Echo Chamber

I unfriended two people on Facebook yesterday… I’ve been doing that a lot lately.

Facebook used to be an important part of my network and ability to connect with the world. It is still a great way to connect, but I am not currently at a point in my life where I just accept any friend request, and when someone has a pattern of saying antagonistic shit or I find unnecessarily negative I usually just unfriend them. Yesterday, the issue was Donald Trump. The two people I unfriended are Trump supporters and said some really obnoxious and abrasive shit.

Being a Trump supporter isn’t really enough for me to unfriend you. I have friends that support Trump and I’m somewhat sympathetic to their reasoning, even though I disagree.* The important thing is that they have built up social capital with me… we’ve had beers and reasonable discussions about a variety of issues, we share a bond and have mutual respect… so when we have a disagreement there is a certain amount of courtesy that is shown. That isn’t the case with people that I only know through Facebook if you are an asshole who has a fake name without a real profile picture my tolerance for you is going to be low.

Occasionally, whenever I unfriend someone like this they send me some snarky message. Today I got one that simply said “enjoy your echo chamber”, which got me thinking, am I creating an echo chamber for myself but cutting negative people out of my life?

No.

Fuck no, I am not.

First off, I am not cutting people out simply for disagreeing with me, I’m cutting them out for being kind of douchey.

Second, my life isn’t Facebook. My experiences are much broader than that. If I decide I want Facebook to be a place of peace, love, and only like-minded people there is nothing wrong with that. I can customize my social media experience to be what I want it to be (that’s the beauty of it). I have no moral obligation to fill my Facebook feed with every opinion any more than I have a moral obligation to let someone in my house that has opinions I find deplorable. That doesn’t mean I live in an echo chamber, it means I want to compartmentalize my life.

I still expose myself to a variety of views and read on a variety of subjects. I still have friends with different religious and political beliefs, but they are friends… not anonymous asshats on the interweb.

So, if you disagree with me or think one of my posts are off the mark that is fine, but maybe show a little humility and build a friendship with me instead of donning your keyboard warrior armor to fight the good fight, and then get all butthurt when I banish you with the push of a button. The best conversations of my life have been with people who I disagree with, those are the conversations that helped me grow intellectually, but those conversations came from people who I knew as peers instead of someone cowering in anonymity.

*I guess I’m willing to discuss my thoughts on Clinton v Trump but for the most part I’m agnostic, they both suck and my vote won’t mean anything so I’m focused on other things in my life. My big concern with Trump isn’t his policies, but how his election may encourage people to do violence against those that I love. And I really don’t want to be put in a position where I will do violence back. 

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Row With the Flow

I was catching up with my best friend a few days ago and we started talking about my new chapter of life in Wilmington. Settling into a home for a couple of years was not on my life plan four months ago and he was curious how I was doing. I told him I was doing fine and that changes like this don’t really effect me that much, you gotta just roll with life sometimes. He told me that he admired my ability to “row with the flow” (which I find kind of funny because I admire that about him).

“Row with the flow” is kind of a mantra for me (and probably many others). I first explicitly encountered the concept through a YouTube video (see below) by Halcyon when I was preparing for my first Burning Man. My application of the concept kind of goes like this…. we are floating down this river of life and we can either fight the flow, row with the flow, or pull in the paddles and just let the river rush us along. “Row with the flow” is kind of the golden mean of how to approach life.

There are certainly times when we should bunker down and fight the current, but that shouldn’t be our default position. So much of life is outside of our control and if we exert all of our energy trying to fight things out of our control we just end up too exhausted to safely navigate the river. Energy should be applied efficiently to help us reach our goals and not just used up because “we have to do something!”. No, we don’t have to “do something” if that “something” won’t bring about positive change.

On the other end of the spectrum is just letting life push us along. Instead of fighting the river the whole way, we can just let life push us around. This is victimhood and defeatism, we can blame everyone else and every circumstance for the good and bad in our life. This view is to accept that life is based on luck, fate, or God’s plan, and all we can do is forfeit our free will and suffer through it. Every success and failure is pre-determined, so why even try?

Fuck that, I’d rather row with the flow.

