On Story Telling

Story telling is the key to human cooperation.

Apes and other animals can’t grasp stories and therefore can’t be motivated towards projects larger than their instincts.

To us, everything is a story.

Religion is a story about life, about what we ought to do with our time on this earth, and what happens to our consciousness after that time ends.

Love is a story about mutual commitment to each other’s happiness: a shared story

Money is a story we tell each other about the value of paper.

Our government is a story we wrote collectively about the ideal way to organize and protect human interests.

Our fears are stories we tell ourselves about what could go wrong.

Our hopes are stories about what could go right.

We use stories to instruct our children about values, about right and wrong.

Politicians and media use stories and narratives with intention, to manipulate.

Wars are fought because of the stories we tell about each other’s intentions.

A good painting tells a story,

A good song tells a story,

And even uninteresting art can be improved by an interesting story.

Storytelling is the mother of all art.

Storytelling is intrinsic to our psychology and shines out from the earliest stages of human childhood development:

Show a child a tool they’ve never seen before, and they’ll tell you a story about its use.

Ask them to draw a picture and they’ll tell the story to accompany the sketch.

Ask them about almost anything, like their favorite stuffed animal and they’ll tell you a story about its wants and intentions.

We constantly tell ourselves stories about other people’s intentions.

Many find that the most desirable trait in the opposite sex, or in a partner is a sense of humor. Being funny is in essence, the ability to tell certain kinds of stories.

I’ve found that the best company to have, is that of a person who can tell a good story, and I don’t just mean a campfire-fictional story, but a story about their day; about something from a past experience or about what might happen tomorrow; even an improv story about what that weird guy in the checkout line was buying. If you know someone who is fun to be around, you will probably find upon inspection, that at the heart of their allure, is a knack for telling a good story.

Having a conversation with someone who is bad at telling stories is painful; as if being held hostage by social politeness, while being waterboarded by words.

So it seems we are all authors, by and by we are our own audience too.

Successful, motivated people tell themselves stories about their future triumphs.

Depression makes us tell ourselves stories about how we’ll fail.

Sometimes our actions in the world don’t align with the stories we tell about them. This is considered a character flaw. It’s bad storytelling. We say actions speak louder than words, but that’s not always true subjectively. Sometimes the words in our mind are louder than the memories of actions. Yet, who you are subjectively depends a lot on the the kind of stories you tell yourself. And who you are objectively depends a lot on the actions born of those stories.

These little internal narratives and stories matter. The stories we tell ourselves today, will effect the stories our children have to live in the future.

What kind of story are you going to write today, what kind of story will you write with your life? These are the questions that motivate me.

I want to read a good story

I want to tell a good story

I want to live a good story

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Brazilian Jiu Jitsu 


I have always avoided physical confrontation.  Throughout my life I’ve repeatedly concluded to myself that I’m not a fighter.   Perhaps for no particular reason other than I’m just not a particularly big guy.  Or maybe it was the contrast between myself and my friends; Growing up, my closest circle of friends were in a word- bad asses.  They were football players. They were big, athletic, muscular dudes. On many occasions I had watched them fight without hesitation and beat the brakes off of whoever had the bad idea to challenge them.  We grew up in a rural area, and fighting was a fairly common activity. Rarely a week went by without someone I knew landing in an altercation. Yet I always seemed to find some other way around fighting, no matter how much someone was trying to draw me in.   As much as I’d like to say I did this because I placed value in taking the high road, the truth of it is that I was afraid to fight. 

In spite of my lifelong propensity for avoiding physical conflict, I found myself walking into a bjj academy at the age of 33. Though I was quite unsure about what the hell I was getting myself into, I had watched the early UFC fights and knew that jiu jitsu was a super effective martial art with a somewhat supernatural reputation for giving smaller fighters mystical abilities to concur stronger and larger opponents. 

