There’s No “One Size Fits All” For Living

How much of what you want government to do is based on your emotions? On your feelings about what you wish other people would do or believe they should do, and your willingness to use government violence to make it happen?

If it’s more than “none” it’s too much.

I recently ran across a quote by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in which he said, “Some people are less emotional, more reasoned. We call these people ‘libertarians.’ There’s actually data on this — that libertarians are lower on emotion, higher on reasoning ability. They have worse relationships; they care about people less, but they are better able to just reason through a lot of data.”

Fortunately, he’s not quite right.

Libertarians are not less emotional, but — at our best — we are less controlled by our emotions. I can hate drug abuse and still understand I have no right to use government violence to impose drug prohibition. As long as I don’t let emotion overpower reason I won’t advocate harming someone who isn’t violating anyone’s life, liberty, or property.

Libertarians know a crime requires the intent to harm. An accident might result in the same harm as a crime would, but without an intention to violate someone there is no crime. Emotions triggered by the event might try to steer us along a different path, but it would be a wrong path.

A debt is often created by an accident, but again, a debt isn’t a crime. To confuse these things creates tragedy for individuals and sickness in society.

He’s also wrong about libertarians caring less about people. I care about people very much. This is why I don’t accept any justification for violating them. How can staunchly respecting people’s natural human rights be mistaken for not caring?

It’s not “caring” to use taxation to steal from some in order to fund government programs that keep people impoverished. It’s not caring to force people to live as you believe they should.

So would I support government if only libertarians, with their superior ability to reason, were in charge? Not at all. Even those who are better able to reason have no right to govern anyone but themselves.

No matter how well a person can reason through data, they can never know all the circumstances of everyone else’s life as thoroughly as each individual can know their own life. There is no “one-size-fits-all” way to feed a family, dress, or live … or to govern. It’s foolish to pretend otherwise.

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“Less Emotional; More Reasoned”

The first time I encountered social psychologist Jonathan Haidt I had a kind of visceral dislike for him. I don’t even know why. However, I have since listened to more of his interviews and lectures and found some pearls there– the instinctive dislike I felt at first has largely faded.

Yes, he is way too enamored of the State (as are so many). He can’t even face the question of whether it is a legitimate human endeavor to govern others. It’s assumed, and he only concerns himself with how it is carried out. That’s a huge strike against him in my book.

Anyway, I was listening to this lecture/interview (from Skeptic.com) with him and got a laugh from this quote:

“Some people are less emotional, more reasoned. We call these people ‘libertarians’. There’s actually data on this– that libertarians are lower on emotion, higher on reasoning ability. They have worse relationships, they care about people less, but they are better able to just reason through a lot of data.”

If I felt any more emotion than I do, I think I would die. To believe I am less emotional than other people scares me. How do other people manage if they feel more emotions than I do? I can’t even imagine the horror!

Beyond that, I care about people a great deal. That’s why I don’t want them robbed, enslaved, molested, murdered, or governed. Isn’t it odd to believe that you “care more” if you’re OK with doing these things to people?

He slipped up on a few other things, not realizing that socialists and communists aren’t anarchists while consistent libertarians are, but I don’t really expect outsiders to get the details correct. All in all, it was an interesting lecture and interview. I found things to agree with and things to roll my eyes over.

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Are Your Dreams Keeping up with You?

Whenever you follow a dream, it leads to new observations, discoveries, and relationships.

These experiences will modify your sense of what is possible and what is preferable.

To chase after a dream is to undertake a surprising and challenging process of personal transformation.

It’s impossible to act on your dreams while remaining identical to the person you were when you took the first step.

For this reason, dreams need to be upgraded in order to account for the evolution we undergo when dreams are pursued.

Who we are is always changing. Why should our dreams remain the same?

Follow your dreams, but don’t forget to let your dreams follow you.

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Tucker Carlson Needs Love from His Leaders

Fox News host and Trump cheerleader Tucker Carlson is a culturally conservative, big-government, nationalist populist. As such, he’s upset that establishment politicians and their sponsoring elite don’t care enough to promote his and his fellow Americans’ happiness. (See his recent commentary.)

That’s weird. Why would he want them to?

Timothy Sandefur has exposed Carlson’s failure to grasp that individual freedom and its spontaneously emergent arena for peaceful voluntary exchange — the marketplace — make possible what Carlson insists he values most: “Dignity. Purpose. Self-control. Independence,” which Carlson correctly identifies as “ingredients in being happy.” In his view, those who oppose government interference with markets, that is, with our freedom to engage in mutually beneficial trade, prefer material things to higher goods like family and “deep relationships with other people.” That’s ridiculous: freedom is a higher good, and it underlies other higher goods.