Rowing with the flow is to pay attention to your life and alter your course to your desires, but it involves more than that. It involves recognizing that we can only see a short way up the river and someday new bends and splits and opportunities may arise, so we may need to alter course. It means that yesterday’s notions of what will make us happy or bring us success may not apply to today. It also means that sometimes you need to navigate around blind turns into unexpected territory if you want new experiences. Sometimes, you gotta row off the map when the river gives you the chance to get out of the main current and check out an uncharted tributary. It might lead to another river or the ocean or it might dry up and force you to trudge back to your previous course… but no matter what, you will learn something if you row away from the mainstream.

Now that I think about it, I guess we have a fourth choice. We can find an eddy and just paddle our boat into the safe, calm, comforting water and die in stagnation. We can find a place that poses no risk (and thus, no reward) and is “good enough”. We can stay in shitty jobs, never leave our hometowns, and stay in relationships that aren’t good. The fear of the unknown can be overwhelming, I get that, but the unknown is where you create the life you want. You can’t change your life without making changes. You can find an eddy that has some shade and won’t allow you to get harmed, but you’ll be stuck staring at the same rocks for the rest of your life. That might be comfortable, but it certainly isn’t living.

Burden of Proof

Last week Isaac and T.K. had one of the best podcast episodes that I’ve listened to in quite a while. In the final half hour or so they started discussing the burden of proof for our own beliefs, particularly what it would take to convince you to change your mind. I think this is a really valuable exercise. Too often we get bogged down in our own beliefs and become resistant to change, even though we haven’t really articulated what those beliefs are grounded in. Sadly, I think a lot of beliefs aren’t grounded in anything more than “that’s how I was raised” or “that’s how it has always been done”. I’m just as guilty of that as anyone.

We all have a hodge-podge of beliefs and identities that color our perception of the world. Some of these can be  pretty damn important to us, like our thoughts on god and government. Some fundamentally alter the way we live our lives, like our thoughts on veganism or drug use. Others are relatively minor, like which way the toilet paper roll goes or whether throw pillows should exist.

To me, the most troubling ones are those that are based solely on how or where we were raised. If you feel hatred towards someone because they support Alabama football or were born in Europe, that can pose serious problems. If you are a Christian simply because you were raised Christian and never really got to know (and love) people from other religions, then I think that is shortsighted and can be a sign of spiritual weakness. One of the most important things we can do is challenge our own assumptions and come up with a proof that would convince us to change our minds, and then maybe go out there and find someone to challenge us. Steel sharpens steel. Minds sharpen minds. It is intellectually lazy to just say “well I just know” or “nothing could change my mind”.

I don’t think this is just a rhetorical thought experiment. I think it is actually important to write down some beliefs and think about what would make you change your mind. Here are some of my beliefs (all of which have a bundle of assumptions tied into them), and I plan on challenging them in the future.

  • A world where animals don’t die for human pleasure is better than a word where they do die, which is why I’m a vegan.
  • Spiritual belief correlates strongly with birthplace, which means that either there is no supernatural deity or that supernatural deity actually speaks to us through multiple (all?) religions and no belief system has a monopoly on the truth.
  • The use of force against peaceful people is morally wrong, the government is defined by the use of force against unconsenting peaceful people, therefore the government is immoral. This is why I am a philosophical anarchist.
  • More often than not, the government reduces the happiness and prosperity of the people and minimizing government will improve the lives of most people in the short term and all people in the long term. This is why I am an incremental pragmatic anarchist.
  • Happiness primarily comes from experiences, and not from possessions. This is why I am a minimalist.
  • Work is not objectively good and humans will be better off when we don’t need to work in order to meet our basic needs like food, water, and shelter. The arts and sciences will thrive when all humans are able to explore their passions without worrying about survival. This is why I am a supporter of the Basic Income Guarantee and advancing technology to eliminate need scarcity.
  • Technology will eventually advance to the point where humans can live forever. This is why I am a transhumanist.
  • Sex is not solely an emotional or spiritual act and I believe that having multiple, new experiences with a variety of partners can increase happiness and life satisfaction.
  • The use of psychedelics and similar drugs have an overwhelmingly positive impact on society and individuals, and we should support responsible use of them.
  • Sexual orientation is a fluid spectrum that is grounded in biology but there is social pressure to restrict it. If humans lacked social pressure we would likely all be somewhat bisexual, and if we eliminated the taboo around same-sex contact (particularly for men) people would be more comfortable with experimentation and less repressed.
  • Electoral politics is the least effective and laziest way to enact social change, particularly at the federal level. Most people’s time would be better-spent volunteering in their communities, pursuing their passions, and working with local institutions instead of caring or supporting a Presidential candidate.
  • I believe mental health and physical health are related for many people, and eating a healthy, plant-based diet, getting regular exercise, meditating, and seeing a therapist regularly can be a huge benefit to individuals, as well as society.
  • We should be less supportive of people who choose to have children but don’t have the economic or social resources to raise them. Instead of subsidizing childbirth we should be increasing access to contraceptives and sex education. Also, it is more ethical to adopt a child than to have one of your own in the US where there are half a million children who need a stable place to live.
  • If there wasn’t social pressure towards monogamy we would see a lot more “alternative” family arrangements that would provide more options for diverse humans to find happiness and prosperity.

