New Routine, Stupidity and Ignorance, & Borders (13m) – Editor’s Break 088

Editor’s Break 088 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: getting used to his new routine and finding time to write and podcast; Ted Nugent recently said, “Ignorance is acceptable, but, stupidity is guarding your ignorance.”; and why Ted Nugent and many libertarians are wrong on borders.

Listen to Editor’s Break 088 (13m, mp3, 64kbps)

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President Trump, Please Free Ross Ulbricht

Say what you will about President Donald J. Trump — his politics, his policies, his business dealings, his personal peccadilloes — the man  demonstrated possession of a heart when he commuted the sentence of grandmother Alice Johnson 21 years into her life term for non-violent drug offenses. He’s asked protesting NFL players to send him a list of people who deserve clemency in lieu of continuing to kneel in protest during the national anthem. It’s encouraging to find mercy among his many and varied qualities.

On July 3, the Libertarian Party’s national convention unanimously requested that President Trump exercise that mercy in the case of Ross William Ulbricht.

In 2015, Ulbricht — better known to the public as “Dread Pirate Roberts” — was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for creating and operating the Silk Road “darknet market” web site.

Please set aside for the moment your opinion of Silk Road — whether or not it was moral, or beneficial, or legal, to operate a web site facilitating the sale and purchase of illegal drugs — and of Ulbricht’s guilt or innocence, to consider the bigger issues.

Ulbricht’s trial was clearly unfair. His defense team was denied access to information on the state’s investigative methodology and not allowed to present an alternative theory as to the identity of “Dread Pirate Roberts.” They were forbidden to reference the fact that at least two of the federal agents investigating Silk Road (who had access which might have allowed them to fabricate evidence) were themselves caught in corrupt activities and are now in prison. The trial was a railroad job from beginning to end.

Ulbricht’s sentence is also clearly unreasonable.  Having poisoned the jury pool with claims of murder-for-hire schemes on Ulbricht’s part, the prosecution then dropped the charges. But the trial judge nonetheless factored those unproven claims into her sentencing.

As of this coming October, Ulbricht will have spent five years behind bars. He’s appealed his conviction and sentence all the way to the US Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case on June 28. At this point, presidential clemency would seem to be his only hope of ever walking free again.

There is no universe in which life without the possibility of parole is a reasonable penalty for the crime of running a web site. Especially a web site which arguably reduced both drug-related street crime and death by drug overdose.

Mr. President: Please set Ross Ulbricht free.

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How to Become a Self-Help Rock Star

Today I would like to say something about the value of enthusiasm and optimism, but the chances are high that you’ve already heard a million quotes about the virtues of whistling while you work or the value of doing everyday chores with a sense of pride.

Instead of giving you another quote about this topic, I’ll share an important distinction: Inspirational philosophy versus Inspired practice.

Inspirational philosophy refers to any set of ideas relating to self-improvement, optimal performance, and professional development. Inspired practice refers to a pattern of behavior grounded in such ideas. Inspirational philosophy is a way of seeing. Inspired practice is a way of being.

You’ve probably heard this distinction before too, but the chances of forgetting it are greater than ever before now that we have an unprecedented ability to shower the world with positive stories and sayings.

I’ll give you an example. While writing this post, I Googled “inspirational quotes” and here’s one of the first things that came up:

This is a quote from Maya Angelou that says “If you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

When you read that quote, did you think “When I take a walk this weekend, I’m going to really ponder that one. I’m going to identify my assumptions about what makes a person normal and then I’m going to honestly consider how much possibility I might be overlooking because of these assumptions”?

Or was your reaction more like “Sure, I agree with that. It’s common sense”?

I’m guessing that most people have the second kind of reaction.

When a profound concept first strikes human consciousness, it seems revolutionary. When that same concept gets repeated over and over again, it starts to sound redundant. As our ability to say “I’ve heard that before” increases, our ability to say “I need to spend some serious time thinking about that” decreases. There’s a quote for that too: “familiarity breeds contempt.” But I’m sure you’ve heard that one before. It’s hard to believe that you need to wrestle deeply with an idea if you’re constantly hearing about it in pop culture over and over again. Because of this constant exposure, we lose sight of the most important aspect of inspirational quotes: they are easier said than done and better done than said.

Everyone has seen a well-designed graphic telling them to live, love, and laugh, but fewer have seen the well-designed life of someone who finds a way to love and laugh through real problems faced in the real world.

I frequently hear people ask for advice on things like how to be a life coach, or how to be a motivational speaker, or how to make a living by being a force for inspiration.  If you’re one of those people, I have good news and bad news.

Here’s the bad news: We live in a world where it’s extremely difficult to be special if you want to share inspiring things.

I can’t even count the number of blogs, podcasts, TED Talks, seminars, books, and online courses promising you a thousand and one ways to hack your life, improve your health, increase your income, grow your audience, raise your level of consciousness, activate your chakras, accelerate your manifestations, and so on. Whatever you want to share has probably already be seen or heard a few dozen times this week alone.

So if you plan on getting into the “self-help business”, I offer the same advice I heard an old theater professor give to someone who said they wanted to be an actor: “If you have something else you can be happier doing, go do that instead. Don’t do this unless you know you can do it for fun. If you can show up and do this kind of work enthusiastically even if you never win an Oscar or get on the big screen, then you’ll always find a way to work and you’ll have a better chance of making a living if you’re lucky. But if you can’t devote yourself to this without a steady paycheck, find another career and do this for leisure when you have the time.”

Now here’s the good news: While it’s very difficult to be special at the level of sharing inspirational ideas, the bar is pretty low for those who actually practice inspirational ideas. 

