Villages to Cities to Villages?

Humans used to mostly live in villages. Clusters of families where the adults did work and the kids roamed and observed and played and learned work by being around it.

With specialization, mass scale production, and technological advances the arrangement changed. People lived in neighborhoods or cities that were often much larger, adults commuted to cities during the day vastly larger still, and kids were shipped off to huge age-segregated clusters, before smaller immediate families came back together for dinner in the evening.

The benefits of technological progress are astounding and I wouldn’t trade them. The benefits greatly outweighed the costs, which is why just about everyone who had the chance chose it. But shifting living arrangements were (often) one item on the cost side of the ledger. It was sometimes necessary, not necessarily optimal.

With increasing automation, software, robotics, and information access, the equation is changing again. Humans don’t need to cluster together en masse for economic production. That means one of the costs we had to pay to get the benefits of economic progress has been removed. Now there is choice. You can do the commute to cities and office buildings while kids commute to age segregated schools thing if you want. But you don’t have to.

This is a pretty new choice. And so far, only a handful of early adopters see an seize it. People can now live where they want with who they want with kids and adults alike doing their work and play near the home. Most people still do not realize this is an option. They are wedded to the status quo by inertia, not necessity.

Recent voluntary and forced quarantines are waking some people up to this possibility. More people than realized can work from anywhere. People also realize how they might want to change their living arrangements if they were to continue this more flexible, work and learn from home arrangement. For example, you might want to choose your neighbors more deliberately if you’re spending more time in a village-like setting. If you and your kids social life and work life and learning will be more local, spontaneous, and collaborative, you might change the kind of natural environment you’re in. Climate, house type, access to outdoors, etc.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a slow steady uptick in deliberate village-like communities. Clusters of families with some shared interest, ideology, religion, or profession who have adults who can work from anywhere on flexible hours and kids roaming around learning through mixed-age play and imitation.

It’s possible the reason few people do this now is that few prefer it. It’s also possible the reason few do it now is because they’ve been conditioned for several generations into the assumption that it’s not on the table. More short-term experiments in this type of arrangement could inspire more to do it.

Open This Content

Twitter and the Real World

I’ve never noticed as great a disconnect between Twitter and the real world as I do now.

I’m not sure if the divergence has grown over time, or if I’m just more plugged in to Twitter than I used to be so I notice it more. But the real world and the Twitter world are now two entirely different places. So different that they hold mutually exclusive descriptions and assumptions about the state of the world at any given time.

I joked yesterday that my neighbors are much more sane right now than Twitter people, and wondered if any of them are also Twitter people when I’m not looking.

So great is the disconnect between every social surface in real life and Twitter that I can’t help but wonder who the Twitter people are when they’re not on Twitter. Do they morph back into the normal people I experience out in the world? Or am I just experiencing two completely different sets of people, and they’d be the same online or off? Am I a different person on Twitter than in real life? I hope not.

My Twitter feed is fairly broad and generous. I follow quite a few people (over 1,500), I’ve never muted or blocked anyone, and I’ve only ever unfollowed maybe half a dozen or so. I like having a snapshot of a pretty broad set of people. The bulk of the feed are people either interested in startups, education, careers, personal freedom, entrepreneurship, cryptocurrency, the NBA, human liberty, or parodies of the same. There are other random accounts, but most would be strongly identified with one of those buckets.

Until about the last 6-12 months, I’d say on average my Twitter feed was pretty consistently more reasonable, logical, commonsensical, and intelligent than the real world people I interact with. On average, it’s a more technical, autodidact, curious, and dynamic group than most of the flesh and blood people in my neighborhood, at the grocery store, etc. So the Twitter people tended to have what I thought was a more reasonable take on most things.

That has completely flipped.

My normie neighbors are now quite reasonable compared to the more intellectual Twitter people in my feed. By a long shot. Something weird has happened on Twitter. It used to be that there were very unreasonable corners of Twitter, but the bulk of my feed was people poking fun at them for this. Now I’m hard pressed to find any reasonable quarters of Twitter at all. And anyone poking fun is in danger of some serious social censure. It’s disconcerting.

