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Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

Apu Nahasapeemapetilon – Don’t Go… Grow!

If you’re a regular viewer of The Simpsons, then you are undoubtedly familiar with the proprietor of the Kwik-E-Mart, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.

Apu

Apu has been a part of The Simpsons since its first season (in 1990), making his debut appearance in an episode called The Telltale Head. Despite being animated, he is surprisingly well-rounded. Apu graduated at the top of his class at Caltech – the Calcutta Institute of Technology – and holds a Ph.D in Computer Science. His doctoral dissertation described an AI computer program that would play an unbeatable game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Apu took a job at the Kwik-E-Mart initially to help pay of his student loans. Apu’s last name, Nahasapeemapetilon, is a variation of Pahasadee Napetilon, a friend of one of The Simpsons’ writers. Apu is a vegan, an ardent cricket fan, and likes to design and build furniture. Apu is voiced by Hank Azaria.

As far as I know, everybody loves Apu. For almost 28 years, Apu has been (and still is) a beloved character in The Simpsons, but during the fall of 2017, there arose a torrent of negative articles about him. These articles stated that the character was racist, and by extension, The Simpsons itself was racist. Given the speed at which this change of heart occurred, I initially thought that we were experiencing what Malcolm Gladwell would call The Tipping Point.

In the blink of an eye, it seemed that the entire world was disgusted with Apu. There were articles in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ, Slate, The Guardian, and The Verge, to name a few. I had a difficult time grasping this sudden sanctimoniousness.

That is, until I took a closer look at these articles, and noticed a certain similarity…

Each of these sources quoted a comedian named Hari Kondabolu and mentioned his upcoming documentary, The Problem With Apu. After a while it became clear what was happening. Hari Kondabolu was using the media to promote his new film. He had something to sell, and was displaying a level of outrage and victimization that seemed well out of proportion as a response to an animated character. I suspect that he wanted to make the rest of us worked up enough to see his film. In my opinion, he was trying to create a scandal where none had existed before.

I decided to watch his movie’s trailer. Kondabolu had enlisted some of his Indian friends to join him in his outrage, so it would appear that he wasn’t alone in his ranting. When he started to say that he liked The Simpsons, his friend (whose hatred for Apu was so all-consuming that it made him despise the entire series) wouldn’t let Hari finish his thought. He interrupted Hari, and them proceeded to insert words into his mouth “[Because] you hate yourself“.

This was manufactured outrage, and I wasn’t buying it for a second. Judging by the vast majority of the people commenting on this YouTube video, neither was anyone else. In fact, the commenters made a number of good points:

  • Everyone gets lampooned in The Simpsons. That’s the point of the show.
  • Groundskeeper Willie is portrayed much more negatively as an ornery Scotsman. Mr. Burns possesses all of the negative qualities of an evil capitalist.
  • Are Americans actually blaming an animated character for what they perceive as limited opportunities in their lives?
  • I don’t care if he’s voiced by a non-Indian actor. That doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
  • Apu has been treated well by the show’s writers. He owns his own business, he married a nice woman and they are raising a family together. He’s a hard worker, he respects his culture and he is generally happy.

If Shakespeare were alive, he would have summarized this issue thusly: “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing“, or perhaps as one commenter put it “Much Apu about nothing“.

At this point, I was ready to dismiss the whole thing as the bombastic histrionics of one individual, done in order to promote his documentary… except for two things:

  • Hank Azaria responded to these articles and comments on the speculation that Apu may no longer be part of The Simpsons.
  • Kondabolu does make a good point. After almost 28 years, Apu’s character hasn’t changed much. While he did get married, have children and now appears to own the Kwik-E-Mart, his character has remained essentially static.

During this time, the disparity between television and reality was growing. The cultural makeup of our society has changed, along with our perception and acceptance of immigrants. Indian actors are appearing in more American television shows and are portraying people in prestigious professions: Mindy Kaling is a doctor in The Mindy Project; Kunal Nayyar plays an astrophysicist in The Big Bang Theory; Paull Walia has starred as a doctor in several television series, including Grey’s Anatomy, General Hospital and The Young & The Restless.

Kondabolu is reminding us that, even as an animated caricature, Apu no longer represents South Asians in North America. What’s going to happen to Apu? In one article, the interviewer asks Hari Kondabolu about rumours that Apu’s character will be killed off, He replies “I’d feel mixed about it… There’s more creative solutions, but it’s easier to kill off the character than change.

But does this mean that Apu should be kicked to the proverbial curb? Only if you believe that animated characters must remain static forever and are incapable of developing. Killing Apu’s character, or otherwise writing him out of the show, is nothing more than an emotional response and a myopic knee-jerk reaction. There are better ways to handle this situation. One that I’d like to propose is allowing Apu to grow and develop. Apu’s character shouldn’t be as flat as his two-dimensional animation.

Raj With Drink

Character growth has already been demonstrated in a recent television series, and in my opinion quite effectively. During the first season of The Big Bang Theory, Raj Koothrappali suffered from selective mutism – he wasn’t able to speak in the presence of women who weren’t related to him. Personally, I thought this running joke was getting old quickly, and I suspect that the BBT show’s writers did as well, since they created a loophole for him during the eighth episode of the first season: he could speak to women, but only after consuming alcohol. Soon, Raj almost always had a drink in his hand. By the sixth season, Raj’s selective mutism was purged entirely after his girlfriend, Lucy, broke up with him. Raj’s character evolved considerably since the series started. The Simpsons is now in its 29th season.

My vision is the development of Apu during a season-long story arc. I feel that this is the most realistic way to go about it, since no one is going to buy a sudden awakening or a life-changing epiphany. During the course of an entire season, I’d like to see Apu slowly observe the world changing around him, and then realize that new opportunities abound. Here are some subplot ideas that can be wovwn into the main stories:

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Character Development Scenes

Episode 1 Goal: Apu encounters and interacts with non-stereotypical Indians.
Scene: Russell Peters is driving through Springfield, and stops at the Kwik-E-Mart for a drink and some snacks. As Russell is paying for his items, he strikes up a conversation with Apu. After some small talk…

Apu: It’s nice meeting you. My name is Apu.
Russell: Everyone is so friendly in this town. Nice meeting you, too. My name’s Russell.
Apu: Russell? That’s your name?
Russell: Yes, my name is Russell. Russell Peters.
Apu: [leans in closer. Speaks softly, conspiratorially] Come on. I’m Indian, you’re Indian… what’s your real name?

