Friendship and Wisdom

I've been thinking a lot about friendships and relationships lately. When you're young, you just sort of assume people will stay around until catastrophic actions happen. As you get older, you realize this is not the case. Sometimes we hurt each other, intentionally or unintentionally. I definitely have made mistakes with people; mistakes that I may not have even realized I committed, but saw later. Sometimes we are hurt by others. Sometimes it happens repeatedly. And sometimes, we just grow apart, as our goals and personalities and interests change.

In my youth, I genuinely felt people had the best intentions for me, as I did for them, unless they blatantly told me otherwise. I've fortunately moved on from that painful innocence, and realized that plenty of people can act kindly to our faces, but the buck stops there. I still try to do my best to help others whenever I can. If someone is acting in a bad way, I try to see what pain they may be moving through that is causing it. But I no longer allow myself to be stepped on for the betterment of others.  Sometimes people can be false friends because of their own jealousies. Sometimes they keep you around to feel better about themselves, but then if they feel that they no longer have the upper hand, they no longer want the friendship.

One of my most important friendships ended in an incredibly painful way, out of seemingly nowhere, due to this. Sometimes they subconsciously don't feel they deserve a true friendship, and will sabotage it because they feel that's what they deserve. I've seen that happen too. Sometimes they are selfish and put themselves first; looking back, I can see that I've done this before, though I try my best to make sure not to be that person any more. And sometimes things end for reasons we will never be able to rationalize. We are long lived, and that's just how it goes.

Eventually you find out...and it's a tough realization, but honestly not everyone is good for you. Not everyone can deserve friendship. They can always deserve love, and caring, and for your best hopes. But you can't always let them into your circle. You don't have the time, or the energy, because eventually putting yourself out there for everyone will consume you. Some people will try to take all of you. I've learned to curate my friendships. I've learned that I no longer have a wide sphere; I have a close circle.

But here's what I have found to be a silver lining, because with age comes wisdom (even for someone as stubborn as me). Sometimes people stick with you, and give you more chances than you deserve. And sometimes you do the same for others. And as time goes on, and you assess people around you and your own goals, I realize something.  I am closest to people who are trying to do their best. They are setting goals, and sometimes missing them, but always trying for them. The more I have surrounded myself with people of strong moral code and ambition, the more I have found, you really ARE more like the people you spend time with. And I find that the spaces that were filled by those with bad, or mediocre, feeling for me, are now filled by those who genuinely care for, and inspire me. I've replaced what used to be a crystal necklace of friendship, with a bracelet of diamonds. And that can only come with time and age, and it is one of the sweetest parts of getting older that I've found.

I have friends now from every stage of my life, and we have all changed and adapted and learned, but we have stuck together. The wisdom to be discerning in who I let into my heart, is a lesson that hurt to learn, but was worth learning. And to those of you here, who have stuck with me through my trials, through my darkest days and years, I raise my glass to you. Thank you for being here for me, and I am here for you.

Society's shift away from forgiveness, and its repercussion on human interaction

Gonna get a little bit hairy in here today. Of course, if you get down to it, it's a hairy era in general, so I'm really just blending in.

There's plenty in the news these days to aggravate and inflame people, and it sure seems to be doing its job. Every other person I interact with is desolated, and the ones in between are enraged. It's a rough time for humanity. Not in the creature comforts, survival sense. Plenty of studies back up the fact that overall, violence and sickness and every other awful way of dying are on the decline. I'm speaking of our spiritual, cerebral facets. 

It's such a confusing time for Americans. In the last few centuries, the entire scope of culture has been flipped upside down. What are we here for? Who do we claim fealty to? And in the next few decades, this will likely get worse, as more of our life becomes automated, and more of us are left with too much time on our hands to spin ourselves up in a tizzy.

So what do we turn to in order to blow of our steam? It used to be family, God, the church, and hobbies/making things. But those are becoming more scarce as outlets, and we don't know how to deal with it. So we apparently turn to allowing our Id out online, with nary a Superego in sight. Hopefully this is just a growing pain (and everything feels permanent when you're in the middle of it), but it's hard to tell.

