Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew is bearing down on Florida and I feel really lucky. I don’t really feel lucky because Wilmington seems to be out of the major trouble area, I feel lucky to live in the time I do. My partner and I were discussing yesterday how different things would be in we lived during our grandparent’s generation. This storm, as devastating and terrible as it will likely be, would have been 1,000 times worse before modern technology. The residents of Florida didn’t have the warning systems or ability to leave 65 years ago. The death toll could have been in the thousands or tens of thousands but, if we’re lucky, the actual death toll may stay under 100.

I am just really thankful for modern technology and the systems in place that have allowed it to develop. And I’m really excited about future technology.

A storm like this 65 years from now may end up being just a minor inconvenience that causes minimal damage and no death. Or maybe, we will be able to stop the storm before it happens or have the ability to divert it off course (I think that is a bit too optimistic, but who knows?).

I think it is important to keep things in perspective and realize that things really are getting better all over the world. Even during natural disasters we should be optimistic (maybe especially during natural disasters). Things aren’t perfect, there are a lot of things that could be improved in the world, but I see no reason to be long-term pessimistic (short term is different, there are always going to be a couple steps backwards as we run forward).

We only harm ourselves when we focus on the negative and get pulled into the “this country is going to hell in a handbasket” mentality. That simply isn’t true… unless your idea of hell is more peace, longer life span, greater prosperity, and greater equality… I actually know some people who do feel that way. But, for most people, we see that the world is getting better and there is a reason to be optimistic. We just need some perspective to realize that people all over the world (both now and in the past) had it way worse, and someday our grandchildren will look back at our glorious time and think “wow, it must have sucked back then”. I hope they do. I hope life is so amazing in 65 years that the advances of my lifetime seem like the dark ages.

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Food Science

One of the things that I love about the world we live in is how quickly we are discovering new things about the world. Amidst all the shitty politics and bullshit, there are scientific discoveries and technological innovations happening all around us. One area, in particular, has been really exciting to me… we are learning so much about how the human body works and figuring out ways to “upgrade” it. Due to my love for science and fitness I have been sharing a lot of articles about human health, both the good and the bad.

Unfortunately, as more research is done we are discovering that some things aren’t very healthy for us. I think there must be a miscommunication when I share these articles, though, because people seem to feel attacked. Take, for example, a recent article I shared that linked alcohol to all sorts of cancers. (My dietitian partner informed me that this isn’t really new news, but I had never heard it before).

When I share these articles I am not trying to tell people that they shouldn’t drink alcohol. I share them because I care about the people in my network and want them to be informed about the risks they take. They are certainly free to take those risks, but I would feel bad if I withheld information from a friend about the danger they are putting themselves in. I would like the people I love to live long, healthy lives and I want them to see their kids and grandkids grow up (or nieces and nephews for us childless people). I want them to be able to travel where they desire, have adventures, and create art, and for all those things you need to be alive.

Clearly, that desire of mine is being lost somewhere (probably because I never say it), and the response to articles about nutrition generally fall in two categories. The first response is usually something along the lines of “Oh, well, whatever, everything causes cancer”. While that might be true… everything (or mostly everything) can break down our body and bring us closer to death, I see no reason to unnecessarily speed up that process. Everything we do is a cost/benefit analysis and we make better decisions when we know the full cost. I will continue to drink beer, because the relatively small increase in cancer risk for a the pleasure of a beer is probably worth it… beer tastes good and the risk increase is small. Using that same calculus I won’t smoke cigarettes, I don’t get pleasure from it and the chance that it will cut my life short is incredibly high. Having a couple beers a week probably won’t prevent me from being at the birth of my niece’s baby, but smoking might.

The second response goes something like “I’m sure tomorrow they will say that drinking cures cancer”. Basically, scientific research is often coming up with conflicting information, therefore we should dismiss it all. Yes, research sometimes conflicts other research, that is what makes science a better institution for finding information about the physical world than religion. If research into complicated things always agreed there would probably be a problem. This argument also seems to ignore bodies of research where there is a lot of consensus. You don’t just throw out data because new information in the future might tweak it, there is a such thing as truth in the world and the scientific method is a tool to find truth. It saddens me the most when people use this argument who, otherwise, are very excited about scientific discoveries and technological advancement. We shouldn’t be hostile to new information just because it tells us the life we are living isn’t as healthy as we’d like to believe.

