On Nuclear Relations

Since their inception, nuclear weapons have been rightly considered the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. And this is no understatement – after WWII, Albert Einstein regretted ever having written that letter to Roosevelt in 1939, when he notified the president that German scientists were conducting research into nuclear weapons development and that the U.S. should begin its own research into atomic energy. Due to his pacifist tendencies, Einstein ended up never gaining clearance to partake in the Manhattan Project, and he became an avid activist against the further proliferation of these weapons, which have the potential to destroy the entirety of the planet. Eventually, the science behind the enrichment of uranium became publicly known and other nations began building their own arsenals – this spiraling turn of events led us into the Cold War, when we came face to face with a potential nuclear war, had JFK not followed his gut in not invading Cuba. Since that Tuesday morning of October 16th, 1962, the world entered a period in history where the possibility of nuclear war became gradually slimmer due to a number of international treaties signed by various presidents to curb the build-up of nuclear arsenals. However, the doomsday clock will likely move closer to midnight with the events that took place last week – Vladimir Putin declared having put his nuclear weapons on “high alert” as he wages war in Ukraine.

The understand the severity of his statement, we need to look no further back than August of 1945. In the span of 3 days, the U.S. dropped 2 nuclear bombs in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing an estimated 226,000 people upon strike and consequentially leading to a spike in cancer and birth defects within the surviving population in the decades that followed due to excessive exposure to radiation. This was the first and only times nuclear weapons were ever used to wage war, and due to its catastrophic impacts, it became an “out of bounds” measure in offensive military tactics.

The way nuclear weapons work is through breaking the nucleus of an atom apart (fission), or through combining two nuclei together (fusion, also known has thermonuclear or hydrogen weapons), which leads to massive releases of energy (the explosion). The nuclear fuel used to cause these reactions is often uranium-235 and plutonium-239 (although the latter only occurs naturally in trace amounts, making uranium the more popular choice). To use uranium in a nuclear weapon one must employ a costly process known as enrichment, in which the isotopes are separated and concentrated in centrifuges. This is timely and extremely expensive, being the biggest barrier in the construction of such weapons. The thermal radiation released in these chemical reactions during an explosion cause significant damage within seconds, while the delayed effects inflict extensive damage in humans and on the environment for years to come. That is why numerous nuclear arms control treaties have been signed over the years to prevent the usage of such weapons.

The first nuclear treaty ever signed was in 1959 with the Antarctic Treaty, prohibiting nuclear explosions and the disposal of nuclear waste in the Antarctic continent. From there, nations went on to sign treaties prohibiting the placement of nuclear weapons in outer space, making Latin America a nuclear free zone, prohibiting placing nuclear weapons on the ocean floor, and many others. But the treaties on arms reductions that came after the Cold War were the ones that have kept Russia and the U.S. on an even playing field and engaged in “peaceful tension”.  

The 1986 Reykjavik Summit between U.S. president Ronald Regan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev resulted in two key treaties that effectively capped nuclear arm arsenals: the INF Treaty and START I. These were historical agreements that were the precursors to the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (2003) and the New START treaty (2010), which all sought to disarm and stop the proliferation of such weapons. However, in 2019, under the Trump Administration, the U.S. withdrew from the INF treaty, what was a major step backwards in keeping the world safe.

Today we live in a world where 9 countries own nuclear arsenals, totalling more than 13,100 weapons, enough to obliterate the world many times over. But when we talk about “destroying the world”, we need to understand how these weapons would actually cause such a devastating event. Firstly, if you’re at the target radius of an explosion, you’d get incinerated by the fireball or the blast wave; secondly, if you survive, you’d be lethally killed by the excessive amounts of radiation absorbed into your cells; thirdly, if somehow you’ve survived all of this, you might die of starvation because the economy would have collapsed and no food would be able to grow due to radiation or supply chains simply being devastated; fourthly, if you managed to get through the first few weeks, the entire ecosphere of the Earth would be collapsing leading to a Nuclear Winter and you’d then die of cold or outer space radiation due to the destruction of the ozone layer; fifthly, chaos would ensue and people desperate for food might come kill you to steal everything you have; and lastly, diseases and epidemics would rage unrestrained, what could also eventually come to infect you and kill you. 

So, when someone steps out of synch with the world agreements on nuclear proliferation, or making the slightest threats that their arsenals are on high alert, all the alarms should be going off in people’s heads. This is nothing to bluff with or to politicize – this is how life on Earth as we know it could end. But, knowing all of this, even the most sadistic dictator would think twice before pressing the red button. In a world where 8 other nations own nuclear arsenals, that would be suicide. However, what makes these situations so fragile are the risks of a false alarm.

In the U.S., the only person who can order a nuclear attack or retaliation is the President. Today, only two countries abide by the “No-First-Use” pledge (India and China), meaning they would never initiate a nuclear attack. But the NFU policy isn’t enough to prevent a nuclear war – all nations reserve the right to retaliate. And since modern nuclear weapons can reach most places on Earth within 7-10 minutes, this leaves leaders of countries with less than 5 minutes upon intelligence of an attack having reached them to make a decision on whether to retaliate (and essentially initiate nuclear war) or not (at which point all of their nuclear arsenals could be compromised or the executive branch of a government destroyed). That is why in the U.S. you will always see the “nuclear football” (from where they can place nuclear orders, which cannot be overturned once sent out) next to the president at all times.

But given our capacity to make mistakes and the rising threat of cyberwarfare, false intelligence of an attack isn’t just possible, it has happened before. In 1983, the nuclear warning system of the Soviet Union malfunctioned and reported an intercontinental ballistic missile with four more missiles behind it having been launched by the United States. Stanislav Petrov, the Soviet Air Defence officer on duty, chose to wait for corroborating evidence before relaying the information up the chain of command, however none arrived. This sole man made the decision to trust his gut in believing that this was a false alarm, what effectively prevented the Soviet Union from launching an attack on the U.S. and its NATO allies, stopping a nuclear war from happening.

That is how close we can come from annihilating ourselves.

William J. Perry, former Secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton, wrote an eye-opening book called The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump, where he goes into depth on how the most serious of policies around nuclear proliferation have largely gone unnoticed by voters and what we should be doing about it to prevent a future catastrophe. The strangeness of our comfort with the status quo and our capacity to divert our attention in the political discourse has proven our inability to prioritize what’s important and a violation of both our self-interest and fellow feeling. 

