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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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More Public = More Private

It seems people with a high public profile almost never publicly discuss or reveal their private lives and thoughts.  They try to maintain as large a scope as possible for personal privacy.  They don't post pictures of their kids at the park, or status updates about fights with their spouses, except when carefully crafted to present a certain image.  That image is typically constructed and maintained not as a way to let people in to their lives, but as a protective barrier to keep people out of the real thing.

People with no public profile on the other hand, who are not household names, tend to put themselves out there with regularity.  You can learn astounding amounts of highly personal information and get a real slice of the personality of non-celebrities today through the prolific sharing on social media.  People voluntarily offer huge glimpses into their private affairs, perhaps hoping that more people get to know them.

I'm not sure what to make of this.  It seems possible that, the more people know who you are, the fewer people really know you, or at least the harder it is to get to know you; and the fewer people know who you are, the more people have a chance to get to know you easily.  I don't know if this is because your preferences change as you become more well-known, and you no longer seek to be known as much as rare privacy, or if it is because the type of people who put everything about themselves out there all the time are also the type who do not have the qualities that tend to result in becoming famous.  Or maybe it's something else entirely.  I'm not done with this thought.  Maybe I'll come back to it in another post.

Daily Blogging Haiku

To blog ev'ry day

Requires some lackluster posts

This is one of them

What’s Wrong with Social Justice?

Originally posted here.

What does “social justice” mean? To the extent that it is about justice—outputs being aligned with inputs; effect being aligned with cause; reaping reward and punishment in right proportion; proper alignment between humans in regards to what is owed and what is not—it is a wonderful thing. But then it’s justice, and needn’t be modified with the word “social.”

Though I’m not entirely sure what the term means, it is often used in reference to creating more material equality among people.  It implies that material relations between people are unjust, and to bring justice to them requires rewarding some at the expense of others. It aims to make the poor richer by making the rich poorer.

In other words, it is not really justice at all, as justice is about humans being in right relation to an objective (though subjectively discovered and understood) standard of right and wrong that is the same applied to all persons. Social justice is quite the opposite of justice, as it is about a desired relation between individuals against the subjective standard of other individuals. It is not about “where am I in relation to right,” but about “where am I in relation to you." (Most people don’t put themselves in the equation when talking about social justice. Instead they think, “Where is one group of persons in relation to another group of persons.”)

Not only is social justice the opposite of justice as properly understood, it is also a purely material concept. Justice is a moral or spiritual concept, which can have material consequences: you have violated a moral law by stealing, so to right yourself with that law you must pay restitution. Social justice is a material concept, which can have moral or spiritual consequences: This person has fewer possessions than that person; therefore we should feel outrage and redistribute goods. In this regard, social justice is a type of human and material idolatry. It makes other humans the standard against which to measure, and material possessions the unit of measurement.

Still, we wish to help those who need help. If material inequality causes unhappiness for the poor (though I sometimes believe it causes unhappiness for the rich as well through guilt and shame), there are two ways we can attempt to alleviate the unhappiness. The first is to try to reduce the amount of material inequality in the world. I address why such attempts fail in another article. The second way is to help people stop measuring their happiness against others.

Instead of putting it in terms of others, let’s start with you.

You are not free as long as your happiness is contingent upon the relative happiness of those around you. Rather than submit to this covetous instinct and try to raise yourself to their level or bring them down to yours, make the covetousness submit to you. Subdue it, overcome it, conquer it, and be free. It is deeply destructive to you and society to allow covetousness to go unchecked—indeed to feed it and condone it with attempts at making everyone more materially equal.

Do not be mistaken, behind the desire for material equality is the desire to be as good as or better than your neighbor. Those who feel the world is not right so long as some people have more things than others are not far from wishing ill upon the “haves” because they incorrectly assume this will bring good to the “have nots.” For your own happiness to be contingent upon the unhappiness of others—the rich, the talented, the beautiful, the undeserving—is a spiritual sickness. Covetousness may be tolerated and even praised if it is cloaked in the language of “social justice,” but it is covetousness still.

Advocates for material equality sometimes claim that fighting against the sin of greed is the motivation for their meddling with and redistributing the possessions of the rich. It is doubtful taking from someone will help them conquer their greed. Nonetheless, even if the rich are greedy of their possessions, it is better to remove the plank of covetousness from your own eye before removing the sliver of greed from your rich neighbor.

The desire for social justice is really not about society at all. Nor is it about the rich, nor is it about the poor. It is about you. You must win your internal battle. You must overcome the tendency to make your own fulfillment contingent upon the wealth and poverty of others.

We all have the impulse to wish ill upon our neighbors as a way of making us feel better about ourselves. It is destructive, but difficult to overcome. I am ashamed to say I often cheer when a great sports team loses. It makes me feel better about the teams I love to see the teams I don’t lose. This is the same impulse behind activism for social justice, but at least in the arena of sports my desire is harming only my own spirit. I am not acting on that desire and seeking to pass legislation to take the trophies and salaries of the winners and give them to my teams.

