Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Buddy Buddy Cozy Chronies

By my calculations, I may have up to 4 regular readers of my blog, and if you are one of these 4 people, you may recall a post I did on Special vs Ordinary causes.

Anyway, that post has something to do with this one.

So log onto facebook these past few weeks and your newsfeed would have been populated by a steady stream of outrage posts about Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey a few others and the federal budget.

What I don't understand, is the impulse to go publicise these views, there. On facebook in particular. I don't suspect in my friendship network I even know too many liberal voters that turned out to be surprised and disgusted as to what their party actually stood for. I also suspect that not too many of my friends have many friends that are surprised and disgusted. In the most part I assume that everyone I know knew what a turd Tony Abbott is for a long time before he got elected, and didn't vote for him, suspecting quite accurately what he was capable of.

And Tony Abbott is a turd. The weakness of his character speaks immediately to your intuition. He strikes you as untrustworthy, unintelligent, short sighted, opportunistic, contemptuous and self serving. He is for the most part not a cunning adversary, perhaps not even worthy of the term 'adversary'. A man who supposedly studied the bible and decided to emulate the example of Judas - and will probably having succeeded reach the same conclusions.

My point being, is that Tony Abbott is so clearly ill-suited for leadership, he becomes merely a detail and not the structural problem.

Sure people can get outraged, band together, raise their voices and stamp their feet and throw Abbott out of office and for a huge expenditure of energy and public discourse little would be achieved.

Tony Abbott is Prime Minister of Australia, Joe Hockey its treasurer (a man I am not confident could run a successful milk bar.)

The first question that needs to be asked is not 'what do we do about them?' but 'How did this happen?'

I forget where exactly I read the anecdote but I strongly suspect it was 'Life of Pi' but it was something about when you go to the circus and the Lion Tamer is cracking his whip and there's three lions and the fiercest one is standing up and roaring at him and then the tamer goes and puts his head in it's mouth. The 'fiercest one' is in fact the Omega Male, not the Alpha who capitulates and cooperates because in the heirarchy of lions, the weakest male has the most to gain from the lion tamers favor. The alpha in fact has everything to lose.

And increasingly in politics, we see similar behaviour. There are not sufficient checks and balances in place to maintain a 'lions only' heirarchy in our leadership. Powerful and influential people can step in and fuck up the natural order. Where the one selected to perform the role of Prime Minister is in fact the most ill-suited candidate. Paradoxically, the key criteria for being leader, is your ill-suited-ness to the role.

A former, high performing CEO of Australian company Wesfarmers whom was CEO of the year in some magazine said he felt he'd done a good job because - he was the candidate that didn't really want the job. Perhaps too simple, I feel there is an intelligent but unintelligible general principle that you want duty and not desire to motivate your executives. And inverting it, perhaps the poorest quality you can have in a leader is a burning desire to be leader.

I have far more confidence in that rule of thumb, and I fucking hate that our society rewards that kind of ambition - seeing the hunger for the title as an admirable thing. Ambition alone is not enough, it requires context, motivation.

Because I feel I'm struggling to make my underlying point. Let's look again at ordinary versus special causes. Tony Abbott is not a special cause, an aberation, or even a surprise. He is not a spot fire that needs to be put out. He is a product that has been cranked out by a system. A process.

By analogy, the GFC the 'villains' of the GFC were too many to name such that they became a class of people 'the 1%' which I think is a plural term just as misleading as singling out any person as causing the GFC. I'm with Michael Lewis' analysis - the incentives were fucked up. Increasingly banks had stopped making money off their customers through the direct providing of services. They had started making their money by taking positions against their customers. Betting against the very people they were meant to serve.

Remember Julia Gillard? Perhaps nostalgically? I think her minority government will be judged well by history. But few people are historians and who really will care. One thing that I think everyone quickly forgets is the very problematic way she rose to power.

We had Kevin Rudd, at the height of his popularity attempted to institute a Super Profits Mining Tax to capture some of the revenue generated from selling off irreplaceable mineral resources. Suddenly the Rudd Government had to contend with industry advertising to the tune of $120 million a day claiming that the tax would destroy everyone's lives.

Julia Gillard stepped in and capitulated to the campaign, costing Australian citizens billions and billions of dollars. She seized an opportunity to take power, and that was weak. Unfortunately for her, Tony Abbott turned out to be much much weaker.

