2016 NeoProphesy: Biographical Reflection on Value

What's the value added of an apparently contemplative tweet?

Does it persuade anyone?  My latest theory is that 100% of what we publish will be analyzed by artificial intelligence (either supercomputer or a genetically modified giant human brain) in 50-100 years, and that every single tweet and blog will be filtered through a consciousness we can't imagine. More on that below.

In the wee hours of the morning, I lay thinking about other people, and how they became a part of me. How I learned from people's personalities, kind of like you learn words or vocabulary, or a foreign language, by listening to others.  Focusing on them.  Getting what they want us to get out of what they are saying, what they value.

It can take hours to do the inventory of all the individual people I know who gave me insights and reasons and ways to value things.  Value added, the common denominator in most of my research into recycling, is determined by people's demand.  In determining value, a few very wealthy people can create more economic demand, and value, than a million poor people.  And as wealth is increasingly shared across the globe, the values people give to objects changes.

So it's about people, and why people want stuff enough to pay other people to arrange to go out and make or create or dig up the stuff.  Or build machines - robots - to do that work, to make stuff which humans give value to.

Some of the most important people in my life are ones I never met, but whose writings or teachings had profound influence on what I give value to. Before I was 20, I'd read the Tao, Bhagavad Gita, Plato, New Testament (red letter editions, both King James and modern English), and a lot of etc., and have to give them all credit without doing what 20 year olds do - subtle or not, brag about how worldly and travelled and intellectual and spiritual you are.  Maybe to impress young women.  Maybe to increase your status among friends.

In both the case of material goods value, and spiritual value, there is a "selling".  If you accept a currency for your goods, and no one accepts that currency, you've lost net value.  If you buy a collectible and no one else is collecting it, you have a finite value (yourself), and might be seen as a "hoarder" to everyone else who doesn't get that value.

So we are kind of selling our values to others.  We want others to value the things we think are valuable (at least, once those are in our posession, not before a bid for heavens sake).

So back to the leadoff, as I sit quietly this time of year and remember the people who put spin on me, who I borrowed from, who I learned from, emulated, etc. - living or dead or read-only - I try to think of a way to appreciate and value the people I met.  But to do so would be wordy.

Sure, I tell my kids about their great-great-grandparents.  I think that they will value the memories of those people, because they can claim descendency, know their ancestry. I even tell them about certain people I learned from, because the lesson that I learned means more if I describe other people involved in that lesson.

But this morning I lay thinking, vividly, about dozens of people I lived with, worked with, laughed with, argued with, listened to, talked to, in Ngaoundal, Adamawa, Cameroon, Africa.  The experience of Peace Corps is different for each of us, but when I was hired as a Cross Cultural trainer for new volunteers, at the end of my term of service, I was able to distill some commonalities about how one culture values something that another culture doesn't value, and how some values are shared universally.

Perhaps I have been able to draw on the shifting of mental gears required to stay on good terms with both intellectuals at a liberal arts college (Carleton), high school friends who had entered the illegal drug trade (carrying guns, Jesse Pinkman friends), cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents in "redneck" Ozarks, and still trying to remain loyal to friendships I made in Cameroon.  Perhaps I have learned both the values I share, the values of economics and math, the added value of having a narrative involving mutual respect with people you care about.

For some reason, I hate gold, I hate the amount of pollution and habitat destruction that follows in gold's wake.  I hate the cost of extracting a non-ferrous metal which is then hoarded and sold to old people on TV networks.  I hate that my dad, a Ph.D, keeps thinking that gold is special and worth more than stock market shares (no, Dad. no, it's not. Land either) over decades.  I hate the idea of Chinese peasants using aqua regia to harvest gold from circuit boards. I don't especially like the recycling industry that expends carbon to pulverize 286 computers, part of our history, to refine the chips into elemental gold.

But here's the insight here.  I know that human beings are capable, as a society, of changing what they value. The values of people and cultures across the world have changed at a dizzying pace.  A female truck driver was once a novelty, an inner city food stamp collector was once an embarrassment to have on your payroll.  An autistic guy worked for my great grandfather (Luther Youngblood) on a subsistence farm I often visited as a young kid.  I was scared of the guy, named "Sack".  Luther hired Sack because no one else thought the kid had any value whatsoever.  But the farmers in those clay-covered, rocky fields had so little, they had to find value where they could.

