Without Narrative, Vision, and Imagination, the People Perish


I had a friend who assured me sometime around 2000 that the internet wasn't going anywhere.  He was a smart guy, and even worked in the tech world.  Still, he couldn't foresee any way the internet could grow large and fast enough to accommodate demand, especially because there was no reliable revenue model.  He predicted it would skyrocket in cost and be used only by big players with a lot of cash.

Today free internet at speeds then unimaginable with content beyond the wildest dreams of that time is ubiquitous.  But he was not a fool.  He just lacked imagination.  It's possible that the relatively high level of expertise he had with the technology actually made him less able to see beyond its current applications.

We can laugh at predictions like this, but how often do we have small imaginations about our own present and future?  We tend to overvalue the status quo because we cannot think of any other way.  The world is replete with examples if we open our eyes.

At the very time my friend was struggling to see a way companies could offer internet access for free broadcast television and radio were already doing it and had been for decades using advertising as a revenue source.  His focus on what was immediately before him prevented him seeing what was all around him.

We suffer not only from inadequately appreciating the present and the possibilities of the future, but blindness to the past as a clue to what is possible.  I listened to a recent discussion over whether a coercive government monopoly was needed to provide firefighting services.  For nearly twenty minutes there was back and forth as the discussants struggled to think up a viable business plan absent tax funding.  If left to decide roles for the state, this group may have concluded firefighting had to be one, as the free market just couldn't do it.  The problem with this conclusion (like that of economists who claimed the same for lighthouses) is that for the majority of history firefighting was privately provided.

In order to make the world a freer, better place we need a combination of three things: narrative, vision, and imagination.

Narrative is our story about the past.  If we don't have enough facts or we interpret them through an incorrect theoretical lens, our narrative about what was will be incorrect.  If, for example, we persists in the false assumption that firefighting and lighthouses have never been privately provided, or the American West was a violent and disorderly place before governments took hold, we will be incapable of accurately seeing present and future possibilities.

Vision is how we see the present.  Do we see harmony and assume that legislation is the only thing keeping mayhem at bay?  Or do we see the beautiful and complex workings of spontaneous order? Our vision will determine how comfortable we are with freedom.  Through state-colored lenses we will live in fear of the chaos around the corner and be reticent to allow our fellow man liberty to experiment, try, fail, succeed and progress.  If our vision expands and we begin to see the way individuals cooperate and coordinate for mutual benefit absent central direction we will welcome and embrace freedom.

Imagination is what we believe about the future.  It determines what we think possible.  If we zoom in too close to the problem at hand we get stuck and fail to allow for the unknown.  We don't have to know what will be, or even what precisely is possible.  We just have to be humble enough and learn from the patterns of past and present that all our assumptions are going to be blown to smithereens by human creativity.  Don't try to resist it.  Expect it.

Only when we have the right narrative about the past, the vision to see the beauty of the present, and imagination enough to allow for the wonders of the future will we have the freedom to create it.

Heaven & Hell


Between every other
Odd-numbered November

You tell us that we’re slaves
So you might as well be master

After all you gave your last slaves
Plenty of bread

Half put out our hands
And half just shake our heads

You call it greed when I give five
To a man I see is poor

You tell me I don’t care
You say it should be more

So you shake me down and take my cash
And give the guy just four

Everything you do with guns
You love me when you make your runs

But I ain’t dumb, I know
That after the show

You’ll tell me what to drive to where
And charge me just to get there

It’s for my good you know
Your conscience tells you so

You’re on your way to heaven
But the place you’ve made me live in

Is nothing short of hell
It’s nothing short of hell

There’s gotta be something
There’s gotta be something free

 

This place got kinda twisted
So much quicker than you'd think

You’d think we’d learn our lesson
After watching others sink

But inside the little Social Clubs
The kids are taught to trust and love

Anything but self
They put it on the shelf

They serf the wake they should be mourning
And mourn the greatest gift of all

Instead of taking warning
Instead of taking warning

There’s gotta be something
There’s gotta be something free

 

When I sleep I seem to find it
I find it ‘cause I dream

I guess it’s time to find a way
To dream instead of waking

To take what’s for the taking
To see with eyes wide open

What I used to see while sleeping
The things I once was weeping

Are blessings for the reaping
Blessings for the reaping

It ain’t wrong to take some joy
In my own free will

It ain’t wrong to take some joy
In my own free will

You dance your ‘righteous’ dance
I’ll gladly take a pass

And dream while I see
I really am still free

‘No’ Saves Resources


In most jobs, the goal is to 'get to yes'. But all the focus on yes can cause us to under-appreciate the immense value of no. No saves resources. Those resources can be redeployed to productive ventures, like turning more maybe's into yes's.

