Liberation: A Spiritual Hypothesis

I see two extremes in religious beliefs. On the one hand, during dark times people flock to religion for the promise of something better after death, since they have lost hope for something better in this life. On the flip side, people ignore religion, or are too distracted to engage themselves spiritually, when their lives are going well.

The first extreme has people waiting, even wishing, for death, and in doing so, they fail to take anything meaningful from life. Life is suffering, seems to be the message, and you just have to wait it out, and be an okay person in the meantime. It may be positive to encourage people to do good, but this is more or a sticks and carrots, heaven or hell sort of incentive: be good or you will be damned for eternity. It is more of a functional religion, keeping people relatively peaceful and placated while they pass their miserable existence.

Instead of working on spiritual awakening adherents are worried about where their next meal is coming from, or what disease will kill them if they aren’t murdered first.

The second extreme shows up in advanced societies where the standard of living has reached a certain point. Ironically, this might be the point to thank God, Allah, or Gaia, but instead people forget, or are distracted by their earthly concerns. People have responsibilities, jobs, hobbies, and toys which take up most of their time. Then, if they ever need a “deeper” distraction, there is politics, and a culture that keeps them in the rat race. Religion becomes an appointment on Sunday morning, or as necessary to keeping up with the neighbors as the new car. Spirituality is hardly a thought on the mind.

Instead of striving for a perfect soul, people strive for more money, more power, and higher social status.

The Problem: Overwhelming Earthly Concerns

The problem is that people are too worried about their earthly concerns either out of necessity of survival, or out of distraction by unimportant goals.

When people are hungry, they will do crazy things for survival. In actual poverty, it is all but impossible to focus the mind on anything but somehow figuring out how to live through the next day: what you will eat, where you will sleep. There can hardly be a long term strategy for life, let alone trying to figure out the afterlife. People need a certain standard of living in order to seriously explore and engage in spirituality and religion.

When a culture elevates unimportant goals that have no end and are impossible to achieve, people never conclude their attempts to gain whatever they are striving for. If someone wants power, there will be no point where they sigh in satisfied relief and say, “I did it”. There is no end to who can have the best car, best house, or best looks. These are earthly goals with fleeting fulfillment. They will always leave something to be desired, even if you “win” at certain points. People cannot pursue truly religious goals if they are working 60 hour weeks to have the newest everything, or shallowly trying to keep face with their peers. People cannot be spiritual if they fill that void with elections, gadgets, or alcohol.

The Solution: Liberation

Earthly goals are not necessarily a bad thing. We are on this earth for some reason, so it makes sense to accomplish tangible earth things. And as I’ve mentioned, a certain level of disregard for earthly things like food and shelter can be just as spiritually distracting as pop culture.

What I propose is a two part solution for the individual, as for society, as each are a reflection of the other. Life should be lived in two phases; an earthly phase of real world accomplishment, and a spiritual phase of religious learning, soul searching, and acquiring inner peace. The two phases need not be purely separated necessarily, as each person’s journey will be unique. But generally speaking, first liberate your earthly self, then liberate your soul, eternal energy, or mind.

Liberation has just one tenet, and it is the golden rule found in many major religions and spiritual teachings. Treat others as you wish to be treated (unless you’re a masochist). Simply put, initiate no harm to others. Never be the aggressor.

Phase One: Liberate Your Earthy Self

Society: By truly accepting and adhering to the only tenet of liberation, you will set in motion the societal change which will bolster phase two. Liberation does not require social acceptance to work, but as I’ve said, society mirrors the individual, and vice versa. The more individuals who liberate themselves, the greater their reflection on society will be, thus creating more individual liberation. The growth of liberation could therefore be exponential which will assist the masses in their spiritual awakening–though any one individual can liberate themselves with or without the greater society.

For some it will be easier to liberate the earthly self than others, based on the luck of the circumstances they were born into. In a sense, these individuals have a greater responsibility to liberate themselves. The goal is to eventually raise the standard of living for every individual on earth to the point where they no longer need to worry about necessities, and can therefore follow liberation to a spiritual awakening.

There is no requirement on any individual following liberation to give their wealth away, or necessarily help others–though it is usually a good idea to do so. Rather what follows from personal liberation is advancement and wealth which raises the standard of living for all. When every individual is responsible for their actions, they will reap the rewards and suffer the consequences. This is liberation, and it can only be accomplished by individuals, not by edict.

Currently smart mobile devices in Africa are revolutionizing how money changes hands, so that people can produce and trade for the goods they need to survive, without worrying about getting robbed of all their earnings. Only because someone earlier, on a different continent, accomplished their goal of creating a smartphone, can essentially all of humanity currently use the devices to their individual benefit. The same has been the case with most inventions and technology throughout history; that it proliferates after initially only being available to a few. Therefore simply by liberating themselves, free people will create and trade, which will inevitably spread the wealth they create to the masses.

Charity can be a very useful tool, but it should never be required: forcing charitable contributions would break the only tenet of liberation. Therefore adherents to liberation who believe in charity must effectively convince others of their cause, or set the example in using charity effectively to advance the cause of liberation, and therefore the cause of humanity.

Eventually, as liberation philosophy progresses, the standard of living will be high enough so that no individual needs to worry about survival, and can therefore pursue a fulfilling earthly goal absent any financial and material considerations.

Individuals: Liberation of the earthly self will come in many forms, as we are vastly different individuals with different interests and goals. Keep in mind that unlike the corrupting goals mentioned earlier which cannot be accomplished or executed (i.e. more power, more wealth, “the best” clothes or gadgets), the goals set forth in phase one of liberation must be attainable, with a specific end.

“Become rich,” would not be a good goal, because it is not well defined what rich means, and could always lead to wanting more. “Building a million dollar company,” would be a better goal, because it has a finite ending. Still though, if you want a million dollar company so that you can buy a nice car, this is a fleeting goal. If you want a million dollar company because you believe in the product or service you are selling, this is a meaningful goal.

Really you want your goals for liberating yourself to reflect what you will need for a high enough standard of living to successfully complete phase two–though as liberation progresses and the standard of living rises, this will be of less concern. But you also want your phase one goals to be about the accomplishment in itself, and not necessarily for what you can do with the fruits of the accomplishment. Do what makes you feel most free, as long as it does not harm anyone.

For example, my phase one goal might be a self sufficient homestead. This will give me a place to live during phase two, for little cost, while giving me the opportunity to produce passive income, which makes me feel more secure if I were to need money in a pinch. A homestead would also put me in an environment that feels natural to me where I can truly be myself, and live happily and healthily. I want the life that the homestead can give me, but the homestead itself also makes me happy.

Currently phase one can still be rather stressful, as it is hard enough saving for retirement, let alone somehow shaping your life to perfectly suit you in phase two, where you ideally do not need to work, and can devote yourself to spirituality. But having specific tangible goals can help. Most people go through life being prescribed their goals: a mortgage, a good job, a nice car, etc. But many of the things we waste our money, and therefore our time and labor on, do not contribute to long term happiness or spiritual growth.

