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Back in the Cave: Greed

4 .36 million years. At a rate of 20 per hour, 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, and assuming that you didn’t spend a penny of your income on frivolous things like food, or rent, or taxes, that is how long you would have to work in order to acquire a net worth equal to that of Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon. 4.36 million years. Our primate ancestors didn’t swing down from the tree, and learn to walk fully upright until 2.9 million years ago.

Over half of the world’s wealth is owned by just 1% of the population, and 85% of the world’s wealth is controlled by just 10% of the population (almost everyone in North America is included in that 10%, by the way). This, while half the planet subsists on less than $5 per day.

What drives a person to hoard so much wealth that with it, virtually anyone reading this could maintain their current lifestyle for anywhere between 1.5 and 7.5 million years?

A preacher on Sunday morning would say that it’s because a snake once tricked a woman into eating an apple. Sigmund Freud might suggest that it’s because they’re compensating for a little something they’re…. lacking in the pants. Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius would muse that they’re simply not using their faculties in the way that nature intended.

I myself would argue that it’s because they’re using their faculties EXACTLY as nature intended, however those faculties are being used in an environment in which nature didn’t intend for us to live.

You see, every species hoards wealth in one way or another. The squirrels up in the trees fill their nests to the brim with nuts, and seeds, and acorns to ensure that they have enough food for the coming winter. Bears emerge from hibernation in the spring, and immediately begin gorging themselves on wild berries and fresh salmon to put on enough fat to get them through the next hibernation cycle. Even the wild grasses in the prairies and savannas have root systems that dig down 10, 15, even 20 feet below the surface. As the root systems grow and regrow, they carve channels that allow rainwater to penetrate deep into the soil, where it can be stored for times of drought, rather than allowing it to run off into the nearest river.

Likewise, our prehistoric ancestors would lay freshly picked berries, and thin slices of meat out in the sun, or over the smoldering coals of a campfire to remove all the moisture that bacteria need to thrive. Sometimes they would take it a step further, and grind it into a fine powder, mixing in a little bit of rendered animal fat to create a nutrient dense food called pemmican, which had a shelf life of several years when kept dry.

Greed is nothing more than a survival instinct. In nature, too much food is always better than too little.

However, nature is wise, and she balanced out our instinct for greed with the fact that natural wealth has an expiry date. It made no sense for a tribe to wipe out an entire population of bison, because even the best preserved meat would rot before it could be used, leaving nothing to hunt in future seasons. Likewise, it made no sense for a tribal chief to keep all the food for himself, tossing aside a few gnawed upon bones for the rest of the tribe to fight over, because that too would rot before he could eat it.

Hunting large game animals with nothing more than pointy sticks requires a group effort. There’s a video on YouTube of modern tribes hunting an elephant with spears, and it’s a gruesome, and dangerous task. Tribal leaders knew that unless the whole tribe was well fed, well nourished, and in peak physical condition, then he would end up starving right alongside them.

Gold does not rot, however. Silver does not go stale. Rubies do not go mouldy. Our transition from a hunter-gatherer society to an agricultural-industrial society meant that for the first time in human history, a person could amass more wealth than they could use in multiple lifetimes, let alone in a single season.

Jeff Bezos does not care that the immigrant working in his warehouse for minimum wage lives in a constant state of fight or flight, thanks to a computer system that tracks his every move to ensure that he keeps working like a robot. The Walton family does not care that the single mom working as a cashier leaves work every day with sore feet, and an aching back, yet STILL has to stop by the food bank on her way home just to feed her children.

They don’t care because they don’t NEED to care. Civilization has allowed us to bypass the safeguards that nature put in place to ensure that we look out for those under our leadership. Society could collapse tomorrow, and Jeff Bezos and the Waltons would continue to spend the rest of their lives in the lap of luxury, with a few faithful servants to grow them food on their private estates, while they watch the rest of the world burn.

In the 1950s, when my grandfather was celebrating the birth of the baby girl who would one day become my mother, CEOs brought home approximately 20x more than their average employee. In those days, single income families were the norm, and a working class man could earn enough to support a wife, 2-3 kids, and a few luxuries. Today CEOs bring home in the ballpark of 350x more than their average employee, while households now require two working parents just to make ends meet.

