“Meatless Mondays” and the Rise of Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

One of our favorite family poems is Shel Silverstein’s “Point Of View.” It’s witty without being preachy yet prompts the listener to more thoughtfully consider the act of meat-eating: “Thanksgiving dinner’s sad and thankless/ Christmas dinner’s dark and blue. /When you stop and try to see it/ From the turkey’s point of view.”

Reading this poem reinforces the idea that eating meat or not eating meat is a personal choice, a lifestyle decision that may be rooted in one’s own sense of right and wrong. There are many social, cultural, and individual reasons why someone might be a carnivore or a vegetarian. It’s a private decision of the home and family.

Private Choice or Public Policy?

Except when it isn’t. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced earlier this month that all New York City public schools would enact “Meatless Mondays,” avoiding any meat offerings during Monday school breakfasts and lunches beginning this fall. “Cutting back on meat a little will improve New Yorkers’ health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” de Blasio said in a statement. “We’re expanding Meatless Mondays to all public schools to keep our lunch and planet green for generations to come.”

The mayor acknowledges that vegetarianism is a personal choice. At a press conference announcing his new vegetarian agenda, he stated: “So, for me, this is very personal, because – and I will say up front, I eat meat and I eat vegetarian dishes and I try and strike a balance between the two. But I have two vegetarians in my home and they feel very strongly about this.”

Mayor de Blasio’s family members apparently feel very strongly about their personal choice to be vegetarians. Good for them. The issue is when someone’s personal preferences become public policy. The mayor explains in his speech that sometimes we need those philosopher-kings to guide the masses: “Sometimes it’s our elected officials who are the trailblazers and the visionaries.”

How about letting individuals and families make their own choices about what to eat? Should government officials really have the power to decide what you put into your own body?

There are, thankfully, ways around the Meatless Monday mandate. New York City parents can pack their own child’s meals, with meat if they choose. As I’ve written previously, these homemade lunches are a much healthier option for children than the USDA-issued variety. Parents can also opt-out of public schooling altogether, something more parents are doing in New York City and elsewhere to regain control over their children’s education.

Government Mandating Subjective Decisions

The Meatless Monday plan is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to government dictates on right and wrong, often using compulsory government schools to influence young people. Comprehensive sex education curriculum mandates in public schools continue to spark controversy, challenging various belief systems and family preferences. And the push to introduce “character education” into schools as a way to boost students’ moral compasses begs the question of whose moral compass will be used.

In a pluralistic society, state mandates on morality are inevitably contentious. A new report by Boston’s Pioneer Institute examines the growing impact of SEL, or the widespread emphasis on “social-emotional learning” in schools over academic content. Through various curricula and teaching methods, SEL initiatives can mold students’ perceptions of themselves and their world in a potentially narrow way.

Jane Robbins co-authored the study, called “Social Emotional Learning: K-12 Education as New-Age Nanny State.” She explains,

It’s one thing to direct your own moral, ethical, and emotional development or that of your children, but having a government vendor or unqualified public school officials implement an SEL curriculum based on coffee-table psychology is quite another.

Individuals and families should be the ones to determine their own values and moral worldviews, not government agents—often working through public schools—dictating good and bad.

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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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Shutdown Theater: Trump is Winning

As I write this, the US government is in its 18th day of a putative “shutdown.” Some federal employees have been furloughed — sent home — while others are expected to show up each day but also warned to expect an empty pay envelope come Friday. As of tomorrow, the shutdown will become the second longest in history, surpassed only by a 32-day funding fight in December of 1995 and January of 1996.

Does anyone want to bet against president Donald Trump holding out for the record? He likes doing things in a big way. It wouldn’t surprise me if he went for 33 days just out of the cussedness he’s known for.

And at the moment, frankly, he’s winning this fight.  To understand why, consider what he’s really after. Hint: It’s not just a border wall.

On Christmas Day, Trump said that “many” of the furloughed/unpaid government employees “have said to me, communicated, stay out until you get the funding for the wall.”

Two days later, he tweeted “Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?”

He was right on both counts. A major component of federal employment is in law enforcement and corrections. Many of these people are, and others might well become, part of the “Trump Democrat” portion of his base that put him over the top in 2016. More funding for “border security” means more jobs in their line of work.

If the shutdown pain isn’t too bad and doesn’t go on for too long, he’ll keep some of those government employees in, and move others into, his column for 2020.

And even if the shutdown pain IS bad, or drags on, many of them will blame Congress, not Trump. After all, he’s “only” asking for $5 billion for the wall. That’s 1/200th of what the government spent on Social Security last year. It’s about 1/800th of total federal expenditures last year. Pocket change! And Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are holding their paychecks over it!

Trump is also winning by signaling a divided Congress that things are going to start getting done his way or not getting done at all. It takes a 2/3 vote of both houses to override a presidential veto. Assuming Democrats (including those posturing as “independents”) vote unanimously, forcing a spending deal on Trump that he doesn’t accept would require 55 Republican Representatives and 20 Republican Senators to defect. That’s incredibly unlikely.

I personally don’t want Trump to get his wall, and I’d rather the federal government stayed “shut down” forever on general principle.

