Radically Practical

There's an assumption that practical and radical are on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Sometimes, the reverse is true.  The most practical things can be the most radical.

Radical means outside the status quo; something not often done or considered; something beyond the social mores and institutions of the day.  Practical means something that's efficient at achieving your tangible, real-world goals.

Think about how many social norms and activities are horribly inefficient: K-12 education, college, formal attire, working in a giant office building instead of from a remote office, buying instead of renting, working for someone else instead of contracting out or starting your own firm, waiting to retire before you live where you want to, and on and on ad nauseum.  None of these are bad in themselves, but considering the stated goals of those who engage in them, they're almost always an unnecessarily costly and painful approach.

If you zoom out, get in touch with your real desires and goals, and consider the best way to achieve them, so many of the standard approaches turn out to be wholly impractical.  Don't worry about what's considered radical by society; ask yourself what works best at getting what you want, and do it.  It's prudent and practical, even if others consider it radical.

If doing what works best for you is radical, wear it as a badge of honor.

Private Charity Isn’t Enough

Originally posted here.

“The idea that churches can tackle national poverty, take care of those who are ill, and rebuild communities after natural disasters requires a spoonful of bad moral theology and a cup of dishonesty.” - Robert Parham

In this blog post, EthicsDaily.com editor and Executive Director of Baptist Center for Ethics Robert Parham claimed that churches and charities could never do enough to alleviate poverty. I agree.

Poverty will never be “tackled” because it is a relative term; a moving target. If you could describe the plight of America’s poor today to a poor person in another country, or an American 100 years ago, they would conclude that poverty had been eliminated. The standard of living among the poorest Americans today is incredible by world and historical standards. Yet we still wage the war on poverty, even in America. This is not a bad thing – helping the down and out can be wonderful. But when we aim at targets like the “end” of poverty, there is no end to what we can justify in order to reach this impossible goal. “The poor will always be with you.” The question is how best to reach them, spiritually and materially.

The second reason I agree with Parham’s claim is that, to the extent that poverty can be reduced, private charity alone is simply too small to do it. The incredible gains in social and material welfare of the poor in America have not primarily resulted from charity, churches or governments. They have resulted from (mostly) free-market economies.

If we look at poverty in a vacuum as Parham does and ask how private charity compares to government efforts, we could conclude that private efforts are too small. But if we look at government and private efforts combined compared to the power of the market, they would be dwarfed so as to make them hardly important in the big scheme. Charity is a targeted and short-term salve for the wounded; its value is far more in its spiritual nourishment and encouragement than any material progress it brings. A vibrant free-market is the only institution powerful enough to bring about the kind of dramatic increases in standard of living that most of us wish to see.

Public Choice

Jumping from the premise that private charity is not enough to the conclusion that government must do something places a blind, sometimes idolatrous faith in government that counters logic and experience. The incentive structure in government departments is to perpetuate and grow regardless of their effectiveness or the need for their services. There is no check on whether or not they are effective. In fact, the less effective a bureau of poverty relief is, the more they are rewarded with bigger budgets. If poverty is on the rise, and they will always claim it is so as to increase their importance, the last thing to do is cut the department of poverty relief!

Government programs are also subject to “capture” by interest groups and politicians. Scratch the surface of any government program and you will find that it is not the “general welfare” being promoted, but the welfare of a very small and politically connected group at the expense of the general welfare.

To examine private efforts and claim they cannot tackle a problem is only half the analysis needed. We must also examine government efforts and ask if they can tackle the same problem before we charge them to do it. The field of Public Choice Economics does just this, and you would be hard-pressed to find a case where the market is not providing something and getting government involved makes it better. If Christians have a duty to help the poor, they also have a duty to use their brains to discover ways that actually work. Intentions and actions are not enough, we need to understand how to be effective. This requires some knowledge of economic and political systems.

Wrong about Rights

The most damning and least supported claim in Parham’s article was that it is wrong for a Christian to value other people’s property rights:

“[L]ibertarian morality values property rights over human rights. For a Christian, that's bad moral theology.”

