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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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When We Met


Water falls over these rocks
Lashes brush your golden locks
Leaves burn crisp in flaming sun
All my tries a glance have won
Glowing snowfall in streetlight
Stealing kisses in the night
Humid air and glowing moon
Your eyes know I’m leaving soon
Whisper softly ancient verse
It was love that found us first
Simply drawn to what you knew
And I followed e’r you flew
Taken in by lovely form
Feeling the still waters pour
Water falls over these rocks
Overcomes all human clocks
Timeless space through which we flew
Knowing I, by knowing you
Sharing thoughts without a word
All the lines we knew were blurred
Led to where we make our life
Here we are with pleasure rife
Water falls over this place
Back to then it all can trace

Institutions Can Improve Even If People Don’t


Originally posted here.

Airlines are loaded with passengers who surf the Internet while soaring through the air, chatting in real-time to anyone else on the globe, posting in social media, shopping, and downloading and reading books on a wide variety of readers. Such a scene would have astonished a person living 50 years ago, to say nothing of a person living 500 years ago.

How do we account for this? A person born five centuries ago is probably just as smart as someone born today. The raw material of the human brain has not changed much during this span of time. Yet people are today infinitely more capable of accomplishing almost any task imaginable than people in 1512.

The greatest navigator of centuries past would have found it a monumental task to leave from one destination and arrive at a precise latitude and longitude halfway across the globe, and it would have taken months. Today, a half-witted teenager can use Google Maps and modern transportation to accomplish the same feat in a single day.

The greatest communicators in the past were unlikely to reach 1 million people with their ideas in a lifetime. Today, the most-incoherent celebrities can reach millions in minutes on Twitter. Conversely, if the greatest scientists today were sent back in time, they would be able to achieve almost nothing absent computers and modern lab equipment.

A weak and feeble worker today can move more tons of earth than the strongest shovel-wielding excavator of the past. Given the inherited technological progress of humanity, even an average Joe can do amazing things with ease. It does not take a superior human to achieve superior results.

Economically speaking, the marginal productivity of workers increases with the capital and technology available to them.

But let’s broaden the point to issues of morality. How can we become better people — more peaceful, cooperative, and creative — in the same spirit in which we have become more effective and productive with better technology? We need better moral “capital” and moral “technology” that enables morally superior outcomes even without morally superior people.

The moral technology I am speaking of is social and political institutions. A person born today is no more or less likely to be moral than a person born 500 years ago, but they can be more or less likely to act morally based on the institutions around them.

Moral institutions change and evolve just like technology. They can reduce or expand not only the morality of individuals on the inside, but the harm or good caused by their actions on the outside. The most saintly person born into a world where slavery was the norm would have very limited ability to stop the practice, though she could abstain from participating in it at great personal cost.

A horrendously evil person born into a world where slavery is considered abhorrent would be unable to lord over slaves, without tremendous personal cost. It is entirely possible that many people living today have it in them to be on par with the worst slave masters in history — only the opportunity for their evil does not present itself, given the progress in this area of our social and political institutions.

This does not mean that individual choices are meaningless. Far from it. A moral person can always do good within their institutional framework, and a good framework can exponentially enhance the good one can do. Individual choices are vastly important.

But in order for the world to be free of oppression by states, for example, it does not require that every individual be an angel or that the average morality of the population be better than it currently is.

How can institutions improve if morality does not? Institutions are ultimately the result of our beliefs. Better beliefs will result in better institutions, but better beliefs do not require morally superior people any more than beliefs in a heliocentric solar system require more-intelligent people.

Many people believe the Earth revolves around the sun not because they are smarter than ancient peoples, but because they grew up in a world where that was accepted. Many people believe slavery is wrong not because they are morally superior to all people from ages past, but because they grew up in a world where slavery was condemned.

The broader social narrative creates the institution. But where does this narrative come from? Here’s where individuals come in again.

Progress typically begins with iconoclasts and radicals espousing and experimenting with ideas that challenge the status quo. This is true of technological, intellectual and moral progress. The few who advance these radical ideas attract small, but influential followers, and some minds are changed by argument alone. But the real change comes when discussion turns into demonstration.

When the Wright brothers got off the ground, when slavery ended in some countries and the economy did not collapse — these occasions did more to change the prevailing beliefs about manned flight and slavery than did the necessary intellectual work that preceded them.

