The Permanent War Economy And Military Keynesianism

In this post I’m going to try to briefly explain why U.S. involvement in the Middle East is not going to end anytime soon.  To understand what’s actually going on, we have to go back to the Great Depression in the 1930s.

If you study mainstream economics, as the Great Depression went on and on, many scholars and academics began to doubt the very foundations and ideas of capitalism.  Millions of people were out of work, the economy wasn’t bouncing back, and the future looked dismal.  Academia began to follow the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, believing the government had to step in and put people to work, keeping the money flowing in the economy.  This led to programs like FDR’s New Deal, putting people to work on public works projects, etc.  The New Deal helped a bit, but ultimately the economy kept sinking and things looked grim.

Then World War II happened, and like a miracle, the economy jumped out of its slump.  The U.S. government started spending huge amounts of money to set up factories all over the country, producing munitions, tanks, bomber jets, etc.  That put people to work, they had money in their pockets, they then spent that money in their communities, and economically, everyone seemed better than they were during the Great Depression.  Was this the fix capitalism needed?

But if it was World War II that ended the Great Depression, what would happen once the war is over?  These same academics advising the government believed the economy would go back into another depression, so something had to be done.  This is ultimately the origin of the military industrial complex.  The idea was that even if we’re at peace, we would continue to spend vast sums of money on the military, producing jets, airplanes, technology, whatever, just to keep capitalism afloat.

Now there’s a problem.  The United States is a democratic society.  How are the politicians going to convince the public to spend all this money on the military in peacetime?  The answer is they needed boogeymen.  There had to be some scary external threat to justify these huge public expenditures.  So following World War II, we had the threat of ‘communism’.  That led to the Korean War, Vietnam, and the Cold War.  We had to save the world from our arch nemesis, the Soviet Union!

Eventually the Soviet Union collapsed and this was a huge problem.  If the world is no longer under a constant threat of communism, how are we going to justify all this military spending?  The answer was to invent a new boogeyman – the war on terror!  So that’s where we are today.  These wars are not meant to be won.  They’re not real to begin with.  They are simply an excuse for huge military expenditures.  They will never end.  If the war on terror ends, there will be some new boogeyman to take its place.  Either way, the military industrial complex is here to stay.

This is what the term ‘permanent war economy’ means.  The U.S. economy depends on us spending huge amounts of money on war and destruction just to stay afloat.  So in these Middle Eastern conflicts, we pretty much arm and train the terrorists, then they cause havoc, we go in and blow everything up, and then we pay contractors to go in and rebuild.  That’s pretty much how this game works.  There’s huge profits to be made.

It’s so insane, people don’t believe it could possibly be true.  I encourage you all to watch this documentary which I’ll post below.

And here’s part 2.

I had a professor the other day telling me that I need to get used to the idea of working with the military, as they’re the source of most all jobs and funding for physicists.  However, I can’t in good conscience get involved in this madness.  I help produce technology which is put into weapons systems, which is then used to blow up hundreds of thousands of people in fake wars, just to keep our economy stimulated.  My paycheck is paid primarily by the taxpayer, who funds all the R&D, but then when some commercial application is finally found for my work, it’s quickly patented and controlled by a large corporation, and all the profits are privatized, leading to further wealth concentrations and income inequality.  I don’t want to build weapons, for one.  And secondly, if the taxpayer funds the enterprise, the taxpayer should be the one who profits from it.

It’s all so corrupt and evil, I don’t want a part of any of it.  Then it’s like, well, what else can I do as a physicist?  Teach?  So I become an academic, teaching at a university where the students are way overcharged, all to pay for a bloated administration.  I met a nuclear engineering student the other day who was telling me he’s leaving the school with over $120,000 in student loan debt.  And I just think, why?  This is all insane.  Guy just wants a job as an engineer and has to mortgage his life away under a mountain of debt.  I feel very conflicted being a part of any of that either, but at least I’m not making weapons which end up killing people.  So it seems the lesser of two evils.  Hence I’m currently teaching.

As for doing academic research, I don’t see a point in any of that.  I wrote about all of this in my post Why I’m Hesistant To Become An Academic.  I don’t think an individual can accomplish much, mainly because one needs a lot of money to set up a lab, and also you need a huge network of people all collaborating and working together toward a common vision.  You also need everyone funded so everyone can stay committed and on task.  I don’t see this in academia, and anyway, if you want to understand how I feel about all that, just read my post.  As for working on some individual project of my own curiosity, I don’t need to spend my time begging the NSF for grants.  Our government is broke and needs to be cutting back.  I’m not going to soak them for money, just to further enrich myself.  I can study physics on my own.  Use the money to fund schools in impoverished areas, or repair infrastructure, or something else that’s far more useful than giving it to me.

The Military Industrial Complex And Me

When I first graduated high school, I was extremely ambitious.  I had this dream of starting up my own company, building it all from the ground up, and had daydreams of how it was going to be this exciting adventure.  Things didn’t really pan out how I’d hoped, and I later became rather disillusioned about it all.  If I had a time-machine and was given five minutes to talk with my twenty-year-old self, the one thing I’d teach myself about is the military industrial complex’s role in our economy.

