of us, and we're the ones keeping it away, making rules for when and how much of it we can have. Once we have that love, approval, and appreciation, we have no desire to harm other people. Of course, this needs to be tested.
Rules are interesting, too. We need to have rules, and yet we need to be able to break rules. Harvey Silverglate says you commit three felonies a day. Most people on a bicycle or on foto will run red lights. We want to teach our kids that it's okay to break some rules and not others. Knowing which rules can be broken and which can't is an important part of life, and it's something we need to take into consideration when designing the laws.
Why should you be involved in this project? Because the future of our society depends on it.
The US was founded on the most beautiful principles. All men are created equal (setting aside the fact that they only meant white males at the time), freedom and the pursuit of happiness, a belief in a higher power (I'm not religious but definitely spiritual), give us your poor and all that.
But somewhere along the way, we got terribly terribly lost. Money replaced god as the higher power. We forgot about equality and liberty. We either get this ship back on course, or we all perish. I don't see any other outcome.
Being a part of this is something your grandchildren are going to be forever grateful for, just as we today appreciate the tremendous wisdom and foresight that went into the US constitution.
I have many qualifications for undertaking this project, something that was never part of my career planning, but in hindsight works out perfectly.
- I have been a software developer since about 6 years old, and I'm very good at it. Developing software is merciless. It either does what it's supposed to or not. There's no pleading or arguing, no wishful thinking. This can be very helpful when it comes to designing policies, because we're either dealing with reality, or we're wasting everyone's time and money. And we just cannot afford to do that anymore.
- I've been an entrepreneur almost as long, having started companies and created products since I was about 10 years old. As an entrepreneur, I've learned to be practical, resourceful, and creative, something that we as a nation need badly.
- I've lived on two continents. I grew up in Denmark, which has a lot of similarities and a lot of differences from the US. I currently live in New York City, and I moved to New York for the first time in 1999. Having this kind of insider/outsider perspective is insanely valuable when doing this work.
- I have a pretty good masculine/feminine and left/right brain balance, which helps fill out the complete picture. We cannot make this happen if it's all kumbaya and love each other. But we're equally screwed if we try to do this from a purely rational and logical place. We need an open heart and an open mind.
- I grew up very alienated from my own body and psyche, and have done extensive work to restore that wholeness, working with some of the very best therapists and mentors in both the US and in Denmark. This helps me understand people who are different, and also understand how we can support them in transforming their lives. I can empathize with people on both the left and the right, I can understand where they come from, and I can find it in myself.
- I was actually somewhat politically active as a youngster, though I quickly lost interest in partisan politics. I couldn't find any politician that seemed to represent me or share my world view of talk about things that I cared about.
- I've been working with open source software for almost 20 years now, and I think we can learn a ton from open source both in terms of how to organize and run this project, and in terms of what motivates people.
- I love music. My first career choice was to be a jazz pianist. That got shelved for a while, but these days I sing, play, write, and produce music, and music is key to who I am.
- I've had this dream to create my own country for years and years, and I never thought too much of it, mostly because of the practicalities of where are you going to place a new country on this planet? I have no desire to start my new country on Mars! But then I realized one day that maybe what I need to do is not to design a new country, but to help transform this country that I love so dearly, the United States of America. Ever since I was a kid in school, I was always drawn to America. I think maybe it was the computers and the programming that appealed to me. When my English teacher in 8th grade offered each of us the choice between British English and US English, I didn't hesitate for a second before choosing US English. Everyone save for me and one other kid went with British English.
- I'm a great strategist, something that's going to be super useful in all phases of this.
Get in touch if you want to be a part of this.