Here's what I do know: Bullying, hatred, and judgement are the order of the day right now. Particularly in the social media realm. And I think the biggest red flag I see is the total lack of forgiveness.

In Western society, Christianity has been the moral compass for most of the last couple thousand years. There have been missteps and miscalculations and errors along the way, but essentially it was the law of the land. As we move further and further into the "Science as a God" era, the human morality tenets of Christianity are being left behind. Obviously there are plenty of implications and discussions to be had with that little thesis statement, but I'm going to leave much of that to other posts and focus on the compassion, hypocrisy, and forgiveness areas. (And before you get worked up, I absolutely endorse science most of the time. I just don't find it provides all the answers for me, and that's where my religion steps in). 

Now I don't automatically accept the thought that all Christians are the good ones, and all non-Christians are bad. There's plenty of nastiness to go all over the place, trust me. After all we are all flawed humans fighting battles; some winning, some losing. But I will say that the basic premise of "Love one another", and "forgive", are really being lost when we have no outer moral code to help guide our consciences. 

Every day I am seeing the mob of online thought drag humans through the mud for missteps, some of them decades old. I do believe that some crimes are offenses that shouldn't be forgotten (murder, rape, crimes against children etc etc), but that's not what I'm talking about. It's not decades old grievous crimes. It's decades old "things said in passing", or decades old opinions, or things of that nature. And the online mobs are completely prepared to pillory anyone for something said in the past, wrecking lives and families and livelihoods, oftentimes for statements that have been disavowed. And this really bothers me.

I am not sure if students are still encouraged to read 1984 or Brave New World, but it sure doesn't seem as though enough people have taken lessons from those books to heart. As we grow ever closer to every single moment of our lives being captured by technology and stored, and our lifespans are already being predicted to reach 150 years before too much longer, I just wonder what traps we as a society are setting for ourselves. "Thought crimes" are very much a reality these days; perhaps the government isn't very much into prosecuting them yet, but the individual has so much power that the judicial system can be totally sidestepped for punishment, and the lynch mobs are more than ready to take it over.

I'm not saying people should be allowed to say awful things; if you hear someone say something terrible, call them on it, right then. But I don't understand how in an age where we are meant to accept plenty of things that were taboo before, all of a sudden for a misquoted phrase, we expect the speaker to take a long walk off a short plank. Why? And who made us all such moral superiors? 

Humility was something that used to be taken as something commonplace, a virtue that we were expected to uphold. I recently visited the Midwest and was reminded of how nice it is to be around people who are "down to earth". People who do their jobs, live their lives, and are pragmatic. That is definitely NOT something you see often in the DC area, and it's something I most miss about home. The ability to own mistakes, the ability of others to forgive, and the ability of all parties involved to move on. I never hear this promoted any more. These days so much is about self promotion, envy, and the tearing down of someone on the other side. 
 

The internet has done many great things (I just had Christmas presents delivered to my house on a very windy and chilly day, thank you Amazon), but it sure hasn't done much for human interaction. Echo chambers and self-righteousness are detrimental and exhausting, unless you're online where they are commonplace.

I think it would be good if we tried to remember that just because someone says something we disagree with, doesn't mean we should never forgive someone in a spirit of contrition. I know the First Amendment is meant to protect free speech from government interference, but I'm starting to feel it isn't enough anymore. The largest threat to the individual and their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness is no longer the government overreach. It's been supplanted by neighborly overreach. Next time you see an online effort to totally wreck someone from holding different beliefs than you, try to remember that that person is a human who has foibles and should be forgiven. We shouldn't have the power as individuals to decide whether someone is guilty of a crime. That momentary feeling of purposeful elation, isn't really worth it. When the mob moves on to its next over-righteous lynching, the wreckage of a life will be left behind, and we all forget about it.

We can do better. Think of the worst things you've done, or said, or felt. I know I've had plenty of opinions over the years that have been annealed and changed over time. I'm grateful that they are mostly lost to antiquity, but that won't be the case for much longer.  I know I'm in no position to judge anyone for any statement they made decades ago, particularly if they don't hold those opinions now. Are you above that self-judgement? We are all flawed and imperfect, and most of us try to do better tomorrow than we did today. So let's try together.

