Hard is Not the Same as Hate

I love the mantra don’t do stuff you hate. (I even co-authored a book with that title!)

A lot of people imagine this means avoiding all the tough stuff an laying around on the couch.  Sounds like a dumb, unrealistic goal.

But stuff you hate is not the same as stuff that’s hard.  In fact, most of the best stuff is really hard.

If you did lay around on the couch all day, you’d probably start to hate it and hate yourself.  The obsession with unthinking leisure and avoiding challenge probably gets baked into our brains through school.  Because in school the concepts of ‘hard’ and ‘meaningless’ are combined.  The hard stuff in school is stuff we’re forced to do against our will and rarely has any connection to our own goals and desires.  We learn to see escape from hated stuff as equal to escape from hard stuff.  This is tragic.

Watch little kids play.  The stuff they love most – beating a video game, building a fort or LEGO structure, achieving some physical feat – is often really hard work.  They try and try, often visibly showing deep frustration with the challenge.  They’re playing and having fun, but it’s hard.

The kind of stuff I’m referring too when I say don’t do stuff you hate is stuff that has no meaning, depth, or deep joy.  Stuff that slowly, dully sucks your soul and pulls the color from life.  It often looks more like a bureaucratic paper pushing job with great benefits and security than it does ditch-digging.  It’s the dangerous kind of hated activity, because it’s so safe and stable and commonsense and no one will judge you for not quitting.

The kind of stuff you love, or at least don’t hate, is easy to miss too.  It looks more like the high you get after a hard workout or completion of a painting or article or homemade meal than the lazy leisure of chilling with a beer.  Again, we’re talking longer term place-in-the-universe level love here.  Everyone loves a lazy afternoon with friends and booze.  But almost no one would really love their life if they did nothing else.

It takes a lot of self-knowledge and self-honesty to not do stuff you hate.  You have to know what you really hate, not what you think you’re supposed to hate.  You have to be honest about what you find, not ashamed.  If it turns out you hate being a doctor, it might be hard to be honest about it, given how many people who envy you will call you crazy or selfish for abandoning such a lucrative, high-status activity.

Forget trying to figure out your passion.  Go the other direction.  If you want to create a life you love, stop doing stuff you hate.  Be careful not to equate hate with hard.  Think about the stuff that makes you feel proud of yourself.  It’s usually hard, and it’s the opposite of hated.  It doesn’t need to be the thing that makes you happy.  As long as it’s not something that makes you dead inside, you’re moving in the right direction.

Crops, Currency, and Crypto

In James C. Scott’s new book Against the Grain, he deconstructs the erroneous narrative of early state formation, and presents some fascinating new evidence for a theory that ties states with staple grains.

Peoples in places with a single staple grain, harvested at the same time once each year, were easy for states to subjugate and coerce.  Partly for this reason, most humans resisted extensive grain farming, even several thousand years after it had been invented, and opted instead for what Scott calls a complex ‘web’ of nutrients.  A mix of hunting, foraging, planting, herding, gathering, and fishing for diverse flora and fauna from diverse ecosystems.  This made wetlands and lowlands, with myriad meandering waterways and illegible land/water boundaries, ideal for human flourishing and avoiding state domination.

People were semi-mobile, semi-sedentary.  In other words, they had options.  Options in food, multiple ‘harvest’ seasons, and location.  The lack of a single seasonal harvest of a single homogeneous grain in a single place made tax collection – the backbone of all states – nigh impossible.  The tax man needs to easily access and assess grains for taxing, and collection needs to be centralized in time and place.  Early states enforced reliance on staple grains through forced farming, and bans on foraging and hunting.

Currencies replaced grains as the unit of account, and states again required uniform, single currencies with central points of production and exchange.  Monopolization of coinage, regulations on acceptable payments and when and where exchanges can take place, serve to reduce exit options and make people more controllable.  Even when many currencies exist, as today, states make it practically impossible to use any but their chosen fiat.  Modern accounting and digitization make automatic withholding at points of exchange easier than one-time seasonal collections, but the principle is the same.  Legibility of a uniform, single unit of account with regular places and times of exchange is a key to state survival and domination of subjects.

