The Weakest Generation

“What is wrong with people today?”

It’s a question we hear frequently, in many different forms, but all are probing at an increasingly obvious observation. Previous generations entered their thirties with families, houses, and a decade or more of meaningful work experience under their belt. They bought used cars, built small starter homes, worked their asses off, and somehow made it work. Their families grew as did their homes, they got better jobs, started businesses, saved for retirement, and dressed pretty damn well doing it.

Contrast that with the weakest generation which can’t figure out why spending a quarter of a million dollars getting a sociology degree won’t make them happy and provide them the standard of living to which they believe they are entitled. Millennials have extended childhood from 18 to at least 26 (when the big mean government forces them off mommy and daddy’s healthcare plan), while they save nothing, own nothing (other than $50 T-shirts and $200 jeans), and wonder why “the system” continues to fail them.

As it turns out, sharing a downtown loft with a horde of dysfunctional roommates, taking an Uber every time you need to travel, and using Postmates instead of going grocery shopping doesn’t exactly create functioning adults.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Helicopter parenting, participation trophies, a lack of real-world experiences and work (whatever happened to summer jobs?), and the systemic failures of higher education have all played their part. Let’s talk a bit about the last one.

America’s modern higher education system has failed to provide marketable skills to an entire generation (going on two now) while massively increasing costs due to ever more bloated administration and taking on a host of projects designed to accomplish social goals rather than to prepare people to be productive. This is not an insignificant contributor to our country’s present sad state of affairs.

They’re depressed!

Every year or so, it seems that the estimated number of depressed people increases. Current estimates claim that 15 percent of the adult population will experience depression at some point in their lifetime. Could it be that the increase in depression is less about any fundamental changes in brain chemistry and more about people allowing themselves to sit around thinking about how bad they imagine their lives to be compared to whatever unrealistic and unrealized fantasies they have concocted?

People have always felt sad, had bad days, and sometimes felt like not getting out of bed. They did it anyway. They got up, put their boots on, did their damn job, took care of their families, and focused on what mattered instead of on their aversions and phobias. Busy people don’t have time for prolonged bouts of introspection and discontent.

I understand that mental health is important. It’s a core component of well-being, in fact, but I believe that people are looking in the wrong direction. Mental health and well-being are not being improved by our modern society—they are being made worse. This hyperfocus on “self-actualization” and other pseudo-scientific nonsense is (quite literally) driving people crazy. Life will never be perfect and happiness is a decision more than it is a reaction to circumstances or environment. Humanity (as a species) has long benefited from the structure of people getting married, having children, producing wealth, and training the next generation to do the same.

Today, people are questioning the basic science of their own existence, mutilating their bodies, attempting to restructure the primary building blocks of society and humanity, all while going into debt and rejecting fundamental biological imperatives. Humanity isn’t evolving at this point. It’s (over) thinking itself out of existence.

The downside of freedom

Let me go on record as being an unequivocal supporter of individual freedom. You absolutely have the right to do or not do whatever you choose so long as you do not aggress against the life, liberty, or property of others in the process. That said, it is still possible to use (or misuse) one’s freedom in a manner which is harmful to oneself and which, if widely adopted, could lead to the downfall of the human race. I’m not just talking about excessive heroin use, either.

Among millennials (although the trend is spreading), there is a growing tendency to question everything—even basic truths and fundamental realities. They question their genders and their sexuality, their purpose in life, their reason for existence. They search for hidden and higher meanings in everyone and everything, all the while condemning those who prefer a more forthright existence. Saving the whales is no longer enough—now they want to save the planet (perhaps the next generation will task themselves with saving the galaxy) as if they are the superheroes of their childhood imaginations.

The result is something of a lost generation. They are not aimless, exactly, but by taking aim at everything, they are effective at nothing. Rather than focus on the fundamentals of career and family, they search for meaning through social justice campaigns and wars against those who hold unpopular or traditional views.

And yet they are still unhappy and unfulfilled.

This situation can be vividly observed in millions of disaffected young Americans embracing the tenets of socialism as preached by a septuagenarian millionaire who has convinced them that their happiness is contingent on torpedoing the economy for short-term gain. Perhaps they will be happy when they are reduced to eating zoo animals as has happened recently in the “socialist paradise” of Venezuela.

What now?

The solution to these problems isn’t particularly complicated, but its implementation is far more difficult. The solution is a return to the proven principles of hard work and free markets that transformed America from an agrarian colony to an economic powerhouse unrivaled in human history.