You may be thinking, what?  That of all things?  Jason, you’d talk about the military and its role in the economy?  Yep!  But why?

Well, you see, when I was trying to start my own company, I would sit down and read countless business books on marketing, on management, on accounting, and all sorts of things.  But you know what?  None of that mattered.  It didn’t matter that I knew how to run a company because the fact was, I didn’t have a company to run.  The sort of company I had envisioned starting was next to impossible to achieve.  I was just wasting my time.  That’s why this conversation would have been so critical to have with my past self.

We’re all fed this lie that there are these heroic entrepreneurs, working out of their garage, who invent amazing things that change the world.  We hear about the Wright brothers building the first airplane and flying around in some field.  We hear about Steve Jobs, Paul Wozniak, and Bill Gates dropping out of college to bring the world computers.  We hear about Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone, and so forth.

This is all B.S.  In this world we’re lied to about nearly everything, and the way the economy actually works is no exception.  The world is rarely if ever moved by heroic individuals.  It doesn’t happen that way with major economic developments, it doesn’t happen that way with big political movements, and it doesn’t happen that way in the world of ideas either.  How things really work is a giant network of people work together on a problem until it forms into a giant snowball.  That snowball then approaches a cliff-side, and then one person contributes the final push, creates an avalanche, and gets all the credit.

Let’s talk about technological developments.  Why do we have jet airplanes today?  Should we be thanking the Wright brothers?  No.  Thank the military industrial complex.  The airplanes you board today are basically modified bomber jets, developed around the time of World War II to fight the Nazis.  Why is this important to understand?  Because the research and development costs were paid for by the public.  Secondly, the planes were designed and constructed by huge teams of scientists over decades.  And finally, after the military perfects the technology, it is often handed over to private enterprise that is in close contact with powerful people in the government, and thus the airline industry comes into existence.  We have publicly funded R&D over decades, costing hundreds of billions of dollars, and the profits are all private, leading to huge private concentrations of wealth to those in the right circles of power and privilege.

How about computers?  It has little to do with Steve Jobs.  Computers were developed over decades, primarily all originating in military communication systems.  It costed hundreds of billions of dollars and decades and decades of dedicated scientists, all being funded and organized by the military to bring these things into existence.  Countless nameless people, all contributing a small part, leading to a larger whole.  Yet, is that the picture that’s painted in our minds?  No.  Instead the world is presented these heroes, who magically brought this technology to us from the heavens, like Moses bringing down the tablet of the ten commandments from Mount Sinai.  And why?  How else would they justify such huge concentrations of wealth and power?  The public would demand that Steve Jobs’ billions be taken away and put toward public services, since they funded the development of all the technology making it all possible.  Yet that’s not what happens.  Companies like Apple instead evade paying taxes by putting their money in weird tax havens overseas.

My friend Greg and I would often go out for walks and we’d try to come up with business ideas.  I remember sitting with him one afternoon in a park and I posed the question, “If I wanted to create a portable mp3 player, in my parents basement, how in the world would I do it?  I don’t have the equipment, the means, or even the know-how.  And even if I did know how, I wouldn’t have the equipment.  There doesn’t even seem to be a way for me to even get access to that super high-tech equipment to learn how to use it in the first place.  Who would I call?”  It was all mind-boggling to me at the time.  That was years ago when I saw the first iPods coming on the market.  That’s because it doesn’t work that way.  It never has.  People don’t invent things out of their basements and garages.  Not truly novel things.  Hobbyists may tinker around with things others have already made, but they don’t create truly new technology.

I’ve had to learn about all this because it is the world I’m moving into as a physicist.  You see, we physicists are one of the key components to inventing all this new technology.  We’re involved in every high-tech thing you can think of.  So how does a person like me, a regular nobody, who has spent some years at a university studying physics, doing mostly generic math and physics problems on pencil and paper, finally move into designing and building the next generation of high tech stuff?

First off, there needs to be some steady stream of money being consistently pumped into that direction, and then I enter that stream.  The source of the river is the military industrial complex.

Why do almost all new high-technologies come out of the United States?  Because we pump an insane amount of money into maintaining economic and military dominance over foreign countries.  The public thinks this all goes into ‘defense’.  It doesn’t.  It goes into a giant shadow government with its own agendas outside the public eye.  What is the shadow government?  It’s some sort of complicated network of powerful corporations, financial institutions, and other entities working to maintain power and control.

All this new technology remains hidden from the public under the guise of “national security”, and everything is deemed top secret.  Let’s talk about some of the past technologies which were developed and then passed off to industry.  You’ll recognize them.

Just to name a few, take digital cameras.  Why do those exist?  Those were developed in the 1960’s for spy satellite systems because there was no easy way to get up in space and get the film canisters.  Jet engines came out of the 1940s ballistic missile programs.  Computers were developed in the 1960s for military communication systems.  And so on.