I remember my first class was a combination of confusion and exhaustion. Such a class description held accurate for not only my first class, but my first weeks and months.  Slowly, I came to understand that jiu jitsu is a grappling art.  It teaches it’s students that all fights begin standing up, and most end on the ground.  The emphasis of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is to show various techniques that allow us safely (as safe as possible) engage a standing aggressor in order to take the fight directly to the ground.  The logic behind it is this: If I can effectively control and take a person to the ground, I can negate their size and striking advantages.   The body mechanics of a powerful striker are maximized when standing upright, with feet stable and anchored to the floor; in this manner one can leverage the full force of the body behind a punch. All one has to do is to try and throw a punch while lying flat on their back in order to realize that its a severely handicapped position for striking.   The disparity between these two positions: punching while standing vs flat on your back, provide the frame work for positional hierarchy in a fight.  Simply put: there are some positions that are more likely to result in winning the fight and some that are more likely for to lose. Jiu jitsu teaches how to move safely, and incrementally through this hierarchy.  Beginning from a standing position called “the free movement phase”, we learn to connect and execute a controlled takedown to the ground, and then to move through various positions called “guard”, “side mount” or “side control”, with the end goal being to transition into positions with the highest percentages of winning fights. Two of the most effective positions are called “full mount” in which your opponent is flat on their back and you are seated with knees on the floor and straddled across their chest; a powerful position for landing punches.  The most devastating position is “back control”.  Every predator in the wild kingdom recognizes the advantages of attacking from behind an opponent, and humans are no different as our backs offer an anatomical weak point that we cannot defend once controlled.  The difference however is that most untrained humans prefer to resolve conflicts by standing face to face like horned sheep, ramming their fist into each other’s faces. Jiu jitsu offers a technical alternative, and most BJJ techniques and strategies revolve around taking the back of an opponent. Additionally, at any point during the positional navigation, a Jiu Jitsu practitioner could end the fight with one of literally a thousand submission holds. Every limb is susceptible to various joint locks and every position leads to some method of strangulation, many of such even include using your opponents clothes to do so. As of today I have been unwillingly strangled by my own clothes so many times that I’ve lost count. 

The first time I sparring with a skilled BJJ partner I was controlled and repeatedly submitted in in such an effortless and precise way that it appeared, by every measure of my senses, to be nothing short of black magic or wizardry.   Time and time again, over and over, I was placed in submission holds as if I were a tiny child trying to resist being buckled into my car seat. Despite being handled like an infant, and despite being shown techniques I didn’t fully understand and could hardly replicate, I did not find jiu jitsu discouraging.  Rather, I found it inspiring.  My training partners had something that I did not, and it didn’t appear to be strength or size, or agility. They demonstrated my deficit during every sparring session or “roll” as it is called in BJJ.  Actually, many of the men and women who could dismantle me on the mats appeared to be less fit than me.  What they had was knowledge and that was the source of my inspiration: I wanted to know what they knew. And so I kept on showing up.  Everyday I would arrive at jiu jitsu class, bow onto the mats and try very desperately to suck less than the day before.   Part of what facilitated my dedication was the atmosphere and culture of my jiu jitsu academy.   It seemed like everyone sincerely wanted to help me learn. Like we were all on the same journey to grow in the art. Later I would learn this is common culture in the BJJ community. Every student, no matter the rank or experience level, remembers what it was like to be brand new on the jiu jitsu mats, and the general trend is that most people are eager to help new students.   There seems to be something psychologically satisfying about teaching and sharing one’s passion with another.  Even being a few months or a year into learning the art of jiu jitsu puts one in a brand new position of having knowledge to share with a newer student, and it’s rewarding to be on the giving end of this arrangement for a change. As a result of this BJJ culture, everyone was incredibly helpful in sharing pointers to help me improve, and offering corrections when mistakes were made. 

