0131 + 0132 – Tesla Motors, Neil Tyson, Singapore, Vision and Benevolent Dictatorship

There are few things I’m more excited about than Tesla Motors. The company is committed to pulling the future forward to meet the present by accelerating the development of electric cars.

Tesla’s Model S is the safest car on the planet. Despite this, the few accidents and fires that the cars have gotten into have received a disproportionate amount of media coverage. In response, CEO Elon Musk wrote this blogpost which details how the cars are getting a defensive upgrade, despite already being the safest car in the world.

I find that exhilarating. Here’s  a comment on Hacker News that perfectly explains why:

This is what you get when a company/group/effort/community is lead by a “benevolent dictator” – someone with an absolutely pure vision of what they want their output to look like and the autonomy and strength to make it so no matter what.

I love this… I actually love that it probably pissed off Musk to no end the amount of attention the fires got and out of spite he went totally over the top and added ballistic plating to the bottom of the car as a super-constructive “fuck you” to everyone that bitched about it.

I am picturing this same thing happening at Chrysler or GM and I think 9 out of 10 CEOs would just let the whole non-issue blow over and go back to business – and the 1 CEO that would try and push for a ridiculous over-engineering solution like this would probably get shot down by the board.

That’s why I like this, it’s going way above and beyond because he can and because he believes in the vision he is selling so firmly that there is no wiggle room: “My cars are the best and goddamnit, I’m going to make them the best.”

I can think of two other examples that remind me of this. Apple under Steve Jobs, and Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew.

I’ll talk about Steve Jobs first. A lot of people have pointed out on multiple occasions that Steve Jobs could be a very rude, hostile, unlikeable person. He cheated Steve Wozniak out thousands of dollars, and did a bunch of really nasty things. Hardly a “benevolent” guy.

But “benevolent” in this case isn’t about personality. It’s about the relationship that a person has with the company or organization that she’s helming. The conventional dictator (think of any failed state) is one who extracts value from the State or Company to fatten her own wallet, at the expense of everyone else around her.

A benevolent dictator is one who uses her influence and power to enrich the State or Company. I don’t think anybody can dispute that this is what Steve Jobs did. His relentless commitment to “insanely great”, however pathalogical it was, put Apple on the map. It catalyzed and midwifed the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone.

Sure, in all of those cases Jobs got more credit than was due, but I think that’s just a common human failing. The media can always take the trouble to emphasize how many people are involved in Apple’s success, but it’s easier to  I think it’s reasonably fair to say that Apple was better off with Jobs than without him. I’m writing this blogpost on a MacBook Air. I am a benefactor of Steve’s reality distortion field.

It’s pretty clear to me that Elon Musk today has similar tendencies. His ridiculous obsession with making electric cars work goes above and beyond the call of duty. You can see him get emotional and tear up when talking about how car dealerships are cheating the American people. To quote Jalopnik:

 Even when it brings out his Nixonian tendencies, Musk is more than just a CEO — he’s a passionate defender of his company and his product, and he deeply wants to see it succeed.

Watching Elon Musk get emotional about his belief and his vision and his idea about what is right makes me want to work for him, so bad. Here:

Watching Elon Musk cry reminds me of, you know…

I’m also reminded of Neil Tyson’s passion for science and education, and how outraged he gets, how frustrated he is that the world doesn’t fully appreciate the splendour of Space. Watch “We Stopped Dreaming“.So. Much. Passion. Tyson doesn’t run an organization, though. He’s an educator. So that makes him a bit different.

Another guy who’s like this is Jiro from Jiro Dreams Of Sushi. We’re talking obsessive, relentless commitment to quality that goes beyond anything that’s ‘rational’. Insanely great.

In all of these cases, we can sense what pisses these guys off. Elon Musk hates the idea of democracy being perverted and the consumer being held back from the future of transportation. Neil Tyson hates the idea of ignorance limiting us from exploring the stars. LKY hated complacency and weakness and anything less that relentless. Jiro hates anything less than perfect sushi. Lee Hsien Loong hates… ? C’mon, he’s a human being, he’s bound to be pissed off at something. If we can all agree on something that pisses all of us off…

Here’s what I’m getting at, that I’ve been sort of skirting around for a long time. I feel like life should be purposeful, meaningful, exciting. I feel like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Neil Tyson, and yes, Lee Kuan Yew, all embody/embodied that. These are leaders that I’d drop everything to work for, because their vision is so solid, so unwavering. You wake up in the morning and you’re raring to go, beause you have an opportunity to make a dream become reality. I’m reminded of LKY’s “even if I’m being lowered into my grave” comment. He had fire in his speech.

A couple of LKY quotes:

  • “I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today. And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn’t be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters – who your neighbour is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.”
  • “Even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up.” 1988 National Day Rally, when he discussed the leadership transition to Goh Chok Tong in 1990.

Now, I disagree with LKY about a whole bunch of things. But I would have loved to have had him as a boss. I’ve read enough about him to believe that he had Singapore’s best interests at heart. He could have been wrong about certain things, just as any of us would be wrong about certain things if we were in charge. But he was also clearly, emotionally committed to the country in a way that I find very inspiring. (Now I’m thinking about Michio Kaku’s passion for physics, and how I was enthralled for 40 minutes while he talked about the fundamental forces of nature. Passion and purpose is unmistakable.)

I’ve had the privilege of meeting PM Lee Hsien Loong before, and he’s a really, really smart guy. I honestly believe that he cares very strongly about Singapore. But I’m going to talk emotions here. I can’t help but get the sense that he’s a protector, a guardian. He’s been handed something precious, and he has to keep it from breaking, from falling apart. (This is of course inaccurate in reality, but I’m talking about perceptions here).

It’s hard to be passionate about keeping something from breaking. That’s just depressing! It’s like being passionate about goalkeeping. Nobody really notices when you get it right, and everybody hates you when you get it wrong. Of course, goalkeeping is really important, but offense is really the best defense. LKY was more of a striker. He communicated that he knew what he wanted for the country, and he went out and got it. And we cheered as Singapore won the Malaysia cup.

I feel like that’s what Singapore needs, to become a more exciting place. We need Elon Musks and Steve Jobs(es?) and Neil Tysons. We need wins. The closest thing I’ve encountered to this is Tong Yee from School of Thought. That guy is inspiring as heck for the work he’s doing.

