Power vs Force by Dr. David R. Hawkins

“Enlightenment,” according to this new book I started reading today, “is the highest emotion.”  And, interestingly to me, “shame” is the “lowest emotion.”  Not “sadness,” “depression,” or “anger.”  But: “Shame.”

For the longest time, Bagel had been trying to get me to read Power vs Force by Dr. David R. Hawkins.  I’ve literally had the book sitting on my shelf staring at me for the past several months.  And while I’d initially flipped through it back in the summer, I never continued at the time.  Hawkins’s thesis is that via kinesiology, it’s possible to via physical feeling (feeling strength or weakness) to discern the truth value of any given proposition.  Literally, any binary question:  “Should I invest in Tesla?”; “Is my boss lying?”; “Will Brazil win the World Cup this year?”; “Will this medicine cure my cancer?”

Needless to say, I was skeptical for all of the obvious reasons.  But as the months have passed, and as I’ve spent more time with Bagel, I’ve started giving more credence to this kind of “new age” philosophical thinking.  I’m not entirely bought in yet, but I’m willing to entertain the notion that humans don’t yet know how this universe works.  And for all of our fancy science, technology, and empiricism, I do buy that there are greater forces at work which we, puny humans, clearly don’t currently understand.  Thus, I’ve started seriously reading the book!  And in the coming months, as Bagel and I slowly wind our way through it, I’ll periodically post musings and learnings that I think are noteworthy here on this blog.

Usually, whenever I read nonfiction books, I like to take notes when I privately journal.  Last year when I read The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, I’d jotted some of my notes on this blog publicly.  And so I’ll be doing the same here as well with Power vs Force.  The two other lessons I learned today in reading the book’s four prefaces and introductions (I’m not even at Chapter 1 yet!) is that the “measure of a human” and their “contribution to the Universe” is not measured in a person’s actions (like what the Jewish believe, ie. “good deeds”) or words or beliefs (like how protestants believe that “belief and surrender to God, not good works, is how one gets to heaven); but rather, Dr. Hawkins asserts:  “The measure of a human is not in words or actions but in what they become by the time they die.”  That stuck out to me.

Finally, Hawkins –who writes well!– painted a good metaphor towards the end of his new introduction:  He writes about the story of two ships.  In the beginning, out in the ocean, they may only be a fraction of a degree different in bearing.  But a hundred miles later after weeks of sailing in the ocean, they’ll be thousands of miles apart from each other in distance.  Essentially:  Small differences are initially trivial.  But over the long passage of time, it matters!  And could mean all the difference between setting a proper course and going astray.

Fifty Laboratories of Democracy: The United States of America

Expecting a country as large and as pluralistic as the United States to adhere to a single set of laws, especially around highly controversial and divisive issues, is –IMHO– unrealistic and wrongheaded.  When it to comes to hot-button, social topics of the day such as abortion, gay marriage, gun rights, and recreational marijuana possession, I am a big proponent of strong states’ rights.  We are a country of a 330 million people that stretches a third of the entire North American continent.  Furthermore, we are a country of immigrants, composed of peoples from every region on earth, near and far.  As we often heard as schoolchildren growing up, America is more like “fifty laboratories of democracy.”  We are empiricists– what works well in Alabama may not be best for California.  And what people prefer in very cold Michigan may not work at all in very hot Florida.  This is perfectly fine– that’s the entire basis of America!

Being a strong Federalist, I believe in a small central federal government.  Obviously, in the Article of Confederation days, the federal government was too weak.  But fast forward to now, 2020, I think we’ve swung too far the other way.  Often times you hear about America being a “mixing pot” of peoples and cultures.  And this is true!  I definitely think there exists large swathes of the country where people from all walks have mixed and mingled– maybe during university, work, or just otherwise at Meetups and for fun.  Muslims and Christians have met, befriended, and married each other.  Black and white; Asian and Hispanic; etc.  That’s all great!  Mixing pots are wonderful and I personally love meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures.  And I think it’s fabulous and a genuine joy to do so.

But there are also other parts of the country that are more like a mosaic and most definitely not a mixing pot.  In just about every single one of the fifty states, you’ll find enclaves of highly-concentrated immigrant communities.  In New Jersey, there are whole neighborhoods and towns entirely Indian.  Indian grocers, Indian restaurants, Indian everything.  In California, in towns like Milpitas, you’ll wander around and see Chinese signage everywhere on cafes, clinics, churches, and laundromats.  Honestly, it gets to the point, whether in the Cuban communities of Florida, or Mexican communities in Arizona, that you could very justifiably wonder if you’re even in “America” anymore because you don’t see a single white person or any English anywhere.

But of course you are! It’s all America! That’s the beauty of it!

If you’re a rich multibillionaire and wish to live in a small, hyper-affluent neighborhood of ~3,000 people that is 92% white, you can! Or if you’re a bit poorer, a white supremacist, and want to live among your tribe, America’s got places for that too!