These things take decades of research and development before any sort of commercial application can be found for them.  Computers used to be so big, they took up entire floors of office buildings.  Outside of giant corporations and the government, who would have use for such things?  A company like IBM lands a contract with the government, and this R&D goes on for decades, with the military buying all the relatively useless junk being developed by the scientists for a long time.  But eventually the technology gets to some point where it’s useful to somebody, and IBM starts selling these things to people other than the military.  That’s how things work in reality.  The public pays for all the hard research work, then the private owners of IBM reap the windfall of profits when things are finally complete.

That’s also why companies like Canon can sell you nice digital cameras.  A similar sort of process went on with them using those ancient computers, under military contract, to take pictures from space and store the images on giant magnetic tapes.  Then the military is like, “Great, you have something kind of working here, but it needs to be better.  Get to it!  Here’s a huge contract to fund it all.”  And several different companies worked on the problem, for decades, until now it’s improved to such an extent we have digital cameras on our smart-phones.

What sorts of stuff is the shadow government moving our economy toward now?  One of the biggest ones you hear about everyday is robotics and artificial intelligence.  Remember those terminator robots we all see walking around created by Boston Dynamics?  That was all paid for by the military.  They got bought out by Google, but I think the military is still heavily paying for the R&D.  The military wants all kinds of unmanned vehicles, drones, and other things like that at their disposal, so they’re paying all kinds of companies to develop it.  The military will get it first, but after a while it will trickle down to the public in the form of self-driving cars and robotic maid-servants, and companies like Google will be selling them on the market, everyone will want one, and the super-rich owners of Google will be even richer at the public’s expense.

There is also a lot of technology coming out which integrates with biology.  This is all military stuff.  Brain computer interfaces have been in development for a long time now, trying to give human pilots and personnel control over military vehicles and devices remotely.  Eventually this will become things like virtual reality headsets for gamers to control the characters on screen with their minds.  All sorts of medical technologies are being developed as well under the guise of healing injured troops.  You’ve probably all seen that stuff where they have 3D printers “printing” a new heart or kidney from a person’s DNA?  All military funded.  This is also how all sorts of prosthetics technologies are being developed, such robotic limbs.  All sorts of nano-implants are being developed under the guise of enhancing our soldiers and their effectiveness.  It just goes and on.

There are tons of dead-ends, projects that end up going nowhere, and so on, and the public ends up taking the hit for all the wasted R&D costs.   Then when something works out, the shadow government works out who will control the new technology and then we start hearing about it in the news, and its sold on the market to us by some corporation(s).

So yeah, years ago I was wasting my time sitting in my parents basement wondering what I could invent.  None of that is up to an individual like me.  There are think-tanks within the shadow government, working behind the scenes planning what technologies are most viable, and which technologies would give the nation the most economic edge, and best advantages militarily.  Huge public funds are then shifted in that direction.  The best a nobody like me can hope for is to go through a nice university program, take a job within a company funded by the military industrial complex, and get paid well to help bring this high-tech stuff into existence.  As a physicist, that’s how my world operates.

If you want to form a company, you don’t sit around in your garage tinkering with things.  You work hard and graduate from a good science and technology university.  Then you apply to get into various military programs for scientists, and they suck you into their labs.  There you get access to all the expensive labs which cost tens of millions of dollars.  You intern and work there for a while, make contacts, work your way in, learn your way around, and with time, if you’re ambitious and clever enough, make some good contacts and maybe branch out on your own.  Then money from that stream is diverted your way, your company is formed, and if successful, you may be able to develop some technology that is also commercially viable which can be sold to the public.  Sometimes this R&D is also happening within your university, and you can work with a professor on campus, get access to their lab, etc.  That’s another possible doorway in.

What I find really interesting about all of this is that the military and hidden forces behind the scenes are the ones actually dictating where our economy goes.  Strangely, the way our society develops most of its new technology is through a model which relies on things trickling down from the military.  I used to be a big proponent of slashing our huge military budget.  Now I realize why that never happens.  Our entire economy relies on it.  If you did that, technological innovation would screech to a halt, and our economy would go into a nose-dive tailspin.  That’s why every year military spending goes up and will always go up, hand in hand with economic growth.

The very nature of this system breeds corruption, vast income inequality, huge disparities in opportunity, and massive concentrations of private power.  Our society’s technological innovation model is not people focused, but is instead, by its intrinsic nature, focused around further concentrating power, spying on people, and creating weapons and other applications of force and destruction.  It’s an absolutely terrible way of doing things, but it’s how our world actually works, and it’s just one of many reasons why our world is so insane.

The Importance Of Belonging

I’d like to take a little time today to further reflect on this idea of “love is the currency of life.”  This is a followup to my previous post, so check that out before reading this one.  I want to reflect on more things I observe around me everyday.

These days I spend a lot of time in the gym.  I go there about five times a week, for about two hours a day.  During my workouts the radio is playing in the background over the speaker system.  Almost every song I hear playing has something to do with love (love in the same context as my previous post), either how happy it makes them, or how upset they are from it being withheld from them.  For brevity, I’ll only share a few specific examples.