Unfortunately, it's not fun to say no. People like to be liked and they like to be nice. When a question, invitation, request or commitment is hanging out there to which we'd like to say no, we often run away from it, ignore it and say nothing, hoping it will go away. We assume our neglect will send a message to the asker that will make them stop asking without putting us in the uncomfortable position of telling them no to their face.

The problem is, no answer doesn't always mean no. It can mean yes, I forgot, maybe, not now, how about a slightly different version, or any number of things. It does not send a clear signal to the seeker that lets them know whether, to what extent, and in what way they should spend more time and resources pursuing an answer. This means the next most valuable items on their list have to wait.

I have come to love hearing no. Of course, I'd always rather hear yes, but apart from yes or variations of it (yes later, yes with modifications, etc.), no is the best response. No answer is the worst. It means all my effort gained me nothing. I have no idea whether or not to keep going or how much time to put in. I'm back at square one.

This is true in every industry and circumstance I can think of. It's true in sales. It's no less true in accounting, dating, or parenting. No creates value by freeing up resources to pursue other ends. Don't be afraid to say no. You just might be helping the person on the other end of the question.

If Brevity is the Soul of Wit…


Damn.

A Noble Library


We love to go to Barnes & Noble.  It's one place everyone in the family enjoys.  There's WiFi and coffee for me and my wife, there are books and toys for the kids, and it's free!

It's great to have a peaceful place full of books where you can go to read, think, browse and let the kids do the same.  Such places used to be called libraries.  Before we moved to South Carolina, there was a library closer to us than a large bookstore.  We would go from time to time for story hour or just to meander.  It was OK, but pales in comparison to B&N.

B&N charges no membership fee.  Nor to they do they take money coerced out of taxpayers.  They have Starbuck whereas the library doesn't even want you to drink inside, besides the crusty drinking fountain.  There are toys for kids of all ages.  The architecture and lighting are fresher and newer, unlike the Societ-esque design of most public libraries.  You can browse books in both, but if you really like one at B&N, you can buy it too.  They have wonderful story times and special events for kids.  And it's located close to other places we like to go, unlike suburban libraries which are often far from retail areas.

You can look at books for free or you can buy them, but you cannot borrow them.  This may be a major downside for some people, but I've never found it much of a problem.  For one thing, children's books are usually so short that you can read it all to your kids in the store in one sitting.  As for myself, I try to read books that I think worth buying anyway, and I am increasingly moving to all eBooks.

Suburban libraries seem pretty silly now.  There are wonderful and spacious bookstores.  There are all kinds of non tax supported niche libraries at everything from local churches to the Polish American Club.  For people who use libraries to do serious research, there are a growing number of online solutions like JSTOR and others, and of course universities maintain their own, often much more extensive, libraries for such purposes.

All of this seems sufficient to at least propose an end to tax dollars flowing to libraries.  Some would certainly survive by charging higher membership fees, raising donations, or finding some other revenue model.  Some would disappear.  The adjustment doesn't really seem that difficult given what's available online and the kind of experience offered for free by large bookstores.

I am constantly reminded of just how amazing commerce is as a civilizing force.  Who could have imagined a business model where you let anyone off the street waltz in to your store and thumb through all of your merchandise as long as they like with no charge?  If I'd never seen it myself and you asked me whether a service like that could be provided on the market, I would have said no.  Entrepreneurs have shown time and again how things no one could imagine being done outside of a coercive monopoly can be done, and done better, through voluntary markets.

Keep an open mind and think about what else might be possible if legal barriers that prevent entrepreneurs from providing other services were removed.

When it’s Good to be a Failure


I'm a failure according to my own definition.

The current me doesn't think I'm a failure - I'm pretty happy about where I'm at in life and feel I'm doing what I love at the moment. It's one of the versions of me from the past that thinks I'm a failure.

There was a time (I shudder to recall) when I thought being an elected politician was the way to live and spread freedom. I went to work in the legislature to see how to become a lawmaker. During that time I met a lot of people who didn't know me before and haven't kept up since. They knew the Isaac who defined success as being an elected official. Friends and relatives saw me working in politics and could foresee what a successful end in that realm looked like in their minds. For these people, my life won't be a success until I achieve what I was then pursuing.