Although Putin’s threats from last week don’t really change Russia’s previous nuclear stance nor push NATO to change theirs (since the U.S., U.K. and France have submarines equipped with nuclear missiles circulating world waters at all times in undisclosed locations ready to launch), it should put all of us on high alert given the catastrophic consequences of the slightest of errors. 

In The Fate Of The Earth, Jonathan Schell perfectly describes our complacency in regards to nuclear weapons:

“These bombs were built as weapons for war, but their significance greatly transcends war and all its causes and outcomes. They grew out of history, yet they threaten to end history. They were made by men, yet they threaten to annihilate men. They’re a pit in which the whole world can fall, a nemesis of all human intentions, actions and hopes. Only life itself, which they threaten to swallow up can give the measure of their significance. Yet, in spite of the immeasurable importance of nuclear weapons, the world has declined on the whole to think about them very much. We have thus far failed to fashion or even to discover within ourselves an emotional, or intellection or political response to them. This peculiar failure of response in which hundreds of millions of people acknowledge the presence of an immediate unremitting threat to their existence and to the existence of the world they live in but do nothing about it.

This was true in 1982, when this book was written, and it is true today, when we have just heard the world’s biggest autocrat threatening to end life on earth as we know it.


On A Future With Robots

There is no question that many, if not most, jobs done by humans today could eventually be accomplished by robots if we continue on the current path of technological progress. If we think back to just 15 years ago, iPhones didn’t exist. Today, the vast majority of people in the developed world, and much of the developing world, own a smartphone. It took less than two decades for the way we work and interact to be completely turned on its head, so what do we make of what life will be like in 2050?

The field of artificially-intelligent robotics is one of the fastest advancing fields in the world of innovation. Much of the developments are happening right in our pockets with each software update that gets pushed into our devices each month, but what truly hits home for most people is when they watch videos like this – innovations taking place in the labs of the best universities in the world. 

Although the latter is what people imagine when they think of AI-robots, most of the developments are software-based and don’t necessarily manifest themselves in the physical world. Take Google search or Siri, for example – these learn about your behaviour and patterns the more you use them. From there, a sea of data is generated that can predict your future wants and needs, and eventually know more about you than you know yourself. These are self-taught robots and don’t require a programmer to be manually inputting data in the background. Some theorists believe that this process is exponential in nature and, when measured against human intelligence, will surpass all of humanity’s collective IQ and reach a singularity of knowledge. 

But we don’t need to go that far before asking ourselves ethical and political questions regarding the role of human existence in the presence of such intelligence. Outside of the world of arts (although scary experiments have shown robots’ abilities to use deep learning to compose music indistinguishable from history’s greatest musicians), we are not far from a world where, through a gradual dislocation of labour, humans’ role in the economy will enter uncharted territory.

It is well documented that as nations grow richer, they move from agricultural to manufacturing and, eventually to service-based economies. As this inevitable process takes place, technical knowledge acquired through higher education and training becomes more important – the skills necessary to operate a tractor at a farm are very different from the ones necessary to program an app that will replace that operator. At scale, this process excludes those people without specialized knowledge from the economy, leading to serious societal discontents (which is one of the major reasons why we see populism on the rise again, but that’s an entire separate post on its own).

We don’t need to go much farther in this thought experiment to see the impact of robotics (and in this particular case, not even AI robotics) in the consolidation of capital. Take warehouse management, for example – before robots you’d need hundreds of people working day and night to perform the work required in a warehouse to move, pack and ship product. Now, with a few dozen robots you accomplish more in less time, and more efficiently, while needing only a handful of supervisors to oversee the functioning of the machinery. All of the sudden, the cost to run such an operation reduces dramatically as labour costs get cut, and companies make far bigger profits while simultaneously driving market prices down to become more competitive, inadvertently creating an economy heavily consolidated in the hands of a few business owners. Without enhanced governmental intervention and taxation, these CEOs can dictate the direction of the economy without ever having been democratically elected into public office.

This cycle of innovation creates pockets of unemployment throughout the nation where such warehouses are located, and the few extra jobs that it creates are for higher technical knowledge workers, often with the requirement of a university degree. Without completely upending the existing education system, governments need to start thinking about how it might redistribute this newly unlocked wealth concentrated in the hands of an ultra-rich minority in order to avoid the expansion of poverty and control growing economic inequality. Such fast and drastic reductions in social mobility require monumental efforts by the state to put in place new incentives that will lead to further economic growth and improvements in quality of life. And, oftentimes, these are initiated with historic welfare programs that ignite a tide of change in the economic fabric of a country, preventing it from spiralling into a dystopian poverty-stricken future where oligarchs have a disproportionate amount of power.

The poster child of all welfare programs was FDR’s New Deal that took place in the 1930s in the US. When the Great Depression hit in the end of the 1920s, manufacturing output decreased by a third, deflation took place causing prices to fall by 20%, and since bank deposits weren’t insured back then, many banks closed and people lost their savings. All of this led to unemployment rising from 4% to 25%, devastating a nation in one fell swoop. Now, the reasons for this massive dislocation of labour were completely different from what we saw take place in the Rust Belt in the 80s, and what we will likely see take place in the coming years due to AI-robotics. But regardless of cause, the results of such major economic events follow a similar pattern. If it wasn’t for the New Deal, today we wouldn’t have federal programs and agencies that buffer the economy from total sudden collapse and support workers during unemployment periods. All of this, most of the time, enables a country to improve stability and keeps the gears of capitalism turning. 

So, as robotics and deep learning continue to improve and become better at doing humans’ work than humans themselves, what will be our role in the future? Netflix’s series Black Mirror painted a rather somber picture of what that could look like, but I’m not totally sold on it. Recently, Sam Harris published an interesting Ask Me Anything episode on his podcast where he briefly touched on this ethical dilemma:

Imagine AI that really works. Imagine robots so advanced that they can do everything that people can do. So, you could have a plumber or an electrician come to your house who is a robot. We’re certainly very far away from that, but in principle there’s no reason to think that it isn’t possible. And if it’s possible, it will be achieved if we just continue to make progress. So, in the limit, we are imagining technology cancelling the need for much, or even most, of human labour. Then what does society look like? Clearly, we need a new ethical and political conception of how a person finds their place in the world. It can’t be a matter of finding something to do that others will pay you for so that you can survive. Then we have to begin thinking in terms of something like Universal Basic Income. You shouldn’t have to secure your place in the world through labour anymore. And in the presence of that kind of advanced technology, we really are talking about a pile of wealth that is growing bigger and bigger. So, even a comparatively tiny slice of that pie will leave a person much better off in absolute terms than even the richest people are today. Obviously, there are many ways in which we could fail to achieve such a civilization, but in success a person born 50 years from now will enjoy the fruits of innovations and insights and luxuries and life-saving technologies that no billionaire has access to today.”