The world probably won’t praise you if you share a tweet on enthusiasm, but the individuals who have to work with you every single day will appreciate it if you show up to your job like you actually want to be there. You probably won’t get a bunch of retweets for sharing that Steve Jobs quote about being a non-conformist, but you’ll break the status quo in half by acknowledging the people you see every day with dignity and empathy. You probably won’t have a crowd of fans demanding to hear your voice on the world’s most popular podcast, but there’s a crowded world out there of people who feel alone, afraid, and apathetic. Asking them how they’re doing and listening for two minutes would make you a rock star in their eyes.

George Washington Carver wrote, “when you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”

If sharing inspirational material is more common than ever before, the way to do it in an uncommon way is by embodying inspiration as way of life.

You’ll command far more attention if you smile and say “hi” to only 1 out of every 5 people you see than if you share 1 positive quote for 5 days a week.

You’ll build a much more powerful network by being a team player at your day job than by sharing a dozen tweets about how to network.

I once received a promotion at a restaurant because every single day I would walk up to the bar and ask the bartenders if they had any trash they needed help throwing out. They almost always said “yes” because things were usually busier at the bar and having a full trash bin was nuisance. They praised my team spirit highly for this and it eventually led to a better position. This wasn’t part of my job description, but I did it because I wanted to help. I built a reputation as an inspiring co-worker not because I was trying to help people deal with their psychological garbage. I was just literally trying to help them deal with their physical garbage.

Helping people take out the garbage. This is the context where where we have the greatest power to be forces for inspiration. While the wannabe rock star obsesses over being the person on stage, the real rock star obsesses over helping some “nobody” make it up the stairs.

As the Zen saying goes “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

If you’re enlightened enough to be someone’s life coach, don’t just send them a pretty picture with a positive quote while you move on to the next life hack article. Help them chop wood and carry water. Be a decent human being towards them. Be a great person to work with. Be a great person to have around when there are boring but important things that need to be done. Be the kind of person who will help someone take out the garbage even if it’s not part of your job description.

That kind of thing is not as glamorous as being a celebrated coach, but it certainly builds the kind of character you’ll need if you ever plan on becoming one. And here’s the paradoxical thing: when you focus on inspiring people by inspiring yourself to serve them in whatever way you can, the character you develop will shine through your actions in a way that makes them pay attention to the inspirational stuff you want to share. And even if your words aren’t anything special, the energy behind them will be strong enough to reverberate.

Inspirational quotes are now commonplace and easy, but inspired living is still rare and difficult. If you want to be a self-help rock star, master the latter.

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You Are Someone’s Stereotype

I realized recently that I am a stereotypical native of Charleston, South Carolina. Yes, unfortunately it’s true. I wear boat shoes and occasionally even  what might be described as “preppy” clothing (it’s unintentional, I assure you). I sail boats. I know how to dance the shag. I have an unusual proclivity for Southern hospitality and old-fashioned gestures.

I’m also a stereotypical startup dude. I use a Mac, I “work hard and play hard,” I listen to Tim Ferriss and “Masters of Scale,” and I use the word “startup” too much.

Now don’t get me wrong: I love Charleston, and I love startups. What I don’t like about them is the sameness that comes out of both of them. You probably feel the same about your own community, background, etc. Like me, you have probably cultivated yourself as someone who is unique, who stands apart from all the lemmings marching in lockstep.

Then, like me, you realize that (at least in some ways) you embody the sameness of some community, somewhere. And no matter how special you are, you realize (like me) that in some way, you are someone’s stereotype for something.

Maybe you fit the stereotype of a runner, or a heavy metal fan, or a weight lifter, or a vegan. You may be different from other runners, heavy metal fans, weight lifters, or vegans in all other respects, but insofar as your pursuit of a passion is shared with others, it’s bound to create some common characteristics in all of you. A stereotype will catch up to you in the end.

This is a humbling realization. You are special in so many ways, but in some, you are just like a lot of people.

Maybe that’s not a bad thing. A good goal in life isn’t specialness – it’s meaning. And if meaning for you comes from running, or moshing to heavy metal music, accepting the stereotype of a runner or a metal fan isn’t the highest price you could pay.

And to the extent that meaning does require true uniqueness, you won’t find it by denying the things you love. Lean in to the passions or strengths or roots that you love. A worthwhile uniqueness will come from authentically remixing all of your stereotypes into a type that has never been seen before.

In my case at least, I’m probably one of the most Charlestonian (overly polite, rarely fails to wear a collared shirt) startup dudes you’re likely to find. I’ll live with it.

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Taking Statists Seriously

I know I shouldn’t be mean to statists. I shouldn’t ridicule them or point out that they are no better than molesters. Even though it’s true.

That’s not how you get people to listen and (possibly) change. This knowledge requires a change in me. And that change is hard and unpleasant and unnatural.

Statism– the belief that governing others is a legitimate human endeavor– is ripe for ridicule. This notion that people can’t be trusted to run their own lives, so we need to have some (who can magically be trusted– going against the original assumption) with power to run the lives of others is a demonstrable mess. It makes no sense. It is internally inconsistent. It doesn’t work in the real world, with real people in real situations.

It’s hard to not be mean to people who advocate something so stupid. It’s hard to not point out how they promote evil acts. It’s hard to not compare them to others who believed similar things with similar results.

I know I shouldn’t, but it’s not likely I’ll stop. Too many people treat them with unearned respect and act as though they are actually contributing something to the human conversation. There needs to be another side to it. Someone needs to be pointing and laughing at their nonsense.

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