The eternal quest for happiness and balance: 8 billion of us are on it. Here's my strategy.

All of us on this small, spinning sphere full of humans are seeking happiness in one way or another. It's an elusive things to find, and the distractions and noisy filler of the modern age don't do anything to help us hear the inner silence that helps us on the path.

I really do feel that this age is harder to feel calm and happy in than any other. There are a million distractions out there, and multitasking (which has been heavily lauded as a modern desirable trait) actually makes us feel more frenzied and less capable. Every time we get on social media or turn on our televisions, we can easily see what appears to be thousands of other people who have nailed this whole happiness thing, and it makes us feel worse. Or, conversely, we see thousands of people in dire straits, and feel guilty and helpless, which also makes us feel worse. So what do we do? Well, I'll share a few snippets of wisdom and pebbles I've picked up along the trail, through plenty of trial and error. I'm not saying I have all the answers, and of course YMMV, but maybe some insights will give some of you a bit of help along the way.

Phaedra's Guide to Finding Happiness and Maintaining Sanity in the Modern Age

RULE 1: Depression has a hard time hitting a moving target.

This is a multi-faceted thing rule, because I mean "moving" both physically and emotionally. Through my life I've had times of stillness and times of motion, and it's finally stuck with me. If I am physically active, I really do feel much happier and in control of my life. Turns out those scientists ain't lying. Endorphins are a real thing, and they are your friend. 

The trick to getting this rule right for me has been forgiveness. I've tailored a workout plan to what I can realistically do, and I stick to it as well as I can, but I no longer give up when I fall off the bandwagon. I have two small children under the age of five, and I am alone with them a lot. So that means I can no longer do distance running, which is what I used to do. So I adapted: Now I work out in my garage. We got a rowing machine (which I am a hugely avid fan of) and some weights, and jump ropes. So as much as I can, I take a half hour or so to work out. This plan has been working great for me, and I've discovered something. No matter how alone I feel, or stressed, or how many of my favorite things my little angels have broken that morning, if I get out there and move around for a while as hard as I can, magic happens. I feel better afterward, EVERY time. Suddenly I feel powerful and strong and capable and in control. And things really ARE better. 

Having a strict plan doesn't work for me. I get bored if I do the same thing every day. So I vary it in HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) format. Usually I start of by rowing for 20 minutes, then for the next 10-20 minutes I do one minute intervals of the most intense work I can do. I'll sprint as fast as I can down my block, jump rope, do kettle bell swings, push-ups, pull-ups, weighted squats. The goal is that I do them as hard as I can. I also have a Tabata timer that I'll use some days as well (8 rounds of 20 seconds intense work, 10 seconds rest). And I love it. I find I'm working so hard during my exercise that I can't think about anything but the work. If worries or stresses start to creep in, that means I'm not doing it hard enough. I essentially get a meditative state going on, so my exercise ends up being beneficial mentally as well.

I went into a lot of detail there, but I get asked quite a bit what my exercise plan is. And that's the answer, but it's also what works for ME. I'm not trying to force it on anyone else, because I find that's when the plan breaks down. If I miss a day or two, I don't beat myself up about it. One of the keys to my success has been allowing myself to fall off the horse without judgement.

The other part of RULE 1 is staying active mentally as well. I always have a lot of things I'm doing, because if I'm bored, I get upset. I am creatively driven, and while I know in many ways it's a blessing, it's also a double-edged sword. Part of being a creative person is that I feel a NEED to make things. If I go too long without creating something, I am unhappy. That took me a while to identify, but now I know that's part of how I work. I need to make things, sometimes just to feel productive, sometimes to bleed poison, and sometimes just to show love. So that's what I do, and it fights off the blue devils. Stay busy, stay happy, is how I operate. 