Maybe this thought experiment will just remain a thought experiment. But, as Mark Twain once said, “history does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes”. And what we’re seeing today already certainly feels like the end of the first stanza.


On The Mechanics Of Capitalism

For a few years now it’s become a political platform position on the left to tax the rich – in particular, the billionaires. For the overwhelming majority of the population who aren’t rich, this has quite an appeal, whereas there are still middle-class folks who oppose it by believing that through hard-work, and hard-work only, they can achieve the American Dream. The growing inequality we’ve seen take place across the world has given capitalism a bad reputation, but as always, the issue isn’t as simple as it looks and burning it all to the ground to build it back up will not solve society’s discontents.

The term capital dates back as far as the 12th century, and originates from the Latin word caput, meaning “head” (as in, head of cattle). However, the term capitalism didn’t begin appearing until the 17th century, and was used to describe a system in which capitalists owned said capital. The entire system revolves around the idea of private ownership and control over the means of production to generate a profit. It inherently assumes that the future holds more prosperity than the present, which is why in modern times we go into debt to get an education so that we can make more money in the future. 

Therefore, ownership is the key idea to understand capitalism. It essentially means that if you own a factory, you get to do what you wish with it – if you want to leave it idle, produce goods, or sell for something else you deem more valuable, you decide. This also encapsulates the concept of economic freedom into it, which is deemed invaluable in Western democratic societies. This system rewards risk-taking, so for entrepreneurs who put their money and livelihoods on the line to generate value for society, when they succeed, benefit tremendously from it in the form of monetary compensation (which is a proxy for ownership – you can trade those dollar bills for something else you deem more valuable). 

Innovating is a risky endeavour. It often involves large sums of money upfront to conduct research and development, which 9 times out of 10 leads to unsuccessful results. Therefore, if someone invents a new technology that improves society’s wellbeing (such as a vaccine or a software), trademarks are available to protect those inventions so they can reap the fruits of their venture. These very same entrepreneurs offer society a key trade: capital for labour. To them, having someone else operate a forklift for $20/hr is deemed a better usage of their time than doing it themselves, whereas for the labourer they deem it more valuable to accept this payment instead of going on an entrepreneurial endeavour themselves. This ongoing trade of capital enables for a natural circulation of money through the economy, which in theory flows towards where it will generate the most value per unit of measure. However, a number of economists agree that capital markets don’t regulate themselves therefore a certain level of government intervention is required to maximize the benefits to society.

This is where we enter the debate over welfarist policies and where in the spectrum does a society feel comfortable to be on. We hear stories every year of companies taking advantage of their employees by denying them bathroom breaks or paying unliveable wages, which serve as examples of how unhinged capitalism has a tendency to bend towards tyranny. Core labour rights passed in the 20th century that gave workers the freedom to join a union, abolished forced labour, and condemned discrimination at work are indisputable rights for a healthy & functioning labour force. But with the increased monopolization of industries, slowdown in productivity, and increased technical knowledge requirements to earn a basic living, we are seeing again a widening wealth gap form in society that is having geo-political repercussions around the world. And so, with the further devastating effects of the COVID pandemic, governments got to test the waters of what more robust welfare programs could look like and the impacts they would have in their economies.

There is an unavoidable trade-off that is made when we move towards higher distribution of wealth through regulatory factors. If the capitalist theory is correct (which most economist would agree it is), by not letting capital flow towards higher productivity areas of society and instead force it to go to lower growth endeavours, we are inevitably sacrificing future societal prosperity for present individual comfort. With the explosion in population growth the world has seen in the 20th century due to developments in health care, sanitary infrastructure and contraceptive innovation, if we sacrifice too much of the future to solve the present’s discontents, we are inevitably creating further present discontent for our future selves. Therefore, this ongoing balance between preserving economic freedom vs furthering government regulatory overreach becomes more of a dilemma than a right or wrong situation. 

Counter-intuitively, ownership is also a form of preserving society’s political freedoms. In a way, it redistributes tyranny into the hands of the wealthy, instead of concentrating it in the hands of the state. Consequently, instead of having one tyrant in government, you have thousands of tyrants (the rich) competing with each other – which enables people the freedom of choice. Additionally, ownership also serves as a way to determine the value of things – take the open ocean for example, which isn’t owned by anyone. This means that it’s every man for himself, and since it contains fish, which carries value in our society, people will try to get as many fish as they can before it runs out, since it’s free. So, without ownership you can’t protect things, and if you can’t protect things society is doomed to have bad actors who will take advantage of what we deem valuable.

And so, while preserving economic freedom to build a better future to our children is important, society also needs to take into consideration to what extent it is willing to deregulate its markets without making its present citizenry so deeply unequal that resentment begins to grow through the cracks and radicalization of ideas become mainstream. The same way that this utopian world we dream of where there’s very little suffering has been proven over and over to be just a dream, savage capitalism is also proving to be an inhuman system that sucks the life out of 90% of the population while disproportionally benefiting the current holders of capital. Historically, we’ve seen this tape being played repeatedly throughout time – when things got too unequal, successful societies found ways to reign in discontent through redistribution of prosperity in effective and productive ways. While those that swung too far in either direction were pushed to the annals of history among the company of fallen empires.


On Hot Topics

The old saying goes, “don’t talk about politics or religion at the dinner table”. Friendships can be ruined, reputations desecrated, and, most popular nowadays, cancellations of entire livelihoods can happen on a whim. But why is it that we have grown so intolerant of uncomfortable conversations? For a couple of centuries now, the U.S. has modelled the democratic experiment after republicanism and a federalist system which paved the way for other nations to follow suit. While some countries, like Canada, brought democracy to life through different systems (i.e.: parliamentary democracy within a constitutional monarchy), the democratic process in liberal societies has and will always require civil disagreement to be its core tenet.

As the world became more integrated through globalization, the flow of the labour force between nations intensified. Nations adopted different immigration systems based on social, economic and political principles that have created a new map of mobility previously unheard of. Take Canada, for example, where a more liberal economic immigration policy is favorable of skilled workers, whereas the U.S. takes a different approach more strongly grounded on family reunification. Many global companies then choose to “incubate” skilled workers in Canada before sponsoring them to move to the U.S. on a green card or work permit, creating a clear path to citizenship.