For someone who craves security, phase two might not start until retirement, when enough has been saved to live comfortably. For the adventurous sort, phase two might start at age 25 after they have saved up enough for a van to travel the country. Some might feel truly themselves at work, and therefore can move onto phase two while still happily employed. Cut whatever societal chains which keep you in slavery.

The point of phase one is to use the material earthly world to accomplish something that is freeing in and of itself, but that will also help you remain free in stage two. This need not necessarily be wealth either; mentally speaking, having helped orphans or provided food for the homeless might be the only accomplishment necessary to move onto phase two. Having created a successful business might be less about if it made you wealthy, and more about the confidence in your own abilities the experience gave you. Perhaps skills you gain in phase one will make you more liberated for whatever path you choose to follow in stage two.

And those who feel they cannot do what they wish to do because of the current unjust power structure must find ways to peacefully undermine those forces. If you are adhering to the one tenet, the golden rule that you will not initiate harm on anyone, then you are doing nothing wrong. You are morally superior to those who wish to curtail your peaceful activities, and should find solace and accomplishment in subverting them. Their failure to enslave is your liberation.

We all have different comfort levels with risk, and different desires, which is why it is impossible to prescribe a specific phase one path for everyone. In that sense, the spiritual journey starts in phase one with trying to figure out what earthly goals are calling you, and what will truly free you. But just make sure phase one accomplishments are not something you must suffer through. Accomplishment is not always fun, but it should be a rewarding, liberating, process.

Phase Two: Liberate Your Eternal Being

Society: It is true that some who are not adherents to liberation will attempt to harm you. These are the same entities which keep those with a high standard of living focused on shallow earthly desires like possessions and power. When people are afraid to lose their possessions, and competing for power, they accept violations of the golden rule based on the belief that it will help their earthly self. It is a sad irony that the earthly individual would have a higher standard of living if everyone adhered to the tenet of liberation, and would therefore have the chance to focus truly on more than the earthly self.

But remember, there is hope! As more people participate in phase one of liberation, the more society will reflect the philosophy, and therefore attacks on liberated individuals will wane. This means the power structure will erode and crumble, leaving no method of manipulating the masses towards materialistic goals, and aggression.

As society begins to follow the golden rule, the one tenet of liberation, it will add yet another level of security to be able to live out phase two in peace. Rejection of harming, threatening, and forcing others will grow with liberation, and soon the tiny minority who have always initiated and wielded violence will disperse in fear of the liberated masses. Liberation in both phases one and two helps to subvert the unjust and evil power these individuals currently exercise. Of course hope is not lost for those who currently do evil; they may yet repent, and liberate themselves as well.

Everyone within phase two will have already completed their earthly goals of liberation, showing the younger generations that it can be done, and encouraging them to do whatever necessary to liberate themselves. The “authorities” and their coercion will soon become an afterthought, a small hurdle before they become extinct. If living the liberated peaceful life you want to live is rebellion of the system, then let’s all be rebels. Help those who may be in harm’s way, simply because they are rightfully liberating themselves.

Individuals: People have surely been reaching phase two of liberation since the dawn of time, without labeling it as such, and have practiced the philosophy without society’s acceptance or approval. It simply takes a person who can rise above the judgement of their peers. Compete with yourself to become happier every day, to get one step closer to ultimate liberation of the soul.

Liberation is an umbrella philosophy which encourages individuals to find their spiritual way by considering numerous possibilities. A person may well decide that the religion they grew up with is the best fit for them, but they should not do this without first exploring various religions and spiritual teachings. What most people will probably find is that melding different religious philosophies gives a deeper spiritual awareness.

If you want to truly know as much as possible about a historical event, you can’t just read one account and assume it to be fact. The best way to understand history is to triangulate the perspectives of various historians, first hand documents, science surrounding artifacts, and events leading up to, and coming after the historical event. The search for truth in liberating the spirit, mind, or soul should be similar, in that you come at the issue of the afterlife, being, or ultimate truth from multiple angles.

For some this will mean travelling the world to immerse themselves in every religious tradition they can find. For others it might mean becoming more involved in their local church they have always belonged to, and reaching out to other individuals, in order to learn. Some may look for spiritual answers in science, history, or mathematics. Others may look for spiritual guidance from hallucinogens–though a word of caution is in order that drugs should never be used to permanently attain a higher spiritual level, but rather give one an example for a useful mindset for looking at humanity and spirituality.

The goal is that after years of study, exploration, critical thought, meditation, and whatever else it takes, an individual arrives at a religious or spiritual philosophy that works for them to happily complete their life cycle. Some may settle on a specific religion, others a melded philosophy of spirituality and religions. Some may follow their own unique path, or start traditions that help them and their friends find peace. One person may believe that we reincarnate until we live the perfect life, and find ultimate peace within. Another may conclude that we are all higher beings in a complex simulation that is testing our fortitude in a material world.

Some may decide when all is said and done that this is simply a material world without a higher anything; but that too is fine, as long as it brings the individual what they need. Liberation is still a philosophy that encourages a happy, fruitful human existence, so even if one is an atheist after stage two, they should be able to look back at their life with satisfaction, knowing that they accomplished a meaningful goal, and followed their desires without harming others, enjoying what life has to offer, and always striving for the deepest truth possible.

Liberation encourages living a fruitful life, striving for higher meaning, and passing on in peace, liberated.

Synergy

Don’t misconstrue the two phases to mean you cannot be religious, or explore spirituality in phase one. Pursue the ultimate knowledge whenever you get the urge and have the time! My only point in breaking liberation into two phases is that you do not need to forgo the material world in order to properly experience spiritual growth. We are here on this earth for a reason, and only by experiencing what earth has to offer can we grow from that experience.

In general, spirituality and religion is less on the mind when young and full of energy. Harness this energy, and pursue those earthly goals, as long as they are not ultimately destructive. Chances are your early earthly experiences will greatly set the tone for your later spiritual journey. But the phases are just one way of thinking about liberation, and could conceivably (and certainly will at points) be mixed up, reversed, mingled, and intertwined.

The main thing to take away is that liberation is absolutely crucial to a healthy earthly existence, and completely necessary for any considerations of an eternal soul or being. Your human body must be used for what is was intended, and that is to live a fruitful life on earth free to do anything that does not hurt others. And your soul must be explored for what is was intended, and the journey to spiritual liberation will be an exciting one.

Think of the young in poverty, with no opportunity to make something of their lives, which skews the perspective on what may lie beyond. Think of the youth in advanced society, with no direction, no desire, and no motivation. They are pushed this way and that by the power structure, used as pawns, and left empty and bitter by the coercion they feel dictating their every move.

This will end with liberation. Individuals will reclaim their youth for the exciting, invigorating journey of creation and accomplishment it was always meant to be! No more dead end jobs, no more broken promises, smashed dreams, or stolen opportunities. When we liberate ourselves, there is no height to which individuals cannot take this world.

Think of the elderly in poverty, waiting to die to stop burdening their families who already have so little. Think of the elderly with high living standards, waiting to die because they don’t know what else to do, and have forgotten what it means to have otherworldly goals.

