So. I have a cat now.
I've spent the last year thinking about what I want to spend my life doing. It stemmed from thinking about what I want the world to become. I woke up a lot of mornings not convinced that what I was going to do that day was ultimately useful to humanity. There was no way I could continue living life like that.
What I'll actually spend my life doing partly depends on what can realistically be done and what I am capable of doing. But my priorities, and the tradeoffs, remain the same.
My large-scale priorities, in vague order:
- Help humans get their needs met
- Achieve human equity
- Stop killing animals
- Stop destroying Earth for funsies
The corresponding large-scale goals:
- Implement baseline food, shelter, health care, education, and other needs
- Convince society to destroy structural discrimination / Pass basic human protections
- Make synthetic meat and leather / Pass basic animal protections
- Prevent the destruction of natural habitats / Pass basic Earth protections
- Develop space exploration and terraforming to support human population growth long-term
My personal priorities, in vague order:
- Make useful sh*t
- Make cool sh*t
- Bridge worlds
- Be healthy
My corresponding personal goals:
- Develop applications that help underserved communities get their basic needs met or help influence action to improve conditions for them
- Make art / Produce music / Write novels
- Connect very different people
- Exercise / Eat plants / Learn martial arts
The ever-loving and trusting idealist in me still believes helping other humans will ultimately result in a better world, so that's at the top. If you help others meet their basic needs, there will be more people who can also think about how they can improve the world and do some of these other things. Maybe not all of them would be able or willing to do so, but some of them would, and that's more than there were before.
Making art is actually part of staying healthy. I realized a long time ago that my mind starts to unravel when I go for too long without writing or making art or music. It's both a creative outlet and a way to leave something for others to enjoy and be touched by long after I'm gone.
There are secondary personal priorities, like making enough money to cover expenses, or supporting a family. Many people choose to make those priorities their main focus in life. I am clearly not one of them. I accept that I may have to dial down some of my main priorities to address those. But as long as I am able to, I'd like to focus on helping humanity at large, because anything less ambitious may not get me out of bed every morning.
The past month has been extremely difficult. I've been weathering personal and societal storms on a large scale. And this weekend saw a massive tragedy in a community I'd been part of for years. The artist of the track above was one of the victims.
It's hard to bother with sleep when you already know you'll wake up to a crushing sense of hopelessness. And yet, we're still here. In a couple of hours, the sunrise will shed light on the fact that we still exist. Maybe we'll have another day to make the most of what some people no longer have. Maybe we'll have the opportunity to help others do the same.
This month I've been busy working on a new feature for my company's book club websites, most of which are managed by one server. I spent my first few months creating internal tools, scripts, and emails, so I wasn't as familiar with the user-facing codebase as the other web developers. But we needed to mitigate our bus factor, so I decided to bite the bullet. I wanted to better understand how the different pieces of our web stack worked together anyway, and this was a small feature that touches a lot of parts of our web architecture behind the scenes. (I'll write more about the actual code later.)
One of the most important things I realized during this whole ordeal has already been written about:
We have an open office plan and just moved to a smaller building. The view is nice, but there aren't that many corners where developers can run away and be alone for a while-- places where we can get guaranteed uninterrupted focus time.
I usually like chilling with my coworkers, and a lot of them are naturally social as part of their jobs (marketing, customer service, etc). So I didn't really notice this aspect of our office until this week. Specifically I didn't notice until it was crunch time on Friday afternoon, I was concentrating on debugging a big issue that came up at the last minute, I was interrupted for the fifteenth time about whether we were going to have something ready for release that night, and everything I was trying to keep track of flew out of my head. Again.
Me yesterday, my concentration broken again
My project manager is super understanding and tried to run interference for me, but there's only so much you can do on Friday at 5pm when everyone wants to hang out and unwind while you need to get something out the door. (We have a "No Releases on Friday Night" rule, but our other option was releasing on Sunday night and putting out fires during our Halloween festivities the next day-- I put my foot down on that one.)
I managed to debug the issue and do the release eventually... after the office emptied out a little bit.
Last weekend, while camping on an island full of ponies, I had a long conversation with a newfound friend who works in Washington D.C. as a lawyer and political fixer, and Joel, who's studying computer security but did his undergrad in economics and political science.
The new friend implored Joel and me to venture into roles outside of tech, not a hard sell since we're both from non-tech backgrounds. But she emphasized the fact that non-techies have no idea what's going on with technology, and that's a huge issue, especially in law and the government.
