Ethics are rules of conduct. Philosophers formulate them based on their understanding of what the world is and how they know it. If they get these right (they seldom do), it all comes together and their ethics work. People apply them in their behavior. Over time, application of ethics becomes habits. This unconscious repeat of behavior improves the odds of the desired outcome. “You shall not lie” is an ethical rule. Lies lead other people to make decisions that are not in their benefit. If lies were permitted, people couldn’t trust in what they hear until they know it is true. That wouldn’t be practical. Nothing that involves more than one person can be done in the absence of trust.

So, it is of an individual’s long-term benefit to not tell lies. On the other hand, more people follow ethical rules; it becomes a greater spontaneous gain not to follow them. Laws and law enforcement find their place in eliminating that possibility. Those who break a rule must face a consequence. But it all begins in ethics. Without them, laws would be meaningless to people, and therefore, useless.

There are few important things to be understood about ethics. First, they are invented for common use in a given group – a political party, a tribe, a nation, etc. Ethics can’t be tailored for individuals without a lot of work. That would not only be very expensive service but also finding haute couture philosophers up to the job would be a big challenge. The only known example is Alexander the Great, who had Aristotle by his side. Accordingly, applying ethics is signing up for a group.

Ethics come around in very long spans of time. They become implicit in other information. Most of the ethics you have in your behavior came from your parents’ behavior, and theirs came from their parents -without explicit teaching at any point. Picking the ethics in information takes significant training without immediate benefit.

Higher-ups in any group tend to have problems with ethical behavior. There is relevance in that with the political structure of the group. An absolutist ruler practically owns the group and uses it for own benefit. So, ethics and laws wouldn’t apply to him. Members of the group try to find some benefit for them in the ruler’s own. An elected officer, in contrast, would be appointed to the job of managing the group’s affairs temporarily. If his powers are limited to doing the job, he would be subject to the ethics and laws of the group. However, more power accumulates around the office holder over time, which causes too many frictions in his conduct. He doesn’t become an absolutist, but the job he holds loses its function. In either case, things would be what they are until someone comes up with a new set of ethics, which lay grounds for replacing the corrupted system at hand.

People who don’t have material access to a group don’t find its ethics appealing. Outcasts, immigrants without prospect, and other groups with their own set of ethics should be counted out from ethical behavior expectations. Laws of the modern state and technology in its disposal suppress this matter but do not remove it. An individual may find too many challenges to ethical behavior in a cosmopolitan life.

Finally, ethics and laws do not always match. Ethics are the theory and laws are the application. Theories are bound to be disproven later when the world changes. One should not put too much faith in ethics. Instead, seeing them by reason would be the better approach.

These all bring us to the point of how to make ethics useful for the individual and the group simultaneously. It is an impossible task if ethics are taken at face value. They are for group benefits, which would be distributed as per the group hierarchy. Standing on the wrong side of the hierarchy doesn’t help. It is possible if one looks at the definition of the ethical rules.

The example above, “you shall not tell lies,” is good to begin with. It is true telling lies harm others in the short term and the liar in the long term. It is also true a group can’t exist in the absence of trust. But lies are still there in forms of white lies, “forgetting” things, lies for greater goods, lies to people who don’t matter, and so on. There are laws to keep the big picture together, but they either don’t apply to small pictures or applying them to small pictures outweigh the benefit for the procedures it takes. Accordingly, quite a few people turn “pragmatic.” Lies catch up with them eventually, but that doesn’t remove the immediate harm done to others. Not becoming “pragmatic” in that sense is also a bad idea as telling the truth doesn’t travel far when others have their guards against hearing lies.