Part of the effectiveness attributed to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is due to the unique ability to train it with 100% live energy.  It is unlike other martial arts, especially striking arts, like boxing or kick boxing, where one must pull punches or risk seriously injuring a training partner.  One cannot head kick, right cross, or elbow their sparring partners with the same force that would be used in actual combat, and therefore there is always some element of assumption about what will happen IF they were to apply the techniques with 100% force to an opponent resisting 100%.  BJJ however, allows practitioners to recreate the sparring sessions with realistic intensity most similar to an actual fight. Since the focus is not on striking, but rather on the positional control that would maximize striking effectiveness, (as well as joint locks and strangulation), persons sparring can experience the full resistance of a real fight and simply “tap out” at any point without risking injury.  Because of the tap out dynamic described above, BJJ is known as “The Gentle Art”.   I must admit that it is slightly odd to simulate murder and limb breaking and call it a gentle art, but it is true that the injury rate for BJJ is considerably less than other combat arts, including wresting, judo and mma.   Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of the BJJ culture was indeed the gentle, friendly nature of the training. To clarify,  I don’t mean that BJJ isn’t physically demanding and I don’t mean “gentle” as if to say it’s easy.  It’s actually very physical, it often hurts, and very few things about learning it are easy.  What I do mean is that there is a universal sense of compassion and care for each other’s well-being.  Sure, we’re pushing each other, and trying hard to strangle and submit one another, but the goal in training isn’t to actually break arms and strangle unconscious; the goal is to force my trainging partner to tap out.  I would be mortified if I broke someone’s arm in training.   As you become familiar with various submission holds, the instructors and your training partners help you will learn recognize when you have been caught in one, it then becomes very easy to tap out before any pain or joint damage occurs.  

Measuring your own progress in jiu jitsu is often difficult.  Especially when all of your training partners are getting better too.  Initially however, there is such a deficit of knowledge that it’s fairly easy to notice that you are acquiring a new skill. But after about a year of training you might feel like there’s no clear path forward.  It’s not uncommon to feel like your progress has stalled, sometimes people even feel like they are getting worse at Jiu Jitsu because the training partners they used to be able to submit are now giving them difficulty in sparring.  Everyone goes through this phase, but the first time I experienced a plateau in development was the hardest.  Then, we had some new students sign up at our academy.  I had been working with the same training partners for months and months so I was excited to share things I had learned.  When it came time to spare, I was amazed at how easily I was able to control and submit the newer students.  I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was.  It’s situations like that when you get a unique opportunity to measure your growth. With only 1 year of training, unbeknownst to me, I had acquired enough to skills to easily handle myself against larger, untrained new students.  This wasn’t about ego, I didn’t take pride in being able to exploit their ignorance in grappling. It was just the first time I had an opportunity to truly observe the disparity between what a year of grappling and BJJ knowledge can do against someone who had no knowledge.  And it was true, the knowledge I had gained was more important than the size difference. It didn’t matter that this new student was muscular, and heavier or younger. The knowledge was more important.  It almost felt unfair, as I said previously: like I was exploiting their ignorance.  They made so many mistakes that it was easy to lead them to exhaustion or submission.   And I remembered how it felt when I was brand new, I remebered how knowledge had appeared to me like black magic, and now here I was standing on the other side of this very same awe, and there was nothing magic. It was just some basic knowledge and a few well practiced techniques. 

The beauty of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is that there is no bottom to the well of grappling knowledge.  The art is in a constant state of growth and evolution with new techniques being discovered endlessly, both improving and refining the most efficient was to accomplish goals in grappling.  The landscape of grappling knowledge seems to have no horizon.  The result is that no matter how long you have been training, you will always be able to stand on both sides of awe.  You will always be in a position, no matter how good you are, where you can witness that appearance magic in someone who has more knowledge, and five minutes later feel that simple exploitation of ignorance when you roll with someone less skilled.   This effect is continues indefinitely. Some people will develop a great depth of understanding in one position, while still working hard to remove deficits in other positions.  There is no such thing as a complete knowledge of grappling, even the world champions continue to learn, and will likely find their championships usurped every few years by more skilled rivals.   I recently had the great privilege of attending a BJJ seminar with over 80 black belts from around the world.  World champions and lifelong practitioners alike on the mats, sharing techniques and passing knowledge.  I could see the excitement, that very same excitement that was on my face when I learned my first technique, was still on the faces of all these legends.  They had the same enthusiasm to teach and learn techniques that I see on brand new white belts.   

Since beginning my journey into Jiu Jitsu I have learned so much. Not just about grappling, but about myself; about what I can handle and what I can accomplish if I work hard.   I’ve learned to relax and breath even when I’m being smashed and the pressure to quit is high.  The metaphors about BJJ and life are numerous.  Learning to deal with the pressures and challenges on the mats are helpful to overcome the challenges and pressure in life.   And because of this I see so many stories about how BJJ changed someone’s life for the better.  Jiu Jitsu is my life now.  I hope to learn and grow in this art for as long as I live.   

