On Being Human

Angy-Birds-fo-PCTalked to an old friend yesterday. We hadn’t spoken for almost 2 yrs. No particular reason. Life took over and we lost touch. The last time we spoke he told me his 45 year old wife had quit her job as a restaurant manager and was very happy to be home, fixing up their house, shopping, cooking, doing things she never had time to do when working. Two years later, she is still at home. The house is now fixed up. There are no children, and she has no other responsibilities. When I asked my friend what his wife does with her days, he told me she enjoys working out, watching TV, and she plays a lot of Angry Birds.

My mother-in-law lost her husband of 53 yrs a couple years back, a year after they closed the small business they had together for almost as long. With no business to maintain, no kids to care for, and only sparse time with grown grandchildren, I assumed she’d would find her niche in volunteering, perhaps invest time into her community, teach literacy at her local library or maybe the hospice her husband spent most of his last days in. I don’t like sick people, she told me upon inquiry. And she has no interest in teaching, anyone, anything, she insisted, clearly annoyed at my suggestions. I’ve worked my whole life. It’s my turn to do what I want. What does she do all day? At 78, and in perfect health, she plays Solitaire, or goes to plays and movies with friends and family, when they’re available, which isn’t often. Most retired folks she knows are helping their kids with the grandkids, or volunteering.

On the phone with my old friend, I intimated his wife was wasting her life. A talented professional, she has too much to give to waste time with Angry Birds, I insisted. But my friend disagreed. She enjoys her days now, no longer under constant pressure to preform, he informed me. She’s allowed to relax, after working most of her life. She’s 45 yrs old, I countered. And has been relaxing for almost 4 yrs now. So? He was perturbed by my observation. They don’t need her income. He makes enough to support them both, so no harm, right?

Wrong.

We are ALL born owing humanity for the life we have. Without those who worked hard before us, there would be no humanity at all. My mother-in-law, my friend’s wife, you or I wouldn’t exist without the hard work of those before us. From our laws to the lightbulb, we stand on the shoulders of those who contributed to the human race that provide us with the life we now enjoy.

Our system that seemingly runs itself–doesn’t. We actually have to work at making it work. And playing Solitaire or Angry Birds all day, most every day, does nothing for our society. It’s selfish and lazy. Everyday we are alive we owe each other and those who will follow us. We are ALL responsible to make the world better. Whether fighting for a worthy cause we believe in, or inventing technology to make our lives more productive, or managing a restaurant or small business, we must continually contribute to humanity for our race to survive.

Life did not begin, nor does it end with my friend’s wife, or my mother-in-law, or the tens of thousands out there wasting enormous amounts of every day of their lives playing with themselves. Lazy behavior must be compensated for by those who see beyond their own narcissistic desires, putting the burden of humanities survival on the few, instead of us ALL, which is where it must be for our race to thrive.

The 5% Factor in Finance  

I had a conversation with my former financial advisor when the markets were crashing back in ‘08. I asked him to give me an estimate, his best, ostensibly educated guess when the market might turn around or at least stabilize. He assured me it would be soon. The credit default scandal had already been exposed. Real estate foreclosures had been assessed and the projected losses factored in to financial projections. The fact is, he offered with conviction, in any industry one had to account for a certain amount of corruption. Maybe 5% of the people in any given field were evil. The evil had now been weeded out and the markets would bounce back to its mean of 8 to 10% growth or better annually very soon.

Turns out, evil abounds in the financial industry. From Bernie Madoff to AIG to JP Morgan Chase and their corporate cronies with 7, 8 figure bonuses; to banks and mortgage brokers hording stimulus funds, my advisor had to be grossly low on his 5% estimate of evil in finance.

According to forensic psychologist and author Robert Hare, it is possible, even likely, that the percentage of evil is greater in the financial industry than most any other field. Money attracts greedy people. Those who choose a career pursuing money, instead of building, inventing, engineering, teaching, are generally looking for what they can get from society instead of what they can give to it. In Snakes in Suits, Mr. Hare claims at least 10% of all those in finance are psychopaths.

The 5% (or more) who callously exploit the rest of us is what makes the free-market system they purport a myth. That 5% evil controls 95% of the financial markets of the world. The enormous scale of capital they play with has proven to collapse economies, robbing millions of their life savings, their jobs, their homes.

Most of us put our earnings in the bank or the market and hope our savings will go up. We depend on those in charge of most everyone’s money to know what they’re doing and manage the money we entrust to them wisely. Most of us don’t have the time or inclination for in-depth study and monitoring of the markets. Even if we did, it is rarely possible to get an intimate and transparent view inside most corporations. We rely on our government to monitor the SEC and avoid financial catastrophes. The Bush administration is an example of what happens when they don’t.

A ‘free-market’ system strives to maintain very few restrictions, touting supply and demand will regulate economics. And though this is a lovely idea, like communism, it doesn’t work in the real world. The economy collapses when demand is only from the [wealthy] 1% of the population that can afford anything. Public companies with no limits on growth, minimal regulations, limited liability and lack of transparency virtually inviteexploitation by the small, but none the less formidable percentage of evil. Our ‘free-market’ invariably becomes controlled by a small minority who represent only their own interests. This corrupts the entire society by shifting the balance of power to a handful of narcissists, if not out and out psychopaths, as Robert Hare claims.

Republicans and conservatives threaten socialism if the government regulates the markets beyond ‘protection of property and against force or fraud.’ But everyone pays the price for the 5% that continually redefine the term ‘fraud.’ The 5% evil at AIG, and more recently JP Morgan Chase that took ridiculous risks for excessive short term yields to line their pockets continue to send shock waves throughout our financial industry and beyond. And the fact is, it IS socialism when taxpayers are forced to bail out banks and brokers who were, and are still indifferent to the suffering they cause—the very definition of ‘Psychopath.’