I beg to differ. What Parham leaves unexplained is how human rights are to exist absent property rights. Private property is not some sacred dogma for its own sake; it is important because there is no other method of peacefully settling competing demands for limited resources. Such resources include food, water, shelter and other necessities of life. Common definitions or human rights include the right to be free from hunger. How can you have this right if you have no right to the very food you need to survive?

If Parham means by human rights the right to food, shelter, health care and other positive rights, this poses an incurable conundrum. Positive rights are a logical and practical impossibility. They cannot coexist with negative rights, or even with other positive rights.

A positive right is a right to something. A negative right is a right from something. A positive right obligates another person to take action. A negative right prohibits another person from taking action. A right to life, liberty or property is a negative right. You are free to live and act and justly acquire property, and no one can prohibit that so long as you are not violating their rights. A right to health care is a positive right. If you have the right to receive health care, someone else has an obligation to give it to you. If I am a doctor and you say you need my services, I am obligated to assist you in a world of positive rights. But what if at the same time I am hungry and need to eat rather than assist you in order to maintain good health? Our positive rights to health care cannot both be fulfilled, and in order for one of us to fulfill them we’d have to violate the other’s negative right to liberty and property.

Indeed, it is not possible to have any moral theology whatsoever without an acceptance of private property. One cannot give generously what one does not own, and one cannot help another by stealing from him.

Means and Ends

To sum up the argument, the author couldn’t imagine church and charity doing a task to his satisfaction, so his response was to ask men with guns to take money from people who presumably wouldn’t part with it voluntarily, and give it to causes he valued. Everything government does is backed by threat of force. Indeed, that is the only thing that distinguishes government from all other institutions. Let’s remove the intermediary agents (IRS, law enforcement) and revisit the argument with the author as the principal actor:

Churches and charities can’t or won’t do as much to help the poor as Parham wants, so he threatens, “donate or else.”

That’s clearly a barbaric and inhumane way to a more civilized and humane world. Yet voting for people, who will appoint people, who will hire people, who will send threatening to extort money to give to some bureaucrats to spend on social causes is no different in moral terms.

Appealing to Christian ethics is an odd tactic to justify a redistributive state.  Jesus made it pretty clear that the methods of the kingdom of God are service, sacrifice, grace and love. The means of all earthy kingdoms are brute force and the threat of it.

When the rich man refused to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, Jesus did not send the disciples after him to extract a percentage on threat of imprisonment. He let him walk away. Christians are supposed to do the same.

I Want Rocket Scientists to Have the Rockets

I want those who know how to create the most value out of a resource to have the most access to it.  Silicon and copper in my hands are just about worthless, yet in the hands of computer manufacturers they can change the world and make millions of lives better, not to mention dramatically reduce the quantity of other resources required to accomplish tasks.

Resources need to flow where they can best be used for all of us to get the most out of life and what's around us.  That's why I like markets.  Those who can get most out of a resource bid the most for it.  Initially, those who created a lot of value in the past and thus earned wealth are in the best position to obtain new resources.  But if they can't do anything to enhance the value of those resources, they'll want to resell them to others who can, or loan money to people who can enhance the usefulness of the resource.  Quickly, resources start to flow to where they can be utilized to create the most value.

Imagine the disaster if, instead, resources flowed where some resource manger thought they should.  No expert has expertise enough to know the best use of every material in every field.  Of course, we needn't imagine what would happen, because we've seen it.  "Planned" economies like the Soviet Union were an unmitigated disaster that literally starved millions to death.  Factories produced massive quantities of goods that had no value, and there were chronic shortages of important stuff.  Valuable resources were converted into worthless objects left to rot.

Worse still, innovation was nearly impossible.  How could cutting edge inventors get resources to work on something new?  They had to be politically connected.  How much value they could create for people with their improvements was irrelevant.  What a terrible system for everybody except the dictator and his buddies.

Maybe total top-down control is out of vogue, but democratically controlled resource directives are no better.  Rather than channeling resources to those willing to bid the most for them because they expect to transform them into something valuable enough to exceed the cost, democratic institutions channel resources to people who merely "like" things, or those who are good at political games.