Now I’m sure that LHL and folks in government are working their butts off trying to make Singapore great. But I wish I felt it more. I wish we could all feel it more. We need something to live into, something to chase after, something to fight for. We need leadership that says “This is what I believe, and this is what I’m going to fight for, come with me, let’s go there.” For better or worse, LKY did do that. We have the luxury of fixating on the bad stuff only because the good stuff worked out.

I don’t mean this to be a criticism of the Government, though it could certainly be read as such. I think everybody needs to rise up and lead by example. I haven’t written very much about Singapore in a while because I’ve been busy with work, and I just got really tired of all the silly bickering that was happening on Facebook and on blogs.

I joked to some friends that Singaporeans really are like children, the way we bicker over MRT seats and hawker center ceilings. LHL and the government/civil service folks are worried about things like the Arctic Shipping Route, a possible Kra Isthmus Canal and Nuclear Security. Watch LHL’s interview on Charlie Rose and listen to how concerned he is about China, Burma, etc. (I can’t seem to find the full video anymore, but here’s the transcript). Imagine coming back from a Nuclear Security Summit and then having to worry about hawker center ceilings!


“I wonder how those hawker center ceilings are doing back home…”

Extreme case, I know. I don’t mean to imply that it is acceptable or excusable for PM Lee to be imperfect or tardy or to say stupid-sounding things (I heard something about Opposition Parties being Chilli Sauce recently). I don’t mean to say that hawker center ceilings are trivial and unimportant, either. (Well…) I’m just find myself empathizing with the PM a little. I’m reminded of how my boss (another really smart, hardworking guy) was slipping on little details when he was busy with things like fundraising and hiring new people. And of course he would be! The human mind has a limited bandwidth, no?

Paul Graham wrote a couple of relevant essays about this- one is The Top Idea in Your Mind, which describes how distractions from your central focus sap your ability to think well about what matters to oyu, and another is Good and Bad Procrastination, where he talks about how the “absent-minded professor,” who forgets to shave, or eat, or even perhaps look where he’s going while he’s thinking about some interesting question. His mind is absent from the everyday world because it’s hard at work in another.”

Given how smart LHL is, I’m pretty damn sure that he doesn’t make silly chilli sauce analogies because he’s dumb. I think he does it because he doesn’t have the time and/or energy to sit around and craft those messages, because he’s probably focused on bigger things.

Of course, LHL has an team that keeps him updated and manages his schedule and all that, but still. I’m sure hawker ceilings aren’t anywhere near his top 10 list of concerns. And you know, I just wish Singaporeans would be a little more cognizant of that. I’m not saying it’s Singaporeans’ fault, or that it’s the Government’s fault… I’m really sick and tired of assigning blame. I think we all need to have a clearer sense of priorities. If somebody could set up priorities.sg, that would be great.

What’s the most critical, important thing for us to work towards together as a nation? My personal answer is- I think we need to fix our internal communications. I think we need to be more effective at making sense of reality. I think we should air our feelings, but when we’re done with that, we should figure out what’s the best course of action, find a reasonable amount of compromise and take that. I(My wife’s answer: Improving education, and/or public understanding of policies.)

What do I want? I want to be goddamn proud of being Singaporean. I really don’t think it’s too much to ask. I want to hear about Singapore making all sorts of progress at all levels. I want to hear more stories of us being kind and compassionate. I want to see toxic cesspits like Stomp losing their hold on popular Singaporean imagination. I want to hear about Singaporeans killing it in innovation. I want to hear about Singaporean startups kicking ass and taking names (I’m trying to help with this one!). I want to hear that our kids are getting smarter, are creating great art.

I want to see vision and purpose, and I want this place to be talked about with admiration and envy. I think we are completely capable of doing that. I think we have all the resources we need, all the quality people we need. We’re just waiting for a spark that sets us off in the right direction, a controlled explosion like an internal combustion engine rather than uncontrolled chaos.

may the good we achieve as one nation
be shared with the world


0130 – two thirty am

(moar old stuff 2013)

It’s 230am and I can’t seem to get to sleep so I figure that I might as well do a word vomit and get as much out of my head as possible.

I didn’t really do a year – in – review for 2013, which is something I might regret years down the road when I wish I had some signposts to look back on. So maybe let’s do a quick summary now.

I’ve been married for a year. Marriage is hard, even with your best friend. Because people are just hard, period. It’s hard enough to live with oneself, it’s amazing that we manage to live with others. I think I’ve learnt to be a little more responsible. I’ve still got a long way to go. I’m still a very selfish person who needs to learn to think about others before myself. I was never really trained to, I never really learned to.

I think getting employed has helped me with that. I’m incredibly privileged to have the colleagues and working environment that I do. My work feels significant, I feel significant. Re-reading The Mundanity of Excellence makes me realise that my new group of peers might just be the best thing in my life for my personal development, across pretty much all spheres. My colleagues are teaching me to be more focused, more disciplined, to have a more can-do attitude. I’m learning so much. The only thing that sucks about work is my daily commute, and I think I’ve kinda ameliorated that by using the time to read and/or write. I think I’ve become a better writer and thinker, and I’ve learned quite a bit. Maybe I should write an internal essay about what I’ve learned from a year’s work.

Life has been hard, but in a good way- the way life for a wild animal is harder than life for a domesticated one. There are more stressors, but they make me feel alive. The central challenge of not letting the world dehumanise you still remains, but I think rose-tinted glasses make me underestimate how much of a problem that used to be, and what I used to get stressed about. I used to panic every morning that I hadn’t done my homework. I used to panic when I woke up late to go to camp during my NS. This sort of guilty panic has been a regular feature of my life and I intend to systematically eliminate it by being more responsible about the things that matter and by giving less of a shit about things that don’t matter.

Which brings me to Facebook. I started using it in 2007, became a “power user” around 2010, and I was completely hooked. I’d stay up late to be on Facebook. I’d be late for stuff because I was arguing with people on Facebook. I developed a bunch of useful skills during that time which I think are serving me pretty well in my line of work, but I think I started experiencing major diminishing returns. Facebook is all about co-creating identities, and it’s very easy to get caught up in it. For me, at least. I was the equivalent of a Facebook alcoholic- it was the lens through which I was viewing the world. I would scheme and plan and figure out how to game the system, how to play to the audience and win their approval. I’m okay, you’re okay. I got sick of it when it started to get really intense- people getting very personal about political stuff, lots of angry arguments and attacks- it was affecting my work. I couldn’t focus. So I deactivated my account, and the months that followed were characterised by bliss. Once you walk away from it all, suddenly anybody spending time on it looks really silly, like an addict or substance abuser of sorts. I know that sounds unfair and spiteful and holier-than-thou, but that was my experience.