We will never be able to ‘weed out’ evil from humanity. A certain percentage of our population will always be narcissists, care exclusively about their own welfare over the society in which they live. Regulations on our financial industry must be imposed and upheld to keep evil in-check, and limit the damage the 5% factor will surely cause again and again. We are more than willing to put sanctions on countries that support terrorism. If we are truly ‘by the people, of the people and for the people‘ of this nation, we must sanction the evil in our system as well.

About Face

I got her at the pound on my 26th birthday, a Shepherd-mix with a perfect black diamond dead in the center of her tan forehead. She was just seven weeks, not yet ready for adoption. I lied to get her out. They found her in the San Fernando hills and thought she was feral, but I told them she was mine and I’d lost her on a hike up near Mr. Wilson.

I named her Killer Dog Face. Killer as in cool. Dog because she was one. And Face after a term of endearment my mother used to call me. I figured she deserved three names, like most everyone else had, but I called her by her last name almost all the time.

My beautiful Face.

The only time I ever saw her be aggressive was the day I took her home from the pound. She was in a dirty concrete cage with a Golden puppy. I was thinking I wanted a Retriever this time. We’d had Shepherds growing up and I was hoping for a water dog. But Face wouldn’t let me touch that Golden. She practically bit its head off every time it tried to touch it through the gate.

She never grew into her paws and her ears. They remained exaggerated against her trim, medium frame and for almost ten years everyone thought she was a puppy. She acted like one too. She could pace me on my bike at 25 miles an hour. She could clear a five-foot wall or a six-foot wide river in one fluid motion. She accompanied me everywhere and she genuinely liked pretty much everybody. She learned to respond to my commands quickly, which were few and for her safety. I gave her the space she needed to play and the attention she required for her security. She helped me feel wanted, appreciated, safer, and not so alone. Forever forward, our relationship will remain one of the most stable, even exchanges of love and respect I will ever know.

I found out about the slip disks in her spine a few months after her 10th birthday. We had gone hiking up in the coastal mountains of Marin and she took off after something pacing us along a grove of redwoods. When I called for her she was way down in a gulch and I could tell she was struggling to make it back up the hill to me. The vet said she probably messed up her back jumping and that even though it was treatable with vitamin supplements, eventually she would get arthritis from the bad disks pinching her nerves. And though it took another five years, the vet turned out to be right.

I never expected to be faced with having to put her down. I assumed she’d go off a cliff chasing a squirrel, or miss when jumping over a river and I wouldn’t be around to save her. Everyone kept telling me it was time. At 15 she had hip problems, and walking problems, and was becoming incontinent. I felt sad for her a lot, watching her struggle to get up, and then fall within a few steps. And then I had my son. And Face wasn’t the baby anymore. And she was sad a lot too. Her health problems went from bad to worst, and picking up her poop all over the house where an infant crawled was more than just disgusting. It was a health hazard.

I’ve always thought that if I ever got cancer or some terminal disease I would choose to terminate my life before I was unable to do so. I didn’t want to be a burden, a useless piece of flesh wasting away, loved ones killing time at my bedside bemoaning my loss before I was gone as they watched me whither. Before I lost all my faculties I’d go in the garage and turn on the car, or find the right drugs to take me over the edge. It never dawned on me to think differently until I was faced with the responsibility of having to make that choice for a loved one.

Maybe life—living—was about existing to the bitter end and experiencing every moment we have.

I sat on the floor next to my dog wishing she could tell me what to do. She put her head in my lap then rolled onto her side for me to scratch her belly. Her pained expression turned to bliss as I gently stroked her, recalling some of our time together. Yellowstone; Breckenridge; Yosemite; the Grand Canyon; watching her tear after birds on the countless shorelines we’d strolled. We’d shared some grand adventures, but mostly quiet exchanges of affection, like the one we were sharing right then. Perhaps these moments—the times I stroked her during the day, or rubbed her belly late at night made living in pain worth it. Who was I to facilitate her death? I was suddenly torn by the choice to be made.

I had her put down a few months after her 16th birthday. She couldn’t walk. Her hind legs kept giving out. She was hardly eating, or even drinking much anymore. Treats she puked up or pooped out multiple times daily, messing her new confined space by the tiled entry. I made the call on a Saturday morning. A certified veterinarian came to my house with a truck, complete with metal table and loaded with medical equipment. After carrying her to the truck and placing her on the table, I held her head in my hands while the vet administered a tranquilizer.

“Thank you for sharing your life with me, for being my friend.” I whispered to her as the doctor removed the needle from her hind quarters. “I love you. I’ll think of you often. I’ll miss you terribly, my beauty. Goodbye, sweet Face.”

She lay on the cold metal table and stared at me until her eyes closed. I stroked her head one last time, lay my hand on the black fur diamond marking on her head and kissed her right between the eyes. I stood there crying as the doctor softly informed me that he would be taking her to his office where he would administer the fatal cocktail that would kill her. He assured me she would drift into blackness forever without waking. I didn’t ask what they’d do with her body. I didn’t want to know.

As I left the truck the doctor assured me I’d made the right decision, the ‘humane’ choice. I stood at the curb until the truck pulled away, held my arms clasps on top of my head to hold in my brain, hold my emotions in. My quiet street was deserted again and I looked around for the dog to come inside with me when it hit me Killer Dog Face was gone. My arms came down and with it any facade of composer. I sank to the sidewalk sobbing with the acute pain of loss.

Everyone told me I did the right thing, the “compassionate” thing. But I wonder. A part of me feels like I did the convenient thing, robbing Face of her moments.