But if I was a betting man, I’d bet that the shutdown will end with something resembling the wall funding he’s demanding and with a cowed Congress. You read it here first.

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Trump’s Holiday Gift to America: Hope for a Little More Peace on Earth?

In March, US president Donald Trump promised the American public that US troops would be leaving Syria “very soon.”

Nine months later, he threw Washington’s political establishment into turmoil by finally ordering the withdrawal he’d promised. Politicians like US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who’d never once in four years bestirred themselves to authorize the previous president’s decision to go to war there in the first place, railed against Trump’s decision to bring the bloody matter to a close.

Instead of backing down in the face of opposition, Trump doubled down. Or, rather, decided to draw down the 17-year-long US military presence in Afghanistan.

Then he jetted off for a surprise Christmas visit to Iraq … eliciting, with his usual theatrics, calls from Iraqi lawmakers for US withdrawal from THAT country. I suspect he may concede to that demand as well.

Nothing’s written in stone, and both US foreign policy and Donald Trump are prone to sudden and unexpected turns. But the holiday season is a time of hope. Maybe, just maybe, nearly three decades of US war in the Middle East are coming to the beginning of their end.

Adding to that hope, let’s turn an eye further east.

After significant saber-rattling and then a sudden turn toward personal diplomacy, Trump stood back and let events on the Korean peninsula take their course even as he continued the bellicose rhetoric and sanctions noises demanded of him by Graham and company.

As a result, North and South seem on the brink of ending a 68-year war. They’ve begun removing land mines and guard posts along the Demilitarized Zone. They’ve broken ground on a railway connecting the two countries.

Is it possible that Trump, as some of his supporters like to say, has been playing 4D chess while the rest of us distracted ourselves with checkers?

I’d really like to think so, and I do hope so.

As an advocate for ending US military adventurism, I’ve doubted Trump every step of the way. During his presidential campaign, he alternated between talking peace and pronouncing himself the most militaristic of the GOP’s presidential aspirants.

I’ve generally found it safer to believe the worst, rather than the best, things politicians say about themselves. But at moments like these,  his bizarre zigs and zags on the global 4D chess board suddenly seem in retrospect to have taken American foreign policy in the right direction.

If he brings home substantial numbers of the American fighting men and women now in harm’s way around the globe, he will have secured his legacy and deserve the thanks of a grateful nation. I wish him every success in that endeavor.

Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men, and Happy New Year.

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Christmas Was a Libertarian Event (9m) – Editor’s Break 125

Editor’s Break 125 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: an essay he wrote in December 2009 outlining the ways that the first Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, was a libertarian event.

Listen to Editor’s Break 125 (9m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “everything voluntary”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc.

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Trump v. Bump: A Potentially Deadly Holiday Decision

On December 18, just in time for Christmas, the US Department of Justice announced a new 157-page rule banning “bump stocks.” The regulatory move comes 14 months after Stephen Paddock’s murder of 58 concert attendees in Las Vegas, Nevada made the devices notorious.

The new rule is a dumb and dangerous piece of political grandstanding, and there’s no doubt who’s behind it. “We are faithfully following President Trump’s leadership” said acting US Attorney General Matt Whitaker, “by making clear that bump stocks, which turn semi-automatics into machine guns, are illegal …”

A couple of nitpicks:

First, both Whitaker’s claim and the definition in the rule itself (“a semiautomatic firearm to which a bump-stock-type device is attached is able to produce automatic fire with a single pull of the trigger”) are as inaccurate on the factual end as “bump firing” is where hitting targets is concerned. Bump firing requires one pull of a semi-automatic’s trigger per shot, merely allowing a shooter to pull the trigger faster, with a severe penalty to accuracy (if Paddock was a skilled marksman, his use of bump stocks probably saved lives).

Secondly, the rule is completely useless vis a vis its supposed goal. Bump firing is a technique that can be implemented using devices as simple as rubber bands, belt loops on pants, or even just one’s body. Commercial bump stocks are novelty items, not necessary tools for using the technique. The rule is the equivalent of banning pet rocks to reduce the incidence of rock-throwing.

That said, this rule has the potential to cost far more lives than Stephen Paddock took in Vegas.

The rule requires those possessing the banned devices to destroy them or turn them in to law enforcement within 90 days of its publication in the Federal Register (by right around Easter).

According to Matt Vasilogambros of the Pew Trust,  the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives  believes there are more than 500,000 commercial bump stocks in the hands of American gun owners.

When New Jersey’s politicians passed a similar law, the number of bump stocks turned in was … wait for it … zero. If the incidence of bump stock ownership in New Jersey tracks national population averages, that’s zero out of more than 13,000.

If ATF wants those bump stocks, it’s going to have to start knocking on doors and forcibly taking them from hundreds of thousands of gun owners who have declined to voluntarily surrender them.

What could possibly go wrong?

The best possible outcome of this stunt is that it will simply be ignored both by its supposed enforcers and its prospective victims.

Otherwise, Trump’s Christmas present to the anti-gun lobby may well turn into an Easter basket for America’s trauma units and funeral homes.

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