 

Those are just some of my beliefs off the top of my head. They are mostly grounded in a philosophical foundation or pragmatic assumptions, which means they are open to being challenged. I may be wrong about some of my beliefs… hell, I may be wrong about all of my beliefs, but that’s okay. I don’t want unprovable beliefs, I want to keep my mind open to growing and being challenged by my experiences and the experiences of others. Life is too beautifully diverse and long to stay in a bubble being stagnant.

Smiling at the Furnace

Today, my writing is again inspired by a blog post from the eternal wisdom-seeker, TK Coleman. I wonder if it is cheating or lazy to respond and expand upon ideas from other people instead of spewing out my own thoughts… oh well, call me lazy I guess, but I prefer the term “efficient”. Anyway, in his post Coleman wrote about gaining optimism from adversity. He is made stronger and encouraged to go on when more obstacles stand in his way. My favorite passage from the short post is this:

I insist on giving the middle finger to all the shittiest aspects of life and saying “you can bake me, but you can’t break me” while being tossed into the fiery furnace of trial and tribulation.

That furnace visualization instantly made me think of the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego myth from the 3rd Book of Daniel in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. I think there was a couple of popular songs about the story performed by Veggie Tales, Carman, dc Talk, or something. Anyway, in this story the three protagonists are thrown into a fiery furnace because they are unwilling to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzer.

Despite the shittiest of all aspects in life (death by fire) they stayed true to their beliefs and came out stronger. In the end they were rewarded for their faith with life and a promotion. (Yeah, it is kind of weird that they would continue to work for a king that demanded them treat him like God and tried to kill them… but whatever).

When it comes to our own life we should model the behavior of Shad-Me-Abed, we should smile at the flames and use the struggles of life to make us stronger. As we overcome greater and greater obstacles the things that seemed insurmountable become easy. Even Michael Phelps probably thought he was going to drown the first time he was in the water. And he probably thought that smoking pot would have a detrimental to his performance and career… but now he can naturally do both without barely batting an eye. There really are only two options to “demon standing before me, waiting to feed on the deliciousness of my anguish”, you can feed it and grow weak or you can laugh at it’s hunger and grow strong.

I find that people are often those demons trying to feed on our anguish. Something about humans makes us love the failure and self-destruction of others, maybe it is a cultural thing or maybe it is evolutionary (or maybe both), but we seem to enjoy watching people stumble and fall. We gossip about mistakes people are making instead of helping them make better choices and we discourage them from taking chances because of all the things that could go wrong. Maybe, seeing others succeed acts as a mirror and shows us all the ways in which we failed to take risks and, instead, just took the safe road that everyone else follows.

I remember a party I went to right before I started my solo bike ride in 2012. The “nay sayers” fell into two categories. The first group had my best interest in mind (I think) and tended to express concerns about my safety and how dangerous the world is. They primarily overestimated the challenges ahead and the danger that came from things outside of my power (weather, robbers, cars, etc). The second group seemed to want me to fail. They didn’t think I had the ability to do a solo bike ride, they were demons waiting to hear the news that I gave up or got hurt because they would feed off of that.

There will always be furnaces in life, and we should face them head on. Our bodies and minds are pretty fucking durable, more so than many of us imagine. Certainly, we all have limits, but those limits will never be known if we get comfortable walking away from obstacles and feeding demons. And when we start to become inspired and motivated by obstacles we may push so far beyond our limits that we even surprise ourselves.

Passion and Partnership

I love my partner, but I have never had some sort of earth-shattering passion for her. We had the normal “new relationship energy” when we met, but our relationship developed along unconventional grounds. We were a one-night stand and then we didn’t see each other for about three months because I was on a cross-country bike ride. We texted (and probably sexted) a bit, but there was nothing particularly emotional about it. When I arrived in Los Angeles, the city she had recently moved to, we became friends with benefits but both still dated other people. Eventually, over time, we realized that we had a lot of important things in common and our relationship grew into what we are today.