This example leaves out other forms of immigration (such as asylum seekers), but illustrates a critical characteristic of liberal democracies today: diversity of ethnicities, political principles, and religious values is intensifying. By design, this creates tension in a pluralistic society, which seeks to platform the best ideas to be debated and decided on to move forward with. Think back to when Abraham Lincoln was building his cabinet to lead a nation that was on the verge of fracturing over the issue of slavery. He chose to appoint men with radically differing views, from different parts of the country, and who did not enjoy each other’s company. This was received with fervent scrutiny at the time, but sent a message to a nation at war with itself: diversity of thought, regardless of how repugnant one might be, was going to be the way forward.

Although the core principle of freedom of speech is protected in various foundational documents found across democratic nations, such as the American Constitution and the English Bill of Rights, society has found ways to weaken it through social pressure at various times in history. Whether that was by burning books that went against a political ideology that was brought into office through democratic means, or by cancelling publishing and speaking contracts of authors who had controversial views and histories, public debate has been repeatedly restricted over the course of time.

Culture wars have always nurtured polarization in societies. People haven’t changed all that much since the times when Socrates was sentenced to death for “corrupting the youth”. The only difference today is that the internet has opened the lines of communication further, inviting everyone to have a platform to debate on. At face value this isn’t an issue, as a matter of fact it is highly democratic. The point of contention is on two details that have a disproportionate effect on public debate, which we have not yet learned how to moderate: mob mentality and private companies’ arbitrating powers.

Today it is far easier to mobilize thousands, if not millions, of people to lobby corporations into taking action against an individual than ever before. The “meme-ization” of shallow ideas, surrogate thinking and humans’ inherent need to belong, has made it far easier for people to have an opinion about hot topics. In a society that reads on average less than four books a year and cannot hold their attention for any longer than eight seconds at a time, having millions of people make statements on intense philosophical topics that have been debated for millennia – such as, can racism cease to exist, is there a God, how free are we –, is an ideal recipe for public confusion. And, when paired with the disproportionate power that a select few tech companies have on controlling what ideas are promoted in any one’s feeds, people are quite literally living in different worlds at a time.

But there are no incentives to change any of it – humans are addicted to outrage just as much as to sugar. Tech companies make money by keeping folks engaged in their platforms, so the most absurd and false ideas attract a far larger audience than moderate ones. Yet, when an individual is kicked off their platforms for promoting bad ideas, we open a whole can of worms on the topic of freedom of speech. This ecosystem gives shape to a new form of governance that democratic societies are struggling to grapple with today: powerful CEOs acting as unelected officials moderating the direction of public debate.

And so, while the adage of not touching hot topics is a convenient one to preserve relationships, our democracies are longing for intellectual conversations about these very ideas that will shape our future. Suddenly, putting down our phones to talk politics and religion at the dinner table doesn’t sound so bad after all.


On The Fetishization Of Freedom

The West has long fetishized the concept of freedom in the name of its, often questionable, crusades. The most recent chapter of it taking place in the Middle East, leaving behind a path of destruction and disillusionment. That is not to say that free societies are not something worth striving for, but the very concept that these societies are fighting for is not well understood by its citizenry.

For millennia the ideal of freedom has been debated by philosophers and politicians – from Plato in Ancient Greece, John Stuart Mill in 19th century England, to Isaiah Berlin in the second half of the 20th century –, yet every year there appears to be a segment of society that believes they have uncovered something new about it. A free society starts with some level of understanding of what is Free Will, and eventually moves into how the state should govern its citizens to maximize their personal freedoms without leading society to total apocalyptic anarchism. There is a large terrain that must be navigated between these two extremes, and in politics this balancing act takes place by the pulling of two levers: negative liberty and positive liberty.

Negative liberty is the lever Canadian truckers appear to be fighting for – to what extent are we comfortable with the government reaching into our personal freedoms. These freedoms can be further segmented into moral, economic and political freedoms; so, when one is boiling down such a complex issue into freedom in the singular sense, we need to stop and clarify that the concept of freedom needs to be debated plurally – which segment of personal freedoms do we feel the government may have overreached. This is a tricky lever to pull because, contrary to what libertarians believe, having no government imposition into its citizenry’s freedoms will lead to complete chaos. 

John Stuart Mill, in one of his most famous works called On Liberty, said that it is not a crime to harm oneself as long as the person doing so is not harming others. This is what philosophers describe as the harm principle, which seeks to justify the rightful purpose of power over any member of society to prevent harm to others – and for this purpose, even libertarians agree with. The earlier forms of this concept being baked into a society’s organization took place in France’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, where, verbatim, it states: “Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law”.

The other form of liberty known as positive liberty, can be best described as the freedoms the state creates by the passing of laws. The most famous contemporary example of this took place during the Civil Rights Movement, when the American government eventually banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. However, positive liberty isn’t always connected with good developments in history as the example forementioned – excessive positive liberty can encroach on negative liberties.

The Russian-British philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin, in the Four Essays on Liberty published in 1969, examined in further depth the two concepts of liberty where he warned of the potential abuses of positive freedoms. Historically, this lever had been used to defend nationalism, social engineering and collective rational control over human destiny, which paradoxically fulfilled a society’s rational desire of self-mastery and self-determination while inadvertently justifying political totalitarianism. The clearest example of this took place in Nazi Germany when the state coerced its citizens to believe in their version of “true freedom” by enacting anti-Semitic legislation limiting the participation of Jews in German public life (and eventually far worse atrocities). 

As we can see with the examples above, there is a balancing act that a society must engage in to move their vision of a free country forward. Excessive amounts in either direction – negative or positive – lead to unwanted outcomes. As Berlin once said, “unlimited liberty for capitalists destroys the liberty of the workers, unlimited liberty for factory-owners or parents will allow children to be employed in the coal-mines”, whereas unlimited liberty for workers destroys the benefits of capitalism and the fruits it generates. So, as one continues to fulfill their democratic duties in a free society, they must always ask themselves to what extent they’re comfortable with pulling either lever and if imposing such ideals on societies without the appropriate institutions in place to manage this balancing act will in fact emancipate them. In the end of the day, one cannot be completely free if they are to co-exist with other human beings – they can only be autonomous insofar as their autonomy doesn’t break with their civil responsibilities.

As the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner once said in advocacy for ethical individualism, “People who merely preach ethical codes without being able to put them into a plan of action, are morally unproductive”.