Like I said earlier– America is gigantic.  There is room enough in this great big, blessed country for all of us.  I am a staunch opponent against a muscular Supreme Court and big federal government because America is simply built on the fundamental bedrock of diversity and difference. We are not a one-size-fits-all-country.  If demographic trends continue, by 2050, America –a country founded by white settlers in Jamestown back in 1607– will become a “majority-minority” nation with non-white people (Hispanics, Asians, Blacks, etc) making up a majority of the country’s population.  The days of white majority are rapidly nearing an end so instead of fighting it (because you will lose), people should just accept this inevitable new reality. Be American! 😊

Exporting American Culture is the New Imperialism

Game of Thrones was the most pirated show in the world from 2012-2017.

Empire-building and its days of colonial rule are long over.  But the spirit of imperialism lives on.  Once upon a time, the British Empire stretched far and wide, across the entire globe.  Everywhere from North America to Africa to Asia, spanned the Empire.  Among its many expansionary territories were the thirteen colonies in America, India on the Asian subcontinent, and a variety of outposts like Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean and Barbados in the Caribbean.

Fast forward to our present day and the practice of colonizing foreign lands and enslaving the local people have largely fallen out of favor (unless your name is Vladimir Putin and we’re talking about the Crimean Peninsula).  But generally, aside from a few notable exceptions, the international community now mostly frowns upon colonizing and enslaving other native lands and indigenous people by force.

So how does one satiate a country’s expansionary impulses and thirst for dominion in the absence of brute physical force?  In a word:  Globalization.  I would argue that America has done it best (though the Swedes –with their Volvo, Spotify, and IKEA– are surprisingly not far behind); from Moscow to Johannesburg to Alexandria, if you visit virtually anywhere in the world, you will find a McDonalds and a Starbucks every few city blocks.  (Sometimes, even on a the same block.)  If you visit Paris or Cairo, you will find Kentucky Fried Chicken.  If you go to Luxemburg, right next to Belgium’s finest chocolatier, you will find a Burger King.

It’s not just fast food establishments either.  In Beijing, Tokyo, Milan, and Darwin, the top-grossing movies at your local cineplex have all been installments from Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe for the past ten years.  They may be dubbed over in Japanese or Russian or Italian, but there’s Captain America and Iron Man on the silver screen, fighting Thanos to the cheers of young Greek, Chinese, and Filipinos everywhere.

Imperialism, in the form of American culture, lives on to this very day.  And it’s everywhere, all around us, all the time.  There is no escape.  This is the new American World Order.

One can argue that there are many positives about this arrangement.  With the internet and The YouTube, the world has never been smaller.  And people from all countries and cultures, even if they can’t speak the same language, can all appreciate the adventures of Shrek, the green ogre, or enjoy Tom Cruise (who’s now nearly SIXTY years old), fighting terrorists on the Seine or in the Brazilian rain forest or wherever.  That’s all good and dandy.

But on the other hand, as old geezers like me are wont to do every generation, one can bemoan the current state of the world and our apparently inexorable death march, Pol Pot style, towards evermore homogeneity.  Is a Burger King in Amsterdam really what we visit the Netherlands for?  Is having a slice at Pizza Hut in Rome really the genuine Italian experience?  Is that the sum and pinnacle accomplishment of the human species?

Electronics Avenue

Chapter Two

Echelon is the name of the clandestine operations program that the Chinese Communist Party uses to monitor all internet traffic within the Chinese mainland.  For foreigners visiting China and getting onto its internet for the first time, the experience is strange and surreal, as if you’ve stepped into a parallel universe.  As is well-known, the giant American players like Facebook and Google don’t exist in China– you’re not able to access those websites at all and will be blocked by the Great Chinese Firewall if you try.  Instead, you access incredibly similar sites– literally, 99.99% perfectly identical down to the colors, icons, and typography.  The only difference is that the site is in Chinese and is controlled by the Chinese government or a state-sponsored company.

My first assignment, on my first full day in Shanghai, is to visit one of the many nondescript, government buildings that houses the Echelon project. Shortly after setting up my new phone, I receive a ding! on the device, informing me that I am the proud new recipient of a roundtrip bus ticket, heading out to Jinshui, which I knew was a district on the outskirts of town. It’s about an hour’s ride out to the northwest and I’m told in the message to bring my overnight duffel– I would apparently not be returning to the hotel that evening.

The bus station is within walking distance of the Four Seasons and departure isn’t until two o’clock that afternoon which meant I still had a few hours of free time to burn. I decide to use the time to wander around downtown Shanghai for a bit on foot. May as well take in some local culture. I’d use the few free hours I had to visit a used electronics store to pawn off my old phone and also take in some of the sights.

I toss my laptop, toothbrush, and some clean clothing I need into my overnight duffel and head out of my hotel room. I make sure to not leave anything of any value behind. Part of me is certain that I’ll have visitors looking through whatever I leave in the room while I’m away. It may be paranoia but it comes with the profession. By this point, I’m used to it.

With the help of one of the helpful concierge receptionists, I’m able to make my way to 電子大道, which roughly translates into “Electronics Avenue.” It’s a bustling and crowded city road full of street vendors hocking their wares. In one of my ears I have a Google Ear Bud which helps translate in real-time all of the Chinese that is flying to and ‘fro. The translation isn’t perfect but is far better than nothing.