Reflections on Bullshit 

Thoughts on past and present Presidents and the distinction between lying and bullshitting


Considering that throughout history, a certain percentage of all communication has been bullshit, and by means of technology there has been an exponential growth in the amount of communicating we humans do, there is therefore undoubtedly more bullshitting going on in the world than ever before. 
Secondly, it’s important to note that in the case of lying one must know the truth and choose to deceive, for it is impossible for someone to lie unless he feels he knows the truth. In contrast, bullshitting requires no such conviction. As Harry G. Frankfurt writes in his compact mini book on the topic:

“The bullshitter …. does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

This distinction between bullshitting vs. lying highlights key distinctions between people, politicians, and more specifically: past and present presidents. For example if Obama was a liar, I think it’s fair to say that he was aware he was lying; whether his motives were malevolent or benevolent, I get the impression that he was largely aware of the truth. President Trump however, appears completely indifferent to the truth, and therefore by definition is less of a liar due to this seeming indifference. If Frankfort is correct in his ethics, and if I’m right in calling Trump a bullshitter of the highest caliber, then he is a greater enemy of the truth.  

“Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic exceed his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic” – Harry G. Frankfurt 

Building a Fence

Today I built a fence

I bought premium lumber

And I fastened it together with all of my best arguments

 

My fence is tall and grand

It defines my space

And separates what is yours from what is mine

 

The view from inside is comforting

My dogs do not stray

And the wind enters broken

 

The grass doesn’t grow here anymore

I pace around the trampled soil  

And I call out through the cracks of my planked security

 

Time well spent

Moving on from social media

Recently I met a 98 year old woman, she lived alone, and she seemed more active than most folks half her age. She was happy. I remarked to her that I was in awe of how much technological and social change she must have witnessed in the course of her life. She replied “Oh the stories I could tell you.” I wished that it was a sincere offer, and that I had the time to listen.  
This inspired me to think about the arrival of my 38th year in this world.  So I’ve been reflecting on life, as people do on occasion, but on this occasion I’ll do so publicly via this blog. I have almost 38 years of consciousness under my belt, what would it feel like to live for 60 more years? It’s slightly embarrassing to acknowledge that it’s only recently I have become aware of how subtle habits translate into longterm changes. Like the butterfly effect, it’s all the little things we do that seem swirl into full hurricanes later in life. With the current expected life span of men at 76 and women at 81, there seems to be ample time for storms to brew. Though a long life in the modern world comes with an abundance of choice, opportunity, and freedom to decide how to spend our time; an increasing life span also creates more opportunities for benign choices to become malignant tumors. If I only lived to be 30, my diet might not matter, nor my frivolous expenditures, but long life provides time to reap the compound interest of every habit. The longer the life, the more impact we’ll feel from the smallest degrees of deviation from optimal.
Lately, I see the tiny flutter of my current habits and wonder what hurricanes I’m forcasting for myself. Am I eating well enough? More importantly: what about my habits of mind? And my children: Are my words of guidance and advice unintentionally instilling insecurity or building confidence? Am I providing a framework for lasting happiness, or building structure doomed to collapse? Am I spending money on frivolous things? 5 bucks a day wasted at a gas station could be the difference between a comfortable retirement and 5 extra years of work. Most often, I contemplate time spent on my smartphone; how much of my conscious life is spent browsing Facebook, or doing even less meaningful activities like binge watching cat videos. Smart phones are to attention what black holes are to matter. Even as I type this criticism (on my phone), I can’t help but dismiss the irony and enjoy the allure of this technology. 
But at what cost? The past seven years has been an interesting experiment. I love learning, smartphones and the internet have made that process so incredibly easy. I wonder though, as I watch my daughters falling in line with most adults and all of their peers, if we aren’t all trading a more longterm richness of conscious experience for short term convenience.  
In the past seven years I have no meaningful memories or stories to tell of “that one time on Facebook”. I can’t imagine I’ll ever sit with my grandchildren and tell them about that crazy time I spent on Instagram, or googling random shit. And yet the average adult will spend 3 hrs and 15 mins a day using mobile apps. I know this because I googled it. On my smartphone. I suppose between social media and audible, I’m somewhere in the vicinity of that number. It’s very nauseating for me to imagine all of the productive, meaningful things I could have accomplished if that time was given back to me. And it’s not that I haven’t done meaningful things, (I do enjoy audible) or that a person can’t do both, it’s just that I’m coming to terms with the truth: This is a habit that will inevitably detract from the potential richness of my life, and my experience. 
I don’t want to someday arrive at my 98th birthday, and try to summon the memories of 75 thousand hours of staring at a phone, or a television (68 years x 3hrs/day). Currently, if I’ve spend 3 hrs a day using an iPhone for the past 6 years, It’s the equivalent to googling nonstop for 273 days. The average American watches 35 hours of television! I like to think my smart phone numbers are lower than those, and certainly my television numbers are a fraction of the average, but regardless I am certain that I’ve wasted an obscene amount of time. 