On Attachment To Success

The concept of attachment is commonly found in Buddhism teachings and in the study of Stoicism (Marcus Aurelius and Seneca, most notably), both of whom have become fairly popular in the West in recent years, particularly in the coaching circles. What appears to be happening today is that modern society’s demands have reached such a point that people are looking for ways to reduce their suffering from stress and judgement by referring back to ancient texts. Most of the time, given the complexity of these works, the virtues contained in them are being digested into self-help books that seem to be overflowing our bookstores today.

Let’s start with the stress pain point. Since the creation of Web 2.0 in the early 21st century, we’ve seen advertising take a new form that expanded beyond our TV screens and newspapers, and into every moment of our daily lives. Companies like Meta, Twitter, and Google have become the largest platforms of publicity for consumerism and people simply cannot escape it anymore. It’s as if we took our TV sets and placed them in our pockets – everywhere we go, we are being bombarded with new products, services and values that shape our cultural environment in ways difficult to contain.

This new playing field has created some complicated sources of suffering for us poor primates. Consumer goods are no longer being marketed as products, but rather as a lifestyle – a lifestyle that we see desirable people living as they display their entire lives on social media. This never-ending cycle of consumerism creates a mentality of scarcity that turns the wheels of capitalism. You will always need the latest iPhone, the newest fashion articles that are trending, the finest dining experiences. People attach themselves to these status-signaling products, which effectively makes their wellbeing ever more fragile. But the very pressure to fit into all the different communities today is what spins the wheels of growth and innovation in a capitalist society. It is what has enabled our standard of living to dramatically improve over the course of the 20th century, and it is also what has shaped the way we work and the pace at which companies need to move to remain competitive. As a member of this society, chances are that you work for one of these companies, whose productivity growth has been moving at a snail’s pace as of late, forcing them – and you – to do more with less.

This brings us to our second source of suffering: judgement. Humans are inherently hierarchical creatures. We are always comparing ourselves to others and social media is the mother of all places to see how amazing everyone’s lives are. Whether that is status-signaling their travels around the world or their professional accomplishments, people are quick to attach themselves to their successes – when in fact this is the quickest path to disillusion.

Anthony de Mello in his book Awareness, described this effect in the context of personification. We wrongly identify ourselves with success or failure – “I am a lawyer”, “I am a businessman”, “I am a failure” –, when in fact we aren’t any of this. By clinging on to these shallow definitions of ourselves we end up spending our time worrying that they may fall apart. The clash between these illusions with reality inflicts a form of suffering that has become routine in modern society today.

And so, although detaching ourselves from these things will inevitably improve our wellbeing, it is extremely difficult to do so in a society that is moved by productivity, self-improvement and competitiveness. But, if there is one thing we can find solace on is that failure is, and has always been, a far better teacher than success.


On Experiencing The Passage Of Time

During this time of year, the concept of time is ever more present. New Year’s is still fresh in our minds, as well as all of our resolutions for the year ahead. Office workers are about to receive their performance reviews on the year that has gone by, and their bonuses will be determined on whether or not they’ve hit their targets in the specified time frame they were being measured on. As human beings engaged in the productive economic chain, time feels like it’s either flying by or dragging on.

But the concept of time isn’t an objective one. As Luiz Felipe Pondé so eloquently explained on the year-end episode of Linhas Cruzadas titled “Is the New Year an illusion?”, there are many different types of time studied in the field of philosophy: cosmic time, physiological time, sociological time, and even technological time.

Cosmic time is indifferent to us. As people living in the pale blue dot, we are simply related to it in an ephemeral way. This is the Universe’s time – where time is relative to the distance of space itself.

Physiological time can be best understood as cellular or biological. Our bodies are all aging, yet the way we experience it is completely outside of our control. People can try to alter it with medical procedures to change its appearance but you can’t effectively change its pace. And once it expires, our physiology simply dissolves and we turn into dust.

Sociological time is the one humans in the 21st century are most familiar with. It’s composed of calendars, the pace of the productive economic chain, juristic sentences, deadlines, etc. However, what most people don’t realize is that this experience of time is a fairly recent phenomena in human history. 50,000 years ago – and for that matter, even just 1,000 years ago -, there was no sociological time. There were no calendars, New Year’s parties, deadlines. The majority of human existence has happened in times of repetition – whether or not it was Monday or Saturday, you did the exact same things. For contrast, modern social time in a place like New York City goes by a lot faster than in Woodville, Mississippi. The reason being that social relations in NYC are expensive and you need to generate economic activity, so whether you complete a task now or in one hour can cost a business a lot of money.

Finally, technological time is one that takes place within the Web 2.0 (ie.: social media). It runs in parallel to sociological time, but follows different rules – the distance from point A to B is irrelevant, unlike in the real world; or when having a debate online, your argument will repeat itself to everyone who reads it, enabling hundreds of people to partake in the discussion without your presence. This type of time is the newest and is getting faster with each year that goes by.

Much of the discontents of modern society today derives from their relationship with time. Whether someone passes away, or you’re in a deadline crunch, or a pandemic pushed you to work fully online and remote – it feels like there’s never enough time. This subjective experience cannot be taken lightly as time is the only finite resource we have, physiologically speaking.

And so, making the most of our time doesn’t fall on doing more things in less time, since time itself is experienced subjectively. Rather it comes down to pausing and truly appreciating our movement through it – the smells, sights, sounds and thoughts that are constantly morphing into our human experience. Maybe then, and only then, the time we have will feel like enough.


On Seeking Adventure

For millennia humans have sought and gone on amazing adventures – the most notable one being Odysseus’ return home after having pissed off Poseidon. However, as society became more peaceful, specialized and integrated, people only leave their desks for 3 weeks out of the year in search of some excitement. To make matters even more depressing, they spend more time documenting their adventures on social media than actually living them.

In one of his most famous novels called Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre describes this effect in a philosophical context. People often romanticize about going on an epic journey, yet the very act of thinking about going on one holds you back from immersing yourself in the moment. An adventure is a narration, and stories can only be told in retrospect. You can’t live and narrate at the same time, the very act of journeying in an adventure requires immersing yourself in the act of living.

A few basic elements of an adventure are: the hero, the quest itself, taking some sort of risk and eventually transforming oneself. It’s tough to be a hero nowadays, at least in the Marvel sense. Yet, we see them around us everywhere – the single mom with two jobs in order to put food on the table, the nurse working day and night to save their patients, or even the unknown government worker intersecting hack attacks on a daily basis. But does it always have to be such grand acts of sacrifice like this?

