We Wanted Tech

“We wanted workers, but we got people instead.”  This line from Max Frisch didn’t just give George Borjas the title of his most recent book.  At last Friday’s immigration conference in St. Cloud, Borjas declared it his all-time favorite immigration epiphany.  The point, he explained, is that immigrants aren’t just machines that produce stuff; they have broad social effects on our culture, politics, budget, and beyond.

Borjas is right, of course.  In fact, he doesn’t go far enough.  After all, even machines aren’t just machines that produce stuff.  They too have broad social effects on our culture, politics, budget, and beyond.  If you look closely at any major technological development, you can justly say, “We wanted tech, but we changed society instead.”

Consider cellphones.  When they were first introduced, you might picture them as more convenient phonebooths.  But they’ve revolutionized not only our society, but our psychology.  Many human beings now interact with their phones more than they interact with fellow human beings; go to any public place and you will see this to be true.  Even when we are talking to fellow human beings, cellphones have changed the tone and tenor of our conversations.  When I casually chat with my friends, for example, we often fact check each others’ assertions.  And cellphones are crucial for social media, which has dramatically swayed not only public discourse, but elections and policy.  Without Twitter, would Donald Trump’s candidacy even have been able to get off the ground?

When driverless cars come, they’ll disrupt our whole society again.  Commuting time will plausibly skyrocket, especially in high-rent areas.  If you can relax – or even sleep – in your car, why pay $1M for a tiny apartment downtown?  Indeed, once you get rid of the driver’s seat, we’ll probably turn cars into small motorhomes, so “living out of your car” could become an alternative lifestyle rather than a tale of woe.  And what will happen to all the truck drivers, taxi drivers, Uber drivers, and delivery drivers?

Still not convinced?  I trust you’ll admit that nuclear technology did more to the world than slash electric bills.

Verily, we wanted tech, but we changed society instead.

How should you react to this truism?  You could say, “Duh, everybody knows this already.”  That’s my knee-jerk reaction to Frisch’s quote, too.  But both “duhs” are too dismissive.  “Obvious once you think about it”≠”Obvious.”

What else is there to say?

1. You could retreat to agnosticism.  “Well, there are direct economic benefits, plus an array of intangible social effects.  We don’t know how to measure these intangibles; we don’t even know if they’re good or bad.”  This is basically what Borjas said about immigration in his Friday talk.  There’s no reason we couldn’t generalize it.

Reaction: Philosophically, agnosticism of any kind is incoherent sophistry.  We always have some information.  We can and should combine this information with common sense to form reasonable guesses about whatever question is on our minds.  Crucially, “information” includes psychological evidence about the errors to which the human mind is prone.  And one of the best ways to keep your guesses reasonable is openness to bets.

2. You could start by measuring the direct benefits, then see if any of the broader social negatives are plausibly in the same ballpark.  If not, the standard conclusion still goes through despite the complexity of the world.

Reaction: Once you factor in the value of time, this is typically the best approach for laymen.  It’s a quick way to resolve a wide range of policy disputes, especially if you embrace some version of weak deontology rather than consequentialism.

3. You could try a lot harder to study the measurement of so-called “intangibles.”  This might require a massive research program to fill in the enormous gaps in our knowledge.  Or perhaps if you play around on Google Scholar, you’ll discover that many researchers have already measured the stuff you imagine “no one knows.”

Reaction: This is the best approach for experts.  If you do good work and/or publicize it, you also help laymen reach the truth with modest mental effort.  So earn your paycheck!

Whatever you conclude, know that immigration is nothing special.  Everything has broader social effects.  These complexities are no reason to defer to popular prejudice, which is what I suspect Borjas hopes we’ll do.  Instead, these complexities are a reason to think broader and work harder to get the best answers we can.

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Quarter-Life Crises Are Good For You

“So teach us to count our days
    that we may gain a wise heart.” – Psalm 90:12

I’m about to turn 23, and I’m feeling the pinch of time. It really does pick up speed.

By 23, I expected I would have my own business, a published book, a trusty old horse, the looks of Indiana Jones, a Batcave, and a sidekick. I’m sure you had similar high ambitions when you were 17 or so: maybe you were going to travel, read all the great books, or invest and become financially independent at an early age.

I’m not saying I’m having a quarter-life crisis. But I am saying I understand the people who do.