The australian political race is a race to the bottom. Our real problem is that none of the leaders we might desire in a system where industry and media are cuddling up to each other. We were always vulnerable to a man so unlikeable, so lacking in merit that he wouldn't ever succeed on them alone that he would promise everything for power.

Now we are seeing what such a system is designed to produce. A fire sale. Clearing out all the assetts in the state's estate. Privatising profits and socializing the risks. Scrapping social programs, and building infrastructure to aid and abet the extraction of Australia's resources. Australia's nest egg for future generations.

Facebook and social media for all it's trending, are not a good indication of the national discourse in Australia. Tony Abbott is a peon, a lackey at best. The protests are futile because he isn't in charge. He secured his title and office with promises better candidates on both sides of the floor were not able to make. He was never about public opinion. He managed upwards to seize power. A process that makes the title he so desperately sought hopefully meaningless to him. And it's true he wasn't alone. A whole party systemically got behind him.

Really, the problem is that people responsible for the media channels where we get our information, like the banks in the GFC, had incentive to take up positions against their customers. They gave the public advice against their own interest - yet are not culpable for negligent misstatement like a financial advisor would be. There's virtually no liability at all for the media to voluntarily engage in propaganda.

The press's incentives are wrong. They make more money keeping advertisers happy than they do from customer subscription. The natural result is that the interests of the few will dominate public opinion. Such that voters vote against their own best interests. Tony Abbott is perhaps victim to the same systemic failure.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sympathy Window and Sneaky

Anyone who has been through a break up has probably acknowledge that you only get so much credit, so much time, so many back pats and 'there there's before you are on your ownsome to deal with your lonesome.

Like a window has been shut, and the cool breeze of sympathy no longer blows by.

I am a firm believer in the sympathy window as a social phenomena. And I used to suppose to think that this knowledge was good, empowering. When you understood the window of sympathy, you could avoid making a mistake.

The mistake was to keep seeking/expecting sympathy from your loved ones. And this concept doesn't apply solely to break ups, it probably applies to any persistent problem in ones life.

I once explained it to my brother as he struggled to stop crying over a lost love.

'This is what it sounds like...' says I to he, 'my house burned down. My house has burned down. I really loved my house and then it burned down. It's just ashes. I really wish my house hadn't burned down. That I still had my house. Why won't my house come back?' (and repeat ad nauseum).

'Until people just want to say...' I continued 'yeah. It burned down. It's fucking gone. You gotta learn to live without it. It's not coming back. You have no fucking house. So you need to get a fucking new house, or tent or cave or some shit!'

SO what I had until recently, like very recently, thought you were supposed to do with this knowledge was this - shut the fuck up. Quit whining. Stop going to your friends for moral support. You know that it takes longer to get over shit than people expect of you, so you take that shit private and deal with it on your own.

NOW I realise that was wrong. That's terrible advice. Don't follow it. What I have come to learn is that while our intuition is powerful, our instincts are powerful, and you can be a clever, courage and honest thinker. Certain problems are so much harder to perceive correctly from the inside. Your social network, your support group. Those you look to for sympathy, are like an extra sensory perception organ. You have to tap into that shit.

Let us truly understand why the sympathy window closes.

After a certain point of complaining about a problem, you are expected to actually resolve it. And you always have one resolution on hand - exit the situation. No, no, no, no, no, not suicide. But if someone is causing you grief, you are expected to stop spending time with them. If you hate your job, you are expected to start saving, if you have savings, to quit, and regardless should be applying to new jobs. If your car is a lemon, sell it for scrap and buy a bicycle. If you have a problem with alcohol, you are expected to abstain.

You are not supposed to persist with the problem but merely keep it to yourself. To suck it up and tough out the pain it causes you. When you think your friends will stop giving you sympathy and understanding your desire, that is the time to quit.

In scrabble if you have a bunch of shit letters, you can chuck in all of them and grab a new set for the cost of a single turn. I read this in a newsletter sent to me today and found it a meme worth spreading. It's a valid tactical play.

Perhaps the obligation an alcoholic has to addressing their alcoholism is what hit home with me recently, where I realised my own perception of the window of sympathy was flawed. Because I remember this Oprah interview with Michael J Fox way way back where he was talking about his alcoholism, and how quickly he started to lie - the tricks he used, like drinking a whole wine bottle and then drinking the next wine bottle down to the previous ones starting point so it didn't look like he'd drunk any at all.

It's the sneaky behaviour of somebody who knows what they are doing is wrong. Realising that all your friends are no longer sympathetic to your own lost cause, and then concealing from them your own ongoing struggles with the problem is not bravely, honestly, toughing it out. It's sneaky, and I should have known better and behaved better.