This will be no more in liberation. Under liberation the seasoned, the accomplished, will reclaim their position as spiritual elders whose purpose is to guide the younger generations in their life phases with knowledge, experience and example. There will be no end of life regrets, but instead the dying will pass on satisfied, surrounded by those they love, knowing that whoever is left behind will have an equally glorious life.

The whole will become greater than the sum of its parts. Society will see a spiritual awakening brought on by individuals who decide to liberate themselves. It requires no evangelizing, as simply seeing free people stokes the desire to become liberated. It is a movement that has already begun, and cannot be stopped. Already individuals are living the lives they want to live, regardless of what the sick sad system has to say. These individuals will become the spiritual leaders of the next great awakening on earth. The spiritual renaissance is upon us.

Start Today

Begin pursuing phase one of liberation today. You might already know what that is: the business you want to start, the skill you want to gain, the group you want to help, the book you want to write, or whatever else will make you independent and fruitful. You want to be in control of your own destiny, and let go of the things you cannot control.

Liberate yourself! Let go of the fear the controllers of society shove down your throat. Become as free as possible; in doing so not only will your own life be drastically improved, but your positive energy will infect those around you. Let go of the burdens society has foisted upon you without your consent. Take control of your life and set it up the way you want it.

Liberate your soul! Dissolve the distractions and take a journey with your spirit. Become more connected with others, with yourself, and with a higher realm. Seek ultimate truth, being honest with yourself, and those around you.

Join me, in liberation!

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A Day Mirrors a Life: Use This Life for a Better “Tomorrow”

Many things mirror each other. A brain cell looks curiously similar to the universe, and atoms look like they belong magnified floating in space alongside solar systems. So wouldn’t it make sense if other things mirrored large events on a small scale?

I am talking about a day. We wake up groggy, sometimes forgetting where we are or what we have to do, confused by our fleeting dreams. But energy soon returns, we gain focus, and set out with purpose to conquer the day’s activities. Sometimes it is a good day, sometimes bad, sometimes boring, sometimes exciting! Hopefully we don’t waste too much time, but still have fun! It is good to accomplish some goals, but not be too stressed out or uptight. You have to enjoy the present, but not to the extent that it makes tomorrow harder. And then each night we start to grow tired again, we realize there is only so much more we can do with the time we have, and eventually we go to sleep.

In a life, we are born confused and crying. There is no recollection before birth, except for a few special people here and there that seem to remember details of a past life. As our lives go on, we grow, gain focus on what we want to do with that life. We have ups and downs, as every life has, and some lives could be categorized as overall good, or overall bad, overall mundane, or overall stimulating. We have goals large and small that we attempt to accomplish, and some people get caught up in planning for the future without really enjoying the moments of their lives. Others fulfill momentary hedonistic urges, which puts their future happiness in jeopardy. In the end it comes to a close, the sun begins to set, and our energy fades. We die and go to sleep.

But when we sleep we wake again. And where we wake up depends entirely on where we went to sleep the night before. The obstacles facing us the next day could have been increased by the previous days activities, or eased. Sometimes we wake up hungover, and what we did yesterday makes the entire new day more difficult. Sometimes we drank a glass of water before bed, said our prayers or meditated, and wake up refreshed, ready to start the day off with an energizing run, or watch the sun rise with a cup of coffee.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead attempts to help people transition from earth to the in-between and then back to earth again, unless ultimate enlightenment is achieved. What you do in one life effects where you will start the next life. I don’t personally know what type of life will put you where, but using the microcosm of a day, I think it is a safe bet to say living a good day makes a better tomorrow that much more likely. Therefore living a better life will make the next life that much better.

In a lifetime, I would imagine the ultimate goal is to die happy, surrounded by those you love, at peace. This could be compared to ultimate enlightenment. Did you improve others’ lives? Did you help create and grow healthy humans who will radiate their energy positively towards others? Did you bring people joy, help people grow, and increase the combined positive energy of the world or environment you inhabited?

Tibetan Buddhism even suggests practicing the transition from the earth self to the in between self by attempting to remain cognizant while falling asleep, and lucid while dreaming. This mirrors what will happen when we die, so it is a way to practice. It is a way to carry all the positive energy from one life into the next, the way we are able (though we don’t always do it) to carry positive energy from one day to the next.

And this all means we should live each day like a mini lifetime. After all, each day, all combined, is what will make up our life. Each atom, all combined, is what makes up the universe. Perhaps each lifetime, all combined, will determine the ultimate health and state of our souls.

Dragon Chasers

Dragons are notorious teases. It is well known that dragons can recognize someone that they have only met once, and one meeting with a dragon is all you ever get. They are creatures of novelty. At best they are bored if you attempt to find them again, and their lairs are strewn with the bones of the victims of obsession.

The ones who don’t waste away on their quest to find the dragon they once met; well it is hard to tell if they are lucky or not. The only people who find the dragon a second time are killed by him. See, the dragon doesn’t care about anyone. The only reason he doesn’t kill at first contact is the dragon’s interest in a new obsessor.

Personally, I never cared to see a dragon. While it is rare he kills someone who sees him for the first time, the thought of being that close to a two-ton fire breathing monster terrifies me. And then suppose I become obsessed? Lots of people think they can just find the dragon once and be done, but there’s a dark magic in dragons that we don’t completely understand.

When I first met Akamu, I didn’t know he had ever met a dragon. He had a job and a hut, and seemed to be just a normal island boy. But Akamu didn’t want to hide anything from me. One day I met him at his hut, and we walked back to mine. I could tell he was nervous, and finally he spoke up.

“I should probably just turn around now,” Akamu said, “You won’t want to hang out with me when I tell you, but… I’ve met a dragon.”

I was surprised. Akamu didn’t look like the typical dragon chaser. They tended to become so obsessed with catching their dragon that they forgot to eat. And most of them had scars and burns from close calls with dragons.

“I haven’t gone on an expedition in six months,” he explained. “All the same, most people don’t want to associate with dragon chasers.”

“Everyone makes mistakes,” I said. “If you’re done with dragons, I want to stay friends. But if you ever decide to chase the dragon again, I won’t hang around.”

I had known others who were killed by a dragon after trying to catch him, and didn’t want to watch that happen to someone I cared about.

Everything was fine for a while; Akamu and I swam in the ocean, and hiked up mountains. Akamu heard that a friend of his had been killed by a dragon, and this was tough for him.

We laid under palm trees, we basked in the sun. Akamu found out that another friend of his had been eaten by a dragon, which made him very sad.

I had to go out fishing on a boat for a week. Akamu and I knew we would miss each other, but it was only a week. When I got back on the island I ran to Akamu’s hut to say hello.

Akamu was staring at a chart of the island, eyes darting back and forth across it. His hair was longer and messy, and he was much skinnier, more skinny than it would seem possible to become in only a week. He didn’t look like he had gotten much sleep either. He just furiously scribbled notes. He was planning another expedition to catch the dragon he once met.