Imagine you're stranded on an island with a handful of people including one radio expert.  You stumble upon a broken radio.  The expert is confident she can fix it and send a distress signal.  Two other people think it would look really cool as a decoration for their lean-to.  Being firm believers in democratic institutions, you vote and the coalition of two wins.  The radio expert tried offering whatever she had to convince others to vote for her to have access to the radio, but the group considered that unfair tampering with the decision making process.  Everyone gets one equal vote, regardless of how important the resources are to them.

Thank goodness there is still enough of a free-market in the world that most resource allocation happens via voluntary transaction, and goes to those who can use it in productive ways.  Imagine how much better off we'd be if the coercive absurdity of politics was completely absent from the process?

Video Games as High Art

A few years back, I listened to a phenomenal ten-part lecture series on commerce and culture by Paul Cantor.  In the final lecture, he discusses the future of art, and his prediction is that video games will emerge as the next dominant medium.  I thought it was an interesting conjecture, but it didn't really sink in.

Fast forward to today, when my eight-year-old son is immersed in a world of video games I could not have imagined.  It's not gaming as I knew it, which was basically another form of sports - a competitive one-on-one or one-vs.-computer activity that involved the same trash talking and bragging rights as a basketball game or water balloon fight.  Nor is it an arms race for the most realistic graphics, or the most amazing explosions, as it once was.  My son and his peers use games as the backdrop for their imagination, and the medium to convey both fanciful and practical narratives.

They have more graphic realism available to them then we ever did, but that's not the thing they care most about.  They're equally happy with lifelike 3D, cartoonish 2D, and even old-school pixelation.  What they like is the story, they worlds, the characters, and the collaboration.  Cantor was dead-on in comparing video games to the most enduring works of sci-fi and fantasy; those that spawn multi-generational followings and fan fiction.

What makes Star Wars or Lord of the Rings so powerful is that they are not single stories, but entire universes.  They are loved as much for the minor details of the worlds in which the characters live as for the characters themselves.  They are so vast in their scope that the consumer cannot help but imagine what lies outside the area traveled by the main characters, or what background the minor characters have.  It's not a passive kind of art, but an immersive, almost participatory one.  And it's fully participatory when the fans begin to write their own prequels, sequels, and spin-offs.

Video games take this participation to a whole new level.  Not only do they place you in a massive world, they let you control where to explore, and some even let you expand and create that world.  You are not only adding new story arcs and characters to the imagined universe, you are co-imagining that universe as you go.

What amazes me is how games have become the default creative language for my son.  He spends hours imagining and creating - from drawing, to Legos, to things entirely in his mind.  It used to be that he made up stories and characters in the abstract.  Once he began playing video games, all of his stories and characters and even Lego creations are nested in video games he's invented.  He thinks in games.  So much so that when he starts to describe elements of a game, we have to stop him and ask if this is an existing game or one in his mind.  To him, it's a blurry line.  The role that books, movies and TV shows played for me as a kid - a realm of imaginative play and allegory - seems to be dominated by games for my son.

He might pass out of this phase, but it seems pretty clear that games will continue to grow as a medium for conveying ideas and showing off artistic talent.  I've noticed profound and deeply philosophical story lines, amazing design work, and even excellent original music in games.

Like all the media that have come before - epic poems, theater, novels, radio, cinema, TV - gaming has a bad rap with older generations.  There is a tendency to think the medium itself is somehow inferior to older media, even if the content is the same.  It's not.  If anything, gaming might be a more interactive, stimulating, and cooperative medium than some of the older, more passive forms.

Movies were low-brow common fare for years before many emerged as high art.  TV shows are going through a similar transition, as many beautiful and powerful shows have emerged from the blasé heap of sitcoms.  Comic books are sometimes called graphic novels now, revealing a deeper level of respect for them as culture.  Video games are next.  I still barely understand them, but it's exciting to watch a new art form evolve.

Good Enough for a Dog?

