Unfathomable Perversion (#11 of 52)

This post is more than a year old. The information, claims or views in this post may be out of date.

It’s been a tough week.

“Thoughts and prayers” is something of a meme – a reflex regurgitation from politicians and public figures whenever tragedy strikes, signalling an awareness of suffering but with no real commitment to empathising, or doing anything meaningful to help. But in this case, I think it’s appropriate.

This has been the darkest week for me in recent memory, thanks almost entirely to the horrific mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.

I choose those words carefully. Fourty-plus victims off a lone gunman is unquestionably a mass shooting. But it’s the horrific part that’s really stuck with me.

My feelings about this are complex, and they’ll take quite a while to process – mostly because the shooter in question was radicalised in what is effectively my backyard: Online communities, global travel and gamer culture. Unlike lone-wolf psychopaths or religious terrorists, I understand (in places, deeply so) the world this shooter comes from, and watching this expression of hatred and paranoia flow from the web to the real world – with such devastating effect – is a soul-crushing experience.

What I really can’t get out of my head is the video. 

It’s difficult to find the words to express how I feel about it. Watching these things from security cameras or news vans is one thing – seeing a first-person perspective is quite another. In a very sick way, the shooter was inviting the internet to follow along as he gunned down innocent people.

It’s an unfathomable perversion to someone like me. I grew up online. My formative experiences, most of my social and cultural knowledge, entertainment, career and social bonds were forged primarily online. For years I believed in the power of the internet to connect people for the common good, to break down the walls between cultures and geographies, to enable all of us to build something better.

The deeper irony here (if any applies) is that the shooter considers himself well-travelled and well-connected, yet insists (45 times in the manifesto) on calling his enemies “invaders”. Despite all the opportunities in the world to connect with some of these people, learn to see them as humans, gain empathy and perspective, access information and educated commentary on demographic shifts and social change, he ended up weaponizing the internet instead.

And now I get to sit and watch as the confluence of incentives turns one lone gunman into a global media firestorm. News organizations that are desperate for monetizable traffic will play up the worst perspectives on this. Panel shows will bring on the most incendiary takes, prompting a social media outrage feedback loop. Pundits, activists and snake-oil salespeople will take this opportunity to push their brands and advance their careers, while the families and loved ones of 49 innocent victims have to process the unthinkable: A terrorist attack in one of the safest nations on Earth.

I don’t use words lightly, and I do my best to avoid cliches, but in this instance I can sincerely say that my thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. You were targeted for your faith, your ethnicity, and your status as immigrants. You deserved none of this.

And of course, this won’t go away. We have a manifesto now – a 71-page document that expresses a set of ideas and beliefs which are not unique to this shooter. Lots of people out there believe some of this stuff, and many more may already be on the fence about it.

A document like this can be dangerous without context – just enough verifiable fact to establish credibility, with just enough unprovable assertions and fallacious conclusions to mislead.

For my part, I’m working through the manifesto myself, attaching commentary and context on a lot of the arguments within it. These ideas spread like viruses online, and for every new mutation of the virus, you need a new set of antibodies to deal with it. Simply dismissing the manifesto won’t make the ideas go away – they’re incredibly hard to kill.

It’s a small contribution, and it doesn’t undo any of the damage, but I still feel like I’m obligated to help. This horror came from my neighbourhood, and the least I can do is to try making sense of it all.

And then there’s the loadshedding.

We’re on Stage 4 right now, which is troubling for a lot of reasons. Part of the problem is the loss of 900MW of power we import from Mozambique (which should have advanced us to Stage 3, not 4). The bigger problem is that this is happening on a weekend, which is when our power usage is collectively at its lowest.

The biggest problem, though, is that this is all happening within the context of the President trying to unbundle Eskom and the unions “fighting back”. There’s no telling what this means, but the unions have already declared they intend on shutting down Eskom for the week ahead of the elections (which would be wildly illegal and can be legitimately classified as terrorism).

So either our grid is imploding owing to failed build projects and ineffective maintenance, or it’ll implode because the unions need political leverage. And even in a best-case electoral scenario, it’ll implode anyway thanks to unsustainable debt in a flatlined economy that’s just now starting to feel the ravages of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

In either case, today was the first time in 2019 I went online looking for emigration options. It’s going to be very difficult for me to earn any kind of living in a country that doesn’t have a stable power supply, given that I’m an entirely-online business.

Cheerful thoughts, right?

All I can really do is carry on – keep making and updating my plans, and carry on building whatever I can in the time I have left. Which brings me to the next problem: I really need to start working less.

It remains a difficult proposition for me, even though I’ve done relatively well so far, and even though the numbers make sense. I’m too helpful (actual external feedback) and tend to get dragged into things that aren’t in my best interests. I can lose hours (days, even) solving problems that don’t benefit me in any way.

I’ve always known it was eventually going to come to this, and now I have to face it head-on: Growth isn’t always about adding or changing things – sometimes it’s about removing things.

Right now, there’s quite a few things I need to remove. My habit of spending hours at my desk is one of them. My propensity to keep taking on new work because I can do the job (not necessarily because I need the money) is another. I doubt I’ll ever be able to do anything about my curious and overly-helpful nature, but I can probably get more value out of them by focusing them in the right direction – and by developing more routine and discipline in my life.

That’s what I realized (again, possibly) this evening. I’ve always had far-off-into-the-future ideas about what my life would look like, and who I would be when I got there, but I keep finding reasons to put it off.

Usually it’s work. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve thought:

My workload is intense right now, but if I can just power through this and finish everything off, I’ll have more time.