I would later experience something similar when I stopped smoking cigarettes- suddenly everybody smoking cigarettes looked really sad and pathetic, dependent on an abusive substance. Again, I’m no better than anybody else, but I experienced myself thinking those thoughts, having those perceptions. It’s probably some kind of defensive mechanism that my pathetic ego puts up to feel better about itself, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a damned shame. I reactivated my Facebook every so often since, but time and space away from the herd allowed me to disengage, and it no longer felt like a comfortable space for me. I felt like the blinders had been taken off and I could no longer find comfort in the reassurance of the Likes of others. A beautifully crafted status update might entertain others for a little bit, but it has diminishing returns- you’re better off using that time to build something truly meaningful to you. For a while I wanted to write a sort of “guide out of Facebook” or something of the sort but now I feel like I don’t have the time- I need to focus on doing stuff that matters more, ie. my work. Only after I truly crush and dominate what I’m doing at work will I truly feel like I have the legitimacy to say what I want to say- until then it’s still a circlejerk.

A blogpost I wrote for work made me realise or rediscover that asking good questions is a phenomenally powerful skill. Everybody should be asking questions everyday. Questions are how we explore and discover ourselves and the world around us. When we stop questioning we fall into rigid routines and patterns, we go through the motions of saying what we think we ought to say. A good question upsets all of that. A good question inspires curiosity and excitement, encourages thinking and tinkering. The best questions trigger conceptual collisions that create nothing short of Art. Knowing this, I think it’s everybody’s civic duty to ask as many questions as possible. I think we should be farming and cultivating questions. Quora, Reddit and Hacker News are all doing this to some degree, as do most forums of all kinds around the world, but I think it could still be a little more deliberate.

We can and should encourage better questions, unique questions that probe into previously unexplored territory. The role of the artist is to help us look at things with new eyes- to see the familiar in an unfamiliar light, and the vice versa. Many questions get repeated. Google gets tonnes of searches every second- what are the most common questions? What are the most common questions that have the least satisfactory answers? What are the best questions ever asked in the history of humanity? How do we ask better questions? How do we encourage more people to ask better questions? Quora has top writers, for instance, but who are the top askers? We’re often limited by our own experiences and perspectives, which is why people travel, take drugs, watch movies, read novels- we want to be confronted with questions that sweep us away in their magnificence, questions that make us lose ourselves in the fascinating pursuit of answers.

This can sound all spiritual and new-agey but it has some very practical applications. At the simplest, questions are “ooh, what does this button do?” Or what happens if we push it harder? Faster? Use more power? What if we had to do it in half the time? That’s how we learn, right? What happens when we tweak the input? How does the output change? What is the relationship between the variables? Under what conditions does it break or fail? Why? What does that tell us about how it’s made, how it works? What are the flaws? How can we make it more robust? More powerful? More palatable? What are the tradeoffs? What are the limitations?

Questions are the tools we use to carve out understanding from imprecise, vague chaos and noise. Questions give us power. They help us make sense of things. So you’re screwed when you stop asking questions.

So here are my questions to you:

What are the best questions anybody’s ever asked you? What made those particularly memorable, useful or important? What do you think it was about them that made them ask you that?

What are the best questions you’ve ever asked? Why did you ask them? What were the circumstances or conditions that led to you asking them?

What are the questions you ought to be asking yourself now, but aren’t? (Why aren’t you asking those questions? What can you do to fix that, now and in the long term?)

What are the questions you ought to be asking your peers, your colleagues, your boss, your spouse, your friends, your family? What’s the most important question nobody’s asked you? What are you going to do about it?


0129 – future of education

Here’s something that bothers and confuses me: a lot of the thinking and discussion about the future of education is, in my opinion, overly fixated on the student/teacher/school model. People claim to talk about the gamification of education or innovation in education but often they’re talking about the gamification of schooling, innovation in schooling.

Great new things come from the margins” -pg

Public schools are a recent phenonena in the context of human civilization. Literacy used to be coupled to monarchy, clergy, aristocracy. Schools as we see them today were revolutionary when they were introduced- meant to keep children from stealing laborers jobs, meant to train them to be cogs in the machine. Mind you, this was a good thing then. The machine had a shortage of cogs, and rewarded cogs handsomely. Today, there is an oversupply of cogs. Kids understand this.

There’s a general phenomena of migrant children working harder in schools than cushy, comfy kids. There are kids in China and India who’ll whoop everybody’s asses with their incredible work ethic. I’m tempted to see this more as a consequence of their circumstances rather than any intrinsic quality- they work harder because it is rational for them to do so, the payoffs, etc favor that. Maybe it’s dependence on parents and a need to prove themselves. A greater sense of responsibility, burden, purpose. Maybe it’s a clearer sense of “I can improve my station in life by working hard.” I don’t know. It’s complex.

The point is we have an oversupply of cogs now- and for a lot of the newer cogs, it’s rational to work hard to be the best, because the improvement in quality of life is tremendous. For the middle class cogs, its just misery- a lifetime of shitty work for a not-much-less-shittier life. Who wants that? It’s really more rational to seek the simpler, more inmediate and dependable pleasures- cigarettes, tv, reddit, porn, etc. There are hundreds of thousands of young people like this in the world and I see them on reddit and tumblr everyday. School, in its current incarnation, is just a shitty deal for them. They suffer from learned helplessness- something the migrant kids don’t have, because the relationship between efforr and payoff is clearer for the latter group. (This is just armchair analysis- I could be wrong. I invite your criticism. Specifically, I’m eager to hear your alternate theories to the general malaise and ennui of today’s young students in the developed world. Why are so many of them so miserable?)

On to disruption. We’re starting to develop a clearer picture of how disruption happens. Self-disruption almost never happens. Industry leaders are invested in their built-up solution, and are unable to take the risks necessary to try a primitive, childish, untested new industry… until it wipes them out. Kodak would never have invested in digital cameras. Railway companies did not get into air travel. Nokia’s dominance in phones got crushed when smartphones came about. None of the traditional media companies were particularly involved in social media initially.