The first song that comes to mind is Home by Three Days Grace.  This song plays at least once every time I’m in the gym.

I won’t share the full song lyrics, but let’s just analyze the beginning.

I’ll be coming home
Just to be alone
Cause I know you’re not there
And I know that you don’t care
I can hardly wait to leave this place

No matter how hard I try
You’re never satisfied
This is not a home
I think I’m better off alone
You always disappear
Even when you’re here
This is not my home
I think I’m better off alone
Home, home, this house is not a
Home, home, this house is not a home

Think about these lyrics in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.  What do you see?  To me, it seems to be about belonging and esteem.  This man is telling us he feels isolated.  He comes home (presumably from work), and his partner is not around.  Maybe she’s unavailable emotionally, too busy, distant, whatever the reason, he feels she’s not there for him.  He’s very upset that his partner withheld love from him.  He also seems puzzled as to why, wondering what he did wrong.  After experiencing this loneliness for a while, he seems to have come to the conclusion that he’s unable to bring happiness to others, and has lost trust in them, so he’s better off alone.

My friend Greg and I often discuss music lyrics with each other when we catch up at restaurants.  When a musical artist sits down to write a song, they have a blank sheet of paper in front of them.  They could write about anything.  They could write about how tasty the hamburger they ate for lunch was.  They could sing about how fun the new Call of Duty series is on Xbox.  They could reminisce about how the football game went on television.  But do they?  Not typically. Well, they sometimes do in country songs, but that’s more to express a sense of belonging to the southern culture.  But anyways, all of this is very telling about people and what goes on in their heads.  This song by Three Days Grace wouldn’t be such a big hit if it didn’t resonate with millions of people all over the world.  As I said before, our society doesn’t give people any real sense of belonging.  The bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy is fulfilled in most of us, as we have food, safety, etc., but it doesn’t offer much beyond that, and the signs of the pain people are experiencing is everywhere.

If you understand this simple idea, you will see it repeating over, and over, and over.  Almost every song is about different aspects of the esteem and belonging tier of Maslow’s hierarchy.  For another example, let’s look into the most popular song on Youtube – Wiz Khalifa’s See you Again, featuring Charlie Puth. It  has 2.9 billion views as of the time I’m writing this.  Hundreds of millions of people, if not billions, all over the world, identify and relate to this song.

Once again, let’s just discuss a bit of the lyrics.

It’s been a long day without you, my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again
Dang, who knew?
All the planes we flew
Good things we’ve been through
That I’ll be standing right here talking to you
‘Bout another path
I know we loved to hit the road and laugh
But something told me that it wouldn’t last
Had to switch up
Look at things different, see the bigger picture
Those were the days
Hard work forever pays
Now I see you in a better place (see you in a better place)

How can we not talk about family when family’s all that we got?
Everything I went through you were standing there by my side
And now you gon’ be with me for the last ride

First you both go out your way
And the vibe is feeling strong
And what’s small turn to a friendship
A friendship turn to a bond
And that bond will never be broken
The love will never get lost (and the love will never get lost)
And when brotherhood come first
Then the line will never be crossed
Established it on our own
When that line had to be drawn
And that line is what we reach
So remember me when I’m gone (remember me when I’m gone)

This song is about losing a friend, reflecting on memories of the space they struggled to create together, how they once had a wonderful sense of belonging together, how painful it is now that that’s gone, and there is an expression of hope that maybe one day they’ll see each other again.  See what this is?  We had belonging, now we don’t, that makes me sad, I hope that happiness is restored to us one day.

As I said before, this love is the currency of life.  It’s what everyone is scrambling for, trying to create, and trying to find.  I don’t want this post to be just about song lyrics though so let’s take a few other observations from my daily life.  Take the culture within the university.  In almost every physics course I was asked to take, at some time or another the Nobel prize was mentioned.  Achieving this prize seems to be the great pinnacle of success as a physicist.  However with me, I was more interested in understanding the psychological aspects as to why this prize excites scientists so much rather than the actual prize itself.

I think the prize represents several things.  First it signifies that the scientist was able to contribute something worthwhile to society — hence psychologically, this is part of the ‘esteem’ tier.  Next it gives them recognition, respect, and acknowledgement from their peers, so that is part of the ‘belonging’ tier.  That’s what I think the prize itself is to them.  The excitement toward winning the prize, or writing some successful, important paper is a hope and desire that that seminal idea of theirs will bring more belonging and esteem into their lives.  This form of ‘love’ is dangled out in front of them like a carrot on a stick.  You want love, belonging, and recognition?  You want to be somebody who matters?  Work harder!  Work!  Work!  Work!

“A modern academic will need forty hours a week to perform teaching and administrative duties, another twenty hours on top of that to conduct respectable research, and still another twenty hours to accomplish really important research…. Make an important discovery, and you are a successful scientist in the true, elitist sense in a profession where elitism is practiced without shame…. Fail to discover, and you are little or nothing.”