A poor society has values, and has valuable people. They don't own much gold.

So rambling here, what I was thinking about this morning was a notebook I kept, a journal, in Cameroon.  No TV, not even much choice of radio, only an hour or two of electricity a day, no entertainment other than neighbors, friends, and nature (the sound of songs played on cassette player with a dying battery has a special place in my heart, as the slooow slogggy pull of the weak player deepened the voices and strung out the cords, giving a special background theme to the entire place).  I would doodle, sketch, and make characatures of my African acquaintences, and write what I called "personality abstracts", trying to summarize background of a person in one or two short paragraphs.  To help me remember.

I lost the journals of course. But having taken the time to write about these people, by name, helped me learn and remember so much more about them. I've written in the blog a few times about a few special people, like Yadji Moussa and my grandfather Clarence.  But there are so many dozens of other people who I've learned good and bad habits from, have borrowed from and given to.

If we are all products of the society we live with, then I'd postulate that the best way to take a guy like me from a county with a reputation for a tendency towards white supremacy to go through the phases of not sharing racist ideas, then opposing them, then taking pride in not being racist, and trying to prove your not racist, and then coming to the point of self consciousness about having art or whatever that seems to try to prove you're not racist and why are you broadcasting that, to just really feeling multi-lingual in cultures, tastes, and values.... not sure how to complete that sentence.   But I'm saying there are analogies and commonalities we all have, and the derivatives of what give value to ideas and objects are subject of mass psychology.

So what I do as a businessman is create personality abstracts for markets (including labor markets) which will give value, and read psychologists like Steve Pinker and Capaldi, terms like confirmation bias, types of logical fallacy, and then try to bring those things into a blue collar warehouse environment that doesn't show off book-learning.

It's challenging to communicate all that.  What we need to do is communicate the hope that I feel from all my travels, the hope I learned from people who protected me and watch my back, the hope I feel about how people with practically nothing, the poorest people I've known, can value another person and create a value for that person.

I gave up on practicing most of the religion when I realized that the more I meditated on the infinite greatness and intelligence and compassion of God, the more I saw God as being so omniscient and above us that we were like a society of mice or insects, beings whose brains were just too small and lives to short to ever comprehend the logic and science behind the universal values God represents.  That doesn't mean I stopped believing in God.  My kittens believe in me, they know me, they just can't read and write or understand my values.  If they could, if I could give a kitten a serum that gave it the brain of a human, we could talk about it.  But God hasn't injected me with such a serum, so I'm just - relatively speaking - an outspoken kitten here on earth.

But my closest friends and family know that the value of hard work and sacrifice and listening and helping others, of feeling enthusiasm for people in totally different places and situations, are something I believe enriches me.  I've added value to the life I would have led in the South 50 years ago. Greed over gold, or fear over terrorism, I feel completely inoculated and immune.  Losing poor values is part of what we learn by trading with others.  And I hope somehow that a lot of our positive western values are flowing the other direction, when we meet and trade with people who see value in something our society does not value. Like a CRT screen.

So in 50-100 years, when some giant superintelligent being or hive of interconnected processors reads every tweet and persuasion and opinion and fact and falsity ever written, puts it through a giant blender for association and synthesis, will that being be able to share our values?  Or will the superintelligence discount temporary outbreaks of "greed and fear", or "nurture instincts" that turn out to be false negatives (#ewastehoax), and simply create a dump file for everything fake or hyperbole or hysteria-driven?  Will it sift through the military industrial complex marketing to fear to pump gold into pockets spilled from profitable defense budgets?  Will the AI or super GeneticMod Brain feel compassion for misdirected passion, for fear of the other, for argument and negativity driven by incomplete information?  It will understand every language, and filter every information through contexts we cannot even be self-aware of.

That sounds like God.

Did I just become a techno-prophet?

When I'm on the fence whether someone will find any value to my psychobabble or philosophy deep dive, I figure maybe Alexis de Tocqueville also thought a lot of his journal entries would never be found valuable.  And the mere possibility of a future filter super intelligence encourages me to hit "post" and hope my critics don't read it.

I hope whatever it is loves us, and that's the value of these personality abstracts.  We hope that whatever synthesizes all the song lyrics and poems and ranting comment fields will hate the sin and love the sinner.  Even if it sees us all as kittens.  I pray that God has sympathy and finds or confusion as cute as a kitten chasing a ball of yarn.

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