Poverty and Success

Perhaps the most unpopular opinion I hold is that—in spite of the myriad obstacles to success instigated by the state—success is still achievable by a significant percentage of the population (>95%) and poverty is a result of one’s own choices in a similar percentage of cases.

I am not suggesting that everyone’s idea of success necessarily requires financial wealth or that poverty (a lack of financial wealth) is always an undesirable state of existence. Some people do indeed choose to prioritize other goals above wealth, and that is certainly their right. I also acknowledge that there are some people (<5%) in any population who, due to severe disability or state maleficence (typically through the so-called “criminal justice system“), have limited or no ability to achieve financial success.

Caveats aside, my basic thesis is that greater than 95 percent of people are capable of and have the opportunity to achieve financial success, but that many (and even a majority) do not take advantage of their opportunities. There are numerous decisions, reasons, and alternative priorities that explain this phenomenon and the following are far from an exhaustive list.

  1. Not taking advantage of educational opportunities. In the U.S. and most developed countries, basic education is available to all at no charge and higher education is available inexpensively or even at no charge to those who can demonstrate financial hardship. In addition, the information age has led to an unprecedented increase in the quantity and quality of educational materials available at little or even no charge. Nearly anyone can learn to do anything if they are willing to put in the effort. Those who choose to live their lives in ignorance have almost always chosen that path.
  2. Having children (they cannot afford) too young. This is another huge predictor of one’s likelihood of achieving financial success. Having children represents nearly a quarter-million dollars’ worth of expenses taken on which will have to be paid in a span of fewer than two decades. Why do people make this foolish choice? If your finances would not support the purchase of a Lamborghini Huracán, they also don’t support you having a child. Wait or abstain!
  3. An unwillingness to relocate. Here we see another significant problem that plagues the perpetually poor. Sometimes opportunity doesn’t knock on your door. Sometimes you have to go hunt for it. Cost of living is also a major factor here. The Apartment List National Rent Report found that the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New York City was $2,523. It was even higher at $2,621 in San Jose, CA. Compare that to Phoenix, AZ or Houston, TX where the averages were $1,061 and $1,024 respectively.

It is not just rent either; today, the average cost for a gallon of gas in San Jose, CA, is $3.27 while in Houston, TX, it’s $1.93. Play with a Cost Of Living Calculator and observe the difference. Right now, the cost of living is 44.33% lower in Houston than in the San Francisco area and 56.82% lower than in the Manhattan area. Why do poor people stay in expensive cities?

What about finding a job? The lowest unemployment in the country right now is in the Ames, IA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) at just 1.4 percent. That’s less than half the 3.6 percent unemployment rate in the New York MSA, and yet the cost of living in Ames, IA, is 59.19% lower than in Manhattan. If you are working full time earning $20 an hour (well above the minimum wage) in New York, you could move to Ames, IA, and take a job making $8.50 an hour and you would be better off ($8.17/hr. is the breakeven point.) Oh, and gas at Sam’s Club in Ames is going for $1.86 a gallon today.

So what is my point with all this information? My point is that if people would make smarter decisions—particularly about their education, when they have children, and where they live—they would have a far greater chance of achieving financial success. I’m not suggesting that it is always easy or that there are not obstacles to overcome, but I am suggesting that it is not nearly as difficult as some people claim. Poverty is not the fault of billionaires or of “greedy capitalists” or of some systemic injustice that keeps “po’ folks” down. Poverty is the natural and predictable result of ongoing poor choices, and until people realize this and start taking responsibility for their own culpability in their financial situations, we will continue to hear the growing chorus of complainers demanding political intervention to redistribute money from those who earned it to those who did not.

With few exceptions, it is fair to say that poor people make poor choices.

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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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On Tolerance II

It’s just a tad (just a tad) ironic that the supposedly most tolerant places in the world, places like London, San Francisco, Toronto, and New York, are also the most heavily regulated and taxed. Why is this ironic? Because advocating for and permitting your government to impose such heavy burdens on your neighbors is one of the most intolerant things you can do. Think about it: you can’t abide your neighbors charging market-based rents, so you push for and accept rent control; you can’t abide your neighbors building and keeping all of their wealth, so you push for and accept heavy income and wealth taxes; you can’t abide your neighbors speaking their unpopular (with you, anyway) opinions, so you push for and accept infringements on absolute free speech liberties; you can’t abide your neighbors collecting and enjoying their firearms, so you push for and accept gun control. When considering all aspects of tolerance, not just skin color and sexual preference, these and many other places suddenly become the most intolerant places on earth. And that’s today’s two cents.