Twitter people seem like the most frightened, panicky, unreasonable brewd imaginable, capable of tolerating or advocating almost anything, no matter how inhumane and dark, if it allays their pet fears. And it seems to be re-enforced by the very intelligence that once made them more reasonable than the common folk.

Maybe when times are good, intelligent people are better. Maybe when times are bad, intelligent people are worse.

I don’t know, but for the first time in my life, I am somewhat troubled about most of the people I enjoy reading and following. They seem to me to be becoming the monsters they decry, while my neighbors, who mostly remain blissfully unaware of monster potential at all, aren’t becoming any worse.

Maybe it’s a return from two weeks unplugged that makes it more stark. Either way, my relationship to Twitter has changed. It’s not nearly as fun and full of open curiosity and play as it was. I still like it. I’m still using it (at least for now), but I have a more hardened, distanced experience than I did.

Open This Content

Politics is Still Stupid

I don’t know how many times I’ve written about the stupidity of politics. Plenty.

I’ve given countless talks, podcast interviews, and most of my first three books were about how soul-sucking, distracting, useless, degrading, and pointless political involvement is. The combination of Public Choice theory, which explains how politics works and why it doesn’t, and understanding social change, plus lived experience of working in politics, policy, education, and finally entrepreneurship have made it abundantly clear to me that politics is at best a ridiculous spectator sport. At worst a terrible addiction that makes you an asshole and a moron all at once.

I’m a political atheist. I don’t acknowledge its power, because in my day to day life, I experience my own. It only matters when you believe it does. And I don’t.

Politics turns friends into enemies. It breeds fear. It creates mental blocks and blinders to reality. It indulges the most socially destructive vice, envy. It deceives us into downplaying our own agency and becoming victims. It makes us feel pressured to pretend to know and care about everything.

Doing nothing. Having no opinion. Not following the news. These are steps towards personal emancipation.

Building a life you want. Cultivating mindsets that add to your sense of life. Going about your business as if you own your outcomes. These are steps toward a creative and fulfilling life.

These acts of productive omission and commission are indifferent to politics. Best case it’s a distraction to the good life. Worst case it’s destruction of the good life.

To all my brothers and sisters mired in the struggle, try walking away. See if your life doesn’t improve.

Open This Content

Is Nature Delicate or Resilient?

If you contemplate nature you start to see a massive web of complex connections and causal chains. This organism feeds on that, which fertilizes this, which feeds that, which fertilizes this, which produces oxygen for that, etc. etc. It’s mind boggling.

It can begin to feel like every single detail in nature is finely tuned to every other. Nature can start to seem very fragile. It makes you feel like preserving every single element precisely as they are at the moment of contemplation for fear the entire thing will collapse with the introduction or subtraction of a single element. As if a sneeze could destroy the world.

On the other hand, if you contemplate nature through time – the greater the epochs the moreso – a different feeling emerges. Changes in weather are adapted to with uncanny speed and ability. New elements are constantly coming and going, and not on predictable seasonal cycles. Freak earthquakes, volcanoes, weather fluctuations, meteors, solar activity, and interruption by other species (including exploratory humans) are the norm. There is no such thing as an “invasive species”. If you look long enough, no species is really native to its current place of prominence and no ecosystem looks like it did in ages past.

Even on a smaller scale, if you’ve marveled at the way a tree will absorb a barbed-wire fence, you get the feeling that nature is the most resilient, adaptable, powerful, anti-fragile force imaginable.

The same goes for the human body. If you’ve suffered ongoing ills, undoubtedly the path to understand has led you to food allergies, posture problems, and other stressors compounding to gum up the works. It feels like your body is so preciously balanced that the slightest disruption will break it. Then you observe humans flourishing in every environment, adapting to everything from pure plant to pure meat diets, healing from broken bones, living after amputations, and bouncing back from the harshest conditions imaginable.