People do not have to possess superpowers to learn and adapt. All humans do it. Learning even to reject foundational and dearly held beliefs is possible and frequent in history, especially because the change typically takes place over several generations, so that each generation has to learn to give up only a part of the cherished belief. When it is understood that a new belief will result in better outcomes, it can be adopted with relative speed and ease, sometimes without any conscious “a ha!” moment at all.

Neither technological nor institutional progress is inevitable. History is replete with times of retrogression and collapse. When there are no radicals challenging the status quo, innovating and demonstrating new and better beliefs, it is not long before the prevailing institutions stagnate or advocates of a romanticized past win the day and drag humanity backward.

Progress is not inevitable, but progress is entirely possible even with flawed humans like us. Our beliefs can change as we learn better ways of doing things, and with our beliefs will change our institutions. Better institutions — free institutions, rather than coercive ones — will result in a better world.

We ought to continue to discuss and demonstrate the fact that states — their oppressions, confiscations, impositions, kidnapping, counterfeiting, and war — are not necessary or beneficial. Better morality is always better, but if we change the prevailing narrative about states, we can live in a stateless world even without a saintly populace.

It is a false and arrogant belief that only angelic geniuses are capable of believing that statelessness is possible and desirable. If a bunch of idiots can live in a world of technological wonder, so too can a bunch of jerks live in a world of freedom.

But Who Would Bilk the Roads?


But who would create the long lines in which to wait to be told you have the wrong documents?  Who would build the bridges to nowhere?  Who would pay $300 for a toilet seat?  Who would lose your important items in the mail?  Who would force you to turn off your cell phone while taxiing on the runway?  Who would pay a horseshoer to not shoe horses?  Who would pay a farmer to not grow crops?

Who would encourage the poor to buy education and housing they can't afford?  Who would encourage workers not to work?  Who would encourage the generous not to give?  Who would encourage the productive to stop producing?

Who would punish the innocent for doing what makes them happy?  Who would subsidize some chemicals and plants and ban others?  Who would perpetuate gang wars across the globe?  Who would encourage and prop up organized crime?  Who would jail sickly grandmothers for seeking natural pain-relief remedies?

Who would incentivise healers not to heal?  Who would force entrepreneurs to become legal experts rather than creators?  Who would create laws sufficient to make everyone a criminal?  Who would artificially raise the price of health care?  Who would artificially lower the price of waste?

Who would prevent people from seeking damages when another pollutes the water?  Who would fail to maintain the forests?  Who would squander the resources?

Who would help well-heeled businesses crush their competition with laws and regulations?  Who would steal half of the production and spend it on stifling the other half?  Who would pay thousands of agents to create thousand of rules to penalize millions of people for making a living and not properly filling out paperwork to classify and justify it all?

Who would force the children into factory schools?  Who would cram bad ideas into their heads?  Who would drive them to near madness with tedium and tyranny controlling their every waking minute?  Who would call it bullying or a disorder when they reacted?  Who would cram pills down their throats when they thought divergently?  Who would lie to them about the value of schooling?  Who would teach them to obey arbitrary authority instead of their own consciences?

Who would force the peaceful to pay for war?  Who would encourage the violent to aggress and call it honorable?  Who would give sanction to racist, hateful tendencies and call it security?  Who would attack the innocent?  Who would build the drones?  Who would man the concentration camps?

Indeed, who would carry out the genocide?  Who would massacre the millions?  Who would force famines?  Who would torture?

Want a Better World? Make a Profit


A few days ago, I noticed a post on Fast Company's Co.Exist titled, "Is Working on Wall Street Actually the Most Ethical Career Choice?"  The post is about a project called 80,000 hours that is trying to get people to think about how best to spend the average 80,000 hours they will be in a career.

Somewhat refreshingly, the project encourages people to consider going into high-income careers rather than the non-profit world.  It describes the outsized impact you can have by funding several causes vs. working in one.  But the premise remains: to do good, it's nonprofits that provide the boots on the ground.  You might have to bite the bullet and take a high-paying job so that you can support such efforts, but it's very clear that aid and charitable organizations are what make the world a better place.