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Episode 2 Goal: Apu sees limitless opportunities for Indians, well beyond beyond the Kwik-E-Mart.
Scene 1: Apu is watching TV and hears a news story about Microsoft, including a short interview with its CEO. Apu was expecting Bill Gates, and is astounded to learn that its CEO is Satya Nadella.
Scene 2: Later that week, there is a news story about Google. Apu is expecting a brief statement from Larry & Sergey, and is once again shocked to learn that Google’s CEO is Sundar Pichai. Apu starts to realize that America is indeed the land of opportunity for everyone, and wonders whether he can do more with his life than manage the Kwik-E-Mart.

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Multi-Episode Story Arc

Each year, the Kwik-E-Mart franchisees meet in a different city for their annual convention. This year, they are meeting in Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley. While at the hotel, Apu meets up with some other franchisees, and they share entertaining stories about their stores and customers, as well as trading Squishee machine maintenance tips. The group agrees to meet at a nearby restaurant for lunch, but Apu doesn’t hear them – he’s wandered off to another corner of the room, and is marvelling at a prototype of a new Squishee machine. When he returns, his group is gone, and he now has to forage the neighbourhood himself and find a place to eat.

Apu walks a couple of blocks and finds a small restaurant, not too far from Stanford University. As he is waiting for his food, he overhears a group of young people at the next table discussing their work and a couple of particularly perplexing coding and AI problems. Apu gets up, walks over and offers to help – after all, he did code an unbeatable Tic-Tac-Toe program as part of his Ph.D thesis in Computer Science, and is quite familiar with the theoretical and practical applications of artificial intelligence.

As it turns out, these young people are all Google engineers, and they are astounded by Apu’s programming insights. They initially assume that he’s visiting professor at Stanford, since the restaurant is frequented by its faculty. Their conversation becomes quite animated: Apu’s solutions could have applications in Google’s self-driving cars, and could form the foundation of an enhanced search engine that knows what you’re about to search for before you even start typing. One of them notes “If we embed his designs into Google Glass, it might become something that people actually want to wear this time. I think Sergey will be absolutely thrilled, since Google Glass was his pet project.” They invite Apu to join them at the Googleplex that afternoon, to meet with their boss.

Googleplex

The Cliffhanger: Apu is hesitant. There’s an important seminar starting in less than an hour. They are going to demonstrate the Squishee machine prototype, and announce a couple of new flavours for next year. He’s going to know what those flavours are before anyone else. On the other hand, he’s never been inside the Googleplex before. He now stands at a fork in the road, and is genuinely undecided.

I’ve written a lot more, but this is how the story arc would begin.

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Closing Thoughts

I can understand where Hari Kondabolu is coming from. During the past quarter century, our cultural landscape has shifted, moving slowly and almost imperceptibly, like tectonic plates, until the continual movement culminates in an earthquake. Suddenly, we are jolted awake, with the the realization that Apu is no longer an accurate representation of South Asians in North America. However, it’s not to late to develop and enhance his character. Let’s make this a positive growth experience for all of us.

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How I Would Deal With Celebrities Who Harass Women

The dominoes have started to fall, and they are now tumbling faster and faster. At this moment, we are living through what Malcolm Gladwell would call The Tipping Point.

Hollywood Sign

We are now all uncomfortably aware of this poorly-kept secret: women in the entertainment industry have been sexually harassed and assaulted by men in power, but rarely has anything been done about it. The tides started to turn in October 2014, when Bill Cosby was accused of multiple drug-facilitated sexual assaults. At first, we didn’t want to believe it – as Cliff Huxtable, Bill Cosby was America’s father during the 1980s. He liked Jello pudding and he didn’t swear during his comedy routines. What’s not to like? Then, as more and more women came forward, it became clear that our safe, comfortable reality was about to come crashing down. The number of accusers kept climbing until the total surpassed 50. This could not longer be a conspiracy or a collusion – we needed to adjust to a harsh, new reality.

What was a single tremor in 2014 turned into an earthquake during the summer and fall of 2017. One after another, major entertainment and political figures were being accused by multiple women of sexual assault and harassment: Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., James Toback, Ben Affleck, Jeffrey Tambor, Al Franken.

As I was beginning this blog post, Charlie Rose was accused by eight women of sexual harassment. He has since been suspended by CBS. As I write this now, Pixar animator John Lasseter has just taken a six-month leave of absence from the company after acknowledging “missteps” in his behaviour with Pixar employees.

People are understandably outraged, not only by the abhorrent behaviour but also by the jarring pervasiveness of it. There is a collective desire to punish these perpetrators, and I share that feeling with you. However, what concerns me is not how we feel, but how we’ve reacted, and the consistency of our knee-jerk reactions:

These punitive measures may make us a sense that justice is being served, but they’re simply short-term, feel-good reactions. In my opinion, there is a much better way to handle these situations, and it begins with examining what we, as a society, want. Yes, we want them to pay for their transgressions, but there is a broader goal: we want them to stop abusing their power or position, to respect others, and to behave like decent human beings. The path to this goal begins with a look back at our childhood.

Childhood Lessons

When I was a little kid, my brother and I usually got along, but not always. When we were fighting or being antagonistic toward each other, my mother would walk into the room and say “I want you two to play nicely together!”. In hindsight, she was very wise. Instead of removing one of us from the room, she deliberately kept us together so that we would learn how to get along with each other. She didn’t adjust our environment because we weren’t well-behaved; we had to change our behaviour and adapt to our environment. It was a form of social Darwinism, and it worked… for a little while. Over time, my brother and I did learn to play nicely together.

I believe this parenting principle can also apply to adults. Of the people in the above list, let’s use Kevin Spacey as an example. After his reprehensible behaviour was publicized, Netflix, understandably, wanted to distance itself from him, and they cut ties with him. I get that. I’m sure that they see him as a toxic person, a general liability to their brand, and perhaps even to their bottom line. However, this is still a Lady Macbeth-esque knee-jerk reaction. Naturally, without their lead actor, the future of his television series, House of Cards, is up in the air.

I believe that there is a better approach to this situation, using a variation of my mother’s conflict resolution technique.

© Creative Commons Attribution, labelled for non-commercial re-use.