Some people simply don’t have the option not to be courageous – for that single mother, giving up isn’t an option. However, we are all heroes in our own stories. Yes, some are raised in more difficult conditions than others, but experience is subjective – what is scary for one man may be routine for another.

The quest will always involve some form of risk. Whether that is taking a plane to South America, or driving to work – we are not devoid of danger. Life is a dangerous endeavour and it involves just as much suffering as happiness. Oftentimes we find ourselves seeking to relieve pain and remain in a constant state of happiness – that is simply not possible. Humans are highly adaptable, as a recent study on snowbirds show: whenever someone moves from a cold climate to a hot one, happiness spikes in the short term but largely subsides to previous levels shortly after. Being at peace with the feeling of sadness, fear and danger is paramount to living a full existence.

The thought that an elevated experience lays around the corner, somewhere in the future once you move to X place or make Y amount of money is a convenient one. It allows us to put our locus of attention on some exterior event or object, ridding us of our own internal demons.

But whether we put ourselves through tough quests or life pushes us towards it, adventures are unavoidable. The illusion that an adventure only happens during those 3 weeks of the year when you hike the Inca Trail or go bungee jumping in New Zealand is a superficial one. We are all journeying an adventurous path, yet very few realize it.


Redistribution of Luck: Making Sense of Our Circumstances and The Powers We Hold

I grew up in a little house in the neighbourhood of Pinheiros in Sao Paulo. It was a modest house my parents leased from my grandparents up until I was 11. It was a lovely region, full of bars, shops and concert houses – but despite all of that it was also a dangerous part of town.

I have very vivid memories of being afraid of the outside. My parents had been robbed many times in those streets and once they even had the house broken into by two armed thieves while they were home. Brazil is a country of two nations – a Modern Brazil that resembles the life of North Americans and Europeans; and the Real Brazil, one where people don’t have enough to eat and must live by the decisions of Modern Brazil (which most often don’t reflect the realities of 90% of the population).

Growing up I always wondered what did I do to deserve being born in Modern Brazil. Did my ancestors claw out poverty and discrimination by sheer hard work and power of will, or were we simply lucky enough to have been born into a household descendant of Europeans in the west end of town?

I’ll never have the answers to these “what if” questions, but in seeking to understand history, moral philosophy and economics I was able to fill in some gaps.


After turning 16, I embarked in an exchange program to Canada. The whole idea was to sharpen my English and be exposed to different cultures and ways of life. This entire experience was only possible due to the kindness of the host mom I so luckily happened to be paired with. She treated me like a son and assured my parents that, even though I was 10,000 kilometers away from home, they did not have anything to worry about.

As the years went by, I was able to stay in Canada, gain a scholarship to play basketball in college, graduate university, and start a career that enabled me to live in different parts of the country. Things were working out better than I could have ever wished for. And so my childhood question about serendipity burned even stronger.

The more I travelled, read and talked to people from different walks of life, the more I realized that my life was rather unusual. Sure – I worked hard to achieve my goals and stuck to my values of living an honest life, but none of that would have been possible without a basic foundation that was totally outside of my control that most people around the world can only dream of. Not once have I ever had to worry about not having enough to eat, a doctor to take care of my health when sick, or access to education (among many others).

These are things that the developed world often takes for granted. The very fact that I can read and write this sentence in English automatically gives me access to more books, more papers, and more services than 6 billion people around the world could only dream of. And all it takes is a few Google searches to quickly realize how my income puts me in a far more fortunate position than the vast majority of the globe.

So, if hard work and natural talents only pay off in the face of opportunity, and opportunity is only available to a select group of people in the world by sheer luck of the straw, how much of my personal success can I confidently attribute to my own doing versus where and when I was put into this world?

How would have my life played out had I been born in Real Brazil?

Effective Altruism

For a long time I contemplated how I could give back the fruits of my labor and serendipity in the most impactful way. And so this past year I was exposed to Peter Singer’s philosophy of Effective Altruism that completely changed my perspective on the concept of charity.

In Essays in Philosophy Volume 18, Issue 1 (2017) Effective Altruism: IntroductionWilliam MacAskill defines Effective Altruism as:

“…the project of using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible, and taking action on that basis. […] Its aims are welfarist, impartial, and maximizing: effective altruists aim to maximize the wellbeing of all, where (on some interpretation) everyone counts for one, and no-one for more than one. “

ESSAYS PHILOS (2017)18:1 | DOI: 10.7710/1526-0569.1580 

And so a community of Effective Altruists was born around this idea and platforms were set up to facilitate the engagement of regular folk like myself to contribute in any way they can. Websites such as effectivealtruism.org and givewell.org make giving a lot easier by having a team of experts evaluate the most effective charities around the world and allocate funding based on where your dollar will save the most lives. The concept of Effective Altruism “Mutual Funds” were invented and automated deposits made it that much easier for anyone to get involved.

So, what if you could live a life in which you saved someone from a burning building every year on top of your day job? Effective Altruists have figured out how to do just that.

The Against Malaria Foundation estimates that a mere $3,000 will save someone from dying of Malaria. A bed-net costs as little as $5, and that will effectively protect a child from dying of a disease responsible for killing over 400,000 people every year.

But you see, giving money for Malaria bed-nets isn’t as rewarding a partaking in toy drives, food banks and personal volunteer hours in your local community. The “immediate feedback” of doing good (familiar faces smiling and thanking the donors) is a lot harder to recreate when solving the biggest causes of suffering in the world – specially when they’re happening thousands of miles away from your doorstep.

And to make matters even harder, publicly talking about your altruistic efforts to others has become taboo – your true intentions behind the good deed will come into question. But as Sam Harris, in his conversation with William MacAskill, put it – speaking about your efforts to give back can inspire others to do the same. 

2020 has opened our eyes to many things; one of them being how fragile the human existence truly is and how together we can change the course of history for the better. For so many years we’ve grown protective of our achievements and ways of living. All of that is badly estimated. Much of who we are, what we do and how we live is largely circumstantial. The fortunate ones have the duty to help elevate the tide for all boats. 

And with that I am challenging you, the reader, to embrace your serendipity and join me in this endeavour. 

Begin your journey by committing 1% of your income to making the world a better place for all here: 

effectivealtruism.org or givewell.org


My Thoughts on the State of the World Today

Important note: all opinions below are my own, and do not reflect the ultimate truth. As more evidence emerges, these opinions will continue to be re-iterated in my never-ending search of getting closer to that ultimate truth.