What's so odd about this perspective is that all the evidence in world history reveals just the opposite.  There has not been a single, massively transformative development driven by charity work.  But millions upon millions have seen the end of poverty, disease and plague; we've seen lifespans extended, air and water cleaned, culture, art and beauty preserved and enhanced, and lives saved by profit-seeking enterprises.

Working for profit is, in a free-market, always a win for others.  Profit is a signal.  It reveals when value has been added to society, as measured by the subjective values of those in society.  Resources are purchased for a price.  That price is what the resources are valued at for their next best use.  Profit-seekers then do something to the resources.  They apply ideas, time, other resources and labor.  What comes out the other end is sold.  If consumers willingly pay a price high enough to cover the cost of inputs plus some, profit is made.  What does that profit signify?  It signifies value created.  It shows how much more valuable the resources are after the transformation than before.  It shows, in dollars, how much better off people are because of the enterprise.

Of course dollars are not a perfect measurement of value.  And of course economic value is subjective and changing.  But there is no perfect measurement, and there is none clearer, cleaner, or fairer.  You can ask people what they value, but when they willingly trade their dollars for it, it speaks volumes.  Any uncoerced exchange that generates profit should be hailed as a wonderful benefit to the world.

Sure, you can make a bunch of money so you can give lots away to causes you believe in.  That's a wonderful thing.  It feels good.  It can help some people in tangible ways that are fulfilling to be a part of.  The truth is, whether you like it or not, you're doing more good for the world by the activity that makes you the money (so long as it's not subsidy, tax, or regulation supported) than by the activities you support in giving it away.

I highly recommend this excellent article by F.A. Harper on "The Greatest Economic Charity".

When to Tame the Snark?


If you use social media and you like to consume and communicate ideas, there will be times when a funny one-liner pops into your head as a representation of your thoughts on an issue.  Do you post it, or refrain for fear of coming off as dismissive?

The best snark comes from being the opposite of dismissive.  When you really dive into an idea, read some books, discuss with friends, and ponder it, you begin to form coherent responses.  They begin as big gnarly beliefs about the idea that would be hard to communicate without a long treatise.  The more you think about it, the more you can pare it down.  At some point, you have an epiphany, and a short phrase pops into your head as a summary of the entire idea and your beliefs about it.  If it's an idea that you find lacking, it's probably a snarky comment.

When you post your thoughts for the world to see, you know the denizens of world have been doing thinking of their own behind the scenes, just as you have.  They've been thinking about other things.  They don't have the context you have for your snark.  Those who are inclined to agree with your position instinctively find it hilarious.  Those who take the idea more seriously are apt to be offended.  No one is going to understand everything that you imagine to be so brilliantly wrapped in that little bit of wordsmithery.

You can deal with this by posting the entirety of your thoughts on everything rather than or in addition to a short quip.  You can pack it with links and references.  "If they don't read it, at least they'll know I know what I'm talking about, damnit!"  Oddly, this approach does not prevent misunderstanding, but often generates more.  It also reduces the number of people who pay any attention at all.

Another approach is to not post anything snarky.  Stick to safe wording or mundane topics, and reserve your thoughts on complex or controversial issues for forums where you have better opportunity to engage in meaningful back and forth, show you care, etc.  This is a way to reduce the stress of haters hating your Facebook posts.  It's also a way to be boring.  That moment of epiphany, when you think you have a clever way to sum up an idea, is actually pretty energizing and fun.  It feels good to test it out.  Social media is perfect for that.  Not posting things that may come off as too glib will take a lot of the fun away for you, and for those who follow you.

Know yourself.  Will you be able to handle being misunderstood?  If not, practice.  Get used to it.  Don't be threatened by it.  Try to actually have fun with it.  Find a way to be content even if someone says, "So let me see if I get what you're saying", and proceeds to describe nothing remotely close to what you mean.  Can you let it go unexplained?  Learn to.

There is value in explaining yourself.  There is value in being sensitive to how your words may sound to others.  There is value in being thoughtful about how to best communicate an idea without offending.  But it's certainly not the highest value.  Don't be afraid to put your ideas out there.  Your own ideas are subject to change with time and information, so if you're going to put your stuff out there, you'll also need the freedom to publicly change points of view.  As long as you see social media not as a way to present your Magnum Opus to the world, but as a way to have fun exchanging ideas - even those you're only toying with - I say bring on the snark.

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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