We already sort of knew this, but the bleakness with which she presented us with this information was startling. Joel and I are years away from being computer experts, but she said that decades of experience aren't a prerequisite to be a consult for some of the concepts that lawyers and lawmakers need help grasping. It just takes a few connections with the right people-- and a knack for translating technology into language that actual human beings understand.
As someone who went into tech partly to make it more accessible, it's encouraging to see that I really am filling a pressing need-- the need for techies to have actual human skills. However, it's also disconcerting to hear that our government is still largely tech-illiterate when technology now permeates everything. Entrenched systems have a lot of catching up to do.
I'm writing this in the wake of the Pulse club shootings in Orlando.
If you're reading this, I'm aware that you probably know or like me (because who else would care about my blog?). I realized that I know and love a lot of people who regularly attend religious services. And in the coming weeks, the sermons in their services are going to address this shooting.
Some sermons will approach the topic with love and compassion and say that no one should commit such an evil act. However, some will say that it was God's will, or that being gay is evil, or gays deserve to die. I'm mostly writing this to explain why I disagree with the latter. Within this explanation is my basic stance on life.
I try to do less harm than good. To remember to do that, I've created a few rules for myself, and I try to adhere to them while going about my life. Some of these rules are straightforward and practical, like "Don't wear high heels while drunk". But the majority of these rules all center around one main one.
The main rule is to not be terrible.
Over the years, I've had to define what "terrible" means. My definition of terrible involves impinging on living beings' happiness without their consent. There are different degrees of terrible acts, depending on:
- How many living beings are affected
- How long they have been/will be affected (a proxy for how deeply they've been hurt)
- How much they can experience being affected
- How terrible the affected beings are themselves
- Whether the act is deliberate or consequential
Some of the factors that determine how terrible a person is include:
- How aware they are of doing the terrible thing
- How long they have been doing the terrible thing
- What forces compel them to do the terrible thing
- What forces prevent them from stopping doing the terrible thing
- Whether that terrible thing is isolated/stoppable or systemic/hard to stop
- Whether that terrible thing is to prevent something worse, or is in the service of something good
Thinking about this rule has made it easy to prioritize what to care about, because the things that matter most are the ones that actively prevent terrible things.
Helping people when they need it? Ok.
Keeping house? Nope.
Money? I guess having it can help someone.
Praying? Not really.
Writing a local representative? Maybe. Do they even read those?
Stopping an active shooter? Probably worth it if I don't get killed immediately.
Meeting deadlines? Is someone literally gonna be dead because I don't make a deadline? If not, then no.
Sometimes I care about some of this other stuff because other people care or are affected by it. But when all I really want to do is prevent the most terrible things-- suffering and death-- from happening in the known universe, the other stuff is small beans.
This rule has had some remarkable repercussions. I was raised Catholic and fairly conservatively. Because I care about life, I agree with the church's harsh stance on issues like guns and the death penalty, and I recognize that they're the largest non-governmental provider of health services in the world.
And because I care about life, I disagree with their stance on issues like abortion. I do agree that life begins at conception. But as someone who studied biology, I know that a clump of cells has less life in it than a mosquito, which is much less life than a full-grown woman whose life potential would be unduly taken away from her if she were forced to carry a child to term. In this case, I would rather be terrible to the clump of cells-- it doesn't have a fully developed nervous system, so it can't feel or remember pain and suffering to the extent that a woman can.
As someone who studied biology, I also take issue with the church's stance on sexuality, gender, and gender roles. Homosexuality does occur in nature. It may be unusual in mammals, but it's natural. (Flowers get really freaky with each other. And themselves.)
As someone whose own marriage would have been illegal less than a century ago, I'd like to point out that the things people claim are unnatural and that God finds disgusting have changed and will continue to do so. So if people want to do something to increase their happiness or ease their suffering and it won't harm anyone else, no matter how weird it might be to me, it's not my place to voice an opinion about it.
I generally disagree with having social norms, such as some forms of organized religion, normative whiteness, and heteronormativity, because they create a culture that not everyone fits into. That leads to the rejection of whatever and whoever doesn't fit those norms, which leads to the existence of outsiders to that culture. Being an outsider can result in discrimination-- in some cases, even death.
I still try not to be a terrible Catholic. But more importantly, I'm trying not to be a terrible person. I don't condone being terrible to someone because they don't fit in, or because they don't follow arbitrary rules about how to look or act. They must have participated in harming another living being for me to even consider being terrible to them.
Anyway, if you're trying not to be terrible, and are maybe even trying to help others, I personally believe that God is pretty accepting and doesn't have strong opinions on what you do otherwise. I just wish more humans could be like that. And, if nothing else, I wish we could agree on what being terrible means.