As yourself this: Will removing Kevin Spacey from his studio environment make him a better person? Rather than simply fire him (and possibly cancel House of Cards), I’d like to propose the following scenario:

Kevin Spacey’s current contract is torn up, and renegotiated, with the following additional provisions:

  • His annual salary will remain the same, but he will now receive only 50% of it.
  • The other 50% will be divided as follows:
    • 25% of his annual salary will be divided evenly among the co-workers he molested
    • The other 25% will be divided evenly among the rest of the employees. Not just the on-camera talent, but everyone working on the show.
  • He will apologize, in person and individually, to every colleague he harassed or assaulted.
  • He will treat everyone working on the show with the utmost respect and courtesy, at all time, both on and off the set.
  • Those colleagues whom he molested who no longer want to work with him will still be entitled to their share of the 25% portion of his salary, even if they find work elsewhere.
  • If he behaves inappropriately again, then he will be fired immediately and his character will be written out of the show.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, the difference here is that his environment will not change; he will remain in it, learn to adapt to it, and learn to treat everyone around him with respect. This is actually a harsher punishment than simply taking away his show, because it makes Netflix the proverbial parent, who is saying “Listen, Spacey, you are not going to run away; we won’t allow it. You are going to stay here, and you are going to treat everyone with the utmost consideration.”

My proposal will give him the opportunity to start practising this less puerile behaviour, day after day, week after week, and month after month. He’ll still earn more than enough money to live, but the sudden reduction in pay will be a reminder that the pendulum still needs to swing the other way for a while before a balance can be restored. Over time, his new civilized comportment should become his new normal, just like it did for my brother and me. I, for one, have faith in Kevin Spacey; like a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge, I don’t think he’s too old to turn over a new leaf. I think he can transform himself into a decent person, and that is, ultimately, our goal.

In fact, this scenario, with minor modifications, could also be adapted for Jeffrey Tambor and Charlie Rose.

Let’s not be reactionary and change the environment for celebrities who behave poorly. Keep them in the same environment, make sure they know that they’re being watched, and then hold them to a higher behavioural standard. They need to practice continual respectful interactions until it becomes second nature. My proposal gives them that opportunity.

As I turn on my television and continue to watch the proverbial dominoes fall, our collective responses seem dishearteningly similar. It’s tempting to step in when karma isn’t moving fast enough for us, but let’s not succumb to knee-jerk reactions. If we want to create a better society, we need to play the long game. What we see as just and immediate punishment is merely our attempt at changing the environment in response to their actions. Let’s take this opportunity to shape their behaviour and help them realize that they must adapt, and that the changes must come from within.

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To The Edge Of the Universe!

The End Is Near 1

This protester’s sign may be a little premature, but he is correct. Humankind’s reign will eventually come to an end, and there is important work that (I feel) we must complete before we are extinguished.

There are three events that will cause the end of our collective existence: two are naturally-occurring and are in the very distant future. However, the third is one that we created ourselves, and may occur within the next 100 years. Let’s examine each one individually.

The Red Giant

Everyone who’s taken a high school science class knows that our sun will become a Red Giant in about five billion years. At that time, its diameter will increase until it becomes 200 times its current size, and its outer edge will be in the Earth’s orbit. This means that Mercury, Venus and the Earth will be consumed by the sun and completely incinerated. I admit this sounds disastrous, but during the next five billion years – assuming that humankind hasn’t nuked itself out of existence or rendered the Earth uninhabitable in other ways – I expect that we will have devised a way to travel to and colonize other planets, in order to continue our lives elsewhere. This event doesn’t particularly concern me.

Sun, Red Giant-600

Now let’s zoom out a little more and examine things on a cosmological scale.

The Big Crunch

I assume that most of you are familiar with the Big Bang Theory – not the television series, but the hypothesis that offers to explain how the universe was created. About 13.75 billion years ago, all of the matter in the universe was concentrated in a single point called a singularity, which then expanded very rapidly, much like an explosion. At this moment, our universe is still expanding (as it has been doing since it was created), but many people who subscribe to this hypothesis also believe that at some point in the future, this expansion will cease and the universe will then start contracting. This contraction will continue until all of the matter in the universe collapses into a single point once again, which will be denser than a black hole. This event is known as the Big Crunch – the Big Bang in reverse. It will be the end of space and time, the universe itself, and (most importantly) everything that was ever created by its inhabitants.

Big Crunch

Although the Big Crunch won’t happen anytime soon, this is still a distressing thought. Everything that humans have ever created and accomplished – every book, building, invention, language, medicine, piece of art; all of our, music, poetry, sculptures and computer software – the entirety of our accumulated wisdom along with the fruits of all of our labours – will one day cease to exist. Preserving our collective knowledge as our sun becomes a Red Giant is a trivial matter – we simply have to move to Mars or to the outer planets in our own solar system – but there is no escape from the Big Crunch. There is no place in the universe where we can safely store this knowledge – no celestial bank vault or safety-deposit box – because, ultimately, all of the matter in the universe will eventually be destroyed. I realize that matter cannot be created or destroyed, but during the Big Crunch, the knowledge and wisdom and beauty contained in that matter will no longer exist.

A Global Catastrophe Of Our Own Making

While there’s still plenty of time before the universe collapses, there is another calamitous event that is just around the corner. Climate change could start making our planet uninhabitable, starting in less than a century.

CO2 Emmisions Chart-600

  • In a recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the shows host, quoting Princeton professor Michael Oppenheimer, warns of dire and potentially irreversible consequences for the planet’s food supply if we aren’t able to limit the global temperature rise to below 2°C, or our cumulative global CO² emissions to less than 2,900 gigatonnes. This upper limit is represented by the gray bar in the graph on the left. The red bar represents our present cumulative global CO² emissions. At our current rate of CO² emissions continue, we will exceed that threshold in about 20 years, as indicated by the graph on the right.

  • Author and astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, in an interview with CNN, is also worried that we are reaching the point of no return, and added “The longer we delay, the more I worry we might not be able to recover from this.”

  • Stephen Hawking, in a recent interview with the BBC, warned that humanity was in danger of destroying itself within the next 100 years. Not only from global warming, but also from nuclear war, and genetically-engineered viruses. He then suggested that we need to colonize other planets if we hope to ensure our survival.

Saving Everything Humankind Has Created

When the Big Crunch occurs, everything that humankind has ever created will be destroyed, but now we no longer have billions of years to think of a way to save it. Unless we can curtail our carbon emissions, we will have less than a century before we reach the point of no return, and the beginning of the end.

However, I have an idea – not to save the planet, but a way that we might be able to preserve everything that we’ve created. I will admit, this is a long shot, both literally and metaphorically. Here’s what I propose: We can launch a space probe – one that contains a digitized version of all of our accumulated knowledge (in a multitude of languages), along with a device that will read and translate this data) – and send it hurtling toward the edge of the universe.

