Evaporating Milk

They say that in order to truly understand ourselves, we have to look to our past. However, for some who are ambitious and driven, we only look forward, ready to fight for the next day. However, when the forces in front throw smoke grenades of uncertainty that cloud our view, we are fully blinded because we have forgotten how to turn our head to see the clarity behind us. We are lost, unable to orient ourselves, unable to retreat, and stopped in our tracks. Perhaps our only option is to curl into a fetal ball, a juxtaposition from the confident command we once had.

I started working in investment operations running alongside the bulls. On lunch breaks, I’d root on traders as they yelled “make me a deal for three quarters of a billion” to their broker. For my job, I didn’t worry if a number was off by a few million – I just needed to make sure our billions had the decimal in the right place. When I wasn’t waving a red cloth in front of the bull, I caught a ride on the back of one – it was less work than actually using my own two feet.

But you can’t ride a bear. The bulls turned into bears, throwing me off their back, ignoring bluffs and red cloths. I didn’t know how to fight, so I ran. However, bears run up to 30mph. I could only hobble, with my legs unaccustomed to walking on their own. I tried to liquidate, but what was once solid had already sublimated into thin air. They say that when we are attacked by a grizzly, we’re supposed to make ourselves as small as possible and play dead. And as I fetally curled up, I was trampled by the bears.

What is China Doing?

They are still trying to grow their strength and their reputation. 20 years ago, their greatest concern was how they were compared to the rest of the world. today, their greatest concern is how they seem compared to the rest of the world.

When we portray China as merely being concerned with domestic affairs, citing thousands of years of Chinese history being inward looking, we forget about the concept of “face.”

Face is a concept that encaptures pride and shame – how others see China.

Prior to the 1800s, this wasn’t much of a concern – the number of foreigners who visited China every year could be counted on fingers and toes – and the same applied to Chinese who visited other countries.

Yet with the rise of information technology, China is more interconnected with the rest of the globe. Alongside this connection is an acute awareness of other nations, and furthermore pertaining to the concept of face, an acute awareness of how other nations perceive China.

This rise in information interconnectivity has taken the concept of “face” from a personal to a geopolitical level. People start tying their national identity to their own pride and shame, and when that national identity becomes attacked, the hurt becomes very personal.

Making a Pivot

When I’m lost in the day-ins and day-outs of life, sometimes something interjects and pauses the cycle for me to think. It was one of these moments that made me stop as I was rushing to a tour of the New York Performing Arts Library. I was desperately late because the subway train ahead of me broke down. And compounding that, I had gotten off at the wrong stop. But not wanting to be trapped again underground, I ventured onto the street, preferring a 20 minute walk over an unpredictable length of claustrophobia. Walking down the streets, I had my headphones in, blocking out the cacophony of city sounds, and my head down, staring at the route on Google Maps. But out of the corner of my eye, something caught my attention, and I looked up. It was a funny sight. A little girl was standing on the street corner looking into a ballet dance studio, with her dad by her side. As her dad tried pulling her away, she stood her ground, her gaze remained transfixed on the dancers. The wall of windows revealed their gracefully synchronized motions, a sharp contrast to the pushing and pulling happening outside. But even as the sounds of the dad’s shouts pierced the air, she kept staring past the panes, fully immersed in the world of the dancers.

I had to fall back into the cycle, rushing onto the library visit. But looking back, I wonder what separated me from that little girl in front of The Ailey Studios. I wasn’t pausing for the dancers, and neither were any of the other commuters. So what was it, I wondered, other than a sense of social cues that it might be weird to ogle at a bunch of ballet dancers practicing, that trapped the little girl in her state of enchantment. She seemed almost lost, not geographically or intellectually, but emotionally lost to the moment. Rather than approach ballet through the aloof eyes of a college-educated man, what if I just stopped for a second and looked at ballet through the eyes of that little girl.

One word to describe me

Flag

A harbinger of hope – the image of the flag standing on Okinawa symboled a coming victory amidst the destructive war.

A rallying cry for others – they say that we are weak by ourselves, but a flag can turn one image, one person, into an unstoppable force for change.

A steady rock among the storm – when the winds blow strong, I stand stronger.

Hope’s Down Guns Out

No country is optimistic about its growth prospects anymore. China is becoming increasingly nationalistic, a distraction for the masses from its slowing GDP growth. France, the UK, and Germany are becoming increasingly xenophobic, blaming ills on the newcomers instead of the stagnant establishment. And the United State is becoming increasingly isolationist, with leaders promoting the erection of both physical walls and social ones for electoral victory.