Similarly, schools will get disrupted by something outside of the existing school paradigm. How will that play out? I can’t be sure, because disruption is never clearly obvious until it’s too late. But here’s how I see it happening. Some small group of people is going to have remarkable results. It’s members are going to be more creative, more skilled, and most importantly, more valued in the marketplace. Maybe a bunch of musicians are going to become marketing maestros, creating a ton of value. Maybe a bunch of after-school coders are going to build startups and get acquired, bypassing the entire degree-resume industrial complex. Degrees and resumes communicate pathetically little information in a search-savvy world. I’m not saying they’re entirely useless- being skilled with a sword is an indicator of physical strength, discipline, practice and a bunch of other virtues. But you’re still probably going to get screwed in a gunfight. Thing is, in this metaphor, guns are still toys- little entertaining oddities. The airplane was initially thought to have no military value.

All that matters for survival in this massive human farm is your ability to create value. Schools don’t really teach you that, they teach you to follow instructions and to be interchangeable. To be a cog. In the past, being a good cog was synonymous with being a value creator. Today, I’m not so sure.

What is the value you create in the world, which you ultimately exchange for goods and services, security? How did school help you do that?

There will always be room in the world for institutions of learning and skill acquisition. Doctors will need to go to medical school. Until, maybe, we have machines and robots render large quantities of them irrelevant. Lawyers will need to go to law school. Until we develop superior means of resolving disputes. Neither of those things is going to happen overnight, of course, but we have to remember that professions, jobs don’t last forever. They didn’t always exist- they were a recent human invention- and their golden era may be up, or at least waning.

If I could go back in time, I’d have spent more time writing. I’d have spent more time playing music, practicing. I’d have read more books. I’d have taught myself enough programming to do some data mining. I’d have taught myself enough design skills to make simple infographics.

Consider the convergence of academia and business. As things get more data driven- consider how Facebook and Twitter and OKCupid have access to social data that social scientists can only dream of- it will be clear that the best place to study such social phenomena will be within those organizations. Musicians no longer need to depend on record labels, writers can now self-publish, and a lot of learning- both for pleasure and personal economic gain- can and will happen outside of school.

I hated school as a kid. I much prefer the “real world”, even with bills, because I am much closer to the value I create in the world. Increasingly, education will move away from the artificially cloistered tutorial/training zones of schools. I imagine it’ll look more like a general layer over the world. I’ve noticed students from UNT on multiple tweet chats, learning about marketing and social media from people actually working in the field. This is going to be a more widespread thing, I think.


0128 – 2013 in summary

More old posts. This was at the end of 2013, 6th dec.

The past year for me has been characterized by me ripping my identity to shreds.

I got married. Marriage is a whole different beast from dating. You realize that your partner is now legally bound to you, so you can “let go”. You don’t have to apologize as much. You don’t have to be as nice to each other. If you’re not careful, it’s very easy to start taking advantage of each other. This, of course, is how relationships get ruined. I’m still technically a newlywed, but I’ve quickly realized how amazing it is that some people stay happily married for decades. It really is a lot to ask of another human being.

I bought a flat. Home ownership is awesome, once you get past the realization that you now owe HDB hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s amazing to wake up in your own home. I love having friends over- they’re able to relax to a degree that they wouldn’t be able to if we were at somebody’s parent’s place. I love being in control of my environment. I love having a safe place I can be myself, I can completely, fully relax without having to worry about what other people might think. Everybody should live alone if they get the chance to. You get to learn more about yourself, confront yourself, see yourself.

I got a full-time job and transitioned directly into the working world. I have bills to pay now. I love my job and have awesome colleagues, but nobody quite prepared me for the soul-crushing that is daily public transportation. Every day I see adults with their eyes glazed over. They’re insulating themselves from one another, from the reality that there’s no way humans were meant to be stuffed into MRT carriages the way we are.

Living on a “working adult” schedule makes me realize how very important it is to manage your time well. I actively rebelled against this in school, because I felt like I didn’t want to work on anybody else’s schedule. I wanted to be a “free spirit”. Years of procrastination later, I realize that I’m a creature of habit like anyone else. In the absence of good habits, we fall into bad ones. As a result, I’ve found it hard to do the work that I want to do- my history and habit of disobedience extended to myself. Or, more accurately, my “disobedience” was really just fanatical, obsessive devotion to a very small subset of myself I now personify as “The Bum”.

And being a slave to The Bum is no different from being a slave to The System.

I quit smoking. Well… mostly. I started smoking on-and-off in 2006 or 2007, after I finished my O Levels. I didn’t think of myself as a smoker at first, I’d just bum sticks from my bandmates after jam sessions. Then I started hanging out with the smokers in JC. I was never a “core member” of that group- or of any group, really- but it gave me a sense of control over my life.

I hated school, I hated studying, but I could self-medicate and modify my mental state at my anytime with the psychoactive stimulant. It was solace, companionship, social lubricant, something to look forward to. It felt like I was in control. The lows felt more poignant, the highs felt amplified. But it progressively desensitized me, and after about 5 years, the damage was undeniable. My lips were charred, my teeth were stained. I had horrible breath. My gums were receding. My eyes and skin dried out. I had spent thousands of dollars.

I attempted to quit several times before, every so often, but it’s incredibly hard when all your close friends smoke too. In the end, the things that helped me quit the most were- having my own place, which I don’t want to smoke in, and having colleagues who don’t smoke.

I still do bum a cigarette every so often, admittedly. But I am done with the idea of cigarettes punctuating my life. It very quickly turns into an abusive relationship if you’re not careful.

I quit Facebook. Well… mostly. I deactivated my account altogether for 3 months or so. I was a huge Facebook addict prior to that. I took a lot of pride in being really good at arguing with people online. I was the “Actually…” guy. It was a significant part of my self-worth. I left because I was getting incredibly frustrated with all the personal attacks that were being thrown about. I hated getting so personally involved in petty arguments. Eventually, it’s all about winning.

Facebook is largely about performance and identity creation- everything anybody does there is largely calculated (even if it’s entirely subconscious) to create social capital. It’s all a game, really, and it’s incredibly addictive, immersive and draining. I decided it was too much for me and got out. Now I log into Facebook once in a while to see if I’m missing anything. It usually just reminds me of how much more peaceful and pleasant my life is without it.

