Monday, June 25, 2012

A new favorite - Emerson

Attentive readers will notice the presence of a new favorites tab. I've begun collecting all the links that I find myself regularly recommending over the years in one permanent page.

The most recent addition is Ralph Waldo Emerson's commencement address to Divinity College, Cambridge. The text at the link is somewhat poorly formatted and is out of copyright, so I'll paste the full text of the address at the end of this blog post.

Emerson's heretical mixture of Christianity and Transcendentalism caused a controversy at the time. In my opinion, it captures the aesthetic beauty of Christianity better than a more traditional treatment: the quasi-pantheistic idea that a virtuous person is not limited to acting good or creating beauty, but may embody and incarnate goodness and beauty in himself.

Who was Jesus in Emerson's theology? Jesus was the first man to realize the greatness of a human being. He said "I am God, and to the extent that you think like me, you are God too". To Emerson, moral intuition perceived through direct transcendental experience is the most important aspect of religion. Jesus pointed man to the possibility of accessing this manifestation of God inside ourself. Historical Christianity lost sight of Christ's message when it began to venerate the person of Christ instead.

True religion is characterized by the presence of holy persons. These are persons with a deep and easy connection with moral intuition. They are immune to fame, custom, authority, pleasure, or money. They nourish and encourage the latent moral instinct in others. Emerson says of them, "We mark with light in the memory the few interviews we have had, in the dreary years of routine and of sin, with souls that made our souls wiser; that spoke what we thought; that told us what we knew; that gave us leave to be what we inly were.". They shine in times of crisis.

Today's holy person's aren't inferior to holy persons of the past. Revelation wasn't finished in Biblical time. Emerson calls on people to adopt the mantle of prophet and preach again from direct inspiration and moral intuition.

My favorite vision of morality is present in this address - I call it "moral physics". Morality isn't a resume of good and bad deeds that you give to God when you die. Rather, good actions instantly make your soul more godly, more pure - like you were meant to be. Bad actions make a soul weaker, more corrupted, smaller. Thus, a soul by affinity is attracted by its nature to heaven or hell. God isn't a "judge" of people in the human sense that he could go either way. Rather, God is the incarnation of good, the Platonic ideal. Good things are drawn to him by their very nature, and evil is repelled. When God judges a person to be good or bad it is a statement of fact, like the PH value of a liquid.

Also, God doesn't judge a soul as is, but he judges it by its rate of change. This is because he has an eternal time frame in mind, the mathematical limit as time approaches infinity. Over the course of eternity, all improving souls will become perfectly good and godlike, and all falling souls will be perfectly fallen. Thus, a smallest desire for good in the heart of a man that we would call evil can redeem him. And a small bit of resentment, anger, or hate can drag a  good man downward.

Anyways, here's the full essay:

Thursday, June 21, 2012


This stony head and stony limbs
now disconnect from flowing blood
and fall as stony anchorpoints
around a once ambitious heart

Friday, June 15, 2012


I get nervous or scared if I focus too much on the outcome of an upcoming event. Hope for a good outcome causes nervousness, and dread of a bad ending causes fear. In turn, these feelings hurt my performance under pressure and make bad outcomes more likely.

I find the best way for me to approach important events is to pay attention to how I conduct myself rather than the outcome. I can't control all the variables of fate, but I can control my actions. Focusing on what I can control gives me peace, confidence, and strength. And regardless of results, I can be proud if I conduct myself well.

So I make note of qualities I admire in people and I try to embody those features myself: Be polite but firm. Stand up for your interests. Speak slowly and look people in the eye. Never reach the end of a hard workout and regret that you could have gone harder. It's okay if your body gives out, but your will should not. Be forthright. Address the elephant in the room. Start conversations with interesting strangers - don't pass by opportunity for lack of guts. If you make eye contact with someone, smile and say "hi". Ask for what you want. Accept failure graciously knowing that experience leads to excellence. Take pride in your work. Tell the people you admire how you feel. Be slow to judge people, but act on your judgements.  Don't hide your beliefs - be an ambassador of undervalued wisdom. Look for opportunities to do something good for others. Be truthful, even and especially when it hurts. Keep an optimistic attitude. Feel painful or joyful emotions deeply, but don't linger over them for too long. When it's time for fun, have fun! And when it is time for work, do work.

I am a very flawed individual and often fail to embody these traits. For example, I severely lack boldness. But keeping them in mind gives me something to strive for.