How much more destructive when this covetousness leads us to condone and even take joy in the breaking up of a large business or the forcible extraction of money from our rich neighbor. These actions are meant to bring one down ostensibly to bring another up. We enjoy these actions when our heart does not find fulfillment in an objective standard of right, but in comparison to those around us.

I do not mean to imply that any desire for improvement—material or otherwise—is bad or that ambition is bad. Indeed the desire for progress is natural and God-given, and if we ever lose the desire to move and grow it will cause an unhealthy stagnation. The key is to know yourself and discover what it is that you need to seek to be fulfilled. Discover the standard, the direction in which you need to move and channel your ambition and desire for progress toward that. The moment we become seduced by those around us or the standards they have set for themselves we lose sight of our true self and what makes us free and fulfilled.

Do not be a slave to the position of others. Take joy in the success of others and sympathize with their failures. Seek to be free from covetousness, and when you are, others will be drawn to that freedom in you and begin to realize it in themselves.

Political agitation for social justice treats the problem as the remedy. It focuses on making us more materially equal and encourages us to look not within ourselves or a fixed standard of right to find fulfillment, but to our position relative to those around us. It draws more attention to our material positions relative to each other, and distracts from our spiritual position relative to Truth.

It is good to help those who are suffering, but not by making them more like others, but more like themselves. There is no virtue in trying to make people more materially equal; there is great virtue and freedom in finding fulfillment despite material inequality.

It’s Not Always About Scalability

In the business and startup world scalability is the word of the day.  Products that can be built once and used infinite times by infinite consumers are the ultimate prize.  The hype might cause us to overlook other valuable products and services.

The quest for scalability makes sense with software, online products and social media applications.  They can be built relatively cheaply, honed in beta mode, and then sold an infinite number of times at no additional production cost.  But it's not true that scalability equals profitability, nor is it true that the inability to costlessly scale means lack of profitability.

There are countless examples of great products and services that are non-scalable, yet highly profitable.  Personal trainers, legal counsel, health care, home repair, tutoring, food production, etc., etc., are not scalable.  Sure, they realize some economies of scale as they grow, but each new customer means new inputs like labor, raw materials and time.  It's also true that some of these like legal or health advice or general education can be produced once and shared infinitely at zero marginal cost online.  But that is not the same as a visit with a physician who gets to know your unique symptoms and gives a tailored recommendation.

In fact, most of the best things in life are not scalable.  I can't produce quality time with the family, or a night out at a fancy restaurant with my wife once and reuse it over and over at zero cost.  There is no demerit in a product that is not scalable.  One of the great virtues of the things that are scalable is precisely that they free up so much time and so many resources that can then be devoted to things that are not scalable.

Modern technology opens a world of possibility and the ability to realize amazing returns on small investments due to scalability.  But don't overlook the innovation, benefit, and profitability of non-scalable or less scalable products.

Agree With Everything for a Day

A good friend told me he experimented with something totally out-there: agreeing with everything.

He said he made a conscious effort, as a sort of experiment, to find a way to agree with every statement, worldview, attitude and belief he came across, no matter how incorrect or crazy it seemed.  The results were pretty invigorating.  Not so much that he found new value to beliefs he previously discarded, but more because his enjoyment of life, resilience to the unsavory words and actions of others, and ability to find laughter and entertainment all around him increased.

Give it a try, just  for a day.  Resolve to accept everything you hear today as true.  See what happens.  Every opinion has some kind of truth in it, even if twisted or put out of focus in some way.  Look for the nugget you can agree with.

If you're a big sports fan and you see a post about how sports are shallow, and numb children to violence, and are corroding societal values, agree with it.  Find the interpretation of the statement that you could see value in, decide to take the statement as such, and without qualifiers say to yourself, "That's true."  When you see a comment on the post that says, "You small-minded fool, sports are uplifting and a great way to channel aggression and tribal instincts in a playful and non-harmful context.", say to yourself, "That's true", without giving further explanation to the apparent contradiction.  Find a way to be mentally at ease with granting the label "true" to both statements.

I've tried this a few times and have been surprised at just how entertaining and challenging it can be.  It requires some serious mental stretching and imagination, but it's an addictive kind of game; I found myself looking for more and more extreme claims, just to test my ability to treat them as true in some essential form.

Rebuttals and rejoinders and back-and-forth over ideas are fun and productive.  Analysis - the systematic division, categorization, and counter-position of concepts - is fruitful.  But it also comes naturally, and often too emphatically.  Try a radically accepting approach that synthesizes everything, just for the fun of it.

This blog post is true.  So is your objection to it.

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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