I’ve had strong passion for people in the past (particularly when I was a teenager and in my early 20’s), but those relationships were almost always bad ones. The passion and fire to be with a person blinded me to how incompatible we were and how abusive the relationship was. Passion is often illogical and it prevents us from making decisions that are good for us. I think we all have said at some point in our life (or know someone who has said), “I know we aren’t good together but I love them so much!” or “I know this can’t work long term but I love them!” or “I know they don’t treat me well but I love them!”. If the only thing that is keeping two (or more) people together is a passionate love then that relationship should probably end. Passion is the worst reason to stay with a person.

My partner may have more passion for me than I do for her, but that would be okay. There is nothing about a relationship that needs to be a 100% equal exchange. In fact, it is probably dangerous to shoot for that or to “keep score”. If both people are happy and getting what they need then the actual acts are unimportant, there can be an inequality in the number of times someone washes the dishes, says I love you, gives oral sex, buys gifts, feels passion, etc., as long as everyone is feeling satisfied and can communicate their desires.

So, I don’t have that passion that poets speak of for my wife, but I do love her. I miss her when she is gone. I long to spend my life with her. Our relationship is based on many things (including love), it is based on our compatibility now and in the future. We have similar life philosophies that naturally revolve around a mixture of stoicism and minimalism. Neither of us want kids and we both want to travel a lot in our lives. We would like to experience new things, live a variety of places, enjoy recreational drugs, and only work when it is necessary. We have similar views on non-monogamy and what defines “cheating”. We both want to grow as individuals, as well as partners, and we support each other in our pursuit of things that may not interest the other person.

We also both realize that there may come a day when this partnership is no longer good for us. Hopefully, we will grow and change over time, bit that means there is the risk that we will grow apart and become less compressible. We both agree it would be better to end it and remain friends instead of dragging it out in the name of “love” or because we spent so much time together (sunk costs are everywhere).

I feel like she is my first true partner. She isn’t just my spouse, which is a title that can be given to anyone with the proper court documentation, whether the people like each other or hate each other, whether they are truly compatible long term or not.  My partner is someone who helps me become a better person, and I work to help her become a better person. Neither of us is a crutch for the other person, instead we accomplish things as a partnership that we couldn’t do alone. We are both “in good working order”, as Dan Savage would say, and we aren’t dependent on the other person for emotional, physical, or financial health. We could survive (and thrive) without each other, we just don’t want to right now.

So, I have a hard time relating to the poets or people who say things like “marry the person you feel an intense burning in your soul for” (I don’t know if that is an actual quote but I’m pretty sure I heard something like that somewhere). That type of fire is a fickle beast, it can burn out during a rain storm or it can rage out of control and devastate everything in its path. Human relationships should have a foundation that is more stable than passion, especially partnerships you hope will last a lifetime

Too Many Paths

I am sometimes obsessed with finding ways to “hack” my life and make the most of it. I listen to podcasts like Tim Ferriss that have successful people who talk about ways they made their lives fulfilling. I listen to audiobooks that discuss nutrition, happiness, productivity, and sex. I research nootropics and fitness routines and the writing routines of successful authors. But, the more I research the less I tend to do. My wheel’s spin as I am overwhelmed with all the information available.

I think I have a problem with just “doing” in this area of my life. Most of the time I pick a plan that is “good enough” but for some reason I never actually commit to trying any of the plans others lay out. I realize that none of their plans will be perfect for me, but adopting a good plan and tweaking it over time is a better option than researching and reading and listening to plans until I die. I know this, but I still have a hard time sticking to something.

I’m not sure what the solution is. I know that if I pick some sort of plan (writing, fitness, meditation, life philosophy, etc) and try it out the odds are pretty good I will see some of the improvement that I want. If I don’t see any real improvement, then I can tweak the plan or abandon it for something else. I think the simplest plan is one mentioned by Isaac Morehouse with a Tim Ferriss tweak. I’m going to put simple systems in place that can train habits (Morehouse) and pick one bad habit every six months to work on removing (Ferriss). Instead of goals (do 50 push-ups a day) I’m going to have something broad like “do exercise daily”. Even if I only do one push-up right before bed that is considered a successful day. Hopefully, as the systems become habits I will become the person who can knock out 100 push-ups a day.