In poker, the right question to judge your performance is not "did I win?" but "did I make the right calls?". There is too much chance in the game for even the best player to win every time. But if you play well, you will end up ahead in the long run. Life is the same way.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Charity: the forgotten virtue

One of the most attractive features of the Christian religion is the practice of Charity. In church, Christians are regularly encouraged to give of their time and resources for the benefit of the poor, sick, elderly, and destitute. They are not required to tithe, but many do anyway. Christian charity is a force for good in the world.

I believe that every person, Christian and non-Christian, can benefit by practicing charity. The paradox of charity is that it leaves you better off, even though it costs you.

One way charity benefits you is by improving your relationship with money. As a founder of a technology startup, my money is a subject that often stresses me out. But giving to charity helps me be grateful for the material blessings I have, instead of worrying about the things I do not have. Interacting with the truly poor gives makes me appreciate the abundance of resources at my disposal.

Recently, I've adopted the practice of giving a small portion of money away whenever I get some. I used Give Well to help me find an effective charity with a cause that touches my heart. Last month I gave about 3% of my income to a charity that provides necessities to Indian street children, and I plan to do so again. 

The desire to help people is common in Silicon Valley. But many people plan to start someday after they get rich, like Bill Gates did. Too often, that someday never comes. If you desire your life to be a force for good in the world, as I do, then why not start now? Why wait for an uncertain future? You may spend all your life consuming and hoarding for your own benefit and get hit by a bus before you can do any good for others. 

Also, by waiting to help others, you miss out on all the benefits that giving does for your peace of mind today. Contributing to charity will make you a happier, more peaceful person. And you can rest easy at night knowing that regardless of what happens, your life has already made a positive impact on the world. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Red vs. Blue

The conflict between Left and Right in American politics isn't a battle of ideas. It's a clash of cultures. That's why the vast majority of American voters vote for the same party year after year and a tiny minority of swing voters decide every election.

The difference in the cultural landscape between factions is stark. We have a telling illustration in an exchange between a divorced Huffington Post writer arguing that marriage should be illegal for people under the age of 25 and a Fox News editorial laughing her out of the house.

In left-wing, cosmopolitan America, a person's early 20s are a time of "finding yourself", of getting drunk and friendly with members of the opposite sex, and of discovering your values by trial and error. Culture is created by and for the young. Trust in the capability of government regulation to improve the world is high.

In right-wing, pastoral America, a young person is expected to adopt the shared values of the community from the older generation, and their reputation in the community depends on it. People get married young and have children. The thing they most value from the government is freedom to live in the way that they believe in.

Of course, these descriptions fit the educated elite of left and right in America. The socioeconomic underclass is far less functional in both cultures.

How are people from such different backgrounds going to agree on how to run the country? They can't. That's why the principle of subsidiarity is enshrined in the US Constitutional through a federalist structure. It's the only way for a country of diverse cultures to get along. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Changing the world"

In Silicon Valley, you'll often hear someone voice the desire to "change the world". But what does that mean? If a person doesn't have some specific change in mind, together with careful thought on the effects of that change, then they are really just voicing a desire for notoriety. "I want to be famous" sounds a lot less noble than "I want to change the world", so they say the thing that sounds noble.

Making an impact on society is not virtuous in itself. An asteroid made an impact on the dinosaurs. Identifying the good takes hard work.

That's why so many "world-changers" found companies that make trivial apps. They don't actually want to work hard for a good cause. They want the easiest route to the fame that comes with making a quick buck. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012


I announced today that I am leaving Game Closure, the company I founded together with Martin Hunt, Michael Carter, and Tom Fairfield in late 2010. I'm proud of how far we've come. No company has built a team with greater technical talent, drive, or ingenuity than Game Closure. Along the way, I have been inspired and blessed by the friends that I have gained.

But Game Closure needs a team of passionate and dedicated people to meet its goals and right now that ain't me. I'm burned out, largely because of personal reasons. My passion is gone, and it's become harder and harder for me to push on with the kind of dedication that Game Closure needs. That's not fair to all the people who work so hard everyday to make Game Closure a success. It's sad for me to go, but it's clear that is the best decision for all of us. 

It's never a convenient time for a founder to leave a company, but I am confident that I am leaving Game Closure in a strong position. I am deeply grateful for all the friends that I made and all that I've learned in my time at Game Closure. 

What's next for me? My first step is to take some needed time off, but I assure you that the world has not seen the last of me. I would account my life a waste if I didn't spend it in service to some higher purpose. There is still a lot of work for me to do.