Along the way I learned more about myself. My goals didn't change, just the way I visualized achieving them. I was pursuing a certain ideal and a bundle of sensations. I was pursuing freedom. I was incapable of imagining anything but a crude vision of political freedom, and my worldview was so simple I thought politicians created it. Therefore I wanted to be one. Freedom is still what I want, but with more experience and knowledge I have come to believe being involved in politics would be the worst possible way to achieve it. My definition of success morphed.

This happens all the time with humans. A child may say he wants to be a firefighter only because in his world, firefighter is one of the four or five options he can imagine. It's the one that makes him feel the most excited and good about helping people.

As they grow, children learn about a huge range of activities in the world and realize that, to achieve the feeling they desire, firefighting is an inferior method to being a paramedic, a teacher, an entrepreneur, or an X-Games athlete. It's not that we sell out on our dreams, it's just that our dreams were crude representations of what we thought we wanted.  When we learn more, we make different decisions. C.S. Lewis talks about the, "[I]gnorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea."

Once we learn what's possible, we laugh at what we previously thought of as the ultimate achievement. This growth is all well and good until we confront people from our past who have us locked in to our previous dreams.

Sometimes people ask me when I'm going to be president, and no matter what answer I give, it seems to them like a cop-out or excuse for my own failure. They refuse to believe me when I say I wouldn't wish political office on my worst enemy, let alone myself. They think I'm being modest.

I have a friend who went to Hollywood wanting to be an actor and now realizes his creative energies are far broader. People back home always want to know when they'll see him on the big screen. We sometimes joke that someday, when he has millions and is producing, directing, writing and doing whatever he wants in life, his friends back home will say, "Haven't seen you on TV...you just haven't caught that break yet, huh?"

It can be a little weird to describe how and why your dreams and definitions of success change over time. A lot of people don't actually want to know. They just want to know if you're Governor yet, or an Oscar winning actor. That's alright. Don't fret over it and don't spend too much energy trying to convince them you're really not a failure. If they insist on defining success they way you did before you knew better, just let them think you're a failure and laugh at the absurdity.

If I'm a failure for not being the silly thing I once wanted to be, it's good to be a failure.

Don’t Let Words Own You


I had a recent discussion with some passionate people who were frustrated by various public figures describing themselves as libertarian.  They felt it imperative to police the use of this word and go on the offensive, making sure to publicly demonstrate how wrong it was for people to use the word to describe themselves unless they believe certain things.  I'm not sure this is a productive response.

I understand the frustration.  When you use a word to describe yourself or your philosophy, you become increasingly attuned to how the word is used and perceived among the masses.  Christians and other religious groups have this problem, as do political ideologies.  It's easy to feel like the labels you use abandon you as they become hijacked by people with views entirely different from your own.  The often cited example of the word "liberal" serves as a warning in the minds of many of what happens if you don't fight to protect definitions.  It used to describe the ideas of people who favored more freedom from government power, now it means something far more nebulous and sometimes it is even used to describe the ideas of people who see more government power as the solution to nearly everything.

But who has "lost" in the transition?  It is true certain words sound nicer than others, but the word was always a shortcut to convey ideas.  The ideas are still here.  You are no less free to believe in less state power because the word "liberal" has changed meaning over the years.  You are no less free to use the word as you choose either.

To say that a word is hijacked is to assume it was first owned.  Can you really own a word?  Language is a constantly evolving spontaneous order.  You can use it, influence it, and benefit from it.  You can't really own it.  If you spend your time feeling bitter and robbed when people use language in ways you don't like, you will probably enjoy life less and you'll be no more able to stand athwart language and yell, "stop!"

There are two potentially productive responses.  You can simply ignore the misuse.  Stop using the word if you must.  Or keep using it if it makes sense.  Or use it sometimes and not others.  Ask people to clarify what they mean by a word if you're not sure, but don't demand they stop using it.  Try going label-less.  Be indescribable.  It can be a little inconvenient, but it can also be a lot of fun.