The solution is in the definition of truth. The whole truth is somewhere out there, but others understanding of it is limited to their experience. Telling the truth is good and necessary for a happy life. Telling the whole truth, however, becomes volunteering information, which may or may not be true from the point of others. When interacting with others, one must use essentials that mean the same to everybody around. Air is not the same thing to a pilot and a meteorologist. It can kill one while making a paycheck for the other. But they both see air as the stuff they breathe. Keeping things simple, to the essence of them, is the way through about telling the truth. It can also be a terrific lie detector if the other person starts decorating around the simple things you say. If you don’t want to go out on Saturday night, just say you don’t want to when invited. It is much more trustworthy than explaining why you don’t want to. Even if you told the whole truth about why your words would only be information for the other person. Suppose the other person insists by explaining s/he really wants to go out on Saturday because of something personally very important. Then you can ask yourself why this information didn’t come along with the invitation in the first place. Because the other person didn’t want to sound needy? If so, what kind of friend are you to the other person? To be kept an arm’s length to do things on need to know basis? You don’t have to kick people out of your life for every little nuisance, but this gives you a lot of space for managing your affairs.

Other good ethics example is in altruism. Selfishness is used as a pejorative term against benefits of considering others in one’s actions. It is indeed very beneficial to be considerate, but before being considerate, one must first take care of self to be there. Where would be the fine line?

It is easy to suggest a tit-for-tat world, but then everybody watches each other before being good. Does it begin by someone’s taking a bold altruistic step and showing how it is done?

Unlikely. Ethical rules work when everybody applies them. One person’s altruism would be limited to his resources without showing any sustainable benefit to others. Besides, everyone’s capacity and resources differ. There is no measurement of fairness in everybody’s being altruistic. Inevitably it would fall apart. And it does.

The solution is in being altruistic when appropriate. Others can’t sleep or eat for you. Accordingly, you have your personal space of selfish action in life. Others recognize the size of your selfish space based on what you do – not what you think it should be. If you want your space to be bigger, you must do more in the eyes of others. If you push your selfishness beyond your recognized personal space, problems begin.

A case as such would be the corner office of a C-level corporate manager. That person would be entitled to be more comfortable and project more power than those who work in “cubes” because he would be doing something that makes more revenues than what those in the other jobs do. If he gets the corner office by cronyism rather than by doing what the job takes, others push his actual selfish space back. He would have to be increasingly altruistic for a corporate figure to compensate.



Telling one’s own passion from her parents’ dreams could be tricky. Watching Lang Lang on TV and regretting not pursuing the career could be the guilt of not matching a parent’s expectations from early childhood. Nevertheless, contrary to what a $300 an hour therapist might say, digging into childhood memories to find something wrong would be a worthless effort. Secretly wanting to become a pianist becomes hardwired to a personality long ago. Unless they make you a Dexter-ish serial killer, your childhood memories will be just fine as they are. But there is value in knowing what one wants based on her life experience. That passion may very well be authentic and worth to pursue because it would be one’s own with her all dedication for it.

As discussed in Keeping Things in the Right Direction, fundamental decisions put things in motion for long stretches of time and generate unpredictable outcomes. It is important to choose the right passion for the potentials at hand instead of assuming some hope is innate knowledge and is there for “a reason”! The world is knowable through senses, not through wishes.

Knowing which passion is authentic should be about how one feels. An urge to appease, a feeling of duty to someone unidentified, or anything that needs to be verified somewhere other than the self would often not be an authentic passion. If it belongs to you, it wouldn’t need peer review to feel right.

Now that we can choose a passion to follow, and we have a framework to put it through by reason, all there should be following up what happens next.

It wouldn’t be the case. One invests self into her passions. There wouldn’t be any detached observation of what happens. It better goes right. Risks must be managed.

Life’s essence is aggression. Taking a shower destroys millions of tiny little living things. A vegan’s eating vegetables is a violent act to extract the stored energy within the food. Sending a robot on Mars is aggression by casting, shaping and throwing tons of material to a point millions of miles away. We can be peaceful by not directing aggression to fellow humans and be smart by managing our environment, but we can’t exist without aggression. So, following a plan requires an adequate aggression. Aggression is ok if it is not directed at people but, still, they will have their plans too. What if achieving your plans ruins someone else’s?