RULE 2: Stay In Your Lane

We humans are very social animals. We are tribe driven and socially adapted, particularly females. While the males would go out and hunt in silence, we stayed home with small children and talked. I think this was likely to teach our offspring the rudimentary elements of speech...and here we are, all talking it up. So while communication is a positive and essential part of our lives, it's easy to take it to excess. There's the keeping up with the Joneses element that happens, there's the gossip and judgement. It's very easy to fall into these traps. There's also the "Everyone seems happier than me" factor, which is a particularly nasty one. So what are we to do? Take it in moderation. Stay in your lane, focus on your life as much as possible, and try to be forgiving of those around us and their choices. It's much too easy these days to feel as though we are just part of an audience when we see the lives of others playing out online; remember, these are real people we care about. It's not just entertainment. Every single person is struggling with something, so step back a bit. If your friend is posting overmuch about politics, particularly the name calling kind, try to remind yourself that they aren't a caricature; maybe they're angry at other things in life and blowing off steam. Try to focus on your life rather than holding up yardsticks to those around you. 

Rule 3: Stick to your expertise

Another factor of the modern age that is a happiness leech is how easy it is to get sucked into every possible tizzy that the internet latches onto. What do we do? Remember that usually, we aren't experts, and there's nothing really to do, so stay the heck out of it. How many times do we spin cycles and wring our hands over issues that happen to people who are far away and won't affect us, and then we argue about it. Remember Harambe? Remember how suddenly everyone on the planet was not only an expert parenting advice sage, but they were also completely informed on the behavior patterns and social mores of adult male gorillas? More so than the actual experts that were involved in that tough event? Well, I remember it. Made me want to throw up. So let's all just collectively decide to remember what we actually know about, and what we are expert on, and reserve our pointed criticism for what we know. Every other week the internet is deciding that every issue is a black and white, clearcut decision that should have been made with calm, perfect, clinical analysis. Guess what? Humans are still in charge of their imperfect lives, all around this planet, and as such, human foible and imperfection will be at play in nearly everything that happens. Life isn't an oscar-worthy movie just begging us to go point out logical continuity issues. Let's try remembering our own imperfection before grr facing everyone else all the time. 

RULE 4: If it's out of your circle of control, it's out of your circle of concern

Everyone has things they can realistically affect in their lives. If you aren't happy with your haircut, you can change it. That's in your circle of control. If you don't like your stamina, you can move more. If you don't like the laws where you live, you can move to a place of likeminded people with laws that follow your belief system. That is in your circle of control, albeit with a bit more legwork. Those are valid things to think of, and plan about, and worry about to a certain extent. But what if you find yourself worrying about other things? If I find I'm working myself into a tizzy mentally over something, I ask myself, "Is this in my circle of control?" if it is, I try to come up with a realistic solution and goal, and move towards it. If it is within my circle of control, it's also within my circle of concern, because I can take action to remedy it. However, if it is NOT something that's within my circle of control, then I try to place it outside my circle of concern, because that's just useless worry. And life is too short for that. I can't control the fact that we are stuck with Trump and Hillary as our presidential candidates, I can't control the fact that an enormous earthquake could happen, I can't control the fact that I don't like the vulnerabilities of our powergrid....so, I try my best to put them out of my circle of concern. And actively reminding myself of the circles really does help me mentally shut off those voices.

RULE 5: If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing.

Self explanatory, but I always feel better knowing I've done the best I possibly can in any given task. 

RULE 6: Accomplish at least one thing every day. Don't let your day just happen to you.

I try, at the end of every day, to make sure that I've created or accomplished at least one thing. It varies on what it is. Some days it's just getting laundry done. Some days it's making a few batches of candles. It can be finishing a drawing, or working out. But I try to make sure that my day doesn't finish with me thinking, "What did I even do today?" That way I make sure I'm not heads down all day and letting my life pass me by.

RULE 7: Project the life you aim for

If I were to describe life in one word, it would be: setbacks. Because they are a constant. Every single person has them, and every single person seems to forget we all have them. I think at some point, most everyone feels as though they are the only person who is struggling. But we all are. The trick is to not allow the setbacks to define an experience. Learn, move on, adapt and grow. Put forth the best thing face you can. If you force yourself to smile, soon you'll find you actually do feel happier. So fake it till you make it.

RULE 8: Keep moving forward.

Make goals, beat them, make goals, if you get defeated....keep moving forward.

RULE 9: Surround yourself with people who have similar drive.