Human beings thrive when they are busy and productive. Sitting around a coffee shop debating which pronouns most effectively convey one’s chromosomal ambivalence is not the key to happiness. We need purpose and ambition for our lives to have meaning. We need work and responsibly to give us a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

The beauty of a free market is that an individual’s drive is all that is required for success. It doesn’t require that one be born a noble or attend a royal academy. In a free market, those with talent and ambition have truly unlimited potential. Sadly, this seems to scare millennials rather than to inspire them. They want to turn off the market and replace it with a “universal basic income” so that everyone can be equally miserable in a life of perpetual navel-gazing.

I may be a millennial by age, but I have no desire to spend my life in morose self-absorption while blaming those who are successful for my mistakes and bewailing my life in a world that fails to acknowledge my genius. Life is too short to waste it wishing for an unobtainable reality—especially given how much happiness is available in our present reality to anyone with the gumption to take advantage of it.

I refuse to be a part of the weakest generation and to squander my life begging the state to care for me. I want no part of such a pathetic existence. I will make my own way in this world and I challenge others to do the same. Let’s return to the proven strategies that have successfully created prosperity for numerous past generations. They never stopped working. People did.

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Everything Dies Baby, That’s a Fact

Nebraska is the only good album by Bruce Springsteen. But that’s not the point of this post. This post is about death.

For something good to happen, something has to die. Harsh but true.

When you get married, your single self dies. When you become a parent, your childless self dies. When you move into the future, the present dies to the past. Every time.

We see death every day in plants and animals and seasons. Its cyclical nature and preponderance to create something new seem obvious. But it’s harder to see the same process at work in our human lives. We associate death with, well, death. Really, we should associate it with life. For something new to be born, something must die.

This principle is so unavoidable and fundamental that every culture has myths and rituals mimicking it. Apparently, despite its universality and inescapability, we fear and misunderstand it so much that we need to make strange, regular recreations of this principle of nature just so we don’t forget or miss the lessons.

The ancient idea of sacrifices is the crudest and most obvious version, but all cultures are full of less extreme and literal representations of the death-to-life cycle. I remember hearing about a ritual among some African tribes, where adolescents were awakened in the night by masked parents, dragged into the woods, and buried alive. To enter adulthood, they had to dig out of the grave and find their way back to the village.

If you can put aside the oddness and cruelty of the ritual, it’s pretty profound. Adulthood is a kind of death. The ideas, beliefs, habits, frameworks, assumptions, and actions of a child are wonderful. And they must die. If you continue to see the world and the people in it as mostly built around you, owing and freely giving you protection and sustenance, the world will destroy you. If not in body, in spirit. An adult living like a dependent child is a soul-dead existence. To be fully alive as an adult, the child in you has to die.

The cold shock of masked people carrying you off to the woods, burying you, and leaving you to die is quite the metaphor. (The more intense rituals seem to blur the line between literal and metaphorical). It’s an awakening to the fact that the world doesn’t care about you qua you. You won’t be cared for just because you exist. You have to shatter the illusion that you are owed or will be given anything you don’t earn. The ritual is like a hardcore version of this timeless Cracked article.

New vistas, challenges, projects, and adventures beckon. We all talk about them, assume we’ll experience them, and plan for progress. Some people constantly achieve new stuff, while others don’t. It’s not always lack of goals and dreams that keep people from progress. Sometimes it’s fear of death. The difference between a dream deferred and a dream pursued isn’t so much the step into future as the killing of the present. You’ve got to cut the baggage of where and who you are loose and let it sink to the depths before you can become the next version. The old Dr. Who must die for a new one to emerge. (Very sad in the case of David Tennant.)

That’s why I don’t think it helps much when, at some momentous parting, someone says, “This isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning!” No, it’s the end. The status quo is dying. Never to live again. You must accept, acknowledge, and own its death.

Of course it is also the beginning of a new era, and one that’s even better. But to ignore the death part and quickly move to the new part is a mistake. You need to really kill it. Really let it go. If you try to let the old live subconsciously with the new, you’ll tear yourself in two. (You’re welcome for the rhyme). This is why those rituals exist, remember? It’s too easy to try to sneak one past old death. “Yep, nothing to see here, just moving on to be a new version of myself”, meanwhile the rotting zombie of your former self is snarling suspiciously under the desk. Time to take it out back and shoot it.