Space Probe 2

Right now you’re probably thinking “If the entire universe is going to collapse, then why bother sending out a space probe anywhere, since it will also be destroyed in the Big Crunch?” Yes, that is a reasonable question. The next step in this plan, after launching the probe, is ensuring that it will reach the edge of the universe. Before we can do that, we first need to find out if this is even possible. The universe is still expanding, but how fast is it expanding? After doing a bit of research, I found out that the rate of expansion has its own special unit, called the Hubble Constant. There is some debate over its exact value, but the best guess so far is 71 km/s/Mpc (kilometres per second per megaparsec). The expansion rate is actually a bit more complicated than a simple velocity, but for the purposes of this article, let’s just assume that the rate of expansion is 71km/s.

If we can get our space probe to exceed the speed at which the universe is expanding, then it will eventually reach the edge of the universe. Luckily, space is practically a vacuum, so as long as our probe doesn’t hit anything, it won’t slow down. A continual propulsion source (from solar panels or a small nuclear reactor) can ensure a continual increase in speed. As a reference, the Helios 1 and 2 space probes, launched in 1974 and 1976, respectively, achieved a speed record of 70.22 km/s in their orbit around the sun. Exceeding the speed of the universe’s rate of expansion does appear to to be attainable, which means that we can launch a space probe, filled with our accumulated knowledge, and (theoretically) have it reach the edge of the universe.

The crucial question is: what will happen when our space probe hits the edge of the universe? I have no idea, but after giving it some thought, I think that it will be one of the following scenarios:

  • It will it bounce off the universe’s “wall”, and then simply proceed in the opposite direction, like a cosmic game of Pong.

  • It will disintegrate or otherwise be completely destroyed because it came into contact with an out-of-bounds area.

  • It will become stuck to the edge of the universe by some previously-unknown attractive force.

  • It will re-appear on the other side of the universe, as is if entered a wormhole (much like the arcade game Asteroids, where moving your ship off the right edge of the screen makes it appear again on the left).

  • It will re-appear in some random place in the universe, much like pressing the hyperspace button in the arcade game Asteroids.

  • It will penetrate the edge, and enter some other dimension.

  • It will penetrate the edge and enter the Creator’s World – much like an ant discovering a way through the plastic case of an ant farm.

Edge Of The Universe 2

Of these possibilities, the last two are the most intriguing, because they hold the promise of continuity along with the notion that something may exist outside our universe. When we die, most of us hope that there will be some form of afterlife, because we believe in the continuity of our awareness, or soul. We can’t accept that our essence can just cease, and that we will simply wink our of existence. Similarly, it would be just as tragic if all of our civilization’s accumulated knowledge and wisdom also vanished during The Big Crunch. The last two items in the list give us hope that our collective efforts may not ultimately be in vain, and that we, as a species, might be able to preserve what we’ve created, or present something of value to the creator of the universe.

For all we know, this may even be the purpose of our existence: to find a way to breach the universe’s barrier and give something back to its creator (or impress the creator with our literature, art, poetry, music and wisdom) before everything is ultimately destroyed in The Big Crunch. Our entire universe could even be a creator’s game: design a universe, let it unfold, and see how many civilizations will develop from the primordial ooze, and how many of them will eventually become technologically advanced enough to break through our universe’s barrier and send a message, before they annihilate themselves, destroy their homeworld or time runs out.

I have no idea which of these touching-the-edge-of-the-universe scenarios will turn out to be correct (if any), and I can’t even calculate the odds of a space probe reaching the edge of an expanding universe intact (although I’m sure they are astronomically low). However, if we do nothing, then all will be for naught – everything that every human has ever created will be destroyed. As for the most immediate threat, climate change, we have become a modern-day personification of Ebenezer Scrooge: unless we drastically change our polluting ways, we will also see our names on a (metaphorical) gravestone.

What are our chances for success? No one knows, but however infinitesimal they may seem, I believe that we have to try. Besides, you do buy the occasional lottery ticket, don’t you?

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Is There a Hidden Inspirational Message In Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?

Have you ever experienced a really profound dream – one in which you’ve stumbled upon the hidden mysteries of the universe, and one so intense that it actually woke you up in the middle of the night? Upon awakening, you think to yourself “This is it – I’ve discovered the secret! Yes, it all makes sense now!” Then you roll over and go back to sleep, and when you wake up in the morning, you’ve completely forgotten what your dream was about. I had one of those dreams a few weeks ago, but this time it happened just a few minutes before I was supposed to wake up, so I was able to remember it. It doesn’t seem as profound now as it did when I was dreaming it, but for what it’s worth, here it is…

In my dream, I uncovered a secret inspirational message contained within Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Of course, since Einstein died in 1955, we can’t ask him if it’s true, so this will be nothing more than the whimsical nocturnal speculations of my overactive imagination.

Albert Einstein

I suspect that I was able to connect the dots because I’m a fan of Leonard Bernstein and had recently been watching his Harvard lectures. In 1973, this Harvard alumnus delivered a series of lectures at his alma mater called The Unanswered Question. In the first lecture, Musical Phonology, he told the students that the principal thing that he learned from his masters at Harvard was a sense of interdisciplinary spirit, and that “the best way to know a thing, is in the context of another discipline.

It was in a similar interdisciplinary spirit that I was dreaming about something very analytical, which appeals exclusively to the left hemisphere of our brains – Einstein’s Theory of Relativity – from a decidedly right-hemisphere point of view. I was contemplating relativity from a new and unique vantage point: the self-help section of a bookstore.

EMC2

Even if you don’t understand it, you are undoubtedly familiar with Einstein’s relativity equation: E=MC² It states that energy (E) equals mass (M) times the speed of light (C) squared. It’s also important to know a couple of facts about the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second, or about 300,000 kilometres per second. Einstein stated that the speed of light was always constant, and that nothing (or at least nothing with any mass) can travel at or faster than light. I admit that it does seem strange that there could be a maximum speed for anything in the universe, but the concept of light’s maximum velocity can be illustrated in the following graph:

Energy vs Speed Graph

This graph displays speed along the x-axis (horizontally) and energy along the y-axis (vertically). The faster an object travels, the more energy is required to reach that speed. As you can see, there is a vertical asymptote at c (the speed of light). I’m sure that you already know that a vertical asymptote is a vertical line that the graph plot approaches but never actually touches (because its value would have to be infinity in order to reach it). In this graph, it means that it will take an infinite amount of energy to propel anything at the speed of light. That’s why nothing (with mass) can travel that fast – there just isn’t enough energy in the universe to do it.