Here are the systems I’ve come up with. I am not going to start them all at once, instead just a couple at first and add more as the systems solidify.

  • Yoga or stretching daily
  • Meditation daily
  • Write daily
  • Exercise daily (does not include cycling)
  • Foreign language work daily
  • Bad Habit: Eliminate frivolous alcohol consumption within six months

I’ve made a handy excel document to track my daily progress on the two I’m choosing to start with (Yoga or stretching daily and writing daily). I don’t have an official goal, but I think I’d be happy with 80% success. Though, I don’t want to beat myself up or feel disappointed if I don’t reach an arbitrary number. The real goal is to improve myself, not try and perfect myself (which is impossible).

Answering TK’s Rhetorical Questions

TK Coleman (philosopher, life student, inspiration, teacher, et al) recently posted a blog post that I found pretty interesting. In the post he offered six questions that we can ask to keep ourselves intellectually honest. In the post he explains why each question can help keep you intellectually honest. I don’t think he meant this as some sort of challenge for people to publicly do but I decided to do that anyway. I do strive to be intellectually honest, but like all pursuits it is really impossible to reach the goal, it is an ideal that we strive for knowing that it is unattainable. What follows are some brief answers, I’m sure that if I sat down and meditated on the questions or researched more I could answer more thoroughly.

Question 1: Can you name one person, dead or alive, who you regard as a brilliant thinker responsible for having contributed important and insightful work to the pool of human knowledge?

This one is kind of easy for me. Partly, I think, because I am one of those people who tends to defer to others instead of speaking my own mind. I have a lot of ideas but I often feel like I don’t have permission to be an idea creator and that my views on things aren’t really original or valuable. I am aware that this is kind of bullshit. Anyway, a short list of brilliant thinkers who have impacted me:

  • Frederic Bastiat
  • Robert Nozick
  • Milton Friedman
  • Joseph Campbell
  • Bill Hicks
  • Carl Jung
  • Dan Savage
  • Stephen King
  • Tim Ferriss
  • Sam Harris
  • The Ancient Stoic Philosophers
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Robert Heinlein

Question 2: Can you name one person, dead or alive, that you disagree with whose philosophy is right and respectable in at least one way?

Hmm, I don’t know everything about other people’s philosophy but sure. I think some of my modern intellectual influences in sex and relationships (ie Dan Savage) are correct when it comes to human relations, that everything is allowed as long as you don’t harm someone else, but his political philosophy is wrong. I am sure I could find some more but it would involve researching more deeply the philosophical beliefs of the people who have influenced me.

Question 3: Can you name a few important questions that you don’t believe you have discovered the answers to yet?

Haha, hell yes. Tons of them

  • Does free will exist?
  • When does personhood begin?
  • How much should ethics play a part in what type of political system we support?
  • Is pleasure intrinsically good?
  • Is labor intrinsically good?
  • What inside of me is stopping me from pursuing my dreams?
  • Do animals have rights? If no, why not? If yes, why?
  • Will technology free us from mortality?

 

Question 4: Can you name 1-2 issues, topic, or areas of study that you feel you still need to learn about?

I can’t name 1-2 issues, topics, or areas of study that I don’t feel like I need to learn about. I guess the top 2 that interest me right now are human sexuality and stoic philosophy.

 

Question 5: If you had to guess, could you name 1-2 issues, topics, or areas of study where you’re most likely to hold a false assumption or uninformed belief?

Hmm, sure. I think I may have some false assumptions about the practical feasibility of anarchy. Also, the possible existence of an afterlife (whether that is a spiritual afterlife or a “game over” afterlife).

 

Question 6: Can I name at least one specific instance in which I openly admitted to another person that I was wrong about something?

Sure, happens all the time. The one that first comes to mind is when I was discussing anarchy and such with an Australian colleague. I took the rather extreme position that if you work for the government in any capacity, even something like a janitor at city hall, you were knowingly profiting off the theft of other people. As such, you are a knowing accomplice in theft and violence is justified against you to prevent you from participating in the theft. He convinced me that even if all that is true, violence against the person is a disproportionate response. Punishment should fit the crime and property crimes do not justify violence. It is unjust to end someone’s life or assault someone simply for trespassing or theft, violence should only be used as a response to violence.