Around the time life speeds up, it can be very easy to start forgetting and neglecting all the things you said you were going to do. By the time you reach the quarter-century mark of our lives, you realize you’ve either over-shot our goals or under-budgeted time and effort for your achievements.

I’ve done a lot of cool things in 23 year of life – things I never expected I would do. But I also see all the ways I shirked from my goals, wasted my time, wasted good wealth, and stayed comfortable when I should have been bold and wise.

Here are a few things I wish I had known coming out of my teens into my twenties:

1. Always be cultivating and protecting your independence. Breaking out of the gravitational pull of the life model set by your parents and your peers is harder than you thing. It’s not a once and done thing – as I assumed somewhat. You must constantly review your lifestyle and resist the subconscious pull of imitating others. You must be capable of repeating all of the hard decisions and hard conversations and hard sacrifices of your “coming of age” in new forms.

2 Things come in cycles – so prepare for a marathon, not a sprint. Each moral dilemma, expense, setback, challenge, duty will feel new, like a one-time challenge that can be forgotten and then left behind. But you will realize slowly that these things come in cycles – and that you have to budget for them in terms of time, energy and resources. Too many times I’ve thrown everything I have at a problem or desire, only for it to come back again to find me unprepared. I should have

3. Time dilates. Again, that old thing about time running faster? It’s entirely true. Once you get into work, you’ll find all of that youthful free time shrinking and shrinking. It’s easy to be lulled into thinking that just working a job well is progress. It isn’t – not if you want your own Batcave or cruise ship (insert wildly big goal here). You will have to notice how the weeks and months blend together – and learn from that flow how precious your time is. To manage to reach your goals as your time shrinks, you will have to be increasingly disciplined and intentional about how you use your time.

4. You aren’t special. Around my age, you start losing all of that “special snowflake” status you may have had when you were college-aged. You no longer get to compare yourself to college students. You finally have to compare yourself to what you thought your adult self would be life. And you probably will be disappointed. But that’s a good thing. You should be competing against and aspiring to the kind of lives led by the best men and women in history. And to even start on that path, you have to realize how far off the track and how unexceptional you currently are.

5. Progress and regress both compound quickly. Most if not all progress works on the principle of compound interest. And with time going by faster and faster, you can either see progress or regress compound faster and faster. Every year passing by puts you further behind or further ahead – there is no standing still. Small habits started young will snowball (particularly where character is concerned). I’ve gone from running a mile to running a half-marathon in a year of progress on one metric. I’ve also seen myself spend more and more of my money (money I should be investing) from a habit of trading money for convenience. Not good. I’ve also wasted this effect by spreading myself too thin on things to learn or do.

The reason I’m *not* having a quarter-life crisis? Because now I know these things. And I know it’s half-time for my youth. In the words of Clint Eastwood (just replace “America” with “me”)

“All that matters now is what’s ahead. How do we come from behind? How do we come together? And, how do we win? Detroit’s showing us it can be done. And, what’s true about them is true about all of us. This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, it’s halftime America. And, our second half is about to begin.”

We need a good hard slap in this day and age to remind ourselves that life is short. We need a good reminder that life is passing us by and life will pass us by – comfortably – if we don’t do anything about it.

Let’s use our birthdays (and quarter-life crises) to remember that.

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Elon Musk’s Innovative Education Blueprint

“I hated going to school when I was a kid. It was torture,” said Elon Musk while describing Ad Astra, the school he opened on the California campus of his SpaceX company’s headquarters. In 2014, Musk pulled his five boys out of an elite private school in Los Angeles and decided to open his own school for his children and the children of some of his SpaceX employees. He recruited one of his sons’ former schoolteachers to help run the school, which currently serves about 50 students.

Disruptive Alternatives to Traditional Schooling

In a 2015 interview about the school, the billionaire inventor said: “The regular schools weren’t doing the things that I thought should be done. So I thought, well, let’s see what we can do.” Ad Astra, which means “to the stars,” disrupts the very idea of school. It has no grade levels, an emergent curriculum, and no mandatory classes. As Fortune reports, “There are no grades given to students at the school and if the children don’t like a particular class they’re taking, they can simply opt out.”