And now, the essence of the dream… was Einstein an even greater genius than we thought? While E=MC² was certainly a groundbreaking equation for physicists, it could also be interpreted as an important social statement. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity might actually be a parable – much like one of Aesop’s Fables – disguised as an equation. I had finally decoded the secret, inspirational message contained within the equation, because I (much like Leonard Bernstein’s professors) was examining it within the context of another discipline.

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The 80/20 Rule and Project Management

If that graph looks familiar to you, then this might be why. If your job is at a manager’s level or higher, then you probably know about the 80/20 Rule, known formally as The Pareto Principle. It’s embraced by many different industries, and each one places their own personalized spin on it:

  • 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your clients
  • 80% of network traffic occurs during 20% of the day
  • 20% of computer code contains 80% of the errors

In project management, there is a popular maxim paraphrased as follows “80% of a project can be completed in 20% of the time… but it’s that final 20% that requires 80% of the project’s timeline (or even more, in many cases)“. This graph illustrates that maxim quite well.

Take a look at the graph from a Project Manager’s point of view, but relabel the x-axis as “Percent Complete” and the y-axis as “Time”. At the 80% mark, the project time requirements start to skyrocket, and soon it becomes clear that delivering every feature (flawlessly) within the initial time frame will not be possible. Compromises are inevitable. Did Einstein leave this message for Project Managers in his Theory of Relativity?

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Perfectionist Personalities

We all know people who are perfectionists, and I’m sure you’ll agree that they can often be trying. Some of these folks – those who insist that others should rise to their perfectionist standards – can be annoying or even insufferable. Personally, I think that perfectionists are generally not very happy, since they have set for themselves, a goal that cannot realistically be achieved, and therefore exists in a continual state of disappointment.

Perfectionist

In that same graph, let’s relabel the axes once again and assume that the x-axis represents our own perceived level of perfectionism, and that the y-axis represents the time, money and energy required to reach this level of perfection. Since we are all imperfect beings, targeting 100% is a pointless exercise. In fact, I would love to show this graph to a perfectionist and say “Study this graph, and then please abandon your quest for perfectionism. None of us will ever be perfect, so stop trying. As you can see, you can reach and maintain a fairly respectable level without even breaking a sweat, but soon as you set your sights on 100%, the effort (relative to the gains) rises exponentially. The graph is speaking to you!

Could Einstein have coded into his equation, this sage and practical advice for the perfectionists in our lives?

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Reinterpreting Relativity

For more than a century, Einstein’s concept of relativity has been viewed only one way. Could it also be examined within a social context? I’m going to propose that Einstein embedded a behavioural allegory in his Theory of Relativity, and that the following is his hidden personal and motivational message for all of us: What relativity really means is that you must measure yourself relative to those around you, and not on an absolute scale of perfection. Since none of us is perfect, then your life is really a lot better than you realize. If you’re a perfectionist, then trying to achieve 100% perfection is merely an exercise in futility. Do the best you can, but as you can see from the graph, anything more than that will take a disproportionate amount of time, energy and money.

Einstein was certainly a genius, but I’m going to propose that he was also a cross-disciplinary visionary who purposely designed his Theory of Relativity to appeal to both hemispheres of our brain. This theory challenged Newtonian physics and also contained an inspirational message for everyone. It simply took the rest of us a century to decode this second component. Who could have guessed that analyzing a graph of the speed of light might make us a little more… enlightened?

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And now, I’d like to pose what I call The Grand Unifying Question: should books about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity also be placed in the self-help section of your local bookstore?

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The Hidden Life Lesson In The Shawshank Redemption

So oftentimes it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.” – The Eagles, Already Gone

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I thought that The Shawshank Redemption was an outstanding movie – not just for the story or the acting, but for the subtle, yet profound message that it delivered to the audience.

I wanted to discuss this allegory a little further, so I decided to take an informal poll among my friends. Most of them have seen The Shawshank Redemption – some multiple times – and all of them told me that they enjoyed it immensely. However, when I asked them what they got out of the movie, no one extracted the same life lesson that I did. However, I saw this as a good thing; I could now argue that The Shawshank Redemption is a work of art, since art affects different people in different ways.

shawshank-redemption

If you’ve never seen The Shawshank Redemption, then stop reading this blog post and watch it now. Get what you can from it and then come back. If you’ve already seen the film, then I’d like to encourage you to watch it one more time – but first allow me to tell you what I gained from it, after viewing it from (what else) The Bob Angle.

As I’m sure you recall, one of the characters, Brooks Hatlen, is released from prison after completing his sentence. Unfortunately, after being in prison for 50 years, he is unable to adjust to society again and eventually commits suicide by hanging himself.

Before his sentence Brooks was able to function fairly well in society… except, of course, for his inability to stay on the right side of the law. So what happened to his ability to cope? The answer is: Brooks’ universe shrank. While he was serving his sentence, his universe slowly started to contract, and eventually the prison walls functioned as the boundaries of his new existence. For all intents and purposes, there was nothing – or at least nothing attainable by Brooks – beyond those walls. Once his sentence was over and he was forcibly pushed past those boundaries and into the universe that we inhabit, life became too much for him to bear.

The lesson, as I see it, is this: The more boundaries there are in your life, the smaller your universe becomes. While you may be content living a circumscribed existence, you will not be able to see and enjoy all that life has to offer.

At this point, you may be thinking “I’m sorry, but this doesn’t apply to me. I’m not living inside a prison, real or self-imposed. I function well in society and there are no boundaries whatsoever in my life!

Are you sure? I’d like to propose to you that your universe is also shrinking. Not through any physical constraints such as the prison walls in the movie, but by barriers that you have unwittingly created yourself. Most of us have invisible boundaries in our lives, and we aren’t even aware of the limitations that they are imposing on us. Let me give you a few examples:

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The Transportation Universe

First of all, I must admit that I am also susceptible to these boundaries. Before I bought my first car, I used to take the bus everywhere, and began to know most of the bus routes in the city. Shortly after getting my car, I was driving to the grocery store and, without even thinking about it, I took the same route as the bus (which wasn’t the fastest or most direct way to get there). Midway through my journey I suddenly exclaimed out loud “What am I doing? Why am I driving on this street? I have a car now – I can drive on any street I like!

bus-route-map

Years of riding the bus had made me assume that the only way to get from Point A to Point B was by travelling along the bus routes. All of the other roads in the city were purged from my consciousness. My transportation universe had shrunk, and I hadn’t even noticed.

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The Employment Universe

internal-applicantsYears ago, I had a contract job working at a government ministry. One day, my manager confided to me that he wasn’t really happy in his job, but couldn’t identify another position within the ministry where he would be happy. So I helpfully suggested that he should consider extending his search to the private sector, which was where I was working previously. He had been working in the Ministry for so long that his employment universe was limited not only to the public sector, but to a single ministry within it. It never occurred to him to look beyond it.