– E.O. Wilson, famed biologist

It’s similar to people dreaming of being rockstars and celebrities.  I know a guy who is absolutely amazing at guitar.  Right now he works as a custodian, but all of his free time goes into practicing guitar and recording songs.  He was married for a while and even had a few kids, but he has never been happy.  His mundane life wasn’t enough for him.  He wanted to be on the stage, huge crowds cheering for him as he played each solo.  All he would ever do is complain to his wife about how dull it all is, how unhappy he is, and so on.  Well, she left him and took the kids with her.  Now he has nothing.  What saddens me about that story is that this man’s intense craving for belonging and acknowledgement from the world around him has destroyed his family, the little connection he did have with the world.

It’s a shame he couldn’t find enough happiness in sharing his songs with his children and wife.  I guess he imagined that one day, when he’s up on that stage he’d finally feel alive and happy.  I hope he finds that one day, but I don’t think he’ll get it from crowds of adoring fans.  Many who finally make it to the top, all their song lyrics are about those who were there for them before they made it.  Then these celebs and rockstars take their new fortunes and buy their old loved ones huge mansions.  Many fail to realize that all that ever actually mattered to them was the love and respect of those around them, and what mattered to the surrounding others was the same.  And deep down, nobody really cares about mansions, fancy cars, and big fancy vacation getaways.  Those things are nice if they’re around, but most people can live very happy lives with far less when there’s love.  And without love, that other stuff can only give you the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy.  That’s it.  This point needs elaborating on.

I came across a really fascinating talk online the other day, but I can’t remember the author’s name.  Basically he was discussing the history of the pilgrims and Indians in the very early days when settlers came to the United States.  Few know this, but loads of people fled life in the cities to go live with the Indians, but next to no Indians came to live with the settlers.  That’s because the Indians had such a deep tribal culture which made people feel like they belonged to the tribe.

You shouldn’t underestimate the importance of this sense of belonging.  To many it’s the only thing that even matters in this life.  Take war veterans for example.  Many of our military men and women, they prefer serving together in war than they do civilian life.  But why?  That’s because the military facilitates a tribal atmosphere for those serving in the same squads.  Soldiers find a deep sense of belonging, where everyone has one another’s backs, where they’re valued, where they have something to contribute, where they mean something to the people around them in a deep and meaningful way.  Many combat personnel would prefer living in a state of war, bombs going off, gunfire in the air, where they see death and carnage everywhere, but there is brotherly love, than to come home and work in a meaningless job, surrounded by people who don’t care about one another in any deep or meaningful way, where the greatest thing to everyone is themselves.  In war, military life encourages brotherhood, where survival of the squad means everything, and they are taught to give their life to save the others if need be.  That’s what soldiers miss.  Check out this TED talk.

What does this say about our modern culture?  Many men and women would rather serve in dangerous combat, surrounded by death and destruction, where there is brotherly love, than live in our modern isolation and loneliness.

All of this makes me think of a low-budget movie I saw on Netflix called Bokeh.  It begins with a young couple, madly in love, traveling to an island for a vacation getaway.  They check into their hotel room, go to sleep, and wake up the next morning to find that all the other human beings on the planet have disappeared.  What happens?

At first they scramble to find anyone they can.  After searching far and wide, they discover that it is only them.  They’re on their own.  Within a week, the food in the grocery stores is already going bad and they need to find and secure some source of food.  They’re in constant fear, wondering when the electricity is going to go offline, considering nobody is there running the power plant or is there to repair electrical lines, etc.  They’re worried about getting injured, because if they break a bone or something, there’s no doctors to fix it.  You see how much you rely on others to exist.  After watching the couple in this strange state, I think the viewer realizes how important we all are to one another, even if we don’t consciously realize it.

The most touching scenes to me was watching the young woman send texts and leave phone messages to her mother and father who were no longer to be found.  When she saw the network of loved ones in her life crumble away, she didn’t know how to handle it.  Just those small texts and short phone calls parents and children have with one another mean a great deal.  Just knowing there are people in this world who love you, who have your back, and have your best interests at heart means the world to most people.

All their dreams quickly revealed themselves for what they were as well.  They came to this island as poor struggling artists, so for the first few days they raided the stores, took nice clothing and jewelry, and commandeered the nicest cars for themselves.  They also took over one of the best apartments in the area and made it their home.  But strangely, now that nobody was around to admire them and their new found “wealth”, it didn’t matter to them at all.  What does that say about what they really wanted with their “dreams” of a better life?  It was to belong, to be respected, and to have a sense of self-worth.  Their dreams were actually just symptoms of a living in a society where they didn’t feel they belonged or had much worth.  The expensive homes, clothing, etc., were only symbols they attached to those psychological needs.  What they actually desired, deep down, wasn’t material things, but more love from those living around them.

Even though this young woman had the love of her life with her, she escapes one morning, rides off in her car to some distant place, jumps in a swimming pool and drowns herself after only a few weeks in this horrid isolation.  She couldn’t take it.