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The Women’s March Stance on Reproductive Rights is All For The Erasure of Fertility, Not For Women

When I think about “women’s rights” and what that means, it isn’t much different than what I think about human rights. The right to life. The right to health, vitality and the opportunity to thrive. The right to happiness, freedom and personal autonomy and sovereignty. The right to resources and information and truth. The right to embodiment and a deeper connection to the universe and self.

Sure, some of that might seem idealistic and super meta, but I don’t aim low. If you know me, you aren’t surprised.

The 2019 Women’s March is coming up in three days and I am seeing women everywhere gearing up to, once again, march and “fight” for their rights (of which I am still confused about those they claim we supposedly don’t have. I am also in disagreement about what constitutes as a “right,” but I digress….).

When I think of many of the tenants of modern feminism, I don’t always hear, “fight for your rights,” so much as I hear, “fight for your right to pick your poison.”

On the Women’s March website under “Unity Principles,” it says the following on reproductive rights:

“We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education.  This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education. We understand that we can only have reproductive justice when reproductive health care is accessible to all people regardless of income, location or education.”

If the women’s march and Planned Parenthood (one of their main sponsors) platform cared about reproductive freedom, then why do they not include anything about the daily occurrence of obstetrical abuse and violence? Or the reality that obstetrics is inherently violent and rooted in slavery at its core?

What about all the women who are harassed and invaded by CPS for choosing to birth their babies freely in the comfort of their own home without being overseen by a figure with a stamp of authority? No mention of birth freedom. Life freedom.

How come it isn’t mentioned that there are still states that midwifery care is illegal, and mostly unaffordable where it is legal? So being for women means we make “care” affordable and accessible to women who don’t want children (contraceptives and abortions), but we don’t include making care affordable and accessible to women who do?

Or even worse, how it is illegal to call oneself a midwife unless the government has granted you the title, meaning government owns the conditions of birth, and if women do not abide by these conditions then they are at risk for being tormented, interrogated and persecuted. Modern day witch hunts, in essence.

What about advocating for women to rest for 2-3 days when they bleed?

It’s because the women’s march, their platform and sponsors don’t actually care about women’s freedom in regard to their health and life giving abilities. They only care about furthering the modern feminist and Planned Parenthood agenda which includes the erasure of fertility, an abandonment of our hormonal matrix that distinguishes us as women, and sterilization. These components are what helps us further advance in joining the ranks of men and a world dominated by men. Modern feminism, AKA be more like men. The workforce and Planned Parenthood don’t really benefit when women stay home from work and opt out of medical care in order to take their care into their own hands.

For what it is worth, I love men and the roles they offer and provide. I just don’t want to be one. I am different, and offer value in other ways as a woman.

The thing is, and what I want women to know is…..

Women already have all the rights they are fighting for. They have them by virtue of their womanhood. They were given the power by nature to control birth or to terminate it if need be (and abortion is often caused by living in a society run by masculine ideals and values, not a solution to it, but I digress again). What I want women to know is that they don’t need to be wasting energy fighting men to feel autonomous over their bodies. We already are, and we have a vast well of resources and knowledge that is available to us that we have been robbed from by growing up in an industrialized, modern society. We don’t need to be marching on Capitol Hill. We need to march on over to the living rooms of our community sisters and relearn the art of DIY healthcare. It’s really not that hard, trust me, I do it. Not only do I do my own healthcare, but I train second year medical students (I know, how ironic. Another post.) how to perform the well-women’s exam and I’ll let you in on a little secret….

If you’re reading this, you could do the damn thing yourself…..

As much as I see myself as a woman who radically cares for the health and well-being and rights of women, I just can’t get behind the modern, liberal feminist movement that feels so rampant today, precisely because I don’t see that it carries similar values as I do. It touts that it does, but I see it all as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The amount of disconnect between women, their bodies and the foundations of true health in the feminist movement is astonishing. I can’t support women demanding their “rights” for pills (that were invented and created by men) that screw up our hormonal health, (which is inextricably connected to everything else), and is responsible for many deaths.

I can’t cry for free access to a healthcare system that is dominated by the ideas of men and predicated on abuse and the perpetuation of chronic disease. A system that persuades women to part with their breasts and womb in the name of profit. I can’t hoot and holler when they make toxic feminine hygiene products “tax free” that wreak havoc on our bodies.