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The Culinary Universe

When you go grocery shopping, how many items are on your list? Probably 20-30. During an average month, that list may vary and you might buy 40-50 different items. If you buy groceries fro your entire family, then you might buy 80 different items each month. How many items do you think an average-sized supermarket stocks? The answer I found online is: 50,000 different SKUs. You can choose from 50,000 different items, yet you buy only 50-80 different items each month, and likely the same ones month after month. Even if you bought 100 different items each month, that’s still only 0.2% of the store’s inventory. Think about that for a second – when you walk into a supermarket, you are deliberately ignoring 99.8% of the merchandise. Nobody is forcing you to do it. This, too, is your own self-imposed limitation.

supermarket-aisle

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The Digital Universe

If you’re a software developer and you want to spruce up your application, the best way to do this is to ask for suggestions from someone outside your company – preferably, someone who’s never used the software before. In my experience, the best and most innovative ideas come from new employees. This sounds counter-intuitive, but it actually makes perfect sense.

I’ve written software, and after a while, you become so intimately familiar with the code that it feels as though you’re actually living inside the application. Each screen is a different room. However, just like Brooks Hatlen, the software slowly begins to impose its own barriers. Over time, my ideas become less grandiose and are eventually limited to minor enhancements or bug fixes. I no longer consider radical changes or bold, new directions. The code has become my prison, yet I am blissfully unaware of it.

New employees (or new users) have no such boundaries, and aren’t afraid to ask “Why don’t we do it this way?” or “Wouldn’t this approach be more intuitive?“.

Back in 2006, Microsoft developers were considering making the Windows Vista startup sound mandatory. Predictably, users were not too enthused with this loss of control. However, Steve Ball, Microsoft’s Group Program Manager for Vista, was unrepentant. When asked why he was imposing his will on the users, he explained that the startup sound was actually “A spiritual side of the branding experience. A short, brief, positive confirmation that your machine is now conscious and ready to react. You can turn on your Vista machine, go eat some cereal, while your machine is cold booting and then this gentle sound will come out telling you that you can log in.

windows-vista-startup-screen

What Ball didn’t consider were the myriad real-world situations in which any sound is not desirable. For example, if you’re studying for an exam in your university library, the last thing you need is to have your train of thought broken by a Windows startup sound every time a student turns on their laptop. This is obvious to everyone, except the Windows Vista developers, since their universe has become constrained.

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The Twitterverse

Finally, there’s Twitter, which irks me because of its 140-character limit. Now, you’re probably thinking “Wait a minute – that’s Twitter’s limitation, not mine!” Actually it is our limitation because of our tacit acceptance of this limit. When we’re composing a tweet and we’re approaching 140 characters, we never think that there’s something wrong with the design of Twitter – we just assume that our thoughts need to be edited. In my opinion, there shouldn’t be a limit on the complexity of our thoughts and ideas. We shouldn’t have to force them to fit inside a ridiculously small container. Yet we do, and we don’t question it.

Imagine that you are an art gallery curator, and that your gallery has recently acquired an previously-unknown Old Master, discovered (sans frame) at a garage sale. When the painting arrives, you realize that it’s larger than you thought, and that the frame you selected for it is too small. What do you do? Buy a larger frame, or take a pair of scissors to the painting to ensure that it fits inside your container?

cropped-mona-lisa

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The Shawshank Redemption is a remarkable movie, because it illustrated (to me, anyway) that we are all, to varying degrees, living a circumscribed existence. These invisible boundaries have placed you inside a prison of your own construction, yet until this moment, you were probably blissfully unaware of it. Now, by making you aware of just a few of these constraints, you now have a choice: you can continue accepting or even ignoring these limitations, or you can identify and break down your boundaries, break out of your own personal Shawshank State Penitentiary, and start flourishing in your new, unbounded universe.

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We Can Repair Police Relations, If We All Work Together

So far, July 2016 has been a very difficult month in the United States for police forces and their perception by the general public. There is an ebb and flow in this relationship, but there is also a continual underlying tension. This month, unfortunately, things have really deteriorated:

  • On July 5th, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Alton Stirling was shot and killed by police as he sold CDs outside a store.
  • On July 6th, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Philando Castile was killed by a police officer after a being pulled over for a broken tail light. His girlfriend live streamed the aftermath of the shooting on social media.
  • On July 7th, in Dallas, Texas, five police officers were killed by a sniper, as a form of retaliation for the police shootings during the previous two days.
  • The following day, in Ballwin, Missouri, a police office was shot in the neck while walking back to his cruiser after a routine traffic stop, leaving the police officer in critical condition.
  • July 17th: In this still-developing story in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, multiple police officers have been shot, and three are believed to have died.

Right now there are probably hundreds of other bloggers thinking and writing the same thing I am right now: these events are horrifying, and the violence needs to stop immediately. To most of us, this problem does seem insurmountable, and you may feel, as an individual, that there is nothing you can do about it. However, when I examine things from The Bob Angle, I see a solution. Yes, it is more than one person can accomplish, which is why we need to work together. If we can coordinate our efforts in this area, then restoring a healthy relationship with our police forces can be an attainable goal.

The way I see it, the media’s predominantly negative reporting of police work makes it difficult for us to see the big picture. Here is a breakdown of what’s typically happens following a police shooting:

  • The story gets local, and often nationwide media coverage. Millions of people now know what happened, and understandably, become outraged.
  • Many of these people will be affected by stimulus generalization: they not only become angry with the officer responsible for the shooting, but also with the entire police force and the police forces of other cities. Police officers everywhere are now viewed derisively and may even be the targets of scorn, anger and hate.
  • Some people may even feel compelled to retaliate against individuals who have nothing to do with the original incident.

In Dallas, Texas, five police officers who had absolutely nothing to do with the Baton Rouge or Minneapolis shootings were killed, because the shooter was seeking revenge for the incidents in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. This is the devastating power of stimulus generalization; the fact that these five police officers were completely innocent didn’t deter, faze or perhaps even occur to the Dallas shooter.

Stimulus generation is a formidable force, but with a coordinated and focused effort, we can control it, and perhaps even make it work to our advantage. In my opinion, police relations are perpetually tense due largely to a prevalence of negative media coverage. The media reports unpleasant events for more often than uplifting stories. Incidents that keep us in perpetual fear seem to be the ones that are broadcast most widely. The “feel good” stories are usually left to the end of the newscast (if there’s time). As a result, we are getting a statistically skewed view of what’s happening in the world, and an especially distorted view of what our country’s police forces do every day.