How do we address the problem of the disappearing middle class, and the ever increasing gap between rich and poor?

I would propose that rather than a system which forces us to pit our genuine desire to do good against our powerful instinct for greed, we instead need a system that works WITH our instincts by once again making wealth perishable unless we care for those under our authority. Laws that make it within the best interest of the wealthy to ensure that those whom they employ are well paid.

One such system might be a set of tax laws whereby a CEO’s tax bracket is determined NOT by how much they bring home in a single year, but is instead determined by how much they bring home in a single year RELATIVE to their employees. If they bring home 1, 2, 3x more than their average employee, they’re in the lowest tax bracket. If they bring home 20x more, they’re in the second highest tax bracket. Anything beyond that threshold would then be taxed at a rate of 100%, and would be ineligible for tax refunds for charitable donations. The CEO can still take home a $3 million paycheque if the shareholders see fit, but it now means that if they want to keep the majority of it, that cashier at Walmart gets a $50k paycheque, with relative pay increases all the way up the corporate ladder.

It should be noted that this would benefit businesses as well, as it would now mean that rather than coming into work and doing the bare minimum that they can get away with, employees would now have a vested interest in ensuring that the company is as profitable as possible. The more money the company makes, the more they can afford to pay their CEO, which means the more they’ll have to pay the employees, not unlike a small tribe.

By taking this holistic approach to taxation, we will simulate nature’s wisdom in making wealth perishable, allowing us to once again harness our instinct for greed as a powerful force for good, ensuring that even the lowest members of society are well cared for, and get to partake in their fair share of the wealth that our world has to offer.

Thank You.

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Morning Ruminations: Conspiracy Theories & Modern Mythology

Morning Ruminations is a place where I briefly discuss some of the things I think about as I go about my morning routine. These are thoughts, observations, and unrefined ideas, and do not necessarily represent my official stance on a subject.

Animals are well adapted to recognize the natural patterns within their environment, then take the appropriate action based upon their past experience. When the sun sets, it’s time for bed. When the days get short, and the temperature drops, it’s time to hibernate.

Humans, however, are a species driven by curiosity. It is not enough for us to simply know that something happens. We are driven by an incessant need to understand WHY it happens. This works quite well when we have the appropriate tools available to gather the information required to connect the dots.

Today, thanks to telescopes and advanced mathematics, we understand that the sun is a giant fusion reactor, the mass of which is so great that the very fabric of space-time is distorted into an invisible force that we call “gravity”. This leads to a complex balancing of forces, resulting in moons orbiting planets, orbiting stars, leading to the daily and seasonal cycles that we base our lives upon.

Thousands of years ago, this technology did not exist. We knew that the sun comes out in the daytime, the moon at night, and certain constellations at specific times of the year. These bits of observable facts were interspersed among vast swaths of unknowns. This lead us to fill in the gaps with experience from our own day to day lives. The sun and the moon became powerful gods battling for dominance of the sky, not unlike our own territorial disputes with neighbouring tribes. Soon there were gods for everything. Stories of love, and loss, and heroics were created to tell the tale of the constellations, and every culture became enriched with their own unique oral traditions to explain why the world is the way is. Mythology was born.

Few would argue today that the celestial bodies are powerful gods that control every aspect of our lives. Science has allowed us to fill in the missing information with verifiable facts, so that we now understand how planetary movements create the day/night cycle, affect seasonal weather patterns, etc.

But the human brain is still hardwired to try and make sense of things in the absence of information, and this is where conspiracy theories come from.