“Just go,” Akamu said to me, “I can’t stop now. Hearing about my friends… it was too much to think about. But when I am chasing the dragon, I don’t think about anything else.”

I didn’t understand. How could he be comforted by his quest for the dragon, when his friends had died engulfed in the dragon’s flames?

Another lonely week passed, but island wisdom says there is not much we can do for dragon chasers; they have to abandon their obsession on their own. Then, when I was walking in the woods, I saw flames shoot into the sky. I ran towards the fire to find Akamu huddling crouched outside his hut, while it burnt to the ground. Akamu had a burn on his arm.

“He was so close!” Akamu said. “The dragon was so close I could almost touch him.” He started to cry. “I can’t do this! I don’t want to chase him anymore, I wish I had never met that dragon!”

I helped Akamu up, and we started walking back to my hut. He wanted to take a different path, so we walked up a hill, and over a cascading river. Around the corner he stopped and looked toward some rocks.

“There’s a cave in there.” Akamu said. “That’s where I first met him. Sometimes he returns here, and you can see him flying over the valley”.

His eyes were glazed over, and he seemed to forget the world around him as he stared into the cave. A song about dragons came to him, and he smiled as he hummed it. But I didn’t smile. I saw the cave drawing him in.

“Let’s go Akamu. This is the last time you should come here,” I said, and he agreed.

After spending the night in my hut, Akamu and I walked down the island until we came to the beach where small but well built huts were kept. The island people all chipped in to build these huts as far away from the mountainous dragon lairs as possible. Dragon chasers could come to this beach, and rest easy, knowing that they would not spot a dragon in the skies.

I let Akamu be, and after a few weeks, he was looking and acting like his normal self again. Akamu was grateful to me that I helped him abandon his dragon chasing quest. Since his hut had burned down, Akamu came to stay with me while he figured out the best way to move on, and not again catch the obsession with dragons.

One day, I heard Akamu get up early and leave the hut. I hoped that he was going to find another job. When he returned he seemed distracted and aloof. I was suspicious but didn’t want to jump to any conclusions.

But then in the middle of the night, I heard a rustling. I got up and found Akamu at the table, pouring over a map. It was labeled with the movements of his dragon, and the most likely places the dragon was to be found.

Akamu was surprisingly efficient at chasing the dragon. He was capable of organizing a fruitful expedition on a moments notice, with hardly any supplies. In fact he was so adept at chasing the dragon, it would have been a marketable skill… if there was a market for chasing dragons.

Akamu’s initial defensiveness quickly turned into sadness and shame.

“I don’t want this obsession,” he cried, “But I just can’t get away from it! I wish I never saw a dragon, it ruined my life.”

“But your life isn’t over, Akamu,” I said. “You are so young!”

“How can I get away from dragon chasing though? Everywhere I go I am reminded of him–his breath is in the camp fire; the glisten of the sun on the waves, becomes the shimmer of his scales. There is nowhere I can go, it is all I think about!”

“When we swam together you didn’t seem distracted. When we ran through the hilly trails, were you thinking about the dragon then?” I asked this dejected.

All the time spent with Akamu had been the best time for me.

“No,” Akamu said, “I didn’t think about dragons then.”

“I know I can’t replace what chasing the dragon gives you,” I said. “But can’t I be your reason to stop looking?”

“It’s not fair to you!” Akamu said. “Dragon chasers are playing with fire, we wrestle with a two ton monster! We can’t have people that we care about.”

“I care about you Akamu, I don’t have a choice in that.” I said. “If you can try to forget about dragons, I can be here for you”.

Akamu shook his head, “But this is what happens to dragon chasers! I can’t promise you I will never pick up another map and start another quest, all I can do is take it day by day.”

“Well, let’s start today,” I said, and walked with Akamu back to the huts on the other side of the island.

As I left and walked back to my hut alone with the setting sun on my back, I started thinking. This was the second time since I had known Akamu that he once again started chasing dragons. I told him that I couldn’t be around him if he continued, but then I didn’t follow through with my ultimatum.

Each time that Akamu went back to chasing dragons, I went back to chasing Akamu. But there was a relief in it. Something in me told me that I could make progress. Something told me if I kept chasing Akamu, then I could get back to the place where we happily began.

Was Akamu as elusive as the dragon he sought? Was I caught up in my own kind of obsession, desiring love from Akamu?

Akamu told me that if I’m involved with a dragon chaser, I can’t expect him to forget his obsession forever.

I told Akamu that if he’s involved with me, he can’t expect me to remember my obsession forever.

Sometimes Posts are Better as a Series

I will be on vacation this week, on a cruise with no internet, so I won’t be posting. I have, therefore, assembled some suggested reading from past posts.

Do you like the weird philosophical posts about what life is, who we are as individuals, and what happens next? Read the following posts as a series:

What if Life is Just our Souls Playing Video Games?

Sleeping and Dreaming: Does this fit with my Souls Playing Video Games Theory?

Humanity is a Puzzle, and We Are the Pieces.

What if we only Age Because We Expect to Age?

Cherish Your Time as an Individual.

Do you like the encouraging self help style posts that energize you to do what you love, and never give up on your dreams, or being happy?

The Legend of (Your Name Here).

Don’t Be Scared into the Status Quo: Ordering off the Menu versus Building Your Own Life.

Breaking the Cycle: From Ideas to Action.

Addicted to Happiness: The Brain is Your Dopamine Dealer.

Do it for the Perspective: Money Isn’t the Only Valuable.

Enjoy! You will all hear from me again soon!

Humanity is a Puzzle, and We are the Pieces

In my humble opinion, a good analogy to describe humanity is a puzzle. When put together, a puzzle becomes one; it forms an image that cannot be gathered from any individual piece of the puzzle. The end goal of course is to have one complete puzzle, but what makes it a puzzle? If it were a photograph or a painting, it would be one cohesive entity. The unique thing about a puzzle is that it is made up of individual pieces that must fit together in order to form the larger image.

And that makes us, each individual, a puzzle piece. As pieces, we are not whole when the puzzle lies apart, deconstructed. We desire to fit in seamlessly with the pieces around us. But we need not host the entire image, we are only each a small piece that makes up the entire image. Do not confuse being an individual piece, however, with being expendable.

You see, every puzzle piece is unique. No other piece can take its place and still form the proper larger image. A puzzle is incomplete if even one of the pieces is lost or destroyed. This makes the individual pieces as important as the larger image. The larger image cannot exist without the individuals that make it up.

The reason I am explaining this is that some seem to view individuals as unimportant and worthless. I wholeheartedly disagree. Without individuals, there is no humanity, so how can you say that the pieces which make up the whole are unimportant? What many mean is that any one piece is not important for the larger structure to come together.

Again, I disagree. Something will be missing in the larger picture if we do not treat each individual as the important, unique puzzle piece they are. We are all connected, or at least the potential for us to all be connected exists. As individual puzzle pieces, our ultimate desire is to become one.