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Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

To be fair, the media does report, from time to time, on the more positive examples of police work. Here are a few of those stories:

  • During the July 7th Dallas protest in which the five police officers were killed, a mother of four was shot in the leg. As she was attempting to shield one of her sons, she looked up and saw a police officer running over to shield both of them from the gunfire.
  • On January 15th, 2016, a Florida police officer was called for a noise complaint. Some kids were playing basketball too loudly in the street. However, instead of admonishing them, he decided to join them in a game. Afterwards, he promised to return and bring a special guest with him. That special guest turned out to be Shaquille O’Neal

Shaq

  • After responding to a trespassing call, two Barnesville, Georgia police officers discovered a homeless teenager who told them that he had ridden his brother’s bicycle for six hours in order to register for classes at Gordon State College. These two officers put him up in a hotel room (and paid for it themselves), and then set up a GoFundMe page in his name to help him get back on his feet again. In an example of how kindness feeds on itself; the owner of a local pizzeria hired the teenager and said that he would schedule the shifts around his college classes.
  • In Charlotte, North Carolina, officer Tim Purdy responded to a call about a suicidal teen with autism. He sat down with him, talked things out, and likely saved this young man’s life. Purdy later told a reporter “This is something that tens of thousands of law enforcement officers that are out there do every single day,” Purdy said in a video. “You just don’t hear about it.

Police Officer Consoling Teen

  • In La Plata, Maryland, an 81-year-old woman who has dementia was reported missing by her daughters. After a brief search, officer Morrison found her, and held her hand as he walked her back home, chatting with her on the way.

Police And Dementia

  • Each year, police forces in Toronto and the surrounding suburbs hold a “Cram a Cruiser” food drive to support local food banks. They set up a patrol car up just outside the entrance of participating supermarkets, and encourage shoppers to donate food, which is then placed inside the car. A couple of years ago, they were able to fill 50 cruisers full of food. This event is publicized, but only in the local community newspapers.

Cram A Cruiser 5

I agree completely with officer Tim Purdy’s comments; in fact, they reflect the central theme of this blog post. The good deeds performed daily by police officers all over the country vastly outnumber the bad things. Unfortunately, we don’t recognize this because media reporting is weighed heavily on the stories that sell the most newspapers or that generate the most page views – that is, the decidedly unpleasant ones. That’s why our perception of police forces is distorted.

After reading my brief descriptions of these good deeds, how do you feel about police officers right now? I’ll bet that your faith is being restored, and that you now have renewed hope for a brighter, more harmonious future. Listing just a few examples of officers who go above and beyond the call of duty to help others was my modest attempt to create a more statistically balanced reporting, but it still isn’t even close to representing all of the helpful things that police officers do for us every day.

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What We Can Do

Individually, we aren’t as powerful as media outlets, which is why we need to work together to create and promulgate a more accurate view of law enforcement across the country. First of all, we need to consider all of the little things that police officers do for the general public every day, and recognize that the vast majority of these acts receive no publicity at all. Secondly, if you’ve had a positive experience with a police officer, then tell your family, friends and colleagues about it. Tell the story repeatedly, and spread the positive message. This is how we can help give the rest of society a more statistically accurate view of police officers, and the good deeds they perform each day.

I’d like to get the ball rolling, by sharing a couple of stories of my own:

  • A number of years ago, one of my father’s friends was in Chicago, attending an educational conference. This was his first time visiting Chicago. After the conference, he had a bit of free time, so he decided that he would drive around and just explore the city, with no particular destination in mind. As he was driving along, he noticed the flashing lights of a police car behind him. He immediately pulled over, and was baffled because he wasn’t speeding or breaking any other laws (that he was aware of). The officer walked up to his car and demanded “What are doing here?”. This man told him about the conference, and mentioned that he was visiting from Canada. The police officer told him that he had wandered into a very bad neighbourhood and that he shouldn’t be here. He then said “I’m going to drive ahead of you. Follow right behind me, and I’ll take you out of here and to someplace safer“. And that’s just what he did.

My father told me that he’s heard similar stories from some of his friends in other cities – Atlanta and Miami – and added that helping people in this way appears to be quite common. This is the type of police story that is never reported by the media, but should be.

  • Back in the early 2000s, I visited a bar in Fort Lauderdale called The Elbo Room. At the time it stood out from other bars because it had three streaming webcams: one inside, one pointed toward their outdoor patio, and one on the roof aimed at the beach. At any time, I could go to their web site and see what was happening there at that exact moment (which was really cool during the early 2000s). About 3-4 years later, a major hurricane was approaching the south-east coast of Florida.

All businesses were closed and people were urged to stay indoors or even leave the area. I visited the Elbo Room’s web page to see if their roof-mounted web cam was still functioning, and perhaps get a glimpse of the weather and the waves. Surprisingly, the web cam was still functioning in the torrential rain, and although the image was distorted by creeping rivulets of water, I could still get a fairly decent view of the surroundings. This hurricane was a sight to behold. As George Costanza would say “The sea was angry that day, my friends“. The waves were crashing onto the beach, almost reaching the road, and the palm trees were bending in the gale-force winds. Despite the less-than-ideal view though the webcam lens, I saw the flashing lights of a police cruiser, right at the intersection of Los Olas and A1A. It was the only sign of humanity in this decidedly inhospitable environment.

As I watched this scene for the next 10-15 minutes, it occurred to me that this police officer was likely stationed there to keep an eye out for anyone who still hadn’t found shelter, or to make sure that no one got too close to the beach. I was impressed by his/her dedication. While just about everyone else in Fort Lauderdale was safe and sequestered inside their hurricane-shuttered homes, this police officer was watching out for others. This is another story that you won’t find in your local newspaper.

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Closing Thoughts

When we read and watch the daily news, we assume that we have an accurate and balanced view of things. However, our view of the world depends on what is reported to us. Fortunately, our skewed perception of police work can be corrected if we all work together, recognize all of the good work done each day by law enforcement officials everywhere, and share those stories. Only then will be have a more statistically accurate view of what’s really happening, and how much assistance we’re actually receiving from our men and women in blue.

Finally, I’d like to propose the following: the next time you see a police officer, say “Thank you for your service” (or something along those lines). We say this to our veterans who protected us during wartime, so why not express the same sentiment for the men and women who continue to protect us every day?