We know that governments and corporations have been lying to us our whole lives. We’ve watched as smoking has gone from being endorsed as a safe and healthy pastime, to one of the biggest killers in society. We’ve seen the commercials for class action lawsuits against dangerous pharmaceuticals that were approved by the FDA. We’ve witnessed countless chemicals get banned for their dangerous effects on human & animal physiology after being assured for decades that they’re perfectly safe. And to this day, we watch as the food and medical industries desperately cling to the idea that animal fats are unhealthy, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

It’s only natural that when faced with a very real global pandemic, one that even the world’s top scientists are still struggling to understand, we try to make sense of it by filling in the gaps in information with our own personal experience of being lied to our whole lives. We weave together complex webs of how chemtrails, and 5G towers are being used to fake a virus, and create an Orwellian regime to control the population. We come up with pseudoscienctific solutions like burying orgonite around 5G towers to neutralize the signals, or swallowing bleach, goldfish medications, and malaria drugs to cure the virus.

Now, this isn’t to say that there’s nobody trying to use the Covid-19 pandemic to their own advantage. Even in the best of times, there are those who manipulate the system for their own gain. As the covid-19 pandemic plays out before our eyes, we’ve witnessed everything from small-time Amazon sellers to the President of the United States abuse our naturally heightened sense of fear for their own gain.

We must be ever vigilant against businesses and politicians who engage in such practices. However, we must likewise be weary of purveyors of pseudoscienctific beliefs, modern day fairytales, who wish to manipulate our natural fear of the unknown to sew chaos in a time of crisis.

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Morning Ruminations: Paradigm Shifts

Morning Ruminations is a place where I briefly discuss some of the things I think about as I go about my morning routine. These are thoughts, observations, and unrefined ideas, and do not necessarily represent my official stance on a subject.

The human mind isn’t well equipped to deal with major paradigm shifts. Imagine if the new generation suddenly decided that blue is really green. In your mind, it will always be blue. That’s why racism, homophobia, and even outdated medical & dietary advice are so hard to fight.

For many, it takes a major life crisis to force them to question what they’ve always believed (poor health, a gay son, a daughter who marries a black man, etc). For many others, even that isn’t enough because admitting that they were so wrong about something so important to them would cause their entire world, their entire identity to collapse. If they were wrong about that, then what else have they been wrong about? It’s just too emotionally devastating for them.

Questioning your beliefs, and having an open mind MUST be a conscious choice. It’s the most rewarding thing you can ever do, but it’s also one of the scariest things you can ever do.

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Morning Ruminations: The Reality of a Natural Death

Morning Ruminations is a place where I briefly discuss some of the things I think about as I go about my morning routine. These are thoughts, observations, and unrefined ideas, and do not necessarily represent my official stance on a subject.

I almost died over New Years. Well, not really. What I thought was a mild sprain on New Year’s Eve, turned out to be a subcutaneous bacterial infection, which likely resulted from a barely noticeable scratch I received a few days earlier. A minor inconvenience, thanks to the antibiotics. My right hand is useless for a few days. I can’t go to work. I can’t zip up my own fly. And I had to borrow a friend’s car, because it hurts too much to shift the gears on my manual transmission. But considering that 20,000 years ago it would have been a death sentence, it really is a minor inconvenience.

So what would this have looked like 20,000 years ago? It would have started out exactly the same as in modern times. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the scratch that caused it. A few days later, I’d wake up with a sore hand. Thinking I had just slept on it funny, I’d go about my day as normal, maybe using my left hand a little more so as to ease the strain on the right. By bedtime, however, the pain would be so intense that I wouldn’t sleep a wink. Come morning, I’d now feel the pain beginning to spread up my forearm, and into my elbow.

This is where our paths diverge. I had crashed on a friend’s couch that night. In the morning, I helped myself to a cup of coffee, then watched an episode of Star Trek while waiting for my friends to wake up. I then asked for a ride to the clinic, where I was quickly prescribed antibiotics. $30 at the pharmacy, and less than a day later, the pain had decreased to an uncomfortable tenderness, and the swelling was down significantly. In a few days, it’ll feel like it never happened.

My stone age counterpart wouldn’t have been so fortunate. That infection would have continued to spread up his arm, eventually reaching his torso, or possibly his brain. If he was lucky, the infection would slow him down enough that a large predator would grant a quick end to his suffering. If he was unlucky, he would make it back to the protection of his tribe, where he’d lay in agony for days, possibly weeks, before his body finally succumbed to the infection, and died.

