Take Every Thought Captive

“We are destroying arguments and all arrogance raised against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” — 2 Corinthians 10:5

If thoughts can be taken captive, then the mind is more like a signal receiver than generator.

This was the common view of the mind until relatively recently, and it has very interesting and hopeful implications.

Ideas come to us. Nobody knows exactly from where or how. One of the more interesting and influential books I’ve read is Arthur Koestler’s The Act of Creation. This book studies the ‘eureka’ moment – the point at which a new idea enters the minds. It’s a tricky thing. You can affect the setting, and direct your mental focus to different areas, but you cannot consciously control the appearance of the new idea. It comes to you. You receive it.

This leads to several important questions about where ideas originate and how and why they come to us when they do. Even without solving that, the idea of the mind as receiver implies very useful things about how to conduct ourselves.

For one, it does away with the notion that you are your thoughts. If you are bombarded with negative thoughts, that does not mean you are bad. It would be like saying your bones are fundamentally flawed because they keep getting bombarded with rocks that fracture them.

This is empowering, but also challenging. You have the ability to filter thoughts, dismiss thoughts, entertain thoughts, and enact them. You also have the responsibility to do so.

The thought as captive analogy is really quite excellent. First, capture the thought. Don’t let it run wild in your mind. Confine it to a space you control. Interrogate it. Figure out its nature. If it’s friendly, let it in. If not, cast it out.

Usually, this process is quick and easy. When a good thought pops into mind, in your gut you immediately know it’s true. Bad thoughts tend to be trickier. They require more analysis, which is often a sign that they are bad or in the very least dangerous.

I think the common conception of the brain as a computer that generates ideas is quite flawed. Whatever is going on biologically, the mind as a receiver and thoughts as signals originating elsewhere is a powerful paradigm in practice.

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Communication by Implication (or Why Does Everyone Sound Like a Cult Leader?)

More and more people sound like a Biblical prophets or religious cult leaders.

Instead of a CEO tweeting out something like:

“Hey we’re working on something really cool, can’t wait to launch it!”

You get stuff like:

You shall soon see what the meaning of multivariance is when combined with human energy.”

Jokes are cryptic memes. Announcements are cryptic insinuations. Things are rarely stated plainly, but delivered as vague and fiery predictions with plenty of room for confusion and interperetation.

Mystery sells.

Everyone wants to be in on secret knowledge. People want magic. They want the amazing outcome without the predictable process of steady hard wok. As a result, communication gets cryptic, epic, vague, symbolic, and lures people into believing something big is ever around the corner and all they need to do is believe.

This phenomenon has been around for forever, but it seemed relegated to the fringes. Now it’s mainstream. Everything is starting to resemble a cult.

And no matter how many disappointments come, the belief and desire to be in on a secret doesn’t seem to fade.

Ever come across Q anon true believers? They still believe that everything is going perfectly according to Donald Trump’s plan and it’s just their lack of understanding that prevents them from seeing how. Each disappointment is alleviated by looking to the next cryptic message and trying to find an interpretation that gives hope.

I suspect there’s something about an inflationary economy, inherited wealth and quality of living, loss of agency while many things decline, that combine to create a get-rich-quick magic potion seeking culture.

There are many good things about this change. Symbolism is real and powerful. Many truths cannot be captured or communicated with straightforward words. A new appreciation for magic, enchantment, myth, and symbol are welcome.

But it’s also weird. It’s bled into everything, so half the time I can’t tell what the hell people are talking about, and I wonder if that’s the point.

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What Really Matters

Some days are hard. But the hardship has meaning if I take the time to connect with what really matters.

Lots of things matter. But only a few things really matter.

I don’t usually wake up thinking about what really matters, just a bunch of stuff that seems to matter. It’s a choice and conscious effort to ask myself what really matters, answer it, and focus on it throughout the day.

Sometimes I have to change scenery, music, or posture to help snap my heart and soul back into the epic battle that is at the heart of every day and all of reality. There is always a war going on between light and dark, and I am always a part of it. Every choice, every thought.

To remember this is to find the strength to march into another day, come what may.

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Details to Delight

I’m not a details person. But I’m trying to find ways to pay attention to small details I can employ to create big value for others.

When you buy a new iPhone, the details of the packaging are amazing. They create these small moments of delight that set the tone for your entire relationship to the device.

When a song has that one background instrument that gives a little unexpected ear candy in that one small part, you wonder what made someone put that in? It’s not necessary to the main melody, but it’s the very thing that separates great songs from good.

I once bought a book that arrived in a very satisfying plastic wrapping that opened smoothly. I loved that book more than the contents warranted.