This is akin to what many religions believe happens after death. The reason we cannot imagine paradise, heaven, or perpetual bliss is because we are coming from the perspective of a puzzle piece, and the ultimate reward is to exist as a puzzle, all put together with no missing pieces.

I see this as the source of hate, jealousy, fear, regret, doubt, and insecurity. We are uncomfortable existing as puzzle pieces when we know our ultimate and complete state is as one puzzle. But we are comforted when we connect to other puzzle pieces around us. It feels right to love. It feels right to be connected to those people around you with whom you fit.

We desire to be part of a group, but the group needs the right pieces in order to exist. The parts must not be random, there are specific pieces that fit into other pieces. This is what our lives are about, understanding our own shape as a puzzle piece so that we may find the pieces with which we seemlessly fit, doing our part to complete the puzzle, and become whole.

And when you are a part of a group, a loving family, a tight knit cluster of friends, you feel a glimpse of that joy that comes from being whole. Of course the entire puzzle may not be constructed, but we relax and feel in control when our own section starts to form. And darkness overcomes us when we try to force two pieces to fit together, when they are not meant to.

So remember, do not destroy or damage other pieces, as the whole picture will then be unable to come together. Each puzzle piece is important, including yourself. Connect with those that you fit with, but do not force a connection when it is wrong. In time you will all be one, but the puzzle must be naturally constructed.

And when all the pieces fall tightly into place and we exist as a puzzle, as one, we will all forget what it felt like to be a piece of a puzzle, and live on endlessly as one, unfathomably content because we are complete.

Addicted to Happiness: The Brain is Your Dopamine Dealer

I decided to see if there was any science behind the fact that I love vacations (I know, who doesn’t?) and it seems to alter my brain activity. What I found suggests that, like many other enjoyable things, more dopamine is released when you are on vacation enjoying yourself. You see, I may actually be addicted to vacationing.

In the past, dopamine rewarded humans by being released to promote survival. Psychology Today uses an example of a berry patch being found, which promoted survival for primitive humans. So the next time they saw a berry patch, or something that last time led to a berry patch, dopamine is released. This ensures the brain is rewarding things that will help you survive.

But it is not always like that these days, probably because it is so easy to survive. An alcoholic gets a dose of dopamine when he sees a bar, and a doctor when he finishes a surgery. I get a dose of dopamine when I explore a new city. But if I always went to the same city, my brain would not release as much dopamine, so I would need to find a new place to explore in order to get the old “high”.

I made this from Caribbean shells that I picked up in February on my cruise, and first vacation of the year. I attached them to a piece of palm bark from Georgia on my way home from my last vacation of the year. Even though I can't always be on vacation, I can bring back the memories and feelings when I see my little creation.

I made this from Caribbean shells that I picked up in February on my cruise, the first vacation this year. I attached them to a piece of palm bark from Georgia that I found on my way home from my last vacation of the year. Even though I can’t always be on vacation, I can bring back the memories and feelings when I see my little creation.

This is the same thing that happens with setting, working towards, and accomplishing goals. Each of these things encourages your brain to release dopamine, thus helping you on your way to “survival”. When I talk about this small goal/ large goal paradigm to promote happiness, this is the scientific explanation behind it.

Everything that makes your brain release dopamine will inevitably get old, or run its course, which is why you need to always have different types of goals you are working towards and accomplishing. Once you accomplish a goal though, your brain is going to want another. Otherwise, the absence of dopamine will make you feel sad. That is why it is important to diversify your goals, and your hobbies.

Work goals should not be your only source of dopamine, because then you might not be happy when you are at home. And hobbies cannot be your only source of dopamine, because then you will become irritated in other settings. The Psychology Today article points out that we need to make peace with our “unhappy” brain chemicals in order to reap the full benefits of the “happy” chemicals like dopamine.

Eventually your brain will be rewired to the point where it knows it can survive the unhappy chemicals. It is like replacing instant gratification with long term rewards. If you can wait it out, and weather the boring or unhappy times, the dopamine reward in your brain will be that much better when it comes.

If the chemistry behind your feelings interests you, check out the Psychology Today article. It also talks about the other “happy chemicals” that course through your brain. If dopamine equals success, serotonin equals importance, oxytocin trust, and endorphins “brief euphoria that masks physical pain”.

They are all released by our brains to promote survival, though congruent with my theory, our brain is essentially still serving cave man needs. That is why it is important and beneficial to understand our brains, so that we can usher them into the modern era, and make them work for us, instead of being a slave to our brain chemicals.

Do It For The Perspective: Money Isn’t the Only Valuable

I’m back! As in, vacation me which is my natural state of happy existence. Even my cousin could tell the change in tone from when I started this blog in July, and as of late. But there is something about getting out there, seeing new things, and talking to new people that breaks down this mundane and lethargic shell. The shell that says it is not that important to enjoy every minute of life, the shell that convinces us money is more important than living life to the fullest.

[By the way I’m going to mix in pictures of Barrow throughout this post for no apparent reason other than it makes me happy.]

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Being a relatively responsible person, I was a bit stressed about money before this trip. And it helped that I spent about $70 fewer dollars on gas on the way down. But really at the end of the day, I know I am not going to go into crippling debt. So why would I let a few hundred dollars make or break a vacation?

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So of course my advice to you all is go do it. Whatever it may be for you. Catch up with college friends, family members; this week will hopefully be full of that (as long as you don’t get snowed in). The more often I change my scenery, the easier it is for me to understand that it is far more important to live than exist. But it is a good thing I planned this trip far off, because when I am out of real-me-mode, it does seem a lot easier and cheaper to just stay home. If I had waited until last week to make a decision on this trip, I probably wouldn’t have taken it. Kind of like my New York City trip, where I was on the edge until the night before: “It is going to be such a hassle!”

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Yea, you know what, it is a hassle. And everything in the world is a cost benefit balance. The benefits of enjoying myself and growing as a person far outweigh the monetary, time, and energy costs of taking these trips. I don’t see the family that is down here super often, so having the chance to connect over the last few days (and the next) has been amazing. What if I had forgone this trip, and not spent time with my relatives, reconnecting, and getting to know each other more? Well maybe it wouldn’t have been so noticeable on the outside, but really it would be another crack in the pillar of happiness. Instead, I threw down some mortar, and popped another block on top of that pillar.

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Perspective is valuable.

In a material society it is hard to place value on things that you can’t hold in your hand, or buy for $300. But maybe we should stop thinking of our lives as separated: the family self, the friend self, the work self. Maybe it is time to think of skills and knowledge as something that will make us whole. Life experiences should grow you as a person, not separate you into different people. It could help to think less of, “How will this increase my earning potential?” or “Is this the most I could gain during my only 6 hours off this week?”

I used to only read non-fiction political books. I wanted to go into politics (what was wrong with me?!) so I didn’t want to waste my time reading non-fiction. This is especially ironic since I am now writing fiction books; turns out all that fiction wasn’t a waste of time! But even if I didn’t want to write, it would not have been a waste of my time. That is because A, it was enjoyable, and enjoying your time is not a waste, and B, perspective!