Maybe labels are too important to you to drop and you want to influence the way they are used.  Instead of getting mad, see it as a kind of game or challenge.  What can you do to alter the way people perceive a word?  If you want people to associate good things with labels you use, live a life that impresses and attracts them.  Your ideas and your example are likely to do more to shape the meaning of the word than direct attempts to define it.  When you hear the word "Buddhist" or "Atheist" do you think only of the dictionary definition, or do you think about the way people using that label speak and behave?   Living your ideas will certainly do more for them than brow-beating word abusers.

Live your philosophy and don't worry about trying to own the words that describe it.  Either live without labels, or live in such a way that it improves the public image of your labels.  Appointing yourself language police and waging war over words is likely to make you look small and grumpy.

If you live in perpetual fear that whatever label you belong to might move in a direction you don't approve of, then you're being owned by that label.  Language is an awesome and beautiful tool, but it won't be made a slave and it's a poor master.  It can be used, but it can't be owned.  When you try, it tends to own you.

Don’t Let Your Success Define You


My good friend and blogger over at Tough Minded Optimism, T.K. Coleman, just wrote the blog post I intended to write today. This should not come as a surprise, as we have talked at length on this topic and most of my ideas on it come from him. I'll quote him at length, because he nails it:

"Every time I attempt to create, I am confronted by two aspects of my self: T.K. the brand and T.K. the creator.

T.K. the brand is the part of me that feels a need to protect my reputation from the fatal possibilities of being seen as incompetent, uncreative, inconsistent, and unintelligent.

This is the P.R. department of my psyche and it never approves of me experimenting with new techniques out in the open.

It always reminds me, with the very best of intentions, of course, that the subtlest miscalculation could result in permanent damage to my image as a writer, a thinker, or an innovator.

T.K. the creator is the part of me that wants to exploit every experience as an opportunity to discover something new.

The creator is not concerned with saving face, protecting the brand, or subjecting creative impulses to quality approval tests.

This conflict is more acute the more successful you are at your "branded" activity. If you get a paycheck, or acceptance in your social circles for being the X guy, it's a lot harder to be the Y guy. Even if you're not the best at X, the mere fact that you've been doing it for some time and are known for it makes it more secure than Y. While it makes sense to specialize and go where returns are greatest, it's also wise to make sure we include our own fulfillment in how we define returns.

I love music making, songwriting, poetry, short stories, and other creative forms of expression. I happen to think I'm not very good at them, but I get a lot of joy out of trying. It's hard to let that part of myself show, because I've engaged in so much more public commentary and analysis. Whether or not I'm good at the latter, I'm comfortable with it and many people I know got to know me as a person who engages in that. To introduce a new aspect of myself is scary and a little embarrassing. But it feels even worse to repress it.

There was a special on an NFL game earlier this year about 49ers tight end Veron Davis and his love of art. Davis opened an art gallery in San Francisco where he displays and sells art, much of it his own. I was impressed. Not with the art as much as with the courage of a top tier athlete to put another side of himself out there for public scrutiny. Whether or not his art is good, it will tend to be seen as art produced by a non-artist, or the opening of his gallery as a self-indulgent act by a guy too rich for anyone to tell him he's not an artist. I happened to think his art was pretty good, but that's not the point. The point is he was willing to recreate himself, or enlarge his brand beyond what had worked before. I respect that. He was not letting the public perception define the private reality.

T.K. ends with some advice from his experience,

"I've been somewhat of a rebel towards the first voice [of risk aversion] for over a year and I've gotten more creative work done during that time than in my entire life combined.

I've discovered that it's not enough to merely FIND work that's worth doing. One must also FIGHT for the permission to keep doing the kind of work that turns them on, to avoid the trap of being boxed-in by the demands of the brand.

We each have to find our own ways of negotiating the concerns of our brand while making sure our creative evolution is not stunted in the process.

I leave the details of the process up to you.

My point is philosophical:

A brand is a great asset, but a very poor master.

At all costs, avoid becoming its slave."

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.

Featured on -

Looking for something?


Blog Archives

Archives

Special Episode: *Three Important Super Serious Things*


Don't play around when it comes to your life and decisions and society and goodness and science and the numbers and stuff.

It's all really, really important.  Don't be flip and glib with this stuff.  Do what the experts and averages tell you.

You'll thank me when you're fitting in snugly.

This episode brought to you by unthinking peer pressure and the age-old wisdom of non-risk taking self-proclaimed elites who fight diligently to keep you safe from your deviant dreams day in and day out. (But especially days in).

