Why we need God to be good

Weover.me recently held an Oxford-styled debate on whether God needs to be a prerequisite for good. This is not to say that a person needs to believe in God to be good. Rather does good find its origins in God?

For lack of a better team title, I was on the God team. Below, I've written out my four-minute verbal argument.

There's two schools of thought being debated:

1) Good - People-driven. It's contextual, subjective, intuitive. It's relative to time and place, culture and social norms.

2) Good - God-driven. It requires a standard bearer, a categorical imperative, an absolute authority.

I stand for the latter.

To start, let me take you back to middle school. My 12-year-old son attends a Charter school which prides itself on democracy, meaning the kids have equal say as the teachers, particularly in adjudicating over other kids' transgressions. The students embrace their independence and the idea of controlling their own agenda. Ironically, they're having trouble controlling themselves. At a recent school meeting, some kids raised concerns that many other students weren't respectful to other students or school property. After trying to understand why and how to improve school spirit, one solution was posed - get a school mascot. Essentially, identify something other than the students to look up to. Identify something "other than" so students could rally around it and in effect, be good to each other.

It's a simple illustration/analogy of how society is inclined toward controlling their lives, and determining what's right and wrong, good and bad for themselves. But then the realization hits: it's quite hard to get everyone on the same page, and what's left is disrespect and disregard for each other's rights. What's needed is something "other" to guide us and keep us on the straight and narrow.

The God-less team, or those who support the former argument, would say that the kids and society in general is made up of a sophisticated species, with advanced and adapted neurons. We know how to collaborate and cooperate. 

Indeed, animals - from mice to primates - have a basic sense of good. Babies, as young as three months, have shown an inclination toward self-preservation and protection of their own kind, or the familiar. These are generally good things.

But something else is at work. Some would call it a selfish gene. Others would call it a sinful nature.

So how do we account for altruism?

Socio-biologists and psychologists would say it's in our genes.

The reason we jump on a grenade to save our fellow soldier, or sacrifice our lives for our children, or allign with a former enemy to fight a new common foe, is because we want our genes to propagate. 

The challenge I have with this idea of good being relative to our own self-interest, is that if good is just a meme we construct on our own ant hill to serve our own gene pool, then we better have the biggest, tallest ant hill. Our own self-interest better beat out other self-interests.

We could never hope for an unified and objective self-interest. The god-less team has ruled that out.

What about atrocities like the genocidal acts during the Bosnian War and Rwanda?

Even if those who carried out the genocide were disefranchised, threatened or oppressed, is killing massive numbers of people ever a good thing? Is rape ever a good thing? 

If you feel a sense of injustice or feel that humans rights were violated, then you are basically dismissing someone's cultural biases and subjective view of good. And,  you're, at the least hoping, there is some overarching universal good that trumps that subjective view. 

The question therefore is: Where does this overarching, universal, common standard of good come from?

It was suggested (on the god-less team) that the earth was a good "great other" that we could look to as the universal standard.

I'd agree that the rage and depths of the ocean, or a mountain peak, instill a sense of humility and awe in us. And, humility is a great driver of good. It wipes away pride and arrogance.

Unfortunately, the earth doesn't tell us how to be good. As far we I know, there's no such thing as a Lorax, the fictional Dr. Seuss character that speaks for the trees.

But God has a message. And, even the staunchest of atheists can't deny having heard or been influenced by these stories, such as The Good Samaritan.

Now, God may not always be with us at every second, holding our hand to tell us what is good and bad. He gave us free will. (As my mom always says, we're not robots, after all.)

Animals, however, also have free will. Without a great other, without something beyond ourselves, then good for me, makes me no more better than an animal. 

A famous ethologist, Frans de Waal, said this: "What sets human morality apart is a move towards universal standard... We scientists are good at finding out why things are, or how they work. But to go from there to offering moral guidance is a stretch." 

To aspire to a "good for we" - a good for the collective we, a good that requires us to think abstractly, a good that allows us to rise to become supreme court justices who make wise decisions about complex moral issues - Oh, then we can't do this alone. 

Socrates said: There's more to the sun-lit world of the senses to be good.

I agree. Good for we requires something so much greather than ourselves.

Those on the god-less team are shaking their heads saying, "Don't be naive." "Don't be intellectually dishonest." "Look at the facts."

The facts are that the reality of this world greatly exceeds science's ability to explain it.

Believing we are a product of selfish genes takes as much belief as believing we are a product of an intelligent designer. 






In defense of wealth accumulation in the wealth gap debate

Ezra and his good friend Bart (who's also our pastor) have put together a great forum to discuss issues larger than ourselves. It's called weover.me. The first topic was "What to do with our billions." Based on the first essay and the follow-up replies, Ezra and Bart put together two debate teams to discuss this topic. Invariably, it ended up focused on the growing wealth gap in our country. One sided, called Poppycocks defended individual freedom and the current capital structure. The other side called, "Fiddle" fought for change and sought to poke holes at today's current framework, though they didn't really provide any good resolution.

I was on the Poppycock team side. Here was my contribution though I believe my team members did a far more superb job than I.