As of the day of this writing, the world finds itself in a critical tipping point in a number of fronts. A global disease threatens the lives of millions, exposes the fragility of the systems created in the 20th century that have shaped our way of life, and forces us to change at breakneck speed in order to adapt to a future that is still uncertain in just about every angle you look at it.

Series of events that led us here

Information flows are the oxygen that fuel our modern knowledge economy, one that relies in radical transparency and thoughtful disagreement in order to effectively evolve. However, fast-forwarding to the American presidential elections that happened in 2016, the reliability of journalism started to erode as social media ad and content targeting took place on platforms such as Facebook, where campaign managers actively explored voters’ online data tracing to target and convert them with the help of consultancy services from UK-based firm Cambridge Analytica. The scandal reached its boiling point when the CEO and Founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg, had to testify before the Congress of the United States on April 11th of 2018, exposing how unprepared, confused and uneducated the regulators in government were as it related to the new realities of the world.

This loose summary of recent political events led to where we currently find ourselves today: a polarized political environment due to the rise of populist political agendas across the world that undermines the trustworthiness of journalism, science and information leading to alienated citizens and ineffective mechanisms of collaboration between the public and private sectors, while threatening the state of modern democracy as we know it.

The world today is more interdependent than ever before due to globalist policies, increased travel, and interconnected supply chains. These changes have successfully grown the pie instead exclusive individual pieces, proving that the global economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Since the year 2000, the number of people living in poverty has been reduced in half as the role of developing countries in the global economy raised from 33% to 48% as of 2019. However, with the rise of populist regimes across the world (e.g., USA in 2016) we began to see the introduction of additional tariffs on international trade, closing of borders, and international conflict increase as a form of false reinforcement to its scared citizens that their country is taking action to care for them.

Finally, as the fears of global warming begin to become more real, the future of the energy sector is forced into a generational transformation towards sustainable forms of renewable energy that countries around the world find themselves at different stages of the journey. With the volatility of oil prices around the world increasing, profitability of extracting, moving and selling this commodity becomes uncertain, while countries take measures to increase the incentives on the research and development of new technologies in the renewable arm of the sector while introducing policies (e.g., carbon tax) to reduce the usage of fossil fuels and encourage the transition towards greener sources.

All of these recent changes in the political, economic and social spheres have been pushed to its breaking point when the SARS-CoV-2 was officially declared a global pandemic on March 11th of 2020, leading to a series of domino-effect consequences felt across the world. As of April 11th, most countries have officially entered “Economic Depression-status” where unemployment rates and stock market losses reach double digit highs.

What role do governments need to play

As the virus began the spread, we saw countries react differently: some immediately closed their borders, others cancelled all travel, others placed their citizens under mandatory lock down, and more. At the time, “what” to do was still not well understood and in hindsight we now know that the sooner the country took lock-down measures the lesser the impact on their health systems and economies.

However, due to the novelty of the virus and how it behaved, paired with the specificity of the demographics of each country, the data on fatality and contagiousness was not very reliable. It ranged from 0.2% (South Korea) to 10% (Italy) mortality rate, as the speed at which governments reacted and the age of the population played major factors on determining the number. Since humans aren’t very good at understanding exponential curves, a lot of countries assumed everything was OK when they only had a few hundred cases growing very slowly, even comparing this virus to a “normal flu” or H1N1.

These were irresponsible comparisons (since these people weren’t looking a fatality rate % nor length of time, only at absolute numbers of cases and deaths) that led many to believe this wasn’t a big deal and in turn exacerbated the curvature of the trend.

So, once the markets started to crash, people’s retirement savings began to disappear into thin air, companies’ cash flow statements began to dry up and millions were getting laid off, people were looking to their governments for help – rightfully so. As the multi-billion (and in some cases, multi-trillion) dollar aid packages started to be announced it was clear that the new socio-economic realities of the 21st century demanded governments to change. In a world where we mandate people to self-isolate to stop the spread of a virus, many simply cannot do that as they depend on their next pay-check to cover rent and to put food on the table. Conversations about a UBI (Universal Basic Income) started to sound more realistic in the face of such new realities.

Many people criticized their leaders for sending money abroad to support developing countries in the fight against COVID, without fully understanding why or the relative size of these packages. In Canada, Ottawa pledged $150 million dollars to the WHO (World Health Organization) as a foreign aid package to help combat the virus in refugee camps in Greece and other developing nations. To put this money into perspective, this only amounts to 0.5% of the domestic aid package offered to Canadians (which amounts to $27 billion CAD as of the date of this writing). And from a social responsibility perspective, if we don’t stop the spread in the developing world Canadians will never see this virus go away as it will continue to spread globally even after First World nations successfully beat it domestically. So, pledges such as these are absolutely necessary in the fight against a global pandemic.

In order for lock-downs to work and for countries to successfully beat this virus, it won’t be a domestic fight. It will require global cooperation among countries to mobilize and free up resources to the locations most in need. The virus does not discriminate, so unless we are willing to help each other we will see far more deaths than necessary.

What does this mean to the economy as we know it

Three days before COVID-19 was deemed a global pandemic, Saudi Arabia started an oil price war with Russia leading to a 65% quarterly fall in oil prices in the span of a few days. This was a double gut punch for those regions where economic activity is strongly tied to the price of oil. In turn, further polarization about the industry took place and massive lay offs happened overnight.

Many regions in the world have non-diversified oil economies, which leads to cyclical patterns of economic activity. As an example, in Canada the province of Alberta possesses roughly 10% of the world’s oil reserves. This has led the provincial governments to double down on the industry preventing its local economy from diversifying itself. This type of policy has exposed its people to three major weaknesses that further perpetuates economic fragility:

  1. A boom-and-bust economy that has major impacts in people’s abilities to retain a job over longer periods of time;
  2. Retaining talent that does not want to work in the oil industry, forcing many to leave the province, and;
  3. Entrepreneurs having little to no incentive in opening up non-oil businesses (tech, for example) in Alberta as tax break incentives are removed and applied to pipeline building projects.

When you look at Alberta’s energy grid, 91% of it comes from fossil fuels (43% coming from coal), whereas provinces such as Ontario and Quebec heavily over index on renewable sources. This is not to say that relying on fossil fuels isn’t economically the right thing to do for Alberta (although, questionable when speaking about a sustainable future), but based on the federal government’s tax break incentives for renewable energy usage there are clear advantages for business owners to source their electricity from renewable sources.

