The Freedom to Disrupt Your Own Patterns

One of the best things about routines is the opportunity to break them.

A regular schedule, workout, or other discipline provides a stable foundation for each day. The benefits of routines are many and well known. But my favorite is probably the fact that, once you have a routine, it gives you the ability to shock yourself out of a stupor by mixing it up every once in a while.

Some days just feel draggy. When I’m on autopilot and can’t break the funk, I get a sudden realization like a little voice whispering, “Hey, you could change your routine, or even skip it.” It comes as a revelation. The idea immediately energizes me, like a kid playing hooky.

It doesn’t even have to be a major change in routine, just a slight unexpected variation will do. It works wonders, reminds me of my own agency, allows some mischief, and keeps the world engaging.

This only works if there are routines in the first place and they are pretty much always kept. A sudden deviation is great when it’s a real surprise. When it’s an escape hatch always present at the back of the mind and frequently used, it weakens all the benefits of routine and provides none of the benefits of breaking routine.

Categorized as Commentary

I Wonder Why Prudence is no Longer Considered a Virtue

No one would say prudence is bad. But it doesn’t seem to have the status of the other Christian virtues that it once did.

A loving person with very bad judgement and a pattern of rushing into bad business or personal arrangements is not usually considered lacking virtue. People would say, “He’s a really good guy, he’s just a bit rash sometimes.”

But the opposite does not seem to be true. A person who struggles to be loving, but has excellent judgement and control over their faculties, decision-making, and impulses is not usually considered a good person. People would say, “He’s cold, unfeeling, and kind of a jerk.”

Maybe that’s a bad example, because love has a place above all other virtues. But I think it holds if you replaced it with faith, kindness, charity, or any other of the traditional virtues.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising then that prudence is one of the most lacking virtues in our time. If it’s treated as of lesser importance, and the concomitant social rewards are lesser, we should expect less of it. People respond to incentives even when it comes to being virtuous.

The costs of a low-prudence society are immense. The rate of divorce, levels of debt, constant online flame wars, the existence of crypto memecoins and meme stocks, the complex webs of commitments and contradictions in people’s beliefs and associations can all be seen at least in part as a result of insufficient prudence.

Perhaps prudence has fallen out of favor because it is a poor match for a society that places a high value on speed. Accelerating technology, which has made our lives more comfortable and prosperous, has conditioned an overall sense that acceleration in itself is a good, and anything that slows it down is in the very least uncool. A boring stick in the mud.

But look around at people in great emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical distress. Most would’ve avoided the worst had they a bit more prudence. Slow down. Take time to step back and consider. Don’t jump into that relationship, or extramarital affair, or divorce, and your finances won’t get wrecked. Don’t rashly join a new movement or cause and throw your whole identity into it, and your reputation and friendships won’t get destroyed when it collapses or cannibalizes itself.

On the positive side, I think prudence is coming back into fashion. When all forms of overnight “gainz” have evaporated, people are left looking back at the boring but relentlessly reliable path of making good, deliberate choices and sticking to them, thinking beyond the zeitgeist, and putting the cool wisdom of a clear conscience and calm pace of life above the hottest impulses and trends.

Two cheers for prudence! Or maybe rather one reasonable cheer in good sense and not too exaggerated.

Categorized as Commentary

The Promise and Peril of AI Consultation

I saw a story today about AI nurses doing consultations. There’s a lot to like about this, and a lot to dislike.

In the like column, an info-rich AI nurse could be a big improvement. Consider how absolutely terrible almost every single human medical practitioner is. It has to be one of the worst professions when it comes to knowing your subject matter. Health pros are almost always myopically narrow, and uninterested and uncurious about their own field. They run through a set of tests taught to them at some medical school based on biases and bad science, and then tell you to take a pill that undoubtedly makes your overall health worse.

When you’ve spent lots of hours researching health issues on your own, and connecting with others doing the same, you find tons of new ideas and insights and cures. But the biggest problem is that there it just too much information, too many similar but not exact symptoms, too many remedies to test, too many disparate places this info exists, and much of it in other languages. Imagine an AI nurse able to absorb and sift and sort and pattern match to make recommendations in an unbiased way. “Scanning hundreds of thousands of forums and papers and websites, it seems these are three likely candidates for what you have, and these appear to be the top three treatments with the highest correlation with success.” It could be massive.

In the dislike column, the parameters on any AI system are put there by humans. And so far, these parameters have led to fairly ridiculous results on any matters of disagreement or dissension. Imagine the kind of stupid, tyranny-approved, unscientific answers a mainstream medical AI bot would be programmed to give you. “Take your prescriptions” is probably the gist of it.

Then again, I don’t know if it could be worse than the status quo.

Categorized as Commentary

Humor as Resistance

Usually you can figure out how politically powerful a group or ideology is by how unfunny they are.

The paradox is that contrarians eventually become powerful by being funnier than the status quo.

But even as they gain power, you can watch them get less funny.

Humor and power rarely mix.