One of the criticisms of cryptocurrencies is that there are so many, and it’s so easy for anyone to create one.  Hobbyists can conjure up Dogecoin, scam artists can create ponzi tokens, and ideological developers can ‘fork’ any of the currencies as many times as they like.  To date, there are around 1,000 crypto tokens, most created in just the last few years, and it shows no sign of stopping.  Even the Big Dog, Bitcoin, recently forked into two different currencies, and it may fork again.

If no one knows which coin is the One Coin to Rule Them All, the argument goes, how will crypto ever be usable as a medium of exchange or reliable as a store of value?

As much as it may be frustratingly complex and dynamic, this is a strength of cryptocurrency.  A complex web of currency can handle the vicissitudes of the market and states just like non-state people’s were far less susceptible to flood, fire, disease, and domination due to their wide-ranging diets.

Yes, it makes tax collecting and regulation much, much harder.  That’s a big plus.  State subjugation isn’t preferable to voluntary association and peaceful institutions.  States want to force communities into dependence on a single, easily taxed grain, or a single, easily controlled currency.  The ability to move swiftly between nodes on the complex web of wealth, exchange between multiple currencies with different attributes, globally 24/7, and even create new coins at any time, makes state control of the new financial system almost impossible.

The illegibly situated lowland peoples with dozens of diverse food sources and as many hunting and harvesting seasons resisted state domination (and still do in some places, though now in the highlands…but that’s another story for another day).  The illegible cryptocurrency market, without one central exchange, one central mining pool, barriers to entry for newcomers, or even one decentralized currency, is equally resistant.  This is a good thing.

The Division of Labor is Valuable Even in a Perfectly Equal World

I once took an econ test at a summer seminar that included the following question:

If two people were perfectly equal in every way, would they benefit from division of labor and exchange?”

I answered ‘yes’.  The professor told me I was wrong.  I maintain to this day I wasn’t.

I understand what he’s driving at.  Differences in ability and taste are to be celebrated in a market, because they mean differences in opportunity cost, which means opportunity for specialization and trade which expands wealth for all.  As the Ricardo principle demonstrates, even someone who’s worse at everything, by having a lower opportunity cost in some things, can create win-wins such that trade improves the condition of all.

I also know that there is no possible world without inequality.  Inequality in ability and preferences between humans is a fact, and one that creates huge gains for everyone in the market.

Still, the hypothetical of two perfectly equal people on a desert island doesn’t do away with gains from trade!

If I can imagine a single scenario in which two people with zero difference in skill or preference can both benefit from division of labor and exchange, my answer was correct and the professor was wrong. (This was like 10 years ago.  Still can’t let it go.)

It’s easy to imagine such a scenario.  Fran and Stan are identical in every way and trapped on an island.  They both prefer an equal mix of fish and berries for sustenance, and both have an equal ability to acquire both.  Say both foods spoil after a single day, so you have to eat them the day you acquire them.  If they each spend half a day fishing and half collecting berries, they’ll each get 10 berries and 2 fish.

But let’s say there’s a better fishing spot farther away from camp, and a better spot for berries deeper in the woods.  To reach them, work, and return, it would take a full day committed to one activity.  Fran goes fishing all day at the more remote and plentiful fishing spot and catches 6 fish.  Stan treks deeper into the woods for a day of berries and collects 24.  They trade, and end up with 12 berries and 3 fish each.

This scenario doesn’t require either to be more skilled than the other, or either to have a different opportunity cost than the other.  Even two perfectly equal individuals benefit from trade due to the scarcity of time and place.

Now how do I get that professor to change that ‘N’ to a ‘Y’?

125 – Steve Patterson on Life as an Independent Intellectual

Steve Patterson is a rationalist philosopher and intellectual entrepreneur working outside of academia. He is the host of Patterson in Pursuit, a podcast featuring deep conversations with top thinkers in philosophy, mathematics, and many other disciplines.

He is also the author of What’s The Big Deal About Bitcoin and Square One: The Foundations of Knowledge.

This episode is a behind the scenes dive into life as an intellectual entrepreneur. From approaches to interviews, to handling haters, and the motivations behind Steve’s philosophic journey, it is a wide ranging conversation that will have a lot of interesting perspective for anyone interested in living an intellectual life.