But that’s not all that Carlson fails to grasp. Among other things, he misses the distinction between the libertarian’s appreciation (not “worship”) of markets and corporatism, or anti-market government support for favored business interests, such as tariffs and direct subsidies. He also engages in what I call the dark art of the package deal by assuming that America’s global empire and free markets are integral to a single rational political doctrine. On the contrary, war, big military budgets, and deficit spending make markets less free.

Let’s look at Carlson’s major complaint: that America’s so-called leaders (Trump excepted, I suppose) don’t love us. He spends a good deal of time whining about this. Rather than demand that our (mis)leaders get out of our way and leave the pursuit of happiness to us through private consensual interaction, Carlson calls on the politicians to care for us and even to make us happy. Why he doesn’t find that prospect disgusting is beyond understanding. Politicians could only do what Carlson asks by deciding what ought to make us happy and by forcing us to obey them. Thanks, Tucker, but no thanks.

“They [“members of our educated upper-middle-classes” whom most politicians represent] don’t care how you live, as long as the bills are paid and the markets function,” Carlson writes. Really? Then why does the elite-controlled government prohibit all kinds of peaceful conduct? For example, why does it impose behavior-distorting taxes, tariffs, occupational licensing, land-use restrictions, and intellectual-property rules, all of which impede economic mobility and harm families? Carlson disparages the private pursuit of wealth as detrimental to the pursuit of cultural values, but he ignores that prosperity can relieve the pressures that obstruct the cultivation of those values. He believes that marriage and family are paramount, but costs of government interference with private economic activity can take a toll on those institutions.

When Carlson disparages private decisionmaking in the marketplace, he shows himself to be in bed with the ruling elite. Contrary to his position, “market forces” don’t “crush” families; the government does. America’s problem is not an exaggerated desire for iPhones and “plastic garbage from China.” It’s political power.

In recent years the oppression of people who engage in victimless acts has diminished in some ways, for example, through the legalization of marijuana in some states. For Carlson, however, this is bad: “Why are our leaders pushing [marijuana] on us? You know the reason. Because they don’t care about us.” Carlson forgets that people have voted for legalization. But in his view, removing a restriction on liberty is equivalent to promoting what he regards as a vice. Freedom be damned. Remember, this is the same guy who claims to value dignity, purpose, self-control, independence, and family. He sees little relationship between those things and freedom, and anyone who does understand the relationship is impugned as a shallow materialist who cares little for his fellow human beings.

“The goal for America,” Carlson says, “is both simpler and more elusive than mere prosperity. It’s happiness…. But our leaders don’t care.”

Note the two problems here. First, “America” as a collective should not have goals. Goals are for free people to set, individually and within families and voluntary communities, according to their own values. Second, looking to “leaders” to promote our happiness means trusting rulers over free persons.

Carlson is an elitist in populist clothing.

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New Year: The Beautiful Minimalism of a Blank Slate

We have a new year upon us, and while “January 1” is just an arbitrary date, for most of us, it feels like a new beginning.

And there’s something beautifully minimalist about this new beginning — it’s a blank slate, where we can do anything, imagine possibilities, become a new person.

In fact, this is available to us in any moment: each new second is a fresh beginning, a new opportunity, a chance to start over, a blank canvas to be filled with whatever art we are moved to create.

Let’s imagine this new year as a blank slate. It’s like an empty house: what would we like to put in it?

This is a kind of minimalism. We can start afresh, tossing out everything and only placing in this empty house what we find most important, and nothing more.

What would you like to do with the minimalist blank slate of this new year?

Ask yourself:

  • Do you want to fill it with distractions, or keep only the most important work, relationships, commitments?
  • Do you want to be constantly checking social media, or would you like to read long-form writing and books, perhaps create something new?
  • Do you want to be more mindful? More compassionate? More whole-hearted in your relationships?
  • Do you want to be more active, eat more healthy, nourishing food? Get outdoors more, find more solitude?
  • Do you want to have greater focus for your meaningful work? Be more organized?
  • Simplify your life? Get your finances in order?

Pick just a handful. Spread them out over the year. Don’t overfill the year with a list of 20 things you want to do — savor the space of your blank slate.

It’s a beautiful time to reimagine your life.

If you’d like to work on some of your changes with me and hundreds of other members in my Sea Change habit-changing program … check out our lineup of monthly challenges. We’ll be working on:

  • Mindfulness/meditation
  • Exercise/fitness
  • Diet/healthy eating
  • Productivity/procrastination
  • Simplifying life
  • and more

Join Sea Change today, and get support for the changes you’d like to make.