Advice for anybody else nursing a Facebook addiction: Post as little as possible, because everything you post is an expression of personal identity, and the more of yourself you put out there, the more you have to defend in the constant game of comparisons and oneupmanship. You almost certainly have better things to do. Realize that it’s not personal- everybody just wants to be loved, everybody just wants to be acknowledged as smart, beautiful, cultured, “with it”, “okay”.

Once you recognize the mass charade for what it is, it’s very hard to get back into it without feeling a little silly. You always have something better to do with your life than show off on the internet.

If I have to focus on one thing that I’ve learnt, it’s that our ideas about our own identities are very, very limited. You are not your cigarettes. You are not your Facebook profile. You are not your marital status. You are not your address. You are not your nationality, your race, your sexuality, your gender- these things may define you, and they may be things that you take great pride in, but you are always indescribably more than that. If you don’t acknowledge this, you’ll inadvertently pigeonhole yourself and allow your circumstances to limit and shape you.

You are not your circumstances, you are not your job, you are not your friends. You are thoughts and actions, habits, routines, patterns of behaviour. And all of that can change. You don’t have to hate yourself. You don’t have to be a slacker. You don’t have to be an automaton. You don’t have to be any one thing at all.

Definitions exist as shorthand, for quick and convenient decision-making. But living with yourself, loving yourself, getting to know yourself… these are pursuits in which shorthand simply will not do. Life is an indescribably precious opportunity, it’s so goddamn rich and succulent, and we do ourselves a horrible disservice by thinking that what we are at any given instant is all we’ll be.

We’re more than that.


0127 – not enjoying games

Still publishing old stuff. Nov 2013.

Yesterday the wife went out, leaving me alone at home- which I thought would be a great opportunity to get a chunk of work done. Except I didn’t really. I actually downloaded an emulator + rom (streets of rage and genesis, if anybody’s curious.) It’s a game I spent a lot of my childhood playing. I’m pretty good at it. If I really focus, I should be able to complete the entire game on hard difficulty. The US version is very punishing in a bad way- baddies do a lot of damage. Using your power attack when it’s not ready costs very little. So the best tactic against bosses tends to be to abuse your power move. Some of the grab functionality glitches when you’re attacking multiple enemies. It’s actually not a very great game- something like minion rush is comparatively more satisfying.

I don’t know. I feel like I shouldn’t play games anymore because it’s all a lie, a farce. The only games worth playing, according to my rational mind, are games with compelling narratives like Mass Effect, Dragon Age. Things like Uncharted are thrilling, but they don’t really make me grow or learn as a person. What is it with me and this endless insistence on learning and growth, yet why do I relapse into my base pleasures over and over again?

Is that question even worth answering? increasingly I am certain that environment is all that counts- or in a less reductive sense, it is the final decider, the influencer of behaviour. I’m reading JKG’s anatomy of power and he talks about 3 kinds of power, which I’ll simplify as carrot, stick and peer pressure. The last one is the most interesting because it doesn’t require brute force (punishment) or economic assets (reward). It just requires an alternative, superior arrangement of existing elements. That’s exciting, empowering. Make quick simple modifications in your moments of clarity to set up buoys for your future in darkness.

So while I did relapse into playing the game,  I’m going to go home and delete it. Those few puffs didn’t taste good to me, I no longer get off on it. I need to clarify my mess- how long am I going to talk about clarifying my mess? I was tracking many different things on my beeminder- I still am, but now it feels a little overwhelming. Should I really be taking my guitar playing and my reading? It feels a little suffocating right now, though perhaps that’s because I’ve got a couple of other things going on in my life that’s stressing me out.

I love the idea of “order of neglect”, which is- what are the vital things you keep running when stuff goes awry? What do you do when the shit hits the fan, what do you shut down, and in what order? Clearly, I shut down guitar playing and then reading. Sleep is most important of all. Then exercise, healthy eating. Then I think should be meditation and writing, and “management”. Then comes reading.

My problem is self-evident here: I don’t meditate. I don’t write at the volumes I know I can write at. I don’t take stock regularly- I only do it when stuff starts to fall apart. So my problem is… multifaceted: wrong tempo, not enough prioritization on the meditation/writing/management. If I can commit to that- just that- then everything will be okay.

I keep talking about wanting to refactor my blog, but I’m taking way too long to do that. I’m postponing to a non-existent future. It’s a sort of escapism. What’s the littlest thing I can do to make a step forward? Get the landing page done.


The novel begins with pain. Your stomach falls out from underneath you, suddenly, like one of those people sitting on one of those “hit-the-target-and-dunk-the-person” chairs at carnivals. You realise the world is fundamentally indifferent and very fucking unfair.

When you were a teenager you might’ve thought that the world was against you. Fuck the System. Rage Against The Machine, man! Throw it on the ground!

The truth is a little less boring and a whole lot more painful: the world is not against you. The world simply doesn’t care. Sometimes it might FEEL like the world is going “your way”, or that it might be “against you”. These are just feelings. Illusions that we conjure up so our puny brains can construct narratives that make sense.

I saw a guy tweet “My wife got in this horrible accident but was unharmed! There is a God!” Well, I’m glad she’s safe and you’re happy and cheerful, mister, but you just took a big steaming shit on every child born with horrible, painful ailments that choke them to death. Walk through a children’s hospital, meet the disabled, the destitute. You’ll see. There is no God. There is no Devil. We made it all up to feel better about ourselves.

I can’t even be resentful about it. There’s nothing to resent. There isn’t a villain to overthrow. It’s just us, we’re just glorified pond scum- miserable little shits.

Consider this- anybody can get killed. You’re just a head injury away from being a completely different person. Whatever you’re happy or sad about, you might find out tomorrow that you have cancer. I kinda wish I had cancer. More precisely I wish I could take it away from somebody who deserves a cancer-free life more than I do, someone who can bring more salvation or joy to this forsaken rock. There are thousands of kids who might go on to do great things with their lives but they never will. You know why? Because war, poverty, disease, corruption. Because humans are assholes. Nature is plain indifferent. Humans could mitigate some of the risk with science and research but most of us don’t really give a shit. We wish we did but we don’t.

I don’t deserve anything I have that’s worth having. I whine and bitch and cry about problems that others would kill to have. All in all I’m an utter waste of the space I’ve been given.


0126B – kill the saboteur

More from the series of “I’m publishing stuff I wrote but didn’t publish”. This was from November 2013.