I think time is the trick-player here.

At any one snapshot of time, the balance is complex and apparently precarious. Big change can result from small changes. But when you unpause the scene and observe through time, the self-correcting and adaptive nature of the systems turns out to be a more powerful force than any insurgence at any single moment.

Both points of view are instructive. Yes, it’s a vast, complex, interconnected causal chain. Yes, everything that happens has the potential to alter everything else. But yes, it also has more ability to adapt and thrive than you do ability to imagine how. Yes, it is anti-fragile and harder to break or tune than you think.

Let the intricacy and the strength give you pause and induce a sense of wonder and joy. Don’t let either cause you fear or panic.

Open This Content

Fads and Phases

Here’s a little rule of thumb I use to navigate all the trends, buzzwords, advice, and expertise in the world:

If it seems dumb or boring, ignore it.

There’s no “must read”. There’s no “consensus opinion” to imbibe. There’s no best practices you can’t live without.

There’s just stuff. A lot of stuff. Some stuff I like, some I don’t. Some that’s useful, some that’s not. Some that adds to my stock of energy, some that drains it.

So I pick what works and forget the rest.

I have no malice for it. I make no claims about its truth or applicability to others. I just don’t make space for it in my own life, and I don’t even devote enough resources to it to provide a clear repudiation or reason why. Why would I? What a burden to be forced to provide a reasoned articulation of every abstention or predilection. I can’t die on that many hills.

So I pick what matters to me, enjoy it, use it, and keep moving.

I can’t tell you if it’s a good idea for you, but I have no regrets.

Open This Content

Preemptive Wealth Management

It’s kind of funny that most curricula are focused on kids and young adults learning things before they need to know them.

They learn about and memorize facts and ideas that are completely unnecessary to solving actual problems they face. The idea is so that they’ll be prepared and know things in case they ever become important or useful to know in the future. It’s odd for several reasons, not least of which is that this kind of learning has almost no retention, but especially because most of the students won’t end up ever facing most of the problems even if they did retain the knowledge. (I have used Pythagorean theorem once in my entire life, and even then I didn’t remember its name or the specific formula, but had a vague idea that there was a way to find out one length of a triangle if I had the other two. Google did the rest.)

It should be taken as a given then that I am not pushing for “just in case” learning, or any kind of compulsory education period.

But if one were to agree with the standard approach of learning a bunch of things that might possibly be useful to some sliver of the class at some point in the future, you would think there might be a good bit of material on wealth management. After all, there are 12 million millionaires in the US – more than 3% of the population – which is probably higher than the percent of students who will ever need to know how to label a mitochondria. If you believe in preparatory learning, preparing to manage wealth would seem at least as logical as preparing to be a medical doctor. (There are roughly 900,000 doctors in the US, or less than 0.3% of the population).

We tend to think about wealth as only a benefit, not a problem to be dealt with. “Oh yeah, sure would be nice if my biggest challenge was learning how to manage a million bucks!” Maybe. But probably not as nice as we imagine.

What’s the opportunity cost of paying off a mortgage vs putting the money to work in the market? How liquid do you need to be? Where to keep cash since banks are only insured or $250,000 in deposits? How to deal with requests and demands from friends and family? How much to hedge against exogenous economic shocks? How to do so? How to not get taken advantage of by financial planners, lawyers, accountants, and managers of family offices and trusts? What’s the best way to handle inheritances so you give your kids a leg up but don’t cripple them and rob their ability to gain strength by solving their own problems?

Most people have trouble with financial management at the paycheck to paycheck level. More money doesn’t magically solve that. The problems just get bigger and the stakes higher.

While the idea of compulsory public schools teaching wealth management is not desirable, there might be something to the idea of individuals who desire to achieve wealth learning how to manage it a few steps ahead of time. If nothing else, the mindset alone is a form of subconscious confidence building. Investing in wealth management is a kind of bet on yourself that you will put it to use.

Open This Content