Try Before You Know

Conducting an experiment to explore what works > Making a religion out of every newly discovered self-improvement technique.

In design thinking, there’s a process known as “Proof of Concept.”

This is when you create a pilot version of a project in order gauge your idea against the feedback of some real world experience.

This works not only for developing products, but also for developing your self.

If there’s new book you’re on the fence about buying, find a podcast interview or YouTube video of the author talking about the ideas. If that experience makes you want more, then you have your proof of concept. You now have a better indication that you’ll enjoy the book. If the experience makes you bored or irritated by the author’s communication style, that might be a good indicator that your time is better spent elsewhere.

If you’re considering a new approach to exercising, commit to trying it out for one week. That might be too soon to notice visible results, but it’s not too soon to notice how it makes you feel. Does it make you want more? If so, try two weeks. Does it make you feel less inclined to work out? If so, maybe it’s time to put something new to the test.

Marriage is a wonderful practice, but not everything in life needs to be approached as if it’s a marriage.

Instead of making a lifetime vow to eat a certain way, to get up a certain amount of time, to read a certain number of books, to work a specific set of hours, and so on, try the art of trying things out.

There’s no need to declare a dogmatic opinion about all your strategies and techniques. Being open-minded is good enough. You can get the rest of the information you need by taking a little action and measuring how that makes you feel.

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Liberty is Not An “Ideology”

I saw a headline recently, which read in part, “Ideologies clash…”

It turns out one side simply wants to exercise liberty (open a brewery), while the opponents want to violate the first side’s liberty for “reasons”. The reasons include religion, fear of negative consequences of letting people control their own lives, and prohibitionism.

One side is an ideology, the other isn’t.

Liberty isn’t an ideology. It is the acceptance of the reality of self-ownership. From this acceptance flows certain principles. It doesn’t matter to the existence of liberty whether people accept it or not– it just is, to be respected or violated.

Yes, there will be consequences for exercising liberty. Everything has consequences. But slavery’s consequences are worse than liberty’s. And you’re the bad guy when you choose slavery over liberty, no matter what “reasons” you come up with.

This is why governing others is never a valid form of interpersonal interaction. It allows people to violate the liberty of others too easily, and without the risk which should come along with such anti-social behavior.

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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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Including the Renegade

In the last six months, I’ve found myself stuck in two separate Sermons on Inclusion.  These were public events.  Neither was branded as left-wing.  Both, however, gave the floor to speakers who explained the supreme value of making everyone feel included in the community.

In each case, my mid-sermon reaction was the same: “I don’t think I’ve ever before felt so excluded in all my life.”

Why would I react so negatively?  It’s not because I disagree with the one-sentence summary of the sermons.  Sure, be friendly to people.  Make them feel welcome.  It’s common decency.  So what’s the problem?

I’m tempted to blame the glaring hypocrisy.  It was obvious that the speakers had zero interest in making Republicans, conservatives, macho males, traditional Christians, veterans, or economists feel included.  In fact, the Sermons on Inclusion were full of thinly-veiled accusations against members of these groups.

Yet on reflection, glaring hypocrisy is too ubiquitous in life to explain why I personally felt so excluded by the Sermons on Inclusion.

The real reason I felt so excluded was that the preachers of both Sermons on Inclusion spoke as if human beings naturally value their cultural heritage.  Frankly, I usually don’t.  I don’t value my religious heritage.  My mother was Catholic, and I was raised Catholic.  But I deem the religion false and don’t care about it.  My don’t value my ethnic heritage.  My mother was Irish, my father was Jewish, but neither identity matters to me.  I don’t support Ireland or Israel… or any other country for that matter.  My parents raised me to be an American nationalist; my schools taught me about the wonders of democracy.  But in all honesty, the only institution I really believe in is business.

So what am I?  A renegade.  And I’m not alone.  Lots of people turn their backs on the religion of their birth.  Lots of people never feel – or lose interest in – their ethnic heritage.  Lots of people dissent from “their” political culture.  Cultural loyalists may call them traitors, sell-outs, self-haters, or gusanos.  Yet despite our cosmic diversity, we renegades have one thing in common: We refuse to be ruled by the circumstances of our birth.  And any sincere Sermon on Inclusion ought to acknowledge our existence and outlook.

Unfortunately, this omission is hard to correct.  Why?  Because one of the main goals of Sermons on Inclusion is to foster group pride, and the existence of renegades is an affront to group pride.  You can’t favorably discuss the assimilated Irish without tacitly snubbing people who cherish their Irish identity.  You can’t people who leave Orthodox Judaism without tacitly snubbing Orthodox Jews.  Et cetera.