The only real thing I acknowledged, was that when things went poorly, I would have to suffer it alone, because I was the only one who thought I should make the attempt.

SO - when you sense the window of sympathy has closed, it's time to actually look at your situation and admit you have a problem. It's time to step back and take stock of who actually loves you, and who patently doesn't. It's time to reward the people that actually care about your well being, and disregard those who don't. It's time, to try and see all the evidence that has given people who care about you sufficient confidence that the problem is known, as is its outcome. ESPeople.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

When Inspiration Hits It Will Be Inconvenient

With now literally just under a week till my next exhibition, inspiration hits and ideas are taking off for the comic I need to do. It's writing itself in my head and yet... I can't work on it, I have a job to finish. I can't even sit down and write because I have to sit down and draw.

Oh well.

I'm sure I will go over and over and refine it into something workable in my head.

Friday, May 16, 2014


Lacking the time to write myself here is something I can wholeheartedly link to:

Sunday, May 11, 2014

My Favorite Peoples

Are actually recovering addicts. And one has to be careful here, and by one, I mean me or perhaps it's grammatically correct to say I meant I. Let's not bother pointing out that I could just go back and fix shit.

Anyway, I gotta be careful because people don't become addicts for no reason. And thus despite being my favorite people, they are not ideal housemates, life partners etc. Nor should anybody gather into a social circle of former addicts, that would probably be a bad bio-psycho-social environment.

But to just hang and shoot shit with, I have really come to love former addicts. The why came to me only yesterday. It's because most people will go to extreme lengths not to work on themselves, to avoid confronting themselves or overcoming themselves and gaining control of themselves. It's really rare. But not among recovering addicts.

Because to be in recovery, by default, addicts have to have overcome themselves. It's a survivorship bias thing. There's no way to overcome addiction and not hold yourself responsible (except maybe if you got exiled to some pacific island with no drug dealers). It's impossible I believe.

It also seems to require disassociation from the people in everyone's lives they tend to either blame, or 'fix' the problems of. It's a form of egocentricity, of self focus that actually is an altruistic act toward everyone else.

It's a pity that so many people that have overcome addiction often have residual issues like attachment disorders, mental health issues or mental illness. Thus even though they are in my experience always working on themselves and their recovery, which I love, the tragedy is that they are often working from a starting point emotionally that most people who won't work on becoming their best self are ahead of.

Oh well, they are still incredibly refreshing to talk to. 

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


It was an idea that crept up on me, perhaps inevitably. I mean of course inevitably. We live in a deterministic universe.

But by creep up, I mean I'm not sure where the idea came from. The ideas is, that being a sage is actually a viable thing to do with one's life. I don't know what it is, to be a sage, I'm just thinking that waking up and trying to attain a state of being day in day out is legit.

Perhaps it came from my exercise regime, or just quitting shit this year, or listening to Sam Harris talk about athiest's being too dismissive of spiritual practices, or Nassim Taleb pointing out that just because we don't understand why something works doesn't mean it doesn't work - or rather his synopsis of Nietzsche warning me not to confuse the unintelligible from the unintelligent... or some shit. I don't know.

It befuddles my mind. Why waste time trying to determine the determinants? it's done.

I found Rumi as a quote in an artist blog post about all the quotes they put in their visual diaries. The exact quote was this:

"What you seek is seeking you." - Rumi.

I found it a very comforting thought, something compells me to believe it is true. But as is the case when you have the hunger. I sought more. I had assumed because of the brevity and lack of consonant clusters that Rumi would be some Japanese artist or author. But no, he was a 13th century Persian poet. Ah, Persia is there nothing it can't do?

I would hope my blogging activities and other conduct have established my deep love of dead presidents, the ones that could actually make speeches. I remember when I first went and read those speeches on wikiquote in the idle hours I spent in Takamatsu waiting for the few brief windows in a day that I could spend time with Miki. They really moved me, Rumi's words move me in a different way.


"If you are irritated by every rub,how will your mirror be polished?"

That's it. That is it. There is something there. That some people just get, because it is unintelligible, inarticulate but it is most definitely there. It's a place I can put my mind but it becomes disoriented and confused and irritable, yet when I don't try sometimes I feel it. And that's all it is, a feeling. But people like Rumi and probably Yagyu Sekishusai and others have felt it and they can talk around it but not describe it.