This is one of many reasons why prehistoric man died so young, and it has got me thinking about the Disnified world in which we live. We grow up taking for granted the modern medical technology that has turned life threatening diseases into minor inconveniences, allowing us to postpone the inevitable. We’re bombarded from birth with images of Bambi, and Thumper, and Flower, and all the forest creatures, happily living and playing together in nature. If we ever bother to think about their deaths, we picture them dying peacefully in their sleep, surrounded by children and grandchildren, after living a rich and fulfilling life. That is…. unless the big evil hunter comes along and shoots them, just to “satisfy his own taste buds”.

The reality, however, is quite different. As beautiful and inspiring as nature is, she’s also unforgiving, and merciless. The fate our prehistoric ancestors would have experienced as the result of a simple cut 20,000 years ago, is the exact same fate experienced by every single wild animal since the dawn of evolution.

We can talk all we want about how animals “don’t want to die”, but the fact is that nothing we do can prevent that. Everything dies. Usually young, and usually quite painfully. The best that we can hope for is to gant them the most pain-free death possible. With that in mind, we must ask ourselves: Is a quick bullet from the rifle of a skilled hunter really more cruel than having your entrails torn to shreds by a pack of wolves, while you’re still breathing? Is a bolt gun to the head really more cruel than laying in agony for days, in a cold and dark burrow, as an infection slowly spreads throughout your body?

I think that the answer to that question is obvious. By utilizing animals for food, whether through regenerative farming or hunting, we are granting those animals a pain free life, and a far more merciful death than what nature would grant them, and at approximately the same age.

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Morning Ruminations: Free Choice

"With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured... The first thought forbidden... The first freedom denied... Chains us all irrevocably." - Jean Luc Picard, Quoting Judge Aaron Satie

I’ve been thinking a lot about the climate activists that have been shutting down cities over the past few days, and the animal rights activists that have been raiding family farms over the past year or so, trying to figure out what it is that makes them take such drastic actions.

In general, I want the same things they do; A healthier planet, a healthier population, and the better treatment of animals. So why are they out there terrorizing farmers, forcing millions of cars to idle needlessly in the streets, and demanding that all levels of government restrict the personal freedoms of billions of world people, while I’m here at home, just trying to figure out what I can personally do to be a better human, and occasionally tweeting my thoughts?

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus taught that most people behave the way they do because they believe that what they do is right & good.

I think that’s the difference between myself, and the vegan/climate activists that have been in the media over the past year. I believe that deep down, people are good. That people want to BE good. That people want to DO good. And that provided the proper information, opportunity, and support, they will ultimately come to the right conclusions on their own, and do good as a result.

The activists, on the other hand, believe that morality is the realm of a select few. That most people are only capable of acting in their own immediate best interest. And that morality must be legislated upon them by the elite, through the restriction of free choice, and the elimination of personal autonamy & freedom of thought.

History, however, has taught us that morality cannot be legislated. People cannot be forced to think or feel a certain way. The restriction of free choice & free thought will only lead to resentment within the population towards your cause. Ultimately, you will destroy the very people you are trying to save.

When you believe in your fellow man. When you are confident in the conclusions you have drawn. When you’re open to new ideas, and willing to change when the evidence suggests that your past conclusions were in error… you simply don’t NEED to force your beliefs upon others, because you’re confident that they too are capable of the same change. That they too are capable of coming to the same conclusion.

If we are to save our planet, AND the people who live here, it can only be done if the change comes from within, by ensuring that every person has the right to access information (even that which you personally disagree with), discuss it in public & in private, and act upon the conclusions that they draw from that information.

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Back in the Cave: What are Instincts?

Since the earliest days of recorded history, mankind has been engaged in a love affair with our own self destructive behaviors. So much so that the goal of most of the major world religions, at least on paper, is to provide ways of coping with these destructive tendencies in life, while ensuring salvation from them in death.