I'm not saying to stop associating with people if they don't want what you want. But really analyze why people are in your life, and if you have similar interests. Sometimes relationships aren't totally healthy, and sometimes people are there to be tourists. Measure who you give thought cycles and bandwidth to, and figure out if its healthy. Don't waste your time on dingleberries. I'd also say, make sure to do what truly makes you happy, and don't waste time on people who are going to judge you for it. There's well-natured ribbing, then there's active judgement. Ain't nobody got time for that.

RULE 10: Don't complain unless you're doing something to fix the problem.

If you aren't taking action to fix something, don't waste the time of those around you by complaining about it. Now I DO think you can complain if you're actually taking steps to fix the problem, because that's just venting steam. But someone who is still complaining about the same issue years after it arose, becomes a bore. If you hate your job, get a new one. If you can't stand your house, move. But don't make people listen to the choices you've decided to stick with. Besides, the longer you allow angry or sad thoughts to float around you, the harder it is to break away from them. Just keep moving forward.

A Man Said to the Universe

Today I'm doing something that I don't think I've done before, outside of required essays when I was in school: I'm going to write about a poem.

Admittedly I'm not largely into poetry. Some of it I find hard to get into, much of it I don't understand, and sometimes I feel as though it smacks too much of pretentiousness; all these are arguably problems with me, and not poems. But then every once in a while I find a poem that speaks to me on a very visceral level, and the scales fall from my eyes, and I see what all those poetry fans are going on about.

One of the very first poems that stuck with me is this one, by Stephen Crane. It was written in 1899, and was included in a volume called "War is Kind". Here it is:

A Man Said to the Universe BY STEPHEN CRANE

A man said to the universe: 

“Sir, I exist!”

“However,” replied the universe, 

“The fact has not created in me 

A sense of obligation.”

 

 

And that's it. The whole thing. Five sweet lines that have resonated in my heart for a few decades now. I find myself recalling these words frequently, and in fact this poem has become, to me, sort of a mantra.

I'm sure there are plenty of analyses and wordy papers written about this poem. But I haven't read any of them. Honestly I don't want to hear someone else's interpretation and find out they've come to a different conclusion, because the interpretation I have and the sweet words that stay with me have come to mean so much in my life.

To me, this poem is about humility. It's about fighting off the hubris that comes so naturally to us, and reminding us to stay grounded. Just because we are here, does not mean anyone owes us a thing. It doesn't mean someone has to take an action on our behalf.

It means that we need to stand on our own feet, make our own lives, and that there is no universal promise that just because we feel important, others should automatically deem us so. Because just the fact that we exist and realize it, doesn't mean that anything or anyone else is automatically required to assign us esteem based on no merit.

In an age where there are more people than ever before sharing this sphere with us, and there is social (and traditional) media proclaiming at all times stories of petty offenses and disproportionate outcry, I think this message just continues to resonate deeper with me. It's as though a pebble got dropped in my subconscious, and these rings continue to expand in the pond of my heart.

Perhaps partially because we are more aware of our own tininess now than we ever have been in human history, we are rebelling against it. We know for a FACT that there are millions of stars out there, and millions of planets. We now know that there has been water on two other celestial bodies in our own solar system (Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa, which was just confirmed in the last week). At any given time, every single person in America can access millions of other voices online, informed or uninformed, as the case may frequently be. Never have we felt so insignificant. With the wane of religion as a universal status quo and to reinforce our importance as individuals in Western society, we are becoming ever more swept up in this existential maelstrom.

That's my theory, anyway, on modern trends of behavior that drive me nuts. And I find it a lot more easy to swallow than the alternative: that humans are devolving into childish, selfish, vapid idiots who jump on any bandwagon that gives them 10 second accolades, no matter their basis in logic or morality.

I prefer to think of our ridiculous modern behaviors as a rebellion at this abyss we feel we are lost in, and we are trying to grasp at straws of meaning on some level. In many ways it's the best time to be alive. As far as variety of experience, medical care, food, and safety are concerned, it's absolutely true. But as far as soul and sanity are concerned, I feel its one of the worst.