For me, this is a debate between government-enforced systems to redistribute wealth and narrow the wealth gap vs individual freedom to accumulate wealth and distribute when and as we choose fit.

It is between government giving the poor handouts vs. the poor laboring and striving for goals while achieving dignity and self-respect along the way.

This is not to say that I don’t believe people shouldn’t give systematically and abundantly to the poor or to charities or to worthy causes. I believe giving is our responsibility: “Work super hard. Give a lot back.”

This is not to say that a change in education whether at home or in schools is not needed.

We owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to society to teach younger ones to give wisely, give often, and to be cognizant of those who are less fortunate.  

This type of education is by far the biggest driver in helping those in need. If you ask enough people why they accumulated wealth in the first place, many will tell you it’s because they wanted to give back and have an impact on the well being of society.  

Buffett said this when he was younger:  “One way or another, we form ideas about what we’re going to do if we turn out to be wealthy… for me it was in my 20s, reading what those other people had done.”

He was referring to   Andrew Carnegie who said: “The man who thus dies rich, dies disgraced.” Another billionaire said: Without sharing wealth, what’s it all for?

Many people (wealthy included) believe this. As some of you probably know, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have started a pledge campaign, which has raised $150 billion dollars (about two-thirds of all the charitable giving last year - $250 billion).

So, ‘let’s be clear. We’re fortunate that people do have a conscience and many desire to give back.     

The question at hand is should people give back more systematically throughout their lives, and not just at the end? Should corporations be mandated to share the wealth? What can we do to make society more egalitarian so a certain few aren’t living the high life for the majority of their lives?

I want to argue two points: 1) Not everyone gives to charity at their deathbed. 2) Many corporations, led by the decisions of the individuals running them, and not by government, are already giving systematically to charities.

This whole discussion started with Bill Gates, whose wife is 44 years old. How many of you are in your 40s? How many of you would be willing to pledge half your fortune today? Bill Gates is also not on his deathbed. He’s 55.

Mark Zuckerberg just gave $100 million to education. He’s worth anywhere between $7 to $10 billion, so sure that’s only 1% to 3% away of his current net wealth. But the point is he’s already giving in earnest. He also pledged to give half his money away to charity while he’s still young. And he’s not even 30.

Many others give systematically already. Salesforce.com gives 80% off their products to charities and non-profits. Zynga has created Zynga.org to raise money for charity and relief efforts. It raised half a million for aid to Haitian people during the 2010 earthquake. HomeAway, which owns VRBO, started a corporate giving plan last year and now works with local communities and Habitat for Humanity to help those who can’t afford homes.

The point is that individuals do give, and probably more so when they have more wealth.  I highly disagree with the Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam who says that the rich distance themselves from the poor and the poor are cast aside as “less-than-human discards.”

If anything, many who do come to wealth do more to recognize the poor.

And, often they’re able to do this because they’ve been able to focus on staying competitive and productive, specifically at their organizations.

There is a virtue of parsimony here. Adam Smith said: “Parsimony (or saving) leads to an increase of the capital available for the employment of ‘productive’ labor.” The key word here is “productive.”

Our corporations need to spend wisely, just as we do. 

Allowing the government MORE MONEY to make our decisions isn’t the wisest of choicest. We may not agree whether they can do a better job than individuals to distribute money to social causes. Sometimes they do. But not often. Let’s take a look at a couple examples.

In an effort to expand home ownership (another way to equalize the wealth), President Clinton pushed for ways to get lenders to give loans to first-time buyers. President Bush expanded on this because it dovetailed with his “Ownership” Society goals as well. As we all know, what happened after that was the unfortunate mortgage debacle as many people borrowed against their homes and eventually defaulted when the housing bubble burst.

Two years ago the DOE (dept of energy) put its “clean economy job creation” hopes on Solyndra and bet half a billion dollars on it.  As we know, Solyndra recently went bankrupt.

The point being that government is just as likely to fail, and often fail pretty big if we allow them to take our tax dollars to expand equality and create jobs.

If there’s any role that government can play, I believe it’s in allowing individuals to give more to charity. Right now, we can deduct half of our gross income. But for many, their wealth is tied in up in their assets. And, if they’re entrepreneurs, they’ll take a salary of $1, like Mark Zuckerberg. So for the $100 million he gave, he received 50 cents in tax deductions. I also believe the government can provide more incentives to create jobs, which is what would really narrow the wealth gap.


Venture Shift NY - November 17, 2011

The business of Venture Capital is undergoing a once in a generation disruption. This shift is having profound implications for how an entrepreneur starts, grows, and ultimately exits a company.

Bullpen and Vator began a discussion about this topic in the summer with Peter Thiel keynoting our event: Venture Shift San Francisco. Many asked us to continue this conversation and as a result we are happy to announce Venture Shift New York.

Venture Shift will be held on November 17 at Le Poisson Rouge in New York, and will kick off at 4 pm with an open wine bar throughout the night. We have an all star speaker line up.  The full agenda follows. You can register here:Venture Shift NY.