However, believing that we can successfully run a sustainable circular economy one day may also be misleading. As Vaclav Smil (scientist and policy analyst from the University of Manitoba) puts it in his book Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities:

“Modern economies are based on massive linear flows of energy, fertilizers, other agrochemicals, and water required to produce food, and on even more massive energy and materials flows to sustain industrial activities, transportation, and services. Circularization of the two key flows is impossible (reusing spent energy would require nothing less than abolishing entropy; reusing water used in cropping would require the capture of all evapotranspiration and field runoff), and (with the exception of a few metals in some countries) high-intensity (>80% of total flows), mass-scale recycling of materials (above all construction waste, plastics, and electronic waste) remains elusive.”

But this is not to say that innovation couldn’t solve for any of that. It just remains highly unlikely that we will ever get there in any reasonable amount of time unless a massive spur of innovation fueled by huge amounts of capital investment begin flowing into creating solutions for such issues – which the world is no where near the place it needs to be in order for that to happen.

Now, from a pandemic-induced economic breakdown perspective, the short term pain of COVID-19 inevitably will be felt across every country and every level of the economic systems. In order to prevent complete chaos, governments have had to issue massive aid packages so people who have been laid off can continue to pay rent and put food on the table. This money isn’t lost money, as it’s being re-injected into the economy by these very people when they complete a transaction. However, these aid packages mean governments are having to print more money and are now offering close to zero percent interest loans to businesses so they can keep people on the pay roll. This cycle is inflationary in nature and we should expect currency devaluation and more volatility in global trade as a result.

Most recently, hedge fund manager Ray Dalio gave a interview on the TED Connects program about the future of the global economy. He sees what’s happening in the economy today and draws direct comparisons with the 1929-33 Great Depression, when the US saw unemployment rates reach 25% and GDP decline by 30%. Dalio, who predicted and successfully dodged the 2008 market crash by investing in bonds without credit risk, currencies and gold, thinks the impact of COVID “freezing” the economy will force us to rethink the way capitalism currently operates as we understand the need of government intervention and social safety nets in a 21st century new world order.

What will the “new normal” be

Reinvention of systems isn’t something new. Looking back in history this has happened many times. When there is collapse of the world order people come out of it more united and hopeful of a new future, and a new world order that requires reinvention and evolution from the old one emerges. The latest example of this being after World War II.

The idea that the profit system can accomplish everything has not proven to be right, because resource allocation goes to those who have the resources. For example, in our current system those who belong in the top 40% of household wealth spend 5x as much money in their kids’ education than those in the bottom 60%. This system is self perpetuating, reinforcing the funneling of capital and opportunity to those who already possess it in the vast majority of time.

But don’t get me wrong, I believe capitalism works but there comes a time when it needs reform. We should not be able to only grow the size of the pie, but we should also be able to divide it well. Otherwise the people lose faith in the system as the vast majority of them get left out of the benefits from participating in it.

The amount of wealth in the world remains roughly the same over time. The only way to increase value is through innovation and learning – both of which increase productivity (ability to create more with less). Investment in health and education are two of the best decisions any country can make in order to achieve that (studies show a positive correlation between additional years of education leading to longer lifespans). Sadly, we still see many countries (such as the United States) where basic health care isn’t available and education still remains an elusive idea due to the massive amount of money required to get one.

Massive transformation will also need extend to the way businesses’ organizational charts, incentives and key performance indicators are structured. What has become known as “Community Capitalism”, is an emerging business model that caters to the needs of a 21st century society. As the relations between consumers and enterprises change due to advancements in IoT (Internet of Things), the feedback loop has been shortened and so has consumer loyalty. In the past, customers were “one-time” buyers, but with the birth of the sharing economy (think Uber, AirBnb, Spotify, etc.), these same customers will need to become life-long users. And in order to effectively make that happen, organizations will need to restructure the way they collaborate with other stakeholders – which in this case could be other internal teams with conflicting priorities or even external companies that play in the same arena (think of a fridge manufacturer implementing IoT capabilities now having to collaborate with a data cloud company, the success of both depends on each other’s success). And the disruption doesn’t stop there: companies’ value offerings will need to be widened to the value they bring to the wider community – interesting ways some have been able to achieve that is by creating internal banks to provide favorable mortgages to staff.

So, a post-COVID world will give birth to a new consumer: one that’s scared, underemployed, with less assets and more socially conscious. Both service/product providers and employers will need to think of news ways to fulfill these concerns. A more fertile ground for social-entrepreneurship will also emerge.

Why am I optimistic about where we go from here

On the paragraphs above I expressed my concerns and thoughts on a number of changing fronts that are happening in society today. Although the COVID-19 pandemic sparked my desire to write this, the transformations I described are far broader than the health and economic crisis sparked from the virus itself, and in many cases were happening long before the outbreak.

Despite humanity finding itself in a key turning point for the future of its existence, I am an optimist at heart and believe we will get more things right than wrong. As seen in the past, when humans resist change for too long, a series of events eventually change humans against their will. This pandemic seems to be an example of the latter.

Recently, we’ve seen many organizations realize that the work they were asking their employees to do from the office was actually doable from any other location in the world. We’ve been forced to reflect about the need to measure input (hours worked) as a function of output (productivity). And in many cases we’ve learned that most can produce more in less time, whereas some need more time to produce less. This is a fundamental paradigm shift to the one that was introduced after the industrial revolution, where factory workers’ time spent on the manufacturing floor was directly correlated to their value added. In a knowledge economy of the 21st century, this no longer holds true and we are being pushed into questioning the fundamental assumptions that we’ve held our entire lives regarding the relationship between life and work.

We’ve also seen an outpour of gratitude toward frontline workers (nurses, grocery shelf stockers, truck drivers, and many more), which make up the larger part of the essential work needed to keep our societies running. This came as a breath of fresh air, as historically these workers have been undervalued and even marginalized by the holders of power in society.

However, one thing hasn’t changed: the human need to connect with one another. This fundamental need for human love has been displayed in heroic acts of kindness by people helping each other in times of distress. Whether by video chatting with someone going through mental health issues, or by donating your money and time to those in need, or by businesses offering free meals to those in the frontlines keeping the world turning, the very nature of being human has been put on center stage in every corner of Earth in the midst of this pandemic.

With that, I have faith that as a collective we will persevere, as we have many times in the past in the face of insurmountable challenges. By letting our very nature guide us through all of these changes, humans will design a future worth looking forward to, one where everyone has a role to play and a dream to aspire to.