Sunday, April 20, 2014


WHAT MOST PEOPLE THINK IS NOT NECESSARILY TRUE. At a relatively early age I discovered that a great deal of what I was told just wasn’t true—virtually regardless of the subject. It could be politics, sex, religion, or how to make an omelet—but received wisdom seemed to be contradicted by the evidence more often than not. However, a significant percentage of the population didn’t seem to be influenced by the evidence, but was guided by vested interests, prejudice, group-think and emotion. This didn’t mean they were good or bad—or even ignorant. It merely meant that they didn’t want to go through life having to think too hard. They took the view that it was much easier to go with the flow. And it is.

WHAT TO DO WITH THIS DANGEROUS DISCOVERY. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this discovery about truth—or the lack of it—at first, but it has had a profound effect on the choices I have made—which have frequently not been to my financial advantage. However, though clearly I need money as much as anyone, I have never craved it or been much impressed by greed, Instead, I gave up a well paid corporate job in my later twenties because—in essence—I craved:

  • Freedom from the restrictions that inevitably seemed to be imposed by a corporate environment.
  • The time to research (with a heavy emphasis on reading) and thinking.
  • The time to fail at writing and then try again until I had mastered that craft to an acceptable level—whereupon I would raise the bar.
  • A considerable amount of solitude so that I could focus on my goals.
  • To change things for the better in some small way.
  • Good friends, drinkable wine, and an active sex life.

I have used the term ‘craved’ quite deliberately. I was quite desperate to break away from a way of life I didn’t believe in—and I knew time was something I couldn’t buy, rent, or make love to. But I could put it to good use—and, mostly, I have. Here, let me make a factual statement. It is relatively easy to get published today—but to get promoted is another matter entirely,

You’ll notice that I haven’t listed either fame or fortune. I don’t care about fame except in relation to its helping sell my books—and, for whatever reason, I don’t happen to be particularly materialistic (though I do like having everything I need to work). Outside of that—from cars to condoms—I only need what  is necessary at the time. All too often it is lust. Better if it is lust and love. Best of all if it is intimacy—a truly divine state, There is truly nothing better than holding someone you love, desire, and trust in your arms—and can really talk to. ‘Ecstasy’ may describe it—but it doesn’t come close.  And the most important component? Women know this—and we men flee it. It is trust.

THINKING CAME FIRST ORIGINALLY. Funnily enough, my focus wasn’t on writing originally. It was on thinking—because I was convinced that there were answers out there which we could find if only we bothered to look—and they would lead, inevitably to writing. In fact, I gave serious thought to joining a think tank (and may yet on some basis) but eventually discovered that all too many weren’t there to think at all, but were, essentially, institutions set up to give credence to a particular point of view. That is particularly the case where Right Wing think tanks are concerned. They are mostly no more than instruments of propaganda for the ultra-rich. That’s a great pity because it not only poisons the public debate, but denigrates the concept of what a multi-disciplinary think tank can accomplish. In essence a think tank should be about perspective—because people who function solely within a discipline tend to become conformist and blinkered. A great deal of Steve Job’s originality came from his multi-disciplinary approach. When developing the Mac, he didn’t just hire computer scientists.

ONCE UPON A HANGING. It didn’t quite work out that way. In fact the compulsion to write seized me like some irresistible force field—to the point where I had very little choice in the matter. I then discovered the hanging body which led me to write GAMES OF THE HANGMAN. After that, I knew that writing fiction would almost certainly dominate my life, even though my wider social concerns would still be of considerable import. I also realized that there was a great deal I could say about real issues through fiction—and that if I could bring a little distraction into people’s lives through storytelling, why, that was a worthwhile goal just in itself. And the actual writing process is so immensely satisfying that I can’t even describe it adequately. I just give thanks every day, I chose this particular pathe.

HAS EVERYTHING WORKED OUT AS PLANNED? I was going to write, “No—life doesn’t work like that,” but then realized that it mostly has developed along the lines I hoped for—even though I have slipped and stumbled on the way. But the truth is that I have had a fascinating life, and, despite various ups and downs, it only seems to get better. God knows, I have made plenty of mistakes and have lost my way on occasions, but the secret is to pick yourself up, get back on track—and just hang in there. And that is one bit of conventional wisdom I believe in.

I have been prompted to write this piece by an article in  on that one man phenomenon, ELON MUSK—he of Paypal, Tesla and SpaceX.

Argue with facts, not experiences.

To Musk, decisions should not be based on prior experiences. He encourages thinking based on “first principles” — boiling a situation down to its basic, fundamental truths and then reasoning up from there.

An example of first principles thinking: when Musk was estimating the cost of building the first SpaceX rockets, he could have simply used comparable products on the market as a benchmark. Making decisions using “common knowledge” is the antithesis of first principles thinking. Instead, his team analyzed the necessary parts of a rocket, then researched the prices of the raw materials of parts firsthand. As a result, the SpaceX team was surprised to learn that they could build a rocket that cost “around two percent of the typical price.”

Making decisions using “common knowledge” is the antithesis of first principles thinking.

In meetings, arguing with facts and first principles takes a lot more mental energy, but doing so can improve the quality of your decisions. By looking at a situation from the bottom up, Musk prevents intellectually lazy arguments like “well, that’s how much a rocket costs” or “that’s how we did it at NASA.”

A CONFESSION: I WAS INVOLVED IN A SPACE PROJECT TOO. If we thought and acted like Elon Musk, there would scarcely be a problem in the U.S. we couldn’t solve. By the way, in passing, I should probably mention that I was involved with a space project in the Nineties. It started off with my researching the Gerard Bull supergun for a book, THE DEVIL’S FOOTPRINT. As a consequence of my son, Christian O’Reilly’s diligence (he’s an award winning playwright now), according to Livermore, we ended up with more information on that subject than the CIA (Incidentally, CIA don’t say ‘THE CIA.’ They just say ‘CIA.’ Its an insider thing. Similarly, those who work in the Pentagon, rarely call it that. They refer to it as ‘the Building.). That led to Livermore asking for our supergun files and to my being invited to see Livermore’s very own supergun shoot—and to meet Edward Teller (among other remarkable people). Teller, in case you have forgotten, is known as the “Father of the Hydrogen Bomb,” and was the inspiration for Doctor Strangelove. After that, I was invited to help the team involved commercialize the project. Like a mad fool, I did for a while because I’m a sucker for high adventure—and the idea of shooting stuff into space at a much lower cost than rocketry appealed to me. But the team never quite got its act together—good science but fundamantal personality differences—and  I was living in Ireland at the time. Hard to influence events from such a distance. Be that as it may, Elon Musks—great thinkers and leaders— are not that common. But it was fascinating, cutting edge, and fun—and may happen yet. Whatever their differences, they are great people—and I feel privileged to have been involved—and I love Livermore. All that brainpower—and all that plutonium. Just light the blue touch-paper and retreat a few hundred miles. 

One matter that hasn’t been raised—and should be—concerns costs. If Elon Musk’s findings about the cost of building a rocket are correct—some 2 percent of the generally accepted figure—it would appear as if NASA has allowed itself to be ripped off for decades. If so—and the evidence is compelling—that would be indicative of yet more public/private corruption. This is a great country (or could be) but corruption and greed are rampant. Within the business world it has become cultural—which means doing whatever is necessary (as you see it) to make a profit is acceptable). I don’t share those value.

Thumbs upTHE SONG PRETTY THINGS BY RUFUS WAINWRIGHT. If it doesn't move you, you are made of stone.

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