I think what it really comes down to is food is very personal for some people. I really have a hard time understanding this, but I am trying. Food was never important in my family, we have no shared culture around it or any sort of traditions. Food is primarily fuel for my body to function. I certainly enjoy good food over bad food, and I like it when I find tasty recipes that fulfill my nutrient needs, but if someone showed me research that lentils caused cancer I would likely reduce my consumption significantly. This may just be an area where I have a hard time understanding other people. It was very easy for me to cut out meat from my diet when I found that it was unhealthy and violated my ethics, but others have an attachment to food that goes beyond nutrition, an attachment that confuses me a bit.

The Scientific Method

One of the things that pushed me away from the religion I grew up with was the intrusion into the scientific realms. My religion tried to explain the dinosaurs, genetic diversity, the planets, geology, etc. But, when I encountered the scientific reasoning for the theories and the evidence my religion couldn’t hold up. Faith couldn’t trump evidence for these things. I’m not saying that science has all the answers at this point, and they may not ever have all the answers. There may always be a need for spirituality or religion, but more and more people are going to turn away from churches if they spend their time and energy trying to contradict science.

Anyway, I’ve occasionally heard that my feelings about science are really just “faith” in science instead of faith in god. This is a misunderstanding of what the scientific method is. I don’t read an article about evolution and have faith in the author, it is that I trust that the scientific method is the best way that we’ve come up with to understand the natural world. The scientific method has natural checks and balances that push towards truth. There are plenty of dead-ends and misunderstandings, but the general direction of scientific inquiry is towards truth.

The same can’t be said of religion where new information is not analyzed critically, instead it is suspect. Tradition and a few ancient texts are said to be the final word on truth. New understandings of the world are rejected and considered an enemy to the divine truth. When new scientific discoveries are made this is often portrayed as proof that science doesn’t know what it is doing, or that it can’t be true because things keep changing.

It isn’t the natural world that is really changing, it is our understanding of it. Take, for example, the 1977 issue of Time Magazine that discusses “Global Cooling”. This issue is often shown as “proof” that climate change is some sort of a conspiracy. Why would we call it global cooling one decade, global warming the next, and then climate change after that? Isn’t that proof that there is a secret cabal of communist scientists who want to hijack the world and establish a Marxist utopia all under the guise of saving the planet?

Well, no.

The global cooling, global warming, and climate change labels are an example of the strengths of scientific inquiry. It is science’s ability to change as new information and research becomes available. This isn’t flip-flopping, it is learning.

Now, maybe someday soon, scientific research will see that the climate change we are experiencing is a weird natural cycle that has nothing to do with humans. Or maybe research will show that it is partly to do with humans. I really don’t know, it isn’t my area of expertise (though, I tend to think it is likely that humans are having an impact on our environment). One thing science doesn’t really do is tell us what the best policy positions are to alter our environment or if we should do that even if we have the capability.

Anyway, I love science. I love that our understanding of the world changes with new information. I love that nothing is really off limits for science, at least in an ideal world. Scientists are humans and many of them are resistant to new paradigms that would overturn their life’s work. The Scientific Method is generally able to push past human desires, it eventually evolves new theories and hypothesis to explain the world, even if individual humans resist. Religion can’t do that, and it should really stop trying to push it’s method for discovering truth into the world dominated by science.

Adulthood

A lot of things floating around the interweb right now has me thinking about adulthood, particularly the way our society transitions from teenager to adult. The current situation with Kesha (I LOVE YOU!), student loan debt, and the elevated divorce rate for young marriages have makes me think we might actually want to postpone when we see humans as full-fledged responsible adults, and I think postponing adulthood is a sign of progress and a good thing.

I’m sure some people see Millennials living at home and uncommitted to careers or family as a bad thing, but I think this is a positive cultural shift. As a society grows wealthier and a species starts to live longer, healthier lives, it is only natural that the periods of childhood lengthen as well. We certainly don’t want to reverse course and go back to the days when 14-year olds were expected to work in factories or fields, and marriages/births were common in the early teens. Hell, if you look at our sci-fi and fantasy books they are often filled with long-living species that consider 100 years old to still be youthful. That is the direction we are heading, and we need the legal system to start catching up to this shift. (Side note: having children is something I don’t think the legal system should get involved with prohibiting, but we do need to increase comprehensive sex education and access to birth control so that humans of all ages can have children when they want. This would involve parental involvement and a shift in our education system, and might be the toughest sell for many people, particularly those in more conservative areas of the country.)