The maintenance of peace is through optimism – when everyone can work together for a brighter future, the focus is on a collective mission rather than individual differences. The world order of 1980s through the early 2000’s represented this dynamic. Even the evil communists were welcomed into this vision for the 21st century – 1978 marked the start of China’s marketization under Deng Xiaoping and 1991 marked the end of the Soviet Union through Gorbachev.

There seemed to be a new era ahead – one that could be used to pursue human rights, freedom, and democracy. These are great pursuits, and many may take these as the mission in their life. But the end goal of much of humanity is ultimately prosperity – monetarily, intellectually, or spiritually. But when such good liberal values lead no more to prosperity, people search for an alternative. (see the UK’s revised economic outlook, the NYT’s account of the loss in intellectual freedoms, the Christianity Today’s blistering report on moral decay) This loss of prosperity (and further, hope for prosperity) has led to the belief that a radical, even anarchical, overthrow of the current institutions may lead to a better outcome for their lives.

Yet such beliefs divide nations and peoples. But most of the developed world’s political institutions guarantee a singular entity to govern and lead the country. Ultimately, it is in the leader’s interest to unite rather than divide the constituency they represent. In order for leaders to unite a divided nation, they must search for a common pursuit. In the era of growth and prosperity, this common pursuit are social and economic values. But when people lose faith in the very values that brought them the prosperity in the first place, leaders must find something else to unite a divided people. This makes a common enemy the most appealing alternative.

When people focus on the enemy rather than their own internal growth, true growth continues to be stifled. This leads to increased resentment of their own condition, and creates further animosity towards the enemy. The momentum that this cycle builds up amounts to a freight train that barrels towards war. Unless a superman-esque person or innovation manages to stop the imminent collision, war is inevitable. But war does not mean all is lost.

War is like a forest fire – it burns down the tall trees that impede growth and allow the undergrowth to flourish. The bureaucracy, regulations, and legalities that had formed structure and protective covering also impede new innovations to take root. If it takes either three months of regulatory paperwork or a number of bribes to get things done, burning it all down and starting afresh may be the necessary action .Otherwise, regulations only continue to accumulate, and barriers to entry only increase.

War burns down frameworks that debilitate rather than aid growth. Fresh industries are able to develop when such a when a country is united on a common enemy, and there is little room for bureaucratic plodding. In the midst of war, it may seem like hopeless loss, but when the ashes settle and dust clears, I may finally see the sun shining on me without the stifling canopies.

I am not for a forest fire that obliterates everything in its path. But many institutions and people are riled up beyond the capacity for controlled tree trimming. If I understand that such a fire would pave the way for a brighter future, I may enter the inescapably bleak now with an attitude of hope and courage.

The Walls We Build

Fragile masculinity impedes us from forming deeper relationships and understanding each other on a deeper level. The walls of masculinity creates an artificial border between us and deeper feelings that we may not trespass into. When we don’t understand each other, rather than tearing down these walls, we build them up even stronger, to avoid the feelings that we know are waiting for us on the other side. Yet, these feelings will only continue to build, and when the pressure becomes too strong, it’ll eventually break through the wall.

We respond to this approaching disaster in two ways – one is evacuating from this relationship, running away from the pressure at the wall. We don’t wait for the flood, but we lose everything we built.

The second is staying. Too often, we stay, in a desperate attempt to make the relationship “work out.” We tell ourselves that we’ve already made a place for ourselves in this relationship. While we stay and wait, the pressure builds. When the feeling overwhelm the wall, a messy tidal wave of frustration breaks through.

The alternative is allow the feelings to be released as they come. To not fear the water, but embrace it. Build a ship and sail into it. Explore our deep insecurities and grievances. Build a lighthouse for a way back. Find similar passions to build the relationship on land.

The Kanye in Me

Kanye had conquered every single thing in this world – girls and sex, drugs and alcohol, fame and wealth. He took pursuing his passions to his heart, making a life out of rap. These passions are the exact things that society tells us will bring us endless joy and satisfy us.