Like I said, the Women’s March platform mentions access to birth control and abortion, but says nothing (zero!) about a woman’s right to a healthy, physiological, sovereign birth and support around that (with the exception of maternal leave). I only see the erasure of fertility within feminism everywhere I look. Plug it up, take a pill, kill it.

I. Just. Don’t. Get. It. How is it not painfully obvious that (wo)man’s abandonment from nature, and now destruction of nature is what got us where we are today? And in a hierarchy where hu(man) thinks he can dominate that which sustains him (nature), it has translated over to women’s bodies, and feminists have taken the bait, and are now demanding free and total access to a world that was never created in support of their biology. I simply don’t resonate with anything that separates women from what makes them women, or attempts to make our unique, biological functions and gifts a burden that we need to abandon ourselves from.

To my mind, things like top-down, big medicine, hormonal contraceptives (or any pharmaceutical drug), and medicated/technocratic abortions are not components that can help “liberate” women, but rather, they only further exploit women. By no means do I see these as solutions to our problems, but rather, some inevitable outcomes to our deeper distresses.

Last year, I discovered a term called Ecofeminism. I can’t believe I had never heard of this before. It’s. So. Me. Sure, it’s just a label, and why the need to label myself? It’s less about the label and more that I know there are women who see the correlation between the oppression of nature and how that has translated into the oppression of women. Women who get that we are nature and trying to ignore and override it is the true “patriarchy.”

Some tenants and ideas of Ecofeminism are:

  • Ecofeminism uses the parallels between the oppression of nature and the oppression of women as a way to highlight the idea that both must be understood in order to properly recognize how they are connected. These parallels include but are not limited to seeing women and nature as property, seeing men as the curators of culture and women as the curators of nature, and how men dominate women and humans dominate nature.
  • One ecofeminist theory is that capitalist values reflect paternalistic and gendered values. In this interpretation effects of capitalism has led to a harmful split between nature and culture. In the 1970s, early ecofeminists discussed that the split can only be healed by the feminine instinct for nurture and holistic knowledge of nature’s processes.
  • Vandana Shiva says that women have a special connection to the environment through their daily interactions and this connection has been ignored. She says that women in subsistence economies who produce “wealth in partnership with nature, have been experts in their own right of holistic and ecological knowledge of nature’s processes”. She makes the point that “these alternative modes of knowing, which are oriented to the social benefits and sustenance needs are not recognized by the capitalist reductionist paradigm, because it fails to perceive the interconnectedness of nature, or the connection of women’s lives, work and knowledge with the creation of wealth (23)”. Shiva blames this failure on the West’s patriarchy, and the patriarchal idea of what development is. According to Shiva, patriarchy has labeled women, nature, and other groups not growing the economy as “unproductive”.
  • In Ecofeminism (1993) authors Vandana Shiva, Maria Mies and Evan Bondi ponder modern science and its acceptance as a universal and value-free system. Instead, they view the dominant stream of modern science as a projection of Western men’s values. The privilege of determining what is considered scientific knowledge has been controlled by men, and for the most part of history restricted to men. Bondi and Miles list examples including the medicalization of childbirth and the industrialization of plant reproduction.

There are many philosophies within ecofeminism, some are even conflicting just as they are within Christianity or modern feminism. I don’t agree with them all, but ecofeminism is the closest thing I have found that can articulate my personal views of feminism and what true health and empowerment for women is.

If being a feminist means I must support women in their choices no matter what, then I am not a feminist. Often times, supporting women “no matter what,” means watching women fall prey to toxic patriarchal exploitation cloaked in “women’s liberation,” and I can’t (and won’t) sit back and swallow one iota of toleration for something I view as doing so much harm. Which doesn’t mean I’ll jump down your throat about it, either, or even bring it up if we don’t have a relationship built on a lot of love and trust.

If being a feminist mean I think women deserve equal treatment, respect, and pay for the same work (they do) as men or any other human being, then of course, I am a feminist, and quite frankly, who isn’t (with the exception of some assholes)?

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On Income Inequality III

I am not totally opposed to the ideal of economic egalitarianism. I don’t want poverty to exist, and I do want those with means to bring about its eradication in an ethical, efficient, and lasting way. Where many (most?) egalitarians error is their mistaken belief that government force is one of the ways, or even the best way, to make that happen. It’s not. Government force can only flatten wealth distribution downward, and less wealth overall cannot bring people out of poverty. On the contrary, private property and free markets, ie. capitalism, have shown theoretically and in practice to do exactly what economic egalitarians desire to achieve and is actually possible among real human beings. There is no better alternative, truly. And that’s today’s two cents.

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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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