If your plan is not original, you would be taking a slice from a cake someone else has already made. Someone who decides to be a winch operator would be entering a labor market to get some share from others. Ideally, the new operator enters the labor market at a time of economic growth. Because there are more constructions to supply demand, the new winch operator’s taking a new job would not have an immediate effect on the other operators’ income. It would, when the economic growth period ends and businesses shrunk, but then the winch operator would be a part of the guild.

If it is not a growth period in the market you target with your plan, your success would mean an immediate loss for one or more of the others. Therefore, you face all kinds of risks of failure because others would be making efforts in hope to see it happens. That is, aggression would then be directed at people instead of things.

Battling in such circumstances require the known tools of intelligence gathering, gossiping, diversions, forming alliances by exchanging favors, and the like. A combination of reason and good luck could bring victory. A highly intelligent entrant to an existing market could even win against all others in their own game. Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt was a monument of such victories. If one thinks they have what it takes, there would be no reason they shouldn’t try, as long as they agree they would become what they do and it wouldn’t be a happy experience.

The other and peaceful way of pursuing a plan requires having an original plan. A plan toward creating new business. That makes everyone happy. Most of all, the government. A new business in this sense is a new idea of doing things. It meets with a new demand in addition to all existing markets. That means the government can circulate more money. You would be their champion. In fact, you would be everybody’s champion. You would be making everybody wealthier. You wouldn’t see any obstacles around.

One risk of introducing new ideas is having a bad new idea. A bad idea is easy to detect. If one claims to invent the time machine and the machine doesn’t make time travels, that would be all. But the other risk is a true nightmare: Having a good new idea that is incompatible.

Leonardo Bonacci (known as Fibonacci) introduced the positional decimal numeric system in Europe in the 12th century. It is the system everybody uses now: Numbers from zero to nine and their place values. It was better than everything else known in Europe at the time. It offered endless benefits to all about mathematics, accounting, businesses, governance. And mathematicians in Fibonacci’s time understood it. They all attested. Fibonacci shouldn’t have seen any obstacles on his way to recognition as the greatest intellectual of his time.

However, his system was incompatible with how people conducted business. It wasn’t just about their liking the Roman numerals. One should look at the medieval clock face to understand what the problem was. The twelve hours on the medieval clock dial are in Roman numerals. But four is not the correct Roman IV. It is IIII. That is often explained as the common people got confused between IV and V, so they made it simple by adding a finger to three and writing IIII for four. Simple, and folk-friendly.

But the same folks didn’t seem to have a problem with reading IX, X, and XI on the same clock dial. The problem was not about telling IV from V. It seems to had been about making something universal only after compromise.

Whatever the reasons may be, people and the governments liked their much less useful Roman numerals than Fibonacci’s decimal system. It took four centuries for them to agree on the uncompromising new numerals and place values. By the 16th century, the modern numbers from zero to nine took their universal place in Europe. Fibonacci wasn’t there to see his success. He is now recognized as the greatest mathematician of his time.

Concerning your ideas, it is better to focus on those you can demonstrate as working, so you avoid failure from the start. Then an idea should better be new if you want to avoid risks of battles to take a slice of a cake someone else made. You don’t have to. But the choice is there. Finally, if you have a good new idea, it must be compatible with other things. Incompatible good ideas can be frustrating, to say the least.

For the Love of Money

By its Merriam-Webster definition, money is something (such as coins, bills, or digital information) used to pay for goods and services and to pay people for their work. It is one of the most important inventions. Without money, the only way to trade is bartering. That requires finding someone who has what you want and needs what you have for each transaction. That makes an economy limited to bread and water. Nevertheless, the invention of money is inevitable if one thinks about how people do business.

Suppose a dog walker is extraordinarily successful in that line of business. She has so many customers that she doesn’t meet with many of them in person. She hires people to service her growing customer portfolio. Walking too many dogs, she produces receipts unique to her business to ensure customers of her possession of their dogs. At any point of this large dog walking operation, one of her customers could decide to give a dog to someone else. Simply by the owner’s handing over the dog walker’s receipt, the dog could find a new home. The receipt on its own completes the arrangement, providing it is difficult to replicate. It is a prototype of money.

