Use Charity To Become More Practical

If you look closely, you’ll find that even in (especially in) your kind acts to others, you are probably doing an important kindness to yourself.

When I think back to the (occasional) times I’ve helped a stranger jump-start a dead car battery, or the time I stopped to assist a stranger with a flat tire, or the times I’ve tried to help homeless folks, I can see that I’ve learned a tremendous amount that helps me.

These kinds of human interaction (especially for someone who has some shyness) certainly build character and courage. But for me they’ve also been great ways to build a base of practicality in know-how, equipment, and preparedness habits.

Now I don’t go anywhere in my car without my jumper cables or a jerry can for gasoline. I’ve picked up a bit of knowledge  about the homeless shelters in Atlanta: their requirements, specialties, and drawbacks. I even learned some of the basics of the tire-change for the first time from stopping to work with a stranger, so I’m much better prepared for the next time.

I’m not as consistent as I should be in helping others. And when I do I sometimes grumble to myself about it. But I am grateful that I can be valuable in situations where people need help.

Charity can make you more practical – and it’s very friendly to people who want to learn on the job.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Be the Euphoria You Want To See In the World

Euphoria, n. A feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness

When I experience euphoria

I’m a pretty stereotypical runner guy now. So I’d have to tell you first about the euphoria that kicks in several miles into a long run. I’ve written before that it’s like:

You become an animal – something far more basic than your everyday self. You feel amazing, transcendent even – and you also feel desperate. You are being tested and rewarded. You sweat out your distractions, your pettiness, your greed, your insecurities.

This sort of thing isn’t unique to running, though.

I might get it when I wrap up a difficult jiu jitsu class (or some other session learning some difficult skill).

I just about always get it when I’m vulnerable with someone about attraction, or my failures, or difficult truths.

And I probably get it when I work my butt off to organize an event at work or home, when I’m working late in the office and no one’s around*, and when I hit “send” on an email delivering a hard project at 3 AM in the morning.

The common denominator is that I experience this kind of euphoria whenever I confront the things I might tend to avoid. Chemically, it’s adrenaline. Psychologically, it’s conditioning. Spiritually, it’s growth.

The world becomes lighter, I become stronger, and everything falls into place because I know I can take it.

But there’s also euphoria in reflection and dreaming.

When I’m going for a long drive I’ll reflect on where I’ve been and the beauty and chance and hard work (my own and others’) that has gotten me to where I am. There’s a euphoria that comes with realizing that (despite the many problems) you’re living in the fairest, freest, healthiest, wealthiest, and most peaceful society in all of human history.

Also while I’m driving, I’m probably listening to film scores (one of my favorite genres, judge me) and imagining a more adventurous life. If I’m going fast, with the windows down, with courage, and with the hope of a challenge ahead, I’ll feel just a bit euphoric. Heck, I get this sometimes on the way to work, right where I get to pick up speed.

When I see euphoria in the world

I wouldn’t say I often see euphoria – it’s pretty hard to separate from normal happiness or excitement from the outside looking in. But I do see often enough when people come alive – that low-level hum of euphoria and joy that can characterize not just a moment but a life.

You can tell pretty fast whether someone has that low-level euphoria. They voluntarily spend their time exploring a topic. They start talking faster when it comes up. They alternate between grinning with joy and frowning with focus. They own the adrenaline rush, and their initiative is magnetic. It makes you want to work harder.

I see something like this when I see great young apprentices in the Praxis community. They’re often just 18 or so and moving cross-country to work in startups. And the ones that are asking questions, doing hard work, and eking all the value they can get from their experience clearly have that “alive” quality that I don’t see in most young people.

I also see that low-level euphoria when I see great artists at work, like when I saw Lindsey Stirling perform around Christmastime. She may have been tired after a long tour of the same routine, but she did not show it. In the dancing, the decor, the stories, the music, the humor there was this sense of tremendous effort but also of effortless joy. Stirling was someone who from love brought together all of the best of human potential into this show. You have to be alive to do something like that.

So I suppose the answer is the same – if you want to see euphoria, go where the effort is. You can find it at celebrations occasionally, but you’ll find it often where the most sparks are flying.

Be the euphoria you want to see

How do I contribute to euphoria?

I guess I start by experiencing a lot of euphoria (when I can). I’m a big fan of the popular Howard Thurman quote:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

What I want to do is show people that it’s possible and practical to live a life of joy. Most people don’t believe that and so don’t find much euphoria.

So a good deal of that is on me. I’ve had experiences that have convinced me that truth (a big prerequisite for undivided joy) is worth it, and that effort is worth it. I want to communicate that. And I’ll do that best by taking as many chances as I can to surprise and delight people into the realization that joy is *right there* for anyone willing to act boldly.

I can encourage euphoria just by finding and encouraging others already on the path to “what makes them come alive.” If you’re an alive person, you can basically expect to have my friendship, or at least my alliance. Your fire is precious and deserves respect (the world is boring without people like you). I will root for you at least, and I might even be willing to fight for you in the extreme.