Categorized as Commentary

It’s Usually Just Supply & Demand

It’s amazing the wild and complicated theories people can spin up to explain the price of things. The boring reality is, it’s always dictated by supply and demand.

Now of course there are myriad reasons as to why the supply is what it is, and what drives people to demand more or less of things. These are complex and impossible to pin down precisely. They are worth exploring and trying to understand if you can.

But the number of times I see proposed reasons for prices, and proposed solutions that ignore supply and demand is startling.

“Housing costs far too much! It’s because builders and landlords are greedy. We should kill them or throw them in cages if they try to own more than a few properties!” says the ignorant or lying reformer.

Builders and landlords are likely greedy, just as their tenants and everyone else is likely greedy. But they didn’t start being greedy all of the sudden. It has always been so. Yet housing costs weren’t always so high. What happened?

Supply and demand.

More people demanding housing, and a smaller number of new houses being built.

It’s a pretty easy formula!

You may or may not like the implications in the same way you may or may not like gravity. It’s not going away. You have to navigate the world in light of its existence.

The beautiful thing is, you don’t really have to do anything. Mr. Reformer can pour a drink, sit back, and let things sort themselves out. Truly. All you have to do is stop doing something. Namely, stop using the guns of government to prevent individuals from creating more housing.

You don’t need to urge it, or incentivize it with speeches or subsidies, or create grand plans or special zones. You just need to get the hell out of the way — I mean that quite literally; remove the bureaucratic red tape, which is a genuine representative of hell on earth.

Let the supply and demand do their dance freely and you needn’t trouble yourself so much. In fact, you can seize the opportunity to benefit from their interplay with some entrepreneurial endeavors of your own!

Categorized as Commentary

Trolling as the Intellectual Discipline of the Internet

Trolling is equal parts delightful and nasty. It’s also valuable.

It’s nasty because it takes advantage of people – particularly those more innocent, ignorant, naive, or less experienced and jaded by online discourse.

It’s delightful because these same people are often nasty, brutish, ill-tempered, willfully stupid, careless, and vindictive themselves.

Beyond the entertainment value and offensive potential, trolling serves a vital function. It promotes intellectual discipline.

By pretending to be or believe something outlandish and calculated to trigger particular biases and assumptions, trolls unmask those biases and assumptions.

There’s a certain mix of humility and arrogance in it. The troll has to first become the fool, by allowing their reputation to be damaged by the stupid and untrue things they post. But they get a gleefully satisfying superiority when the trap closes. When the target is triggered in just the intended way, the target becomes the fool, and the troll is the genius.

The object lesson for all observing is to be more careful, less thoughtless, consider your biases, don’t be easily triggered. The lesson for the target is rarely understood and more rarely taken, but the chance is there.

So trolling is valuable for the online community at large. But it’s dangerous for the troll. It’s very hard to play the trolling game well and repeatedly without letting it make you arrogant or bitter. It can suck you in to scoring points on strangers for public spectacle, instead of working on yourself. The disciplinarian is always in danger of enjoying it too much, and neglecting inner improvement.

Categorized as Commentary

Why Good Stuff Happens

When you are blessed, you are to be a blessing to others. Your success and happiness ought to bring success and happiness to others.

This is not stated as a guilt-tripping obligation, but simply as a proper ordering of things and a preventative against goodness going bad. Genuine blessing begets blessing. Just as offspring beget offspring, goodness begets goodness.

When you are blessed and you fail to let it spill out onto others and multiply, you are turning the blessing inward. What would be a joy and strength to you turns into a poison. Your cup is meant to overflow, not just to grow ever larger or be pressure-sealed. It will rupture or corrode your heart if you try to keep it in you, instead of letting it flow through you. A pond grows stagnant while a stream remains fresh.

Good comes into the world through good. If good happens to you, you can grow the goodness by letting it overflow to others. Bless with your blessings.

Categorized as Commentary

Keep a Mental Rolodex of People You Like Working with

Every time I’ve gotten involved in a project or venture, the key to success has been getting the right people rallied around it.

If you’re starting from absolute scratch, it’s very hard to find and rally the right people, and to figure out if they are in fact the right people until it’s too late. When the moment comes, having ready at hand a bunch of people with proven skills and trust is a superpower.

I’m always keeping a bunch of people rolling around in my head, thinking of ways in which I might work with them on current or future projects or companies. I try to keep this inventory fresh, and look for connections not just to my own stuff, but other opportunities I can plug them into.

Stay ready. You never know when you’ll need some help on what you’re working on!

Categorized as Commentary

It’s Not a State of Mind, But You Need a State of Mind to Experience It

To the pure, all things are pure. To the defiled, all things are defiled.

Someone asked me if I thought freedom was an external thing, or and internal thing. I think it’s both, but I think the internal is far more important and foundational.

If you don’t have internal freedom, you won’t experience external freedom either. You won’t be able to see it or feel it when it’s looking you in the face. If you do have internal freedom, external bondage won’t be nearly as bad, and external freedom will be fully experienced.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attempt to expand your external freedom, but knowing the way the relationship works should direct you to put the bulk of effort on internal freedom first.