Whether it’s starving artists, war veterans, or academics, no matter the person or walk of life, everyone is seeking a deeper sense of belonging.

Thinking on all of this just earlier today, I found myself finished with what I had to do today and was just about to pop Xenoblade Chronicles X into my Nintendo Wii-U to spend the evening gaming.  Then I became hesitant and got to thinking about the trainer at my gym who recently came down with pneumonia and has been laid up in the hospital.  I put the game away, got dressed, hopped in my car, drove over to the hospital and visited him for a while.  I told him how much we’ve missed him at the gym, how I’ve always appreciated him spotting me and helping out in the gym, and told him how much I looked forward to seeing him better and back with us in the gym.  Then his wife told me how happy he’s been when guys from the gym have shown up to wish him well.  It wasn’t hard, and it didn’t take all that long, but it’s important.

I know how addictive technology can be — all the games, movies, and everything else, but I would encourage all of you to get off the couch, get away from the computer, away from the television, and do things in your community that show people in your sphere of influence that you care and appreciate them.  Do what you can to create a deeper sense of belonging.  The world needs a lot more of that.

Love Is The Currency Of Life

Though this may sound rather hokey, lately when I’ve been out for walks, or just spending time alone with my own thoughts, a recurring thought has been entering my mind, “love is the currency of life.”

This is such a big topic and I have no idea how to really approach even talking about it.  So as you’re reading this, keep in mind that I’m not trying to be comprehensive or anything, but am moreso sharing a sort of stream of consciousness, where each different idea points to the same conclusion.

Basically, no matter where I look these days, I see people looking for love in some form or another.  I’m not speaking of romance.  Maybe I’ll put it all within a broader framework?  One of my favorite books was written by an American psychologist named Abraham Maslow entitled Motivation and Personality.  In it, he tries to uncover what motivates people to do what they do.  This leads him to develop the hierarchy of needs, which most everyone has probably seen.

If you look up ‘love’ in Wikipedia, you’ll find many different attempts to define the idea.  The philosopher Gottfried Leibniz defined it as, “to be delighted in the happiness of another.” I like that idea, and when I look at Maslow’s hierarchy, I see different aspects of love in effect.

Though I’m speaking rather abstractly and vaguely, the bottom levels of the pyramid deal with a loving relationship between your physical body and the universe — a sort of unity and flow with the physical world around you.  As one moves up the pyramid, we are directed into the realm of mind.  The “Love/Belonging” tier deals with being loved and respected by other conscious minds.  The “Esteem” tier deals with loving yourself, and the final tier at the top of the pyramid is about feeling a sense of unity and love for the universe.

Though this “hierarchy” of needs is typically depicted in that pyramid structure, I don’t think it is a pyramid and neither did Maslow.  In fact, Maslow never mentioned the pyramid and it’s not needed.  To me, these things are more like a web.  The more of those things you have in this world, the more “connected” you are.  That’s a buzzword I hear a lot — “connection”.  When I hear it, I immediately think of all of this.

Maslow really nailed it.  I’ve never read a book that opened my eyes to deeply understanding people.  I can be very dense and lack common sense, but when I’m given a framework like this to help me sort my thoughts, for the first time in my life I began to understand people.

When I look at our modern world, our society and culture successfully implements the bottom rungs of that pyramid, but the rest is painfully neglected.  Most of us (though still not all) have our basic survival needs met.  We have a place to sleep, we have food, and our physical bodies can survive, etc., but there’s far less “connection” in the other tiers with the world.  People struggle their entire lives to establish those deeper connections, many never finding them at all.

With all that in mind, this is where I start rambling.  In the past, when I was young, even into my early twenties, relationships with people was moreso a feeling, but I didn’t understand why I liked certain people and disliked others.  Maybe it’s just a part of getting older, but now I can rather quickly tell why I like certain aspects of someone, while disliking other things about them.  After studying all this stuff, it’s all conscious in my head, and I can analyze it all and understand it.  It’s helped me a lot.  I can give you the short and sweet answer — the people I like are love dispensaries, in some form or another.  When I see them extending out feelers of “love” out toward me, I respond in kind and things are good.  That’s why I call it the currency of life.  It’s what’s valuable.  It’s what makes life worth living.  If you look at the people I like, their words, actions, and deeds create a web where more of that stuff in Maslow’s hierarchy exists or has the potential to grow and exist more fully.  Things that destroy that existing web of connection or inhibit growth of more good connection brings sadness to everyone involved.

Take politics.  Why am I so against war?  It destroys so many aspects of connection in that web of goodness.  You disrupt the social systems in place which provide for them — you blow up their grocery store and school, and that stresses them out.  They don’t know where they’re going to get food.  You kill their loved ones, destroying the most important people in their lives.  It wrecks them emotionally.  You fill them with fear, and that’s going to destroy the ability to form bonds and good relationships with them in the future.  They’re not going to want to deal with you.  They’re going to hate you.  Then when they hate you, they’re going to attack you because they want you to understand the pain you’re inflicting upon them.  Then a vicious cycle goes on and on, and it’s nothing but misery.  This is a simple example, but it’s easy to see how it destroys that web I’ve been talking about.  I don’t see how our politicians fail to realize such a simple principle.  If you bomb countries to oblivion, killing hundreds of thousands of people, blowing up schools, hospitals, etc., how can you not expect blowback of some kind?