Normally, I wouldn’t advocate legal changes (I am an anarchist, after all), but enforcing contracts is one of the things that our legal system is in charge of. If the legal system starts recognizing that a contract signed at the age of 18 is kind of signed by someone who cannot understand the full ramifications of the contract, then much of the world would be better off. After all, most institutions who sign contracts (banks, the military, etc.) are going to try and maximize profit, and in a system where the government enforces contracts they will pursue contracts with people as young as possible. If a bank knew that the courts would allow high interest rates and garnish the wages of a 14-year who defaulted on their loan then I am sure they would issue loans to 14-year olds.

Now, maximizing profit isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but if that profit comes from contracts issued to people who are incapable of understanding or comprehending what they are signing then that is a problem. After all, the “18 is an adult” line that we draw is a social construct, and as a social construct it is malleable. As we continue to understand more about human growth, particularly brain growth, it is becoming clear that our decision making capabilities and cognitive functions are still in high development until years after 18.

I’m not proposing that we just push off all adult responsibilities until 24 or something. That will still be problematic because it will prevent people from moving towards adulthood and getting their lives started. Instead, I think we should treat late teens and early 20s as a period of training for adulthood. Our legal system should put some reasonable limitations on contracts. Maybe those limitations for 18-24 year olds could be something like this:

  • The maximum amount of debt a person can have is $10,000.
  • Business and marriage contracts automatically expire at the age of 24 years old or 4 years after signing, whichever is later.
  • Military enlistment limited to 2 year contracts for the regular military or 4 year contracts for the National Guard/Reserves
  • Unlimited alcohol and weed consumption allowed on private property or with parents. Limited allowed in public places. (Age 18-21)

One of the benefits of a society with advancing technology is our opportunities for more leisure and personal fulfillment at all ages. There is no reason that we must continue education and work patterns that were created during an industrial age, we are now an information age. The economy is increasingly based on information, service, and gigs. We shouldn’t be encouraging people under 24 to spend 12-16 years in school when they may not know what they want to do or what the world needs, then take out loans for homes and an education up to $500,000, then committing to a job for 30ish years that you may hate simply because you are trapped in debt, and hoping that someday your body and mind will still hold up so that you can spend the last decade or so retired and doing what you want. Instead, the time before 24 should be spent exploring places and interests, getting to know yourself and your relationship desires, and finding a lifestyle that you love (or going into a career/education with a better idea of the outcomes).

Our society is shifting, and adulthood is shifting with it. It would be nice if we started to appreciate this progress instead of mumbling about “kids back in my day *grumble* *grumble* *grumble*”

PS: All the numbers I suggest for age, length of contract, maximum dollar amount, etc. are kind of arbitrary and are not meant to be some sort of strict policy suggestion. I am also no legal expert and I have no idea if this type of shift would require legislation or if judges/juries could just start taking into account our social shift and knowledge about human development and start voiding contracts.

Tribe

My partner and I have been in Southern California for the last few days, which is why I’ve missed blogging the last few days. Between going out, catching up with friends, and recovering from drug-fueled nude parties that raged all night (mostly kidding) I haven’t made the time to blog. It was a conscious decision and I don’t feel bad about it.

Visiting LA regularly is pretty important for my partner and I. As much as we love cycling and travelling we need to visit our tribe regularly, and many of them live in Southern California. As much as we didn’t fit in with the culture in this area there are wonderful people here who make our lives complete, in many ways they make life worth living. Having people you can talk with about anything, cuddle on the couch with and do nothing, or know you won’t be judged for your looks, thoughts, or deeds. People you can be naked around, physically and mentally. True love exists in friendship, and I am forever grateful for the friends I have here.

Our time here is always too short. A week goes by so quickly when the nights are filled with laughter and the days filled comfort. I wish we could stay with our tribe longer than just a few days at a time. We daydream about a time in the future when we all live in the same town, though realistically that won’t happen. Despite our common interests and love for each other our lives are heading so many directions. We have different passions and different cities we want to live in… though it would still be the tits if we could all just live on a farm together hanging out around the bonfire and showering outdoors.

That day won’t ever come, but that’s okay, we live in a world with many options. No matter where we live a Facebook message or a quick flight can reconnect us. My tribe is spread like a spiderweb around the world, some of the wires are strong and some weaker, but they all connect me to my friends. LA may be a focal point but it is made stronger by the connections to Dallas, Portland, DC, Charleston, South Africa, and beyond.

