Mountains in the Mist Part 2: The Decision

Home / Mountains in the Mist Part 2: The Decision

As I said in my very first post, I merely needed to reach a place where I could be satisfied with the ‘why’ that I came up with.  Unfortunately, satisfying myself has been far more difficult than I anticipated. I think that I have discovered that I am a teleological idealist, imperfect ends are grating to me.  The idea that I need to ‘break a few eggs to make an omelet’ is not an issue that I struggle greatly with, hence my ability to continue to serve in the armed forces; however, the idea that an end would be impure rubs me the wrong way. To use my allegory again, the thought that there may not be a mountain that punctures the mist is deeply unsettling. Nearly as troubling is the thought that I will head out in the wrong direction.  There are plenty of people now who are spouting refried versions of old wisdom about how to find this peak, and what to prepare for when we get there.  Some use the Nordic gate and suggest that stoicism, community mindedness, and hard work will get us all there.  Others say that the path is the Oriental one, they talk about right-ordering, reduced materialism, and contextualization.  Some say, as they run out the antipodean gate with their delicious food and beer that the path is Epicurean.  The Occidentalists dourly glare at all of them and think they are just idiots who don’t understand the value of a buck as they pass, singularly, as though guided by an invisible hand, through the gate of Manan.  

I would like to have a universal good, an end that is atemporal and challenging, but the limits on my knowledge are simply too great.  Unfortunately, this leads to: the infinite regress problem, the issues of Chaos theory, the issues of time-defined good, and several others that I brought up.  I think that I may have set myself an unconquerable task to start off with (at least unconquerable for me).  I think that philosophers would call this something like an epistemological problem (epistemology is the limits of what can be known).  I want to reach a universal optima, but I do not have enough data to find it.  To use my allegory once more, I can throw a few stones, and simulate the road ahead of me, but this only extends my vision a short distance. I cannot test for myself whether this mountain exists, or reliably know the path to it.  

I could stay here, in my little corner of the world, quietly marking time.  Plenty before me have done it, and plenty after me will as well.  The modern western world is well suited for this.  For all of the talk of rampant inequality, our poor live longer than kings 200 years ago, and if you have just $4k in your bank account, then you are worth more than 90% of the global population. They sit idly by in workplaces, schools, community centers, government offices, just playing at the edges of things, believing, and sometimes hoping things will continue to be much the same as they have been in recent memory.  There is some logic in this.  When they chase too hard in any direction they lose things that they love.  Families in the case of the sensationalists and Money-lovers.  Material possessions in the case of the community and spiritually minded.  

So here I sit at my proverbial modern bar stool, my premium Economy Seat on a British Airways flight over the Pacific, wondering what type of person I am.  Am I a person who holds tightly to the center, and reads but refutes people who are or claim to be sages, mystics, rich, powerful, and enlightened?  Am I the kind of person who strikes out and starts climbing, using as many hints as I can from those before and data I generate, but moving, with purpose, to an unclear destination.  

I see virtues in both ways of being.  I wish that I could be wholly neutral in my decision, but my very-human desire to make myself congruent, to be self-rationalizing makes me want to say that I should strike out on another trek.  This would be the victory of hope over experience.  The whole title of this blog implies the number of times that I have tried paths and found them wanting.  Perhaps I was wrong, perhaps the solution is not another bull-headed charge up the next hill. Perhaps the solution is a more measured, considered, incremental approach.  Less bull-headed, and more open-minded.

Less generously, in the face of imperfect data, I plan to merely ‘muddle through.’  I have been working on satisficing vs optimizing.   This is not perfect in that it does not answer the major underlying philosophical questions that I am hoping to work on.  Here I admit an open-eared defeat. It is a defeat in that I have given up the active search for universal answers to these big questions.  I don’t think that I can solve the epistemological quandaries that I have gotten myself into.  It is open-eared in that I am always willing to return to those questions as the data presents itself, ready, hoping, that I have been premature, or that I find people wiser than myself.  I wish that I could have something clean and clear like a bell pealing on a cold day to tell me ‘this is the dominant choice, go forward’ but if it is there, it has not yet tolled in my earshot.  I plan, if you can call this a plan, to cobble together something from the ground up, and then see with some sense of remove what type of picture it makes.  This is something like the artistic movement of pointillism. Each individual dot might not contribute a great deal, but together, they can make a scene, like this.  The trouble is that unlike the pointillists, I do not have the painters remove from my own life.  Each dot, to me, is difficult to contextualize.  Only after some intervening distance will I be able to see them working together, and even then, imperfectly.  

So that settles it.  I will try some type of third, perhaps impossible, way.  I am, for now, a short-sighted explorer with a love of my local hearth.  I will set out on a journey, but not maniacally pursue it at the expense of everything else.  I will use the data I can from those before me, and the data I create to improve my route. Perhaps I will never find the mountain above the mist.  Perhaps there is not one, but I will end my days, searching for it.  

Where to start?