Anyways, the more you understand about this web, the better your life becomes. Those who have read my blog over the years know that throughout most of my life, I’ve been a loner, at least for the last 15 years or so.  I later became aware of this “web” and my relationships with everyone I’m around has gotten so much better.

I was hired by the university this last semester to teach a course.  I had no idea how that would go, or what the students would think of me, or what.  Throughout the semester I kept this “web” in mind in everything I said and did, and by the end of the semester I was surrounded by students, many of them inviting me out to dinner, while others were exclaiming that it was the best experience in a class they’ve ever had.  They were telling me their dreams, their career ambitions, they were wanting to hang out with me, and I was just blown away.  This is quite shocking considering it was the first time I’ve even taught a course in any capacity.  I just didn’t expect it to go so well.

I’ve been trying to understand why it went so well, and actually I attribute it to a Youtube video I watched of a middle aged woman’s near death experience.  This isn’t the sort of thing you expect a physicist to be watching, but I found it fascinating.  The woman died during some sort of surgery on the operating table, was dead (off and on) for like thirty minutes, until the doctors brought her back.  When she died, she talked about disconnecting from her body and then seeing this tunnel of light.  Eventually this light engulfed her, and as she moved deeper into this tunnel she eventually met who she referred to as God.  This entity connected to her telepathically and beamed unconditional love into her with such magnitude and strength that it felt like something physical which then became the source of all the white light which engulfed her.

God showed her a sort of slide-show of everything she ever did in her life, and then beamed even more love into her as it communicated to her, “I love you, despite all that.”  Then God began to teach her about love and showed her alternate time-lines of what her life could have been, and then even showed her lives she could’ve lived that were terrible, and God still told her, and taught her, in no uncertain terms, “I would still love you. Deeply.  Fully.”  Then what really caught my attention was what this woman said next.  She said that she had always been seeking this very love but never could find it.  She got married, hoping to be loved like that, but her husband wasn’t anywhere near that loving.  Then she had children, hoping her children would love her like that, but though they loved her, it wasn’t anywhere like that.  Then she talked about her career ambitions, and how she’d hoped to find respect and love from coworkers, as well as fulfillment, and it was never anything like what she found emanating from this divine being she encountered at death.  That really struck me.

That all got me thinking, huh, that’s probably what I want.  That’s what everyone wants.  Maybe we all come from that higher spiritual plane and have come down to this physical existence temporarily for some reason and we all have a deep yearning to reconnect with that.  I don’t claim to understand any of that, but it got me thinking about something — how do you bring this “light” into the world?  What would that entail exactly?  Specifically for me, what would I actually do?  Then that lead me to think of Maslow’s hierachy of needs, and thinking of it all as this web of connection, and I thought well, what would happen if I tried to bring as much of that stuff into whatever and whoever I encounter?  What would happen?  Well, that’s what I did with that class.

First off, I made it a policy that every word that came out of my mouth always built up the student, making them feel that they were more than capable of understanding the information presented.  Every word that came out of my mouth had the underlying message, “I respect you.  The others respect you.  You belong here.  You can do this.  I am here to help you.”  But this wasn’t an empty fake self-esteem.  I would give them honest evaluations of anything they turned into me, but there was one big catch — there was a huge policy of forgiveness.  Try, try, and try again.  That’s what the light did for that woman.  The light showed her the mistakes and that things could’ve been done better, but communicated to her that it’s ok to fail and that you’re still loved, accepted, and belong, regardless.  So that’s what I did.

I had the mindset of a baseball coach.  I throw the pitch, they swing and miss.  The student then goes, “Oh no, what about my grade?  I’m going to go get a B or C in this class, I’ll lose my scholarships, won’t get into the grad school I want to get into.  Everything’s in ruin!”  And I’d then tell them, “I don’t believe in grades.  I’m not even sure what a A, B, and C means.  To me, they are unreal.  But it seems there’s still something to this you’re not getting, and I know you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want to understand this stuff.  Let’s do it again.”  Then the sun sets, everyone’s leaving, and I stay on the pitching mound, willing to throw another pitch, as long as they’re willing to swing.  And how many times did they do things over again?  As many times as I had the time to deal with it.  I have stuff to do too, but as long as they’re respecting my time and putting in effort, there were pretty much infinite do-overs.

All of this takes time.  You have to make extra time for the student.  I could’ve had the attitude, “I graded your work once.  You should’ve done better.  I’m going to spend my afternoon playing video games.”  But I didn’t.  I’d show up at the lab at weird times and tutor different students, walking them through things.

