Thoughts on Westworld

I watched through the entire Westworld series twice. Once a few months ago, and then again on an international flight. The fact that I am writing a blog post about this series shows the impact this show had on me and my thinking about life and the human condition.

Lowest Common Denominator

The one line that summed up the series for me was when Billy tells Dolores that the park doesn’t bring out the worst in people (murder, sex, anything done in excess). Rather, it the park shows you who you really are. For Billy, it meant feeling alive since his real life in the regular world lacked meaning and purpose. This made me wonder: if humans do indeed get the freedom to experience any pleasure or vice without the consequences, would they resort to mass murder and infidelity or  would something greater come from this freedom?

Perhaps when there are no restrictions, more great works of art are produced, greater communities are forged, or new technologies are borne faster than they would otherwise. On a personal level, you might find your true calling in life and pursue your dreams since money will probably lose its significance.

My hunch is that left to our own devices, we would not commit murder and live hedonistic lives contrary to what the park is meant to encourage. The reason I believe this is because we have thousands of years of human history to prove it. Neanderthals and the original sapiens had the freedom to kill and mate but after awhile rules and social norms developed to prevent this behavior. Assuming that you are not in the park alone and there will be other “humans” around, there would be new social norms established between humans and the robots that would prevent such extreme behavior from occurring.

Finding Purpose

When Billy said this line, the first thing I thought about is the current world we live in with all the rules, red tape, and social norms preventing you from living a life of purpose.

The reason I think we cannot live a life of purpose is because we care about what people think and feel.

In the park, you have this general freedom to explore and do whatever you want because you know the robots don’t feel and no one is judging you. Nevertheless, there is the theme that the board and shareholders care about the data collected from the park which most likely includes the data about the guests and their actions. This theme is not too dissimilar from how most corporations act today, so given this fact guests would probably be hesitant to truly live out their deepest desires in the park.

But lets ignore this concept for now and think about why you would wouldn’t feel hindered from doing whatever you want in the park. The robots won’t judge you, and for the most part will not remember any wrongdoings you made in the past. In the real world, our reputations matter, and this social construct prevents us from living a life we want to live because we care about what people think, and in most cases need people to think and judge us to get into the right schools, clubs, and social circles.

The question is, can you live a life of purpose where you do not require other people? For most “career paths,” I think the answer is no.

To bring this back to our world, I would argue this analogy: Westworld’s park is like our regular lives, and Westworld’s “real world” is like our corporate lives. I think most people who work in the white-collar knowledge industry are working for brands and corporations where our identity is professional and polished. Your sexual desires and personal wishes are generally not brought into the workplace and you are–for the most part–sucking on the teat of a corporation to make a living. Cross over to your regular life, and you put down your guard a bit and you become your true self with your friends and family. Sometimes there is crossover between the two, but how awkward is it when you see a co-worker for the first time outside of the workplace? I think this is similar to how the robots in Westworld feel when they learn about the real world outside of the park.

I’ve been thinking more about purpose and meaning lately, as I think about my own career path and those around me. I wonder why people don’t follow their true calling in life or why they hide their passions and hobbies to only be enjoyed on the weekends or after work.

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Discipline Equals Freedom

Not my words, but a phrase I’ve been thinking about the past few days after listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast discussion with Jocko Willink.

Jocko Willink & Tim Ferriss

Talk about a power-hitting duo. For the last few months, I started listening to podcasts at the recommendation of my friend TJ, and I constantly find myself going back to Tim Ferriss’ podcast since I have always been a fan of Tim since reading the 4-Hour Workweek. So this podcast brought out the precision of Tim’s interview style with a guy that has looked at death right in the face as a bad ass Navy SEAL in Iraq.

Thoughts About Discipline

Tim asks one of his classic questions “What would you put on a billboard?” and Jocko answers:

Discipline equals freedom.

His belief is that being disciplined in all aspects of your life, be it work, gym, eating healthy, etc. rewards you with more free time (and freedom) to do other things you want to do. The counter-argument is that being disciplined in these areas of your life also can mean you are locked in to a way of doing things and following a protocol that is the opposite of being free and creative.

In my life, discipline means being able to control my destiny to a certain degree. Being able to follow a process and protocol that I know will lead to an outcome I want, whether it’s work, working out, basketball, etc. I know I can control the outcome with X% confidence, and the rest is left to luck and the higher powers.