When someone takes the time to deliver small, pleasing details where they do not have to it creates not only value that will come back to benefit them, but also a positive externality of delight for the entire world.

I’m trying to get better at this.

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A Good Thing Too Soon Can Be Bad

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ate the fruit because they wanted a good thing – to be like God. But they were not ready. The fruit was an attempt to short-circuit the process.

We tend to think of things as simply good or bad, rather than good or bad depending on place, time, person, and circumstance. We also tend to think of bad as inherent in the object or act, rather than a matter of whether we are able to handle it. Most good things are bad if experienced too soon.

Often, people achieve success or wealth faster than they develop the character necessary to handle it. We see this play out all the time among celebrities in tragic ways.

It’s better to not succeed than to succeed before you’re ready.

Rather than externalizing what choices are good or bad, it’s better to look internally at what you are living in accordance with. What can you handle? Have you done the inner work to make yourself worthy of the next level?

If not, you shouldn’t wish it on yourself.

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Eighteen Years

My wife and I got married 18 years ago today.

Nine houses, six cities, four states, eleven jobs, three companies, and four kids later, it’s better than ever. Really. Life has gotten more challenging and also more rewarding each year.

There is nothing that can replace time for granting perspective. The longer we’ve been married, the smaller the ups and downs seem. Time horizons extend, memories accrue, and things that once seemed like a big deal are seen in a more realistic magnitude.

The enterprise of running a family gets more meaningful the longer we do it. And being in this together is amazing. It’s interesting, fun, and inspiring.

I look forward to the future!

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In Defense of Cynicism

A follow up to yesterday’s post, In Defense of LARPing.

Cynicism didn’t always have the connotation it does today. It was a school of philosophy concerned with accepting unchangeable elements of reality and rejecting attitudes and behaviors seen as superfluous, overly sentimental, or driven by passion instead of reason. It was similar to Stoicism.

In the best of times, cynicism may seem a bit silly, callous, or like a wet blanket. But in the worst of times, cynicism is the strongest foundation for hope and optimism.

In yesterday’s post, I shared this story:

In The Silver Chair, a book in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, the characters are trapped underground by an evil queen. Her magic begins to work on them and she has nearly convinced them that the world above ground doesn’t exist. The more they try to describe it to her, the more she mocks and convinces them it’s a LARP. They are imagining some glorious world because they’re too childish to accept the one they inhabit. At the last moment, the most humble creature among them steps forward and tells the queen he doesn’t care if it IS all make-believe. If a few children can make-believe a world so much better than this, it must be a pretty cheap world and he’d rather keep believing in the delusion. At that, the spell was broken.”

What I did not mention is that the character who breaks the spell by choosing to LARP was a cynic. And it’s no accident he was the only one able to break it.

Earlier in the story, that character was constantly assuming and accepting the worst. He’d say things like, “We’ll probably fail or die along the way anyway, so we might as well go this way”, or, “Doesn’t much matter because I’m sure we’ll get rained on no matter what.”

On the surface, he was a downer. Especially when the weather was fine and no major challenges lay in their path. But when things got the darkest, he was the least shaken.

He had already made his peace with the worst possible outcomes. Every day, he began by considering the evil that might befall them, assuming it would, accepting it, and then proceeding on.

Because of this, when he evil queen had them under her spell, he was the only one who couldn’t be manipulated into giving up.

She tried to make them feel like fools for believing in an outside world they had no proof for. He already accepted the fact that he was a fool.

She tried to make them fear her wrath if they didn’t comply. He already accepted that she’d probably kill him.

Evil had nothing on him, no threat that could stick, because he had already considered and accepted the worst. He was able to choose to believe in the idealistic hope of a wonderful world precisely because he accepted the possibility of an evil one. What could she do to him that he hadn’t already mentally done to himself? Why not choose to rebel against her if his life was forfeit anyway?

It is honorable to hold on to hope – a form of what I called LARPing yesterday. But the strongest kind of hope is built on a foundation of fearless acceptance of what may befall you.

In dark times, watch the cynics provide hope.

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In Defense of LARPing

The followup post, In Defense of Cynicism, is here.

Recently, I keep seeing advocates for human liberty calling others who want the same thing LARPers for owning guns, trying to be “ungovernable”, and other forms of embodying their ideas.

The intent, I think, is to avoid naïveté, and to slap them with the cynical reality that their guns and rebellious T-shirts won’t stop a government that has already imprisoned the entire populace in their own homes, banned gatherings, etc. It’s too late for pretend acts of resistance, the state is too strong, so the desire to buy more guns or be more rebellious is worthy only of mockery. These LARPers would crumble at the first real battle.