Something Rumi himself seemed to observe and comment upon:

"The men of God are like fishes in the ocean; they pop up into view on the surface here and there and everywhere, as they please."

and I'm particularly inclined to listen to Rumi because like most people I listen to, they affirm shit I really struggled to grasp myself. Like a this:

"Many of the faults you see in others, dear reader, are your own nature reflected in them."

A powerful epiphany and piece of psycho-analysis that I'm personally surprised to learn goes back to the 13th century. Makes it strange it took me so long to get onto Gabor Mate's stuff.


If you wish mercy, show mercy to the weak.

If you dig a pit for others to fall into, you will fall into it yourself.

The lion who breaks the enemy's ranks is a minor hero compared to the lion who overcomes himself.

I could cherry pick all day, but just look him up yourself. So finally, on the theme of my life, if not yours (I dunno):

If you are wholly perplexed and in straits, have patience, for patience is the key to joy.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Karmic Retribution

Or poetic justice. I find myself having to look in an ugly mirror and partake in the exercise of finding myself beautiful. I guess understanding in the moment and feeling compassion is consummate with forgiving myself. I guess life does make us pay for our mistakes and I made mistakes. The friends who supported me now spared from me and my obstinate misplaced confidence and esteem (because I got better) I find myself having to be those friends and watch helplessly, knowingly (well as far as I can presume to know anything).

Because much as I could claim to know what should be done, and many people outside a situation can and most people outside a situation are right - a forest tends to look like a fucking forest from the outside rather than a unique and precious cluster of trees. But I know what I did do, I suffer from the paradox of capability, the very fact I feel so capable is what rendered me for years so incapable.

So it's probably high time I used the paradoxical privacy of this blog to do my own autopsy.

It starts, in hindsight with Warren Buffett, who offered perhaps the best relationship advice there is for people like me under the guise of financial advice: 

"Many managers were apparently over-exposed in impressionable childhood years to the
story in which the imprisoned, handsome prince is released from the toad's body by a kiss
from the beautiful princess.  Consequently they are certain that the managerial kiss will
do wonders for the profitability of the target company.  Such optimism is essential.
Absent that rosy view, why else should the shareholders of company A want to own an
interest in B at a takeover cost that is two times the market price they'd pay if they made
direct purchases on their own?  In other words investors can always buy toads at the
going price for toads.  If investors instead bankroll princesses who wish to pay double
for the right to kiss the toad, those kisses better pack some real dynamite. We've observed
many kisses, but very few miracles.  Nevertheless, many managerial princesses remain
serenely confident about the future potency of their kisses, even after their corporate
backyards are knee-deep in unresponsive toads."

Also Drucker, the management guru labored the point quite intensely that you put your resources behind proven strong performers, and you don't invest in the weak or problematic performers.

I knew all this, I knew it all. I read 'Warren Buffett CEO' and Peter Drucker's 'Effective Executive' long before I got into the situation where I couldn't plainly see.

I was an overconfident princess believing in the transformative powers of my kisses. To make matters worse, or at least more damning for me, I'd even had it translated into the relationship context for me by Dr. Gordon Livingstone in 'How To Love' one of my oft-sighted books I actually read in the past 5 years. Many people waste their time and life believing that if they just love somebody enough they will cure their ills.

It seems clear now, and even in retrospect it always seemed clear. I just cherry picked my knowledge and built a narrative to keep me unaccountable. To make me special, exceptional to the rule. 

I made a miscalculation in the concept of risk, one I wrote about in my last post. The very low odds of my success I translated into a highly valuable anticipated payoff of success - hence worth my investment of time, energy and love. I equivocated it to my persistence with art, I was simply being consistent it was my nature to strive for the impossible, and if nobody did then how could we be certain of what was possible or impossible.

Conveniently though, I was ignoring the ongoing and growing body of evidence suggesting that instead of being a high risk endeavor what I was engaged in was in fact, no risk at all. It was, relative to me, just a toad - and always going to be.

And as a caveat, I don't agree at all with the notion 'people don't change'. Anybody who espouses it, has defeated themselves. I just think the best counter argument to engage in is to change yourself, do the work. Not work at changing other people. 

We can certainly change others for the worse, by inflicting trauma on them. We can help and influence others. I just believe that people should only really borrow your esteem to add it to their own, not as a a substitute. 

But what damage did I do? At what cost was my undertaking? What is karma handed to me now?