If you’re looking to train in the uncertainty that comes with meaningful work, I’ve also created the Fearless Training Program, which I highly recommend if you’re willing to shift your habitual patterns of procrastination and more.

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How to Get Good at Dealing With Massive Change

It can be stressful and anxiety-inducing to be in the middle of a bunch of life changes at once — so much so that it can turn a time of change into a time of misery. We all go through times of massive change: a divorce, death in the family, change of job (or loss of job), moving to a new home or city, turbulence in your relationships, political chaos, and all kinds of uncertainties and demands on your time and attention. It can be overwhelming and distressing. But what if we could get good at dealing with all kinds of changes? It would open us up in times of change, so that these times can be times of deepening, growth, and even joy. We can train to get good at dealing with times of massive change. And here’s a secret: actually, we’re always in times of change. If you’re waiting for things to settle down, it’s a beautiful shift to let go of that and just relax into the groundlessness of it all.
“We are always in transition. If you can just relax with that, you’ll have no problem.” ~ Chogyam Trungpa
So let’s talk about training the mind to get good at dealing with change.

How Our Mind Usually Reacts to Change

Imagine if your entire life were upended overnight — a storm came and destroyed your home and your job, and you couldn’t find everyone you know and love. You don’t have any possessions, no way to communicate. How would your mind react? It would react out of habitual patterns that have been formed since childhood. Some common ways of reacting to massive change like this:
  • Your mind complains — it doesn’t like change that it didn’t choose. Your mind will have a narrative that asks “why me?” and/or gets angry. It’s unhappy about the changes.
  • Your mind gets angry at others — it blames and might lash out at them. Your mind asks, “Why do they have to be like that??” And this creates distance between you and them.
  • Your mind looks for comfort — a return to what you’re used to, what you know, what you’ve always gone to for comfort. If you became homeless, you might drink a soda or eat French fries or something, just to comfort yourself. In fact, we comfort ourselves all the time as a way to deal with stress and change: eating junk food, shopping, TV or Youtube, getting on your phone, social media, porn, etc.
  • Your mind tries to get control. This isn’t always a bad thing (making a list can be helpful, for example), but constantly striving for control isn’t helpful. In fact, it can be stressful, trying to control the massively uncontrollable.
  • There are helpful ways of coping as well — talking to someone, exercising, meditating, drinking some tea, taking a bath, etc. These are usually habits that people create to cope in a healthier way. However, in the example I’ve given (a storm making you homeless), and lots of other situations, these options might not be available.
What we’re going to train in is a different way of dealing with change, that will help us in any situation, and reduce stress, open our minds to chaotic experiences, and help us find joy and gratitude in the midst of turbulence.