And what I’d like to continue to develop is a philosophical grounding for joy. People need to know that their struggles are worthwhile and their joy possible and good. Plenty of good thinkers (Ayn Rand for me, especially) have started this work. I’ll continue to try to share the words I’ve learned and find new ones that make the case for joy.

*The euphoria here is not much different than the state of “flow” in psychology.

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Living In (All) the Moment(s)

For me to “live in the moment” isn’t really different than most people’s meaning for the term: I’m focused on the now, instead of the past or present.

I typically find this state when I’m facing fear. I can tend to dwell on the past or dream and plan about the future, so often I have to be scared and/or adrenaline-d into the moment (maybe this is a fault). A good hard run brings me into touch with the moment, as do most hard conversations or difficult acts of self-integration. It’s very hard to go through these experiences or most challenging new experiences while on autopilot.

But more powerful even than adrenaline is gratitude. And ironically, I find this key to present awareness in past-awareness and global awareness.

When I stop to think about my life (typically this happens when I’m driving), I might come to realize that – compared to both most humans who have ever lived (past awareness) and most humans who are living (global awareness), I have been given so many gifts that I should appreciate. I’m reasonably industrious, reasonably open, healthy, gifted with resources, free. I have stability and live in a peaceful place. In the big picture, I live in a true paradise.

When I do become aware of this, I can be overwhelmed with the input of everything that is blessing me: health, opportunity, skills, family, friends, good memories, good role models, and so on. I become present to the beauty around me in that moment – the sunlight, the skyscrapers – and to the things that have happened to get me to a place of such beauty.

I remember all of the things I’ve done and left undone, and I either celebrate them or resolve to do what needs to be done so I can experience these moments of gratitude and presence without conflict.

So maybe living purely in the moment is overrated anyway. Maybe the best state is really to be able to live in all the moments: to be able to see how your past connects to your present connects to your future.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Why Steve Jobs, not Bill Gates, Was the True Education Visionary

When it comes to education reform, there are generally two camps: those who want to improve the existing mass compulsory schooling system through tweaking and tuning and those who want to build something entirely new and different. Not surprisingly, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was in the “think different” camp, advocating for school choice and vouchers, while Microsoft’s Bill Gates backed the Common Core State Standards and other incremental reforms within the conventional mass schooling model.

The Efforts of the Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into K-12 education over the past 20 years, including $280 million toward Common Core, which people of all political persuasions came to despise for its standardization and government overreach. Earlier this week, the Gates Foundation announced an additional $10 million to train teachers on “high quality” curriculum. The charity is on track to reach its goal of dedicating nearly $2 billion dollars to K-12 education by 2022.

These huge philanthropic efforts, combined with the nearly $700 billion a year that US taxpayers spend on K-12 mass schooling, means Americans spend more on education than any other country but with far more dismal results. Chipping away slowly at standard schooling may not be doing much good.

Jobs Saw the Need for Disruption

Steve Jobs recognized this. He saw that true educational transformation requires disrupting the entire mass schooling model. As he did with his revolutionary Apple products, Jobs envisioned an education system that is innovative, experimental, and individualized for each learner. In a 1995 interview with the Smithsonian Institution, Jobs asserted his support for vouchers and entrepreneurial educators:

 I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for forty-four hundred dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school several things would happen. Number one, schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students. Secondly, I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting…You could have twenty-five-year-old students out of college, very idealistic, full of energy instead of starting a Silicon Valley company, they’d start a school. I believe that they would do far better than any of our public schools would. The third thing you’d see is, I believe, is the quality of schools again, just in a competitive marketplace, start to rise. Some of the schools would go broke. A lot of the public schools would go broke. There’s no question about it. It would be rather painful for the first several years…But far less painful I think than the kids going through the system as it is right now.

For Jobs, vouchers were only one piece of the education transformation puzzle. He realized that an incremental approach to reforming the existing mass schooling model does not work because of the power structures and bureaucratic tendencies inherent in conventional schooling. In the same Smithsonian interview, Jobs said:

I’d like the people teaching my kids to be good enough that they could get a job at the company I work for, making a hundred thousand dollars a year. Why should they work at a school for thirty-five to forty thousand dollars if they could get a job here at a hundred thousand dollars a year? Is that an intelligence test? The problem there, of course, is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what has happened. The teachers can’t teach and administrators run the place and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible.

Two Different Experiences, Two Different Outlooks

The vastly different education policy approaches favored by Gates and Jobs may be due in part to their own childhood schooling experiences. Gates attended a private day school, Lakeside School, in Seattle, Washington, and said in 2005: “Lakeside was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”

Jobs, on the other hand, had a far less favorable reaction to his public schooling. He recalled:

School was pretty hard for me at the beginning. My mother taught me how to read before I got to school and so when I got there I really just wanted to do two things. I wanted to read books because I loved reading books and I wanted to go outside and chase butterflies. You know, do the things that five-year-olds like to do. I encountered authority of a different kind than I had ever encountered before, and I did not like it. And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.

While both of these tech moguls dropped out of college to start wildly successful businesses, their opinions on K-12 education policy reflect many of the differences that came to symbolize their respective companies. Apple’s visionary motto of “Think Different” challenges the status quo, while Microsoft’s “Empowering Us All” may just capture the next incremental change on a well-trodden path.