It may be true, but it misses something.

LARPing is imagining yourself in an epic story, as a powerful hero. To get in that frame of mind, LARPers adopt the garb, language, and mannerisms of the heroes they pretend to be. It’s a form of elevating and inspiring oneself. Sometimes cheesy and silly, sometimes delusional or even pathetic.

But sometimes it works.

Sometimes LARPing is a fake-it-till-you-make-it that elevates the person doing it. Sometimes the bonds formed around the LARP and the heroes being emulated work their way into the LARPers and make them better people. Sometimes they even make the world better.

Passionately living and speaking the ideals of liberty, even if in unrealistic, make-believe ways, is not a bad thing. Maybe it’s naïve. Maybe people will find that out the hard way. But idealism sometimes to the point of delusion is the foundation for all breakthroughs, epic stories, innovations, and expanded freedoms, individually and culturally.

In The Silver Chair, a book in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, the characters are trapped underground by an evil queen. Her magic begins to work on them and she has nearly convinced them that the world above ground doesn’t exist. The more they try to describe it to her, the more she mocks and convinces them it’s a LARP. They are imagining some glorious world because they’re too childish to accept the one they inhabit. At the last moment, the most humble creature among them steps forward and tells the queen he doesn’t care if it IS all make-believe. If a few children can make-believe a world so much better than this, it must be a pretty cheap world and he’d rather keep believing in the delusion. At that, the spell was broken.

Living the adventure – the LARP – needn’t be mocked or dismissed. It may be naïve. It may do nothing. But it also may be the path to freedom. It certainly puts the mind in a better place than the cynical response to it.

“We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage.” — F.A. Hayek

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Peace and Silence; War and Words

I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.” — Psalm 120:7

I relate to the verse above less than I wish I did.

In reality, I often find myself being for peace, but when they speak, I am for war.

It is easy to be for peace when things are peaceful. But being for peace when you see people threatening, deceiving, and maligning is another matter. War rises up in the chest. The fiery, reactive energy of Mars quickens the pulse and short-circuits the deliberative mind.

Words reverberate an energy, and not always what the speaker intends. The Psalmist was attempting to speak peace, but his words caused a warlike reaction in the listeners.

I have practiced at speaking peace while everyone is for war. I have tried to resist being for war when I hear provocative speech. Sometimes it works, but not often.

Instead, the most peaceful words I’ve found are no words at all.

Times when I just walk away from the words that would make for war, I am able to regain a feeling of peace. Times when I speak back, no matter how hard I try to do so in peace, I feel conflict rise inside me, and follow me throughout the day.

Peace and silence have a tight relationship, just as war and words do.

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It’s Weird to Not Want Anarchy

Anarchy is simply the absence of rulers. It is not chaos, or bomb throwing, or communism.

The absence or rulers does not mean the absence of leaders or the absence of governance. It means the absence of a political ruler – a person or institution that claims the moral right to initiate violence.

Violence sucks. Nobody wants to resort to it. But there are times when everyone agrees it’s morally acceptable to use violence. These times are all in self-defense against someone who has initiated violence. Initiating violence against peaceful people is wrong.

Yet that is all that government is. I repeat, that is all that it is. The single distinguishing feature that makes government different than any other organization is that it claims the moral right to initiate violence. It can enslave or murder anyone it damn well pleases. You will pay its leaders money and obey their rules or they will kill you. Period. There is literally nothing else that defines government as apart from other institutions.

So to want government, or to not oppose government, is to want or not oppose the initiation of violence against peaceful people.

Everyone feels comfortable saying they want a world where nobody dies from cancer. Many people donate to and work towards that world. Nobody wants a world with murder, rape, famine, poverty, or infant death. Everyone openly says as much, and works towards that world.

No one says, “I want some rape in the world”, or, “I want a world where some children get murdered sometimes.” That would be weird.

It’s also weird to not want anarchy.

It’s weird to not desire a world where no one initiates violence against peaceful people. It’s weird to not want a world where interactions are voluntary, and violence is only used in self-defense.

Whether or not it’s achievable, you’d think, just like and end to cancer or poverty, people would at least want to achieve it. Oddly, anarchy is likely far more achievable than most of those other things, as their have been anarchic societies lasting hundreds of years and to my knowledge, no society has been without sickness, premature death, murder, poverty, etc.

Yet hardly anyone wants anarchy.

It’s due in part to confusion around definitions and meaning. Those who wield government power rely heavily upon people not realizing the stark reality of what government is – violence. So they create schools and propaganda and egghead ivory tower discussions and metaphors that abstract away from what government is. Words like anarchy are made synonymous with chaos, and words like law synonymous with order. Classic doublespeak.