I'm not a dog owner, but everyone else seems to really love their dogs.  So much so, that if I offered the following service, most would consider it beneath them as pet owners to take me up:

Every work day, you'll wake your dog before it wants to get up, force feed it some breakfast, and tie it to a pole at the corner of your street, then go to work.  A giant vehicle with no safety harnesses will stop by and load your dog, along with fifty or sixty other dogs, and haul them off to a huge dog daycare center.

The dogs will be crammed thirty or forty to a room, and each room will have one person there to look after them, and make them go through a number of drills and activities that dogs hate, sitting still the whole time, not being allowed to do what dogs really want to do - run around.  This supervisor will be unionized and paid based on years of service, with little or no connection to how well your dogs fare under their care.  Some are good people who like dogs, though many found veterinary school too challenging and would struggle to gain employment as private dog trainers, groomers, or sitters.

At noon, hundreds of dogs will funnel into one huge room where they'll eat stuff of lower quality than what you give them at home.  Then back to the little room where they'll be forced, once again, through activities with dozens of dogs of radically different sizes, tendencies, breeds, abilities, and behaviors.  Your dog may be a loyal and gentle Lab, paired up for an activity with a few vicious Pit bulls and a Rottweiler   They'll have to learn to adapt.

If your dog acts up, fails to complete activities, resists commands or any other kind of behavior generally frustrating to the supervisor, the dog will be punished, shamed, confined to a small cage, possibly drugged, and you'll likely get a stern rebuke.

Just before you get home from work, your dog will be carted back to your street on the bus of rowdy creatures, and left to wander home.  There it will wait for you to return, and when you do, you will have the duty of looking over a stack of papers sent home with your pet.  They detail several hours more of activities you must force your dog to do before it goes to sleep so it can be ready to be awakened while it's still dark the next day to do it all over.

The whole program will cost upwards of $10,000 for your dog each year, summer excluded.  The good news is, you will be forced to pay this fee for all your neighbors, and they'll be forced to pay it for you via monthly charges on your property value and earnings.  Even those with no dogs and no desire to have dogs will pay, and those with tons of dogs will pay the same.  Payment won't be based on the service at all, but on how much money you have.

You'll send your dog here every day for years, during the most active and formative years of the animal's life.  You'll have to have special permits and permission to opt-out, and you'll be treated like a crazy, neglectful person if you do - even if you quit your job just to stay home to raise, care for, and train your dog yourself.

Just about every dog owner I've ever met would consider this an outrageously offensive rip-off that borders on animal abuse.  Most of those same people beam with pride and "spirit" while putting their children through the same basic routine.

The Renewing of the Mind

The transition from one deeply held belief to another is not a matter of intellectual argument.  It's not a matter of adapting a new set of ideas on an issue, it's a matter of becoming a new person.  The more deeply held the belief, the truer this is and the more laborious the transition.

It does take logical arguments.  But walking through the reasons a belief you have is false, and why an alternative is true, will not be sufficient to change your point of view for good, even if you accept the argument.  You've got to go out into the world and experience things, at which point your old beliefs will creep back in, since they are comfortable and second nature.  Even if you know they're wrong, you won't be able to recall exactly why.  A single convincing is not enough to overcome years of justifications and deeply etched neural pathways.  You've got to return to the logic, time and again and from every angle, until the conclusions no longer require work, but flow from you.  You don't accept a new idea, you become a new person, one who holds that idea.

You have to be baptized over and over until all the residue of the former belief washes off.  You have to remove the scales from your eyes, layer by layer, until you see the world anew.  And you truly do see a whole new world.  It's stunning how the acceptance of a different set of logical conclusions is not merely a swapping of bits of data in the brain, but a fundamental shift in the lenses through which the entire world is taken in.  All looks different from the vantage point of the new belief.

One of the surprising things is how incapable you are after your transformation of acting like your old self.  It becomes impossible to even remember how and why you used to believe what you did.  You may lose patience with others who believe what you once did.  It would seem, coming as you did from the same place, that you'd have a keen understanding of their position.  Instead, you find as time passes and your new self becomes more familiar, you look at the same picture and see things so different that dialogue becomes difficult.  You have to remind yourself that they are on a journey, and a single conversation will not suffice to transform their mindset.  You can't get them to see what you see with one dose of data.  They've got to be curious enough to examine and reexamine the issue, each time removing another layer of the lens, just like you did.