Episode 69.5: FwTK – Heartbreak, Loss, Change, and Space


My family and I just moved to a new house and it's been a surprisingly hard adjustment.  TK and I discuss how to handle moving, change, grief, and heartache, as well as what a sense of space means and how humans interact with light and their built environments.

Mentioned in the episode: Christopher Alexander, Too Many Dirty Dishes, Tim Ferriss, Peter Thiel, Aslan, In Defense of Metaphor in Science Writing, Jeff Till's Five Hundred Years, George Lakoff, Your Brain is Not a Computer, Metaphors and Magic,

Recommended: Space and Place, Landscapes of the Soul, A Timeless Way of Building

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

Sometimes I Get Irritated


I can tell you right now it doesn't matter what industry. There are tons of jobs available everywhere. Companies are hungry for talent.

But most job seekers suck. Most of them suck mostly because of years of schooling. It's given them bad habits, fear, lack of confidence, arrogance, and monetary demands due to thoughtless debt.

Opportunity is everywhere. School is killing the ability of young people to seize it.

Screw school. Go do cool stuff. Go do hard stuff. Go do different stuff. Build things. Try things. Get good at things.

These Four Words Will Help You ‘Hold Strong Opinions Weakly’


I first heard the phrase from tech entrepreneur turned venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.

"Strong opinions, weakly held"

I love this concept. (In fact, I almost called my podcast, "Strong Opinions, Weekly Held").  I had never thought of it in such a succinct way, but this approach has been valuable to me for some time.

The beauty lies in the ability to embrace the power of definiteness and the power of openness at once.  When you act, you can't be of two minds.  You have to commit and proceed boldly.  But to understand the world you have to constantly learn, adapt, and grow, which implies shifting direction.

Here are the four words I employ to do both:

"As if it's true"

When I am taken by an idea I act as if it's true.  The "as if" is important, because it reminds me that I'm acting on the best available knowledge and that I'm fallible.  The "it's true" is equally important, because unless and until being convinced otherwise I must decisively move forward.

One of the strengths of this approach is the lightened intellectual burden and the enhanced importance of experimentation over theory alone.  If you have to settle on complete truth before translating it to action you're unlikely to act.  Action is one of the key factors in generating the feedback necessary to know if your ideas are correct.  And on the other side if you only ever act on an idea without reflecting on the feedback you'll crash and burn if your initial hunch was wrong.

When it comes to something really big like launching a business I think the core idea or purpose of the business - the "why" - must be something unchangeable.  If it turns out the "why" is wrong, better to quit and start an entirely different business than to try to "pivot" to a new purpose.

But the how and what are subject to change.  You don't plan to change them, or pussyfoot around waiting for a focus group to give them to you.  You arrive at conclusions - opinions - about the world and act decisively, while holding onto them weakly.  You act as if they are true unless and until it's proven they are not.

New information, new competitors, and new ideas are never a threat but a welcome opportunity.  Any chance to firmly disprove your theory means a chance to improve.  But put the new stuff to the test.  Always operate as if the current theory is true until it is completely clear it's not.  Don't just get scared or take someone's word for it that your approach is obsolete.  Act as if it's spot on until you know it isn't.  But always be eagerly looking for evidence that it's not.

The "eureka moment" is valuable.  Don't let it get lost in a sea of analysis.  But that doesn't mean you have to never let it adapt.  Move forward as if your initial insight is true while constantly scouring the globe for reasons it mightn't be.  Act on your current truths while adding to them.

To hold strong opinions weakly, act as if your current knowledge is true until you know it's not.

Episode 69: Robin Hanson on the Coming Age of Robots


Special thanks to show producer Lav Kozakijevic for his tireless work editing, posting, and adding show notes for each and every episode!

We live at a time when artificial intelligence is booming and major breakthroughs are happening, with a lot of people thinking about what is coming and how will it impact society. Robin Hanson is an economics professor at GMU with a background that ranges from philosophy, to physics and computer research.

He joins me today to talk about his book ‘The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth’ which is shipping as we speak, where he outlines what he thinks will happen when humans become able to emulate a human brain in a machine. We discuss what are the things that might be different, what are those that will change less than we expect, and how social institutions will change once AI reaches such a level.

Don’t skip his blog overcomingbias.com and you can order his new book from Amazon here.

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

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.

Featured on -

Occasional Email Updates

[mc4wp_form id="3197"]

Looking for something?


Blog Archives

Archives