Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sci Fi

As I continue into my six year relationship, I am still learning about the patience that is required to date a scientist. A scientist is a different breed. I scientist is a hypercritical, ultra-objective, abstract thinker that, for a living, connects links and finds causalities that are not necessary obvious. A scientist’s job, quite literally, is to be paid to think about things the way no one else can or does. The sole purpose of a scientist’s education is to qualify them to ascertain unique judgments and conclusions. To a scientist, this revelation is common sense- that a Doctor of Philosophy in Biology, for example, is someone who is paid to analyze and apply the philosophy of the life sciences for the sake of advancing the human enterprise. Many people not associated with the sciences often mistake ‘Doctor of Philosophy’ to mean ‘philosophy major’, ‘useless degree’, or  ‘not a real scientist’.
A PhD, ladies and gentlemen, is the person that discovers the structure of DNA, a PhD is a person that maps the human genome, a PhD is a person that analyzes forensic data to determine the outcome of a court case, a PhD is the person that discovers a new disease, finds a cure to that disease, a PhD discovers the medicines that save lives or the material needed to develop a prosthetic limb. PhDs do this by taking large amounts of data, applying them to theory, developing hypotheses, and testing them. To develop a prosthetic limb for example, a PhD must analyze how the body works, what the physical dimensions of the body are, what kinds of movements lead to the injuries that require prosthetics, how the body will react to certain materials, the longevity of those materials inside the body, the affordability of the final product, the societal impact of the product, who the product will be available to, how to educate the public about the prosthetic, etc…. The PhD must take an extremely holistic view of the entire process, must think critically about every step, must analyze the pre-existing data that develops the current philosophy or paradigm. The PhD must determine if the science and data makes sense, whether it works, and if it does, whether or not the outcome is more beneficial than detrimental to society. If the current paradigm does not work, the scientist must question why and develop a new paradigm. To develop the new paradigm requires all the same processes of working within the current one, and then developing, not only a new application of the old data, but a new application of completely novel and new data.
And because of this, it is extremely difficult to live with a scientist. As someone who is paid to be a hypercritical, ultra-objective, abstract thinker, most issues in the relationship will be viewed through this scientific lens- issues will be analyzed to a microscopic level, issues will be analyzed at a macroscopic level- seemingly disconnected social issues, political philosophies, scientific theories, and empirical observations will be applied to reason and explain a thought process, a judgment, an action, a financial reality.
Finances and financial issues are the bane of many, if not most, mature relationships. Once individuals have moved past the immature and emotional insecurities of their high school and undergraduate years, they reach a time in which fidelity, stability, compatibility, and reliability are the integral components of their relationship choices. However, once a partner is established that meets these criteria, relationships must mature and real emotional bonds must be established. Then, long term goals including finances, marriage, insurance policies, job locations, children, etc… become primary factors in the longevity of the relationship. This is based on personal experience, but it seems that:

Some relationships will last a few days to weeks- these are relationships in which immaturity and emotional insecurity undermine the process. These are often little more than physically motivated ‘flings’.

Some relationships will last several months to a few years- these are relationships in which the couple may have, but not necessarily, gotten married or conceived children early, but have discovered, over time, that despite being emotionally mature, they are not capable of building emotional bonds with one another due to infidelity, instability, incompatibility, or unreliability.

Some relationships last several years – these are relationships in which the couple has grown together emotionally and are compatible with one another. These relationships are long term relationships and often result in marriage or children. These relationships seem to end due to financial disputes, job relocations, disputes over children, etc… which can lead the relationship back to the status it was at in the several months to a few years stage and possibly to immaturity and emotional insecurity. This regression ultimately leads to a break-up or divorce.

Some relationships last a lifetime – these are relationships in which the couple has grown together and is emotionally compatible with one another. These couples have learned from experience that some things in life are disproportionately more important than others. The financial issues that plague long term relationships no longer bother these couples since these couples have discovered that emotional stability and support is by far the most valuable asset you can have with a partner.