There was a time when keeping in touch would be impossible, but now technology has allowed for me to stay connected to those I love. This isn’t an excuse for neglect though. As Baz Luhrmann states in the greatest song ever “Everybody is Free to Wear Sunscreen” (see below), “Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle. The older you get the more you will need the people that knew you when you were young.”

Some of my tribe did know me when I was “young”, though that is a relative term. I guess some of my “newer” friends will be my old friends when I am in my 50’s. My best friend, who lives here, has known me since 4th grade, nearly 25 years now, but we have many dear friends here who feel nearly as close to us and I can tell they will be with us in the decades to come. There is a certain bond that grows stronger each year, as long as we work to stay connected and grow with each other. Technology is magical, but it can also feed complacency. When something is easy to do any day it becomes easy to push off until tomorrow, and the next thing you know a year has passed.

So, as this trip gets closer to the end my mind is on my tribe. The chosen family who made me who I am and put up with my nonsense. I love them and often miss them, the moments I’ve shared with them have made my life the amazing experience that has been so far.

“X Is Why We Aren’t Winning”

Sometimes it is tough to be in the liberty movement. To the outside world we can seem unnecessarily zealous about niche issues and to within the movement we seem to be filled with pessimistic infighting. A dear friend of mine posted this on Facebook “I’ve started keeping a list of every time a libertarian says, “X is the reason we’re not winning.”” and it got me thinking. Most libertarians have heard thousands of reasons why “we aren’t winning”. Maybe it’s the anarchists fault or Rand Paul isn’t pure enough, we focus too much on drugs, there aren’t enough women, etc. There is always someone to blame for why libertarianism isn’t more popular. I have a couple of problems with this mentality.

First off, we ARE winning. Libertarian/Classical liberal thinkers have helped improve society by leaps and bounds in the last couple hundred years. It was pro-freedom advocates who helped end slavery, end the draft, and increase equality under the law. Sure, the last decade or so has kind of sucked but the world has gone through a lot shittier times than this where government has clamped down on civil and economic liberties. Libertarians job is to help provide an intellectual foundation and shift the Overton Window so that politicians are forced to move. Political action follows behind intellectual action and on the intellectual side we are winning. Yes, there have been steps back and yes, things aren’t going as quickly as we would like but it would be short-sighted and wrong to say the ideas of liberty aren’t winning, particularly if you take a look at things from a long-term and global scale.

So, what some people really mean is “X is why we aren’t winning elections”, which is a whole different statement. I think we aren’t winning elections with the Libertarian Party and explicitly libertarian candidates is because politics is the opposite of liberty. Liberty is freedom from coercion and government is a monopoly on coercion. Expecting libertarianism to spread throughout the government (particularly the federal government) is like getting your pilots license to fly to Japan and then purchasing a Honda Accord and driving into the ocean. It doesn’t matter how good of a pilot you are the vehicle is wrong for the task. And teaming up with Progressives and Conservatives is great on some issues but they have a different foundation for their beliefs, both sides generally believe that violence against peaceful, non-consenting people is okay if it is creating greater equality or security. Libertarianism itself cannot work within government, it can only shift people away from government and back to peaceful cooperation (preferably at a community level in my opinion).*

As access to information increases and technology provides greater opportunities around the globe it will become increasingly easy to ignore the government and spread libertarian ideas. Anyone who has read “Radicals For Capitalism” knows that in the early part of the 20th Century being a libertarian was a lonely idea, if you were lucky you could correspond or read a few journals entries on the subject but times have changed. The internet allows thousands of people to come together to discuss ideas and coordinate events. It would have been unheard of even 15 years ago to imagine putting on one convention that attracts 150 students dedicated to freedom and now Students For Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty hosts dozens combined. We are winning, and things are going to continue to get better. 3D Printing, longer life spans, bitcoin, wikipedia, and a thousand other developments are going to contribute to a society that does not need the state any longer. There will be bumps in the road, there are fights ahead, nothing is inevitable, but things really are better now than they have ever been.

*People point out Ron Paul as working within government. I disagree. His strength was in changing the conversation and using his position to get the issues discussed, which is very different than using legislation or political office to make changes from the inside.

Extreme Futurist Festival Recap

XFF-2012-v4

What a weekend. On top of the EFF I also had one of my partner’s in town and we went down to visit some of my family down in San Diego. There might be more on that later but before everything slips my brain I want to recap the EFF.