You can become many different people over the course of one lifetime.  I recall some of the biases and beliefs of my former selves, and I can only smile in wonderment.  How did I persist in believing those things for so long?  How much happier am I now with new eyes!  I imagine I'll eventually think the same about some of my current beliefs.

Some new beliefs still aren't second nature.  I find myself in situations where I no longer believe my default response, but I haven't transformed enough to know what my new ideas mean in practice.  I've got to return to the arguments, again and again, until my mind makes a shift.

First, you get the idea intellectually.  Enough work, and you get it on a gut level.  Finally, when the transition is complete, you understand it well enough to explain it to others.  Arguing for an idea you haven't yet become is difficult and counter-productive, unless you're doing it as a lighthearted intellectual exercise.  Become a new person, and your very life will be an argument for your beliefs.

Roll without Models

If information about someone you've never met would devastate you, you might be idolizing them.  Role models are not helpful.  They usually start off in a positive, inspiring way, but result in disappointment, confusion, or naivety.  The reason is that, while ideas, traits and tendencies can be a North Star, no human can.  We're too fallible.

There's nothing wrong with being fallible, and a person can still be great despite shortcomings.  But when you make another person, rather than their better qualities, your object of emulation, it becomes hard to deal with reality.  The tendency, upon discovering unsavory behaviors, is to excuse or justify them away until you become a silly cult member, or embittered, and dismiss all the good with the bad.  Neither help you make progress in your own journey.

We need ideal types to really inspire, not just decent people.  This is why myths and legends and fables have such cultural staying power.  They isolate the best traits and turn them into superheros and gods.  Even these heroic characters have flaws, but because we know they aren't real, we aren't offended by them.  We knowingly enter a world of idealism, and as such we can be inspired without feeling the need to explain shortcomings away.

If you have role models, consider how you would feel if it turned out they had some horrible skeletons in the closet.  If the thought worries you, you need to step back and think about what it is you value in those people.  Focus on the traits and ideas, make those your role models, and disembody them from the person.  The people are probably fine individuals - maybe you'd enjoy being friends with them, maybe you wouldn't - but it's dangerous to turn them into gods or look to them for inspiration.

This approach might seem a little disappointing.  It feels less exciting, perhaps, to remove great individuals from pedestals just because they have some flaws.  I find the opposite to be true.  When you separate ideals from people, you can put the actions of flawed people on a pedestal just because they have some greatness.

The (un)Will(ingness) of the People (to resist)

In political systems, democratic or otherwise, people don't get what they want or deserve, they get what they don't care enough about to resist.

Isaac Morehouse

Isaac Morehouse is the CEO of Crash, the career launch platform, and the founder of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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Yes, I’m Pretty Damn Proud of What Praxis is Doing

No one can come close to what Praxis is doing.
In Praxis you spend zero net dollars and nine months to get an amazing job, guaranteed.
What college guarantees you a job upon graduating, let alone an awesome startup job? All the university guarantees is four years and six figures, then you hope it leads to something.
In Praxis you get six months apprenticing at a business and an advisor who works directly with you and your business partner to help you succeed in every way possible. We tailor the coaching and curriculum to what's needed to succeed at that job in that environment. From technical skills to soft skills to emotional intelligence and beyond. Praxis advisors are conspiring for your success with your business. Three parties all working together to move you forward.
What college has professors working hand in hand with your supervisor at your first job, making sure both are helping you succeed? When do they ask your future employers what it would be good to help you learn and gain? They just teach whatever matters to them and hope it's somehow relevant to your real world work later and you're on your own when it comes to a job.
There is nothing like this on the planet. It is the revolution. The best and brightest are getting started now. College or not, they want to dig in to self-directed living and learning, self-improvement, and a real challenge in a real career.

93 – Don’t Do Stuff You Hate, with Author Mitchell Earl


This week's guest is Mitchell Earl, the co-author of Don't Do Stuff You Hate and a Praxis participant working at Ceterus, one of the INC 5000 fastest growing companies in the country.