Sleep deprived. Contemplative. I find myself thinking about people. Specifically, the people I have coexisted with in some way, family not included. It’s strange what lingers in the mind, little random facts. What cigarette somebody smoked. A comment somebody left on an old livejournal. All these seemingly random snapshots of a life. I’m feeling pretty sentimental.

It’s almost sad how arbitrarily my brain attributes meaning. What matters, and what doesn’t? Memories aren’t retrieved, they’re reconstructed. Why do I reconstruct the things that I do?

I don’t know, of course. But what convenient explanation am I likely to construct?

I need to sleep but I can’t so I’ll just vomit until I find myself falling asleep. Vomit by the way simply means to spew forth, it doesn’t necessarily have to involve the gastric variety. See also: misconception about roman vomitoriums.

I was feeling wistful and sentimental today, which I resolved largely by having casual Whatsapp conversations with a couple of friends. I had initially wanted to channel that anxious energy into writing, but I was tired and sleep-deprived and maybe I just don’t quite feel the burn.

This is a constant concern for me (especially because it ISN’T a constant concern for me. So meta.) My boss has reminded me on several occasions that I have a terribly lax attitude when it comes to deadlines. He asks “how come alarms don’t go off in your head?”

It’s a good question. This seems to be a deep rooted complex and systematic problem that I have that runs deep into my brain. It’s simple from the outside, the way depression is a simple problem- “you just need to cheer up”. It’s a messy convoluted problem that’s extensive and multifaceted. And I think I want to solve it. I think I’ve spent a lot of time and energy waffling around claiming that I want to solve it, perhaps even at the expense of actually solving it. A part of me clearly doesn’t want it solved- and I literally have to drag that part of me out of myself and destroy it.

Destruction always feels like a cruel, merciless thing. It’s so easy to romanticize your inner saboteur. He’s the joker to your batman. How can you kill him? What would you do without him? Well… you don’t know. And the unknown is always frightening. You know that the first few steps beyond the Cave are excruciating, so you need a really good plan if you want to escape it for good. No ten step program is really going to dig deep and strike the heart of the problem.

The heart of hearts, the most fundamental root that I cannot leave unaddressed, the flag I have to capture and then consecrate and guard and secure with all my being and all the external and situational help I can get: is to decide that I want the Saboteur dead. No compromise. I have to crush him with great cruelty. Inaction is crueler. I have made similar decisions on maybe two occasions- deciding that a friendship was toxic, and deciding to quit smoking. In both cases it involved driving a dagger into the heart of something that I had associated positive feelings with, that I cherished and felt good about, that were a part of my identity.

These baby steps give me hope- I’ve never been good at first principles, I operate primarily through analogy- and these parallel experiences tell me that 1, it can be done, and 2, I will ultimately be happier for it. And happiness is worth fighting for. Even if it’s not happiness- I will be more productive, I will be a more useful member of society, and that’s worth fighting for. I will be richer and have more freedom, and that’s worth fighting for. Above all else, though, it will be INTERESTING- and within the context of a limited and arguably meaningless life-I think interestingness is with fighting for.

Happier, more useful to the world- I want to be useful, remember? One of my innermost epiphany realizations- I want to be useful. Freedom. (Wealth is options, so time is wealth, health is wealth, and wealth is freedom). Interesting. I love my life when I’m exploring my curiosity.

So on one hand we have a life that’s meh, unhappy, miserable, frustrating, boring, beholden, useless, wasteful. Constant firefighting, running and hiding. On the other, a life that is interesting, useful, bright, compelling, challenging, rich. Growth, learning and building.

The difference is the presence of the saboteur in the first, and his absence in the latter. It’s a toxic relationship that I have to do away with for my own sanity and health (the chronic stressors of ceaseless firefighting are horrible for health in the long run).

So the decision is clear and I have to keep it clear. I have to write this out and tape it to my table at work, and on my walk at home. This is the central struggle of my life thus far- my quest for heroism made me seek out external enemies to conquer, but the only enemy is within, and he benefits from my slovenly attitude. He thrives in the dark recesses of my mind, and withers away under scrutiny. The challenge is to maintain that scrutiny at a daily level. I’ve literally spent 9 months talking about this- I meet the boss for a chat every 2 weeks, which means I’ve met him about 18 times, and this is what we discuss every single time. It’s goddamn boring and an huge insult to his limited time. It’s freaking daycare. If I get this out of the way we can move on to rocket science (or whetever comes before).

The saboteur knows that no other human can spend all their time and energy watching me. Everybody’s got their own life to worry about. He also assumes that I won’t do anything about it- that I’m a willing accomplice to his bullshit. He calls my bluff. He knows my weaknesses. He knows I’ll give in after a while. He appeals to my “ah fuck it, life is never going to be more than this anyway” side. You live, you die, why bother?

Fuck you saboteur. Life is precious as hell so I AM going to bother. I quit smoking because I hated the damage it was doing to my mouth, teeth, body, face. I started to see the chains. It’s the same with the saboteur, only the damage is psychological. I don’t want to live in fear and anxiety and guilt. 20 years is more than enough. I refuse to continue to be this way into my 30s. I should resolve this shit before I’m 25 and then spend my years helping others out of the same mess, and together we can achieve wonders. And sleep a blissful, happy sleep. And die with a smile at a life well lived.


Ok so it’s clear. The saboteur has to die. No wavering on this anymore. No if, no but, no romanticizing. He’s a dead man, he just doesn’t know it yet. The clock is ticking.

Now I have to draw up battle plans. A straight up 1-1 fight won’t achieve anything. He knows me better than I do- the subconscious is wiser and better informed than the conscious, has more bandwidth, more power. I’m a small team of noobs against a vast uncaring ediface. I need a plan. I have limited resources so I need to focus all my time and energy into delivering a knockout punch of some sort, at some scale. I have to figure out some semblance of a weak spot and cut him where he bleeds heavily.

Alternatively, I have to sneak away from his presence. I have to make a drastic adjustment to my working style. Just as I deactivated Facebook and left my smoker circle of friends, I will have to go dark. Yes. I cannot attempt to fight him on his battlefield- I have lost the battle of wills every time. He’s stronger. I cannot let him move at all. I’m writing this on my smartphone. Maybe I’ll do my work writing on my smartphone too. Why the fuck not? I can’t afford to pretend I know anything at all about doing battle with this sonovabitch. He fucks with my head. I can’t use my gut feeling- he’s tampered with it, corrupted it. Tainted.