A few examples:

  • ACL Injury – My last few stories have been about my recovery from ACL reconstructive surgery, and no other injury in my life has been as physically challenging as this one (typical ankle injuries and bone bruises from playing basketball). The protocol from the PT office and from other resources I’ve found online break down the exercises you need to do on a daily basis. There is no room for error, if your goal is to recover and build strength back in your leg. Straying from the protocol, for me, means failure. So on the days I was tired, sick, or had other things to do, I found time to get in my exercises because I did not want to fail. It boggles my mind that one could forego a life of a healthy knee because they were too tired or lazy to get their ass off the couch and onto a yoga mat to do some stretching and exercises.
  • Eating Healthy – Some people say I am the most boring person to eat with, and I don’t blame them. I am disciplined about what I eat because I feel that I am able to really enjoy other foods and meals when I have a baseline of meals I always consume. This means the same omelettes, chicken, salads, spaghetti, and newly added steak make up 90% of my diet. Part of it is that I know how to make all these meals very efficiently and there is not a lot of room for experimentation or fucking things up. Every meal does not need to be laced with truffle oil or ice cream, because if they were, wouldn’t the enjoyment you derive from these “unhealthy” foods be less?
  • Morning Routine – Much like I follow a protocol for my ACL recovery, having a morning routine prepares me for any shit I have to deal with that day. This is where I see Jocko’s point a little more clearly, because I feel that if I don’t go through my morning routine, I don’t have the energy and stamina to get through my day. More specifically, I do not feel equipped with those attributes. I eat the same shit for breakfast, do my pushups and pull-ups, and everything is done in a specific order. I remember Tim talked about this in one of his podcasts but accomplishing these small tasks in the morning such as making your bed have profound effects on your mental capacity throughout the day.
  • Work – This is a little harder to find the connection, since I’m working on a startup and every day new problems and challenges come our way. However, we could easily let emotions and anxiety rule our minds and respond to these challenges in unproductive ways. Instead, my team approaches every challenge the same, by prioritizing which problem needs our attention the most and then doing a triage from there. If you become too emotional about someone who has brushed you off or losing a deal, you will fail. Your business will fail. In this context, discipline around how you conduct operations and business processes helps you control the final outcome.

Being A Man From a SEAL

Tim also asks Jocko what 3 events led Jocko to feel like a “man.” A big question that could yield all sorts of answers, but Jocko gives his top 3:

  1. Jiu-jitsu
  2. Combat (in Iraq)
  3. Getting married and having kids

These seem like pretty generic answers to me, but the theme between all three answers is that these events gave Jocko confidence in himself. I wrote about being a man in a previous story, and confidence is probably the main quality trait Jocko has that many men lack. He was unwavering in his answers back to Tim and it showed that these events truly turned on a light switch in his mind about what it means to be a man.

 

How To Be A Man: A Perspective

You may have seen my “…Like A Man” photos, and I’ve been thinking more about what this series means to me as I grow older and figure out what it really means to be a man. I have recently seen more stories written by men sharing their feelings and opening themselves up to the world. I’m not saying this is going to be one of those type of stories, but I do believe in having cathartic experiences, whether it be from reading blog posts or from real-life experiences.

I believe that many men don’t learn how to be men from their fathers. My father definitely didn’t teach me about the birds and the bees (save for a very awkward 1-minute conversation we had pulling into the driveway when I was visiting home from college), how to manage money, and lift weights. These concepts are the first things that come to my mind when I think about what type of lessons fathers typically teach their sons, but even these assumptions are worth questioning, but we’ll leave that for another time

I came across the magazine Esquire in 2010, and I thought it was just another one of those artificial magazines about what type of gadgets to buy or cologne to impress the ladies. Upon further reading, the magazine is filled with great stories, biographies, and my favorite pieces in the magazine: stories about being a man.

I realized that I learn what is to be a man from reading stories, watching movies, and basically consuming media to broaden my definition of “man”.

As I grew up from my teens into my 20s, I learned from men of all ages just from going through life. I also learned a great deal from reading, watching, and consuming. I discovered the importance of work through reading biographies of men in Esquire whom drive trucks for a living to make ends meet. I saw how friend stay loyal to each other throughout their lives from watching Entourage. I learned how men deal with fear, loss, and teamwork by watching the movie Deliverance (and also learned that men raping other men is a real thing).

This may not be the best way to learn, but taking real world experience and meshing it with what are fictional stories helps me reflect on why I think the way I think. More importantly, it helps me figure out who I will become.

Society places a large responsibility on fathers to raise their sons the right way, to make sure they know what is right from wrong. This seems like a huge task, and I don’t think many fathers can really say they know exactly what they are doing. Perhaps that is why there is so much literature, film, and stories out there about what works and doesn’t work.

My favorite clip of what it means to be a man comes from Ron Swanson in Parks and Rec. Ron talks about being the handbook he wrote as the troop leader for the Pawnee Troop Rangers. The handbook, in its brevity and simplicity, encapsulates man and his way of thinking.