From the corporate greed that’s directly responsible for the devastation of our environment and inequalities in wealth distribution, to the obesity epidemic that’s plaguing western cultures. Our survival as a species will depend on our ability (and willingness) to come together and overcome these behaviors.

But how are we to overcome our unique ability to work against our own best interest, if we don’t understand why we do it in the first place?

Over the coming year, I’m going to be talking about many of the self destructive behaviors that we readily engage in, and how they affect us individually, nationally, and globally. I’ll also discuss what we can do to use these these behaviors as a positive force in our lives, rather than a negative.

First, however, I’m going to give a brief synopsis of an idea that I’ve been chewing on over the past few years, about how these self destructive behaviors are actually natural instincts, deeply embedded into our DNA over millions of years of evolution, that were vital to our survival back in the cave, but that now work against us in the modern world, so much so that they may lead to our final undoing.

What Are Instincts?

Every species has instincts. From the smallest spider that knows from the moment it’s hatched how to spin a web without being taught, to the moose that naturally knows to munch on leaves, and luscious marsh plants, instead of trying to hunt down a deer.

Instincts can most easily be described as a type of genetic memory. This genetic memory won’t allow you to remember your parents wedding day (or wedding night, thank god), however it does pass along all the knowledge that a species requires to survive in it’s natural habitat, such as how to reproduce, what food to eat, where to find that food, where to find shelter, and how to avoid becoming something else’s food.

If every species has instincts, then why do we think us humans would be any different?

The simplest answer is that we aren’t. The primary difference between us and the rest of the animal kingdom is that A) There are very few humans remaining who still live in their natural, evolutionary environment. And B) Humans possess the unique ability to use logic and reasoning to consciously act in opposition to our instincts when we know it’s in our best interest to do so (and often when it’s not).

When Instincts Lead us Astray

But what happens when we take an animal out of it’s natural environment, and put it into an artificial environment?

As any dog lover can tell you, dogs love to chase things. We throw balls, and sticks across the park, and into lakes for them to chase after, only for them to bring it back to do again and again. It’s one of their greatest joys in life.

This instinct is a leftover from their time as wolves, when they needed to chase down their meals in a coordinated attack, and has been fine tuned by our ancestors through thousands of years of selective breeding so that they now desire to not only chase an object, but also to return it to their master in exchange for praise and affection. It’s what makes them the ideal hunting companion.

But without proper training, that instinct can have disastrous consequences.

One day when my dog, Kaylee, was a young pup, I decided to take her for a walk. I opened the door, and as I was locking it behind me, she saw a jackrabbit in the yard, and took off in pursuit, pulling the leash out of my hand. Fortunately the car saw her coming, and was able to stop just before she darted out onto the street, but it serves as a reminder of what can happen when we act on our natural instincts in an unnatural environment.

Like dogs, us humans have instincts leftover from our days as hunter/gatherers. From sex, and violence, to tribalism, and our herd mentality. The foods we crave, to our choice in exercise (or lack thereof), and how we relate to the people around us. These instincts helped us survive ice ages, and subsequently thrive in the most inhospitable environments for 800,000 years.

Our instincts still govern how we interact with the world around us, however a lot has changed since our time in the wild.

We’ve traded towering trees for skyscrapers, rough game trails for perfectly smooth concrete sidewalks, cold damp caves for climate controlled houses, and weeks long hunting trips for a quick drive to the grocery store.

Our DNA, however, has changed very little since our time in the cave. Deep down, we’re still wild animals, only now confined to a self-imposed cage.

Our primal urges are still there, screaming to be expressed. Not acting upon them could drive a man or woman to insanity. However acting upon them without intent, in an environment that these instincts weren’t intended for, can lead to the perversion of these instincts, in what the world religions have come to collectively refer to as “sin”.

If we as a species are to survive, let alone thrive, in our new environment, we must train ourselves to act on our instincts in a way that’s constructive to ourselves as individuals, and as a species.

Stay tuned, as I discuss in detail what instincts we possess, how they benefited us in the cave, how they harm us in the artificial environment we call civilization, and how we can harness their power for the benefit of ourselves, and those with whom we share this world.