At Ad Astra, young people work collaboratively on projects ranging from robotics and coding to chemistry and math. Creative problem solving is a guiding principle. According to the Washington Post: “There are no sports, music or languages taught. Musk believes computer-assisted language translation is not far from being widely available.”

A Growing Trend

Recognizing a mismatch between coercive schooling and the rise of a creative economy where human ingenuity will be our key professional advantage when competing with robots, innovative companies are increasingly launching their own unconventional schools. WeWork, the co-working office space company now valued at $45 billion, launched its alternative school, WeGrow, in 2017 in its New York City headquarters. It now has 46 students in grades pre-K through fourth grade. Like Musk’s Ad Astra, WeGrow sprouted because WeWork’s founding partner and chief brand officer, Rebekah Neumann, wanted a different educational experience for her five young children. In an interview with Fast Company, Neumann said: “These children come into the world, they are very evolved, they are very special. They’re spiritual. They’re all natural entrepreneurs, natural humanitarians, and then it seems like we squash it all out of them in the education system.” Neumann continued:

The whole format was created during the Industrial Revolution, so that people would grow up and learn how to take orders on an assembly line…A lot of parents say, “Schools are not doing it right. But we’re going to kind of go with that anyway because there’s no better option.” I just wasn’t willing to accept that, especially during such formative years.

WeGrow and Ad Astra share a similar educational philosophy focused on cultivating children’s passions, immersing them in authentic projects, and encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit. WeGrow hopes to expand its schooling network alongside its WeWork shared-office network, offering WeWork members and employees a flexible, on-site, alternative education option for their children. Neumann describes her vision for WeGrow: “We have WeWorks located all around the world, thank God. A lot of members don’t see their kids for many, many hours a day. So I’m passionate about actually opening these schools inside WeWork buildings, so that parents can bring their kids to school, see them possibly at lunch, maybe bring them home.” Neumann also sees the value of the WeGrow school network in an increasingly global economy:

The idea that once your kids enter kindergarten you cannot move around the world anymore is completely archaic…We have many global entrepreneurs, citizens of the world, who want to live global lifestyles or need to for work.

Entrepreneurs are notoriously ahead of the curve. It’s no surprise that successful, forward-thinking company founders are rejecting an outdated conventional schooling model and building something new and better—for their children, for their employees’ children, and, as is the case with WeWork, for their customers’ children, as well. With entrepreneurial parents at the helm, the future of education looks bright.

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The Guide to Insecurities You’ve Been Waiting For

Everyone feels insecurity. It’s a part of our lives, which are filled with uncertainty, no matter how much we want to get rid of that uncertainty.

We often use the term “insecure” to negatively label a person who doubts themselves, but in truth, no one is free from feeling insecure. We feel self-doubt, we feel anger that stems from a feeling of insecurity, we feel fear and groundlessness and frustration. All of this comes from the insecurity of the uncertainty of life.

And none of it is a problem.

It’s not a problem that we feel insecure sometimes. It’s not a problem to feel fear or self-doubt or anger or frustration. These are just feelings, and they come up in response to the uncertainty of the world.

The problem comes from how we deal with the feeling of insecurity. We might curl up and hide, lash out at someone in a hurtful way, harden our rigid views of the world so that everyone else is wrong and we’re continually angry. We might procrastinate and run to distraction, use social media to avoid feeling insecurity, try to control others or the world around us to end the feeling of insecurity.

And so in this guide, I’m going to share a method for dealing with feelings of insecurity that are more helpful. But first, let’s dive a little more into where the feelings of insecurity come up, and how we usually deal with it.

Cause & Effect of Insecurities

Let’s look at some common examples of feeling insecure, where the feelings come from, and how people often react:

  • Jealousy in a relationship. You get jealous of someone who seems to flirt with your partner (justified or not, it doesn’t matter). The cause: You feel uncertainty about whether your partner loves you, is attracted to you (or the other person), will leave you, will hurt you. This uncertainty is certainly understandable, relationships of all kinds are filled with uncertainty. Common reaction: Lashing out at your partner (or trying to control them), making them feel less trusted, possibly hurt, possibly defensive or closed off, damaging your relationship.
  • Jealous of someone on Instagram. This applies to all social media — you see someone on there that has qualities or a lifestyle that you want (they’re beautiful, fit, living glamorously, etc.), and you feel jealous. The cause: Insecurities about yourself, whether you’re good enough in the ways this person is showing up. Also understandable, as we all have uncertainty about ourselves. Common reaction: You feel bad about yourself and/or irritated with the other person, and these can lead to a number of actions, like stalking the person with jealousy, criticizing yourself more, or comforting yourself with food, distractions, shopping, etc.
  • Irritated with the way someone acts. You see someone acting a certain way (maybe they’re being annoyingly brashly confident) … and it irritates you. The cause: Often it’s not really a problem with the other person, but more of an insecurity about yourself — you’d like to be more confident (for example) and so when the other person seems confident, it touches a wound of uncertainty about yourself. Common reaction: You get irritated with the person, shut yourself down to them, judge them, putting up a wall between yourself and others.
  • Feeling self-doubt. We all feel self-doubt about ourselves, and it can come up in many ways. The cause: This self-doubt stems from not knowing if we’re good enough to deal with the uncertainty of the world around us. We don’t know if we’re strong enough, smart enough, good-looking enough, likable enough, interesting enough to be liked, admired, loved, successful in this world. Common reaction: There are a lot of common reactions to self-doubt — hiding from doing hard things, criticizing yourself frequently, projecting your doubts on others, and more.
  • Procrastination on a difficult task. We all procrastinate, not because we’re lazy and weak, but because a task is uncertain, uncomfortable, overwhelming. The cause: The insecurity of the task comes from not knowing how to do it, fearing failure, feeling like it’s too difficult for you. Common reaction: Put off doing the uncertain task, going to a distraction or easy task that feels more secure.
  • Worried about an upcoming trip or event. You have a trip or upcoming event that feels uncertain, so you’re worrying about it a lot, maybe even thinking about not going. The cause: Just the uncertainty of the upcoming situation causes insecurity — it’s not your usual situation that you’re comfortable and familiar with. Common reaction: Lots of worrying, trying to control the situation by overplanning, lots of research, considering avoiding the event/trip.
  • Feeling overwhelmed or behind on everything. Many of us feel this almost every day at some level, but even higher when we are forced to take a break (when traveling or when we get sick, for example) and feel like we’re really behind. The cause: The uncertainty of whether we’ll be able to handle the huge workload we have, or a huge and complicated task. Common reaction: When we get this feeling, we commonly get some anxiety, and either want to shut down and run to distractions, or we lash out at others or ourselves because we don’t like the feeling, instead of just doing the work. These reactions often make the problem worse.
  • Not wanting to take part in something out of your comfort zone. Let’s say a workshop or other kind of activity that is not familiar, overwhelming, strange to you, not your usual thing, and so you might want to just avoid that kind of uncomfortable thing. The cause: The activity is completely out of your comfort zone, and causes you all kinds of uncertainty about what it will involve, how you’ll do, what you’ll be asked to do, what kind of other people will be there, what they’ll think of you. At the heart is uncertainty about whether you’ll be up to the task and whether you’ll be OK. Common reaction: Avoiding these kinds of uncomfortable activities, which means we never stretch beyond our small zone of comfort into something bigger. We limit ourselves.

As you can see, these situations (and there are many more common situations involving insecurity) all have a couple things in common:

  1. Cause is uncertainty: Our lives are uncertain. Projects and tasks and events and trips and activities are uncertain. Relationships and how other people act and what they think of us are all filled with uncertainty. Our minds feel this as a kind of insecurity, felt within the body. And then it triggers a thought pattern about ourselves, about the situation, about the other people.
  2. Common reactions are unhelpful: We avoid, shut down, run away, procrastinate, lash out at others, complain, beat ourselves up, run to distractions, shut our hearts to others, limit ourselves. These are not usually helpful patterns, but they are the ways that we habitually deal with the feeling of insecurity.

We can’t avoid the feeling of insecurity in our vastly uncertain lives. But we can find more helpful ways of dealing with the feeling.

A More Helpful Method

In short, a more helpful way of dealing with this feeling of uncertainty is to just stay in it. Learn to be OK in it. In fact, learn to see the deliciousness in it, so that we no longer have to run to our old patterns.