What do I have then? I have to fight with my “eyes” closed. I have to remove my personal agency from the equation. I have to study the evidence.

What does the evidence suggest? I write in vast quantities when I’m offline, with pen+paper or my evernote app on my phone. I get bursts of inspiration after a short walk and immersion into JFDI, which reminds me of the outside world. I get bursts of inspiration after reading books or blogposts- I ultimately synthesize those things rather than come up with “purely original” ideas. So these are the principles I have to work with.


0126 – deactivate / large number illiteracy

The following is a composite of 3 different notes I wrote in my Evernote that I never published, all around November 2013. I feel that they are worth reexamining, which is what I’m doing these vomits for.

Deactivated Facebook again last night. Or was it the night before? I feel like a much happier, lighter, kinder and more thoughtful person for it, and my wife agrees. I’m not even particularly interested in studying the reasons why- it has to do with the structure of the place, the nature of the game, the architecture, how it affects behaviour.

Everything is a game and you have to choose your games wisely. I deleted quora and tumblr from my phone, so now the only way I spend time on my phone is either reading (I’m currently barrelling through Venkat Rao’s stuff- I was previously reading Paul Graham) or writing, which I’m doing right now. A simple yin-yang of reading and writing, learning and doing, acting and reflecting.

Quitting smoking has made me more conscious of my health and hygiene then I was before I started. I wonder if any Antifragile concepts apply here. I used to sometimes skip brushing my teeth, and I never flossed. I’d also drink lots of sugary drinks. As a smoker, your mouth is an ash tray anyway. Once in a while if I smoked too much I’d scrape the icky yellow film off my tongue with the side of a pair of tweezers. It was disgusting and smelt like death.  Every do you do then? You smoke another cigarette- cleaning your tongue lets you taste the cigarette better, and sinultaneously numbs you to the signals your body is sending you. This is part of why it’s hard to quit- when you do step outside the cave, the world is painfully, unbearably bright- and so you rush right back in.

I need to eliminate tumblr, Quora etc from work, and I’m going to use the tomato.es system to get chunks of work done. It’s embarrassing that I still haven’t gotten to a stable system of work that I’m comfortable with that also has a decent ROI… sometimes my vomits feel like the most productive parts of my day. This should not be the case.

I was thinking about peer pressure. I was revisiting some elon musk quotes that I’ve been putting together and I found myself getting naturally rather pumped up- I had a pretty productive day self-management wise- I tidied up my drafts in a major way. How much does that matter? It’s not the same as doing your best work but it’s better than procrastinating completely.



The idea is to reconstruct yourself. Why do it? Partially because you can. Partially because you’re curious. Partially because you don’t like the precise mix of your identity and self at a given moment. Something about you causes you pain, anguish, suffering, embarrassment. That same thing diminishes your joy, your passion, your beauty.

There is always a resistance, and with good reason- (or at least, it used to have a good reason. Circumstances have changed faster than we typically do). Drastic change can be damaging, hurtful, shocking. But they applies both to change from without and change from within. And internal change needs to be sustainable or you’ll revert to your last backup/saved state. External change doesn’t give a shit about you. The world will move on whether you’re ready or not. This is a source of anxiety. What matters is being able to act, firmly, boldly.

Need/want to dramatically increase output.



Lately I’ve been getting increasingly obsessed with making sense of large numbers. I feel like it’s important. Amazon made 61 billion in revenue last year. A manned mission to mars costs about 230 billion. There are 7 billion people in the world.

I want to understand history, civilizations, shipping, air travel, the global economy. Statement is probably worth 10,000 sgd. My house costs about 300,000. My company is probably worth about 1,000,000, maybe more. I know you can’t put a price on things, but too often we use that as an excuse to not even try. Visakanv.com is probably worth 2000, 3000… but who would buy it? It’s value exists only to me. Would i sell it for 10,000? Erm I can save the data. I can start over.i deactivated my Facebook- how much were my connections worth? No matter, I can recreate them.

We are all salesmen, we are all traders.

I make a salary. Could I get more than I’m worth at the moment? Could I deliver more? How much is each hour of my life worth at the moment? How much am I burning when I spend time on reddit, quora, etc? How much are my books worth?

Time is money in the sense that money can pay off grunt work, free up space.

I used to smoke about 2 packs a week. I get a little breathless thinking about it. I remember my monthly expenses for smoking when I was in NS were 70-100 bucks a month. That’s about 4 nice meals at moderately pricey places, or maybe 1-2 really lavish ones- things I never did until I became a working adult. And I kinda regret it a little, I didn’t realize what I was missing out on. It’s worth skipping 4-5 mcdonalds meals to eat somewhere nicer than swensens or pastamania. I never had a poached egg in my life until I was 23. Didn’t know what I was missing out on. That said most 23 year olds probably don’t know what it’s like to be paying off a mortgage that’s supposed to take 30 years to fully pay off.

(Wow this feels good. I like doing vomits.)

You should travel alone or with trusted friends as early as you can. Live on your own as early as you can. Understand how you correspond to reality. The shelter of a parent is misleading. If you have a pet, clean its shit yourself. It’ll teach you something. HAH so that’s where parents develop their “it builds character” shtick. I don’t care about character- it’s about decision-making skills. Or are they the same thing? You have to live in your own filth and be forced to deal with it. It’s simple economics really. Nothing good comes out of having other people clean your shit- everybody should work a shitty service job.

Anyway. How much does an smrt train cost? What about the mrt network? How much revenue does the public transport system make a day? How many employees do they have? How many policemen are there in Singapore? How about in the world? How many ipods? What’s a gallon in litres? (Had to look that up- 3.785.) A mile is 1.6km. A yard is .9 meters, so the whole 9 yards is 8.1 meters.

Marina bay sands cost S$8 billion. The land cost 1.2 billion sgd. Esplanade cost sgd 0.6 billion.

Largest container ship- maersk triple E: 18, 000 boxes, which can contain 895,000,000 bananas. 0.89 billion bananas. How many bananas can a person eat in her lifetime?

20 of these triple-e ships cost 3.8 billion USD to build. They weigh 55,000 tonnes each. Built by Koreans. (Europeans too expensive. Chinese insufficient tech.)