The reason it’s so hard for us to fully embrace the death step as a precondition to new life is probably because the one kind of death that looms largest for us is one after which we can’t see the next step. We don’t exactly know what happens after our heart stops. The unknown hereafter is a lot to ponder, so we tend to avoid it. This avoidance trickles and seeps into all the lesser forms of death that ought not trouble us so much. Like our physical death, we ignore the other deaths. To our detriment. It gets pretty ugly when you see someone dragging along a bunch of dead versions of themselves, insisting they’re still alive, refusing to bury them and give life to the new.

So, if you want to do cool stuff you’ve got to learn to die. There are all kinds of death, and each new level in each area of life requires a different kind. There’s ego death, reputation death, innocence death, ignorance death, nice guy/gal death, and so many more. A good life is a series of deaths. So you’d better find some ritual or process or belief that helps you make your peace with death so you can burst into life.

And who knows, maybe when you get comfy with lesser death, you won’t fear the big one quite so much either.

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Electrocuting Dogs

Nobody asked but …

“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell,” wrote Carl Sandburg.  Although this is specific advice for lawyers, it can be general advice for us all.  Unfortunately, the less beneficial aspects of this advice are often explored.

I am in the middle of a good book right now.  The novel is The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore.  It is about the competition between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison, with the involvement of Nicola Tesla, for the electrification of America.  I am fascinated by this kind of stuff, as I come from a line of engineers, started college as an electrical engineering student, and have stayed in college, learning and teaching, as a software engineer for the rest of my life, so far.  As a voluntaryist, I am even more fascinated by the human dynamic of the open market which resulted in the current (no pun intended) worldwide dependence on the infrastructure of electricity.

The time period in question, the mid-19th century, was an early beneficiary of the scientific method, propounded by giants like Newton and DesCartes.  But many of the people involved were not Newton or DesCartes.  Like the first attempts at illumination, the era often generated more heat than light.  Charlatanism had also been handed down by phrenologists and alchemists.  Getting something for nothing proved to be the same siren song for humans as it always had.  Wishful thinking, magical thinking, and confirmation bias abounded.

Insincere spokespersons advocated making the architectural choice between AC or DC by making theatrical presentations involving first shocking then electrocuting dogs and horses.  Eventually the stakes were raised to Edison’s film about the electrocution of an elephant, and further a doctored film of human electrocution (where the state intervened in the argument).  None of these shows were dispositive of careful scientific principle, but the presenters made sure that lots of reporters were there.

How many humans and other animals have died since, based on the choice?  One would hope, when decisions with such a long tail are made, it is done with less show biz but more careful consideration of principle.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Killing the American Meritocracy

The American Dream is under attack like never before—not just the ability to fulfill the dream—but its very concept and history. At the core of the American Dream is the idea of meritocracy. There is no royalty in America, no titles of nobility, no entrenched caste system. You could be born anywhere, to anyone, and still achieve success. It was not just a story. Many real-world examples show exactly this trajectory. Poor children, and sometimes even penniless immigrants, grew up to achieve great success. Some even become titans of industry.

Why then is there such an effort underway to denigrate the idea of meritocracy? It is my belief that those who prefer a centrally planned society to one based on freedom, liberty, and personal achievement are intentionally rewriting history so as to make people believe that so-called “privilege” rather than merit has been the primary factor in achieving success throughout American history. This lie is then combined with the fallacies of communism (such as the labor theory of value and the fixed pie fallacy) in order to bolster the argument for central planning and massive government.

In order to understand the nature of the attacks on our meritocracy, we should start by understanding what a meritocracy is—and what it is not. Some definitions of the word smuggle in the concept of central planning: Merriam-Webster defines it as “a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement.” Others try to divorce the concepts of wealth from success: The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “a social system, society, or organization in which people get success or power because of their abilities, not because of their money or social position.” Neither of these definitions fully explains what meritocracy is as it relates to the American Dream, however, so perhaps a new term is required. I propose we call this the American Meritocracy.

Unlike what some of these other definitions imply, no one is necessarily being selected or moved ahead nor are wealth or social position irrelevant to success. In the American Meritocracy, a free market allows individuals to leverage all of their intelligence, talents, knowledge, wealth, connections, and even luck to get ahead. Those who are successful are correctly regarded as having earned their success, while those who are not successful are rightly considered less ambitious… or worse.

