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Queen's Knight to Who-Gives-A-Shit 9

I have come to a realization. I don't like Chess.

I was going to right "hate" there, but that would be overstating it.

Chess and I go way back. I remember playing it in third grade with Jason my friend who doesn't have a blog, sometimes we'd stay in from recess to finish a game. We even played it at Festival of Nations where I ended up tying a game to one of those Ukrainian guys who plays like a million games at a time.

At the time I think I played it for the same reason a 5th grader insists on sipping coffee, or a 7th grader tries to smoke, to clumsily show off to everyone how grown up I was.

In 5th grade I carried around a hand held chess set and played it quite a bit. I organized a chess tournament and would play against teachers. In 6th grade I went to chess day camp where I was pretty much humiliated over and over again.

Seriously, I wept openly after one particular game.



For as long as I've had this blog a common question I often raise seems to be why we live in such a divided world.

It isn't just political lines, I see it developing along essentially every line: religion, child rearing, what game console you prefer, what type of character you prefer to play in a particular game.

As a lad I witnessed honest discussions on many of these topics, which these days would end in shouting or stiff silence.

Last night while reading "Influence: the psychology of persuasion" (Thanks GS!), I think I finally found a hypothesis to explain why.

Our minds value consistency, and in fact often strive to create it. On the surface this sounds like a useful, laudable mental goal.

The problem is, is that this "consistency enforcement", doesn't simply function on the cognitive level, and can influence us in ways we don't expect.


Monetary Interest

The first thing I was told when I got my first salaried job out of college was that I should sign up for the company's 401k plan, since they did up to a 5% match, that it was essentially like giving yourself a raise.

So I did that, and I pretty much continued doing that for the past 12 years.

Mostly my 401k allocation languished in whatever I stuck it in, like a forgotten gerbil that begins gnawing on its urine soaked wood chips for sustenance, and whose dried up husk is discovered by surprise under a forgotten stack of newspapers.

That is until recently when I took the advice of my in-laws and started using their financial planner.

One thing I dislike about fiddling with investments is that it seems to have no honor to it. Every time I've brought up the idea of investing in sustainable, green or socially responsible things I am met with the same guarded pause that I imagine I would give to someone if they asked me for a "female computer". Apparently such requests are equal parts naive, ridiculous and impossible.

I feel like if UFC used the same social norms as investing it would be a show about guys who deliver suprise kicks to their opponent's heads while they are picking out cereal with their family at the grocery store.

In any case, my money has someone to hang out with now, and it still feels strange, like my 12 years of play money has taken on a life of its own.

I'm the type of person who doesn't shop at Walmart and is quietly smug about this. My investment portfolio on the other hand invests heavily in the real estate trust that rents strip mall space to big box stores such as Walmart.

Why does it do that? Because 7% is better than 5%.

I follow the statements like a parent watches his college freshman's facebook page, with equal parts confusion and dismay.

If I'm reading the statements correctly this month, I believe I am strongly leveraged towards shorting the S&P 500. Which bothers me, since to me it seems a fundamentally dishonest act and also an unfair advantage since it is essentially never an option for the standard retirement investor..

In my mind I imagine a big circle where sometimes it rains money, and everyone clambers into the circle for the free money, but then big alarm bells go off that only some people can hear, and all the people who are in the know can leave the circle and start taking side bets on how many people are going to be knifed to death. Even worse, it is essentially impossible for the people with standard 401ks to ever truly leave the circle. The best they can do for themselves is find the least "knifey" spot.

In the end, I think the least appealing thing about investment planning for me are that it seems laughable to attempt to predict what is going to be useful when I am 60. What will the world be like? How much will cybernetic fingers cost? Will the underwater dome city I live in have an ATM that deposits nanocrystals in USD?

But it is good someone else is doing it. The calculus of my mind so often equates planning for the future with post-apocolyptic hellscapes, that were I still the steward of that money I probably would have squandered it on a rental space full of 10 yr old MRE rations, water jugs and AK-47s.

Although it seems very depressing to me that the most optimistic expression of my hope for the future still resides on betting on the reliable permanence of large corporations.

I have been hard on corporations through out the years, so let me officially take the time to state that they are definitely a preferable and more likely distopian future than a nuclear scarred zombie infested hell-scape.

With the exception that Christmas shopping is a far simpler affair in the latter scenario: "Water purification tablets! I love them! Thank you so much! I will totally use these."

Spawn Pawn

owlbear family

So there are sort of two parts to parenting.

The first is just the day to day tactical stuff of getting through the day without your kid dying and as a secondary goal, containing their bodily fluids from getting everywhere.

With the first kid we spent most of our time running around like Lucy in the chocolate factory just struggling to accomplish those two goals.

With the second kid who seems "easier" either due to our experience or her temperment, I find that I have time to contemplate the higher responsibilities of being a parent.

Whether I like it or not one of my tasks above and beyond keeping a life alive is being an active part of shaping a future person.

As is common I find this day to day thing that most other parents likely never fuss over a paralyzing computational and existential question.

Foremost, the idea of trying to actively steer a sentient being towards a certain outcome seems like the definition of a NP-complete (a.k.a. impossible to solve) complexity problem. Secondarily there seems the fundamental idea of "Do I want to make my kid come out like me?", that requires an uncomfortable amount of self-examination. Even if I had the self-esteem to say "You know I'm pretty OK", from there seems a vast leap from there to crowing "I am awesome enough that there should be another one of me!"

Of course, some might argue that I already made that decision when I made two things comprised of half my DNA, and there seems little point chickening out now.

Still, there is the fundamental question of "Do I steer my child toward what I know, or toward what looked better?" At least with my life I know the basics that I didn't end up curled in an alley with track marks on my eyelids.

To complicate matters, I've been reading suggested passages from the book "Outliers", which presents research that the key to being extraordinary involves putting 10k hours of work into something before the age of 20.

I've often wondered what would happened if I had choosen the path of more resistance, rather than mathematically deriving how much I could slack off and still receive a degree. If I had actually worked to get good grades to get into MIT and study cutting edge technology.

I have expressed strong opinions about parents working out there fantasies through their children. So I feel some pretty strong cognitive dissonance even contemplating it, but once I did I could clearly see the path before me if I wanted to take it.

Kelvin loves robots. It would be a simple matter to take the measure of his interest, start off building some lower level kid's kits. One weekend a month showing him how it works, having him help put it together. If there was any spark of interest it would seem easy enough to build a bed of dry tinder for it to flourish in.

He'd love it (it would likely putter out and fail if he didn't).

But I can't help keeping a worrisome eye on the destination. There is pretty much a 100% liklihood of my son needing strong glasses. Do I also want to make him the kid who programs robots by himself at age 10?

There is little value for such competence at that level. I might as well teach him to pound nails into his soft pallet, in fact in middle school that talent would probably serve him better.

I envision the law of unintended consequences hanging above me like the sword of some dead greek guy. It almost seems easier to just punt, take it day by day and to not have a grand plan. Just avoid trying to "tiger mom" my child into something hyper-competent and consign all predistnation into the line "as long as you're happy".

Especially since once he's a teenage I can virtually guarantee he will begin to actively reject anything and everything. What plans could possibly survive that sort of willful riot?

In the end it is difficult, if not impossible to subjectively sort out my own motivations. How can I tell the difference between an attempt to be a good parent and ego-based self-indulgence? The best I can come up with is that if it my plans ever verge into the creation of a matching mecha suits and the layout of nearby banks that perhaps it might be the latter.