Here’s how I’d recommend working with the feeling of insecurity:

  1. Drop in. Notice that you’re feeling a feeling of insecurity in this moment, and drop your attention from your thoughts about the situation to the sensations in your body. Stay here for a moment, turning towards in with curiosity.
  2. Don’t act on your feeling of insecurity. Whatever you do, don’t take action from this place of insecurity. Not yet. Notice your first urge, what action you want to take … but don’t follow the urge. It might be to judge someone, complain, lash out, run to distractions, procrastinate, comfort yourself, shut your heart down, hide, avoid, quit. Don’t take that action. Just stay in the insecurity for now.
  3. Relax into it. We often feel tension and anxiety around having a feeling of insecurity. Allow yourself to relax into it, relaxing the muscles in your body that have tensed up because of the feeling of insecurity. Open your mind to this feeling, allowing it to be there, finding more curiosity about it.
  4. See that you’re OK. Sitting there in the insecurity, not acting, relaxing into it … you can check to see if you’re OK. Can you breathe deep into your belly? If so, you’re OK. You’re not in physical danger. The world isn’t literally falling apart, even if it feels a bit like it. You’re OK. Feel the goodness in your heart, that’s always there. Feel your OK-ness.
  5. Be centered in the midst of it. The feeling of insecurity hasn’t gone away, but neither have you. You’re sitting or standing in the middle of a sea of insecurity, feeling into it, relaxing into it, centering yourself in stillness. Feel your breath. Be the presence & consciousness in the center of the chaos.
  6. Find joy, gratitude & deliciousness. In the middle of this feeling of insecurity, see if you can find a little gratitude for being in this space, alive and witnessing the beauty of chaos. See if you can find a little of its nourishing deliciousness, filling yourself up with the life force of insecurity. See if you can find joy, being alive right now, fully feeling your insecurity. It’s not a problem, this feeling, it’s a beautiful experience.

Through this practice, we start to change our relationship to this feeling of insecurity. It’s not a problem, it’s completely OK. We can be friendly with it instead of needing to get away from it or banish it. It’s just a part of our human experience, nothing to panic about.

And from this place of OK-ness, we can start to find the deliciousness in this experience, the joy in it, and witness the awesome beauty of this moment, insecurity and all.

If you’d like to train in this kind of uncertainty, please join my Fearless Training Program. We’re going to relish in this kind of training, together.

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Intelligent Immigrants, Voluntaryist Lifestyle, & Property Rights (22m) – Editor’s Pick 092

Editor’s Break 092 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: his new primer on challenging jurisdiction; whether intelligent foreigners should remain in their home countries or immigrate for better prospects; the benefits of the voluntaryist lifestyle to others; the source of property rights and the implication of non-aggression; whether unschooled kids will act virtuously; and more.

Listen to Editor’s Break 092 (22m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “everything voluntary”.

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Prosperity: Maybe Not What I Thought It Meant

January 2019: I read this essay and added commentary for Episode 264 of the Everything Voluntary podcast.

I’ve always thought of “prosperity” as having an abundance of material wealth, and that seems to be consistent with popular usage. However, my thinking here has been going through some changes lately.

Etymologically, it has meant such things as, “cause to succeed, render happy” and “agreeable to one’s wishes” and “tending to bring success”. Perhaps the idea that prosperity should be linked to material wealth is of modern, capitalistic creation. I no longer think it necessarily has much to do with material wealth, rather, to have prosperity is to have all of your needs, material, physical, emotional, psychological, et cetera, sufficiently met.

When I think of the most prosperous people ever having lived in this world, I think of our primal ancestors. My current suspicion is that the agricultural revolution was a giant mistake in terms of maintaining human prosperity. Hunter-gatherers had their share of challenges, no doubt, but I don’t think meeting all of their various needs day-to-day was one of them.

To my understanding, they weren’t traumatized as children, they didn’t perform back-breaking labor, everyone assisted everyone else, community was important, and leisure time was abundant. If I had to pick a time to live among the history of our species, I don’t think I would pick any time after the advent of agriculture.

The industrial revolution has been a corrective to this mistake in various ways, but practices like the nuclear family household, disrespecting children’s primal need for play and everpresent curiosity, welfare dependency, the diminishing of community, the destruction of savings via inflationary monetary policy, poor food pyramid-based dieting and stationary lifestyle, the military-industrial complex, and much more, keep humanity from returning to its natural level of prosperous living.

I could be totally wrong about all of this, but I don’t think so.

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