How can you think you know what is up with the world if you have only viewed it from one angle? How can you think you know yourself if you have only viewed you from one angle. I’m finding I like vacation me best. I’m more positive and I have more fun. It is a struggle to keep that attitude while not on vacation, but at least I have a marker, a goal. When do you like yourself the most? That is the real you. You do you.

Perspective makes you less judgmental.

Yesterday I stopped by an outdoor bar on the Gulf of Mexico. I ordered a Yuengling which just so happened to help strike up a conversation with the grey goateed man with a Harley hat named Eric sitting next to me. He was from Philadelphia, where one of the breweries is based, and my bartender was asking me if I noticed a difference between southern and northern Yuengling because of the different brewing locations (I didn’t).

So anyway we get to talking and he is telling me about all the redneck guys in the area. Sure, there was some poking fun at them, but the crux of the story was that they were some of the nicest guys he has met. One big burly man walked up to Eric while Eric was with his friends. “Is that Eric?” The friends tensed up, was trouble brewing? “JOE!!” Yells Eric and jumps to his feet to give Joe a big bear hug, because that is how they greet each other whenever they cross paths.

At a local bar Eric once walked in, and some ZZ Top looking fellas said (or maybe it was their beer that said it), “Who’s this f**ing guy?” Eric just laughed, “How you doing boys”, and bought them each a round of beer ($2.50 for a PBR, not bad). The rest of the night, they were like old friends. Now THAT is how to diffuse a situation. Eric had perspective, and was not going to be brought down. Turns out he was a Sociology major, just like me.

Perspective makes you less stressed out.

It could be so much worse. I could have been left alone from 15 up raising a younger sibling while Dad just dropped off groceries once a week. Maybe that is why he can’t read so well. I could be called weekly by a parent’s neighbors to come round them up. Maybe that is where his stress comes from. Those are real people I met: awesome people who are productive, nice, and don’t complain.

I’m not immune, I still complain. But the more perspective you get, the more pathetic you feel for complaining that you had to wait 30 minutes to get picked up from CCD (you like the plug Mom and Dad?). Oh right, and I have a Mom and Dad who care enough to encourage me with what I want to do (even though it doesn’t make me money yet), and read my work. Thanks 🙂

I could break down on the drive home halfway back. But you know what? I wouldn’t be alone. Yea, physically I would. But it would not rest solely on my shoulders to get me out of there, and that is priceless. How can I be stressed out when I think of the worst that could happen, and it really isn’t that bad.

I’m happy, I’m grateful, I’m energetic, and I want you all to be too! I love positive people. Be positive. It is not always a competition, you can encourage others without feeling less about yourself. Do what you love, when possible don’t stress. Set goals, big and small. But most important, don’t just exist, live.

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Joe Jarvis’ Bogus Journey

On Wednesday I will be departing the north once more to drive down to Florida for a visit with my aunt and cousin, and to spend Thanksgiving with them. Vacations, especially this year, have been what invigorates me and keeps me flowing with energetic and hopeful blood! And hopefully, this time I won’t have to drive through a snowstorm until North Carolina.

So fully expect my posts when I come back to be better. Better in the almost delusional tone that was presented when I started this blog, fresh off an amazing week in the New Hampshire Mountains at a campground with so many other likeminded and friendly individuals.

In February, I went on my first cruise, which besides Canada was also my first time out of the country. It flicked a switch in my mind. I knew I liked to travel, but I didn’t really know to what degree. Maybe it was the vitamin D, or the magic of the Caribbean, or perhaps those Mexican beers had a special ingredient, but when I returned, I was happier, more talkative, extremely positive, and invigorated!

But that was without being inspired at my core. Yes I love everything about vacationing, cruising, and tropical islands, but the event in June appealed to my base values and worldview. PorcFest (which has nothing to do with meat, it is short for Porcupine Freedom Festival) is like a cross between the annual summit for my political interests, and burning man. It is Woodstock for my ilk, hippies for freedom, survivalists for peace. And strangely enough this political type event inspired me to create a blog devoted to everything but politics.

I already had my politics shtuff going, and what ran through my veins after PorcFest was a life force. There was so much I wanted to do with the information and feelings that came to me over that week! But political avenues are notoriously frustrating and often futile. So I decided to spread my positive energy via another platform: this everything-but-politics blog.

Now I am generally a positive person, and I like to be outgoing. Some might find this shocking, but I am not actually the most naturally outgoing person. So sometimes I need to almost trick myself, or at least set myself up so that my future self will do what my current self wants him to do.

You see, it would be easy for me to think of all these cool quirky things I want to do on my way down, back, and in Florida. But if the only thing holding me to that is… well, me, than the only person I could let down is… me.

Thus, I am creating a list, almost scavenger hunt-y, and sharing it here for my little goals during my trip. And once I tell the internet about my plans, I feel to ignore them would not only let myself down, but others as well.

On the way down I may be like, “Uhg, I don’t feel like talking to strangers!” But if it is on my list, I might force myself out of my comfort zone. And in the end, that type of situation almost always ends with me glad I did socialize, or whatever the circumstances.

This is even more important since I am going it alone this time! Which is also a big step out of my comfort zone; I’ve never taken a road trip this far by myself. But that’s part of growing as a person, busting apart our comfort zones, and experiencing things without our embedded reservations. It’s worked out for me so far.

So here are some ideas for me. Nothing crazy, just got to get my Excellent Adventure juices flowing.

  • Start at least 2 conversations with strangers, preferably during the drive down. (A stranger starting a conversation with me does not count towards this)
  • Find out someone’s unique philosophy on life and compare it to my own.
  • Get to the coast, and take in the beach and ocean. Try to scoop in enough to last me until February.
  • Find a wild edible/ medicinal plant to forage and use.
  • Get a picture of a sign that tickles my fancy.
  • Get a picture of “something Florida”. Need I explain more?
  • Do something redneck. (This should be easy, I’m a hick at heart)
  • Enlist my cousin’s help to check out something close by that she has not seen/ done. (You know, the old, “I’ve lived here for ___ years and I’ve never ___”.)
  • Eat something unique to the area (I’m thinking boiled peanuts, but I could find something else?)
  • Do at least one suggestion FROM THE COMMENTS! (I NEED YOU GUYS TO SUGGEST STUFF IN ORDER FOR THIS ONE TO WORK. DON’T LET ME DOWN).

That should be a good starting point, just to get me out of my shell. If it goes well, then perhaps I will make a new list for week 2 of the vacation.

In addition to checking some of these things off my list in order to cast me into the fray, you can expect some other things over the next couple weeks. Expect pictures of me with lots of animals. These thin pictures of me on the sides and top of this blog; the Alaskan Malamute and the horse are my cousin’s. She also has another horse, and now another dog. And then there are my aunt’s three Akitas, a pig, some cows… well you get the point. I like animals.

And if all goes according to plan I will be stopping by Savannah, at least for lunch. I want to check it out for a second time, since there is a possibility that I will move to the area within a year. Also, my second fiction book (the first is in editing stages), which I am currently working on, takes place in the Savannah area. So I need to do some scoping out for that as well.