In my favorite book, The Great Divorce, the characters who spent their lives working on righteousness found not only the afterlife, but their entire earthly life also to have been heaven. Those who let themselves decay morally found the opposite. Not only was life on earth hell, but even when they experienced a heavenly afterlife it felt like hell to them. You bring with you what you are, and you read it back into your past too.

I can get glimpses of this in my present life. I’ve been married to my wife for twenty years. When we’re both behaving as we should, it genuinely feels looking back like every moment of our marriage has been bliss. In those rare times when we are nasty to each other, looking back on our marriage paints a less favorable picture.

This isn’t to say that perception is reality. But what’s going on inside us limits and colors our ability to experience aspects of reality.

This is why we must always cultivate righteousness, freedom, truth, and beauty in us. It is for our own good. If we do, then we can really experience these things when we meet them. If we do not cultivate them inside us, we will miss them, or worse yet, experience them as torments. If we do, it will always have been good. If we don’t, it will always have been bad.

Categorized as Commentary

Why Can’t We Just Diet Alone?

Everyone is familiar with the impulse to pull others in to whatever lifestyle change is working for you.

Through trial and error and study you discover that abstaining from bread, or dairy, or sugar, or alcohol, or caffeine makes a positive change in your life.

Rather than be content with its effect upon you, you feel compelled to share this effect, backed by all your research and justifications, and convince others to do the same.

Not everyone acts on this impulse, but certainly enough do to make a large portion of online discourse arguments over competing health routines and disciplines. Some of them get quite nasty.

I always assumed this impulse was born out of the evangelical tendency – a desire to see others saved from what you’ve been saved from, and benefit like you are. Bu I came across a comment from CS Lewis that implied something different (paraphrasing):

“There is a certain type of bad man who cannot abstain from something without forcing others to do the same.”

This seems correct in my gut. But what about wanting others to adopt your dietary preferences is bad?

If your are trying to use the force of government, that initiation of violence is easy to identify as bad. If you are being rude or manipulative, that is easy to see as bad.

But there seems to be something bad about this impulse even when not acted on in a way that violates the rights or dignity of others. It seems to reflect a heart condition in the person who has it that is wrong.

I think at least part of it is insecurity, cowardice, and perhaps lack of faith.

If you feel convicted about drink, and heed the inner voice telling you to abstain, the best is to be secure in your decision, not fearing what others think and not wavering in your faith that this is right for you regardless of unpopularity or arguments against it. That is a healthy heart.

A weaker, sicker heart will want to shore up all kinds of external supports so that they can feel in the right, because being in the right is not enough. A weaker mind will constantly doubt their own inner conviction, and even their own positive results, if it makes them different from others. Weakness and badness are not the same thing, but nearly every form of badness comes from weakness.

So Lewis is right. Be wary of the man who cannot simply improve his life with this or that diet or discipline, but must wrap his entire identity around pleading, begging, forcing others to join.

This is not to say joyfully or academically sharing research or results of our own life choices is bad. But when tinged with a need for others to understand, defensiveness, or attacks on other choices, you can bet a bit of badness is festering or will be soon.

Categorized as Commentary

Breakup Email

Subject: Followup on the deal

Hey Michael,

I appreciate all the info you’ve provided and the helpful back and forth about your product. Sadly, I’m going to have to terminate this deal.

I try to make a habit of sharing my feedback, so here you go:

It’s not the product. It seems like a great platform and meets the specs I’m looking for given our needs. The pricing is a bit high but within range for this project. You have been responsive and fairly easy to work with in general.

But at the end of the day, part of my job is to make the best use of this company’s resources and ensure we are not in a vulnerable position with any of our vendors. That requires a good deal of trust between us.

Frankly, I’m not sure I can trust you.

As we explored this deal, there were a few occasions at which your response time was just a few seconds slow. On one occasion, you appeared to have used a neologism. I do not mean to offend, but I’m just not sure I can trust that you’re actually a bot, and not a human pretending to be one.

As such, I’m going to go with another vendor that does not have any signs of potential human involvement in the sales process.



Categorized as Commentary

An Exercise in Prayer

Think of a person that makes you mad. An archetypical face for the forces that oppose you, lash out at you, despise you, want to bring you down.

Then pray for that person.

Our real enemies are spiritual forces. The human enemies we see in front of us are hurting, broken people. They need prayer and redemption. The darkness wins if we fight them with the same weapons they use against us.

Categorized as Commentary

On Disappointment

What does it mean to be disappointed?

You first have to be appointed. Something set before you. Something in your veins. A calling. A will. A fate.

To the extent to which you want and don’t shirk this thing, it’s also a desire. A dream. A goal. Perhaps a fantasy.

To realize you will never attain or achieve or become it is to be disappointed.

The appointment is over. The calling failed. The dream left empty, denied. The desire a vacuum.

The disappointment is in the finality.

The embers of hope burn painfully.

They were misplaced. The appointment was of what could be, but not what will or must be. Not what is.

Whether you failed it or it was always an ideal rather than a reality, you may not ever know.

But you have to let it die.

Categorized as Commentary