20 million containers out at sea right now. There are over 600 million containers in existence.

10, 000 containers go missing every year. That’s about 70 a day. “Low probability things happen all the time.”

About 5000 commercial planes in the air right now. How many container ships?

Cheaper to ship scottish cod over 10,000 miles- 16, 000 km- to china for filleting and back than it is to have it done in scotland. Shipping is practically free.

Only 5% of containers are physically inspected.

In 2 years a ship travels to the moon, back and to the moon again.

98% of shipworkers are male. 33% are filipino.

Freight prices were about 5usd a ton in the 50s. Now its about 0.16 usd per ton.

The US navy helped to get it right, and it’s standardised internationally. Since the 70s?

1980: 100 million tonnes of cargo.
2012: 1, 500 million tonnes.

How much does an escalator cost? An mrt gantry? A public phone? How many cars are there in SG, in the world? Cement trucks? Lorries? How much does block 71 cost? An elevator?

I feel so horribly illiterate.


0125 – consider the self as a state

According to Evernote, I wrote this in August 2013. Doesn’t look like I’ve ever uploaded it, so… I’ll just leave this here and think about the problem of continuity later.

Woke up earlier than usual today which is a good thing but I still left for work at about the same time. I’d like to start going to work earlier, I think it’ll make me more productive. I’m a little tired of all the productivity talk though. After a while there are diminishing returns, you stop talking and just do. But this is my daily meditative writing practice so I gotta just go with the flow on this one.

I was reading Tim Harford’s Adapt yesterday. It’s a great book that describes the importance of careful, randomized trials in making sense of reality and making decisions in complex situations. It reveals the value of good feedback loops and reiteration, and how even the things that we take for granted as successful ir perennial were mostly started by people who had no real idea what they were doing. The world is a lot more volatile and chaotic than the best little narratives we invent to explain it. Ties up nicely with Taleb’s ideas about randomness and black swans.

As I was reading though I was reaching chapters that were tackling really big problems- it started with the development of solutions to specific problems in science and engineering, then foreign aid and city development (reminded of Jane Jacobs’ the nature of economies, which I have been slowly reading over coffee at JFDI)… When it got to climate change and economic crises, though, I felt an interesting urge to stop reading and do some pushups and some work. I ended up not doing very much work but I did do the pushups and felt better for it.

My thoughts went something like- it would be cool to develop more clarity when thinking about big problems, but those aren’t things that I can directly affect by myself. I have smaller problems to worry about that I CAN affect, and I can’t do much about the big problems until I get myself in order first. So I’m starting to get into this zone where I’m looking at my information diet and being more mindful of what I’m consuming. I don’t have the luxury of sitting around and reading books all day. I have to earn it by first dedicating time and energy- both limited- to the things that really matter. How do I decide what really matters? I have to pick the things that I can influence and focus on those.

I think I’m developing a better sense of what I need to do with my work and the sort of direction I should take. That’s quite clear, spending more time on it is procrastination. Next I need to further weed out distractions.

Yesterday I was trying to talk about many things at once but I think the underlying thing I wanted to explore for myself was deciding how to plan one’s information diet when indulgences are so pleasurable yet frustratingly ruinous (maybe not for everybody, but definitely for me). I also don’t like the idea of being information anorexic as a sort of perverse self-flagellation. Life should be lived. These are the internal political constraints I live with.Perhaps perverse self flagellation might be the global optimal in my life, just as communism as imagines at its finest is the perfect system on paper. But it never works out because people are imperfect, irrational creatures.

Now that’s an interesting way of looking at it. I’ve played around with ideas of individuals being fractals of larger entities but I haven’t thought of self-management in the context of political ideology- I liked to think that corporate management gives some clues into personal management, but politics seem to make even more sense. Managing a self is like managing a nation-state, and what is theoretically optimal may not necessarily be implementable because of the messy and inconsistent nature of agents within the system. So I think i can be pretty confident that the development of the self (analogous to the state rather than the nation) will have to take political compromise into account.

Now it gets interesting. Why should I bother so much about the politics of the country when I haven’t even fixed the politics within myself? You have to love yourself before you can sustainably love others, you be to be independent before you can inspire independence, if you do no good at least do no harm- and all of this is contingent on the one thing you have the most legitimate claim to dominion over (and even that is debatable) yourself.

Wow. So maybe getting all angry and riled up about singaporean politics, human rights and foreign affairs and whatnot is my way (I can’t speak for others) of distracting my populace (me) from the problems at home (me). It’s propaganda, smoke and mirrors, symptomatic of denial or a refusal to address actual problems… because those with political power (the conscious decision-making present self) benefits at the expense of the rest of me (unconscious, future, powerless, marginalized.)

That’s the source of unhappiness and general malaise in me- the state is fucking the people, denying them the right to grow, to flourish, to criticize policies. There is no democracy here, it’s a dictatorship. Without internal transparency, the welfare of the person-state is determined largely by foreign affairs with other person-states… so it’s phenomenally important to spend time around good people.

But the transparency bit is so important. We have to allow for the flourishing of that within us that is greater than us. Life is miserable otherwise. So when we fantasize about being some sort of leader… we already are. We lead ourselves. And the “selves” in this case is/are more than just the conscious person who takes credit for things. We lead a whole group of people in our head- the musician, the writer, the lover, the friend, the laborer, the hunter, the chef, the conversationalist, etc.

Clearly the language we have for talking about ourselves and our internal worlds are horribly, horribly limited. But yeah my inability to lead myself hurts others. I’m less of a friend, husband and colleague than I ought to be because of a failure of personal leadership. A failure to recognize that even when I’m absolutely alone, there are persons within me who are counting on me to help them realize their potential and/or desires. A part of me wants to travel, but I typically squash that guy out of my mind because it is a distraction from what my conscious decides is best.

It seems obvious that the conscious really ought to consult the subconscious more, because the non-conscious has the power to make the conscious feel really, really shitty. They can hold the person-state hostage and everything can go to shit. I think that’s at least vaguely how some suicides happen, or depression.

Of course for the sake of brevity and conceptual limitations I’ve spoken about this entirely within the context of an individual person-state. That’s like discussing a nation-state independently of international affairs. The result is an oversimplified model… we can’t explain and understand people in vacuums, we have to take broader inter-personal and social phenomena into account. Just as international affairs can help or screw up a country, so too can people screw up other people.

Something like that.