How to Shift the Mind

So other than talking about it and taking a bath, what can we do to shift the way we deal with change? It starts with the idea that disliking change, stress about change, and resistance to change are all in our minds. Everything that’s stressful and sucky about any change, or a great amount of change, is in our minds. The good news about that is that if it’s in our minds, we can work with it. We can let go of things, shift things, open up to things … because our minds are adaptable and trainable. The bad news is that we often don’t see the things our mind does that causes our difficulties, and so we blame external circumstances. But with this training, we’ll learn to see it. So here’s how we can shift how we respond to change and stress:
  1. Notice when you’re feeling stress or resistance about change. Usually you’ll be doing one of the reactions mentioned in the previous section, so it’ll become easy to tell with a bit of practice. Going to your favorite social media or news site? You might be resisting something.
  2. Drop into the pure experience of the moment. You’re stressing and resisting because of your thoughts about your situation (or others). The thoughts are the cause of your suffering, not the situation. The situation just exists, it is not bad. So instead of continuing to be caught up in your thoughts, drop into the pure experience of the present moment. To do this, shift your awareness to what’s happening in your body right now. What sensations are there? What does the sensation of stress or awareness feel like, in your body? Don’t judge or get caught up in a narrative about the stress, just notice. Notice the sensations of your surroundings as well — what sounds can you hear? Notice the light, colors, shapes, textures. The feeling of air on your skin, or clothes on your body. When your mind gets caught up in thought, just return to the sensation of something happening right now.
  3. Open to the wide-open nature of this moment, of reality. You’re in the present moment … now notice how wide this moment is. It’s boundless, not just the narrow world of your thoughts about your life (thoughts that confine you to a small space), but actually boundless in all directions. You can label each thing you notice (chair, table, myself, dog, tree) or you can notice that actually, it’s all just one big field of energy. One big ocean of sensation, an ocean of matter and movement, with no separation between any of it. Noticing this wide-open nature of reality, not bound by labels, ideas or thoughts … we can let our minds open as vast as the sky. Don’t worry if this part is difficult at first, it’s something you can train in (which we’ll talk about in a minute).
  4. Relax into the beauty of the changing moment. From this wide-open place, we can relax our resistant mind, and just relax into the everchanging moment. Notice the beauty of this change — everything is moving, changing, shifting into a new moment. Nothing stays the same, and nothing is really solid. It’s flux, it’s flow, it’s the swirling ocean current of the universe. This is incredibly beautiful, if we can relax and enjoy it.
  5. Practice compassion, gratitude and joyful appreciation. From this relaxed place, we can start to practice three things. First, see if you can find compassion for yourself and others, for the suffering and struggle you’re going through. Send out a loving wish to all beings, that they find peace. Second, practice gratitude — can you be grateful for this moment? Can you be grateful for the change? For me, even with a jolting change like the death of my father or one of my best friends, along with the pain of loss, I could also feel gratitude that I had them in my life, which was an incredible gift. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore the pain and stress — it just means noticing that both pain and gratitude can co-exist in the same moment. Third, can you appreciate this moment for what it is? Appreciate its beauty, its swirling change, its wide openness, its heartbreaking gorgeousness. I often find joy in this appreciation for the universe as it is.
  6. Practice loving things exactly as they are. And along those lines, take a moment to love the everchanging moment exactly as it is. It includes suffering, wounded beings lashing out at others, loss and pain, but also constant shifting, constant growth and degradation, constant moving into something new. You are one with the wholeness of the universe, co-creating it with all other beings and matter and energy, and it is something to be loved fiercely.
This is the process I suggest you try. What happens here is that we open up to change instead of resisting it. We learn to love things as they are, including the change, rather than complaining about them. We learn to find appreciation and joy in the change, rather than wishing things wouldn’t change and being attached to our comfortable ways. Of course, we can’t go through the whole process all the time, but it’s worth going through step by step a few times, maybe one or two dozen times, until you feel like you have a physical understanding of it. With daily training, I can guarantee that something will shift in you.

Daily Training is the Key

Going through the steps above once or twice will help you learn it, but it won’t really matter on a day-to-day basis in your life until you train in it. Daily training is the best method. Here’s the training plan I recommend:
  1. Sit for 5 minutes in the morning. Feel free to start with just 2 minutes, and work your way to 5. When 5 minutes is too short, extend to 10. Practice the steps above. Don’t let yourself move for those 5 minutes — sit still and practice.
  2. Practice during the day. After a week, in addition to the morning training, try to notice when you are stressed or resisting change. When that happens, think of it as a mindfulness bell that is calling on you to practice. Pause, if you can, and practice, even for a few moments. You don’t have to go through the whole process, just the parts that you have time for, that are most helpful to you in the moment. Journal how these two trainings go, and share with someone else.
  3. Intermediate: Give yourself some discomfort training. After you do the first two trainings for at least a month (and two months is even better), set aside 5-10 minutes each day for discomfort training. For example, difficult exercise or a cold shower, or a writing session every morning. This session is supposed to be more than mildly uncomfortable, but not crazy uncomfortable. Somewhere in the middle. As you put yourself in this discomfort, practice the steps above. It’s more challenging than morning meditation, but doable.
  4. Advanced: Do a weeklong meditation retreat, or a week of purposeful change. After you practice for 6 months to a year, go on a weeklong meditation retreat. It will deepen your practice. Or go through a week of drastic change, that you put yourself into on purpose. For example, purposely travel around the world with very little (less than 8 lbs. in a small backpack), or go on a weeklong hike using the ultralight approach. The point of this kind of training is to give yourself an extended period of practicing with the method above. Not to see how tough you are, or anything like that. Note: It’s possible life will give you an unexpected month or more of incredible change — losing a loved one while changing jobs, or getting an illness while dealing with financial problems. If that happens, think of it as a gift of advanced training.
That’s the training. I recommend just the first two steps for most people — I think it’ll make a world of difference. The next two steps are if you want to master the method, which isn’t necessary to see some benefits. This is a form of self care. In addition, other forms of self care are also recommended: going for a walk, exercise, taking a bath, doing yoga, eating well, getting sleep, having a support network to talk things out with, getting out in nature, creating space for solitude and silence. These are all important. If you go deep into this practice, you’ll see some profound shifts. I know I have.
“If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be eliminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path.” ~Pema Chodron

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