So if asked whether they’d prefer a world where violence was only used defensively, versus one where one group of people got to use violence any time they wanted to force anyone they chose to do whatever they wanted, most people would probably say they’d prefer the former. Word magic prevents them from seeing that they just said they prefer anarchy, and most would never agree to it. They’d defend government without realizing the contradiction.

But it’s not only conceptual and linguistic confusion.

I suspect many people are unwilling to say they want a world without the initiation of violence because they want to reserve the right to have violence initiated on their behalf.

Nobody wants to admit it in those words. But most people get tired of peaceful persuasion, conflict resolution, tolerance, competition, and individual freedom. They say they want peace, but damnit if they get sick of hearing people speak a language they don’t, they’ll advocate sending men with guns to murder those people if they keep peacefully offering to rent from or work for their neighbors.

People want to protect that little corner of darkness in their hearts. The one that wants to go get the bully with the big stick to beat the shit out of people who won’t give money to their favorite cause, or live as they see fit.

That’s weird and gross.

We can only control ourselves. We must purge the darkness from our own hearts. The darkness that would use the tools of the state to aid in our personal aims. Those tools are always inferior to peace. Their practical results are always worse, and their spiritual corrosion inescapable.

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A Good Story Can’t Avoid Truth

My wife and I are rewatching the Matrix trilogy in preparation for the new movie.

The weird thing about it is that the story is so compelling despite constant efforts by the creators to make it suck.

They tap into the structures and patterns that make for a great, epic, heroic story. They’ve got that thing that a story needs to be great. But it feels like every time those elements become undeniable – when they story implies hierarchy, objective truth, clear morality – the writers freak out and try to undermine it.

It succeeds for a brief period. They subvert the very patterns that make the story so compelling in effort to run from the implications. Yet they seem still to want to tell a compelling story, and even after a reset, the story starts to show the same patterns again. So they try to subvert it again. Yet in trying to tell a good story it comes back. Over and over.

The trilogy would be better if they weren’t trying to run from what makes it great. But a good story emerges, with its structure, in spite of the efforts to avoid them.

I don’t think it’s possible to tell a good story without also conveying fundamental truths about reality.

Truths like the fact that people are not equal in talent, skill, ability, or potential (for good or evil). Truths like the fact that there is good and there is evil, and everything is not just a matter of perspective. Truths like the fact that there is purpose, that the individual is more important than the collective, that something outside of the individual is greater still. Truths like the fact that there are worse things than death. Sacrifice is real and necessary for goodness to succeed. Each individual is responsible for his or her choices. Small choices create big outcomes. Etc.

Some writers try to keep these things out of their stories. To the extent they succeed, they write bad stories. To the extent they write good stories, these elements keep emerging.

The very concept of a story is inexorably intertwined with these structures and patterns.

(I just remembered I wrote about the concept of Truth in art years ago in more depth.)

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Humor is a Sign of Life and Light

The more jokes are told in a culture, the healthier it is.

And the more things allowed to be joked about.

Individual jokes are not always good, or in good taste, or kind. They can be nasty and dark and uncalled for.

But the propensity to joke and allow jokes – the boundaries around what is laugh-at-able and how able a culture is to laugh – directly correlate with good things.

I’ve been heavily bummed out by what seems a decline in humor. Most of the bastions of at least reasonably funny stuff are utterly unfunny these days. There are beacons of light (often coming from the people who a mere decade ago were the least funny of all), but it seems culture is dominated by the weird, the ugly, the dark, the self-serious, the self-righteous, and the grave.

When I begin to get grumpy about this, I realize that being grumpy is the opposite of being funny. To combat the lack of laughs, I should start laughing or making others laugh, rather than complaining.

A good friend with a very dry wit used to say that being unfunny was the greatest crime. Theft, murder; these are forgivable. But an unfunny person?

On an individual level, the statement works as a joke. But on a culture-wide level, maybe it’s not just a joke. An unfunny culture may be the worse culture of all. When humor is not appreciated or tolerated, it’s a sign that the most dangerous things have taken hold.

On the flipside, laughter killed the devil.

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Limits and Limitations

Limits inspire you to break them. Limitations are the point beyond which you cannot go.

Limits are imposed externally and artificially shrink your freedom and identity. Limitations are inherent and internal and represent the boundaries of your being.

Constantly striving to overcome and reduce limits is a noble thing. Wishing away limitations leads to death.

Limits can be used as a tool, played with as a game, negotiated, or ignored. Limitations are a form of protection built into reality and can only be worked with.

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