My Perspective on the State of our Union
The son of a history professor and a documentarian who studied folklore in college, I’ve always been enamored by tales of the past. Charismatic leaders, revolutionaries, and innovators have been my greatest inspirations. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Benjamin Franklin were these incendiary, intellectual lightning rods who manifested extraordinary change for humanity because they dared to act. After reading the Classics and a broad array of philosophers and thinkers in college, I concluded that selfless public service and leadership is the most admirable life path.
In college, first at Bard (with a brief visiting stint at West Point) and then at the University of Michigan, I developed a multidisciplinary major in “Political Strategy.” It was inspired by Sun Tzu’s Art of War and by my desire to study what led to greatness. I developed the major as an amalgamation of microeconomics (mostly game theory), social psychology, military science, and political studies.
Yet, as I solidified my understanding of what greatness truly is, I pursued a different life trajectory. After a decade of adolescent torment, anger, and depression, and through my disheartening experiences with activism at Occupy Wall St., working in Massachusetts state politics and government bureaucracy, at the start of my twenties, I decided that I would strive for a happy, fulfilled life, rather than one that was “great” or, as I like to say, truly “glorious.”
In my pursuit of a life of fulfillment, I dropped out of school, ending my decade-long battle with academia, and became an entrepreneur. I made the right bets, worked with the right people, and have closed out the final chapter of my “youth” in the most extraordinary manner, having traveled the world, accumulated considerable wealth, and having had mind-boggling experiences that would blow my childhood and adolescent fantasies out of the water.
To say the least, I am fulfilled today. If I died tomorrow, I would die happy and without regret. I defied expectations and achieved my goal of living a life of personal happiness. But the question is: at what cost?
When I worked in politics and protested the banks, I saw institutions that were so deeply flawed and broken that the effort needed to fix them did not seem worth it. My ventures into Bitcoin and blockchain technology were attempts to transcend and overcome those broad, systemic failures. Frankly, I believe they do to some extent. But as an American, who deeply loves his country despite its many flaws, I realize that some problems can’t be fixed by technology — they are solved when individuals dedicate themselves to public service and the greater good.
The profundity of the institutional rot in our government is hard to understate. Our laws, our systems of governance, and means of maintaining societal structure simply have not kept pace with the changes in our society, population growth, and the exponential impact of technology. From tax collection to social services, our society is hobbled by run-down government bureaucracies that, due to mismanagement and decades of special interests meddling in legislation, are fueled by perverse incentives that detriment the functioning of our institutions. We live in a dystopian utopia, a nation that is both more affluent and powerful than any that have preceded it, capable of shaping humanity’s path at its will, yet so structurally flawed that it appears ready to implode at any moment.
Perhaps the most impactful idea I have ever come across was presented in Plato’s Republic. He warns that, in a democracy, the price good men pay for refusing to serve in public office is having bad men do so in their place. The past four years of Donald Trump’s presidency have seared that painful lesson into my mind. Unfortunately, Trump is not just an anomalous virus that can be squashed. He is a symptom of a much more malignant, fracturing society. We live in a post-truth world, where anyone can live in their own reality — an inevitable consequence (in hindsight) of the information superhighway that is the internet.
We used to live in an analog world, where we typically got the same information from the same scriptures, newspapers, and television anchors.`It was far from a perfect system, but it allowed for shared cultural values and norms, typically for the better (but, obviously, sometimes for the worst.) In the digital age, all expectations of shared truths must be thrown out the window. Some of the most brilliant, wonderful, and otherwise rational people I know have been consumed in the depths of conspiracy rabbit holes. The isolation of the pandemic has only exacerbated this. On an interpersonal, local, national, and most importantly, global scale, I believe humanity will regress more than it is going prosper in the foreseeable future. We have evolved societally far more rapidly than we have biologically, and it’s going to take a good while for us to collectively reconcile this disparity. (I believe Elon Musk and the folks at companies like Neuralink would suggest that such reconciliation will require artificial intelligence, which I find difficult to refute.)
Nevertheless, despite all I have written, I am optimistic about humanity. Perhaps it’s because I know I cannot stand to live in a world of abundance and beauty when I know that so many of us struggle and seethe with anger and contempt. Less out of youthful naïveté, and more out of existential dread for the earth and humankind, do I know that I have to commit myself to the greater good. Surrounded by and connected with so many brilliant young people, I know they feel the same. We recognize the failure of our parents’ generation’s stale (if not forgotten) idealism and know that we have to manifest a better future.
If my life has proven to me anything, it’s that long periods of despair can be followed by unimaginable joy and prosperity. It just takes the right mindset.