And then when it looks like I might succeed, it becomes:

It looks like I have more time available next month, I should find new work.

Rinse, repeat, and I’m pretty sure it’s possible for years to go by without seeing any meaningful personal development. That takes just as much time, focus and energy as billable project work.

So that’s pretty much where I am right now. The last few days have been emotionally draining, and the load shedding has inadvertently opened up some time for me to do some reading and personal reflection (so it’s at least good for that).

Four weeks to go to my planned vacation. I still can’t wait.

Also this week:

A new Noscript Show episode went up tonight. We recorded a bit later than usual owing to the load shedding, and I think it’s pretty evident in the energy of the episode. Still, we got one out on schedule, and we’re twelve-for-twelve.

Our monthly Helderberg Devs meetup ran on Wednesday, and we got our highest turnout ever (17 people!) – the topic was solar power and going off-grid, which is obviously a popular theme right now.

Finally, lost in the cacophony of the last few days, I shouldn’t overlook the fact that the IRR and Afriforum came to verbal blows over the latter’s land reform documentary – or that I still have no answer to my question to the IRR.

Next week will be just as hectic as last week, except that I’ll be doing my best to return to sane routines – aided in no small part by my now-default expectation that Stage 4 loadshedding can kick in at any time.

Returning to Normal (#10 of 52)

This post is more than a year old. The information, claims or views in this post may be out of date.

It’s been a full three weeks since my last weekly update, mostly due to my inability to manage mental bandwidth. Even though I had the time I needed, I kept finding other things to do instead.

The last three weeks have pretty much been a paralysis loop. There’s a project that simply refuses to end – it’s constantly urgent, creating anxiety on two levels: First, that we’re several months overdue, and second, that any time spent working on this means I’m letting work pile up elsewhere.

It’s pretty much the same negative feedback loop from a month ago:

* I have this very important thing to do
* I really don’t want to do this, it’s gotten too difficult
* But I also can’t do anything until I do this
* It’s already 1pm, I need to start
* It’s already 5pm, I’ll have to work this evening
* It’s 2am, I need to push through to the morning
* It’s 4am, I can’t do this anymore
* I woke up late this morning and I have a very important thing to do

The Longest Year Of 2019

On top of that, there was The Great Taxening of 2019. Just over a week ago, for the first time as a company owner, I had to pay my CIT tax (28% of profit) over to SARS. It stung.

I could probably have avoided it if I were a sole proprietor. Even as a registered business, I still have to pay PAYE on my own salary, plus I get taxed on the company profits at the end of the year. The only real benefits I get in return are appearance (having a registered company looks more legit than being a sole proprietor), and I get to save on some taxes by running relevant expenses through the business.

Chances are, the last year has just added up to me hosing myself. If I total up all the taxes and accounting fees, vs what I would have paid without this business, it might have been cheaper to not register one at all. So that’s been a fun line of thought.

On top of that, the amount was enough to dent my runway. The whole reason I worked so hard over the last few months was to build up a large enough cash buffer so that I could start limiting my time spent on consulting, and that payment was quite a setback.

Still, I survived it all the same and am still trading, so I guess there’s that. All I can really do is carry on, which is where I got stuck in the paralysis loop again.

I’ve learned a few new things over the last week, though. It’s been difficult, but there’s been some growth.

First, I’ve learned (and am still practicing) the ability to put things out of my mind and focus. I need that focus on my projects to deliver good work, but I also have to maintain effort on several projects at once to ensure I don’t run out of work, and so it’s a constant tug-of-war.

Despite that, I’ve had some productive stretches in the last few weeks, and they were generally the ones where I had simply decided to stop stressing and focus. Even if that meant missing an opportunity, or being late on responding to something I had committed to. Just the decision to focus alone was enough to make headway.

Next, I really need to increase my rates. When I first set them up, I did some relatively simple math that had me replacing my last full-time salary + the ability to accumulate some buffer every month. While that number has served me well so far, it’s technically undervaluing what I’m actually capable of.

Of course, this is an easier decision to make when you’ve got some experience under your belt (and a little cash in the bank), and this is still all technically part of the plan. I haven’t even finished my first full year of freelancing yet!

Finally, I’m learning more about what really makes me tick. One of my projects has ballooned into something more closely resembling a digital transformation project, and I’ve found myself fully-engaged in the work – combining technical and political experience to help a business level-up their operations.

It’s been a lot of fun (and it means my company website is woefully out of date!), and it’s also helping me solidify a few more things in my life.

One of them (and this has been overdue for a while) is finally letting go of the online communities that were formative in my youth – and are still around today.

I guess it’s difficult to see it today, but I had a fairly isolated existence growing up. Like most children of my generation I wound up online, meeting people and sharing experiences with them, as a substitute for reality (which was oftentimes quite harsh).

I feel like those communities have transformed from safe spaces to explore, to regressive environments where I’m no longer welcome (not that I want to continue participating anyway). About a week ago I finally decided to quit. It feels like I’m breaking a bad habit, which is probably a good sign 🙂

Not much else has happened on the personal front over the last 3 weeks, which is not a great sign. It means most of my time was either absorbed by work, or fretting about work to the extent where I did nothing for myself – this being the problem I have with managing mental bandwidth.

On the plus side, I have a break coming up – two solid weeks off in April, which I’m really looking forward to. It’ll be the first time I take leave as a freelancer, which probably means I’ll end up tinkering on some personal projects – and catching up on my games library.

Also:

Despite the hectic work schedule, Odin and myself have continued to produce a weekly podcast. The Noscript Show has had a new episode every Saturday.