In this episode:

  • The pressure to create click bait style content as a creator
  • Supporting yourself as an intellectual outside of academia
  • Handling criticism from supporters
  • Fans testing you to see if they can change your direction
  • Engaging with haters
  • Academic Specialization
  • Do academic intellectuals matter?
  • Approaches to interviewing experts and normal conversations

Check out previous episodes with Steve Patterson:

Links:

If you are a fan of the show, make sure to leave a review on iTunes.

All episodes of the Isaac Morehouse Podcast are available on SoundCloudiTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Alexa the Speech Pathologist

About a year ago, my daughter had trouble pronouncing several words.  Then we hired a full-time, live-in speech pathologist.

Her name is Alexa, and she lives in a small black cylinder on our kitchen island.

We tried helping our daughter with her speech to no avail for quite a while, but Alexa got fast results.  She didn’t do any mouth exercises or anything resembling speech practice.  Instead, she played music.  Any song you request, she can find and play.

My daughter loves to listen and dance, so she excitedly made requests of Alexa.  But unless pronounced correctly, Alexa couldn’t understand and the song wouldn’t be played.  Worse, she might play some other song nothing like the one requested.

My daughter was frustrated by her inability to get what she wanted, but rather than get embarrassed or resign herself to failure as she did when we’d try to help her with pronunciation, she just kept trying until she got it.  She’d sometimes slow down, try forming the titles with different mouth movements, and in the process realize the key to tricky words.

Alexa’s approach worked ten times better than ours.  My daughter doesn’t have perfect pronunciation, but it’s much better than it was.  And the shame of working on pronunciation for parental approval is gone.  My daughter doesn’t distinguish speech practice from play time.

The reason it worked so well coming from Alexa is because she had something my daughter wanted already, and not because we begged her to want it.  She has music that can only be unlocked with the key of good pronunciation.

Even more important, Alexa’s inability to comply with poorly formed words is not a deliberate trick to coax learning out of my daughter.  Kids can sense that kind of artificial punishment/reward structure and internalize it in unhealthy ways, or just shut down.  Alexa operates without emotion or expectation.  It’s just cause and effect.  She simply cannot process commands she can’t understand.  She adds no patronizing, “Don’t feel bad!”, or, “So close!”, or, “Good job!” to the successful or unsuccessful attempts.

She frees my daughter to go about her day chasing after her goals, and transforms something desired by others into something she wants for herself, to solve a real-world problem that matters to her, not anyone else.

There’s no better way to learn.

Four More Years! Four More Years!

In July, 2013 the Praxis website launched, and we waited anxiously for the first application to roll in.

I think we had five applications in the first month.  We’ll probably get twice that many today alone.

Today, I’m at the Praxis Weekend, a gathering of participants and alumni of the program, and nearly 100 people are here – just about half of our total network to date.

We’re still laying those first brick in the cathedral, but the semblance of a great structure is something exciting compared to the vacant field we started with.  I envisioned in my head, the night after the first opening seminar in February, 2014, where the first six participants gathered, coming to an event and looking out on hundreds or thousands of Praxians.

Today, we’re one step closer.  I get goose bumps imagining this event four years from now.

The Power of Speaking

It’s not enough to think it.

Sometimes, you have to speak things into existence.

If you think, “I’m building a world-class X”, it has some power.  It requires confidence, clarity, and belief to entertain a thought like that rather than just, “I’m building an X”.  But speaking it out loud?  That requires another level of confidence, clarity, and belief.  You really have to own it and become it.

What it takes to summon the courage to speak bold goals or proclaim bold truths about yourself and the world actually begins the process of transforming you and the world into what you speak.

What’s Up With Job Interviews?

Got a request to answer an interesting question on Quora:

Why does an interview appear to go well even if it didn’t?

My response:

The social cost of an interviewer saying, “This is really going badly” is high and the payoff is zero.

The cost of keeping it all smiles and pleasant is low, and the payoff is you feel like a better person.

Most interviews don’t go “bad” or “good” in any objective sense, just as most candidates aren’t “bad” or “good” candidates for jobs generally.

You’re interviewed for your ability to solve a specific problem at a specific company. If you’re not a great fit for solving that problem, you won’t get the job, no matter how good you are generally, or even how great your interview was.

Conversely, if it’s clear you can solve the problem, even a bad interview might not matter much.