A scientist views finances in the same manner it views science- empirically, objectively, hypercritically, and holistically. When a scientist makes a financial decision, it is similar to the way research is conducted. What will be acquired for spending this money, what can no longer be acquired for spending this money, are there any other likely outcomes of this financial decision that have not yet been thought, how was the money acquired, is it possible to acquire an equal amount by doing the same thing, how does the culture of the area affect financial decisions, how will financial choices affect surrounding individuals, who will benefit from these financial decisions, what new financial strategy could completely change the answers to this entire line of questioning, what would the new answers be, are those answers practical, what new skills will be required, etc…?
Thinking about finances in this manner is essential in America. It always has been essential in America. However, coming out of the Great Recession, it is obvious that most Americans do not think in these terms. Most Americans are convinced by the banks, lenders, financial analysts, etc… that the best way to live is the American Dream. That is, the best way to live is a large house, marriage, white picket fence, new car, dog, a few children, kitchen with an island, green lawn, huge swimming pool… Translation- the best way to live life is to leave financial decisions to the lenders resulting in crippling debt that takes a life time to pay off. The lenders still do this today, despite a financial crisis that nearly ended the USA. Anyone who questions the current lending process in the USA is labeled liberal, un-American, freeloaders, cheap, etc… How convenient that the same people that charge interest on loans to collect free money for their billion dollar enterprises are the same people telling you to buy whatever you want, to forget about your debt amount and minimally pay it off over the course of a lifetime, and that people who do not have nice things do not have them because they are poor- not only poor, but lazy and half-witted as well. The opposite seems to be true in many cases. People that have acquired new houses, new cars, dogs, kids, living rooms that look sterile enough to be operating rooms- these people are the backbone of America; these people are poor due to crippling debt. And as America continues to rely on this backbone constructed with inflated values, expected earnings, and bottomless debt, it will perpetually exacerbate its fragility and economic instability.
Only four years ago, certain neighborhoods in East Mesa had foreclosure rates as high as 12.5%- that’s one in eight houses. One in eight houses was completely abandoned. The person that skipped out on the loan was never encouraged to think about finances scientifically or critically, but was convinced that purchasing a $240,000 house in an ‘$80,000 a house neighborhood’ was a good idea if even 1% was put down on a loan that charged 8%. This is financial suicide. Of course, the loaner was never concerned because the loan could be sold to the highest bidder for a commission based on the theoretical money that would be acquired by simply collecting interest over 30 years. These loans could then be bundled into securities and sold to the next highest bidder for a commission. Thinking critically about financial decisions was never a factor because, at the time, it was not profitable to think about financial decisions critically, at least on a level that was beneficial to the individual consumer.
The result was clear to everyone who lived through the bleak times of 2009. Professionals were out of work, shopping malls become parking lots, car dealerships nothing more than ghost towns- balloons still floating, emphasizing the haste in which they collapsed. Commissions could no longer be collected since the population could not pay loans and therefore banks could not collect interest. The whole country was on the brink of collapse because no one thought about finances from a practical perspective. Everyone was convinced that debt was not only the best answer, but the only answer to their financial questions. Individuals were convinced by monetary predators that financial stability means something other than financial stability. That financial stability is the American Dream which translates today into crippling debt.
This is the false dichotomy of the American Dream- crippling debt is the backbone of America; crippling debt is the bane of America. America cannot simultaneously exist in perpetual debt at the levels of the Great Recession while moving forward. The system has taught us that this does not work. To move forward, Americans need to reassess, reevaluate their financial goals and financial realities. The loan companies want the debt to continue because they get to collect interest; the government wants the loans to continue to collect taxes, but the victims of this debt crisis, the individuals, need to adjust how they think about finances. To continue to buy-in, as Americans historically have, will only perpetuate and exacerbate the problem. Americans need to get critical, need to get scientific, about finances. This is the heart of the Occupy movement. These people are not lazy, they are not freeloaders, they are not looking for handouts- they are simply tired of living in a system that perpetuates the American Dream: the notion that somehow America can sustain itself if its citizens are simultaneously broke and surrounded by needless consumer goods for the purpose of handing free money over to banks, investors, and billionaires in the form of interest obtained through predatory loans.
Considering all this, I cannot help but wonder how I, or anyone, could ever justify buying into this system. How can I ever justify putting myself into crippling debt for the sake of acquiring copious consumer goods I cannot afford? Being a scientist, having thought about my financial situation this critically, I cannot justify perpetuating this system. I cannot buy into the banking industry’s lure of the American Dream at the cost of my financial stability. On a much larger scale, I cannot justify buying into the industry’s lure of the American Dream at the cost of America’s financial stability, the world’s financial stability. When I am encouraged to spend money I do not have for the sake of minor conveniences or unnecessary ‘upgrades’ under the guise that I am financially stable, I feel absolutely repulsed. I literally feel sick to my stomach thinking about all of the ideas I have considered, all of the conclusions I have drawn, all of the consequences my actions have. My financial situation affects the American economy, which affects my neighborhood, my neighbors, crime rates, education spending, the entire world.
This makes it extremely difficult to talk to me about finances. Inquiries into automobile purchases or lawn upgrades immediately make me cognizant of the thought process described above. This depth of financial awareness is hypercritical, ultra-objective, and abstract. The depth of this thought process has led me to question the financial reality of America, and ultimately the financial reality of myself, in the same way I would a prosthetic limb. It has enabled me to look at loans, interest, banks, and the American Dream through a different paradigm. A paradigm I believe will come to be familiar in text books as the zeitgeist of the post-Great Recession America.

My name is Bradley Lusk. I am 26 years old. I am a scientist and a PhD student. I have thought just as critically about love as I have finances, and I love my girlfriend. The bank shall no longer receive $400 a month in free money for interest. I will not be acquiring a new car, a dog, or a fancy lawn. By the end of September, I will have spent $63,000 to pay off my house. Financial stability and responsibility is my new American Reality.

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