In the real world, precious metals would have had an exchange value of their own. But the modern concept of money as some worthless object to become the medium of exchange was probably invented out of practical requirements of keeping domesticated animals or stocks of harvested crop. People would have used clay tablets, etc. that represented such goods for payment. Nevertheless, it would have taken millennia before an official currency could be possible for King Alyattes of Lydia. While the king still had to use precious metals instead of papyri or clay tablets, archeological evidence suggest the Ionian kingdom was the closest thing to a market economy in its time. 

Once an official currency has become a reality, natural laws of money were clear and observable: Money’s purchasing value is based on its “units” in circulation versus products and services in demand. Even the mightiest of Roman emperors could not dictate how much a unit of money should purchase. It found its own purchasing value. In contrast, those who put more money in circulation than needed, as it happened during the 16th century ‘Price Revolution’ in Europe, learned gold and silver could lose 80 percent of their values when there is too much of them. There is an invisible hand, a natural law that sets the purchasing value of currency units. And this can be essential information to see money for what it really is from an individual perspective. It can be purposed much beyond its exchange function. It can support an increasing sense of well-being; happiness that is found within the self.

Our thinking is wired to avoid danger. When something is “wrong,” we feel discomfort, scare, or pain. We respond to make it go away. We don’t have to fall off a cliff to learn it is a bad idea. We can deduce it is by observation. When we are not paying attention near it, a jolt of scare brings us back to our senses. We step away from the cliff.

Similarly, we feel sharp discomfort by idleness. It could be the opposite. Idleness conserves maximum energy. But it also means we are not doing anything about finding food. In nature, the former means death within days. The stress of idleness is the warning that should make us use the time to do what it takes to keep alive.

That is in nature. We, however, build civilizations that sustain our supplies of food and shelter for us. They happen without our hunting, collecting, or making. Working for a living is about specializing in a small part of production networks. There is plenty of idle time in many occupations. Time at home is mostly to rest and groom. The alarm sound in our subconscious never ceases. People who show they are happy with where they are and what they do are a distinct minority. That is different from one’s being thankful for what she has. That kind of happiness is about being self-sufficient in accomplishments.

An argument against this direction of thinking is sound in the light bulb metaphor: Did Edison invent the glass and the copper wire? In other words, could anyone truly accomplish anything on her own?

The answer is yes. For the light bulb metaphor, the accomplishment is in progressing our cumulative knowledge further. Copernicus studies Ptolemy, Newton studies Galileo, Einstein studies Maxwell, and so on, before they made their contributions. Does the unknown Roman inventor of bookbinding have a part in the overall progress? Yes. But she is not Einstein.

Coming back from geniuses to the world of ordinary people, a person who receives direct payment for goods or services she produces accomplishes meeting with the demand and matching her product with the value of money. Anyone can produce something. But she produces something worth money, which relates to her abilities to communicate, conceptualize, design, produce, manufacture and negotiate, not for the sake of it, but to get results. Getting results is the crucial part. It corresponds to the prehistoric accomplishment of finding food. It has nothing to do with showing off to others or being aristocratic. Finding food was a joy of avoiding hunger or death for our ancestors. We can substitute it only modestly in the modern world.

Productiveness for the feeling of accomplishment can greatly improve the quality of life. Money is the measurement of such efforts. If money is coming because of production, the accomplishment is authentic. For someone financially secure, this could be the missing piece of a happy life. Good for her. For someone who needs the extra cash, even better, for all the difference it will make otherwise.