I am well aware the tone I present here fluctuates. I feel I can no longer as naturally cast forth good will and life giving energy with such ease as I could on July 1st. But like the cruise, the road trip to Indianapolis, PorcFest, New York City, the road trip to Vermont, and camping in Vermont, I fully expect to return invigorated with the same natural energy emanating that gave this blog birth. And if that fades, well I only have to wait until February for another cruise, to restart my cycle.

I started this blog with Joe Jarvis’ Excellent Adventure. If all goes well, this will be Joe Jarvis’ Bogus Journey!

How is Wealth Created?

This is a hypothetical short story my Dad wrote a while back for my other blog to demonstrate what wealth really is. It is an interesting discussion of quality of life, and what it means to really create wealth.


Most would agree that America is a wealthy country, but what is wealth and how does it come into being?

It is tempting to think of wealth as piles and piles of money; however, history is replete with examples of worthless currency – Confederate notes at the end of the American Civil War, for example.

What about gold and diamonds? Precious metals and stones are widely accepted as having value, so this is closer to the mark; still, you can’t eat them. To live, humans need air, water, food, and some protection from their environment. We can probably agree that someone who must spend all of his time just to provide the bare essentials to ensure survival is not wealthy. So does free time equate to wealth? In a way, yes, but running around half naked and living in a grass hut does not meet the western vision of wealth, even if you do have only a five hour work week.

In the developed world, we tend to use our extra time, time left over after we meet our need for food and shelter, to increase our standard of living. We strive to obtain better food and more of it, more comfortable shelter, labor saving devices, various forms of entertainment and possessions that increase our sense of well-being. We also take steps to feel good about ourselves such as working for charities or running marathons. This is the essence of wealth: a high standard of living. The higher your standard of living, the wealthier you are. Even those who spend all their time acquiring this high standard of living are considered wealthy.

One could, and some do, argue that this is also the definition of the rat race, that we are not actually better off than our ancestors for all our accumulated wealth. The fact remains, however, that even the marginally wealthy can expect to live a long and healthful life without the threat of epidemic, starvation, being eaten by an animal, freezing to death, or being overrun by a barbarian horde. Thus our working definition of wealth will be a high standard of living.

So where does wealth come from?

Suppose you are stranded on a deserted tropical island with one other person, Alex. You both hunt and gather all day, every day, in order to stay alive.

But Alex is a better hunter than you, and you are a better gatherer. You get an idea; you offer to gather for Alex if Alex will hunt for you. Now, since you are both doing a job you do more efficiently, you have a little free time every day. With that time you develop tools for hunting and gathering, giving you even more free time. Your next innovation is to create fishing gear which you use to improve your diet, and since fish are plentiful, free up more time. With that time you make chairs, hammocks, shelters, and other comforts.

Specialization, cooperation, innovation and motivation have increased your standard of living. You created wealth. All the resources were already present on the island, but this did not raise your standard of living. It was your labor, both physical and mental, that transformed these resources into a higher standard of living.

Next, since life is now easier, you decide to build a musical instrument. It takes a long time. You work hard creating many prototypes that sound terrible. Finally you succeed! You now have music, another boost to your standard of living.

Your island mate would like an instrument too. You teach your friend everything you learned about making this instrument, but to no avail. Alex just does not have the talent required to make one. You are now wealthier than Alex. Your buddy knows how hard you worked to make your instrument and therefore does not ask you to make another. However, Alex is also better off now that there is music on the island. Your wealth benefits both of you.

One day you are walking the beach when you come across two more people who have washed ashore. Their names are Chris and Taylor. You and your island mate introduce Chris and Taylor to island life and get them fed and settled. You assume that, like you and Alex, Chris and Taylor will hunt, gather, fish, and build things. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Chris and Taylor are not very good at fending for themselves.

You and Alex now have a problem; you are spending part of your time to make up the difference between what Chris and Taylor consume and what they produce. Some of your wealth is being transferred to Chris and Taylor. But what can you do? You don’t think it is right to let them starve, so you keep helping them. Time goes by. Chris is still working hard and falling short, but Taylor is only making a half-hearted effort. Taylor’s attitude is “I eat whether I work or not, so why kill myself?”

Alex has had enough and refuses to help Taylor any more. That leaves just you to support Taylor. You are back to square one: working all day every day so that you, Chris and Taylor can survive. The wealth of the island is declining. You are the most productive but your excess goes to Chris and Taylor. Alex helps Chris, but not Taylor, so Alex still has time to create wealth. Your tools and comforts start to wear out and you don’t have time to maintain them. Alex is now the wealthiest, but the island as a whole is poorer. Then you get sick.

Chris and Alex take care of you. Without your support Taylor does not have enough to eat. Taylor has some cash and tries to buy food from Alex, but cash is useless to Alex on the island. The same goes for jewelry and other “valuables”; without an advanced society to create a demand for these items they are worthless. Taylor slinks off to the other side of the island. In time you regain your health.

But Taylor has a serious problem: no shelter, no tools, no companions and not enough to eat. Taylor needs to think of something quickly. Taylor was an accountant before being stranded. This is a valuable skill in an advanced society, but not on the island. Before being stranded Taylor liked to read books about sailing, ship building, and navigation. Taylor sets to work to identify sources on the island for the materials needed to build a sailing vessel.

Taylor returns with a proposal: “In exchange for food I will design a sailing vessel and direct its construction.” Now Taylor has something to trade: knowledge. Taylor knows the important aspects of ship design. Taylor can identify suitable materials. Taylor can navigate by the stars. You, Alex and Chris agree.

With Taylor’s leadership you build a boat and sail it to Hawaii. You have rescued yourselves. With the proceeds from a movie deal you each dramatically increase your standard of living.

You have learned some lessons:

Resources alone are not wealth. Resources must be converted to wealth with labor. The game must be hunted, the berries must be gathered, the fish must be caught, the wood must be cut and worked.

Skill is an important resource. All the other resources in the world are useless if the skill to convert them is not available.

Knowledge is a very important resource. The ability to stuff your head full of things you didn’t know before, recall them, and apply them to the situation at hand is valuable. It is important to note that you need not develop this knowledge yourself. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. A written language confers a huge advantage. Knowledge can then be saved for posterity.

Specialization leads to efficiency. When people do what they do best, work gets done in less time. The remaining time can be enjoyed or used to increase the standard of living.

The ability to organize is valuable. People who organize often don’t appear to do much. Stuff can still get done without them. But just muddling through is often not enough. What would a car cost if a whole gaggle of organizers didn’t plan for every nut, bolt, wire and hose to be where it needed to be, when it needed to be there, at the lowest possible price? The answer: too much. This was the situation before Henry Ford applied the assembly line to auto production. Henry Ford did not build cars, he organized the building of cars. In our story Taylor did not build a boat. Taylor provided the knowledge and organization to build a boat. In the beginning Taylor was a drain, but in the end Taylor was the MVP.