One of the most pernicious fallacies in public discourse today is that someone having wealth represents “inequality” in some meaningful manner. This idea ties in directly with the myth of “privilege” which expands the possible sources of “inequality” to include race, sex, religion, education, and any number of other things depending on who is defining it. The purveyors of the “privilege” doctrine conspicuously fail to explain the myriad success stories involving un-privileged members of society, however; it is as if these achievers do not merit their consideration. They will happily prattle on with anecdotes of the single mother working three jobs while accumulating more credit card debt each month, yet fail to mention the single mothers who save money, start businesses, win awards, and send their kids on to college. If confronted with these inconvenient tales of success, they will hand-wave them away as irrelevant outliers, falling back on statistics that prove little more than that people who are successful tend to be exceptional in many ways.

Behind the fallacy of “privilege” are two fundamental communist doctrines. The first is the labor theory of value, which posits a direct correlation between the value of a good or service and the labor required to produce it. The irrationality of this concept is easily seen in comparing two works of art. Both could be the same size, use the same materials, and take the same amount of time to complete, yet one could be worth millions while the other might be worth little or indeed be judged as truly worthless. The only difference between them is the perceived talent of the artist.

I say “perceived talent” because value is not actually an inherent quality of a good or service. Utility and scarcity may be inherent qualities in some cases, but value is always externally ascribed. Both pieces of art may be one-of-a-kind creations, so they would theoretically have equal scarcity, and both would fill an empty wall with equal aplomb, so again, their utility should be equal. Why then is one worth a million dollars and the other unsold? Because their value (like their beauty) is in the eye of the beholder. Be it because of the identity of the artist or certain ineffable qualities in his work, prospective buyers will ascribe far more value to one piece than to another with little or no regard to the quantity of labor involved in its production.

One could labor for a great many hours digging an unwanted ditch and then labor for hours more refilling it without ever having created any value for anyone. Likewise, one can spend their life in a dead-end job asking if folks “want fries with that?” without ever producing $15 worth of value in an hour. Indeed, with the proliferation of self-serve kiosks with flawless knowledge of ingredients and prices combined with perfect memories and increasing speeds, we may soon see a day when the ability to mumble about the availability of supplemental fries has no marketable value at all.

The second fundamental communist canard that underpins the delusion of “privilege” is the fixed-pie fallacy. Economist Milton Friedman summed up this pervasive error well when we said, “Most economic fallacies derive from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another.” We hear this daily rhetoric expressed as concerns about “income inequality” and the supposedly unfair achievements of the “top 1% wealthy” who are nearly universally regarded with suspicion and envy thanks to the prevalence of this particular fallacy.

Skewed statistics suggest that these “Monopoly Man” caricatures have achieved their wealth by plundering the poor, yet these one-sided figures conveniently ignore that “the poor” are richer than ever before, enjoying far more luxuries and longer lives than their historical counterparts. Yes, the “rich” may enjoy a larger percentage of the pie today, but the pie itself is many times larger—and here’s the kicker—it has grown so much larger primarily because of the investments and contributions of those supposedly “evil” rich folks.

Look at it using simple math. If there is a 10-inch pie and you have two slices, how much pie would you have? Now imagine a 10-foot pie of which you have only one slice. To some people, this would be a tragedy, an unconscionable increase in “pie inequality” because you have just one-eighth of a total pie rather than the one-fourth you had before. But is this a reasonable way to measure things? (For the record, if you had 2 of 8 slices of a 10-inch pie, you would have approximately 19.6 square inches of pie. If you had 1 of 8 slices of a 10-foot pie, you would have 1,413.7 square inches of pie, an increase of 721%.)

While it is certainly true that state intervention has made the free market far less free than it could be, the American Meritocracy is still alive and well. Yes, due to taxes, regulations, and occupational licenses, it is more difficult to achieve success than it would be in a fully free market, but there are still virtually limitless opportunities for anyone who is willing to put in the necessary effort and to make the necessary sacrifices.

It is okay to be poor. Some people do not prioritize wealth creation, and that is their right. The problem is when they start blaming their poverty on other people or on “the rich” or “privilege” or some other external force that they claim is keeping them down. If you are poor in America, it is because you have not put in the effort necessary to become wealthy. This may seem harsh and judgmental, but that does not make it untrue. You can achieve success in the American Meritocracy, and if you do not, it is almost certainly your own fault.