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We Are Worshipping The Wrong God

The top news story across the country this week is the raging wildfire that was encroaching upon and is now consuming Fort McMurray, Alberta. The video footage of the fire and of those affected is both horrific and heartbreaking. Thousands of people have been evacuated and may have nothing to return to. Hundreds have already lost their homes and as of this writing the fire is still spreading; more than 200,000 hectares have already been destroyed.

Fire 1

Television reporters have described the devastation as hellish and even apocalyptic, with the burned-out areas compared to a war zone. This fire is now so enormous that it can be seen from space.

Fire From Space

As I was watching the news coverage on television, it seemed as though I was staring right into the very bowels of hell itself. At that moment, I had a religious (or more accurately, a secular) epiphany. If I may quote Leonard Bernstein, it “all came together in one luminous revelation”: we are worshipping the wrong God.

There is another god who has been in the vicinity for just as long – one whom we should be worshipping – but we’ve been so pre-occupied with our God v1.0 that we’ve failed to notice what was right in front of us. Therefore, I’d like to propose that we elevate Mother Nature to a similar God-like status and then start worshipping her as our new deity.

I admit this sounds like a bizarre thing to think while watching the news, but keep in mind that I am looking at the world from The Bob Angle. Allow me to detail my thought process as I contrast our current God with Mother Nature, and then explain why we need to start paying close attention to her.

For 2,000 years, many of us have believed that God first created the universe, and then created the Earth and everything in it for our benefit. In fact, in Genesis 1:28 (KJV), God said that we humans “Have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth… Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree“. It seems reasonable to assume that the more literally you interpret the Bible, the more likely you are to feel that everything around you has been created with you in mind, and that the planet is yours to exploit. To be fair, God didn’t tell us to plunder the Earth’s resources, but one could make the following counter-argument: since the oil beneath the ground used to be animal protoplasm and organic matter, we can do what we like with it, since Genesis 1:28-29 gave us dominion over every animal and every tree.

The problem with this world view is that it’s self-centred, self-serving and ultimately destructive. We are not (in my opinion, anyway) the masters of our domain. We are a decidedly small part of a vast and intricate ecosystem. The reason we are able to exist on this planet is due to the establishment and maintenance of a delicate equilibrium with a relatively narrow temperature range, an abundance of sunlight, oxygen, water, food, and arable land on which to grow food. If we disrupt this equilibrium – much like an asteroid did 66 million years ago – then the Earth will simply establish a new equilibrium which may or may not include Homo sapiens.

The second problem with our current God is His empty threats. He and His son try to keep us with line by threatening us with eternal damnation, but this is really more bombast and posturing than anything else. First of all, this will scare only those who actually believe that hell exists. Secondly, the punishment doesn’t even remotely fit the crime. I will admit that the “eternal” part may initially give one pause, but if you look at it objectively, you’ll realize that it’s utter nonsense. How can one legitimately deserve an infinite punishment for a finite transgression? Thirdly, the punishment doesn’t even begin until after we die. In the meantime, you can live a full, rich life and are still free to behave any way you like until then. With a lag time that could often be more than half a century, we may not always make the connection between hell and the specific behaviour that brought us there. Finally, no one has ever returned from hell (or even purgatory) to tell us what is was like. There are no eyewitnesses and no proof that such a place even exists. As a behavioural modification technique, I think it’s pretty ineffectual.

The third difficulty we’re facing is that our current God is a passive deity. Some of my outwardly religious friends believe that God is hovering over their shoulder, 24/7, and giving them continual guidance. However, I disagree; I think that God is following His own version of Star Trek’s Prime Directive. We’re all pretty much free to do whatever we like without any divine intervention, including polluting our planet until it becomes uninhabitable. Unfortunately, as a species, we’re not quite mature enough to govern ourselves yet – we’re still too inward-looking. What we need is a no-nonsense, hands-on deity; one that won’t hesitate to let us know when we’re engaging in self-destructive behaviour or otherwise behaving foolishly.

Interestingly, we’ve already touched upon this “deifying nature” idea a couple of times already with Gaia in Greek mythology and Terra in Roman mythology, but there wasn’t really much traction with either of them.

Mother Nature has always been characterized as a friendly and benevolent personification of nature: a kind lady who created for us, a beautiful planet with an abundance of resources – full of everything we need to live, eat, drink, and flourish. In fact, the only fleeting glimpse we’ve seen of her malevolent side was during a commercial for Chiffon margarine, when she warned us “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”.

That is, until now… as I was watching the graphic news coverage of the Fort McMurray wildfire, I realized that Mother Nature has a darker side – a side that is revealed to us only when her life-giving gifts are being squandered and destroyed.

Unlike God, Mother Nature doesn’t make empty threats. After seeing the extent to which we’ve been polluting and poisoning our home – her gift to us – she makes her wrath known in a more immediate and pragmatic way: she creates an actual fire & brimstone version of hell, and places it right on our planet. God merely threatens to send us to hell after we die; Mother Nature brings hell right to our doorstep… and if that wasn’t enough, she then proceeds to consume our homes and destroy all of our material possessions with the hellfire she spawned. Memories accumulated over a lifetime, items of immense sentimental value – all reduced to ashes. This isn’t some ethereal theoretical concept – this is real, immediate and devastating.

Fire Aftermath

As I was watching the news, one reporter said “It was the perfect storm. Global climate change is creating conditions that will spawn intense, unstoppable wildfires like these more frequently in the future“. This is our wake-up call. We have pillaged the land and polluted the seas. We have extracted organic resources from the ground and then polluted the air as we burned them. Now Mother Nature is saying “You are destroying the home I created for you, and acting as if you’re the only ones who live here. I tried to give you a gentle warning by raising the global temperatures, but not enough of you were paying attention. In fact a large number of you were even in denial. Now it’s time to dial things up a bit and tap into your collective fear of hell and eternal damnation. Rather than simply reading about it, perhaps it’s time for you to see hell up close.”

One news source stated that only the weather can stop this inferno; extinguishing it is now beyond our collective firefighting capability. This is a truly horrifying statement because Mother Nature is essentially humbling us by explaining “This isn’t a run-of-the-mill forest fire – I have conjured up hell itself and brought it to Earth. There is nothing you can do to extinguish these flames. Only I possess enough power to call it off.”

I think it behooves us all to make a perceptual shift in our ecclesiastical world view and consider the deification of Mother Nature – a hands-on, no-nonsense taskmistress who will not hesitate to give us the biggest smack-down of our lives. It’s a discomfiting hypothesis, but it may be the observational adjustment that we all need in order to continue living our pleasant life on this planet.

Tonight, turn on your television, watch the news and then stare into the very pit of hell itself. Mother Nature is our new god, and she is badass…

Fire 2

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