I am writing this business plan, a vision, really, so far as I can see it.  It reflects my thinking: incomplete, tentative, and still a work in progress.

I would like to put a bit of the things I have been reading in Superforcasting into practice.  I don’t believe that I am exceptional, and any enterprise that I am going to undertake will likely be roughly as successful as those in a properly selected sample prior to this.  I would like to benchmark it’s feasibility based on similar enterprises. That seems to me to be a good next step.  
I need to, as this business plan shows, do some thinking about how much is enough.  For me, for the enterprise, for the people involved in it.  

Some of the issues that I have started wrestling with will absolutely come up again. I am admitting that I have not solved them.  For example: What is the right time window for impact (my lifetime, children’s? centuries? species?), and how broad should the circle of care be (immediate family? community? country? etc)  These, like the others, I can make best-efforts at, again, benchmarking on what has come before.  

So I think that I will congeal these issues into a few more modest questions.  

  • What is reasonably foreseeable in whatever timeframe is ideal? Knowing what we do about chaos and nonlinearity.
  • What can be undone? It seems ill-advised that I, like Dr Frankenstein, build something that is actively destructive.
  • What circle of care can be proximate, stretched, or outside my control over that time horizon?
  • What has been the success or failure of similarly targeted ventures?
  • How much is enough?
  • Probably more things that I have not thought of yet…

Can I do this?  

I wrote this in two sections for two reasons, the first practical and mundane, the second contextually relevant and preeminent.  First, the story was very long, so I decided to cut apart the allegory and its meaning.  Second, I was, if I am truly honest, because I am very tentative about this part 2 post.  I have reread this, and it occurs to me that my commitment to be an incrementalist was not as resounding as it felt when I wrote it.  My brain wants to make the equivocation of incrementalism and tepid commitment.  It feels lukewarm, and like so many things of middling texture, temperature, and brightness, it is not as attractive, at least to me.  ‘He followed the platonic golden mean’ is not nearly as attractive as ‘He gave himself with reckless abandon to ameliorate some ill.’ I suppose that this is quite natural for someone like me whose primary, overweening concern is to create significance here on earth.  Can I change myself enough to actually want to stop building the tower of significance and start to want a more tentative impact?

It is time for a bit of Roosevelt that resounds deeply inside of me. I will butcher it, but try to quote as much as I can remember

The Man in the Ring
It’s not the critic who counts, the one who points out how the strong man stumbles, or how the doer of deeds might have done them better.  The credit goes to the man who is in the ring, whose face is scarred, and covered in dust.  Who knows the great devotions, and the painful defeats.  Who, if he errs, at least errs while trying greatly.  Who, in the end of his days will never count his number amongst the poor, timid, souls who know neither victory, nor defeat.
Perhaps the difference is that in this chapter it is only me an myself in the ring.  

Interesting Things I’ve looked at since the last post that I have found useful

  • Investing/Economics:
    • Television companies the world over seem to be quite pro-cyclical and have Betas of great than 1.5.  Alphabet has a Beta of .86.  Still pro-cyclical, but it seems that top-of-the-advertising funnel companies are hit more hard in a downturn.
    • This is a more updated and entertaining way to look at my ‘could I Make a Pin?’ Example from a few weeks ago
    • Mr. Money Moustache. Best quote, and pretty good writing overall. “If you can’t afford to lose it, you can’t afford to buy it yet—otherwise the object owns you rather than vice versa.”  It echoes Stockdale and 2nd Peter 2:19
    • Article in the Age about Australia’s housing prices, and this one in business spectator:
    • Interesting documentary about the rise of competing 3d printing companies
    • Misbehaving: Interesting book on the foundations of Behavioral Economics.  Facts NEural networks require significant data to be trained on to come up with reasonable results.  Fact, major purchases and events often happen only once or a few times per lifetime (house purchase, marriage, retirement).  How can we expect rationality in the former if the data is from the latter.  We might be looking for parasites.
  • Giving
    • One Acre Fund: Interesting charity that aims to fix the supply chain for crops in the developing world.   
    • the funding network: I attended one of their events in Sydney, and was amazed at how this crowdfunding platform worked.  There was a fair amount of positive social pressure.
    • Song Saa  I met one of the founders of this resort.  Very intesting example of what can be done with a double-bottom line in mind
  • Morality
    • Epictetus: Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes.  Consider the real nature of your aspirations and measure that against your capacity.  “You become what you give your attention to.”  (meaning, if you think about trivial things all of the time, then your will become trivial). “ we crave things that are outside of our control and are not satisfied by the things that are in our control.”
  • General
    • Superforecasting: Don’t equate low probability with meant to be, inside and outside view.  Another memorable quote which seems reasonably true to me “Ironically most companies are more focused on command and control than their military counterparts’
    • This little doc lists all of the places where I sourced around my various publications.  I used to have a list of articles that I was planning to write.  I had not touched it in years and got rid of it, just looking at it gives me some perspective about how much my mind has changed/grown.

Please, tell me what you thought before reading this, and let me know if this changed your mind.

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