There can be no consumption without production. This is obvious. In our story, on day one, no one can eat, or sleep under cover, or play music because none of this has been produced yet. Later, Taylor consumes what you and Alex have produced. In the end you invest some of your wealth (you feed Taylor) in Taylor’s boat project in the hope that you can get off the island. It was a risk; maybe Taylor didn’t really know how to build a boat. You were willing to take that risk and in this case it paid off.

Just as obvious is the fact that shuffling existing wealth around the island will not increase the wealth of the island. If Alex gets your musical instrument and you get Chris’s hammock and Chris gets Taylor’s chair and Taylor gets Alex’s spear, what has changed? There is still the same amount of wealth on the island, it is just in different hands. Maybe the new owners will make better use of these things, but probably not, otherwise the islanders would have traded amongst themselves or produced more of these things. Yet governments routinely take wealth from one group, give it to another group and expect that somehow the country will be better off.

To participate in commerce you must produce something that somebody else wants. On the island Taylor was not very good at manual labor. With just four people there was no need for an accountant. It was knowledge and organizational skills that Taylor was finally able to trade for food.

A rising tide lifts all ships. As the wealth of an area increases everyone benefits. When you made a musical instrument, but Alex couldn’t, Alex still got to hear the music you played. When your productivity exceeds your basic needs you seek out products and services that increase your standard of living. This gives others the chance to produce and fosters competition to supply these items. Competition leads to lower prices and more choices. Think of the things that at one time only the well off could afford. Cars, radios, TVs, stereos, cell phones, computers, travel… The list goes on and on. Now even the poor (in America) have all these things.

So where does the wealth come from? It comes from individuals who produce more than they need to survive and consume no more than they produce. In a perfect world, this would be everybody. On the island it was you and Alex. On the island Chris tried hard but fell short. Maybe in an advanced society Chris could do alright. Maybe Chris could be a doctor or an entertainer. We don’t know enough about Chris. On the island, Taylor was content to live off the efforts of you and Alex. When Alex balked and you got sick, Taylor was forced to find a way to contribute.

And what is the role of government? Government exists to protect the society as a whole from a common threat, and you as an individual from having force used against you. If you decide to buy insurance in order to share the risk of some catastrophe with others in the insurance pool, that is commerce. If Big Al sends the boys around to “convince” you to pay for “protection,” that is force. For society to get the maximum benefit each individual must be free to decide what to produce and what to consume. That individual must also live with the consequences of that decision.

How Many Sociopaths Do We Interact With?

Yesterday I posted an article on Vigilant Vote called Sociopaths Among Us. Part of me wanted to also share it here, but it was too political, and I don’t want to scare any of my followers away. But I think it is an important subject to understand. Even though I am not one for fear mongering, there are legitimate dangers that must be realized in order to be avoided.

I just finished reading A Clockwork Orange. Clearly the main character and narrator, Alex, is a sociopath. He has no conscience, and feels no remorse or guilt for the brutal assaults, rapes, and murders that he carries out. In discussing the book’s relation to politics, I mentioned how Alex’s friends joined in on these crimes, but were not caught, and therefore not punished. When Alex gets out of prison after a controversial treatment, he finds a former friend and a former enemy, both horrible thugs, have become police officers. The point being that sociopaths are drawn to positions of power, and therefore we must have the right mechanisms in place as a society to thwart that power when used unjustly against the innocent.

Really I was just using A Clockwork Orange as an example, while I had found another book, non-fiction, called The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. I have not yet read it, but a review was helpful to explain that we do in fact live amongst sociopaths who are not murderers and rapists; not because they don’t want to be, but because getting caught would bring consequences that interfere with their desired lifestyle.

The fact is, we all almost certainly know at least one or more sociopaths already. Part of the urgency in reading The Sociopath Next Door is the moment when we suddenly recognize that someone we know—someone we worked for, or were involved with, or voted for—is a sociopath. But what do we do with that knowledge? To arm us against the sociopath, Dr. Stout teaches us to question authority, suspect flattery, and beware the pity play. Above all, she writes, when a sociopath is beckoning, do not join the game.

Now in the political realm, questioning authority is probably most important. But in day to day lives, being suspect of the pity play is more applicable.

(The only reason I haven’t focused much on suspecting flattery is because that one seems more obvious to me. If someone if throwing compliments your way they might be a sociopath, or they might have ulterior motives, or they might just be nice. I think however, that we are used to suspecting flattery: “What are you trying to get?”).

In A Clockwork Orange, Alex and his gang use the appeal to pity on multiple occasions to find victims. In the beginning their standard operating procedure is for Alex to knock on a door and innocently ask for help for his “sick friend who has passed out in the street”. One woman told him she did not have a telephone, but goes to get him some water after he continues his charade. When she fails to lock the dead bolt, he wriggles the chain lock undone, and barges in with his droogs to rape and beat the unsuspecting husband and wife. Of course if she had been less inclined to help someone in need, she may not have been victimized. Unfortunately this means only the most decent people are victimized, because a more selfish person would not fall prey, simply because they would not care about the fake victim.

The next victim of the thugs, an old woman with many cats, suspected that Alex was up to no good, and tells him to go away. Now while they do still break into her house, the old baboochka has time to call the police. This leads to Alex’s arrest and punishment for his crimes. While she was still victimized, the assailant suffered the consequences only when his victim did not fall for the pity play. The night before, Alex got away scott free (and guilt free since he is a sociopath) because his victims did not suspect he was playing on their pity to take advantage of their generosity and charity.

Now believe me, I am not saying you should abandon all charity for your fellow man. Many in need are sincere, and not trying to trick anyone. But beware the pity play. For example, my parents told me a story of how a man came to their Priest’s church claiming he did not have any money to fill his oil tank for winter. For whatever reason, the priest was suspect of this man’s story, but wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, he decided to offer the man some help without putting himself out on a limb. He said that if the man wanted to earn some money he would be happy to pay him to rake some leaves. Well the man started to rake, but about 15 minutes later he was on his phone, and in another 15 minutes he was gone. That Priest’s charity will be better spent on someone who needs it, versus this apparent conman.

So it is not always a matter of blind trust or outright denial. There are ways to help people without putting yourself or your coffer in harm’s way: like giving the homeless man a sandwich instead of money that could go towards drugs. But often we should trust our instincts in situations that could become dangerous for us. Unfortunately it is not safe to give a random stranger a ride somewhere. There may be someone innocent who actually needs your help, but they should understand a stranger’s unease about helping another stranger, when that help puts them at the mercy of their passenger. A sociopath does not care for his victim, and therefore will exploit their good intentions. A normal person would understand your reservations about giving a ride to a stranger.

And of course it is not always just strangers that victimize. Some sociopaths among us you may already know, or even consider friends. We still must be suspect of the pity play. There is a difference between helping a friend in need, and being a doormat for people to wipe their feet on. Again, I think the best strategy is to offer help on your own terms, and the honest man will understand your reservations.

We have a tendency to fear being rude. But there are real dangers out there; as many as 12 million sociopaths could be amongst us in America alone. Sometimes if something doesn’t feel right, it is better to be thought rude, than to be victimized.