4:00 to 5:10 -  Networking, snacks

5:10 to 5:20 - Opening remarks: Bambi Francisco from Vator and Paul Martino from Bullpen

5:20 to 5:50  - Panel No. 1: How angels and super angels/micro-cap VC funds are changing the stakes and making a new ecosystem
Daniel Garrie (Pulse Advisory), Roger Erhenberg (IA Ventures), David Tisch (TechStars), Owen Davis (NYC Seed), Micah Rosenbloom (Founder Collective), Moderator: Bruce Taragin (Blumberg Capital)

5:50 to 6:15 - Keynote: Barry Silbert, CEO and founder, SecondMarket

6:15 to 6:45 - Panel No. 2: Money finds a way: How secondary markets have opened up new financing options
David Cundey (Credit Suisse), Spencer Punter (Capital Dynamics), John Avirett (Greenspring), Brian Hutchings (Gunderson), moderator: Duncan Davidson (Bullpen)

6:45 to 7:00 - Floating Point 1 – Billy Chasen, CEO and co-founder, Turntable.fm

7:00 to 7:40 - Snacks, drinks and networking

7:40 to 7:55 - Floating Point 2 – Michael Lazerow, CEO and founder, Buddy Media

7:55 to 8:25 - Panel No. 3: Has the traditional VC industry been forced to pivot by the rise of angels, super angels, incubators, etc? (New vs Old)
James Robinson (RRE), Tony Florence (NEA), Howard Morgan (First Round Capital), Gil Beyda (Genacast), Bobby Ocampo (Grotech), moderator: Rich Melmon (Bullpen)

8:25 to 8:50 - Keynote: Mark Suster, Partner, GRP

8:50 to 9:20 - Panel No. 4: Super angels, micro-VC, options buyers: Which early-stage strategy is best?
Adam Smith (AOL Ventures), Rick Heitzmann (FirstMark), Lee Hower (Next View), Lewis Gersh (Metamorphic), moderator: Ezra Roizen (Ackrell Capital)

9:20 to 10:00 - More networking time


I hope you can join us.


Even Cookie Monster needs water

I've been working in NYC this week. I don't actually mind working here, given that northern California summers are practically like northern California winters. 

But this picture captured how hot it can get on the streets of New York.

Rough day in NYC

Vator Splash seeks 10 hot startups to present onstage in May

CEOs and/or founders of 10 companies, chosen by their peers and vetted by judges, will have the opportunity to present onstage and give a three-minute pitch in front of some 400 business professionals, comprising of executives from startups and large companies, angel investors, VCs, and media. 

Vator is holding its second Vator Splash event to find up-and-coming,  early-stage startups to present at the Vator Splash event on May 13, 2010 at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco. 

Go to the competition page to enter a chance to get onstage.

(Join Zappos CEO and founder, Tony Hsieh, gWallet CEO Gurbaksh Chahal, August Capital VC Howard Hartenbaum, Founders Fund Dave McClure, Mayfield VC Raj Kapoor and Robert Scoble as emcee for the startup pitches. For more details about Vator Splash and to buy your tickets now, click here. There are limited tickets, so buy them soon)

Vator, a leading platform for innovators and entrepreneurs to broadcast themselves, and a provider of news and information through VatorNews, is looking to recognize and film promising startups across technology, including digital media, social media, consumer Internet, software, SaaS, iPhone apps, mobile, etc.

What you win:

The top 10 companies have the opportunity to give a three-minute presentation onstage, and get a professionally-produced video of the presentation. The audience at the Vator Splash event will then cast their vote for their favorite out of the 10. The winner will then present again onstage in a segment called Splash Box - an American-Idol-styled segment with four investors as panelists.


Vator Splash seeks 10 hot startups to present onstage in February

CEOs and/or founders of 10 companies, chosen by their peers and vetted by judges, will have the opportunity to present onstage and give a three-minute pitch in front of some 300 business professionals, comprising of executives from startups and large companies, angel investors, VCs, and media.

Vator is holding its inaugural Vator Splash Competition to find up-and-coming,  early-stage startups to present at the Vator Splash event on February 4, 2010 at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco.

(Presenters will join Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, Smule CEO Jeff Smith, August Capital VC Howard Hartenbaum, Google Ventures VC Bill Maris and Greycroft Partners VC Dana Settle, and more. For more details about Vator Splash and to buy your tickets now, click here. There are limited tickets, so buy them soon)  

Vator, a leading platform for innovators and entrepreneurs to broadcast themselves, and a provider of news and information through VatorNews, is looking to recognize and film promising startups across technology, including digital media, social media, consumer Internet, software, SaaS, iPhone apps, mobile, etc.

Vino E Veritas

The Greek symposium was designed for friends and neighbors to converse over relevant topics while also enjoying fine wine. We're trying to do the same with Vino E Veritas, a weekly gathering in my home with co-host Bart Garrett, lead pastor at Christ Church, leading the discussion.

Some questions to ponder: What's the source of beauty and is it subjective or objective? What drives your ambition? And, why is it we always seek more?

Here's a photo of Ezra and Bart kicking off the event:DSC00442

Playing around with Wize's new widget

My son Will and niece Amanda