We are chasing our own tails in search of meaning, and identity. We are crucifying any meaning or identity that we can draw on from the past, partially I think to cut ourselves off from rules that we now prefer to find archaic, and partially to justify our own actions in the future in abandoning human rules that large parts of society have followed for millennia. In an era in which ancestral memory has been scientifically proven to be a DNA-based fact, I find it amazing how much certain quarters want to throw the baby out with the bath water. I think there's a lot of inner conflict on this, and it manifests itself in loud and illogical ways. 

Hence people asking for others constantly to "not judge" the decisions of others (which in many ways I agree with), but out the other side of their mouth choosing to use mob-rule internet justice to ruin the livelihoods of people who make personal decisions of a type they don't agree with. In some cases I feel it's a positive idea initially, but then taken to a lynch-mob like response that entirely obliterates innocent people and their family....and then they flock on to the next thing. For an era that asks constantly for total acceptance for all decisions, there sure is a lack of proportional response when it comes to other, less popular, ideas.

And this all comes back to Stephen Crane's poem, for me. "Sir, I exist". Yes, good, identify yourself and define yourself and be strong. "However, the fact has not created in me, a sense of obligation." But that doesn't mean that everyone is required to think your existence is more valuable than anyone else's. A valuable mantra to remind ourselves of when we feel too large for our britches. 

 

Dark Net, human frailty, and the race towards making ourselves obsolete

I just read a really great article at Vanity Fair. Much of their content is drivel (I'm not huge into what the robber barons of the age are wearing or eating, so I skip those parts) but I find that I'll unexpectedly run into very well-researched and thought provoking articles on issues that fascinate me. In this case, the article that excitedly jumped into my lap like an enthusiastic puppy is Welcome to the Dark Net, a Wilderness Where Invisible Wars are Fought and Hackers Roam Free.

In the very beginning of the article is this quote from the main interviewee (a hacker who is amusingly referred to as "Opsec"): 

"He is a fast talker when he’s onto a subject. His mind seems to race most of the time. Currently he is designing an autonomous system for detecting network attacks and taking action in response. The system is based on machine learning and artificial intelligence. In a typical burst of words, he said, “But the automation itself might be hacked. Is the A.I. being gamed? Are you teaching the computer, or is it learning on its own? If it’s learning on its own, it can be gamed. If you are teaching it, then how clean is your data set? Are you pulling it off a network that has already been compromised? Because if I’m an attacker and I’m coming in against an A.I.-defended system, if I can get into the baseline and insert attacker traffic into the learning phase, then the computer begins to think that those things are normal and accepted. I’m teaching a robot that ‘It’s O.K.! I’m not really an attacker, even though I’m carrying an AK-47 and firing on the troops.’ And what happens when a machine becomes so smart it decides to betray you and switch sides?”

The entire article is well worth a read if you're into Information Security, threats, or learning about those parts of society that still operate like the Wild West. Spoiler alert: I am fascinated by all those areas, so I think this is one of the best articles I've read this year. The blurb above sucked me in hook line and sinker. It tickled the part of my brain that enjoys these future foe tangents, because I think what he's talking about directly addresses one of the factors that we seem to avoid allowing our collective consciousness to linger on too long. 

If you're a regular follower of my blog, you may have surmised that I am basically governed by two large parts of my personality: misanthropic Luddite, and social technophile. Yes, that's conflicting. Yes, I'm aware of that, and I'm also comfortable with duality. It allows me to evaluate and contrast a lot of arguments in my head, and that's one of my favorite past-times. You never know what you'll find kicking around this old noggin.

The quote about AI sentinels, and AI sentience, articulated a very interesting modern problem. We love relinquishing power to technology, as a species. That's what originally set us apart from the animals. There is evidence of the use of tools from tens of thousands of years ago, and we haven't stopped with that innovation since. Clearly there was a large leap forward during the Industrial Revolution, and it's just continued on an upward trajectory ever since.