In order to correct this misuse of my time, I will first attempt to find better ways to spend my time than on social media.   Hopefully his blog is the first step in phasing out social media time altogether. And with any luck, it might even become a better outlet for those who care to keep in touch to do so. Maybe through this blog we can create more intimate, meaningful ways to share ideas, and stories.  My hope is that 75 thousand hours from now, this will feel like time well spent. 

The Smart Fridge 

Imagine refrigerator technology has progressed to the point of food replicating. Any meal can be made instantly. All one must do is purchase the raw food constitute, and fill the top compartment on the refrigerator. Due to fierce competition, the goal of refrigerator manufacturers everywhere is to sell as much raw food constitute as possible.  Fridge researchers have found that the best way to maximize the amount of time a consumer spends using their refrigerator was to have the refrigerator prepare their favorite food item, and present it to them each time the door was opened. Thanks to big data, the refrigerator developers have access to records of every meal you’ve eaten for the past ten years, and it factors this data into the snacks it prepares. Since the goal is to maximize the amount of times you open the door and eat, the snacks are small, unfilling, but perfectly tailored to your preferences. Almost irresistible. Machine learning combined with big data has allowed your refrigerator to know better than you, what foods you’ll binge on, and it presents them to you endlessly. Our smart-fridges eventually get updated and link up on the web. Now I can open my fridge and eat things my fridge friends are currently tasting. I can send a “yum” notification when they post something good to eat. My friends get the notification and run to their fridge to see what the notification was all about, and their refrigerator serves up several of their favorite, delicious morsels. All of this yum notification business exponentially increases the amount of time spent at the fridge. Raw food constitute is consumed in millions of tons each day. Much to the fridge developers delight, refrigerator binging becomes part of the pop culture. Everyone spends several hours a day tasting delicious creations served up by our smart-fridges. 5.5 hrs on average. The population becomes extremely obese, but no one cares because cooking is tedious, and the social pressure to own a smart fridge is high. 
Machine learning discovers that smart-fridge users are more motivated to eat durring episodes of depression. Knowing this, fridge developers place long delays between when a yum notification is sent and received to manipulate people into feeling like no one “yum-ed” their post. Since the amount of yums a person receives on a food post has become analogous to social value, AI has determined the exact amount of time delay to trigger depression eating and maximize fridge time. After further analysis, machine learning and AI discover that the food posts which prompt outrage inspire the most fridge time and over-eating. Usually the outrage is in regard to the unethical eating of cute animals.  Outrage almost always goes viral. The more outraged one appears, the more ethical they feel and are perceived by their online community. Refrigerator culture becomes a vehicle for depression and outrage. And what’s worse is that the refrigerator social media infastructure became the perfect tool for tyrannical politicians to manipulate the public. They use food to manipulate certain voting demographics, paying refrigerator developers to over feed the opposition’s voting base making them lethargic and sleepy, while simultaneously targeting their own voting base with caffeinated treats on voting day. Eventually refrigerators become integrated with the human body, pumping food directly into the stomachs while probes notify the tongue and brain of the various flavor combinations. This is a highly anticipated innovation, which bypasses the tedious and very annoying task of chewing and swallowing all day long. Finally free to bask in steady stream of sensual flavor and social gratification, humanity quietly eats itself into oblivion, completely enslaved, and completely content.