The course consisted of them working through these labs, building different types of physics experiments, learning electronics equipment, and interpreting results.  There was one student, a rather frank and open young woman, who was very agitated.  I went over to her station and she started ranting on how bad the labs were written.  I hadn’t written them, as they’ve been used for years by the department.  Once she started ranting, I could immediately see on her face that she was like, “Oh no.  This isn’t just another student, this guy is the teacher.  I shouldn’t have said that.”  But what did I do?  I showed no sign of agitation, and was completely friendly.  Did I yell at her, “Read more carefully!  Don’t be lazy!”  No.  I thought about what it was like when I was a student, before I understood all this stuff, and I sat down next to her, and then I asked her, “What is unclear?”  Then I took notes, and made it clear to her that I understood her frustration, and even appreciated her feedback.  Then I told her how the system worked within the department, but that I was going to make an effort to make the labs better and would be using the notes and feedback she gave me to do so.

The stance wasn’t, “I’m the superior, do what I say.”  It was more of a stance that we’re equals, the same sort of people living on this Earth together, and let’s figure out what’s wrong and fix it.  It didn’t matter if the lab made sense to me.  It wasn’t written for me.  It’s written for them.  How can I make it more clear to them?  Well, how could I ever figure this out?  The answer’s simple — here’s someone telling me what’s wrong with it.  It wasn’t time to bark orders, it was time to listen.

Guess what happened?  Others overheard and watched this event take place and saw, “You can express how you feel to Jason and he won’t get angry or take it out on you.”  Then the entire class was giving me all kinds of feedback on everything.  What made sense, what didn’t, which diagrams made sense to them, which didn’t, what they thought was fair, and what wasn’t.  What was familiar to them, what wasn’t.

It makes me think of this picture.

Look at that picture above.  What really struck me reading that was ‘the light of the world’.  See, there’s me on one side of the wall, and there’s the students on the other side of the wall.  You can build walls and live in your own world, or you can have real, messy, complicated relationships with people.  I’m just an ordinary nobody, with no axe to grind, and nothing to prove.  I suppose it’s painful when you’re teaching and the students aren’t learning, or you come to learn that the materials you put all this time and effort into creating are no good, etc, but you have to remember Maslow’s hierarchy.  Part of a self-actualized person is know reality as it is, not how you wish it was for your own self-esteem needs.  You don’t build walls, you tear them down.  That’s why it’s put at the top of the pyramid — you’re strong enough to accept reality as it is, not as you wish it was.  You love the world and the people in it as they are, as things really are, and you do the best with what’s really there.

If you extend the right sort of “feelers” to the students, you can form a connection with them.  Then you’ll get honest feedback.  And if you’re a kind and respectful person, most of them will treat you with the same kindness and respect.  Love is a universal language.  When you speak it, others always appreciate it.  They don’t always know how to speak it back to you though, but that’s ok.

A common reaction would be, “Well, the students are just lazy.  If they tried harder, they could understand it.  They don’t study hard enough.”  And maybe that’s true?  I can’t say.  But I had another policy — I always give the students the benefit of the doubt.  I assume they’re smart and hard-working.  I assume they’ve put some adequate time into understanding the material.  I always assume that, and treat them in that way.  Look back at Maslow’s hierarchy — people need respect.  I respect them.  As for them not knowing something, if it becomes clear to me that they’ve forgotten things we’ve covered before, I simply remind them of the lab we covered that in, pull it out, and show it to them again.  And who knows?  Maybe they didn’t understand fully understand it that first time around.  That’s my que to discuss it with them, make it clear, help them understand.  That is what I’m there for, after all.  I don’t put them down for forgetting, or make any sort of big deal about it.  In fact, I assume they’re busy with other classes and all the other things in a person’s life, so I don’t assume the world revolves around just me and what I’m doing in my course.  Also, I don’t see much point in any other reaction.  I’m being paid good money to teach them, and that’s my job – to guide them to the right information they need.  What good does, “You’re not working hard enough” do?  It just closes communication between me and the student.  They just think, “If I go to Jason for help, he’s just going to look down on me, thinking I don’t work hard enough.”  What does that accomplish?

Well, I’ll quit talking about teaching.  This principle isn’t really just about teaching — it’s literally any aspect of life where other people are involved.  There’s so much more to say about this topic.  Understanding how this “web” of love and real connection works, it’s a very powerful toolkit to have.  Not in the manipulative, controlling sense, but in the ‘making things better’ sense.

Now I’m going to pretend like I’m a guru or something.  You want great relationships with people?  Just be the same sort of light that woman saw in her near death experience.  And if that sounds sort of vague to you, I’d recommend going on the Youtube channel ‘NDE Accounts’, and watch lots of these sorts of these near death experiences and people’s encounters with the light.  That’s what I did at one point.  I watched a lot of NDE’s.  Then you just think of what that divine light would do if it came down where you are standing and was in the room, wherever you are now.  Then you just do that.  It’s not necessarily easy to do, but it’s relatively easy to understand.  I’m still in awe at how well things went.   The more you do it, it sort of becomes easier to do, because most people respond so positively to it.  That was my experience anyway.