Keeping Things in the Right Direction

Making fundamental choices about life is never simple regardless how one treats them. Your choices put things in motion for long spans of time and in unpredictable ways. You don’t control what happens because of what you choose. Thousands of entrepreneurs embarked on the Silicon Valley in the 70s. Bill Gates of that generation has become the richest man in the world. He certainly doesn’t lack good qualities for his line of work, but he wasn’t alone at that. There is something called good luck, which happens by doing the right thing at the right time in the right place without knowing about any of the three. But luck strikes in many ways because your choices and actions don’t make things in a box do what you want. Your choices and actions push things like they are billiard balls. They bounce at each other. There are infinite possibilities.

You are not alone. Everybody must work against these odds. But putting your reason in use can improve the odds for you.

There is a mathematical concept called expected value (of transaction). Insurance, banking, and gambling businesses use this information to be a step ahead of their customers if their transaction volumes reach a certain size. Calculating expected value doesn’t make the world problem-free for these businesses. Some of them lose money or even bankrupt anyway because of other factors. But it gives them a better stance, a more probable investment return from their businesses.

Understanding probability takes a little attention. Chances of throwing a six with a single die are 1/6. Throwing six twice in a row is 1/6 x 1/6 = 1/36. But you can’t guarantee it by throwing a die 36 times. The throws are unconnected. There is no influence between them. Similarly, you can’t be sure of finding a job, winning a contract, or finding a good partner by applying or bidding many times or speed dating. Probability applies to each try individually. You can increase your chances by aiming for the opportunities that match the value of your offer and by improving your offer. Alternatively, you can try repurposing the expected value math by dating with six million people to find the right partner.

Good choices are a precondition for better odds. If you want to play in NBA, you must be 17 or younger and possess certain athletic qualities. If you tick these two, you can start practicing basketball five hours a day to improve the probability of your stardom. If you lack either of the two conditions, your investment in a future NBA career would only cause hardship in every part of your life.

Bad choices also tend to be toward titles. “I want to be a CEO” is poor thinking. It doesn’t refer to what a CEO does. One needs to identify that skill set from good information. If she has the relevant qualities, she can aim for being very good or better than anyone at those skills.

Another kind of bad choice is toward things one doesn’t have the potential of the resources they require. If you have an office job, a home loan payment plan, and two kids at school age, you shouldn’t invest in learning to write screenplays. Even if you have the talent, you simply can’t afford the time it takes to learn and do the job without failing in your other commitments.

Highlighting the negatives shows the positive in contrast. Good choices are made by collecting information and applying reason. Whichever stage of life you may be and whatever your ambitions are, make choices that set things in the right direction.

One last point about making choices: Learn from your successes. There are matters you are happy with the progress you made. They are tests you passed in life. Think about how that progress happened. It will tell you fundamentals you are good at – communicating with others, attention to detail, being analytical, being passionate about something, etc. Apply the information to future choices you make.

Your World

If you are 20 or older, your parents and grandparents were born and raised in a world defined by an international agreement entitled Bretton Woods, for the place it was signed. The Bretton Woods Agreement was about how nations manage their economies and how nations would do business with each other. It established basic rules for international trade and supported nations to build their economies through a model called welfare state. In a welfare state economy, governments would directly run businesses or tell how private businesses should be run for the economic and social welfare of all. It wasn’t socialism. It was to make private enterprise possible after two world wars. For your parents and grandparents, making a living was about employment or doing business under government regulations to every detail. In return, they received job security, business protection from overseas competition, and mostly reliable pension plans. Governments did not guarantee to make a living. They protected those who do.

The Bretton Woods system begun to fail in the early 70s but it remained in place to some extent until the fall of the Soviets in the 80s. Consequently, the welfare state is deeply rooted in your parents’ and grandparents’ understanding of the world. It is how you have certain notions about the attributes of the world in your thinking.