Kanye married Kim Kardashian, the archetype sexual symbol in this modern day and age. He had conquered the Freudian mountain of the id. He topped the Billboard charts and won Grammys. Of all people, he had the greatest resumé to back his ego. He took a moral upper ground with the entire MAGA thing, and succeeded with Trump’s election win. He attained the superego. To Sigmund Freud, Kanye had all the pleasures of mankind. He stood on the peaks of the world. He had everything that was valued in the eyes of others, yet in his own, he had nothing.

Kanye is a perfect public figure for psychological observations. Most other people hide their internal struggles and changes under multiple layers of pride. But Kanye wears the emperor’s clothing into the limelight, baring it all and letting the light shine through to his core. His personality of extraness does little to hide these traits. We see the core shifts in his life beyond actions on the public stage in the lyrics of Kanye’s music.

In Hell of a Life Kanye writes “Make her knees shake, make a priest faint/ Make a nun come, make her cremate.” His disregard for sanctity and purity, shifts to a recognition that women are more than objects in Violent Crimes – ‘”Til niggas have daughters, now they precautious… ‘Cause now I see women as somethin’ to nurture.” He faces his past wrongs and realizes the saving grace of the Lord in Use This Gospel – “A lot of damaged souls, I done damaged those… Use this gospel for protection. It’s a hard road to Heaven.”

Kanye’s shifts reveal that the human heart is not stagnant. Hope is never lost, and can be re-discovered. Change doesn’t depend on age and life stage. Even for those that are not spiritually inclined, Kanye’s life offers a glimpse of the rewards of spiritual revival. For those that are, his new album offers a confounding moment of introspection.

My own introspection revealed that I haven’t surrendered fully to the Lord because I still hold onto the things of the world. I think that if I can have both what the world values and what the Lord values, I have more than if I just seek the treasures in the Lord. My heart still seeks out the treasures of the world – approval from others, satisfaction from girls, and success in a career. I pray to God that if He could, He would allow me to find the things that matter without suffering the loss of everything in the world. But if I’m praying this prayer, then I know that my heart is in the wrong place holding onto the worldly things.

The things of the world drown out the treasures that matter the most – the treasures in heaven.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

The Lone Star

On the morning of August 3rd, 2019 a man from Allen, Texas walked into a Walmart in El Paso with an AK47, spraying bullets along the grocery aisles and killing 20.

Twenty minutes before, he posted a manifesto online detailing the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Fearing that “the heavy Hispanic population in Texas will make us a Democrat stronghold,” he opened fire in an act of not just terrorism, but also of political racism.

While national media accused Trump of his racist rhetoric inciting the violence that caused the tragedy, Texan politicians forsake the politics in order to come together in offering support. Rather than turning a tragedy political, our governor used politics to offer support after the tragedy. Greg Abbott’s actions on the ground display exceptional unity in Texas as the city of El Paso is reeling from the shooting that occurred.

He didn’t merely provide financial support for reconciliation – promising an infusion of $5 million in state funds to help with the recovery process, but also provided emotional support that crossed party lines. Through meeting with El Paso’s all-democrat delegation to the state legislature, he demonstrated that support is not divided by a political aisle. Through calling out the shooter as “a white supremacist” he helped the focus remain united on the problem of “dealing with racism.”

The response to this tragedy demonstrates the political resilience of Texas against the recent tendencies towards political stratification. While race becomes increasingly political on the national level, Texas pushes back, recognizing that values are not determined by skin color. As the state railed against the attack that included taking the lives of 6 Mexican nationals, our politicians displayed a unity that symbolized the power that Texas is bigger because we’re unified together.

Perhaps this attitude is recognized as the only way for the Republicans to survive – on a national level the rhetoric has caused the historically conservative Hispanic population to shift left. However, the optimist in me recognizes that we is unique in recognizing that amidst the battle of social values and ideologies surrounding us, the humanity in Texans stands strong.

The increased secrecy and toxic nature of companies like Google will decrease its competitiveness. Internal fractions and a lack of a clear vision outside of profits leads to decreased innovation. However, perhaps this will inspire a new breed of open companies that has moral values rather than profits as the bottom line. Dot-Com 2.0?

peaceful boredom

As we enter a stage in our country’s development where there is more peace than war, where the machinations of evil have been destroyed, where people feel no need for religion, we are left without any enemies, without any guiding principles.

We fail to recognize the history that we left behind, the steady forward progress of man. Instead, we are left to be filled with either existential dread or anxious aggression.

We don’t have a purpose, a goal, and instead, we are led to madness and self destruction.