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Foreign Policy III: AnCapistan

In my first article on foreign policy, I discussed normative foreign policy in the context of the United States Constitution. In the second article, I focused on a specific aspect of foreign policy when I posited that the United States should diplomatically recognize Liberland. In this article, I discuss “foreign policy” in a stateless society: “AnCapistan,” if you will.

What would foreign policy look like in a territory with no government? To someone yet infected with vestiges of statist philosophy, the question is absurd. Such a one may believe foreign policy is the exclusive province of governments.

Strictly speaking, in current political science parlance, this may be true. Britannica defines foreign policy thus: “General objectives that guide the activities and relationships of one state in its interactions with other states.”  In the absence of a state, this definition takes us nowhere. However, practically, an individual can engage in all the usual foreign policy domains: diplomacy, trade, military action, and humanitarian action.

Diplomacy on an individual scale is probably the most straightforward foreign policy activity to engage in, especially with modern technology. Sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and others let you network with people around the world for business, common interests, etc. The absence of the state simplifies the situation significantly: instead of a few people engaging each other with millions of lives on the line, people would just have to choose to be nice to each other or suffer relatively minor social consequences.

Trade is really a faux element of foreign policy.  While governments obviously do buy things, the vast majority of economic activity is done by private individuals and companies. Governments often interfere in this trade (in the name of foreign policy, usually) with tariffs and other restrictions. In the absence of a state, individuals would be free to choose with whom to trade. If you wanted to punish a group of people by declining to engage in commerce with them, that would be your prerogative. I suspect that this sort of thing would be much less common in a stateless society since it mostly happens only by force under the current paradigm.

Governments often undertake humanitarian action as part of their foreign policy. However, as with everything else, private entities do it better and more efficiently. Organizations like the Red Cross and the Free Burma Rangers engage in humanitarian action far more efficiently than governments can or will. Also, without huge portions of income being stolen through taxation, people would have more resources to share voluntarily. Better yet, they’d have more resources to create and grow enterprises, multiplying resources so many fewer people would need charity.

Military action is possibly the most apparent aspect of foreign policy, and also the one most would assume is the exclusive province of states. However, even now private citizens go to fight ISIS. Americans did the same in the Spanish Civil War. Others fought independently in the Cuban War for Independence. Some of these actions are of dubious legality now, and some might be of questionable morality as well.  Both points could likewise be made about most wars initiated by governments. Naturally, in the absence of a state or states, the legal question would be moot, while the moral issue would become much more clear. Often, bad and pointless wars are blindly supported by people who would know better if they had to write a check or pick up a gun themselves. For an exciting budget film by a U.S. combat Veteran that explores this point indirectly, check out One Man’s Terrorist.

In a territory without government, individuals would be free to be friends with whomever they wanted, trade with whomever they wanted, support whichever side of a military conflict they chose, and offer humanitarian aid to whomever they preferred. Also, without taxes, they’d have more resources to do these things.

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Immigration isn’t a Real Problem

Emotions are running hot on the topic of immigration these days, both for and against, with most of the current drama surrounding birthright citizenship and migrant caravans.

Immigration is a government-caused problem that can’t be solved with more government.

I’m not talking about people being imported and settled by government; that’s not immigration. I completely oppose such government programs. I’m only talking about people making their own way to a new place.

People tend to move from places with less liberty to places with more. More liberty also creates prosperity. Despite the best efforts of the Department of Homeland Security and the government’s other alphabet soup agencies, America still has more liberty than some other places. I’m sure they’ll close this loophole as soon as possible so no one will want to come to America anymore.

Until they succeed, people will want to move here.

An inconvenient fact for those claiming to oppose only “illegal immigration”: there’s no such thing.

Regulating immigration isn’t allowed by the Constitution.

The parts commonly used to justify immigration control only allow government to regulate the importation of slaves and to set the rules for becoming a new citizen. Immigration restriction isn’t permitted. I’m not saying this is good or bad, but as it stands government immigration control isn’t legal.

Any government employee who enforces a law that isn’t allowed by the Constitution is a criminal, while those who break unconstitutional laws aren’t.

If you don’t like this, petition for a constitutional amendment, which allows government to control immigration.

Honestly, though, there’s no such thing as immigration. There are only people moving around. Either a person is where they have a right to be, through property ownership or an arrangement with the property owner, or they are trespassing. “Public land” can’t, by definition, be trespassed upon, regardless of the claims of government. Whether you allow others to use your private property is your choice, not the choice of your neighbors or voters.

If newcomers are a problem, there are ways to fix it.

  • Abolish all tax-funded welfare and replace it with voluntary charity.
  • Stop allowing politics, and votes, to violate rights. Natural human rights are never legitimately up for a vote nor subject to a law, no matter how many voters believe otherwise.
  • Stop criminalizing defense of life, liberty, and property, and encourage everyone to carry the proper tools of defense at all times.

Immigration isn’t a problem, unless you allow government to keep making it a problem.

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