An opposite world order called supply side economics, based on free trade and globalization, was supposed to take place in the 80s and the 90s. Governments would leave economic activities and social progress thereof to private enterprise. Political leaders around the world championed it in their rhetoric but applied it in half. The applied part comprised tax cuts, privatization of national economies and removing international trade barriers. The ignored part of the supply-side theory was limitation of government spending – apparently because it doesn’t help politicians in elections. The problem the half-applied supply side economics created was governments’ spending money they didn’t make. The solution was finding the money through public debt (a.k.a. government bonds or treasuries). Following a rapid expansion of public debt, creditors accumulated significant bond portfolios they could repurpose. Globalization of trade turned into the globalization of finance in the nick of time. The globe was showered with credit that only become more and cheaper if governments would issue more bonds. They did.

You either lived a significant part of your life in a world of easy credit, or you were born into it. It wasn’t like how your parents had made a living once. The once assumed link between production and consumption was no longer relevant. Consumption was based on credit and was for all. Things were taken care of somehow, even though mainly by refinancing.

The credit expansion would have continued, but there was a limitation. Just like a person could find loans to the limit of his economic capacity, governments could find creditors for their bonds for the amounts their economies could comfortably support. Beyond that limit, creditors think the risk of not being paid is greater. They ask for more interest on the credit to compensate the risk. To a government, increased interest payments mean increasing taxes to levels that cripple national economies. It is not an applicable idea.

Quite a few national economies reached to their borrowing limits in recent past. They are now reluctant to increase public debt. While politicians feel the consequent pressure in elections, this also puts a hold on global credit expansion. Now loans are harder to refinance. And it will be even harder to do so. Complications that follow are significant.

On the one hand, you have your ambitions, skills, and plans for your education and career, as well as your expectations from the world as to what governments and institutions do, how people carry on, what you should do, what is fair, and so on. On the other hand, all there is uncertainty.

There could be a new world order like examples of the Bretton Woods regime and the supply-side-economics-in-half at some point. But it would not emerge until a nation or group of nations are in a position to set ground rules. Military conflict is very unlikely in this age, given the destructive capacity at hand. Nations could now get the upper hand through others’ economic failures. When and how that happens is unpredictable.

The Many Worlds

Everyone is unique. Our life experiences are different from each other. From an individual’s perspective, all things and ideas are contingent. Few things like air and water could mean the same for everyone. Still, people would have different perceptions about even what we all need to live. The ‘kind of’ air and water people have access to in different parts of the world, and what they do – like a botanist in Brazil versus an athlete in Ethiopia – tell about their different perceptions.

There is not a whole objective reality, a complete picture of everything we all can share. Everyone perceives it to limits of their nature and in the direction of their previous experiences. In other words, your world is unique because your life experience is. There is no one else whose experiences are the same as yours. There never was. There never will be.

Because you are unique, you make all groups, organizations, and communities you are part of unique in your way. Your web browser would display the friendly message “the Internet is not the same without you” when offline. It is true.

When you are online, you can browse the web within the comfort zone of your world. Things and ideas remain contingent; relative to your world. They mean however you understand them. When you interact, relativity ends. You would have to find some common ground with others to write something on your Facebook. That leads you to refer to essences of things, using universal meanings of words and ideas. Things are what they are to you if you are in your world. Things become objective realities when you interact with others. A botanist in Brazil may have the most elaborate understanding of air, but she would have to reduce the concept to its essence when interacting with others: The stuff you breathe. And these four words must mean the same to everyone she interacts with if what she says is ever to be understood.

This is where things become complicated. You need universals for interacting with others. You still want to maintain what they mean to you because that is what matters to you. So does everyone else. One option is excelling in the use of essences, keeping your world and others’ perfectly separate, and hoping everyone else does the same. Another option is reflecting your world on your interactions and hoping others will cooperate. Neither option will work. Because of the incompatibility of many relative worlds, sorting things out by physical force was the only business for a long time. Only after education, which is about establishing what things should mean for everybody, Aristotle’s political human took the stage and use of physical force became an isolated case. Trade, science, and arts flourished. We are yet to find a way to establish what things objectively mean for everybody so our affairs can take place based on universal truths and all humanity can be one happy species. Until then, interactions with others will be political one way or other, where politics being one’s contending what she is good at as the best order of doing things for others.