It was an amazing experience. I had a wonderful time and it was incredibly inspirational and thought-provoking for the most part. It also had a slight twinge of crazy and some stuff that I didn’t understand. I guess there are some forms of art that I just don’t get.

So, the good… it was an incredible two days and a very positive time. The vast majority of things were good. There was a diverse group of speakers on a ton of topics but I had my favorites. Aubrey de Grey was the keynote and  his talk on medical advancements and potential for extending life was phenomenal. Alex Peak‘s discussion of gaming and how games can be used to educate the world (and the need for fluency in code) was something that will stick with me for a while and has piqued my interest in code-writing. Kevin Fischer’s talk on cognitive enhancement was probably the most practically informative of the day for me but Anastasia Krylov‘s was my favorite. Anastasia talked about social norms as they apply to relationships and sex in a way that was not confrontational and incredibly enlightening. She is also a gifted speaker who kept things fun the whole time. There were many other speakers that I enjoyed and a full list can be found here.

vortexdome

Vortex Immersion Dome

Another awesome thing about the conference was where the speakers held their talks. It was in something called the Vortex Immersion Dome, a semi-large dome that had projectors on the side to completely surround you with visual and auditory stimulation. The speakers stood in the center which took some getting used to but it worked really well for the conference, particularly Dixon’s Violin performance which was one of the single most amazing things I have ever experienced (seriously, check it out).

It was also really nice to see Brian Doherty speak and Reason Magazine sponsor the event. Many of the discussions had libertarian leanings even if the participants didn’t fully realize it and I think it is important for libertarians to be more socially active outside of the beltway. Futurist, technology, and entertainment conferences are an important audience to reach because they are the future. The future is going to be an information and entertainment economy made possible by technological advancement and libertarians need to be on the front lines showing the best way to advance human development is free from government restrictions.

Now, the bad… I want this blog post to be honest and not everything about the conference was great in my opinion. Most of my criticisms on this point may be biased and oversensitive because I have spent the last few years participating in and running conferences. To be frank, the logistics were a bit sloppy. There were little things like no real process for checking in other than getting a sharpie mark on your hand like a night club, the speaker printout didn’t have any subjects included, and information about a VIP pre-party wasn’t announced until the day before.

There was also a few logistical things that I think are more serious. Mainly, the speaker times and order were changed both days without any real announcement. It was impossible to know when someone was actually going to speak. The speaker time slots were also only 30 minutes which is not enough time for a real discussion of most topics, and there were not any breaks between speakers for food or just to run to the bathroom. The conference organizers also gave the speakers very little notice of when their time was up, during one speaker someone walked in and told the presenter that he had 1 minute without any prior notice causing the speaker to hurry through much of the presentation. There also seemed to be some favoritism played where Aubrey de Grey was basically rushed off the stage during a Q&A session so that a performer who was a friend of the conference organizer could present.

Lastly for the bad, the benefits of being a VIP were not communicated very well. I got a VIP ticket and I still don’t know what exactly I got for that. I was able to see the robot show (which was awesome) but there were not seats, a marked VIP area, or really any way of knowing where we were supposed to be or what the perks were.

It was still an amazing event, I just think logistically there is room for improvement (which is to be expected for a relatively new event).

And, the ugly… these are things that I didn’t understand or enjoy. It is very subjective and really no value should be attributed to it. Primarily, I didn’t understand Lydia Lunch’s performance at all, it may just not be my thing but to me it sounded like a angry verbal presentation of some of the most poorly written blogs from the internet. Many people seemed to get it and love it though, which is fine. There is plenty of room in the future for all types, my type of futurist focus will be more on science and technology instead of art. I originally felt that Lunch was at the conference to perform due to her close relationship with the conference organizers but seeing how many people loved her performance I think it was more than that. She is an artist, I respect her for that even if I don’t get it.

The presentation by Josh Harris also left me baffled and confused. I still don’t know what he was talking about or the point of his talk, and when he said that the “singularities” spoke to him and he presented a homemade video from the late 90’s as proof I was totally lost. He also talked about being on the FBI’s list because of 9/11 and how his life was an art piece and government photos were part of it or something… I really don’t know. I was lost and this was the first presentation I saw so it really scared me that I had convinced some dear friends to purchase tickets to an event that wasn’t what it seemed.

I guess that’s really it. It was a great weekend and I will definitely be there next year.