But don’t Sermons on Inclusion lionize some renegades, like anti-war veterans or the transgendered?  Sure.  But since the the Sermons barely acknowledge the existence of these renegades’ groups of origin, there’s little tension.  It’s easy to welcome renegades from group X if your default is to exclude typical members of group X.

Are efforts to promote inclusion therefore self-defeating?  Not if you’re careful, because actions speak louder than words.  As I’ve argued before, the best way to make people feel included is just to be friendly and welcoming.  Sermons divide us.  Common decency brings us together.

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Uninformed, Misinformed, Brainwashed Statists

If you don’t watch “the news” you might be uninformed; if you watch it you will be misinformed.

“News” is opinion. There’s no such thing as just presenting the facts; there never was. There’s always going to be a slant to it. It’s almost always a statist slant.

If they don’t honestly portray cops as a gang, politicians as thieving thugs, government as religion, “laws” as slavery, they are not telling the truth. They are opinionizing. Lying. Covering up the truth to protect the bad guys.

Any bland “news” story about the “arrest” of a drug dealer, and the drugs, cash, and guns confiscated from him, is a nest of lies– opinions, if I were to be nice about it. It will assume statism. It will assume the legitimacy of prohibition, “taxation”, government police, “gun control” [sic], “laws”, the “justice system”, and a hundred other things which shouldn’t be assumed.

They are selling their opinion to people who mostly agree with them (even when they feel they are on the other side), or who they are trying to fool into agreeing with them. It largely works.

I think that’s why you see “Right” vs “Left” in almost all “news”/opinions. All “news” comes from one side or the other… yet the sides are really the same. They are statist, anti-liberty bigots to the core. So the “news” gets people to arguing over which of those identical twins is correct, when they are both wrong.

Statists live in a statist bubble, even if they sample statist opinions from the “other side”. It’s still only statism.

Libertarians don’t have the option of living in a bubble. We get exposed to the other sides. All other sides. Constantly. Whether we intend to or not. It’s unavoidable. That’s why we are better informed than the uninformed or the misinformed statists. And it’s why the statists try so hard to ridicule our position. They have to, otherwise they might realize they are losers going in circles, chasing hallucinations.

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Homosexuality Isn’t The Issue

Back when I was a follower of a religion which condemned homosexuality, I went along and believed it was wrong, just like I was told to believe. Still, I could never really figure out how it was supposed to be a threat to me. I didn’t give it that much thought.

During my teenage years I had begun to realize my youngest sister was probably a lesbian, although I never said anything to her about it. It wasn’t an issue and was none of my business until she chose to make it my business.

In my early 20s I got “hit on” by an older guy at a park while I was taking my lunch break away from work. I wasn’t rude– I just mentioned my wife and hinted I wasn’t interested. There was no problem; the guy just went on his way.

Years later, a gay friend hit on me at karaoke one night. Again I just said I wasn’t interested in guys and let it drop. We remained friends.

I’ve been propositioned online several times over the years, especially during the chat room days. There was no need for me to be rude about it. I can’t blame someone for taking a chance.

As the years passed I became more and more libertarian (even before I knew what to call it). This powered up my inability to be offended over such things. I came to see that all humans have equal and identical rights, and that’s that. No one has “extra” rights; no one has “limited” rights. Your sexuality doesn’t even figure in. I see this more clearly every passing day.

Which brings us to now. There is one apparently homosexual person who is offending me, and some are trying to twist my offense into being about homosexuality. I don’t think it is.

My 11-year-old daughter has a “frienemy” who has been trying to bully her– with the encouragement of the girl’s parents– into a lesbian relationship. It has been going on for a year and a half now. This girl acts like a friend until she draws my daughter in, and then she does the nastiest, meanest things I have ever seen a kid do– totally crushing my daughter with her backstabbing. This drives my daughter away from her. As soon as she realizes my daughter is out of her control, she acts sweet and reels her in again– and convinces her that she’s my daughter’s only “real friend” and that her parents can’t be trusted. This repeats endlessly. This has led to some difficult and uncomfortable parenting decisions on my part.

The other girl’s parents have even tried to talk my daughter into leaving home and moving in with their family so the girls can be together. They are all trying to make this into an issue of anti-gay bigotry, when it is nothing of the sort. You abuse and backstab my daughter, and manipulate her to try to drive a wedge between us, and I don’t care who or what you are. I’ll hope for your destruction. My older daughter was trapped in an abusive heterosexual relationship for 7 of the last 8 years of her life. This is a line you don’t want to cross with me. My tolerance for such things has been used up.

“Mad” doesn’t begin to cover it.

My daughter can choose to be in a developmentally appropriate relationship with whoever she chooses, but I will do what I can to protect her from an abuser. And this girl is quite definitely an abuser and a bully, even if my daughter refuses to see it.

And, by the way, my (lesbian) sister agrees with me.

Interesting times.

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