Mitchell shares the origin story of Don't Do Stuff You Hate and covers his journey from growing up in rural Oklahoma to becoming an author and working with a high growth startup in Charleston, South Carolina.

Covered in this episode

  • Life lessons from livestock and meat evaluation
  • Why do so many young people want to go to law school?
  • Being entrepreneurial in college | Freelance writing and photography
  • The “Don’t Do Stuff You Hate” origin story
  • Lessons learned from writing a book
  • Mitchell’s next book
  • Then tension between getting things done and getting things perfect
  • The value of teamwork on a book project and benefits of co-authoring

Don't Do Stuff You Hate is now available on Amazon, make sure to get your free chapter.

Links and recommendations from this episode:

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 SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

92 – FwTK: Listener Questions on Tons of Stuff

Today TK became inexplicably obsessed with me respecting his name (also he's getting a haircut for the first time in years so he's respecting his mane...ba-dum!)

We talk a little about PDP's and persistence without doing stuff you hate, then we dive into tons of great questions from: Eric Olson, Sigal Sharabani, Andrew Stover, Simon Fraser, Thomas Bogle, Michael Hogan, Julia Patterson, Jeff Till, Forrest Plaster, Gabe Mitchell, Philip Gross, and Kelly Hackman.

Some of the questions were:

  • Can you promote my book? (Yes!  See below)
  • Can order exist without state monopolies, even when bad people want to do bad things?
  • The Terminator-like future of Praxis
  • How to get important people to do favors for you
  • Why is success specific but failure is universal? (or is it?)
  • Should you cut negative people out of your life? (Yes)
  • Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson duets
  • How to get off the conveyor belt
  • Hayek and the size and structure of companies
  • Is boredom good?
  • Is the German school system good?
  • Lessons from seeing life as a game

Mentioned in the episode: Blake Boles, Taking a Walk as a Revolutionary Act, Noble Boredom, Ronald Coase, The Pretense of Knowledge, The Use of Knowledge in Society, Robert Heinlein, Ursela Le Guin, Don't Do Stuff You Hate (now on Amazon!)

Today's recommendations: The Option Method by Bruce Di Marsico, The Optimistic Child by Martin Seligman.

Eric's Book: Why Every President Sucked, check it out on KickStarter.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google PlayYouTube, and Stitcher.

91- How to Succeed at a Startup, with Connor Jeffers

How to Succeed at a Startup

Connor Jeffers is the Director of Revenue Operations at Dose Media, one of the world’s fastest growing digital media startups. Dose uses innovative testing to create massively viral content on their popular sites OMGfacts.com and Dose.com.

Connor shares how he built his career from interning at an education startup to becoming Director of Revenue Operations at Dose in only a few years. He teaches you how to succeed at a startup, from how to get hired, how to stand out once you are working, and how to leave a job without burning bridges.

Also covered in this episode:

  • Why big brands are paying people to make their content look worse
  • How Dose uses testing and experimentation to create viral content
  • How Facebook is flipping the advertising world on its head
  • Trends in how people consume content online (Hint: Not on your website)
  • Does content on social media platform's make branding more important
  • Connor’s smart house
  • How to get noticed and hired by a startup
  • How to move on from a job without burning bridges
  • How you know when it is time to move on to a new opportunity
  • The value of changing “maybe we should” ideas, into “can I?” solutions
  • Connor’s favorite books and podcasts right now

Make sure to check out Connor Jeffers on Quora and Medium for a ton of wisdom on sales, Salesforce, marketing, and general know-how on how to succeed at a startup.

Links and recommendations from this episode:

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 SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

‘Don’t Do Stuff You Hate’ Paperback is Here

Check it out on Amazon, read it, and write a review!

We were able to release the book earlier than the August 31 release date, due to hard work by copy editor Lacey Peace and coauthor Mitchell Earl.  The Kindle edition is still showing an August 31 release date, but we're trying to get that updated as well.

Get a copy.


Isaac Morehouse

Isaac Morehouse is the founder and CEO of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program making degrees irrelevant for careers. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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