“For cheap! For cheap!” cries one of the short, balding shopkeepers. His ragged, white tank top is dirty and stained with sweat. “PlayStation 9 for sale! PlayStation 9! Sold here first! Get here now!”

“Get yours, today!” yells another shopkeeper across the way, an old rotund greying grandma who looks like she’s put away one too many steamed pork dumplings in her day. “On sale now! On sale now! Big screen for movies and videogames! 18k resolution! 18k resolution!”

I push my way through the crowd to a small shop sandwiched between a storefront selling laundry machines and another selling cellular SIM cards. This was the shop that the concierge hotel agent had recommended to me. Using my limited Chinese (and Google Translate on my phone) I’m able to pawn off my old Samsung for a decent price. While I’m there, I also buy another phone, a used but still serviceable cheap ZTE Chinese branded one. I drop it into my duffel for use later; one can never have too many phones.

I’m tempted to hang around Electronics Avenue for longer, admiring all of the cheap Chinese knockoffs and counterfeit goods on sale, but see on my watch that it’s nearly two o’clock so I begin heading towards the bus station, which is luckily just a few blocks away.

The Shanghai Central Bus Terminal is a gleaming citadel of modern technological wonder. Because of course it is. Flat screen LCDs line every square inch of wall surface and display the bus routes and real-time maps in bold colors and typography, in seven different languages, all simultaneously. There is not a single scrap of trash or litter anywhere. Every available surface practically glitters and shines. It’s another testament of what you can do when you have unlimited government funding and eminent domain to basically build whatever you wish and trample over indigenous lands and communities. Port Authority back in New York City looks like a war-ravaged, war-torn, third-world refugee camp by comparison.

Escape Velocity

Captain Hector was relentless!

Escape Velocity is the concept in astrophysics (specifically, celestial dynamics) that refers to “the minimum speed needed for a free, non-propelled object to escape from the gravitational influence of a massive body…”  I actually often think about writing long-form fiction the same way.  After a while, you work up a “speed of writing” (word count per day) and a certain momentum.  But dozens of projects will plateau early, run out of steam, and then languish on the vine and die.  You lose interest in the characters or the story eventually meanders and you lose it.  Every so often though, once in a blue moon, a project –its ideas, story, characters, setting– will have such enthusiasm behind it and possess an undeniable energy that it’ll escape the dreaded Orbit of Failure and escape to the promised land.  This is when you’ve got something.

David Foster Wallace, Philip K. Dick, and many others have commented that when they were writing well, not only were the words flowing easily, but it was also as if they themselves were not originating those very words.  This may sound mystical and far-fetched but there’s genuine debate on where ideas and inspiration come from.  Are we, humans, really the source?  Or is there a higher source simply channeling our bodies as mere vessels?  Every era has had their own name of this theory– Socrates and Aristotle called them “creative muses” and Mozart and Beethoven called them “angels.”

My personal belief is that it’s a combination of both.  I think higher powers existing makes sense.  However, they’re necessary but not sufficient.  As I’ve mentioned before, I firmly believe that you need to meet the Universe halfway.  It means putting in the hundreds of hours, but it also means taking care of your physical body and spiritual self.  Eating right, finding love, maintaining hobbies, and exercising.  We can only be vessels of divine inspiration and receive when we are emotionally, physically, and spiritually ready.

Truly an Age of Wonder

Emoji Dick.  Man, I don’t even know where to start with this. On one hand, it is certainly a grand testament to the power of human imagination and the aggregate efforts of crowdsourcing.  Together, there is no obstacle too great, including Herman Melville, that we cannot surmount and overcome.  On the other hand, it is rare I discover something I so genuinely, sincerely consider useless.  Generally, I pride myself as an open-minded individual.  I consider it a strength that I can usually find merit in just about any project, human, or argument.

But good lord.  Emoji Dick– this one I really needed to stretch for– it’s a real reach.

I first discovered Emoji Dick on the a16z podcast hosted by Sonal Chokshi.  (For what it’s worth, by the way, Chokshi is excellent.  I curate my podcast playlist very carefully and have listened to many voices over the years.  The way she thinks about “insight per minute” and information density is the absolute best.  I really love listening to her interview and show run the a16z podcast.)

Anyway, emojis were something I had for the longest time never cared for.  I’d considered them childish and was enormously snobbish about them.  I consider myself “grammatically proper” and refuse to shop anywhere that doesn’t use “ten items or fewer” for its express checkout queue.  So much to my surprise, there’s an entire hidden political war in the world of emojis.  For example, as Chokshi raised in the episode– does Taiwan get an emoji flag?  For China, that was a no-go and would have huge implications on the Unicode standard (for in which there is a Unicode Emoji Subcommittee). And were there sexist implications of the “woman emoji with bunny ears?” And how would each vendor (Microsoft, Google, Apple, LG, Samsung, etc) choose to implement those Unicode emoji standards on their own platforms? It was a fraught and twisted web.

So fast forward to now and I’m wholly onboard.  The emoji ship has sailed.  I’ve decided to take life much less seriously (especially after meeting Bagel).  We only live this lifetime once… might as well use some emojis. 🚢👋🍰🚀