Lasting Value

People are always looking to make money, even the ones that aren’t actively and greedily fixated on money as a goal. If you make too much or too little of it, there are ethical questions raised about whether or not you deserve it.

People often judge others based on their success or failure. You see a rich man and argue they should “give to the poor” as if the money is yours to distribute. Or you look at a homeless person on the street and fault them for being lazy, as if you knew what got them there. Judging others in this manner cannot be said to be an endearing trait, but this shouldn’t preclude us from observing society as a whole and asking ourselves when it is ethical to make money. Does the manner of making money count? Why are some ways better than others? Is the thief who gives his wealth to the poor on ethically solid ground?

I posit that there are essentially four categories of methods for acquiring wealth.

Builders create objects of lasting value – these may be tangible or intangible – and acquire wealth because people desire these objects.

Solvers provide immediate solutions to systemic inefficiencies, and acquire wealth because people pay for the convenience.

Gamblers make bets on how the world is going to evolve and acquire wealth by reaping the rewards when their bets pay off.

Cheaters operate outside of the system, and acquire wealth by breaking the rules that everyone else is playing by.

As an entrepreneur who wants to build a business, you should probably shoot for the first category. You can choose to be a solver for some time and use it as a stepping stone, but that only lasts until someone else comes along and one-ups you. If you want to be successful long term, you will need to build something of lasting value.

You probably should not build a business as a gambler. In an environment where information is uniformly distributed, the gamble is statistically unlikely to pay off. The gamblers are fighting a losing battle, as the odds are against them and the house always wins. To use information asymmetry effectively in the long run, you would need to be a cheater instead.

The cheaters are arguably the most interesting category of the lot. It is necessary to define the ‘system’ to understand what it means to operate outside of it. For instance, a tax evader may be operating outside of the legal system, but in a corrupt society where everyone evades taxes and few people are punished for it, the ethical boundary may be different from the legal one. And consequently, a cheater in one system may be playing by the rules in another.

You probably should not build a business as a cheater, because someone, somewhere, is going to come after you. A snitch may be doing the right thing, legally speaking, but caught between the two systems – the law and the mafia – they don’t fare too well no matter what they do.

The Missing Coffee Shop

We stayed the weekend in New York City at the Radisson Martinique Hotel on Broadway. On Sunday, the day we were heading back to Seattle, we decided to find a coffee shop close by to get breakfast and pass some time. After a quick detour to buy a comfortable pair of shoes – that had nothing to do with breakfast – we tried to locate this place called ‘Gregorys Coffee’, which was well-rated online.

Alas! Gregorys was not to be found. Certainly, it was supposed to be on the corner of W 31st St and 6th Ave, but perhaps Google Maps was wrong? Had they closed shop and left? We walked up and down the street several times, and I would have been persuaded of a mistake if it weren’t for the fact that I actually recalled seeing the name just a few minutes earlier in big bold lettering, as we were making our way to the shoe shop.

It was a complete mystery…until I realized that we had been walking on the wrong street. We had been looking for the place on Broadway instead of 6th Ave! And that’s how the case was finally solved.

Lilies

Nothing beats the peace and calm of walking around in your own garden in the early morning. There is nothing perfect about these flowers, but for a while I thought they had dried up and disappeared, but now they are back. Resilience is the defining characteristic of nature.

Wikipedia Effect

Allow me to introduce what I have decided to call the ‘Wikipedia Effect’.

The Wikipedia effect is the feeling of desperation and bewilderment caused by trying to read up on any technical topic at Wikipedia and traversing too many links on the website to other related pages. After about a dozen clicks, the reader begins to realize that each topic leads to deeper, more complex topics and they are walking down a deep cave with nothing but a dim flickering lantern.

Pursuit of Meaning

A casual observer might mistakenly believe that the prime directive in life is the pursuit of happiness. In reality, I believe the ultimate goal of the conscious organism is the pursuit of meaning.

This pursuit takes many shapes and forms, and is often described in different words. People talk about wanting a sense of fulfillment or accomplishment. Others want to be challenged, to feel, to overcome obstacles and emerge victorious. And at times, they ask why – why should I do what I am doing right now? The answer to this question takes a philosophical turn – if you keep asking why, you are eventually forced to come face-to-face with the ultimate question – why does something exist rather than nothing?

Many years ago, I asked myself that very question, and kept hitting a very frustrating dead-end in my chain of logic, until one day I had an “Aha!” moment. I finally had a key insight, and it was this: the question of why anything exists is entirely meaningless unless there is someone to ask the question. The question of why is therefore entirely subjective, and it is the subject’s responsibility to define the answer.

In simpler terms, if you are a conscious – self-aware – organism, you are obliged to set your own goals and objectives, rather than look for instruction from elsewhere. Ironically, most self-aware organisms learn early on to conform to existing frameworks of goal-setting, and seldom venture outside of their bounds. Whether it is religion, culture, tradition, parents’ teachings or society’s laws – the conscious individual must make conscious choices in walking down the path.

Try

Come, my darling sit with me,
Where else would you want to be?
It breaks my heart that I made you cry,
But despite it all you know I try.

You’ve been here in this room all day,
All this time, just a touch away —
But there is a wall between us now
I’d break it down if I only knew how.

Perhaps that tear-drop left a trace
As it slid down silent upon your face,
A moment’s hurt, an agonized look —
What price to give back what I took?

My heart stood still as I saw your pain,
Will anything ever be the same again?
Maybe tomorrow will wash this clear,
Maybe we’ll not have to come back here?

The moments pass and the memories fade,
Though words can seldom be unmade;
Behind that smile I watched you cry,
But darling, my love, you know I try.

Paranoia

You think you know the way of the world,
You build your castles of silver and gold,
In the marble tower you proudly stand,
And smile upon your kingdom, your land.

It isn’t so, it isn’t so —
You do not see the unseen foe,
There is no stone to hold your fort,
You have no guns, you have no moat.

They have no need for dagger and gun,
They come with hate, no joy, no fun,
They come to bring you down to the earth,
To snatch your joy and kill your mirth.

They come, they come — do you not see?
This is no place for you to be,
Run my friend! Find a safe spot!
I shall keep them at bay, no matter what!

I see you running, keep going, my friend —
Safety you will find beyond the riverbend.
Until then I will fight these monsters of hate,
Fear not for me! Find haven and wait!

Now that you are gone, I cast off this mask —
For indeed I am finished with my task.
I go up the tower, this kingdom is mine,
The food is exquisite, and so is the wine.

You ask why I lied, maledict me you may —
You know the way of the world you say.
When you saved your self, precious though it be,
Why did you not stay — at least for me?