Here's what I did. I fought for my impossible dream day in day out, if not directly, psychically, going over and over the situation in my head. Attacking this seemingly insurmountable problem every which way I could imagine. So much rehearsal, experimentation. So much energy went into the disciplines I forced myself to maintain.

And almost like clockwork - every 3-6 months my optimism received an insult from reality. A crushing one, I pinned all my hopes and dreams on this endeavor. Invested in this one person (who is not to blame for my own folly). 

And at my lowest, when I was in despair, I would do something actually smart - I would pick up my phone and call somebody who loved me. And I would poor my heart out, and they would listen patiently, reassure me, build me up, invest time in me. We would have fun, I would feel better. I would quickly recharge, regroup my esteem and remember what it was like to feel capable and confident. Amazingly quickly, over one or two weeks max, usually about 2-3 interactions with my loved ones. 

That was the power and energy of their love. It is a massive, potent source of energy. 

And then I would take that energy, and use it to grind myself down to devestation and despair again over 3-6 months. 

Let us do the math - 1-2 weeks to replenish my energy by keeping good* company. 3-6 months expending that energy on bad* company.

*here I use 'good' and 'bad' not as absolute judgement of character, but in the specific effect they had on me. The people who are good for me are able to translate their love of me into consistent behavior, but for all you know they could sell poison milk to children.

Or in graph form, my energy/well-being etc could be plotted thusly:

Quick recovery, slow discharge into despair. Repeated too many times to reflect well on my character.

This is the real thing I fucked up in my life. What took me longest to figure out. It was where I was putting my time. I even drew up a list using that heuristic of 'how do they make me feel' and I knew who I should be spending my time with. I had a concrete behavioral selection criteria for who I should invest my time in.

And I just didn't do it. I didn't put the energy back into them. I took their energy and used it to push shit uphill. Again and again.


Here is what I have come to realise, it's not that there's no value in undertaking the impossible. There's the usual journey/destination disparity. It's that building a mediocre structure that is 'miraculous' because it's foundations are so poor is not the best use of any persons capabilities. Impossible things can be built on really great foundations, the better the foundations the further our efforts can extend to what is possible.

Since I broke my own cycle of despair, and while I don't believe in accidents I have to attribute the cycle being broken mostly to luck rather than my design, I find myself with an abundance of time and energy, that I now put into really, really good people for me. It happened so quickly, and aside from a few painful frustrations decoupling myself from the person most bad for me, on the whole I just get stronger and stronger, and feel better and better.

I am becoming my best self, and having to watch somebody now remind me so much of myself when trapped by my own hubris, even that is making me better, though I have no idea what the fuck to do as a spectator.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Flip World

As many of my friends tie nuptial knots, others pump out children and others too break up, get divorced change facebook relationship statusi to 'It's complicated' and it gets me thinking.

Firstly, I'm almost inclined like a sucker to say that in the breakup the thought of being single is one of those situations where your intuition is wrong. Except that intuition is actually easily ignored, and it's hard for me to go the way back in hindsight necessary to do anything more than speculate on whether it's intuition or cognition that screws us.

Here's what I see, a flipped out paradox:

The thought of being single terrifies us, but paradoxically there's nobody there to hurt us. By contrast the thought of being back with our partner is comforting, yet they are the precise person that has hurt us. (hopefully unwittingly).

And let me be clear, even with my long standing singledom I think risking heartbreak is a risk worth taking. But at the end of a relationship, the conclusion that needs not just to be comprehended but felt, is that you are broken up because that person is no longer the person to bet on. The 'risk' is diminishing as how they treat you becomes more predictable, more certain.

One thing that I found hard to accept, even though I knew it cognitively was when a person just isn't the best building blocks for a relationship. 

Happiness requires risk, I believe that shit. But risk is one of the most misunderstood concepts out there. There's no risk being taken when we are doomed to fail. There's even dumb risks to take when the odds are low and the payoffs actually mediocre. 

When we break up we grieve. And grief demands relief. We don't want our ex's back in truth, we want our ex's to be different people, to be who we want them to be, immediately. But if our personalities, our character consist of our predictable behaviour patterns - hence expressions like 'that is so out of character' - we aren't likely to become a person we aren't just from the trauma of a break up. 

Sure there is such a thing as post traumatic growth, but generally a relationship is ground down to breaking point by incompatibilities in our sub-conscious preferences. Reprogramming those is a LOT of work, perhaps worth doing, but that work takes time and space and should be undertaken genuinely, that is under the presumption that there is no guarantee the relationship will resume. It's work each has to do for oneself. Over time.