Those whose ultimate goal is the eradication of the free market point to the existence of poverty as evidence that the free market has “failed.” They suggest replacing it with “universal” handouts in the form of fully subsidized education, healthcare, family leave, and even income itself. They imagine that these subsidies can be funded indefinitely by plundering the rich—ignoring that even at its current size, the government would blow through the net worth of the rich in a matter of months. In short, they want to kill the American Meritocracy and replace it with a one-size-fits-all communist utopia where the state controls everything and all the little people live in perfect equality.

Quite the fairy tale, is it not? Without “the rich” to keep growing the pie, the pie will naturally begin to shrink and each person’s “equal share” will shrink too. Add in an ever-expanding population, and the predictable economic contractions will guarantee worse outcomes across the board. Instead of some people living in poverty, everyone will live in poverty, and there will be no system in place to facilitate escaping it.

The American Meritocracy is not perfect due to government intervention, but it is still far superior to the abject failure of central planning that is on full display in Venezuela right now. After all, no one is eating zoo animals to stay alive in America.

The American Dream has always been that anyone could achieve success with enough effort and perseverance. This is still true for almost everyone who lives here. The fact that other people may achieve even more success than you does not diminish your success. Despite the fabricated doctrine of “privilege,” there is no ceiling through which you must break or systemic inequality you must overcome. If you can provide quality goods and services to which buyers ascribe value, you too can achieve success in the American Meritocracy. If you fail, you can blame your parents’ wealth (or lack thereof) your race, your sex, your religion, your education, or your astrological sign, and many people will accept your excuses—I will not.

Success in America is not a lottery, it is earned; and if you do not make the effort necessary to earn it, you do not deserve it. I am sure that holding these views makes me a heretic to the church of statism and a disbeliever in the gospel of privilege, but I make no apologies. Your life is of your own making—now go make it better!

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We Need a Substitute for the Word ‘Support’

I support good things because I’m good!

Almost every time someone uses the word ‘support’ it sounds nice but means something nasty.

When people say they support something, it usually means they want governments to make laws that will advance that thing. Legislation is not like business, or family, or society. Those institutions require persuasion and value creation to get the thing you support to win. Legislation is a different beast. The single feature that distinguishes governments from every other institution is that they initiate violence to back everything they do.

So when someone supports something by wishing there were government action, ‘support’ has a very different meaning from the nice one we give it. The nice kind of support might mean you invest your money in or say nice things about something. ‘Support’ as most often used, however, means desire for government action.

To bring clarity and prudence, we should use a more accurate phrase. Try this out with yourself and others, and see if it changes the way you think about things.

Every time you see the word ‘support’, replace it with the phrase, ‘advocate violence on behalf of’. That’s what it usually means.

That’s why supporters of things tend to be regressive and uncivilized. To advocate violence on behalf of something is the approach of very bad children and animals. Humans can do better in 99 out of 100 situations.

In fact, if you modified the statement to ‘advocate the initiation of violence on behalf of’, you could do better 100 times out of 100. Violence sucks, but as a defense against violence may be the least bad approach. Initiating violence never is.

It’s also interesting when you consider the fact that most ‘supporters’ – of wars, drug bans, wage mandates, border walls, land use restrictions, etc. – would find it unthinkable to initiate violence directly on behalf of these things. How many, when they say they support bans on fossil fuels, head to their neighbor’s house with a gun and promise to cage or kill them if they don’t destroy their car and buy a Prius?

But those same people happily vote for people to vote for bills to fund other people to hire others to order others to send threats to their neighbors, the ultimate end of which is the same should they refuse to comply.

The state is that great obfuscating abstraction where we hide our violence in a fog of procedure and collectivism.

It is the most dangerous institution in human history.

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Many Different “Problems,” Identical “Solution” in Every Case

Terrible working conditions
Lots of poor people
Industrial and financial instability
Economic depressions that won’t self-correct
Inadequate supplies of “affordable” housing
Widening economic inequality
Racial and ethnic discrimination
“Market failures” of many kinds
Environmental degradation
Threatened or disappearing species of animals and plants
Global cooling
Global warming
Climate change

These are among the many problems that people have perceived as plaguing economically advanced societies during the past century or so. They differ greatly and involve different causes, mechanisms, and consequences.

Yet in every case the solution has been widely seen as the same: vastly enlarging the power of government. It’s almost enough to make a skeptic wonder whether each perceived or proclaimed problem has been intended from the start to serve as a pretext for a government power grab—especially when one appreciates that somehow the problems that enhanced government power is supposed to solve never get solved to the satisfaction of those who sought the power, but only cry out in their view for even greater augmentation of government power.

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