What's frightening is that we are quickly closing on the nexus of when we will be able to accurately control those tools, and when they make us obsolete. In a Genesis way, we have created AI in our image, and our child is rapidly moving towards establishing its own predestination. It's no secret that I actively fear AI overtaking us, because in a binary, numbers and logic way, it's not too hard to see that in the very near future machines with no God given conscience would be able to come up with cold logical reasons that we don't really need to be here. We take a lot of energy, we are messy, and we are frequently inconvenient and illogical. In a world of machines, it's easy to see how they would write us out of the equation. Is that an alarmist idea? Well, sure. But if you want to be prepared for the future, you need to look at all possibilities....even the dark and uncomfortable ones. In a system meant to adapt and learn to evolve efficiencies, we are most likely to be the least efficient part of the system. Already ghostst in the machines have evolved to make their own logical leaps in different lab tests. When we relinquish too much power, what's the end game?

In the Vanity Fair article, I particularly enjoyed the CURRENT projection that he comes up with. I've done quite a bit of speculation in my head about what's going to happen in the 5-10 year range, but I enjoyed having the real-time mirror held up in this illustration. In the last several years there have been numerous, very terrifying security breaches in the shadow world. The average person probably doesn't think about them too much, because the data breaches are so large and so frequent, and there's also that good old "This is scary on a huge level so I better not think about it" response. Usually we just see it as a news blip, and maybe a prompt to change passwords. But what has happened is there have been several large breaches on a level that could really be devastating to a lot of American citizenry. Between the health industry breaches, the OPM breaches of the government on its most secretive workers with all their most sensitive data, and the frequent hacks of financial institutions....and those are just the ones we've actually heard about...someone is amassing a lot of data for a lot of nefarious reasons. It's not a big leap to assume that there is some sort of dossier being compiled on most people, and that data isn't being kept to safeguard us. (Since I am already at tinfoil hat level here, I'll throw out my favorite advice: always have a kit, always have a plan, and always be ready).

The AI drones that Opsec speaks of as being the sentinels of the systems, and their fluid moral codes (if interfered with at the proper time in the learning process) are exactly the sort of moral gray area in our AI work force that I'm talking about. When we are creating our own little bot armies of white knights, but they themselves have no sense of light or dark, that sword can easily and nefariously be turned against us by the wrong people. And they are. Stuxnet is one of my all time favorite intelligence stories, and that was assumably executed by white knights. But now what are the black knights doing? And when the soldiers that we send out into the battlefield are no longer flesh and blood with some sort of assumed shared moral code...but instead hackable bots...that changes the battlefield entirely.

As the world of AI and computers has become more global, the control of who owns the top players has quickly changed. And as we here in the US focus more and more on the media game of misdirection (insert your pet #HASHTAGSOCIALFRENZYCAUSE), we get more muddled and forget what we are doing. It's easy to form our own echo chambers and ignore the world at our doorstep, and there's solace in pretending the wolves are at the door. The more we shout at each other about manufactured crises inside our warm homes, the more we can try to block the howling of the wolves outside. But when a bit of silence falls in our lives, when we are alone falling asleep, when our batteries on our devices have died or there's not a game or reality show flickering to put us into soma relief, we know deep down that someone somewhere is amassing to take things from us. As much as we pretend like it, most of the world is not like us. Most of the world has vastly different moral codes than what moves us in the US, and there are plenty who want what we have. Particularly as weather patterns and things like water availability affect other players in the big scary human survival game, like disease and food. No matter how accepting we want to be to each other (which I support) there are going to be nation states that will not EVER accept us. And while they may or may not be able to get warheads or fighter jets or thousands of soldiers....they likely CAN get access to the internet. And they'll fight that way. Look at the cyber caliphate army, ISIS hacking division. The battlefield continues to evolve. And we need to be aware of that.

So, what is there to do? After all, we are all just players in this game at the most basic level, when it gets down to it. I think one of the biggest things is to be aware. Look the wolves in the eye and make sure you're aware of their existence. Can you do anything about financial monoliths or energy companies getting hacked? Most likely, no. But you CAN be a good steward of your own information. You can make sure to know how to handle yourself in an emergency. You CAN make a plan to make sure loved ones know where to go if there's a power blackout or the cell networks go down. And finally, try to take time to unplug on your own sometimes, and remember that we don't need technology to handle all things in life. People don't need to get a hold of your every minute. Step away and remember how to be a full human, and get used to that idea. Appreciate what we have and the experiences that we are getting, because we are lucky to be here.